Kenny Schachter and the Paranormative: A Ghostly Presence in Vienna


These days, I keep myself busy trying to find any meaning for art apart from the usual expressive and allegorical bore. By contrast, I am interested in a more effective kind of art, of a performative kind. An art that links aesthetics and ethics: a political tool in the broader and more effective term. I believe that my blog in its decade plus life span and Kenny’s multimedia art critic-socialite interventions should be considered as part of a long legacy of lives lived as art. A genealogy could be traced back to Lord Byron, for example when celebrity started acquiring form. So, I reached out and Kenny was preparing his show in Vienna. Against all odds, he accepted to be interviewed by me, with all the risks implied. I am saying this because our encounters in the past, most specifically in twitter had been of such performative nature that bordered personal affront and reputation damage. Such passion accounted for a shift in the nature of the debates and more specifically in the loudness those debates had to have in order to be heard in an art world sodomised by appropriateness and politeness. Out interview left me impressed. As far as I am concerned, Kenny is not gay. Despite this, he chose Thek when focussing on a specific. Even more, he “elevated” to Pace Wildenstein alleged status when he curated a wonderful show at their Burlington House premises. Later on, I posted a couple of thought about his last show in Viena which he like, so he asked me to write something for his website. I committed while failing at finalising my next book after my breakthrough first publication which became a bestseller and was published by Penguin Argentine through Sudamericana, the publishing house directed during decades by Jorge Luis Borges. All of a sudden, the misfits of the art world were firmly walking down the most prestigious alleys of the cultural world albeit in its more realistic, commercial, and transactionary areas. Kenny with NFTs and me in the shifting publishing industry.

The Rosalind Krauss C…

The morning I started to write this, a friend of mine invited me to join him in Berlin for a much awaited, at least, for those of my generation, Depeche Mode concert. It was publicised through Enjoy the Silence one of their biggest 1990s hits where the biblical opposition between matter and spirit was actualised as a pre-mindfulness carpe dime. This was ten years after Poststructuralism created the conditions for a disaffected generation of theoreticians specialised on (the crisis of) representation, subjectivity and mediation. Where everything is discourse and words seem no to have material effects apart from empowerment or self-fashioning, the humane in cognition disappears. Academia as the two-faced monster it is today. Back then, the pages of October Magazine were filled by the theoretical deliberations of art critics such as Rosalind Krauss, Craig Owen, Hal Foster, among many others who detached daily life from art, a chasm that did not stop widening since then.

Its newly found abstraction was associated with the emergence of the mass media. Art became a sign to be deployed strategically. Theory was crowned, academia became the new Vatican and the world became thirsty of identity politics. The rest is history. A history of fear and accusatory fingers flying back and forth. Right there and then, a holy trinity of curators, collectors and artists put a mortgage on art and creativity.  Art could only become so if and only if it came mediated by an institutional framework. Bruno Latour’s “actant” and the sociologization of art. Cornered, the artist went back to his historical mandate: institutional reproduction per force of sycophancy. While art rematerialised in art fairs after the glorious conceptual 1970s and the anglo word shifted rightwards under the leadership of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, their poststructuralist adversaries sang their demise re-dematerialising which, in the next deregulatory context, equated convincing themselves that bodies do not really break. Suddenly, a joke seemed to have more artistic currency than effort. The rise of a global culture of resentful bitching that is peaking as we speak. Not pun intended.

Gossip as a Political Tool 

Kenny Schachter has been a protagonist of the art scene for, at least, two decades and his achievement could be seen as turning that institutional discourse against itself. That is the main difference between our projects. I analysed the art world with an art historian and queer (and by this, of course, I mean bitchy) methodology. Kenny, by contrast, thrives when mixing gossip and specialised (also financial) jargon. His geeky sense of punk does not lie in the sexual but in his money laundry, tax evasion and copyright infringement innuendoes. The outcome is something that clearly people need which is an informed erasure of the affective attachments that allow the art world to (uncannily) still believe in its relevance. For them, Kenny has a truth to tell, a darker truth.

So having exhaustingly participated in mind and body in every art fair, dinner party, charity, auction, he could certainly be called a survivor. This is already a triumph because the problem with the iteration of discourse, as Judith Butler claims, is that it can become flesh. For Schachter his love and later, un-love with and from the art world (and we have both fed our readers to exhaustion with this genre of literary complaining) tells more about him than about the world. Like the Quixote, however, the world changes but he opens his arms for change, too.

Cry Wolf 

Since Marcel Duchamp but infamously since the Young British Artists measured their artistic rigour though levels of media exposure, art dislocated. They, however, surfed and we go cuntercurrent. Our visibility is unlikely and not recommended for the weak. Compared to them, we are the real avant-Garde but unacknowledged, solitary and easy to victimise. There is no publicity machinery behind us because, unlike the YBAs, we are performative but ours is not a performance. There are spectatorship problems too because our pitch is so high that the nuance tend to get lost which feeds our adversaries denial. When addressed or quoted, an infantilising adjective always precedes our names. Our humour is literalising or allegorising according to the convenience and situationality of its butt. Our works are not addressed as a system but as one trick ponies. This keeps our truth in the peripheries of cognition.

The way, Kenny curated his curation as artwork is the point of entrance to his Vienna show. Although saturated with objects and images, the show is an installation that haunts us because there is something that is not quite right. This is horror vacui as a way to cope with personal trauma, but it is also a self-conscious joke that cannot laugh about itself any longer. It presents as something, but it is far from what it seems to be for it is is “paranormative”. It is an exercise in failure in front of an institution that demands from Kenny exactly that, so it is an offering, a generous one: a sacrifice.

To exist, he is forced to iterate what he had already said thousands of times. A risky decision was to choose postructuralism as main vehicle for his show to convey it for without further clarification he jumps onto the high road of commercial art and stays there with the exception of his reference to Joseph Beuys. But here is where the personal meets the paranormal because his call for relevance coincides with the unsayable and unimaginable pain of his personal tragedy. The sole fact that he is still using art for catharsis says a lot.  In our interview, which you can access at the bottom of this review and that happened while I was literally running away from a self-appointed appropriationist biographer who was trying to scavenge personal information of my life to concoct a copycat version of Eugene Carriere’s Limonov.

In our chat, however, Kenny’s passion for art gave me some kind of hope. An unlikely Utopianism that changed me. It was one of those moments where the unsayable real appears.  It was not flamboyant nor melodramatic but a fact. He said: “I am dead”. His gaze was blank almost blasé. It was a reflex but he meant it so he continued talking about art. “Me too…”, I thought. So our chat became a ghostly dancing of misfit runaways who were running at a lower pacer than the art world. That made us knights of the death (a certain kind) of art.Hope glued us to this post-Covid world. Institutional racism, homophobia and classism are my new normal while I live in mourning about my whole family. Kenny, too.Maybe the only way of leaving with these zombies around is through forging alliances with the dead who, at times, seem more vital than those on the other side of Zoom.  There was something ghostly, hopeful and dead in his Vienna  show, at the same time in an exhibition that does not function as a horror show with Gagosian playing Dracula’s part or Nicholas Longsdail playing himself.  It is just so much more than that. After, who gives a flying fuck about Gagosian. Is insincerity such a unique thing?


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