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Kenny Schachter: “The art world is a fucked-up place”

An early exponent of NFTs, outspoken multi-talent Kenny Schachter discusses his new exhibition and art world arrogance.

Photo: Kenny Schachter

The new show is called Metadada, a play on the word metadata. What can visitors expect?

I think for me the show is really a snapshot and an analysis of NFTs, of technology and art and the convergence of all of these fields. In a way it’s an encapsulation of this point in time, using the most advanced methods of animation that are available and employing all of these means to engage people, both mentally and through the eye. I’ve had the paintings fabricated in China – you know Marcel Duchamp did the “readymade” [objet trouvé or “found object”] and I call a lot of art that gets made today a “haven’t made”.

Reading the text for your latest show, you are extremely scathing about the art world. What annoys you the most about it?

That it is so pigeonholing and exclusionary. It took them 15 years to acknowledge me as a writer. I was close to giving up on becoming an artist – it was only by creating my own platform and putting my own videos in my articles that I could express myself. But I am so grateful to have my own show and that’s because I never gave up hope.

Why do you think you were excluded for so long?

Well, because the art world is a fucked up and arrogant place. My mother passed away when I was young and I didn’t even know galleries existed until I was 27, my family never really took me anywhere. I didn’t even know people could own art privately, I thought it went straight into a museum. I studied philosophy and law, I worked on the stock exchange, but nothing prepared me for stagnation of the art world.

I thought everyone was drinking absinthe and hanging off chandeliers and going to orgies, but the art world is more conservative than an accountancy firm. And galleries are just so controlling and territorial. You know that if a gallery represents an artist and another dealer comes along with a great opportunity for that artist, typically the gallery won’t even tell them about it because it might reduce the amount of inventory they control.

As a writer, and on social media, you can be ruthless. Right now you appear to really have it in for Damien Hirst. Why is that?

Well I’m not an arsehole. Okay, maybe I am an arsehole, but I’m not a c- u-n-t. Look, Hirst is a genius, his early work is profound and he’s made a beautiful contribution to art history, but as a conceptual sculptor, not a painter. His paintings are made by other people anyway and he incessantly posts these Instagram videos where he is throwing $10,000 worth of paint recklessly across the studio and some of it sticks on the canvas and they suck! He has no one around him to say stop. But I am just poking fun, I try not to take myself too seriously.

Look, I criticise the art market, but I make a living in the art world too. My hands are as dirty as the next person.

You’ve written about your friendship with the art dealer Inigo Philbrick who is facing up to 20 years in prison for selling the same artworks to multiple investors. Are you still hurt by his crimes?

Even though he stole money from me, it doesn’t bother me too much because I made some money with him in the end. But he betrayed some very close personal friends of mine in a way that was just unspeakable. And he just said “they’re rich, they assume the risk”. I guess what did him in was his arrogance and entitlement, the two worst traits a human being can possess. To think that you’re somehow better than everybody else. It’s sad because he was deeply talented.

You’ve been a vocal champion of NFTs and you were one of the first artists to start making them before their meteoric rise. Why has the art world been so slow to embrace them?

Accepting change is one of the hardest conditions for humans because the first impulse is to recoil or reject it. I always made digital art, going back nearly 30 years. But you would think the art world would embrace a whole new audience of crypto buyers who were never in the art market before. Look, I criticise the art market, but I make a living in the art world too. My hands are as dirty as the next person.

What would you predict then for the year ahead in the art world?

Galleries have been around for 175 years as we know them and I just think we’re going to see some gigantic fissures and some tremendous changes in the dissemination of art. And more innovative ways of artists having the power to express themselves without being reliant on a bunch of assholes that don’t want the best for anyone but themselves.

Metadada, Nagel Draxler Crypto Kiosk Through March 12


Born in the US in 1961, Kenny Schachter studied law before switching to the art world. Working now as an artist, critic, curator and international lecturer, Schachter curated an exhibition at Simon Lee Gallery, London in 2018. He has been a vocal supporter of NFTs and incorporates many of his own into his articles. He is currently being profiled in a documentary by Chris Smith (Tiger King/Fyre Festival).