OtherPeoplesPixels: The quotes in your recent series All the Money IS in the Label
range from obnoxiously pretentious to surprisingly ignorant to
potentially profound. There are even moments of poetry. I easily imagine
the snobby, entitled person who said "Restoration Hardware? I mean, why? My cleaning lady has that stuff" and the ignorant person who said, "So, what, what's the deal with that gallery? Do they, like, only show black artists?"
But other quotes are more ambiguous because we don't have context or
tone of voice to help us understand the meaning of the words. I end up
really musing about who the people are and what their lives are like. Do
you remember who they are once you write down the text?
Alex Gingrow: So far, yes, I can remember the context and speaker of each quote. Every piece has a story behind it. Some are long and detailed and others are as simple as an overheard conversation. As the series continues, this could change. But when I look back at my source material, I am less interested in the quotes from conversations I can’t remember. The details validate the narrative for me even if I don’t share them publicly or if they don’t come through in the finished piece.
I do sometimes take quotes out of context but only when they speak to a higher truth or injustice. And yes, there are certainly moments of poetry. Years ago, a friend told me a tale over several adult beverages. He had a studio across the way from Mary Boone’s apartment back in the SoHo days and watched her light tampons on fire and throw them from her balcony. The story was old. The event was older. But it stuck with me, and I loved it. So, Balcony Burning Tampon Tosser is an homage both to the story, to the storyteller, to Mary Boone and, most of all, to the joy that is slumming around a cozy dark bar with art friends telling wild stories, even if they are a little taller than the truth.
I love storytelling, and I come from a long line of animated
storytellers. I find great joy in retelling a story for an interested
viewer. There’s a moment of magic when I share a story behind one of the
quotes, and the person to whom I’m speaking has a parallel story. Then
we launch into a whole conversation based on a simple one-line
OPP: What’s the difference between storytelling and gossip? Is it an important distinction?
AG: It is an important distinction. My intent is to generate a narrative, not to spread dirty or juicy secrets. Gossip has an identifiable face, place and plot. Those are the details that hold the recipient’s attention, and I choose the word "recipient" carefully because I think gossip, by nature, is delivered. My goal is to set up the rough sketch, an outline of sorts. Then it becomes the viewer’s job to fill in the blanks according to his or her own experiences, ideas and assumptions about tone of voice. Completion of the narrative becomes a participatory event. Every title is somehow related to the correlating gallery, but the speaker is never identified. It could be the gallery owner, a collector, an artist, a passerby or even someone randomly talking about one of the artists shown by the gallery. The tone is set when the viewer decides who the speaker is. Thus, the story is completed by the viewers’ own ideas. This is why I generally don’t publicly share the genesis of the titles.
OPP: You admit in your statement that this body of work is a "sharp critique of the world in which [you] choose to maneuver." I like that you emphasize the fact that we can be both willing participants and critics of our chosen communities. Has the gallery gossip that you witness on a daily basis at your day job ever made you question your own desire to be part of the New York art scene?
AG: Oh lord, yes. Everyday. Hardly a day goes by when I don’t want to turn to some of the people I encounter at work and in the art world and ask, “Do you HEAR yourself? Do you seriously think it’s okay to BEHAVE like that?!?” I’ve realized that some people truly and absolutely do not care one iota if they come across as assholes. It amazes me.
But! I can’t be too bitter because they are my source material. I’ve made artistic strides out of a coping mechanism. I think a lot of really good art comes from anger and spite. If the rest of the world could figure out how to channel those very natural human emotions in more creative ways, we’d probably have a more peaceful world and better art to experience.
New York does have its own special breed of viciousness. But I’m not sure that I could operate anywhere else right now. Sure, I have my moments when I need escape more than I need to breathe, but there’s an electricity to the raw brazenness of the New York art world that feeds my practice. I worry that anywhere else would seem too quaint at this point. So I take the good with the bad. The upside to the New York art world is the closeness of the community. I’ve only been here for six years and have met so many smart, talented, kind and supportive artists. I don’t ever want to take that for granted.
The fact that the people coming to pick up the artwork from the framing
shop don't consider you, as a service worker, important enough to be
discrete in front of reveals an implicit class discrimination and a
critique of beliefs about the value of different types of labor. They
likely have no idea that you are an artist who also performs a kind of
labor that they do value—or at least purport to. Is there a relationship
between the labor you do at your day job and the meticulous, creative
labor you do when painting?
AG: I’d give anything to be able to support myself solely from my art and to be able to spend long, uninterrupted periods of time in the studio everyday. But that’s not the case right now. I will continue to punch the time clock twice a day and take my lunch at the cold metal-topped table in the drafty back corner of the shop.
I think there is a correlation between service industry workers and the emerging-whatever-you-want-to-call-the-non-Koons/Hirst/Murakami artists in today’s art world. Art has become such a commodity, such a luxury item. Maybe it’s been this way since the advent of the gallery system—and perhaps it’s better to keep fragile egos in check anyway—but the artist as an individual seems to be valued less than the monetary value of the art in the market. Here, gallerists seem way more concerned with how they’re going to sell a work, whether the materials are all archival and how quickly we can pump out new works. Artists sometimes seem like the service workers in the gallerists’ industry. But I’ve witnessed artists being treated differently in other cities and countries, where gallerists take on artists because they like the art and trust the thought processes of the artists. It’s a relationship, not a business arrangement
OPP: I have to ask about Victim Series (2006-2007), a series of drawings of victims of various violent crimes or disasters. The subjects appear to all be people of color and many are children. This work is so distinctly different—both in subject matter and tone—from your deadpan, text-based work. It's so visceral and emotional and feels even more so after reading the comments of players in the New York art world. Is the satire in your new work a total break from this series or is there an underlying conceptual connection between these older drawings and the work you are doing now?
AG: Victim Series
is the body of work that I presented for my master’s thesis at the
Savannah College of Art and Design. The impetus of the series was oddly
similar to that of the provenance sticker series in a few ways. I was
angry about the disregard many of my fellow students had for the U.S.
war in Iraq. In response to an assignment to create an image that was
mediated several times over, I chose to draw an image I lifted from a
Canadian website of an Iraqi man recovering from wounds sustained in the
Around the same time, I listened to George W. Bush give a speech on our “progress” in Iraq. During the reporters’ questions at the conclusion of the speech, someone asked the President how many Iraqis had been killed to date. His response was, “30,000, more or less.” After I listened to this speech, I got online to find a transcript because I couldn't believe what I had heard him say. Mind you, this was 2005—before the overwhelming prevalence of YouTube and instantaneous video on the Internet. The only transcript I could find was the official White House transcript which EDITED OUT Bush's flippant "more or less." The transcript read: "30,000 Iraqis. . . and 2,140 of our own troops in Iraq."
decided to draw his idea of more or less. Babies, children, young men
and women. Bombed, killed, maimed, terrified. More or less. The works in
the series are large, charcoal drawings. I wanted the images to have an
engulfing presence. I used charcoal to both add to the sense of burning
and soot and so that I could physically rub and blend the medium as I
worked, so as to have a sense of touch and tenderness with the images. I
worked on this series for a little over a year and eventually
incorporated text from Bush’s speeches into the images. I had to resort
to reading his speeches because I got too distractingly
angry when I heard his voice. After working on these drawings for a
while, I couldn’t get out from under the dark cloud of death and
corruption and sadness that was my studio practice. Between that time in
graduate school and my move to New York, where I no longer had a studio
space that could accommodate the massive amounts of charcoal dust I was
creating, I laid the series to rest. The drawings are rolled up in my
studio and I look forward to showing them someday. With every political
season, the context changes, but they still carry the same potency as
they did when they were created.
What have you been working on since the exhibition at Mike Weiss
Gallery? Are continuing on with the appropriated text or shifting gears
into something new?
AG: I am still working on the sticker
series. There are about 40+ pieces in the series so far and a good many
more waiting to be made. I still make myself laugh when I’m working on
them, which is how I know I should keep going. That said, as evidenced
by the Victim Series drawings, I tend to make major shifts every
now and again. Some artists get to be known for one certain body of work,
and they never really stray from it. That works for them, and it
certainly works for their gallerists and collectors.
practice depends on fresh experiments, new ideas and pushing myself
outside of my comfort zone. I am working on some ideas and sketches for
an interdisciplinary project that deals with personal narrative, family
history and ice skating. I grew up skating and loving it, and I've
recently been reexamining the sport in terms of its parallels with the
art world and my own studio practice. The project—a long time in the
making—will include durational video, a script and sound piece,
text-based paintings, model-building and costume design. I am trying to
find that sweet spot between so-personal-it’s-universal and awful,
sappy, here-are-my-first-world-problems. It’s a fine, fine line.
Thankfully, I have plenty of asinine and vitriolic art world quotes to
commemorate in the meantime.
Featured Artist Interviews are conducted by Chicago-based interdisciplinary artist Stacia Yeapanis.
When she’s not writing for OPP, Stacia explores the emotional and
existential significance of participating in mass media culture in her
cross-stitch embroideries, remix video and collage installations. She is an instructor in the Department of Fiber and Material Studies at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago, where received her MFA in 2006, and is currently a 2012-2013
Mentor-in-Residence at BOLT Residency in Chicago. Notable exhibitions
include Losing Yourself in the 21st Century (Maryland Art Place, Baltimore), MP3 (The Museum of Contemporary Photography, Chicago), Please Stand By: Stacia Yeapanis + Readymade (Baang & Burne Contemporary, New York), Over and Over Again (BOLT Project Space, Chicago). Her work is on view through September 2013 in Abstracting the Seam (Hyde Park Art Center, Chicago) and she will mount a solo show titled I Still Haven't Found What I'm Looking For (Heaven Gallery, Chicago) in January 2014.