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Kenny Scharf on His Long-Standing Relationship with the New York Academy of Art

On April 19 in Manhattan, the New York Academy of Art (NYAA) held its TriBeCa Ball to honor the artist Kenny Scharf. Upon entering the multi-level space, a mural painted by the artist greeted guests, as did stilt-walkers serving Bollinger champagne and artists whose works were on view upstairs. A VIP preview with studio tours and cocktails led to a seated dinner, followed by remarks by Scharf and NYAA’s Trustee Eileen Guggenheim and President David Kratz. There in the presence of special guests—including Brooke Shields, Futura, Brian Donnelly, Francesco Clemente, Sante D’Orazio, and Tony Shafrazi—Kratz spoke of Scharf’s illustrious career in contemporary art, Guggenheim touched upon their long-standing relationship, and Scharf was awarded an honorary degree from the academy. 

To hear how the NYAA fosters connections and resources, and what the artist is up to this summer, Whitewall spoke with Kratz, Guggenheim, and Scharf. 

NYAA

Kenny Scharf, David Kratz, courtesy of the New York Academy of Art.

WHITEWALL: Kenny, this year, you were recognized as the honoree of NYAA’s Tribeca Ball. Can you tell us a bit about your relationship with the organization?

KENNY SCHARF: I was introduced to school many years ago when it was on Lafayette Street by Andy Warhol and Stewart Pivar. I loved that it was focused on old school methods of life drawing and the craft, which was absent in my experience with art schools.  They were more focused on theology and the conceptual.

WW: For the night, you painted a mural inside on the lobby wall. Can you tell us a bit about this work? What was the starting point?

KS: I’m hoping the mural will be in the lobby longer than the night. Instead of hanging a finished painting on the wall, I decided to do a site-specific mural. It always adds urgency and excitement to make something in public site-specific. I don’t plan ahead I just look at the wall and start. That’s the hardest part—the first line. Once that happens, the rest follows in a flowing and spontaneous way.

NYAA

Work by Kenny Scharf, courtesy of the New York Academy of Art.

WW: What does the Kenny Scharf Artist Scholarship Fund provide?

KS: The scholarship fund ensures that talented students have the resources needed so they can thrive and explore and focus on their creativity.

WW: At the Tribeca Ball, we stopped by and said hi to you and your dinner partners—like Brian (KAWS) and Lenny McGurr (Futura). What is your personal relationship like with other artists today? Are you thinking collaboratively on any projects right now?

KS: I enjoy the camaraderie that other artists provide. I embrace old friendships and new ones alike. I’m pretty much of a one-man band so I rarely collaborate but when it happens it’s usually in the form of murals and public art that happens naturally in a group setting. Just like graffiti in the streets, things pop up next to other things and create an overall look and collaborative effort.

WW: How are you thinking about the rise in digital art, like NFTs?

KS: I have always enjoyed taking my imagery into other venues of media and forms. NFTs are another venue that works very well with my imagery. It’s almost like the technology has caught up to my ideas! I am first and foremost an object maker, and I believe the actual object in physical space has lasting value that will still be around even if there’s a power outage or blackout.

WW: What are you working on right now?

KS: Right now I have a show at Totah in New York through June 25. Plus, there will be a show in June at Honor Fraser Gallery in Los Angeles that will be up until mid-August. And I’ll have a show opening on  August 30 in Seoul at the Hyundai Gallery.

NYAA

Eileen Guggenheim, Futura, courtesy of the New York Academy of Art.

WW: Eileen, why was Kenny Scharf the honoree of this year’s NYAA Tribeca Ball? 

EILEEN GUGGENHEIM: Kenny has been unfailingly generous to the school.  He has followed the progress of the Academy since the early 1980s, stayed in touch, and recently done an extensive interview with Brooke Shields about the early days of the institution. So, there is a sense of shared history there. In addition, his work has been representational since its inception and that has been an inspiration for the students. Last, but certainly not least, he has repeatedly donated artwork to our auction, Artists for Artists, held each year in October at Sotheby’s.

WW: David, how does the NYAA foster connections, resources, and funds for its students and community?  

DAVID KRATZ: The Academy is unique among art schools for its connection to and participation in the current art world.  We encourage our students to be part of the dialogue.  Events like TriBeCa Ball create an opportunity for notable gallerists, collectors, and high-profile artists to visit the student studios, meet the artists and see their work.  Often, it can lead to a student selling their work for the first time.  It also can be the start of a network of supporters that can help to sustain an artist throughout their career.

WW: What are some ways the public can get involved in supporting the NYAA’s missions?  

DK: Giving to scholarship funds, visiting the studios and buying student work, displaying Academy work publicly and privately, and spreading the word about the very talented emerging artists at the school.

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Courtesy of the New York Academy of Art.

WW: At the Ball, we heard from the NFT platform Voice. How is the academy approaching the rise in digital art, such as NFTs?  

DK: With Voice, we are providing an opportunity for our artists to mint and sell their own NFTs.  We are also teaching the use of digital modeling and mediums. 

WW: What is the academy working on now, or in 2022?  

DK: We’re excited now about our annual summer exhibition—a juried show that features work from our entire community. This year, the jury includes Clara Ha from Chart Gallery, Andrew Kreps from Kreps Gallery, Michael Nevin from The Journal Gallery, and Wallace Whitney from Canada Gallery.

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Kelly Wearstler

THE WINTER EXPERIENCE ISSUE
2023

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