David Kassel

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David Kassel started ILevel, an art-installation and placement service, in 1990 and he and his staff have, over the years, become the go-to people for picture hanging and placement. They work with galleries, corporate spaces, museums as well as placing art in private homes. (‘Sometimes I’m a bit like a marriage guidance counselor,’ says David, ‘You know, she has her ideas and he has his.’) More recently, he has opened ILevel Design store in Greenwich, Ct.

He himself lives in long, beautifully renovated basement apartment in the East Village together with his wife, Michele and two young children, Sam and Lucy. Most of the artwork is homegrown, David’s work and Lucy’s work being the most prominent elements of the collection. Incidentally, the muffins on the table in one of the photographs were homemade and the nicest muffins we have ever eaten. (Apparently the recipe comes from that Sneaky Chef book, the one with recipes where you put brussel sprouts into chocolate cakes and no one knows.)

We’re just really interested in picture-hanging as a skill. If you were to describe it to someone, what’s difficult about it?

I don’t know that there’s anything difficult about it. It takes a visual sensitivity or awareness. You could say, what’s difficult about arranging your furniture or your bookcase … it’s not rocket-science … but it takes a sensitivity. There some things to consider like light, if it’s going to get sun-damaged, or steam near a bathroom …

Sam’s room. The black and white paper mache wall sculpture is by David.
L. to r.: A corner view of Sam’s room.; Cynotypes, a family art project.
Photos taken by David over the years hang in the bedroom hall.
L. to r.: Fabric collages by Junko Yamamoto were found at The Outsider Art Fair.; Fabric from India hangs above daughter, Lucy’s bed.
Rag art created by Lucy covers a the wall by the window
A painting by Will Hernandez hangs above Lucy’s desk.
L. to r.: Lucy’s artwork.; More goodies from Lucy’s bedroom.
Lucy’s desktop.
L. to r.: A miniature version of Lucy’s bed tucked in a drawer beneath the bed.; A mobile created by David for Sam.

I think you’re underestimating it. The only reason I’m saying that is that I’ve used you and your company, and there is absolutely no way that clients have a clue …

Right, I was going to get to the visual side. There is a sensitivity of proportion and space, which is largely two-dimensional, but then there’s curtains and furniture in the room.

Are you good at math?

No. I’m actually dyslexic. But something about using the tape measure – I had internalized fractions in a way that I had never learned in school! There is this contradiction between the math side and the art side of it. All the staff members at ILevel are artists.

How did you make it into a business?

Way back when, I went to SUNY Purchase to do a BFA and the Neuberger Museum is on the campus there and I worked as student to help pay for school I worked there part-time. A Robert Indiana show came in and someone from the Guggenheim came to help and I got a job at the Guggenheim for a couple of summers, working with the installation crew. I had Jackson Pollack’s job – he used to do the same thing.

A cat made out of hanger wire was purchased from a sidewalk artist.
The requisite flat screen TV.
L. to r.: The collage is by David.; Peeking into the closet.
David and Michele’s headboard belonged to David’s grandparents.
Bedside reading.
Vintage photo in the style of Man Ray hangs in a corner of the master bedroom.
Bedside reading.

What goes on when a show is being hung?

Well, the Guggenheim is sort of a story in itself because there’s curves and Frank Lloyd Wright designed these bays as you go down the spiral. The back of the bay is tipped back because he had this idea that you should see a painting the way a painter painted it on an easel, tilted back.

And do you agree with that?

Absolutely not! I don’t think people even paint on easels anymore! So we used to have tip the paintings forward and account for the slope of the ramp. There’s all these perceptual things to take into consideration. It can also happen in somebody’s home where the floors not level, the walls are not straight … you have to hang it crooked so that it looks right.

Artists are terribly picky about how their work is hung …

When we’re working with galleries we sometimes run into the artists …

They’re never satisfied. I’ve never heard one sound pleased about how their work was hung.

They’re never satisfied. Um, except for myself, I think it’s generally a bad idea for artists to hang their own work. They have all these pre-conceived ideas, you know, whether it’s associations between two pieces … I think it takes an objective eye to really make it look great.

Views of the dining area. The photograph is by Graciela Iturbide and the prints are by Josef Albers.
A selection of cacti on the windowsill.
Library books on the kitchen counter.
L. to r.: Michele’s home baked muffins.; Windowsill foliage.
In the main living space steel bookshelves are filled with books and David’s artwork.
Vintage wooden hat forms sit atop the living room shelves.
Clockwise from top left: Looking across the kitchen counter; Vertical wood beams help support the century old townhouse; Sam’s lunch in the kitcheon sink.

The open kitchen overlooks the main living space.

Where is the space for doing your own art?

Right now between family and business. What I actually have been able to do was that two summers ago, Lucy, my daughter, we did cyanotypes all summer. We have a farmhouse up in Columbia County, so we had a blast doing that. I think this last summer we did plaster casts together.

What’s a cyanotype?

You get paper and online you can buy this chemical for about 25 dollars. You get thousands of sheets of paper, you paint it on. It becomes light-sensitive and you take it out on a sunny day and put all kinds of things on it … it looks like a blue-print. It’s that kind of blue.

Lucy has a little digital camera and we’re always taking pictures.

Was it a struggle to satisfy artistic ambition and run a business?

Was it or is it? It still is. It’s extremely creative what we do. But the making side, the lack of the making side is a frustration.

Frosted glass walls enclose the interior home office.
Family photos
The colored block painting by David sits atop the office shelves.
A crushed can found on the street mixes with family photos.
Cyanotypes of leaves, an afternoon family art project at the country home.
Family art projects and artworks by Melvin Way and Roger Swike line the wall of the home office.

David created a natural environment for the family tortoises, Happy and Lucas.
A scarf ‘in the works.’

Do you ever have to do weird installations, fifty thousand paper cups or whatever?

Maybe not fifty thousand paper cups but we’ve done outsider art collection with a couple of hundred fish lures from Michigan, Wisconsin. So there are some really fascinating things that one normally doesn’t get exposed to.

So you’re in your favorite museum and the thought crosses your mind: I’d like to steal one picture. Which one would it be?

[Laughs] Oh, you know I don’t think I could answer that. Given all the wealth in the world, I’d love to have a Flemish primitive … I’d love to have folk art. I have really eclectic taste. Even found objects, a Duchamp would be fun to have … so you know.

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