News of 27-year-old artist Dash Snow’s death by a drug overdose spread with viral speed through the tight-knit New York art world this morning. Despite Snow’s reputation for hard partying a 2007 New York Magazine cover story by Ariel Levy described his work as depicting a “very debauched and drug-addled and decadent” Neverland the news came as a shock to friends and associates whose most recent memories of him were happy ones.
Melissa Bent, of now-defunct New York gallery Rivington Arms, which showed Snow until spring 2008, says her first reaction to the news was that it might be a hoax. “Many years ago someone told someone else Dash had died,” she recalls. “I thought this was another death by Twitter.”
In the immediate aftermath of Snow’s death, many of his closest friends and colleagues were unavailable for comment, but those who were painted a picture of someone who had recently overcome addiction, and whose efforts at recovery perhaps made him more prone to overdose. (The cause of death is, according to Bloomberg News, under investigation by the New York City Medical Examiner’s office.) Since returning from rehab in the spring, Snow had embarked on a relatively tamer lifestyle built around his daughter, Secret, who is not yet 2 years old.
Bent met Snow through artist Dan Colen, one of Snow’s closest collaborators, in July of 2000. “Ever since I knew him it was a struggle with drugs. There was always a struggle with him trying to clean up, and wanting to,” she said.
Snow’s relationship with Rivington Arms ended on acrimonious terms, but, says Bent, she ran into the artist in front of Café Mogador with Secret about five weeks ago. “He seemed great and totally clean. He had been in rehab a lot before that, in St. Barts.” Bent’s understanding was that he bad been “down there for quite some time — the whole winter.”
Clarissa Dalrymple, a curator, tastemaker, and downtown personality who was close with Snow, saw him about three weeks ago. “He seemed absolutely terrific, not on drugs at all,” she said.
Reached by coincidence at the Menil Collection in Houston (Snow’s maternal grandmother is a De Menil, connecting him to wealthy art-world royalty), while in Texas to visit artist Mark Flood, Snow’s longtime friend and art dealer Javier Peres said: “People have misunderstood, because we haven’t spoken publicly about a lot of things. He comes from a complicated history. As a result, he dealt with his life as best he could. And fought to survive as long as he could. The things he did to cope with the strain of his own life were often misunderstood as partying.”
Peres characterized Snow as a “doting father” to Secret. As part of the group show “Story Without a Name,” currently on view in his Berlin gallery, Peres is showing Snow’s 2009 “Secret & Jade Upstate,” a grainy video of the artist’s daughter and girlfriend frolicking in the rural upstate New York property of artist and friend Jack Walls.
“I wouldn’t say he didn’t love living, but living for him was difficult,” says Peres, who adds that to his knowledge Snow was alone at the Lafayette House, a hotel in Lower Manhattan, on Monday night. “To simply say he overdosed on drugs is insufficient, because it wasn’t that simple. He died and there were drugs involved. He was complex and astute. He was very sensitive. Although he was only 27, he felt the pain of someone who’d lived a long life.”
Peres says the last time he saw Snow was when he was installing a group exhibition of work by Terence Koh, Jeff Koons, and Mike Kelley at Mary Boone Gallery in early April. “He photographed me and filmed me, we hung out, had dinner, he came to the gallery when I was installing.” Snow brought girlfriend Jade and daughter Secret to the after-party at the Eagle. “He looked amazing,” says Peres. “He had gained 35 pounds. He was at his best. I think his body was as clean as could be, as clean as he had been in quite a while.”
“He seemed very happy and alive and his grandmother Christophe was there and it was celebratory,” says Boone. “I’m happy that’s my memory of him.” It was clear, she says, that Snow “had made changes. He was laughing and smiling and playing with his child and taking photos.”
Although one source, who preferred not to be named, says that Snow may have been avoiding his studio because it brought back bad associations, Peres says he’d been at work on several projects, including work for a presentation for Peres’s gallery at London’s Frieze Art Fair in October — work that, Peres says, may be complete at this point — as well as pieces for an upcoming exhibition at Berlin gallery Contemporary Fine Arts.
Snow was determined to kick drugs, according to Peres. “He looked me dead in the eye and said, ‘I’m going to kick this fucking thing. I need to. I want to.’ We were planning shows. He was in that mind-set. He was doing the best he could.”
“The last time I saw him was less than a week ago,” says artist and close friend Aaron Young, reached in Miami. “He was with his daughter and [partner] Jade, in Soho, near my house. He seemed rejuvenated, and happy; we had a great conversation.”
“Dash was a huge inspiration for me,” says Young. “Sometimes people want to take shots at people who are privileged. But he made it all by himself.”
“He was a really lovely guy,” says downtown dealer James Fuentes, who shows the work of Snow’s wife (since separated), Agathe Snow. “He had incredible energy and it’s just really tragic and a loss for so many people in the art world. Everybody is just in complete shock; it’s totally awful, it’s still too fresh a wound for anyone to comprehend it.”