A Time to Hate: an Interview with Curator David Hunt

NYAB catches up with David at Lisa Cooley Fine Art to discuss how his current show’s theme of schadenfreude applies to the blogosphere and the state of the art world in a retrograde economy.

poster for

"On the Pleasure of Hating" Exhibition

at Lisa Cooley Fine Art
in the Lower East Side area
This event has ended - (2009-07-09 - 2009-08-23)

In Interviews by Amanda Scigaj 2009-07-21 print

Josh Faught, ''Triage'' (detail) 2009. Hemp, nail polish, spray paint, indigo, logwood, toilet paper, greeting cards, pins, books, plaster, yarn, hand made wooden sign, denim, and gloves. 80 x 120 in. Courtesy Lisa Cooley.

There’s an entire literary industry based on the niceties of human behavior. Followers of Jane Austen and E.M. Forster relish in the restrained dalliances and conflicts that these characters face, all in the name of good manners. The reality is that the Dashwood sisters would love nothing more than to see the upper crust fall flat on their faces. This is the thesis behind “On the Pleasure of Hating: Love turns, with a little indulgence to indifference or disgust; Hatred alone is immortal” curated by David Hunt at Lisa Cooley Fine Art.

Although Hunt has reservations about the state of our current American culture, his show reflects conceptual ideas based on complex literary and human emotional concepts that go beyond consumer-driven art and challenge the viewer to read further into the works, both literally and figuratively. Recently, NYAB caught up with David at Lisa Cooley to discuss how the show’s theme of schadenfreude applies to the blogosphere and the state of the art world in a retrograde economy.

Dario Robleto, ''Sinew of Purpose'' 2008. Leather, cut paper, lead and silver coated roses, ribbon, waxed thread, sepia and ink stained willow, glass. 60 x 22 x 22 in. Courtesy Lisa Cooley.

So David, please explain the idea behind “On the Pleasure of Hating.”
Penguin Classics did a series of books and came out with this William Hazlitt book called “On The Pleasure of Hating,” I’d say about five years ago. Hazlitt is one of those guys who died penniless with no friends, [but] there’s a literary renaissance going on around Hazlitt right now, and he is on the level of Orwell or Rand in terms of English essayists.

What attracted me to the essay is this idea that human beings are hard-wired for hatred; like love is not the instinct, hatred is the instinct. No matter how good a relationship is going—between friends, between a husband and wife, between whoever—eventually this concept of hatred sets in and people grow apart. Hazlitt’s essay is probably the first English essay to talk about schadenfreude, which is a German word [that embodies] this idea of not just enemy, but that you want your enemy to do bad and you wish them to fail.

Sinew of Purpose (2009) is one of the pieces that illustrates, or kind of echoes the concept of the show. It basically commemorates the phantom punch. The phantom punch was this punch that Muhammed Ali threw in a fight with Sonny Liston. Muhammed Ali won that fight and became this much-beloved icon, and Liston became a junkie forgotten in the dustbin of history. [The show is about] this idea of an oppositional dynamic between two people who were rivals throughout their life. One went one way, and one went another way.

It’s a very provocative title for a show.
I think it is, but by the same token, the subtitle is very literary. “Hatred Alone is Immortal” is very important. The immortality of hatred—it’s not going anywhere; it lasts.

…Hatred, the word is so powerful and elastic, it’s almost obliterating. [I didn’t want] to get so caught up with hatred as an active verb, because I didn’t want anything that was going to depict any sort of racial [hatred] or violence, say the Arab-Israeli conflict. Any of those things would have been way too trite.

Curator David Hunt

How do you think these themes apply to our current cultural situation, seeing as how Hazlitt’s essay was written in the late 18th Century?

Living in New York, and the art world being what it is, and the fact that we just went through the the past five years and the largest art market boom in the history of western civilization. Billions of dollars… All of a sudden these young guys are making tons of money way early in their career, and they have huge egos. They don’t really know how to act, because this is a new phenomenon for the art world.

They’re like “How am I doing? How’s this guy doing? Who’s behind me? Who’s in front of me?” and that breeds this general atmosphere of hatred. Instead of giving your friend, or someone you know from art school, a leg up when a curator asks an artist, “What do you think of this guy?”—instead of saying “Oh that guy is good,” they’ll say “Oh that guy is terrible. He sucks.”

It’s the same thing with blogs… The concept of this knee-jerk commenting that you get with bloggers, with no editors. It is essentially whatever they want, and it’s anonymous. There’s really no consequence for your actions. I’m the type of person who’s like, “If you have something to say, say it to my face.” So hiding behind this anonymity, or hiding behind cyberspace, or whatever, is a very negative development in our culture…

Blogs and Twitter, because they are short… it’s not a reasoned argument. They basically [accommodate the] first instinct that you have; there’s nothing preventing you from putting it in the blogosphere, and there’s no revision. People just put this stuff out there, and what do they put out there? Not positive things. The best example I would say is [the blog] PaintersNYC. I don’t know who runs this blog. There are usually five or six commentators and they’ll take all the painting shows that have opened up in a month and they’ll start commenting. These comments are usually like two to three sentences—and they’re the stupidest fucking comments ever.

[The comments] just debase and demean the role of artists in general, and that’s the most interesting thing. [Many are] artists, and artists are their own worst enemies when they do stuff like that. It’s totally not dignified. If you’re serious, you should be working, going to shows, reading, whatever. You’re not supposed to be sitting on this blog, ripping other people’s work.

Nicolas Lobo, ''Soylent Green Bust'' 2009. Cor-ten steel, terrazzo, felt, formica pedestal, Soylent green. 24 x 12 x 12 in. Courtesy Lisa Cooley.

There are all these different kinds of art represented in the show: sculpture, print, mixed media, textile, etc. How did you fit all these pieces under one umbrella?
I buy and sell and write about a large number of artists, and it was kind of who I’m working with now—who I want to work with. I approached artists and said, “Your work really expresses this kind of aggressive, emotional dysfunctionality. It wouldn’t be so much of a stretch for you to take it over here, and kind of riff on this hatred thing.” And, everyone got it. Everyone read the essay. It is [meant] to be a group show and a collaboration. I just wanted all the artists to be thinking [about] the same theme, while they were thinking about their work. At the opening everyone was talking about what it meant to them for the three months while they were making their piece… sitting in their studio like, “Hazlitt, Dave Hunt, hatred. What the fuck? People suck!”

Were there any other considerations beyond the Hazlitt essay you brought into this show?
I think two things influence my curatorial selections. One is that I have an art history minor. I went to Berkley, but I never went to art school; I never hung out with artists. I got into curating and writing about art when I was 27 with no previous art background.

…What I’m looking for is someone with uniqueness. That’s the number one criteria, the number one. If I’ve seen it before, or if it’s art about art—not into it. [I’m looking to see] if your symbolic language is thought out and you’re communicating in this language that is your own, rather than something that is handed down to you from an art history textbook. That’s why there’s no formal affinities in this show. Each person has their own formal style, their own symbolic vocabulary, color scheme, medium, or materials, and there’s no cross over.

So you’re trying to create something that’s more conceptual.

Yep. You’re supposed to go [into the show and] be kind of perplexed. It’s supposed to be thoughtful and contemplative. You’re not supposed to go in there and be like, “I get it!”

Shana Lutker. Courtesy Lisa Cooley.

Amanda Scigaj

Amanda Scigaj. Amanda Scigaj grew up in Buffalo, New York certain that football ruined her childhood. Since moving to Brooklyn in 2007 she helped build DIY venue Bodega, ran art shows, and became music editor for libertine publication Chief Magazine. She currently splits her time between the production department of a publishing company, and as a freelance writer. In her free time she likes to record hunt, learn random factual information, and is really trying to finish that Robert Moses biography. » See other writings

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