Adan Niklewicz is a very inventive artist who lives in Connecticut. When I first saw his sculptural works and photographs on social media http://www.adamniklewicz.com/, I contacted him immediately. His work is so fresh and fun and it’ll make you smile. He’s also got a brilliant mind. Before we begin our interview, here are three of his pull-out quotes that I had to start with …
“… The corporate society we’re all trapped in is antithetical to freedom. It wants us to believe reality can be sanitized, streamlined and made predictable. I think I make art to expose that illusion, to laugh at it. And in general, there is not enough humor in art!”
“… Humor is our saving grace. Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds …”
“… True art is not ‘easy listening.’ It is challenging the way life can be challenging. It is a serious (even when it is funny) exploration of the mysterious nature of reality. This is why the contemporary art world is a niche segment of our culture with a specific language that may not have universal appeal. And this is why contemporary art does not reach the wider audience …”
MICHAEL: Hey Adam! Your work is so fresh and fun. Looking at your website, one can clearly see how your brain works. You see things in unique ways. When did you first become aware of your take on things? Is this something that you've cultivated over time?
ADAM: First of all, a big thank you Michael for your kind words and your interest! It all unfolded rather suddenly somewhere around January of 2000 and a specific pattern has developed. Most of the ideas come to me in the middle of the night at around 3 a.m. when I’m on the verge of being asleep. These brainstorming sessions produce more or less formed ideas, and objects (already transformed) briefly flashed in front of my mind’s eye. Some formations are pretty hapless, but others appear to have legs. I quarantine those ideas for some time and if they survive the waiting period, I turn them into objects. I’ve also noticed that some of the best ideas come my way when I nurse a bit of a hangover.
MICHAEL: Funny. And so, when you create your work, do you make it and hope that it’ll one day be in a show or do you hope someone will buy it? I mean, the art you make is not “pretty pictures” or pictures of flowers in a vase.
ADAM: Don’t you know that we artists are an all-volunteer army? Yeah, selling crosses my mind occasionally, but it’s clearly the last thing on my mind.
MICHAEL: I was just clicking through your website again and your work makes me smile. Your sculptures and installations are exactly what I think people need today. Everyone seems so tense or angry and life is so uncertain. Do tension, conflict and uncertainty ever inspire you?
ADAM: I’m hearing that the two words that best describe the ongoing Whitney Biennial (I haven’t seen it yet myself) are violence and anxiety. The art world obviously puts a high price on the sense of dread you just spelled out. I think I react to the conundrum (choking pressures of the corporate society) with my work as well. The corporate society we’re all trapped in is antithetical to freedom. It wants us to believe reality can be sanitized, streamlined and made predictable. I think I make art to expose that illusion, to laugh at it. And in general, there is not enough humor in art!
MICHAEL: No, there isn't enough humor. I always think there's something very wrong with people who can't laugh at what they often take very seriously. Otherwise, what's the point? Shouldn't it be fun every now and then at the very least? I have been to past Whitney Biennials and your work would fit in nicely there or at Frieze. Anyway, what do you do with your installations after they've been exhibited? Some of them are so cool it would be a shame to dismantle them. Do you also do photo exhibitions?
ADAM: Humor is our saving grace. Common sense and a sense of humor are the same thing, moving at different speeds … by someone.
As to your question about the post-debut fate of my installations, take WALL SIGNS, 2002-2016 as an example. By now, the piece was exhibited six times, on two continents, and generated some substantial honorariums for making the appearance. All I need for installing it is a gallery wall, 12 small magnifying loupes and some adhesive. It travels easily (in a pocket), de-installation means removing the loupes from the wall and disposing of them (usually done by the gallery staff) and each reinstallation makes for a truly creative process; the work is site-responsive and thus, ever-changing.
ADAM: I enjoy the kind of flexibility contemporary art can afford. The process of exhibiting my conceptual photographs in faraway places is similarly flexible. I electronically send out large tiff files to venues that are interested in showing my photographs and the work is printed locally (and to a desired size).
This has happened a dozen times by now and by this method, my art had appeared on buildings, billboards, bus stops, moving vehicles and in galleries in Europe (London, UK, Opole/Torun, Poland, Poltava/Kiev, Ukraine) while I’m chilling in Connecticut, where I live. This is also how these days you deliver and show your videos. All this is quite neat about electronic communication.
MICHAEL: What would you say to the person who might look at your work and question whether it's art because it's not a pretty landscape painting or fruit still life?
ADAM: I would suspect a provocation. I’d try not to take the bait. However, if I had to answer, I’d argue against pretty landscape paintings. I think art picks up from where logical thinking about reality reaches its limits. This way, art expands our perception of reality and goes places we otherwise have a very limited access to. Can a landscape painting or fruit still life take us there? Perhaps. Does it happen often? I'd say, hardly ever.
MICHAEL: Very interesting. And so, art goes way beyond what most people perceive as “art” or “pretty pictures.” You know Adam, this is precisely where I think people get tripped up on contemporary art and yet it's in that place beyond the “pretty picture” where art is personally most exciting to me. I don't think that the art world has done a great job of explaining this to people. From my perspective, this is exactly why I interview artists! What do you think about all of this?
ADAM: True art is not ‘easy listening.’ It is challenging the way life can be challenging. It is a serious (even when it is funny) exploration of the mysterious nature of reality. This is why the contemporary art world is a niche segment of our culture with a specific language that may not have universal appeal. And this is why contemporary art does not reach the wider audience.
MICHAEL: Given that, what do you think about the contemporary art world and art market? Do you feel that you're part of them? Do you understand how they function?
ADAM: The art world is a vanity fair, a carnival (often the danse macabre). The administrators of it (curators, etc) do their relentless best to spot and showcase new talents. It’s a high-wire act that renders many of them insecure, flaky and neurotic. Artists are the sane party here. Making art keeps us sane.
My participation in the art world is marginal. It’s fun as long as you remember it is only a game and that making art is the real thing - your world rather than the art world.
MICHAEL: I love that. Finally Adam, what's the point of all of this? Most people on the planet will never visit an art gallery or museum let alone actually buy original art from living artists. Are we not wasting our time by even talking about art? What's the point of art? It doesn't solve homelessness or stop wars.
ADAM: People may not visit a gallery, but they may not need to; art reaches further than ever before via the Internet. Contemporary culture is very much visual and as images sink in - they either poison or heal. This way, art is widely affecting and this is why I think art IS important. And important art is naturally radical and rebellious. But here’s the catch and a prognosis from one artist: these days, when we know the world is in peril, true rebellion comes from saying anything optimistic and positive about humanity. Hope is radical!
MICHAEL: Thanks Adam. Brilliant chat. Love you work.
Check out Adam Niklewicz at http://www.adamniklewicz.com/.