‘Madness’ creators to reveal how they lampoon world of fine art

Season 1, Episode 1 from The Madness of Art.

Joanna Hamer | Staff Writer

An artist, a gallery owner and a fine art dealer all star in “The Madness of Art,” a web series that puts the fun back into fine art.

At 6:30 p.m. today in the Hall of Christ, creator Jim Kempner and producer Charlie Hewitt will show episodes of “The Madness of Art” and share behind-the-scenes stories.

The show was created 10 years after art dealer Kempner opened his Chelsea gallery in New York City. Before entering the art world, Kempner had been a stand-up comedian working in California. One day, he wanted to buy a print for his room, so he contacted a dealer.

“I knew nothing about art,” said Kempner. “He spent an hour with me, showing me what a lithograph was, an etching, a silkscreen. He talked about the history of printmaking, and I was overwhelmed, bowled over. I left there afire.”

After moving to New York to try comedy, Kempner spent his days visiting art galleries, and entered the art world through an encounter that sounds like a comedy sketch.

“This art gallery was having a sale, these George Siegel sculptures. They were beautiful, and I knew they were valuable, and they were 50 percent off,” he said. “I said to the young kid working there, ‘What if you’re a dealer?’ He said, ‘You get an extra 50 percent off,’ so I said, ‘I’m a dealer.’ ”

When Kempner began working full-time, he stopped performing comedy.

“But I still had that urge in me to ham,” he said.

So two years ago, he got out a camera and started filming what happened in his gallery, Jim Kempner Fine Art. The material for the show needed almost no scripting.

“Everyday something would happen in the gallery that was funny and could be a scene. We never run out of material, that’s for sure,” he said.

“The Madness of Art” is now at the end of its third season and has been praised by ARTnews and The Huffington Post, among others. The episodes feature real people in the real art world, including Robert Indiana, who in the first season deems a piece of his own art in Kempner’s gallery as a fake. That scene happened when Indiana actually did walk into Jim Kempner Fine Art one day and became caught up in the filming process.

Another artist on the show is its producer, Charlie Hewitt, whose work is featured in the gallery and who is represented by Jim Kempner. Hewitt said he returns the favor by helping produce “The Madness of Art.”

“I came in one day, and he had been filming some scenes on his own, using his assistant and anyone who would hold a camera or do a scene,” Hewitt said. “I realized that he was really onto something. It was very funny, and original and very unusual, because the art scene does not make fun of itself.”

Yet that is exactly what the show does — it highlights the bizarreness, uniqueness and esoteric nature of the art world in a way only true art lovers could do.

Hewitt and Kempner began to exchange ideas and started making episodes with very little training.

“We didn’t go to film school, we didn’t have a very good camera, we didn’t ask anybody for permission to do it,” Hewitt said.

The authenticity and uniqueness of the show made it immediately popular on the Internet, and the semi-mockumentary style of filming and acting make viewers invested in the characters, Hewitt said.

Hewitt is a multimedia artist who works in drawing, painting, printmaking, sculpture, woodcuts and ceramics. He has taught sculpture at the School of Art for many years, and this is the second summer Hewitt and Kempner will talk about their show.

Hewitt often uses video to translate his studio experience to an Internet audience.

“I think it’s an interesting way to be biographical in the moment, to have somebody shoot you as you’re speaking about your life, or process,” he said. “I enjoy talking about my processes in a video format — it’s a little like a sketchbook, in a movie way.

“Oftentimes, as a visual person, I see my studio as animated. When you do a video, you can actually follow that.”

With episode titles like “YOKO (OH NO)” and “Where’s The Art?,” “The Madness of Art” brings its viewers a slice of the eccentricity and hilarity of the art world, while featuring the work of great artists.

“We make fun of the art world, we make fun of some of the art world egos, but we love fine art, we love the art world,” Kempner said.

“There is all this anxiety, all this frustration, all the insecurities of being an artist, and an art dealer,” Hewitt said. “We’re working to defuse all the anxiety of the art world. It’s a lot of fun, and that’s why we do it.”