The New York of Ilya Kabakov’s assistants

An Interview by Stefano Pasquini


Christian Tomaszewski was born in Poland, and after his Fine Arts Degree he moved to New York four years ago. Petter Pettersson is from Sweden, after his Fine Arts Degree he won a scholarship with IASPIS and came to New York six months ago. Frank Depoorter is from Belgium, studied Graphic Design and worked for the Museum in Ghent. There he met Kabakov and had the opportunity to come and work for him in New York. He arrived two weeks ago.

The three of them are young artists, and they all work as assistants in Ilya Kabakov’s studio.

I met them at the Dia Center and we strolled around a few galleries. I wanted to find out their impression of New York from their European point of view. Frank has never been to Chelsea before and was quite amazed by all these galleries and their size: “Maybe the money side of this Art Scene pushes the emotions of the work to a lower level, it becomes less important. This is my first impression, I’ve only been here two weeks...”

Stefano: “What are your goals in this year you will spend in New York?”

Frank: “My intention is to do something. It will be interesting to make use of this experience, and take this knowledge further.”

Stefano: “So what do you think of the New York Art Scene?”

Christian: “To me, London is much more interesting...”

Petter: “New York galleries don’t want to risk anything, they would never show works if they were sure they wouldn’t sell. Then again, in Sweden it would be inconceivable to be able to make this amount of money with art.”

Christian: “Four years ago New York was more exciting, you could see all the big names’ shows in one week. Now it’s boring. All these galleries are showing art only if it’s entertaining. It has to be fun and easy, so as an upcoming artist you have to play it like that.

In Europe I feel you can really talk about something, you can take a conversation and deepen it to its best level. Here you can get any kind of information on anything, but it’s always on a very superficial level, if you try to dig deeper it becomes almost impossible. When I came to New York I was surprised by how much information was available in Poland. Even though the sources were very limited, their level of research went much deeper.”

Petter: “The Art Scene here has no energy. The young artists who have energy here do superficial provocative works that have been done a thousand times before. I think New York’s biggest problem is that there is too much money involved.”

Stefano: “So do you not feel there is honesty in these artists?”

Petter: “There are a lot of good artists here, but they don’t do work that is impossible to sell. When you see them in Europe, their work is less business orientated.”

Frank: “Here, though, everybody gets the chance to show. That’s an opportunity you don’t always have in Europe. In this respect, the quantity of galleries is a positive thing. And Americans are open people, they like to talk and they’re good at it, and they have an optimism that you don’t find often in Europe...”

Stefano: “Here, it’s OK to say that you are (or want to be) number one. For us European it’s something rather strange. We’re entangled in this false modesty, a negative coolness, perhaps.”

Petter: “I don’t feel like I’m pessimistic, more like sceptical. This is in regard to the Art World in general, not just New York. It’s quite a sick game of power relationships and gossips. It’s quite small, really. There are about 200 artists, and they show all over the world.”

Stefano: “What are the similarities between Europe and New York?”

Christian: “The ambitions of European artists are different.”

Petter: “It’s a matter of focus. My priority as an artist is to communicate.”

Stefano: “Have any of you been sending slides around?”

Christian: “I did, when I first arrived. Then I became so busy with my job I had no time to make new work. In four years I didn’t have two weeks to concentrate on my work. I think it would have been easier for me to show in New York if I stayed in Poland and started my connections from there. I would have had more time to concentrate on my work...”

Stefano: “The trouble with New York is its lack of time...”

Christian: “Fortunately, next year I wil be doing a residency at The Irish Museum in Dublin. This will give me time to work.”

Stefano: “So do you (or did you) expect something different from New York?”

Frank: “I am very interested in looking at the differences. Once you understand them, then you can use them. It’s a challenge for me to be here, but I will need the time to understand what it is like.”

Christian: “Artists need to exist within groups. They need debate and confrontations, you cannot work somewhere by yourself and no be aware of what others are doing.”
Stefano: “Don’t you feel you can do this here?”

Christian: “It’s possible, I just didn’t have enough free time to experience it as I would have liked to.”

Frank: “The social context where you work is determining. It’s interesting to change, New York is so much bigger, it can change your point of view, and the representation of the world you live in. I think art, in its foundation, is a representation of its time. New York gives you the possibility of meeting your own time.”
Petter: “I disagree...”

Christian: “On the surface, it’s perfect. Behind that you’ll find out it’s an illusion...”

Petter: “Here everything is a mess. It’s a big soup where you find everything. People come here to give their best, but the source comes from outside...”

Christian: “I feel like I’m running out of energy here...”
Stefano: “So do you think you’ve given more to New York than what New York has given you?”

Christian: “Yes, absolutely.”

Petter: “You can also become lazy, here. Everything comes to you.”

Christian: “And you also need to find a way to protect yourself.”

Stefano: “But don’t you think New York gives you the opportunity to be completely yourself?”

Christian, Petter, Frank: “Absolutely.”

Frank: “Here you have enormous possibilities...” (We all laugh)

Christian: “I had it pretty hard: I was a constructor, a waiter, a dogwalker, then I found Kabakov. This is a great job, but I need more time to do my own work.”

Stefano: “So none of you seem to be too impressed with the New York Art World. Would you like to be picked by a gallery and show in this environment, as it is now?”

Petter: “It depends by the conditions. I wouldn’t do it if the gallery asks me to make my work smaller, or different, for selling purposes. I would do it only if I can show what I want to show.”

Christian: “If someone is serious about my work, sure. Then again, I’m usually not very interested in art that sells.”

Stefano: “How would you perceive success here?”

Christian: “Finding true communication.”

Petter: “Yes.”

Stefano: “How about money?”

Frank: “That wouldn’t hurt, but it’s not the priority”.


I leave them at the subway thinking that being a struggling artist from Europe is not very different from being from Minnesota, Wisconsin or North Carolina. The environment you fall into, regardless if you’re in New York, Amsterdam or London, is what gives you the luck to be able to achieve what you want to achieve. And you can always leave. A quote from my horoscope in the Village Voice springs to mind: Heroism consists of hanging on one minute longer. Then you may leave.