Tuesday, January 5, 2010

Koh Baby

Koh Baby: Terence Koh by Ilka Scobie photos by Luigi Cazzaniga

Elfin, elegant and enigmatic, Terence Koh represents an epitome of the twenty first century artist. Poet, pornographer, filmmaker, he also works in traditional mediums like sculpture and painting. His work is madly popular, selling gold plated feces at the Basel Art Fair, exhibiting in the Venice Biennale, designing clothes for one of NYC’s hippest boutiques, and peddling objects both erotic and witty on his personal website. He’s a fashion darling, friend of the famous, with a reputation as both party boy and provacatuer. Exhibited in Paris, London, and soon, Rome, Terence is a new breed of artist who maintains his own gallery, sells work through venerable New York galleries, as well as upstart ones, and has exhibited in New York’s Whitney Museum, London’s Tate Gallery, and museums in Germany, Switzerland and Spain.
We met at the end of Chinatown, in an old brick building that serves as both home and studio. An artfully arranged bunch of dying flowers, black scribbles of graffiti and an old fashioned bell announced his presence.
Terrence’s domicile is all white, from the narrow painted stairs, to his office, living space, and studio. Iconic themes abound both in d├ęcor and his work – rabbits, or bunnies, as he prefers, skulls, reworked sculptures, and everywhere, an expanse of white.
Born in Beijing, raised in British Vancouver, Canada, Terence seems the quintessential New Yorker.
T. I have lived on the lower east side for twelve to fifteen years. I am a downtown New Yorker to the core. Anything above Houston Street is a different planet. My primary gallery in Galerie Thaddeus Ropac in Paris, France, where I will be showing a solo show on October 6th. I also show at Peres Projects in Los Angeles. Other artists that show at Ropac are Alex Katz, Francesco Clemente. The name of my upcoming show is “Magic Bunny Trees.” John Lennon said it well; “There is so much pain in the world that drugs are just a gateway to a normalized state.” I think that there are so many unhappy people in the world.
You are not unhappy?
Terence smiles beautifully, and gestures with his elegant and expressive hands, as he replies.
“No, I am not unhappy because I try to make the world more beautiful.”
But how are you going to make the world better?
“I just have to do it by myself. I have to talk to myself more, it’s all in the brain.”
I ask him about his mercurial success.
“I’ve lived here in this space for two and a half years, and I would love to buy the building but I’ve been cash strapped. I’ve really only had success for the past six years and now I have to learn how to save.”
“My partner Garrick will come to visit me in Paris for the Ropac show. You know when you have been in a relationship long as Garrick and I have been, alone time is really important. I find that I think better when I am alone.”
You’re lucky to have a partner in NY….
“Yes, because in New York you are on the verge of complete independence, which can be really freeing, at the same time excruciatingly lonely. I have been in Ny for ten years but the first two years I spent alone and it was painful. I came from Toronto but was born in Beijing and left when I was three. Last time I was in China was a year ago.”
Would they show your work in China?
“I would think so, because a lot of my pornographic work ahs been sensationalized. A lot of my work is not controversial. I had an idea for a show but it was very apolitical.”
Last spring Terence was supposed to participate in an outdoor poetry reading, called “Pax Americana.” My friend Stefan Bondell curated the event, in which I also read. Like Andy Warhol did many years ago, Terence sent a proxy, a teenage kid with a wig, who performed Terence’s piece. I ask him about poetry.
“I write poetry everyday. On my website asian punk boy there is a new poem everyday. A poem is again a way to make things more beautiful or clearer. Poetry can be a sentence or a narration. I have been reading haikus by Basho and Tu Fu and I am reading Flowers of Evil by Baudelaire. I have it by my bed so I read it the first thing when I get up and I am blind.”
You have also shown with Vito Schnabel.
“He is one of my best friends. He is on a plane right now to Miami. IN the near future, we ‘re working on something for a public space. Then I am doing something for “New York Minute” in Rome. It will be a great show of NYC artists curated by Cathy Grayson from Deitch. There will be at least 60 artists, including the late Dash Snow.”
In August, Dash Snow, grandson of the illustrious art family the de Menils, died of a heroin overdose. He left behind a child, Secret, and companion, Jade. Much loved in the downtown scene, Deitch Gallery mounted a tribute show of work by Dash’s many artist friends. Terence was a great friend of Dash’s and we speak about his sudden death. “It’s a tragedy, Dash was so beautiful.”
“Art has no limits. If I decide it’s for art itself, then I become brave. It’s almost like a switch is put on. Because when I was doing my performance in Manchester, England with Marina Abramovic, I exposed myself. When my friend Dash died, I was still performing a four hour piece – you expose yourself to an audience. I was crying and everything, and I was so embarrassed. And Marina said, “It’s the best thing when you’re vulnerable . People understand that.”
I admire Terence’s self-designed pearl encrusted T shirt and ask him about the intersection between art and fashion.
“I love fashion like I love film and poetry, because fashion is outward, it is easier defined. Fashion is easily understood. I am working with Opening Ceremony. 
I did their windows.”
And the particuliars of his T-shirt?
“My assistant crushed pearls in a coffee grinder and used fabric glue. It is $500 because everyone is different.”
I congratulate Terence and Garrick on their recent marriage. They pose wrapped in white bridal netting, and tell me the ceremony took place in the Hamptons.
I question Terence about two of his trademarks, the bunny and the pervasive wearing and use of the color white.
Why is the bunny your thing?
“I am genetically disposed.”
Do you always wear white?
“Yes, most of the time because I like the way life shows on the clothes. Just like on this T shirt, you can see all the dirt, form life itself. My parents are very proud and happy of my career, and they come to see my exhibitions. They love coming to my openings. I always dress them up for my openings, and if it is a white opening, I dress them all in white. I just like the color itself. In utero, everything is white.”
Do you work in photography?
“I do, and I have made a film of six hours called ‘God’. 
I showed it in Miami Basel and it was different scenes of me jumping round cemeteries, eating salad, having sex with two different people. Dash did some photographing. I made it in Berlin and it is for imagery itself.”
Having listened to Terence’s haunting music on the computer, I ask him about it.
“I do make music and it is in my own language.”
What’s your relationship with the neighborhood? What do your neighbors think?
“I love living with the Chinese in Chinatown. Not because I love the food, especially here in New York. I like Chinese food cooked by my mom or in San Francisco. My favorite food is spaghetti and spaghetti sauce, it is comfort food.”
Do you consider your work homoerotic?
“You have the rights to your opinion. I would like to be universal as opposed to homoerotic. It is best to be the universe.”
Are you going to become an American citizen”
“Undecided. I have a Canadian passport.”
Were you happy about Obama.
“Yes, “If kings could be philosophers.” I am not sure who said that.
Obama is secretly a philosopher.”
Are you hopeful?
“Yes, we all should be.”

No comments:

Related Posts with Thumbnails