While it may seem the height of irony for cool-guy NYC art world types to be rocking a Water Lilies dad hat, the merch is anything but ironic, as Kuo and Spengemann told me over the phone recently. Ultimately, that attitude makes the Shrits project feel like a breath of fresh air amidst the heavy-handedness of one fine-art collab after another. At the end of the day, Kuo and Spengemann just want to make Shrits—that’s Shrits language for, uh, shirts—for the cool shit that they like, be it a fashion podcast or their favorite titan of art history. I hopped on the phone with them to talk about how they pick who gets a Shrit, and the LeBron James of art history.
GQ: Why did you start making art merch in the first place?
Andrew Kuo: Because it connects with us in a different way than actual art does. My memories of the Met store and museum shops growing up in New York were a big part of my experience with art, not necessarily the actual object. Like my mom wearing a Marc Chagall shirt all summer. It’s less cynical and more emotional, I think, to kind of dredge up all of these memories of your experiences with art and reframe it as something affordable, fun, whatever.
Pascal Spengemann: I tend to skew historically towards puns and jokey stuff, but with this group, I think I’m really taking cues from Andrew in a sense that there’s a little more from the heart. I would also say that all of these different things that Kuo does online—he may keep the shirts and stuff separate from the work, but I think they are really part of this larger cultural footprint that he has, and that’s something that really gets me excited.
Right—my first contact with you, Andrew, was online, through @earlboykins2. Looking at the Paul Simon duck tee, it seems like that spirit is informing the Shrits project.
AK: Absolutely. The Paul Simon tee, specifically, is a straight line from the LOLcat thing from years and years ago into the Earl Boykins account. And definitely, as someone who grew up without the internet, and then had the internet, it feels less like something of a natural resource to me. It still feels, for lack of a better word, like a tool. Like a thing that you can apply yourself to. I think that’s a unique generational thing. Because I look at the Internet with a lot of questions still, and I think that really show the gap between [me and] somebody who uses it with more fluidity. And I love it. I love everything about it.
And how do you guys pick the artists that you feature?
AK: For this specific round, it was basically our favorite stuff. We picked a certain time period: nothing too contemporary, except for the Paul Simon thing. The Water Lilies and Marc Chagall kind of resonate in my mind quite a bit. And Paul Simon is my favorite musician of all time, and I wanted to do something about New York, Central Park.
PS: And they’re also levelers. Those things are almost beyond criticality on some level. It was really fun for me to go and Google Water Lilies images after Andrew sent these designs to me, because I was like, “Holy shit, I haven’t looked at these in so long.” This stuff is so beautiful! You know why these artists are so popular? I think there has to be a certain level of banality to it. But it’s also completely undeniable. There’s no irony, but if there’s a little bit of friction, it’s in the sense that the internet is, like, breathing.
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