In Conversation with Noah Becker: Artist, Curator, EIC and Publisher of Whitehot Magazine
Gallery Gurls is pleased to converse with the famous artist Noah Becker, who is also known as a curator and writer. In addition, Becker is the founder, publisher, and editor-in-chief of Whitehot Magazine, an online contemporary art magazine that covers highly relevant, intriguing content about the art world. May is gearing up to be a very busy month for Becker as he is one of fifty-two artists included in 'Big Show 9' at Silas Marder , which opens on May 16th. Becker will be one of three co-curators for a new group show titled '60 Americans' at Elga Wimmer taking place May 21st. Gallery Gurls speaks to Noah Becker to get a deeper sense of his work and discuss the current state of the New York art world.
Gallery Gurls: Your figurative work really resonates with me, there is a very stylish, nostalgic, American quality that's present. The subjects in your portraiture possess the sophistication and affluence found in Alex Katz's paintings, yet carry the emotional vulnerability seen in Elizabeth Peyton's work. Where do you find the inspiration to paint these subjects, are they friends or characters that you've created?
Noah Becker: Thank you, I’m a fan of Alex Katz’s paintings but a lot of my earlier time studying art was focused on Francis Bacon. I'm not as flat of a painter as Katz I'm a bit more fleshy and 3D in my desire to depict things in a certain way. I got to the point where I had to get the influence of Bacon a bit less evident in my work. I’m also interested in Warhol and when I was in art school I thought that the Warhol silkscreens where hand painted portraits. I was a bit too focused to realize that they were mechanically made from photographs. Of course I love Warhol the draughtsman too. Velasquez has been my main inspiration and of course I love modern and contemporary art. This kind of painting, my kind of painting, is making a huge comeback in New York. People are starting to see that lazy pseudo abstraction and market driven art does not have any staying power. I'm not suggesting that I'm a traditionalist by any means but there are artists actually making great art out there.
In the past you've stated: 'The idea of stillness or time frozen in a moment is interesting to me'. How do you tie in this belief with your figurative work?
I went to Frank Stella’s studio and was asking him about his black paintings from the 1970s. Frank told me that the repetition in those works was inspired by Samuel Beckett and the repetition found in Beckett. So it was after talking to Frank that I started seeing a single figure in a painting not as a “portrait” per se but almost like something you would see in avant garde theatre. That process was a process of un-complicating a painting as much as possible and limiting it to one figure. In addition placing the figure dead center in the composition was a consideration. The idea is that a painting can be emotionless and very still with no narrative content but not boring.
You are showcasing a few of these figurative works at an upcoming show you are co-curating along with Terence Sanders and Alexander Venet titled '60 Americans' at Elga Wimmer. From what I've read you will be exploring some provocative territory such as the current shopping mall-like atmosphere at art fairs, the prevalence of flipping-based collectors, trend-obsessed gallerists, the fabrication of MFA grad art superstars through nepotism, etc Can we expect lots of satire? With the direction in this show it seems you are turning the mirror around on the art world, making it own up to its decadent exploits and preposterous excesses.
There is not a lot of edgy work or politically charged work in New York right now. In actual fact is was the brilliant vision of Terrence Sanders that brought these issues up. After reading his premise I made a few suggestions but on the whole I right away knew that 60 Americans was going to be something more than just another group show in New York. There are a lot of survey shows happening and 60 Americans offers something a bit edgier, more like shows in past decades in New York. The artists we have included in this survey are active artists and not just New York people. We have New Orleans based artists, LA based artists and more. Remember, the local music here is Coltrane and the local art is Basquiat and Jackson Pollock. You can't really beat that in the minds of the international viewing public. So the best thing to do it do your own thing and let history sort itself out. Some of the people in this town are up to the challenge but there are forces trying to destroy the artworld through greed and corruption. The art school system is manufacturing too many artists. Also the market itself is not a refection of what is really happening in New York or anywhere else. So 60 Americans is taking that energy of what is really happening in America and presenting it.
"There is not a lot of edgy work or politically charged work in New York right now. The art school system is manufacturing too many artists."
You're unveiling a new, untitled series that's being included in a group show titled 'Big Show 9' at the Silas Marder Gallery in Bridgehampton. Can you expand on the themes present in this series, and how it relates to the overall curatorial theme this group show is exploring?
The Big show at Silas Marder is a show where they send three 8 ½ by 10 inch canvases to each artist then something is made on these canvases specifically for the show. Other than the physicality of the canvases I’m not sure if they have a deeper meaning. My work is a triptych of three faces. It’s a bit of the repetition found in Warhol of the same person but through the painting process it changes slightly.
Aside from being a fine artist, you also curate, write, and serve as editor-in-chief of Whitehot Magazine, the online contemporary art magazine you founded - how do you seamlessly juggle all of these roles and how do preserve that constant drive?
I’m friends with lots of interesting and important artists, curators, collectors, celebrities and dealers. This is partly due to the magazine and it’s reach. In the process of all this connectivity, thankfully my art doesn’t suck. So when I do make a good connection and they research me through the magic of the Internet, they realize that I make great work and show at a museum level often. Sometimes I’m not friends with people but being friends is more important in the bigger picture than creeping around Manhattan like some kind of rabid careerist freak. Everyone seems too business oriented now in New York City. So many of the artists in Manhattan if they just relaxed for five seconds would make the most lovely friends here. So to answer your question, yes I’m driven but I also enjoy not doing anything at all on certain days.
"So many of the artists in Manhattan if they just relaxed for five seconds would make the most lovely friends here."