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Talking with Terence Koh

Terence Koh, "whaling", 2009, documentation of performance-installation.
Terence Koh, "whaling", 2009, documentation of performance-installation. Via Peres Projects.

Olympia Lambert recently corresponded with artist Terence Koh on occasion of his participation in KKK, a three-person exhibition curated by Javier Peres and opening later this week at Mary Boone Gallery. --B.B.

Olympia Lambert for ArtCat: Hi, Terence. As your three-person Mary Boone exhibition fast approaches with the delectable fellow K's-- Koons and Kelley -- I'd like to ask you the following questions. Feel free to add additional commentary if you choose. My own opinion of you is ever-changing. When you told me you like when "people get over what they assume who I am to who I think I really am," it opened up a whole new way in which I perceive you, as well as your body of work. As an artist, are you specifically making it with an audience in mind, or is that audience yourself? Considering for a moment the second option, do you think this is why it's so difficult for people to understand the "real" you?

Terence Koh: i make art for other people. being an artist for me is for the better of society and the better of history. and it's always been the same individual, me as terence koh that does this. i doo what i doo what comes naturally. i am a servant to history. and i want to leave the world more beautiful through what i doo. and there are so many ways to express love, so there are so many "me's" to do that cause the world is all so different so have to be so many different facets of ambassadors.

AC: What exactly does your new sculpture entail for the KKK show, and what is its point of reference in terms of the progression of your body of work over the past decade?

TK: it is a 21 ft porcelian urinal that has been smashed up and reglued again. i don't tink i have been able to get any progress into my work though i have been trying. nothing seems to be getting better.

AC: Given the challenges in the economy, where do you see monumental art fitting in, given the continuing downturn in the art market?

TK:i find it difficult to answer most of your questions so far. all art is monumental. just as all art is spectacular and gigantic. the economy is just like waves in the ocean but it doesn't really affect the sea cause its still the sea. i do not mean to be poetic in this answer but its the closest answer i can know how to express for your question.

Terence Koh, "Untitled 3 (21 Shots)", 2003, digital print on archival paper with gun shot. Via PP.
Terence Koh, Untitled 3 (21 Shots), 2003, digital print on archival paper with gun shot. Via Peres Projects.

AC: Many of your works have at their core a makeup of degradable material -- blood, sweat, tears, semen, corn syrup, powdered sugar. Do you think of your work in terms of a correlation to their eventual decomposition, or is there no time line to what you feel they will represent?

TK: we have a contract when people buy my artwork that if the artwork changes it is the intention of the artist. and that is the truth. i always have flowers around my house and i like it when they shrivel up and die. i never throw away any of my flowers, i keep all of them in boxes. they are still equally as perfect as the day they were cut and died.

AC: Javier is your ex-lover, so there's certainly a much stronger intimacy involved in your professional as well as personal relationship. Mary Boone herself has been quoted that her involvement in 1980s art market excess is something she is not proud of, and said in a W Magazine interview, "I got too involved in fame and fortune." As your career continues to climb on an upward trajectory, are you prepared for business-decision volatilities in your personal relationship with Javier? And what about adjusting your self-assessed market value?

TK: my market value is determined by aunctions. both big pieces of my at aunctions tanked. so my career is probably going downwards. javier still continues to support me because we are still in love. he will always support me in my basic functions, roof over my head, food, and i hate to admit, my botox. cause once you are on botox you have to keep at it or your face just falls. so he gives as much as he can to support me and beyond. sometimes its more, sometimes its the minimum for what i need to maintain myself. we are both very happy with that relationship.

AC: KKK is a provocative title with the three K's -- Koons, Kelley and Koh. How do you perceive yourself in relation to Koons and Kelley, and how much has their work been an influence on your own? Feel free to extrapolate on any individual piece or series.

TK: i am not really sure what the other k's are showing. i do not tink i am influnced by either artist or artists in general. i am more influenced by writers. i am now reading a lot of edmund white.

AC: This is your first large-scale sculptural installation piece in a major NYC gallery. Is this an area you desire to examine deeper?

TK: i do hope that it provokes deep thoughts for people.

Terence Koh, "Raven Sits on Snowman Thinking of Earth From the moon", 2008, mixed media installation
Terence Koh, "Raven Sits on Snowman Thinking of Earth From the moon", 2008, mixed media installation. Via Peres Projects.

AC: Your alter egos of Asian Punk Boy and Koh Bunny are known for a wicked and biting humor, to say nothing of being pop culture obsessed with plenty of sex industry references. You even recently did an open casting call for a porn shoot. Are you satisfied with your responses, and where do you see this production going -- more as a business enterprise, or an artistic endeavor? In case of the former, do you think the two can coexist peacefully, or is that too much of a "Boogie Nights" Burt Reynolds' reference? For humor's sake, how do you think Koons would respond?

TK: well koons obviously had his porn phase with ilona. i think koons has a healthy sense of humor and enjoys a clever laugh like any person who thinks and observes with a keen sense of nuance. so he is probably tickled by my activities as well. making another artist laugh is a good sign you are dooing something good.

AC: As a current young star of the art world, do you perceive yourself to be a collaborator amongst your peers, or do you think of yourself as more of a witness?

TK: as i mentioned before, i just want to do stuff, all kinds of stuff besides art. so its not like art star, but just a star. the heavens would not be as beautiful if it did not have so many stars twinkling amongst all that darkness so that we also get a twinkle in our heart looking at them.

AC: Sex vs. Love: In a perfect world, they go together; of course, this isn't a perfect world. How much time do you spend thinking about each when you create a new work?

TK: not very much. i find again this very hard to answer.

AC: Thanks for your time, Terence. I wish you the best for the show.