An interview with Jensen Karp of Gallery 1988


If you know about pop culture art, then you know Jensen Karp. Co-owner, co-curator and co-founder of the Los Angeles based Gallery 1988, Karp and the other half of G1988, Katie Cromwell, have spent the last (almost) decade creating one of the most fun and increasingly influential galleries out there. Gallery 1988’s main focus is all about pop culture, perhaps most famously epitomized every year with their annual Crazy 4 Cult show which features art works only about cult movies.

Karp was kind enough to take some time to answer Flixist’s questions about cult movies in the art world, what “cult” is, and his own experiences watching cult movies.

-Are there any artists out there that you’d really like to work with that you haven’t yet?

I think throughout the last ten years, everybody we love has stopped by at least once, but there are tons of artists we wish we worked with more. For example, artists like Martin Witfooth, Josh Keyes, Travis Lampe & Andrew Hem have shown with us only a few times each in large group shows, but they are artists we love immensely. In a perfect world, they do a ton more with us, but we’re also thrilled for their success no matter where it is.

-What is favorite cult movie tribute art to see?

Mine personally is anything involving my favorite movie ever, which is The Burbs, the Tom Hanks / Joe Dante movie from the 80’s. It’s happened a few times, sometimes I think just because the artist knows what it means to me, so I become very excited and instantly buy the work.

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-Also, what is favorite cult movie(s)?

Many of my answers throughout a day are “The Burbs” – so here it is again.

-How about your favorite cult movie experience?- Watching something in a theater, seeing something for the first time, etc

About two or three ago I was lucky enough to go to screening of Birdemic at the Silent Movie Theater / Cinefamily here in Los Angeles. I had only heard whispers that the movie had to be seen to be believed, and boy were they right. You just can’t believe it’s a movie that’s ever been made. And to see it with a packed house, and with the stars and director, was an unforgettable experience. I would never suggest someone watch it at home on DVD by themselves, cause that sounds like torture, but in a theater with a group, it was really, really fun.

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-What inspired the Crazy 4 Cult show to be entirely focused on cult movies?

I went to USC for filmic writing and movies have always been my passion. I basically try and see everything – and I gravitate towards films that may not be commercially accepted. As a child, if the VHS box said directed by David Lynch, or even the Coen Bros at the time, I couldn’t watch it fast enough. A lot of people say that because we don’t involve the obscure Midnight B Movies that we aren’t doing “cult” right, but these movies are the modern day cult films. The movies that have garnered audiences outside of its original intention, or ones that became popular too late. Also, it’s our place so we can make the rules! But I knew how bad I wanted art inspired by Repo Man, Office Space and Willy Wonka, so I knew it had an audience. We just had to try it.

-Does Gallery 1988 have a particular definition for what is or is not considered “cult”? Or is it more so determined by the work you find artists making?

We have a list that we send out every year. We’re not extremely strict about it, but if someone wants to work outside of the list, they have to let us know. Last year, someone sent us a Dark Knight piece and there was genuinely no way we could figure out how that’s cult. So it didn’t make the show. We just say it needs to have a fan base outside of the original audience, almost a second life or new cultural definition in society. Also if a movie wasn’t popular on first release, then later found that fan base, that works. But based on the first definition, Goonies IS a cult film, because now kids are buying shirts at Hot Topic with the Goonies logo, and they are definitely not the audience originally intended 20 years ago. It has a whole new life. And second definition helps movies like Big Lebowski or The Room. Hopefully that helps explain, but also we’re pretty open to hearing other opinions.

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-How has the critical and/or cultural response to Crazy 4 Cult and Gallery 1988 changed over the years?

When we first opened 10 years ago, we were considered the stepchild of LA art. One gallery that was basically the alternative tent pole at the time said we were “just group shows and themes.” People assumed we’d be gone in a year. But we stayed true to pop culture and what we thought people wanted to see. And within maybe 3 years people realized we were onto something. And once companies started hiring us for marketing, that was when we knew our original goal had actually been achieved. And now the concept that was once ignored by the art scene, is mimicked in every large city. We’re always one to have new business ideas, so we see the copycats and wonder how they feel great about themselves, but in reality to know our small idea actually worked – is a pretty great feeling.

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-Do you feel that choosing the particular theme, or direction, of only focusing on pop culture related art has limited Gallery 1988 as a gallery?

Sure. In another perfect world we get to take solo show chances outside of pop culture (which we did up until about 3 years ago), and try to open up our buyer’s portfolio, but we also like paying our rent. And we have a theory that people go certain places for certain things. There’s a reason McDonald’s has never went national with pizza. People know that G1988 is the place to go to for pop culture art, and we’re happy to play that role.

-Can you talk about any plans for upcoming shows for Gallery 1988?

Well, we will be back in NY for the 7th annual Crazy 4 Cult show in December, which we are thrilled about. It’s our second year back East with the exhibit and it’ll be a ton of fun. We also have some incredible shows lines up for next year, and will be in charge of a milestone anniversary next year. So, it will be business as usual here for sure.


Check back later today for a look at Gallery 1988’s new cult movie art book – Crazy 4 Cult: Cult Movie Art 2!