Artists consumer reports

Consumer Reports: Sam McKinniss

Sam McKinniss.


Sam McKinniss is an artist in New York. His latest exhibition, titled “Egyptian Violet,” opened this past October at Team Gallery in lower Manhattan. More recently, the pop star Lorde revealed a portrait by McKinniss as the cover art for her forthcoming album Melodrama, due out this summer from Republic Records.

A week with McKinniss is a whirlwind of painting and parties—a lot of parties. It is, after all, party season in New York City. There are too many openings and parties to really mention in this intro, so I’m just going to go ahead and suggest that you keep on reading this Consumer Report. It is a good one. – John Chiaverina

Tuesday, May 2

6:15 a.m.

I’m up feeling great. I make a pot of coffee, do the dishes from last night, slam an Emergen-C, and eat a clementine.

6:35 a.m.

Open and it’s as embarrassing and/or demented as usual. “Freak Flags Fly at Met Gala, but Lips Stay Buttoned.” Excuse me, what? Freak flags were flying, loose lips were not present, but was Rei Kawakubo there? I can’t imagine she would go in for an idiom like “freak flag.” I click through the entire gallery of pics from the red carpet, which wasn’t red by the way. Everyone looks bad or bored except for Rihanna and Caroline Kennedy. Also I think P. Diddy is funny, haha.

7:00 a.m.

I started doing yoga more intently after the election as a way to distract myself from the distractions deployed by media as well as the distractions deployed by Trump and his people. Everyone in America is being driven to distraction. Everything anyone says or does these days is said to distract from something else much more dangerous, hidden, and unethical. No one knows what anyone is really up to, and I don’t know what they want me to do about it. The president is such a loser it makes me crazy. I go to yoga three or four times a week. It helps. I get bent, I feel limber of mind and bod. My abs are like rock hard.

Plot twist, I know the substitute yoga instructor this morning. He’s some guy I used to run into at bars in like 2012 and ’13. Now he’s barely wearing anything and neither am I. It’s fine actually, who cares. I do the sun salutations and a headstand, chant “om,” etc.

8:10 a.m.   

When I leave yoga, the sun is shining but it’s also raining, which is the only good weather. I receive “good morning” texts from the artists Alex Da Corte and Catharine Czudej, as well as 22 texts from Halt Action Group, the anti-Ivanka protest club I joined last fall. They’re talking about Ivanka’s stupid book, which comes out today. We make plans to call her publisher Adrien Zackheim later to tell him about how much she sucks. It’s the least we can do.

8:30 a.m.

I drink more coffee, read more news, fry two eggs, check Instagram and Twitter.

Hahaha Frank Ocean is so good.

9:56 a.m.

Text Cy Gavin a picture of Lana Del Rey on a motorcycle on my way to the studio.

I field texts from Alissa Bennett all morning, one of my reps at Team Gallery and a close personal friend. I finish a small floral still life that I started yesterday. Start working out a couple of new portraits.

A month ago, Matthew Trammell wrote a post for the New Yorker about an old disco gospel track called “Stand on the Word” by a children’s choir in 1970s Brooklyn remixed by Larry Levan and I’m totally obsessed with it. I listen to it several times daily, including right now. My latest Spotify playlist is inspired by the song. I named it “Touched by an Angel.” It’s loaded with gospel or gospel-inspired disco, pop, and R&B, because I’m a huge pervert. When I listen to it at work I become filled with the Holy Spirit. It sets a mood for being aroused at church or, like, having an affair with Della Reese.

12:30 p.m.

Catharine Czudej shows up, thank God, and we embrace. She’s finally just returned from two weeks in London and Berlin. Her studio is across the hall from mine so we usually see each other every day. We briefly catch up. She fills me in on the overseas news but eventually we just start listing Jim Carrey’s best films.

12:47 p.m.

The new guy from Team arrives to pick up three recently finished small paintings of Drew Barrymore brandishing the knife from Scream, Koko holding her kitten, and Macaulay Culkin slapping aftershave on his face in that scene from Home Alone. I walk the new guy out, call him a livery driver, and then head next door to the Dunkin Donuts for a medium iced and a chat with the girls behind the counter.

1:45 p.m.

My new unpaid intern, personally hired by me after a borough-wide search, texts to say that Alissa posted a pic of my Koko’s Kitten painting on Instagram so I hop on and throw it a like.


3:28 p.m.

Read Sarah Nicole Prickett’s latest entry for Artforum‘s “Scene & Herd” about Sophie Calle’s public art project in Green-Wood Cemetery. Calle’s project seems not bad. It’s probably OK. I prefer private art to public, but this seems semi-private in a way that I could maybe get into. I like Green-Wood Cemetery and wouldn’t mind being buried there.

Anyway I always read Sarah Nicole’s “Scenes & Herd”s because she has just the right touch. They’re always so well written, and she’s especially good at knowing the difference between how to talk to men and how to talk to women. Gossip is just as useful as criticism, if not more so. This entry is enjoyable, and not just because of the 40-minute shared cab ride/interview with Kim Cattrall. New York City!

5:09 p.m.

Home again to check my email, shower, and group-text Catharine, Alex, Elaine Cameron-Weir, Jamian Juliano-Villani, and Borna Sammak about what we’re wearing tonight to the New Museum, where Elaine has her opening. I say “amateur tennis player bisexual slut,” which is more or less what I always wear. Elaine is wearing head to toe velvet and Catharine is doing “fake casual,” which is very funny.

6:15 p.m.

Meet Cy at Von on Bleecker St. He’s sitting in the back drinking a frozen margarita and reading Death in Venice when I arrive.

8:00 p.m.

Alcohol eases context until at some point it is the context. Al Bedell, Jasmin Tsou, Vera Neykov, Yulan Grant, Marco Gomez, Eli Ping, Carlos Reyes, John Roebas, Elaine, Catharine, Jamian, Borna, and countless others—we’re at the museum getting contextualized on white wine and tequila all evening long.

Elaine’s show is seductive, nuanced, elegant and kinky. It smells amazing. Does Elaine have magical powers? I politely shower her with kisses. As a close personal friend of the artist, I’m biased, but this is the best I’ve seen that lobby gallery look in a long time.

At some point Cy and I go up to see Lynette Yiadom-Boakye’s show on the fourth floor. It’s also great but I’ll need to go back and be alone with it. Everyone always says they’re coming back to see the show at another time after the opening and 85 percent of the time they never do, but this is different, I swear. I like her paintings very much but I want to know if I love them.


9:30 p.m.

We leave and make our way to Tropical 128 on Elizabeth Street. Borna is being extremely funny. I maintain at a level of mere glibness as I often do, but Borna is hitting it out of the park. Unbelievable jokes. He gives me a piggyback ride so that I can look down on couples as they enjoy Nolita’s vast quantity of romantic outdoor seating. We pass an empty storefront and discuss the likelihood of success if we were to open an emerging art gallery with killer programming. Plans are hatched and subsequently abandoned.

Basically we close the bar. I spend an outrageous amount of money. The remaining hours of Tuesday night and early Wednesday morning are not appropriate to share on ARTnews and so will remain secret for the rest of my life.

Wednesday, May 3

9:27 a.m.

I’m in a world of pain but I’m awake, fully cognizant, and texting Alissa Bennett again. I regale her with details from last night and in turn she provides updates on the success of my career as an emerging artist. I decide to do nothing today.

11:37 a.m.

I get out of bed, clothe my naked body, and make a pot of coffee. I enjoy a glass of Emergen-C as if my life depends on it.


I make a tweet about being “violently hungover” and the art museum a town over from where I grew up sends a reply, which is not bizarre at all but I guess I wasn’t expecting it either.

5:58 p.m.

As promised, haven’t done anything except text everyone I know from bed and read three short stories from Amie Barrodale’s book You Are Having a Good Time. She’s so funny and sad I could die. Some kid has been blowing on a recorder right outside my bedroom window for the entire afternoon. I text Borna to ask if it’s time to seize the day yet, to which he replies, “Carpe, my dude.”

6:25 p.m.

Alissa texts me “omg the bitchiest gay is on my train rn” and then sends a pic of some guy wearing a white linen shirt, pale yellow booty shorts, and a long wool overcoat.

6:31 p.m.

Walking up Bedford Ave. toward the L train, I see the same fucking guy! Wearing that bitchy outfit! I text Alissa and we marvel at the success of our psychic connection.

7:06 p.m.

I’m approaching the Lever House office tower in Midtown for the 70-person group show called . . . Midtown. Immediately have a bad feeling about it.

 7:12 p.m.

The art is fine. A lot of it is good. The building is obviously cool. I stop to chat with a handful of dealers I know from elsewhere around town. They’re nervous as well for some reason, but maybe they always are, come to think of it, maybe that’s just who they are. One of them asks about the impending performance art, scheduled to begin in about 45 minutes, “So what happens in these performances? They dance around?”

7:15 p.m.

I hightail it out of there and board a downtown 6 by 7:20. I’m hoping to see Catharine, Jamian, and Borna at the new Martos Gallery in Chinatown before anyone leaves.

7:42 p.m.

Martos Gallery. The new space looks great. Kayode Ojo’s work looks cool and he’s a real sweetheart, honestly.

8:25 p.m.

Catharine and I leave together. We walk north to find Borna wandering around by himself on Grand Street. We walk toward Home Sweet Home on Chrystie Street and make it in just before happy hour ends. I ask Catharine a hypothetical, “if you could, which one of us would you choose to not be gay anymore, me or Borna?”

9:15 p.m.

Borna and I walk to John’s on East 12th to eat chicken parmegianas with Thomas McDonell. Thomas has a new haircut and a nice way with words. He’s learning to speak Korean. We have some laughs while discussing last year’s Oscar-nominated film Sully, hoping for a sequel.

11:40 p.m.

I need to go home. I listen to “Diamonds and Pearls” by Prince four times in a row on the L.

11:58 p.m.

I receive the following texts from an unsaved number: “I loved you in 2002 and I still do, Sam” and, nine minutes later, “I’ll text you again in 5 years to make sure you are well”

Thursday May 4

7:35 a.m.

It’s a new day / Another full of heartbreak, I’m drinking coffee and reading the news. Listening to Kishi Bashi’s “Can’t Let Go, Juno”

People are flipping out on Twitter about House Republicans wanting to vote and replace the Affordable Care Act with Trumpcare today. Open, find out that “the House Democratic leader, Nancy Pelosi of California, said the money was a pittance compared with the likely need. ‘It’s a joke,’ she said. ‘It’s a very sad, deadly joke.’ ”

Oh good, I love jokes.

George Will in the Washington Post has decided that “it is up to the public to quarantine this presidency by insistently communicating to its elected representatives a steady, rational fear of [a leader] whose combination of impulsivity and credulity render him uniquely unfit to take the nation into a military conflict.”

I’m trying to get used to the idea that my life might end sooner rather than later in a cataclysmic event beyond my control.

10:00 a.m.


12:04 p.m.


2:41 p.m.

Open Twitter to learn that the House Republicans have passed their ridiculous Trumpcare bill. I take much umbrage.


What is the point of these people? What do they want? What is their fucking mission in life? Imagine depending on Donald Trump to provide you with healthcare. As if. You’d be dead immediately. Trump is the dumbest fuck of all time. He ogles breasts, builds towers, naps, and watches TV. He’s a toddler. His degenerate perv sidekick from Indiana, “Mike” Pence, is like a retired G.I. Joe cartoon for children, except more gay. Who’s that other fucking guy? Paul Ryan is a youth pastor or a high school wrestling coach, I can’t decide which. I could puke and it would look just like Mitch McConnell’s face.

My mood is shot, so I putz around, bother Catharine, go home at around 5 p.m., and change my clothes. What am I supposed to do.

5:45 p.m. 

Meet Borna and Catharine at Soft Spot for a drink before heading into town to see Juliana Huxtable’s show at Reena Spaulings and Tabor Robak’s show at Team.

6:16 p.m.

Juliana Huxtable’s show is funny and cool. Sexy, political, bitchy, smart. It cheers me up, actually.

7:05 p.m.

Tabor Robak’s show is insanely good, and a ton of work. God I love Team Gallery. I slip into the back office to drink champagne with Alissa and talk shop with José Freire. He’s being brilliantly funny, as usual.

10:50 p.m.

Head over to Max Fish to join the afterparty for Juliana. Borna, Jasmin, Catharine, Elaine, Jamian, and a million other people are already there. I can’t believe Reena Spaulings gave Juliana Huxtable an open tab. Like, do they not realize that everyone she knows is extremely good at hanging out all night long? It’s what they do. The tab probably cost a million dollars. The basement dance floor is mad fun and everyone is extremely horny. Anthony Dicap was DJing and the other guy whose name I don’t know. During a moment of climax, Borna lifted me into his arms and spun me around while we passionately kissed. Catharine took her shirt off and 30 people proposed marriage to Elaine including myself, Borna, and Kayode Ojo.

Friday, May 5

12:30 a.m.

I started feeling claustrophobic so I left to meet Sarah Nicole Prickett and Kaitlin Phillips at Happy Ending. It’s roomier in there. Also, the Reena Spaulings people must have realized what was going on, the Max Fish tab had abruptly been closed. And Kaitlin’s boss was buying everyone’s drinks at Happy Ending, so that’s what sealed it, let’s tell the truth.


10:10 a.m.

Wake up to the sound of the deluge pounding away at the tin roof covering the porch outside my window. This can’t be good. I stay in bed, reading Amie Barrodale and several chapters from Kool A.D.’s brilliant debut novel OK.

11:58 a.m.

Catharine texts to confirm plans to visit the Frieze art fair together later that afternoon. I say yes, I’ll be ready to go to the island in a couple of hours, which obviously isn’t true due to the ludicrous amount of rain that shows no sign of letting up. I tell her to pick me up anyway when she’s finished lunch.

2:30 p.m.

Catharine texts again and this time we’re both stalling, a good sign. She tells me the L train has flooded at Bedford Avenue and people are panicking. Frieze is a disaster area beginning to resemble Fyre Fest. The possibility of being marooned on an island with hundreds of filthy rich and soaking wet art collectors seems more and more likely with each passing second.

2:54 p.m.

Catharine picks me up at home. We look into each other’s eyes and realize neither one of us wants to go to Randall’s Island anymore. Maybe we never did. The rain is dissipating, but come on, get serious. I call Jamian to tell her we’re coming over.

3:14 p.m.

Roll up to Jamian’s place in Bed-Stuy. She’s watching Nat Geo Wild on cable, which is lit. We settle in for an hourlong episode of something called Hippo vs. Croc. We get, like, very into it. Apparently these guys share a watering hole in Africa but they fight constantly and are always eating each other’s babies. Animals are fucking crazy! How is this crocodile attacking a crowd of 50 hippopotami? The nerve. A baby hippo dies and Jamian starts crying. Then she makes coffee, ravioli, and popcorn. We stay tuned for another riveting hour of nature photography, the next show called Cat Wars: Lion vs. Cheetah. Same shit, different species.

5:55 p.m.

Time is getting away from us.

8:21 p.m.

I arrive at the Hotel Plaza Athénée on East 64th Street to meet Alison Gingeras and Peter McGough for drinks. The skyline overhead is in a deep purple fog and New York is beautiful.

9:03 p.m.

The three of us leave the hotel and walk a few blocks over to a collector’s house for cocktails on East 69th. The last time I was in this house was at Christmastime and what I remember is the enormous bowl of caviar and at least two Robert Gober sculptures. The Gobers are still here, but no caviar tonight, only foie gras. Peter, a gentleman, and I stand around trading polite jokes at no one’s expense. I know a few people but not very well until Borna shows up with Piotr Uklanski, whose loquacious manner is much to my liking.

11:40 p.m.  

Jamian arrives. So does Beau Rutland. Catharine is texting from the Karma dinner for Will Boone, wondering if we’ll ever make it downtown.

11:55 p.m.

Anicka Yi walks in with Cy Gavin in tow, fresh from the Artforum dinner. Classic Cy Gavin. His phone died a few hours before, so he makes an educated guess and finds my exact location. We embrace.

Saturday, May 6

12:20 a.m.

Jamian, Cy, and I catch a cab down to China Chalet in the FiDi for the Frieze after-party hosted by Reena Spaulings. There’s a ridiculously long line at the door and the bouncer isn’t letting anyone in, so Jamian tries a few smooth moves on him, but no dice. Dejected and sad, we find Henry Gunderson in line and the four of us start walking to some other bar around the corner.

Once we’re around the corner, however, Cy finds the backdoor to China Chalet, so we give it a shot. We meet another, much more lenient, security guard and slip him 40 bucks. The scenes on the dance floor and dining room are precisely what you’d expect, with way too many emerging artists, most in a convivial mood. Cy and I make our way and saddle up to the front room bar, ordering two tequilas and soda. Rod Stewart’s cover of Elvin Bishop’s “Fooled Around and Fell in Love” starts playing and I have a private moment to myself in the barroom crush. Bishop’s version had played during dinner the other night at John’s on 12th Street. I was saying to Thomas then how much I liked that song and, so, what must be a coincidence sends a wrinkle through my personal space-time continuum. To quote Madeleine L’Engle, “Wild nights are my glory!” I say hi to Dora Budor. Cy and I chat up every single gay guy we see, trying to determine which of the three fetish parties we’ve heard about that night is the one most likely to include people we know. We send Chrissie Iles a selfie and tell her we love her. She responds with several different styles of heart emoji.

The remaining hours of Saturday morning are not appropriate to share on ARTnews and so will remain secret for the rest of my life.

2:00 p.m.

Despite the decision that Catherine and I made yesterday and felt very good about—which was to skip the entire business about Frieze—today is a new day, and Cy and I are finishing brunch at Allswell and Cy wants to go. Let’s face it, so do I. We hail a taxi and direct the driver to take us to Randall’s Island, which takes some explaining since nobody has ever been there and cannot, for that matter, be sure of its existence or whereabouts.

3:25 p.m.

Cy and I arrive at the fai, ready to spend the rest of the day making jokes, privately and in extreme poor taste, about how we’re afraid of the legendary Art Basel Miami Beach stabber, the one from two years ago, coming back to haunt all of us at Frieze. The threat of knife crime mistaken for performance art is never far from our minds. God, she was the best. Please forgive me but I really loved that.


There is a ton of too much art to look at, so most of it becomes somewhat invisible. It’s no one’s fault, really, that’s just how it works. I love David Kordansky’s booth, however, featuring new paintings by Tala Madani. Pudgy guys standing or floating around in deep space having a wild time with their bodily emissions for indeterminate reasons. Lots of airbrushing. Cy and I stand there in bemusement, smiling and giddy at her work. What the hell is going on! A genius.

6:05 p.m.

We board the complimentary ferry and take a pleasure cruise back to Manhattan. It’s golden hour and the air is extremely pleasant. The boat rocks, actually, I loved the boat.

6:50 p.m.

We walk to the downtown 6 at 33rd and Park to go to Salon 94 at Freemans Alley for the opening of Jayson Musson’s new show of gouache drawings on paper, which is exquisite. Very strong show. I love Jayson Musson. He looks great and everyone around him is in a congratulatory mood.


I drink a PBR retrieved from a bucket on the floor. It tastes bad, but that’s what I was expecting, so who cares. I stare for a while at one of Jayson’s drawings because I’m too worn out to talk to anybody really, but also because I love it. I’m a huge art lover. My favorite drawing features a black figure with white gouache highlights doing downward-facing dog across the page and over one of the red figures, who is sort of smaller in size and grooving out, canopied under the tent shape/illuminati triangle made by the guy doing yoga. I feel extremely related to the groovy little red figure. I mean, I empathize with that body language in an innate way. He’s making a facial expression that I’m often making as well. Fiendish, eyes squinted, mouth half-smirking. I finish my PBR eventually and drink a LaCroix, which tastes even worse. What is this shit, French? I drink Polar! It’s from Worcester! [Ed. note: LaCroix is from Wisconsin.]

I’m losing my grip on reality and basically falling asleep at the wheel. Just kidding, I’m fine. I’m always fine, always have been fine, never will not be fine.

8:42 p.m.

Walk down to the Commissary at Metrograph for Jayson’s celebratory dinner, which I assume will consist of Coca-Colas and buttered popcorn. I’m seated across from Borna, next to Andrea McGinty and Sean J. Patrick Carney, within earshot of Jayson and Artie Vierkant. Borna immediately starts saying the funniest things I’ve ever heard in my life, which should come as no surprise. The food at the Commissary is very good, I soon learn, which comes as a bit of a surprise. I thought it was just a movie theater, had no idea they cook. Borna comments, “All food tastes the same. Delicious.” He also refers to dinner as “lunch de la noche.” I’m going to die. We order tequilas. Someone makes a toast. I go into limited detail telling Jayson which of his drawings remind me of my life, and how. He tells me he loves me and a part of me happily dies.

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