Nadja Sayej: Popularity, to me, should never be the end goal, but the side dish you get along the way (if that). I just got back from dOCUMENTA (13) where people were recognizing me left and right and I thought I should make footage of that, but it was too self-congratulatory. Something I’ve learned about popularity is this—when you do something good, let other people talk about it. Never yourself. The way I see it is this: Just because ArtStars* features big names like Julian Schnabel, John Waters, Peaches and John Baldessari does not make the art world a popularity contest.
“What does popularity mean to you? Your Youtube show “ArtStars*”
has been about stardom in the arts or confronting those who are famous
within the art bubble.”
Nadja Sayej. Photo Credit: Christoph Neumann
In Conversation: Noah Becker Interviews Nadja Sayej
Noah Becker: What does popularity mean to you? Your Youtube show “ArtStars*” has been about stardom in the arts or confronting those who are famous within the art bubble.
Nadja Sayej: Popularity, to me, should never be the end goal, but the side dish you get along the way (if that). I just got back from dOCUMENTA (13) where people were recognizing me left and right and I thought I should make footage of that, but it was too self-congratulatory. Something I’ve learned about popularity is this—when you do something good, let other people talk about it. Never yourself. The way I see it is this: Just because ArtStars* features big names like Julian Schnabel, John Waters, Peaches and John Baldessari does not make the art world a popularity contest. In fact, it is quite the opposite. Look beyond the ego, look beyond the bolded names. What do you see? Sometimes, we reveal the art world for what it is, or an interviewee’s media techniques in an interview to hide their former selves. I am not a crowd pleaser and never have been. If I gain or lose popularity for speaking my mind, that is great. I encourage others to do the same. It is all a game of risk.
NB: Your show ArtStars* is connecting with the Berlin scene in a really direct way. I’ve also witnessed your interview style grow and take on a different resonance than when you were broadcasting from North America.
NS: I think “fitting in” is the wrong way to go about it. I am breaking new ground in the art media today because I don’t play by other people’s rules. You’ll never find a boring art review laden with art speak on the show. And that’s because I really don’t try to fit into anything—I’m a gonzo journalist, that’s what I do. Some people mistake it as performance art, but it is truly gonzo journalism, which is a movement founded in the 1960s by American journalist Hunter S. Thompson who once said: “True Gonzo reporting needs the talents of a master journalist, the eye of an artist and the heavy balls of an actor.”
NB: What legacy do you wish to leave behind, what would you like history to view you as or do you care if any of this is historically documented?
NS: ArtStars* is the new art criticism—be prepared to see things in the art world you can’t get anywhere else. In episode 63, I interview Robert Crumb about his pulled New Yorker cover of gay marriage. It is shot in my bedroom and he wouldn’t do Skype (he hates video) so it was through Gmail chat phone. I interviewed Cyprien Gaillard at the top of a beer mountain in Berlin. Right underneath my feet were soggy boxes of warm Turkish beer, I was about to lose my balance before I found him and got an interview about how much the project cost — 40,000 Euros paid for by German tax payers. I hunted down John Waters after everyone in the Venice Biennale PR department told me it was impossible to reach him and he loved my pink heels. He was the sweetest guy ever, totally saucy and exactly what the art world needs.
NB: Are staying in Berlin for your entire life is it satisfying to you as a place? Would you consider
coming to New York?
NS: New York is dead.
NB: New York is dead? Can anyone generalize New York? As far as I’ve heard Berlin has very little money? It seems that Berlin is also a place well suited to artists who want inexpensive studio space. There is more access on a social level to other struggling artists who came there for low rent; perhaps I’m generalizing but it only appears to be a bigger party scene with more talent.
NS: I don’t think it’s about partying, but you have to decide what’s more important to you: happiness or your bank account? When you die, you can’t take money in the grave with you, it’ll go to your family or someone you love. Or, if you’re bold, you’ll start a foundation. Why not enjoy life? The whole capitalist American attitude, which in many ways the New York art scene is built on, is what degrades it as well. Someone once told me “wait for New York to come to you.” I don’t have time to waste by playing games.
NS: I don’t believe in trying to be anyone else but myself. I strive to be someone who has a voice and I encourage others to speak their minds as well—instead of fitting in, which is career suicide. I think it was the dOCUMENTA (13) curator, Carolyn Christov-Bakargiev, whom I met in Kassel after I wrote the Curator Porn and the Press Kit from Hell piece, where 19 images of her adorned the press kit. It was widely read and covered in the art media. Carolyn said during the press conference: “I didn’t curate artists who agree with me, quite the opposite,” To me, that means it’s okay to argue. That’s the whole philosophy of ArtStars*—to start the argument. Where it ends up is out of my hands.
NS: I don’t really believe in the idea of an idol. Inspiration comes in many forms. But most of those forms are anti-art star. Meaning that you don’t need to be a big name in any respected field in order to make an impact. You just have to be good at what you do. I think something Berlin has which New York doesn’t is a supportive community. This isn’t a shark’s tank. Hardly. People disagree but that fuel is the fire of the content, the meat, of what we’re doing here.