|KENNY SCHACHTER: ART VIRTUOSO
Kenny Schachter is the one individual who I think I can say loves art even more than I do. That’s really saying something. I found him online and thought he’d make a cool interview. He certainly does, plus he has a couple of really cool websites, www.rovetv.net and www.rovecars.com. He seems to have his hands in every sector of the art world. Read on and see why I call him a virtuoso.
MICHAEL: Hey Kenny. Thanks for chatting. First of all, you appear to be many things: an art dealer, curator, professor, artist and agent among other things. When you were a kid, is this what you imagined yourself to be? Do you come from an "art" family?
KENNY: I was a fat, alienated kid and never quite imagined myself doing anything. I did voraciously collect magazines (can't remember reading them much) and then I invariably cut out images and created collages on my tacky 1970’s Long Island cork walls. Though there was a “Babe Rainbow” print on metal by Peter Blake in my parents’ bathroom, we were as far away from an art family as you can imagine, secluded in the dull stagnation of 1970s suburbia. How Peter Blake found his way into their bathroom is as lost on me now as it was then. I only stumbled into galleries much later in life, already in my 20s. I’m a classic case of late blooming.
MICHAEL: Your 20s are hardly late blooming, but I'll indulge you. And so, what was it like being immersed in art in New York at that time? How did that scene affect you?
KENNY: What a different place the art world was then in New York (the 1990s), it was defined by lousy wine and worse looking people. Hardly the glam-fest it is today. In all seriousness, my first curatorial efforts were launched in the throes of a deep recession; our expectations were low and we were rarely disappointed. After law school (don’t ask, I was a walking malpractice machine), I recoiled from law or big business and delved into the worlds of fashion, then art. Little did I know art would eclipse them all in terms of market reach. But by default, we were imbued with a purity of thought and intent. I championed the work of emerging or mid-career artists whose work had fallen between the cracks and wouldn’t dream of dirtying my hands dealing with established or secondary market art. How the times have changed. I curated hit and run shows for nearly 15 years and single-handedly sat the exhibits for 7 days a week, months on end and for extended hours, encouraging all forms of performance and practice for the duration. To this day, I am a sometimes dealer spurred on not by the pursuit of the deal, but by my devotion to the things themselves and underlying ideas. That was born by equal measures of passion and fostered by a recessionary climate. I am still the most surprised by each and every transaction, knowing how hard fought they always are.
MICHAEL: Did you have formal training in art or art history?
KENNY: At the onset of my career in arts, I had come to independently learn post-war art from reading, and museum and gallery visits, but was woefully short of a thorough understanding of art history en toto. So rather than the thought of taking yet another class after three years of post grad law school and a few painting and sculpting classes during that time, I decided at that juncture, that I could more easily handle teaching a history class than taking one. I was hired on at the New School for Social Research as a probationary adjunct teacher pending the outcome of six lectures as I had no expertise in the subject I was teaching other than having curated a half dozen shows. Once the shortened seminar was underway, the dean who hired me left the university and I was on books as a full adjunct professor—from there I went to teach on the graduate level at New York University and lectured at Columbia (and organized the first off-site exhibit of the first graduating class in the MFA department), the Rhode Island School of Design and University of Pennsylvania. Now, I periodically lecture on art and car design at the Royal College of Art.
MICHAEL: Wow. You said something really cool earlier when you mentioned purity of thought and intent. Do you think it's possible to be a profit-driven enterprise in the art world today and still retain this purity of thought and intent?
KENNY: Many people in the art would feel they are little compromised, if at all. Whether that's at all true or disingenuous is a matter of debate. But ethics are a very personal determination and choice as Nietzsche stated and I feel we are all capable of being true to ourselves as opposed to the typical sociopathic behavior frequently played out in the art world. My dad always said lie to him, fine, but don't believe my own deceit. Many in art should take heed and stop the hypocrisy and propensity for untruths.
MICHAEL: It seems to me that lies in the art world (and the world at large) are really born of fear ... fear that what we have or can acquire will dry up and we'll be left bankrupt and homeless. However, art itself is almost as vast as life itself so why lie? There are more stars in the sky than we can possibly count and tomorrow always comes. Okay, I know that's "pie in the sky," but I'm just sayin'.
KENNY: In art, it’s not so much fear as avarice and all that that implies: greed, materialism, and covetousness … of which we all suffer to some degree due to the material nature of art and the human desire to hoard. So I guess collecting is an original sin.
MICHAEL: I guess that means Eve collected apples. Perhaps that part of the story was edited out for time sake. See, art was disrespected even way back then. I've often wondered if I would love art as much as I do now if my living depended on it. Do you separate your love of art from the business side of it ... or is that really impossible?
KENNY: I am just crazy about art in all its guises from the economics—art and money have long been bedfellows, to the theory and aesthetics. I need it 24/7 and love nothing more than to learn something new, which is the beauty of the profession; every day is another discovery. However, I understand your point, I collect old cars and though I have sold buckets over the years, I rarely if ever make anything from it. In fact, if truth is told (see above), I often lose. Therein lies some of the quaintness and passion … I do it in spite of logic and reason. I would, if I could afford to, do the same with art.
MICHAEL: I totally understand your love of art. I'm also mad about it and have no desire to be an artist. I just want to enjoy the end result. However, I must say I think that having a friendship with the artist and art people in general is even better than owning the art. What do you think?
KENNY: I spent much of my life nurturing and developing talent; I must admit at times, like raising kids, it could be very trying on your patience and nerves. Sometimes the degree of self-seriousness and aggrandizement is staggering. We are not curing cancer … far from it. I must admit nowadays to favoring dead artists rather than living. And besides, knowing the artist can color perceptions of the work … not always for the better.
MICHAEL: Well, I guess dead artists no longer have egos to contend with. I get the sense that you feel artists - even today - don't really understand the business side of the industry?
KENNY: I see the opposite … artists understand money more than most! They seem to have taken to investment portfolios and private planes like ducks to water. That's a bit of a problem when the latest school of art has become economics-ism.
MICHAEL: There’s no way we’ll cover everything you’ve done in the art world. You seem to be involved in so many things!
KENNY: I have a project space in London, but it’s hardly run as a professional gallery, rather I lend it out to curators and artists to organize things as I no longer have the strength or inclination. I procured planning permission to demolish two buildings in Hoxton Square in Shoreditch and do a new residential and commercial build with (architect) Zaha Hadid. I rarely visit New York these days, as it’s much easier to go to Paris or Zurich for the day and be back for dinner with my kids.
MICHAEL: Cool. Tell me about your websites. They’re called Rove?
KENNY: RoveTV is about my curatorial/art activities and RoveCars is for my fake car business. They are signifiers of my eclectic interests without much grounding in traditional art models.
MICHAEL: By the way, I love Zaha Hadid. Do you represent her? Her work is incredible.
KENNY: Zaha … I don’t differentiate between a spoon, chair, car or painting and I consider anything done well as art and she does many things exceptionally. When I curated a Zaha show at Sonnabend Gallery in New York in 2008, Ken Johnson of the New York Times wrote “no architect has ever made good art and this is no exception.” That’s a perfect example of the compartmentalized, narrow-minded art world mentality that thrives on erecting barriers and pigeonholing people, dictating what can and can’t be done, instead of encouraging a little experimentation and genre bending. I can't keep tabs on myself; for sure in five years, I will be doing something(s) entirely differently. I hope so anyway. And I don’t represent anyone, thankfully, just project by project, depending on a given thought or idea.
MICHAEL: Tell me about when you first moved to London.
KENNY: When I moved to the UK in 2004, with a 2:1 exchange rate between the dollar and pound, the shipping crates of the emerging art I imported became more valuable then what was inside. So I gradually shifted to what I call, “Classic Contemporary and Design,” from Baldessari and Prince, simply providing dealers and collectors what they wanted. If you can’t beat them, join them. I always said it was easier to sell the 2,478th Hirst spot than an unknown master for a fraction of the cost. Well, it worked for me anyway. Also I prefer, to this day, to sell dealer to dealer, as there is no persuading, cajoling or capriciousness usually associated with private clients.
MICHAEL: It sounds like getting set up there did present some challenges.
KENNY: When recession struck, my business was decimated and it coincided with a time when a collector asked me to sell a Monet canvas. Before I burnt the hell out of the painting shopping it around for years, due to lack of experience and knowledge of this particular trade (Impressionist/Modern, practically a different language from contemporary), I began to pick up on this new undertaking and never looked back. I am now in the position of selling things that are astounding and informative without being vested; rather than selling what I loved, which was always a case of separation anxiety. But in the end, we are only custodians for art before our kids flog it all upon our demise. Now the work I do affords me the opportunities to collect contemporary, write, curate and even pursue the role of gentleman artist. Funny enough, it was all based on Marx who asked why couldn’t you be an economist during the day and a fisherman in the afternoon? As the last unregulated multi-billion dollar business, art is characterized by explication, communication and education versus other endeavors. The difference between art and design is the latter needs to be cleaned more frequently.
MICHAEL: Speaking in broad generalities, do you see any differences in how Europeans view art compared to Americans?
KENNY: That’s a great question. I know a Scandinavian dealer in London who only buys American art, as he thinks the market has been historically skewed in that direction, while tonight in Spain, I had dinner with a Swiss collector who only buys European and Chinese, but not American. Recently, I was asked to debate whether the only important art was being made in Asia vs. the ROW (car manufacturer nomenclature for Rest Of World, i.e. not Europe or American). What a silly, jingoistic notion. Art is art no matter where it derives from and should be appreciated as such from every corner. And, in any event, the world today looks at art in the same uniform fashion: as a hot new asset class. Ha Ha.
MICHAEL: I've never been there, but I have a very romantic view of London. Growing up, one of my favorite television shows was "The Avengers." I even love the movie remake with Ralph Fiennes and Uma Thurman. London seems very hip and "Cool Britannia" to me. Have I been brainwashed?
KENNY: I have never seen “The Avengers,” but believe it had a really cool Lotus 7 in a starring role. London is very hip and cool and a most dynamic place to live and work. I haven’t missed New York for a day, partly because I have a guest room and many people from NY and elsewhere have, over the past, stayed … and stayed. In a sense, I forge a closer, more in depth relationship with U.S. visitors then I did actually living in the States. I find London to be monumentally more multi-cultural and vital than New York and at the same time, more diffuse geographically maybe like L.A. And they love all things cars, with a tremendous knowledge and proficiency. I was more impressed being reviewed in Mini World Magazine (classic Alec Issigonis designed Mini’s) for a car I modified than being in the New York Times. Besides, there's nothing in New York you can't find in London other than good health care and a lack of street violence.
MICHAEL: What are your plans for the future? Are you going to remain in London and never return to the U.S.?
KENNY: I will in all probability never return to the U.S., as I’ve never looked back since moving and can only see myself living in the UK or perhaps Zurich, where I am often working privately. My future plans other than pursing all things art could entail showing my own work which I have only done piecemeal over the recent past, developing the Hoxton property with Zaha and I have most recently commissioned a boat by Zaha as well. Beyond that, part of the joy of such a relatively unstructured existence is that I purposely never plan too far ahead and relish all the flexibility and uncertainty that it entails. I am open to just about any unforeseen opportunity that may arise on the horizon. A book would be a dream if I can focus my fleeting attention span long enough.
MICHAEL: Well Kenny, this was indeed a pleasure. You are an art virtuoso if ever I’ve seen one. Much future happiness to you.
For more about Kenny Schachter, check out his websites at www.rovetv.net and www.rovecars.com.