Dan Levenson at The Elizabeth Foundation for the Arts. Image courtesy of the artist
You’ll have to excuse the sparse posting on Art Fag City over the last two days. I’ve been working on a couple of long form pieces, one of which is now up on ArtCal Zine. The interview I conduct with artist Dan Levenson of Little Switzerland may not be quite as exhaustive as his investigation of gallery and artist branding, but with close to 2000 published words, I feel I’ve at least given it a shot. A teaser below:
“This is hilarious” I told artist Dan Levenson, pulling out a thong ornamented with the floral Little Switzerland gallery logo. The sale of t-shirts not to mention exhibition branded lingerie falls considerably short of common within fine art circles, though so do corporate identities with no tax id numbers, bank accounts or regular hours of operation. Without knowing Little Switzerland’s background as a conceptual art project about the branding and marketing of art, it might be just as easily confused for a front of some nefarious business enterprise.
Those familiar with the artist’s activist efforts during MoMA’s grand reopening however, would not make this mistake. Protesting the museum’s raise in admission price from 12 dollars to 20 in 2004, Levenson’s FreeMoMA.org campaign consisted of a wearable human sized currency, extended protests outside the museum, and informational fliers describing the problem. Since the high profile days of FreeMoMA, Levenson has continued creating work that addresses similar ideas, while maintaining lighthearted approach. “I have an interest in all the ways art work is disseminated that is extraneous from the object” Levenson explained, “the marketing, the advertising, the word of mouth, the hype”¦ and just the business of the art gallery is fascinating to me and a lot of what Little Switzerland is about.”
ArtCal Zine: And I imagine your position as an art maker gives you an important and unique perspective”¦
Dan Levenson: As an artist I am trying to co-opt that business and make it part of my artwork. So I’m interested in the postcards that galleries send out, I’m interested in the catalogs that they print, the essays that are in those catalogs. I love art gallery logos, I love art gallery letterhead, I love printed art gallery advertisements.
AZ: Speaking to this, can you talk about how you feel Little Switzerland identifies itself as an emerging artist gallery?
DL: Well, it's flexible in terms of the forms it could take, but the story that I have now is that it is a gallery that began in Zürich in 1996 and then moved to Berlin in 1997 where it ran through three seasons and then closed in 1999. So it was an emerging artist gallery that represented a group of emerging Swiss artists. They were all young, they all knew each other, they all went to the same art school and they were all sort of “true believers” in my mind.
AZ: What are true believers?
DL: That's something that I have a hard time explaining but I guess I divide artists along a spectrum of iconoclasts and true believers, and Little Switzerland is a gallery more for true believers than for iconoclasts. It's an emerging gallery, so it was a little bit too loud and a little bit too promotional, the way that emerging artist galleries tend to be. We've spoken before about Bellwether and how their early graphic identity was a little bit louder and kitschy-er.
AZ: Yeah, their website was an illustrated storefront with someone walking in”¦
DL: Yea, that's right! Which I thought was very very cool. And I loved that when they moved to Chelsea they had that pink neon sign that had their logo, which was Bickham Script, a very florid, font. And of course they've toned it down now”¦I think they are aspiring to something a little bit more respectable and upscale and more Chelsea than Williamsburg. So Little Switzerland is more downtown and they have this kind of loud downtown logo, and then they print t-shirts and they have a kind of whole promotional merchandizing aspect that I'm not aware that any real gallery has ever done. I don't think that galleries generally sell t-shirts and coffee mugs and beer steins and stickers and that kind of stuff, but Little Switzerland does. And more than that, they sort of force their artists in the compromising position of having to model the clothing. So these are the artists modeling.
To read the full piece click here.
Related: James Wagner on Dan Levenson at EFA