In addition to our regular art fair coverage this week we will be featuring interviews with a few of the newer art stars in the New York area. First up, Top Design participant and Scope artist Ryan Humphrey, discusses his latest work, the interior design world, and our desire to accumulate more crap than we already have with my colleague Marie-Adele Miniot. We won’t know the success of the gun sculptures he tells us “hold the mirror up to society” until Thursday, though I trust we can all prejudge those words.
Look forward to our Armory primer tomorrow as I discuss the politics of art fairs with exhibitor and gallery co-owner Phil Grauer of Canada.
Marie-Adele Miniot and Ryan Humphrey: An Interview in Two Parts
AFC: Tell me a little about the project you're working on for Scope.
RH: Well, it's a very sensitive topic.
AFC: Oh, is it?
RH: I think I may have lost some friends over it with the press release, but we'll see how that pans out. I kind of dug into the interior design world a little bit, and I don't know if I'm going to be successful with my project, but I'm going to give it my best shot. There's like a lot of stuff I'm trying to juggle, and the space hasn't even been erected yet. It's basically a tent.
RH: It's loosely based on an interior, but it's more like installation work I've done in the past. And it's a little edgy. There's a big display of gun sculptures, and spears that have been made from brooms, and paint poles, and mop handles, and the brooms have been cut with”¦they're steel, and they've been cut out with a plasma cutter, so they're very accurate. It's kind of an idea about arming the domestic worker. You know, what happens when your maid starts to rebel?
RH: So, and the bigger picture, I'm kind of holding a mirror up to society right now, and saying, what do you value and why do you value it? I kind of feel like a lot of people's desires, some people might consider them needs, are highly based on, I guess I'll call it advanced peer pressure, what marketing companies decided people need to have. They sell people to those products; they don't sell products to people anymore. Like you gotta have, don't have walk into a — did you hear that?
AFC: Yeah, what was that?
RH: Some guy on the street saying, “Yo, you fucking idiot!” (Laughter) Beautiful, only in New York. Wow, what's going on here? Like you can't have a knock off Louis Vuitton bag, you know what I'm saying? It still functions as a bag; it gets you across town; it carries your keys; it carries your wallet. The difference is really”¦there isn't much of a difference. I'm sure there's a difference in terms of quality and materials, but it's still a bag. And the fact that you have to have a knock-off of another bag says something, a lot about the psychology of people who exist in, and I'm not talking about capitalism in a bad communist sort of way, but like, capitalism has to continually create markets in order to survive. Bringing all that back to my installation, I'm trying to use iconography that really is a common denominator that really resonates with people on some level. I'm not saying guns are good or bad, I'm just saying this is a thing that we value or we don't value. And when we put this next to your, whatever SUV's in style this week, there's a lot of questions asked, I would think. Am I making any sense?
AFC: Absolutely, you are.
RH: I'm rambling on.
AFC: No, it makes a lot of sense. Are these ideas that you've kind of thought about for a while, or has the show (Top Design) further developed them for you? How has that sort of relationship existed”¦?
RH: I really looked at the show as an extension of some of the performance work I've done. It's hidden in there, and I think somebody who's conditioned to studying art, and looking at art, and asking a lot of questions, can pick up on things and see it. But I think a lot of what I was talking about or trying to do has been made for TV, it's been edited. But I feel like I fought the good fight.
AFC: What were the sort of events that led up to the show?
RH: To the show?
AFC: Yeah, for you personally as an artist?
RH: Actually I saw an ad on Craig's List on a Saturday morning.
AFC: Good old Craig's List.
RH: Yeah, isn't that funny? I do primarily installation work, and in my opinion — I think they even put this on the TV commercial — I don't think interior design has had its rebellion yet. It hasn't had its Ramones, or its Dead Kennedys or its NWA. It hasn't had something that's kind of turned on it yet because I think everyone in that community — and this goes for the art community as well, and the fashion community — I think there's a lot of people, as long as they continue to keep pushing on that bike pimp, everything stays inflated. And they're like, okay, if I keep inflating it, and you keep inflating it, and you keep inflating it. And I'm not talking in financial terms. I'm talking in terms of keeping this big thing afloat. You know, at some point, I don't know what it's going to be, it's probably not going to be an artist or a fashion designer or an interior designer. It's going to be a plague or some giant economic collapse in China that's going to pop it. But something's going to come along and pop it. So, what was your question again?
AFC: I was wondering, what sort of led up to participating in the show?
RH: On the TV show?
AFC: Yeah, sort of what internally, and externally, you were kind of”¦
RH: Basically I do this installation work, and it has to do a lot with taste and what people consider good taste and bad taste, or high art or low art, or high culture or low culture. And, you know, I grew up in a burned-out industrial town, and what's actually considered low culture here, is on some level considered high culture to me and to a lot of my friends growing up. So, I guess basically I looked at this Craig's List advertisement, and thought, you know what, I could go and really do something with this interior design thing. I think most of it's like bad airports, and computer beige, and doctor's offices. You know, there's some amazing stuff going on out there, I won't discount it entirely. I just think it's a weird, weird world, and I felt like, you know what, this is some place I can have an impact. It would be like a new genre for my artwork, like television. It's like Andy Warhol 101.
AFC: Yeah, I just think it's really interesting because there are so many similarities right now between the interior design world and the art world.
RH: Well, more and more so. That's kind of one of my frustrations, and I could name a name, but I won't do it. But you can pick one of the top five galleries, and almost all of the painters that show there, it's just decorative. Conceptually there's not much there, it comes down to style and technique, and concept is just missing. It's a market, and I'm not going to say if it's good or bad, but in my opinion, that's not what I think artwork should be about. To me, that's like a whole other place, and it has its place, and some of these painters I know, and I'll tell them that to their face. I'll be like, come on, is this what you're studying in school, really? And I don't mean that in a bad way.
AFC: Yeah, and it seems like such a byproduct of a strong market, that you know there are so many collectors, maybe not necessarily educated collectors who want work that looks good with their couch.
RH: A lot of the pieces end up over mantels.
RH: They are considered as one little component in an interior, like a wall treatment or a window treatment or a lamp. And I feel like art should be considered differently, and I don't have the answer for how, but that's something I'm always pushing for in my own work. If I had the answer, I'd be done, my search would be over.
Look forward to part two of two tomorrow, in addition to a dizzy amount of fair coverage.