De Nichols, a St. Louis-based multidisciplinary designer, civic leader and “artivist,” talks about:

Getting her job as the community engagement manager at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which evolved into a position dedicated to determining how an institution becomes a better neighbor to its community; the controversy(ies) around Kelley Walker’s show “Direct Drive” at CAM St. Louis, which opened in early Sept. 2016—everything from De’s take on the artworks beforehand and what she liked vs. what she found distasteful, and how she felt offended by the notion to come from how pieces featuring black women were going to be displayed, which she shared with the curator; to the climactic event of the artist lecture Walker gave alongside the curator, which in the Q&A session went remarkably wrong, and included gaslighting which left many in audience cold, disconcerted, and/or upset…and in De’s case, livid; how the curator, rather than helping Walker to communicate what he was unable to in response to various questions about race and misogyny, instead protected the artist and in turn shut the conversation down; how after the talk, De felt ashamed for being somehow complicit – as a museum educator – in a toxic experience; how as a community engagement person on staff, she got flak from both sides: the museum people and the people in the audience who wanted her to apologize for things getting so tense; how, through the fallout from that event she faced an internal crisis which led to her eventually leaving her post at the museum, and the thought process that led her to finally resign; the positive aspect of the effect on CAM, in the form of greater sensitivity and strategy going forward in a period where it’s going to be needed even more; she offers both advice and suggestions for artists to be culturally sensitive about the work they make and where they show it, and how they can become active in this changing political climate, including 100 Days of Action, the artist-run PAC For Freedoms, and The U.S. Department of Arts and Culture (which is not a government organization despite what it sounds like).  While a video of the Kelley Walker artist talk and Q&A is not available, you can view a panel discussion response to that event, which took place at CAM as part of the series Critical Conversations, here:

Jennifer Dalton, Williamsburg, Brooklyn artist and co-founder of Auxiliary Projects talks about:

Her Williamsburg neighborhood from numerous perspectives, including a breakdown of some of its sections, the re-zoning that has enabled high-rise development and exceptionally high-priced real estate, the fact that she’s been there 20 years, and with her husband owns a row house since 2003 (which she feels privileged to have), from which she’s seen the neighborhood go through numerous changes, where artists are moving-whether out of Brooklyn or out of New York altogether-and what, if anything, can be done in response to the intense gentrification; the project Month2Month, which she co-organized with William Powhida, and was a lottery-based ‘guest living’ arrangement in which people temporarily lived in housing deemed either ‘affordable’ or ‘luxury,’ and open-to-the-public dinners and the like were hosted there; how by co-running a progressive gallery in Bushwick, she’s both part of the solution and part of the problem simultaneously as a culture provider and gentrifier; the ‘smoke & mirrors’ element of living in NYC: people living large, and possibly living beyond their means in the process; how she’s continued to keep a day job over her career, even though there have been periods of a few years where she could have made a living from her work, which turned into a conversation about which artists make a living from their work, and the smoke & mirrors once again applies to artists who she may have thought were making a living, but had some side gig, or family assistance, sustaining them; how she’d rather be a “day job artist” than a “housewife artist;” art fairs, and how she (and we) can alternate between feeling alienated and inspired walking around one, which inspired her “Hello, I’m” piece, stickers with various comments about one’s art fair state that Chicago Expo goers wore in great numbers in 2015; how in the moment, art fair presenters always say it’s going great, and only admit to it going badly the next year; how the one year she and her Auxiliary Projects co-founder Jennifer McCoy had a booth at the Untitled art fair in Miami, they broke even, which is great for a young gallery, but if you count time invested they figured they made 12 cents an hour; “elitism” in its various forms, an exchange inspired one of her images; the ‘confidence’ game, in terms of selling yourself in studio visits, and how in Jen’s experience men are more confident in women in those situations; and we have a spirited debate/concurrence about the use of sales-y words in the studio and in relation to one’s art, and because she refrained from using it, we talk about the “P” word at great length, and why she likes it (and I don’t).

Provo, Utah-based artist Casey Smith talks about:

Living in Provo, which is also where he went to college at BYU, and how the market there is 3X as expensive as Columbus, Ohio, where he and his family had lived previously; his crisis of faith with Mormonism in its many facets; how his wife has left the church, but he has remained a Mormon for the moment, and how he hasn’t been to church in a while (since the Nov. election), primarily because he doesn’t want to have to confront fellow churchgoers whom he knows to be Trump supporters, but how he’s still well-connected to an active Mormon community (his mother still attends church, though his father left the church years ago), and he at this point he feels like he doesn’t belong there; some of the finer points of his observance of Mormonism, including never having smoked a cigarette, done drugs, or drank a single drop of alcohol or coffee, and how in that context, drinking Dr. Pepper or Mountain Dew makes you seem like a hard-ass; how South Park’s take on Mormonism is surprisingly accurate; his experience at the San Francisco Art Institute, which he was excited about and hopeful for initially, but was marred by his being somewhat blacklisted by some fellow students and even professors, because his Mormonism ‘bothered them’ (this was in the couple years leading up to Proposition 8, the anti-gay marriage prop backed heavily by Mormons); how a number of galleries that he was working with or in conversation with about shows, once they established that he was still a practicing Mormon (and Prop 8 was now in people’s social consciousness), stopped communicating with him, and yet meanwhile, the farther his work got away from California, the better he did in terms of shows; his stint in the Midwest, where he got teaching jobs at Bowling Green University, where his wife was also teaching, and then having to leave when the school couldn’t renew his year-long full-time contract due to lack of enrollment from the recession; his family’s subsequent struggles to get by in the midst of the recession after moving to Columbus, on his very modest adjunct teaching earnings combined with a little bit of family inheritance and how that led him to decide that he had to find “real work,” and to change careers from art teaching into a whole other industry; how the “leveling up” in Mormonism is parallel with most role-playing games, including Dungeons & Dragons, which he’s been a long-time player of, and merges the two (Mormonism and D&D) in his art; how his wife, Amanda Smith, also an artist, had her career going very well with galleries in San Francisco and New York representing her, but when they had kids she had to put it all on hold; and how he and his family have managed to get by through it all, including, briefly, food stamps.

For the final episode of 2016, we bring back the May, 2012 conversation with Eric Yahnker, followed by some of our follow-up conversation recorded Dec. 23rd, in  which we talk about Eric’s approach to the incoming regime vis-a-vis his work, and how he and his work fit into the greater scheme of things in the realm of culture and activism.

Here is the description of that original conversation from 2012:

Eric talks about his elegant slapstick sensibility, vis-a-vis his cultural Judaism; working for South Park; his business acumen roots courtesy of his Amway-selling parents; and his background in animation and journalism/political cartooning.



Los Angeles-based artist Claire Colette talks about:

Leaving San Francisco (the Mission neighborhood) after 10 years by essentially being priced out; her various perceptions about SF, including the fact that she still has friends who live there and goes back to visit and insists that not everything is over–that it will take a lot to beat the arts community there–it’s not just going to go away; how she has supported herself, including thru grad school, bartending as well as working at art galleries and non-profits, and the pros and cons to each job; her grad school education (Mills College in Oakland), which she chose with intent, and her undergrad, the for-profit Art Institute of Los Angeles, which she chose on her own naively because she didn’t know enough about the school/quality art institutions generally, until she got there, and wound up making the most of it despite its critical limitations (including  rounding out her education by taking more classes before going to grad school); the benefits of what more “sophisticated” schooling has been for her, having also taken classes at the SF Art Institute; her bartending, both in SF and L.A., how she prefers to work at bars that are more connected to artists/the art scene so she can be herself, the difference between bars during the week vs. over the weekend (which applies to ‘every bar ever’), and the pros and cons of it (pays well, but it’s a service job), and how ultimately neither bartending nor gallery work appears to be sustainable long-term (of course, a classic dilemma for most artists); how she believes that every artist should work in a gallery for at least six months, to see how it’s run on the other side; how she’s managed to sell her work both through shows and directly to collectors out of her studio, esp. out of grad school, even more recently–having been in L.A. for just two years; her arrival at abstraction, which is sourced from thought experiments and is rooted in everything from the existentialist philosophy and religion of her Catholic French early-upbringing, to science fiction, specifically Ursula Le Guin; and how she’s come to realize that, even having worked in activism, that her artwork in poetics and thought experiments through abstraction is still very important to her–she recognizes the futility in each, and yet that there needs to be room for each as well (we both acknowledge that it – activism, abstraction and the market, anti-capitalism, art as object – is, as a whole, problematic), and that the solution is not to stop painting/making art.

Adriane Herman, Maine-based artist and Associate Professor at Maine College of Art talks about:

Living and working in Maine – Portland in particular – and what the school and scene are like there, and what grads tend to do after they’re out of school; the housing crisis in Portland, and where artists are moving; how she’s lived all over the Midwest and Northeast, and how she came to move from the idyllic art community of Kansas City to Portland, and the pros and cons of each of those places and lifestyles; how an art critic in Kansas City reached out to her and the gallery she was involved with to ask what was coming next, giving an idea of the intimacy and openness of the art community—she also attempts to sell us Kansas City as a great art community that grads should consider moving to; how in Kansas City the community came to her, essentially, whereas in Maine she’s had to be much more proactive to find and cultivate it…in Kansas City, she feels like she’s “surfing synchronicity”; reciprocity in the art world, and how she tries to activate it, including engagement while ignoring hierarchies; getting Hrag Vartanian of Hyperallergic to her studio; her artwork and thoughts around letting go (both of events and of stuff), purging and downsizing, including the parishioners at a church in Kansas City she inspired to let go of some of their stuff, all while willing admitting to being a “Do as I say, not as I Do” person; she shares one of her personal ‘letting go’ stories—the humiliation and humbling in being rejected for a professorial job promotion, which floored her, but was able to recover from in part because it led her to apply for and win an extensive residency back in Kansas City; and she offers that her sharing and willing to be vulnerable in this conversation will lead others listening to write in about their own experiences- fingers crossed!

Los Angeles-based artist Hilary Pecis talks about:

Her exodus from San Francisco to L.A. in 2013, when many other artists and creative types left SF because of its skyrocketing, prohibitive cost of living; the ‘perfect storm’ (even though she doesn’t like that term) that led to the massive change the city has gone thru that led to so much exodus,; her gradual welcoming of the more home-bound lifestyle of L.A. as compared with her and her husband’s life in SF, when they ate out and went to bars often, a lifestyle that had them out of their apt. much of the time; Mt. Shasta, where her dad and stepmom live and she visits regularly, which is also home to Lemuria, an occult-associated ‘lost continent’ whose legend is kept alive in the area and prompts visits from spiritual questers; her role as a registrar at a major Los Angeles gallery: what it entails (logistics of shipping, storage, condition reports and client communique re: artworks) and its biggest challenges, including when works arrive damaged; one complicated scenario that had to do with assessing blame — for a painting with a puncture through the canvas — among the person sending the work, the shipping company, and Hilary’s gallery…a scenario that’s still unresolved since around the time she started at the gallery three years ago; how 80% of her job is arranging artworks’ shipping to clients, and the irony that no matter how expensive the artwork they’ve purchased, they don’t want to pay for shipping at all, so wind up going cheap as possible (FedExing a $100,000 painting, for example); her stress-relievers for work (audiobooks and running); the complex sentiment of an artist’s ‘entitlement’ when working in an environment that is so supportive of its artists; the conversations she has with her husband (a full-time artist) and how they inform her perspective as an artist in relation to having what she refers to as a “real grown-up job;” the dramatic change she experienced at Art Basel Miami between 2007, her first time, to 2009, post-crash; her current, work-related dynamic with Art Basel, and the significant sums her gallery has at stake in the fair since it’s such an immense financial commitment to participate on that level; and her studio time, including the pros and cons of having an in-home studio, and how her son Apollo may not have become her perfect studio assistant yet, but occasionally his own (Lego) projects can allow her a couple extra hours of studio time.

Art historian and art tour guide Lauren Kaplan talks about:

Her start giving tours at venues from the Met and the Guggenheim to galleries around Chelsea; the pros of giving tours at the Met- open and flexible access, liberal policies towards guides, and cons- some of the other tour leaders aren’t properly educated and give misinformation to their groups, which Lauren says isn’t her problem though it obviously doesn’t make it an ideal context for her business; how she organizes her largest tours, which can be up to 40 people, by dividing the group in half and leading a tour for each half while the other looks around on their own; a particularly memorable encounter with a star actor while doing a slightly compromised tour at The Frick Museum; how small tours (families of four) are more conversational that big tours (30-40) which are more lecture-based; teaching people on her tours to feel comfortable not knowing what they’re looking at, and how she regularly takes Chelsea gallery tour groups to shows she knows they won’t like or get (and sometimes that she doesn’t like), which invariably lead to the most interesting conversations; some of her memorable gallery show tours, including Thomas Schutte, Terence Koh and Carrie Mae Weems; the “ven diagram of people” living in brownstone Brooklyn and commuting to the museums on the Upper East Side, and she compares the two neighborhoods in ways you might find surprising; how she came to learn who the core demographic for her tours is (hint: she’s a modernist); and she shares some memorable anecdotes from her tours featuring both kids and adults.

London-based artist and PhD candidate John Walter talks about:

From the U.K, his romanticized version of the U.S. vis-à-vis New York and its high-’80s art boom; and he tries to reconcile the work of some of his early heroes, particularly Julian Schnabel, vs. their oversized egos and macho bluster, while dismissing most of his countrymen (Freud, Auerbach, etc.) for being ‘bad’ for the wrong reasons; his PhD thesis, relating to HIV/AIDS in relation to visual art and ‘maximalism,’ and as manifested through his interactive installation Alien Sex Club, which looked at the social aspects of ‘cruising’ in both analog (gay bath houses, cruise mazes) and digital (Grindr, etc.) forms, through his maximal aesthetic applications; his former apartment Tandoori Cottage, which took on a maximal aesthetic along the lines of some of his work, and how it was something of an experiment in collapsing the divide between work and life; his PhD program, which was in architecture, and which allowed him to produce Alien Sex Club as well as a book of symbiotic writings, and how getting the PhD has been part of his need to diversify to get by as an artist, an artist as “nomadic jester”;  how after returning from Skowhegan in 2012 he was completely broke, had to swallow his pride and take a job at a book shop as part of that recovery, a big wake-up call that led him to the PhD program, part of his new era of strategic decision-making; the flat he and his partner bought in London to get out of market rent; how he’s leveraged grant opportunities to help support himself largely by accessing subject matter outside of visual art (mainly virology); his being an ‘interloper’ in virology, as part of his Alien Sex Club project and his Capsid project, which forces him to acquire a whole new knowledge-base in science; how he takes a very often dry sensibility (virology, science-as-art) and makes it ‘wet’ for an art audience; how despite making a lot of ‘gear’ (artworks), the commercial galleries he’s worked with haven’t worked for him, and how he’s taken the reins for his work as opposed to waiting for his work to be ‘ordained’…and so the market will come later; that galleries tend to trade on the artist’s credentials, rather than their own credentials; the logistics of running his studio/office space, which is just five minutes from his flat, by wearing multiple hats in the same space; how he uses ‘telly’ (TV) as a way to switch off his brain; and we discuss art openings and forming relationships in the art world, in the context of the ‘hospitality’ component of his many installations/performances, promoting a form of welcoming interaction that tends to run counter to what actually goes on at an opening, and how he advocates finding ways into the community through folks that you ‘get on with.’


In the 2nd half of our conversation with Los Angeles-based provocateur Mat Gleason of Coagula and Coagula Curatorial, he talks about:

The benefits of having interns, and people he didn’t hire because he knew they’d graduate too quickly to even have them start; how he ‘punches up, not down,’ meaning going attacking bigger fish, not smaller ones (MFA shows); why gallery staff at the desk act the way they do, and how Mat trains his staff to act towards visitors, while Deb argues that it’s a service to their community, but that visitors have misconceptions about what gallery staff are doing (not just greeting), and Mat refers to the ‘bozos’ and ‘yahoos’ who come into the gallery and how inappropriately they act; he talks about his litmus for leverage (at openings/parties), the ‘Peter Frank’ point; the obscurity of artists in relation to celebrities (and which Mat put in context of the pyramidal hierarchy); speaking of celebrities, Mat shares a great anecdote eavesdropping on Loni Anderson talking to Burt Reynolds at an art opening (at maybe Ace gallery); his most recent episode of getting in trouble for writing in a recent Coagula issue, and how he needs to report significant episodes even though now that he’s known he’s more likely to be heard from by his subjects; who he’s against in the art world, in particular those who are pretentious, social ‘practicers,’ people who speak to you as a child, and academia; how he taught at Claremont Graduate School not having a college degree himself, to many students’ chagrin, and yet years later students told him how much he told them how it is in the art world; how he realized he was a Foucault-ian after years railing against him; the controversy around the Kelley Walker show at Contemporary Art Museum St. Louis, which Mat has very strong opinions about, including his analysis of the repercussions of the botched artist talk, his hope for change in a private club-culture art world as well as his vehement disapproval of the artist and curator in question; and lastly we discuss the gentrification scenario in the Boyle Heights neighborhood of Los Angeles, particularly the area where galleries have moved into commercial spaces (around Mission and Anderson Streets)…Mat, having been a lifelong Angeleno and having friends who have galleries in the neighborhood, offers various provocative but thoughtful angles on the situation, including that the protesters won’t go after the government entities that have brought on the gentrification –that would be biting the hand that feeds them – or big businesses like Warner Bros., which is moving into a big building nearby, so they go after galleries, the easiest target, and how the protesters started getting media attention by doing so, what Mat calls ‘gold’ for their cause.