Dylan Brant Speaks Out About Art, Curating, and Rock n’ Roll

A version of this article appears in BULLETT with the headline: Dylan Brant Speaks Out About Art, Curating, and Rock n’ Roll.

By Cait Munro

If you’ve spent any time in the worlds of art or fashion, chances are you’re aware of Dylan Brant to some degree. The millennial son of supermodel Stephanie Seymour and stepson of mega-collector Peter Brant has quickly made a name for himself as an up-and-coming curator with an eye for crafting thematic exhibitions featuring contributions from many of the artists whose work he grew up around (think Nate Lowman, Rob Pruitt, and Julian Schnabel).

Following successful shows at Venus Over Manhattan and Garis & Hahn, he was tapped by UTA Artist Space, United Talent Agency’s new visual arts endeavor in Los Angeles, to organize “HeatWave.” The name, he says, just sounds cool, but the big idea behind it is a celebration of youth culture and artists who remain young at heart.

BULLETT caught up with Brant by phone as he was setting up for the exhibition, which opens March 18, to talk about music, the Lower East Side in the aughts, and the impact of his unusually arty upbringing.

So the focus of your show is on youth culture, which I think is something that’s addressed a lot in rock n’ roll and in the music world, but maybe less in visual art. What drew you to that theme?

Well, my ideas don’t usually come from art but from other mediums. In this case, it came from my interest in punk rock music and particularly a band called The Cramps. I was looking at an interview with the lead singer of The Cramps, Lux Interior, that I think he gave in Denmark in the ’90s and they asked him a question, you know, “who do you think the music for your audience is?” and he said, “it’s teenagers” and they said, “well, you’re not a teenager, so how are you the voice of these people who are so much younger than you?” And he said, “well, you know, it’s really not about how old you are, it’s about your frame of mind — if you have a youthful spirit, if you’re young at heart.”

What I’ve found, which is really interesting, is most of the artists that I’m particularly drawn to are a little bit older, they’re not in their teens or early 20s. But they have a youthful spirit and a vitality — as do a lot of the collectors who are drawn to these artists and help establish them. The artists who are in this show, for me, over the course of my life, have really informed how I look at art. Artists like Nate Lowman, Cady Noland, Josh Smith — some of my earliest exposure to art was through these artists and they made me realize the possibilities.

I definitely think a lot of artists in this show, people like Dan Colen or Dash Snow, have a very punk rock vibe to them.

I really admire stuff from that particular period that they were making work, everything that was going on on the Lower East Side at that particular moment. It’s a really, really special time. I think that as time goes on, those artists are going to get a really special place in the history of New York and the history of art-making. They represent a period of New York that was really dangerous and wild. And I don’t really know very many young artists, particularly in the case of Dash Snow, that really live what their work is about in that way. It was aggressive and it was mean and it was edgy.

The thing about those artists is that they all knew each other and hung out together and were sometimes even referencing each in their work and that made it easy for them to symbolize that particular moment in time. Do you think that there is or will be a group of artists who do that for our generation?

Yeah, I totally think so. The Postinternet art movement is one of those examples where you have dialogues happening between people to figure out where and how the internet plays into the functional role of art. Haley Mellin was a big teacher of mine and someone who I learned a lot from, and of course Brad Troemel. Moving forward, artists like Josh Kline and some of the people who are coming out of that vernacular, and then artists like Jordan Wolfson who are are interesting, and then all the other groups in New York and Los Angeles that are always going to be sort of umbrella-headed into a movement so that we can better understand them. For example, what Still House Group did early on, with having a gallery space and combining that with a group of studios and all of them working together and collaborating and feeding off of each other. That’s been going on in history forever and I don’t think it will ever stop.  Art is a dialogue.

Can you explain the name “HeatWave”?

I was discussing with a couple friends of mine and my sister Allison [Brant, director of the Brant Foundation Art Study Center] who I really, madly respect, and we kind of came upon the name just because it sounded good. We found this text online from this flyer for a punk rock band, with this kind of like old-school rock, almost really ’90s surf logo, and I was just like, that looks really, really good. The name itself I think ultimately, it sounds really good, and I don’t think there’s anything beyond that. The way that it looks just felt really right.

Can you tell me a bit about UTA Artist Space and what it’s been like to work with them?

It’s been absolutely amazing working with them, they’re incredibly open-minded and they’ve been really flexible with my curatorial process. But what I think is really interesting about the UTA Artist Space is that they bring something a little bit different to the table. They obviously have the connections with the entertainment industry, but beyond that, they’re also facilitators for creative expression in a different way [than a gallery]. It’s a lot more free-form and a very open forum. The space is really about manifesting and realizing ideas. For me particularly, they approached me and offered for me to do a show with them and they were just about realizing whatever vision I wanted to bring to the table. You don’t really have an opportunity to do that with most galleries.

With this whole idea of youth culture, rather than trying to put my own language in or my own idea of what a piece is about, I wanted to make the show more about a celebration of those particular artists and their contributions to art and the inherent bond between them with that vitality and youthful energy that they bring to the table. It really helps people either move beyond their particular perspective or have a cathartic experience, and I think that’s really what art is. So I wanted to do a show that was about a celebration of the artists that I really love without an intense emphasis on what the art necessarily meant.

With the exception of Cady Noland and Karen Kilimnik, all the artists in this show are men. Was that a conscious decision?

With regards to Cady Noland, I think she is one of the greatest American artists from the ’90s to today. She has been just always a master. I have never seen anyone make artwork as perfect as hers — on a formal level, on a social level, in terms of what it meant — in such a short period of time. She’s just a master.

With regards to the other artists being particularly men, it wasn’t a conscious decision. I think it more had to do with my particular background and the art that I had experienced in the past and what really moved me. I really just wanted to express things that had moved me. Because usually, the way that I like to curate is before I try to create a dialogue about something, it has to mean something to me. That means that I had an emotional reaction and it helped me move beyond myself. So I think it kind of just sort of happened.

A lot of the artists in this show are people that you’ve grown up around in a very personal way, coming from a collecting family. Have you loved art your whole life, or were you one of the kids who didn’t like it and then came back to it later?

I’ve loved art my whole entire life. The one thing that I will say is that for the longest time, I wanted to be a musician. So I played tons of instruments and I loved to record music and song write. But by the time I turned 16 I realized that really, I was inherently drawn more to art rather than music. It just came so naturally to me because I had spent so much time around it. It was kind of like breathing. Versus music, which obviously I absolutely love and I still play, I just never had the ability to actually produce anything I felt had real, inherent substance. I realized that if I wanted to work in a creative field, I was much better suited to be — I guess the right word would be a loudspeaker or an advocate — for someone else’s art than to do that for my own stuff. But I think that happens to a lot of people who are curators or gallerists or have other roles in the art world. Coming from a creative background gives you a different appreciation for the art-making process.