The "Work of Art Exit" Interview: FIRST RUNNER-UP Peregrine Honig
The "Work of Art Exit" Interview: FIRST RUNNER-UP Peregrine Honig
ARTINFO spoke to the reality show's first runner-up about the dress that she commissioned for last week's screening party at the Brooklyn Museum, and also about whimsy, wax, museum worms, and why winner Abdi Farah is like a mythic Thomas Campbell hero. She then called us back with an interesting proposal for a future "Work of Art" challenge.
[Lots of giggling]
How’s it going?
[More giggling] Good.
Are you being tickled?
My husband is rubbing my feet because we went out dancing last night, and in between interviews he rubbed my foot and I screamed. So it’s fine, don’t worry.
Where did you go out dancing?
We went to Lit.I had been there once before with Nicole [Nadeau]. It’s a very fancy little dive bar.
Your dress was great at the screening party at the Brooklyn Museum.
Thanks! I called my friend Peggy Noland and I said, "Ah, I need a dress!" So she made that dress in like three days. It was amazing. I really liked my dress — I told her I wanted something that either looked like I got it at a garage sale or like it was $7,000. That’s what she came up with, and it was totally successful. I was like, "don’t hem the edges, just leave them raw."
What else have you been doing since the show ended?
I’m working on a show that is in October at Dwight Hackett Projects. It was a show that I committed to before going on reality TV and I like to honor the people that deal my work. And they watched the show, and they rooted for me, and they’re proud of me. I have some really wonderful highbrow people that handle my art. I don’t know if they were all totally on board from the get-go, but once they got sucked into it, they were like, "What happens next?" They’re like teenagers. But I’m really happy with the show that I produced. I’m really happy for Abdi. He’s an amazing young man. And he truly had the hero’s journey. He became his own hero, which is a really hard thing to do. Most people are lucky if they get a good photograph taken of them in their lives, but Abdi managed to wrestle and conquer his own shadow in front of a million people. So I’m happy for him for that.
It seemed, in the final episode, that Jerry Saltz was really rooting for you, so that must have felt good even when you didn’t win.
Of course it’s hard to not go home with a chunk of change, but Jerry... I respect him so much and I’ve been reading his work, and Roberta Smiths work, and it's been sort of like Dear Abby since I was in college. I figured out right before the show that I was going to get my fingernails done, and that Jerry Saltz fit perfectly....
Yeah, I saw that! You had big green Jerry Saltz nails. You spelled his name out on your nails!
He loved that. He taught me so much about my process and my work, and the great thing about having somebody who’s so bright, and well-spoken, and well-considered pushing you — it doesn’t mean they’re going to be nice, but I think he was harder on me because he liked my work. I thought going into "Work of Art" that it would be much more cupcake-y and ridiculous, but I ended up giving so much of myself to Bravo and what they gave me back, the story they gave me back, was pretty amazing.
The photograph that you made of the taxidermied fawns, you seemed to have a real emotional connection to them. You even started crying when you unpacked them. Can you tell me the story behind them?
I saw them at a toy and science shop in Kansas City, and then it took me about two years — the price would change, it would go up and down — and finally I bought them and had to consult with a taxidermist because they had a lot of what are called museum worms, so I had to fix them. Then I pedestaled them under this blown-glass globe that’s cut in half, and I had a woodworker build the base to connect to the glass. And then I had to find the photographer who would be perfect to make it be very dry and glow-y and my friend E.G., who’s documented my work for 10 years now, and then I had to find the right size, and print it. I didn’t actually get to see that piece until I unpacked it. I sent the print to the Dolphin to frame it — they're the people who handle my work in Kansas City — and I was like, "I trust you. I just have to trust you. Here’s the print. I just need you to build the frame." And the people who were shipping it were like, "We’re going to crate it." So it was the first time I had seen the piece suspended that way. I had never had the money or the time or the focus, so the pieces of the puzzle had just come together for that piece to happen. Usually as an artist you get to make your work, hash it out, and it was the final piece for my show, this sort of backroom at an old — the way that are things in jars, or there are genetic anomalies, fantastical things that happen in nature. And I really felt it brought the show together, it made the show just amazing.
Your work is an interesting combination of playful whimsy and deeply unsettling themes.
I really like to draw people into my work and then have them take this journey. Because I like to transport my audience. My work deals with uncomfortable things. It deals with the space between what's right and what's wrong, and who the victim is and who the predator is, so in order to really get people into that space, I often feel that you need to take them in a sort of childlike manner. I really have such a fondness for finding a way to draw things or to pull things in — I try to make my work according to the medium. Of course these unborn fawns were hit and pulled from their mother and somehow preserved by the person who found their mother. But the medium for that piece is a photograph. And then the medium for the horses, these beautiful wax horses, because I wanted them to talk about birthdays and toys, is wax — wax is such an amazing medium. And then for the drawings, the vignettes in the corner, and these wax frames across the room from each other, I wanted to feel like there’s almost like a game going on, something that you could interact with. I’m so happy with that show.
It was pretty spectacular with all that cotton candy swirling around.
It was magic! It felt magical. It felt magical to be in that space. And not magical in the corny, stupid, dorky, new-wave-y, hippie way. Magical in a punch-you-in-the-head sort of way.
Your studio space in Kansas City seemed pretty spectacular.
It’s awesome. I have a great studio. It’s an old drug pharmacy. It says "drugs" on the floor in mosaic when you come in.
Throughout the show, you did pick a lot of fights, but you didn’t take a lot of crap either. Did you have a battle plan going in at all?
I think maybe if I had had a battle plan I would have been kicked off really early. The one thing that I explained to people as we watched the show was that there is a narrative that’s created between people — that this person kicked this person off — the truth is that every artist has a tipping point. And it doesn’t mean they’re better or worse artists. It only means that you can only put up with so much, for the creative process. So they were talented, driven people but they went home early. I have a great husband, and I was the only person on the show who had that in their pocket. And I have such a great life to come home to. So I think because I wasn’t really in it to win it, I had more thoughts like, "Man, I don’t want to pack up my crap." Or, "Man, I’m already here." I really got into the groove of it. And I made good friends, and I helped a lot of artists just like they were helping me. The more naturally I behaved, I felt, the better. It’s hard to realize when you’re exhausted and putting your soul on the line that it’s going to be edited, but I think I did a pretty good job of maintaining my character.
Did other people fail to do that?
It’s hard to watch other people go off the deep end. Because as a compassionate human being, when you’re in the studio and there’s a limited amount of time, you don’t have time to go over to that other person and say, "Hey, whatever crazy shit you’re doing over there, let’s come back to the planet earth and make art." No one can dig a deeper hole for themselves than the person with the shovel, and that’s usually you.
Do you have any suggestions for a challenge for the second season, if there is one?
You know what would be great, if after it was pared down to a smaller group of people, I know it’s a competition, but have each artist give another artist a challenge for their work. Like, "this is what I’ve seen of your work, and this is where I think you would be challenged. Here is your challenge from me." So instead of it coming from the critics, it would be more like, "this is where I see you struggle, here is where I think you could learn if you tried this out."
[Peregrine calls back later]
So I thought about it while I was in the bathtub.
Always a good place to think.
Here’s what I think. The challenge I would give everyone is origami.
Are you good at origami?
It’s just something funny.