Superchief Gives L.A. Its Culture Fix

Published May 16, 2014

Ed Zipco and Bill Dunleavy, co-owners of Superchief, an irreverent digital magazine and curatorial collective, are taking their artistic brood—as well as their weathered punk-rock sensibilities—to the City of Angels. Their “Grand Opening Reception” debuts this week in their new 4,000-square-foot gallery space in downtown L.A. The show features a collection of new and familiar works by over 45 loyal artistic friends, some of whom have been with Zipco and Dunleavy since their early days in Bushwick and on through their rocky but wildly successful 2013 residency at Culturefix on the Lower East Side.

Included in Superchief’s impressive rolodex is Swoon, who deserves considerable praise for staying faithful to the young curators after her highly celebrated crashing of the Venice Biennial as well as her massively successful installation at the Brooklyn Museum. Like Swoon herself, Zipco and Dunleavy are extremely careful not to lose sight of their roots on the street. In fact, their move to L.A. seems to be less a detour or a simple change of scenery, and more of a conscious shedding of their recently garnered credibility as “serious curators” in New York City. Their shunning of this title is not to diminish their professionalism—the boys have proven themselves to be highly responsible editors and gallery directors, often times despite their best efforts (a section of their magazine is titled “Smoke Weed to This”)—but rather to celebrate why people make art to begin with; to have fun, to express the frustrations of everyday life, to process inner struggles with sexuality or addiction, and let us not forget, to fight the power.

Other notable artists in the show include Dennis McNett of Wolfbat Studios, photographer Tod Seelie, silkscreen artist David Cook, the subversive illustrator and printmaker Alexander Heir, A$AP Mob’s official photographer Brock Fetch, the infamous Poshgod of Metro Zu fame, and longtime collaborator Edwin de la Rosa. Zipco and Dunleavy will also be featuring works of their own, which will be subtly mixed in with the proceedings. Superchief’s new venture is undoubtedly healthy for the West Coast art world, decidedly bad for pretension, and depending on how you view the controversial practice of tagging, good or bad for the bathroom walls.

We spoke with Zipco and Dunleavy over the phone as they finished preparing for last night’s opening.

KURT MCVEY: How does it feel being out on the West Coast?

ED ZIPCO: To be honest, mentally, it just feels right. All the hard work last year has really paid off. After killing ourselves building a community in New York, it made a whole lot of sense to expand out west.

MCVEY: The roster for this upcoming show is massive.

BILL DUNLEAVY: It is. There will be 45 artists in total. Most of them are from New York, a few are from LA.

MCVEY: Are you approaching this Grand Opening Exhibit differently than previous kickoff shows?

DUNLEAVY: It will be somewhat like we did last year on the Lower East Side, basically a big, salon style, general overview of the curriculum for the upcoming year. We’re going to expand on some of these people, but we really want to include the whole family in our first big group show.

MCVEY: How much of the upcoming calendar year do you have scheduled?

ZIPCO: About half. We’ve got a couple of things that we’re really excited about in the late fall. Early 2015 is also looking really good.

MCVEY: A lot of these artists are familiar names, but is there anyone in this upcoming show that is completely new to Superchief?

ZIPCO: Well, right off the bat, the first brand new artist that comes to mind is PrettyPuke.

MCVEY: PrettyPuke?

DUNLEAVY: Yeah, one word. PrettyPuke is this photographer that I’ve been following on Instagram for a few months now. He’s kind of a nightlife photographer. He also does a lot of fun portraits with some nudity, all with this humorous, snapshot kind of touch. He works exclusively in film and really nails that particular aesthetic that we love so much.

ZIPCO: His work has a lot of that old energy. You know? In that it still has some of that reckless sexuality. I feel like a lot of people in Brooklyn went pro and have been less of a scumbag in the last five years. The work became kind of boring.

MCVEY: [laughs] So you guys are out in L.A. to reclaim your scumbag roots?

ZIPCO: Damn straight.

DUNLEAVY: It’s something we try to express through art… primarily. [laughs]

MCVEY: You know I hate this word, but what is different about the “scene” in L.A.? Is it all the same, or is there a decidedly different flavor to that particular brand of Superchief subversion that you’re looking to tap into?

ZIPCO: I mean, it certainly feels raw again and not this condensed and polished shit that New York has turned into. There’s a freedom out here to be a crazy person without the constant pressure of a police presence or the rising cost of everything—things that make it really difficult to be, how else can I say it, a person.

MCVEY: Let’s go back to the artists for a moment. Is there a particular artist in this show that you have worked with before who is bringing something entirely new to the table, whether it’s a departure from their particular style or medium?

ZIPCO: There are two that are really fresh to me. I’m thinking Coby [Kennedy] and Miguel [Ovalle].

DUNLEAVY: I was going to say Miguel.

ZIPCO: Coby Kennedy has shown really impressive, crazy work with us in the past, like the assault rifle vending machines or the custom weaponry, but what’s really blowing my mind, are these super high-end Molotov cocktails. We got them and they are fucking gorgeous.

DUNLEAVY: He’s calling one of the pieces “Reckoning of the Baler.”

MCVEY: [laughs] That guy is so cool.

DUNLEAVY: These things are golden-plated champagne bottles with gold leaf ribbon stuffed into the top serving as the fuse and they’re on these really royal looking gold and red velvet pillows with tassels and everything.

ZIPCO: It looks like something a dethroned prince would throw at a car.

MCVEY: They sound beautiful, but are they functional?

ZIPCO: To my understanding, yes, they are functional. [laughs] They other artist, Miguel Ovalle, does these incredibly complex detailed 3-D sculptures.

MCVEY: I know that guy’s work. He’s really going to be huge.

ZIPCO: Actually, two weeks ago he accepted the Art Director position for Supreme and ALIFE. So yeah, he’s blowing up.

MCVEY: And deservedly so, that guy is really pushing the envelope. So are you guys hoping to be the definitive West Coast hub for exciting, genre pushing, subversive, badass artists? How much is this move about you needing to be in L.A. versus L.A. needing Superchief?

ZIPCO: The big thing that we’re doing is bringing the community from New York that does all the things that you just said, to L.A., which is a brand-new audience for them. There are so many artists here in L.A. that don’t understand that they’re part of a larger conversation.

MCVEY: Are you already getting submissions from L.A. artists?

DUNLEAVY: Oh yeah, it’s sort of this go-big-or-go-home mentality. We want to become a magnet for the type of artists we want to attract here by establishing what we’re into immediately, which is why we’re going to leave this show up for three months. Also, we want to sell a lot of this art and make some of our friends back in New York some money.

MCVEY: I like that you said “go big.” How big is this warehouse space you’re moving into?

ZIPCO: It’s huge, at least 4,000 square feet in downtown L.A., right at the corner of the warehouse district and the art district.

MCVEY: I want to talk a little about your experience working with Culturefix, where you helped them execute roughly 52 shows in 52 weeks; an insanely ambitious show schedule. How would you summarize your residency there?

ZIPCO: To begin with, I’d say thank you. Really, they gave us a huge opportunity to come in with a schedule that didn’t seem realistic to most people. They also gave us a lot of artistic control, which is very important to us. We were also happy that we helped them focus on what they do best, which is run a kick-ass bar and event space. We’re continuing to work with them, I should mention. We have shows throughout the summer and plans for the fall as well.

MCVEY: So you guys will still have a New York presence.

ZIPCO: Absolutely. We just did that solo show in early April with Jon Felix Arnold III. He brought all of his art with him on a road trip to New York from San Francisco. It was the perfect amount of work, his foresight was really impressive.

MCVEY: I actually had a meeting after I saw you guys at that show. It was with a gallery director and the editor of a rather prestigious art magazine. I think I carried a little too much Superchief energy into that meeting. I think I ruffled their feathers. There are a lot of people in this industry who go out of their way to suck all the fun out of everything. You guys, although admittedly rough around the edges, are a breath of fresh air.

DUNLEAVY: We’re lucky that we’re surrounded by so many amazing people who happen to not be pretentious, but are also extremely talented.

ZIPCO: We wouldn’t be obsessed with spending most of our life doing this if great people didn’t surround us. We’re literally surrounded.

MCVEY: Are you guys primarily focused on the gallery element, or will you be staging some cool musical performances as well?

DUNLEAVY: We’re going to have some secret shows and a lot of art oriented performances. You were talking about our time with Culturefix, we’re hoping to pull off something like the House of Ladosha show that we did with GlasnostNYC and Snowy Wilderness or the Incorrigible show, where we had DJ Dog Dick perform at the opening.

MCVEY: What is Superchief’s official mission statement going forward?

ZIPCO: We’re going to bring incredibly interesting New York shit to L.A., and some incredibly interesting L.A. shit to New York.

MCVEY: Superchief is officially bi-coastal.

ZIPCO: Damn straight.

SUPERCHIEF’S LOS ANGELES RESIDENCY IS ON VIEW AT 739 KOHLER STREET IN DOWNTOWN L.A. THROUGH JULY 31. FOR MORE, PLEASE VISIT THE SUPERCHIEF WEBSITE.