Extracurriculars is a new recurring feature in which artists discuss their interests that are not art.
“Last night I talked to some wasted guy whose tooth flew out of his mouth while screaming about the Mets,” artist Andrew Kuo tweeted recently. His handle, @earlboykins, is named for the former basketball player who stands at Kuo’s own height, five feet and five inches. The vast majority of his tweets are sports-related (he is a diehard Knicks fan), with the errant art or music shout out—“Yo Derrick Williams,” “RT if you remember when Raef LaFrentz was a fantasy first-pick round,” “Richard Estes at Marlborough Broome @MG_Chelsea.” His avatar is Milhouse from The Simpsons, who wears similarly thick glasses and, some might say, shares Kuo’s neurotic tendencies.
Kuo loves data, as is obvious from his body of work, which began with a series of brightly colored geometric graphics the New York Times, where subjects like 1990s concerts at Roseland Ballroom were finely and impersonally compartmentalized into feelings ranging from “If a machine sent people back in time just once, I would go back for this show” to “All I can think about is the TV I missed while I was standing at this show.” His paintings, which he shows at Marlborough Chelsea, are similar in both their style and impartial analyses, but delve a little deeper into his personal life with titles like So Sorry (1/29/15) (2015) and Reading the Same Thing Sixteen Times Detail (2013).
I met with Kuo at a restaurant one afternoon in September to learn more about his penchant for sports. An edited and condensed version of our conversation, which ended up touching on quite a few other topics, follows below.
ARTnews: Which sports do you follow? Just the main ones—basketball, baseball, football?
Andrew Kuo: Yeah, [those first three,] and I love tennis. Serena Williams is one of the most inspiring humans I’ve ever seen, and this next month I’m so ready for [the 2015 U.S. Open]. You’re alone out there on all that pavement in tennis—it’s like a perfect encapsulation of that experience that goes on with these players, where we can see them disintegrating. The tradition of silence is beautiful, but also, to me, so strange. It’s like, “Why do baseball players spit? Why are people quiet when they play tennis?” Is it a class thing? Golf and tennis are very distinguished, and that’s why I love basketball, because it is what people say it is, you know? You play it. But that’s why I love tennis too. I love Wimbledon and how there’s a dress code, and I love Andre Agassi. He’s so fun. I really like when they scream and grunt, too.
It’s amazing, and the sound of the ball hitting the racket is so satisfying.
Beautiful. I was watching a tournament just last week with someone who was like, “They seem to be able to play with one ball and hold one ball in their pocket. Why do they ask for three and roll one back every time?” It’s because they’re looking for the only thing they can control. It’s just like how a baseball player steps into the batter’s box, because it’s the only control they have. You can tell at a poker table, too—they just have to cycle through those handshakes in order to explain something.
Yeah. I meant to ask you, by the way—do you have OCD?
I don’t know. I probably have it—I never believed that everyone with OCD just counts things. For example, I like to exercise at the same time every day, and I like to do it six times a week. When people say, “Meet me for dinner!” I think, “Well, I could exercise, or I could do this.” Then I’ll sulk at dinner and think about what I would be doing instead, which is really awful—well, not awful, it’s just that it makes me kind of unhappy. Actually, the reason I was a few minutes late [to this interview] was because I don’t know if I have a gambling problem. I’ve always suspected I could…
Do you mean you currently have a gambling problem or you’re worried that you could develop one?
Every year I put money down on a fantasy league and I’ll walk away with money. But that’s not gambling to me, that’s goodwill. So I signed up for a fantasy sports site that involves gambling about an hour ago—it’s all the rage now, and I just wanted to try it. I’m already texting all my friends, “If I get too crazy into this, will you tell me?” I can already feel all these emotions welling up inside of me, the anxiety. I know it’s good if I lose, but I’m still hopeful that I’ll win.
If you do win, you could act really superior about it, like, “Oh, I just did it once, and I happened to win all this money.”
I went to Atlantic City with all my friends for a bachelor party recently. We all hit the floor at the same time together, and within 15 minutes, we were all on top. But I was like, “Everyone stop. This is when we walk away, because this is a great story about how we won.” And they’re like, “I don’t care about my $100.” And I’m like, “Let’s take all this money and buy food!” We all bought sandwiches. Four years later, I still regret pushing for that. We should have just had fun—that was the experience.
I did a performance with Melissa Brown at NADA [this past May] where we played Texas Hold’Em…and I was scared because I was like, “This is something I might really, really enjoy.” I kept on going all in, hoping to get out, but I started winning. I was like, “This is so problematic for me as a human. This is so much fun and this is so exhilarating.” Someone beat me and I was kind of relieved about that, but I’ve kind of been obsessing over it since.
I can’t even play video games anymore because I’ve fallen into that hole, too. I see my friends playing these video games, and they’re like, “Oh, you can create your own character and the character grows with you—it’s like a Tamagotchi.” I’m like, “That sounds incredible, and please don’t ever let me do that.” But I like to watch. And I heard there’s a video game now where if you die a couple of times, the video game will completely shut down, and you can never play it again.
I was just reading this article about professional video game players and how they’re making millions of dollars, just like professional athletes.
There was this Real Sports segment on HBO about colleges that offer scholarships to gamers—they have teams now and they compete. And I read that the degree of hazing and sexism that occurs there is the same as that in conventional sports.
And they have trophy girlfriends.
Yeah. Everyone always jokes that they want to date a nerd, but what they mean is, they want to date a really well-rounded person with glasses. Real nerds are real tough.
I feel like saying you want to date a nerd is a very circa-2007. I don’t even know what a nerd is anymore.
I know—at this point it would probably just be someone with Asperger’s, right?
You know how we’re going to be able to pick out our children’s characteristics in the future? Apparently one of the concerns is that there are going to be side effects, so if you make your kid really intelligent, they’re going to also be really autistic.
They haven’t been able to disprove Einstein yet, so it’s safe to say an action always has a result, right? A few years ago, Hawking came out with a theory that there are no black holes because time travel isn’t possible. But recently he was like, “OK, I have a new theory that works within my perimeters—you exit black holes into a different universe, but we’re not sure what kind of properties that universe has.”
That theory that our existence is just a computer simulation seems most plausible to me, actually.
I know. I think the reasons detractors might get hung up on it are the same reasons why detractors of analytics get hung up on it. We’re not thinking of a program that you or I could understand—it wouldn’t make sense to us.
My favorite theory is that there’s another Earth on the opposite side of the sun—the only way that exists as a theory is because you can’t really prove it wrong.
I find our lack of contact with aliens pretty disturbing.
Maybe a year ago, I had a rather serious conversation with someone who believes in the Grays.
The Grays. A certain group of people think that there are five different types of aliens that exist on earth. They all have big heads and skinny bodies, and he thinks our economy and all of our social practices are controlled by them. He claims to have seen them. It was a really interesting conversation after we got to the point where I was like, “I’m not going to make fun of you, I think this is totally plausible, you’re safe, I believe you.” We talked about it for like an hour. He claims they pull the strings in the same way that Paul Haggis talked about getting to the top of the Scientology ladder in that New Yorker interview—the exposé that became a documentary. He was like, “Everything made sense, financially and spiritually, but we were supposed to be interacting with aliens in the mountains.” It seems as plausible to me as a lot of religious things that we believe.
I’d definitely rather believe in that kind of thing, anyway—I’m always looking for something tangible to hold onto. Speaking of which, have you seen any strange patterns emerging in sports data?
I have [seen strange patterns] in microcosms for sure. Nerds love baseball more than anything because there’s so much data to be drawn out of every action, whereas basketball is a lot more complicated because you have ten moving parts on the court. Baseball, on the other hand, is more like global warming. Most people get sick of it because of its reliable trends. Pitching spiked in the ‘70s, and then hitting was back in the ‘80s, and that’s what’s going to happen again. But it’s clear that these patterns only exist in analytics and data. It’s much easier to play defense or pitch around a hitter whose success rate, at best, is only three out of ten. So if you take the number of hits down from 300 to 250, he becomes good to average and you could even do the data on that, like, “He doesn’t like [the ball to come] right near his chin—it frazzles him.”
That’s so interesting. You should advise a team.
Well, I’m just kind of regurgitating. The interesting thing about data is that it’s all out there, and it’s always been out there, and there’s only a handful of people who can extrapolate a good story out of it. That’s why I love Nate Silver even though he’s had a tough year. And Michael Lewis….They make it kind of—I always say this phrase and I sound ridiculous every time—but it takes something [special] to capture someone’s imagination about it, where regular data doesn’t. But if someone’s like, “Well, what if size doesn’t matter?” And everyone’s like, “Well, that can’t be possible!” And then people will react to that. For example, the Golden State Warriors won the World Championship this year by going small, which is really interesting…because the big players were really good, but when they decided to go small, they just demolished the other team. But the great thing about all of that is that there’s always antibodies that kind of gather and react to something. And I think the biggest—the conversation I tend to have the most with people who don’t love data goes something like, “Well, you were wrong this time. How can you trust this foolproof thing when you were so wrong?” But that’s not what analytics is—analytics is like the whittling down of probability, and of course there’s going to be unexplainable things. Analysts always account for things they can’t explain.
You could become a financial advisor.
It’s funny that you mention that—I just started checking out stocks this week. You know, I enjoy making paintings and a lot of the paintings are about this kind of thing, but I don’t know if I want my life to be this. I don’t know if I want to check the stock market every day.
The reason I started [painting] is because of my whole preconceived notion of the artist as this individual who makes a break by themselves, produces works out of what I presume the Abstract Expressionists felt. But that artist doesn’t exist, that’s just a construct. I have this theory that the fictional movies and biopics of Basquiat and Pollock have influenced more artists than actual art. There’s something about seeing it done….It’s like when I used to skateboard, I would watch videos of these guys skateboarding and go, “Oh, that’s how you do it.”
Do you feel like it’s too late for you to make a career change like that, because your identity has become too intertwined with your output as an artist? I’d guess probably not, because you have a lot of interests.
Well, I do think about painting more than anything. I certainly don’t paint constantly—I make a finite number of paintings a year, and they all talk about something I really want to talk about. But, personally, I feel like there has to be space to inform those paintings. There’s a lot going on out there and sometimes I feel crippled by it, but I can’t help it—I have to look down the hole.
The only reason I’ve increased my interest in sports is that it has increased all my thoughts about everything in a relatively harmless way. On the flip side, you always hear a few people who are like “winning or losing is a construct and it doesn’t really exist,” and I’m like, “For sure it exists.” I love science and I love math, but I really believe in the beyond of Bed, Bath & Beyond. Just because we can describe everything with such precision doesn’t mean that when you feel sad it’s not as real as the idea of arithmetic. And everyone feels sad—you have to take notice of that. The fun thing is when people can talk about it.
Yeah, kind of like the reverse solipsism that happens when you go online, for example. I always wonder why everyone online is so much funnier than they are in real life, though I find that ironic humor—as good as it can be sometimes—is beginning to get exhausting.
I love Twitter, but find that sarcasm doesn’t last as long as other things, and you end up eating your own tail pretty fast. It’s like Banksy, right? That stuff was a really big deal in the ‘90s, and it still could be a big deal now, but Banksy seems to be stuck. Whoever it is, though, loves to have the last word.
Maybe it’s the Grays.
Whoever. I’d tell them, “You guys are terrible artists.” Essentially, the longer Banksy goes without discussing their work critically, the more [their work is] just about commerce and the more they are Disney.
I think it’s important for artists to talk about their work instead of living as their work, because it shows a sense of context that’s really important when you’re looking at something. And when an artist is anonymous for that long, and does that much work, and has that many words written about them….I’m not sure where they’re coming from anymore, or if they understand where they’re coming from.
It’s like [Banksy] is trying to write their own profile.
Which is totally fair enough, but people are also allowed to be like, “This is the problem with it.” It’s so funny because there’s all this David Foster Wallace stuff coming out now, and Jason Segal played him in [The End of the Tour]….and I wonder if he’s turning over in his grave.
I find his books so nauseating to read now, honestly. I thought I really liked him a lot at first, but then the novelty of all the meta-commentary wore off.
I had the same experience with Haruki Murakami, where I was so washed away with him in high school and college, but then the minute I got a little bit older, I couldn’t go back. It was like—I want to say it was like the bands you listen to in high school, but I love listening to those bands still. But it seemed like he was done for me. It seemed like what he wanted to talk about was just…not something that I grew away from—I think “growing” is the wrong word—but maybe something I turned away from, just a little bit.
I think it’s a matter of taste. I feel like that with Lolita too—that was my favorite book in high school, and I still think it’s a technically excellent book, but I’ve progressed several levels beyond it.
Yeah! Of course, in terms of exposure, these are really good writers and if I accomplished anything in my life that was one-tenth of what they did I’d be ecstatic. But critically, as someone who thinks about them…well, that’s why Catcher In The Rye is such a fun book to think about because it is, in a certain way, unapologetically immature. It’s kind of beautiful in that way. My dad is really into writing, and every year I’d go home for the holidays, and ask, “Who’s your favorite writer this year?” And every year he’d flip-flop—it’d either be Faulkner or Melville, because of Moby Dick.
He had a shelf of books he just read over and over. He liked [Yukio] Mishima a lot, too, I think. It was mostly just the classics, but he really exhausted those books. It was so fun for me to see him go through that. That’s kind of how I re-watch television, like Seinfeld, now.
Me too. Well, Mad Men, in my case.
Is that a good show? Should I get into it?
You should definitely get into it. I’m pretty sure it’s the greatest show of all time. It never makes the #1 spot on those “Best T.V. Shows Of All Time” lists—I think that always goes to The Sopranos—
I’m a Sopranos guy. HBO comes through hard. The last season of The Sopranos takes your breath away. There are some shots that are so beautiful. You’re talking about literary things [through] the character of this heavily breathing guy from New Jersey….
I love the circular aspect of television and movies have, but I have this obsession with the last few seasons of every HBO program—basically it’s a theory about nihilism, like nothing matters at the end of every show. Like, nothing matters. Your rituals mean nothing to me. It’s like, “How could you kill this person?” Like Veep, too—“I’m the president, but I don’t know what I’m doing.” I love it—there’s a lot of tension there because I think that’s the scariest story, when the rules are broken.
I guess that’s where sports come in, because it tries to be the opposite of nihilistic.
Right, sports seem like a way to make obsessive tendencies more meaningful, and create order in general.
Totally. When we watch football together, my friend and I always joke that what we’re really watching is just a test of our skills in knowing the rules. Our friends will watch it with us and say, “Not much happens during a football game.”
I’m not sure why I haven’t gotten into sports—I really enjoy obsessing over specific things. I think part of the reason is that I’m really put off by the color combinations used in sports.
I kind of feel the same way about the covers of some books, and there are some paintings that I love in theory, but I look at them and I’m like, “This reminds me of something I don’t like, that’s just personal.” And every time a collector says, “I love this, but there’s green in this and I don’t like green,” I’m like, “You’re right. This [bit of green] is what this is all about.” Personally, though, I don’t like to make things I can’t carry by myself because I freak out. I’m on the market for a dog, and one requirement is that I want to be able to carry it by myself.
I love those tiny ones with really fluffy tails.
[laughs] Totally. Or, I almost want to get the biggest one I can find….I actually want an elderly, special-needs dog.
But they die so soon!
Oh god, that really breaks my heart. That’s the problem. Thinking about sadness is actually worse that being sad. The anticipation. That’s where I feel my OCD comes from—in trying to anticipate emotions before they happen so that I’m ready when they happen.
If I’m not thinking, I’m thinking about not thinking….It’s tricky. I watch sports every day, nonstop, and it feels like a break from [my thoughts]. Twitter also does that for me, as well as certain other places on the Internet.
It’s weird that the Internet is kind of a place where people go now—like, I’ll be home for hours, but I’ll really be online.
I just wish people would stop referring to it as “the Internet” and instead start talking about specific sites. It’s like when people say, “Oh, I don’t watch television because I don’t believe in it.” Moving pictures and images that are edited are a really important thing. You don’t have to watch Shark Tank. You should, but you can watch whatever you want to watch.
T.V. is why people don’t go out like they did in the ’70s.
It’s really hard to tell. I feel like we’re in the golden age of everything. The best music, the best food….And it’s safe for sure. [Safety] is a really cool thing to feel. I can walk down Avenue B at 12 a.m. now.
You grew up here, in Queens. What was pre-Giuliani New York like for you?
I had my first beer between two abandoned cars on Houston [Street] where Whole Foods is now, and there was burning trash in shopping carts. But that doesn’t mean that you couldn’t drink there, because no one would bother you. It wasn’t like The Road or anything—people were around, but if you wanted to skip a band at CBGB and go out to the parking lot no one would bother you.
Everyone talks about how great everything was back then, but I don’t know. I like being clean.
No one wants to hear them say, “Things are great now!” I always think about sports analysts who come down hard on new players because that’s what you have to do to ensure your own success. If everything’s messed up now, then you were responsible back when everything was perfect, and that’s OK—that’s what our parents [say] all the time.
I absolutely think there were things that were better previously, of course. Rock music was better, but rap music is surely better now than it ever was, I think. And now there’s music made by computers and all that great stuff.
I am worried about robots in the future, though.
That goes back to your [existence as simulation] idea. If we create the situation where something that we made can think independently, then where’s the proof that we’re thinking independently?
I hate to bring up David Foster Wallace twice in a conversation but this idea was in his commencement speech, “This Is Water,” which was amazing. It makes you wonder, on the whole, what if [our consciousness is not representative of] free will? Would we know it if it wasn’t? That’s almost like the way people who don’t believe in analytics see sports. They argue that if analytics are true, then we don’t have to even bother playing the game. We can just decide who wins based on probability, skill, and abilities. And data people are like, “No, the whole thing is that people have to play this game to generate this data, and to give room for the stakes.”
And there’s always a chance of a random outcome, which does happen all the time. Of course, data is kind of a self-fulfilling prophecy.
It’s like, “What kind of awareness do we want to have in this experience?” Certain people are just like, “I don’t want to know—all I want to know is what I see.” And certain people believe in…I forget, is this the red pill or the blue pill [theory of reality from The Matrix]?
The fine people over at the Men’s Rights Association have adopted the red pill as a symbol.
[laughs] Yeah. I want to find everything out, but I know random shit happens and that makes it exciting.
For example, the Chicago Cubs haven’t won in 107 years, but they have a fantastic team this year. And the guy in charge of the team won with the Red Sox. He might do it. All I’m thinking is, “You want to lose. You never want to win.” I’m a diehard Knicks fan, but as I got older I realized I never want to see a championship. I want them to be [in this liminal place] forever.
You always want what you don’t have, or else you have no reason to keep going.
Exactly. The story changes, your identity changes, and winning doesn’t really matter. The hope of winning is more powerful than the actual experience of being like, “We did it!”
So then it’s a case of wanting things to stay exactly the same, while also wanting it to progress.
I think there’s more space for discussion when you’re a Cubs fan and not a Yankees fan. There’s this idea of suffering and hope and faith, you know? No one wants to hear someone say, “It was in my fate to win.” That’s not cute. People want to hear someone say, “I’m destined to lose,” because they don’t know why that happens either. The reason the Cubs haven’t won in 107 years is because they were either bad or unlucky, and not unlucky in terms of fate.
The person or team that never realizes their entire potential, or becomes self-actualized, is definitely more interesting—their notoriety makes them relatable. I think that’s why people are so obsessed with, say, Marilyn Monroe.
Yeah, or Biggie Smalls, Blink-182….Oh man, that’s a whole can of worms.
It might even be like gambling—you have to stop at some point to really reap the maximum reward. Take the Kardashians, for instance—you have to be in awe of them for creating this whole institution, but on the other hand, can you imagine being them? That would be so depressing—you’d always have to figure out how you’re going to surpass yourself next.
A lot of artists have that issue.
But, at least they’re creating something that’s independently self-fulfilling.
I would argue that the Kardashians create a lot more than most people think. The things they generate aren’t as describable as a sculpture or a painting. But their creative output is just wild. It’s just endless, even if it doesn’t exist physically.
I know what you mean.
They’re an organism, right? They just keeps growing and building. Sort of like what Gilbert & George talked about—we’re walking, talking works of art. We make things but we are also the thing. What Kim Kardashian makes, incredibly, is herself.
It’s like that whole idea of artists living their art—she has to maintain a consistency that’s not sustainable. I mean, I think the first season of The Real World is one of the greatest shows of all time. I don’t want to call it artwork, but I don’t want to call a lot of paintings artwork because you can always just go to the art store and buy paint and a canvas. What Kim produces is archived and reproduced over and over and judged harshly, usually, but is also well-loved as well. For a human being, I think that’s an incredible output. Of course, the universe isn’t fair, but it’s going to be styled.
It’s fascinating to try and figure out exactly how much she planned for this all to happen.
I mean, I’m sure she loves Kanye West a lot, but what a perfect match, right? I hold him in the highest pinnacle of art, by the way. I think he, in the last decade, has meant more than anyone else in the art world. I don’t take him seriously—I mean, I take him very seriously, but of course, we’re not talking in terms of Terrence Malick or Neil DeGrasse Tyson. I’m still fascinated by him, though—it’s like when people make fun of sports. You can greatly improve your experience of life with both Kanye and sports.
I think it’s a lack of willingness to change….people still have this cognitive dissonance about the idea of Kim Kardashian creating art.
Yeah, and then some of us—Internet artists, for example—are into the idea of art changing. I really liked that last triennial at the New Museum.
It was great.
Yeah, it was so cool. A lot of the dialogue about that show was talking about this idea of the “new art.” It was talking about the context of the way we receive information, and our historical context—what has come before us, and what’s going to happen in the future. It’s the same language that we could use when we talk about the Kardashians. I mean, they are offering something totally different than Paris Hilton. We’re not talking about the same animal.
How many people over 25 really believe in the idea of a bandwagon, anyway? Because as soon as you grow up, you realize, “Wait, is that good? Can I try?” You’re not like, “Is this good?” and then, “I found it first.” Miley’s incredible, and, you know, I was in China at the time that the Meek Mill/Drake thing came out; I was in the bathroom listening as the song dropped in the middle of night. There’s a much bigger upside in participating than criticizing, I think. You can’t participate without being critical, but there’s a really low upside to just saying, like, “Kanye and Kim Kardashian suck.”
I think you have to also accept certain things about yourself—like, why do you keep watching shitty reality T.V.? It’s easier to judge things objectively if you take your conditioned reaction out of the equation.
Absolutely. It’s the same thing with sports. My whole life I was like, “Sports are for dumb people.” Now I think, “Then I’m dumb, and that’s OK, because I get a lot out of it. It’s the same reason I love to watch all this [T.V.] and I can’t wait for Star Wars: Episode VII; I think it’s going to change my life. It doesn’t really come across in the “right” way to some people, but I can still talk about it.
In a way, I have a tough time with the word artist. Like, if someone makes the most beautiful pasta in the world, some people would say he’s a pasta artist, and that’s just not the same thing, you know? But what I really notice is when someone—whether it’s Drake or Kanye or Kim Kardashian—makes something and it generates enough discussion to sustain itself until the next thing they make.
I don’t think contemporary art can become more inclusive in that sense, but it also shouldn’t be deliberately exclusive of people and phenomena with less self-awareness.
There have to be gatekeepers. There have to be people talking about things with authority, people whom you’ll listen to, and people who will keep at it for a long enough time so we know their historical context. That is one thing I’d like more—I’d like the gatekeepers to kind of throw down a little bit. I mean, I think it’s cool how we’ve kind of diluted criticism. But it’s scary how we can, even more easily, pick up the pieces and create something that’s more powerful: a meta-critic. And that’s scary because now, on my Time Warner interface—or maybe it’s Netflix—there’s a meta-critic score, which just blows my mind. Like Yelp, it uses a ton of data that’s been aggregated from the Internet, but it’s all faulty data.
That’s where I misinterpret science sometimes, because science is about being wrong, in the way that baseball is about missing more than it is hitting. You could be a really great scientist and be wrong about everything.
Yeah, it’s all very tied to the present moment. [pause] Is that your wedding ring?
[laughs] Yeah. I just got married on Saturday so it all feels really weird.
Did you have a proper wedding, or was it just signing the papers?
It was a wedding. If I can give any advice—well, either do something really small or something really big. The problem is, a small [wedding] tends to hurt people’s feelings, and at the end of the day, a party is going to be better than no party, I think. But I was so grouchy—I was like, “I don’t even believe in marriage as a thing like that.” When people congratulate me, I’m like, “That’s not something to congratulate me about, this is my decision.”
I know what you mean, sorry. It’s just become this expression of goodwill—I just said it without meaning what I was saying.
Exactly! That’s why, when I went through with the wedding on Saturday, and I actually felt everyone’s expression of goodwill in my heart, it was an incredible experience.