From 2001 to 2003, during and following grad school, I traveled the Artworld visiting hundreds of galleries, art dealers, curators, artists, museums and fairs. I went to many countries and cities, but spent more time in the international Art capitols, New York City and London. My itinerary unfolded organically since each visited person or place would refer me to more persons and places. Occasionally, I’d land a super meeting with a major Artworld aficionado, and the floodgates would open.
My goal was connecting dots, informing my work and making new friends. Yes, I totally wanted to be discovered, land A-list representation and placement in museum shows, but these travels were never just means to an end. They were a performance that signified lifestyle and art practice melding together. My character was Miguel Nelson, wide-eyed and cavalier MFA on a mission to simultaneously worship and take the piss out of the Art system. More than a handful of Art folks were annoyed with this approach, but I was happy to play the poster child for an infamous paradox – the Artworld detests ambition, elitism, narcissism, opportunism and capitalism, yet these are the very principles that sustain it and have all but come to define it . If my act was pure irony, I might have blended in with so many millenial Artists, but I sincerely and overtly wanted access while my cheeky work couldn't help but prey on the hipocrisy of the myriad institutions and their gatekeepers. I was preemptively biting the hands that I truly wanted to feed me.
This adventure led to some very odd neighborhoods and situations. A variety of destinations were so stealth that I’d either never find them or have to pass by several times before gaining entrance. At times I felt like Indiana Jones discovering a magical passage to a parallel universe filled with undecipherable objects and personalities. Often there was no love connection, but the hunt was pleasure enough. I became enamored with the whole planes, trains and automobiles nature of it all and also with the plethora of scenes and the way the same people would show up at an opening here, a restaurant there, across the aisle on and airplane and then in a hole in the wall in another city in another country. What a wonderful way to get to know the itsy bitsy Artworld! Whatever the outcome, I was having the time of my life.
I carried a tiny digital camera, the first generation Canon Elph, in my front pocket and used it to snapshot my journey. The camera made a handy prop for social interaction, a way to entertain a new friend on the fly. Back then digital cameras were still a novelty – you could see what you shot instantly, even better than Polaroid, and the backlit LCD could so conveniently be viewed in dark noisy places. Taking a group shot was basically revering a moment worth remembering and a valid enough excuse to exchange emails and reconnect later. Of course these days, everyone has a digital camera in their phone, the novelty is still there, but one has to work it much harder to gain any immediate social leverage. I also ended up photographing pretty much every art space at least enough to get the main entrance and possibly the sign or address. The resulting series of gallery entrances added up to something that eventually became an artwork.
Back home I shared the photos with friends and family who kinda found them alien and not so interesting. Unsatisfied with their reaction, I invited them (insisted really) to sit down at their kitchen table, choose a photo and represent it with watercolor (a slacker medium that pretty much anyone can mess with, though few can master) while I regaled them with travel tales. I traced each photo in pencil and rubbed it onto Arches watercolor paper for them to color in; thus, putting my hand a little bit into the work. Surprisingly, some of my friends and family turned out to be excellent painters. This dialogue deepened our (yes, mine too) understanding of where I’d been and why.
I loved these paintings and archived them carefully along side their photographic counterpart in two albums custom bound for me in San Francisco. The black one is New York City and the green one is London. Blum & Poe actually considered showing them in the first Frieze Art Fair back in 2003 but unfortunately chose not to take them.
These albums are currently shelved in my dining room. I rarely show them to anyone, but they are still very special to me.