By Rachel Corbett
Updated May 14, 2014
© Matteo Prandoni,

Beginning this week through September one of the art world's more notorious minds will display his work in Greenwich, Connecticut.

Before they were famous artists, Dan Colen and Dash Snow were hated hotel guests. In the mid-2000s they devoured Ecstasy, cocaine and booze, and trashed hotel rooms across America. They aptly called these scenes Hamster Nests (and, perhaps more dubiously, also called them art).

In 2007, the art dealer Jeffrey Deitch invited Colen and Snow to stage one of their infamous “performances” inside his Soho gallery, Deitch Projects. Four nights, 15 friends and 2,000 shredded phone books later, the pair emerged as the faces of a new beautiful-losers generation—a class of young, mostly male New York artists whom the press dubbed “Warhol’s Children.”

This summer marks the five-year anniversary of Snow’s death from a drug overdose. But Colen is now 34, sober, living on a farm and the subject of a genteel new exhibit at the newsprint billionaire Peter Brant’s private museum, the Brant Foundation Art Study Center.

His paintings today sell for as much as $1 million at auction. Yet it would be too convenient to say that Colen is all grown up. At the opening of the show titled “Help!", Colen pointed to a canvas leaning upside-down against a wall, spray painted with the words “holy shit.”

“I do a lot of things on a whim and then look more closely later to try to find where the art happened,” he said of the 11-year-old work. “I now see this as a really pivotal piece for me.”

This signature flippancy evolves into more calculated randomness elsewhere in the show. Colen looked to a photo of confetti caught midair as a pattern for a pair of canvases daubed with candy-color streaks of paint. For other works, he melted down chewing gum and spattered it Pollock-style across canvases. “It’s about taking the ego out of my work,” Colen said. “It’s not about making decisions.”

For the show’s centerpiece, Colen reincarnated one of the infamous Hamster Nests as a boat-size tangle of barbed-wire and trash. This time, however, it is a habitable nest, complete with live canaries. No longer a mere site of wreckage, it’s a symbol of the “journey through life between two places—one day jail, one home,” he said. “This piece kind of represents all of that. It’s a forest, an environment, a home and a kind of cage. It’s polar opposites existing simultaneously.”

But while Colen’s views on art may have matured, his appetite for destruction hasn’t. At the unveiling of his newest work, a pair of overturned box trucks on the grounds of the museum, he invited the noise band I.U.D. to play on top of them. A few minutes into the performance, an onlooker began hurling rocks at the trucks in time with the drumbeats. Colen, who had been standing by holding Snow’s young daughter on his shoulders, set the girl down to join in.

As he hoisted a sledgehammer into the air and struck the metal again and again, the afternoon of inside-voice schmoozing with guests such as Leonardo DiCaprio, David Schwimmer and Chloe Sevigny was clearly over. At last he turned around, gave a grin and a big, breathless shrug that seemed to say it all: Why not?