Location: South Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Rent: $1475 (market)
Square feet: 1600
Occupants: Kenneth Smith (artist; assistant, Annina Nosei Gallery); Kelly McCormick (artist; freelance art handler and gallery assistant)
Kenneth, you were the man pouring the Lillet at that Annina Nosei opening with those mysterious Laplante photographs of ghosts dancing in rooms. There was organ music. Now we’re in your home. We could talk days about the bathroom alone. It’s so tall, 14 feet. It looks like a sauna because the wood sink cabinet has that brown Swedish after-ski look. There are a thousand pictures on the walls. [Kenneth] People like the John Waters one he signed for me, ‘‘See you in hell.” Kelly and I are both from Bay City, Michigan. We’ve only been here six months. I went to five colleges. I got my master’s at UMass. I called Kelly at Cranbrook, the art school, and said, Let’s move to New York.
Can we turn the music off? It’s driving me insane. [Kelly] It’s public radio. Apartment hunting was very scary. We looked at an apartment in Little Italy, $1100, 400 square feet. We didn’t even get it. We were freaking. [Kenneth] I didn’t have any credit cards. [Kelly] We didn’t have any jobs. We found this place by word of mouth. Two guys had started fixing it, put in a shower, a toilet, and gave up. It used to be the J. Krantz machine shop. [Kenneth] All the ephemera we found was from 1974.
Your front room has wood floors. The back is all cement. It’s a little chilly. Whoaah, what’s that wind? Our industrial heater just went on. Our landlord put up drywall and divided the bedrooms. [Kelly] We were pretty adamant about taking the walls to the ceiling for privacy.
Where are Kelly’s pop vinyl paintings? Oh, here they are! And Kenneth, these must be your marvelous brooding photographs. Brings to mind those gloomy German landscapes. You know, the Germans have an oak fetish. [Kenneth] I know. I was in the Canary Islands once. There was this German. Everything in his house was dark oak and when you looked out his window all you could see were the palm trees and the beautiful light outside. When he wasn’t looking I photographed his Nazi book collection. Here’s a favorite photo I took of an abandoned mental hospital.
Empty spaces become almost the protagonist. Like the living room in the Lynch movie Lost Highway. [Kelly] But there’s always the history of the space, that something once happened there. [Kenneth] There are always objects, remains.
What’s this wall with the skulls and the skins? My dad’s a hunter. To do a bonding thing, we stretched a beaver together. The next day he brought home foxes. I cried. Do you eat venison? [Kenneth whips open the refrigerator.] Here, my father shot a deer with a bow and arrow. He made it into hickory sticks.
You have shelves full of small fighting action figures. Marvel comics is like the earliest view I have of New York. Then I got a little older and I thought New York would be like it was in 1970s movies. [Kelly] Like in Taxi Driver.
Kenneth, tell how you were mugged! One night I got to the door here. A man was trying to put his hands in my pocket. I showed him my wallet was empty. He said, You live here? He handed the wallet back and apologized. The lot next door is so trashy. This pack of wild dogs crawl underneath the fence and lie on mattresses so nobody will mess with them.
That’s kind of ’70s. [Kenneth] Yes, but still, New York in the ’90s is so sanitized, like the rest of America now. There are so many franchises.
Franchises in New York never look like they do in the rest of America. Kmart is supposed to be about cars and shopping carts. But the one on Astor is so sophisticated. Isn’t it, though. I told my mom, Oh, you have to come and walk through the orchids at the Kmart here. There are no orchids at Kmart in Michigan.