I love art. If you asked me who my favorite living artist was I would not be able to accurately answer since there is so much great art and artists. But there that I know of come close. They are Chuck Connely, Tom Sachs, and Mauizio Cattelan. Each of them has a story.
When I first started loving art and really taking notice of it I was in High School. I was totally into the pop art movement. Warhol, Jasper Johns, Roy Lichtenstein and of course Keith Haring (who was my hero in the mid to late 80’s).
One experience from that time that comes to mind is this time that I was watching a movie called New York Stories. It wasn’t well received but I loved it anyway. It was made up of three short films and the one I was most affected by was directed by Martin Scorsese and called Life Lessons. It was about a famous artist who is stuck and can’t paint and is also in love with his assistant. She, it turns out, is just using him to work her way up in the art world and she constantly fucks with him by dating other people. But it turns out that his passion and jealousy ends up driving his painting. What was incredible to me was the art in the film and the way it showed these close ups of the process of painting. In addition was the work itself. It was amazing to me! I loved it so much and it always stuck with me. It was one of the moments that convinced me to start collecting art more seriously.
Flash forward about 20 years and I’m watching a film on HBO called “The Art of Failure” about an artist originally from Philadelphia named Chuck Connely.
I had never heard of Chuck but this film made me fall in love with his work instantly. As I was watching it I couldn’t help but remember Life Lessons and the artist in that movie. Connely seemed so similar. I soon learned that Connely was not only the inspiration for the film, but was the artist that did all the paintings and the close up shots!
Connely is probably my favorite living painter. His work is simply gorgeous and there is so much soul in it. Chuck’s work is special because he’s talented beyond belief and he’s clearly putting so much emotion into his work. He is also an outsider and hates the art world. He once created this alter ego named Frank Scaboda and painted totally different work (some of it is simply incredible) and tried to get it into galleries in NYC.
I ended up a few years later in a gallery and I saw what I thought was his work on the wall and I went to the owner of the gallery and asked about it and they said “No, that’s not Chuck, that’s his assistants work though!”. Chuck still lives in Philly and it’s always been a goal of mine to go find him and buy one of his paintings. I’m certain I will own one at one point. Some day soon maybe I will go out on a trek to find the guy.
Tom Sachs is this artist that is perhaps one of the coolest people I know. I have a friend who is an insane collector of art and art books. He has a collection that is valued in the tens of thousands and has hundreds of art books lining his walls. But anyway, I was at his house one day and he showed me this book called ‘Space Program’ about this artist who had painstakingly created not a scale model, but a full scale real Lunar Module along with space suits and a mission control and then he re-enacted the moon landing in this gallery in LA. I was instantly hooked.
I went home and researched and found a video of the event. It was incredible! I remember feeling so sad that I missed it when it happened and that I’d never see the Lunar Module again. Like genuinely sad about it. Like I’d missed something that was made for me. But I started following his work anyway and became obsessed.
Tom is a maker. He has a certain aesthetic that is kind of incredible to witness. He is organized. He is about function over form. He is about getting his point across and not getting caught up in beauty. But yet, his work is beautiful to me still. Every single thing he has ever made that I have seen I have loved.
I can’t say that about any other artist. But Sachs speaks to me in some weird way. Maybe he speaks to the kid in me that wanted to make spaceships out of cardboard boxes but always gave up before I even tried. I don’t know. And there are details to his work that are just obsessive and insane and perfect.
For example, for Space Program, every single object has a serial number engraved into it and it’s cataloged in a book. This comes from his obsession with NASA and how they do that for all of their objects. It spoke to me because I think before I ever knew he existed I had a chance to spend a night on an aircraft carrier at sea and I was amazed that everything on that glorious machine had a serial number. Everything was labeled. Everything had a part number. It blew me away at how the virtually unlimited budget of the govt. was able to organize things down to the tiniest detail. The control, the design, the forethought was glorious. Tom totally did the same thing in his studio.
A few years ago in 2011 I went up to New York to see a show of his called Work. It was going to be my first chance to actually see some work of his in person. I went up and met up with a friend and on the night before we came up with a plan to see a show at the Guggenheim and also one at the New Museam by Carsten Holler that was getting rave reviews. We started with Holler.
I had incredible optimism about the Holler show. It had a slide, a nude bath, and all kinds of other exciting ideas. The title of the show was Experience.
And I was psyched. We did the whole thing and walked out a couple of hours later and I looked at Sara (my friend) and said “If the point of that show was to make me hate everything and be angry when I left, then it was completely successful”. To this day I think that actually was the point. For example, there was a room filled with stuff that was lit by strobe lights. And when you got out of that one you entered into another room with alternating red and blue lights and noise. It was like torture to walk through this show. I was shaken to the core.
But a few blocks away I was able to finally see Tom Sachs. And it was just so perfect. It was great to finally see the work of someone that I was just loving for a few years up to this point. One of the highlights was a wooden Hassleblad camera
Next we found our way to the Guggenheim to see a show called ‘All’. It was a retrospective of work by an artist I’d never heard of called Maurtzio Cattalan who I’d never heard of. After the Holler show I wasn’t expecting much and we almost didn’t go but we did.
The Guggenheim is a cool museum that at its center there is a huge multi floor atrium with an enormous circular ramp that works its way up a hundred or so feet to the top of the museum. This show was built to hang from the roof of the atrium all the way down to the floor. When I arrived, the first thing I saw was a stuffed horse hanging above me.
My initial thought was that I was going to see a bunch of taxidermied animals but as I had worked my way up and around the ramp leading up I came across something I’d seen before. It was the pope after being hit by a meteorite, something that I’d seen a photo of (and loved) a few years back.
I was shocked that I’d known this artist all along. I’d just never known his name.
I can’t even begin to tell you how amazing it was to work my way up and see more and more insanely incredible physical works in front of me.
At one point we came to a story about the artist written on the wall that described how he was doing a show in a gallery down the street from a fellow artist and instead of doing anything original, he simply copied (in perfect detail) the entire show of the other artist. Cattalan, it seems, is more of an artistic prankster. In another story that I love he was a featured artist at this great biennial show in Italy and he was given a warehouse space to work with. People came from around the world to see this show and when they got there they found a dark and empty warehouse with a spot light all the way in the back. Once they made their way to the spotlight they could see it was illuminating on the floor a tiny sculpture of an ant – giving them the finger. In another show he had all of these taxidermied pigeons installed in the rafters above all the other artists’ work with, of course, the pigeon shit all down the walls. Much like Connely, it seems that Cattalan isn’t a fan of the art world.
‘All’ was one of the best shows I’d ever seen. It was simply incredible and I spent hours there looking at each piece. I was instantly in love. Sadly, he has retired and is making no more work but what he has made is more than enough.
As a side story I started watching the amazing Netflix series called “Chefs Table” and in the first episode they profiled this incredible Italian chef and as I was watching it I fell in love with his sensibility as well. I felt very much this man was the food world’s equivalent of Cattalan. Sure enough about ½ way into the episode we see that he was inspired directly by Cattalan and his first encounter with him was at the pigeon biennial I mentioned above.
He ended up doing a show called “Mars” which not only brought back many of the Space Program stuff, but also added more. In all I spent 3 days there practically living at that show.
At the time I was sort of a Tom Sachs groupie stalker. He seemed to be ok with it.