Jennifer Stockman: "Is there ever a comeback"
Interview by Andrea Blanch
Andrea Blanch: I enjoyed the film very much, I wish it had been longer.
Jennifer Stockman: We have so much material still. We have all this footage and so many great interviews with more artists and collectors that fit into our existing story arcs, and now we’re looking where to go next because we didn't cover younger artists and their struggles as much as we wanted to. It was very exciting to finally talk to artists who I've known for decades but whom I've never asked these questions.
Andrea: Did you draft the questions for the interviews yourself?
Jennifer: We worked on all the questions together. We reviewed the subjects — well, I knew in a way what their story was and I thought there should be a focus in the interview about what we want to get to in the end. Although, with a documentary, you have to stay open and be very organic with interviews and let the story drive you. You can't let your own preconceived notions about a person shape the interview. It was wonderful because [Kahn] didn't know the contemporary art world, so he was able to ask questions that I wouldn't even have thought about asking because I'm supposed to know the answers already. So, it was a wonderful collaboration. He brought the film world to me and I brought the contemporary art world to him.
Andrea: Why did you choose Nathaniel Kahn to direct the film.
Jennifer: First, I started thinking about this film. A documentary has never been done like this. We wanted a director who was an unbiased intellectual; it needed to be somebody open-minded and authentic.
Andrea: Were you influenced by Kahn’s first film?
Jennifer: He Wrote was about his father, Louis Kahn. Nathaniel had many reasons to strongly dislike his father, but the film did not necessarily sway the viewer one way or the other. We never wanted that obvious approach in the film. This was never an “I gotcha” film or one showing the underbelly we all know exists. We wanted to turn back the curtain and peek in and see all the different players. We didn't want it to be a purely academic film. We wanted the film to be character-driven.
Andrea: I'm looking forward to the next installment. It must be a challenge for the two of you to do the whole thing.
Jennifer: If I knew how much money and time it would take to make this film, I'm not sure I would have done it. I was in development probably for three and a half years. “What are the changes in the art world and how do you show the art world?” Those were our big questions. And we had to narrow, narrow, narrow down. Each artist was in a different place in their lives and had a different career trajectory. Jeff Koons is the artist of the moment who reflects today's contemporary culture. We knew we needed an artist like Larry who had peaked at one point and disappeared. He chose to leave the scene and moved to his farmhouse in the country. He wasn’t pushed out. He wasn't frustrated with his choice. He just didn't want to deal with what was happening in the art world. He even says in the film, “If I had stayed, I'd be dead,” and the question is, will they ever come back? Is there ever a comeback?
Andrea: Did you consider making this film to be a big risk?
Jennifer: If you're filming someone and they say something silly or stupid and shoot themselves in the foot, you still have the right to use that material, and the risk to me was embarrassing someone I care about. I needed to be objective and set my friendships with the artists aside. My number-one priority was doing the right thing for this film.
Andrea: Someone in your film said there are a lot of followers in the world and only a few leaders. What makes a ‘leader’ in the art world?
Jennifer: The tastemakers always change. It wasn't that long ago that the art critics who determined the future of art. I don't think the critics or curators have the same voice that they used to have in the art world. The tastemakers used to be a few chosen brilliant curators and then collectors would follow, and those leaders might not last 10 years; we might look back and say, “Well, it's back to curators, or it's the internet blog,” and that's the tastemaker.
Andrea: How did this film change the way you value art?
Jennifer: So many ways. It gives us a deeper understanding of art history because art, more than music or history books, shows a moment in time. Throughout history, there’s always a consensus about that artist who most accurately reflects the period. Art should move your heart and soul. For me, it's therapy. It puts everything in life into perspective.
You could find great art in museums, you could walk into a gallery show and be done. How something moved you, somehow it just hits you and there's no easy answer for that. It's always been very emotional for me. I respond to what made me think, “What's outside of the frame? What provokes questions, opinions, emotions?”
The art world system has enough brilliant people in it so the cream of the crop rises to the top. You actually learn how to save and you can appreciate the old and contemporary masterpieces.
Andrea: Who is your target audience for this film?
Jennifer: We made the film for a general audience. We wanted it to have international appeal. We wanted teenagers who might be interested in being artists or part of the art world to see it. We wanted as many people as possible to see it. That's why the entertainment value, the humor in it, was really important.
Andrea: How does an artist build their commercial value?
Jennifer: I think they shouldn't pay attention to it, that could be the kiss of death for a young artist, thinking, “How can I become Jeff Koons?” I think an artist with very a creative mind needs to do what comes and pours out of them. Sometimes, as Nathaniel has shown in the film, it takes a lifetime to be noticed.
Like with any other career, you can get noticed very early and that could be a curse. If you focus too much on fame and fortune it could be the kiss of death.
Andrea: How do artists and collectors use this film to help their careers?
Jennifer: It’s important to find smart dealers who understand your work and understand you and are committed to you as an artist. A strong message in the film is not to be too literal about what sells. If they want to buy art because they think it's an investment that’ll increase in value if they want to create a foundation for all of their art named after themselves, if they want to give their collection to a museum; more power to them. I just went to the estate sale of a brilliant collector of contemporary art who sadly passed away. He's selling his estate and giving it to a foundation to support artists. He sold a fantastic Lichtenstein to create a foundation to help prisoners. It's easy to say the art world is ridiculous and these price values are insane, but good things come out of it.
Andrea: Would you compare the risk taken in the art world equivalent to the risks taken in the financial world?
Jennifer: I'm not an art trader. I still collect for investment, so I don't look at it that way, but people who do have an algorithm are very systematic. They try to apply financial world techniques to their art world collecting. To me, it doesn't make sense to collect art that way, but again these are smart financial people and maybe they've come up with an algorithm that works. I'm not the person to say, right? I just think that there's a high risk in it for myself, especially if you don't know a lot about it. It's the same type of risk.
Andrea: Would you consider yourself a risk-taker?
Jennifer: In collecting art I've always been a risk-taker because I buy what I love, knowing that what I buy might not have any value in 10 years. I made a film. I knew that was a risk. I know and love so many people in the art world and I didn't know how the film was going to come out.
Andrea: Do you think collectors are shallow?
Jennifer: I'm not going to judge them for being shallow. Why should people want a piece of art just because it's beautiful and aesthetically pleasing to them? Again, I'm not the person to judge if they want to collect an item now because they think it's going to go up in value.
Andrea: How do you see yourself as a collector?
Jennifer: I have no idea. I want to always be true to myself and to be authentically me, that's the most important thing to me. [I want to be] compassionate and caring and try to do the right thing, but beyond that, I have no idea.
Andrea: I just have one more thing. Someone said, “Art doesn't give a shit. It never has. There are no rules.” Is that one of the reasons why you were attracted to Nathaniel?
Jennifer: I love this question because I think one of the reasons why the film is so successful is because I'm not a film school graduate. I didn't know anything about making a film. Nathaniel certainly does. But there was no precedent and there were no boundaries. We just went for it.
Andrea: I think it is successful and educational.
Jennifer: The editing was difficult, as you know. It was a long process, although I'm very excited at the prospect that there’s more to say.
Andrea: That's wonderful to hear. That's inspiring.
Jennifer: There's a lot more to say. There really is. The film could have been six hours because there was so much to see and tell and talk about. We didn't imagine anybody would see it. It was sort of done as a personal project initially and the fact that people actually see it and like it - well, you just have to pinch yourself.