Stefan Simchowitz is a well-known name within the international contemporary art world. Besides being an established name, Mr. Simchowitz is somewhat considered an enfant terrible of the art world for revolting against traditional rules and concepts. Based in Los Angeles, Mr. Simchowitz has an extensive contemporary art collection, which we had the pleasure of catching a glimpse of at both his residence and at the ICM offices, where part of his collection is currently installed. During our visit in L.A., Mr. Simchowitz showed us around his lively home and shared some of his insights on the art world and its recent developments, as well as LA's role in the global art scene.
What do you think about recent developments in the art market, as we see it’s heading towards a more and more digitalized and globalized model?
As far as the perspective and point of view of artists: it’s just natural that artists use new materials that are disposable to them. Every single artist in the world today is using technology to express themselves, whether it’s by sharing content on Instagram, or whether it’s by sharing a document through Wetransfer for a gallery to look at. Every single person integrated in the art industry today is using some aspect of technology to either produce their content, to distribute their content, or to share their content. And people are viewing that content and experiencing that content through the lens of technology, because no one goes to galleries and people barely visit museums. Therefore, most of people’s experience of art and culture today is through the screen, is through the lens and sharing mechanisms of social media, high data transfers, through your emails etc.
Technological development is one that has massively changed the art scene and the way in which we experience and see art. How do you see this developing over the next 5/10 years?
The distribution of culture becomes much more efficient and more expansive, and culture then transforms because of this integration of the real and the virtual, and essentially the collapse of these two worlds into one unit: art becomes content. And as art becomes content, the distribution of art, and the mechanisms of distribution become the art itself. So you can think of conceptually Duchamp, taking an object like the urinal and putting it into a museum, then: object + exhibition = art. So the object is transformed into art by the exhibition, by the curator, by the public who consumes it. Today, what I believe is the distribution system, the distribution itself, as art is transformed into content, essentially then becomes the art itself. So in the 20th century the line between object and art was ‘the exhibition’, whereas in the 21st century, the line between art and the distribution of it collapses and it becomes one unit. And this is what interests me.
Can we keep building onto these existing institutions and establishments, or do they need to be taken down in order to be rebuilt to more efficiently match today’s art world?
Ideally, you don’t have to take it down. You ideally don’t want to destroy it, you ideally want to adapt it. But unfortunately the reaction of the liberal establishment heavily aligned to culture is to dig their heels in and reject these forms of change, under some definition of moral bias or moral negativity. The liberal establishment effectively controls culture and the institutional category, and they really only sing one note.
You see it in NY for example, where if you’re a brilliant artist, and you support Donald Trump, the liberal establishment will not show you and you’ll be rejected. And this is an interesting thing, because you don’t have this proliferation of true diversity. You have a singular, non-diverse ecosystem. So the liberal establishment which controls culture on an institutional and educational level really needs to change and challenge itself, and really needs to learn how to become pragmatic, because it’s not working. Artists do not have many opportunities, as big galleries are only interested in dead, white, male artist’s estates, and it’s boring. So you’ve got this nice structure of people with power and money, but they are literally digging a grave for themselves as we speak. Because no one cares. All they’re doing is regurgitating what the establishment wants to regurgitate.
What is happening in Los Angeles that might be challenging these traditional establishments or is being disruptive in some way?
Many people here as well are stuck in the fair system. You really want to try to engage people, new people. People at the art fairs are the same people every time, they have the same conversations, and they don’t really want to collect art. They’re bored, they’re rich, they got divorced, they want something to do, they want to buy social status. Not to be arrogant, but I’m the guy who’s doing something disruptive.
How is that?
Just look at me.
At this point, Mr. Simchowitz decides to drive us to ICM Partners, the famous talent agency, where his collection is currently on loan. Here, he has curated and displayed his collection in the 35-floor building, which includes artists such as Kour Pour, Jon Rafman, Oscar Murillo, Petra Cortright, and many more.
So this is a partnership I made with ICM, where there’s over 400 works from close to 90 artists, all from my personal collection, over all 5 floors. I curated the installation and the hang. I call it museum 2.0. ICM is a talent agency that represents people such as Kendrick Lamar, Katie Holmes, Samuel L. Jackson, on and on. They have over 400 employees and 175 agents working here. Instead of putting things in a museum, where you need a very expensive structure to manage the collection and where you have a sort of fixed audience, I put my art here. In my opinion, it’s a big deal what’s going on here at ICM. It’s on a huge scale, it’s curated, and it’s in a realistic environment as opposed to an isolated environment. The key is to integrate new people into the art world, because these people are not going to art fairs, and they’re not going to museums or galleries. You bring the art to them instead of the other way around. In order to build an art business, we in the art industry really have to think out of the box. We have to get rid of the mythology that people collect because they love art, that they’re not collecting because of money. And we have to go out there and literally drag people by their fucking ears and turn them into people who respect culture and who will engage in culture.
It’s a pragmatic job, and these structures in the art world have eliminated pragmatic thinking. They have fetishized failure, by letting people believe that if you fail then you’re authentic. And we’re in a system where the same old shit is constantly circling around, and we have to do radical things and come together to appoint each other, to utilize each other’s networks to manifest a distribution system. But the system is so political, the New York and London systems are so political and they’ve got their institutional relations, so you’ve literally got to go around an imaginary line, you’ve got to go around the forest where it’s muddy.