Simon says

Simon Cerigo    photo courtesy Martin Bromirski

I ran into Simon Cerigo as he did his rounds Thursday at Viridian Artists in north Chelsea, attending 15 or more gallery openings, who knows how many, that evening—he cruises through more than 60 a month, maybe more, constantly looking for the pleasant surprise. He does it all for his clients, who come to him simply to know what to buy before anyone else knows it. Sometimes they listen. Often, they don’t. The last time I saw him I told him I was knocked out by the Michael Borreman’s show at Zwirner, which I’d seen that afternoon, and he dismissed it with two words: “Too finished.” I found it funny and intriguing, that response. I was hooked. I wanted to hear more. (My impression of Borreman’s technique is that it’s never too much, but always just enough—in terms of amount of paint, brushwork, subject matter, you name it.) So I wanted to run into him again and was delighted when he walked into the gallery. He was wearing a bright orange stocking cap, which a friend of mine calls “a hat even gravity doesn’t understand” because of the way it floats around on Simon’s head, and he smelled just faintly of marijuana—a scent that always makes me feel eighteen again, ready to stay up all night, which actually I did, though without smoke, or anything else, to prop me up. He held forth on the current art scene with precision and insight and had a lot of fascinating things to say.

Simon: The new Koons show, the dot paintings. Ultimately it’s Internet art. The whole show revolves around the Internet. This interactive, multi-locational situation and besides that if you follow Hirst’s work and his market, the dots were considered very glib, throwaway at first. Nobody liked it. It was a half-baked idea.  Jay Joplin, this dealer at White Cube, he said enough with the sharks, make some paintings, I’ve gottta sell some stuff. So he rolled out the dots. I met Hirst at the opening, his wife was wearing a hat with a little dot painting on it. He was so stoned. I asked him, what were you on when you did these? He knew I was kidding him. Brilliant showmanship. If you’re going to one-up Koons or anybody else, do it big!

DD: Which opening did you say you crashed back in the 90s?

Simon: The Hirst opening I attended at the Michel Cohen Gallery was the medicine cabinets, very valuable, always considered very important, glass, with pills, the whole show was that, and then we went to the after party at his duplex, Michel Cohen’s, at 81st st. and Madison. It was all Eurotrash, French, English, they all buy $800 shirts, young kids, 25, drinking, partying down. The dot paintings were all over the walls. I hated the paintings then, I still do . . . except the bigger dots, I tell you, they’re pretty impressive. There’s one that takes up the size of this whole wall, four dots, very impressive. I told my friend, what the guy did, he took the concept which was half-baked, and he expanded it, fleshed it out, and gave it the patina of intellectual respectability, by making it wider and heavier and sort of exploring different ways of doing the concept of dot, he gave it this intellectual weight.

DD: He’s not making anything, though.

Simon: No, he isn’t.

Jane Talcott: (laughing) Is he hiring now?

Simon: He has 120 assistants in London. It underlines the state of the art world today. It’s almost a three-ring circus.

DD: Three ring circus?

Simon: Everybody is trying to outdo one another in sensationalist maneuvers and strategies that have nothing to do with aesthetics.

DD: It’s product.

Simon: It’s not totally market-driven. I take off my shirt and show my breasts, the next person is going to take off his pants. How to get covered? That’s the question. It’s one way of selling art. It does sell art; let me tell you. Some of the dots aren’t that bad.  But there’s no color sensitivity.

Jane: What do you think of outsider art?

Simon: The best artists today are basically outsider artists with master’s degrees. Karen Kilimnik is one of them. You get a master’s degree and you forget about it. You fight against it. You go back to just having really vibrant, authentic responses, direct, not with all this (he gestures with his hand and makes a dismissive sound) . . . you get to where you need to really make art for yourself.

DD: Inner necessity.

Simon: Yes. Raymond Pettibone. He’s another one. Basically autistic, or Asperger’s. Kilimnik you can’t touch her. You can’t look her in the eyes. She’s always wearing these headphones. She shows at 303. Her story is, you go to her house but . . she’s still in the state of being pre-teen really. She’s in her fifties, she’s beautiful, we’re very good friends, I’ve known her for 25 years. She used to hang out with Rob Pruitt, and she used to be his sidekick. She was the first to do the scatter art installations, in the early 90s. We’re very good friends. She stutters. She has a library, you go to her place in Philadelphia and she has books from floor to ceiling. She goes like this. (He reaches up and pulls an imaginary art book down from a high shelf and thumbs rapidly through it.) She remembers everything and then when she goes to paint it all comes out in fragments, unconsciously, she doesn’t know why. Then the pieces have a feeling to them, they’re very romantic, they don’t make a certain sort of sense. A friend of mine has forty pieces. The sexual repression, the sexual impulses come through. In this mountain scene, you saw a crotch. In ways, either it’s repressed or it’s her actual interior life, it all comes out.

DD: That’s painting. The unconscious element.

Simon: A lion from some Delacroix painting in one, you could miss it easily. I told the collector the history of what her work is about has yet to be written. Now her work is up to $800K, nine, a million at auction. In the beginning, 2002, they were grouped together, Peyton and her, and there was a show, a group show with Peyton and Kilimnik. At that show, Kilimnik was selling for up to 50 grand. I was telling a Japanese collector, buy Kilimnik! He would say, Peyton sells for a million! Now their prices are the same, and now he’s saying oh I love Kilimnik. These people don’t have an intimate connection to the work, they look at it as object, at the price, the buzz, the words and photos. They don’t want to take the time to get into the piece. That’s why they need advice from me. I work from the inside out. From connecting to the work first as an artist. It could be five cents. Here’s the five cents, I want it. These collectors, they need money and knowledge.

Jane: There are people out there who buy whatever they want. Up at the top.

Simon: Look, when we have money in our pockets, we want to spend it. For a lot of collectors, it’s addictive. They start and get their toes in and after about three years they’re buying everything. It becomes compulsive. A good collector, if he’s worth his money, should know that once you come out of that impulse buying you have a collection, three hundred pieces, and it’s all here and there. Then you need somebody to weed out the collection and give it focus. These collectors ultimately want to get a museum. The museum won’t take it, if it’s full of shit. It behooves the collector, if he’s passionate about it . . .

Jane: Who are the collectors now?

Simon: Everybody’s wearing different hats now. The collectors are called dealers, curators. Artists are dealers. Artists are collectors. Everybody wants to be famous for everything.

DD: Koons is trying to achieve respectability with his collection.

Simon: Didn’t he curate that show at the New Museum?

Jane: Where are we headed?

Simon: You know Haunch of Venison? They’re financed by Christie’s. All the auction houses have primary markets now. Auctions are the secondary market.

DD: So they aren’t just reselling. They’re starting it out.

Simon: Sotheby’s has its own primary space now. In which they show new artists. Whoever they can get to curate. The divisions in the art world that used to exist, very invisible walls. Primary dealers and secondary, auctions, very little overlap. It was considered faux pas. You make enemies. The art world was smaller then, you didn’t want to make enemies. Everything is in flux. We’re headed where the world is headed. Everything is everywhere. There are no walls. There are no limits. There’s overlap. The whole world, artistically and politically, everything is in flux. Because the money is mad. It’s definitely mad money. The art world has become very trendy the last ten years, so the demand for art all over the world has become a status symbol, so they’re digging up inventories. Oh. (He shakes his head.) But at least they’re paintings.




4 Responses to “Simon says”

  1. Now that’s a restoration at represent

    […] year, I was hanging around Viridian Artists, up to no good, and Simon Cerigo came in to visit, and we talked about a show at Zwirner which I’d just seen a few hours […]

  2. Theo Cerigo

    Thanks for capture Simon exactly the way he was.

  3. In Memory of Simon Cerigo » Art Matters!

    […] . . who died a few days […]

  4. Now that’s a restoration » Art Matters!

    […] year, I was hanging around Viridian Artists, up to no good, and Simon Cerigo came in to visit, and we talked about a show at Zwirner which I’d just seen a few hours […]