Kassay Turns Silver Deposit, Acrylic Into Gold: Interview

Artfully put together 20-somethings mingled with fur-bedecked matrons of a certain age for the opening of Jacob Kassay’s show at the Kitchen in Chelsea.

Dressed in a bright print shirt and glasses, the 28-year-old artist stood in a far corner of the gallery, next to one of his signature burnished silver paintings -- a similar work sold at Phillips de Pury in 2011 for $290,500.

The occasional flash of an iPhone illuminated the artworks, most of which were oddly-shaped, raw canvases, formed out of left-over material.

Kassay left Eleven Rivington about six months ago and is now represented only by galleries in Europe: Art Concept in Paris, and Xavier Hufkens in Brussels.

The day before the opening, Kassay met me at the Kitchen, which was in a state of disarray. As we wandered through the space, canvases were folded up in corners and walls in the room had yet to be built.

Tarmy: Can you tell me about your new show?

Kassay: All of the work is within the last year. I don’t want to give away too much, but works are in other places in the building as well, like some will be here in the theater, some will be in the offices.

Tarmy: If people come to see the exhibition and the theater is closed, are they only getting a partial experience of your work?

Kassay: I don’t think that there’s any chance that they could come to an understanding of the work as a whole -- as I imagine it anyway, so what’s the idea of being “complete?”

I might be the only one who gets to see everything that’s a part of it.

High Prices

Tarmy: Does the knowledge that your work is selling for hundreds of thousands of dollars affect how you make it?

Kassay: In one sense, of course it has to. But all you have to do is take a break and continue what you’ve been doing. Are you really not going to trust yourself to keep making the decisions that got you to this point in the first place?

I don’t think you make good work or even keep a level head by listening to a lot of people.

Tarmy: Do you collect art?

Kassay: Sure. I got a Scott Lyall painting, the first thing that I ever bought. I had a Franz Erhard Walther given to me once and that was an amazing gift, and I’ve traded a lot of work.

Tarmy: Do you invest? How do you handle your money?

Art Investing

Kassay: Poorly. I just bought a painting -- I guess some people consider that an investment. But I wasn’t kidding when I said I handled my money poorly. It’s a separate job, you know, to actually deal with it.

Tarmy: It’s a little surprising that you don’t have a gallery representing you in the U.S. Do people now try to contact you directly?

Kassay: I’ve had that happen a couple of times. Someone contacted me from Europe asking me to collaborate on some sort of jewelry design with him.

I had to say no, because that’s just not what I do. Stick to what you’re good at.

Tarmy: What’s next?

Kassay: I don’t know. I can really only talk about what’s in front of me. And everything’s been going so well here -- this might be a bad thing, but no one’s said “no” to a decision that I’ve made so far.

That’s not to say that everyone is saying “yes” to everything I say, either.

Tarmy: So you don’t have a career plan?

Kassay: I don’t know that it’s a career yet. I’ve laid out the next five months of my life -- isn’t that planning far enough ahead?

“Jacob Kassay: Untitled” runs through Feb. 16 at the Kitchen, 512 W. 19th St. Information: +1-646-481-4704; http://thekitchen.org.

(James Tarmy writes for Muse, the arts and culture section of Bloomberg News. The opinions expressed are his own. This interview was adapted from a longer conversation.)

Muse highlights include Lewis Lapham’s podcast and Zinta Lundborg on Best Weekend.

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