“Curator” is a pretty new word. It has made its way into dictionaries over the past few decades, and weonly started talking about “curatorial studies” in the 1990s. But hey, we’re all about new methods andattitudes around here. For our new column focusing on experimental curatorial and editorial approachesto gallery culture, we played around with words. We present “The Curist.”
Most galleries are unimaginatively bourgeois. Not O’Flaherty’s. Jamian Juliano-Villani’s artist-run aberration in New York’s East Village is generous in its unpredictability. In addition to being one of the most exciting contemporary painters (her Gagosian debut is forthcoming 2024),Juliano-Villano, 36, understands a good time. And art, according to the painter, is “basically stylizing time.” Two years ago she launched O’Flaherty’s — at that time with Ruby Zarsky and Billy Grant — with a bonkers solo show by the septuagenarian artist Kim Dingle, which included an installation where a baby doll crashes through a wall. Since then, the gallery has been a magnet for press and crowds (a young man came by during our interview, begging to work for free). After O’Flaherty’s prior opening was shut down by cops due to the mob that formed outside, it reopened this past February in a new larger location on Avenue A, a two-floor and 3,300-square-foot former improv theater, presenting the Viennese collective Gelitin (exhibiting internationally since 1993). The show included an interactive sculptural installation of a giant slice of pizza and a performance in which the artists painted with brushes in their rectums. Last March I chatted with Juliano-Villani, recently back from a studio visit in Italy, while she chain-smoked into an Hermès ashtray, decked out in a Courreges windbreaker and white Balenciaga shades.
Whitney Mallett: So you’re from New Jersey.
WM: What’s the most annoying part of having a physical space you didn’t anticipate?
JJV: I’m so short. Opening and closing the gallery’s gate is my nightmare. I bought a little ladder to keep outside and someone stole it.
WM: Where did the name O’Flaherty’s come from?
JJV: My parents joke around that I’m not Italian enough. They call me Jamian O’Flaherty. Thanks, assholes.
WM: Speaking of assholes. Is it true people buy art and then take years to actually pay for it?
JJV: I don’t actually sell that much stuff. The thing is: I’m not trying not to make money. It’s not really my priority. I just want to do good shows; It’s like, sorry, guys, here is an immersive, actually exciting, vulnerable, risky show… I mean… an awesome show that makes a lot of money would be great, don’t get me wrong. I just want to take my time and do it the right way.
WM: Would you take investment money?
JJV: No fucking way, it’s over. It’s like doing a commission. Free money, sure.
WM: How do you have such confidence in following your instincts?
JJV: I make my paintings in a similar way. It’s never just like this [snaps fingers].
WM: Working with these older artists, do you feel like the art world used to be full of more weirdos and now it’s like —
JJV: — career people. And I also have a rule: don’t show friends.
WM: What’s been the thinking behind who you have shown? The first artist was Kim Dingle, a so-called “cult artist.”
JJV: I had this Kim Dingle image on my computer desktop for like six years. The wall crasher. I was going to paint it a million times. I was just like, fuck it, let’s hit this woman up. She’s a vegetarian lesbian from LA. And she once got in a fight with Blum & Poe so badly she went up to the gallerist with a sledge hammer. They sent us balloons for her opening, which I thought was really sweet.
WM: Can we go through every show you’ve done?
JJV: The second show was supposed to be Anthea Hamilton. We ended up doing two or three shows after this because she needed more time. We have our shows, and then we plan for “emergency shows.” We set an impossible situation. We’re like, this needs to open in two weeks. Then it fails and we have to come up with something.
Originally, I had wanted to do McKenzie Childs and Allen Jones. We couldn’t get ahold of Jones’s work, but we got the Bjarne Melgaard versions of them. We knew exotic snacks stores were going to be a huge trend. The premise of the Jones/Melgaard “furniture” is so fetishistic. And we thought about how exotic snacks is a problematic idea. It’s like Korean Oreos. It’s turning snacks from different countries into this kind of entertainment. So we were like, Oh, that’s actually a really smart way to take some of the power away from the Bjarne Melgaards. Then Ash [Ashley Bickerton] was next.
WM: What’s Ashley’s deal?
JJV: Well, he just died a few months ago. I was heartbroken, I still am. He was family. He’s been a huge influence. We’d started talking, and then right before we did the show he thought he got bit by something in the ocean because his nerves weren’t working. It turned out he had really aggressive ALS and he died within a year. This one painting in the show, Joan and the Cosmos . It’s iconic. It’s a piece that was owned by Ileana Sonnabend. And there’s a triptych like this that’s owned by the Whitney. So it’s museum-quality. It just was astounding that they could have a piece of that caliber just sitting in storage. We sold it. Larry came to see the show in our gallery. And now Ashley’s represented by Gagosian. That’s when we started getting this reputation that really transpired during the Gelitin show: the defibrillator. It’s like, give us an artist who’s really good, who nobody cares about right now. And it’s like we’ll resuscitate them. Anthea Hamilton [b. 1978] or Bobo is the closest thing to a new young hot artist that we’ve shown. Anthea’s done shows at the Tate and shit and she’s never had a US commercial solo show. So we did that with her.
WM: Are you hiring people to do that or are you installing shows like Anthea’s?
JJV: For the most part we did everything. Like even the fucking fabrication. Our friends helped with the fabric stuff. We made the rocks ourselves. Which was so stupid in retrospect, because you can buy things like that, and they aren’t even that expensive. The rocks had speakers in them. It felt so magical in that room. And then next we did a show with Bobo, they’re a collective. The show they did was fucking insane. These guys worked on it for a year and a half. And then after that we did The Patriot. There were 1,128 artists’ pieces of work in there. Every room was full. The office. The hallway. Every inch. We zip-tied shit to the ceilings. We couldn’t move. It was fucked up. The funniest part was we smushed everyone’s crap together.
And then we basically made a wall and had half the gallery blocked off. We did two different things. We were obsessed with this brownie brittle shit from Office Max, and we got twenty thousand dollars of these football stadium lights, it was blinding, and you go in this back room, and half the gallery is dedicated to brownie brittle, like Mapplethorpe style. (We’d actually spent ten thousand dollars on this robotic monkey that is whipping keys around, but that fell through at the last minute.) And then the other cool thing we had in this space, we got the pillow that Abraham Lincoln died on. The pillow was by itself in a side room. You walk in and it’s candle-lit, in a really beautiful vitrine. But there was a trigger with ten power sanders under this platform that we built, so the floor feels like it’s fucking giving out. It was this one moment of silence in the whole show, but then you walk in and it’s like an amusement park ride. People are like, “Holy shit the floor vibrates in here.”
WM: Like back in the day when there was a seat in the movie theater that shocked whoever sat in it.
JJV: And then the best part was during the opening, we had all the lights off and we gave everyone flashlights and they had to desperately search for their work in the dark, which was so evil.
WM: And you took everything that was submitted?
JJV: We had Cecily Brown. Rob Pruitt. We had fucking Kenny Schachter. We had Dan Colen, Jon Rafman, Borna Sammak. We made a shitload of money from that show though. There was stuff priced from forty bucks to like $150,000. And the bigger artists were cool as fuck because they knew this was the perfect opportunity to help us out without doing anything extreme. And guess what? Everyone in that show can say they showed with all those mega artists on their CV, and it was really cool.
WM: Are these kinds of installations the direction you want to go in with your own work?
JJV: I’ve been collaborating with a lot of artists visually in my paintings because everything is a reference, right? Now I’m actually doing it in real life. It’s the most direct version. All these shows are collaborations. The boundary between what’s part of the artist’s practice and what’s the gallery, that’s going to just erode. The last show we did, the first one in our new location, was with Gelitin and we learned so much from them.
WM: And you’re creating a structure to support art making and art selling that you can have more control of.
JJV: If you’re an artist, you’re just waiting for the phone call for somebody to tell you what show you can be in next. With this we can actually be in control. We get to move into that players’ circle. I’ve been making the paintings I’ve been making for ten years so I could get to this point and do real shit. That was the tap dance and now this is the ballet.