Artist Steve DiBenedetto Keeps it Old School at Bill Powers’ Half Gallery

The feeling you get while walking up the steps of Bill Powers’ Half Gallery is reminiscent of walking into a classic Upper East side townhouse with great bones. Perched above his wife Cynthia Rowley’s flagship digs, artist Steve DiBenedetto was present for his over the top multi-channel collage opening.

Coining the term “konstructshuns,” the multi-media work is both very intense and diverse — not only material, but subject matter alike — merging the line between playful and dark, with biomorphic shapes and cosmic symbolism. I was lucky enough to catch DiBenedetto mid-drink for a couple quick questions. The show runs January 23rd thru February 25th. Steve’s paintings are also held permanently at The Museum of Modern Art, The Whitney Museum of American Art, and The Denver Art Museum.

You have a word for your art, “konstructshuns.” Where does that come from?
It just spontaneously, come to think of it, the idea that it sounded a little cartoonish. Like a sort of wacky, Konstruct-shuns.

Would you say your work is tastefully wacky?
Yeah, but in a dark way.

As a series, do you see this as being complete?
No no, there will be more explorations. Yeah, there are a lot of different perimeters for sure.

We’re in a gallery space right now, but where do you see the future of art when it comes to business? With websites auctioning off fine art.
Galleries, and museums.

Going to keep it old school?
Exactly (laughs). No, but I seriously believe that you should confront things — you need to make pilgrimages. I believe in that format: where you show up, you confront the work, that’s a very good point. I don’t personally subscribe to this (digital) idea.

In this digital age that we live in, it’s difficult for some to interact with people hands on, in person.
Well, there’s a velocity, there’s a way that information is accelerated through technology that’s interesting. I like the way it distorts experience, the idea that is confused with convenience. I don’t like making things easier.

Second VortexAdvance? Cephlagraph

On Petals and Fruits: ‘What We Lose in Flowers’

It’s no wonder that Bill Powers’s second book, titled What We Lose in Flowers, dissects the ego of a self-absorbed genius on an endless quest to satisfy his need for unconditional adulation. After all, Powers, Half Gallery owner and judge on Work of Art (as well as the former editor-in-chief of BlackBook), is surrounded by artists of all sorts. “The art world is my area of interest and, though some might disagree, expertise,” explained Powers. “I think that in many cases, artists are the philosophers of our day, embedding thought and feeling in material so it’s an extremely rich world to pull from.”

Powers’s novella, available through karmakarma.org, opens with an epigraph from John Currin that reads, “Culture is for old people. When you’re young you have your body, and that’s all you need.”

The protagonist is Yul Franco, a famed aging artist whose antics are an amalgam of those of Peter Beard and Julian Schnabel. He possesses too healthy of a sense of self, brewing in a world that, in his opinion, is layered in ingratitude and irreverence. Yul “always insisted on that youth was like the spring, an overly hyped season, beguiling when it was characterized by blossoming flowers, but more often than not remembered for its unexpected chill. To Yul, autumn was the fairer season, and what we lose in petals, we gain in fruit.” While these metaphoric conclusions foreshadow some acceptance of his weaning star power, they do not however extend to his romantic partners. Spring chickens reign supreme in Franco’s kingdom still driven by a vigorous libido so much so that he weds Emily, his son’s girlfriend. Terrified of becoming irrelevant Yul proves his virility, and in Freudian parlance, fends off the morbid and inevitable “aim of life.”

But reducing this tale and its protagonist to a pajama-wearing, skirt-chasing anecdotal fluff would be of disservice to the subtext Powers so eloquently weaves in-between the lines. The paradox of rise and fall, reverence and contempt, art and consumerism all play part in giving texture to Yul’s universe. The promise of his meteoric rise as a young artist has been replaced by a stabled routine of an ageing showman marked by sporadic art shows, surfing in Montauk, and patron visits to fix plates that have come undone from one of his million dollar paintings. When Emily is no longer amused by the stories of his great romps in Kenya, he bewilders the coked up, quasi-intellectuals at nightclubs about Darwinian realities and politics of sentimentality. His final act during a "Yul log", an "edu-taining" presentation to Yale’s MFA students, unveils the theme that has defined his work on and off the canvas. It’s “our fear of death and its many faces. How we run from our mortality, rejecting it at every turn. This denial is the engine driving so many of our social ills.”

The novella’s ending is heavy, ridden with supercilious strive to provide answers not only to Yul ‘s shortcomings but that of the art world itself, at times too consumed with finding the next big thing and plagued with personalities overshadowing the craft. Presumably it’s that self-professed expertise that has put Powers in the role of an ultimate voyeur, curious enough to unearth the deeper meaning behind it all.

This is not Powers’ first time at the publishing rodeo.Tall Island, his first book, was, in the words of Jerry Stahl of Permanent Midnight fame, “a complex, true-to-the-point-of-painful satire of all that New Yorkers strive to be.” While it may have gone mostly unnoticed by the larger audience, the integrity of its intent could not be denied. “Definitely a flawed novel,” Powers admitted. “But there are still some passages I’m quite proud of.”

This time the cards are stacking up in Powers’ favor. Brendan Dugan, the go-to designer for galleries like Gagosian and Hauser & Wirth and owner of Karma, a small shop that houses his own catalog of gritty pop-minimalist art books, was a catalyst for Powers’ latest endeavor. “Thanks to Dugan I realized I could publish my novella more as an artist book as Bjarne Melgaard recently did with same imprint,” the writer explained. Adding major oomph to the project is the cover designed by Richard Prince, who was introduced to Powers by the recently deceased John McWhinnie, rare book dealer, publisher and a downtown fixture. The novella is dedicated to McWhinnie.

Art Basel Miami: Powering through NADA with Bravo’s Bill Powers

You may know him as the smile-cracking judge on Bravo’s Work of Art, but Bill Powers doesn’t merely do the show for shits and gigs. “My mission has always been to bring more people into the art world. I want to make everyone an elitist,” he explained, while touring the NADA show, one of Art Basel’s satellite fairs. Powers has set up shop at this visual carnival, which boasts an alternative assembly of galleries dealing with emerging contemporary art to showcase Exhibition A, his members-only website that sells exclusive editions of artwork by top contemporary artists.

“Though we did a pop-up shop with Colette this fall, Exhibition A has an online presence, so it is nice to let people see the prints in person,” Powers explained as he shook hands with just about everyone, while spreading the word he already sold out of Nate Lowman’s print. It’s no surprise that Powers seems like the most popular kid on campus. The former BlackBook editor morphed into an artsy tour de force of sorts, thanks largely to his Half Gallery, whose artist roster includes Leo Fitzpatrick, Duncan Hannah, and most recently, Terry Richardson.

Powers’ often snarky yet on-point judging style in Work of Art only adds to his appeal, but don’t be fooled: Even though he runs in the ‘holier then thou’ circles (Powers was one of few invited to Lowman’s installation at Alex Rodriguez’s McMansion last night), the gallerist still manages to project that populist, anti-establishment vibe he claims attracted him to NADA in the first place.

“People see some kind of an artificial barrier in the art world. But look at me. I have no formal training in the contemporary art world. I just became interested, I started going to galleries, and I started reading up on art. Anyone can do that.”