Interview with Kenny Scharf: I'm Baaack! At Nazuka Underground & Sogetsu, Tokyo

Kenny Scharf and Dream Car, 2023, custom 1970's Cadillac, courtesy Kenny Scharf


Kenny Scharf
Nazuka Underground & Sogetsu, Tokyo


"Yumano Karuma is making a reappearance in June." reads the enigmatic text I had just received from artist Kenny Scharf — stirring up memories of nearly 40 years ago from Scharf's first trip to Japan, when he repurposed a white 1970's Cadillac into Yumano Karuma or the Dream Car.

The Dream Car is an icon of Street Art and was the inspiration for Art in Action, a themed exhibition I curated in 1985 and being exhibited once again at Sogetsu.

Yamano Karuma has earned a special place in Post-War Japanese art history from its development as a custom V8, 5.0 1970's Cadillac Brougham d'Elegance, sans airbags — impractically scaled for Tokyo's older streets, to its re-birth as the Dream Car. The owner, Sofu Teshigahara, is known as the Picasso of Japan and founder of Ikebana Sogetsu; an art and ikebana complex that overlooks the Imperial Palace from an imposing Kenzo Tange mirrored tower, boasting one of Isamu Noguchi's serene stone gardens.

Dream Car, 1985, custom 1970's Cadillac, photo Tseng Kwong Chi


The Philosophy of Finism

Cut to a hot and dirty NY afternoon in 1984, when the film director Hiroshi Teshigahara (Sofu Teshigahara's son), his daughter Kiri, and myself, were given a tour of the city with Kenny at the wheel of Suprema Ultima Deluxe, an unregistered 1961 customized 'Van Chrome' Caddy. Ultima (the first of hundreds of cars to get the Scharf Karbombz makeover) had debuted in Tony Shafrazi's Soho gallery a few months before. As we waited at a Times Square stoplight surrounded by open-mouthed tourists, Teshigahara extended an invitation to Scharf to perform the same magic on his Cadillac for a show I was to curate at Sogetsu Museum.

Art in Action was the first show of its kind (three decades before MOMA's Club 57 show) featuring Kenny Scharf, Ann Magnuson, and John Sex of 57, plus Louis Jammes & Herve Di Rosa of Figuration Libre, COLAB installation artist Justen Ladda, and famed nightclub Area's sculptor Jeff Vaughan plus Apocalyptic Optic, my collaboration with Wolfgang Staehle.   

NY in the 1980s was a turning point for Scharf where he met Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, the rising stars of the downtown art & club scene, which was further boosted by their friendship with Andy Warhol. Kenny Scharf had also named the Fun Gallery, opened by the underground film star Patti Astor and her partner Bill Stelling, an influential art venue operating from a small East Village storefront, the prototype for 100’s of other neighborhood galleries that followed.

Fun was the first home of Street Art, a loose term used to describe the collective output of self-taught artists from the burnt ruins of the Bronx, Harlem or Brooklyn, and their Downtown white art school counterparts who had also taken to the streets; united by common exclusion from the galleries of Soho and 57 th Street. Aside from Scharf, Fun staged exhibitions of Fab Five Freddy, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring, Arch Connelly, Futura 2000, Zephyr, Dondi White, Lee Quinones, and Lady Pink, to name a few. The scene at the Fun Gallery was accelerated by its legendary opening night parties, attracting a strange mix of celebrities, Eurotrash, scruffy artists, b-boys, it-girls, and groupies that rubbed shoulders with chauffeur-driven collectors on the prowl for exotic souvenirs. 

Space Party, 1985, directed by, Steven Pollock & Wolfgang Staehle, VHS John Sex, Keith Haring, Ann Magnuson, Kenny Scharf, Tereza Scharf & Club 57

Gen-Z and Millennial artists may need help to imagine FUN as a guiding philosophy of an artist's life (and career), or Scharf's method of distilling the explosive energy of the streets. While gallery visits were for afternoons, the real action was at night, a time to exercise uninhibited sexual fluidity and new-found freedom on the dancefloor to the beat of the latest New Wave and Hip Hop tracks. Street Art was inclusive and had melted the macho dynamics of the hood and the openly gay aspect of the downtown scene, that is until AIDS, drug overdoses big money, greedy landlords, and a highbrow backlash nearly wiped it out.

In that time denizens of downtown got their morning news reading coded messages from freshly-sprayed graffiti art, whether it be SAMO shaming posers,

Fab Five Freddy's Pop Art homage, or the radiated babies of Keith Haring. Scharf's nearly forgotten graffiti phase has became a footnote to his bigger story, as it is the assemblages, installations, and customized appliances along with his paintings and sculptures, that have a more significant impact on his art.

His early pictures appeared like an Immaculate Conception, coupling two cartoon families — space-age Jetsons and the stone-age Flintstones. They illuminated the instability of the era with alternating dystopian and utopian time travel, effectively describing generational struggles. Now it’s the artist's child-like joy to treat inanimate life forms as living beings grappling with unseen forces, reaching new levels of relatable interpretations. What better way to show the post-truth universe than a doomy vortex of swirling colors and shapes, coupled with projectiles of mixed emotions colliding infinitely?

Still, their impossible combination leaves one questioning, "What awaits us? What if we ignore the warnings of environmental disasters, runaway AI, pervy genetics, robotics, and weaponry of unimaginable force? Will scant survivors envy the comforts of Fred and Wilma's Bedrock?"

Dream Car, (detail) 1985, custom 1970's Cadillac, photo Tseng Kwong Chi

To paraphrase Albert Einstein, "I don't know what weapons might be used in WWIII. But there isn't any doubt what weapons will be used in WWIV — stones and spears."  

Scharf's storytelling and art-pimped technology merge the dying machines of the oil age with a promising Jetsons future. If Scharf's worldview seems strange, the Jetsons trope might offer some perspective from which a space traveler would view our current civilization as alien.

Ultima Suprema Deluxe, 1984, custom 1961 Cadillac, photo Kiri Teshigahara

"I Stole the Rabbit "... Kenny Scharf confessed to Steven Pollock while reminiscing about their 1985 trip to Japan for the show Art in Action, and Scharf's current revival of the Dream Car, all part of I'M BAAACK opening at Sogetsu and Nanzuka Underground, Tokyo June 9 -30, 2023.

Steven Pollock Where is your show in Tokyo?

Kenny Scharf It’s at Nanzuka (Underground) and Sogetsu.

SP Have you shown at Nanzuka before?

KS No, I haven't had a show in Japan since 1990 or earlier. Pharmakon killed it for me; Pharmacon-90 was a big art fair, but the Japanese economy crashed, and the fair was a disaster for me as well, and I just never returned.

SP Nanzuka Underground seems to be one of the more exciting galleries in Japan. They show Hajime Sorayama and also Toshio Saeki. Do you know their stuff? 

KS I love Sorayama and Saeki!.

SP I was thinking about Sorayama because I knew him as a teenager from Heavy Metal magazine. Did you ever see that magazine?

KS Of course!

SP I discovered him at an age when I was done with Marvel and looking for the next thing, also underground comics like Crumb and S. Clay Wilson. 

Cosmic Cavern, 1985, Sogetsu Museum, mixed media Black Light Installation, courtesy Kenny Scharf

KS I didn't really read comics except for Zap. My early influence was TV; it was cartoons.

SP Yeah, that makes sense; let's come back to that. What will you show at Sogetsu?

KS Sculpture.

SP So, aside from the car, how many sculptures? 

KS There are six done in cast aluminum. 

SP Are you showing them in the Noguchi Sculpture Garden?"

KS Exactly, as it's perfect for sculpture in that space — what else can you have there but sculpture?

SP And the car will be in front of the building?

KS I don't know where they will show it, obviously not on the Noguchi rocks, but let's see.

SP I think it must be where most of the photographs were taken in the 80’s. Maybe I asked you before, is it operable or do you doubt it?

KS No, you think someone has driven it since 1985? The thing has just been covered up, so it still looks good, but I don't think anyone maintained it. 

7NEWZ 2023, Oil, acrylic and silk screen ink on linen with powder coated aluminum frame, 48 x 60 Inches, courtesy Kenny Scharf

SP Change the oil.

KS No more Tokyo cruising, as far as driving it around goes.

SP That was totally unique. 

KS Yeah, we had a special time!

SP Yes! I found the old videos and converted them— I was looking at them when we spoke, remembering others that are so wild. It could never have been the same at any other moment. Can you tell me, because you have done a lot of customized cars or Karbombz — have you had other exhibitions that spilled out onto the streets like that one? That show touched every form of media, and how it worked with the Japanese public and press was phenomenal.

KS I mean, it was part of the whole show because it was not only my art, there was yours and others— and then there was the entire performance side. You know we had Ann Magnuson and John Sex, and what would we do? We were not just going to drive around; we were going to get out of the car and scream! Stupid, but funny and fun.

C02 4 U 2022, Oil, acrylic & silk screen ink on linen with powder coated aluminum frame, 48 x 60 Inches, courtesy Kenny Scharf

SP It is all a big blur because Japan mixes things in its own way and has been for a long time—but that culture already had quite an advanced approach to art. As an outsider, one really doesn't get how anything is categorized.

KS Yeah, exactly. We were very popular, as you remember, on the …what was it, a variety show. Do you remember?

SP It was the most high-profile show of the time, called the Eleven PM Show. When you guys arrived, you and Ann & maybe John, drove up in the car, pre-arranged to pull up to where they had the cameras ready, it was as if it was Elvis in Vegas, while the rest of us were on set along with topless women appearing here and there.

KS Right, and John was acting out in such a good way.

SP I found other footage; somebody got him on a morning show featuring aerobics.

KS I saw that. Oh my God! It's hysterical.

SP John just jumps in. It was an unusual group. Glenn O'Brien was there too (having written the memorable catalog), and although not in the show, there was Maripol with her Polaroid camera.

Interestingly, the show was at Sogetsu, and here you are back at Sogetsu again — 1985 and 2023. Andy Warhol painted Sofu in 1976, the owner of the Cadillac; everyone from Jasper Johns, Picasso to Yoko Ono is in their collection. Robert Rauschenberg painted Gold Standard, a famous early Combine with a dog and an old shoe, created live at the Sogetsu Art Centre as a performance in 1964, the same auditorium where John Sex and Ann Magnuson were on stage. I remember Isamu Noguchi enjoyed Ann, calling her Ann Margret. It has quite a history, and it's great that you are back.   

AOAKA 2023, Acrylic & oil on linen with powder coated aluminum frame, 60 x 72 Inches, courtesy Kenny Scharf

KS I know, after 40 years! 

SP Wow! This Modern Art thing is ancient. The eighties have become classic.

KS Yeah, that says something about us.

SP I switched from being a painter to a curator, but you still have tremendous energy! You were red hot in 1985, but there followed a period of backlash— and maybe it took the fact that people were starting to die, like Keith and Jean-Michel, for you to get fully respected. 

KS They passed away towards the 1990s, so we were still getting punished, and it was because, you know, "Why did you live? That's not fair."

SP So you get that?

KS Not anymore, but I did.

SP Okay, something I need to think about, but when I started to see your work again at Paul Kasmin it was clear the art world was ready to embrace you again.

KS I wasn't new — I was forgotten and resurrected. 

SP I saw that you did a collaboration with Futura.

KS Yeah, at Fondation Louis Vuitton.

SP So when was it that it suddenly shifted back the other way, and I'm wondering why?

KS If you hang in long enough, the world comes around to you. I think sometimes artists can be too ahead of their time, and people think they understand it, but they don't — and then times change, so all of a sudden, what looked uninteresting suddenly looks interesting. I mean, that happens a lot, to think how everything changes in time; the way people look at things and think about something — and you know, suddenly things that are considered tacky become "Oh no! This is so incredible!" It goes like that, but if you stay around long enough, you just become accepted as whoever you are, whatever you do. You have to hang in there.

SP Back to the Japanese, they knew you were ahead of the time because they weren't only obsessed with the original, they appreciated the reproduction.

KS They were always ahead of the time— they were the first to care about what we were doing in the East Village. Brutus Magazine, and, "Oh wow, the Japanese they want to take pictures of us? Yeah great!" They were the first ones who seemed excited about what we were doing.

SP Sure Watari Galleryt oo, was quick to show Keith. I was a little…you know, when the Museum of Modern Art did the Club 57 show, it was written up as the first museum show of artists from the East Village, and I thought, "Oh excuse me, what about Art and Action, 1985 in Tokyo"?

KS Everybody is so impressed about the MOMA show, and yeah, it was great to do it, but I remind people, "Yes, but did you remember we were still only allowed in the basement "like I'm not allowed out of the basement, so it's not like it's bad and I was happy to do it, but it really did feel like that like, "Okay you can be down here only. "That's kind of how it felt, but why can't we be upstairs? I'm too young? I'm not young anymore; let me upstairs, goddammit!

SP It's still run by people who exercise what they learned at school, and then they get jobs as museum curators and it was time to say, "Okay, this is great we have a special project. Stick it in the basement. " It's about control and dogma. It's strange that you, Keith, and John went to art school (SVA) and still managed to be completely free.  

KS Jean didn't go there, but that's how I met him, and he used to hang out there. It was the only place that took anyone, I didn't get accepted to any art school but SVA, and I applied to probably 10, and I didn't get accepted; I don't know why, and I don't see why. It couldn't have been that I was much worse than anybody else. SVA just took anyone, and it was the right time and place. Jean was hanging out in the cafeteria, just wanting to meet other artists. We had to help get him in and write notes for him. We forged them from teachers; I used to do that. 

SP That's great; I had no idea.

KS "Jean-Michel is allowed to come in today," and I would forge the teacher's signature, and they were just like, "Ugh."

SP Are you talking about Jean-Michel?

KS Oh, you are talking about John Sex. Of course, John Sex totally went there.

SP Jean-Michel did not go to any art school.

KS No, but he used to hang out in the cafeteria, and that's where I met him.

SP Amazing, I had no clue. I love the Basquiat teacher notes; priceless! I went there one year before you. I started to bump into Keith at SVA. I think Keith was still going there and then going to the subway and doing everything he did.

KS He was leaving. 

SP He quit.

KS He just went, "Ah I don't need to be here anymore, New York City is a better school. " 

SP For sure, but there was a funny moment when he was still slightly in there — and you know, I'd go back and forth and find his stuff on the subway, all across NY. 

KS Oh yeah, it used to piss people off; they would go, "Why is he such a self-promoter?" because he put the Xeroxes everywhere, all over the school. He would take over empty rooms and put these shows on just because he wanted to, and no one else would think of it, and they were all jealous of him. I remember he got so much envy.

 John Sex, Ann Magnusson, Kenny Scharf , Art in Action, 1985, Tokyo

SP I found some of those Xeroxes later, words stacked as poems. I curated Cold War Zeitgeist at the Mudd Club in 1980, when I was still at SVA, and that's where I saw him next.

KS In Keith's gallery?

SP No, it was still a nightclub — a year before his gallery in the Mudd Club. I curated two nights of performances. I don't think there were any art events in the Mudd Club before Cold War Zeitgeist. It was even before Norman Rosenthal's show also named Zeitgeist at Kunsthalle Berlin in 1982.

KS It wasn't in the gallery; was it in the club space?

SP Yes, in the whole club, the ground floor, and the first floor, the d.j.  booth, and much to his irritation, the owner Steve Mass' private phone line was re-wired to the public sound system for a performance with artists Herr Lugus and Peter Pakesch.

KS Later, he opened a floor for Keith to have a gallery when Club 57 took over the Mudd Club.

SP Jeffrey Deitch wrote about it for Art in America.

KS I think he was the first to write about my work, too; at the Times Square Show, he didn't know who I was or my name, but I did get the front picture.

SP Fantastic! I was also in the Time Square Show, and they still need to get my name. It's not printed anywhere, while the most reproduced picture is of the front of the building, with the front windows, where Wolfgang Staehle and I did some sleazy photographs of un-named artists with only their phone numbers. I blew one up of Taro Suzuki, a full-length nude, yawning. 

KS Claim it!

SP I'm claiming it now! Do you think the internet opened things up?

KS Yeah. Instagram, I swear I have so many things from Instagram, like the Dior thing.

SP That was so good. 

KS People like just contacting me on dm's, and I'm like," Who is this? Oh, Dior? Yeah that sounds good." It's crazy. 

SP It's a great tool; I mean, it's not only a good tool, it's also an addicting and manipulative tool.

KS It can be a great tool if you got something, like what I do works, in that little tiny square light box of your image. For some reason, my work always has a way it reproduces in the media of the lightbox— it just works that way. As I said, I had the early inspiration from the light of the TV, colors, and that kind of thing that goes back to the source again. Some artists' work can be the best, but it just doesn't work for that media; you are looking at it, and it just doesn't do anything. It's almost like all this media was made for my images.

SP Yes, I was also wondering about the show you did with Jeffrey Deitch— they were all tondos, all circular paintings, that whole group. You probably have a name for that series.

KS Moodz, like moods and emotions.

SP That's what I was going to say, how they reflected back, as you always made faces, and the faces were always expressive. Like dramatic masks, even the comedic and tragic expressions of classicism. 

KS Since I arrived in New York, art was minimal, conceptional, and emotionless—that's what everyone was going for, and it never made any sense to me. Art is just a great way to express and show your emotions. I don't know why anyone would want to put themselves into a straightjacket and be like, "No, no emotions." It was great to rebel against that.

SP How many paintings were in the Jeffrey Deitch space?

KS There are 400 Moody paintings in total, while I think the show was 280 or something.

SP Would you say every single one of them has a different expression?

KS Yeah, they had everything different. No two alike, I could do thousands or millions and they would all be different. Like nature, I could never do exactly the same thing, and basically, I just did a red one, "Okay… now I'll do a green one", to make it different each time.

SP Have you always been doing them that way, as circles? Somebody must have said that they are emojis.

KS You know it's funny because of emoji — I actually designed emojis for a company that doesn't exist anymore — but for a couple years, I had my own emojis when I texted people and stuff. Yeah, the whole emojis thing, right? That is kind of like, that's what I'm talking about. A lot of stuff that I was doing before the technology existed weirdly takes on a different kind of meaning, like emojis.

SP Maybe it stirs it up, and it's understood differently. The Japanese always intuited inevitable trends; it's a culture that can express itself through any media. Look how important fashion has always been there, along with music, and when you started to become known with Keith and Jean — it was a very nervous couple of years for the art world. Before that, music and art were two different categories. I struggled with how to do both and was practically embarrassed for my music in the art world. What's your plan for the Tokyo show?

KS It's called "Im Baaaack!". I've got some paintings that I made especially for Japan, and then a Cosmic Cavern, a small one, and it's unfortunate that they don't still have the one from Sogetsu anymore.

SP Remembering that Cosmic Cavern that went with the car in 1985, there was no garbage for you to collect as elements for the installation. 

KS There was a lot of garbage there; in fact, it was very organized. If you went out, this is my memory from the 80s, you go out on certain mornings, I guess scheduled days— and literally, the sidewalks would be littered with brand new appliances that people were throwing out because they just got even newer ones.

SP What was your best find, aside from the stolen rabbit statue, that was outside a drugstore.

KS I confess I stole the rabbit! 

KS I have to look at the photo of that room because you could see; I know I got some really cool decorations that you get, like near the temples. All of these beautiful decorations were fluorescent— so we just opened them up, and they were so beautiful. I remember there was like a TV in there; anything like appliance garbage from Japan for me was exciting.

SP I think you used many characters inside and outside the car, and maybe some of that was store-bought. There were monsters, cartoons, and anime characters. And there were similar things in the Cosmic Cavern. You have always had a heavily populated scene, whether a painting or an installation with all these creatures.

KS My favorite architect is Morris Lapidus, whose autobiography is Too Much is Never Enough.

SP That says it all. I always responded to that aspect of your work, the abundance — like Bosch, and I mention Bosch as I find it contradictory from a Christian point of view. I think it has something that all the religions always hated, as what is considered a Christian mentality, defined by the great invention of monotheism or "one God," a jealous god that won't share the spotlight, while all really cool cultures had hundreds.

KS Great imagery, I was just in Paris for that show (Basquiat x Warhol at Fondation Louis Vuitton), and I went to this show at the Musee Jacquemart- Andre of Bellini, whom I love, and I actually used the imagery from "The Agony in the Garden" in a painting I did in the '80s called,

In Ecstacy. There was a painting, and I looked at it, and I was like, that's gotta be God, and I looked, and that was the title; it was just like this man with a long white beard, with his arms open very benevolent in the clouds, there is God, there he is, I love that there he is, God, Mr. God.

SP Glenn O'Brien was pointing that out in our catalog from 1985— about bringing back all the greater and lesser deities, which are suppressed in the modern Western world. One must turn to more than one God, full coverage, to get through everything.

KS One is not enough. Boring, some old man in the clouds. Come on !

SP Maybe none or many; many are fun. The new paintings, any particular theme? 

KS Yeah, actually a little calligraphic; you know how calligraphy influenced Abstract Expressionism, Japanese calligraphy?

SP Heavily.

KS So I kind of split it back a bit in my own way, not all the paintings but a few; I also used Japanese writing. I made these collages with dire headlines

SP I was looking at a painting that you posted today. Madly Melting is interesting in that it referenced Color Field painting with Abstract Expressionist drips and one of your characters — painted thickly over the surface. Since your early work, some elements refer to other art movements, which connect calligraphy and Abstract Expressionism. Did you ever have a pure abstract period? 

KS Yeah, there are a bunch of paintings, like some of the Blob Paintings with no characters, just shapes, and I've done them over the years. I don't know why I just can't help myself, but I have got to have eyeballs! What can I say? I can't know the reason. 

SP You sat too close to the TV, and you were radiated. Who do you admire from Abstract Expressionism?

KS Jackson Pollock, you know, has always been one of my favorite artists since I was a little kid, you know, outer space. We are the kids from the space age, and is there anything more outer space suggesting infinity? You know, Jackson Pollock is never-ending. 

SP And he was very Rock and Roll in a way too, or at least a jazzy cowboy.

KS I love those paintings. You just look at them like, "Whoa!" 

SP Of course. Does anyone else come to mind?

KS Are we talking about Abstract Expressionism? All of them. I do stain paintings, and a lot of my work is stain painting, like Morris Louis and that blue background that you are talking about from yesterday; my guy Dave kept saying, "Oh, that looks like Agnes Martiin." And I'm like, "Okay." so all these references…I love stain painting—it's psychedelic and nature, and I can't just leave it alone. I have to use it as a background; I gotta do it my way. 

SP That would make a great group show, Stain Painting Through the Ages, Morris Louis, Agnes Martin, Kenny Scharf, Kenneth Nolan. 

KS I see a lot going on with the younger kids. I can't remember their names, but they use that technique quite a bit. The artist I visited in St. Louis Katherine Bernhardt; makes these big cigarettes and Pink Panther paintings.

SP Yes, very in demand.

KS All her stuff is stain painting. She sprays this line in spray paint, and then she pours paint on the ground like stain paint like I do, which dries in the puddles. The lines of spray paint keep it inside the spaces; pretty cool how it looks.

SP With her, it makes sense that some of the attention has gone back to what you were doing or maybe what other artists were doing in the 80s.

KS Well you know it's funny, and we are talking about Japan, so it makes sense. When Murakami got so big—it was 20 years ago, I was like— my first reaction was Fantastic! Everyone can obviously see that he is referencing a lot of what I do", and it will help me because I was having a very down period, but it didn't work that way. I was told, "Oh, you can't be in this gallery because we have Murakami, too similar."

SP Well, his studio closed down. He has had a lot of trouble. Maybe it's coming back again with NFTs.

KS His studio closed down?

SP A few years ago, he ran into some kind of bankruptcy. I don't know the facts, so I shouldn't discuss it.

KS There was my painting, "When Worlds Collide," and another one is even closer. It's a round character with (an open mouth) called "The Fun's Inside". He had similar things.

SP But there is something else going on; many artists turned to cartoon imagery from television and comic books in the last fifteen years, thinking it was kind of bratty, thinking they are in a post-historical pluralistic era. And bad posturing makes it cool, even 50 years after punk died. I guess.

KS You mean Kaws?

SP Yeah, I've heard of him.

KS Might as well bring up names.

SP But you know there is a type of cultural amnesia—I wonder who's aware of it. I guess it's impossible not to be aware of it. 

KS They know everything. I just think everybody is too cool to copy people. I'm going to say copy, or take, or get inspired and all that, but I think it's important to give the predecessor the props that you used, just give them some credit. Nothing wrong with that; in fact I thinks it's very generous to do that, and I wish artists would do it more often, I'm certainly happy to do it.

SP Which reminds me of your connection with Andy Warhol, which Keith and Jean also had. Andy recognized there was an affinity and on some level, the three of you were greatly influenced by him, not so much visually, but in the way of being an artist.

KS Of course that's exactly what it was. It wasn't the imagery. It was the definition of what an artist is. Andy inspired everyone almost every single kid in the East Village. Who we were. We were inspired by that idea of what an artist is. 

SP It was so fantastic for that brief period, now it's just all historical photos, take the opening night at the Palladium; Andy was there, everybody was there. Kiri and I came with Isozaki, the architect & designer of the club, and they didn't know who he was at the door. Andy just hung out at the Palladium, but at Area he did a performance for the Art Show, when they mixed all kinds of artists from Leroy Neiman to John Chamberlain, Julian Schnabel, Keith, Jean, and yourself.

KS I know, and recently when Jeffrey Deitch was still the director of MOCA, one of the reasons why people were so upset about what he wanted to do—he basically got kicked out because he wanted to do the show called Disco. 

SP Of course, Max's was the original one. What might have happened in the 60s or 70s without Max's? I was in a band with John Chamberlain's son, Jesse, and we rehearsed in the basement of his Tribeca loft. Jesse told me some of John's stories about the old Max's, which were too messy for art history.  

Tell me what else is happening, Kenny? 

KS Yeah there is some fun stuff happening that I probably can't announce but it's not that far away. I'm having a gallery show in Paris at Almine Rech in October. Also I can't really announce this one, but it's going to be good, Fall of 24 in New York.  

SP Any environmental things? I remember Don't Bungle the Jungle, with Madonna and others, which brought attention to deforestation in Brazil. Your show at Honor Fraser brought up environmental concerns by picking up so much garbage and exposing our disposable society.

KS On the roof of Honor Fraser, there still is this plastic; when I drive around LA I see all these discarded, you know those big like kid’s Mustangs and Barbie cars and shit like that, the plastic giant cars for kids. I just collected them, and then I just kind of stuck them on and it's hanging over her gallery roof. It's wild! 

SP Is it because of the scale?

KS Oh, it's just there it's on the roof, it's been there, it will be there 

SP Is there a name for these accumulations?

(Torre de Plastico.)

SP I'm going to ask you something, maybe it's not for the article, but you were in Luna Luna in Germany, and they are reviving that.

KS I know it's here in LA, right now and I know obviously I know about it and went to see it, and we'll see what happens. You know where I made that? I made it in Vienna.

SP I know. When are you coming back to Vienna?

KS My niece lives there, so at some point.

SP Say hello to Tokyo for me! WM


Steven Pollock

American-born Steven Pollock is a writer, curator and music producer living in Vienna. While still an arts major at SVA he became active as a curator at the Mudd Club, NY—followed by a museum show in Tokyo of Kenny Scharf & Club 57 (1985). In 1990 he was instrumental in realizing an immersive installation for Hiroshi Teshigahara at Leo Castelli & Larry Gagosian (65 Thompson St) and in 1996 invited David Byrne, Ryuichi Sakamoto and Asha Putli to participate in a pioneering online curatorial project. After a move to London, he staged an installation by Bjarne Melgaard (2003) curated Warhol vs Banksy (2006) and in Paris an homage to Hokusai (2021). He is an Andy Warhol specialist and has curated 5 exhibitions of his work in London, Oslo & Australia. He is currently writing and recording a musical docudrama, set in 1980’s NY, with director Marieli Fröhlich.


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