Berlin, Aug. 2011 - Berlin’s buzz as a hive for international art activity owes a great deal to Emilie Trice. As writer Gideon Lewis-Kraus describes in his forthcoming book:
"Emilie did have actual jobs, a series of them – she was always yelling at someone in German customs, trying to get them to free up a six-foot carved totem from Uttar Pradesh in time for an opening that night…or she was curating a pretty good show featuring some of our friends and later written up on the style-and-art-blog circuit by other of our friends – but she also managed to party as though it was her job. She had two jobs, in effect. She worked harder than anybody I knew."
Trice’s work-ethic is as unrelenting as her creativity. After receiving her BA in German and Studio Art from Middleburg College, the Pittsburg-born critic, curator, gallery-worker and now artist moved to Manhattan to work at the Gagosian Gallery. She relocated to Berlin in 2006 and quickly became central to the art scene. She opened and struggled with three significant art galleries, the now-defunct BodhiBerlin, Goff & Rosenthal Berlin and Wilde Galerie. Her influence as a freelance curator for renegade spaces, such as Stattbad and .HBC, has launched many of the city’s defining talents and her one-night/all-night vernissage parties were legendary. Her writing in artforum.com, The New York Times, Paris Review and other influential art, travel and cultural media intimately documents a seminal moment in the city’s history.
Now Trice is leaving Berlin to focus on her personal artistic development. To mark her departure back to America, she will stage a debut solo show of her sharply satirical art at SRS Kunstverein on August 23.
The exhibition will be a festive finissage for her work in Berlin that functions as a punk-rock “Devil Wears Prada” expose voyage into the art world. Trice’s materials are her personal memorabilia – business cards, promotional exhibition materials, art fair VIP tickets, gallery tote bags, formal frames, catalogues and brochures. She has manipulated and altered these prosaic tools-of-the-trade into knowing and witty sculptures. The work is direct and irreverent but also intimately well-informed by art history and her own telling experiences. More information is available at: emilietrice.com and at her Kickstarter project page for Unfinished Business/Dear Berlin. Here, I sit with Trice – my closest, dearest and most respected female friend in Berlin – and discuss why the art-world should see itself reflected in her art.
Emilie Trice, Unfinished Business: Skills, 2011, Video-still; Courtesy Emilie Trice
Ana Finel Honigman: What compelled you to become an artist at this point in your life?
Emilie Trice: Essentially, I felt ready to be an artist. I hadn’t felt ready before because I felt like there was a lot of preparation to be done before declaring oneself an artist, and I don’t like doing things without being ready. Now I am ready. Now I am going to be an artist. Or, at least part of the time. The rest of the time, I am going to be a writer.
AFH: Ready how? How did you prepare? Because, up until this point you have always had a profound understanding of Art…
ET: That’s true. I went to a Liberal Arts college where I studied a lot of different things, which I means that I know something about a lot of different things but not a lot about one thing. That can be bad, although one great thing about art is that it encompasses a lot of things. However, my education offered me no experience whatsoever with the business of art. That education came later when I was lucky enough to get a job at Gagosian. There, I got behind-the-scenes first-hand knowledge and training in the business of art. But it took my coming to Berlin to actually have practical practice applying what I learned at Gagosian to the real art world.
AFH: Berlin really offers a unique post-graduate experience for artists.
ET: Doing it in an environment where the stakes are less high is liberating. The stakes are less intimidating because there is so much freedom without the commercial pressure of other cities. I wanted to learn how to put on shows, so I did that by curating my own shows. I wanted to learn how to write about art, so I did that by writing press releases for galleries and statements for artists whom I had befriended. Eventually you connect all of the dots and create this constellation of things that you have learned and you come out with a sort of network or tapestry that you feel comfortable with. I didn’t feel comfortable before, and I didn’t want to be premature.
AFH: You’re doing art about the art world and the art world system but do you think this is something that can be extrapolated on in other industries? Is what you are doing kind of like the art world equivalent of the movie “Office Space”?
Emilie Trice, You Look Tired...BodhiBerlin, 2011, Self-portrait with business card on A4 paper, laminated; Courtesy Emilie Trice
ET: Absolutely. No one really thinks about the art world as a corporate industry but at this point that is what it is. And all of the galleries that I have worked for, with the exception of Gagosian and BodhiBerlin, were these small tight-knit little family galleries; they were like small family business. They just can’t compete with these corporate galleries that have branches in many different cities. Obviously the major example is Gagosian, but there is also Haunch of Venison, for example, or David Zwirner, or all these galleries that are large conglomerations; they are – in a sense – corporations. They may not have a board of trustees, but they do have an inner circle of collectors who are supporting them and whose portfolio of art supports the galleries. It’s really not disturbing, but more like a necessary evil circle that kind of feeds itself. When I noticed that that is how it is working, I was both repelled and compelled. For me it was very appalling but also alluring, because I wanted to figure out how it was working, and I sort of wanted to dismantle the machinery behind the industry.
AFH: Why make this the subject of your own art?
ET: The whole thing is based on Andy Warhol’s philosophy when he talks about Business Art. He started off as a commercial artist, then he made art and declared that he wanted to be a business artist. Basically I started out in business and now I want to be a business artist too.
AFH: How does your knowledge relate to artists creating work about subject matter outside art’s commercial realities?
ET: All art making involves an inherent kind of intuition. As an artist, you need to understand composition, how colors relate and the idea of allegory or symbolism. But the question I ask is: how do you apply those things in a way that creates value and reward and ultimately profit in the real world, which is run by economics?
AFH: Why are you starting with extremely affordable, entry-level pieces? Your work is priced at nominal amounts. Is this practical or conceptual?
Emilie Trice, You Look Tired...Exberliner, 2011. Self-portrait with business card on A4 paper, laminated; Courtesy Emilie Trice
ET: It’s because I have no money! I have absolutely no money. All of the money that I ever had, I have put into these group shows that I have curated. I hate asking people for money, I can’t do it, so I always paid.
AFH: Berlin is impossible for sponsorship anyway, so asking isn’t really the issue.
ET: For me it has always been kind of easy come easy go. I make money little by little through writing. I then invest that money in the shows that I curate. I know what shipping is going to cost and how many blurbs I will need to write before I can get the tools to make this show happen. It’s sort of like trading one creative currency for another. I used to say that I am not making art right now but that the show is my art. At this point, I have pretty much bankrupted myself every time that I have put on a show. Or, best-case scenario is that I break even and worst-case scenario is that I‘ve bankrupted myself, again. But even that’s ok, because I only have to write a certain number of articles and then I will get back to zero. I’m still at zero.
AFH: That is ok, right?
ET: I mean, the thing is that a lot of people go to grad school, and I came to Berlin. Berlin has been very much like a graduate school environment for me.
AFH: As it is.
ET: Exactly, however a lot of people are here and they are on some kind of stipendium or fellowship. And what I have been doing is, essentially, paying my way through school by working and then learning by doing. At this point, I think I have learned what I need to know, so I’m looking forward to seeing what comes out of that.
AFH: Is some of this just the fact that as a curator and a writer you are working with artists who benefit from your support financially, whereas you can only keep “zero” as a goal? Being an artist is financially precarious but, at least, there is hope for possible success instead of a poverty plateau.
ET: Good point. Berlin remains a barter community and I feel like the art community is very much a barter society. So I don’t feel jilted or shortchanged by the work I have put into artists’ careers, because a lot of the artists that I have done “favors” for, so to speak, have given me back works of theirs and at this point I have a great art collection that is completely sentimental to me, but is also valuable in the traditional sense of the word.
AFH: Are there issues or aesthetics that connect your work with the art you curate and collect?
ET: Absolutely, one hundred percent. If I don’t like an artists’ work, then I find it really difficult to work with that artist. Luckily, I like a lot of different artists’ work for different reasons. I think that as long as someone is doing something, being active, showing up, participating and contributing, then what they’re doing inherently has value. I can usually find the value within it, even if the entire thing doesn’t resonate with me as strongly as with other people, and I’m very much interested in feminist artists who are working in masculine mediums.
AFH: Back to your own work, can you talk about the goal? Is the goal about the random attribution of value to what is essentially a piece of paper?
Unfinished Business: Gold Gagosian card II, 2011 (detail); Courtesy Emilie Trice
ET: That’s true for sure. There are a few different things. First of all, it has to do with perceived value as opposed to inherent value. It has to do with branding; it has to do with luxury industries. So I'm gold leafing these Gagosian business cards, because even when you give someone your business card, you are essentially giving them a piece of currency that relates to your perceived identity and association with your employer. The better your employer, the better you are perceived, and the better the business card is valued. By gold leafing these cards and weaving them together, I am trying to create a fashionable fetish object out of my business cards.
AFH: The cards are really only fetish objects now. Information can be gathered and exchanged in many less formal ways but people collect them like they collect any object that is coveted. Basically it shows that I got close enough to this person to get something that represents them.
ET: It’s a simulacrum of your identity in a way. I think that’s a really interesting idea. It’s also really funny to me that there are people here in Berlin that I see socially, and at this point these people literally have six different business cards of mine. I keep giving them a new identity every time I give them a new business card.
AFH: And new perceived value…
ET: Yes, your value corresponds somehow to things that are beyond your control, which I think is a really scary idea. Basically, this is especially pertaining to young women at work in the art world. Through my entire childhood, you know, girls were told we’re just like the boys. I am the perfect example of a girl who was raised like a boy. I play pretty much every sport under the sun, and I was often better than the boys. And then you get into the work force and you are treated like such a secretary, and you make less money than the boys. It just hasn’t caught up yet. It hasn’t caught up yet because it’s still The Boys Club in power, so-to-speak.
Kollectivist Manifesto, 2011, Text art printed on A4 paper, laminated; Courtesy Emilie Trice
AFH: What are the cultural counter-points in your work? You use a lot of loaded iconography to juxtapose with the art-world ephemera. What is your thinking there?
ET: A lot of the symbols are from Native American culture, which forms a major basis for my entire aesthetic philosophy. My context is cowboys and Indians. Did you know that, before the Wall fell, East Berliners had a fascination with western movies, cowboys and Indians? However, in the Eastern version, the Indians were seen as the protagonists because they were seen as these very communal people. I majored in German, so I know this random stuff. This is all footnoted in my press release and whatnot, but unfortunately no one is reading so much anymore, so it’s hard for me to get my point across except with visual aids.
AFH: Hence: make art.
ArtSlant would like to thank Emilie Trice for her assistance in making this interview possible.