Sunday, May 1st, 2011 | No Comments

Nadja Sayej

Watching an episode of ArtStars* is like a shot of high-grade art criticism, cut with sly wit and humour. The perfect cure for gallery opening blues.

The online art show, hosted by Gonzo art critic Nadja Sayej, quickly turned the Toronto art scene on its head, with guerrilla tactics drop-in interviews at local art openings. Effortlessly courting controversy attired in an array of über-glam outfits, Sayej has simultaneously elevated the level of art discourse in Toronto, while injecting a much needed sense of fun and irreverence.

ArtStars* has since gone on world tour with stops in Iceland, Finland, and Germany. We caught up with Nadja to talk about art, Gonzo journalism, and the future of ArtStars*.

Photo by: Gwen Lim-Brydson.

Q. It takes some pretty huge balls to do what you do. What prompted you to go the Gonzo journalism route over being a more conventional kind of art critic?

Nadja Sayej: Conventional art critics don’t stand out, they conform. What am I motivated by? Opening the pages of Artforum and wishing it was Playboy because then I might actually be interested – or entertained. The fire in my soul comes from going against the blockbuster academic jargon and art theory so often found in art criticism – even in video art criticism. I care as much about the art as the political art world that surrounds it, and revealing it – Gonzo style. Conventional art critics are timid, I’m not. I actually want to have fun. It’s serious business.

ArtStars* 52 – Michael Triegel on God in Leipzig

ArtStars*: Michael Triegel was commissioned by the Catholic Church to paint a portrait of Pope Benedict XVI. We went to the opening. Here we are at the racuous celebration of his solo exhibition at the Museum of Fine Arts in Leipzig, Germany. When asked: “Has this regained your faith in God?” Triegel replies: “It’s private.”

Q. ArtStars* is now over 50 episodes into it’s run as an online show. How has your approach to doing the show evolved? Have your goals for the show changed?

Nadja Sayej: Yes! Of course it has. The goal is Damien Hirst. I’d love to interview that man about fame in the art world and whether he’s deserving of it on any level. How does he deal with the haters? The jealousy? The enemies pretending to be friends, the hanger-ons, the groupies?

I think the show has become less about the culture of art openings and more about tracking down the big-name art stars – I’ve covered Peaches, Douglas Coupland, Alex Grey, Carsten Holler, Cyprien Gaillard, the doppelganger of Mark Flood, and the hit list includes Yoko Ono, Jeff Koons, Marina Abramovic, David Lachapelle – even New York art critic Jerry Saltz. He’s on their level and doesn’t even realize it.

ArtStars* has left Toronto and we’re in the big league now. Anything’s possible in the city of Berlin.

Nadja Sayej portrait by Patrick Struys

Photo by Patrick Struys,

ArtStars* 54 – Cyprien Gaillard

ArtStars*: When we uploaded this video, Berlin gallery Sprüeth Magers asked us to take it down. But why? Is it because German tax payers paid for a 40,000€ pyramid of beer? French artist Cyprien Gaillard talks to ArtStars* at the top of the K-W Institute of Contemporary Art to find out why the party pyramid.

Q. You were recently asked by Cyprien Gaillard’s gallery to take his episode of ArtStars* off of YouTube. While many ArtStars* interviewees seem pretty sporting about your interview style, have you ever gotten any reaction from the artists you didn’t expect or couldn’t handle?

Nadja Sayej: I’m prepared for everything, really. There’s nothing I haven’t seen: Legal threats. Irate galleries. And one British art dealer at Preview Berlin literally shooed us away, screaming profanities. It would be fun to make a DVD of all the bad interviewees that were never released, and that’s what ArtStars* is becoming – a bit of a tabloid. Stay tuned!

I feel like Howard Stern meets Hunter S. Thompson in the body of Anna Nicole Smith but with the mind of a gay man. Like Pepé Le Pew. I always felt he was gay. But the Cyprien episode is totally worth a watch.

Nadja Sayej talks to Peaches! Photo by Chrisoph Wehrer:

Nadja talks to Peaches in Kreuzberg, Berlin. Photo by Chrisoph Wehrer,

We got so much press. New York art critic Jerry Saltz posted the video on his FB profile and hundreds from his comment army clicked away. Some were saying that nothing so fun could happen in New York, and they’re right. You can still make waves in Berlin, New York is a place to warm someone else’s seat. And Toronto? I’d be nothing without my haters. The more they attack me, the more famous I become.

ArtStars* 53 – Peaches

ArtStars*: We caught up with Canadian performance artist and electroclash superstar Peaches at the Roses bar in Berlin. We reminisced about Toronto, what it was like living down the street from the AGO and the scoop behind this year’s Massive Party, upcoming on April 14 (that was *before* we got into a cat fight, believe it or not). The blue glasses are done with.

Q. While much of ArtStars* is a critique of art-world pretense, laziness and excess, it’s clear that you’re passionate about art. What kind of art are you excited about and what would you like to see more of?

To be honest, I love comic art and street art – the kind of stuff you actually cover at Squidface & The Meddler. There’s something about illustration that defies pretension, for the most part.

I love everyday simplicity and slapstick humor filtered through Technicolor pages of a comic book, I love the social awkwardness of comic artists.

I love multiples, I love mail art, I love Fluxus, I love Paper Rad, I love zines, I love Showpaper. I love street art that hasn’t been done before, I love paste-ups more than I love graffiti in the art world, and the rejection it receives. That’s a joke to me.

» more art on Nadja’s Tumblr

Photo by: Gwen Lim-Brydson.

ArtStars* 6 – Keith Jones

ArtStars*: Keith Jones at Hunter and Cook Gallery, June 5, 2009. Comic extravaganza – and garbage.

Q. From starting-out in Toronto, you’ve moved on to reporting in Iceland and Germany. What part of the world would you most like to cover next? Is there an art scene out there in dire need of ArtStars* attention?

The goal is to conquer Europe. Then we head to America. We’ve covered Toronto, Helsinki, Leipzig, Riga, next up Vienna, then Oslo and then Venice. Its great being a travel journalist, I love the adventure more than anything. For some reason, I’m really attracted to Scandinavia, maybe it’s the men? Can you blame me?

Here’s some dirt for you: I told one of my arts editors (from an art magazine in America) that I’m going to cover the Nordic Biennial for ArtStars* this June 2011, and that I could review the show. This arts editor said “discussing the biennial might be onerous. But if you wanted to…?” That gives you insight into the mind of an art critic’s editor – they decide what’s covered, and the tone of it by their own personal bias.

While ArtStars* reveals the underside of the art world, we cover stuff the art magazines consider poo poo, and we do it with style and full-on enthusiasm. We take the risk to reveal how fascinating the Nordic Biennial really could actually be.

Scandiavian art is dope. I’ve never found something so intelligent. And the poster art scene in South Africa is so worth checking out. The Baltic comic scene in Riga will blow your mind, and the best part about Germany has got to be Leipzig, the painters are inspired, clear-thinking and hard working. I want it all. And nothing can stop me now.

Nadja Sayej portrait by Alyssa Bistonath

Photo by Alyssa Bistonath

Q. You’ll soon be launching a new version of your website What can we look forward to on the new site?

The ArtStars* website will become a pimped out penthouse. Sure, we post videos, that’s awesome. But it’s time we bring a daily blog roll into the mix. Expect to find breaking news, last night’s party pics, pop quizzes, an online shop and behind-the-scenes footage.

While ArtStars* covers everything that surrounds the art in the art world, it’s about time we reveal everything that surrounds the show, as well. It’ll be bigger, and badder. But I do big best. Whenever people in Germany comment on the size of my breasts, I just say “everything is bigger in Canada.”


Nadja with the The Panda kids from Chlorophorm TV. Photo by Chrisoph Wehrer

Nadja with the The Panda kids from Chlorophorm TV. Photo by Chrisoph Wehrer,

S&TM: Thank you so much Nadja for doing this interview!

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