March 20 2014

'All Artists Are Equal in Some Way'

New York-Art Inspection

If you haven't been up to the Whitney Biennial yet (through May 25th), it really is worth the trip, if not for Bjarne Melgaard's romp room or Drucker and Ernst's gender-flipping photo series, then at the very least to mark the end of an era. Museum Mile's loss is The Standard, High Line's gain and like all good neighbors, The Whitney comes bearing gifts.

Like a scout making camp on the far side of the mountain, Tony Tasset's Artists Monument, the Biennial's only off-site piece, prefaces the Whitney's imminent downtown move next year. Known for his "pop conceptual" constructs such as rainbows, un-meltable snowmen and monumental eyeballs, Mr. Tasset has created an actual monument with the names of 400,000 artists etched onto color gridded squares. Who made it onto the monument and why? We asked the artist – who just so happened to stay with us during Armory Arts Week – how it all came to be.

How would you describe the monolithic slab that you call Artists Monument?
It’s an epic, prescient, masterpiece. But that’s just my opinion.

How did you come up with your list of names?
I searched online and found the biggest database of contemporary artists I could find. It took about fifteen minutes. Then I went about hiring a graphic designer and editor - they had to put this mammoth file in alphabetical order - and a fabricator.

Why a box?
We were looking for an easy design that could hold so many names. I liked the containers because they emphasize the mobility and globalism of the current art world. It puts so many artist into a standardized, movable unit of data.

How long did it take to complete?
About four months, which is really fast for a piece this size.

By listing the names alphabetically, flatting all hierarchy, are you trying to say all artists are equal?
All artists are equal in some way. We all make what we have to make. Value and hierarchy comes from outside the individual.

There's been a lot of talk lately about the mega dollars the .01 percent are shelling out for art. How does one make sense of what's going on?
It is pretty extreme. I can't comprehend it myself. One of the things my sculpture tries to acknowledge is that there are a ton of artists who make their art but are not mega successful.

Tasset's earlier works, Paul, Snowman with Yellow Glove, Rainbow

The Whitney called your piece "a playful response to the perceived exclusivity of art world exhibitions such as the Whitney Biennial." Is the Whitney exclusive or just perceived that way?
Any exhibition that chooses a limited group of artists naturally excludes other artists. I guess the Whitney could just open their doors and let anyone install their art. First come first serve. That would be one funky show.

How important to you is public art?
I’ve made several public pieces. I like speaking to a wide audience. It’s an antidote to the elitism of the art-world. The Artists Monument is a little different. It speaks to artists more than a wider audience. But still there are a hell of a lot of artists in Chelsea.

How is Artists Monument activating the Whitney's new space in Meatpacking?
We’ll see. My hope is that as the weather warms up it will be a stopping point for joggers, bikers, artists and art enthusiasts.

I was standing by the Monument the other day and a lady on a bike came by and asked what it was. I explained the piece and asked if she was an artist. She said she was but she was certain she wasn’t on the monument. After I coaxed her name out of her we found it on the monument. It totally blew her mind.

There are lots of images of people taking cell phone shots of there names.

If you could have turned your room at The Standard, High Line into an art installation, what would you have done?
The room was an art installation. I wouldn’t touch a thing.