The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 18: DOUBLE ASSASSINATION: Loren Munk, Artist, and James Kalm, Art Critic for The ‘Kalm Report’

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Portrait of the artist as a bike named James Kalm. Courtesy of Facebook.
Loren Munk: Village of the Damned, 2004-2005, oil on linen, 60 by 72 inches. Courtesy of Loren Munk.

Hello, this is James Kalm, the guy on the bike welcoming you for another half-ass production… Those words ring from the beginning of the “Kalm Report,” which has become the leading video art criticism, particularly on YouTube. His ten minute commentary on selected New York shows and art fairs manifest the insights of a monk (bad pun), the wit of a profound comedian, and the controversy of the Brooklyn railway.

Also, Loren Munk, of which Kalm is his performance art alter ego, is a very lovely painter, whose large-scale works have garnered the attention of art history buffs, conceptual artists, and collectors, particularly with his last solo show at Dam, Stuhltrager Gallery in Brooklyn. He also writes for The Brooklyn Rail which delivers their readership non-corporate and uncensored views of exhibitions. And those critics are not scared to provide a negative review where it is needed too. With his paintings and criticism, Munk’s legacy is unquestionably one of the richest and most pointed body of work from a towering intellectual who offers the viewer a wonderful cross section of the vibrant New York art world.

If you have any questions about Munk’s artwork, feel free to contact Mr. Munk or Mr. Kalm at kalmstudio@msn.com.

Now here are THE ART ASSASSIN’s details of the untamed “assassination”:

qi peng: Hello there, I note that there is an odd coincidence in our lives. I am an exiled New Yorker born in Queens and I work here now as a conceptual artist down here in Salt Lake City. You are an artist who was born in the Salt Lake City area and you work in the New York City scene.

Loren Munk: Before I begin, let me first acknowledge that whatever I’ve accomplished has only been possible through the support of my wife Kate, and our family.

Yes I was born in SLC, a while ago, and I lived as a child not that far away from where you reside on the banks of the Jordan River.  My childhood home was at 2615 Lake Street, I attended Nibley Park Elementary School, and I was baptized on Temple Square (though I’m not currently a practicing member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints).  Salt Lake was a wonderful place to grow-up, the experience has probably shaped my entire perception of art, and the world.

qi peng: Also we both have double identities as “qi peng” is not my legal name and you work as both Loren Munk for your artwork and as James Kalm as an art critic for The Brooklyn Rail and a famous Youtube video artist who executes art criticism using a portable video camera. What accounts for this chance meeting?

Loren Munk: What accounts for this chance meeting is both our desires to expand our experiences with in the art world.  I believe that art is not so much an object, a painting, poem, play, or song as it is a form of energy, which flows through individuals, groups and communities.  To be an integrated artist is to be plugged into as much of the art world as possible and conduct as much “art energy” as you can.

qi peng: What is the nature of this conversation, in your opinion, in the way that our lives are foils to each other?

Loren Munk: The mirrored images of our life paths is interesting serendipity, an example of the art force seeking susceptible outlets for expression.

qi peng: On a political note, how do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy?

Loren Munk: I am not an economist, anecdotally here in New York, I’ve witnessed the closure of several galleries, mostly younger marginal operations supporting emerging artist types.  The plethora of art fairs has narrowed down a bit, but people have been warning that the bubble had to pop for years, the rampant expansion was unsustainable.  Now they’re feigning surprise?  Within the national economy, the art market is too small to have any significant impact beyond what the rest of the economy is doing.

qi peng: Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years?

Loren Munk: Artists (at least those who are not purely commercial) will peruse what they always do, perhaps on a smaller less ambitious scale, maybe employing more cost effective alternatives like using the internet for exposure.  I’ve seen a trend with low priced multiples, one level above throw-away ephemera being pushed for quick cash.

qi peng: How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America?

Loren Munk: I’m not one who believes in “dramatic changes” whether through changing political regimes or fluctuating economic cycles. I’ve been around long enough to know that it’s never as bad, or good, as the Chicken Littles would have us believe.  Galleries and non-profits have to be experts at existing on diminished income.  Of course, there will be closures and downsizing, but the folks in the middle will be hit the hardest.  America is part of the globalized scene, but we’ve always been the quickest to adapt to challenges.  With regard to the recession, first in, first out.

qi peng: Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption such as the recent Madoff scandal?

Loren Munk: For New York, the collapse of the stock market and the exposed corruption will cut down on the amount of discretionary money floating around (as I’m writing this it’s just been revealed that Lawrence Salander, one of the most esteemed Upper-East Side dealers, has been indicted for defrauding his clients out of $88 million).  For all but a tiny minority art is something you only spend money on if you can afford to take the cash and flush it down the toilet.  As people pull back and reassess their spending, that level of profligate consumption will slow down for a while.

qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here?

Loren Munk: Stuart Davis and Alfred Jensen are a couple of faves, but I like all artists, and I’m constantly reassessing just where they figure in my own personal cannon.  Most of my reading is research for my art projects and focuses mainly on art history.  All of Irving Sandler’s major histories from The Triumph of American Painting to Art of the Post-Modern Era are recommended as well as the door-stop biographies; Pollock, An American Saga by Steven Naifeh and Gregory Whitesmith, de Kooning by Mark Stevens and Annalyn Swan and Arshile Gorky His Life And Work by Hayden Herrea.  Any excruciatingly inclusive histories of obscure art scenes are good.  I try to avoid watching much TV but have recently been re-viewing the entire Twin Peaks series on discs.   I like the Yankees, and  except for the Brooklyn Rail, I don’t usually read the art mags, unless I can access them online. I’ve spent a lot of time perfecting my yo-yoing, and throwing boomerangs, but haven’t had time to carry on those practices much lately.  My Canon Elph SD 750 camera is now my favorite toy.   Marcine Romacki’s Brooklyn DIY (which premiered at MoMA Feb. 25, 2009) should be on everyone’s to-see list.

qi peng: Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us?

Loren Munk: As for interesting exhibitions, just visit the “Kalm Report”.

qi peng: What things in those shows inspired your visual eye?

Loren Munk: I’m someone who looks for the human in art, the artist’s imperfect hand, the pathetic and fallible, artists who take on the world with originality, elbow-grease and a peculiarly unselfconscious approach to their work.   They usually fail, but for me, that only enhances their courageousness.

Recently I find my self looking at more “Outsider” or “naïve” art.  When it’s good it’s inimitable, transcends the market, academia and most of the institutional criteria that enforce the norms and turn fresh ideas boring.  Artists who become successful and then morph into art corporations with market research and branding campaigns, “too big to fail” seem a creation of  commercial or institutions interests, not individuals, a real turn off.

qi peng: Would Loren Munk suggest a different set of favorite things than those of James Kalm?

Loren Munk: I’m pretty sure that Loren and James agree on most things.

qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism and art critics such as Jerry Saltz?

Loren Munk: I enjoy Jerry Saltz, though I don’t agree with everything he writes, he’s a great wit and a sensitive perceiver of art.  After twenty five years on the scene I’ve finally gotten to a point where I can say hello to he and Roberta [Smith] (who I also enjoy reading), though I’m sure it’s probably a bit of an aggravation for them.  Dave Hickey is a fantastic force in art writing, a real refreshment from the New York clique.   I try to stay on top of as much art writing as I can though, due to the massive amount of stuff out there, and trying to paint, video, write and just take care of day to day life, it’s impossible to catch everything.  It’s important for artists to be aware of the cultural conversation, even take part in it if they choose.  No one should relinquish their responsibility of opinion to a pundit.  Challenging the establishment’s tastemakers is a noble cause, and it should be fun and energizing as well.

qi peng: Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world?

Loren Munk: I don’t read periodicals much, I can’t afford them, they pile up fast and they’re out of date by the time they hit the street.  (I do collect old art mags going up to the eighties or nineties)  Some of the lengthier think pieces are good, but the internet provides a more immediate read on what’s happening now without killing all those trees.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis?

Loren Munk: I try to glance at Ed Winkleman’s blog fairly often, Art Fag City, ArtCal [ArtCat] (fairly good listings), PainterNYC (though inactive now), How’s My Dealing (I was one of the first hard copy commentators to mention this site in print) ANABA, Modern Art Notes, Shark Forum, Art Critical, Joanne Mattera, Pretty Lady, Art Cardsartnet.com, Saatchi online TV, and of course ARTFORUM.com’s video page, the list goes on and on.  Also let me mention David Gibson and his Article Projects.  David sends out an e-mail list of openings and events that’s invaluable.

qi peng: Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Salt Lake City or Denver will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City during the recession?

Loren Munk: Recession or no recession, unless something miraculous happens (like a meteor hitting New York, or the discovery of a diamond as big as the Ritz in the Rockies) the art center axis will remain New York/London/Berlin because that’s where the money is.  Theoretically there’s always a chance for someone out in the boondocks (regional art markets) to harness a group of likeminded individuals, and make a splash, Hickey did this for a while at UNLV, but it’s tough.

qi peng: What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within the New York area where you live?

Loren Munk: As always the state of art here in New York is in flux.  The collapse of so much hard copy art criticism is a worry.  It’ll be interesting to see how the bloggers take up the mantel, and the increasing use of the internet as a means of propagating art information.  I do have reservations about the overall aesthetic and philosophical quality of the writing on art blogs, they have no editorial oversight or economic motivation to produce top flight, historically important essays yet.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around the New York area that you wish to recommend us?

Loren Munk: Beyond openings, I don’t have time to hangout, and only go to bars once every four or five months.  The Strand Book store on lower Broadway is a place I love to browse, they’ve got racks of out of date periodicals, auction catalogs and used books.  I can’t step through the doors without spending two hours there.

qi peng: What are the things that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Loren Munk: Mostly they’re close by.

qi peng: As James Kalm, you conducted a videotaped version of a studio visit with the infamous William Powhida. What was it like to meet with the guy whose ironic satire has garnered him infamy amongst the art world patrons and gallery owners such as Zach Feuer?

Loren Munk: I’ve known William for seven or eight years now, long before he “garnered…infamy amongst the art world patrons and gallery owners such as Zach Feuer”.  We were colleagues at the Brooklyn Rail (though he no longer contributes) and I’ve written a couple of reviews, one of which was probably the first major mention of one his early shows at the Dam Stuhltrager  gallery titled “The Bill of Wrongs, Will the Real William Powhida Please Stand Up”.  He was the first studio visit I did for the “Kalm Report” project in 2007.  We share a satirically critical view of much that happens in the art world, and I’ve been a big supporter since I discovered his work.

qi peng: As you focus on the art world within your oil paintings executed as Loren Munk, how does your approach to art history and the patronage system differ than that of Powhida?

Loren Munk: With regards to my painting in comparison to William’s practice, I’m basically a painter, always have been.  The history and legacy of painting is very important to the work.  I’m attempting to aesthetisize art history and aesthetics through paint.  Powhida has recently blossomed as a literary talent, albeit in a trompe l’oeil technique, mainly with drawings and text on paper, relating to a movement I’ve called “Meta-Drawing”.  He’s much more focused on responding to contemporary media, and the work reflects its snarkiness and unctuous adolescent celebrity syndrome.

Ad Reinhardt said “Art is art, everything else is everything else.”  If you want to solve the mystery of art, you have to understand the history of art. I’ve sought to eliminate everything else, use just the pure, rarified essence of the actual art world.  This history is so fantastic and enlightening that generally, I don’t want to clutter up the work with too much personal editorial content, “just the facts ma’am”.  I see art history as perhaps the greatest of all “readymades” a subject without end.  Because of this, I attempt to maintain a “Warholian” distance from the work, reduce the sensual or “expressionistic” content, which, for an old guy who cut his teeth on “Neo-Expressionism” and “Kitsch” art is a chore.  I copy in paint computer generated text rather than use handwriting for this reason.   I’m hoping the paintings might rise to the level of “historical document” thereby transcending mere representation or abstraction, actually becoming something real in their own right.  Accomplishing this with paint is a challenge and represents my belief that painting is the true evolutionary (not a metaphorical or analogous) state of alchemy.

qi peng: Your paintings have colors that remind me of that of Stuart Davis. What inspired you to use such vibrant colors with the paintings?

Loren Munk: Stuart Davis has been a great influence, (along with Alfred Jensen) both as a painter and a member of the community.  He (Davis) was the “Papa of Pop Art”.   I’m trying to use the medium as a means of designation and delineation, I want my colors to POP.

qi peng: As a video artist who produces a prolific number of pieces that focus on the art world through Youtube, what sparked your interest into new media art?

Loren Munk: The question of “New Media” is, as yet, unanswered.  The “Kalm Report” started as an accident, I don’t even know how to define what it is.  My video work seemed to fit the needs I had to expand the documentation of the art world.  As time has gone on, the “Kalm Report” has taken on a life of its own, and changed in ways I couldn’t have predicted

qi peng: In what way does your video art deconstruct the traditional relationship between artist and art critic?

Loren Munk: I don’t attempt to “deconstruct” relationships, rather I’d just like to blur the edges.  I’m torn as to whether I’d like to be called a “critic”.  For me it’s just a little too easy to nit-pick and maintain a constantly critical approach (I have a critical view of “critical theory”).  I’m an enthusiast.    It’s always bothered me that most critics aren’t artists, they have no idea what’s involved in creating a work or the sacrifices made .  How much insight can a mere by standing observer have?  Of course they can and should express their opinions, and they might have value to the general public, but I’m trying to direct my comments to artists, the other members of our tribe.

qi peng: What is the most controversial thing that has happened during any of your nearly three hundred pieces of video footage?

Loren Munk: Some commentators have seen controversy in my attempt to video in prohibited areas.  The “2008 Whitney Biennial Busted” program in which I was asked to leave the museum because security surveillance video caught me turning on my camera was good.  There seems to be some kind of institutional hypocrisy, they can record you with out permission but the individual, even a reporter with press credentials (which I have) can’t record.  I went back to the Biennial three days later taped the camera to my chest, turned it on and walked through the whole exhibition.  I stated that I’d leave the camera on until l was stopped.  I finished the tour, or the battery ran out.  I watched some of the footage the other night, it’s still interesting.  Some of the juiciest stuff I’m not at liberty to mention, I’ve made a pledge of confidentiality, like a priest or lawyer, with some artists.

qi peng: What do galleries or artists think about your beautiful attempts at interventions into the scene like the Robin Hood of visual imagery stealing the contemporary art world imagery for the online masses?

Loren Munk: Responses are mixed.  I’ve noticed that the museums have loosened up their photo policies considerably, I may have had a tiny bit to do with that.  Galleries are another story, they ether love it and beg me to come by (obviously it makes for great promotional material, and the price is right) or a few say they’re “protecting their artist’s copyrights” and forbid photography.  Of course, if the right person asks, they get total access.  Mostly it’s a question of control, an image of exclusivity, somehow the art world is exempt from “freedom of the press”.

Artists generally like what I’m doing though there are complaints about my shaky camera work, music tracks, and the blathering commentary.   Some artists and dealers only want to hear positive things said (I try to include “man on the street” opinions which I can never predict).

qi peng: Do you plan to collect all of the videos for wider distribution on a different medium, say digital video disc (DVD) or downloadable mp4 files?

Loren Munk: At present I have no plans for a compilation CD, and the “Reports” are already available for mp4 downloads.  I’m too focused on just trying to get the next episode out to worry too much about all the other stuff.

qi peng: How does your attitude to the art world in your videos parallel that of your attitude in your paintings?

Loren Munk: I’m trying to document as much of the art scene as is practical.  God knows I can’t get it all, but I’m starting to amass a goodly chunk.

qi peng: In your paintings such as “Village of the Damned,” you delineate the rise and fall of an art scene. In what way would your work be a form of conceptual art?

Loren Munk: I think every art work is to some extent “conceptual”, I’m probably more “Post-Conceptual” or “Conceptual Painting” in that it’s important for the ideas to be emphatically embodied in an actual artifact (the painting), rather that just existing as written ides (literature).  The sociological aspect is about the DNA of art, the myriad forces and influences seen and unseen that shape “art”.  History is under constant attack from the academy, the market and ignorance (sometimes they’re all the same thing).  There’s an analogy to astrophysics in that 90% of the elements that affect our universe are “dark matter”.  I’d like to illuminate some of this art world “dark matter”

qi peng: A form of sociology that captures the essence of the art world “system?” Do you consider the concept of memory similar to that of the idea within the Proust novels where it is used as a form of visual cues to reconstruct a lost history?

Loren Munk: I’ve never read Proust.  I think, due to the internet allowing us to easily tap vast sources of knowledge, we’re getting to a level of sophistication where we’re able to sense greater subtlety and access a deeper interpretation of artworks.  Despite the market’s desire to “streamline history”, without memory, we’ve greatly diminished art.

qi peng: How does the contemporary art world today differ from that of the time periods that you focus on within your paintings?

Loren Munk: I’ve concentrated a lot on 20th Century Modernism centered mainly on New York, because that’s where I live.  The shift of the art world from Paris to New York is one of the greatest cultural stories, our own passion play.  The New York School narrative is pretty well delineated.  I’ve also done pieces on various neighborhoods, East 10th Street, Soho, the East Village and Williamsburg, these last three I’ve experienced first hand, so I’m working on the contemporary as well as the historic, I see it as all part of one big magillah.  Very little has changed, except maybe the effects of the internet.

qi peng: Do you believe that the art world has become more commercial or corrupted after the Reagan era?

Loren Munk: As I stated above, there is a consistent societal flux.  One politician or decade doesn’t have the power to bring about massive change, they’re just convenient signposts for deeper underlying shifts.  Corruption and commercialism have always been with us.  Sometimes we’re just more inured to it, or maybe more susceptible to the marketing.  Many would say the Reagan era was a “golden age”.

qi peng: Considering that there are so many shows going on within the New York scene at any given time, how do you decide which shows to focus on at any given time?

Loren Munk: I just have to go with what attracts me.  I’m a painter so that’s been one area where I’ve concentrated.  Other programs have been created on the spur of the moment.  If I see something that strikes me as notable, I’ll whip out my camera and start shooting.  Many times I’ll just record, go home and splice things together like a collage and hope it’s interesting to viewers.

qi peng: Have you ever been “thrown out” of any gallery before?

Loren Munk: I’ve never physically been “thrown out”.  I’ve been vehemently told to stop recording, emphatically asked to leave, and I’ve had people swipe at the camera.  I’m 6’3” 220 lbs. of weight lifting, bike riding, army vet, Western guy, people think twice about getting physical.

qi peng: Is there a certain element of rebelliousness to your methodologies?

Loren Munk: I’d call it subversive.  My goal since the inception of the “Kalm Report” has been to expose the real life side of the art world.  In a way it’s a Dadaist anti-art practice, the intended realism of it deflates the intentionally constructed myths.

qi peng: What is the biggest button that you are willing to push in order to execute a certain piece?

Loren Munk: Probably lying.  In the “Busted” piece I said I’d tell people the camera was off even if it wasn’t.  In the “Art is Communication” piece, the moderators asked everyone to turn off their cameras.  I didn’t and caught Klaus Beisenbach (chief curator at PS1) becoming incensed and walking out of the discussion, a great historical documentation that wouldn’t have been recorded if I hadn’t broken the rules. (Don’t expect to see me curated into anything at PS1 or MoMA anytime soon.)

qi peng: Do you have any advice for up and coming BFA and MFA graduates who are graduating from art school and are starting to hunt for galleries to show their artwork?

Loren Munk: My advice would be to buy real estate.  I understand there are some great deals to be made out there now.  Also you might want to take up medicine or the law as back-up careers.

qi peng: Do you think that there are too many talented artists within the system than what the top galleries especially in Chelsea or Brooklyn can handle?

Loren Munk: The economy of the art world is based on cash not talent.  Talent has very little to do with it, everybody is talented, but few get the opportunity to show or the support needed to reach their true potential.  What it’s about is connections, relationships, and what you, as an artist, can bring to a dealer.  There are plenty of crappy artists (too many to mention here) who have cultivated remarkable careers through the charisma of their personalities, the fashions of the time and their group of friends, their coterie.

qi peng: With the recent closures of so many galleries within the New York art world such as Rivington Arms and Roebling Hall as well as other areas in San Francisco such as Little Tree Gallery, what trends are you seeing within the extant galleries and how they are presenting their work to the public?

Loren Munk: It’s been posited that the recession has brought out a better quality of work recently, and I’ve seen some museum grade exhibitions at galleries.  I don’t see the recession and the closure of galleries as all negative, though I’ll miss these people.  I’ve seen some young artists who stayed with galleries because they were friends with the dealers, even though the galleries weren’t the best places for their work.  Once their friends folded they were shown by much better galleries.  This cleansing process is good and natural.

qi peng: Do you see any trends within the established museums such as MOMA and Whitney in how they are dealing with the recession?

Loren Munk: The museums are cutting back on nonessential employees in product sales, gift shops etc.  In a way, they’re even more desperate for ticket buying customers now.   If I’m providing some kind of exposure for their shows they’ll be even more accommodating to the “Kalm Report”.

qi peng: What is your opinion on art fairs and its seemingly more commercial and less conceptual presentation of artwork as compared to that of more traditional exhibitions?

Loren Munk: I love art fairs, though I think there’s still room for more contraction.  Art fairs are where the rubber meets the road, art that can support itself flourishes.  For the average person a fair might be overwhelming.  I, after years of gallery and fair hopping, have a unique tolerance for art viewing.  During the Armory Show week here in NYC I probably glanced in at over 400 booths, and didn’t even make all the venues.

qi peng: Is it possible to present artwork in a challenging way within the Miami or New York warehouse spaces?

Loren Munk: Innovative artists and dealers will always come up with clever ways of circumventing the standard format.  Many don’t have time or inclination to delve into the process, they’ve invested money and they need to try to recoup it.  How many people are going to spent $20,000 to play some obscure art world joke on the viewing public?

qi peng: What elements of playfulness can enter into the Miami or New York art fairs?

Loren Munk: What ever playfulness can be afforded with in a business environment (what ever you do don’t scare or turn off the clients).

qi peng: Do you think that dynamics of art fairs will change as the recession is underway?

Loren Munk: Fewer fairs, better quality, and more fresh blood.

qi peng: What was the experience of videotaping the art fairs like during the past few years? How do you edit the footage for final presentation through YouTube?

Loren Munk: Recording the fairs can be fun.  I see more on the videos than in real life.  It’s exhausting.  I try to record and edit the vids in the same day, just pick the highlights and get the reports posted while they’re still relevant.

qi peng: How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of painting and photography and sculpture, more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes?

Loren Munk: I wrote a series of reviews a couple of years ago dissecting the “glassy surface” that was in vogue with scores of painters at the time.  My take was that because so few young artists had actually seen the real “masterpieces” they assumed that they all had the same slick surface as the TV or computer screen or the pages of a glossy arts magazine.  I think photography has caused a certain kind of perceptual retardation.  People have lost their ability to decipher pictorial information that isn’t derived from a photo, the kind of grimy human images or diagrams that guided our lives for millennia.  Photography does possess its own magic and the ability to document but, it isn’t really truthful, it has its own vernacular, warps and faults and somehow it can be inhumane, maybe that’s its main appeal.

The internet is new, but a lot of what is called “New Media” ain’t so new.  The name sounds good but what is it?  It’ll be assimilated, people will keep on making paintings, sculptures and video and the social networking aspects of places like facebook, or YouTube might become integrated into a new form.  Of course the media, like photography, which can interface most readily with the computer will be most successful.

qi peng: Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the clichés of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human?

Loren Munk: New Media or not, I don’t see most people critiquing anything beyond their last meal, their last orgasm or the last episode of American Idol.  The concept of critiquing the “mainstream media” or realizing we’re all living clichés would cause a major fracture in society.  I don’t see it happening beyond some grad school courses at the local community collage.

qi peng: What were the years of writing about art for The Brooklyn Rail like?

Loren Munk: I’m still writing for the Brooklyn Rail, have been now for nearly ten years, since the third or fourth issue.  It’s been astounding to see how a band of kids have taken a project like the Rail and made it into one of the most prestigious publications in the New York area.  I’ve been inspired by the dedication and innovation of Phong Bui and John Yau.  The undeniable achievements of the Rail shows it’s possible for individuals to Do-It-Yourself and succeed.

qi peng: What made the magazine controversial and cutting-edge within its approach to reporting about galleries, shows, and the scene?

Loren Munk: The Rail is controversial and cutting edge because it’s all artist volunteers.  These are the people out on the streets and in the studios, they love and understand art, and because there is such a diversity of opinion you don’t have any overriding doctrine.  The Rail is funded through grants and donations so there’s less commercial pressure from galleries or institutions to tilt the reporting.  John Yau has set an example of unafraid hardnosed criticism, he can be brutally tough on anyone, but it’s always fair and thought provoking.

qi peng: How does conducting a piece of art criticism differ between the printed matter and an Internet video website?

Loren Munk: When I write a review I have time to contemplate what I’ve seen, do research, read the press release maybe talk to others and get a sense of the general consensus.  When I do a video report, I’m performing, creating a flow of consciousness narrative that is totally spontaneous.  There is a limited time to capture what’s happening.  Sometimes it works, sometimes not.

qi peng: How does each medium reflect a creative approach to its constraints?

Loren Munk: Because of the long tradition of written criticism, there are standard approaches that keep it from veering off into poetry, fantasy or clap-trap, basically describe, analyze, interpret and judge.  Video is a more impressionistic form.  The voiceover narrative gives it a certain structure, but there’s the ability to use a broader palette of elements to elicit a response.  I’m still a beginner so I’m picking up more and more everyday.

qi peng: What are some of your future dreams and upcoming exhibitions that both Loren Munk and James Kalm will be experiencing?

Loren Munk: I’m looking forward to “The Generational: Younger Than Jesus” at the New Museum.  It’s kind of funny that the trend of hyping young artists while they were still in grad school has crashed and burned in the last couple of years.  Now the trend has shifted in favor of “geezer art”.  I guess they didn’t get the memo at the New.  Also, the “Pictures Generation” at the Met.  This movement was happening during my arrival to New York, I never bought into it (too much French Deconstructionism) but it’ll be interesting to see how things look twenty-five years later.

qi peng: What are some potential challenges or past hardships that your dual identities have overcome and that you are proud of?

Loren Munk: One reason I created James Kalm was to avoid being identified as a painter who writes.  At the time, painters painted, writers wrote, there was for this artist, a certain mistrust.  Only a painter who was a looser or not serious would write criticism.  As I’ve matured, I realized the important function writers and critics provide.  In a way I’ve become an advocate not only for artists but for their critics as well.  Now, unfortunately, I’m identified more as a “critic” or “videographer”.   People will gladly approach me if they think they can get something out of it.  I’m constantly being importuned with invitations to openings, studio visits and reviews, although many of the same people would never dream of taking the time to visit my studio, and they do their best to avoid looking at the paintings, which still remain my main project.  The art world has a shockingly limited capacity to see beyond a very narrow impression of an individual.

I do feel proud that I’m beginning to establish a body of work that has an historical significance, depicting aspects of the New York scene, the parts the “commercial media” doesn’t want you to see, and making it available to people all over the world.

qi peng: Do you ever feel like James Bond, Agent 007?

Loren Munk: Besides having the same first name, James Bond, has nothing on me (but I could use some of his gadgets).   I’ve been referred to as a video ninja.

qi peng: Before we embark on the last question, thanks very much for your time. Is there anything else that Loren Munk wishes to share with his fans and viewers of his paintings? Is there anything else that James Kalm wishes to share to share with his online fans and viewers of his YouTube channel?

Loren Munk and James Kalm (together as a chorus): As I’ve repeatedly stated: as artists, we’re members of a tribe.  The only people who truly care about art are other artists.  Generally,  people outside the tribe don’t give a rat’s ass about art or artists.  The art world is not utopia, many inhabitants are assholes and jerks, but they’re our assholes and jerks.  Your importance to the tribe is measured in how much you can do for the tribe.  Artists and trends come and go, but the tribe lives on.  It’s our responsibility to remain observant and realize that there is a value and art to seeing that validates that which is created to be seen.  Each of us carry on a legacy of art history, we are, in essence, our own art history.  Stay tuned and…Thanks Kate!

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at qipengart@gmail.com
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Written by qi peng

May 12, 2009 at 1:34 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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