The Art Newspaper © 2002, London, UK

Artistic partnerships

"I want you to design a space, a theoretical space that is unlike any gallery that ever existed before. I don’t want white walls and a cube" Artist and curator Kenny Schachter has given this brief to artist-turned-architect Vito Acconci.

Interview by Adrian Dannatt

This summer sees the opening of a unique exhibition space just off the Hudson river. ConTEMPorary is located in a mysterious alleyway once mainly populated at night by transsexual prostitutes, but now thanks to two brand new residential towers by Richard Meier, something of an elegant address.

This Charles Lane, between Washington and West Streets, will also be hosting ConTEMPorary for the forseeable future, a radically different sort of anti-gallery devised by Kenny Schachter and designed by Acconci Studio.

Schachter, an independent curator and artist known for his large-scale installations in temporary venues commissioned the architectural firm, Acconci Studio, headed by internationally recognised sculptor Vito Acconci, to design a large-scale gallery and bar space in Chelsea. While the Chelsea space is being built (it is expected to open in late 2003), Schachter and Acconci Studio have designed this modest 1,200-square-foot public exhibition space which will become a secondary exhibition space when the grandiose Chelsea space opens. ConTEMPorary opens with a group show "Artchitecture" featuring artists, architects and fashion designers such as Acconci himself, Frederick Kiesler, United Bamboo, and Winka Dubbeldam. The opening exhibition will also include architectural drawings and models from the Acconci Studio. Acconci Studio consists of a group of architects who design projects for public places–streets and plazas, gardens and parks, building-lobbies and transportation centres.

The Art Newspaper sat down with Acconci and Schachter in the latter’s elegant townhouse while from the back came the rumble of workmen transforming his children’s playroom into a working gallery.

The Art Newspaper: Mr Acconci, as an artist-turned-architect do you find a certain resistance within the architectural profession itself?

Vito Acconci: There are some architects who seem to take us somewhat seriously, whilst some say that we shouldn’t be architects and shouldn’t waste our time trying to do it.

Kenny Schachter: There was a piece by Bernard Tschumi, Dean of Architecture at Columbia, saying what you do shouldn’t be considered architecture. That just seems to be about politics, people protecting their turf.

VA: He was saying I shouldn’t be trying to do architecture because there’s much more freedom in the art world. Which is true up to a point but I don’t know that artists are really all that free.

KS: Architecture is more constrained by economics.

TAN: Were those criticisms levelled at Frederick Kiesler, whom you quote in reference to the project you’re doing here?

KS: Well Kiesler studied architecture but he also did theatrical design and installations. He made art, he made paintings and sculpture, in the end he only built one building, the Dome of the Book in Jersusalem. I think the problem with him was he just did so many things. I’ve always found it the same in the art world, if you do a lot of different things people use that as just a way of dismissing you.

VA: But there are practicing architects now in other countries who do not have professional training, even Tado Ando in Japan did not have an architectural education.

VA: We really want our stuff to be built but at the same time our most interesting projects have probably been the more unbuilt, theoretical stuff.

KS: One of my collectors saw the model of another space we’re going to try and build together and now he’s commissioning Vito to do a house in Greece.

VA: That should change our status, we’ll build our first house and then maybe people will take us seriously as architects.

KS: The art world is probably the most conservative, backward-looking field I’ve ever been in. I’ve been in the fashion design business, in the legal profession, I’ve worked on the floor of the stock exchange. When I first set foot in the professional art world I was so taken aback by how archaic it was, it’s anti-laissez-faire. It’s a very frustrating place to work in.

TAN: And Mr Acconci, when you were a young poet were you aware of the art market?

VA: After college I went to a writing school at the University of Iowa after that I came back to New York in 1964 and that was the first time I realised art galleries existed. That was when I saw a Jasper Johns painting for the first time, nine years after the fact. I went into every gallery and that was probably the best way to sample them, I went into Zabriskie and Castelli as the same thing because I didn’t know any different, I didn’t know the hierarchies, I could make choices by myself. By this time I was writing and I think art notions were probably more important to me when I was writing than literature itself. Jasper Johns was the big influence, the notion of how to make abstraction possible using convention first, use a flag, use a number 5, as long as you have that you can make any impression you like, as long as you have the given. It so shaped the way I thought, it made me recognise conventions, that there’s no such thing as "creation" just organisation and re-organisation, dis-organisation.

TAN: And did you also think, "I can do this, I should also make some art?"

VA: I thought I had no desire to make art. But I realised when I was writing I was using the page as something to travel over and that if I was so interested in moving across this space I should move over a floor, over a street, a ground. But also by 1967, phrases like "Conceptual Art" were first being used. If conceptual art hadn’t been around there wouldn’t have been any place for me. Entrance is only possible at certain times and in certain contexts. I couldn’t draw, I couldn’t paint, I couldn’t build but once someone said "Conceptual" art I thought maybe I can do that, I have ideas, there’s a place for me.

KS: And also, Vito, the way your work has shifted over the years, a lot of the issues you’ve spoken of are about blurring the line between the public and the private, the private sphere taking over everything, people just hunched over their computers, they don’t interact. The art world picked up and moved from SoHo to Chelsea to get away from ordinary people who might just pass by a gallery. Whether they were tourists, or shopping, they were just people from the street going into galleries. So the art world ran away from that. For me in my curatorial efforts, for 10 years when I was doing shows in temporary venues, it was always super-important for me to get a ground floor space in a well-trafficked area to expand the grass-roots of the audience, to reach out to the mainstream. Art has lost relevance in the lives of everyone in this country, it’s a professional niche only of interest to those involved in it.

VA: It’s the word "ART" that separates those who are in it from those who are not.

KS: I knew that Vito was doing public sculpture but then he had a show at Ubu Gallery and in an interview said he was doing architecture and at this point he would love to do a building or home and would even settle for a bathroom or something. This struck me. I always swore that I would never have a gallery because they are high-end boutiques where you know what’s going to sell beforehand, every four weeks you put up a show and knock it down. It’s that routine which goes against everything art could be, the unexpected, the surprising, fresh things without controlled tedium. I’ve always considered myself the anti-art dealer or anti-gallerist because, well, I’m unprofessional, I do these messy group shows, I’m interested in people off the street coming in, who rarely turn out to be buyers. Although I have a lot of collectors who support what I do in a big way internationally. I’d been calling Vito for years, sending him faxes, leaving messages, I love your art, I’d like to show your art and I’d never heard a word from him. And then when I left a message that I want to build a house, to build a gallery…

VA: Suddenly I responded, after all those years!

KS: I want you to design a space, a theoretical space that is unlike any gallery that ever existed before. I don’t want white walls and a cube.

VA: That’s significant, the way you started was not that you had this real space, more by saying let’s think about what a gallery could be so the first proposals we made were really about the "idea" of a gallery. I think in general what’s joined us is that we both prefer the passerby to the art world. We both prefer the person who happens to be there for some other reason and then pays attention because they become interested.

KS: We’ve been working on finding a permanent space for a year and a half, we have a bid on a building now on 27th Street, but so far all of our bids have been surpassed. So we decided to basically carve out an area from the back of my house. It just struck me there’s been no diversion from this standard white cube space for 60 years. Our idea is just to produce a more fantastical, carnivalesque space, to just create excitement in an unusual, unorthodox setting.

VA: Here we knew we’d be making a space from part of a house. We started with the idea how do we separate it from the house, separate it from the children’s playroom,

from the children. As its temporary, we’re not sure how long it will

last, we thought of it in terms of changeability, a constantly adjustable space, a wall to become ceiling, ceiling become wall, part of the walls to pivot out and become a platform or fold out seating. We want to provide infinite numbers of places to hang things.

TAN: Do you find it annoying that people grant you projects as an architect on the strength of your reputation as an artist?

VA: Well I hope it’s changing but you’re right most of the projects we’ve got so far are probably because of my art reputation, not really architecture but so-called Public Art projects, that exist because of "1% art" laws–the art being worth only one percent of the architecture.

Kenny Schachter conTEMPorary; 14 Charles Lane, New York, NY 10014; +212 807-6669; fax: + 212 645-0743

Hours: Monday-Friday 10am-6pm

Kenny Schachter 163 Charles St., NY 10012, tel: + 212 807-6669; fax: + 212 645-0743

Selected curated Shows 2002 Tensionism, 132 Perry St., 2000 NY; Full Serve: 10 Year Anniversary, 547 W. 27th St., NY; Sweet’n low, 60 Lispenard St. NY; I Hate NEW YORK, 107 Shoreditch High St., London, UK; 1999 Post Crap, 601 W. 26th St., NY; Lifer, Cardozo School of Law Gallery, 55 5th Ave, NY 1998 CAMBIO Sandra Gering Gallery, NY; NY, HEY, YOU NEVER KNOW 534 LaGuardia Place; Cambio: Mexico-US Exchange, Chopo Museum, Mexico City, 1997 Pernod Liquid Art, 4TH Annual Awards Exhibit, NY; Video Flash, Hoenthal und Bergen, Cologne, Germany; Inside Out Art Fair, NY; Cambio 526 West 26th St

Solo Exhibitions: 2001 UK How Much? A History of Young British Art, International Three Gallery, Manchester 1999 NY BRANDING Sandra Gering Gallery, New York 1998 MO, New Work Byron Cohen Gallery, Kansas City 1997 BIRTHMARKS Ambrosino Gallery, Miami, 1996 SUMMER TRASH, Flamingo East, NY

Vito Acconci Born in the Bronx, New York, 1940. Lives and Works in Brooklyn, New York.

Acconci Studio 55 Washington Street #806 Brroklyn, NY 11201 tel: +718 852 6591; fax: +718 624 3178; email

Public Projects in the pipeline: Plaza, University of Illinois at Chicago; Wall Displacement and Seating, 161st Street Subway Station, Bronx, NY; Pocket Parks and Perimeter Treatment, Newtown Creek WPCP, Brooklyn, NY-Park, Hermannpark, Danube Canal, Vienna, Austria; Plaza, Bonifacio Global City, Manila, the Philippines; Riverside Development, Warrington, UK Plaza, Performing Art Center, Memphis, TN; Bicycle Parking-Lot and Guardhouse, The Hague, The Netherlands; Streetscape and Seawall, Corpus Christi, NY; Design Store, MAK, Vienna

Lobby, Maria Fareri Childrenís Hospital, Valhalla, NY; Art Gallery, New York

Selected Public Projects: 2002 Walls & seating system, 161st St. Subway Station, Bronx NY 2001 M-bius Bench, Fukuroi City, Japan; Light-Beams for the Sky of a Transfer Corridor, San Francisco Airport 2000 Screens For A Walkway Between Buildings & Buses & Cars, entrance for Shibuya Station, Tokyo, Japan; Courtyard In The Wind, Buildings department Administration Building, Munich; 1999 Rooms From Below, Temporary Store Windows for Saks Fifth Avenue, New York; A City That Rides The Garbage Dump, Temporary Billboard for Bavel Garbage Dump, Breda, The Netherlands; 1998 Flying Floors For The Main Ticketing Pavilion, Indoor Park for Departures Terminal, Philadelphia Airport 1997 Park in the Water, Riverside Park, The Hague, The Netherlands; House up a Building, Portable Housing, Temporary Installation at Santiago de Campostela, Spain 1995 More Balls For Klapper Halll, Plaza, Queens College, NY 1994 Personal Island (1992), Mobile Island, Zwolle, Netherlands; Bench / Bollard for Tachikawa City, Japan

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