Istvan Kantor Strikes Again: Vandal-Artist Tags Nelson Saiers’ Art

June 11, 2015 | Bucky Turco

For the past few weeks, math whiz and finance guy-turned-artist Nelson Saiers has been showcasing a series of new work at The Hole Shop without incident, but on Tuesday night serial shit-stirrer and Neoist artist Istvan Kantor disrupted his exhibit.

The Hungarian-born Canadian provocateur tagged his signature nom de guerre “Monty Cantsin” on a mattress that was part of the current installation. Saiers and show curator Laura O’Reilly were not pleased.

“I’m trying clear my head of the whole situation,” Saiers told ANIMAL when asked if his piece was ruined. “I don’t know.”

Saiers has made a name for himself in the art world. He once publicly challenged Banksy to paint a Hurricane Sandy-themed mural. (Banksy didn’t respond, but Saiers ended up donating the $100,000 to disaster relief anyway.) Ironically, however, it’s Kantor’s vandalism that turned this New York show into a newsworthy event. This fact did not escape The Hole Shop, which even released a press release nearly bragging about the embellished artwork” “Canadian Artist Istvan Kantor Tags Nelson Saiers Installation at the The Hole Shop During Opening Reception” (bolding theirs).

This sort of vandalism-turned-performance-art has become Kantor’s claim to fame — his website boasts, in large red letters, “BANNED FROM MOST MUSEUMS AROUND THE WORLD.” Last August, Kantor sprayed his own blood on a wall at the Whitney’s retrospective for Jeff Koons. He was arrested, taken to the psych ward and released. According to published reports, he has been creatively vandalizing work since 1979.

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“It was very bizarre because the guy had some girl filming it while it was happening as if it were a performance piece and he kept saying, ‘My gesture needs to come out’” explains O’Reilly. She says she immediately asked him to leave and he flat out refused. O’Reilly thinks he was purposely trying to make the 15 or so attendees who were in the space at the time feel uncomfortable. “He seemed like a nutjob because he was standing there grinning with these gold teeth. He looked crazy.”

“I was a little sad about the situation, so I walked outside,” said Saiers. His camp eventually called the police and minutes later Kantor was arrested. “He admitted to doing it and the cops took him away,” said O’Reilly.

The signature appears over theorems and philosophical ramblings that might appear in the journal of a mad but brilliant scientist — or a polymath, like Saiers, who speaks with a frenetic energy. Saiers says it took him about two days to write the formulas and paradoxes on the mattress. “It symbolizes how a lot of my best ideas about art come at nighttime, and so I have these little sketchpads next to my bed where I write all my notes down,” he said. Here’s how The Hole Shop described the work:

“The use of a mattress evokes Saiers’s childhood in Afghanistan where windows were often covered with mattresses to keep glass from shattering during the Soviet invasion. The number 117 is a reference to the room number at the Kabul Hotel where a U.S. Ambassador was assassinated. The mattress is scribbled with the various mathematical formulas that inform the seven pieces in the series.”

And here’s Saiers explaining the current installation in his own words:

Saiers has not set a price for the mattress yet and still isn’t sure what exactly it’s value is. “You never know till someone trades,” said Saiers. “I used to be a finance guy, so, until something actually transacts, who the hell knows what is?” But he does note that he has sold relatively expensive work in the past. “I’ve sold multiple things for over $10,000.”

“There’s a fine line between pissing on someone else’s piece as a form self expression — if you’re going to call that art,” said O’Reilly.

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(Photos: Aymann Ismail)