Landon Metz, brought us most thoughtfully into the experience of what it is to be a painter in today’s world of the Internet, Instagram, selfies and Snapchat. Not that it he isn’t up to the challenge of it—he doesn’t even see it that way. “It’s just happening” is how he expresses it. There were times when we felt a bit old and jaded, whining about how we prefer “skill” and how Marina Abramovic is a hoax (“Maybe you think she is but for some people she means something”) but mostly it was fascinating to listen, from a millenial’s viewpoint, to how the making of art is changing—apart from when he said, “What can I say? I’m a millennial. I’m meta.”—which we didn’t quite get.
So … your work is … well, do you identify more with being a minimalist or being a colorist?
Um … probably maybe neither, in a weird way. I think that I pull different motifs from art history and use them as tools, something to sort of latch on to.
I guess maybe like a way of saying it is that when you see a blue painting, like a blue color field painting that carries a lot of specific weight, one of these paintings by these beautiful, incredible artists like Helen Frankenthaler, their sort of initial intentions have bled into a broader discourse so that their work means something very different today than it did when they were doing it. It sort of becomes more aesthetic. We’re more comfortable with this type of work being part of the canon.
Why does so much contemporary art look the same? I have pictures on my phone here that I gathered. They’re all by different artists but they’re indistinguishable from each other.
I can’t really answer that question! [laughs] I mean there’s two ways of addressing this. The first is like what Jerry Saltz would say, which is that this [kind of art] is bullshit—there’s a lot of nonsense in the world—because of the Internet. It’s very easy to generate your audience, whereas 20 years ago that was a much more difficult thing to do. But the other way of looking at that, the more positive way, and perhaps what I might say, is that you have access to so much information and so much historical precedent, there is a bit of timeline collapse. We live in this strange time—sort of post-modern, killing the author. But there’s so much information you end up having to choose. We live in a time where the viewer is [also] forced to choose. Thirty years ago there was less information and it carried more authority.
So we have become our own gatekeepers instead of relying on other gatekeepers to select for us?
Yes. [And] the generation younger than me feels very entitled to appropriating their own content. They have some sense of ownership—when they post [on Instagram] ‘this color that I like’ or ‘this dog that I like’, whatever, it says more about them than the person who made it.
How do you feel about that as an artist?
It’s just happening.
So is everything derivative—is everything appropriated?
Yes. We live in a culture of appropriation.
I mean how is that different from say looking at a Kenneth Noland painting?
Well when you’re standing in front of a Kenneth Noland painting you’re admiring the craft that went into creating this object and you are remembering the time that went into this thing. You are recalling the act of creating this work. In my work, and what I’m interested in, is that standing in front of something and admiring it strictly for the artist’s intentions is one end of the spectrum and standing in front of it for your own personal like, “entertainment” is the other end … somewhere exactly in the middle is what I hope for and what I believe in.
I think people are exposed to art but their interest is, on the whole, pretty superficial even though they do go to shows. I guess that’s better than a lack of interest—are you okay with that?
It’s not okay—it’s just true! I guess from my point of view all you do is provide some work. I can’t expect anyone to read the texts. I can only expect people to care as much as they care.
What do you think about people who go around galleries taking photographs on their phones of pictures? Is it a new way of seeing? Do they want to store them in some way?
It is weird. Do you think they want to store it for themselves or for their peers? I think it’s part of what I was saying before. It’s the way that people relate to the world now.
Why did you become a painter rather than another kind of artist?
I’ve always felt that painting is a very confusing and convoluted medium. The idea of a human touching an object and leaving a mark is very primal. And after the person’s gone it’s like a ghost of that person’s presence. And the art world has always wanted to annihilate painting.
Because it feels formal to some people and it feels antiquated. It feels maxed out.
In your head is an object seen as a whole and then you break pieces off of it?
My work I hope is a multi-tiered experience. I come to you and I allow an uninformed viewer to have an aesthetic experience. To me that is the most vulnerable and the most welcoming gesture an artist can make. For me I have this way [where] the image and the object have a relationship. The image is broken off of the object so it’s never continually realized … the image is continued via seriality and repetition. And I believe that everything [perceived] is informed by past experience.
Do you feel that you need to be doing what you’re doing?
Yeah, sure. For me I think it’s dangerous to say that a human being is any one thing. To create a world that is so black and white is where you have racism and sexism. Sure I would say I strongly believe in what I’m doing. I would not do anything else with my time. There’s no right way to be anything. So what’s real and true to you could probably be the opposite reality or truth to another artist.
You sound so accommodating. Don’t you want to kick against something?
I can’t expect to have a conversation with you and you and him and everyone driving the cars outside and the bodega guys …
What about Michaelangelo?! Did he think, “Well a few people are going to get this but most people won’t.” That’s really depressing! No universality! Oh well.
[laughs] But that was such a different world! I don’t believe that humanity today can address the world so broadly.
You sound so nice. Don’t you have to have some mean ambition to get into galleries?
I’m very successful. I have four galleries. I don’t know. There are lots of ways. Massimo my gallery in Italy [represents] Anish Kapoor, Dan Graham … I’m among huge artists and I’m very young, I’m only 31. I guess I’m a hustler. I’m very, very street smart and I’m also very good at making people comfortable. I’m good at getting on people’s level—that’s a natural skill for me. I think it is a form of empathy.
Tell us more about the hustling.
This is actually the problem. You go to Yale for your fucking MFA and “I know everything about art history” and “I know what it means to be a painter. I’ve got all the fucking answers.” Totally not true. We live in a very malleable world that is changing world …
Oh … I want you to be nice again …
No … I’m giving you answers. Education does not end after Yale or Columbia. Everything is up for grabs. You cannot stop. Nothing is precious. Nothing is sacred.
Did your parents sort of instill the hustling thing in you some way?
I come from a kind of strange background. My dad is a real hustler. He’s from Chicago. I learned a lot from him. He was formally uneducated. He did like off-the-books jobs.
But you grew up in Arizona. How was it growing up there?
You know, riding horses in the desert. I rode a lot. It was like my thing.