Buying art and buying stocks are not very different – both are financial gambles that rely on a combination of knowledge, taste, and gut instinct. However, Sarah Meyohas’ newest performance piece at 303 Gallery, Stock Performance Project, takes the relationship a step further by creating art based off of the financial market gamble. The 24-year-old Meyohas also manages the eponymous uptown apartment gallery, garnering inspiration for the project from her curriculum at Yale University, where she was studying finance before taking a decisive plunge to focus on being an artist. Meyohas sat down with us to discuss the genesis of her work, performing before an audience, and realizing she was an artist with the help of Alexander McQueen.
Ella Marder: How long had you been thinking about this project?
Sarah Meyohas: It’s been almost two years since I started trading stocks with the purpose of moving them. The first time, I remember, I was sitting in my room. I had found this stock called Golden Enterprises and I thought, “Okay! I’m about to put on a really big order.” And then the price jumped. From there, I did it a bunch of times, and that’s where the concept came up. At first I thought “I can move a stock and I can move a price pretty significantly if I pick something that has a low enough volume.” But then, “How do you turn that into a representation that has some teeth to it?” For a while I kept trying to build my ideas into the paintings, but that was not working, and then I realized my words, myself, and the gallery would all be part of it. I’m not a performance artist. I’m just a conceptual artist, but the performance is one of the ingredients of this work.
EM: And it wasn’t your first performance…
SM: It was in a way. January 8th was the first time that I performed it in front of 150 people.
EM: How did it feel?
SM: It felt great.
EM: Did you get an adrenaline rush, or stage fright?
SM: I was nervous that people wouldn’t understand what I was doing and where I was going, but I wasn’t nervous in delivering it.
EM: And so you feel like moving forward now, you actually like this performative aspect?
SM: The thing is, if you perform you’re in character, and I think I already kind of am a character. I’ve embraced that over the years, so it’s always just going to be me.
EM: Do you like the idea of being a renaissance woman?
SM: I do. The only thing that doesn’t appeal to me about that is if you do too many things at once, you’re never really good at one thing. So I tend to focus on the same thing. The last three projects all had to do with conceptions of value and different systems. I think I try to implant value so that you can’t untangle it. My project BitchCoin is a cryptic currency backed by photographs that only have value because they’re printed, which is another analogy to money being printed.
EM: Do you think learning from this performance is informing how you’re thinking about your next project?
SM: I think I’m starting to find a way of working that just feels right for me and is truthful, which doesn’t always fit so well into the art world. I think a next piece will have to do with land art and ownership of land. What if you sold a piece of land and on it there were two huge two-way mirrored dark rooms you would walk into and see whatever the artwork was. There’s an experiential beautiful artwork, but there’s also the land, which might have its own value. Right now oil is down, so what if I got a cheap piece of land that might have oil under it, and then I put a piece of artwork on the land? The piece of artwork would stay there for as long as the artwork is more valuable than the possibility of what’s under it.
EM: When did you realize you were an artist?
SM: I remember in high school watching an old Alexander McQueen fashion show where the model struts down the runway wearing a circular white dress, and then these robot arms try to see where she is before they start spraying her with yellow and black paint as she turns. It was accompanied by really emotional classical music, and I was enamored by it. For a long time I wanted to go into fashion, but it was that part of fashion that appealed to me – then I decided the fashion industry was not for me, and finance was the natural thing.
But then in the spring of junior year I made a firm decision. It was a pretty tough decision to make, especially because I had received offers in the finance sector, so I thought: “Okay I’m going to say no to this for something I have very little experience in.” It was a gut instinct. I had started getting encouragement from people other than my art professors, so that also helped me think I wasn’t crazy. You don’t become an artist unless you absolutely need to, because it’s not easy at all.
EM: I love what you’re doing uptown, turning your family apartment into a sort of exhibition space.
SM: The last show, The Birds & The Bees, was shocking to me. The crowd was a different crowd, not the young artists that I usually show to. Roberto Longo came, Stanley Whitney came, Thierry de Duve came. Amazing people came. I’m not even sure of what Meyohas is just yet. It’s not a gallery, it’s a project space.
EM: You’ve had four shows there so far, how does it work: you curate, and invite other curators?
SM: Really just people I know. I’m curating two women artists for the next exhibition; one is from Chile, Constanza Alarcon, the other from Iran, Shahrzad Changalvaee. It’ll be based on a set of poems written by a Chilean author who got killed when Pinochet took power, somehow those poems made their way to Iran and were turned into songs over there.
EM: Are you the last child in the family? Because you are somebody who’s 24 and incredibly accomplished – you seem like a very old soul, the way you talk, and how you go about giving opportunities to other artists with the project space. It’s a very generous gesture that you’re putting out in the world.
SM: Ha ha ha! Old soul! I’m not doing it for myself. I don’t need to do it, but I love it. I like to help my friends. I don’t even know if it’s really helping them. I like to be part of a group. I like to have my crew. I also lose money doing it, because I have to put up all the stuff and I show work that’s not very commercial. But we have freedom. Galleries are forced to be very commercial, whereas we don’t go on the schedule of an institution or have to plan a million years in advance. These shows can happen much more spontaneously.
EM: So this idea of the collective, the collaboration, the conversation is very important to you.
SM: Yeah, and especially when it’s so hard for an artist in New York to find a place. We all graduated from school, and it was like…”I have a big living room”.
EM: If you had one dream of something you would like to see happen, what would it be?
SM: The dream is Peggy Guggenheim meets George Soros meets Miuccia Prada.
Portrait Photography: Tyler Nevitt for NeueJournal