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"Genius Nicolai" by Nir Hod

The Israeli artist debuts his limited edition bust at NYC's Paul Kasmin shop

by Kat Herriman in Culture on 02 August 2013

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Located just four doors down from Paul Kasmin's white cube space on 27th street in Manhattan's Chelsea neighborhood sits a quiet jewel-box shop that serves as the ever-evolving home of the gallery's newest venture, the PK Shop. Now, almost two years old, the boutique has developed its own identity under the guidance of the shop's director Polina Berlin, who not only curates the store's constantly rotating collection but also has begun actively working with artists in order to create exclusive products—much like gallerists who commission and collaborate to create site-specific installations. Berlin's most recent project, a bust sculpture by Israeli-born, New York-based artist Nir Hod, is an example of the unique objects that adorn the shelves of the compact space.

A second project for Hod and Berlin, "Genius Nicolai" is directly inspired by the artist's haunting and paradoxically playful series of painted "Geniuses." With the three-dimensional form of the bust, Hod brings new life to his sinister child prodigies. Like Hod's paintings, the cherubic features and bright finish of "Nicolai" are belied by the formal nature of the bust and his scornful stare. Accessible and experimental, "Nicolai" caught our attention and made us curious about the purpose of these new objects in the art world and why successful artists like Hod seemed to be more and more interested in creating them. We spoke with Berlin and Hod at Hod's studio in the Meatpacking District, where he's been working for the past 13 years.

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What about creating these objects intrigues you?

As an artist I am constantly trying to challenge myself and the rules. Like fashion or music, art is about creating something emotional and influential. For me, these projects provide a new space where I can experiment with ideas that don't necessarily manifest on a canvas and also a new way to connect with people. It's a way to think about and push back on my work and embrace another way of thinking.

It's also a way to make my work accessible to those who can't afford to buy my canvases. To me, a major collector's approval is just as important as the impact my work has on "ordinary" people that spy it in a gallery or a museum. To me, the young couple saving their money to buy art is completely romantic. When I create these editions, I am not thinking about the money or the advertising, I am thinking about my friends who can't afford to buy my art from the gallery but want a souvenir so that they can incorporate art into their day-to-day lives.

How do these editions relate to the rest of your work?

When I create editions, it is important to me that I put just as much thought into them as I do the rest of my work. Yes, they are experiments, but the idea must be good too. When I was researching for my "Geniuses," I spent a lot of time exploring places like the Neue Galerie and the Frick Collection. I love the interspersing of these amazing old master paintings and these beautiful, functional art objects that seem to be disappearing like ashtrays and busts. These objects are so human, but also decadent. They contribute to creating these really saturated environments, where the art supports each other. This is how I see my editions. They support and expand upon my work in a way that enriches it and creates an environment that is larger than life.

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What do spaces like PK Shop provide an artist that galleries and museums can't?

When people go into museums and galleries, there is this sort of seriousness surrounding the works. Everyone is afraid to go within three feet of the work, let alone ask a gallery assistant about the artist or inquire about the price. This reverence becomes alienating in a way and seems to prevent a dialogue between the viewer and the artist. In places like the PK shop, people are encouraged to engage with and touch the art. It's part of the experience and a way for artists to get more direct feedback on their work.

For instance, when I created my coasters for the PK Shop, I got this great wave of feedback even from some of my biggest collectors who said that it was the coasters—more than anything else in their homes—that got conversations going. I think this is the immense influence that these objects can bring to the discussion.

With "Nicolai," how did you decide on the colors and materials?

When I came up with the idea for "Nicolai," I had been thinking of the statues that I saw at the Frick. I knew I wanted to push the idea for the "Geniuses" even further and I thought that by creating an object I could bring these characters into a new space.

I chose to use four different colors because I thought each one added a different attitude and quality to the sculpture—some are decadent, some are humorous, some are futuristic. These materials enhance different characteristics of the sculpture and add something that is uniquely compelling. Unlike my paintings, "Nicolai" is something that one can imagine just as easily on a shelf as in a museum. There is something playful about the mixture of these sinister children and these bright colors that adds—at the risk of sounding cliché—something energizing and fun to the piece.

Just released, "Genius Nicolai" is now available for purchase at PK Shop in an edition of just seven.

Images courtesy of PK Shop

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