Sunday, April 19, 2009

Art Space Talk: qi peng (Part 1)

qi peng was born in Queens, New York in 1976 and received his masters degree at Yale University. He is a conceptual artist who executes “interviews” as a form of collaborative portraits with various art professionals and also uses primary/secondary documents to examine the contemporary art market. Occasionally he does paintings, photographs, and works on paper. The artist’s studio is located near downtown Salt Lake City and he works sometimes in New York City for street art or fine art special projects.

He has been exhibited in various places including the Projects Gallery, The Lab at Belmar, modern8 Gallery, James Cohan Gallery/NURTUREart, Metro Pictures, Art Raw Gallery, and Anna Kustera. qi peng is currently represented by The Barbara Ann Levy Gallery based out of West Palm Beach, Florida ( qi peng will have his first solo show at Envoy Gallery located in Lower East Side, New York City during June 2009.

spray painting 18, by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann LevyGallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.

Brian Sherwin: You received your masters degree at Yale University. Can you discuss your academic years? Did you have any influential peers or instructors?

qi peng: Art school at Yale University (also did studies in public health) was a fairly rigorous institution that focused on the artist being able to coordinate efficiently into the game of the contemporary art world. Apart from some of the best resources of the two art museums on campus, there was this weight of history throughout my time there.

After all, art students at Yale have to deal with the legacy of heavyweights such as Richard Serra, Chuck Close, and Robert Mangold from decades ago. There are also more recent successes such as Jessica Stockholder, Matthew Barney, Rosson Crow, and Justine Kurland from the younger generation. The students realize this.

Yale had a rather tight atmosphere. However, it wasn't competitive in the sense of being cutthroat. Yes, there were the times of backstabbing like some random episode of "Gossip Girl" but I wasn't the type to be involved in such affairs. I enjoyed studio time. It had to be on the downlow because I was somewhat of a conceptual artist and not really a painter at the time. I burned a ton of midnight oil at the Sterling Library where I did a lot of research as well.

I took a class in Russian literature and many in business school for management and economics, particularly regarding the health care field. I think that for me, walking to other parts of the school to take non-art classes, helped put my artwork into perspective at the time. Unfortunately, I have destroyed much of my legacy from that time and the earliest work that still exists are some pretty profane sketches I did when I moved to Philadelphia after graduate school.

I think that for me the liberal arts approach as well as the secret audit of classes due to Yale's strict policies really helped quite a bit in cornering me into the art prankster whom I am today.

william powhida (panel 1) by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara AnnLevy Gallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.

In terms of influence back then, Peter Halley was and still is my personal favorite dude there. It is certain that he emphasized conceptual drive as well as being one of the primary movers and shakers of Neo-Geo abstraction. For me, I seriously believe that his methodology had such a great impact in my current studio habits because I really stopped executing artwork without a pre-planning stage. Hard to be spontaneous without tons of notes now.

Oh, and also his use of beautifully garish neon colors had a strong influence on my preferences for a industrial and flourescent color palette mixed with more traditional colors within the series of spray painted works on canvas and papers I've been pursuing during the past few years. There is no doubt that Halley was the person key to my development of what I do and seek within my artistic practice now.

Also Yale has a wonderful system for being able to place their graduates into the New York gallery system with its connections. Even though I ended up doing the public health circuit for years to get some experience with the everyday person, art has never been latent within me during all those years. Plus, without my strong experiences in other subjects particularly postmodern fiction and poetry, I doubt that I would have been pursuing the current admixture of visual and verbal cues within my interview portrait series.

And one mustn't forget that new media art is very much the conjunction of art with computer science and the branch of logic, particularly with the hypertext concept as the focus of the death of a single loci in knowledge. It's very hard to escape the web of references, even within the seemingly traditional artwork, that is in vogue nowadays.

edward winkleman (panel 2), by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara AnnLevy Gallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.

Brian Sherwin: As a conceptual artist you have executed "interviews" for your project titled 'portraits'. The "interviews" are a form of collaborative portrait with various art professionals and also involves primary and secondary documents in order to examine the contemporary art market. Can you discuss this aspect of your work and why you decided to do it?

qi peng: At first, I was thinking about keeping a studio diary when I began to exhibit professionally two years ago after a six year hiatus. Ironically, after discovering the radical works of Sophie Calle, I seriously contemplated being able to deconstruct the boundaries between the private and public domains of my real and fictional lives, as "qi peng" is my pen name, and then I could have this realistic character whose body I could assume the identity of.

I pondered about why many artists wouldn't want to disclose what the process was for their becoming a successful artist and since I was rather process-oriented within my artistic focus recently, I felt that converting this studio diary of my acceptance and rejection letters would make for a fabulous series of prints and components for a future installation project.

After all, there is this remarkable sense of humanity in being able to analyze each step of an art career, whether it be mired in failure (ironically the title of one of my group exhibitions last year at the Laboratory at Belmar) or crowned success like a lot of the younger artists who seemed to achieve rock star success with the blue-chip galleries during the previous decade of the Bush Administration.

For me, the journey to my ultimate failure, being a rather cynical and humorous existentialist at best, was worth well documenting as a long-term art project. It seems now very logical to destroy any boundaries between art and my own life as art has become too addictive as a palliative to my own ills and joys.

april gornik (panel 1) by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann LevyGallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.

Ironically, the interview portraits were a logical extension of the documents series that I had been focusing on during the past two years. The documents series is a Don Quixote-like search for gallery representation, which has become like a quest for the Holy Grail-- a mock fantasy if you will.

The documents series for me had too much of an ego trip, or mock ego trip as I interpreted them, so I felt that I wanted to diminish my own supposed achievements. That's the main reason why my name of "qi peng" is always lower case (which it's rather hilarious to see no two people spell my name the same way) because I see my humble artwork as the product of an artisan and not some thrill seeker like Julian Schnabel.

It was this sense of humility that I realized how much I wanted to do more collaborative work without losing the qi peng stamp. Logically, going the direction of a formalist structure such as the interview question and answer format would counteract the mass media's tendency to portray everybody as this one-dimensional stereotype and add a touch of humanity to each single art professional just like a commissioned portrait.

Also what is rather fascinating is that these interviews are the true intersection between more traditional art and new media art as I haven't met most of these people in the flesh yet but only through Facebook, email, and the internet. And yet many of them have become good friends as well.

Art magazines, just like most other media outputs, have this tendency to make these stereotypes too often in scripted articles that they pump out on a monthly basis. Ironically, Art in America magazine has recently started doing a monthly interview with a name-brand artist, such as Terry Winters. For me, my interview portraits are less about journalism as I hardly have the credentials to do any newspaper writing and more about grasping a sense of humanity using brushstrokes of words. I guess that the bitter irony is that the semblance of doing a piece of new journalism has caused people to ignore the fact that I am primarily a visual artist.

One can see a counterpart in the xerox book installation entitled "Working Drawings and Other Visible Things on Paper Not Necessarily Meant to be Viewed as Art" that Mel Bochner (a former Yale professor actually) exhibited back in 1966 when he was teaching at the School of Visual Arts at the time. I guess that people in the counterculture decade were more interested in the underlying process rather than the final product which is marketable. That explains the heyday of conceptual art which I think hasn't been as bold as the pre-Reagan era which was the rise of global consumerism during that era. I think that sometimes raw art is the way to go if that is the proper solution to the artist's puzzle.

I think that viewers need to see that my interview portraits are less of institutional critique and more of an objective type of verbal photography similar to the social portraits that August Sander, the friendly headshot portraits of Chuck Close, and the serial workouts of Thomas Ruff all executed during the last century. I am hoping to capture the zeitgeist of the contemporary art world without being too flippant like the infamous William Powhida or the enfant terrible Hans Haacke who was hypercritical of the system.

I do find the art world too anti-democratic in some of its functioning and for me, doing these interview portraits are a way to rectify the balance of power and bringing the art back to the hands of the people and away from the elitism. Either that or I have too much of the old school Marxist in my bloodstream.

I do hope that the viewers of these projects are going to appreciate the sense of "human-ness" regarding of their professional label of museum curator or gallerist or conceptual artist and see a flesh and blood person behind the mask, the label that we participants often get too caught up in. I think that reflecting on each other is the key to helping out artists and gallery owners become better people through art.

matt jones (panel 1) by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann Levy Gallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.

My questions, at best, are failed examples of objective "reportage" since my selective focus betrays the artist's own hand in the situation. This is the same dilemma that a documentary photograph who works for a news wire has to face as well. No photograph can be truly objective and even the most causal snapshot reflects the intention of the author through the act of cropping reality. My interviews can only approximate the whole figure of the art professional because there are certain aspects of the personality that I can only reach.

Think of it this way, even a full body portrait that Lucian Freud executes cannot trap the whole personage because there are hidden spiritual aspects that are hidden within the guts of the human being. At least, I make a concerted effort to engage the conversation to cover all types of topics ranging from personal habits and hobbies to restaurant recommendations and curating habits. I wouldn't be too surprised if a few gallerists, artists, etc. got sort of pissed off by my attempts to be too "intrusive" like some reality television show.
In any case, each interview portrait thus becomes a form of elegant collusion between the two characters to draw out self-identity. Happily enough, many of the people have used these portraits for their press material so it was nice to help them out just as well.

You can learn more about qi peng by visiting his website-- You can read more of my interviews by visiting the following page--
Take care, Stay true,
Brian Sherwin
Senior Editor
Myartspace Blog on Twitter

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