Urban bytes: Interviews in Pittsburgh and Beyond.

Thursday, October 11, 2007

John Morris: NYC Artist, Pittsburgh Gallery Owner and Raconteur

John Morris: NYC artist, Pittsburgh Gallery Owner and Raconteur

Quotable Quote "One of the weird and I guess kind of great things about Pittsburgh is that people and things that would cause riots in other cities go unnoticed here."

Residence Pittsburgh, PA, USA (Neighborhood, Lawrenceville)

Interviewed at Digging Pitt Gallery on August 11th, 2007.

Why Did John Leave NYC to start Digging Pitt Gallery? Part 1

Jean: There are a number of really terrific gallery spaces in Pittsburgh, but when I came in to Digging Pitt the first time, it felt like a NYC gallery to me. And in fact, you came from NY City here to open a gallery in Pittsburgh.{Digging Pitt...Butler near 45th Street in Lawrenceville neighborhood} How did that happen?

John: It's a long story my sister lived here {at one time} So I'd been through town. And, by the way ......actually I don't get out that much, so it's not like I'd been to that many cities. I will admit to the fact that I'm pretty much a life long New Yorker and I didn't have that much to compare {Pittsburgh to}. I didn't know the town at all ....but after driving around but it actually kinda resembled NY, the rivers coming to a point isn't this NY without Donald Trump. So I thought wow it's kind of a nice town. It surprised me as being interesting, and then I was aware of how cheap it was. So that was a big factor. And then I was an artist, and in spite of being "successful" I wasn't that successful, you know financially, so cheapness was important. I think, this is a psychologist on the couch story.

Jean: Well you don't have to tell me that much!

And who is John Morris Anyway?? A bit about John Morris Artist from NYC
Jean:Actually, when I first started coming to the gallery, I didn't realize that you were an artist and then I found that out. And then I looked on line and I thought your work was fabulous. I was just so impressed. {John is represented by NYC gallery D'Amelio Terras}

John: Actually in an odd way it comes across well on line, it becomes more ethereal, a lot of my work is ethereal, and online it becomes more ethereal. You can't see what the hell it is. But the spirit of it comes out ...it becomes more "What the hell is that?"

Jean: But I've seen it also in person, and it looked pretty darn good too, because then totally coincidentally a week later I saw some of your pieces in a New York gallery, how weird is that?. But any how you've gotten into some pretty prestigious collections, to say the least! Which are let me think,.....the Museum of Modern Art,The Whitney, the Guggenheim.

John: Also Queens Museum, you know its on website, I think the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston. And the Fogg Museum {Harvard }and then there's a couple of others. And now the only one I was actually shown in {as opposed to being placed in collection archives} was MOMA.

Jean: What was the show at MOMA (Museum of Modern Art). mmmmm You don't remember the name of the show? Could it have been acquisitions. I know they do acquisitions.
John: It was new acquisitions, new drawings I had probably talking around 2000. The Guggenheim and the Whitney bought my work out right, the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston bought my work out right, MOMA bought my work out right and Queens museum was like Academy of Arts and Letters. I got an award from them and then they donated the piece to the Queens Museum. But the Guggenheim, which actually I believe was 19 or 20 pieces, that was a collector who donated his whole collection.

Jean: I am really surprised you are willing to talk about this! I n the past you’ve been reluctant to do so. ...I know people have been urging you to clue people in on the recognition that you have received for your work.I think it will be very interesting to Pittsburghers, especially in view of the mythology is that successful people don’t want to live here..and that is so untrue. . Are you doing any of your own work now?

John: I continuously doodle, but whether I'm thinking about it as working seriously as an artist, I don't know.

How did Digging Pitt come to be? part 2

John: I should say that like so many artists, I had a really, really hard time as an artist, my art career didn't develop immediately. And Pierogi Gallery was so crucial in the development of my career...that’s part of what go me so interested in starting a gallery of my own. And then it developed in this very particular way, where I did these little drawings and I didn't have any money to photograph them, a lot of them didn't photograph really well, anyway. And then one day I read this story in the NY times that gave this profile of like these art dealers that were like looking for new artists in about 1997. And so it mentioned Pierogi 2000,{now a famous gallery} which at time Pierogi had just opened. That's how my work got out there.

Jean: Oh I didn't know that.

John: So I was always very grateful that that had happened. And that it was so great. And definitely when I saw Pierogi, I was obsessed with this is the greatest idea in the art world. But I didn't actually think that it was a money making idea although it might be... almost like a Home Depot.

Jean: (laughs) We'll edit that out.

John: Well but it is.

Jean: It does allow people to buy things at a cheaper price because things aren't framed. You can keep quantity. And do a lot of posting images on the web. I know you have some well known artists in the files one of them being, Polly Apfelbaum, for example, who was on the cover of Art in America last year, and her name is everywhere. On a kind of different note, how many artists would you estimate you have in the flat files here?

John: I round it up to around 200.

And Why Open a Gallery? (at all)

John: I had this in the back of my mind, then I hooked up with D'Amelio Terras. And I had my shows and it was a lot of pressure. And in a way I enjoyed it but I never fully, I did struggle and make a living in NY doing this. And again a "living" is like, I was living with my mom in other words, this was an amount of money that could have provided me some kind of living in NY. Anyway it was like a struggle.

{John continues}
And then I gradually I didn't feel like I had the freedom that I wanted there. It didn't seem fully fulfilling. And I just started going back to this obsession that the art world seemed to be sort of broken. And there was this idea like wow, that the solution to the art world, that is a gallery like Pierogi, that's thethe ultimate nirvana. And also {he is part of}this trend of like artists being forced out of the city. It's too expensive, and you know this situation where, cause Ironically NY is like, there's now this divergence, where the cities that seem to be places to do work aren't good places to sell work.

And at some point I just started obsessing about it, originally I wanted to have a partner because I didn't think I would be good as a business person.

Observations about the fair city of Pittsburgh

Jean You have become very involved in documenting the cultural scene in Pgh.....in your writing on the Digging Pitt Blog and on Pittsburgh Metroblog. I really enjoyed what you said about "One of the weird and I guess kind of great things about Pittsburgh is that people and things that would cause riots in other cities go unnoticed here." Now why is that both a weird and great thing?

John: Well.......{Pittsburgh} it's very unique in a world where things are becoming homogenized...Pittsburgh isn't like that. Its also isolated in some ways. Pittsburgh is sort of Its sort of this weird island which in a way is great. You're discovering this weird island. Someone was telling me that one of the major opera stars was in Pittsburgh. And no one recognized them. They loved it. Someone who couldn't walk around anywhere is not recognized by anyone. You know wow like that's great.

{John continues}Likewise there's a lot of interesting things ...architecture...where people also don't notice them You know that train terminal restaurant thing?

Jean: What's that? Oh um the Grand Concourse.

John: Yeah I mean that's a good example. Or the Union Trust Building or definitely that church in Millville or I'd say any of that stuff like in Polish Hill. I mean you know if this was anywhere else it would be this instant tourist attraction.

Jean: That's true. People kind of take it for granted, the people that have always lived here kind of take it for granted . They don't realize how special Pittsburgh is.

John: Pittsburgh is, you know I'm not saying it's a 100 % good thing, but Pittsburgh is unique. But its unique in a time where a lot of the world isn't that unique anymore. Pittsburgh is still very distinctive.

Jean: You know its funny you should mention this, because that's part of the reason I want to do these interviews. Because one of the things I'm really loving about Pittsburgh is that Its not so developed that people, interesting people are getting driven out in droves because they can't afford to live here. There is still so much room to be your own person here. As much as I love New York City, a place I visit frequently, and where I lived briefly, that's a problem there.

{Jean continues} And you can access things that would be so overrun with people in NYC that you couldn't enjoy the experience......for example the Swoon exhibit opening in Braddock over the summer {SWOON is an internationally known and immensely popular street artist}

John: That’s a good example of something like that.

Jean: So its really a benefit because if somebody wants to be involved in something really interesting its still open enough to be able to do it. Really accessible.

John {In NYC} You can't really live a regular life. You can't really be just a regular guy., San Francisco is a good example of an extreme a city that's gotten very difficult for most people to live in if you took pictures of San Francisco it would look like Pittsburgh but life in San Francisco is not like Pittsburgh. Its about money it, its not about whatever is the fun aspect of the city. It looks laid back. It's not that laid back.

Jean: Because there is a certain freedom in Pittsburgh. People aren't thinking about how am I gonna pay my which allows for a lot of freedom.

Jean: You know a lot about art but also a lot about Pittsburgh. In fact, you know much much more about the history and architecture and sociology of Pittsburgh than most Pittsburghers do.

John: It is an interesting city.

Jean: Like the thing about skyscraper..., well no one would ever call it a skyscraper today.....it's the tall building in East Liberty was one of the first skyscrapers in the United States. Is that the Highland building?

And What About the Blogger Show??!!Those Aforementioned Rivers are Going meet NYC and Pittsburgh.....THE BLOGGER SHOW opening simultaneously in NYC and Pittsburgh in early November!!!

{INFO on the Blogger Sow from Johns New York MetroBlog Post "In November, Digging Pitt (Pittsburgh PA) will begin a joint effort with Agni Gallery (170 E. 2nd Street, New York, NY) and Panza Gallery (Millvale, PA) to present The Blogger Show. The exhibits showcase the work of thirty artists whose common interest is in clarifying artistic discourse through their blogs. All of the exhibits will take place between November 3rd, 2007 and January 12, 2008}

Jean:So tell me a little bit about the Blogger show?

John: Well first of all have you looked at the RSS Feed? That Susan {Susan Contanse, John's multi-talented and super hard-working assistant and also an artist} set up? It’s cool.

Jean: Not yet

John: I never even had a computer before I started this {the gallery} I was completely, so its not like I knew that much about blogging or whatever, but after I came here, I always knew that part of the gallery is like an online concept. It's a combination of virtual gallery and physical space. It's this merger between the two.

John continues}The purpose is like that to create some kind of interaction between the gallery and the wider world and blogging has become like this sort of dialogue between artist and the wider world. I think a lot of the art world has been high jacked by experts like you know, whether its gallerists, curators museum people and a lot of time artist are the final rung with that .

Jean Good point

John: They're {the artists} almost like an add on. So a lot of blogging I think is almost like an attempt to reclaim some of the dialogue among artists. Cause there are people who have blogs, some are famous and people who aren't and they interact with other people. and instead of just saying well this is what this curator thinks of you or just waiting until your review comes out, we can say what we actually thought of each other's shows. or what we liked. So it relates a lot to the purpose of the gallery which is to sort of do it yourself.

Jean:So then the exhibit is gonna be partly in New York and partly in Pittsburgh right?

John: I'll send you the link to this. Hopefully it will be an ever evolving thing where I'm going to be renting this New York space, as far as I know its going to be like 400 sq feet in the East Village. It'll basically be a clearing house for the sow. As far as I know right now there is probably 25 to 30 artists in the show, so that means this is probably a small works show. Most people won't {physically} see the whole show, they're gonna see little parts of it and then it will have an existence online

And now, What are some links of interest??.

John Morris Art work http://diggingpitt.com/morris-port.htm

and more http://www.artnet.com/artist/12121/john-morris.html NOTE the artwork of people on the beach is not work by this John Morris....it's an artnet error!

DIGGING PITT Site- http://www.diggingpitt.com/

THE BLOGGER SHOW- NYC and Pittsburgh http://thebloggershow.diggingpitt.com/

To the reader.....If you care to read more.......

Jean: Ok, To finish up with a real fluff interview question......Now, I think this game is probably out of date by now but who would play you in a movie? {explains idea to John, who is uncharacteristically stumped and silent} .

Jean I have a couple of suggestions. One would be a much much much younger Woody Allen like circa 1970. or Steve Buscemi.

John: This is an example of my not knowing who famous people are .......{referring to a previous conversation we had}

Jean: You don't know who Steve Buscemi is?

John: I am actually so out of touch with.....

Jean: He's famous his like, also avant-garde, independent movie actor...Wow,so you can't answer the question. He has also been in mainstream movies and was on the Sopranos for awhile. Well what about the much younger Woody Allen, Yes, no, maybe, well if you have nothing to compare it to though.

John: That seems a little too....

Jean: Too what?

John: I hope I don't seem to be a bad imitation of Woody Allen

Jean: NO of course No! No no no nono, this is who would play you in a movie, this is not

John: That sounds good.

Jean: That sounds good enough, Steve Buscemi might be better but since you don't know who he is..............J

John: Well that's a prior discussion Jean: You don't really have a Tv......... There aren't movie theaters down here in Lawrenceville. So.

John: I try to, but I am amazingly out of touch with a lot of Pop Culture.

Jean: Thanks for being my first interview for Urbanbytes!!