The Art World Works From Home: Artist Dan Colen Is Harvesting Crops for Food Banks on His Farm and Struggling Through Roberto Bolano’s ‘2666’

The art world may be working remotely, but it certainly does not stop. We're checking in with art-world professionals to see how they work from home.

Dan Colen. Photo by Eric Piasecki, courtesy Gagosian.

The art world may be on lockdown, but it certainly does not stop. During this unprecedented time, we’re checking in with art-world professionals, collectors, and artists to get a glimpse into how they are working from home.

We recently caught up with artist Dan Colen, who had a head start on New Yorkers fleeing the city: in 2011, he bought Sky High Farm in Columbia County as an escape from urban life.

Read on to learn about how farm life is keeping Colen busy, and how his farm is mobilizing to supply food banks.

HELP paintings at Dan Colen Studio, Sky High Farms. Photo by Eric Piasecki, courtesy Gagosian.

HELP paintings at Dan Colen Studio, Sky High Farms. Photo by Eric Piasecki, courtesy Gagosian.

Where is your new “office”?

Same office as before—the studio/garden/pasture.

What are you working on right now?

My farm, Sky High Farm, which I founded in 2012, raises pasture-based livestock and grows organic fruits and vegetables, 100 percent for donation. We work with food pantries in the Hudson Valley as well as in New York City.

Gagosian also recently featured one of my works from the exhibition “HELP” in their Artist Spotlight.

Sky High Farm, Columbia County, New York. Photo courtesy of Gagosian.

Sky High Farm, Columbia County, New York. Photo courtesy of Gagosian.

How has your work changed now that you are doing it from home?

Although I’m lucky enough to be living across from my studio and remain busy and immersed in my creative practice, my focus has been on the farm’s work. The emergence of COVID-19 has exposed the true magnitude of socioeconomic inequity inherent in our social systems and the fragility and limitations of the very programs designed to address it.

In this context, Sky High remains committed to playing an adaptable and instrumental role in alleviating need. These are age old problems—even before the current global health crisis, food insecurity throughout New York State was deepening. COVID brings a needed spotlight onto these inequities.

I’m seeing so many people rise up to help. Through these new partnerships and creative thinking, there is an opportunity to change things. Tragically, the staggering rates of unemployment and acute stresses on emergency feeding systems will take a massive toll on so many people lives in the immediate future.

What are you reading, both online and off?

Between the studio, the farm and living with a girlfriend for the first time I’m keeping pretty busy. I’m stuck in the middle of Roberto Bolano’s 2666… I’m making better progress with some food [writers] like Michael Pollan and Sandor Katz.

Have you visited any good virtual exhibitions recently?

I keep meaning to watch all these videos galleries are offering, but haven’t gotten around to it yet. There was some stuff that looked good on Sadie Coles site, and I noticed a Douglas Gordon video on Gagosian (from the “Broadcast” exhibition) I’d never seen before. I also wanted to see the Wooster group stuff.

Sky High Farm, Columbia County, New York. Photo courtesy of Gagosian.

Sky High Farm, Columbia County, New York. Photo courtesy of Gagosian.

Have you taken up any new hobbies?

Same hobbies as always. I’m getting to garden more than I have in the past, although I believe the work is too backbreaking to call it a hobby.

What is the first place you want to travel to once this is over?

I’m staying focused on being here right now—travel hasn’t been on my mind.

If you are feeling stuck while self-isolating, what’s your best method for getting un-stuck?

As I mentioned, I’m with my girlfriend; she is very good at getting me unstuck. When she is busy, a run in the mountains always helps.

Dan Colen, <em>Mother</em> (2018–20). Photo courtesy of Gagosian.

Dan Colen, Mother (2018–20). Photo courtesy of Gagosian.

What was the last TV show, movie, or YouTube video you watched?

The Executioner by Luis Garcia Berlanga.

If you could have one famous work of art with you, what would it be?

I live with some of my friends’ works I love very much. And I have a small David Hammons which would satisfy me all on its own.

Favorite recipe to cook at home?

A special sourdough pancake my girlfriend cooks called Donnycakes, inspired by Maggie’s buckwheat pancakes at Krooked Cafe in Tannersville. Neither recipe has ever been published.

What are you most looking forward to doing once social distancing has been lifted?

Hugging my family and friends.

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