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Olaf Breuning: Seriously Funny

February 6, 2010


The 91 stairs to Olaf Breuning's Tribeca studio via


The 91 stairs up to Olaf Breuning’s fifth–floor studio in Tribeca are not only formidable, they are ridiculous. Steep and slathered in gray paint, they look like something Breuning might have concocted himself if they hadn’t already been there when he moved in. Breuning has lived and worked here since 2008, when he left his previous studio, a former massage parlor below a seafood bar in SoHo.

“I think he saw that staircase and bought the apartment without seeing it,” says his longtime collaborator and best friend, Brian Kerstetter, who plays the main character—a bumbling, feckless drifter/hoodlum/tourist—in Breuning’s Home films. “He likes to make you jump through hoops and make you work a little bit.”

The stairs are featured in the series of photographs that welcome visitors to Breuning’s scavenger–hunt–like Web site ( “It used to be even worse,” says Kerstetter of Breuning’s “click here” online antics. “You used to have to type in long URLs. I told him, ‘I can’t sit here and do this all day.'”

The artist is known for his absurdist sense of humor (a scene in his 2004 film Home 1 follows a crowd of golf–club–wielding bungling mayhem–makers who tackle an “Amish” man, strip him naked, and force him to wear an E. T. mask). But Breuning, 40, who has dark, lush hair and brown eyes, is surprisingly tame in person. “He is very Swiss and very polite,” says Whitney Museum curator Shamim Momin. “But there is something not quite right. You get the sense that he might be messing with you. His bluntness makes you suspicious and unsure of what position to take.”

Artist Ruby Sky Stiler, Breuning’s studio assistant, attributes this in part to his “unusual sense of the English language, and the way he relates to words in a formal, instinctual way. Often he thinks things mean something entirely different than they do, and he has a few commonly used phrases. Like, when he means to ask how one is doing, he often says, ‘It comes good?'”

Continue reading my profile of Olaf Breuning for ARTnews here.

Olaf Breuning's Mammoth, 2008

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