Glenn O’Brien was a great many things to a great many people. Editor, television producer, screenwriter, critic and cultural scene maker, he began his career at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. Glenn also was a formidable creative director who elevated advertising to the realm of art. “I can’t help but feel like my ads are better than Barbara Kruger’s,” he once famously declared. “Although hers are art and mine, well they are just ads. They have a logo. But I think art has logos now, too, so maybe there is no difference.” And I loved him for that.
Glenn was brilliant at so many things, moving effortlessly from one to the other, or doing them all at once and adding more, all the while making you believe that you could do it, too. “I like to keep busy,” he would say, deadpan. High and low. Facetious and profound. Punk and regal.
With a youthful spirit that never left him and a steadfast refusal to stay in any lane, Glenn was of the race of conquerors who forever exists in the continuous present.
In fact, conqueror he was from our very first interaction. I had sought Glenn out, years ago, while reaching a handful of artists to take on the Saint James nautical shirt. I had spent a day or two guessing his email by trying multiple combinations of his first and last names. One worked. Within minutes he gave me this answer, forever incised in my memory: “These are my favorite shirts in the world. I’d be really into it. And if you can believe ancestry.com, I’m descended from William the Conqueror.”
Generous, inclusive, but also grander than life. Extra-ordinary. Glenn catapulted himself into the pantheon of great heroes, and for this he was right. Glenn was sui generis.
For me, Glenn was a pivotal rencontre.
It would be impossible to claim exhaustiveness with any portrait of Glenn. This exhibition proposes one possible approach, in the manner of a portrait en creux, which in literature is when the author defines a character by focusing our attention on the
background, on the company he keeps, as well as his actions in the world.
The expression “en creux” refers to the engraving technique intaglio, in which a surface is etched or incised to hold the ink. It is the opposite of relief engraving, and the literary equivalent of the quiet, but often revealing, negative space we find in sculpture and painting.
Glenn defined himself above all as a writer. Words are the continuous thread of the exhibition—in their presence, absence, repetition and silence. This portrait en creux of Glenn is meant to suggest, but not to impose. Collectively, the artists and works offer a faceted reflection of his profound optimism, wit and spirit.
My deepest gratitude to Gina Nanni for her wonderful support and friendship.
— Natacha Polaert @natachapolaert
“Glenn O’Brien: Center Stage” September 17 – November 27, 2019
Off Paradise @offparadise
120 Walker Street, New York
+1 212 388 9010
Off Paradise is a new project space on Walker Street. The name evokes the old neighborhood of Five Points, at the center of which was a small, triangular park, full of hopes and grime, called Paradise Square. It also invokes Paradise Alley, the artists’ and poets’ colony on the then-godforsaken corner of Avenue A and East 11th Street that is referenced in Jack Kerouac’s novel The Subterraneans. Off Paradise is a fictional place, right off Paradise, adjacent to it, but not exactly it.
Featuring: Alvin Baltrop, Sarah Charlesworth, Dan Colen, Sara Cwynar, Les Levine, Eileen Myles, Dennis Oppenheim, Richard Prince, Rene Ricard, Walter Robinson, Claude Rutault, André Saraiva, Tom Sachs, Dash Snow, Andy Warhol, Ouattara Watts, and Martin Wong
Full poem by Eileen Myles that Eileen wrote, inspired by a conversation she once had with Glenn in the 1980s. Glenn never knew it existed.
& New book out now: “Intelligence for Dummies: Essays and Other Collected Writings”
“A portrait of a keen social observer at the center of the last 50 years of cultural life, captured through a vivid selection of O’Brien’s own writings on music to fashion to downtown art and, just as importantly and unexpectedly, the political temperature of America.
Glenn O’Brien collaborated with visual artists, writers, fashion houses, and musicians throughout his almost 50-year career. Intelligence for Dummies gathers Glenn O’Brien’s essays, aphorisms and tweets, to create a portrait of the artist as cultural bellwether, complimented by artwork and photographs from his collaborators. A full color, hardcover edition, Intelligence for Dummies is a deeply personal aperçu into Patti Smith and Jean Michel Basquiat’s New York, and the culture of money that ensued. It also reveals O’Brien’s incisive and prescient understanding of America’s political culture, and of our current president.”
All installation views by Guillaume Ziccarelli.