With the launch of ‘Megazine,’ 24-year-old art star Loren Kramar is downtown’s most in-demand new eccentric

Portrait of the artist as a 'Vanity Fair' cover star (Daniel Oh)
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Jed Lipinski

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At around midnight on Valentine’s Day, at the Bunker Club, a subterranean lounge in the Meatpacking District, '80s art legend and downtown social fixture Julian Schnabel was rhapsodizing about one of his favorite young artists.

"I once saw him make a bowl of Kryptonite out of a piece of tinfoil," Schnabel said. "He also sang the best version of Chrissie Hynde’s 'I’ll Stand By You’ that I’ve ever heard. I honestly think he’s one of the smartest, most talented young men I’ve met in a long time."

The club was hosting a launch party for an online magazine called Megazine, and the beneficiary of Schnabel's compliments, a 24-year-old Cooper Union graduate named Loren Kramar, was seated beside him simultaneously laughing and wincing at the flood of praise.

Kramar, who co-founded Megazine with two college classmates, is not exactly an established artist—or at least not yet. He has performed in public only a handful of times. His non-collegiate exhibition history is limited to the 2010 Brucennial, an alternative art show, for which he fabricated a set of silver spoons as part of a young design collective. And his press clippings consist of a single interview with Time Out New York in 2008, when a reporter stopped him on the street to inquire about his peculiar appearance (pudding-bowl haircut, big sunglasses, thin mustache, big floppy wide-wale corduroy coat buttoned to the top button, pretty skinny jeans: The interviewer said, "I'm getting ... modern-day Charlie Chaplin.")

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Yet despite his lack of credentials, Kramar has become something of a darling of the New York City art world. This is due in part to his sprawling network of friends that includes such art scene Zeligs as Lola and Stella Schnabel and the members of the Bruce High Quality Foundation, the Brooklyn art collective "created to foster an alternative to everything" that has bewitched many over the last dozen or so years, including the Times critic Roberta Smith.

His charmingly eccentric manner and antiquated clothing style, which call to mind a Weimar-era cabaret composer, have a way of drawing others to him. As Maren Miller, the managing editor of Megazine, put it: "Loren knows infinite strange people who suddenly decide that they love him and want him in their lives."

But lately, Kramar has been gaining attention for his role as the editor-in-chief of Megazine, which debuted on Feb. 3. Combining elements of an artist-run gallery and an offbeat arts publication, Kramar is trying to offer young, talented and underexposed artists like himself an innovative new platform for their work. No show reviews, and none of that other mainstay of traditional art magazines, the interview.

"Interviews are the reality TV of the art world," Kramar said at his West Village apartment the day after the launch party. "If you have nothing else to do with an artist, interview them. We’re interested in producing work that interesting people make."

For the moment, Megazine publishes three "features" per week, released on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. So far, these features have included a fake but dead-accurate press release for a Chelsea art exhibit in which an artist’s taxidermied body was said to appear on display; a recording of a private piano show by the musician Francis Starlite, seductively narrated by Kramar; and a "Free Business Idea" for a gay nightclub called "Penis, France," complete with a product line and a glowing five-star Yelp review. All content is provided for free, and the more monetizable features—like a series of 21 drawings of a profane cartoon bombshell called Fat Ebe—are for sale.

If this sounds slightly indulgent, it is, very much so.

"We’re a weekend magazine, and the weekends are indulgent," said Kramar, who on that Wednesday afternoon was sitting in bed in a pair of 1930’s pajamas from Melet Mercantile, a vintage showroom in Soho. Three friends, still recovering from the previous night, were tucked under the covers beside him.

Nevertheless, the magazine, though still in its early stages, exudes a wit, design sense, and curatorial savvy rare for an arts publication by early twentysomethings. Megazine’s director, Joe Kendall, 25, works part-time as a user-experience designer for WSJ.com, and Miller, a 24-year-old artist and programmer, has had solo shows in Oakland and Chicago. But Kramar’s curious artistic vision and skills as an arts impresario set the tone, which achieves a fine balance between irony and sincerity.

Kramar, the son of a wealthy scrap metal magnate, grew up in the San Fernando Valley and attended the prestigious Campbell Hall, a hotbed for Hollywood kids. He starred opposite Elizabeth Olsen, the younger sister of the Olsen twins, in a musical adaptation of "Two Gentlemen of Verona," and took Tony Danza’s daughter, Katie, to the winter formal.

Asked what he would compare Campbell Hall to in New York, he said, "The Dwight School," before unpacking the acronym: "Dumb white idiots getting high together."

At the time, Kramar wanted to be a music producer. But when his high-school classmate Miller announced that she was applying to Cooper Union School of Art in Manhattan, he decided to apply as well.

"I’d never heard of it, but I thought, 'Cooper Union. That’s a great name for a school,’" he said. 

With the application deadline approaching, Kramar quickly assembled a portfolio, though he is reluctant to reveal its contents, claiming teenage naïveté. "It was all very sassy," he admitted between drags on a Camel Light. "Can we just say that?"

To his surprise, he and Miller were both among the 65 students selected from an applicant pool of more than 1,500.

At Cooper, Kramar took mainly sculpture, drawing, and painting classes. The artist Niki Logis, whose unconventional sculpture class he took several times, described Kramar’s work as "fundamentally dramatic."

"He would write these free-form poetic statements about everyone in the class, including me," she said, laughing. "Then he’d sit across from each of us and declaim them, producing peals of belly laughs."

"Art students are not known for their open-armed embrace of humanity," Logis added, "but Loren genuinely likes people. He’d make a great guide at Yellowstone National Park or Mount Rushmore."

After his sophomore year, Kramar took a year off to design women’s clothing for the fashion designer Zac Posen, whom he met through Lola Schnabel, a Cooper Union classmate. ("I know," he said, "the connections are filthy.") Around this time, he starred in a highly interpretive production of "Cats on Broadway" at the former Bushwick headquarters of the Bruce High Quality Foundation.

"He sang this amazing rendition of 'Paint it Black’ in Spanish," said a member of the BHQF, who asked to remain anonymous, as all of the Bruces, who are said to change frequently, always are. "He owned the stage. It was the first time we all realized he had it in him."

Kramar’s senior show, for which he exhibited a suite of paintings and delivered a Vaudeville-esque performance, was similarly sensational, according to several people present.

"It just gagged me with inspiration," said Trenton Duerksen, 31, an artist and illustrator who was acting as a bartender that evening. (Duerksen also is a featured illustrator for Capital.)

After graduation, Kramar envisioned starting a talent agency, "because I knew a lot of talented people," he said. But he got only as far as the mission statement before conceiving the idea for Megazine. He took aesthetic and titular inspiration from FILE Megazine—an ironic arts magazine from the '70s and '80s co-founded by A.A. Bronson, an artist and member of the three-man arts group General Idea—as well as more short-lived but still influential obscurities like Nest: A Quarterly of Interiors.

To cover initial start-up costs, he said, he used a portion of the $50,000 he’d inherited after his grandfather’s death.

Megazine differs from the spate of new online galleries like BOCA, Bubbelyte, and Fach & Asendorf in that it is not dedicated to Internet-inspired-art, or art that is intended to be experienced on the Web. Instead, it serves as a kind of temporary, easily accessible exhibition platform for work that will ultimately be viewed in real space.

"For us, Megazine solves the problem of renting an exhibition space in New York City," said Miller, adding that art published in Megazine will be on display in a series of to-be-announced pop-up shows. "But it’s also a chance for us to use design to put the work we show in unusual contexts, or to make people see it differently."

Presently, the founders are testing and debating different revenue streams, including an online store and a "curated" ad section. Four original Fat Ebe drawings have been sold for $600 each, Kramar said, and the proceeds were split 50-50 between the artist, Ebecho Muslimova, and the founders.

For upcoming features, a young artist named Joe Kay, Megazine’s "Man on the Street," will interview people walking out of liquor stores, Kramar said. And in March, Megazine will launch its new erotica section with a one-page reinterpretation of Moby-Dick entitled "Maybe Dick." First sentence: "Call me a shemale."

In the meantime, Kramar is preparing for his first live performance in two years. He plans to auction thirty "works of art" that he has collected, borrowed, or made, he said, including a glass slipper fabricated by a Venetian glassworker and an abstract painting made by a Thai elephant.

Some of the objects in the lot hang on the walls and coat-racks of his one-bedroom, which resembles a private art salon. As his friends searched for more cigarettes, Kramar stepped past a Dash Snow photograph and a pair of claws from a 19-pound lobster, before stopping at an Andy Warhol drawing of a grasshopper playing a viola.

"I got this for under $2,000 online," he said, noting that his parents periodically give him money to act as their unofficial art buyer and consultant. Nearby was a letterman’s jacket signed by Jay Leno in black acrylic paint. "He did this at the Comedy Club in Redondo Beach," Kramar said. "His assistant was whispering, 'You’re a regular Picasso!'"

The coup de grace, however, came in the form of a drawing he acquired after typing the word "masterpiece" into eBay two years ago. The drawing was priced at $25,000, and though the seller was anonymous, Kramar quickly figured out that it was actor and director Vincent Gallo.

The work, which appeared as a prop in the 1996 film "Basquiat," was based on a drawing that Julian Schnabel and Francesco Clemente made of each other in the guest book at Mr. Chow’s restaurant in the 1980s. In this one, though, Schnabel drew Vincent Gallo, who starred as him in the film, whereas Clemente drew Gary Oldman, his own avatar in the film.

After talking Gallo down to $20,000 over the phone, Kramar said, he set up a meeting between the Brown Bunny star and his mother in Los Angeles, without telling her who Vincent Gallo was.

"They met at a Bank of America in Tarzana," Kramar said. "He was telling her that he’d been in some Francis Ford Copolla movie, and my mother said, 'I’m very sorry to tell you, but I have no idea who you are!’"

He stepped back to admire the drawing. "I mean, this is the '80s work of art. This is it." He paused and added: "Do I actually like this drawing? Who cares!"