The Unedited Email Interview with James Kalm

I posted the edited interview with James on Art21 last week but I wanted to post the extendamix since I think he said some interesting things (particularly about Willoughby Sharp) that I wanted put out into the ether. Here goes…

THE UNEDITED JAMES KALM INTERVIEW

HV: First off, how do you want to be identified? James Kalm? And as a vlogger? Artist/critic?

JK: You can identify me as James Kalm, which is a pseudonym I’ve been using for my writing and video work for over ten years now. Because of my instinctive distrust of art criticism (having been an artist for over thirty-five years) I wanted to make a distinction between my work as a painter named Loren Munk and the “critic/writer.” My middle name is James, and my wife is Kate Augenblick. So as a way of honoring my wife I took K A the first letters from her name added L M from my name and got Kalm. Until recently I’ve enjoy a kind of anonymity that allowed me to get a truer, unvarnished view of the art world, and fewer requests for favors.

As to whether I’m a “vlogger” or not, I have no idea. From what I’ve seen, vloggers basically sit in front of the camera and talk about themselves, that’ll never happen with the “Kalm Report.” I tend to think of it more as “art-recon,” an urban commando collecting data that will help document the community and actions that make up the New York art scene circa 2008. Also it’s like going gallery hopping with a friend, albeit a yakking, loudmouthed dumb-ass friend.

Hopefully I’m helping to blur these lines. Much of my recent painting deals with the concepts of representing the principles of art criticism, aesthetics, history, and influence graphically with paint. Although I hate “art theories” I’ve got one I’m working on called “The Physics of Aesthetics.” Basically a more “scientific” view of the elements that make up the idea of “taste.”

HV: How did the “Kalm Report” come into being?

JK: I’ve been asked this question a lot. About three years ago I started watching video clips on YouTube. I read some articles about YouTube stars who’d made reputations, gotten gobs of attention, been discovered by Hollywood and gotten hundreds of thousands of hits. I had no expertise in video at all, no idea how to edit, shoot it or post it. In fact, I generally avoided video when I came in contact with it in gallery situations. As stated above, I’d been documenting the scene photographically for years, (I have tens of thousands of photos) but had recently gone digital. One day while shooting pictures with my little Canon Elf, I flipped the mode switch too far and started shooting video. I got home, downloaded the day’s pics, and watched the video snippets. They were funny and interesting, I laughed, but I had no idea what to do with them.

About the same time Irving Sandler (the Dean of American Art History and Criticism), published an open letter to art critics in the Brooklyn Rail titled “The Crisis in Criticism.” One of his complaints was that no one was paying attention to art critics anymore they were academic and boring, money and the market had taken over, and hence, art was suffering from over-priced mediocrity.

Being a practical joker and trickster, always looking for ways to extend the reach of my high-jinx, I envisioned using YouTube as a means to reach a new audience that was under served by the likes of ARTFORUM, Art in America and the other tony New York art publications. Because I was a video Luddite, I first tried to enlist the staff at the Brooklyn Rail hoping someone would be able to supply technical expertise. After a couple of months with no response I figured I’d have to go solo and learn the hard way, by trail and error. I went to the Fountain Art Fair, turned on the camera and started talking and shooting. Fortunately I have some very computer savvy kids and they helped me learn how to upload and edit the work. The rest has been an embarrassing case of learning how to make videos in public, and mostly I’ve enjoyed every second of it.

HV: Any way to gauge how many viewers you have? And what have been some of the craziest reactions to your video logs?

JK: If you look at the channel page of the “Kalm Report” on YouTube you can follow the view counts. They’re posted below each program. It’s the same with the other sites, Yahoo Video and blip_tv that I post at as well. I have an understanding with Rebecca Wilson over at Saatchi Online TV so they run the vids with a proprietary arrangement so the views there don’t register at YouTube, and I haven’t gotten the view counts there, but with over fifty million hits a day, I’m sure they get a few.

The numbers vary a lot between the programs. My highest viewed is Jason Rhodes “Black Pussy” (which shows the importance of a good title) at nearly 18,000 and some of the lesser have gotten only two hundred fifty. Right now a good “Report” should generate between four and eight hundred in the first week, sometimes they pop and hit a couple thousand right away, then they usually slow down.

Crazy reactions? I had one viewer who wanted to fly me to Atlanta to make a “Report” on the paintings of his ex-girlfriend. They were terrible, but I didn’t have the heart to tell him.

In another case the widow of a very famous painter saw a work of her late husband during a studio visit. She’d been compiling a catalog and had been trying to locate this piece for thirty years.

One of the best stories was the artist whose opening I dropped in on. She didn’t want anything to do with it, she’s bashful. I coxed her into an interview and tour, but she was pissed off and wouldn’t talk to me for months. Finally, I get a gushing e-mail and a belated thank you. Seems she was being audited by the IRS. Because she wasn’t making enough profit from the art. They were going to disallow her deductions (she’s a sculptor so there’s a lot of cash involved in fabrication). During the audit her accountant goes online and pops up her program at the “Kalm Report”. After viewing it, the IRS guy said that she obviously was an artist, so the deductions were valid.

Mostly I just get very sincere thank yous from viewers all over the world.

HV: Who was your most riveting interview and why? In other words, does creating the Kalm Report give you another perspective on the artists or does it make you interested in capturing artists whose work looks better on video?

JK: Jeff Koons and Frank Stella, both on the roof at the Met were great chats (the Met has been very accommodating to the “Kalm Report”) being blown off by Neo Rauch also at the Met was fun.

The most touching interview so far, was with Willoughby Sharp at his “Reappearance” exhibition at Michell Algus. I’ve admired Willoughby from afar for years. He’s one of the extremely influential artists and art activist of the last thirty years. He published Avalanche Magazine which gave the first recognition to Earth Art, and also introduced America to Joseph Beuys. He pioneered a lot of performance and video art and he ran a gallery in the East Village too. As is common here in the land of micro second memory spans, he’s kind of fallen into obscurity recently.

Willoughby’s in his early seventies now, and unfortunately he’s been stricken with cancer of the throat. This is all apparent during the interview as he has trouble speaking, and you can see the fatigue creeping in. Nevertheless his grace and humor come through miraculously. He’s accepted life’s challenges and like any great artist has made it all part of his grand performance. I cried while I was editing that piece.

My announced goal with the “Kalm Report” has always been to show people not only the art in the New York City scene, but to dig deeper and try and show the “real art world”, the behind the scenes stuff, the challenges a regular “guy on a bike” runs into. In some cases it works on video, in others, I’m hopping the narration might help get the point across.

HV: You also write criticism, do you consider your videos works of criticism?

JK: Some of the writing could be categorized as criticism, some of it as cultural reporting, journalism, some tending towards historic documentation.

In an attempt to inoculate myself from charges of journalistic exploitation, in a brief monologue at the beginning of “2008 Whitney Biennial Busted” (the video where I was kicked out of the Museum), I stated that I see the “Kalm Reports” as a mix of all the above, but also as autonomous works of art in themselves Some very prescient reporters like yourself, and Steven Kaplan, have realized that the videos are a form of performance art, a free form “flow of consciousness” monolog on art and the art world. I’m also trying to maintain an irreverent, almost Dadaistic, sense of humor. To quote Ad Reinhardt, “Art is too serious to be taken seriously”.

Because I’ve structured the videos to be direct and “taped live” (usually no voice over narrative recorded later in the studio) I don’t intentionally delve into straight criticism. I don’t have time to make the in-depth analysis and interpretation that serious criticism requires. Some work I’m familiar with and might have reviewed before so I can judge a bit better, but I’m hopping to give the viewer a chance to make their own decisions. I think that’s one of the great things about video that you can’t get from print reviews, even with photos.

HV: Is there any work of art that really tested the limits of the Kalm Report, in other words, did you ever come across something that you said “I can’t cover this, it won’t show up on video or won’t make sense to the viewer”?

JK: Because of my “halfassed” production values I’m willing to try to record just about anything. In some ways, it’s part of the creative challenge to figure out how to photograph things. With subtly or ephemerality I can usually catch something and then try to explain. Antony Gormely’s “Blind Light” at Sean Kelly was a giant glass box full of fog. I walked in, and for the next three minutes you see nothing on the screen but grey. I had to keep talking to describe the work and what I was experiencing. Later, to put it all into context, I recorded the outside of the box and the other pieces of sculpture in the show. Some things in dark rooms just don’t show up. I did a black light show, Jocelyn Shipley’s “Secret Life of Sculpture” at Canada which I didn’t know whether it would come out but, it looked pretty good. What I do try to avoid is boring art, although I’ve recorded more than my share of that stuff too.

HV: Last question. What’s the future of the Kalm Report? Any aspirations for a more professionally-produced “program” or series?

“Professionally -produced” would imply that there is some money coming in, some wages being paid, and as much as I encourage and welcome people sending me cash, in the almost two years and the over 225 “Kalm Reports” produced, I have yet to extract one penny from this project. In the meantime, I’ve had computers fry, cameras get worn-out, programs go funky, bikes break and a host of very time consuming annoyances. All this sounds pretty “half assed”, definitely not professional. However, I hope to continue developing better technique and coming up with different new, subjects and angles.

For me, one of the beauties of the “Kalm Report” is that aside from time and energy there is very little cost involved. A goal of mine from the beginning was to show viewers there are ways to circumvent the established elite media outlets, to go directly to the people and open their eyes. If someone is creative and innovative they don’t need a lot, all they need is an idea, a bike, and a two dollar camera. Maybe they can change the way the world sees art… stay tuned, thanks Kate,