whitehot | February 2009, Interview with Brian Montuori
Brian Montuori introduced himself to me in Miami at Whitehot Magazine's NADA booth last December. He mentioned Christian Eherentraut the charismatic Berlin dealer. Brian's work was known to me before so it was a pleasure meeting him. Eventually we connected for this discussion.
Noah Becker: You are showing in New York and Europe. Tell us about how these galleries connected with you?
Brian Montuori: The bulk of exhibitions I've done on the last few years has been in Europe, with an occasional thing in New York. Most of my time spent on walls here at home has been through artist friends curating shows. In that regard, Eddie Martinez and Wes Lang have been instrumental in having my work be seen here. In Europe I've shown with Christian Ehrentraut in Berlin, some places in Scandanavia and Spain, and am at the moment making a solo show for NT art gallery in Bologna, Italy. Most everything in Europe goes through Christian. I met him while working as a preparator some years back. He followed my work for years before we started working together and has always had unbelievable faith in what I do. Everybody else I've worked with can somehow be connected through those 3 people. I'm not married to a specific gallery, but my experiences working with ZieherSmith and CRG have been wonderful and I feel I should mention them as well. Both of those galleries show what they love with no gimmicks or bullshit attached. There's no secondary market filler used to pay the rent and ultimately I think that breeds a better program. No safety net requires more concentration kind of thing.
NB: Where do you get your highly original concepts from? What inspires your images?
BM: I'd be hesitant to call what I do original. Maybe in the current context of art it perhaps looks a bit different, but my only real goal is to make something that I can look at and have it give me that same sense of awe that I've felt looking at other art. I feel pretty traditional in that seeing a well done landscape from the 19th century or standing in front of a large Rubens or Raft of the Medusa makes me wish I could make something that impressive. When these things were made, nature was the only thing larger than man. There was no Times Square or high speed Internet or 900 television channels, so the amount of visual information to compete with was far less than it is today. Despite this, a big painting with a sunset and some mountains and animals in it still works. I happen to be drawn to disasters and the chaos that comes with them, and based on what is shown in other media, I have to assume other people are drawn to this as well. CNN and Hollywood would be out of business if there wasn't an appeal to it, as morbid as it may be. I really just combined a few things I was into and it happened to put me at that place of awe when I stood back and took a look at it. There's no better feeling than walking into the studio and thinking "what the fuck, I made that!?!" Its more than enough inspiration to be curious how the next thing will turn out and before you know it, you're trying to do it again.
NB: Are you the only North American artist in the Eherentraut gallery? If so how do you find this interaction with the German artists and collectors. Are they hesitant to weave you into their circle?
BM: I think being the only American with CE is just coincidence. Actually, I feel like he might have just started working with somebody else from over here, but i haven’t heard for sure. There are only like 7 he works with in total. I met most of the other artists he works with at the same time as him, and when we see each other we have a good time. I'm not sure if my creativity is coming from the same place as some of them, but I respect what everybody there makes and vice versa. As far as collectors go, it's always a little different with each one. One of the advantages Europe has over America is the proximity of so many aesthetic tastes to one another. What's comfortable in France might be offensive in Italy and funny in Germany. Some places get what i do, others don't, but I'm glad that my work is in a variety of collections. Each of them seems to have a different impetus as to why they chose a specific picture, and some things I never thought anybody other than myself would like have ended up on some pretty unexpected walls.
NB: Give us an example of these unexpected walls? Europe seems so vast to the North American artist. Give us a bit more insight from the non-European artist showing on those walls.
BM: Last year I did my take on Noah's Ark, which showed a wood boat wrecking into an iceberg and all the animals in a fit of panic. I just wanted to make a painting with every animal I could think of, and that happened to be a believable situation, even though its only a story. What I didn't take into account was that Germany was primarily Christian in their religious beliefs. The piece ended up in the Essl collection, the owners of which apparantly have a soft spot for religious art. I grew up listening to hardcore music and hating organized religion, so to have that aspect be a selling point of one of my paintings I thought was rather unexpected.
NB: Yes it's funny when you see this occur. In my own work there are things like that happening. Your work has that vibration to it which is why an interview was in order. When I met you at NADA art fair in Miami, I had no idea who you were. There was little time for chatter so I'm happy to share this painter's discussion with you. Do you hang out in painting circles or do you find it easy to exhibit in the same context as conceptual or sculptural work? In my case I don't see the distinction but because you are working with Eherentraut there are painterly concerns there. I'm reffering to the Leipzig school. It seems like people such as Neo Rauch are dealing with concept in a way that transcends the painterly. Then comparing your work the German artists, there is a violence that returns to it in a pleasing way. It's the sublime quality of paint again in full force with all your anger intact. In Neo Rauch there is this color thing happening that takes you through a few eras of art history then back to the present and through some retro color schemes taken from 1950's americana or kindergarden or something?. Maybe it's the primary colors I'm responding to. You are totally different than Neo Rauch. You seem to just attack the painting like a wild animal, are you a wildman? Or is this planned out in advance? It seems like the artists in Germany such as Rauch and Tim Eitel are planning things out in a different way then you are. I'm a fan of certain artists in that Leipzig school and this is my way of trying to see how you are in that mix and to what degree you see yourself in this mix? Maybe not at all, or am I on the right track with this concept of Brian Montuori being an outsider from America? This is what compels us about Brian Montuori, this image of you riding in on your warhorse and stepping up to an old wooden table of Leipzig painters in a smoky bar on a mountain top or in a dark wood. The large gruff drunken macho painters slamming down giant pewter goblets of strong drink splashing all over everyone. Or is it more like the genteel, mesured conceptualists with spotless studios and teams of assistants? We know Eherentraut has a beautiful new space so maybe this is self indulgent on my part?
BM: It's funny you mention this kind of scenario because I've always thought I was part of a different group of artists. Congratulations on your show at the Vancouver Art Gallery by the way. I saw images of it online yesterday and it looked really good, especially as a group. But back to the question, I'll start by saying I dont really know how to formally make a painting. Its as simple as "i want to paint a plane wreck", then I have to find a way to show that with some colored goop and not an actual plane. It becomes almost primal to try to develop something this way. If I need an explosion, I try to make the paint leave the brush with one. If I need a fluffy cloud I'm just lightly twisting my hand. I'm not sure if this is how to paint, but its the easiest way for me to describe visual information. But no matter how you initially think is going to play out, you constantly have to adapt to its changes. I make some violent art, so maybe it makes sense that I discuss it like fighting. There’s something to be said for “aggressive” art making, even though “intelligent” art making is in fashion right now. The current state of affairs has ultimately led artists to believe they require an advanced degree to throw paint around. Who knows, maybe its easier for dealers and collectors to relate to people who went to good schools like they did. And i wish i could say that was just some bitter statement, but far too many shows I see are like, this person had so and so as a professor, or they studied at Yale together, or something that connects their art on the periphery of other art that’s already been happening. Art in economic terms is a beast that finds comfort and safety in routine. Occasionally a wrench is thrown in there and a new genre or whatever is formed, but for the most part its all derivative of something that worked before it. It seemed like Leipzig got to a point that all you had to do was have Neo Rauch as an instructor and a gallery would be calling you at age 22 to put together a solo show. It's exciting for a minute, but it's at such a developmental age and it should really be constantly changing, but too often it doesn't. A lot of people just get bored at 25 and stop making art. I saw tons of my friends do it and now their collectors get all bent out of shape because their investments are going down and nobody wants a painting by a late-bloomer accountant or a construction worker in their collection. Unfortunately, this industry is a lot of who you know bullshit and when I was younger I felt I had made a bad judgement call in leaving art school after a few months. I'm still hard pressed to find a show of all dropouts and self taught people of this generation, yet nobody bats an eyelash at Van Gogh or Bacon having no idea what they were doing. I'm not insinuating i can roll with those names, but as I get older I starting to understand that I'm part of a group of romantics who draw their water from an older source. Our common thread is just that we make things. It might not be academically correct or even archivally sound, but who gives a fuck. Think of something and just do it and get on with it already. I just truly believe that it takes good, hard work to yield good, hard results. I'm not sure if that puts me on a warhorse, but it's definitely my shred of an American way of thinking, as antiquated as it may be. Sorry if this rant doesn't answer any of the questions, I got kind of smitten with the whole blood, sweat and tears thing there.
NB: That's a negative way for me to picture artists in this Obama friendly climate. Warhorse was just something that came to mind. As publisher I guess I could edit that out but you get my point so let's continue... Art students at the age of 22 are fed this bullshit anyway. All they need is for someone to manipulate them into their own devices. It's even more disturbing when at the age of 38 you are full of shit and easily manipulated. There is a lot of anger in the art world and a lot of it is boiling up from the painters. There is so much bad painting being tossed off as great painting, so it's refreshing to see your work getting up on the wall. This could be seen as part one of this discussion so let's reconnect soon Brian. Thanks for taking a moment to discuss your work with Whitehot Magazine.
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief