OVER 36,000 SOLD (DIR. BRETT VAPNEK, 1998)
It seems like it is impossible to talk about Steve Keene’s art without discussing the mentality and technique that defines his approach. And while I occasionally think that something should be able to “stand on its own,” free from context, I ultimately believe that Keene’s finished paintings are only a piece of what makes him so appealing. In this short film, shot by Brett Vapnek nearly 15 years ago, it’s no mistake that you don’t even see Keene paint until more than a third of the way into it. Over 36,000 Sold does a beautiful job of documenting the artist at work while allowing us insight into his fairly unique philosophy.
My first exposure to Keene (as I’m sure it was for many) was buying Pavement’s Wowee Zowee, the cover of which was a modified painting of his. That said, I didn’t pay much attention to it, and I didn’t think much more about through high school until December of 2000 when I visited The Miracle Half-Mile: Ten Thousand Paintings by Stephen Keene at the Santa Monica Museum of the Art. Walking into the gallery was an extremely powerful moment for me; wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling, paintings covered the landscape of the space. Visitors were free to pluck them off the walls and walk home with them, with a painting offering suggested donation distinctions for different sizes. In the middle of the gallery, surrounded by easels, was the artist himself chugging away at dozens of canvases at a time, speaking to no one. My girlfriend at the time and I wandered around for a couple of hours, soaking in the blend of sampled images, clipped phrases, and generosity of color. Leaving with a couple of paintings, which set me back about $5 in total, I realized that my relationship with museums, art, and ownership had changed.