Kill The Clown, Keep The Comedian: An Interview With The Devilishly Brilliant Marc Horowitz

Marc Horowitz is a genius, but he may also be the devil. His work is satanically brilliant. Over the last ten years, Horowitz has performed riotous pranks that have taken on the form of conceptual art and mad marketing schemes that seem at times Bernaysian, but always dementedly creative. He has taken a mule to run errands in San Francisco, he started a semi-nudist colony, he has tried to convince the board of the Golden Gate Bridge to build giant fans to blow away the fog so tourists could take pictures and he spent an entire year of his life trying to have dinner with 30,000 people after he wrote his name and number on a whiteboard in a Crate & Barrel catalogue. And that is only a sliver of his antics. When the stock market crashed, he tried to bail out the banks with his artwork. Today, Horowitz will see the official opening of his first solo show at the Depart Foundation in Los Angeles. How he has never had a formal solo art exhibition in a U.S. gallery is a question that even boggles the artist. Entitled Interior, Day: A Door Opens, the exhibition combines works on canvas and sculptures that took the artist an entire year to create. The sculptures harken back to Roman and Greek antiquity, but if you look closer, you'll notice one statue with a strange smirk, an 8-ball sword thrown through its chest with BRB written on the blade – or you may look even closer and notice that he has included strange cat figurines, artifacts taken from his mother’s home in the Mid-West (she’s a hoarder Marc would later tell us). In the following interview, Horowitz talks about being the weirdest kid in school, selling “poop shoes” to Mormons, and the symbiotic relationship between fine art and commercial art.

Oliver Kupper: You grew up in the Midwest. What were some of your earliest introductions to creativity and art?

Marc Horowitz: My mom enrolled me in art classes from the ages of five to nine. And then I was just a fucking weirdo. I used to breakdance for senior citizens when my grandmother did Meals on Wheels. I organized a breakdancing competition for these elderly people.

OK: How many people were competing?

MH: There were four of us, and about four people watching us—all of whom probably didn’t understand what was going on.

OK: And there was a ghost removal happening? What was that?

MH: I moved around a lot as a kid. We ended up in South Carolina. At that time, Ghostbusters had just come out. I was a huge fan—I bought the cassette tape and I would listen to it all the time. I was very entrepreneurial as a kid. I made a business card that said, “Ghostbusters and Cleaning Service.” My friend and I handed these business cards out—putting them under people’s doors and in their mailboxes. My mom was getting calls at 3 in the morning—“There’s something moving upstairs. We’re frickin’ terrified. Can you come now?” She would say, “I’ll send my son over in the morning. He can help you out.” I’m about eight at this time. I built this homemade box, like a ghost box. My friend Ian and I would show up to people’s houses like this. They would literally look straight ahead and then down to where I was standing. We would do this whole performance—banging on things, making a lot of noise. At one point, we had dry ice. When we were done, we’d ask, “Can we sweep your porch for 5 bucks?” That was my first business.

OK: You said you were entrepreneurial. It seemed like you were verging into some sort of performance art or conceptual art. Did you know you were doing that, or was it purely being an imaginative kid?

MH: I think it was hyper imagination. It was sort of like restless leg syndrome. I had so much energy. My mom refused to put me on Ritalin. Teachers used to say, “You have to get that kid under control.” I was the fucking class clown. Everything that went wrong in the class would be pointed at me. Out of necessity to keep myself entertained, I would make friends in this weird way. One time, it backfired, and there was a good five-year period before high school in which I was a complete nerd.

OK: How did it backfire?

MH: I told everyone at school that there were aliens that had landed in the forest behind the school. I convinced everybody. I got everyone at recess to line up along the fence, and I was just running down the line saying, “Look for the shiny objects!” I was fucking out of my mind. The teachers were trying to break it up. I went to the principal’s office, of course.

The first time I went to the principal’s office, it was the first day of kindergarten. The teacher had to leave the room for an emergency call, and I organized the whole class to hide so that we could surprise her. She was terrified. And when she asked, “Who did it?” everyone pointed at the bathroom. Of course, I was the only one hiding in the bathroom.

OK: You went to school for economics. Where did you want to go with that degree?

MH: It was a minor in microeconomics, with a major in marketing. At the time, I was working in the cornfields in Indiana. Because it was agriculture, I was being paid less than minimum wage--$4 an hour or some shit. I was cross-pollinating corn. All my friends were going to business school, and that sounded awesome. I wanted to make some fucking money. That’s about it.

OK: And then, the Crate & Barrel thing happened. You wrote your name and your number on their whiteboard. Did you expect insanity to ensue after that?

MH: No, I thought it would just be an inside joke. Six people would see it. It was a cascade of events. So, I went on this business trip. I was given fifty dollars a night for food, but I couldn’t keep all of it if I didn’t use it. Which is ridiculous. So I would invite different people out for dinner until I exhausted it. Then, I put up an ad on Craigslist—“Free Dinner.” The morning news picked it up as a story. The next day at work, everyone was making fun of me. They were like, “Oh, what do you want to write on the board, Mr. Cool, Mr. Ad-Guy?” And I thought, “Let’s extend this even more.” So I wrote “Dinner with Marc” and then my cell phone number. I promised everyone on set that I would take everyone who responded out to dinner. I forgot about that shit until I got a call from Jake in Overland Park, Kansas, wanting to go out to dinner. And then it just never stopped.

OK: What was one of the weirdest dinner dates?

MH: There were some fucking weird ones. There was this family in San Juan Bautista with 25 people. There was one here in LA—I met the guy who was the producer of Britney Spears’s movie Crossroads. He was trying to pitch to me over dinner for a movie about a guy that puts his number in a Victoria’s Secret catalogue, and the character goes from becoming a nerd to the cool guy. Some guy ran an obstacle course for corporate people. It was nuts.

OK: It seemed like a convergence of you wanting to get out of the corporate world and other people wanting something fun to do.

MH: It was like a portal. I like to create these situations that take you away from reality. That’s what I do.

OK: You have a marketing background. What do you think the line is between marketing and fine art?

MH: That’s a big question. Can they work together? I don’t think they’re on opposing sides. I think they’re hugging each other. Without marketing, you couldn’t have the art world. The art world doesn’t want to acknowledge that it participates in some of the same things that the rest of the world participates in.

OK: In the sense of being accepted by mainstream media, they seem like marketing strategies for your creative endeavors. When does fine art enter that stream?

MH: I did a project called “Sliv & Dulet Enterprises.” I had this alter ego—Burt Dulet. He had a mullet. He ran this agency with Kyle Sliv, his partner. We created a summer line of products and services. It was artists posing as business people posing as artists. It was very confusing. We set up shop in this gallery in San Francisco. We developed these hijinks. We had a meeting with Golden Gate National Park Service. We were trying to pitch them on the idea to install 75-foot fans to blow the fog away so tourists could take photos of the city and not be disappointed. They were looking around the room and thinking, “What the fuck is going on here?” There was another time, for the signature series, in which I had to sell poop shoes to Mormons. The idea was that it's a pair of shoes that you put over your shoes when you go into public restrooms so that no one knows who's going poop.

Marketing was such an integral part in a lot of these things. If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? It doesn’t. You need eardrums there for it to make a sound. Much in the same way, artists need people to make their work resonate. Marketing played a big role in working these projects, in something like the National Dinner Tour, or working with a group to sell them on poop shoes.

"Marketing was such an integral part in a lot of these things. If a tree falls in a forest, does it make a sound? It doesn’t. You need eardrums there for it to make a sound. Much in the same way, artists need people to make their work resonate."

OK: Your current show is your first solo exhibition. Why did it take so long?

MH: I didn’t even realize it until I was approaching it. I was like, “Holy fuck. This is it, man.” The Europeans entertained me for a while, but I didn’t sell anything, so I was gone. I didn’t need the galleries. When I had an agent, Sony Pictures and MTV were my galleries. They were my vehicles. I didn’t need the traditional galleries. I took a different route. Harrell Fletcher changed the way I thought about art as a whole. I went out and did all of these performances while I was going to school. I was anti-gallery. It’s the capitalist machine. I didn’t want to be a part of it.

OK: Do you think something changed in the art market that made you more accepting?

MH: Things changed outside of the art market. There became too much compromise. In working with companies like Nissan and Sony, I became coopted wholly. I realized that they do, actually, have all the power. I’m left with minimal power. I can re-edit things and present my own version, but who is really making the decisions? That led me to the project, “The Advice of Strangers.” For me, that represented a huge failure. I started grad school at the exact same time. Honestly, after that, I was done with performance. It was too hectic—mentally and physically.

OK: So you had more freedom in the studio?

MH: Yes.

OK: What is the relationship between all the pieces in the show? What’s the vision for the cohesive whole?

MH: I think the thesis for the show is conflating personal history with art history. I went to grad school for two, long, grueling years. Charlie White said, “Kill the clown, but keep the comedian.” It made me clownish. I wanted to cut that part of my practice, which meant severing my ties to video and performance—at least for now. I wanted to go back to the studio, back to my roots—which is painting and sculpture. It’s a return home.

OK: And a lot of your humor is still infused.

MH: The humor is still fully here. It’s also a collaboration with family. My mom is a hoarder, and she gives me these cats and these weird things. We started a photo series where I would photograph all the weird shit she gave me for Christmas and such. I began incorporating elements of the photographs into the sculptures.

OK: People like to describe your work as “Net Art” or “Post-Internet Art.” What the hell does that mean?

MH: I’ve taught two classes on it, and I still can’t answer that fucking question. Personally, I’m on my own island. “Net Art” has become so convoluted. Post-Internet Art especially. That confuses a lot of people. Everybody’s making post-Internet art if you think about it. A lot of the practice had to do with technology—incorporating blogs, Twitter, online audiences. But I wasn’t a chatter. I wasn’t an active community member—I was an outlier. Whatever technology or materials serve the purpose of the idea, that’s that.

OK: What’s next?

MH: I’m releasing my own cryptocurrency in a month. It’s called “H Coin.” It’s live now, but I haven’t officially released it. The value is based on my mood, productivity, and sales. I plug this in every day, and the value goes up and down. I’m selling this series of photographs that I worked on with my mom through this medium. You can play Snake to earn the coin. Some guy played enough snake—probably 40 hours—and got himself a piece. He said, “I just moved to LA. I’m super bored, and I wanted the piece.” He deserved it. It’s been a process. It’s not a true cryptocurrency in that people are solving block chains and shit, but it’s in the vein of a cryptocurrency. Also, I’m having a show in Berlin in February.

OK: Was it a different experience being in the studio than being out in the world?

MH: I was so sick of making film edits and sitting at a computer. I was sick of frame-fucking everything. I wanted to see a direct mark to something physical. You put down fucking yellow—there it is, you deal with that right now. For me, it was a relief. It felt right. 

Interior, Day: A Door Opens will be on view until December 19 at the Depart Foundation in Los Angeles. You can check the exchange rate for the hCOIN here. Text, interview and photographs by Oliver Maxwell Kupper. follow Autre on Instagram: @AUTREMAGAZINE