W Magazine
September 2002

By Sharon Edelson

Guerrilla Gallerist

Kenny Schachter is trying to bring the raw energy of his temporary art exhibits to a permanent space

Kenny 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.

ConTEMPorary's raucous 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 Nicole Miller.

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 two hours.

"It's obvious 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 new gallery."

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 says.

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 disdained.

"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."


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