Jets were arriving by the minute, even for St. Moritz this is unusual: Samantha Boardman and her husband, real estate tycoon Aby Rosen, came from New York. Gallery owner Dasha Zhukova, wife of oligarch Abramovic; multi-million-dollar art collector Alberto Mugrabi – everyone came for Bob Colacello. In the ‘70s he was editor-in-chief of Andy Warhol’s iconic Interview Magazine. Now, at 69, he has curated his first exhibition, at Vito Schnabel Gallery: It’s about ambiguity. “Congenial to the actual political times” explains the Vanity Fair correspondent.
Die Welt: You are a New York journalist and now you’re showing paintings in a Swiss mountain village: How come?
Vito Schnabel and I have been friends for a long time, I work for him as a consultant. He asked me if I would curate a show for him. I had never done something like this before. But Vito said I have a good eye.
You still have access to real gems, especially in terms of your mega contacts.
So does Vito. He grew up around artists like Francesco Clemente and Brice Marden. Gallerist Bruno Bischofberger is his godfather. When he got the chance to open up a gallery in this space in St.Moritz I recommended that he do so. Many collectors have houses up here. Besides, here he can show artists like Sterling Ruby or Rashid Johnson, who are bound to their galleries in New York.
Market-fresh merchandise is in demand. You worked for Andy Warhol. He was printing like mad in his “Factory”. Who still owns Basquiats or Warhols that have not gone through umpteen auctions?
I’m not very good in that field.
But you do still know all the collectors from back then.
Yes, and I go to their homes, so I know what’s there. Let’s put it this way: there are some such families in Belgium but they tend to be very private. I help Vito more with press releases and background information. For example, I can tell him: Take care, I’ve known this or that guy for 20 years, he is difficult when it comes down to paying. He already had Andy waiting forever. I help him organize dinner parties, with the seating.
How does one curate an artsy-party? Who should attend? Who shouldn’t be seated together?
It’s good when it mingles: young, old, wit, beauty. People who have experienced something. The “à la mode” ones are peculiar but they’re usually up to date. Let’s say: Jeff Koons, Dasha Zhukova. John Richardson for sure, the Picasso biographer who is 90 – nah, even older! But still so young! I would always separate Arne Glimcher of Pace Gallery and Larry Gagosian – rivalry for years!
The Age of Ambiguity is the title of your exhibition. It’s all about double entendres.
Yes, America seems to have entered what may be called The Age of Ambiguity, a time when everything is fluid and nothing concrete, and confusion overwhelms certainty. Politics has become almost interchangeable with entertainment; gender is as much a psychological state as a biological fact. Definitions become obscured, there is no determined order. But change and disorder are also fertile ground for creativity. What I’m pleased about is that some of the artists like Rashid Johnson have created artworks explicitly for this occasion. Roberta Smith, the toughest art critic of The New York Times has labeled Johnson as likely the most important artist of his generation.
A little advice for survival: How does one praise an artwork that one doesn’t like?
Well I guess I would say something like: It’s not exactly my thing but I understand that this is an important piece of work.
Let’s suppose you have an unlimited budget at your disposal. Which artworks would you assemble in the Oval Office to demonstrate Donald Trump’s power?
I would steal an idea from Albero Mugrabi, who said Donald Trump should have a Jasper Johns Flag. He can borrow it from the National Gallery. And a big Warhol Dollar Sign. Haha! Andy was ahead of his time as always.
Would he have been a fan of Trump?
No, he hated Trump. Donald once commissioned portraits of Trump Tower. When he saw the paintings, he said: “I hate them” and did not want to pay for them. Andy condemned him for not buying his paintings. He wrote about it in his diary.
Who are the new Warhols?
Borna Sammak for example. Iranian American, 28 years old. He does collages with stickers. From far away it seems like a Pollock but when you go closer you can see American flags, the confederate flag, skulls, eagles, teddy-bears, pirates. To me this is the exploding America.
American capitalism is based on the idea that everyone can make it. You once mentioned that people like Donald Trump would prove that this is possible. Did you vote for him?
No, I don’t talk about how I voted. I was happy though that the whole Clinton machinery lost. Honestly: I’m glad that the power of political correctness that dominates the entertainment industry as well as Hollywood, the media and universities got a proper ticking-off. But yes, I’m concerned about Trump’s unpredictability. I think he’s gathering mostly very good people around him, but will he listen to them? Somebody recently asked if it was such a good idea to get involved in a twitter debate with Tom Ford, because he refused to outfit Melania. Whereupon Trump responded that Tom Ford is not a good designer. And he explained that his friend Steve Wynn, a casino owner had had all Tom Ford products removed from his hotel boutique in Las Vegas. That’s not very statesmanlike. But that’s what the press writes about, not about him cutting expenses on education or picking a fight with Brazil and Mexico. We’re witnessing a huge upheaval. I’m in favor of many of the changes he’s striving for.
Governance must be pushed back. I don’t care if we have radio that’s regulated by public law or not. It could be privately financed. I don’t understand why the government has its own radio station that’s for the Left most of the time. Or: Obamacare – it’s a mess. Of course, you can’t just eliminate the system, but we do need better solutions. What I’m concerned about is his foreign policy. I hope Donald is not going to let himself be deceived by Putin, or admires him too much. He has to remain assertive. Barack Obamas foreign policy was weak. He was pushed around by the Russians, Iranians, Chinese and Syrians. Donald wants to build up a countervailing power.
With his noble appearance, Obama could hide the fact that many things went wrong.
He held the opinion that America should lead indirectly. Only, who’s leading then? That’s not leadership. As bad as the Europeans think it is when America takes the lead, they think it’s even worse if America doesn’t. And I think Trump is right: keyword NATO – of course we need NATO, both Europe and America. But then Europe also has to pay more for its defense. You have been relying on us for a long time now. Donald is a dealmaker. We’ll have to wait and see. For me it feels like we reached the point beyond Warhol; as if we had come back to surrealism and Dali was the artist of the moment.
Your exhibition also includes the artist you get most associated with: Andy Warhol. What’s your most precious memory of him?
Oh, Andy! He was radical for his time, a philosopher too when you read his diaries. I did compose them together with him. Of course, he was the opposite of Jasper Johns, who was deified. Andy was making portraits of society ladies for money. Many people never did fully understand his art. He was playing of course, but was also deadly serious at the same time.
You got to know him in 1970, two years after the attempted assassination. “Finished by Scum” was the Time Magazine title about “the blond guru from a nightmarish world, who photographed the degenerate and declared it as reality.”
Artists were not meant to have a band like The Velvet Underground or their own disco or to make movies with drug addicts and transvestites. That shocked the intellectuals. Andy just broke the norm.
He was a cynic.
Andy didn’t have an easy time with relationships. For example, he couldn’t understand that people got married because of love. He must be gay, the marriage is surely just an alibi, he would then say. And when you tried to explain to him, no Andy, they actually do like each other, he responded: “Oh, come on Bob, you don’t believe that yourself.” Andy could be lovely, funny- and terrible at the same time. He was cynical, yes, most of the time to protect himself.
And he was a voyeur.
And provocateur! I told him a lot of things, until I realized that Andy couldn’t keep anything to himself. He would always be taciturn. He got a kick out of provoking scenes. Let’s assume you would be sitting here with him, and I would go out for a moment. And you would say something like: “Well, Bob is a bit difficult…” As soon as I would come back Andy would snitch on you and say: “Listen Bob, Dagmar just said you’re difficult.” If you would disagree, and say no, I didn’t say that, he would expose you and say: “Yes, you did! Why are you lying right now?” He didn’t just love to embarrass people, he would record everything on his tape recorder, too!
And what if Gordon Carter, your editor-in-chief at Vanity Fair, would tell you: Bob, write me the Vito story, “My life with Heidi”?
That would be a conflict of interest. I work for Vito. This story won’t be from me.