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Arts / Museums

The American Dream

Nate Lowman

BY Catherine D. Anspon // 04.16.15

Nate Lowman was one of the post-9/11 “Three Amigos” who set Manhattan’s downtown scene a fire, along with fellow provocateurs Dan Colen (on view at James Cope’s gallery during Fair Week) and late Menil progeny/prodigy Dash Snow. This internationally exhibited, Guggenheim-collected, Whitney Biennial painter/sculptor/maker with his preternaturally gray hair was also famously stalked by paparazzi when he dated an Olsen twin. Fresh from last spring’s eagerly watched show at New York City’s Maccarone — the gallery will feature his art in its booth, come Dallas Art Fair time — Lowman is an agile and adept conjurer of objects that seem to embody the American dream gone terribly awry. The artist’s raison d’être was most epically realized in 2012 at the Brant Foundation, where he transformed the cavernous Greenwich, Connecticut, art space into a kunsthalle filled with fronts from rusting gas pumps, cruciform-shaped structures salvaged from tow trucks, bullet-hole paintings and gargantuan air-freshener forms plastered across a wall, while setting the Bronco previously owned by O. J. Simpson upon the lawn. What does this creative have up his sleeve for Dallas? Catherine D. Anspon chats with Lowman via email about his love for car culture, being pals with Richard Prince and lighting out for the West.

What can you divulge about your Dallas Contemporary solo?
I’m planning a pool party with barbecue. Do they make vegetarian barbecue?

Will you reprise the intriguing library installation, based upon your personal collection, which you created at the Brant Foundation?
I will not be exhibiting any artworks from my personal collection in Dallas, but I will show a series of objects that come from my domestic life. I have begun making a few pieces of furniture, mostly lamps, which live in my apartment with my art collection, and I plan to show a group of these at the Dallas Contemporary.

Will some of the work be moving in the more minimalist direction of your recent solo at Maccarone?
This group of works is a direct result from the pieces from my recent show at Maccarone, but will not be minimalist whatsoever.

Do you have a title for the exhibition yet?
My working title is “America Sneezes.”

Why were you interested in showing in Dallas?
Peter [Doroshenko] reached out to me through the Massimo De Carlo Gallery. He visited my studio in the spring of last year, and things have moved quickly since then. He has had a very interesting career and has recently worked with some artists I know very well and admire — Rob Pruitt and Piotr Uklanski, to name a couple. Both of those artists have been very generous with me, and I have looked up to them throughout my career. Dallas has a very exciting relationship to contemporary art, especially right now.

Is this your first time in Texas? You’ve done an edition piece for the Chinati Foundation, so have you spent time in Marfa?
I was in a group show at United Artists, Ltd., in Marfa in Spring 2008. Other than that, I have never been to Texas. My friends [artists] Jeff Elrod and Mark Flood introduced me to Rob Weiner over 10 years ago, and I was happy to support what he does at the Chinati Foundation [as its associate director].

nate lowman
Nate Lowman’s “Sideshow
Bob Marley,” 2014

What art-world colleagues do you know in the state — curators, collectors, fellow artists, writers, etc.?
I know a handful of people who spend time in Marfa. Many of them are transplants from New York. My good friend Jim Lewis is a writer based in Austin. Chivas Clem, who is currently based in Paris, Texas, is a dear friend and an artist I very much admire. I’ve had a close relationship with the Karpidas family for nearly a decade. They introduced me to the Wilsons, who are based in Dallas. Texas is big, but the world continues to shrink.

Will you be addressing special concepts or tropes related to Dallas or Texas? The gas-pump series, for example?
Because of my lack of experience in Dallas, I think it’ll be more interesting to see how the things that have been produced in my studio in New York look when they’ve been transplanted there. I don’t know enough about Dallas as a city to address it directly as a subject. Until last week, I was planning on exhibiting a painting of a gas pump, but I edit and re-edit constantly, so as of now, that painting won’t make the trip.

Will we be seeing more of your signature iconography — bullet holes, air fresheners, smiley faces, etc.?
Texas — and America in general — inhabits a vast young continent. When thinking about bringing my artworks west, it feels more exciting to work up to the last minute on a new series of pieces rather than parading around some things that might be familiar to a given viewer

What artists from art history or today inspire you? Richard Prince, for example, is often listed as an influence, and he attended your Brant Foundation opening. Are you pals?
I met Richard eight years ago. He has been very friendly and supportive of me over the years. I couldn’t possibly list here what I’ve learned by studying his work and becoming friends with him. Over the years, we have traded a few artworks. When he has visited my studio, I have also received great advice from him.

Where did you grow up, and how did a sense of place play into your art?
I lived in Las Vegas until I was 5 or 6 and then moved to Idyllwild, California. My parents worked for a nonprofit organization there called the Idyllwild Arts Foundation. It’s a high school and summer camp dedicated to the arts. I spent a lot of time in the photo lab growing up and learned how to stretch canvas when I was about 12, although I wasn’t any good at it at first. Over the years I’ve made artworks that have to do with car culture, such as the bullet-hole paintings, airfreshener paintings, gas-pump works and bumper-sticker paintings. These all came out of spending hours and hours on the road throughout my young life, especially in Southern California.

First art encounter
My father was very close friends with a well-known painter from Los Angeles named David Amico. I grew up visiting his loft in downtown L.A. and later studied with him and worked as his teaching assistant. At some point in the ’80s, my parents traded him a van and some cash for a large painting of his that hung in our house. I grew up staring at this colorful painting every day.

Biggest break to date
In the spring of 2002, I was invited by a former professor (and some former classmates) to exhibit two paintings in a one-day exhibition at the American Fine Arts Gallery. When I went to pick up my pieces, someone told me a woman named Clarissa Dalrymple had been interested in my paintings and to look her up in the phone book and invite her to my studio. She visited me shortly thereafter and included me in an exhibition she curated in Los Angeles the following year. Around the same time, my aforementioned friend, Chivas Clem [exhibiting at Erin Cluley Gallery during Fair Week], introduced me to Michele Maccarone, who was curating a show in New York. Meeting and working with these two women in my early 20s was the beginning of my career as an artist. Besides having been given exposure, I was instilled with confidence at a young age by these women. They also, in different ways, exposed me to an entire culture and encouraged me to participate

On the path to NYC and NYU.
I visited New York in 1994 with my family. I was 15, and my favorite artist was Cy Twombly. His retrospective exhibition was at the MoMA, and I lost my mind, getting the chance to see so many paintings. After seeing the museums and visiting galleries, I knew that it was the place I wanted to live. NYU was, I think, the only school that accepted my application.

How 9/11 impacted you.
I got my first studio in November or December of 2001. It was a small storefront in Bed-Stuy in Brooklyn. It was a crazy and confusing time for quite a while after 9/11. New Yorkers are people who really identify with the city in which they live, which is not always the case in America. I was young, and the world was changing dramatically, which was exciting and profound, even amidst the tragedy. It’s hard to articulate the emotional climate of the year and a half between 9/11 and the beginning of the U.S./Iraq War in 2003. To think how much the country has changed and how long these wars have gone on is really mind-boggling.

Your sneaker collaboration for Converse is quite famous. Anything like that coming up?

I’m happy with the way my collaboration with Converse turned out. I’ve been wearing Converse as long as I can remember, and it was fun to engage with the shoe I’ve been looking at on my own feet for most of my life. I’ve done some projects over the years with a brand called Supreme in New York and also in Tokyo. Sometimes it can be a really great feeling to reach an audience that is outside of the art world. The guys at Supreme have a good sense of what I do and how we can work together from time to time, which I really appreciate. I think that artistic collaborations with any kind of brand are very tricky, and for the near future, I’m keen on focusing on making artworks.

Current inspirations
Jackson C. Frank, Damian Lillard of the Portland Trail Blazers, Roadside Picnic by Arkady and Boris Strugatsky, Shuggie Otis, Jay DeFeo.

What’s next.
In 2015, I’ll be exhibiting my first bronze sculpture in a park in Manchester, UK, in association with the Whitworth museum. I’m also going to install a very large outdoor sculpture on the facade of a building in the Design District in Miami.

On collecting.
I own a chair made by the Italian/Brazilian architect Lina Bo Bardi. I eat on a dining table made by the Hansen Brothers (Eli Hansen and Oscar Tuazon). I recently acquired a photograph by Jimmy DeSana.

Texas agenda.
I’d like to visit lots of museums and then I’m taking some friends on a trip to Big Bend and Marfa. We’re hoping to get in some river rafting.

Home, chic home.

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