“Trespassing and doing graffiti is fun. You need to let people do it. It’s fun and cool.”
New York’s Superchief is opening their first gallery space in Downtown LA this week with their biggest show yet. The 4,000 square-foot warehouse will feature the work of 47 artists from both coasts including Alexander Heir, Lucien Shapiro, David Cook, Ben Pier, Jasmin Bell, Coby Kennedy and Miguel Ovalle. Since 2009, Bill Dunleavy and Ed Zipco have thrown DIY art and music events around New York as well as launched superchief.tv, “a weed-entertainment website.” I hung out with the guys as they painted the floors and set up for the show.
The opening is Thursday, May 15 from 6pm-12am at 739 Kohler St.
So you guys are from New York?
Ed Zipco: Yeah, I’m from Florida originally. And then I went up to New York to go to Pratt in ’99 and I’ve stayed there just in that community for like 15 years.
You never went back?
E: No, fuck Florida.
Ah. I see. And you originally had a magazine?
E: We were a magazine that was doing a lot of parties and shows in Brooklyn, Greenpoint from 2009-2012. We were focused mainly on the website and in throwing big events. Then in 2010 we were in Party Expo. In 2011 we were in the Morgan. In 2012 we were given another warehouse space; we have an annual tradition of being handed a giant space to inhabit and do stuff in. In 2012 a buddy of ours gave us his giant space and we started to throw parties there, but it didn’t feel like we were going to be able to get away with that.
E: Because the cops chase you and shut everything down. Neighbors who’re terrible and call in noise complaints—everything that can stop you from having a good time with your friends. So we wound up doing the gallery thing. We started one because we wanted to have a space where everyone could come hang together. There are too many places, in New York specifically, where you can’t do that unless you’re spending a ton of money. A lot of creative people and a lot of our friends don’t have that kind of money. So our way around it and the socially acceptable way around it, was to open an art gallery. So we opened one and it took off and consumed both of our lives really fast. Really, really fucking fast. During our first show, we were invited to Basel. By the time we’d gotten to Basel, we’d gotten a residency in the Lower East Side to do art shows. Then we pitched a really ambitious idea for that residency where we’d do weekly shows. It was a bar named Culture Fix.
And you have a website as well.
E: It’s superchief.tv. It’s awesome because it’s a weed-entertainment website. It’s written by people who are high and funny and it consists of stuff that’s interesting and fun.
Bill Dunleavy: Our most successful column is Smoke Weed To This. It’s just stuff found on the internet that would be awesome to smoke weed to.
E: You just click that button and you have a whole feed of stuff that you can stay stoned to. You can enjoy it. You don’t have to go hunting. There’s just weird, fucked-up stuff. You just see it, see it, see it.
Why come to LA?
E: A couple of reasons: first off, because of winter. I never want to do another god-damned winter again. It is cold. It is cold in New York. Winter lasts five months in New York. It’s only been getting worse. Last year, for the third year in a row, we told ourselves, “Never again. Fucking, never again.” That was a big factor. And the other thing is that it seemed like New York is really, really getting squeezed again and again.
What do you mean getting squeezed?
E: It’s hard to stay ahead of the curve just to avoid the police shutting down your fun. It’s really that easy to sum it up.
The gentrification and how things are getting cracked down on?
E: All the warehouses have neighbors now. And they really don’t want that racket. I’ve been doing this for a long time and at a certain point, you can’t even hire the police to do security anymore. It used to be the great work around. You’d just hire an off-duty and they’d run security. When a cop would drive by and ask about why the noise is coming out of the building, they’d just move them on. They know each other, because they’re from the same precinct. Now they’re under pressure to raise property value.
B: Also, we started hitting a glass ceiling in New York, where we were starting to make waves as an art gallery and our name is known. Pretty much everywhere everyone has at least a casual recollection of hearing our name or has a faint idea of what we are doing. To have more to offer our artists and to grow as a business, we wanted to break that glass ceiling and expand to another city. We didn’t move to LA; we expanded to LA. We still have a whole year of shows booked in New York. Now it’s game-changing. We’ve grown a third arm. We’re putting the squeeze on America.
E: It’s really cool to bring people’s work here and break out of the New York scene. It’s great to be able to have a new landing pad out here. And to put people’s work next to other’s in this community. They don’t really know how connected they are to each other. A lot of the artists, they all have friends in common. They all smoke the same weed and are doing the same drugs. They’re running around the same places, but they’re not aware. Putting them together is really, really great.
Do you think LA and NY are on par with the art scene?
E: We’re still getting to know the art scene in LA.
B: I think there are a lot of good artists out here, but ask me that question about anything: the art scene, punk, anything. I would say New York is better. And I think everybody knows that. I think because everything is better in New York, everything is more competitive in New York. We decided to branch out because it’s important to branch out and see who you’re influencing, because you’re the best. So you have to step up. That’s why we’re doing artist residencies in this space.
What will that entail?
B: People come out here and live for free. They’ll spend a month or however much time it takes to work, and have a show, spread their name out here. Next year we’ll open it up to the public. For first year, 2014, we’re just offering it to people we already work with who we think will excel and get excited about it. Next year, hopefully we’ll be finding artists that we don’t know who know about us, get them in the mix.
E: I also want to hang with my friends who I don’t get to see. Everyone’s working so hard in New York. You can’t even spend time with each other. So the idea of a residency is a really intimate time-spending. It’s cool to be able to watch them work. And have a studio here. They can live in LA, have a studio space and the following month have an opening here.
Yeah LA is fun when you don’t have a 9-5. You guys get to hang and paint all day.
B: I’ve had every job in the book. I’ve been a car parker, a computer repairman, barista, personal assistant, professional photo-shopper, a camera salesman—I made $10,000 at the job then quit and moved to Mexico.
E: It’s always been a hustle—freelancing and hustling.
How did you find this space?
E: Craigslist. We drove out to LA directly from Basel without having a lease or anything signed—just on pure willpower. There was a landlord out here who gave us a ninety percent; he said as long as our credit checked out. Then for some reason, we both had excellent credit. Know one knows why. We just like knocked on wood.
B: This landlord said he wanted to meet us in person to decide. We were like, “Okay. We will come to California to meet you in person and sign off on this space.”
E: He already had our bank statements and everything. Then he stood us up.
And you drove all the way out here! He didn’t steal your money or anything?
E: No, I’d burn his house down. So we spent three weeks in a hotel and during that month, we just busted ass finding a place. We found this one. The landlord rules. He’s very cool with what we’re doing. It’ll be interesting to see what happens over here. We’re stoked. We now have a solid footing in LA. We have 15 shows in New York and Brooklyn this summer alone. Last year, the residency program was really ambitious; it was weekly. So we did 47 art shows last year.
Whoa. How many people do you have working for you?
E: We have a good team of me and Bill. We’ve had a floating staff of anywhere from just Bill and I to 65 people working for us at a clip. It’s random. It’s a really big volunteer program to do fun shit.
B: When we have a cool party spot going, it’s really easy to come across interns.
E: I’m just like, “Be sober for half of the day” and after we’ll get high.
B: Things that make a space good for interning are BB guns, beer, weed, hot girls, a cool rooftop. The more of those five things you’ve got going on in your workspace, the more interns you can get.
Tell me about the spaces you’ve had in New York.
E: In New York, we had Party Expo. It was named for us and we just left it.
B: It was a party supply store. The sign was multi-colored.
E: That place was huge. It was 10,000 square feet and four floors. That was fun. The year after that, we had the Morgan, which was off the Morgan L stop. That was a 12,000 square-foot event space. Then the year after that was the first art gallery.
What have you learned from moving around so much?
B: Pay attention to who your neighbors are. Find out if they’re going to be your enemy or your friend.
E: Sit down and map out all of the things that you want to do with it. Make sure that there’s no one in 500 feet that will tell you to fuck off like a church, a police station, a school, the mafia.
The mafia? Really? Can you tell me a story about that?
E: Party Expo.
B: Oh really? I was thinking about that other time: Jackson on mushrooms.
E: Ha! Oh yeah. Well, the one that we’re going to talk about is when we were at the Party Expo. We only had one rule and anything anyone wanted to do, we’d do. If you wanted to blow something up or light something on fire, it’s cool, we’d figure it out. Doesn’t matter. The only rule was that we didn’t take money from the Mafia.
People do that?
E: Absolutely. Every day of the week.
So Italian, Russian, Puerto Rican families?
E: These were the Latin Kings, the gang. If you borrow money from them, you are now with them forever. So our partner in that endeavor broke the rule and borrowed $1000 from the husband of the sister of the president of the Bushwick chapter of the Latin Kings—for a pool table. He explained it to everybody that it would be free. The minute he put it in and they agreed that he owed him $1000 for the table and they shook hands, the guy said, “Great. Now you owe me $2000.” Then it became that kind of relationship.
E: Because it’s like, “Fuck you. Fuck you. I’m the mafia, so fuck you.” It was the beginning of a horrible relationship. Before the end of a week he was selling coke for them. That was really aggressive and interesting and terrifying. And he was so bad at it, that day two of him dealing for them, he was arrested. So then the mafia came in a said, “We’re running security in your club.” They had aggressive coke dealers running security at all of his events. Not our events, because we split with him. So yeah, no mafia.
Rules are there for a reason. So tell me about this show.
E: The show is huge.
E: We drove a 16-foot box truck full of half a million dollars worth of art across the country to make this happen.
B: And I’m looking at the space and it’s a lot of space to fill. I’m a little concerned that we have too much art.
E: We’re going to go very tall walls.
B: We’ll put the big pieces up high and the small pieces down low. We’re using all of the walls. Are you wearing a Masonic ring?
I found it at a flea market and why not?
B: We stayed with a Mason in Saint Louis who fucking steals rings off of people who are not real Masons.
B: He’s going for Grand Master.
E: The only people I believe in with that kind of shit are Hell’s Angels and they’ll cut the tattoo off of you. And that makes sense. I believe in people cutting tattoos off of people. That I believe in.
Where have you been going out in LA?
B: Places similar to this, little art galleries. Private Island and East 7th Punk House. I’ve become really good friends with them. Those punk guys know that New York is the shit. They’re trying to bring the New York punk scene to LA. They go and buy all of the records from Toxic State. That’s awesome and it makes me feel really good. The stuff that I left in New York is being directly exported here and it’s on the same street that I live on.
Yeah, it’s like the Wild West here in this industrial area.
B: I’m stoked on it. I think everyone should enjoy it now, because there are changes coming down the road.
E: This area feels like Brooklyn 2005-2008: Williamsburg, Bushwick. It’s more destitute, vacant, it’s less cops and it’s less pressure. The cops out here are doing shit that matters. They’re not busting you for drinking or for being loud. They’re busting a murder over there.
B: I think I saw a dead body the other day.
B: I was riding my bike on 5th to my friend’s house. I saw a bunch of cops and they had these spotlights on this guy on the sidewalk. And he was just slouched in a way that didn’t really look like sleeping. And I stopped and looked. I was gonna take a photo and everyone on the sidewalk turned and looked at me very disapprovingly. So I was just like, “Oh okay” and just kept moving. I told myself it was just a sleeping guy … I can tell you a fun story about when I was in New York last week. I met Ice T, his wife Coco and Afrika Bambaataa—all in one day.
B: Ice T’s hardcore band, Body Count was making a new music video and put out a public blast on Facebook. So me and a bunch of New York punk kids showed up in addition to a crew of Long Island punk kids. Afrika Bambaataa and Zulu Nation made a guest appearance out of the blue. Everything was cool for a couple of hours until a fight broke out between the New York kids and the Long Island kids. Ice T called us all grimy mother fuckers and kicked us all out. The fight resumed in a street brawl outside and Zulu Nation stepped in and beat up everybody.
E: Forty-year-olds in a fucking space gear. It’s good.
What’s up with the latex-looking couch?
E: That’s the reason that we started doing art. Have you ever heard of Hennessy Youngman? He’s a … how do you explain what he does?
B: He’s an artist who makes really concise and entertaining art criticisms. He has a YouTube channel called Art Thoughtz. He’ll take highly intellectual art critique concepts and explain them in street terms. Hennessy’s made his go by speaking in a language that everyone can understand and he’s also a really great curator on top of it. He did a big show called It’s a Small, Small World at this experimental gallery called Family Business. The space is tiny, tiny, but with high ceilings. What he did was he opened it up to all of the artists in New York. He just told them to show up and they’d have their piece in a Chelsea gallery. He hung everything that showed up.
How long ago was this?
E: Three years ago. People had to sign wavers that said he wasn’t responsible for the art being safe. When he’s explaining it in the video, he’s saying, “Bring your art from high school, bring your art from college, your grandfather’s art, the art from the refrigerator. Bring good art. Bring bad art. I don’t give a fuck. Bring it all. Bring the kitchen sink. Bring the couch from your living room.” Then he kept listing things ’cause that’s what he does. And we’d been running Superchief for three years from that couch so we figured, fuck it. Let’s dip the thing in latex paint. Let’s paint our outlines on it like it was an atomic blast. And it left that atomic shadow on it. Let’s hang it in the gallery. So we showed up with a truck that we rented and we dropped it off and hung it from a chain in the middle of the room. It took up like a third of the gallery. Then on the opening night we stuffed fireworks into it and shot fireworks through everyone else’s art. We lit the place on fire.
B: Like roman candles.
E: Yeah. We brought a fire extinguisher because we’re nice people. But we definitely burned some people’s art and it was great. Hennessy loved it. He had to pretend that he was pissed off because other people were really pissed off. He was like, “How could you guys do this?!” Then he’d come over and be like, “That was awesome.” Then to give us some more encouragement, he signed his name like four feet across in the back.
B: We did a little art prank. A little art terrorism. After that we were like, “Oh shit. Art shows are cool.”
E: They can be a fun thing.
B: Then we got serious.
E: We didn’t get that serious, but we did open an art gallery.
B: We slowly got serious.
E: I mean, we’re still stupid.
B: It’s like a stupid-smart hybrid.
Anything you want to do differently in the future? Or just keep on with this thing?
E: Mostly sativa.