interview by OLIVIER ZAHM
photography by HARLEY WEIR
style by HALEY WOLLENS
TINA OUTEN at Streeters, hair
The New York art scene is not dying, as so many think. There’s a new generation of emerging artists following after Dash Snow, Dan Colen, and Ryan McGinley: young, spontaneous, easygoing, feminist women. They use every medium from Instagram to sculpture, performance to fashion, and are audaciously open and independent. At the center of this emerging scene is 22-year-old India Salvor Menuez.
Seven years ago, India created the art performance group Luck You, performing in galleries and on the Internet, and making sculptures, paintings, and films. She supported herself by modeling for photographers, designers, and painters like John Currin and brands like Miu Miu. Her appearance in Olivier Assayas’s Something in the Air kick-started her budding career in cinema, and she is currently working on directing a film, curating more exhibitions, and performing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I’m very interested in you, your generation, your friends — I like the free, open context that you’ve created. It reminds me of the early ’90s.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Well, if you can survive here long enough to start making things, that’s already an achievement in itself.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is it so difficult to survive in New York?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Financially, it’s more and more difficult. Having grown up here, I’ve seen a lot of kids who can’t afford to live in the neighborhood they grew up in unless, maybe, they’re living with their parents.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Where do you live?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I live in Chinatown now. I live with my boyfriend, Jack. You met him. Tall, quiet.
OLIVIER ZAHM — He’s an artist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah, he’s an artist, and we have a very modest little apartment, and then I have my studio in the house.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Were you born in New York?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — In Brooklyn, but I lived in London for three years, from the age of six to nine. That’s the only time I didn’t live here. My parents split up, so I went back and forth between Brooklyn and Chinatown. I was very much downtown for my teen years. You live here, you’re a New Yorker.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you like about the city? Do you meet a lot of people?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I think if you allow it, the city can offer its version of open-mindedness. I mean, you can also stay in your New York bubble, which a lot of times you have to just to survive, to keep going. At the same time, you walk a pedestrian city, you take the train, and you’re confronted by every kind of person of every age and socioeconomic situation and personality type. Just to be exposed to different kinds of people enforces open-mindedness from a young age.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you look at art as a child?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — When
I was young, my dad was an industrial designer, then he made clothes. My mom was a stylist, and she makes jewelry now. I was surrounded by creative people. My parents had me very young, so they would take me to things… My parents weren’t really in the art world, but on the periphery, and definitely around creative people.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Was your father a fashion designer?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — He was an industrial designer, doing spaces in Japan and furniture in London. Then he did a small clothing line, which he no longer has. He makes music now, secretively, all day in his room. When I have parties in the city, I get him to DJ. My parents are pretty cool.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How old are they?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — My dad’s 51, and my mom’s in her late 40s.They have a youthful energy. I go out with my mom. But since they separated when I was seven, they each have a new person and a new kid. When I was 12, 13, becoming a teenager, it was kind of perfect that they both had kids because it distracted them, so I could run wild around the city. It was great.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you escape the dangers of the city, the drugs, the drinking?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I used to party a little in high school, but I never got into drugs. I’m always shocked when people of my generation are still — I mean, so many amazing people lost their lives to heroin.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you know Dash Snow?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I didn’t know him personally, but I used to see him walking around, pushing his baby, Secret, on the Bowery. He was only slightly removed from my generation. There’s definitely a lesson to be learned. Maybe if he didn’t have drug problems he’d still be around. You could argue that the work would be different, I guess. I don’t know. Craziness can make for really good art, so I guess you have to deal with people being crazy. I’m not saying he was crazy, but it’s a little crazy to kill yourself.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s the risk for young artists in a city where drugs are so accessible. There are always parties and people proposing drugs.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Especially when you’re a cute young girl. Learning how to say no was what really made me feel like a grown-up. No to doing free modeling. No to taking my clothes off.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you have a problem with nudity?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Not at all.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I saw a beautiful picture of you naked, by…
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Kate Simon. She took some nude and non-nude pictures. That was years ago, in my first apartment.
OLIVIER ZAHM — And then you modeled for John Currin. He was one of my first friends in New York. He had a little studio in the beginning of the ’90s where I used to stay.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah, I did one a couple of months ago.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did he put big breasts on you?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yes, some are much bigger. But all of his girls are a mutation in some beautiful and yet amazing way. So I look different in every one.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Dreamy, sexy women.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah, I love
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you meet?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — We had a mutual downtown friend, Silvia [Cincotta]. She cuts a lot of people’s hair. She’s really funny. She’s really cool. She cuts their kids’ hair and was, like, helping him find girls. She showed him a picture of me and invited me over. He usually has someone come over just to see how he feels. We kind of clicked. So
I came back for many, many sittings. So I got to know him in my own way. In that setting, John’s very vocal, very open. He shows you images from classical art to cheesy porno, and he says try this and that. He talks about how to mix colors, and it feels like a master class. But you’re naked.
I don’t know. It was really cool.
OLIVIER ZAHM — John Currin looks for the right position, for the right attitude?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — And he has a real sensitivity with hands — the way you pose your hands, which I really enjoyed learning about.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’ve been modeling since you were very young. Do you like to model?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I learned about it through doing it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s a source of income, isn’t it?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah. But even before that, I was doing random jobs to pay the rent because, honestly, I don’t make much money from my art. It’s very rare that
I make more than I spend. After paying rent, I put all my money into my art. So modeling became a way to support myself. Right now, I’m making zines for the thing I’m curating, buying cloth to make costumes for a performance, and buying food for my performers. It all adds up pretty quickly.
OLIVIER ZAHM — New York is expensive.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah. Since I basically moved out of the house when I was 18, I was lucky to do a little lookbook here, a little thing there. You start to meet photographers you like, stylists you like, people you like to work with, and suddenly a community emerges out of the madness. Really, there’s room in fashion to make art and to have art projects that can be supported. I don’t always like modeling when I don’t like the photographer, or if I don’t think the pictures are going to be good, or if the concept is stupid. But if they’re going to be good pictures, it can be fun, like a performance.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Isn’t painting your main art form?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I haven’t shown my paintings in a couple of years. I’ve been shy about them.
I was doing a lot of figurative work, but I haven’t painted in a while. Mostly I’ve been making prints, etchings on copper plates.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Personal works?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Well, something beyond the performance work, which is what I mostly focus on. My visual art is more private right now. I’m making etchings, though I’ve never shown them. I’m focusing on performance.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s funny that you’re shy about studio work, but not about performance.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — It doesn’t seem like the natural order of things.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What else do you do?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Well, I do a book club lecture series that is more of a curatorial platform for other artists to show their performances. Sometimes I perform, but often I’m simply the host, kind of keeping it together, reaching out to different artists. The last book club, the 10th one I did, was at MoMA [Museum of Modern Art]. It was a seven-hour day.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Seven hours?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Every minute the museum was open.
We actually went to three minutes past closing time. It was really crazy. That was in February.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How many people did you invite?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Almost 50 different performers, and some of them had other performers in their pieces. Then there were two 15-minute open-microphone sections. Anyone could come and do something, which was really crazy — insane, actually. But it was great because all the work was really different. One is so serious you want to cry; the next is, like, ridiculous camp, and you’re laughing.
OLIVIER ZAHM — How did you find 50 performers — through friends?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah, you just kind of start doing it. And everyone has a friend, like my friend Viva, who has a collective called Buoy. Viva’s mom had a performance group in Connecticut made up of older women in their 60s, who do it for fun. I had no idea what they did, but I met one and brought them along. I had this opportunity to do something at MoMA. I could have made it more about me, but it felt really exciting to bring in people who would never have the opportunity to do something at MoMA, maybe. No offense to the artists.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s like an Occupy MoMA event.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — A bit, but MoMA was into it, which was really exciting and surprising. A lot of people were surprised by it, which was great.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Did you perform as well?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I was consumed with organizing and maintaining the whole day, so I decided not to do any of my own work. My own performance has become quite complicated, involving more people.
OLIVIER ZAHM — What do you mean by “complicated” — the costumes, the make-up?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Well, I think of it visually. One character I’ve been doing a lot, which I created for myself to do, began as a way to show movement. I have high respect for dancers but felt shy about dancing. So this is a character that dances — which made me feel less weird about it.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Like Pina Bausch choreography?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah, Pina Bausch. One of my best friends is studying at ArtEZ Institute of the Arts in Holland. I visit her sometimes to see what’s going on in the contemporary dance scene in Europe. To me, it’s performance art. Lines are blurring, so performance art can include dance. It can include sculpture. The set is architecture, sculpture, paintings, costumes, and dialogue, which is everything I like. The character I dance is named Chibi Cherry.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Chibi Cherry?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah. The first performance, a year ago last January, was a very simple solo piece, with projections and a prerecorded music element. But it was dance. Since then, my performances have become more complicated, with more characters, more costumes, bigger sets. There’s dialogue. Right now, I’m working on a piece that doesn’t include Chibi Cherry, but is stemming from ideas involving her. This big piece will be in a huge public bathroom.
OLIVIER ZAHM — On the street? In a museum?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — In an art space in Queens called the Knockdown Center. It’s a massive industrial space, really nice, turned into an art space. There’s a bigger piece called Authority Figure, that FlucT and some people from Oceanfront Studios put together, in which, during two hours, the audience splits up and walks through at different moments. It’s something like choreography, installation, and performance.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is your Chibi Cherry some kind of surrogate for you?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — She’s my way to investigate why I perform, whom I perform for. Things like that, I guess. She’s my vessel for asking those questions.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re questioning performance itself?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah. The last Chibi Cherry piece I did speaks about that. I did it in the dome at PS1. My idea was to have a dining scene, kind of based on a performance by John Cage — which I only realized after the fact. So I’m working off of that kind of a dialogue. But the dining scene was in another dimension, a symmetrical tableau with characters lying under the chairs, representing the bottom of the hierarchy, and then twin girls sitting at either end of the table. They ate from a kind of matriarchal central figure, who sat in the middle of the table and had these big bread hands, which the twins ate. Then, on top of the matriarchal character, there was a Gollum character, saying different things. The idea was a dining scene that represents a hierarchy. Chibi Cherry performs for the dining scene, but not for the audience.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s you.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah,
I always play Chibi Cherry. I’ve done one performance where the role of Chibi Cherry switches a couple times from me to Alexandra Marzella. We did something at the Miami and Basel art fairs. The piece at PS1 was a way to explore performance, but not for the audience — a performance about watching a performance, sort of like quantum physics, where everyone is a participant, even inactive
participants. Everyone influences the work.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So you approach performance like a choreographed tableau?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah.
I didn’t study choreography, so my approach to choreography is loosely based on images. I start with a visual tableau, and how relationships or movement can come out of that. Maybe it’s like structured improv, with aspects of improvisation in the movement.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you like Vanessa Beecroft? For my generation, she was the woman using performance in a very visual way.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Definitely. There’s a community of performance artists in New York. It’s interesting because with performance, if you weren’t there, there’s only the documentation, which is never enough.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s also anti-commercial in a time when art is such big business.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah. Well, there’s a lot of performance work being made about that.
A friend of mine, Giovanna Olmos, has presented a performance piece numerous times called How to Sell a Digital Painting, where she basically does a live auction and sells a digital painting during the performance. It’s an amazing piece, talking directly about that. The artist, Sara Grace Powell, makes work through a character that is critiquing
institutional critique, going through it all…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Isn’t performance art a way to spread a message?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Definitely. There’s a lot of political performance art.
OLIVIER ZAHM — A product with nothing to sell. But what’s also surprising for your generation is your anti-Internet position, during a time when girlfriends and boyfriends are texting when they eat or even take a shower.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah, take a picture of the salad while you eat it. But I think there’s a lot of, like, anxiety in that, and in being that generation. Isolated, dependent. I mean, the whole FOMO [Fear Of Missing Out] culture.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s crazy. People, including myself, can’t stay a minute alone without, like, the reflex to check your phone.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Always something to look at. People like Alexandra Marzella are making work where the phone is a big part of the performance, and how you view it.
A lot of people video it and watch it on a screen.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Why do you think performance is having a comeback today?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — There is room for performance to be accessible now, maybe even through social media, just as every other kind of art has potential in that realm. Performance art is so open in terms of what it can do, how it can be.
So I think it’s alive and well.
OLIVIER ZAHM — So how do you react when people like me see you as an example of your generation — first, because you like to be surrounded by girlfriends?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — That just ends up happening. I’ve curated shows only to realize there are no guys. It’s not even on purpose.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Is that politically incorrect?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Well, it’s been the other way around plenty enough times.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you a feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I’m absolutely feminist. Feminism’s simple. We want equality.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you drastically feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I’m not a man-hating feminist.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Are you radically feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I could be more radically feminist. I could be more radical everything. But I’d say I’m 100% about woman being equal. You know, we should move away from just the kind of issues of white feminism and look at the broader global issues of feminism. Inequality is just a huge part of the world dialogue. People are really upset about feminism, racism, gender equality, and sexual liberation, which are all intertwined.
OLIVIER ZAHM — It’s interesting that you naturally and spontaneously act within a group of friends — and girlfriends — which is also noticeable in the way you dress, creating your own style, which is difficult to define, actually, even impossible to define. I don’t know what it is.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Thank you.
OLIVIER ZAHM — I like that you involve friends and people around you in a way that’s not so much a collaboration but a sense of a community of friends, of artists.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I think it seems like a community because of the way it just naturally evolved. I have a lot of female friends — particularly female artist friends — because I think it’s really important for women to support each other. There are cultural attitudes that suggest we’re in competition with each other, which I think is a shame. Supporting each other — uplifting each other — is really important. Being a female artist isn’t always easy, especially in New York. Though I really don’t know where it might be easier, either. Sometimes, though, I feel like young guys can also be intimidated by a bunch of women supporting each other. But a lot of my male friends are older.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Your artist girlfriends tend to be very pretty. Is that feminist?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Determining what’s beautiful would be a really long conversation.
OLIVIER ZAHM — They’re all beautiful, maybe.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — People being themselves are beautiful.
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s true. But there are a lot of young women artists now, whereas before it was mostly men.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Still, I’ve definitely been put in situations where I’m not considered seriously as an artist because I’m a woman, and because I’m a model and have a lot of followers in Instagram. So to certain curators, I’m not taken to be a serious artist. I’ve been cast aside in certain situations. Going back to why I engage with a community: it’s not only nice to do projects with friends, but it’s also nice to have a community to discuss ideas in a safe and productive way.
I’m so obsessed with the power of context and how the context shapes the way works are seen, so the more control I have over the context and the more interested I am in a situation, or the more I can understand the context, the more I feel comfortable making work.
So if I can create my own context, with my own group, then I can make work more intelligently within a context, instead of being, like, picked up at random by a gallery and having my work taken out of its context and thrown into a white cube as a group show by a bunch of artists of whom I don’t know what their practice is about.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You were in the [Olivier] Assayas film [Après Mai, or Something in the Air]. He’s a friend of mine from a long time ago. When did you start acting?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — He’s so sweet, so amazing. That was my first film. That was my first feature, nearly four years ago. It’s on Netflix, I think. Since then, I’ve done maybe 10 films. A lot are independent, so they haven’t been released yet. There are a couple on Netflix.
White Girl premiered at Sundance Film Festival. It’s from a New York female director. You would love this movie.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Who shot it?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Elizabeth Wood. It was inspired by her life as a 20-something, moving to Bushwick and dating the local drug dealer, thinking everything was going to be great, and then…
OLIVIER ZAHM — Life ended up a nightmare.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Yeah — a shit show. But it’s such a smart film, about race and gender. It really pushes it. You think you’re watching a sexy, fun movie, and then it goes so dark. It was at Sundance. Then I had a role on Transparent, a TV show that I’m obsessed with. Our friend Hari Nef is in it. Jill Soloway’s a genius. I’m shooting a feature this summer as well.
OLIVIER ZAHM — You’re working a lot now as an actress.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — Another film is premiering at the LA Film Festival in June, where I play the lead who has autism: My First Kiss and the People Involved. It’s a very long title. I also shot and co-wrote a feature film called Technology, directed by my friend Maiko Endo, a Japanese female director. She’s friends with, like, the Safdie brothers and Eléonore Hendricks, and used to work at Cinema Nolita.
I got to know her because she used to live here, but then she fucked up her visa, so we’ve been working in other countries. We shot for a month in India, three years ago, and then, two years ago, for a couple of weeks in Iceland.
We did part of the postproduction
OLIVIER ZAHM — That’s not only a totally different aspect of your work, but very specific.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I studied a bit of theater at Hunter College when I went there, as well as fine arts. At the same time, with each acting experience I learn technical things. Every new role involves a specific practice, a new approach. You have to adapt and collaborate with the director and find who is this person. Acting has given me a lot for my performance work.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Do you remember your lines?
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I just had the craziest memorizing task for a new Jonah Freeman and Justin Lowe video piece. I play a role in it, which involved pages and pages of hyper-specific science fiction-like monologue. It was so insane, but I did it. I just shove it in there and make it happen.
OLIVIER ZAHM — Thank you for this interview.
INDIA SALVOR MENUEZ — I’m happy to be doing this interview with you because I know you, and I know the magazine, and I know the other people in the magazine, so it feels natural. It’s part of a natural growth, not forced. You know?
[Table of contents]
The Fall/Winter 2016/17 collections
by Craig McDean
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by Gareth McConnell
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