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There’s a violent affirmation of place in the works that Art Now NY plans to open with tomorrow night, Thursday, June 7th at their new gallery in Chelsea. It might be simply because the group is imported from California, with a San Francisco outpost already standing testament, or, because Chelsea is really minimalist. But, after our talk with its owner, Joseph Gross—who regularly goes by Joey—it’s clear that what Art Now NY intends to do not only involves staking their ground with new subject matter and narrative modes for telling it; they also intend to show the rest of us what’s been growing on our gallery walls. With art that begins terrestrially in its experience and ends ascending celestially in its depiction of creative climate, Art Now seems to have struck the right topographical balance.
As a newly bi-coastal voice, notes of visceral reality are tuned in to wild escapist dreams, such as those of gilt saber-teeth and colorful faces, sleighed alien demons and warring themes of masked men and ’70s DJ’s. Time, ironically, doesn’t play anchor, but, rather, ideas of necessity and presence play it neutral, art tied to emotive feelings of flush red in vibrant thought or hush cool in silent pause. It may just be because Joey and his team are used to crossing impressive bridges, but it seems they’ve now built a mile long one inside the walls of Manhattan, a portal joining divided destinations, from psychedelic monsters to the corporeal sensations of being present.
Before the opening, we caught up with Joey Gross at his new Bowery apartment, which overlooks Canal and the ends of Chinatown.
What is Art Now NY?
We didn’t want to label it Urban Contemporary, but really it is. In the work, you can see the influence of where it came from, if it’s from a city or that these guys must have followed Phish. Or, this person has got to live in Brooklyn somewhere. And, you can totally tell they must be from Bushwick. ‘Urban’ doesn’t mean ghetto or some sort of graffiti or street art. It actually means ‘the elements around us.’ It’s essentially modern day life.
Does the art focus more on place over category or genre?
Every artist in the show is completely different. Each piece will set you off to a different place. It’s the first show of a survey of twenty Urban Contemporary artists. Skinner’s work—wait till you see it up close. These pieces are so meticulous, the color palette and line work, and so crisp while speaking this crazy language in a weird world of monsters.
That’s exactly what it is. Put that next to an artist like Niagara, the punk rock, modern day Lichtenstein—hot chicks with tattoos and guns, with dimensions that are built out of very simple line work. New York has punk rock running through its veins. But, now you have kids wearing CBGB shirts and don’t even know that its right down the street, and think its some place in the U.K.
I was originally looking for space in Brooklyn, but I found it changes too much there. Then, we thought maybe the Lower East Side.
Would that have been too expected, placing urban art in its urbane environment?
We want to bring more excitement to Chelsea. I’m come in there to add another ingredient to the pot.
You’ve mentioned ideas about art’s place and its cross-genre associations with music. Are the contextual and anti-contextual sides of art important to you?
Art is therapy for me. It calms my soul. I fall into it. It’s almost an out of body experience; my soul gets sucked into pieces. If it doesn’t evoke feeling, it’s uninspiring. If you’re an art collector, or just a fan of art, and you see a piece that doesn’t make you feel something, you won’t buy that piece. If you do, you’ll want to embrace that piece longer. I can’t look at a single piece of art in our opening show without getting a good feeling, even if that means butterflies or anger. Even if you don’t know anything about the artist, you can feel who the person is.
And the place they come from.
And the place they put you in. I want people to walk away with emotion.
Because emotion is the leveling thread between artistic mediums.
Fashion, art, and music are the same exact thing, all a creative process that stimulates some sensory and gives a better feeling. Back in the day, they were never joined together. I don’t know if I was a numb person who needed other stimulus, but that’s what I liked.
How did you get first interested in art?
I grew up in New York really poor. Through the welfare program, I got a free museum card. My grandparents lived in Los Angeles and did custom framing. They were into art and took me to galleries. I had the chance to get into the custom framing and fine art printing. From there, I was off to the races. Back then, prints were like the ones at Bed, Bath, and Beyond. There was a bigger print market; you had girls on Ferraris and Patrick Nagel with his rendition of cocaine highways.
So what turned you onto contemporary art?
I had moved to California when I was thirteen, and then back out here again when I was seventeen. I found myself over-indulging on New York nightlife and started to lose sight of why I came out here in the first place. Confused and seeking a new direction, I upped and joined the military. I spent five years there, first moving into Afghanistan nine days after 9/11.
I did communications, satellite and radio. When you sign up for the military, they do this testing, the ASVAB testing. I scored two points lower than perfect, which in their eyes meant I was technically sound to figure out how a radio works. I started off as a really bad soldier—a rambunctious kid from San Francisco who loved to party. It took a drill sergeant from Brooklyn yelling at my face for me to become a really good soldier. The reason why I was in Afghanistan first was because Special Forces sought me out. They wanted the best in my field.
What made you leave?
I came back home and was supposed to go back out again for another six-month rotation. I went snowboarding and cracked my femur in half. I thank God I’m here. I know a lot of people who didn’t make it back.
Do you think that background in communications had a role in creating your own gallery?
I had an artist friend of mine who I knew was doing tons of great art but was having zero success with it. He was selling pieces to our friends for fifty bucks, enough for the materials and a sandwich. I wanted to get him a show. So I called every single gallery in San Francisco, but everyone gave me the same answer, 'What has he done?'
Conversations ending in questions.
‘Has he been in any group shows?’ No. ‘Has he been in any solo shows?’ No. ‘Has he shown anywhere?’ No.
How did you answer?
‘Our friends really like it; why wouldn’t you?’
And that didn’t work?
I was on the verge of giving up. This was in 2003. I had gone to this club/gallery called One Eleven Minna and they were doing a one-night art show. I had asked the owner how I to do one and he said I just needed to meet a bar minimum (which basically meant I had to have a party). So, I took out a full-page ad in Juxtapoz Magazine. The opening was complete insanity and it sold out the entire show.
What do you think made it so popular?
My nightlife events were a sensory overload, the complete personification of SISOMO (Sigh Sound Motion). It was fashion, art, music—fashion shows with hip hop artists performing in the clothing and people painting live. It was a creative circus. I had Base Nectar when he was $2,000. I did Far East Movement for $150.
How did you break talent like that?
It was the time of MySpace. I was able to promote to a whole new network and developed a strong following. I had thirteen thousand ‘friends.’ I had also become actual friends with the Advertising Director at Juxtapoz. We had very similar interests, sharing a love of high street fashion and urban collectibles. But, really I couldn’t have done it without MySpace. I know things aren’t so great for you, Tom, but thank you wherever you are these days.
For someone with a natural knack in communication, do you find Twitter and Facebook to be as useful nowadays?
I personally try my best to use it, but my team and my artists are more involved with it than I. For me, what’s most important is reaching people. Communicating with the artist, our collectors and our community is my primary goal, but I’m happy with whatever way that’s done. Besides, at Art Now NY, the art does a good job of speaking for itself.
ART NOW NY
Gallery Opening: June 7, 2012, 6pm to 9pm
Press Preview: 10am to 12pm
for more information: firstname.lastname@example.org
548 West 28th Street, 2nd Floor
New York, NY 10001