Zwicky on the Art of the Skateboard

Notified via Google Alert on Saturday: on the Jenkem Magazine (skateboarding) site, “Allies: Calder Zwicky of MOMA” (with a YouTube video) by Alexis Castro & Ollie Rodgers on 10/2/18. Another chapter in the story of artist Calder Zwicky — previously reported on in this blog back in 2016, so this is an update, but not actually up-to-date (though it gets skateboarding into CZ’s story, which is a good thing).

(#1) Screen shot from the video: CZ talking about a work of his from the Lonely Thrasher series — slang thrasher, roughly ‘excellent skateboarder’, also the name of a skater magazine — showing a cover of this magazine with the skater removed, to yield an image that, CZ argues, is still a skateboarding image, of the huge space and the complex physical structure that offers a challenge to a serious skateboarder; the skater is implicit in the image

The source of #1. The Thrasher cover of 2/4/16, with — oh my god — skater Jaws Homoki in mid-air:


CZ explains that such a static mid-action shot pushes the viewer into imagining the past that could have led to this moment and the future that could be in store — that is, towards imaginatively reconstructing the dynamic act.

The Jenkem interview. Bear in mind that this is a publication written by skaters for skaters.

Skaters have historically been characterized as lazy stoners with little to no future, but in 2018, that’s not so true anymore. Skaters have infiltrated all sorts of jobs and career paths that seemed unimaginable a decade or two ago. We’ve got skaters on TV, creating educational programs in Afghanistan, working in politics and museums, just to rattle off a few. And as a result, we’ve befriended a few non-skater ambassadors along the way, who are pulling for us on the inside, helping us represent skating in these new spheres that we’ve never really had access to.

The people you’ll see featured in this series are the very people advocating for skaters’ rights to freely use public spaces, assuring our skaters and artists are properly compensated for their work when commissioned for commercial projects, and teaching parents that letting kids skate from an early age is actually a good thing.

For our first episode of our new mini-series, Allies, we sat down with Calder Zwicky, a skater who has been working with NYC’s Museum of Modern Art over the last decade to incorporate skate-centric programming into its Teen Programming along with its Open Arts Space, which caters specifically to the city’s LGBTQ youth.

We traveled to Calder’s home in Manhattan and asked him what his views are on the art world’s incorporation of skateboarding and skate culture and how he sees his work evolving down the line. He also showed us a peek at his own artwork in the form of his “Lonely Thrasher” series, which flips the idea of the traditional skateboard cover on its head. Check out what he has to say in the player [the YouTube video] above and stay tuned for future episodes.

Note that the Jenkem interviewer chooses to mention CZ’s outreach work to LGBTQ teens. The skateboarding world is resolutely countercultural, but it’s also heavily invested in intense masculine competitiveness and physical daring and risk-taking (just look at Jaws Homoki in #2) — attitudes that are traditionally inimical to, and contemptuous of, LGBTQ-folk. MOMA’s outreach program for queer teens is just one of CZ’s responsibilities there, so Jenkem could have simply failed to mention it; the fact that they noted it specifically is, maybe, an encouraging sign.

Now, CZ’s job. From his website, his own account of what he does for MOMA, which, stunningly, ends with his e-mail address (something I’ve never seen on the website of an artist or writer); he really wants to connect with people — especially with teens — so he can help to bring art into their lives. (He comes at his job with immense enthusiasm, a kind of evangelism for art, that’s both startling and refreshing. He will tell you that art saved his life when he was a kid, and he’s paying that back now.)

Calder Zwicky is an independent curator, museum educator, and artist based in NYC.

For the past decade, he worked as the Assistant Director for Teen and Community Partnerships at the Museum of Modern Art. In this capacity, he ran the Museum’s Community Partnership initiative, which creates programming throughout New York City for a wide-range of non-profit organizations and their audiences, including programs with homelessness initiatives, court-involved youth, post-incarcerated adults, HIV/AIDS organizations, refugee groups, and more. In addition, he oversaw all of the institution’s free arts programming for teens including the MoMA + MoMA PS1 Cross-Museum Collective, the MoMA Digital Advisory Board, In the Making studio art courses, teen art shows, and the Open Art Space initiative, a weekly drop-in program for LGBTQ teens and their allies.

He has worked for a variety of museums and arts institutions throughout the years including the Walker Art Center, the Queens Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Bronx Museum of Arts.


CZ’s presentation of self. #1 is a motionless screen shot, but it clearly catches CZ in the midst of a whole-body performance, with moving hands and mobile facial expression. Engaging his audience with the restless energy of his physical presence as well as his enthusiastic talk.

He’s a high-physicality exponent of art — with a presentation of self that’s common (though far from universal) in athletes (consider the immense joy with which Roger Federer plays tennis, not to mention his ability to make shots in mid-air); notable in some actors (from my 1/11/15 posting “Bobby Cannavale”: “Cannavale is a very physical actor, employing his face and body for both large effects and subtle ones. Always a pleasure to watch.”); and in some academics (linguist / philosopher Gennaro Chierchia is famous for his ability to unfold complex ideas in formal semantics while pacing around the stage and gesturing dramatically, more like an Italian actor than a Harvard professor — again, a great pleasure to watch).

No doubt the physicality of his presentation of himself makes CZ a good emissary to teens. I’m sure that when he was a teen back in Minneapolis, he was That Kid Who Can Never Sit Still, didn’t connect to his schoolwork, and felt dissociated from everything having to do with school — until a teen outreach program at the Walker Art Center pulled him in and gave him a focus on engaging with the world through art, including by making it. (I told this story in my 10/16/16 posting “On the Zwicky art watch: Calder Zwicky”.)

CZ’s art. From the 2016 posting, this wonderful photo:

(#3) CZ demonstrating color mixing techniques in a MOMA on-line course

plus some examples of his artwork. Then there’s the Lonely Thrasher series, one of which is on display in #1 above. And now, because I’m a linguist, two examples of CZ language art:

(#4) CZ, The Grapefruit Dead (Found Rock Poster) (2017) — a title and an image combining grapefruit with The Grateful Dead

(#5) CZ, The Longest Day (2020) — an allusion to the movie (Wikipedia: “The Longest Day is a 1962 American epic war film, shot in black and white and based on Cornelius Ryan’s 1959 non-fiction book of the same name about the D-Day landings at Normandy on June 6, 1944.”), which is at once a gigantic spectacle and a gritty depiction of the horrors of war

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