Note: This interview will take about the time it takes to smoke a cigar to read. If you smoke it pretty fast.
This Friday or Next Friday is an artist run space in DUMBO known as NYC’s tiniest, most inconsequential space. It is the brainchild of NYC based artist Nathan Sinai Rayman. Zach Seeger, NYC based artist, shares the space for his studio and also represents the gallery as a spokesperson.
We discussed pizza, social practice and the art world apparatus over cigars on their back deck.
Brett: How did you land on art? I guess that's more of an individual question. We can start with whichever one of you guys wants to.
Zach: I didn't land on art. Art landed.
Brett: Art landed on you?
Zach: Yes. Go ahead. You first.
Brett: What was your origin in art, Nate?
Nate: Yeah. It seemed like a really practical application of my life.
Nate: Holding a job.
Brett: You run a program that is at times relational. Have you ever considered being an actor?
Zach: I saw a commercial for Travelers Insurance during, I think, the Masters or the U.S. Open Golf Tournament. I was watching it with my dad, and there was a Pollock-type character and throwing, no - it was on the wall, and he was throwing paint onto it. And it made my dad so upset, and he's like, "That's not art," and that's exactly what I wanted to do with my life.
Brett: Yes. Travelers is a very big sponsor still of golf tournaments, to this day.
Zach: And of This Friday and Next Friday.
Brett: Was there a founding moment for the gallery?
Nate: When the sign was found.
Nate: At Build It Green in Queens.
Brett: What kinds of space did you want to become?
Nate: Well, I had used the space for my own - for having mini-shows or whatever, and there was confusion about when I was going to have people over, so the name came from the fact that it was "this Friday or next Friday." And then I found the sign, looking for something else at Build It Green, so that meant that I was - I was, like, oh, okay, so I'll run a gallery.
Brett: You were now formally in the gallery business with the sign.
Nate: Right. Because I had a sign. Yeah. A 10-foot gallery sign. And then Zach was the first artist to show.
Brett: And then it blossomed from there?
Nate: Right. There was no stopping us.
Brett: So this mission that you have - "tiniest, most inconsequential space" – could you talk about that mission?
Zach: It's a definitive statement of non-commitment.
Nate: I think it lowers expectations to the point where we can impress almost all the time.
Brett: So the threshold is - there is no threshold.
Nate: We're setting the bar really low.
Zach: It could have been "big ideas, tiny space." But that sounds like a tech company that we might start.
Brett: Right, because it is an incubator. I mean, it is an incubator type of space.
Zach: A pressure cooker.
Nate: A rice cooker.
Brett: How do you think about the space as a part of your practice?
Nate: I don't - well, Zach doesn't - it's not part of Zach's practice.
Brett: Is it part of your practice?
Nate: Yeah. I consider it a work in and of itself, and it's always been that way, partly because it was created inside my studio space, so it was ever-present.
Brett: As a sub-division?
Nate: Well, the sign helps to divide the space.
Zach: If I may...or not, if I may not.
Nate: No, it's helpful to have a representative speaking.
Brett: A proxy.
Zach: Part of the importance of the sign and also the delineation, or whatever you want to call it, of the space, is here is the gallery, here is the studio. This is where the line is drawn. The floor is painted a certain way. That is not that dissimilar to Nate's practice, where it's kind of this giant run-on sentence of play and experiment, and there's no end. So at some point, there had to be an added - or some putting on the tie or the suit to go to work.
Brett: There is a tie?
Zach: And you asked Nate if he wanted to be an actor, or wanted to be an actor, and I would say no.
Brett: No sense of acting.
Zach: There's no symbolism or front man, or - even though I'm speaking on his behalf. Maybe it's easier when someone else speaks about someone else's work. But having the gallery inside the studio space is like putting on the tie. It's the ritual of polishing the presentation. It's the framing of the art piece. So it is now this Friday. Here is the exhibition. We had the deadline. We've made an announcement. Here it is. It has to happen. Just like if someone has a show and there's a deadline or something to paint, where they have to meet a particular quota or whatever. Present it in a particular way. This is just that version of that. And the gallery works as a framing mechanism.
Brett: Zach, how do you think about it in the context of your own practice, working next to the space?
Zach: Well, I ran a space for about 10 years upstate, and I ran a small gallery before that, and that small gallery was inside my studio space also. So the way I work is kind of - it's sloppy, and I move from one thing to the next, and I'm primarily a painter. And then it's like getting the toys out, and your mom and dad say, "Put them away. It's night time." It's like, "Oh, okay."
So I'm kind of used to that sort of thing, but also knowing that there is an artist, a particular artist, and the type of work, and knowing what the show is going to be, presents - it's not a challenge, but then it's something to kind of feed off of in my own work, and I get ideas or distance myself from whatever it is in my own practice. It's also generative, because it's also, again, not dissimilar to Nate's practice, but it's like, I go and go and go and go, and this gives me a deadline where I'm able to complete pieces, or get them to a particular stage, because people are going to see them.
Brett: It's a constant deadline.
Zach: Because of the proximity of my own studio next door.
Nate: That was also one of the impetuses for starting the gallery, because it was bringing people over.
Brett: Do you set goals around the space? And I ask that question because one of the benefits of an artist-run gallery is that you can design the program without setting specific outcomes. You're not necessarily wed to a certain commercial goals.
Zach: I mean, I can just speak of how I see it, which is, I think just having a conversation with a painter today, one tends to label artists as romantics or whatever the negative connotation of that term is, but we're all here in the city, and there's something real to that. That's part one of this. So part two is the other non-commercial scene, which is, everybody's making work. Everyone likes going to shows and socializing, and the end goal is to generate some sort of interest and to keep it going.
Brett: To keep the ball in the air?
Zach: To keep the ball in the air, because what is the point of culture or these things otherwise, if things are not really seen and shared? Whether people have a lot of shit going on all the time, and however the gallery functions on the community level, I mean, that's not what's important to me. There are other parts of it, too, which are maybe the question of sustainability financially.
Brett: The gift shop?
Zach: The gift shop. Nate can speak to those things because that's part of his practice and how he takes part in the art world.
Nate: The gallery, part of having artists running a gallery, is knowing what it's like to show in a gallery as an artist. So there are certain rules that I believe will never change, based on that understanding, to make it, not, maybe artist-centric, in a way. Like, it's an exhibition space. The artist, should be doing as much as possible within that space, and it's the smallest space that I could find to do whatever someone wants to do. And then part of it is not necessarily going against a system that already exists. There is a gallery system. This is a gallery. So it's within that particular system, but it might deviate a little bit here and there.
Brett: Yeah. So it's on the apparatus. It's somewhere in the apparatus of the art world.
Zach: It looks like a gallery. It walks like a gallery.
Nate: It smells like a gallery.
Brett: But when you go inside, it has a very different feel.
Nate: Well, I compare it to pizza. So there's pizza in Italy, which is where pizza is supposed to have come from, and that pizza is a particular kind of pizza. Napolitano pizza is made a very specific way and has to follow those criteria in order to be Napolitano pizza. When you come to New York, there is very good pizza, but it is not the same pizza. We call it the same thing, and we're fine with acknowledging that it has the same word, but it is a different format of food. So I'm interested in that idea of walks like a gallery, talks like a gallery.
Brett: And there's very nice pizza here, by the way. Are you picking up on the nice pizza in this neighborhood?
Nate: There is some interesting pizza here. Yes, and it's a warring neighborhood. Who makes the better: Grimaldi's or Juliana’s?
Zach: Maybe we should make pizza. I was going to ask a question. I know that's not my role here.
Brett: This is a multiplayer game.
Zach: So my question was to Nate. Not a question, maybe a directive or something. Can you talk about pizza and the gallery, and maybe this is not the best word for it, but maybe the generic or the trope?
Nate: Can I talk about pizza?
Zach: Yeah. I don't care. I mean, for example, one could say "tropes in art," and I think you're interested in the trope of art.
Zach: Go ahead. Talk about pizza.
Nate: My point is, it may not even be a critique, because it's the post critique.
Zach: Right. The pizza by the slice is not critiquing Napolitano pizza. In fact, many of it is made by the same people who would have made Napolitano pizza, but they are changing and adapting to a different situation, a different environment, a particular set of rules. I mean, pizza by the slice goes with the cost. I mean it’s the same price as riding the subway. It's supposed to go with that.
Zach: Right. It's always kind of the same price.
Brett: Yes. When they reflect on raises in MTA fares, they always relate it to the slice of a pizza.
Zach: It's actually historically been, what's the word? Pegged. The price of pizza is pegged to the price of an MTA fare, roughly, and it moves along that line. And it's become pervasive within New York as being famous for its particular pizza, which is not the same pizza. It's a different pizza.
Brett: And therefore you liken the gallery to create your own slice or sauce - as another sort of way to mutate or transform or make a part of something out of the broader art world pizza apparatus.
Zach: Right. And so I think that the irony or something to do with the gallery is that it's not a tastemaker or a product-deliverer or a brander, necessarily, but it is an experience, despite, the gallery tries to function remotely in some way, as a web presence, or as a digital entity or online.
Nate: Online store.
Zach: Right. So it has that sort of thing, and its appearance is that it has a certain level of activity, or not. I don't know how it's perceived, but the main point of the gallery, I don't want to go all church on you, but it's the experience of going there.
Zach: Because it's one, you walk through a couple of studios. The loft space in general feels like old New York; you kind of move through it. Then you enter inside the gallery space and it opens up into this other world.
Brett: And, there's a paint maker (Robert Doak) downstairs which is another twist.
Zach: It's lived. So one goes to Chelsea, and that's wonderful and beautiful, or LES or whatever, and it's white wall, blah blah blah. It's the container. And the gallery is developing a brand through its quote-unquote stable of artist or whatever aesthetic decisions they're making. This is about the artists accommodating, or accommodating to the space. The space is declaring what it is. That’s what makes everything, if one wants to go there, site-specific, or that's what makes this space unique. And it can't. You were going to say something?
Brett: Well, I was thinking about, going back to the concept of pizza for a moment and the concept of artist-run spaces, one of the controversies that comes up is gentrification, and one of the examples I can think of is, you know, Roberta’s is a very famous location, a place of lived experience, as you would call it and has been taken over by private equity. So in a way, what it sounds like, and there's been a lot of controversy around that, but do you lose the experience in growth, when you try to make multiple Roberta's or multiple locations? Growth is great if you can hold onto your startup roots.
Nate: Another analogy would also be coffee. Like pizza, coffee takes different forms in different cultural environments, but we call it the same thing. You can go to Starbucks and get a macchiato, and that is not what a macchiato would be. And there, going off the Roberta's example, there is Stumptown, for example, which started as a homegrown business in Portland, expanded, grew larger. Finally, it was bought by a hedge fund that also had bought Vitamin Water and other beverages, and that was then, sold again. But their coffee has not changed, and if anything, their coffee now benefits in a strange way from the fact that this particular company that owns Stumptown also owns Intelligentsia and owns Peet's Coffee and owns several other coffee brands. And that company itself might be owned also by GE or something like that. So now they have ability to source coffee globally.
Brett: They have scale.
Nate: In a way that they couldn't before, and in a different way than a company like Starbucks would, in terms of how they are building relationships with farmers. It's just an interesting, I mean, that was something I was thinking about in terms of how you mentioned Roberta's.
Brett: This alludes to the fact that there are multiple art worlds within the art world. There are adjacencies.
Nate: Right. And that's what I'm interested in, is the finite spaces between those adjacencies, because everyone is creating his or her own notion of boundary, so there is an element of overlap, but we don't necessarily know that or are aware of where things are overlapping, in terms of boundaries between all sorts of boundaries we create. And I'm interested in playing with how those can be pushed and where those areas can achieve a possible sense of definition, even if they remain undefined.
Zach: Is that governance? Is that civic?
Nate: That might be one of those gray areas.
Brett: We talked about the idea of keeping the cultural dialogue or the ball in play.
Brett: You're showing people that are living today.
Zach: I hope so.
Nate: At least at the time of the opening, most of them.
Zach: This is morbid.
Brett: Who would you say you're playing ball with that is no longer among us?
Nate: I would reference, recently, Marcel Broodthaers, in terms of his Musée d'Art Modern and the notion of that museum in his practice as an artwork, but as a museum director who had a museum, this kind of spiral. And an argument can be made that he was talking in a way about the role of the museum as being, that a museum cannot exist for anyone's work of a person who's living.
Let me rephrase that, a museum is for dead artists' art. That a museum of modern art or contemporary art doesn't make any sense. And so his museum of modern art didn't open a modern art wing until several years into the entire piece. It was opening other centuries. And he may have been trying to create the ideal museum that he wanted to see made, that doesn't exist anymore, which I think also is interesting in relationship to museums now, galleries now, etc., these kinds of apparati that are working now, in terms of the fact that many museums, many galleries now, excuse me, are run in a way like museums. There's a revolving door between people who've worked in museums and galleries, etc., and there are gallery shows where no work is for sale because it's all on loan to put on a museum level show, sometimes better than museums and they're free.
Brett: So it's kind of a dialogue or a comment on the expanding relationship between the gallery and the museum. Galleries (in some cases) are now funding the museum show.
Nate: Right. I think it's a changing role, in terms of who is the cultural moderator.
Brett: And do you see that as a challenge, where an expanding role, where the gallery is actually in some type of financial relationship with the museum, which is an interesting thing, meaning the museum is picking an artist who they know they can get funding for and therefore host a great show that will attract visitors, and it becomes a monetization objective.
Zach: I think it’s a reality. I think this is a very interesting conversation. I think it's changing, but there are many artists, or the artists that are showing work where hedging their work to fit into this system that doesn't exist. And whether that's a romantic myth or whatever, it's like the artists are the content. They are everything, and I think everyone has forgotten that. It's like, if every artist stopped, these institutions would collapse, and artists are holding all the cards, and they don't know they're holding the cards.
Nate: Yeah. There's a parallel - yeah.
Zach: For me, with this gallery space, it's about people who are doing interesting things, who are cool enough to step out of their own whatever box that they put themselves in or whatever and do something interesting. And, just show artwork. Is this, like, café culture or something?
Nate: And who knows who's going to come to our openings? I mean, that's a pretty big gamble.
Zach: At our openings, we have people from the Whitney and the Guggenheim come to the openings. Like, these things happen.
Brett: Or, well-known art writers or critics or bloggers or whatever. I've seen them here.
Zach: Right. So that's all interesting, but this is generative. This is what art does, because for us, it has become kind of, and the name of the gallery is appropriate because there isn't that type of foot traffic in Dumbo. So it is centered around the event. So we do by appointment, but people come to the openings, where it's an event.
Brett: They know it's a cadence, in a way.
Nate: It also changes the artwork that's shown and the way that it's shown, because it is more of an event, like going to a concert and seeing a musician playing something live versus listening to the album. It's going to be kind of a different experience.
So work changes in the space, and the way the artist approaches his or her work changes.
Brett: Is there a memorable show that sticks out for each of you?
Nate: Zach's show was pretty good.
Brett: Zach, what did you do for your show?
Nate: He blocked off the gallery space with a Plexiglas waist-high wall and put his artifact in the center. That was made of recycled paintings of his that were collaged together into a sculpture that came from a future museum but was work from the past. There were no lights unless you used the coin-operated light switch to turn on the light.
Brett: A brief moment?
Nate: 12 seconds, the average time that people look at artwork. So it cost a quarter to see for 12 seconds.
Brett: Just like those rides that you see outside a kids' toy store or the movie theater.
Nate: Yeah, or the carousel.
Brett: The gallery, movie theater or the carousel, or so on and so forth, and the game plays on. How about you, Zach? Was there a memorable one?
Zach: You know, I was thinking about this, and I was going to give a lame answer, but I guess I'll make it a little less lame, because I think that I get excited helping each artist put together the show, like the physical putting together of things. And I like seeing projects being executed, and I could say, well, this was more or less successful, etc. Doug Burns, who is a Chicago-based artist, came in, and he's been working on this sitcom where he is a character, Doug, who has this kind of expressionless mask, and he goes through life in a very sad manner. It's funny and pathetic and terrifying at times. But in the first episode, he is having trouble at work, and he goes to a bar, and he tries to mingle with colleagues, and that doesn't work out, but then he finds the ball pit he can jump into, and it's just pure joy, and it's a stress release for him.
So in coordinating this show, Doug rebuilt the gallery in a studio in Chicago and then broke it down and brought it here to New York and installed it in the space. So he had this very tacky vinyl tile in the space.
Nate: Faux marble.
Zach: Faux marble.
Nate: As you do.
Zach: There were blue balls that filled the space.
Nate: Which you could buy individually for a dollar.
Zach: He built a set of stairs, which I think was maybe four steps high, that people would walk into and then jump into the ball pit. And, why I think it was successful is because the cleverness of it is there, and you realize that it's a small space. It's like, "Oh, that's perfect. A ball pit in the space." But everyone jumped in and loved it, and it was just pure joy.
Brett: Yeah. It's a stress relief.
Zach: Yeah. And everyone jumped in it and had a good time, and it was a great opening, and that's that.
Brett: It reminds me of the dunk tank -
Nate: We did get some people who were like, "I can make blue balls for free, so I don't need to buy any."
Brett: Who or what hat inspires you?
Zach: Charlotte Corday. My favorite product is Robert Doak's goop. It's made downstairs. I just found it. He swindled me into buying it.
Brett: It's a thickening paste of some kind, or what?
Zach: So it's a medium, and there are two. There's painting goop and then just goop that has maybe some acronym attached to the end of it, of the name.
Zach: Yeah, goop. That's not the acronym. It might be it or something. But one is, it's non-toxic, and it's a paint extender. And then the thicker, like, traditional goop is for doing impasto and beefing up the paint. So that's what I'm into.
Brett: I wonder if that would work on skateboard shoes. You know, like they used to have a goop you could put on. If you did too many ollies, you'd have to goop up the front of your shoe, to basically repair your shoe. Over to you.
Nate: Commuting by bike.
Brett: You love bikes.
Brett: And you ride a Bianchi, right?
Nate: Yes. Do you want artistic inspirations? Francois Boucher.
Brett: You threw out Marcel.
Nate: Marcel has definitely been one. Maybe Tatiana Trouvé. Yeah. Tatiana Trouvé and Amanda Ross-Ho.
Brett: What would you say to young Zach or younger Nate?
Zach: Artistically or life choices?
Brett: Either. Open-ended.
Zach: The young me, since I'm an old fossil, is, I wish I had moved to New York then. The work I was making at the time, I think, fits that post-apocalyptic vibe of the early aughts. And maybe that's the only thing I would change.
Nate: To make sure you have friends that are lawyers. But otherwise, I don't think anything else.
Brett: What is the best advice that you've ever received, artistically or other, again?
Nate: The thing that comes to the top of my mind is, listen to the person that you want to listen to. Don't necessarily listen to people that you don't want to listen to.
Brett: Selective listening?
Zach: What's that? I wasn't paying attention.
Zach: I just made a joke.
Nate: I don't get it.
Brett: Richard Yarde told me something like you just need to love the process, and you'll be working a very, very long time. It's not really about an end goal. Always have a second thing going on, just so that you don't have to find an end game to your first goal. Something like that, which really kind of stuck with me, probably as I was nearing undergraduate graduation, and that stuck with me.
Zach: I can respond to that, which is kind of maybe inspirational something-or-other. But I did biochemistry as an undergrad, and I switched to art. A lot of it had to do with various teachers. My dad's a teacher, and I've had wonderful, amazing teachers who have given me great advice, or not, because I'm making art. But anyway.
Brett: Like Norm Paris.
Zach: Like Norm Paris. But what was influential or inspired me to leave biochemistry behind was "Giacometti: A Portrait" by James Lord. And I realized that, and this is maybe responding to a couple of your questions with one anecdote or something, but I realized that there's no end to art, and you will never achieve anything. There's nothing to achieve. And that to me was the most comforting thing in the world.
Brett: I like that.
Zach:I'm sure there are religious people who are inspired by things because it’s outside of the system, or something, it's a higher calling. This was important to me because I would never arrive at any place ever, so I can keep pushing myself, and people aren't necessarily going to respond positively or negatively to that. There's no end. In everything else I did - mathematics, science stuff, or even sports, there was a terminus, and a decision. And this goes on forever, and that was appealing.
Brett: I think that kind of ties the earlier conversation together that we were talking out. There is no end game. In fact, it's a show after a show after a show. It's this Friday or next Friday or this Friday.
Zach: Right. I think we're both philosophically annoying, where we want, it is about a conversation, and we enjoy having those conversations, and that's where, we're not necessarily, that's the kind of sincerity of the space and both of us, and also when I was talking about Nate's work before. It may be subversive, but the intent is not to take anything down. It's to continue a conversation.
Brett: It's another way to…
Nate: To raise these questions.
Brett: Slice the pizza. It's another way to slice the pie, or expand the pie, shall we say? Expand the pie, in a way. You're taking the pizza and making more, making bigger pizza or more pizza or other pizza.
Nate: And I think jumping off of what Zach said is, in terms of, I don't know if it's good advice, but acknowledging that, when failure is recognized, you might be doing the right thing.
If somebody takes the time to acknowledge the failure, somebody else or yourself, then that means that there's something else that can be done to move in another direction. Not necessarily forward, it could be sideways, it could be whatever, but failure is productive.
Brett: In the artistic sense.
Nate: In a lot of senses.
Brett: Actually, I was going to say in the startup sense.
Nate: Yeah. Mm-hmm.
Brett: Where the common language, I mean, it’s like a moniker. It's almost embedded into the culture, like fail early and often to find your next biggest idea. Like Instagram.
Nate: It's the best form of education.
Brett: You know, I think of the Instagram story, which, Instagram started out as actually a app named "Burbn" where people could like go to a bar or a place and "check in". It was a location app. When people started uploading photos that went viral is when they pivoted. Although, I know we're not talking about billion-dollar unicorns. That's not the end goal here as it is for many companies.
Zach: Now, it's difficult, this is tying in a bunch of things, though, doing this sort of thing here, which is, you know, this is the Dutch colony. This is the feudal city, and that's why people hedge. And there's the history of painting and art that extends from Europe to the mainland, etc. And I think that the algorithm of success is the past for New York, and because of the embeddedness of money and culture here, one could talk about the city as a museum, and if that's trying to just maintain that. And I think that our spirit city may be L.A. or something. I don't know what that is. But it is about just doing stuff, having shows, sharing, failing.
Brett: A very, very vibrant scene where that's happening, and it's still very much alive and well, although it keeps getting pushed further out. So it's interesting that we're here in Dumbo, which is almost having a re-birth as an arts neighborhood.
Zach: This building. In this building, that have been here for years and years and years. Well, it's funny, the institutions are, I mean, it's like, ArtFCity is here, Sharpe-Walentas is here. I mean, Minus Space is here. Smack Mellon.
Zach: So it's like 1998 2.0
Brett: Should we wrap up?
Nate: I mean; I'm about done with my cigar.
Zach: My dad's history professor in college would go to the podium to do his lecture, and he would just pack his pipes and set them up on the podium, and he'd do, like, three pipes, and that's how he measured every lecture. And then when he was done, he would stop and walk out the door.