The Art Whisperer

Thursday, January 12, 2017

Ken Tan moved to New York a year and a half ago when he was appointed by gallery owner Marc Straus to serve as the new director of Straus’s Chinatown gallery. Tan had previously worked in advertising as a creative director.

Ken Tan, picture courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery Ken Tan, picture courtesy of Marc Straus Gallery

Marc Straus Gallery has a knack for commemorating artists who, while successful, are slightly underrepresented in the larger canon of contemporary art history. Tan continued this practice with his first Marc Straus project, a 40-year retrospective of the Austrian avant-garde artist Hermann Nitsch. Since then, Tan has organized shows by the wildly underrated Native American multidisciplinary artist Jeffrey Gibson, Korean minimalist and site-specific sculpture artist Jong Oh, and German painter and graphic artist Anna Leonhardt. He was also one of the men behind the smartly curated group exhibition dedicated to the achievements of social activist Bella Abzug. On January 5, Tan helped debut the gallery’s latest solo shows: “Ulf Puder” and “Liliane Tomasko.”

While he lives, breathes, eats, and sleeps art, What Should We Do dug a little deeper to find out what else makes Ken Tan tick—especially since becoming a New Yorker.

What Should We Do: How long have you lived in New York? Ken Tan: About 1.5 years. WSWD: Favorite neighborhood in New York? Tan: The Lower East Side. WSWD: Favorite bar? Tan: It used to be Fontana’s. It was a three-floor bar on Eldridge Street that had live music and plenty of pool tables. But it has since closed.

WSWD: Favorite restaurant? Tan: Upi Jaya on Woodside Avenue in Elmhurst, Queens, is often considered to be the best Indonesian restaurant in this country, and I’d have to agree.

WSWD: Favorite live music venues? Tan: Carnegie Hall.

WSWD: Favorite artists currently living and working in New York? Tan: Jong Oh is a Korean artist who creates amazing site-specific installations. Recently, he did a pop-up space with our gallery that was called The Apotheosis of the Fish Market. Along with artist Jinsu Han, Oh converted an old fish market that is owned by Marc [Straus] and used the architecture of the space to create living works of art, such as a room titled “Redrum,” after The Shining, that saw him assemble a machine to spatter the walls with bloodlike ink. WSWD: Favorite art museums and galleries? Tan: The Met and Marc Straus, of course.

WSWD: Favorite fashion boutiques? Tan: Maison Margiela boutique on Greenwich Street.

WSWD: Favorite record shops? Tan: I quite like Spotify.

WSWD: Favorite theater to catch a movie? Tan: Court Street Stadium 12 in Brooklyn is huge and close to where I live. WSWD: Best areas to find graffiti tags of note? Tan: The rooftops in the Lower East Side are covered.

WSWD: Favorite shop to find art books and inspiration? Tan: The Strand, always.