The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

EXCLUSIVE ASSASSINATION: Jennifer Dalton, Artist Represented by Winkleman Gallery

with 2 comments

Photograph of Jennifer Dalton in front of the American flag. Courtesy of Facebook.
Jennifer Dalton: The Reappraisal, 2009, installation view. Courtesy of Winkleman Gallery.

Jennifer Dalton, in my brute and honest opinion, is by far, one of the most brilliant conceptual artists of the past decade or so. Lately there have been many insightful and solid conceptual artists, particularly Cory Arcangel who focuses on new media conceptual work. What separates Dalton’s artwork from the rest is her ability to put some old school heart into her conceptual art like John Baldessari smashed into Margaret Cho. She is not scared to intrude intimate details of her own life documenting her belongings or scientifically analyzing all of the adjectives used to describe the artists and their work listed in Artforum‘s “Best of 2000” list. The one thing that attracts me to her work, on a personal level, is that her conceptual art is a form of playful problem solving and not some empty drum beating to show off the artist’s prowess.

Dalton’s installations and paintings require a particular reflectiveness to understand each work. It is not as if one could plow through the gallery featuring her work (unlike some places where eye candy seems to be predominant) and hope to garner the essence of her ideas in one glance. The viewer often has to sit there and ponder the subtle layers of meaning and driving concepts behind every component for her deceptively simple works. And she enjoys exploring all types of fascinating subjects from the deconstruction of The New Yorker‘s bias in her installation “A Task No One Assigned” to her profound examination of herself and her family in her original installation “The Appraisal” and the recent remix “The Reappraisal.” In any case, I feel that it would be best for these lovely pieces to speak their own history here.

If you have any questions about artwork at the Winkleman Gallery, feel free to contact the space at or at (212) 643-3152.

And now for the feature presentation you all been waiting for by THE ART ASSASSIN’s account of the “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? Do you have any recent galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What things in those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Jennifer Dalton: Some things I like right now: Sophie Calle‘s “Take Care of Yourself” exhibition at Paula Cooper gallery in NYC last month,, every form of chocolate, Lost (I remain loyal even though it’s starting to get too loopy), Kitty Kraus‘s mirror boxes at “Younger than Jesus,” my garden now that I semi-replanted it, Stephen Colbert, the Target store on Queens Blvd., with its Guggenheim-for-cars parking garage.

qi peng: What is your opinion of art world journalism?

Jennifer Dalton: Your choice of words is interesting here, in that you don’t say art criticism. Art world journalism seems to mostly consist of gossip and market-watch pieces, both of which I enjoy reading, even as I hope for more. Art reviews, such as they are, rarely top 500 words and thus have room for little but description and perhaps one sentence of judgment. Maybe art criticism will revive as a result of the new recession economy, since it seems to have been pushed aside by market-obsession.

qi peng: Do you read periodicals such as ArtForum or ARTnews to get an up to date understanding of what goes on within the art world?

Jennifer Dalton: Yes I read (or at least thumb through) ArtForum, mostly looking at the ads and reviews. I have a feeling there is still good writing in there, but I don’t seem to be able to muster the time or patience anymore.

qi peng: Do you have any favorite artistic blogs or websites that you enjoy looking at on a regular basis?

Jennifer Dalton: Yes I read Art F-g City and Ed Winkleman’s blog almost every day.

qi peng: Do you feel that smaller, regional art markets like Santa Fe or Salt Lake City will have a chance to expand their horizons into becoming essential and vibrant art hot spots just like Los Angeles or New York City?

Jennifer Dalton: I can’t really see it, actually. Most of the creative world still functions by collecting people to hubs, which still have to be physical places because art still mostly consists of physical objects. There can only be so many hubs. It’s weird how a music scene can explode in a random small city, but art-wise it seems more far-fetched. I’d like to be wrong, though.

qi peng: What do you think is the current state of contemporary art within the Brooklyn area where you are located?

Jennifer Dalton: Well, Williamsburg is in an interesting place. I can’t say where it’s going to go from here. There are still lots of artists, and art galleries, but I don’t know if it will thrive in the same way it did when it was more under the radar.

qi peng: Is it difficult to sell conceptual art and large-scale installation pieces to the public, particularly during this slow economy?

Jennifer Dalton: Why yes, as a matter of fact it is!

qi peng: How do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work, typically geared for the art fairs, during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? Do you have any thoughts about the current state of the stock market and its concomitant corruption? Any thoughts on the Obama administration in relation to your viewpoint on history, social identity, and the arts scene?

Jennifer Dalton: I’ve been saying for a while I think that the downturn may be good for art, but bad for people in the arts, not to mention most other people as well. I think a lot of galleries are going to close, and a lot of artists will be hunkering down in day jobs for a while, if they’re lucky enough to have them. I do think that there could be a greater interest among artists in pursuing weird, un-sellable projects and that could be really fun. If you are interested in the stock market and bank situation, you should read or Thomas Geoghegan‘s article in the April issue of Harper’s Magazine, but beware that you may be unable to control your rage. I remain quite hopeful about Obama, I think he’s certainly our best hope for getting out of this mess, but that doesn’t mean he’ll succeed.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around Brooklyn or New York area or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Jennifer Dalton: These days my idea of a Williamsburg hangout is the playground, in which I hang out with my 4 1/2 year old son whenever possible. I have come to love hanging out in playgrounds. It’s one of my favorite things about the parent lifestyle. Okay that is faint praise, since many characteristics of the “Parent Lifestyle” kind of suck, such as being woken up at 6:30am every morning including weekends, but this part doesn’t. You have license to sit on a bench in the sun and daydream for hours while happy kids run around. In Williamsburg there are very few playgrounds, which is kind of a bad thing but it means you usually see people you know and like (fellow artists, even) at whichever one you’re at. I was always confused but vaguely envious of my friends who had dogs who would say the same thing about the dog run, but now I get it.

qi peng: As a graduate of the of University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) and then Pratt Institute, what were those school years like? How was life in the studio like back then? Did you have any influential professors or students during that time and what was their impact on you and your work? How did you develop your current style of conceptual art including paintings that deconstruct the nature of polls, sociological trends, surveys, and the overwhelming amount of information that flood our world today, potentially dehumanizing us?

Jennifer Dalton: UCLA was interesting, because it was filled with art stars in the late ’80s when I was there (Nancy Rubins, Charles Ray, Paul McCarthy, Chris Burden), but I was too young and insecure to learn anything from them. They were intimidating (if you could even get classes with them) and some of them were truly mean, and I found I did way better with lower key professors who didn’t have the same aura around them but whom I wasn’t scared to talk to.

Pratt in the mid-1990s was the opposite, mostly staffed with career professors who didn’t exhibit their work anymore, and often had only disparaging things to say about the art you would see in galleries. The message we were given, as a whole, was that we would never have any “success” with our work outside of our studio and that we were lame for desiring it. But I met some of my favorite people there, many of whom are still making art and succeeding with it: Anthony Goicolea, Gina Magid, Karen Heagle, Jeff Gauntt, Jean Shin, Jeph Gurecka – we were all there at the same time and have somehow found the strength to keep working.

It’s hard to say exactly how my work developed. In grad school and immediately afterwards I started painting computer screens and desktop icons and did that for several years, thinking of myself as a sort of landscape painter who painted her unique visual environment which happened to be the screen. I then moved into painting charts and diagrams but removing the information from them. Then I sort of realized that the information itself was really cool, and I wanted to find new, wonderful ways to display it. I’ve always been most interested in exploring my immediate environment in radiating concentric circles (my computer, my house, my neighborhood, my day job, my art world), so that’s where I started looking for the information as raw material. My central starting point has become, “Is it just me?” As in, “Is it just me or does the mainstream press treat women artists like eye candy?” and, “Is it just me, or is value impossible to pin down?” Or, “Is it just me, or is Williamsburg the most disgusting place to live in NYC?” Usually, after doing the research and sorting it according to whatever criteria I find most compelling I arrive at the conclusion that it is not just me….

qi peng: Do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work? What is family life like with your husband and son? What is your home like? Any crazy stories you wish to relate to us?

Jennifer Dalton: On bad days I think of my art as an expensive hobby. Otherwise, no. Family life is great most of the time, except in the mornings.

qi peng: Are there any places which you would like to travel someday to? Which places would you find inspiring to see? Do you incorporate the idea of travel within any of your pieces? In what ways does the concept of travel relate to the institution of travel agencies and the lack of a polar focus within today’s shifting world views?

Jennifer Dalton: That is one huge question. I would like to travel everywhere. I have never been to Asia (except the Asian side of Istanbul, where I’ve spent a single awesome afternoon on a boat ride and having lunch) or Africa, and would love to go. I have never incorporated travel into my art, but it sounds fun.

qi peng: In 1999, you featured an exhibition called “The Appraisal” at Steffany Martz Gallery and then in 2009, you featured the remix exhibition called “The Reappraisal” at Winkleman Gallery which represents you currently. Where did you get this brilliant idea of deconstructing literally and poetically your household into each component? What did you learn about yourself? What did you discover about the way that capitalism and the market system functions? With the current recession in full swing, what differences would you see between your first solo exhibition and your most recent one at Winkleman Gallery? What is the sociological, political, and economic thrust of what you have been trying to achieve twice in a row?

Jennifer Dalton: I got the idea because I have worked at Christie’s auction house for many years, and it got me very interested in the wobbly-yet-exalted idea of Value. It is strange that things are worth more or less depending on why you want to know.

About myself I learned I would make a terrible Buddhist, in the sense that I am extremely attached to my belongings.

In revisiting the project I wanted to think about what it means to grow up (in the 10 intervening years I have acquired a husband, a house, a car and a kid), what it means to be a member of the bourgeoisie, and how one reckons with “making a difference.” (Interesting that I feel compelled to put that in quotes…) Am I making the world a better place or have I been mostly collecting feathers for my nest? The project is a reckoning.

qi peng: Who would you consider as your greatest artistic influences on your artwork that ranges from diagram paintings to large-scale installations such as “The Reappraisal?” How are their ideas manifested in combination with your own imagination within the final product of your brilliant works? In what way are personal events from your own life manifested within your pieces as a form of autobiography? How do you infuse wit and thoughtful jokes into your pieces?

Jennifer Dalton: I have been hugely inspired by the work of Ed Ruscha, Gerhard Richter, Hanne Darboven, Felix Gonzales-Torres, Barbara Bloom, Sophie Calle and Donald Judd, just off the top of my head. These are artists who, as I see it, interweave the found/fuzzy/personal and the constructed/modular/scientific.

qi peng: How did the results and methodologies differ between “The Appraisal” and “The Reappraisal?” Did you refine the second variant of the original idea? How did you incorporate microeconomics, which can be too nerdy for the general populace, and concepts from Adam Smith capitalism with your own personal touch? Do these results tell us anything about auction houses in the way they treat artwork and artists? How do auction houses differ from households?

Jennifer Dalton: The results differ in that I have more stuff and it’s worth more than it was 10 years ago, particularly my own work and the work of other artists whom I have collected or traded with through the years. The methodology is slightly different because in 1999 I used eBay to sell a selection of my belongings to find out its True Value (and thus compare it both to my own estimation and that of Christie’s). In 2009 I came up with this idea of figuring out what each item was worth to me emotionally, and putting a separate value on it which I called “Your Price,” which is what I was willing to sell the item for on the spot. I guess auction houses differ from households in their assignment of value precisely because they are burdened by no sentiment.

qi peng: Any future plans for artist’s books? Seriously I would love to see “The Appraisal” and “The Reappraisal” combined into a single volume. How do you value economically something that you treasure from a sentimental standpoint? How can objects have more than one value or price tag?

Jennifer Dalton: I would love to see the two appraisals as a book and I would like to work towards that.  It was very hard to value things with sentimental value such as handmade gifts from people, photographs, etc. I really struggled with many of the items and went back and forth changing values each time I went through and edited the documents. And now when I look at some of the prices I came up with, I feel that they are wrong and I’ve changed my mind about their value in the past 2 months. Value is fluid.

qi peng: Do you have any advice for up and coming BFA and MFA graduates who are graduating from art school and are starting to hunt for galleries to show their artwork? Do you think that there are too many talented artists within the system than what the top galleries especially in Chelsea or Brooklyn or other parts of New York City can handle? With the recent closures of so many once-solid galleries within the New York art world such as Rivington Arms and Roebling Hall, what trends are you seeing within the galleries and how they are presenting their work to the public?

Jennifer Dalton: I do think there are many more talented artists than there are venues. In some cases it makes sense for artists to take things into their own hands, especially now when there is a lot of empty space around. I think it may be too soon to look for trends, aside from galleries closing which is depressing.

qi peng: You have based a lot of your artwork on surveys or lists whether it be “ARTSURVEY” or “Getting to Know the Neighbors.” Do you have a fascination with Edward Ruscha’s book about every building on the Sunset Strip? How do you combine your objective eye with subjective and deadpan humor?

Jennifer Dalton: I do have a fascination with Ed Ruscha’s work in general and his artist books in particular. My own work is quasi-scientific, with emphasis on the “quasi”. I don’t really have an objective eye and don’t really even attempt objectivity. I think that if I differ from other people who try to show “reality” it’s precisely because I make my own subjectivity so explicit, and give particular space and attention to it.

qi peng: What is it like working with gallery directors to show your stuff at various places ranging from Smack Mellon Gallery to Winkleman Gallery, your home base, to curator’s office? How does this coordination help to fulfill what you envision as your final layout of your artwork?

Jennifer Dalton: It’s wonderful to have places to exhibit and people who support my work. I am incredibly lucky to have that opportunity.

qi peng: How would you describe the artist William Powhida? Is he as crazy as a G-E-N-I-U-S as many observers have claimed recently? How would you describe the nature of your collaborative work with him for “Our Condolences, Volume 1” released by Compound Editions? Do you empathize with other artists whose galleries sometimes disappeared just overnight? How do you satirize the Hallmark greeting card industry and the art market using the same skewer?

Jennifer Dalton: I hope it won’t harm his reputation if I say that William Powhida is actually a nice guy who just happens to be more brave and more willing to be hated than most of us are. He suffers for all our sins. It has been fun to wallow in gallows humor in our collaborations. Somehow it is surprisingly easy to satirize the greeting card industry and the art market with the same skewer, which should tell you something.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with readers and fans of your artwork, the appraisals, and other conceptual projects here?

Jennifer Dalton: [no answer].

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

May 18, 2009 at 7:54 am

Posted in Uncategorized

2 Responses

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  1. I enjoyed this interview and, for anyone who might be interested, I read the whole thing even though it’s long.

    Annie B

    May 19, 2009 at 4:14 pm

  2. Excellent.

    Stefano Pasquini

    May 19, 2009 at 9:28 pm

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