Adam Green: Everybody Wears Diapers, Even Picasso

“At some point I’ve forgotten everything that I used to know about Elmo, and in that sense he becomes everyone.”

Adam Green is a triple threat: a musician who formed one half of the anti-folk stalwarts Moldy Peaches (if you didn’t know them in early-aughts New York, you might have heard their music in the feature film Juno), an artist who has shown his artwork at venues from Stockholm to New York, and a filmmaker whose 2011 debut release, The Wrong Ferarri (sic), was shot entirely on his iPhone. Moldy Peaches are known for off-color hits like “Downloading Porn With Davo” and “Who’s Got the Crack,” while Green’s artwork draws equally on historical expressionist painting, the geometric modernism of De Stijl, and a cartoon aesthetic.

Here, Absolut Art talks to a musician, artist and Elmo aficionado who was in the center of the flowering music and art scenes of Gotham in the aughts about a club that was key in his life, Elmo’s wardrobe, and a gallery that broke down boundaries between music and visual art.

What do you think were some of the factors that made New York into the cradle not only of a rock ‘n’ roll revival but also of a lively visual art scene in the aughts?

A lot of the excitement in the visual arts in New York in the late ‘90s was centered around The Alleged Gallery. In that orbit I was aware of Spencer Tunick, Harmony Korine, and Rita Ackermann, who all impressed for different reasons. They were all in some way collaborating with musicians. I remember noticing that a lot of the bands in the early 2000s did visual artwork as well—Bjorn Copeland from the Black Dice, Brian Degraw from Gang Gang Dance, and Devendra Banhart. Jeffrey Deitch, who had opened the gallery Deitch Projects, seemed particularly sympathetic to artists who were working in multiple mediums. I think he was a big part of helping things fit together around that time.

Do you think of Elmo as a musician? Is that why he appears here commenting on the nature of music?

Elmo is a great musician! And I guess that could be the reason. I remember drawing a baby version of Elmo because my daughter was getting a kick out of it. Actually, I’ve often incorporated elements of Elmo’s facial features into my visual art over the years. At one point I took his face and reduced it down to a series of cubic reductions, almost Mondrian-style, to create a symbolic alphabet. Then I used those symbols as building blocks for architecture and design in my work.

Elmo is hardly wearing any clothes, but then he’s wearing more than he often does, which is nothing. Why diapers? Why any clothes at all?

When I draw Elmo, I picture him as a stand-in for real people. At some point I’ve forgotten everything that I used to know about Elmo, and in that sense he becomes everyone. Everybody wears diapers, even Picasso.