Kenny Schachter is an icon when it comes to art. He grew up in the US and had not touched art before he was 27. Kenny studied philosophy and is a jurisdictional lawyer, with zero intention of practicing law. After starting as an art dealer, he curated many exhibitions. He is a writer, a teacher, an artist, and so much more: a truly talented individual who entered the NFT space over a year and a half ago. His energy makes him a force of nature with a presence across the NFTism sphere. Your NFT Granny had the pleasure of being invited for a fantastic face-to-face lunch.
NFT Granny: “Dear Kenny, thank you for your precious time and the opportunity to meet you here in person in St. Moritz. In many interviews, you mentioned that the time in the NFT space is like dog years. What will happen once the speed is equal to normal time?
Kenny Schachter: This will never happen because innovation and technology are evolving so rapidly, and the velocity is just crazy. There’s so much brainpower focused on technological innovation.
Most people have a hard time adapting to change, and they have a defense mechanism to resist it. People who lead the way in technological experimentation, innovation, and development keep forging ahead. While researching human resistance, I came across a study that explored this defense mechanism. The way we resist change is by dismissing things without really making an effort or spending the time to understand or appreciate them.
So I read a study that stated if you show people a work of art dated from 1905, and then show them the same piece dated from 2021, people like the older painting much more than the one from 2021. It’s human nature for people to appreciate something that has been around for a long time.
I think that we have a unique capacity as a species to think, conceptualize, invent, and create, unlike any other species such as animals. At the same time, it’s tough for people to adapt to what’s new. I don’t think there will ever be a balancing point where people just accept things as they transpire. It’s too complicated for people.
How did you first become interested in art, and how did you get started with it yourself?
Kenny Schachter: I guess you often hear stories of children being taken to galleries and museums and exposed to art from an early age. However, I had never been exposed to art before. In fact, I didn’t even know that art galleries existed until I was nearly 27. I studied philosophy and went to a museum, the East Wing of the National Gallery in Washington, DC. The moment I saw that art, it impacted me subconsciously. I thought that an artist made art and the artwork went to a museum, which was the end of the equation.
Art was not my professional life back then; I just knew what I didn’t want to do. I didn’t want routine, nothing that would be repetitive. I didn’t want to spend my life doing something or capitulate to any kind of market concern. Marx said, “why can’t you be an economist in the morning and a fisherman in the afternoon,” and I just didn’t want to settle or compromise professionally. I earned a degree in political science and philosophy, and the professional perspective was limited to teaching.
So I thought that I would get a joint degree. I enrolled in law school, and academically, I wasn’t very good. I had zero intention of practicing law, but that was a way to hide from the working world and having three years to collect my thoughts. I quit going to school halfway through the first year but remained enrolled in classes that I didn’t attend. I took on a series of full-time jobs and told my family and employers that I was in night school when there was no night school.
Then I took the exams and worked on the floor of the American Stock Exchange. I got a part-time job as a legal writer for a law firm, and that’s how I refined my writing skills. After finishing law school and taking the bar exam, I handed out my resume to hundreds of offices in the Garment District in New York, thinking that maybe fashion would be a way to pursue my career path.
I tried fashion, and it was the only thing that made sense to me. That said, I got the most basic job like Willy Loman (from Death of a Salesman), carrying around these gigantic suitcases to sell men’s neckties in various stores across the East Coast of the United States. And it was as awful as it sounds. Suddenly, I found myself in an existential crisis because I had a pathological fear of getting lost while driving around with these gigantic suitcases filled with ties.
Somehow, I managed to pass the bar. I thought a part-time job in a law firm wouldn’t be too bad, and I ended up with a job writing motions for court cases.
Some time later, a friend dragged me to the estate sale of Andy Warhol at Sotheby’s. It was an eye-opening experience to see that art existed in a commercial context. It was a revelation.
A few months later, I saw an ad in the newspaper for an exhibition of prints and photographs by Cy Twombly, Sigmar Polke, and Joseph Beuys. My German heritage, as well as my background in philosophy, gave me a natural inclination to visit this exhibition.
I started going to exhibitions, and I’ll never forget the feeling of going into a gallery. It is unlike any other kind of commercial setting where you’re immediately judged. You are assessed physically up and down, and they look at you and make associations.
I had never seen a gallery that was so exclusionary and pigeonholed you into who and what you are, checking you from head to toe. It was shocking and stuck with me. This experience is what I put into my writing, my art-making, and my teaching. I constantly analyze what happens to art once it is disseminated – from the artist’s studio to when it enters the stream of commerce and all the machinations of the marketplace and the art world.
There’s really no other business in the world that operates with the same mentality and mindset as the art world. Perhaps because I’m an outsider, having never taken an art class in my life until I conned my way into a teaching job.
Going back to the gallery, I was a part-time lawyer at that point. I went to JPMorgan Chase Bank and tried to take out a loan for $10,000 to buy some art with it. They looked at me, and I argued my case, but of course, they turned their head sideways like confused dogs and said no. However, I was already making X amount of money by that time at the law firm. My law firm manager called the bank, and I suddenly received the loan. Immediately after that, I started to be an art dealer.
I call myself an idiot upon a dealer. I bought art and subsequently went to galleries, trying to sell the art so I could carve out a place for myself in the art world. However, I don’t have the personality to be a seller. That’s why I had to admit that it would never work the way I wanted it to. I never wanted to be an art dealer. However, it was the only way to get a foothold in the art world.
At the same time, I could teach anyone post-war art off the street, but I knew I needed to learn what happened before the war. That’s why I needed to learn art history, and I couldn’t bear the thought of going back to school.
So I did it my way. I went to the New School for Social Research and said I’d like to teach. But with all means: now, I never shut up, but as a child, I was overweight and nearly catatonic. I had a speech impediment – I stuttered – I couldn’t even talk. I remember sitting in front of a dean and saying, “I want to teach a class on art, conceptual art history.”
He replied, “Well, you’ve never taken an art class, but you have a legal degree.” So I said, “That’s right.” and his answer was “You could teach six art classes, and we’ll see how that goes.”
Then he left, and I became an adjunct professor at the school. I bought the New Art History Book, a generic book written by Johnson that everyone reads, and I would read three chapters before teaching them. I had to drink a beer beforehand because I was petrified, but I carried on like that, and I have been teaching ever since. That was in 1992. Now I have lectured at Yale, the Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian Museum, and I have been teaching for 12 or 13 years at the University of Zurich, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago and all over the world. I teach to learn, and I write to give a deeper meaning to some mundane things that I have to do to make a living. As soon as I found out about the art world, I felt compelled to pursue it. I was inspired by everything from the Museum in Washington to Warhol and shows, and I thought again: I’ve always had an outsider mentality because I’ve never been inside. I’ve been doing it for 30 plus years, so I’m more inside than I’ve ever been.
But back then, there were so many galleries in New York City, and I was only 27 years old. How could I bring anything to the table that wasn’t already there? The most extraordinary art galleries in the world were there.
So I thought, since the world was not really globalized back in the 80s, I could travel.
I started traveling and went to studios through friends of friends. I would meet one person, go to galleries and museums, buy some art, and bring it back to New York to sell it through Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and other dealers. I was a dealer to dealer.
Then I thought it would be cool to curate, and we did Pop-Up Exhibitions before the term Pop-Up even existed.
There was a deep recession from 1990 to 1996. I started taking over exhibition space and then throwing together a group show. Most of the time, I bartered for spaces. Furthermore, I started including my own work into the show. There is no conflict of interest: If you’re transparent, then you have integrity, to some extent—not saying that I’m perfect.
There’s another photograph that I made in 1999, which is included in the METADADA exhibition at the Nagel Draxler Galerie in Berlin from January 14th, 2022 to April 16th, 2022. The art photograph was created at a time when something went down the wrong tube and it’s still choking me. I wrote the word “dealer” around my face.
This piece was inspired by the singer Prince, who wrote the word “slave” on his face when he was in a bad record contract. The record company was producing so much music that they didn’t want to keep releasing the music he made because it would cannibalize the sales of his records. He was operating at an inhuman speed of creativity that didn’t fit within the confines of how the industry standards and norms were at the time, so he wanted to get out of the contract. He walked around literally with this word, saying, “If I want to make a fool of myself, it’s my prerogative.”
If something occurs to me – whether it’s making a song or producing a silly, incriminating photograph of someone – I do it, and then I often face criticism from my family and others. But that’s my mantra: I do it.
So when I wrote the word “dealer” on my face, it was because I felt that being a dilettante was historically viewed favorably in the art world. If I were labeled as a dealer, I would be limited in what I could do. I didn’t want the world to interpret me in that way.
In 1997, I organized “Cambio” (meaning “exchange” in Spanish), which was a series of group shows held in temporary spaces. As in the past, young artists were featured, and the energy level was high to manic. Lively ideas – some better than others – filled the air.
This shot was taken before I got mugged in the gallery. After the robbery, I fell back in love with New York. I staged a live simulcast internet broadcast of whatever happened in the gallery as an artwork, including the moment when I was mugged – even before they stole my camera.
As time on earth is limited, I do whatever I want to do. If I feel like singing, I write and sing a song. I’ve made two music videos related to NFTs, one called “Money Money Money” because all you ever hear is that NFTs are about money anyway.
Rather than being the smartest or most talented creative mind, I have a great degree of determination, perseverance, doggedness, and tenacity.
Which of your artworks are you most proud of?
Kenny Schachter: In a way, it’s my show METADADA in Berlin. It’s an interesting question because it encompasses the entire body of my work. It’s not just a specific artwork, video, or two-dimensional or sculptural piece. It’s this whole practice that I’ve been able to establish for myself. For example, in the installation in Germany, text covers the walls, the floor, and the ceiling. When you write a text for a magazine, it disappears within hours and is quickly forgotten. It has a shelf life of carbon-14. However, your work on the internet remains there forever.
I also made a video in which I uncovered a story about the Prince of Saudi Arabia buying a Leonardo da Vinci. In the video, there’s a gigantic yacht, and a little boat is driving along in unstable waters. Suddenly, one of the guys on the little boat throws the Leonardo onto the boat, and it gets splashed with water.
Then I did this other piece with an elephant sucking its dick. It’s a sculpture. And it’s a metaphor for everything from politics to the art world as to how we try to please ourselves if we’re alone, living in the suburbs and alienated. I like funny things – to employ humour in my work.
I think people in the old world take themselves too seriously. I used to say that we’re not curing cancer in the art world, so we should relax a little. But now, clinical studies show that living with art has positive health effects.
There’s a hospital in London where I did some work, and they’re accredited as a museum. They’ve done studies showing that living with art reduces anxiety, depression, and even heart rate.
In that case, art helps. Life on this planet is short, so you need to give it meaning.
I suffered the loss of my mom when I was very young. One of my four kids died three years ago. My kids are the most important thing to me. In a cruel, complex, and tragic world, it’s about imbuing your life with meaning. Through art, I found the reason: I didn’t want to find myself, do the negative, have routine or repetition, or just live for the weekend or holiday.
I think that art is a means of communication. Art can exist. If you put a Van Gogh painting in the forest, it won’t have much effect. It’s still a painting – still art. But art is a pre-verbal form of communication and expression. It’s a way for human beings to create an identity for themselves and relate to others.
What I love about NFTs is that they bring together coders, mathematicians, and people from different walks of life. It’s a big chance for everyone interested in art because now anyone can collect art. It wasn’t possible before. If you ask for the price of an art piece in a gallery, it’s the worst thing you can do. Now you can collect art and be a trader. It’s a misconception to think that art or NFTs are expensive. The average price of an NFT is $15 to $75.
What is your favorite platform for mints?
I created my own website to release these Mutts, and I’m starting a new web 3.0 site called NFTism, a term that I have trademarked. NFTism is more about the discourse and community than the concept itself. The people involved are more interesting than the concept in and of itself.
For sure, Opensea is the default platform for browsing and perusing. I’m currently in discussions to work with Knownorigin.
My first drop was with Nifty Gateway before Beeple had sold his first piece, and I’ve always had good experiences with them. It was my introduction to the space when I first learned about NFTs. I was put in touch with Tommy Kimmelman, who I believe studied business at Stanford. He ended up being the site’s curator because there was no one else in the office. It’s funny, but I had good experiences with Nifty Gateway and Superrare.
Now, I’m going to try a company called Manifold, and they’re primarily smart-contract developers. In the past, they only worked with people like PAK and Mad Dog Jones, but now they’ve created an app called Studio Manifold. Instead of working with a developer like I did for my Crypto Mutts, and deploying the contract myself on Etherscan, and minting it myself, the app simplifies the entire process of minting. Any artist can go to the app and mint their own contract without having to write a smart contract.
I’m not committed to any specific platform. I’m kind of ambivalent about it. There isn’t one platform that’s THE great one. Coinbase could very well replace Opensea. We’ll see, so I’m agnostic.
What is currently missing not fully developed to reach full potential?
Kenny Schachter: I would like to see Ethereum 2 come out, and I would like to see the whole environmental issue solved. People should open their minds and be open to new things, instead of having a self-fulfilling prophecy about how awful this whole space is. For the first time in art history, the artist gets paid, and the artist pays the gallery. That has never happened. So, I would like to see people lighten up a little and show that there are NFT artists. One artist who I am crazy about is Sarah Friend, a young Canadian who lives in Berlin. She is a woman who taught herself to code after studying painting. She has done a lot for the community, not-for-profit work regarding universal pay, wage equality, and the environment.
Another talented artist is Kevin Abosch, and another girl who goes by the name 8bit_titty, an African-American girl who lives in Denver, makes extraordinary videos with phenomenal titles. If you take the time to look, you will find equally good art in the digital context through the NFT context as you will in a gallery. So why do people just wholeheartedly write something off and dismiss it without even taking the time to look? There is a lot of room for change and justice. The battle shouldn’t be about these generalizations; it’s just a waste of energy.
I am learning as I go. I was a crypto cynic before; I thought it was just bullshit and had no interest in this fake currency or digital store value with these hucksters selling it. And it just didn’t interest me, but I could only tell from my own experience since I have been involved. I have been able to develop an audience for my final artwork. So, I was able to get a gallery, and at Basel art fairs, I was like a Trojan horse. I would never have dreamed in a million years to be not in one but two Basels. And I’ve made money that helped me survive and pay my bills. You can call it anything you want, but I’m not a criminal. I’m an artist, a writer, and a teacher, and my experience has been so positive.
The whole Discord experience has brought a whole new dynamic with creators and the audience. For the first time in these forums, the audience is in direct touch with the creator. There are great conversations, but there are also many negative people around. I get criticized for a whole other set of reasons. It’s a new flow of feedback that never existed before. I’m in my Crypto Mutts Discord every day, and I have no real community manager at all.
Do People ask you about your road map?
Kenny Schachter: I’m not Stalin. I don’t have a five-year plan, and I don’t know when I’m leaving this lunch with you. I’ve been away for seven weeks due to my show in Berlin and talk at the Engadin Art Talks. I don’t even know what time my flight is on Monday. I can’t tell you what my five-year road map is for a set because I don’t know what I’ll be doing next week. All I know is that I’m ambitious, and I have a lot of energy, which makes up for my lack of intelligence. Everything I do will be applied equally to the Crypto Mutts and my gallery life. So, if you believe in me and my work, that’s the roadmap. I am the roadmap.
What do you like to do when you’re not busy with NFTs?
Kenny Schachter: For me, heaven is sitting at a table with a computer and good Wi-Fi. If you were to give me a $100,000 holiday on the beach in the most excellent hotel, I would be mortified – I would be miserable. For me, heaven is a big cup of coffee, a computer, and good Wi-Fi, and I love to research, read, and think.
The Library of Congress is probably the most substantial library in the United States, an endless archive of information that is now at our fingertips on our computer or smartphone. I love to get into the rabbit hole of just drifting from one article, or one song that will spur research into another song and another situation, and that’s how I get ideas for things just from reading.
- Full Name: Kenny Schachter
- Date of Birth: December 16th, 1961
- Current hometown: New York, USA
- Languages he speaks: English
- What did you want to be when you were a child: I have no idea, I still don’t know. I just want to keep growing.
- Education: Philosophy and political science at George Washington University and completed a JD at the Benjamin N. Cardozo School of Law in New York
- First Job: My first big full-time job was my last job. I remain unemployable.