Sunday, April 19, 2009

Art Space Talk: qi peng (Part 3)

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.

"untitled collaborative piece" by David B. Smith and qi peng.
Courtesy of David B. Smith and qi peng / Artists Rights Society (ARS)
New York.

Brian Sherwin: Concerning the directions you have taken with your art-- do you see yourself following a specific path? For example, do you still find time to paint while working on these other projects? Or would you say that you have found your ‘calling’, for lack of a better word?

qi peng: Oh yes, I still paint even with all of the work in the conceptual art stuff. The workload is pretty bad now so I may have to consider getting some assistants to help out especially in my work just like the studio system of the Renaissance era which wasn't such as a bad thing. Who knows whether Rubens could have been a conceptual artist with his official signature on the work of others? (laughs)

Painting is not dead, for me, as far as I am concerned. It's a daily or weekly exercise and an emotional testament to the resiliency of any artist. It even helps out with the conceptual art because even traditional painting or draftsmanship is the hallmark of what thoughts have solid construction and which ones have a foundation built on sand. I doubt that I could ever give up the brush and canvas or wood panel in my lifetime. Too much into my bloodstream.

Even with the new media art and video art being paramount within our media-laden culture, I seriously do believe that we need the primacy of good composition of our personal imagery. It's a matter of which tools that we choose to engineer the final artwork accordingly.

Even these interview portraits are a form of painting. Just that they are mixed media with photographic evidence and verbal phrases instead of acrylic and oil. That is painting in the loosest sense of the term. Or so we will think of it as such.

Brian Sherwin: You have exhibited at Projects Gallery, James Cohan Gallery, Art Raw Gallery and a number of other spaces. What do you enjoy most about exhibiting in general? Do you desire for viewers to be participants, so to speak, or do you view exhibiting as a way to gain feedback? Perhaps both?

qi peng: Exhibitions for me, is a form of public understanding and sharing of whatever projects I have done. A lot of my work has been shown at benefit art shows such as the coordination between NURTUREart and James Cohan or the Visual Aids and Metro Pictures. The artworks were sold for a good cause and for me, that is very important to remain socially engaged, as Sartre would have put it.

The interview portraits, none of which have been exhibited yet, are one layer of participation between the art world professional as well as myself and then with the public exhibition of them, a secondary layer of participation with the viewer is added to the pieces' meaning. I have received a lot of good feedback mostly online, particularly through the myartspace interface and email.

I am always glad when viewers are active participants within the public displays of art. I remember the huge impact that the Oldenburg metal sculpture of a clothespin in Philadelphia had on my daily routine of travel near Market Street. It was a reminder to take life in slowly and to realize that the visual cues surrounding us should not be ignored. Perhaps I have taken the dictum that life and art cannot be distinguished one step further as I have considered exhibiting private documents such as contracts or legal deeds as potential materials for the causal gallery visitor or museum fanatic to look at.

It's pretty much similar to pop art which takes the everyday and using its alchemy to transform that mundane object into something that has a special charm. I do think that contracts, tax forms, and even my cellular phone bill are all special pieces of art if one is able to step back and realize how much these little things are a sincere part of their lives.

Gallery exhibitions are really fabulous to have as a form of public communication too. Art needs the context of being placed within the context of starting an intellectual dialogue and discourse session. Without this context, there would be only this void and art would be merely for art's sake which defeats the purpose of why one paints or does conceptual art if even that artist is the only person that sees the pieces. Plus they are a lot of fun to join and help out.

For example, Art Raw Gallery is an emerging artist gallery in Chelsea which has a touch of the raw experimentation that was going on during the counterculture era with uncensored self-expression. James Cohen Gallery in conjunction with the NURTUREart benefit exhibition was a fabulous venue to exhibit a smaller study of one of my abstraction paintings and so on. Each venue is like solving an individual problem and to be able to engage the viewer with a visual solution based on the set constraints of the space. Makes for good art engineering supposedly.

Also as I have grown professionally I've begun to slow down where I exhibit work. It's very exhausting to have to pursue scattershot locations but with the scale of my projects going up, I think that a few group shows and one solo show per year would be sufficient for the type of workload I have to deal with. Hopefully, with potential gallery representation, the workload can ease as I don't have to focus on the self-marketing as much and then I can focus on getting back to the heart of the studio time I really do need.

Best is to have fun wherever you exhibit. Know that as long as you can pour your heart into each project, the people will appreciate what you have achieved based on your conceptual drive. Most of all, I really enjoy the huge challenge of trying to figure out to fit my work into any given architectural form.

Brian Sherwin: Is there a specific message that you strive to convey as far as the art world is concerned? If you could contact every artist, curator, art critic, and art dealer-- and every other ‘player’ within the art world-- what would you say?

qi peng: The message that I hope to convey to the public about the contemporary art world is that it is very much a game in the sense of the later Wittgenstein. All art projects and transactions are a form of thought experiments which are conducted within the context of this huge game plan. Just as Wittgenstein refers to language-games as a way of us to manipulate single words to express a meaningless subject, an art dealer has to offer a context for a single painting to have meaning through the exhibition game.

To clarify, the word "water" doesn't mean anything just by itself except when we choose to give it a context such as a command like "WATER!" or a question like "Water?" Similarly, a Xylor Jane painting doesn't have any singular meaning just by itself unless the gallery owner can explain its own context within art history or the use of its images relative to other types of art such as photography or other square paintings or even outsider spiritual art.

Paintings have to interact in this larger game in order to gain validity just as the word "water" has to gain validity through the repeated acceptance by others as a term by the linguists. A painting by Xylor Jane has to function in the way that the art market game has to define why a Jane artwork ought to be important through the networks of art critics and museum curators who are trusted by the collectors and general public that her works have critical importance.

The riddle is that the "meaning" of a painting has to be defined by an external force rather than its inherent properties of just being another bunch of shapes and lines on a support. What makes that particular combination of paint special over that of an amateur? That's the problem that art critics have to solve is how to interpret (read here the word "market" as well) for the public who may not understand the piece on a first glance.

Also here is the crux of the problem. If an artist chooses not to abide by the rules of this game, then he or she tends to get left out of the equation of recognition, sadly enough. Which is why my interview portraits are an attempt to democratize the art system. I can offer a chance to showcase an emerging artist with the same tools as an established artist and so on. This pecking order within the hierarchy of the contemporary art world can be deconstructed. Feels like some type of liberation movement, in an odd way.

For me to be able to speak to each art professional and tell them to be yourself would probably be too much of a naive approach. I sincerely would like to express my interest in being able to remove the front to see what the true character of a particular person would be regardless of status or the label the public imposes on them.

For example, Buck Naked's blog "How's My Dealing?" has a lot of really interesting anecdotes about individual curators or gallery owners and like a cubist portrait, one could create a composite of the whole person in question. Granted a lot of information on that website one has to take with a grain of salt but it does provide an insight that a magazine like Art+Auction would never touch in terms of the quirks of the individual.

I think that the impersonal attitude has been way too dominant within reporting of the arts and the general public has a very hard time to relate to the highbrow so much. That explains why street art and lowbrow art has become much more popular recently because people can enjoy rather than argue about the artwork, which makes for good debates indeed.

The art market has become a rather elaborate chess game since the early 1980's before the rise of the blue-chip galleries such as Gagosian and Mary Boone. A lot of it has to do with Reagan's economic policies being the mantra for people's outrageous behavior during that time period and since the art world reflected that milieu, the "greed is good" mentality somewhat infected the expectations of collectors and even some artists and gallerists. Plus the shift of power from the gallery to the collector was a huge trend that anyone with a lot of wealth could define the museum acquisitions and collections marketing such as the Phaidon monographs that are associated with the Rubell Family Collection in Miami.

My artwork does touch on those economic issues in a rather direct way and by asking the art professional how they are dealing with the recession and its aftermath becomes a telling signal for not only the state of the art market's health but also the individual's personality in the way that they deal with hardships on a psychological level.

Brian Sherwin: Is there anything else you would like to say about your art?

qi peng: First of all, I would like to thank you, Brian Sherwin, for taking the time to host this discussion with me about topics of your own choosing. I think that it has been rather delightful to be able to converse with you regarding some rather challenging topics that aren't always easy to address or even contemplate.

Also this is a chance to thank the myartspace website to allow me to feature some traditional and some conceptual work which may seem bizarre at a first glance. I truly think that myartspace points in the direction of combining successfully the driving force between social networking websites as well as the traditional framework of gallery networking.

On a professional level, I would like to thank the following people who have supported me thick and thin through wind and fire: Barbara Ann Levy (wonderful gallerist and fellow New Yorker in Florida), Camilla Fallon (fellow Yale graduate), Peter Halley at Yale University and Mary Boone, Wendy White at Leo Koenig (fabulous artist), Christina Ray at Glowlab (most fabulous-est gallerist), Vanessa Buia at Buia Gallery, Daniel Gellis at The Conference Room Gallery, Brian Staker at Salt Lake City Weekly, Sibyll Kalff at Iao PROJECTS, Ruth Lubbers at VSA Arts of Utah, Edward Winkleman with his brilliant Winkleman Gallery, William Powhida (still owe you one), James Kalm with The Kalm Report, Mindy Kober at Iao PROJECTS, Ruby Carlsruh, Vincent de Sarthe, Alex Farkas, James Wagner and Barry Hoggard at ArtCat, Travis Tanner and his assistants at Tanner Frames, all those people who agreed to become part of the interview portrait project, the Gateway Apple Store whose employees who had to bear with me using their station as a temporary office, and pretty much everyone in the galaxy of the art world I love too much... I am sorry if I left you out here.

On a personal level, I would like to thank the following persons: my guardian "stepfather" Powell, my family and close friends too numerous to name here, Circlegal at Iao PROJECTS, The Street Phantom (Joey Krebs), Adam and Marie Rosepink, Paul Winkfield, Andrew Wrigley, Alexis Granwell at Tiger Strikes Asteroid, David Andrew Frey at culturehall, David B. Smith at HQ, Eric Doeringer the infamous painting bootlegger, Ilse Murdock, Brian Sherwin at myartspace, Kadar Brock the Absolut genius painter, and my close friend Matt Jones at Buia Gallery who has some of the most beautifullest works in this world.

Without people, I doubt that I could make it or want to make it as an artist. Yes, art is in my bloodstream. I don't think that I could ever step away from the home plate of the act of creation in the stadium of an artist.

On a final note, I do wish to allude to a much more fascinating conceptual art which I am in the midst of: an Eharmony dating conceptual art project. I am trying still to figure out how to convert the private details of my search for the girlfriend of my dreams as a work of art, but it isn't as easy as I thought it would be.

I am thinking about the final product of a flowchart drawing but right now I'm still plugging along in the early stages of this wonderfully offbeat work of performance art combined with hopefully some traditional artwork based on Eharmony. At least, I won't need the help of Dr. Phil in any case.

Now, only if I could figure out to make the wedding as part of a solo exhibition... could the gallerist act as the priest witnessing the vows... just another thought... LA FIN.

To view my entire interview with qi peng please click on the 'qi peng' label below. 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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