12/17/2012 04:53 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

Meet Casey Neistat, the YouTube Sensation Who Polarized Pulse Miami

Love it or hate it, it was hard to miss Casey Neistat's commission at Pulse art fair in Miami, in which the floppy-haired video artist and YouTube sensation heaped together a mock dorm room of Salvation Army couches, porno mags, a beer-stocked fridge, and two 70-inch televisions that looped 16 of his comedic shorts. Candy and condoms were on hand, and police lights went off to notify passersby when grilled cheese sandwiches were ready.


Casey Neistat's installation "Watch Some Movies" for PULSE Play / Photo © Ben Davis

"It's like a French person googled 'America' and these are all the things that came up," observed one fairgoer.

Neistat, who recently starred in an autobiographical HBO series, recognizes that art fairs don't attract his usual 12- to 24-year-old male demographic. His videos, which have drawn upwards of seven million YouTube hits, are more College Humor than Ryan Trecartin, ranging from instructions on how to strip the Land O'Lakes butter box into a topless "Indian Maiden" to a brief meditation on the joys of shopping with $2 bills.

But that disconnect is what convinced Pulse director Cornell DeWitt that Neistat would "inject something new and different into our video programming, something other than the typical build-a-black-box, pick-a-curator, and show-a-bunch-videos-in-a-dark-room thing."

"Almost everything looks the same at art fairs -- very hygienic, very white, lots of right angles," Neistat said. "I just wanted it to feel radically different from anything else. Plus, there's never a moment in a human being's life when you don't want a grilled cheese, including at an art fair."

And although the crowds flocked to the spectacle, which was this year's annual video and technology commission for Pulse, not everyone was amused. The smell of melted butter and fried cheese hung in the halls and nearby booths, and Neistat admits to blasting Dr. Dre during installation (he says he turned it down during the fair).

"I've heard that some galleries were annoyed by it or kind of offended by it," said Tatyana Okshteyn, director of Brooklyn's Black & White Gallery, which rented a booth across the hall from Neistat. "But I just thought it was very refreshing. It's a particular aesthetic that's very popular now with young artists, and the videos are kind of serious."

As it happens, Neistat isn't a total newcomer to the art scene. His first big break came when Miami's Fredric Snitzer Gallery brought one of his videos to Art Basel back in 2003. It later ended up in the Sao Paolo Biennial and then in the permanent collection of the Victoria & Albert Museum.

"The response was nothing if not polarizing," said DeWitt. "Many people thought it was brilliant, many thought it was appalling, and many didn't know what to think. As far as I'm concerned, that is a great success. If I did something that everybody loved, I wouldn't be certain I was doing my job right."

When asked how he dealt with the objectors, Neistat said he had devised a simple solution: "It's tough to complain because then you offer them a grilled cheese sandwich and they're like, 'alright.' Everybody wants one."

-Rachel Corbett, BLOUIN ARTINFO

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