An episode of ArtStars* is the cure for your art attention deficit disorder, the guilty pleasure for those pretending to reject art criticism, the relief for those tired of desperately trying to look as serious as everyone else in a room full of art when faced with the dreaded question “What do you think it means?”
But what makes ArtStars* unique is its host Nadja Sayej, who is entertaining, sexy, and all attack, curbing the overwhelming pretentiousness of the contemporary art world with her brassy criticism. Think of her as your BS Barometer—on ArtStars* it’s not the artists but Nadja who has the final say. And if you thought otherwise, just wait for the self-proclaiming snap of her fingers in the show’s opening.
HAHA MAG: So, I’m just going to ask what most artists you meet want to know…What the hell is wrong with you? Don’t you like art? It’s hard to tell sometimes if you’re a lover of art or a skeptic of its supposed meanings. Or is it the artists you’re skeptical of?
Nadja Sayej: My name is Nadja, and I’m the host of ArtStars*. Guess what? I’m an art critic. Before founding ArtStars* in May 2009, I was writing art criticism for a living as a correspondent for artUS magazine and reporting on the visual art world for the Globe and Mail, Canada’s national newspaper. I have also written for the New York Times. The art which is worthy of criticism makes its way to the critical format. To quote Gregory Allan Elliot: “A picture is worth a thousand critics.”
HM: What’s up with the costumes? One minute you’re in a Snuggie and the next you’re dressed as Carmen Sandiego. By the way, my favorite is the Wonder Bread jumpsuit. The artist you were interviewing, Juno Youn, couldn’t keep his eyes off your boobs in that outfit.
NS: Too funny! Juno is gay. The costumes are outfits selected by ArtStars* stylists Joshua Shier of Youth In Asia Designs and Porcelaine Desire, a.k.a. Filipe Vintena. The Wonder Bread jumpsuit was borrowed from a clothing store called Vintage 69 in Toronto and selected by Vintena.
HM: Can we talk about the snap? …Yes, let’s talk about the snap.
NS: The ArtStars* snap is a trademark of the gay village in Toronto—Church Street. Snap this, snap that; it became our “thing” to snap of the disapproving. It is credited to my good pal Derrick Valenzuela, who has the loudest snap you’ve ever heard. He started the ArtStars* snap.
HM: You know, the media refers to your show as the TMZ of the art world. Who came up with this crazy idea to let ArtStars* go gonzo on the art community?
NS: The phrase “TMZ for the art scene” is a phrase coined by Ontario College of Art and Design professor Nicole Collins, and ArtStars* was my idea.
HM: Who’s behind the camera?
NS: Various friends are behind the camera, from camera chick Dimitra Lebessis (who is a realist painter) to Gonzo sidekick Chris Yurkovich (who always calls me “kiddo”). It’s a random compendium of whoever is free, willing, and able with their elbows and guts.
HM: The most hostile interview by far has to be the episode with Kriistina Lahde. Which makes me wonder—do you get responses from the artist after they see the finished product?
NS: Those who can, do. Those who can’t, comment.
HM: How do you select what you’re going to film next for ArtStars*? Are they chosen for their conversational status, or are they favorites of yours?
NS: I think the status of the “art star” has nothing to do with their artwork—it has everything to do with their persona, accessibility, and ability to keep the conversation going. The world is full of competent geniuses with no confidence to talk in front of the camera about their art, their life, the mistakes they made, and their biggest triumphs. Bruce LaBruce, Richard Kern, and Peaches: my favorite ArtStars* episodes because they don’t take themselves too seriously. They can laugh at themselves and me, too. They say the most successful person in a room is the one who is the most enthusiastic. I hate to say it, but when I go to openings, it’s me.
HM: Do you regret any interviews…ever felt like you went too far?
NS: More like: Did the editor go too far?
HM: In the short episodes, your personality jumps right out at the viewer. Afterwards, I seriously want to call you up to go hang out and have a beer. What’s going on doing your down time?
NS: Honey, there is no down time in the world of ArtStars*. From country-hopping to interview-arranging and an overwhelming amount of press interviews, we are constantly upgrading our channel into something far more ambitious. We recently celebrated our 50th anniversary episode at the Hamburger Bahnhof in Berlin. The show is personality-driven as a way of taking risks. Too often, TV reporters lack charisma and enthusiasm. I am a Gonzo journalist from the school of American journalist Hunter S. Thompson, author of Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas. “Buy the ticket, take the ride,” he said. Even if it is down the street.
We’re hitting 23 countries in Europe, launching a merchandise line, traveling the world doing motivational talks with a foot in Berlin.
HM: Watching you walk into an art exhibit usually inspires some sort of comment proclaiming the event brings on boredom, stuffy folk, etc… What makes a rocking art party?
NS: If you go back to ArtStars* 12, the episode on Extermination Music Night, an unconventional party series, you’ll see a real party. Same with ArtStars* 2, the White House. People doing their own thing and attracting positive energy by just enjoying and loving what they do when they’re doing it. Having fun.
HM: Okay, I pulled a random Twitter statement from your account. I think it pretty much sums up the feel of ArtStars*. Let’s put you on the spot and have you explain the thought behind it: “The fact that no one understands you doesn’t make you an artist.”
NS: I love that quote. It was lifted from a website called Warrior of the Light quotes. Warrior of the Light is a book written by mystic spiritualist Paulo Coelho. [It’s] devoted to the war between light and darkness. When I look at ArtStars* from a distance, we’re shedding more light on the art world—even if we are breaking the art world script. No one else can do what I’m doing. I play my best game. It’s a privilege to interview artists in a way that no magazine or newspaper could ever cover, and to be sick enough to be totally confident. Just try and stop me.
You’re still reading? Great, because we composed a little ArtStars* Primer for you.
Air Conditioned Jungle
For more ArtStars* visit them at www.artstarstv.com
By Ginger Rudolph
Images property of ArtStars*