Jeffrey Deitch on Blurring the Boundaries

Photo: Courtesy Deitch Projects

Photo: Courtesy Deitch Projects

Art dealer and curator Jeffrey Deitch is a true pioneer of the charged landscape where art meets commerce and pop culture. From his gallery Deitch Projects, to his provocative tenure at L.A.’s MOCA, to his new adventures (including Art For All, a recent collaboration with Uniqlo), he’s championed an entire generation of artists unafraid to blur the lines with brands, and supported new models of hybrid engagement.

Do you feel that certain cities, like Los Angeles, are more open to cross-genre collaborations?

Oh, absolutely. I’ve been very interested for a long time in blurring the boundaries between different creative disciplines. There are certain periods, like the 1920s in Paris, with Surrealism, where there is convergence between different art forms, where you have musicians, theatrical performers, fashion designers, artists working together in collaboration. I’ve always been inspired by the convergence you get around pop art, like Andy Warhol in the 1960s.

Can you describe the “Art for All” project with Uniqlo - what inspired you to get involved?

I’m very idealistic in that I think art should be for all. It’s named after Gilbert and George’s “Art for All” project. I love what they did, and I’m very inspired by artists who want to communicate in a broad way. I’ve always loved the idea that artists can make something accessible that anyone can buy for 10 or 30 dollars, that anyone can own a work of art, be it something small and sculptural or something that you wear.

The opportunity came up with Uniqlo because of an old friend of mine, John Jay, a legend in fashion merchandising and advertising, someone who is very engaged with artists. He became involved with the creative direction of Uniqlo and as soon as he started he said we would do something great. We’ve already done the first stage, which is a little survey of artists products and stores in New York. The next stage will be making more of our own products.

What do you think is the role of these collaborations in the contemporary art economy?

We have a situation where the art market has become very buoyant. Some people think it’s terrible or negative. That’s not my view. I think it’s great for the whole art community to have a buoyant art economy, because that supports galleries and museums by helping people collect art and contribute to museums. In the US we don’t have vast public support of museums, so the art market is the best mechanism of support. But the problem is it has become so expensive that it has alienated a lot of people who want to be involved. I’m thinking about how to make good, provocative art that is accessible, price-wise.

What other brand and commercial projects are you most proud of? What’s the key factor for you in assessing if a project is right?

When I get involved with new initiatives it always comes from personal relationships; in the instance of Uniqlo, my friendship with John Jay. I have done many projects for corporations, real estate companies, curated art collections for famous law firms, famous investment banks. One of the most rewarding projects was helping Goldman Sachs with art commissions for their new building a couple years ago. After a very rigorous process with an advisory committee, we choose Julie Mehretu to create her most ambitious work, a 25-meter-long mural that fuses the history of finance with the history of modern painting. It’s an amazing work. Everybody who rides down West Street in New York sees this remarkable mural. I am always on the lookout for situations where I can match corporate patronage with an ambitious artist to create something remarkable.