By Sharon Edelson
is trying to bring the raw energy of his temporary
art exhibits to a permanent space
Schachter, a self taught artist, renegade curator
and peripatetic dealer, has always operated one layer
beneath the often elitist crust of the art establishment.
In the Nineties, his Rove shows --- sprawling assemblies
of video, sculpture and abstract and representational
painting, staged in garages and vacant storefronts
--- brought a rougher edge and a less commercial agenda
to the increasingly polished New York scene. While
the work on display could be uneven, young art stars
like Cecily Brown, Janine Antoni and Lysa Ruyter emerged
from the chaos of those exhibits.
But Schachter is itinerant
no more. In late June he christened ConTEMPorary,
his first permanent gallery, housed on Charles Lane
behind the West Village town house he shares with
his wife, Ilona Rich, the daughter of pardoned fugitive
financier Marc Rich and his ex-wife, Denise.
opening party was classic Schachter: Dressed in his
wife's bright green Lacoste polo, the host ran up
and down the long, narrow gallery stamping out cigarettes
and removing beer bottles perched precariously on
top of artworks. A.R.E. Weapons, the retro electro
band, performed on the second floor as a crowd huddled
in front of photographs by Jessica Craig Martin and
Imitation of Christ's Tara Subkoff; downstairs members
of the fashion design collective As Four staged a
happening in which they blasted "We Are The World"
and cajoled their friends to wear fake rotten teeth.
By any account, the turnout was impressive --- including
chief Whitney curator Lawrence Rinder, Chloë
Sevigny, Wes Anderson, party planner Colin Cowie and
But it seems that no
Schachter opening is complete without a catastrophe:
Later that evening, he watched in horror as some movable
shelving designed by Vito Acconci --- the notorious
Seventies performance artist who designed the whole
ConTEMPorary space --- fell on the head of artist
Laura Emmerick. Then the town house's alarm system
went off --- Schachter's very pregnant wife and three
kids were upstairs ---- and couldn't be reset for
that I thrive on chaos," Schachter says, "but
there's a prudish side of me that's constantly cringing
at the throngs of people smoking, leaving bottles
on sculptures and dousing the place with beer."
Depending on your point
of view, Schachter is a brilliant showman with a sharp
eye for new talent or an irritating interloper. "People
who spent their whole lives studying art take offense
when someone like Kenny comes in and sees right through
all the artifice," says, Ruyter, noting that
Schachter breaks a sacred curatorial rule by occasionally
including his own work in his shows.
A far cry from the
standard white-box gallerist, he courts controversy
in a way that is normally the preserve of artists,
not their dealers. While hanging out at the Groucho
Club in London, he baited Damien Hirst, accusing the
artist of being unoriginal for planning to use his
sculpture of an ashtray with stubbed cigarettes as
the image on an exhibition invitation. "He'd
used the exact same image for a show two years earlier,"
sniffs Schachter. The next day, Hirst and two friends
showed up at the exhibit Schachter was curating, presumably
to start a fight. "They were completely plastered,"
Schachter says. "They literally fell down in
the street." Hirst, for his part, says he doesn't
remember the incident.
Schachter's 2000 "I
Hate New York" show in London's East End didn't
run any more smoothly. With the intent of "stripping
the gallery process bare," as he puts it, Schachter
trained a video camera on his own desk. But the live
transmission shown on his Web site, roveTV.net, was
interrupted when two thugs locked Schachter in a closet
while shouting death threats and then made off with
the video equipment. "I'm still jittery,"
he says "I had panic buttons installed in the
Rich, meanwhile, is
happy to indulge her husband's eccentricities. "For
me it's fascinating to be around somebody like that,"
says the fashion designer and artist. "I think
he is a genius." Schachter himself isn't so sure.
"In a way I still
think of myself as unsuccessful," he says, although
this is a man who talked his way into a teaching job
in the New School, held seminars at New York University
and lectured at the Rhode Island School of Design
--- all without ever having taken an art class. Schachter
has even reviewed his own work for art publications.
"Always tongue-in-cheek, of course," he
These days, his collecting
taste runs the tongue-in-cheek gamut --- from Robert
Chambers' Plexiglass sphere filled with 300 punds
of hair gel and fake eyelashes to Spencer Finch's
antenna sculpture that broadcasts the artist's brain
waves into space as he watches the opening loop of
"Hawai Five-0." "Kenny has good instincts,"
says the painter Donald Baechler, whose work Schachter
has championed. "Everyone used to say that Leo
Castelli didn't have a good eye but he had a good
ear. Kenny is like that --- he runs on a kind of animal
instinct, prowling around, sniffing things out."
But Schachter, who
plans to open a larger space in Chelsea next year,
is now a part of the gallery establishment he once
"It would be awful
if Kenny turned into a Mary Boone sitting behind a
desk, though it is very unlikely," says Baechler.
"Not that it's a bad fate."