Kenny Schachter is an icon when it comes to art. He grew up in the US and had not touched art until 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?
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 have 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, one that pigeonholed you based on who and what you are, checking you from head to toe. This experience was truly shocking and stayed with me. It’s what I pour 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, navigating all the intricacies of the marketplace and the art world.
The art world operates with a unique mentality and mindset, unlike any other business in the world. Perhaps my perspective as an outsider, someone who had never taken an art class until I finagled my way into a teaching job, allows me to see this more clearly.
Going back to that gallery experience, at the time, I was a part-time lawyer. I went to JPMorgan Chase Bank and attempted to secure a $10,000 loan to purchase some art. They scrutinized me, and I argued my case. However, their response was a head tilt, reminiscent of confused dogs, and a resounding “no.” But, by that time, I was already earning a substantial income at the law firm. My law firm manager contacted the bank, and miraculously, I received the loan. Right after that, I ventured into the world of art dealing.
I often humorously call myself an “idiot savant” dealer. I bought art and visited galleries, attempting to sell the art to carve out a place for myself in the art world. However, my personality wasn’t suited for sales, and I had to come to terms with the fact that it wouldn’t work out the way I wanted. I never aspired to be an art dealer, but it seemed like the only route into the art world.
Simultaneously, I could teach anyone about post-war art off the street, but I recognized a gap in my knowledge when it came to pre-war art. That’s why I needed to learn art history, and the thought of returning to school was daunting.
So, I pursued it my way. I approached the New School for Social Research and expressed my desire to teach. However, my history of being nearly catatonic, overweight, and having a speech impediment as a child made this an unusual request. I stuttered and 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 response was, “You could teach six art classes, and we’ll see how that goes.”
Following that meeting, I became an adjunct professor at the school. I bought the generic book on New Art History by Johnson, the one 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. I have been teaching since 1992. Over the years, I’ve lectured at prestigious institutions like Yale, the Guggenheim, and the Smithsonian Museum, and I’ve taught for 12 to 13 years at the University of Zurich, as well as at the Art Institute of Chicago and all around the world. I teach to learn, and I write to give deeper meaning to the mundane tasks that sustain me. As soon as I discovered the art world, I felt compelled to pursue it. I was inspired by everything, from the Museum in Washington to Warhol and his exhibitions. I’ve always had an outsider mentality because I’ve never truly been on the inside. I’ve been doing this for more than 30 years now, so I’m more immersed than ever.
But back then, there were countless galleries in New York City, and I was only 27 years old. How could I contribute something unique when the world’s most extraordinary art galleries were already there?
That’s when I had an idea: since the world wasn’t as globalized in the 80s, I decided to travel.
I began visiting studios through connections, meeting artists through friends of friends. I’d purchase art, visit galleries and museums, and then bring it back to New York to sell it through Sotheby’s, Christie’s, and other dealers. Essentially, I was a dealer to dealers.
Later on, I thought it would be intriguing to curate exhibitions. In fact, we were doing Pop-Up Exhibitions before the term “Pop-Up” even existed.
During the deep recession from 1990 to 1996, I started securing exhibition spaces, often through bartering. Additionally, I began incorporating my own work into the shows. There’s no conflict of interest if you’re transparent, and that’s the approach I’ve taken, to some extent — though I won’t claim to be 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 haunting 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 compete with the sales of his records. He was operating at an inhuman speed of creativity that didn’t fit within the confines of the industry standards and norms 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 creating a song or producing a playful, incriminating photograph of someone—I just go ahead and do it, even if it often leads to 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 historically, being a dilettante was viewed favorably in the art world. If I were labeled as a dealer, it would limit what I could do. I didn’t want the world to perceive me in that way.
In 1997, I organized “Cambio” (meaning “exchange” in Spanish), a series of group shows held in temporary spaces. As in the past, young artists were featured, and the energy level was high to the point of being manic. A myriad of lively ideas, some better than others, filled the air.
This shot was taken before I was mugged in the gallery. After the robbery, I rekindled my love for New York. I staged a live simulcast internet broadcast of everything happening 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 created two music videos related to NFTs, one called “Money Money Money” because all you ever hear is that NFTs are about money anyway.
Instead of being the smartest or most talented creative mind, I possess 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 created 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 small boat is navigating 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 created another piece with a sculpture of an elephant engaging in self-pleasure. It’s a metaphor that represents various aspects, from politics to the art world, illustrating how we seek personal satisfaction when we’re alone, living in the suburbs, and feeling alienated. I enjoy incorporating humor into my work, and I find it appealing to explore amusing themes.
I believe that people in the old world often take themselves too seriously. I used to say that in the art world, we’re not curing cancer, so we should relax a little. However, clinical studies now demonstrate 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 conducted studies showing that living with art reduces anxiety, depression, and even heart rate.
In that sense, art can be helpful. Life on this planet is short, so it’s important to give it meaning.
I suffered the loss of my mom when I was very young, and three years ago, I lost one of my four kids. My children are the most important thing to me. In a cruel, complex, and tragic world, it’s about infusing your life with meaning. Through art, I found my purpose: I didn’t want to get lost in negativity, fall into routines or repetitions, or just live for the weekend or holidays.
I believe that art is a form of communication. Art can exist on its own. If you place a Van Gogh painting in the forest, it won’t have much effect; it’s still a painting, still art. However, art serves as a pre-verbal form of communication and expression. It’s a way for human beings to create an identity for themselves and connect with others.
What I appreciate about NFTs is that they bring together coders, mathematicians, and people from various backgrounds. It’s a significant opportunity for anyone interested in art because now, anyone can collect art. This wasn’t possible before. If you inquire about the price of an art piece in a gallery, it’s often not well-received. 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 ranges from $15 to $75.
What is your favorite platform for mints?
Kenny Schachter: I created my own website to release these Mutts, and I’m also launching a new web 3.0 site called NFTism, a term that I have trademarked. NFTism is more focused on the discourse and community than the concept itself. The individuals involved are more interesting than the concept itself.
Certainly, Opensea is the default platform for browsing and exploring. Currently, I’m in discussions to collaborate with Knownorigin.
My first drop was on Nifty Gateway before Beeple had sold his first piece, and I’ve always had positive experiences with them. It was my introduction to the space when I first learned about NFTs. I got in touch with Tommy Kimmelman, who, I believe, studied business at Stanford. He ended up becoming the site’s curator because there was no one else in the office. It’s amusing, but I had good experiences with Nifty Gateway and Superrare.
Now, I’m going to try working with a company called Manifold, primarily known for their smart-contract development. In the past, they only worked with artists like PAK and Mad Dog Jones, but now they’ve launched an app called Studio Manifold. Instead of collaborating with a developer, as I did for my Crypto Mutts, and having to deploy the contract myself on Etherscan, and mint it myself, the app simplifies the entire minting process. Any artist can use the app to mint their own contract without needing to write a smart contract themselves.
I’m not committed to any specific platform. I’m somewhat indifferent about it. There isn’t one platform that’s THE best one. Coinbase could very well replace Opensea. We’ll have to wait and see, so I remain platform-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 hope the entire environmental issue can be resolved. People should open their minds and be receptive to new ideas instead of having a self-fulfilling prophecy about how negative this entire space is. For the first time in art history, the artist gets paid, and the artist pays the gallery. That has never happened before. So, I would like to see people lighten up a bit and acknowledge that there are talented NFT artists out there. One artist I admire is Sarah Friend, a young Canadian living in Berlin. She is a woman who taught herself to code after studying painting. She has contributed significantly to the community, engaging in non-profit work related to universal pay, wage equality, and environmental issues.
Another talented artist is Kevin Abosch, and there’s also a woman who goes by the name 8bit_titty, an African-American artist residing in Denver, who creates exceptional videos with captivating titles. If you take the time to look, you will find equally impressive art in the digital context through the NFT space as you would in a traditional gallery. So why do people dismiss it outright without even taking the time to explore it? There is ample room for change and justice. The debate shouldn’t revolve around broad generalizations; it’s simply a waste of energy.
I’m learning as I go. I used to be a crypto cynic, thinking it was all nonsense with no interest in this digital currency or digital store of value peddled by speculators. It didn’t interest me at all, but I can only speak from my own experience since I became involved. I’ve been able to build an audience for my final artwork. I secured a gallery, and at Basel art fairs, it was like a dream come true. I never would have imagined being part of not one but two Basels. I’ve earned money that has helped me survive and pay my bills. Call it what you want, but I’m not a criminal. I’m an artist, a writer, and a teacher, and my experience has been overwhelmingly positive.
The entire Discord experience has introduced a new dynamic between creators and the audience. For the first time in these forums, the audience can directly interact with the creator. There are great conversations, but there are also many negative individuals present. I face criticism for a different set of reasons. It’s a new flow of feedback that didn’t exist before. I’m in my Crypto Mutts Discord every day, and I don’t have a dedicated 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 even know when I’ll be leaving this lunch with you. I’ve been away for seven weeks due to my show in Berlin and my talk at the Engadin Art Talks. I don’t even know what time my flight is on Monday. I can’t provide you with a five-year roadmap for my journey 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 compensates for my lack of intelligence. Everything I do will be equally applied to 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 offer me a $100,000 beach holiday in the most luxurious hotel, I would be mortified – I would be miserable. Heaven, for me, 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 dive into the rabbit hole of just moving from one article or one song, which then sparks research into another song and another situation. That’s how I generate ideas for things, simply by 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.