Saturday, August 18, 2007


Photo credit: Kristy Leibowitz (boys)

I thought that it would be appropriate to comment on the recent installation piece, “Nest” at Deitch Projects by Dan Colen and Dash Snow, on the day it closes.

The press release accompanying the work, declared it “[a] contemporary answer to a ‘happening’” and an affirmation of freedom of expression,” while the participants themselves see it as a tribute to counterculture heroics.

Indeed, the organized shredding and installation within gallery walls of 2,500 NYC city phone books is incredibility subversive…or is it?

The “Hamster Nest,” which is the culmination of “performances” in various hotel rooms across the world by Snow, Colen, photographer Ryan McGinley (who is not listed as a creative on this installation but runs with their crew) and their friends, started out as little more than the juvenile trashing of hotel rooms, while high on various drug cocktails.

The premise is simple: get a bunch of people together, shred some phone books, and then, “you do as many drugs as you can do within the Hamster’s Nest and you really try to be a hamster […] and then you get naked,” says Snow.

The work (which I admittedly haven’t seen except in pictures), seems like an interesting premise. In execution and display however, it seems to exist somewhere between a snuff-film-lite (hinting at violence and tragedy, but never really delivering) and an annual frat-house party for the art-set; staged for the still shots.

Perhaps more than that though, it really comments on the need to occupy oneself when fucked up. Because when looking at the pictures, that is what it really looks like: the obsessive need to move whilst on a mélange of mind-altering substances. And tearing up phone books and decorating walls with numbingly boring graffiti like “I might not go down in history, but I’ll go down on your sister,” is probably as much fun as anything else. Sprinkle it with a smattering of fame, and the legitimacy of an art pedigree (Colen and Dash both show with Saatchi; Colen has sold work for $500,000) and voila: sublime degradation. While exhibiting a “Nest” in a gallery space is nothing more than the articulation of a collective lust for the excesses of youth and the thrill of voyeurism.

It also bears mentioning that Dash Snow is genuine art-world royalty. His maternal grandmother is a De Menil. His mother made headlines a few years ago for charging what was then the highest rent ever asked on a house in the Hamptons: $750,000 a season. And his brother, Maxwell Snow, is a budding member of New York society who has dated Mary-Kate Olsen. Plus his aunt, founded the Dia Art Foundation…and his family endowed the Rothko Chapel in Texas.

That being said, it forces one to truly consider the context. Not to mention the underpaid gallery bitch that’ll be bagging up the “Nest,” or casting it in resin as artifacts of a lost age or some other delightful bullshit that will surely be available for aquisition.

But perhaps Snow says it best: “The point of the Hamster’s Nest...”“It’s not like you break anything. It’s just really a task.”

For more info on these artists follow these links:

Saatchi Interview with Dan Colen:

NY Magazine article about Dash Snow:

Slate article about Ryan McGinley:


Jaime Verde said...

Sort of makes one want to throw in the towel.

When I think of the truly great original American forms of art like Jazz, The Blues, Kustom Kulture, Underground Comix, Hip- Hop, Wildstyle Grafitti, I think about how these were largely movements that came up from the bottom rungs of the socioeconomic ladder.

Maybe being poor or marginalized gives you a certain insight into how things really are and forces you to be innovative in how you express yourself. I wouldn't know because I am rather middle-class.

But so much of this kind of stuff, (stuff like Hamster's Nest) either on the pages of Artforum or in places like Deitch Products seems to come from the TOP DOWN- from the hard-partying heirs and heiresses of massive fortunes in NYC.

Personally, I think Paris Hilton's hi-jinks and Lindsey Lohan's tabloid tragicomedies are far more successful as drunken/ drugged-out performance art "happenings."

Sure Hamster Nest won't be co-opted and watered down by the man like jazz, hip-hip and lowbrow art were, but the flipside to that is that NO ONE WILL REMEMBER IT AT ALL! Apparently, not even the people involved in making it.

Shouldn't Americans be skeptical of anyone dubbed "royalty?"

Isn't royal bullying the reason we have the right to bear arms?

Emperor's new clothes indeed.

madeleine said...

I tried to consider this in the light of pure obectivity....and while Snow isn't responsible for the accident of his birth, he must be very aware of how all this plays to the media--very much a poor little rich boy syndrome.

That being said, Colen, is (I believe) the product of a middle-class family.

What strikes me most about this piece (whether one is rich or poor) is how it becomes less about art that stands on it own, and more about self-referential insiders.

Though by all accounts al three of the artists mentioned here are here are genuine nice guys...if that helps or hinders, I haven't muddled it through yet.

As to your idea that great art grows from the "ground up" so to speak, while my knee jerk reaction is to agree with you, I must caution against romantisizing poverty.

But yeah, overall I think this perfomance would have retained an element of authenticity if it had been conducted in a hotel room, a la its genisis. Being given space in a gallery is kind of like painting grafitti on a legal wall...(that of course assumes that graf can still be considered a genuinely "outlaw" art).

Jaime Verde said...

Of course I would not attempt to romanticize poverty or blame anyone for their being born rich as royalty. I merely felt it was worth noting in this context that this isn't subversive or innovative and is probably destructive to art and the image of artists in society. The fact that its being made by members of the so-called art royalty is worth thinking about.

But I'm biased, I'm skeptical of any art that isn't about bringing some sort of consciousness, especially something that is as overtly about UNconsciousness as this.

I'd also like to add that while I was brought up with largely middle class values, in no way do I earn a salary that could be seen as middle class in 2007. I'd never be able to romanticize my own poverty even if I wanted to.

madeleine said...

Well said...especially the fact that though you have a Master's degree for fuck's sake, you aren't even middle-class...

Jaime Verde said...

At least I'm not a barista at Starbucks. But then again they get health insurance and adjunct art teachers don't...

Well, I hope one day to earn a teacher's salary. That would be sweet. Until then, I string it along and pay out o' pocket.

No wonder I have little love for this type of art.

madeleine said...