The Art World According to
Kenny Schachter

"Sex & Drugs & Explosives"
Curated by K. Schachter
March 28 - May 23, 1996
7-15 Rosebery Avenue
London, England

Catalog Excerpt

Since about sometime around 1990 Kenny Schachter has taken on the challengeof showing the New York art world just how much it doesn't know about artbeing created in New York City. He's the anti-curator, an in-your-face combinationof talent scout, aesthetician, dealer, impresario, artist and seat-of-the-pantstheoretician.

His group shows migrate from one vacant and inexpensively rentedspace to another; always in the general vicinity of Soho, always with aneye out for new artists. But Schachter's shows cheerfully project an enlightened,manic amateurism; a disregard for the niceties and conceits of the Sohomanner. He's managed to organize a kind of repertory company of young, unrepresentedartists; to provide a platform for the viewing and discussion of their workand to--and why not?--make a few bucks. And when these artists move on,he seems to find a new batch to showcase in his decidedly idiosyncraticgroup exhibitions. Artists like Janine Antoni, Andrea Zittel, Willie Cole,Beth Haggart and Christian Schumann were in Schachter exhibitions beforegoing on to the austere limelight of the Soho commercial gallery scene andartists like Ricci Albenda and Rachel Harrison represent a more recent waveof Schachter exhibitions and art world percipience.

He reluctantly admits to being trained as a lawyer and is self-trainedas both an artist and a curator, using the frenetic go-go 1980's art worldas on-the-job-training. Initially setting up as a more conventional dealerhe received his diploma in curating-without-a-net after the art market collapseof 1991 wiped out the market value of his artists in one fell swoop. Butit also transformed him into the nomadic curator-with-a-mission that hehas since become. Operating without a fixed gallery, he moves from one spaceto another for his periodic exhibitions. In the post-collapse art marketmalaise that continues to hang over New York, he's built a record of presentinga grungy but sophisticated stable of messy, idiosyncratic painterly abstractionand pop-oriented neo-Fluxus (or perhaps arte povera) derived works at atime when its harder than ever for young artists to show in a depressed
commercial gallery market.

"A stifling, backstabbing, offensive place"

Schachter's unlikely background provides at least some partiallyreliable insights into his drive to beat the Soho art world at its own game--butwith his rules. He declares that he's an aesthete without an aesthetic,"there's no systematic way to choose artists. " But in the endthere's clearly some kind of sensibility, some kind of mental divining rodfor art at work. Naturally he breaks usual curator's rules: he puts hisown work in his shows ("I don't hog the space but people think itsdisgusting. Whenever you blur the lines people get upset"). His exhibitionshave defined a broad esthetic of conceptually manipulated industrial/massmarket debris with a healthy dose of works that range freely between a distinctmedia savvy (and media despair), psychological play and weird science. Thesetraits suggest a self-appointed avant-garde showman who, while still operatinggenerally within the confines of the contemporary art world and its hermeticconundrums, has managed to create a style for the presentation of new artthat is unpretentious and unpredictable--that reaches new artists and quiteoften new audiences. He has different notions about art and about its presentationin the New York art world. To be sure, there are a few contradictions.He's a populist rabble rouser trying to capture a broad audience for workwhich, despite a good natured grasp at egalitarianism, is typified by rarefiedtaste and high-minded obscurantism. In Soho, where it's not unusual to heara dealer proclaim that they are after "50 of the right people, "Schachter responds that he's after "5000 of the wrong people."He keeps his spaces open 7 days a week with prices from $100 on up, "I'ma like a Korean Grocer," he says, "the days of the snotty, obnoxiousSoho gallery selling to the same collector over and over are gone.

The Schachter method of presenting art has its advantages andit's as experimental as the work of the artists he shows. But just as importantlyhe's also shown the ability to tap into a measure of what is most characteristic,most aggressively interesting about art being made in New York today. Overthe years his exhibitions have been characterized by an aggressively contemporaneoussense of American mass culture, a shrewd low taste, an overall sense ofongoing cultural and technological decay and--not surprisingly--imminentsocial catastrophe. These traits are supplemented by an off the wall humor,a self-conscious ambiguity and an inventively pop-oriented relationshipto 20th century art history that has produced a series of exhibitions bothchaotic and cogent.

"People say my shows are chaotic, of course they're chaotic, that'sthe point."

Call it chaos, cultural turbulence or the zeitgeist, but a Schachtershow brings together artists that seem to tap into various sub-arterialveins of the American cultural stream of consciousness. Schachter's ownworks often manipulate video events, either cataloging his own introspectiveself-documentation or transforming mediated fragments from TV into vaguelytraditional but digitized print forms. His individual works seem to conveythe same sense of cultural and social survey suggested by his exhibitions.Ranging over a media-transformed landscape of digitized, retransmitted emotions,Schachter's works project a sense of calamity and comedy and manage to distilla moment or two of visual poignancy.

Calvin Reid
New York City 1996