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Team Gallery - Todd von Ammon


OFFICE — When did you first become aware of Team?


TODD VON AMMON — The cool thing about Team is that there’s a certain amount of the New York art world that got wiped away after 2008. Guild & Greyshkul, Rivington Arms, even Daniel Reich, galleries that were run by young creative people, where the artists were really important in the management of the gallery, these were the galleries that kids in art school like me would follow. And Team was the keystone of that whole community. This was one of those places whose website all the kids at my school would visit to see the work of artists like Banks Violette, who was kind of the reigning cult leader in the sculpture department, and Ryan McGinley, who was sort of the cult leader in the photography department. That was my limited context with it. Then the recession happened right at the end of my time at school, and most of those cool projects kind of got devoured by big Chelsea galleries. So things really changed, and Team is just one of those odd, unorthodox galleries that insisted on surviving an event that basically killed the young gallery world.


O — How is that possible? You say Team insisted on surviving, so it wasn’t a fluke. What do you attribute that to?


TVA — Well that’s José. He’s great, because he embodies this old New York gallerist thing, the greatest example of which would be Leo Castelli, who had this incredible program and worked with all these massive artists, but what’s kind of little known about Leo Castelli is that he lived extremely modestly. If the market flexed he would flex not only the business but his entire life to accommodate it, and José’s like that. He’s just not gonna close, under any circumstances. He’s really easy to work with, and really easy to get along with, just because his background is not really silver spoon, art collector’s kid, typical New York dealer. He was a tour manager for bands, just a totally old school downtown New York punk rock dude, you know? I think the gallery is based on those countercultural values. Visual art and art dealing are not the only intellectual source for the gallery’s program, José’s a scholar of film, he’s a scholar of Marxism, and his manifold cultural experience informs things and makes the program interesting.


O — Does that manifest in the way José seeks out new artists?


TVA — José has a very enigmatic approach to younger artists, and I find that very inspiring. He doesn’t analyze the potential of an artist based on the CV, or the market, or really anything. He started working with Cory Arcangel after spending ten minutes or something on Cory’s personal website, which was sort of just completely plastered with animated gifs and internet garbage. That was 2002, 2003, and Cory has gone on to represent something that’s now known by the kind of hackneyed term of “post-internet” art. But his influence among hundreds and hundreds and hundreds of artists is inarguable at this point.


O —With people in charge who work based on instinct, rather than the market per se, how do you maintain objectives and an identity for the gallery?


TVA — I have no idea. [laughs] There’s the biological succession of New York City, and we’re kind of running out of space at this point, but the classic succession is that the ecosystem begins as a purely industrial neighborhood, which is then overtaken by art studios, then it’s overtaken by galleries, then it’s overtaken by high-end retail, and then it’s overtaken by condominiums. So we’re experiencing this right now, the succession is happening really rapidly in places like Chelsea. Just today I’m learning about more galleries leaving, many of the interesting quasi-commercial spaces that aren’t printing money are retreating. Even galleries like Anton Kern, which is a great program, he’s moving to midtown, and Stefania Bortolami is moving to TriBeCa. So there’s that option, which is to go to where the soil is fertile, for the time being. Team was one of the first galleries in Chelsea, that’s kind of a little-known fact about it. We had a basement space which was half art studio and half gallery in 1996. Team was started by José Freire and Lisa Ruyter in 1996, and the mission of the gallery was basically to only show unsellable work. So we’re talking about large sculpture, video, new media when new media wasn’t really palatable yet. That’s sort of why Team Gallery has been able to stayopen, because the whole idea of the gallery is to continue to generate gambits, and challenge what is collectible, what is palatable, what is institutional. A lot of the shows that we do are new propositions, I guess, and in that way we sort of resemble and influence the new generation of galleries, which are finding themselves in these bizarre, interstitial spaces around New York City. Almost where rats or cockroaches live or something. Some of the spaces that I focus on the most are these very idiosyncratic spaces. There’s a space called Jeffrey Stark, which is in the East Broadway Mall, which is underneath the Manhattan Bridge. Every time the train goes over the bridge the whole building rumbles. This guy Angelo Lanza has made a light cube in one of the storefronts that’s kind of surrounded by Chinese-owned shops that have been there for decades. Then I’m curating a show in this space FOUR A.M., it’s on Grand Street, it’s a nineteen-inch deep window that’s tall and wide, but it’s a window. I just went to Nicole Russo’s new location for her gallery called Chapter, which is in an apartment on Houston Street, and David Fierman’s gallery is on Henry Street, and it’s maybe three-hundred square feet. These are the only places where people can really get started, and actually show work that has a degree of freedom and impunity. What I like so much about Team is that it’s been able to take those values that were much more present in the ‘90s, and just by refusing to close and by continuing to exist and maintain its quality, is able to lead by example. You can be this uncompromising gallery, but at a scale that is similar to a space in Chelsea or whatever.

“There’s absolutely no doubt that educated, or intelligent people are scared right now. So of course that’s going to bubble up in the art world quite effortlessly.”

O — The way you describe this succession of industrial neighborhoods, it sort of makes art sound like one of the first seeds of gentrification.


TVA — Well I think it’s obviously not something that happens in every city. Some cities don’t have that leviathan of gentrification the way that LA and New York, and San Francisco do. I don’t know if the artists or the gallerists are the pied pipers of gentrification necessarily, but they’re certainly at the front of the wave. They’re almost like flotsam in the ocean or something, they’re just going to show up there first. Because the art world which I inhabit, and which Team inhabits, is not this big money machine at all. Very little of the visible art world is that. All the big money stuff is happening at freeports in Geneva or whatever. The great thing about galleries is that they’re all free to the public. So the fact that all these places exist, and that they inhabit all these nooks and crannies of cities like Manhattan and Brooklyn, it really allows art to be highly visible. I think we’re next to a mattress store. We just closed a space on Wooster Street that’s now a high-end sneaker store. I can happily say that we were doing something much, much better than that. [laughs]


O — You’re talking about how accessible art is, and in the sense that you’re describing you’re right, but I’ve read José talking about that first basement space Team had in Chelsea, and he thought that some people were unwilling to confront challenging art in that space because it was so unassuming and easy to stumble into. And so I recently went to Team’s Bungalow space in LA, which is accessible but only if you know about it. There’s no sign, and it’s literally a house in Venice. So don’t you think there’s a dilemma there, where you want to provide an accessible service to the public, but you also want them to try a little bit? They don’t need to pay money necessarily, but maybe they’re asked to pay in more conceptual currency for the experience to be valuable.


TVA — Well, it’s been an interesting conversation. I very readily accept documentation of gallery shows, I readily accept JPEGs as a method of seeing an exhibition. I think the gallery world has actually started to remodel their galleries in order to optimize website images. To the point where the actual primal experience of the exhibition is less of a concern, because so few of the sales are facilitated by that, and the art world is globalized to such a degree that you can’t expect a curator from, you know, M+ in Hong Kong to see the show in person. I believe that galleries, and most of the galleries that have opened recently, are basically just giant apertures for digital photography. When the Bungalow was opened, it was really in opposition to that. It’s photogenic, in its own way, but looking at pictures of it, it’s not immediately digestible what the space is like, what it’s like to be in the backyard, what it’s like to go up the stairs, or be in those narrow little hallways. So in a way it is sort of an edifice of the post-Google art world, the broadband art world. But in the same way it’s supposed to be kind of locationless as it relates to that phenomenon, where most of my digestion of contemporary art is through the internet, and it’s not nearly as necessary to pound the pavement anymore.


O — So then do you think it behooves galleries to create spaces that reward that pounding of the pavement?


TVA — Exactly. I think it’s become so rote. If you think of Chelsea, the experience of walking through that neighborhood is almost like looking at a list of galleries, it’s very much like surfing the internet, or getting a big hyperdose of what’s going on in the art world. It’s supposed to be this big picture, where the grid of the neighborhood is basically just a grid of different galleries. It’s not as much of a sort of walkabout as I think it must have been back when all the galleries were out in Alphabet City, and SoHo, different from the art galleries of midtown, or the galleries of Paris or London, where you do sort of have to go from one space to another and also digest some reality in between. I think the Venice Bungalow was not put in Boyle Heights, or Downtown, or on Mission Road in order to compete on an intellectual level. Because the new spaces in LA are all kind of the same. They are meant to be these big, airy light-filled spaces where photographs can be taken, so the art can basically be sold elsewhere. That’s not really the point of the Bungalow.


O — Because it’s a home you’re really able to use the space for its symbolic context as well, Gardar Eide Einarsson’s recent show centered around themes of doomsday preppers, so the fact that the art was displayed in a relatively anonymous house in a residential neighborhood gave it this eerie effect, it made the viewer wonder what nefarious activities might be taking place next door to their own homes.


TVA — Those have been the most successful shows out there, Gardar’s show and we did a project with Timur Si-Qin, where he basically turned the Bungalow into the information center for a fictional cult, which also really worked for the space. You walk down one of those streets and you can totally imagine someone planning some neo- Scientology, grassroots...


O — ...crystal based religion.


TVA — Exactly. Right behind those doors.


O — What recurring motifs are you recognizing in current art? Are themes of impending apocalypse becoming more prevalent? Maybe it’s not fair for me to ask you to generalize like that...


TVA — Well there’s really no authority anywhere, when it comes to art, that’s really the great thing about postwar art in America. I guess the one thing, I was too young during 9/11 but a lot of my teachers in college said that there was a real mood shift after that, especially in the New York art world, where the work started to become much more incisive, political, hinting at apocalypse, hinting at these notions of nihilism and paranoia and anger. Something that has certainly informed my understanding of what interests me right now, is the amount of fear and paranoia that exists in a lot of art made by young people, just from the things that I’ve been looking at recently which tend to have a scabrous, almost warlike quality. I wouldn’t say that art is necessarily the harbinger for the future, but it is one of the closest nerve endings. An LA artist that I’m very interested in is a guy named Cooper Jacoby, and he is making these sculptures that are based off of this urban beehive made by Philips, the electronics company. He’s created this extremely dismal sculpture that’s based off this beehive, which is basically a big, orange glass orb with dead honeycomb in it. Another LA artist who’s work I’m very interested in is a guy named Max Hooper Schneider, and he’s making work that really has to do with this entropy, and this scary intersection between the manmade and the biological. He’s done things over the last five years that involve making a mountain phosphorescent, or having electric eels power a lighting system. So there is this idea of trying to arrest entropy, or trying to slow down disaster, in a way. It’s kind of this weird mutant version of optimism. [laughs] There’s absolutely no doubt that educated, or intelligent people are scared right now. So of course that’s going to bubble up in the art world quite effortlessly.


O — You seem to appreciate art that has elements of unease, or disorientation—are you particularly attracted to art that is weird or off-putting above anything else?


TVA — I think so, but I don’t think it’s weird for weird’s sake, necessarily. There’s this idea that’s sort of pre-modernist, of a painting being a window into a different scenario, it’s supposed to be some sort of transliteration, there’s a degree of transcendentalism in artwork that brings you somewhere else, in the near future, the near past. I guess the whole point of art is to dramatically change your sense of location and sense of certainty as quickly as possible. These are things that literature and music can do much more easily than artworks can. I tend to look for objects that are extremely potent in their ability to change and disrupt perception. A lot of times that involves a sort of generosity in terms of tactile, visual, luminescent qualities. That’s just me, those are the kinds of shows that I like to put together. This notion of the theatrical was seriously debunked in kind of the mid- twentieth century, and it’s something that I really embrace, maybe at the risk of being totally cheesy and shallow. [laughs] But I think it’s interesting, and those are the objects that disrupt my perception the most quickly. To be displaced, in terms of your comfort zone, your ethics, or just your basic senses—I’m of a belief that art is really great when it can do that.


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