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, “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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Kyle Petreycik

Kyle Petreycik is an artist and Hyperallergic intern.

8 replies on “Exploring Jacob Kassay’s Work Without a Price Tag”

  1. Your so-called interview piece does exceptionally well to reveal basically nothing of Kassay’s work or himself personally. Rather it comes off as being just as cooly and slyly removed as the emotional emptiness of those bourgeois and highly commercial Frank Stella or Elizabeth Murray knockoff raw canvases.

    This very dubious article though comes not at all as a surprise in terms of Kassay’s obvious and juvenile timidity of speaking tellingly to the press. He probably has a slight inclination already that the still unjustified kudos he has received from mostly monied interests leave him with no other alternative than to pretend to the public that his work is viable, interesting, and educative and that him being recognized as a talent worth supporting for the long haul is as things should be.

    And why not he is a monkey right?

    His disingenuous art school blather about his work show not only his stunned incapability to not go along with the shenanigans of his immanent and coercive branding but also him lying to himself about not wanting to acknowledge his precursors of last century because they are let’s face it better than him by far.

    Basically collectors are using this kid–buying his work high, promoting him, then looking to sell his work for even more when people have convinced themselves that the hype is true out of peer pressure.

    I mean, who would actually revel in his raw canvases but a retard?

    You should have pressed this kid to be more honest to salvage some dignity for himself before he actually holds the banana in hand rather than rubbed his back with baby oil by soft candlelight.

    1. Man you would be so much more effective if you were not so mean. You are smart. Be respectful.

      1. You might be right Brian but I really do believe that a lot of arts journalists don’t really write from the animal heart these days which is why people like Irving Sandler are publishing their dinky swan songs or rather preemptive silicone game-departing sorrows and complaints. I’m not looking to pad my writing to the extreme point where the younger generations of artists and poets lose all respect for my political views. But at the same time because I do want my words to make people think differently it could be in my best interest to ease back on the witticisms–or not.

  2. The last work pictured here (Untitled [disambiguation]) is weirdly outrageous, not in the sense of being actually innovative (Murray, Stella, Tuttle, yeah yeah) but in the way that it reminds us how tied we remain the rectangle. and I don’t think that’s a problem. I enjoy following its curve. it’s like a run-on sentence that ends up somewhere totally unpredictable, even thought it is not actually unpredictable. it’s like a good academic painting. and while that seems depressing — is that all art can do anymore? — it leads then to reflection on our condition- our continued expectation of modernist-style innovation and the difficulty or impossibility thereof. but who knows what’s around the corner. people thought stella was just redoing mondrian bigger.
    Maniacal – that’s the adjective i want for this last one. it shows visual experience outstripping theory. i like this much better than the silver mirrored works, because this presents a configuration. also can we not say “retard”?

  3. I wrote this piece with a few things on my mind:

    Everyone loves to hate this work, but felt as though nobody has heard much, if anything from Kassay himself, who I feel is very unwilling to have such attention put on him and often tries to ignore many aspects of his “success.”

    I also tried my best to keep my opinions about the work to a minimum and always recommend visiting a show in-person before discrediting it completely.

    In terms of this being referred to as a “so-called-interview” I feel as though Jacob may have his own reservations about speaking to the press, there’s alot at stake here, could anyone really blame him?

    I appreciate everyones comments and reactions but would also like to remind everyone to “play nice.”

    1. Kyle,

      First of all I consider us friends so please don’t take everything that I write too too personally. As an aspiring Tabriz zamindar and Darwinian arts journalist it is extremely important that I work like a bucking racehorse to forever maintain the integrity of my highly distinct views and if that means being perceived as a playground bully since everyone is so scared to be forthrightly “on the level” because they don’t want to somehow jeopardize the wet dream fantasy of their largely sadomasochistic yes-man career than so be it by Jove! Just ask Hrag or Jillian–I always bare-knuckle box, man, woman, child, or beast.

      With that said you are a very good writer and should be quite proud of all you have published with Hyperallergic. But Jacob Kassay is not an accomplished artist not yet at least. And anyone who calls it differently is either an ignoramus or a stooge.

      He is just being primped and pimped for gambling purposes just like Brice Marden was. I mean painters who don’t paint–now how can you trump that?

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