Art World Provocateur Kenny Schachter in Conversation with Specialist Harrison Tenzer

Art World Provocateur Kenny Schachter in Conversation with Specialist Harrison Tenzer

I n his second partnership with Sotheby's, Kenny Schachter followed up his acclaimed 2019 auction The Hoarder Sale with an even more ambitious (and succinctly titled) auction: The Hoarder Part II, Property from a Noted, Not Particularly Distinguished, though Undoubtedly Pugnacious and Loquacious New York Based Artst / Collector / Curator / Writer / Lecturer / Art & Car Dealer, with Proceeds to Benefit Himself. In anticipation of the auction, which opens for bidding 10 December 2020, Sotheby's Harrison Tenzer spoke with Kenny about the sale, the art world, humor and much more.

You install your work outside on your balcony and have wallpapered your living room with vinyls of your own art. Clearly you think beyond the white wall gallery model. Where are places you’d like to see art installed and what innovations do you suggest for getting away from the traditional modes of presentation?

I would like the world wallpapered in art, floor to ceiling, indoors and out. I am a maximalist and firm believer in the more the merrier. For 15 years my office in London was a converted garage with only a sliver of a window; and, the nose of a car under my desk, but I was never wanting for light.

Kenny Schachter's home. Julian Cassady Photography

You wear many hats in the artworld – art/car dealer, teacher, collector and artist. How are they related to each other? Do you find that it can be difficult in the artworld to be all simultaneously?

For me, there is no choice it’s what I do, and all I could do. And all I want to do, 24/7. The art world thrives on compartmentalizing and pigeonholing people and things; and, I am well aware I have made things much harder for me professionally. A dilettante was historically a sound and admired characteristic—in the art world it’s just an easy way for people to dismiss me more readily. My wife sat next to someone on the Basel selection committee and he literally said “Who does Kenny think he is? That he could curate, make art, write and deal? He can’t.” But I can, and do and will never stop. For me there is a continuous thread that connects everything I do. The fact I didn’t work my way up through the ranks of the art world gives me an fresh, unconventional set of eyes. I was not steeped in what you can’t do, which is largely how the art world defines itself—in the negative: not disclosing prices, relationships, any of the mechanisms of the market. Art world omerta: the equivalent mafia code of silence about activities and refusal to share information—my career is railing against that in every way I can.

Is Hoarder 2 a conceptual art project or a market move? Or both?

Everything I do is one and the same. It’s art as there is an artful catalogue with fantastic images, I made a series of faux, conceptual ads and videos to accompany all and there is a physical exhibit that I can say, without being impertinent, will be the best group show in NYC for the week! Most importantly, I am throwing the dice, offering up 120 lots with no reserve in an anarchic act of democracy where the highest bit, no matter how low, takes the lot. My loss is your gain.

You came to art after a legal career. How did art find you?

My mother painted murals on the basement walls before she passed away when I was 13. That was literally my ONLY exposure to art, period. Not only was I never taken to museums as I child, I actually did not know commercial galleries existed and art transacted till I was 26 years old and stumbled into Warhol’s estate sale at Sotheby’s, while procrastinating between jobs! The full circle that represents only just dawned on me answering this question. Jesus.

Kenny Schachter. Julian Cassady Photography

How many art fairs have you been kicked out of?

Ha. I was thrown out of Basel Miami twice, and Armory once, for three different reasons. I participated in the Basel Miami Nova section; and, I will blame the fact I am a one-person band and failed to read the small print in the application form that I was meant to showcase works created in the past three years by a handful of artists. I ended up exhibiting a floor to ceiling salon style hang of artists from the 1960s (Paul Thek, very dead) to recently made works. But lots (and lots).

The next time Sam Keller let me back in only if I did an architectural intervention like I had previously done in fair with Vito Acconci, but word quickly spread throughout the aisles during install that I was trying to sabotage passage from one hall to the next by nature of the labyrinthine construction. Which I wasn’t of course, but I never like to make things easy on myself (or others) and certainly neither did Vito! The third time, at Armroy as similar to Nova—rather than featuring recently made works by living, breathing artists I showed historical work from Mary Heilmann paintings from the 1970s and Dennis Oppenheim photos from the same period, some of which are in the Hoarder sale.

What is the role of humor in your work? How about the role of humor in the artworld?

I once interviewed my best friend Zaha Hadid and said do you ever consider humor in your work to which she replied, in the most deadpan unfunny way, NO! I have been through so much personally and professionally, good and horrific, and were it not for humor I wouldn’t be able to carry on. Humor is disarming but also great way to deliver tough, uncomfortable criticism camouflaged in self-deprecating, dark and physical comedy. It’s also the way my mind functions, like a filter through which everything observed is washed through. The art world doesn’t necessarily find itself funny, I think its endlessly hysterical, in good ways and bad.

How do you find young and emerging artists and create connections with them?

INSTAGRAM and DMs! It used to be friends of friends of friends. Now I have none, and am stupidly addicted to Insta. As many of you will already know. Sorry.

Original Artwork by Kenny Schachter on his Roof. Julian Cassady Photography

What advice do you have for artists at the beginning of their career?

Use social media to expose yourself, don’t be shy or embarrassed or frightened to fail—I make a habit of it. No means maybe (when it comes to work, obviously) and there will always be someone smarter with more resources, talent and luck but nothing that can’t be overcome through work, work, work.

What advice do you have for collectors who are just starting out?

Art is cheap but most importantly a slow burning process that necessitates time and effort. Unless you are getting started by bidding on something in Hoarder2, then just jump right in and think about it later!

What advice do you have for critics, curators and writers at the beginning of their career?

Really it’s all the same. There are no shortcuts, no corner-cutting. All the money and connections in the world will never substitute for effort and hard work and talent (but that could be learned). Use any means necessary, there are no bad ways to get your work exposed—I would wear a sandwich board advertising myself. Hey, maybe I’ll sport one in front of Sotheby’s for my sale.

Kenny Schachter’s Bathroom. Julian Cassady Photography

Any 2021 artworld predictions?

Technology and social media will continue to proliferate to change the way we learn about, experience and consume art, there is no turning back. There may even be art fairs again; but, nothing can or will substitute rubbing your nose against a work of art.

Why are you selling 119 artworks without reserve?

I thought it was 120? Because I incessantly collect and once I have determined to sell stuff, I may as well let them go. There’s a lot more behind them, so prepare yourself for Hoarder 3. But for me the no reserve is the most exciting part as I am by nature a troublemaker—it’s the only way I got attention as a child with distracted parents—and it seems to work pretty well, still. No one will be harmed by having some art sell cheaply, below primary or secondary levels and conversely, many who couldn’t afford these works otherwise will be presented with a great opportunity to own contemporary art. Works on offer include both historic like Paul Thek, Chris Burden and Ken Price and emerging art like Walter Price and Katherine Bernhardt that they couldn’t otherwise get their hands on. I couldn’t even get a Walter Price from any of the past 3 or 4 years, even after he switched galleries both of whom I counted on as friends. I had to buy the Walter Prices I own on the secondary market and luckily still own one that I won’t let go.

What’s your greatest accomplishment in the artworld?

Teaching, sharing the knowledge and information that I have spent 3 decades accruing. And the fact that I have an audience for my lectures, writing and artworks. I am grateful beyond words for my readers. And that without ever having taken an art class or holding an art job, I have managed to claw my way to where I am now—having carved out a platform to work within the art world and live amongst art.

What is your dream project?

Every class I teach, article I write, video I make is a dream. I try not to focus on what might or could be and just do whatever occurs to me at the time. Next up, a documentary about everything I have been discussing: my take on the mad, maddening, beautiful, hideous; and, above all, magical world of art. Sounds fucking corny, but it’s true! All of it. God, this film has all the hallmarks of something about to get me into a whole lot of trouble.

Original Artwork by Kenny Schachter in his Living room. Julian Cassady Photography

Why is this sale called The Hoarder?

I fall in love with falling in love. Every minute of every day. Just when I say I am going to put the brakes on, it happens all over again. I can’t stop and besides, it’s like living in history in real time. Art reflects our social, political and economic times and I am right in the middle of it knee deep in art works. Clinical studies show art is medicinal and contributes to lower levels of anxiety and blood pressure, so let’s just say I am trying to get well.

Tell me a bit about your writing practice. Do you see an important connection between art and the written word?

Arthur Miller said “I’m a writer everything I write is both a confession and a struggle to understand things about myself and this world in which I live.” Maybe he wasn’t talking about art fairs and auctions but writing on those events (and others in the art world) changes the experiences from something fleeting and ephemeral to an altogether more weighty and meaningful enterprise. Writing about art and the art world (and market) helps me put it all into context and causes me to focus more acutely and thoughtfully about circumstances I might more readily dismiss.

What’s the craziest thing that’s ever happened to you?

Between us? I curated an exhibit with my kids (and their friends) and my collection in London in 2012 entitled: Friends & Family. The only artist we actually consigned a work from was Tracey Emin who I only passingly had acquaintance with. During the opening, her work inadvertently was knocked over innocuously enough, by an errant dancer (ok, there were a few bands playing at the opening which might not have been the brightest idea). Though the art was bronze, the glass vitrine that housed it was shattered.

Before we could sweep up the shards, someone had phoned the Evening Standard and the word spread virally to the Telegraph, BBC radio to the Pakistan Daily newspaper! All the while, I was trying to teach the kids how to contribute something positive to their community and their 15 minutes came about as the result of “the wild raging rave thrown at their father’s gallery space,” so screamed the headlines. Tracey’s studio pulled the work from the show and some bad blood (to put it mildly, but that’s another story) remained between me and the artist…for years.

Kenny Schachter. Julian Cassady Photography

Last December I began a correspondence on Instagram with someone that turned out to be Tracey under an alias. Since then, we became fast friends and in the ensuing year, I have written a catalogue essay for her last Xavier Hufkens gallery exhibit and conducted a live Zoom interview for the accompanying show. We are now the closest of friends.

How was your bout of Covid? Did you learn anything from your time in isolation battling the virus?

Any coping mechanisms? Art, art, art. Not a day went by without reading the art on my walls like an epic novel. I still haven’t put my watch back on—the space/time continuum has been slowed. But time seems to fly even faster simultaneously. I taught and wrote my way through it, non-stop, so much so that I still have a headache and am annoyingly fatigued months later. But I wouldn’t have done it any other way, art is my sustenance. Along with my kids. So now I just nap more frequently.

Let’s talk about the elephant in the room. The one work by you in the sale is the bejeweled elephant – Forbidden Amuse Yourself. What exactly is this elephant doing and how were you inspired to create this?

Do you really want to know? It’s kind of gross. I was an overweight, alienated kid from the suburbs of New York that stuttered (hard to imagine now with how much public speaking I incessantly engage in) and had few friends. What else was I going to do to entertain myself in my spare time? It could also be seen as a metaphor for the self-congratulatory, self-satisfied nature of much behavior surrounding the global art world. A place were the word “important” has all but lost meaning. The elephant imagery came from a sign outside a spa in China warning patrons off soiling the floor in such an onanistic fashion.

Besides, after early on in my career reading about Vito Acconci’s 1972 installation “Seedbed” in which he masturbated for days on end under the floorboards of Ileana Sonnabend’s gallery as an artwork, it occurred to me that I might have found my calling. Need I say more?

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