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We visited artist Olaf Breuning just two days since he moved in to his East Village loft, and it already feels quite settled-in. The live-in studio is “a studio first, an apartment second,” he told us. Much of Breuning’s work nowadays is created in his space upstate or filmed on location, and his East Village studio functions more as a hatchery for ideas than anything else. The ambience is professional but very cozy – visitors are greeted by a friendly, blue British shorthair named Whale. We were offered espresso made in his large open kitchen, which he served in a painted cup with a shattered handle.
A boxed-off section houses a modest bedroom and another room full of books, artworks, and other objects. The rest is open space. A simple wooden table with a small pile of sketchbooks, a computer and a pen is where Olaf produces sketches and dreams up new projects. A letter-sized drawing “Sexy Kitty” hangs above it in a brass frame. A TV is tucked away in the corner, encircled by minimalist, rectangular white sectional sofas that are slightly worn. The only pop of color in the living room is his 1998 Sibylle a vibrant photo of a female amputee wearing a red wig, clown nose, devil horns, prosthetic arm hair, and dinner rolls over her fingers. “She was my girlfriend at the time, but then I cut her leg off and that was that,” he shrugged.
Breuning does not collect art, and everything on the walls is his own work. He creates artworks that express “me as a human being” and rarely feels inspired by contemporary art itself. He does not consider himself an “artist’s artist.” In fact, one piece is titled “Art Fucks Itself” – a large, cheeky drawing of Paul McCarthy, Paul Klee, and Mona Lisa having intercourse in a queue, in that order.
The sparsely occupied, expansive space, however, hardly feels empty – two walls are entirely lined with large windows, with light and life pouring in from the streets. The energy of the East Village convinced him to leave his old neighborhood – the “quiet and rich” Tribeca – and also inspired the latest installment to his “Home” series, which is currently being screened at Metro Pictures.
“Home” documents his friend Brian Kerstetter – a gangly redhead in eerie, light blue contacts (who is actually a writer for PBS) – bursting through locations such as Machu Picchu, Paris, Ghana, and Tokyo, and encountering confusing, humorous, and uneasy scenarios. Home 3, based in New York City, shows Kerstetter’s naïve and wistful character dealing with NYC’s pace and clambering into personalities. “The world itself is crazy, someone who interacts with it is not someone who is quiet,” Breuning explained. The piece is also deeply personal and slightly nostalgic. “[Brian and I] went out each Friday for ten years. He has a kid now and cannot be hungover anymore. Good things have to end at one point.”
In one scene, Kerstetter declares that a kind-faced, bearded elderly gentleman in a crowd is Fidel Castro and shouts into the camera, “Why doesn’t he speak Spanish?” In another, he hurriedly exits a hotel room of young rappers and sighs, “They were singing about babies and giving people babies…why am I in the wrong room and the wrong scene?” He casually lights up a joint in a rowboat in Central Park, stuffs franks into his T-shirt at Nathan’s Coney Island Hot Dog Eating Contest, and informs a Buddhist monk on the street that they both are wearing yellow. Life in the city, as Breuning points out, is a bit like a Rihanna song: one can jump in at any point, and a steady attention span is not required.
Olaf Breuning (b. 1970) was born in Schaffhausen, Switzerland. His work combines reality and illusion, authenticity and artifice, to create his uneasily humorous photographs, drawings, films, sculptures, and installations. Breuning has a one-person exhibition scheduled to open at the Paul Klee Museum in Bern, Switzerland in September 2013. His films, photographs, drawings, and sculpture have been exhibited at the Migros Museum, Zurich; Centre d’Art Contemporain la Chapelle du Geneteil, France; Kunstmuseum Luzern, Lucerne, Switzerland; SMAK/Museum of Fine Arts, Gent, Belgium; Museum of Contemporary Art, North Miami; Centre Pompidou, Paris; Museum of Contemporary Art, Barcelona; Museo Tamayo, Mexico City; ZKM Center for Art and Media, Karlsruhe, Germany; MoMA PS1, New York. Lives and works in New York.