Kenny Schachter In The House

1. A Brief Introduction

At thirty-three years of age, Long Island born artist-curator Kenny Schachter has already practiced law (he passed the New York bar in 1987), sold neckties, and traded in European art prints, all the while progressing deeper into the experiential art trenches of New York where younger emerging artists begin to make themselves and their works evident to the discerning few. At present he is best known for his samisdat-like efforts in Soho where twice or thrice a year he will rent a space and install a show that will last five weeks, then be gone, having just introduced a range of new tastes to the community.

In short, Kenny Schachter is an art activist. As an advocate of the new, he champions the offbeat critique. As a promoter, with tireless energy, sincerity, and belief, Schachter makes things happen.

"German Paper," his first independent curatorial effort was presented at the Sandra Gering Gallery in 1990. In April of 1991, at BACA, he curated a show for Paul Ramirez-Jonas, entitled "From Sculpture," a diverse but prescient selection of work by artists, many of whom have come to be seen as important voices in the mid-90's, a list which includes Janine Antoni, Fred Tomaselli, Andrea Zittel, Willie Cole, Alix Lambert and Beth Haggart, to name a few. His enthusiasm in 1991 for a portfolio of drawings entrusted to him by the then unknown Christian Schumann helped get this wunderkind's work into a New York gallery, private collections, and the 1995 Whitney Biennial.

Schachter's shows are guided by several simple rules. First of all he insists on renting ground floor space. Spaces must be large and accessible, and preferably in Soho. As a courtesy to the public and to the artists, he remains open extra hours, including Sunday. As a result of his policies, he has seen his audience expand over the last few years, his mailing list grow, his rapport with the community of artists, writers, collectors and critics continue to develop.

But what I recall, entering these various exhibition spaces, is the heady rush of attention necessary to begin to see and learn from the adventurous work he is proposing. Schachter takes lovely chances, linking disparate artists in unthinkable new ways, in spaces barely up to code and absolutely contrary to chic. Yet there's nothing slacker about his seriousness. Nor about his urge to help artists get exposure and sales. In fact there's a grand element of public service education in his enterprise, as he squires visitors around the space, helping viewers to see, think about and understand his mix of installation, sculpture, painting and video art.

Schachter's articulate command of the urgent information embedded in this work is one significant aspect of his own curatorial artistry.

2. At The Sculpture Center: "Looky Loo"

The seven artists that make up this exhibition hail from different backgrounds, and arrive with different aesthetic stances, two facts which make their presence together in this show echt Schachter. These artists are more concentrated on expressing some response to the world "out there" than they are given to crippling self-analysis. And they are less interested in showing what they know of the rules of the art game than they are in asking, as if anew, what is the game in the first place? Thus, they look hard at what's going on, and notice things as if with fresh eyes. They are, for the most part, literal. Whether in drawing, video, sculpture or paint, these artists keep at least one foot outside the circle of "fine" art, so as to allow quirky new energies into their works.

John LeKay's recent sculpture, carved from melted down quantities of paradichlorobenzine--the stuff of moth balls and urinal cakes-- features Daumier-like faces in a ghostlike crystalline state. Expressionist, haunted, arrested in their airless boxes like medical anomalies. LeKay's monochrome samples disturb even as they seduce.

The wall mounted accumulations of Rachel Harrison are made up of throwaway urban detritus-- broomsticks, bags, twine, stuff-- artfully balanced, and projecting out into "our" space. And this "nothing fancy, nothing pretentious" aesthetic generates works bold with humor and a sneaky formal logic that would have appealed to a Calder, or one of her (I am guessing) inspirational heroes, Eva Hesse.

Devon Dikeou's various artistic output includes the use of anonymous metal kiosks (Judd-like formalism in the everyday working class world), the framing of anti-art materials (pink fiberglass insulation rolls) with metal studs, and the presentation of informational sign boards with text or just the names of participants in some event, to cite but a few. Matter-of-fact, unsentimental, but responsibly attentive to the otherwise "unnoticed" structures in the world, Dikeou's romance is with the obvious, like a stoned vision of a fact.

Jonathan Horowitz starts with TV, submitting his viewing to an analysis that reveals hidden signs and anxieties built into the medium's essential democratic leveling. Video, in his hands, becomes a thinking tool, an expressive field in which to explore order and chaos, image and meaning, reality and its representations, and the viewer's self that is at the center of the somatic/semiotic exchange.

Spencer Finch's sensibility is seamlessly divided between idea and execution. His work's conceptual underpinnings summon forth formally pure examples, whether they be his 100 pastel approximations of the color of Jackie Kennedy's pillbox hat, a sculpture designed to transmit one second brainwaves into outer space, or a series of paintings that tries to capture the darkness of his studio wall at certain hours of the evening. Finch's ideas are always imaginative, charming, and important to the piece, but the true test of his work is in the care with which he bodies forth these ideas.

The paintings of Nina Bovasso are a combination of surface sophistication and poetic image, including things like a red cow with horns, a profile of a woman with stacked hair holding the leash of an ass, two dogs separated from each other by cloudy scumbled space, a sailor with the word "hero" written on his cap, etc. Never clearly narrative, Bovasso presents snapshots that evoke general conditions, of love, of loss, of identity, of activity in the world, as if each of her protagonists were unheralded aspects of herself.

Ross Knight may not go to car races to see cars crash, but he does study the lifestyle and psychology of those involved, and it affects his work. He has recreated large-scale signs and banners like those seen at races and conventions. In another piece he plans to build a functional still that brews booze during the duration of a show. Knight has also made preparations to build a booth, the kind you might find at a convention, from which to sell franchises, from which to hawk slices of the entrepreneurial American pie. When you look closely at the world, you'll be reminded of at least one thing: buyer beware.

Geoffrey Young