Sunday, April 19, 2009

Art Space Talk: qi peng (Part 2)

document 2, by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann Levy Galleryand qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.

Brian Sherwin: For one project, titled 'documents', you sent unsolicited submission letters to over 400 galleries throughout the United States. My understanding is that you saved the acceptance and rejection letters as a part of this project. In a sense, your project documented the struggles that many emerging artists have while seeking gallery representation. Can you go into further detail about this specific project?

qi peng: The "documents" series is a compilation of both acceptance and rejection letters that resulted from my experiences of having put together some faux portfolios of some gaudy artwork that I crudely executed and putting together a packet for various galleries throughout the nation, mostly concentrating on my hometown of New York City.

I started this project in October 2007 and began with a successful registration of my artwork with the Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York organization because I knew that I could garner a good reply letter from them. It was then that I made two trips to New York City and one trip to Denver in order to slam dunk, in a good way, my resume and portfolios to all sorts of places ranging from blue-chip galleries such as Mitchell, Innes, and Nash all the way to more underground joints such as Participant, Inc. It was rather expensive but I was glad to have the help of my "stepfather" Powell who was willing to call up each gallery one by one to find out what the submission policy was. I guess that it was my earliest collaboration by far.

Joseph Beuys once said that everybody is an artist. Funnily enough, the documents series have been proving otherwise that it is a circle of tastemakers who define who can become "the artist." It's very much like the wine industry in that there is a whole lot of politics involved in getting certification indeed. What we need is a bottle shock in the art industry and I think that the internet is helping out with the shifting of the gallery system such as the online only galleries of NYAXE, Ugallery, Collegeartonline (CAO), and The Barbara Ann Levy Gallery which was a former New York space now relocated to West Palm Beach, Florida.

Also more traditional galleries are offering online purchase options such as Paige West's Chelsea gallery Mixed Greens where anyone can pick up a Kammy Roulner drawing on the fly. I seriously do believe that if the art market can be forged as being more transparent then the artist and collector relationship can develop into a more positive direction without all the drama that's involved in product placement.

And there is the emotional struggle that is hidden within the codes of these documents indeed. It's also rather awesome to see the infinite number of ways that the character of "qi peng" is rejected by each gallery assistant or director. The LewAllen Contemporary rejection was the most hilarious one since it was sent as a personalized postcard lacking a signature. Hopefully I can thank them for sending me a mass mailed rejection letter someday. Granted, I don't make it rather evident through the rather perfunctory typefaces and corporate gallery logos like some twisted riddle but the viewer would need to read literally between the lines.

I think that too many people can attack the fact that much of conceptual art can be too nerdy or detached for their liking which is why I pursue conceptual art projects that have a "beating heart," something that I can capture with the tonality of personal emotion without the veneer of over-analysis. Plus there is so much black humor in my own utter stupidity in trying to find gallery representation like a shotgun wedding.

Contacting galleries like this just doesn't work, and knowing the tragic end of it, there it emphasizes the beauty of my happy failure as an artist whose success is at the mercy of the critics and curators nowadays. Hopefully the documents can make for some good vintage wine labels someday! After all, I see each gallery submission as a scientific experiment gone awry like some perverse tilting at the illusory windmills.

Plus, we live in this world that is immersed in documentation. The inherent contradiction is that we require more documentation to become more transparent to the public eye yet the documentation which has too many pages tends to obfuscate the truth. It's like having so much details that obscurity rather than clarity is the result. Strange, isn't it? The same applies to my life through these seemingly straightforward documents that rejected or accepted the character of "qi peng."

People who skim these drawings will think that oh, it's a rejection or acceptance thing. I am hoping for a profound engagement where people begin to ask questions like, "How was qi peng rejected from this gallery?" or "Why was qi peng rejected from the final round of this art competition?" It's like trying to paint a portrait of qi peng based on people's responses to the character without ever having seen the real person like some mysterious Godot character where a whole play can be based on a physically "nonexistent" persona.

And the art world gets caught up in this type of paperwork similarly to the federal tax organizations. That is the strange irony of the supposed freedom that causes a lot of people to stereotype the supposedly bohemian workings of the gallery system. It's a jungle of bureaucracy out here and easy to get caught up within its spider web.
document 13 by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann Levy Galleryand qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.
Brian Sherwin: Out of curiosity-- as I’m sure some readers will ask this upon reading our interview-- how many rejection letters did you receive compared to acceptance letters? Also, is the project ongoing?

qi peng: Wow, I haven't kept count really but in terms of gallery representation I have scored a big, fat zero which is not surprising there. The acceptance letters I have received so far have been from organizations such as Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York and a few others. I even got a rejection letter in the form of a critique that specified that the judges couldn't determine the dimensions of the paintings I had submitted the images for even though I tabulated the dimensions on a separate sheet of paper. Very hilarious indeed!

This project has been ongoing although honestly, things have been slowing down as I focus on the interview portraits more and more. In reality, I think that gallery representation will fall naturally on its own terms but I have no interest in being a critical darling or rock star in the contemporary art world. I consider myself to be a daily bread median worker, a part of the overall system who is happy to labor each and every day. No perks needed in fact.

I look forward to extending the idea behind the documents series into other things such as exhibiting my complete receipts from a whole year of buying stuff in 2008. Once, I was tempted nearly to exhibit my tax filing returns to the IRS as a work of art but perhaps that would have caused problems with the government if they found out that I was too forthright about my business. I know that art is the delicate balance in becoming too transparent about one's own intentions and disappearing magically into the background to see what follows.

So the current score is at last count: approximately 5 acceptances to about 25 rejections. Not bad although right now I'm currently in the process of working out gallery representation with someone I know. Details to be finalized later on, I suppose.
The documents series is a self-perpetual machine in many ways as I execute more artwork ready for the public to examine and determine whether they approve or disapprove of it. Which is why I am crossing my fingers for the series to infiltrate my upcoming artist's books that become issues of a DIY Parkett's. Overtones of Nabokov, I guess.
kadar brock at paula copper by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann
Levy Gallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.
Brian Sherwin: I understand that you are working on a project titled 'imaginary exhibitions'. For this project you will establish fake exhibitions at real or dead art spaces that exist in real time. Can you go into further detail about this specific project and your thoughts behind it?
qi peng: The imaginary exhibitions project was started because during the past year, I saw so many of my gallery stomping grounds disappear due to the terrible economy. The disappearance of a place like Roebling Hall or Rivington Arms was alarming as I had a chance to walk through their spaces last spring. Now they continue to exist as a memory in my own head. Also there is the playful fantasy of having the "power" to play the role of "curator" or "gallery owner" by allowing my artists friends to "exhibit" in places that they could dream about being in.
For example, it was fabulous to imagine having my friend Kadar Brock over at Paula Cooper Gallery which is a fairly respectable space. Ironically, after I showed him the piece online, Kadar mentioned that he enjoyed the ad that I created for his forthcoming show there this fall and I was happy about his assessment of this supposed event.
Apart from the fact that I get to celebrate the wonderful variety of my artist friends, the imaginary exhibition series is probably the closest that I will achieve to any form of institutional critique as I can use the parody framework to play on the branding of galleries (which Ashley Bickerton or Tom Sachs could probably do on a larger scale) as well as demonstrating that shows are created through valid art connections rather than the actual "worth" of the artwork being presented. A lot of the exhibitions are read through the context of how it's shown rather than the inherent meaning that the work delivers.
That's the irony of it but one can see that Saatchi's creation of the Hirst marketing machine during the past two decades seems to bear this theory out. Yes, it's somewhat sad that good art is manufactured a lot through effective marketing strategies which can create a dangerous precedent for how future artists, especially students, will think. And that mentality can create such a terrible example for the way that studio visits and art criticism is so dependent on the way that the art market system functions. One only needs to look at the way that commercial street art has usurped the symbolism of the iconography of revolutionaries. Poor Che Guevara must be rolling in his grave over how his image has become such a visual cliche!
Also this particular series allows me to play around in the sandbox of graphic design. By reconstruction of these fictional ads, I am glad to be able to put together the elements of a self-made marketing schema. It's certainly not easy to recreate or mimic the fonts that each gallery chooses by any means. I consider this to be a step forward in the idea of transparency and the DIY approach in the branding mechanism.
I also enjoy the strong challenge of parodying the marketing methods with this ironic homage to the gallery spaces that I enjoyed visiting, whether or not they are defunct. The most essential aspect of this is to put a huge twist on appropriation art with the unique touch of reinvention. I guess that digital collage would be its closest counterpart.
Luckily, I haven't heard back from any of the gallery spaces about these rather hilarious ads. I try to match the ad space to a particular format such as the square for ArtForum or the standard letter size for some of the other mainstream art magazines or exhibition postcard sizes. I hope to be able to continue working on this particular series even though it's quite a number of hours just to get one spread completed.
spray painting 18, by qi peng. Courtesy of The Barbara Ann Levy
Gallery and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS) New York.
Brian Sherwin: You also create paintings and works on paper-- and have explored photography as well. Which mediums do you enjoy the most?
qi peng: Actually, I really enjoy painting the best. It's close to something which is spontaneous from the heart and a good break from the zany nature of my conceptual artwork. The spray paint works have gotten some decent attention and I am glad that my artist friend Matt Jones enjoys the ones in his own private collection.
On the surface they resemble a much more colorful hybrid between Wendy White (another fabulous mixed media artist) with Christopher Wool on acid. I sincerely enjoy exploring the limits of gestural abstraction where the painting is a record of my hand movements across the support. I also do a lot of works on paper that range from industrial landscapes to pretty mundane, in a good way, pen and ink-type of portraits.
Lately I've been planning the execution of some traditional oil paintings based on the scenes of Larry Salander and his family. To probe the drama behind the art dealer who is best remembered for his fraud is worth exploring from a psychological and metaphysical way. I think that it will be full of dark humor and irony when the series will be completed on a long-term scale. Plus it's a sly dig at the fact that Salander wasn't a big fan of Koons or Warhol and probably conceptual art in the same boat too.
Ironically, it's also a small counterbalance against the art magazine media's one-dimensional portrait of Salander as this art world Madoff. He definitely is a huge cheater but I want to be more of the Sherlock Holmes here in this instance. For example, why did this guy try to extend his magical powers to commit fraud on his various clients? What drove him to such underhanded manners?
I am excited that the paintings that I will be featuring will be in black and white to symbolize the grey nature of art dealing as well as in mirror image to symbolize the reversal of fortune for the man and his family as well as the backwards moral code that he followed. Also, there will be huge surprise with these traditional paintings as the ultimate irony but I wouldn't want to divulge the secret until after the series is over, if ever.
I surmise that being labeled as a conceptual artist allows for such a broad latitude that we cannot avoid being attracted all types of self-expression and execution of particular ideas into a final form. Painting is one of many tools which works more often than not which is why I delve so much into that realm. And for me, that is the most satisfying component of having a wide latitude like one of my heroes, Martin Kippenberger.
Brian Sherwin: What are your thoughts concerning the internet as a medium, so to speak. In recent years there has been an increase in art projects involving the internet. Do you feel that artists will continue to utilize the internet as a medium-- what is the future, in your opinion, for internet based art?
qi peng: Well, the internet has been such an influence for a very long time on the art world. For example, the marvelous German photographer Thomas Ruff has been appropriating pornographic imagery straight off the web years ago to blow them up to pixelated epics. Now I think that he does landscape photos that are very pixelated too. Also with internet projects such as Wikipedia Art, which is funny because there is a public portrait of "qi peng" on Wikipedia too, as well as artwork that contain Abode Flash animation with click-and-point capabilities which deliver very intriguing results.
I really do attest that it's not just the rich visual resources that the internet can provide for the base of imagery for painters, photographers, and even sculptors. It all boils down to the tradition of cataloguing, which I can point to the many decades that Gerhard Richter kept a visual encyclopedia within his Atlas series. Classification also becomes an essential artist's tool as well which allows one to draw the historical referents and method of artistic presentation.
I don't think that one ought to use the internet as a crutch for the creation of particular pieces but that it is important to celebrate the diverse vocabulary of the visual potentials with the internet as the conceptual jumping point indeed.
After all, there can be so much done with Google Maps or thumbnail imagery in remembering how much the internet is a fictional creation of our everyday reality through the portal of the computer. It's the imaginary mirror to our true souls and for me, cannot replace the base emotional crux of human relationships. So I prefer to leave the internet as one of many great tools that the artist has at his or her disposal.
Also the interview portraits wouldn't have been as successful without the networking tools of Twitter, Facebook, and just the World Wide Web itself. It would have been nearly impossible for me to travel extensively within reasonable expenses to visit each individual who was and will be involved within this particular series. Thus, the internet becomes a key component within the final artwork itself.
I guess that you could argue that many artists' websites end up being a work of art too. Plus I sincerely believe that the website for Aqua Art Miami is just one of the finest masterpieces of graphic design and online art in terms of being able to contain dense amounts of information with a clean and elegant interface. I can't help looking at the typography of anything which I see on any website I surf to anyways.
Brian Sherwin: Can you go into further detail about some of your influences?
qi peng: Well, I have such varied influences that it would be nearly impossible to delineate all of them here. So basically I will try to touch on the major ones here as much as I can within the next few sentences.
For the conceptual art component, I can name drop the following: Maurizio Cattelan (the biggest influence by far), Dan Colen, Terence Koh, Hans Haacke, Jenny Holzer, John Baldessari, Wade Guyton, Tom Sachs, On Kawara, Mark Lombardi, Mel Bochner, Art & Language, and Sophie Calle as the main people who inspired me.
For my paintings, works on paper, and photography, I can name check the following: Christopher Wool, Anselm Reyle, Wendy White (whose mixed media spray paint works I MUST recommend highly), Matt Jones (great friend), Kadar Brock (fabulous friend), Ion Birch, Marilyn Minter, Thomas Ruff, Gerhard Richter, Sigmar Polke, Stephen Shore, Martin Kippenberger, Andrew Wrigley (wonderful friend), Leonardo da Vinci, Titian, Claude Monet, Juan Gris, Wade Guyton, Kelley Walker, Dash Snow, Kristen Baker, Mark Lombardi (again), Paul Cezanne, Franz Kline, Jasper Johns, and so on.
I think that discovering more artists through myartspace, blogs, and mainstream art publications have bolstered my enjoyment of all art, even stuff that many people dismiss such as outsider art.

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

1 comment:

Unknown said...

brilliant, wish i had thought of the acceptance/ rejection letter exhibition.