Magazine article Artforum International

Shaggy Dogg: Gareth James on Colin De Land. (Passages)

Magazine article Artforum International

Shaggy Dogg: Gareth James on Colin De Land. (Passages)

Article excerpt

IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, and I was standing, freezing, outside American Fine Arts, Co., when a shiny new purple pickup truck arrived with its ferocious cargo: The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Naked save for a coat of brightly colored body paint, seven band members leaped from the vehicle and paraded into the packed gallery for their performance. Inside the space, visitors were greeted by a photo in which bandleader Kembra Pfahler was seen prancing on a bed with another naked body--that of Colin de Land, the proprietor of American Fine Arts, painted completely blue and topped with a huge shock of artificial black hair. With characteristic humor and intensity, Colin had joined his new lover to create what looked like a nightmare version of John and Yoko. With Kembra, he had entered a new period of his life after the devastating loss of his wife, Pat Hearn, in 2000, one that abruptly ended with his own death from cancer on March 2, 2003, at the age of forty-seven.

What the art world risks losing with Colin's passing is described by American Fine Arts's Christine Tsvetanov as his provision of a "working studio for artists." For some, Colin was a champion of art's radical promise, for others their nagging conscience. Given that he was a cofounder of the Armory Fair--where he could be seen sporting a trucker's cap detourned with a simple piece of tape to read, DON'T BOTHER ME UNLESS YOU'RE BUYING--It may have been hard to understand the importance he placed on tweaking the moneymaking side of dealing in art. But Colin's politics turned on a single word: gallery. Opening in 1980 as a small spare room in a photographer's uptown studio before moving through the Lower East Side, the East Village, SoHo, and finally Chelsea, Colin's space never officially took that name. More than a gallery, it was, he said, his attempt to "reenter society," and Colin knew better than anyone how art turned on the creation of social value. As ArtClub 2000's Danny McDonald (to whom Colin vouchsaf ed the "company," with Christine) puts it: "Colin's ability to create a dynamic social space in his gallery was legendary. There was always a great mix of artists, animals, art-world veterans, and a few brave collectors to be seen there at any hour of the day or night. We all showed up to run into each other, but really everyone was trying to get ahold of Colin, who generously directed the flow by simply never saying no." What follows are the recollections of some of those who passed through that space.



Probably we'll hear the term "cutting-edge" applied to Colin by a lot of people, which is silly because it implies that he was anticipating the next big thing. His project was more perverse, more in the spirit of having satirical fun with the notion of showing art. There was always some component of a joke in his relation with the art world, of just seeing the humor in the whole Vanity Fair aspect of this funny place where people make ridiculous things that become incredibly valuable and where overbearing rich people park their money. I don't think Cohn had the gene for calculation; he had the gene you find in gamblers. The scandal of our generation is that so many of us died young, and continue to. Living through the '80s and '90s with people popping off from AIDS, you never stop feeling scandalized by it in some way. Losing Pat to cancer and now Colin--it just seems incredibly excessive, I mean really too much. It's like something Truman Capote would invent.


A guy comes up to me on the street and asks, "Where's American Fine Arts?" and I say, "You mean the Colin de Land show?" "No," the guy says. "American Fine Arts. It's a gallery." And I say, "No, it's not a gallery, it's a t.v. show and it's in the back of the gallery... the back room. Like the bar in Cheers. The living room in All in the Family. The apartment in The Honeymooners." So he says, "It's a sitcom? …

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