By NOAH BECKER August, 2019
I was 27 in 1997 and had already been playing saxophone for 15 years and painting for 12 years. My local fame as an artist and jazz saxophonist in Victoria BC, Canada had inspired me to conquer the world and move to New York City that summer. From 1997 to 2001 I lived in New York City - this was well before I started Whitehot Magazine by accident in 2005.
Summer of 1997 I moved from Victoria BC, Canada to New York City. I was following my jazz friends to New York but also had a wild imagination for what New York was about after reading books like “True Colors” by Anthony Haden-Guest, which tracked the 1980s art scene. I had also seen the Julian Schnabel film “Basquiat” which made me think being an art star in NYC was the most interesting thing possible. This was well before smart phones and the rise of social media and the Internet as we know it.
In terms of other art writing, I had a copy of a catalog Robert C. Morgan wrote on performance art and Phoebe Hoban’s masterpiece “Basquiat: A Quick Killing in Art.” I was also reading interviews with Francis Bacon and essays by Robert Hughes on Warhol, Basquiat and others. My musical interest was listening to and transcribing Hank Mobley, Charlie Parker, John Coltrane, Wayne Shorter and Sonny Rollins. My interest in the old masters brought me to books on Velasquez, Caravaggio, Rembrandt and other old masters.
During that 5 year period from 1997-2001 in NYC, I worked as an artist’s assistant for David Salle, Attila Richard Lukacs and Mark Kostabi. I also interned at a variety of Chelsea galleries as a coffee runner and photoshop tech. I was the musical director of a swing band that toured around to 80 different clubs in the New York area and recorded my first album as a leader on saxophone around that time. After witnessing the attacks of 9/11 2001, I moved back to Victoria BC and spent a decade with my parents there recovering from the trauma of witnessing the attacks on the World Trade Towers.
Back in Victoria, I would run into local friends and frenemies. Some would welcome me back as a hero who went to conquer the “big city” but others treated me like a Vietnam Vet who lost a war with international culture. Victoria is one of the most beautiful cities in the world but isolated in a way where the transient nature of the small local scene becomes problematic for anyone with ambitions beyond Vancouver Island. It wasn’t long before I started to feel extremely hopeless and marginalized in the far reaches of Western Canada after 5 years in NYC. I got to the point where I was trying to figure out how to show my art in New York, having not really found a good dealer there in the mid-1990s.
I started cold-calling galleries in New York from Victoria in 2004. This meant attaching images to emails marked “Noah Becker Paintings” hoping for any reply. I tried Gagosian, Zwirner and all the other major galleries I could think of. In those days, the only decent art magazine was Artnet with articles by Walter Robinson, Charlie Finch, Jerry Saltz, Ana Finel Honigman and Paul Laster that inspired me and made me feel connected to what was going on in New York. This was the golden age of Artnet and it seemed so potent and relevant to me. Little did I know, most of the art writers I was into reading back then (including Donald Kuspit) would later be published by me in Whitehot Magazine - strange how life works?
Eventually with my art career, I got a few replies to my cold calls (most rejection letters) but I kept trying - because I had no choice but to try. How depressing it was when I was 34 years old, feeling like I was too old to be the hot young thing but too young to be the grand old man of art. A friend suggested I forget about all the noise and stay in my studio to make the best art possible. One day I was checking my spam folder and I saw what looked like an email of acceptance? It was an email from a (now closed) gallery called “Jack The Pelican” based in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. The letter said “We love your art and want to show you at the Scope Art Fair in New York,” I was excited.
I shipped my work to the Scope Art Fair on time and took a flight from Western Canada to New York. When I arrived at Scope Art Fair and made it through the fair to the booth, my drawings were not on the wall. I asked where they were and the dealer said, “We’ll put them up.” I was crestfallen so I located my friend who was the curator of drawings at the Whitney Museum of American Art - he happened to be in the vicinity. I brought him by the booth to see the drawings and 15 mins after that the gallery had hung my drawings on the wall.
I went by Gavin Brown’s “Passerby” bar later that night to unwind. There I ran into a few artists and a few dealers. One blind drunk dealer took my drink when I was in the bathroom. When I returned from the bathroom he was hunched over the bar sipping on it, I said, “Hey that’s my drink!” To which his assistant said,“Do you know who that is?” To which I replied, “I don’t give a fuck who it is, that’s my goddamn drink!” Of course later he turned out to be the owner of an important gallery - burned that bridge by standing my ground – oh well...
I went back to Canada in a good mood, my art was still somewhere in New York, supposedly at Jack the Pelican in their storage racks in Williamsburg? That part of Brooklyn was a real dump compared to the overly gentrified dump it is today. Seemed like there were 1000 artist-run galleries there in the early days. You would go to someone’s apartment and they would say, “Oh the gallery is in the bathroom.” It was like every bedroom and bathroom had a gallery in it.
End of part 1. WM
Noah Becker shows his paintings internationally. A visual artist, saxophonist and the publisher and founding editor of Whitehot Magazine, Becker has also written freelance articles for many other major magazines. Becker's writing has appeared in The Guardian, VICE, Garage, Art in America, Interview Magazine, Canadian Art and the Huffington Post. He has also written texts for major artist monographs published by Rizzoli and Hatje Cantz. Becker directed the New York art documentary New York is Now (2010) viewable on Youtube.
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