Exploring Jacob Kassay’s Work Without a Price Tag

Installation view of “Jacob Kassay: “Untitled (disambiguation)” (image courtesy of The Kitchen)

Despite his young age, Jacob Kassay is an artist with no shortage of press — last week it was just announced that he will be joining 303 Gallery at their new 24th Street location. After gaining people’s attention with a remarkably high auction price a few years ago at the Phillips de Pury & Co auction house — selling a painting estimated at $8,000, for $86,500 — he has been widely written about though predominantly through the lens of the art market and its impact on young artists. But aside from the usual gossip of over-the-top auction prices and his overnight success at the mere age of twenty-five, I found it difficult to find out anything about Kassay’s work aside from auction-related chatter, so I decided to contact the artist himself. Kassay took the time to speak with Hyperallergic over the phone, as well as in in person about his current exhibition, now on view at The Kitchen through Saturday, February 16.

One of Kassay’s “silver” paintings tucked behind a pillar in the gallery.

As I finally got the artist on the phone, I recalled my visit to the gallery the day before. Upon entering Untitled (disambiguation) I was welcomed by a group of several oddly shaped monochromes, which seem to punctuate the perimeter of the space quite nicely. The works vary in size, each appearing to be created from previously discarded bits of canvas from the studio. Consisting of pale canvases of raw material, each work had a wooden support built specifically to accommodate its unique shape. The leftover bits of canvas are hastily stretched over their respective frames, yet the appearance of speediness doesn’t detract from the work as I had suspected it would. These “quiet” monochromes were made based on existing cuts in the canvas, shown with bits of stray staples and loose strands of thread still clinging to the surface, implying a sense of urgency that seems to work in favor of the informal space of The Kitchen. When I asked Kassay about how some of the works were placed throughout the space he explained his installation process to me and wanted to emphasize that “there is a certain presence felt when someone installs something themselves, even if it doesn’t look right, you know they were there.”

During our conversation, Kassay explained the term “disambiguation” — the process of resolving the conflicts that arise when a single object is ambiguous. He then clarified that “None of these works, at this point, should be viewed as an individual … ” In wanting each of  the works to be viewed as a a single compositional group, Kassay considers their placement in the gallery and throughout the building to be of equal importance to the exhibition.

Toward the back of the space sits a lone silver painting tucked behind a pillar, part of a series that Kassay has been experimenting with since he was 20 years old and which he has become particularly well known for. These silver paintings begin like any conventional painting: a stretched canvas, a few layers of gesso, and a support. What makes them unusual is what happens next. The paintings are electroplated in silver, producing an effect akin to a foggy bathroom mirror, reflecting a ghostly image of the viewer. It is also this plating process that causes some of the works to have burnt edges, a result of the raw silver being oxidized. Kassay enjoys the electroplating process and he explains why: “The whole point is that the thing is being absolutely transformed, also that I was somehow removed in this process, all I had to do was develop a support for the catalyst and then it was then out of my hands but this is not unfamiliar territory for painting … ” I was also informed that despite its casual presentation, Jacob reassured me that the series will undoubtably continue in the future.

Jacob Kassay,
Jacob Kassay, “Untitled (disambiguation)” (2013)

During our discussion, I asked Kassay to tell me a bit about his daily studio practice. He described the act of spending a large amount of his time in the studio as a means of not only getting away from other people, but a way of getting away from yourself during periods of the work’s production. This seemed to correspond to the extended amount of time required to view the show, a very spatially considered interior that requires the body to adjust to the space upon entry. When asked if the artist had anything to add, he mentioned a text message from a friend received during the installation of the exhibition: “Are you familiar with the term spandrel?” He later recalled the definition — the space between an angle and a curve, used primarily in bridges. Usually in that space there is some type of figuration. He enjoyed this comparison between the two types of work being shown together in the same space and appreciated receiving the message.

Jacob Kassay “Untitled (disambiguation)” (2013)

Kassay recently began teaching at the University at Buffalo and spoke to me about a concept that he plans to pass along to his students regarding their time in the studio. He explained the concept of “living with the work,” meaning that even when he is not in the studio physically he is continuously concerned with the work on a daily basis, emphasizing at the end of our chat that “it never really leaves my head … ”

Jacob Kassay: Untitled (disambiguation) continues at The Kitchen (512 West 19th Street, Chelsea, Manhattan) through February 16. Kassay also recently premiered Untitled, a film at Protocinema in Istanbul.

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