By Whitney Mallett
From Issue 8
Taco with lock through it. Watermelon with ponytail. Vacuum-sealed organic shampoo and Whole Foods flowers–“Perfect for your dorm or retirement community,” according to the listing. These are just some of the irreverent offerings on New York artist Brad Troemel’s Etsy Store, which has been named “weirdest” and “wackiest” on the Internet and whose readymade sculptures have gotten more attention from Huff Post and suburban moms than the art world. Still Troemel seems to be doing pretty well in the art world as well. He teaches at Pratt and spent a recent Sunday at Peter Brant’s Connecticut estate looking at the mega-collector’s private collection of Warhols. In addition to making art that gets displayed IRL in galleries and museums, Troemel is also involved with Dis Magazine and the Tumblr “Jogging”–even if you haven’t ever been to their blog, you’ve probably seen their images reblogged elsewhere. Troemel and I talk about his Etsy store and Jogging, and l learn he has a charming laugh and an appreciation for fine amphetamines.
Most Q&As seem to be concerned with getting at some sort of intent of the artist but what you’re commenting on and your process and distribution are so tied to the Internet. Can you really extract an individual’s intent from the work when it’s so involved in these networked spaces?
I try to stop looking at art through this lens of good or bad. I try to start understanding just in terms of its relevance and its ability to reproduce itself through the guise of others in the form of influence. I suppose that’s more like an understanding of meme as applied to art. It seems like the universal intent of all artists in some way is to have an impact on the discourse of art itself. In this way, every artist wants their work to be reproduced by others in some derivative fashion. I suppose one of the things that I like to consider is how frequently or how variously someone’s work is made part of anyone else’s work. That’s what I look for when I’m looking for “good” art.
When it comes to something like your Etsy store, do you think the Internet gives you more control of the discourse around your art versus more traditional spaces. Is it important to you to have that control?
Well I think that maybe I have a kind of paradoxical ambition with that kind of stuff. On one hand, I do want it to be understood by the people around me. I do a lot of interviews and I write a lot of essays and I lay a kind of groundwork for how, ideally maybe, the work could be understood. But additionally, I do a lot of things to de-contextualize my work so that it can be made multiple, it can be reused by others. For instance, this project I’m part of called Jogging. We release like 20 images a day on Tumblr and we do so using a kind of vague tagging system describing who the author is or something like that. In this way, we are kind of encouraging people to re-blog the image under the guise that it is not art. And I love this idea that it could be understood in a way entirely separate from the way I initially conceived it. I have this essay called “The Accidental Audience” and it basically details some of the ways in which people have come to perceive and recreate different works on Jogging as they become more popular over time.
Speaking of audience, do you want it to be accessible and who do you want it to be accessible to? Because in some ways you are making it more accessible than art that is in a museum but there are also a lot of references only a certain segment of people are going to understand, for example, who Danny Brown is.
I think that’s good. I like this idea that the art can be applicable to all and varyingly relevant to few. That’s an ideal position for it to be in.
Who is the audience for your Etsy store?
A lot of my buyers are suburban moms and fraternity brothers. My buying audience is as much a non-art audience as it is an art audience.
And both your art and non-art audience think it’s funny?
I think so. The art world certainly thinks it’s funny. Maybe too funny.
With Jogging and this Etsy store, you’re using the Internet to distribute your art, but these channels are quite different–one is objects and one is images that have no physical existence.
In the case of the Etsy store, I generally use perishable materials that are prone to falling apart over the course of their shipment to whoever buys them. In this way the vision of the work on the Internet and its viral existence is more idealized than the physical reality of itself. So the Etsy work is inevitably tied to its own existence on the internet.
But still people are willing to pay money for an object even if it’s mouldy by the time it gets to their house. They wouldn’t pay for something on Tumblr.
If the value of the thing was entirely located in materiality then I probably wouldn’t have too many customers. I don’t think the object is totally valueless but the object becomes a token of the image and that’s kind of a role reversal. Because typically we come to view images as tokens or relics of objects. So when somebody gets a mouldy taco in the mail that’s a token of a more idealized version of the thing through the form of image.
As you start to get a name people are buying into your mythology or you as a product as much as anything else. How do you approach your artist persona?
The way I approach that, for the Etsy project at least, is to provide interviews to mainstream media outlets that, like the Etsy products, come across as irreverent and subtly referential. I try to perpetuate a kind of artist persona through interviews that in some ways allows people to continue this sort of belief in me as being a bit insane, which I think is part of the backbone of my popularity in more mainstream sources. They think I’m some sort of coo-coo who sincerely believes that the objects he’s selling are well-crafted or functional or useful in anyway. And obviously I would have to be insane to believe something like that.
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