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Note from the Marfa Team:

There is something to be said for people moving to big NYC to make art. They don’t fear competition. Eneas Capalbo left Argentina and eventually opened The National Exemplar Gallery in Manhattan. British artist Adam McEwen also lives and works in NYC. Their mutual friend, my dear Rachel Chandler invited them both around for a chat. Everyone likes to talk about art, right? Photos taken at Eneas’ home by Rachel Chandler.

Eneas, where are you from?

Eneas: Switzerland.

Eneas, please be serious.

Eneas Capalbo: Okay. I am from Argentina.

Where in Argentina?

Eneas Capalbo: Buenos Aires.

You have an art gallery in NYC, on top of being an artist yourself—but were you interested in art when you were younger?

Eneas Capalbo: Yes, I was.

What’s the first artwork you remember being aware of?

Eneas Capalbo: Oh, do we really have to do this? (moans)

Yes, this is what we are doing tonight.

Adam McEwen: I’ve been speaking to Eneas about this in the past, and I remember him saying that he always had art books at home when growing up. Whose books were they, Eneas?

Eneas Capalbo: My mom’s.

Adam McEwen: What kind of art?

Eneas Capalbo: Everyone. From old masters to current artists.

What about Pop Art?

Eneas Capalbo: Yes.

Abstract expressionism?

Eneas Capalbo: Yeah. All of it.

What about Rothko?

Eneas Capalbo: Yeah, and Lucy Lippard.

Adam McEwen: Really? She had books by Lucy Lippard? So she was well-read, your mother?

Eneas Capalbo: I guess, yes—and she painted too.

Adam McEwen: What kind of paintings?

Eneas Capalbo: Depressive shit.

So there was quite an artistic ambiance in your household. Were you aware of the art scene around that time? Things happening in other parts of the world. Say, Keith Haring.

Eneas Capalbo: Well, I was still little in the eighties. I was born in 1976. I knew about Warhol—but he was dead then, no? I also knew of Jeff Koons.

Adam McEwen: Did Koons ever do any shows in Argentina?

Eneas Capalbo: No, but there was a guy in Argentina who had a little space where he had some of Koons’ works. Clem was his name. He was a collector, or something along those lines. I just hung out there after school. I wanted to be friends with Clem, or maybe I wanted him to show my work. He did occasionally exhibit Argentinian artists like Marta Minujin.

Adam McEwen: So did you ever show your work to him?

Eneas Capalbo: I probably showed him something very bad. I did a lot of Warhol copies then, like the Coca-Cola ones, and a lot of random stuff too. I even did a portrait of Clem to get his attention. He was hard to approach, but I kept visiting the space and insisting that he start talking to me. I took a photo of him and did a silk screen print like Warhol. Clem was very camp.

What was your agenda behind all this? To be noticed?

Eneas Capalbo: To be noticed and to be able to get out. I always knew I wanted to leave, or at least meet anyone from anywhere else.

“I always knew I wanted to leave, or at least meet anyone from anywhere else.”

Adam McEwen: Didn’t you make friends with Evan Dando when he was touring in Argentina?

Eneas Capalbo: Yes. We somehow ended up hanging out in a hotel. He even recorded some songs on tape for me. Mostly his own and some Dinosaur Jr. We spoke on the phone for a while after he left—that’s how I practiced English.

How old were you then?

Eneas Capalbo: Sixteen.

Was Evan your inspiration to leave Argentina?

Eneas Capalbo: I always knew I wanted to leave anyway. Evan told me to go to NYC.

What did you imagine you would do in NYC?

Eneas Capalbo: I just really wanted to be an artist, I guess.

You must have seen a lot of good shows when you arrived.

Eneas Capalbo: I remember they were showing Richard Prince at Anton Kern Gallery. Steven Shearer. George Condo at Pace in SoHo—I was really into Jazz Paintings. Castelli Gallery was still open on West Broadway too. I don’t remember what I saw there, but I went a lot. It was my favourite gallery. Thank god I got to see it, or rather thank Barbara Castelli.

Did you imagine that you would start a gallery yourself one day?

Eneas Capalbo: No. It just happened. I just liked art so much, and I kept meeting the artists themselves—not by necessarily seeing shows but by staying up late.

Adam McEwen: I remember you ran like a little bar at one point.

Eneas Capalbo: Yes, in my apartment on Waverly. I bought a table and some chairs from a speakeasy called Wyanoka that was closing.

Didn’t Damien Hirst have something to do with it?

Eneas Capalbo: Stefania [Bortolami] was working at Gagosian, and one day she brought Damien over because I had been making copies of his paintings. I don’t know if Stefania was just being nice, but Damien ended up really liking them. He hung around a lot. We invited other people too. I met a lot of artists then. I like these people as friends, but that doesn’t mean I show their art now.

Adam McEwen: You show my art.

Eneas Capalbo: Yes, you were my first show when I started The National Exemplar. You and Todd [Eberle].

“I kept meeting the artists themselves—not by necessarily seeing shows but by staying up late.”

Do you think there is a common thread uniting all the artists that you’ve shown?

Eneas Capalbo: What I show is quite conservative—older guys like Richard Artschwager, Terry Winters and Keith Sonnier. I have learned that when I put a young artist on it’s normally a fucking disaster. I don’t show a lot of trendy art. I mean people who make art to buy a Range Rover and have a house on the beach.

Adam McEwen: Don’t you think the mixture of young and old artists can be good?

Eneas Capalbo: If they are good, yes—but there are very few good artists who are young. I don’t even have to like what they make, but they have to take what they do seriously.

What makes the older artists better?

Eneas Capalbo: I am not even talking about age when I say old. I just mean artists whose work has a meaningful and serious intent.

Adam McEwen: I wonder what it is about the older ones that makes you want to show them. Obviously you feel like something is not being taken care of.

Eneas Capalbo: Maybe they think there is something not being done for them and that is why they show with me. Obviously they like the gallery. Or they like the people who go to the gallery. I can’t afford this art myself, so at least this way I get to live with it for a couple of months.

It’s quite an eccentric mix of people that visit the gallery.

Eneas Capalbo: They are all good at something. No hangers-on. If there are any, I kick them out. Rachel, you taught me how to 86 someone.

I did.

Eneas Capalbo: I do it a lot—especially to the bad artists. I don’t want them there.

Is there a philosophy behind all this?

Eneas Capalbo: Like its name suggests, The National Exemplar is very dictatorial. I believe that people need to be taught how to do things right by force—and if not, then they can drop dead.

Adam McEwen: I am not going to ask who you mean by they.

Eneas Capalbo: Good.

Read the full interview in MARFA JOURNAL #3All photos by Rachel Chandler.