THE NY ART SCENE AFTER 9/11: A (VERY) CONDENSED ORAL HISTORY BY DAN COLEN AND AARON BONDAROFF
Last week in L.A., Aaron Bondaroff and Al Moran’s OHWOW gallery opened an exhibition called “Post 9-11.” Meant to be more a gathering of friends—a recognizably New York group featuring Dan Colen, Terence Koh, Hanna Liden, Nate Lowman, Adam McEwen, Ryan McGinley, Agathe Snow, Dash Snow, and Aaron Young—than a curated show according to style or movement, the exhibition is a reunion of sorts for these artists who’ve grown together—and grown up—over the past decade since 9/11. Here, Dan Colen and Aaron Bondaroff talk a little personal history.
From left: Leo Fitzpatrick, Al Moran, Ryan McGinley, Nate Lowman, Dan Colen, Aaron Bondaroff and Adam McEwen
DAN COLEN: We all met around 9/11. We were just kids then. Ten years ago, I was living with Ryan [McGinley] on East 7th Street. It was the kind of apartment where a lot of people congregated. This was when we were becoming close with Aaron. We kind of naturally fell in together. It was pretty fluid. But still, I think when 9/11 happened we hadn’t really become close yet—not like the way we were with Dash [Snow] and Agathe [Snow]. And Terence [Koh] was just showing up around then. Pretty soon after that, Nate [Lowman] came around. He was just another kid. I didn’t know that he was the artist Nate Lowman. It’s funny, I knew of Nate Lowman the artist, and I actually thought he was a mid-career artist. I thought it was the best work I’d seen in so long, and I figured it was some 40 year-old man …
AARON BONDAROFF: I think it was more at Agathe’s apartment in the Lower East Side where she was actually doing those dinner happenings and bringing a lot of people together. I think that was really the moment where we all kind of got together.
DC: That’s right. Agathe was really close with Nate.
AB: Agathe’s mother had a restaurant on Prince Street called La Poème, and I saw her hanging out there a lot with Dash. I realized that a lot of these guys were connected to each other. They started hanging out in the basement of this restaurant.
DC: In 2003, Ryan and I moved out of 7th Street to Canal Street. And Dash was on Avenue C, which was a pretty big spot too. We spent a lot of time there. But when we moved down to Canal Street, Maccarone Gallery was down the block from us, so I started seeing Nate around again. [Lowman is represented by the gallery.] I thought maybe he was an installer there or something. I kind of approached him one day at the local café just to say what’s up. I asked him if he worked at the gallery. And he was like, ‘No, I show there.’ And I was like, ‘You’re Nate Lowman, whoa.’ That’s how we officially met. Then we got introduced to Adam McEwen and Aaron Young. And Michelle [Maccarone] moved her gallery, and Terence moved into her building. So then there was this whole thing around Canal Street—Terence had this entire building; Ryan and I were up the block; Nate was kind of living with us; Aaron Young’s studio was right over there [in Soho]; and Dash had moved to the Bowery then. So we were all in this really tight vicinity. Aaron’s store [aNYthing] opened up down there, too.
From the installation: works by Ryan McGinley, Adam McEwen and Agathe Snow
AB: For me, I was always kind of hanging around downtown interacting with a lot of different creative people. And I’d just see Dan and Ryan and those guys on the street and I was really intrigued by their style and the way they carried themselves. I didn’t know they were making art back then, but it seemed like they were having a lot of fun. Ryan was always taking Polaroids of everyone that came to the 7th St apartment. That’s where I met Hanna [Liden]. They brought me into their world somewhat. I realized these guys are artists and really believed in their work. I was excited to see that process.
DC: Aaron was searching for something that was more, let’s say, in the path towards adulthood. I think the IRAK graffiti crew was an important part of it. I think it was just a way for A-Ron to understand what we were doing. I think if there wasn’t a graffiti crew involved, it would have been a little more jarring. Just like, ‘Art,’ you know? Correct me if I’m wrong, Aaron.
AB: No, 100 percent. I was producing zines and objects, and I was really interested in collaborating with a lot of these guys. I went to Canal Street with Dan and Ryan, it was our studio. A lot of things were being produced out of that space. And then Nate and Dan got a studio on Franklin Street, as well. And it was great watching a lot of these artists really take off.
DC: It was pretty interesting to watch everybody’s relationship to their work kind of mature. Early on, Dash wasn’t like, ‘I’m an artist.’ He was like, ‘I do this stuff.’ And Agathe, who was always a backbone for all of us, never really wanted to step on the stage herself. Her coming to a straightforward relationship with being an artist, as opposed to kind of masking it, that was really exciting. And there were so many other people close by, like Rita Ackermann. It was important that there were other people, not just us. Each of us had such a distinct agenda with our work that we sought out other people. There was a really interesting dynamic happening. It was really, really exciting.
In 2003, Ryan McGinley became the youngest artist, at age 25, to get a solo show at the Whitney Museum of American Art.
From left: Leo Fitzpatrick and Ryan McGinley; Nate Lowman
DC: I remember I was in the country upstate trying to finish up my first show for Rivington Arms in the summer of 2002. Mirabelle [Marden, who ran the Rivington Arms gallery with Melissa Bent] actually had a Fourth of July party at her dad’s house upstate. So these guys all took a huge van up there, and then we went to my place for the weekend.
AB: We would go on some really cool road trips to visit Dan when he was making art upstate.
DC: It was up there that Ryan called me and told me that he was having the Whitney show. So I think by the time they came up, he had already known. That summer there was definitely big progress in terms of how serious we were getting about our work.
Melissa Bent and Mirabelle Marden’s Rivington Arms Gallery in the Lower East Side, established in 2001, was an axis of the downtown art scene until its closing in 2009.
DC: Rivington Arms was huge. I came out of school knowing I was going to do a show with them. It really made for such a different mentality. So it was always about the struggle to make the art and not to find the gallery, the platform, to show it off. Because I think that really is a whole different kind of mind-fuck.
From left: Aaron Bondaroff and Matthew Williams; China Chow and Dan Colen
AB: Those girls had a venue, which is exciting because in New York it’s always about having a place to showcase what is happening on the streets and in the arts. I had a small platform in the Lower East Side, but that’s kind of when I realized I wanted to do something bigger down the road, to open up my own gallery, which would also be a place where I could show my friends’ work. So I guess after that legendary road trip, everybody started producing: publishing books, creating objects … and now being able to open up this gallery—first in Miami and now in Los Angeles. To finally be able to go back and really bring the artists that I rolled with together in one show is really exciting.
In 2007, Dan Colen and Dash Snow put on a memorable show at Deitch Projects in Soho. Called “The Nest,” it consisted of enlisting many volunteers to shred two thousand NYC phone books to build a cocoon for them and their artist friends to live and party in. It originated from Dan and Dash’s ritual trashing of hotel rooms.
DC: The Nest was a great thing, and relevant to this show, I guess, just because it was essentially about Dash and I bonding. He and I were so skeptical—both in our own ways—of doing it at Deitch as an art piece. And what was kind of beautiful about it was that, at the end, we were both so happy we did it. It really worked in the same way that it did for Dash and me on that intimate level, but in more of a communal way. [Jeffrey] Deitch just gave us the keys for two weeks and we did our own weird kind of hanging-out in there while we made the show. And then for the opening and the closing he really let us do some crazy shit: we just brought in a lot of friends and a lot of bands. It was about intimacy—and we were able to experience it with like our hundred closest people.
AB: At the time, we had such a strong community that getting everyone together to create the Nest kind of just worked out.
In their January 7, 2007 issue, New York Magazine published a cover story about Dash, Dan, Ryan, and their group of friends and artists. The story was titled “Chasing Dash Snow”—it was centered around the late artist (who died in 2009)—and the cover was headlined “Warhol’s Children,” with an image of Dan, Ryan, and Dash sleeping in a bed together.
AB: They were writing that around 2005, I think, when we were all down to Miami for the art fairs. I knew I had to try to avoid that article, not really deal with it at the time. I don’t think it was a very accurate representation of what was going on.
DC: It was a pretty funky thing. Even just within the three of us—Ryan, Dash, and me—we each had such different relationships to what was happening. Dash was trying really, really hard to avoid it. I guess he can only blame himself for not being able to avoid it in the right way, because he put himself around it. But I can’t even remember how he became so involved because he was being so hostile to the reporter [Ariel Levy]. There were moments where it was like, ‘Wow, it’s about the three of us, that’s cool!’ And we would open up; then we would shut back down and our friends around us, everybody was a little unsure. But at the same time it was like, damn, the cover of New York Magazine is just too exciting. Afterwards it was really kind of tragic; it was almost kind of a bummer. You can only present things with a certain amount of clarity to the media. It is impossible to really tell the whole story, right? It was hardest for Dash, I think. You know, whatever, it’s a part of the story, it really is. It created more ways for people to hate on us, but it definitely elevated us to the public. At the end of the day, it’s weird because we all desire some sort of celebrity. I’m always caught being like, ‘I want them to just talk about my work but at the same time I’ve invested a lot of energy promoting my personality …’
AB: That article back then was just a really weird thing. My attraction to these artists was to the way they carry themselves on the street. Before I really knew what kind of art they made, that was what drew me to a lot of these guys. But everyone kept evolving and growing as artists individually. The circle of friends is not as tight as it used to be because we’re all older now, but we still communicate and spend as much time together as possible, so I feel like the OHWOW exhibition really brings us full circle.
DC: Recently, we’ve been feeling a tipping point, like maybe we’re not just kids anymore. And we’re all growing up in our own ways. I was just talking to Nate yesterday, and I was like, ‘Damn, this really wouldn’t have worked if it was two years from now.’ And he was like, ‘And it really wouldn’t have worked if they tried to do it two years ago, either.’ [laughs] We’re getting to be 30, 35. And it feels, you know, different. And we’re all so close, but it’s a different dynamic. Just because we’re not necessarily kids on the street anymore. And we’re basically coming to grips with that.
AB: It is really exciting to be opening in Los Angeles, to get them all together again like a reunion. For me, this is New York; this is what it is about. Even though there are so many other elements to this, it’s really about a circle of friends that spent a lot of time together.
DC: Our lives kind of made this show possible.
Post 9-11, a group exhibition, runs from June 30 – August 27, 2011, at OHWOW, located at 937 North La Cienega Boulevard, Los Angeles. Visit oh-wow.com
Photos: Andreas Branch/PatrickMcMullan.com ©Patrick McMullan