Kenny Schachter has long been something of a gadfly in the art world, but over the last year or so, the artist and critic has found a new notoriety as art’s inside man on NFTs. And, suddenly, he has started to get recognition that has long eluded him.
Thursday, he’ll present a solo booth at the Independent Art Fair in New York with the Greek gallery Allouche Benias. The space will feature paintings, an installation, and a sculpture on the second floor of the fair.
“It’s overlooking the selling floor which is kind of perfect,” Schachter told ARTnews. “Even when I’m smack dab in the middle of the art world I’m somehow outside of it.”
At his home and studio on the Upper East Side some days before the fair opened, Schachter reminisced about the impact NFTs have had on his career. To begin with, his unexpected success in the space has given him some respite from the world of art reporting that he had become immersed in.
“It got to be very exhausting,” Schachter said, referencing the fights, hate mail, lawsuits, and threats that followed his work on such articles as his tell-all on disgraced art dealer Inigo Philbrick and Where in the World is ‘Salvator Mundi’? which spurred the documentary The Lost Leonardo (2021).
More important though, his status as the resident NFT guy has gotten him further in his art career than years of reporting ever could. After making NFTs with the platform Nifty Gateway in December of 2020, Schachter was contacted by Christian Nagel of Galerie Nagel Draxler for advice on how to curate NFTs.
“I told [Nagel], ‘I’m not going to tell you how to do it, but I’ll do it for you,'” he said. “So the gallery agreed to let me curate a show there. And then, for the first time in my life – after I’d sold my works to a largely crypto audience – I found myself with a gallery representation in my very late 50s.”
Schachter claims that he’s given more than 50 lectures at a variety of institutions from art schools like the School of Visual Arts in New York and the Art Institute of Chicago to Ivy League universities, been hosted on various podcasts, thesis-advised “dozens” of students, and teaches a class on NFTs at NYU.
“I’ve onboarded literally over 1,000 people in the space,” Schachter said.
Yet it can be hard to pin down what it is about NFTs that Schachter finds so valuable as to have “NFTism” tattooed on his right arm (“a term I coined,” he said). It doesn’t seem that he believes NFTs could necessarily change the art landscape for the better.
“Every single thing, and I mean everything, that the fine art world has ever criticized the NFT space for – from the environmental impact, tax evasion, money laundering, grift, every single element of the critique – equally, if not more so, applies to fine art,” Schachter said.
So, if NFTs are just as bad as the art world, was it the opportunity to make more money that held the appeal for Schachter?
“No. The speculation is rampant in fine art, artists are making historic prices with no history, and besides 99 percent of the NFT people don’t make money,” he said. “I don’t give a fuck about money, I just don’t care.”
What Schachter cares about is attention. “I just want to be an artist, and to be an artist you need an audience and you need to express yourself,” Schachter said. “A van Gogh in the bushes has no impact. The equation is fulfilled when you’re presenting your work.”
And now, finally, Schachter can. The outsider from Long Island who didn’t know art galleries existed until he was 27 – or so he claims – who clawed his way into the art world, wears the wrong clothes, ticks people off, and is on the wrong side of middle age, now has his first solo show in New York at the Independent Art Fair.
“None of it,” Schachter claims, “would’ve come about had it not been for the advent of NFTs.”
The works at Independent, which touch on the role of technology in our lives today, were all rendered digitally but will appear in a physical form at the booth. Each will have a corresponding NFT. Many of the works are self-portraits. A statue of Schachter surrounded by cellphones references selfie culture while a painting of Schachter mid-scream (his son took a video of Schachter’s reaction to being spooked in a prank) was fabricated in China and points to peoples’ obsession with filming everything.
“In a way my work never changed, I’ve always appreciated technology, I’m always using like the most advanced modes of fabrication or display, like this multiple fan holographic apparatus,” Schachter said, pointing to a vertical rack with eight fans attached that was lying dormant in his studio. When I had arrived Schachter was still working out the kinks and couldn’t get it to work but was confident it would be up and running by the time of the installation.
Later, he emailed to explain that the power strip had simply not been plugged in. Today, the fans are whirring as Schachter takes his position overlooking the art world.