The Art Assassin

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang

Chapter 35: EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: William Powhida, Artist Represented by Schroeder Romero Gallery

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The main man William Powhida sporting a pair of black-tinted shades. Courtesy of Facebook and the gang.
William Powhida: Top Ten (artforum), 2006, graphite and gouache on paper, 30 by 22 inches. Courtesy of Platform Gallery.

Pretty please, I really don’t need to make this genius any more famous than he needs to be. William Powhida is the main man for most and we bow down to him. Just too bad that examiner.com filters out the bad words from the press. How could we get away with that in Gravity’s Rainbow seriously when the rainbow trout is nearly extinct.

Powhida has been the nettle in the side of the art world for so long. Friends become enemies while enemies remain enemies. That’s why I have been seeing a few cameo roles of the artist in various Hollywood blockbusters, especially the forthcoming film with Bigfoot and starring Paul Rudd, who for many years has been Bill Powhida’s body double, produced by Compound Editions. And why is it that every cool-looking, suave artist has to sport shades? F–k if I know seriously. The time is not ready to declare war either ways. And seriously Powhida can draw and do watercolors that day painters would kill for with a killer look.

If you have any questions about Powhida’s hideously brilliant artwork, feel free to contact Schroeder Romero Gallery at lisa@schroederromero.com or sarajo@schroederromero or at (212) 630-0722. If you want the older s–t from Powhida’s bathroom, contact Platform Gallery at info@platformgallery.com or at (206) 323-2808. They will be pissed thoroughly that you collectors want to bite the cheaper stuff when the newer, slicker s–t is going to be the bomb diggity at the next Pulse Art Fair.

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

qi peng: Being a conceptual artist who critiques the system of art world, why do people mix you up with Buck Naked, the owner of the “How’s My Dealing?” blog? Do you assume various other identities for the same reasons that rap artists have different monikers or James Bond is Agent 007? How does having a playful attitude towards the confusing and often problematic world of contemporary art dealers and collectors allow you an attitude that unprecedentedly wrecked shop all over the town?

William Powhida: I assume people think I’m Buck Naked because of the various enemies/allies projects I’ve done in the past, though I have no idea if How’s My Dealing started before or after my New York Enemies/Allies blog started.  Some of the comments are from the future on How’s My Dealing, 2023, or something.  It seems like something I would do, but I prefer to be part of the thing I’m criticizing, since I’m also an artist.  A G-E-N-I-U-S.  I wish I had a name like GZA, but William Powhida will have to do.  Actually, rap artists taught me to ‘fake it until you make it’.  It’s a power issue; you can stand in line or create your own reality.  It’s easier to do when you have nothing, come from nothing.  There are no expectations.  Within that context, I find humor to be disarming in the context of art.  Most people equate art with seriousness, like art museums are churches.  It’s irreverence towards the spiritual.

qi peng: You are such a brilliant talented draftsman. How did you get that way? Did anyone at Syracuse University or Hunter College have to whip you up into shape in order to push lines and curves on paper in awesome configurations? What is the story behind the provocative drawing of yourself mixed into the ArtForum‘s top ten list column?

William Powhida: Jerome Witkin said I lacked the ‘glue’ to hold together my drawings.  He said I used a hundred lines when one would do.  He also called everyone at my school ‘McDonald’s hamburgers’, pre-packaged and ready-to-go.  By the end of his class, his comment was ‘you found your glue’.  Another professor also said one of my paintings was an embarrassment and I should never paint realistically again.  That professor also concluded his history of Modernism by showing Kubrick instead of paintings, because it had gotten so bad.  As far as the Artforum top ten, it seemed like the right thing to do since I felt I’d never be invited to do one.  The bald dude who publishes Artforum saw that drawing at Year06 (what a sad affair that art fair turned out to be in 07) in London and had a laugh.  Never was invited to do a ‘real’ one.  I prefer mine.

qi peng: What are some things that you would like to do with or against me, knowing that I am THE ART ASSASSIN? Is your enemies’ hit list based on some obscure voodoo trickery or philosophy which readers here may not be familiar with? How do you qualify to be on your enemies or friends list? Is double crossing bad in the art world? What about throwing dice or cheating?

William Powhida: As THE ART ASSASSIN, I’ve come to wonder if you might not be Buck Naked himself, although it  would shatter my various preconceptions on who Buck Naked is.  Actually, I’d prefer if we could form some sort of loosely aligned collective so Art History would have something to do for the next hundred years.  I’m not sure what they would call us, but antagonism is already an ism.  The enemies lists and the hexes are based on the notion that metaphysics gain their power from our belief in them.  My hex on Zack Feuer met nothing until he gave it the power.  Had he chuckled and moved on, Raymond Learsy wouldn’t have Zack’s letter telling me to quit and start over in his office.  There isn’t really any qualification to be an enemy or ally, it’s basically my answer to operating in a capitalist system based on competition.  I think we believe that art is above such crass notions, but Gagosian is the king of the art world (it’s very feudal) and people want the brass ring.  I’d take a small house somewhere, but no one has completed my piece offering to sell my entire career for the illusion of security.  The collector (she’s lovely) who bought the representation of my offer said she wasn’t ready to buy me out yet.  Everyone then, in this system, is my competition for the brass ring. We are all in contention for a few pages of history book that hasn’t been written.  Everything is always at stake.

As far as double crossing and throwing the dice, it doesn’t really matter if you have nothing to lose.  If you, assassin, are throwing the dice, you have learned well.  Even if you aren’t, you’ve accessed my deeply rooted paranoia and implicated yourself in the game.  As Duchamp pointed out, art is game played against everyone at all times.  Clearly that’s not a quote, just what I remember.

qi peng: What was it like to contribute to The Brooklyn Rail? Do you ever rail against what you have written in the past? How do you balance your time being an artist as well as an arts writer? What is your signature literary style and does it ever show up in your artwork? How does it do that?

William Powhida: I used to contribute to the Brooklyn Rail.  I stand behind everything I ever wrote, including my attempt to analyze Jules DeBalincourt‘s first solo show at Feuer.  I avoided, to his satisfaction, talking about the style of the work.  I wanted to discuss the Marxist implications of the narrative, even the feminist undercurrent.  Before I put him in an enemies list, we had a conversation about it at Union Pool.  He seemed like a decent guy, but he remains competition.  That said, I stopped writing about art in a serious manner when I started making art about the art world.  I can’t be a good career builder and a career assassin at the same time.  Wait, yes I can.  When anyone addresses the art world, critically or otherwise, they call attention to the thing they address.  Even the negative gains attention and separation from the competition is important.

I don’t think I have a literary style.  I was greatly influenced by a writer named Jeff Parker who teaches in Toronto these days, who introduced me to hypertext and post-modern fiction.  Barthelme, Coover, Gass, Marcus…  It opened doors, but as far as art criticism that was a product of my education and pragmatic thought about how each exhibition asked to be criticized.  I didn’t approach an exhibition with set of rules to be applied to the work.

qi peng: How do you determine which artists you enjoy looking at? How do you determine which artists you do avoid with a quick step? Are there any cool recent exhibitions or artists that we ought to place on our watch list? If so, why?

William Powhida: I enjoy artists that surprise me, defy my expectations and assumptions about art.  Matthew Day Jackson is an artist who went from being the ‘Viking Ship’ dude in my mind to someone who took the materiality of his work to a different place.  He’s someone who makes work that I initially thought of as part of the Williamsburg ramshackle aesthetic who just totally kicked my ass.  He was in a show in Seattle called the Violet Hour with Jen Liu who had a video installation that recast Black Sabbath‘s Iron Man and Pink Floyd in Italian and Latin respectively.  Both artists were part of a group show at the Henry called the Violet Hour, and I felt thin afterwards.  Otherwise, cool exhibitions?  The best thing I’ve witnessed recently was Ellie Ga‘s presentation of “The Catalog of the Lost” (maybe the title) at a performance at St. Mark’s last week.  It was elegant, intelligent, and funny in a way that makes me think she’s really a genius.  She also spent some time on an expedition to the arctic circle.  She’s a bright shining light in the darkness of the commercial art world, lighting it from the outside.

qi peng: What would cause you to run away to South America like Gauguin did and paint boring seascapes or ocean scenes for the tourists down there? Why did the Wall Street market collapse? Did it bring down the art market? If so, how? Do you ever feel like a prophet in being able to satirize or point out the foibles of those who are arrogant in the art business? Do you consider yourself an idealist? A satirist?

William Powhida: If my wife really left me, which hasn’t been the case despite her role in my work, I’d bail to the islands and finish myself off.

Wall Street collapsed because the housing market is a finite resource.  You can’t keep refinancing homes forever.  And then you can’t create derivatives off the wealth that those refies are going to generate.  You can’t also generate wealth by betting those derivatives are going to fail in the form of credit default swaps.  I have no idea if my terms here are correct, but the bottom line is that you can’t make a perpetual money multiplier.  Like physics, there are factors like inertia and gravity one has to consider when banking on infinite growth.  People were making loans based on projections, and others, who realized it was bulls–t, said I call.  Now we are f—ed.

As far as being a prophet, the idea is absurd.  As one collector pointed out, at best I was seeing clearly.  When you examine the way we generate value in the world, you will arrive at the same awful conclusions I did in 2007 in the Market Crash piece.

Let’s say I wish were an idealist, but I don’t have the privilege to operate like one.  Satire is a tool, the desire to do more will haunt you if you are a world changer, it might even kill you.

qi peng: What is it like to live in Williamsburg? Do you have any favorite hot spots that you enjoy hanging out at or eating or drinking or just doing your thing? What do you think about the real estate moguls and the gentrification process that’s going on in your neighborhood? Does that ever piss you off much or do you prefer to go with the flow?

William Powhida: I am basically a prisoner in Williamsburg making work in a cold studio or an entirely sweltering one depending on the season.  I like living in Williamsburg in the spring and fall when I can open my window or sit in the garden outside (that is the best part).  Right now, the window is covered in blue Styrofoam while I huddle near the space heater.  In a week or two, I will take down the Styrofoam and open said window.  It will be glorious.  Until then, I drink at Iona in the back or attend whatever opening is going on with someone I know in it.

The gentrification process produces tidy looking buildings that I often stop to peer into wondering what it would be like to have a shiny metal fridge.  It shows me a world that I am not a part of.

qi peng: Your paintings is squarely postmodern in that the work has smaller drawings or tiny work embedded within the larger work similar to the recent paintings of Jasper Johns where he always stick allusions to his earlier stuff inside the new paintings. What is the philosophy behind the “painting-inside-a-painting” approach? What is up with all of the self-references that you like to drop in the hidden meanings?

William Powhida: That would allude to and ought to squarely identify me with the post-modernist camp of self-referentiality.  It’s not really post-modernist, just a branch of Modernism that Adorno identified and fell to wayside of the Greenbergian ocular essentialism.  I privilege uncertainty and doubt, really, and truth seekers should look elsewhere for meaning.  I think the hidden meanings are a way of addressing the unspoken hierarchy that we are always confronted with as we toil out our lives inside a capitalist structure.  For some the references become a mirror of their own struggles, no matter what the context.

qi peng: How do you manage to get all that intricate details in whipping out drawings based on faux newspaper or magazine articles? Do you expect people to stand in front of your work to read all of the article, considering how much our society has a short attention span?

William Powhida: I don’t whip out the faux newspaper or magazine articles for f–ksake.  Seriously, each one of those took an inordinate amount of time to research, prepare, doubt, and execute despite those doubts.  I’ve made a New York Magazine spread, an Aspen Living spread, two New York Times paintings, and a Wall Street Journal page in three years.  I admit, I spit out the notebook paper pieces, but once the drawing of the paper are done, they work roughly around the speed of my thought.  I keep journals and notebooks to scratch out the ideas.  Then, it becomes part of the work.  I sent Martin Bromirski from Anaba, one of my notebook pages.  My work arrives in between the studio and life.

qi peng: What is the story behind and the inspiration behind your masterwork “The Bastard?” How does it examine the nature of celebrity? Who would you deem to be the Paris Hilton of the art world? The Britney Spears of the art world? Who would you like to ruffle his or her feathers in the art world? What do you think of celebrities in general?

William Powhida: First off, I’d say that the Paris Hilton of the art world would be Dash Snow.  Despite his attempts to shrug off his lineage, he comes from serious wealth.  He made an attempt to distance himself from that privilege, but now we have Purple Magazine‘s lovely spread of him nude with Grandma (also nude); one of the scions of American collecting.  He also has a family now, which he can support with his wealth.  Dash, above all others, represents for me what you can do with fame and right circle of friends.  I mean, he’s accomplished more than Paris, but you could argue that point.  She has bad movies like Repo The Genetic Opera, he has the Whitney Biennial 2006.   I made the Bastard painting in response to the New York magazine profile and the New Yorker’s profile of Leo Koenig.

I don’t think you can ruffle Paris’s feathers, as much as I could ruffle Dash’s.  He’s a father now, and I respect that.  I hope he raises his kid so that she doesn’t have to run off and deny who she is.  That would be amazing.

qi peng: What are some of your hobbies that you enjoy doing when you aren’t doing your art or art criticizing? How do they related to your studio practice if at all? Is there any free time to do fun stuff like pranks or jokes on people?

William Powhida: I’d like to have a hobby.  I’d like to have free time.

qi peng: Did your drawing “The New York Enemies List” ever cause you to receive death threats or negative flak when it was first exhibited? How did your gallery representing you, Schroeder Romero, react to this brilliant work on paper? Have you ever tried to poke fun at the gallery that represents and feeds you? If not, would that be too risky or bold a move?

William Powhida: When I was working on The New York Enemies List, Lisa saw it in progress.  She freaked out and thought it might be career suicide.  Basically, I called Zack something that dealt with his stature.  The text was only placement, I don’t capitalize on beauty or the lack thereof, but she brought it to my attention and the compromise was born out of the intrusion I felt.  They don’t want to censor me, but it’s hard to be a real asshole when your studio is in your art dealer’s old gallery space.

There is a lot I could make fun of working with commercial galleries, but there are other artists I work with and respect a great deal.  Whatever the girls’ faults, they work incredibly hard and have staked their reputations to mine.  If the situation were to become untenable or completely bullshit, I’d move my next exhibition to my studio.  Maybe leave a sign on the gallery door with directions to where the work is, just as they could can my ass.  Right now, the gallery is home, and unlike Rivington Arms, they aren’t closing.  I’ve got my Javier in Seattle, Platform, who actually had first rights to me.  Those guys are awesome and if everyone worked like them there would be no complaints about the art world.  I just won’t compare trying to make a gallery work in New York and Seattle.  Apples and Oranges.  The girls’ faults?  They staked their reputations to mine.

qi peng: What is your opinion about art fairs and the ability to frame the artist’s works within a shopping mall context? Should Powhida drawings be mass produced for mass consumption for the average Joe or Jane to appreciate and own? Do you think that offset lithographs of your works would allow more people to become fascinated by the somewhat eccentric world of contemporary artists? Do you think that fine art should be sold in places like IKEA or Pottery Barn?

William Powhida: Art fairs destroyed my romantic notion of egalitarianism.  I mean, a solo show in a commercial gallery is free and lasts four to six weeks.  If you like art, you can see it for free. Art fairs generally cost money and last four days.  I’ve made art that only those rich enough to afford it, or obsessed enough with art to deal with art fairs, have every really seen.  It makes me sad.  I remember hearing a lecture in undergrad about how Sue Coe always made cheap, affordable prints that accompanied her shows so her work remained accessible.

In response, belatedly, at my next show, you will be able to buy a print of anything I’ve ever done, as well as anything by Jen Dalton, or any of the artists who agree to participate in an absurd project we are presenting.  To answer the last question, I don’t believe artists work in such a way that could offer a sustainable life style selling cheap prints to the masses via a mass market outlet.  It runs contrary to my very ideologicial notion that all collectors should strive to find the artist that reflects their individuality.  I don’t know if there are enough artists to support that economy, but if the world valued art, there certainly would be enough people to support their artists.

qi peng: What is the standard practice in the William Powhida studio? Do you do a lot of research and intense preparation or just enter into the chamber and execute? What degree of spontaneous craziness enters into the picture? Is genius the best form of madness and why?

William Powhida: I’ve outlined some of my practice.  Some work takes research and preparation while others are a reflection of my continuous reflection on the world.  What separates what I think and what I do ends up in the art work.  While this is a  bullshit answer, I take the authorial stand that authors rarely enter a work of fiction, they rely on narrators, be them fictional or otherwise.

Schjeldhal has called Gagosian a genius, requiring the fewest moving parts.  Therefore, I am not a genius.  It is not a form of madness in Schjeldhal’s bestiary, it is a premeditated move to be an asshole.  A friend of mine once noted brilliantly that despite the fact that I called myself a genius, no one was questioning the assertion.  He then asserted that if no one was contesting the assertion, then I might be a genius.  Contest, assholes, contest.

qi peng: What stuff is behind (or stories for that matter) the beautiful drawing “The New York Allies List?” What are the signature elements of your humor? Do you watch a lot of Comedy Central or old school Richard Pryor to get inspiration for your offbeat sense of wackiness? I really dig the approach and I think that the art world often takes itself too seriously. How should we try to bring in the funk into art dealers’ heads?

William Powhida: I f—ed up with the allies list.  Beautiful to you, condescending to others.  Jim Torok, who made a painting that declared itself a major work, like a plane on autopilot, was deeply unhappy with my categorization of him as a cartoonist.  I couldn’t help but say “Jim, you are a f—ing cartoonist who makes art out of the most untraditional means” by the label next to his name.  I’m not sure anyone on that list feels like an ally.  It’s like aligning yourself, unwittingly with the worst part of the art world, being me.  I wanted to acknowledge all that was right with the world in that drawing, and I couldn’t stop being an asshole.  I’d hoped everyone on that drawing would see that they were influential, important, respected, and admired.

qi peng: How prolific do you get considering the amount of detail that is involved in the intricate artwork? What do you think about Mark Lombardi stuff which is similar to what you are doing but with the more serious dose of conspiracy theories? Have you read the book “Vitamin D” published by Phaidon? Would you ever riff off that tome like a jazz song?

William Powhida: Prolific.  That’s a good word.  I used to hate repetition.  Now I call it reiteration.

A continuous search for ‘clarity’.  That’s a justification.  If people ignored my work, I would be forced to change.  That simple fact that you, art assassin, have emailed me with your questions is another justification.  I am prolific.  I am a sell out.  I am the worst artist you have ever interviewed.  Now, that’s out of the way, I got a huge dose of conspiracy theory from an artist named Jonathan Allen, not the collage artist friends with Tom Sanford, but the other Jonathan Allen for years.

I s-at, that’s right, s-at, on Mark Lombardi’s drawings years ago as Keane Pepper, because I reacted to them without thought.  This was before I engaged them and learned about them.   At the time, looking at twenty plus shows, they gave me a headace and seemed boring.  I wanted to say “write a book mother f—er, go out and punch someone.”  In the end, I realize that’s what Mark was trying to do, punch us in the face.  He is brilliant.  He saw clearly.  It’s not easy to talk about someone in past and present tense, but his drawings make him alive.

qi peng: What are some of your favorite artists, magazines, books, movies, or cultural artifacts that the Powhida enjoys? Do you ever listen to music while you draw and if so, which songs would be the best accompaniment?

William Powhida: I have no favorite artists, only competition.  I must improve upon those before me (kant) and fix the world.  If we are to look sideways at inspiration, I must do everything they did and raise it up for the next go around (Nietzsche)

As for music, my hard drive exploded, literaly it caught on fire, and now I punch in band names into pandora and hope for the best.

qi peng: What do you think about art critics in general? Would there ever be a future drawing involving these people, considering that you are an insider within this often esoteric universe? Could we expect an animated Powhida feature like a cartoon about the New York art world someday?

William Powhida: Having spent some time as an art critic as you call us, them, I admire and respect them, not myself so much.  Mira Schor is the artist and writer, who said she wasn’t interested in engaging in career building.  I agree.  Most critics are the architects of careers in that they are thoughtful of what they support, and rarely speak out against what they despise. If they talked about what they didn’t like they would be largely unemployed and they would have nothing to show for their work.

Critics pop up in my work, as far as they enter my paranoid universe.  Solipsism is what they refer to when confronted.  No cartoon.

qi peng: Is there anything else that you wish to diss or poke fun at while we are here? What accounts for the choice of the people or things that you are hexing?

William Powhida: Religion.  I’d like to match a voodoo hex against jihad or a Catholic exorcism.

qi peng: With the conceptual art of the lemonade stand that you executed in various venues ranging from the streets of the NADA County Affair to the Pulse Art Fair where you got shut down, what was the idea behind this magnificent structure and the peeps who ran it? Would you consider doing other public works projects later on?

William Powhida: It was a relational piece.  Everyone should read the book.  All art is an opportunity to create spaces for conviviality.  Don’t you believe that?

qi peng: What do you think about blogging in terms of the art world and marketing? Is self-promotion bad for an artist and if not, why?

William Powhida: Ed Winkleman told me after I said I was thinking of starting a blog, “PR”,  and winked.  Self-promotion is a way to enter the consciousness of the art world.  It’s no worse than the awfulness people send out with their submissions.  I did some time at artists space and read a hundred artists statements.  They were painful.  It hasn’t changed.  No one cares about you, you are anonymous.  Figure something out if you aren’t rich, Dash Snow, or went to Yale… Everything depends on your self-promotion.

qi peng: Any other science that you would like to drop before we exit the stage?

William Powhida: When you hold a mirror up to a mirror what do you get?  Infinite regress.  Thanks for interviewing me, Ed Winkleman, and Buck Naked.  How’s Salt Lake City [My note: city of big love, not brotherly love].

I’m going to meet wife.  My solo show, f–k you, is April 10th at Schroeder Romero Gallery.

Destruction.

[Yeah, right… F–k myself too, baby. Word of advice to new artists. Don’t do unsolicited submissions to galleries. Seriously. Even prostitution in Holland is much easier than entering into the New York art market.]

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 2:15 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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