Monday, July 18, 2011

Art Imitating Art: An Interview With Gallery 1988 Co-Founder Jensen Karp About Crazy 4 Cult 5

Dreaming Genius co-editor Tony Nunes interviews Gallery 1988 co-owner Jensen Karp about Crazy 4 Cult 5.

Every July, crowds gather on the famed corner of Melrose and La Brea awaiting one of the most anticipated movie events of the year.  In Los Angeles, the movie capital of the world, these crowds gather to celebrate an art-form they all love in the embodiment of arts most classic form.  The Crazy 4 Cult art show, now in its fifth year, encourages paintings and sculpture inspired by cult classic films old and new.       

Gallery 1988 is the brainchild of Katie Cromwell and Jensen Karp, two Californians with a love for pop-culture, geekdom, and most importantly, art.  Creating a gallery that embraces emerging artists, Cromwell and Karp quickly turned Gallery 1988 into one of the most groundbreaking galleries in the world.  Combining accessibility with familiarity, the gallery has transformed the arts into a new cult phenomenon. Cult is basically their M.O., as their specifically tailored shows seek to celebrate favorite TV-shows, films, sports, video games, and all the things people cherish with nostalgia and cult devotion.

Now in its second week, the Crazy 4 Cult 5 show is as popular as ever, and Titan Books has even published a beautiful retrospective book collecting art from the past four years of the show, with a forward by gallery regular, cult filmmaker Kevin Smith.  I chat with gallery co-founder Jensen Karp to learn more about the Gallery, the show, and the motivation that drives his love of art and pop-cultism.  

Read the interview and see a gallery collecting some of this years film inspired paintings after the jump.

DG:  If you had to describe the Crazy 4 Cult show to someone who knows little about art and little about movies, how would you sell it?

Jensen:  Well, we work with artists who are usually between the age groups of 20-30 years old, new to the gallery scene, but with an insane amount of talent. And in past, artists were inspired by the Masters, like Picasso and Van Gogh. But now, in a new generation, with so much media at our fingertips, these artists are highly inspired and influenced by pop culture, like TV, music and movies. We were the first gallery to really encourage artists to let these influences be seen in their work, not to be afraid to tap into a source that might not have been utilized in art galleries before. And in this case, for Crazy 4 Cult, it's classic Cult movies that take center stage, as 100 artists remix scenes, characters and iconic imagery from these films they are passionate about.

What are some of the pieces people should be most excited about at this years show?

Jensen:  I love a ton of the pieces in this year's Crazy 4 Cult. I dig Augie Pagan's painting that depicts a ton of "villains," or morally questionable characters, having to check in, a la Blazing Saddles, before they enter the old West city. I love Robert Brandenburg's art. He takes paintings and photos he buys at garage sales or swap meets and paints small pop culture characters into them, as if they were meant to be there. He depicted Donnie Darko and Willy Wonka for us this year. I also love Eric Tan's new Vote For McFly poster and Matt Owen's minimalist posters he did exclusively for the show.

I see that a lot of the artists who create works for Gallery 1988 shows do so time and time again. Can you call out some of your favorite continual collaborators and explain why this gallery/artist relationship works so well?

Jensen:  We've been in this same location in Hollywood now for 7 years, going on 8, so we have a real core group of artists we call upon for shows like this. It's just a group that trial and error has shown have the same interests and passions as our buyers (and luckily us owners). We're a totally new concept for an art gallery, focusing on the younger first time art buyer who finds most other galleries pretentious and stuffy. I don't ever want to have to convince someone to buy a painting, and we never have. It speaks to our customer and these artists get that. Artists like Sean Clarity, Misha, Ken Garduno, Israel Sanchez, Dan Goodsell, Casey Weldon, Kiersten Essenpreis, Alex Pardee and Scott Campbell are good examples. We all just share a mind set, so it makes sense we'd work together a lot. It's in our interests.

You’ve had Kevin Smith host some Cult shows, any big name hosts this year? What other names have come into the Cult shows? Anyone from any of the cult movies themselves?

Jensen:  We have tons of great guests come to the Crazy 4 Cult show in the past like Jonah Hill, Jason Reitman, Edgar Wright, Michael Rappaport, Richard Kelly, Jay Mewes, Samuel L. Jackson and Pete Wentz. No hosts this year, as we were really just focusing on the book release. This year, we did have Michael Stephenson come to the opening, who recently made the documentary Best Worst Movie, but more importantly was also actually the kid in Troll 2, which the documentary was about. We also had Troy Duffy, the director/writer of Boondock Saints come this year too.

How did Gallery 1988 start down its path towards pop-art superiority? Was it your aim at the start to cater towards a more pop-culture inclined audience?

Jensen:  It was never our aim per se. We just wanted to make art that spoke to our age group, which at the time was our early to mid 20's. We found out pretty fast, that even though we weren't sure that pop culture would be that thread for everyone, it was worth a try. And one show become two and two became three. When we heard other galleries start saying we were a "one-trick pony" and not "serious about art," that's when we knew we were doing something right, Because even to be on their radar and to watch so many of our buyers go on to open similar art galleries, we felt a movement coming, finally getting these up and coming artists into traditional art gallery settings and encouraging them to paint their passion, which we found out was...pop culture.

How would you yourself describe the art that you are personally drawn to?

Jensen:  It's simple: I like pop culture inspired art. I was raised as an only child where both my parents worked a lot. I was raised by Fraggle Rock and Coen Bros. movies. These images carry a lot of weight, both in nostalgia and emotion, for me. So when something artistic can drive me to that place, it's a win for me.

Now in its fifth year, Crazy 4 Cult seems to be continuously growing into one of the hottest art events of the year, a sort of art/nerd Mecca. What do you attribute to the shows continuing success? What makes Cult the huge draw that it is?

Jensen:  The artists. The fact that we don't show "fan art," we show artists who are fans. A lot of other galleries have started doing pop culture themed art shows and they either curate it from one of our actual artist lists, or they really don't look for working gallery artists, they look for artists who regularly paint these themes. That's not what we do. These artists are incredible, and would be incredible no matter what they paint. We've just made a safe house, away form the other galleries that have to convince buyers to spend $30,000 on a canvas with 6 purple dots on it. This is where very talented artists come to have fun and let their hair down, and I think that's what the draw is. Passionate talented artists, in a theme you feel passionate about.

How does the artist selection process work? Do people submit ideas, completed pieces, or past works before getting selected for the show?

Jensen:  At this point we're incorporating about 10-20% per show new artists. Those artists are brought in from submissions or us searching the internet. And we never take submissions already in theme. We like seeing an artist's normal work and then looking at what upcoming themed shows we think it would fit for.

What , if anything, is the criteria for submitted art into the Cult shows? Can it be any movie, or are there guidelines?

Jensen:  For submissions, we never take them for specific shows. We have a long list of upcoming group shows, so you'd be submitting for all of them. The guidelines are to send 3-4 jpegs of your best work or a link to a website. That's it./

What brought about the idea for the creation of the “Cult Movie Art” book, and what has been the response to its release?

Jensen:  Kevin Smith, who's been involved in the show every single year, once suggested I talk to the Titan Publishing guys, because it seems logical that people would want to see all the artwork in one book (especially those outside of LA). Kevin had released two books with Titan at the time, so it just made sense and luckily Titan liked the idea. With Kevin agreeing to write the foreword it was a no-brainer. And the response has been amazing. Sales have been great and it feels like we've been covered on all our favorite websites.

Any coincidence that Cult, arguably the most geekdom friendly art show falls around the same time as Comic Con, the breeding ground for the cult films of tomorrow?

Jensen:  We try to have our biggest shows in the Summer, and I think Comic Con and movie blockbusters have the same idea. Just people like doing fun things in the summer, so that's the only coincidence.

What have been some of the more off-the-wall, odd film choices people have wanted to feature in their art, that perhaps didn’t meet the cult standards of the show?

Jensen:  They also meet the standards of the show, it just some people see cult differently - and that's ok - it's a very debatable term. But we've had pieces based on Gummo and Easy Rider - two movies from different sides of the spectrum that we weren't expected to see, but were excited to see either way.

With I Am 8 Bit (the video game inspired show) and the incredibly ingenious G3 (Ghostbusters, Gremlins, Goonies) shows, as well as the Lost and He Man related shows, Gallery 1988 has had some really diverse, really specifically inspired showings. Do you find that catering to a specific cult fan base actually brings a larger audience than more general shows?

Jensen:  YES. We recently had a show that we thought no one would love as much as we did. At our Venice location we did a show celebrating the 10th anniversary of the cult comedy classic Wet Hot American Summer. Both my partner Katie and I are obsessed with the movie and really did it for ourselves. But opening night we saw hundreds of people at the opening reception along with David Wain, Ken Marino and Joe LoTruglio from the movie hanging out. Paul Rudd and Chris Meloni bought pieces and we were mentioned in Entertainment Weekly. It helped prove something we suspected, which is that the more passionate, the better the show. No matter how specific the subject matter might seem.

I see that you have a big Pee Wee Herman Tribute Art Show, “I Know You Art, But What Am I?” coming up at the end of the month. As a HUGE Pee Wee fan, I’m personally very psyched about this particular show. What can we expect? Any finished pieces you could tease us with? Will Pee Wee himself, Mr. Paul Reubens be in attendance?

Jensen:  You can expect over 80 artists paying tribute to a comedy icon. With his recent revival and the Broadway show, it was really just coincidence, because we were planning this show out even before that. I was raised on Pee-Wee's Playhouse and consider it some of the best television ever produced, and am still a die-hard fan of Big Adventure. We found out quickly that a lot of our most talented artists feel the same way, and so we moved forward with booking the exhibit. Honestly, I've been so busy with Cult, I haven't seen a ton of finished pieces, but I did see a pretty incredible Pee-Wee/E.T. mash-up painting by Chris Tezber the other day. And you never know who you'll see gazing at the walls at a show like this one.

What other amazing shows are in the works for Gallery 1988’s future?

Jensen:  We keep all our shows a mystery until about 4 weeks before, but we have announced that we'll be working with Topps and Adult Swim very soon!

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