‘Dash Snow: Freeze Means Run’ – Inside the Infamous Artist’s Brant Foundation Opening

Dash Snow Bodega Stick Up Slip Up, 2006-07

Vito Schnabel, New York. Image: Courtesy of The Dash Snow Archive, New York City / Courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin / Photo: Jochen Littkemann

Yesterday the New York art crowd made its biannual (that’s twice a year, not once every two years) pilgrimage to the Brant Foundation in Greenwich, Connecticut, but this time the mood was a bit different. There were fewer “scene photographers,” less young fashion types there to schmooze and make use of the open bar, fewer selfies being snapped (thankfully, there was no less burrata—does Brant lace that cheese with crack? Honestly, it’s delicious). It was a painfully gorgeous fall day (despite the fact that it’s November), yet there was a somber quality to the oft-jovial opening. That’s because this time around, Brant is showcasing the late Dash Snow.

Snow died just six years ago, infamously, of an overdose in a hotel room in downtown New York. His legend permeates the East Village; his debauchery with fellow art wunderkinds Ryan McGinley and Dan Colen—both in attendance yesterday, his mischief-making as a graffiti artist and, perhaps to a lesser extent, his actual art. I didn’t know Dash (I moved to New York shortly after he died and have since become acquainted with the better part of his crew), but upon meeting his grandmother yesterday, the great Christophe de Menil, I was struck by how senseless and tragic Snow’s death was.

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Dash Snow, Untitled (The United States), 2007

Private Collection. Image: Courtesy of The Dash Snow Archive, New York City / Courtesy Contemporary Fine Arts, Berlin / Photo: Jochen Littkemann

Entitled “Dash Snow: Freeze Means Run,” the show, which was organized with the help of Lowman, Colen, Hanna Liden, Director of the Dash Snow Archive, Blair Hansen, and Snow’s last girlfriend, Jade Berreau, oozed nostalgia. The walls of Polaroids, many featuring folks in attendance at the opening in the throes of their wayward youth, a grainy home video of Berreau and their daughter, Secret, and, most tragically, a black-and-white film heavy with drug paraphernalia; a promise for the artist’s eventual demise.

And as the sun set over Brant’s gorgeous estate and I boarded the shuttle that would take me back to my apartment in the East Village, I considered all the ways in which Snow’s hood had changed in the years since he jerked off on The New York Post and wondered how things would be different if he would have lived.

Everything & Nothing: Dan Colen Reveals There Are Two Sides to Every Story

Boxes and boxes of gum, meticulously ordered by brand and flavor, sit on a table at the entrance to Dan Colen’s Tribeca studio: Big League Chew, Dentyne, Doublemint, Eclipse, Excel, Extra, Hubba Bubba, Juicy Fruit, Trident. The air inside his high-ceilinged workspace is thick with the cloying smell of artificial fruit flavors. A small army of assistants busy themselves in front of wall-size canvasses covered with smears of boiled gum. Diamond-shaped metal studs, placed perfectly to form a light-reflecting grid, envelop an unfinished piece near the back of the room. Brightly-colored bursts of confetti have been applied to a few of the canvasses, dirt and grass stains to others.

Colen stands next to a table stacked with tubes of lipstick, considering the painting in front of it, which he created by applying and reapplying makeup with painstaking precision and then kissing the canvas at least a hundred times over. “You can imagine the kind of chafing that requires,” he says. Dressed casually in jeans and a red T-shirt, he adds, “I have an obsessive nature. I always have.”

The 31-year-old artist was born in Leonia, New Jersey, where, as a teenager, he befriended photographer Ryan McGinley at their local skate park. While a student of painting at Rhode Island School of Design, he and McGinley (then at Parsons School of Design in New York) were introduced to artist Dash Snow, with whom they became fast friends. In 2001, Colen graduated from college and moved to Manhattan, where he shared a downtown loft for almost 10 years with McGinley, the first of the three artists to establish himself as a New York gallery darling. While McGinley’s work is celebratory (his first show, 2002’s The Kids Are Alright at the Whitney Museum of American Art, featured naked youth running through nature), and Snow’s aggressive (he framed front pages of the New York Post on which he’d ejaculated), Colen has always been fascinated in equal measure by light and dark. Sure, he’s most famous for turning gum into paint, but he’s also spent years turning paint into excrement as part of his “Birdshit” series.

Colen stumbled onto the scene at the beginning of the century during a go-go period of wealth, excess, and possibility. He ran around town—drunk or high or both, and often causing trouble—with a group of free-spirited and likeminded friends that included artists Agathe Snow, Rita Ackermann, Terence Koh, Aaron Bondaroff, and Nate Lowman (with whom Colen shared a studio until recently). According to Colen, theirs was a bond rooted in “physicality rather than intellect. I’m not trying to make it sound like a sexy thing, but it definitely wasn’t a cerebral friendship.” Take, for instance, “Hamster’s Nest,” a collaboration between Colen and Snow that first showed at New York’s Deitch Projects in 2007. An installation that involved 30 volunteers and 2,000 shredded telephone books, it looked very much the way it sounds. Meant to mimic the experience of a caged rodent, it was the canonization of the many nights they’d spent together trashing hotel rooms while naked, high on coke, Ecstasy, or mushrooms. “I led myself to some really extreme places back then,” says Colen. “But through it all, I never stopped creating, even if I was getting deeper and deeper into a laborious study of nothing.

In 2004, for what would become one of his most arresting creations, Colen recreated Snow’s bedroom wall with an installation piece called “Secrets and Cymbals, Smoke and Scissors (My Friend Dash’s Wall in the Future).” It was plastered with baseball cards, newspaper photos of Saddam Hussein, and an assortment of skulls.

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Dash Snow died of a heroin overdose last year on July 13. Recently, Colen overcame his own addictions, and today he looks freshfaced and clean-cut, his tattoos the only evidence of his reckless past. “I gave myself this one while waiting for a plane,” he says, pointing to the words “Everything and Nothing” inked onto his right arm. “It was midnight and my flight was at six in the morning, and I knew if I fell asleep I wouldn’t wake up, so I did it. It serves as a reminder that every thought, every object, every image, and every emotion has two sides.”

It’s a philosophy that bleeds into Colen’s art. He looks over at one of his euphoric confetti pieces and says, surprisingly, “That one came out of sadness. I started on that series after Dash died and I suppose when I look at them now I understand that there was a party and now that party is over.” The piece is part of Poetry, his solo exhibition at the West 24th Street Gagosian Gallery, on display through October 16. In addition to his paintings, Colen has created a number of large-scale installations for the show, chief among them a tight row of motorcycles toppled over, one onto the next, like dominoes. Of that work, an exploration of gang culture and violence, Colen insists, “It’s supposed to be as straightforward a narrative as possible. It’s like, things can fall down, sure, but we can also pick them up again.” Colen himself is proof. “My life has changed in such a significant way, on so many different levels,” he says, addressing, however obliquely, his struggles with drugs and alcohol. “My work today is a strong reflection of that. I couldn’t have done what I’m now doing at an earlier point in my life, and I wouldn’t have wanted to. I lived a life that I don’t regret at all,” he says, his voice betraying a curious mix of pride and loss. “I really explored that life when I was younger, but I couldn’t wring any more juice out of it.”

Sobriety has given Colen’s more recent work a less tortured, freer feel. “I’m throwing confetti in the air—that’s all I’m doing—because I’m trying to access something purer than painting,” he says. But intimations of his obsessive nature still exist. “I’m also showing a painting at the Gagosian that I’ve been working on for two years now,” he says. “It’s not a painting that takes two years to make. Every time I think I’m close to finishing it, I’ll add one more mark, which was informed by every mark before it, and then articulates that part of the canvas. The opposite corner then becomes hungry for that same articulation, but then it becomes even more articulate than the other one, and it never ends. I’ll finish it for the show, but not because it’s actually finished.” He grins sheepishly, slightly breathless from his explanation.

Colen releases his assistants for lunch. This is what he says, anyway, but the truth is he’d like a little privacy while having his photograph taken. It’s surprising to see Colen’s bashful side. This is, after all, the same man who, when preparing for his No Me exhibition only four years ago, distributed flyers throughout Berlin that bore an image of a Jewish prayer shawl hanging from his erect penis.

He removes his shirt and dunks his face into a bowl of water and then into a separate bowl of confetti. In no time, his pants come off, too, and he is naked, covering himself with a tub of Dubble Bubble gum. Standing there in the middle of his studio, holding an ersatz fig leaf between his legs, he looks like one of the boys from Jackass recreating the Genesis story. He also looks a bit like his former self. But when a female assistant returns from lunch a few minutes too soon, catching a glimpse of Colen in all his glory, he panics and, laughing, covers up as best he can.

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Photography by Marley Kate.

DJ AM, I Hardly Knew Ye

In this long, slow march of the Summer of Death, we’ve been hit by losses across the spectrum: from newsmen (Walter Cronkite) to musical superstars (Michael Jackson) to art world stars (Dash Snow). But the one that was the closest to our lives in some ways is the passing of DJ AM on Friday. It was unexpected and sad in that he’s already cheated death at least once, surviving a plane crash with Travis Barker that four others did not; and it was surprising because early reports, yet unconfirmed, have pinned it as a drug overdose. AM, a.k.a. Adam Goldstein, was a recovering addict who was publicly trying to help other addicts in an upcoming MTV show Gone Too Far; it’s not clear yet if the show will ever see air. I reached out to some people to get their DJ AM memories. No doubt people are still stinging from the loss, so responses were slow to trickle in. If you have a memory to share about A.M., email {encode=”tromano@bbook.com” title=”here”}.

After hearing the news via Twitter, I was struck by the difference in the tone of the reactions to AM’s death, when compared to the reactions to Dash Snow’s overdose. They were close in age and ran in circles that might have crossed over, but in many ways, they couldn’t be more different. Dash Snow’s persona was less sympathetic, in part because of a New York profile where he came across as a spoiled rich kid, throwing away the silver platter handed to him, and still getting rich and famous anyway. AM’s mythology is that of a self-made man, once very chubby, and who with the help of gastric bypass surgery got very skinny and handsome. He moved in the upper echelon of mainstream young Hollywood, dating Nicole Richie and Mandy Moore. He was a regular guy who made good and seemed to savor it. When he nearly died in the plane crash, people rooted for him. The fact that he succumbed to an old demon seems sad, and not selfish like in Dash Snow’s case.

In the end, they were more similar than any of us would like to admit. They were human beings with weaknesses that killed them. I admit I wasn’t very familiar with AM’s music. He played in clubs I wouldn’t normally go to, for a crowd I don’t really roll with. I come from the dance music underground — a child of raves and electronic music — and I always assumed AM was a celebrity DJ playing corny stuff for corny celebrities. A little prejudice on my part goes a long way. If someone was trying to sell me a party with DJ AM, I assumed it was not my sort of thing.

It turned out that was my loss. A quick listen to the last mix he put up on his Facebook page reveals a thoughtful take toward music — an ability to pair Fiona Apple in the same space as Massive Attack (the latter I snobbishly assumed he wouldn’t even know about).

A closer inspection of his career and musical taste reveals far more commonalities than I had naively thought. There on his Facebook page is a flyer for an Ed Banger party — that’s the French crew associated with Justice and Daft Punk, a crew with serious underground cred, and one I will gladly stay up late to hear. The remarkable thing about this party is that AM is not top-billed; he’s one of several DJs, standing side by side with far lesser-known jocks … and for this crowd, he’s perhaps not the most interesting. That a DJ like AM, who has played for major superstars and who made more money in a gig than most of the underground DJs on that flyer combined (at least in America), would be humble enough to be listed third or fourth was telling. It was about the music and not about the ego. I also didn’t know that he was a huge fan of Daft Punk and had dressed in Thomas Bangalter’s outfit and “punked” the Hard Fest crowd on Halloween last year wearing the whole mask-helmet get up, before revealing it was him. (That’s him in the picture making the Daft Punk symbol at another gig.)

There’s also his contribution to DJ culture: a DJ maven friend of mine pointed out that AM was a high-profile adopter of Serrato Scratch, the digital DJ mixing tool that most hardened vinyl diehards scoffed at when it first appeared on the scene; she also pointed out that his style, quick shifts between short snippets of songs across genres (including 70s and 80s rock), was hugely influential. This was particularly true in the mainstream bottle service clubs, where, like it or not, DJ culture has far more influence than any underground DJ has. That style was also perfect for our generation, with our short attention spans.

Then I read this quote on his website (it’s not clear where the interview comes from originally). It gives you some insight into how he developed his style.

Well I like all kinds of music… I was very much a “Hip Hop and Soul (rare groove)” DJ when I first started. Then one night I decided to play George Michael’s “Freedom.” I saw how loud the crowd sung along to it and I was hooked on making people sing, not just dance. That is how I started reaching for the different kinds of records. Then, I think a lot of DJs caught onto this and do something similar now.

While the party he did with Steve Aoki, Banana Split Sundaes, has been canceled, no doubt there will be more opportunities to celebrate his life and music in coming weeks.

Nic Adler, the owner of the Roxy, a venue AM has DJed, wrote me about AM’s passing. Perhaps, he says it best”

To this generation AM was our bridge between genres of music and culture that had not yet been brought together. He made it cool for the metal rockers to listen to hip hop, the bboys to bang their heads and the electro kids sing a long to a 70’s ballad. I think it will be years til we truly understand how he shaped the way that we see and hear music. AM made music fun again. DJ AM FOREVER!

RIP.

Email tips to {encode=”tromano@bbook.com” title=”tromano@bbook.com”}.

Nell’s, Amy Sacco, Citrine as Latrine, Os Gemeos, & My New Intern

I call it Nell’s. Despite my deep affection for everything Noel Ashman, a space always maintains the name of its greatness, and 246 West 14th Street had its fame when it was named Nell’s. Scott Sartiano and Richie Akiva received unanimous approval of the full community board yesterday, and they will open a restaurant on the ground floor and a club/lounge downstairs. Their success at Butter and 1Oak guarantees that this place will be grand, plus, I and my partner Marc Dizon have been hired to design it. We feel very honored. I designed Butter for them a number of years ago, and that experience really boosted my design career. They are a couple of bright guys who are very hands-on and deeply motivated to create something hot and fresh. This is a very sexy project, and I’m quite excited.

Amy Sacco has been linked to a Bravo network show which will chronicle the launch of her new New York City nightclub. I have, despite stories to the contrary, the greatest respect for Amy. She is one of the top-tier nightlife players, and I believe with a new place she will maintain her crown as the queen of New York nightlife. Bungalow is a legendary place, but the problems facing the West 27th Street club mall did not leave it unscathed. She is a class act, and I can’t wait to see the show and hang at her new place if she still loves me.

Moving on from a class act, I will now address an ass act. The firing of veteran doorman Ross Hutcoff by Citrine management two days before the birth of his son is despicable . Ross is one of the real good guys in this town, and more than that, he does a great job. I went to Citrine once to attend owner Adam Elzer’s wife Sachi’s birthday bash. She is a wonderful person and can’t believe Adam and Dave have done this. I don’t enjoy Citrine. It’s a young, not-too-classy crowd listening to common-denominator music in an awfully designed place. Yet all these kinds of shortcomings can be forgiven if the energy from management is honest and positive. When I went to attend Sachi’s party, Ross greeted me at the door. I was glad to see a familiar face amongst a faceless crowd. Again I like all three of the owners and am shocked by the severance. Ross is a great doorman and will get work I’m sure — I totally endorse him. Until I hear of a reasonable explanation, Citrine will now be referred to as “Latrine” in this column.

The wall on the corner of Houston and Bowery has a new mural. This will always to me be the “Haring Wall” because of the piece Keith did there so long ago. That piece was restored in honor of the late artist’s 50th birthday but was whitewashed the other day for a new masterpiece by Os Gemeos. The new mural has hundreds of delightful images hiding in its complexities. It is, in fact, dedicated to two people that have died recently. One (Iz the Wiz) was a legendary train bomber (tagger) from back in the day. The other was Sace from the Irak crew, who died of a heroin overdose last week at the age of 27. He was more commonly known as the downtown polaroid and installation artist Dash Snow. I saw another giant mural by Os Gemeos on a daytrip to Coney Island last week and was awestruck. The image at the top of this post is by photographer Mari Lowery; it shows a small section of the Houston Street wall. Keith would have loved it.

Pacha, on trial for its life, is awaiting a verdict from state supreme court justice Joan Madden. She will allow New York’s great mega-club to be open this weekend. Everyone is hopeful that the club will be allowed to continue operations as Judge Madden seems like an intelligent and fair hand. Without Pacha, the greatest city on earth is left with M2, which has been designed as an ultralounge but may pick up some of the slack; and Webster Hall, which. to paraphrase Yogi Berra, is “crowded but nobody goes to it.”

Last but not least, I need a new intern. Nadeska “Nasdaq” Alexis is moving on to tanner pastures, and I will be lost without her. I am looking for someone to help set up interviews, transcribe them, prepare me (which includes making sure my shirt is buttoned correctly and I’m not wearing two left shoes), and laugh at my bad jokes. You need to like going out of course, as you’ll get lots of invites through me, BlackBook, and otherwise. There is further major upside potential, as BlackBook likes to hire from these ranks too. Writing your own stuff can and has happened, both for online and print. Look up Nadeska’s body of work; she did a great job and I will miss her. If you’re interested, email me at {encode=”slewis@bbook.com” title=”slewis@bbook.com”}.