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"Kids" Star Leo Fitzpatrick on His New Home Alone 2 Gallery, Where "the Artist Is Always Right"

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"Kids" Star Leo Fitzpatrick on His New Home Alone 2 Gallery, Where "the Artist Is Always Right"
Leo Fitzpatrick standing by Rita Ackermann and Lizzi Bougatsos's installation at Home Alone 2 gallery

When America met Leo Fitzpatrick in the 1995 cult classic Kids, he was playing the adolescent prince of downtown, swinging his shoulders across the Lower East Side in oversized clothes and yelling taunting curses through the streets. Today, at 36, the actor who was discovered when photographer and director Larry Clark saw him skateboarding in Washington Square Park—he was the loudest, angriest kid Clark had ever seen—still identifies as a sort of misfit. As a co-owner of the teeny Lower East Side gallery Home Alone 2 with the artist Nate Lowman, he is trying to create a DIY antidote to what he sees as the snooty attitude dominating the New York art scene.

His gallery is cheekily exhibiting a one-piece "retrospective" by Rita Ackermann and Lizzi Bougatsos, two New York artists and friends who for a time formed the art band Angelblood. In the 9-by-10-foot space, the pair has hung two bedsheets above a carpet of petals arranged into patterns (perhaps a crest?) on the ground, their band’s diabolical trebles wailing in the background. Over beer and biscotti, Fitzpatrick talked about the incurable mania of Chelsea, the financial hardships of being a young artist in New York, and the saving grace of weirdos. 

What’s the concept behind Home Alone 2 gallery?

This gallery is not so much a "fuck you" to the idea of making money, but to the idea that making money is the end goal. So, me and [co-owner] Nate lose money every month. But we do it on purpose. We feel like everything in New York is so commerce-based, and it takes away from the idea of doing good shows because you're more concerned with selling art than about doing a good show. That can water down art, because you care more about what is sellable than what is good—and we don’t give a shit about what’s sellable. We just want to put on shows that we want to see. We don’t consider ourselves a gallery. We’re more of a project space.

How did you enter the art world? Was photographer Larry Clark a big influence? 

When I made Kids, I was a teenager. I was a sponge—whether it be for music or art or anything—I was trying to take as much of it in as possible. But I have no training. My education comes just thorough skateboarding, although I was always aware of all these things happening around me. And, you know, now when I look back and remember certain paintings in Larry’s house, it blows me away that I was exposed to them when I was that young. He has Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, Christopher Wool. Larry is an artist's artist and a photographer, so it’s his job to see what’s good, and he had relationships with these artists and got really great art from them early on because he knew it was good. And so to say that Larry didn’t influence me would be a lie, but I don’t think he saw any of this happening. I don’t think I saw any of this happening either. It just naturally progressed.

You hung out at Alleged Gallery on the Lower East Side as a kid. Why there?  

Alleged Gallery started out as a gallery that showed a lot of skateboard-related artists, but a lot of guys grew out of that. It was the first gallery I went where I felt comfortable. I feel like the art world is so elitist and so terrible to people. And I was even more insecure back then than I am now, being a kid who comes from no money. I was, like "I’m just curious. I can’t buy anything. I just want to learn. I just want to see cool shit." But with the way the art world is set up, that just doesn’t count. It’s more about who's collecting what and who's hot. And I don’t think that’s fair.

I think anyone who is interested in art should be able to go and see it. It shouldn’t be about how you look or how you dress. And I feel like sometimes Chelsea can be really intimidating and not fun at all. I think that the art world lacks a sense of community in that respect, whereas if everyone would come together and realize we’re all working towards the same thing, then it would be really great. But, you know, a lot of times it seems like there's a competition between galleries about who can show what and where everyone is standing in the art world, and I think that’s really bad for art and the artists who don’t care about politics.

How do you make that experience better for artists at Home Alone 2?

One of the first things Nate said when we opened this gallery was, “You know, you have to remember I am an artist, not an art dealer.” We have no interest in being art dealers. We just want to do rad shit, and I think that the artists we work with recognize that, and if anything they're a little confused by it at first, because other galleries are like, "We need something really big," or otherwise suggesting what the artist should make. Our thing is that the artist is always right. No matter what we think of the art, that doesn’t matter. They do whatever they want. The only thing we try to avoid is art that could get us arrested. I believe in aggressive art and I believe in fucking pushing boundaries. But I think that for everyone involved, it would be easier if nobody is getting arrested. 

How are the artists who show here pushing boundaries?

Well, our next show, which hasn’t been confirmed, is gonna be one very small piece on the wall. That’s the entire show, just one 8-by–10-inch piece, because that’s what the artist wants to do. So it’s not about filling the space. It’s about doing a good show that the artist is excited about, and if the artist thinks that’s a whole show, well, then fuck it, that’s the whole show, you know? The last thing we want to do is to like put 10 framed things on the wall that are for sale. Like, that is so boring to us. As well as doing minimalist shows, I would love to pack it out and do like a group show with like 150 artists, just to see what would happen. 

The gallery is only 9 by 10 feet, right?Is scale a way to reject the principles of the big, glitzy Chelsea galleries? 

The original Home Alone gallery was just a window. My vision for our space is that a couple or something would ride their bikes by and be like, "Let’s go look at this window—they’re always putting weird things in this window." We don’t even know what it is, but it is kinda a rad thing in New York and just a kind of thing that you stop by and check out, which I think is something you find less and less of in this city. So for me, it’s all about kids like coming by and people being confused as to what the fuck the goal is, because I think we’re confused as to what the fuck the goal is. I think that at the end of the day that maybe we would make a book, which is another money-losing venture. But it’s cool.

If money’s no metric, how do you know it’s a good show?

When you're doing it, there’s no time to ask that, but when you look back at it and see how different every show was, it’s really rewarding. Like, we did a Dan Flavin show, and that was amazing for me because it was a crazy idea that me and Nate came up with. It was more like, "Can we pull this off?" Because we are a shitty little gallery on the Lower East Side, and, like, who has the balls to ask to borrow a Dan Flavin? And you know what? We had the balls to ask, and we pulled it off, and it was a fantastic show. So for me like the work behind getting the shows, that’s not the reward, but it’s kinda sick. Like, fuck money, fuck all that. If you are actually excited about a show, people respond to that, and it’s pretty nice.

Earlier this month, you did the Larry Clark show, selling his 4-by-6- and 5-by-7-inch prints for $100 a pop. How did you feel about that show, and the enormous amout of attention it brought the gallery?

Well, Larry loved it, which made me happy. He was here more than he should have been. He shouldn’t have been leaving his house—he’d just had major surgery. I have known Larry for 22 years. He’s like my dad, and he came to a show in August of last year that we did here, which was a performance art show, and he loved the space and said maybe we could work together. And I said, "Whatever you’d like," thinking like he’d do a wall installation or collage, and then he called me a few months later with this idea.

It was probably the most stressed I’ve ever been in this space. It was like working at a flea market for 30 days. Larry did it really correctly because we didn’t announce the show for three weeks, it just sort of opened, and the kids who heard about it got the first shot at it—you know, collectors, everybody else, they can wait. We wanted all the skate-rats and weirdos to get the first crack at it, because it is $100 and it is what it is. And if a skater can only afford $100 then he should get the photo he wants, as opposed to picking through the leftovers.

Basically this was Larry’s "thank you" for all his supporters outside of the art world—for all the kids who grew up watching Kids, or Bully, or What’s Up Rockers, or any of his films. He knows that a little kid can’t afford a Luhring Augustine print from Tulsa. It is out of their reach and might always be out of their reach. But Larry wants them to have a souvenir, and so that’s what that show was about. I think he was really happy with the show, and even though I thought he busted my ass, it was worth it.

Are there other spaces in New York that are exciting to you? 

I love the Newsstand at the Lorimer stop, but it just closed. Printed Matter obviously is a landmark. Karma is a great bookstore that also has a gallery. I do think people are doing things outside of the box, and they are doing really amazing shows. Karma does really great shows that confuse me—how did they get these artists, because these artist are great artists and this is a small-time thing? But I think the artists recognize that their goal is pure. They’re not trying to become the next big gallery. They’re just trying to do rad things. And I think artists are going to be artists, and, you know, they don’t mind helping out an underdog and doing something cool if it makes sense.

I even think The Hole has some interesting things going on, just because it’s taking art outside of Chelsea, which I think is good. I don’t dislike Chelsea, but I don’t think that art needs to stand alone there. And I’m curious about what is happening in Brooklyn. It seems like everything good about New York has moved to Brooklyn. And this gallery is my fight—I have this space so we have something good on the Lower East Side, because the Lower East Side sucks. And I live here, and I have to deal with this shit everyday. So this is my stance, you know, saying the Lower East Side doesn’t have to suck. Yeah, every good thing is getting priced out—you see restaurants and bars moving everyday. But, you know, it’s kinda nice when you see those few people still fighting to hold on to what it could have been. There was so much good shit that happened on the Lower East Side, and, you know, it’s crazy that it just gets pushed out and forgotten. 

So what keeps you in New York?

I don’t know—I always said New York and the Lower East Side are like heroin, like it’s an addiction. You don’t want to love it, but you do. And the grass is always greener on the other side, and someday I’m not going to do it. Like, "One day, I’m gonna move upstate," but you end up coming back to it. To me, it’s a real addiction. There is some screwed-up draw to New York, but I don’t know what it is. I don’t think it’s very exciting anymore. The rent is getting so high, why do I want to support a city that is working so hard to kick me out of it? Like, fuck New York. I’ll move to Scottsdale, Arizona, I don’t give a shit. Sometimes I think I love this city more than it loves me. It’s weird when you see all these things getting pushed out. Is there no respect for quality of life anymore? Is it just about rent and, you know? But that is an old man's rant. I just think that when you are busy working all the time because you are worried about paying your rent, there is no chance to be creative.

Especially for young artists just getting started. Do you show any younger, emerging artists? 

We don’t show any young artists, which is not to say that we wouldn’t. We just don’t know any. But I would imagine that being a kid in New York, that now has gotta be harder to be a fuck-up and make mistakes than it was when you were my age, which was probably harder to be a fuck-up and make mistakes than it was 10 years ago. I feel like, financially, there’s so much on the line now that you can’t be a fuck-up and have fun because you have to go to work and have to get shit done. And if you are an artist, you have to sell work for a lot of money, and there's no room for experimentation. You get out of, I don’t know, like NYU or whatever, and your price is already at like $10,000—and that’s not right, but that’s how it is because galleries say that’s where it should be. Once your prices are at $10,000, nobody wants to see you to mess up because they’ve invested in you now. It’s like a catch-22. When I was young, rent was a few hundred bucks. I mean I sound like Patti Smith now, but you could screw up and still survive as long as you had your shit together. Life should be lived.

What do you like about the art world, then?  

I mean, there will always be weirdos, and I think weirdos are the saving grace of the planet. Weirdos—not skateboarders, that’s so mainstream now—I think like, you know, honest-to-goodness weirdos, they’ll always shine through and they’ll always be around. But the older you get, the harder it is to find those people. Like you know being a weirdo is a young man’s game. And like the older you get the less time you have to search out weirdos. But they’ll always be there, which is pretty rad.

So you know, I think the art world is what people make of it, and this is what Nate and I choose to make of it. A lot of people say, "Why do this thing where you lose money every month?" And it’s like, "Because one kid will come in and be psyched on it." It’s the idea of doing something so the next kid will see it and say, "I’m going to open a gallery in my apartment." That is inspiring to us, even if it never happens. Just the idea of someone saying, "This idea is so stupid that I can do it."   

What do you collect?

I don’t know. I just collect what I like. But I don’t have a lot of money, so you know. I think every artist should trade. A lot of artists don’t believe in it, but if you can trade with your peers, no matter what, if they are going to be famous or big time, it doesn’t matter. Because if they like something of yours enough to trade for it, that's a nice complement, and if you like something of theirs, trade for it. What does it hurt? It gets rid of all the dumb bullshit that’s around getting art, and even if you and that person stop being friends, anytime you look at that painting or drawing or photograph, it will bring you back to that time when you were friends, and that’s pretty rad, you know?

People ask me what kind of art I think they should buy, and I say, "Just buy with your gut." If you like something you like it for a reason, it should be an immediate reaction no matter whose name is attached to it. Don’t buy art to profit from it, because chances are you're not going to profit from it and you're going to have to live with it for the rest of your life. So you better like it, you know? But in the art world that is very rare. Everyone wants to buy the next big thing.

And the kids who don’t come to Home Alone 2 yet,  should they come here? 

If kids want to fucking come in here and fucking draw for an hour, as long as they are straight-up about it and tell us, like, "Yeah, you know, we are just gonna hang out here because we don’t have anywhere to go because we are young and we’re not like cool enough to hang out wherever," we’d be like, "Sure, hang out." I don’t want anyone to feel like we are like dicks. I want people to be say, "Oh yeah, I hung out at that place for a while and talked to that guy, and he was alright."

You know, it’s not one of those galleries that looks at you funny because you're a little kid with a skateboard, you know. For me, it’s all about giving back to the curious kid I was, where like I might not know shit about Angelblood, but I don’t want to feel bad about asking who they are. You don’t know who Rita Ackermann is? It shouldn't be like, "You're a little kid, you aren’t supposed to know who Rita Ackermann is"—but a lot of galleries treat you that way. You don’t know who this artist is? Oh, he's really important. It’s like, sorry, I am just a fucking idiot who didn’t go to college. And so is most of your audience, so stop treating them like shit.

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