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‘I Think That Discomfort Is a Really Positive Place for Us All to Be In’: Keith J. Varadi on His New Show, Facebook, and Gambling

Keith J. Varadi Mission Statement NIGHT GALLERY

Keith J. Varadi, Mission Statement.

NIGHT GALLERY

This Saturday, the artist and curator Keith J. Varadi opens “Free Wi-Fi, Comedy” at Night Gallery in his hometown, Los Angeles. The centerpiece of the show is a first for Varadi: a film. The 12-minute movie starts at Good Luck Bar, a tiki joint in L.A.’s Los Feliz neighborhood. It then weaves through the foothills to the Santa Antia Racetrack, ending up at The Good Night, a bar in North Hollywood, where Varadi does some karaoke. The film’s title? Good Luck and Good Night, naturally.

The show also includes quite a few other things: a series of thick “book paintings,” a framed satirical artist statement, a custom short-run 7-inch record that was a collaboration with Milwaukee-based sound artist Wesley Friedrich (who will perform at the opening), and a number of photographic floor works that explore themes congruent with the film.

“A lot of the other pieces are riffing off each other or adding up to different sentiments or statements,” Varadi told me over the phone earlier this week, “but the film sort of encapsulates it all and is going to, I believe, propel this overarching outlook I’ve cultivated into future projects.” In addition to the Night Gallery show, the artist has two future exhibitions on the calendar—one at Cooper Cole in Toronto opening March 31 and another at Et. al in San Francisco, which kicks off May 20.

“This is me in a way revealing more about my person, or surface reading of self,” Varadi said, “but also a bit more about creating this persona, or self-mythologized core, as a vehicle or a vessel to do so, in a way that complicates things a bit,” he continued. “I’m thinking of it as a new act or something.” A good chunk of the film takes place at a racetrack. Varadi told me that although he is not a knowledgeable gambler, he has a deep interest in the culture as a representative social stage.

“When you go into Santa Anita, you walk onto the first level, and it’s a certain—or at least it comes off as a certain—class,” he said. “Or at least like a mindset. And the types of food and the types of drinks and the types of bets one can make on that level are emblematic of that. Then the next tier up is representative of another level or another class and so on and so forth,” the artist said. He told me he was “interested in how this could possibly play out in my own practice, in my own dealings with the art world, the world at large. Personal relationships, professional relationships.”

In addition to his practice as an artist, Varadi has mounted a number of curatorial projects over the years, most recently a show called “Blind Mime in Reverie” that featured the work of Kelly Akashi, Wesley Friedrich, Jonas Mekas, and Sydney Shen. “Content vs. Context: What begets what?” muses a press release for the group show, which seems like a fitting question considering another part of Varadi’s varied output: his Facebook presence, which has developed a loyal following over the years.

Varadi’s stream is robust and reliable, culled from the worlds of politics, sports, art, music, and way beyond. It’s well selected and actually useful, something that can rarely be said about Facebook in any capacity. “I’ll post a think piece on the Bernie Sanders campaign followed by some crazy story about, like, a man or a woman down in Florida setting an alligator on fire while on angel dust or something,” Varadi explained of his sensibilities. “Then a painting by Richard Aldrich and some YouTube link to an old DJ Screw song.”

Over time, Varadi said that his aggregation ends up “[revealing] things about myself, my interests, but in a way that isn’t so explicit and [is] also, I think, reflective of a mood or a tone of the times.” The artist told me that it is rare that he comments or interjects on the content he posts, preferring to leave things ambiguous. “When I review an exhibition or write a long-form critical essay, then you can actually discern what I feel about whatever topic or issue,” he said.

I asked Varadi if his social media presence informed his activities in the gallery world. “I think that some of these essays or articles that I post, for example, a lot of the headlines are sensationalized, and that’s what good headlines are,” he said, adding that he gleans influence from the media in how he titles his own exhibitions. “I want to pull people in. Once I have them there, I want to suspend them a little bit, and have them work through things with me, as opposed to force-feeding them any information or opinions. I think that discomfort is a really positive place for us all to be in. I think when we get too comfortable, we’re susceptible to really severe complacency, and that bums me out.”

Ultimately, a thread that runs through Varadi’s work—whether as an artist, curator, or aggregator—is perhaps a quest for a sort of discourse. “I think that ‘You do you, I do me’ mentality that pop culture seems to be perpetuating is discouraging,” he said. “It’s like, Let’s do us.”

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