Donald - Belott # 1

Donald Belott # 2

DONALD BAECHLER at the recent booksigning/launch for BRIAN BELOTT’s first printed book,
‘Wipe That Clock Off Your Face’, a PICTURE BOX ‘artist book’ publication,
PRINTED MATTER, Chelsea, NYC, May 24, 2007
Brian Belott is a studio assistant in the Donald Baechler studio, in Chelsea.
bottom photo, from left: BRIAN BELOTT, DONALD BAECHLER
Photos: Nancy Smith

DONALD BAECHLER, the new ‘Godfather’, re-visited . . .

Although Donald Baechler has been a pretty successful artist, ever since he first arrived in New York, (in the late 70’s), he sort of existed as the ‘man without the big myth’, in contrast to many of his contemporaries, who went on to become larger than life: Jean Michel Basquiat, Keith Haring and Julian Schnabel, to name a few . . .

Asking SIMON CERIGO, our artlovers critic-at-large for a few early recollections, he said:
“Looking back, Donald was pretty hot pretty much from the moment he hit New York City, must have been late 70’s, .. 78-79. By early 1980 he was a bonafide presence on the
NYC art scene, in great part because of his connections to the hot German painters of that time, especially WALTER DAHN and DOKOPIL. In fact, Donald achieved critical cache at the time, by spending a year in COLOGNE, probably 1980. One of his early successes, was his exhibit at the RED BAR, in January of 1982. Donald was one of the first artists to show with TONY SHAFRAZI in his seminal gallery on Mercer Street, in Soho, even before KEITH HARING. He wasn’t really known as a ‘generous’ or gregarious out-going type – but he was respected for his career skills, business sense, and ‘real estate acumen’ – being one of the first of the downtown crew to actually buy his East Village apartment, and, to go on to make money off his successive residence/studios consistently”.

His 2nd floor residence/studio on CROSBY STREET, became notorious in the late 90’s when one of his assistant/entourage players, CHRIS KELLEY, a young art historian and fledgling curator, fell to his death from Donald’s balcony. Chris Kelly was fooling around, mugging for a documentary film camera, that was pointed at him, from the street, supposedly held by a SURFACE-TO-AIR principal, when he basically leaned over into a dive, that landed him head first into the concrete sidewalk below. The story goes that he was later found to have had the equivalent of 5 bags of heroin in his system.

It was about the same time, the late 1990’s, that Donald’s studio assistants really began to make a name for themselves – mostly through the antics, and big mouth – of ALFREDO MARTINEZ, who worked for Donald, at this time, mostly stretching canvas, and gessoing down his large fabric collaged paintings. As well, Alfredo and the afore-mentioned Chris Kelly had begun curating shows for the nascent JOSH HARRIS/Pseudo.com organization, and that scene really mushroomed, as one might imagine, when Josh began to put his dot.com millions behind the productions. MARTINEZ really made a big bang, when he returned one season from Donald’s summer house in Amagansett, almost blown to pieces by a handmade explosive device, he had set off on the beach one night.

Now, back in the present – in 2007, curiously, the one thing that is really setting Donald apart from his early 80’s contemporaries, and creating a very distinct aura around him, is the increasingly independent successes, and diverse artworld paths & ambitions of his key studio ‘alumni’. As these artists continue to become increasingly full time players on the scene – the DONALD BAECHLER ‘myth’ that never was, suddenly comes alive, out of nowhere. There really is no other artist on the scene, going way back, or at least within ‘living memory’ – whose assistants have gone on to become so dynamic, in their own right. The ways things are going, the effect is just going to keep on snowballing.

BRIAN BELOTT is a case in point. . In fact, he still is one of Donald’s main studio assistants. ALFREDO MARTINEZ, and CHRIS KELLY, as mentioned, worked for Donald for several years. BRENDAN CASS worked for Donald for many years, and is now represented by the same Swiss dealer that reps Donald’s work in Europe. TAYLOR McKIMENS also worked for Donald, for many years. When he first stepped foot in NYC, (from the California/Arizona desert), the first thing he did, was look up Donald, whose work he admired, and he immediately landed his first break, a job in the Donald Baechler studio.

In a recent studio visit with Taylor, we spied several Donald Baechler pieces on the walls. (as we did when we visited BRIAN BELOTT recently). Taylor pointed out that many of the young NYC artists currently dominating artlovers pages, had passed through Donald’s artworld domain. He also told us … “it would be a big mistake to think that Donald let his assistant crew do much more than execute his thought-out pieces, and that in fact, Donald was relatively speaking, a pretty much hands-on artist within the studio.”

Even THE ENGER BROS, art twins Matt and Mark Enger, of EXPLODING SKY, who often grace artlovers reports, have been doing for custom silk screen work for Donald, going way back, and still get commissions from his studio. A new addition to the Donald Baechlor studio crew, is Lance de los Reyes (aka Rambo).

No matter what else is said about Donald, you can’t deny his eye for talent. and he must somehow turn loose the inner individual talents and ambitions, of his artist/helpers, rather than squish them down. Its a very unique situation – one, that is, I believe, going to lead to an increasingly positive in-depth re-evaluation of his art.


see pix of DONALD BAECHLER’S work, spied on the walls: BRIAN BELOTT STUDIO VISIT

visit: DONALD BAECHLER’S STUDIO/website !!

DISCLAIMER: yours truly, NANCY SMITH, sold several archival quilt & embroidery pieces to DONALD BAECHLER in the late 1990’s, and sometimes acted as a freelance archival quilt/fabric/remnant consultant/evaluator. Donald would pay premium prices for top-notch pieces, and respected all archival advice, such as, which pieces were too valuable to gesso onto paintings. ALFREDO MARTINEZ introduced me to DONALD on this professional level.