his November we mark a milestone for Gagosian, as our founder, Larry Gagosian, publishes the gallery’s 500th book. And with this Winter issue we proudly celebrate the first year of this magazine, a unique publication in its own right. We are deeply grateful to be able to present the work of the gallery’s artists in this new and exciting way, and are honored to host celebrated personalities and a diverse roster of visionary contributors throughout these pages. In this issue we present an overview of the largescale yet intimate sculptures of one of Britain’s most celebrated artists, Rachel Whiteread, whose ability to make deep personal and social memory resonate publicly is undeniably singular. We honor the grave of Simone Weil in company with Patti Smith, who writes of the power of memory and the way the past influences the present. And, visiting Robert Therrien in his Los Angeles studio, we explore how this personal space informs his art, both in its formal execution and in the symbols inherent to his conceptual language. In an unlikely pairing, Georg Baselitz and Roy Lichtenstein— contemporaries with seemingly different aesthetic philosophies— find themselves unified in the thinking of Richard Calvocoressi, who discusses surprising and revelatory underlying connections between the two artists. We spend a day with Nancy Rubins in Topanga Canyon, exploring her latest works and the various stages of her creative process. Her new series of monumental sculptures sets bronze, aluminum, and cast-iron animals in dynamic, gravity-defying compositions. Walton Ford too is fascinated by animals, viewing them through the lenses of both natural history and myth. He is currently diving into the landscape and legends of California through sublime large-scale watercolors. Expanding into the world of film, this issue includes conversations with two acclaimed filmmakers: Harmony Korine, on the occasion of a retrospective of his films and an exhibition of his art, discusses the power of repetition, embracing the intuitive, and blurring the lines between truth and fiction. And Woody Allen talks to Larry Gagosian about the importance of artistic freedom and the difficulty of making a proper film about the art world. As this year comes to a close, rest assured that we are already busy planning some incredible surprises for 2018! See you next year! Alison McDonald, Editor-in-chief
Cover by Jeff Koons Photo credits: Top row, left to right: Woody Allen and Larry Gagosian, New York, September 9, 2017. Photo by Theo Wenner Walton Ford, Los Niños, 2017, watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 41 ⅝ × 59 ⅝ inches (105.7 × 151.4 cm). © Walton Ford, Photo by Tom Powel Imaging Bottom row, left to right: Nancy Rubins, Topanga Canyon, June 16, 2017. Photo by Brian Guido Rachel Whiteread, Monument, 2001, resin and granite. © Rachel Whiteread Robert Therrien, No title (paneled room), 2017 (detail), wood and mixed media, 129 ¾ × 186 ⅝ × 139 ⅛ inches (329.6 × 474 × 353.4 cm). © 2017 Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society/ARS, NY
In Conversation Woody Allen in conversation with Larry Gagosian. Edited by Derek Blasberg.
26 Spotlight: Tom Wesselmann
70 Remembering Bilderstreit
The story behind a Tom Wesselmann Standing Still Life painting from 1972. Text by Lauren Mahony.
Georg Baselitz and Roy Lichtenstein were brought together in Bilderstreit, a 1989 exhibition of over 750 works of art in Cologne. Richard Calvocoressi remembers that exhibition and examines the conceptual overlap between the two artists.
50 Rudolf Stingel Photographs from the artist’s one-night-only installation at Casa Malaparte in Capri.
Work in Progress: Nancy Rubins Laura Fried spends the day with the artist at her awe-inspiring studio in Topanga Canyon.
88 Art & Food Mary Ann Caws and Charles Stuckey discuss the presence of food and the dining table in the history of modern art.
The artist sat down with Alicia Knock, curator of his recent exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, to discuss the power of mistakes, outsiders, and the marginal.
114 Devotion Patti Smith takes us on a journey to visit the grave of the French writer and activist Simone Weil.
118 The Bigger Picture: RxArt Diane Brown, Dan Colen, Urs Fischer, and Jeff Koons speak with Derek Blasberg about the transformative power of visual art and its impact on children’s hospitals.
King of the Jungle Walton Ford’s most recent paintings focus on the history of California through fantastical interpretations of humanity and its encounters with animal life. Text by Dan Duray.
124 Blazing Beacon Between two deserts lies an oasis with caves rich in Buddhist paintings from the fourth through the fourteenth century.
134 St. Kit of New York, Part 4 By Christopher Bollen.
146 Book Corner: Andy Warhol A special focus on Andy Warhol’s Gold Book (1957). Text by Anna Heyward.
168 Game Changer Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis (1963) by Derek Blasberg.
James Lawrence explores the quiet power and critical role of memory in Rachel Whiteread’s public work.
Alexander Wolf discusses the themes and symbols that have emerged throughout Robert Therrien’s career.
TABLE OF CONTENTS WINTER 2017
98 Harmony Korine
GAGOSIAN CELEBRATES OUR 500TH BOOK NOVEMBER 2017
Masters â€” A collaboration with Jeff Koons
Billboard artwork: Andy Warhol, Elvis 11 Times (Studio Type), 1963 Â© The Andy Warhol Foundation / ARS, photographed at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh CALVIN KLEIN 205W39NYC Fall 2017: photographed May 2017, Mojave Desert, California
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Gagosian Quarterly, Winter 2017
Editor-in-chief Alison McDonald
Founder Larry Gagosian
Executive Editor Derek Blasberg
Business Director Melissa Lazarov
Managing Editor Shannon Cannizzaro
Published by Gagosian Media
Assistant Editor Wyatt Allgeier
Publisher Jorge Garcia
Text Editor David Frankel
Advertising Manager Mandi Garcia
Design Director Paul Neale
Advertising Representative Michael Bullock
Design Alexander Ecob Graphic Thought Facility
For Advertising and Sponsorship Inquiries Advertising@gagosian.com Distribution David Renard Distributed by Pineapple Media Ltd Distribution Manager Kelly McDaniel Prepress DL Imaging Printed by Pureprint Group
Cover Jeff Koons 20
Contributors Dr. Neville Agnew Woody Allen Wyatt Allgeier Derek Blasberg Christopher Bollen Diane Brown Richard Calvocoressi Shannon Cannizzaro Mary Ann Caws Dan Colen Dan Duray Urs Fischer Thomas Francis Laura Fried Larry Gagosian Brian Guido Anna Heyward Alicia Knock Jeff Koons Harmony Korine James Lawrence Lauren Mahony Eric Piasecki Nancy Rubins Peter Sellars Patti Smith Charles Stuckey Theo Wenner Alexander Wolf
Thanks Rob Allen Dean Anes David Arkin Frank Avila-Goldman Madison Brill Julia Carnahan Serena Cattaneo Adorno Becket Chambliss Paul Cherwick Cristina Colomar Rose Dergan Chrissie Erpf Douglas Flamm Walton Ford Mark Francis Aimee Gabbard Brett Garde Leta Grzan Sarah Hoover Kat Hughes Kati Huurtela Susan Jain Sisi Jin Shelley Lee Ludmila Lekes Tony Manzella Rob McKeever Erica Mercado Lily Mortimer Stefan Ratibor Lauran Rothstein Alexandria Sivak Megan Skidmore Rudolf Stingel Jeffrey Sturges Putri Tan Elena Tavecchia Robert Therrien Rachel Whiteread Lilias Wigan Ealan Wingate Jason Ysenburg Anna Zagorski
Larry Gagosian Larry Gagosian is the founder of Gagosian Gallery, which has evolved over four decades to become a global network of sixteen exhibition spaces. The gallery features a vibrant contemporary arts scene with leading international artists and a well-established publishing program that has produced 500 books. Gagosian has provided instrumental support to institutional exhibitions and artists projects worldwide, including The Ceiling by Cy Twombly at the Louvre. Among the awards he has received are the Peabody Award, the Rome Prize for Visual Arts, the insignia of Chevalier de la Légion d’honneur, and the Ordre national du Mérite. Photo by Roe Ethridge
Lauren Mahony organizes special exhibitions for Gagosian. She recently worked on Painting Paintings (David Reed) 1975. She joined Gagosian in 2012 after seven years in the Department of Painting and Sculpture at The Museum of Modern Art, New York. Photo by Sarah Kisner
Richard Calvocoressi is a scholar and art historian. Calvocoressi was a curator at the Tate, London, director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, and director of the Henry Moore Foundation. For this issue he discusses some surprising overlaps in the work of Georg Baselitz and Roy Lichtenstein. Photo by Miriam Perez
Mary Ann Caws
Mary Ann Caws is Distinguished Professor Emerita of English, French, and Comparative Literature at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York. She is the recipient of Guggenheim, Rockefeller, and Fulbright fellowships, a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences, and an Officier in the Palmes Académiques.
Laura Fried is a curator and writer living in Los Angeles. She has produced screenings, exhibitions, interventions, and performances with a wide variety of artists. Most recently she was the Artistic Director of the Seattle Art Fair (2016 and 2017). Fried has written for Flash Art International, Frieze, Mousse, and the Los Angeles Review of Books.
Patti Smith Patti Smith is a writer, performer, and visual artist. Her memoir Just Kids received a National Book Award, and her recent book M Train is a critically acclaimed New York Times best seller. Smith was awarded the prestigious title of Commandeur des Arts et des Lettres by the French Republic. Her seminal album Horses has been hailed as one of the top one hundred albums of all time, and in 2007 she was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Smith lives in New York City. Photo by Edward Mapplethorpe
Dan Duray Dan Duray is a writer, reporter, and editor whose work has appeared in The Economist, The New York Observer, The San Francisco Chronicle, Billboard, Artnews, and The Art Newspaper, as well as on the websites for New York magazine, Bookforum, Vanity Fair, Vice, Bomb, The Guardian, and T: The New York Times Style Magazine.
Working at the Centre Pompidou with Christine Macel, Alicia Knock explores new exhibition and working formats, even questioning the museum itself (Museum On/Off, 2016). She is currently working on expanding the museum’s perspectives toward West Africa and Central Europe, through both acquisitions and exhibitions.
Alexander Wolf has written for Modern Painters, Art in America, The Last Magazine, and The New Republic. He joined Gagosian New York in 2013. For this issue, Wolf discusses the work of Robert Therrien.
Thomas Francis is a barrister living in London. He has written for several art publications, including the Middle East arts-and-culture quarterly Bidoun.
James Lawrence is a critic and historian of postwar and contemporary art. He is a frequent contributor to The Burlington Magazine and his writings appear in many gallery and museum publications around the world.
Harmony Korine is a film director, screenwriter, and artist who rose to prominence after penning the infamous film Kids (1995) at the age of nineteen. In the years since, he has created critically acclaimed cult classics, including Gummo, Julien Donkey-Boy, Mister Lonely, Trash Humpers, and Spring Breakers, as well as the lauded street-art documentary Beautiful Losers. Korine’s creative practice extends to photography, drawing, and figurative and abstract painting.
Peter Sellars is a Distinguished Professor in the Department of World Arts and Cultures/Dance at UCLA, resident curator of the Telluride Film Festival, and was a Mentor for the Rolex Arts Initiative. He is also an opera, theater, and festival director who gained international renown for his groundbreaking and transformative interpretations of artistic masterpieces.
Charles Stuckey is a widely published independent scholar who has served as curator in major US museums including The Art Institute of Chicago, helping organize highly acclaimed retrospectives for Paul Gauguin, Claude Monet, and others. He is currently head of research for the forthcoming catalogue raisonné of the paintings of Yves Tanguy.
Nancy Rubins Nancy Rubins transforms industrial, manufactured objects—such as playground toys, appliances, and boats—into the building blocks of her physically commanding monumental sculptures. Acting as an intermediary between the past and future states of her chosen materials, Rubins hones the formal rather than the functional qualities of the discrete components that make up a single, cohesive sculpture. For this issue the artist hosted Laura Fried for a studio visit in Topanga Canyon. Photo by Joel Searles
The story behind Tom Wesselmannâ€™s Still Life #59 (1972) in anticipation of the upcoming Gagosian exhibition Tom Wesselmann: Standing Still Lifes. Text by Lauren Mahony
he late 1960s were a particularly fruitful and inventive period for the American Pop artist Tom Wesselmann. Perhaps best known for his Great American Nudes series and his still lifes, in this period he shifted his focus to several new bodies of work that pushed these genres in new directions. The Dropouts used the negative space of shaped canvases to suggest the human form, while the Bedroom Paintings expanded the internal scale of the earlier nudes. He also began to use an opaque projector to enlarge his drawings and studies, allowing him to make works on an even grander scale. A critical series that evolved from these developments is the so-called “standing cutout pieces,” or standing still lifes, which he began in 1967; the first works of this type, Still Life #56 and Still Life #57 (p. 28, top), would be completed over the next few years, with Still Life #59 following soon after. These comprise a number of shaped canvases depicting individual still life elements, some freestanding, some hung on the wall; the group as a whole is designed to be precisely installed to complete a still life composition at dramatically largerthan-life scale, dwarfing the viewer. Although these installations are three-dimensional, the way the elements combine to create a frontal pictorial image was exceedingly important to the artist, and drawings and scaled maquettes helped him to achieve the right proportions. Of Still Life #57, for example, he would recall that the decision to crop the radio on the left side, which took him a year, was important “to help keep the work in a flat painting concept.” At the same time, it also “helped the work stay off balance, so it was less apt to relax into a theater set.”1 The contradictions between flatness and dimensionality, intimacy and monumentality, and the tensions they created were of great interest to Wesselmann. One critic referred to this type of work as “an expansion of collage,” noting its formal connections to Cubist works in that medium, and to Synthetic Cubist painting. 2 On completing Still Life #57, Wesselmann donated the work to The Museum of Modern Art, where it was exhibited early in 1971.3 By the summer, which he spent at his lake house in upstate New York, he was busy conceptualizing the next work in the series, the first to be exhibited at the Sidney Janis Gallery, where he had shown since 1966. During this period Wesselmann began the practice of spending
Previous spread: Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #59, 1972, oil on shaped canvas and acrylic on carpet, in 5 parts plus carpet, overall dimensions: 105 1⁄4 × 190 3⁄4 × 83 inches (267.3 × 484.5 × 210.8 cm)
Right: Mary Tyler Moore on the front cover of the August 1971, Family Circle magazine, which served as the source photograph for the portrait in Wesselmann’s Still Life #59.
Above (top): Tom Wesselmann, Still Life #57, 1967–70, oil on shaped canvas and acrylic on carpet, in 5 sections plus carpet, overall dimensions: 122 1⁄4 × 190 × 72 inches (310.5 × 482.6 × 182.9 cm), The Museum of Modern Art, New York, Gift of the artist. Photo © The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY
Opposite (top): Tom Wesselmann, Maquette for Still Life #59 (First Version), 1971, oil on canvas on cardboard, overall dimensions: 3 5⁄8 × 9 5⁄8 × 3 5⁄8 inches (9.2 × 24.4. × 9.2 cm)
Above: Photograph that served as the source image for the telephone and nail polish bottle that are depicted in Still Life #59.
Opposite (bottom): Tom Wesselmann, Drawing Maquette for Still Life #59, 1972, pencil on gesso on Bristol board on cardboard, in 7 parts, overall dimensions: 7 3⁄4 × 14 × 5 7⁄8 inches (19.7 × 35.6 × 5.9 cm)
his summers in the country making drawings and studies for the larger works that he would execute later in his New York studio. In early August he wrote to Carroll Janis, Sidney Janis’s son, to inquire about the wall lengths in the new gallery space, since they had relocated the previous summer from 15 East 57th Street to 6 West 57th Street. His inquiry was probably made to help him plan his next monumental work, Still Life #59 (pp. 26–27)—to think about how it would work in the gallery space and how large it could indeed be. 4 The first maquette for the work, made in 1971, includes all of the elements in the final composition, sketchily painted on cardboard, with the addition of a scaled viewer in a gray suit (p. 29, top). Wesselmann described Still Life #59 as “large, complex, and powerfully compressed.”5 Measuring nearly nine feet tall, sixteen feet wide, and seven feet deep, it includes several of the domestic objects typical in Wesselmann’s compositions: a telephone, a tipped-over bottle of red nail polish, an ashtray with crumpled tissues, a vase of roses, and a framed photograph of a woman, all set against blue blinds covering a window, itself a return to the artist’s earliest collages. These objects, though common and familiar, were also specific to the artist’s daily life and interests. The telephone—cropped at the left edge of the canvas, just as the radio is in Still Life #57—is in fact the artist’s own phone; the source photograph, a close-up view, shows more of the phone than we see in the painting, including the phone number of Wesselmann’s studio (p. 28, bottom). The photograph also shows a bottle of nail polish, oriented in relation to the telephone as it is in the final still life, but clear rather than red, as it is in the painting. The picture is an indicator of the artist’s process of using photography to inform his painting practice. Perhaps the most striking element in Still Life #59 is the framed portrait at the far right, which shows the actress Mary Tyler Moore. Wesselmann noted that “it was the first time he tried to paint a specific portrait, other than his wife’s or his own; and he was highly excited to paint her large likeness into this kind of painting.”6 The portrait is based on a photograph of Moore that appeared on the cover of Family Circle magazine in August 1971 (p. 28, bottom right), which Wesselmann could have seen during his summer upstate. The decision to use Moore’s
likeness, at a moment when she would have been highly recognizable—her eponymous television show had premiered the previous fall—was surely intentional. Not only did Wesselmann admit to having a “crush” on Moore, he probably thought that her familiarity would make the work more inviting.7 Still Life #59 made its debut at the Sidney Janis Gallery in November 1972 (below), where it was shown alongside related works from the Bedroom Paintings series. Bedroom Painting #28 includes a similar array of objects, here framed by the outline of a woman’s breast and torso, suggested primarily in the negative space of the shaped canvas. Painted at many times their actual size, the objects in Still Life #59 overwhelm the viewer, a device that calls to mind what Willem de Kooning, one of Wesselmann’s early heroes, described as “intimate proportions,” or, “the feeling of familiarity you have when you look at somebody’s big toe when close to it, or at a crease in a hand or a nose or lips or a necktie.”8 Even without the close-up nude that provides the context for the bedroom environment in Bedroom Painting #28, the enormous scale of the still life inserts the viewer into the intimate scene. Over the next decade, Wesselmann would continue to work on the series of standing still lifes, producing a new one every few years and eventually adding sculptural elements to the shaped canvases. At each of his solo shows at Janis between 1972 and 1982, a new work from the series was presented for the first time, complementing his other recent paintings. This winter at Gagosian’s West 24th Street gallery, nine of these monumental artworks will be exhibited together for the first time, along with related source materials, drawings, and maquettes, marking a rare opportunity to explore this unique body of work. 1. Slim Stealingworth (a pseudonym for Tom Wesselmann), Tom Wesselmann (New York: Abbeville Press, 1980), p. 61. 2. Carter Ratcliff, “Reviews: Tom Wesselmann,” Artforum 11, no. 5 (January 1973): 83. 3. Recent American Acquisitions, The Museum of Modern Art, New York, February 12–March 11, 1971. 4. Although Wesselmann’s letter has not been located, his questions can be inferred from Carroll Janis’s response. Carroll Janis, letter to Wesselmann, September 9, 1971, Archives of the Estate of Tom Wesselmann. 5. Stealingworth, Tom Wesselmann, p. 65. 6. Ibid. 7. Ibid. 8. Willem de Kooning, quoted in Thomas B. Hess, “De Kooning Paints a Picture,” Artnews 52, no. 1 (March 1953): 32.
Below: Installation view, Exhibition of Recent Paintings by Tom Wesselmann, at the Sidney Janis Gallery, New York, November 8–December 2, 1972, with, from left to right, Bedroom Painting #28 (1970–72), Bedroom Painting #22 (1971), and Still Life #59. Artwork © The Estate of Tom Wesselmann/ Licensed by VAGA, New York. Photos courtesy The Estate of Tom Wesselmann unless otherwise noted
LARRY GAGOSIAN 32
PHOTOGRAPHY THEO WENNER, EDITOR DEREK BLASBERG
AND WOODY ALLEN 33
TO ME YOU’RE A NEW YORK ARTIST. YOU’RE ALWAYS WORKING. I WORK WITH A LOT OF ARTISTS AND THE GOOD ONES ARE ALWAYS WORKING. THEY HAVE A FEAR OF STOPPING. SOMETHING ABOUT NEW YORK KIND OF DRIVES THAT AS WELL. Larry Gagosian
Recently, the seminal filmmaker Woody Allen had dinner at Larry Gagosian’s house in New York and was drawn to a colorful, swirling butterfly painting by Mark Grotjahn. Gagosian mentioned the artist’s name and Allen said he recognized it from somewhere: was he related to Martin Grotjahn, the LA– based psychoanalyst who wrote a book called Beyond Laughter in 1957? Yes, that was Mark’s grandfather. “I read it many years ago, when I was in my early twenties. It was a wonderful book and much more comprehensible than Freud. Grotjahn’s book is clear as a bell,” Allen recalled. This was just one of the surreal instances in which Allen and Gagosian’s worlds of art and film and New York intersected. For this special In Conversation, Gagosian sat down with Allen again at home to talk about the ghosts of parties past, Allen’s fear of entering social functions, his appreciation of final cut on a movie, and why this city is for workers. At the start of their chat, Gagosian mentioned that this was the first time he had ever conducted an interview, which amused Allen. “That’s the easy part,” he said. “All you have to do is ask questions. I’m the one who has to answer them.” Thanks for coming over, Woody. But you’ve been to this house before, haven’t you? WOODY ALLEN I’ve had a big history with this house. You’re not going to believe this, but my first dealing with this house was when Dick Cavett called to rope me into taking tap-dancing lessons. I was about fifty years old and I’d never moved my feet, and he said, “You have to do this. Honi Coles, a great black tap dancer, will give us lessons.” I didn’t want to say no. I don’t know why; it just felt like, Don’t say no to this. We met here, which was then the Harkness house, and took a number of tap-dancing lessons. Years later I was making a movie and I wanted to have a New Year’s party, and I couldn’t figure out where to do it and somebody suggested the Harkness house. At that time, Rebekah Harkness was right there—her ashes were in an urn that Salvador Dalí had in the lobby. You
came in and the first thing that you saw was this elaborate urn, very surrealistically structured, and her ashes were in it. Anyhow, we decided we were going to a party and we made it here. LG You organized it yourself? WA I was a novice at making a party. I had a lot of help from Joel Schumacher, who was good at that. It gradually grew and grew. Soon, unbeknownst to me, it got to be the party to go to in New York. People were calling up to ask for an invite. Ted Sorensen called, I didn’t know him from a hole in the wall, to say he was going to be in town, could he come to the party? Could Mick Jagger come? People that I shouldn’t know at all. I would never say no to any of these people, which was the whole idea of the party. It was a cultural cross-section. The Knicks were here, all the sports people, and Norman Mailer was here, and the mayor was here, Martha Graham, everyone from Broadway, S. J. Perelman was here, everybody you could think of came and stayed till late. People were still coming in at three in the morning. We were serving breakfast at four or five o’clock. I remember Bob Fosse eating breakfast. It was just tremendous. LG Sounds like a great party. WA It was! We had a discotheque and hundreds of people. I came first, of course, and stood with my date at the base of the steps and I greeted everybody. My date for the evening was Diane Keaton’s sister. She has two very beautiful sisters, and I was taking one out at that time. It was perfect because I have entering phobia. I can’t enter places. I’ll give you two examples. Once, many years ago, I won an award for some television show with Larry Gelbart. They were honoring us at Toots Shor’s—that’s how long ago it was—and I couldn’t go in. We came separately and I watched Larry go in like a normal, mature person. But I couldn’t. Just couldn’t. Another time, Sidney Lumet had invited me to a party at his house on Lexington Avenue and I think 90th Street. He had that corner brownstone. There was a big party and I drove up and I stopped outside and I watched people going in and I sat there for, you know, half an hour or so and then pulled away. I couldn’t
go in because of this entering phobia. Marisa Berenson will tell you about it. There were a number of times I used to go out with Tony Perkins and Berry Berenson, and I used to cling to Marisa. But when I made this New Year’s Eve party, I didn’t have any problem because the burden of entering was on the other people. LG Was it documented? Are there any photographs or anything? WA There were no paparazzi. I don’t know if there were photographers or other documents because I didn’t expect that. I didn’t think it was going to be anything like it was. LG Was it formal? WA No, it wasn’t black tie. LG So it wasn’t like Truman Capote’s famous black and white ball? WA It was right after that party. It was within a year of Capote’s party. LG Did you go to Capote’s party? WA I was not invited to Capote’s. At that time I was not very well known. LG But I bet you Truman probably tried to get to your party. WA I don’t remember him there. At the time, people kept complimenting me on the party and the flowers and food, which I had nothing to do with. But I took credit for it, of course. LG To me you’re a New York artist. You’re always working. I work with a lot of artists and the good ones are always working. They have a fear of stopping. Something about New York kind of drives that as well. WA It’s a very energetic city. It’s very competitive. There’s nothing to do but work. You finish a movie and then what? I don’t know what else to do. Go to the theater, go to the movies, go to restaurants? I can do all that while I’m shooting. I had this conversation years ago with Neil Simon. When he finishes a project, he sits around for a couple of days thinking, “Well, what am I going to do?” Three, four days later, he’s back writing something because that’s what you do. I don’t have a boat. I don’t play golf. LG You go to Knicks games.
FILM IS AN ART FORM, SO YOU REALLY CAN’T LEARN ANYTHING. THERE ARE TWO OR THREE BASIC THINGS YOU LEARN IN THE FIRST TWO WEEKS YOU’RE MAKING MOVIES AND YOU NEVER LEARN ANYTHING ELSE FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE. THERE’S NOTHING YOU CAN DO TO CHANGE ANYTHING. Woody Allen
That’s do-able while you’re working too. Also, the way the Knicks are playing lately, you can certainly leave ninety percent of the games early. I used to have a box at the opera, which I couldn’t do while I was working: I could never stay for the whole thing. I would see the first two acts and never see the third because I’d be up at six o’clock in the morning ready to shoot. When I’m working, I meet Soon-Yi for dinner at seven, seven-thirty. I’m asleep by eleven o’clock. LG What time do you get up? WA I get up at six because we have to shoot. Monday is a good example: we need the morning light so I’ve got to be there at seven o’clock. LG There goes my career as an actor: I can’t get up in the morning. I’m a night owl. WA I had always envisioned that as a kid. I always wanted to be a playwright and have late hours. You know, knock off in the theater at eleven o’clock at night, go out to dinner, go to sleep at one-thirty or two in the morning, get up at ten o’clock. But it didn’t break that way for me. I have farmer’s hours. LG You start a new movie on Monday. What’s it about? WA I can’t tell you much other than it’s about some young kids from an upstate university who come to New York for a weekend and what ensues the day they’re here. The title is A Rainy Day in New York. They’re all ready to have a great day and many things occur that sidetrack them. Hopefully there’ll be amusing or romantic things in the movie, but that remains to be seen. LG Ha! It usually works out. WA Well, if you do enough movies a percentage of them work out. I go on quantity: I just keep throwing everything against the wall and some of it sticks and the ones that stick make up for a lot of stuff that doesn’t. It’s amazing what a single success will do for you. If you do a picture that people love, they forgive you for striking out six times. LG Unlike a painter, I might say, who is often only as good as his or her last show. Funny, that. WA There are some moviemakers who are only as good as their last movie, but you don’t want to WA
get into that trap. They have these monster hits, and then they command a lot of money for their next film, both salary and budget. Then when the film doesn’t do well they find they’re in trouble. If it happens to them twice, they’re panicked because they find it hard to get backing. But if you work as I have, for sixty years under the radar, making films that never succeed financially, you don’t have to worry about failing. I don’t have to worry that my next film won’t make any money because my last film didn’t make any money. LG You really don’t think about that? You obviously don’t want a flop, but box offices aren’t your main concern? WA I don’t think about it for a second because there’s nothing you can do. You put your film out and if you’re consistently working like I do you don’t get into this hit/flop cycle. I can make two, three pictures that don’t make any money at all and it doesn’t mean anything. LG So your strategy doesn’t change? You don’t learn from hits or failures? WA No, you never learn anything. It’s an art form, so you really can’t learn anything. There are two or three basic things you learn in the first two weeks you’re making movies and you never learn anything else for the rest of your life. There’s nothing you can do to change anything. LG That’s a good lesson. How do you come up with your stories? WA Many people don’t have ideas, and struggle: they have to adapt books or bring in other writers. I don’t have that, I go with my own ideas and I feel lucky to come up with new ones all the time. If it were a Greek tragedy or a slapstick comedy, it wouldn’t matter to me at all. LG Do you remember that time I said we were going to Roman’s house for dinner in the South of France, and you and I were talking about different Romans? That’s a good story. WA First, you and I had dinner at Stresa in Paris, and we talked about all getting together with Roman Polanski. I know Roman slightly, you know him very well, and we all talked about seeing him.
Two weeks later I get a phone call from you, “Do you want to have dinner with Roman?” So what am I to think? I said, “Sure, that’s great.” We drive up to this house and, I mean, wow, it’s unbelievable. I’m sitting there thinking, “How well do his movies do? My God, he must have made a fortune on those films.” Then we’re there and a beautiful girl called Dasha comes down and starts talking to us. I’m still totally unaware that it’s not going to be Roman Polanski. And finally Roman comes down, and Soon-Yi starts to get what’s happening and she says, “That’s Roman.” I say to her, “That’s not Roman. I’ve known Roman for fifty years and that’s not Roman.” LG [Laughter] WA She’s saying, “It’s Roman, it’s Roman,” and pinching me, until she finally says “Come over here,” and brings me aside and explains to me that it’s Roman Abramovich’s house, not Roman Polanski’s house. LG Well, it was a Roman’s house! WA It was really your fault. You called and said, “You want to have dinner with Roman tonight?” and then you bring in a different Roman at the last minute! But it was a nice dinner. LG He’s a dear friend. He’s a great filmmaker and a wonderful guy. WA Who? Abramovich? LG No, I’m talking about Polanski. WA See, you’re doing it again. LG You’ve never made a movie really explicitly about my world, the art world, have you? WA I’ve never made one explicitly about the art world. I’ve had many characters work at galleries or go to museums and look at art. In fact, some people kid me that every picture I make has an art gallery or a museum scene in it. But I’ve never had an idea specifically about an art-world person. LG I wish somebody would do a good movie about the art world because they never seem to get it right. WA I don’t know if I would get it right either. LG You probably wouldn’t make some of the mistakes I’ve seen. I find that most movies don’t get 35
WHAT LETS YOU DOWN IS THE WRITING. THAT’S THE HARDEST THING TO DO. IF YOU GIVE A MEDIOCRE DIRECTOR A REALLY GOOD PIECE OF WRITTEN MATERIAL, HE WILL DO A DECENT FILM. NATURALLY, IF YOU GIVE THE SAME PIECE TO MARTY SCORSESE, IT WILL BE A GREAT FILM. BUT IF YOU GIVE A PIECE OF JUNK TO MARTY OR FELLINI OR A GREAT DIRECTOR, IT’S GOING TO LOOK GOOD BUT IT’S NEVER REALLY GOING TO BE GREAT. Woody Allen
gallery culture right. The people seem nefarious or dodgy. It might as well be a drug dealer. WA I would like to do an art-world movie for a few reasons, especially since I could shoot in New York. I’d have to ask you a lot of questions about what the inner workings of it really are, though. There was a play that Noël Coward did, Nude with Violin. It was a funny play; it turned out that all the paintings, which had been selling for a fortune, had been done by the artist’s five-year-old kid. I guess most movies that have to do with art have a heist. LG Maybe the truth about the art world doesn’t have enough potential for story or drama. WA I don’t know about that! Did you see the movie with Helen Mirren about Klimt? LG Woman in Gold. That was a pretty good movie. It was about the Blochs, that family, and the saga of those paintings and the Nazis. Helen Mirren is fantastic. Have you worked with her? WA I offered her something once and she didn’t take it, but not long ago I ran into her at the Cannes Film Festival in the lobby of the Martinez hotel. She is a comparatively older woman compared to the standards of young Hollywood twenty-year-olds, and she was just as beautiful as can be. You see her and she’s a classic example of an older woman who is beautiful and sexy and great looking and a great actress. LG How is working with Amazon? WA Great. I don’t want to say this so it sounds crass, but honestly, I only work with people who in effect put the money in a brown-paper bag and go away. LG You mean leave you and your creative process alone? WA Yes, and then when the film is over they put it out. Amazon doesn’t see a script, they have nothing to say about casting. I have approval of all of the posters, all the ads, all the photographs, all the press releases. They don’t even know what the film is about. It could be a medieval religious film or a contemporary film about the Upper East Side. LG They trust you and that must be nice. 38
Amazon is great. Occasionally someone will come in and say, “Did you like the poster? Can we use that?” or, “Would you like to tell us how to change the trailer?” LG How long have you had complete creative control like this? I know that not all directors have that luxury. WA Honestly, I lucked out. When I started, my first film was for Palomar, a company that was just starting too, and I made a film for a million dollars. It was Take the Money and Run. There was some sense in people’s minds that people like Mel Brooks or me had some kind of secret of comedy, which neither of us has, so they thought, “Don’t mess with those guys. They know.” But we didn’t know. I floundered all over the place and I’m sure Mel did too. But they left me alone. The film was successful, and then Bananas was successful, and then I could actually get [full final approval] in my contracts. I’ve made almost fifty pictures now, and never in my life have I not had final cut. Nobody sees my script, nobody approves any of the casting. I have total artistic control, so I have no one to blame when a picture dies. I’ve often said this: the only thing standing between me and greatness is me. LG Do you have trouble staying on budget? WA When I started, I would go over budget and it came out of my salary. Actually I gave up my salary on many pictures. My first fifteen pictures, ten times I gave up part of or at times my whole salary because I’d look at the picture and it wouldn’t work. Then you’re facing the embarrassment of putting it out to the public or paying to fix it. Many times I fixed pictures with my own investment. LG Teaches you not to make mistakes, I guess. WA Sometimes you can’t avoid it. It’s like when you’re designing a house: You make as many decisions as you can but you’re going to get a few wrong and you’re going to regret some. You can’t get it right 100 percent. It’s not an exact science. LG Tell me about the movie that’s coming out this month, Wonder Wheel. I love the title. WA
It’s an accidental title. I had originally titled the film “Coney Island Whitefish.” I don’t know if you’re familiar with Coney Island whitefish: years ago, at night, lots of people had sex under the Coney Island boardwalk. Afterwards they’d throw the contraceptives into the ocean, which would wash back on shore in the morning. They’d be all over the beach and they were called Coney Island whitefish because they were white contraceptives. I thought that was a great title. LG It is! Why did you have to change it? WA I ended up needing to cut the scene where I explained the title. Often you have to shorten the movie to keep it moving. So we were floundering around for the title and, my editor, said “What about Wonder Wheel?” As soon as she said it, it sounded great and we tagged it on. LG I can’t wait to see it. And you’re happy with it, right? WA Oh, I never like anything I do. LG Okay, sorry I asked! Would you at least say you don’t hate it? WA I can’t hate it because of the cast: Kate Winslet, Jim Belushi, Justin Timberlake, and Juno Temple are so strong. In my opinion the failure of any film is always in the writing. If I’ve succeeded in the writing, it will be a good film. You don’t get let down by these actors—Cate Blanchett, Diane Keaton, Brad Pitt, whoever you’re working with, they’re not going to let you down. These people are great, they have charismatic personalities and they’re wonderful actors. I’ve worked with fantastic cinematographers too, and they never let you down. What lets you down is the writing. That’s the hardest thing to do. If you give a mediocre director a really good piece of written material, he will do a decent film. Naturally, if you give the same piece to Marty Scorsese, it will be a great film. But if you give a piece of junk to Marty or Fellini or a great director, it’s going to look good but it’s never really going to be great. In my film, I’m confident that everyone came through for me. Whether I came through in the writing remains to be seen. WA
I’VE MADE ALMOST FIFTY PICTURES NOW, AND NEVER IN MY LIFE HAVE I NOT HAD FINAL CUT. NOBODY SEES MY SCRIPT, NOBODY APPROVES ANY OF THE CASTING. I HAVE TOTAL ARTISTIC CONTROL, SO I HAVE NO ONE TO BLAME WHEN A PICTURE DIES. I’VE OFTEN SAID THIS: THE ONLY THING STANDING BETWEEN ME AND GREATNESS IS ME. Woody Allen
Larry Gagosian and Woody Allen, New York, September 9, 2017
As Tate Britain presents a major survey on Rachel Whiteread, James Lawrence explores the quiet power and critical role of memory in the sculptor’s public works.
n June 2012, Rachel Whiteread unveiled her first permanent public commission in Britain. Tree of Life spreads across the upper facade of the Whitechapel Gallery, a venerable east-London institution with an important place in the history of postwar art. The facade had been incomplete since the Whitechapel’s opening, in 1901, when expected funds did not materialize, leading to the cancellation of a mosaic proposed for the wall’s central panel. Whiteread’s frieze elaborates on the building’s original terra-cotta reliefs depicting the Tree of Life, a motif that in the context of the Arts and Crafts movement of the time connoted social transformation through art. Leaves and branches of gilded bronze now punctuate the original areas of terra-cotta foliage, whose density anchors the sporadic distribution of Whiteread’s bronze elements across the central panel. The panel also holds four negative terra-cotta casts taken from the building’s windows. That kind of architectural reconfiguration established Whiteread in the public eye in the early 1990s, while her crisp vocabulary of everyday forms brought a new language to our private relationships with objects. Tree of Life is insistently slight, influenced not only by gilded architectural grandeur but also by buddleia, an invasive plant that has thrived for decades in the crevices of London’s bricks and mortar. Pedestrians might easily miss the frieze as they hurry past with eyes on phones or traffic. There is power in its lack of clamor; sumptuously eye-catching, it nevertheless retains the flavor of an urban secret. Whiteread has spoken recently of “shy sculptures” such as Boathouse (2010), on the bank of a Norwegian fjord—sculptures that a viewer might encounter casually, sculptures that recede. We
seldom attribute shyness to sculpture, particularly to sculpture such as Whiteread’s, which gives mass to intangibility. There has always been an unforthcoming aspect to her works, however, that incites us to fill their silences with our own reflections. Whiteread’s breakthrough came with Ghost (1990), an assured realization of a deceptively straightforward idea. She cast the interior of a back room in a late-Victorian house slated for demolition. Nicotine stains and soot from the fireplace expressed the chemical history of the living space even as they tinted the sculpture’s plaster components. The result was bold but quiet, generously evocative, and clever in all the best ways. It earned Whiteread a nomination for the Turner Prize in 1991. Ghost, like many of Whiteread’s early sculptures, relies on a crucial uncertainty or ambiguity regarding the definition of a given object. In particular, that ambiguity arises because of the way her sculptures challenge the natural flow of memory. When commentary on her work talks about memory, it usually explores aspects of the past such as history, nostalgia, remembrance, or commemoration. Those interpretations focus on what neuroscientists call explicit memory, which has two aspects: semantic memory, or the capacity for conscious recollection of common knowledge; and episodic memory, which preserves personal experiences. Implicit memories, which allow us to accomplish tasks without consciously thinking about them, are seldom discussed. Implicit memories allow us to type or write, drive a car, or deal with familiar objects. The unfamiliar familiarity of Whiteread’s sculptures often jolts such memories into our consciousness. Whiteread’s methods excelled from the outset in prompting viewers to reassess, in a sustained and
Opening spread: Rachel Whiteread behind 193 Grove Road, 1993. Photo courtesy Nicolas Turpin/ The Independent/REX/ Shutterstock Below: Rachel Whiteread, Ghost, 1990, plaster with steel frame, 106 × 140 × 125 inches (269 × 355.5 × 317.5 cm)
Above: Rachel Whiteread, House, 1993, concrete. Photo © John Davies 1993 Right: Rachel Whiteread, Water Tower, 1998, W. Broadway and Grand Street, New York, resin and steel. Photo by Marian Harder
specific way, our relationships with the volumes and contours of our daily surroundings. Untitled (Torso) (1991), for example, gains an increasingly complex identity as we recognize how a modest hot-water bottle has become comfortingly pillowlike and newly corporeal. Before long, we readily attribute a self, or even a soul, to an inanimate object. Ghost embodied the empty space of a domestic room as an object in its own right, and so embodied an intuitive but rarely examined truth about how we actually occupy such spaces. Truths of that kind are at the heart of the recollections—unconscious or conscious, uniquely personal or held in common— that Whiteread’s sculptures invoke. The path from Ghost to House (1993) was natural but far from straightforward. Whiteread was able to realize her idea of mummifying an entire house when the London organization Artangel, which commissions site-specific projects, invited a proposal from her. She and Artangel’s co-director James Lingwood scoured north and east London for a suitable site. The idea took shape on paper until, after false starts and much negotiation, Artangel secured a temporary lease on a house at 193 Grove Road, in the East End neighborhood of Bow. That house—a very short walk from the Chisenhale Gallery, where Ghost had made its public debut—was part of a Victorian terrace destined to yield its ground to a modest increase in local green space. The house had been occupied for more than fifty years by the last resident of the terrace to resist the inevitable. House was a masterpiece: ambitious, audacious, and a clear demonstration of Whiteread’s place among the elite of postwar sculptors. That much is clear today, nearly twenty-five years later.
At the time, the project was traumatic and contentious. The informed and respectful criticism that it prompted only inflamed tabloid scorn and hardened the intransigence of a pivotal local politician. When Whiteread won the Turner Prize for 1993, the announcement occurred on the day that House failed to win a reprieve from demolition. House is now something of a legend. It attracted thousands of visitors during its few months of existence, garnered support in the House of Commons, and heralded a resurgence in British art that soon transformed the cultural landscape. Though House is lost, its spirit endures in its historical significance and in the aesthetic terms it validated. The
sculpture’s equipoise of imposing monumentality and innate pathos—the vulnerable isolation of a terraced house alone at the edge of a field—remains central to Whiteread’s public commissions, including Cabin (2016), on Governors Island, New York. The heft of interior voids converted into concrete masses, and Whiteread’s aptitude for reconfiguring architecture, inevitably prompted comparisons with a primarily American lineage of sculpture since the late 1960s that includes works by Richard Serra, Bruce Nauman, Gordon Matta-Clark, and Eva Hesse. Whiteread’s sculptures, however, also warrant consideration as part of a much longer tradition in which the texture of history—and, crucially, the way we use history—are inseparable from the objects’ material forms. In 2003, Whiteread cast the interior of Room 101 in Broadcasting House, the British Broadcasting Corporation’s flagship building in central London. A popular belief holds that George Orwell got the idea for the torture chamber in his dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four (1949), also called Room 101, from his miserable period of employment at the BBC during World War II. In fact, Orwell’s Room 101 was in another building nearby. The discrepancy between irresistible myth and Whiteread’s robust translation of material facts added an additional note of complexity appropriate to the uncertainties of history. When Untitled (Room 101) was exhibited in the Cast Courts at the Victoria and Albert Museum, it seemed incongruous yet thoroughly at home—anachronistic yet 44
among similarly displaced friends. Unfamiliar familiarity is not merely a phenomenon of memory prompting us toward introspection, it also reveals something about how we weave the past into the ever unfolding present. Ghost, House, and Untitled (Room 101) all involve pragmatic and almost photographic translations of reality into representation. The result is a kind of nakedness. All three sculptures, after all, were or are public revelations of private space. Even the room in Broadcasting House that Whiteread cast served the plumbing and ventilation needs of the building rather than the purposes of the BBC as an organization. Much of the pathos of House stems from the rapidity with which the building lost its claims to privacy and became a public figure—a process that also claimed Whiteread herself as she made and defended her work. Despite the formal consistency of her practices, there is a significant difference between that transition from private to public, on the one hand, and avowedly public projects on the other. Holocaust Memorial (2000) was from its inception a public work inseparable from the purposes of acknowledgment and atonement for crimes against humanity that occurred in living memory. Those crimes against humanity included countless crimes against individuals, as well as acts that destroyed the accumulated material conditions of lives, communities, and relationships. Whiteread’s memorial to the 65,000 Austrian Jews murdered during
Rachel Whiteread, The Judenplatz Holocaust Memorial (Nameless Library), 2000, concrete and steel. Photo by Urs Schweitzer, 2009. Courtesy of Imagno/Hulton Archive/ Getty Images
the Holocaust stands in Vienna’s Judenplatz, surrounded by dignified residences. Although her design called for an invented space from the outset, it is no great leap to imagine—as Whiteread did— that it originated in an apartment just yards away. Its cuboid form, with somber ranks of books on shelves and double doors forever closed, implies a private library turned inside-out even as it occupies public space with the dignity of a cenotaph. Whiteread’s “nameless library” of books with no spines visible allowed her established techniques to quicken a concise symbol of culture, memory, loss, and private individuality within the public realm. The books allude to the textual tradition of Judaism, but inevitably connote Nazi biblioclasm as well as more benign associations. More poignantly, they are ciphers of lost lives that were biographical as well as biological—reminders that private accounts of those losses remain unwritten, or closed to history. Holocaust Memorial, Whiteread’s first permanent installation, remains exceptional for its combination of permanence and high-profile location. She is selective in her choice of commissions, and skeptical of ill-judged impositions of sculpture in public spaces; despite their physical and philosophical weight, her public sculptures have typically been elusive and even self-effacing. In 1994, soon after House was demolished, New York’s Public Art Fund invited Whiteread to devise a work. Grand locations did not appeal, but, scanning Manhattan with a visitor’s keen eye, she noted the wooden water towers that punctuate the skyline and stubbornly preserve a nineteenth-century sense of place. She eventually found an old water tower to use as a cast, as well as a site for the installation. Water Tower (1998) stood on a roof in SoHo for just over two years before finding a new home on the roof of The Museum of Modern Art. Whiteread has been working with resin since the early 1990s. She quickly grasped the potential of that tricky material, including ways to produce color variations by blending different types, as in Untitled (One Hundred Spaces) (1995). She found that resin can remain translucent, even transparent, in deep and massive forms. Water Tower is a four-and-a-half-ton cast in polyurethane resin.
Its clarity was a formal innovation for Whiteread, whose previous large-scale sculptures had arrested space in a state of opacity. One consequence of this extended vocabulary was a valuable complication of the metaphysical themes, usually morbid, that circled her work. Another consequence was a new kind of reticence: dematerialization. Water Tower can seem crystalline, fluid, or ethereal, according to viewing position and prevailing light. Those transitions have an underlying material logic: resin never quite suppresses its liquid past the way plaster and concrete do, or the way igneous rock does. Visual uncertainty attends Water Tower not because its contours are counterintuitive but because its material state seems unfixed. It is persistently elusive because physical distance from street level limits proximity and precludes contact. We recognize the form without truly knowing the content.
Above: Rachel Whiteread, Untitled (Room 101), 2003, mixed media
Following spread: Rachel Whiteread, Boathouse, Gran, Norway, 2010, concrete and steel
Below: Rachel Whiteread, Monument, 2001, resin and granite. Photo by Sion Touhig/Getty Images
Above: Rachel Whiteread, Cabin, Discovery Hill, Governors Island, NY, 2016. Photo by Timothy Schenck Below: Rachel Whiteread, Tree of Life, 2012, bronze, dimensions variable, permanent installation at the Whitechapel Gallery, London, United Kingdom. Photo courtesy Michael Bowles/REX/Shutterstock Artwork © Rachel Whiteread
Whether we consider the placement of Water Tower, the elegiac murmur of Holocaust Memorial, or the unelaborated statement that was House, Whiteread’s public sculptures have always embraced the power of reticence. Monument (2001), her contribution to the series of temporary projects for the Fourth Plinth in London’s Trafalgar Square, involved a direct cast from Sir Charles Barry’s unoccupied granite plinth, built in 1841 to support an equestrian statue, of King William IV, that never came. Monument was a formidably challenging exercise in fabrication that strove for the appearance
of effortlessness. The result had complex semiotic relationships with Barry’s plinth, Trafalgar Square, and the metropolitan residue of imperial might, yet it declined to make those relationships explicit. The two-piece resin cast was an apt tautology that mirrored the past, shimmered in the present, and anticipated no future. It got to the heart of the Fourth Plinth project with the unembellished completeness that characterizes Whiteread’s casts. As in Tree of Life, Whiteread’s approach to the Fourth Plinth addressed an existing incompleteness: just as lack of funds had left the facade of the Whitechapel Gallery without a mosaic, so lack of funds had left Barry’s plinth without its anticipated statue. Whiteread responded to both situations with generous acts of formal reconciliation that bridged centuries without suppressing the unresolved conditions that had made her involvement possible. An encounter with one of Whiteread’s works in public is comparatively rare. Where they are permanent, they are often inaccessible or easily overlooked. Her temporary projects pass into episodic memory, where they gain their own uncertainties. For busy Londoners who passed House, and glimpsed a familiar building in an unfamiliar form, the memory might today have become a pale shadow, perhaps refreshed by photographic reinforcement. Whether they are unavailable except as memories and photographs, or merely situated away from our habitual lines of sight and movement, Whiteread’s public sculptures retain irreducibly private aspects. They suggest rather than state, imply rather than impose. For the viewer, those are not easy or rapid conditions of engagement: shyness can be unfathomable. It can also lead us to moments of profound empathic intimacy.
RUDOLF STINGEL In July in Capri, a special installation of paintings was shown at Casa Malaparte, the famous house built by the author, publisher, diplomat, and filmmaker Curzio Malaparte.
Photos by Eric Piasecki
WORK IN PROGRESS
NANCY RUBINS Laura Fried spends the day with the artist at her awe-inspiring studio in Topanga Canyon.
n a sprawling mesa in Topanga Canyon, flush with chaparral and oak, Nancy Rubins’s elephantine, cascading sculpture Our Friend Fluid Metal (2014) rests atop a massive concrete pad. When first presented, at Gagosian on West 21st Street, the work undulated outward from the white wall, grasping and stretching into space while seeming to collapse ceiling and ground in the capacious gallery. Here at Rubins’s California studio, the collision of rust and paint, of carousel-horse legs and cartoon-turtle grins, contorts and thrusts against the hot pale-blue sky and the rippling topography. Out of doors, with its heavy base on full display (in a gallery that base would hide behind a wall), Our Friend Fluid Metal reveals its mechanics full tilt. Made through Rubins’s long-tested method of using tension cables to rig her objects, their clusters building off a system of T-bars that protrude like branches from a central arm, the work is a dense bricolage of coiled metal, of punctured limbs and heads, all gesturing out to the hills and trees. Our Friend Fluid Metal and its smaller companion works marked a departure for Rubins, who had for years been largely occupied with her formidable series of suspended canoes. Comprised of decommissioned playground equipment—spring-boun cing rockets and cartoon animals that had seen years of use, rust, and repainting—these new sculptures had a specificity that at first proved challenging for Rubins. They sat on the property for two years until she felt ready to deploy them. Recognizing that their “objectness was irreversible,” she finally penetrated what she called their “pop-object quality” to see that the material they were made of was itself at a critical cusp in its life span. The same thick aluminum that made up the airplane parts of her earlier sculptures was evident here, as if recuperated from postwar scrap-metal heaps, brought to 60
life by a surge of playground-building, then abandoned as junk some seventy years later. With an archaeologist’s eye, Rubins came to see each of these forms as time stamped, standing just at the threshold of disuse and abandon before the aluminum was again melted down. With this attention to the material’s potency—to the history it wears on its surface—the artist then constructed each work as a dense composition of form, color, and line, making the playground character begin to disappear into the voluminous whole. If Rubins saw a historical connection between her airplane and playground parts, the evolution of the Our Friend series typifies her larger practice, where disparate bodies of work not only coexist but are bound within systems of continua. This interconnectedness—which seems to touch all facets of her work—is visible both in and outside the studio. In the studio building this summer, I saw multiple ongoing projects sharing space: the sizable, meticulously finished Monochrome maquettes; object studies rendered in wood or epoxy; and clusters of tables together holding a mass of graphite drawings. On the sides of the studio are loading doors through which the occasional breezy gust comes in, rustling the more fragile of the objects inside. Across the property, older work is scattered alongside new, along with vestiges of some sculptures by the artist’s late husband, Chris Burden. In addition to Rubins’s and Burden’s respective studio buildings, the rolling land is dotted with concrete pads, rigging armatures, sheds, and the like—the necessities required for the monumental production involved in constructing works at Rubins’s characteristic scale. On the mesa, one can imagine the marking of time by the spread of buildings and sculptures, and by the continuous transformation of the land. The dramatic vistas, and the machinery that supports Rubins’s practice, together imply an ecosystem that
Out of doors, with its heavy base on full display (in a gallery that base would hide behind a wall), Our Friend Fluid Metal reveals its mechanics full tilt.
took decades to build and continues to be fundamental to her life and work. The property has been a thirty-year project. Burden purchased the land in 1981; in 1984 he and Rubins began living there, camping out until the completion of the house, in 1988. As they added new parcels to the property, they eventually built a road and laid electricity and phone lines. Once they had moved from tents into the house, the studio spaces began to take shape. Today, the avocado orchards that once dotted the hillside have been largely taken over by oaks, whose growth Rubins has watched from their sprouting to the scattered but lush forest they have become. As her three dogs sprint up the hills and around the cacti, she tells me about the intense effort, and perhaps latent anxiety, that goes into fire preparedness each season. Topanga Canyon was already positioned as a kind of bohemia before Burden bought the land. Rendered by figures ranging from Neil Young to Thomas Coraghessan Boyle, the characterization endures: Topanga is known as an isolated retreat from Los Angeles, a favorite refuge for writers, musicians, and artists. George Herms and Wallace Berman were among its more storied dwellers, and artists across generations (notably Mary Corse, who originally introduced Burden to Topanga) continue to live and work there. Rubins has seen Topanga through this history—and one can see how the land she nurtured with Burden for so many years persists as a powerful force that helps shape her work. The studio has recently been populated with a new species of object, Rubins’s latest focus. As she tells it, her longtime supplier of metal junk, whom she calls Mr. Huffman, said to her plainly one day, “Want some pigs?” Huffman has for decades been her primary source for airplane parts, canoes, and playground animals. He had recently come into the possession of a world of bronze and cast-iron
pigs, giraffes, storks, tortoises, wolves, and other creatures both wild and domestic. The menagerie now congregates on the long driveway leading up to Rubins’s studio, as if lining up to enter her ark. It is easy to personify these animals—and such ready prosopopoeia makes their objectness a fascinating problem for Rubins. As she was with the playground equipment, she is keen to explore the ways in which such specific figuration can be abstracted into new sculptural form. In beginning a sculpture, she fashions each figure first out of clay, then somewhat crudely out of wire and epoxy, exploring the sculptural possibilities in maquette form. In the studio this summer, red clay versions of a moose, a buffalo, and bighorn sheep stood beside a cluster of epoxy versions of other animals, and beside scale models of the sculptures themselves. Three of these sculptures were in process outdoors this summer as Rubins prepared for an upcoming exhibition. The construction of each work is necessarily a complex endeavor, involving a devoted team of studio assistants and engineers who not only build the works but also help Rubins with such logistics as transporting the sculpture from a recently poured concrete pad in Topanga, down the hairpin switchbacks to the canyon’s main road, and on to their ultimate destination. This new project is literally Rubins’s heaviest to date; each object (each animal, that is) weighs more than any previous individual sculpture. Yet it remains critical for Rubins to maintain the possibility of spontaneity. Her hand is perhaps most evident in her attention to key formal decisions and details (the head this way, the cable here, the base visible there) in the moment of the rigging itself. This apparent contradiction in her process—at once meticulously engineered and highly improvisational—is what allows these telescoping sculptures to appear both heavily designed (as they indeed are) and simultaneously, and wondrously, propelled by their own momentum. 65
Artwork © Nancy Rubins Photos by Brian Guido
While Rubins is keen on the temporal qualities and conditions of her materials, she is equally invested in the painterly possibilities available in a sculptural practice. On first encounter with Huffman’s animal objects, she was struck by their conspicuous seams and cheap Bondo welding—imperfections that offered promising formal possibilities, as inconsistencies in the finish began to hold their own energy. In one new sculpture the back of a giant tortoise lies askew on a square concrete base on the ground. Piled atop it, a buckled-together menagerie stacks up and outward toward the sky. You can see the brushed and welded surface of a zebra hoof, or the base of a stork whose neck is buried tight in the compact stuffing of figures at the base. Here the cables can be read as a kind of violent binding of the creatures, puncturing and muzzling their snouts, hooves, and limbs. The tensegrity that holds these limbs and torsos taut reveals a quality of line—an intricate drawing in space—that offers a kind of astronomical charting of these rapturous beasts. And yet, once again, the density of the composition gives way to a compression of form, and further to a dynamic interplay of color and line, surface and depth. The creatures themselves, writhing and climbing into space, offer a powerful expression of gesture. If Rubins’s sculptures evince a material density, the drawings are almost a pure exercise of that impulse. She describes the marks on paper as a collection of energy: each mark serves the expression of the whole, and each sheet works in service of the resulting installation on the wall. The artist’s graphite drawings have been a critical through-line in her practice for decades, manifest even in the way they take up space inside her studio. Alongside the neat rows of epoxy animals, and the larger, finished maquettes of her earlier Monochromes, stands a series of tables spilling over with these graphite sheets. In one corner of the building an 68
intricate web of these drawings clings to the walls, while lurching into space at various creases and seams. Rubins has always treated this work as a sculptural form, a body that attaches itself delicately to architecture. Just as she deftly elides the inherent contradictions that hold her monumental sculptures in tension, here she eschews both the vulnerability of paper and the weighty impression of the dense graphite marks, colliding the boundaries of sculpture and drawing together. Like her attention to the land, Rubins’s methodologies are at once perennial, studied, and improvisational, fundamentally collaborative while also deeply personal. Her work and the way she speaks about it have long seemed touched by a geological as well as a cosmic relationship to material and time. During her days at the University of California, Davis, Rubins explored the possibilities of clay, and she has spoken of the capacity of ceramics to hold time within them; but a finished ceramic object, which seems to arrest time, ultimately held no interest for her. Rather, what holds value for her is an object’s power to convey a kind of geological stratum, evidence of its time on earth. Rubins invests her choices of materials with a consideration of how these metals—and we ourselves—experience time in relation to the land, how we discover the marks of time and come to acknowledge it. Where she saw the avocado orchards on the property fade away, she also witnessed the growth of the now twenty- and thirty-year oaks— and just as the canyon mesa makes its time apparent to her, she intends her sculptures to carry and convey similar traces of temporal strata, the metal holding a prehistory as well as a latent fate. As the animals emerge out of the earth, fighting their own powerful gravitational pull, like prehistoric fossils finding the surface, so too do they drive up and out toward the atmosphere, as if stretching toward an evaporating end.
The dramatic vistas, and the machinery that supports Rubins’s practice, together imply an ecosystem that took decades to build and continues to be fundamental to her life and work.
S I LV E R S M I T H I N E X C E L L E N C E SI NCE 1820
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Free from conventions, the new collection Puiforcat OrfĂ¨vre-Sommelier refines and redefines the experience of wine tasting. Developed with Enrico Bernardo, Best Sommelier in the world 2004.
Georg Baselitz and Roy Lichtenstein were brought together in Bilderstreit, a 1989 exhibition of
over 750 works of art in Cologne. Richard Calvocoressi examines their conceptual overlap.
Previous spread (left): Roy Lichtenstein, Portrait, 1981, Magna on canvas, 36 × 30 inches (91.4 × 76.2 cm). Private collection. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Photo by Rob McKeever
Previous spread (right): Georg Baselitz, Der Italiener (The Italian), 1981, oil and tempera on canvas, 63 3⁄4 × 51 1⁄4 inches (162 × 130 cm). Privately owned. © Georg Baselitz. Photo by Jochen Littkemann
n the spring of 1989—six months before the fall of the Berlin Wall, with the ideologies that had shaped Europe for forty years rapidly unraveling—Georg Baselitz and Roy Lichtenstein took part in Bilderstreit. Widerspruch, Einheit und Fragment in der Kunst seit 1960 (Picture fight. Contradiction, unity and fragment in art since 1960), a huge, controversial exhibition held at the Rheinhallen, Cologne. To remind visitors of the break in continuity forced on art and artists in Hitler’s Germany, Stalin’s Russia, and by the world war, the show included works not only from the 1960s on but from the period of classic modernism, a golden age that was rediscovered and reinterpreted in the work of a number of the artists of the postwar generation in the exhibition. As the Cold War was coming to an end, this aspect of Bilderstreit proved prescient. Reviewing the show in Artforum, the artist and critic Max Wechsler outlined its main argument: Here, Bild (picture, image, painting) was a word applied not only to paintings (as in its normal German usage) but also to objects and sculptures, and became the vehicle for the articulation of an esthetic defined by the terms of the artist’s engagement in the fight that was the theme here—the superficial, 20th-century “fight” between abstract and figurative painting, 72
Opposite (left): Georg Baselitz, Birnbaum III (Pear Tree III), 1980, oil and egg tempera on canvas, 98 1⁄2 × 78 3⁄4 inches (250 × 200 cm). Privately owned. © Georg Baselitz. Photo by Jochen Littkemann
between conceptual and expressive styles, between American and European art, and among European artists themselves. To demonstrate this, individual artists appeared in smaller or larger retrospectives—either in virtually self-contained one-person shows within the total exhibition, or popping up in radically different and unusual contexts throughout.1 To encourage dialogue, Baselitz’s recent painting Volkstanz III (Folkdance III, 1989) was displayed at right angles to Lichtenstein’s enormous Forest Scene with Figures (1987), a parody of a Cézanne or Matisse bathers picture, and opposite his Paintings: Oriental Still Life (1984) and Paintings: Picasso Head (1984). An unusual feature of the show was the way it allowed visitors to decide for themselves how to enter the exhibition space. Curated by Siegfried Gohr, Johannes Gachnang, and Walter Nickels, it had “three separate but equal entrances, each of which served as the starting point for three different routes for each viewer through the exhibition, presumably yielding an antidogmatic approach to the art. Although regarded by many as an arrogant and unreasonable imposition, the complex layout struck me as the most outstanding feature of the exhibit, offering a rare freedom in dealing with artworks.”2 Such lack of prescriptiveness would surely have
Opposite (right): Roy Lichtenstein, Gray Head, 1986, oil and Magna on canvas, 56 × 30 inches (142.2 × 76.2 cm). The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection. © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation. Photo © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation
appealed to both Lichtenstein and Baselitz. The pairing of these two artists may at first sight appear surprising, if not arbitrary. Superficially their work could not look more different. Baselitz paints aggressively, with rough, broken brushstrokes, nervous lines, and raw colors. He continually challenges the integrity of the image with existential strategies that inhibit him from developing too great a facility with paint, or from adopting an accepted convention. These include fragmenting the subject or painting it upside-down or on its side, painting with his fingers, and, when he paints on wood, attacking the image with a knife or chisel. Consequently his pictures often walk a tightrope between representation and abstraction. An aesthetic of dissonance is especially evident in works from the 1980s: in the series of elemental heads entitled 6 Beautiful, 4 Ugly Portraits (1987–88), for example, four are painted on wooden panels that the artist has gouged and scored like one of his own discordantly painted wooden sculptures, avoiding all possibility of artistic elegance and finish. As Donald Kuspit has observed, Baselitz’s paintings “are that difficult and rare thing, an uncanny, dynamic mix of ugliness and beauty, vulgar in their perfection and perfect in their vulgarity. They have a kind of graceful, lyric crudity, transforming what Cézanne called ‘vibrating sensation’ into grotesque, ‘Gothic’ sensation.”3
Opposite (below): Georg Baselitz in his studio, Schloss Derneburg, Germany, September 1982. Photo by Richard Calvocoressi
Above: Georg Baselitz’s studio at Schloss Derneburg, 1988, with works from the series 6 Beautiful, 4 Ugly Portraits (1987–88). Photo by Daniel Blau, Munich
In comparison with Baselitz’s earthiness, the smooth, impersonal surfaces of Lichtenstein’s canvases seem almost mechanical. His paintings are carefully composed, their deliberately banal objects precisely outlined and painted in the flat bright colors of Pop art. When brushwork features, it is not the real thing but a symbol or sign of the stereotypical brushstrokes found in comic strips and commercial art, magnified and treated as an independent object. It is as if Lichtenstein were parodying the supposedly spontaneous, improvised gestures of the previous generation of American abstract painters—“a sort of synthetic Abstract Expressionism,” as he called it. 4 In their heightened chiaroscuro and overlarge proportions, his brushstrokes resemble natural phenomena such as water, clouds, or vapor more than the marks of a brush on canvas. Lichtenstein’s brushstroke sculptures and reliefs, with their hard cut-out shapes and sharp edges, are even more abstracted in feel, and certainly less liquid. In landscapes, still lifes, and figure paintings from the 1980s, he would further tease the viewer by juxtaposing this cartoonlike shorthand with loosely painted freehand strokes applied with a decorator’s brush, in closer imitation of the real thing. Allusion to earlier styles or subjects in art history, though, is one habit that Lichtenstein and Baselitz share. To give just one example, both artists have “quoted” themes and images from German 73
Expressionism, and from its inspirations in primitivism and tribal art: Baselitz instinctively, as part of a fascination with the kind of art condemned as degenerate by the Nazis; Lichtenstein in a cool, stylized manner that neutralizes the emotive power of the original. Lichtenstein’s project in New York in the early 1960s was to question an art based on individualist and formalist values—the primacy given to the artist’s personal “handwriting”—and to champion as his main subject the overlooked consumer object as it is oversimplified or caricatured in the two-dimensional medium of advertising. This has parallels with Baselitz’s rejection, in Berlin in exactly the same period, of the style known as tachism or art informel—the more lyrical European equivalent of Abstract Expressionism—and with his search for a means of introducing recognizable motifs in his paintings, at a time when abstraction held sway. What unites these two great iconoclastic artists is an unshakable conviction that a painting is not a reflection of the world, or a window onto it, but a two-dimensional object whose flatness must be respected. Both employ oversize, centralized imagery and dispense with the single-viewpoint perspective of illusionistic painting. Leaving the viewer in no doubt that the painting is an artificial construct, Lichtenstein sometimes divides his canvas into two 74
self-contained segments or ”pictures,” each surrounded by a “frame” and each painted in a radically contrasting idiom. Mirrors also feature—perhaps a witty reference to the Renaissance idea of the picture as a mirror of reality, but also a device for introducing ambiguous effects, such as the appearance of distortion or reflection, or the multiple perspectives seen in Cubist renderings of three-dimensional space. Likewise, the titles of Baselitz’s pictures occasionally remind us that what we are looking at is simply a painting. In Ein Stück Malerei (A piece of painting, 1966), an early example of his more naturalistic “fracture” style, the composition is split by a horizontal line running across the middle of the canvas. The ostensible subject—farm animals huddled together in a burning or blood-soaked landscape, a sight that must have been familiar to Baselitz as a boy in 1945, when Russian troops overran his village in eastern Germany—is thus undermined, for the top and bottom halves of the image are displaced and don’t quite match, as in the Surrealist pencil-and-paper game of cadavre exquis. A later work, Das Malerbild (The painter’s picture, 1987–88), is a vast compendium of the artist’s personal iconography. Coarse but animated heads, nudes, animals, landscapes, and a still life—some twenty “pictures within a picture”—are shown against a flat dark ground, as if hung in tiers
on a wall, each separated physically and psychologically from one another. What else do Baselitz and Lichtenstein have in common? Both artists paint in series. Both attach great importance to drawing. In 1987, New York’s Museum of Modern Art gave Lichtenstein a large retrospective of his drawings—studies for paintings, prints, and sculpture; the show’s curator, Bernice Rose, argued in her catalogue essay that “Lichtenstein’s reliance on drawing is crucial to his style. Drawing is both the core of his aesthetic and an essential part of the making of his art. It is the point of departure for a new order in painting.”5 Baselitz for his part has said, If I didn’t draw, my mind would feel numb, like in a mine. Not that drawing is fun; it’s no fun at all. . . . It’s like a language without understanding, and it makes sense only when I’ve learned some vocabulary—that takes a long time. . . . A drawing is always naked. Everyone instantly sees the lovely, pleasant sides, which are so boring; but not everyone sees an ugly, unpleasant side because he simply doesn’t want to see it.6 The main difference between the two artists lies in the origin of their imagery. Lichtenstein’s is deeply rooted in the world of appearances, though his take on it is ironic: reality is deconstructed,
Opposite: Roy Lichtenstein, Paintings: Abstractions, 1984, oil and Magna on canvas, 70 1⁄8 × 80 inches (178.1 × 203.2 cm), The Roy Lichtenstein Foundation Collection. © Roy Lichtenstein Foundation, Photo by Kevin Ryan.
Above: Dorothy and Roy Lichtenstein with brushstroke paintings and portraits, including Head, 1980 (left), Male Head, 1980 (right), and Portrait, 1981 (far right), Southampton, New York, 1981. Photo by Arthur Schatz
Below: Installation view of the Bilderstreit exhibition at the Rheinhallen, Cologne, 1989, showing paintings by Baselitz and Lichtenstein. Photo by Rheinisches Bildarchiv Köln
either through the low-art, mass-media tools of outline drawing and the Ben-Day dot or through the appropriation and parody of familiar styles in twentieth-century art—Expressionism, Cubism, Futurism, Surrealism, Abstraction. Baselitz no more copies nature than does Lichtenstein, but unlike Lichtenstein he relies on imagination and autobiographical memory, including the memory of his own work. When he started painting on large unstretched canvases laid out on the floor, in the early 1990s, he penned the following poetic insight into the artist’s mind: I don’t want to use any new material, but only what is in there already and has been there for years; the material that is so restlessly active in there that it constantly turns into lines and colors within its own circulatory system. . . . Whatever I see arouses an immediate memory of something seen before, and this is what I have been turning into pictures. By now, I see the pictures more clearly than the originals of the pictures. . . . I have this kaleidoscopic system, all inside a cardboard tube that I am not giving away. . . . The collected stuff in there is fermenting, raising hell, and trying to get out. The head, as a catalyst, can process things that come from outside. You look at the landscape and make a picture out of it. It can also work the other way round.7
Above: Paintings in Baselitz’s studio, Schloss Derneburg, Germany, 1988, including Das Malerbild (The Painter’s Picture), 1987–88 (center). Photo by Daniel Blau, Munich
An example of a landscape made out of a picture is Horta in 1988 in which Baselitz references the early Cubist landscapes of Horta de Ebro, Spain, by Picasso. The belief in an autonomous picture empty of narrative content, to which both Lichtenstein and Baselitz subscribe, goes back to Vasily Kandinsky, who coined the term “pure painting” to denote work in which “an object (a real one—a man, a tree, a cloud) is, as it were, merely an allusion to the real, an allusion or aroma in the composition.”8 In Kandinsky’s case this led to the development of an abstract painting that invoked spiritual and nonmaterialist values. This kind of painting found favor in postwar West Germany among the generation of artists, including Baselitz’s teachers, who had survived the Third Reich and were exploring alternatives to figurative art, compromised and discredited as it was by its association with Nazism. Baselitz rejected nonrepresentational informel painting as escapist, but he shared the apolitical stance of its practitioners; his ingrained skepticism that the artist can have any effect on politics or society is a direct result of his experience of war, followed by Communist suppression during his formative years in East Germany. He and Lichtenstein would probably go as far as to maintain that art expresses nothing but itself, has nothing to “say.”9 76
Below: Roy Lichtenstein, Expressionist Head, 1980, painted and patinated bronze with artist designed wooden base, edition of 6, dimensions without base: 55 × 41 × 18 inches (139.7 × 104.1 × 45.7 cm). © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein. Photo courtesy Estate of Roy Lichtenstein
1. Max Wechsler, ‘“Bilderstreit’ at the Rheinhallen, Cologne,” Artforum, September 1989, p. 161. 2. Ibid., p. 159. 3. Donald Kuspit, “A Critical History of 20th-Century Art,” Artnet Magazine, July 28, 2006. Available online at www.artnet. com/magazineus/features/kuspit/kuspit7-28-06.asp (accessed August 2017). See also Theodor W. Adorno, “On the Categories of the Ugly, the Beautiful and Technique,” in Aesthetic Theory, 1970, Eng. trans. Robert Hullot-Kentor (London and New York: Bloomsbury Academic, 2013), chapter 3. 4. Roy Lichtenstein, in an interview with David Sylvester, 1965, in Sylvester, Interviews with American Artists (London: Chatto & Windus, 2001), p. 233. 5. Bernice Rose, The Drawings of Roy Lichtenstein, exh. cat. (New York: The Museum of Modern Art, 1987), p. 15. 6. Georg Baselitz, “Questioning Myself,” 1993, in Georg Baselitz: Collected Writings and Interviews, ed. Detlev Gretenkort with an introduction by Jill Lloyd (London: Ridinghouse, 2010), p. 222. 7. Baselitz, “Painting: Out of My Head, Head Downward, Out of a Hat,” 1993, in Georg Baselitz. Gotik—neun monumentale Bilder, exh. cat. (Cologne: Galerie Michael Werner, 1994), p. 29. 8. Vasily Kandinsky, “Whither the New Art,” 1911, in Kandinsky: Complete Writings on Art, ed. Kenneth C. Lindsay and Peter Vergo (London: Faber and Faber, 1982), p. 103. 9. Lichtenstein used the word “meaningless” in 1995 in connection with his Perfect and Imperfect abstract paintings. See Yve-Alain Bois, Roy Lichtenstein: Perfect/Imperfect, exh. cat. (Beverly Hills: Gagosian Gallery, 2002), p. 18. Earlier, in a talk delivered at The Museum of Modern Art, New York, on February 5, 1951, Willem de Kooning had said, “It is exactly in its uselessness that [painting] is free.” De Kooning, “What Abstract Art Means to Me,” The Museum of Modern Art Bulletin XVIII, no. 3 (Spring 1951). The statement was translated into German and reproduced in the catalogue of the exhibition Die neue amerikanische Malerei (The new American painting), organized by MoMA, which Baselitz saw in West Berlin in 1958. De Kooning’s paintings in the show made a big impact on him. In the sense that art resists exploitation, it can be said to be “useless.”
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Alexander Wolf discusses the recurring themes and symbols that have emerged throughout Robert Therrienâ€™s artistic career.
obert Therrien’s home and studio fill a two-story, fifty-foot-wide concrete building in an industrial section of Los Angeles not far from the University of Southern California. The first floor is a workshop whose orange-painted plywood walls are dotted with flattened objects made of wood and sheet metal: sculptural sketches of bows, pitchers, snowmen, and other familiar things. Many of these images were originally adapted from plastic stencils that Therrien used as a boy to learn how to draw. Therrien’s enduring yet constantly evolving subjects—which also include mirrorlike ovals, oil cans, church steeples, coffins, and tambourines— tend to hold some personal significance. The mirror, for example, is “a female image, my mother”; the snowman is “the closest to a human figure, myself or a man.”1 But for Therrien the key test is the extent of an image’s familiarity to others, even if perceptions diverge. (Is a bent-cone shape a witch’s hat or a chess piece?) His snowman—reduced to three overlapping spheres—may derive from the snowy Chicago winters of his youth, but any narrative dimension depends on what the form conjures in the eyes of the viewer: it’s all perspective. (Turned on its side, the snowman becomes a bulging storm cloud.) Other muses include kitchenware, furniture, the studio itself, and Therrien’s apartment in the same building. His tendency to use what is most immediate to him makes one wonder which among these rooms and their furnishings might serve as his next subject. The studio was designed to Therrien’s specifications in 1989. It is divided into eight spaces, four downstairs and four up, each approximating the dimensions of the one-room studio he worked in before constructing this one: a room on Pico Boulevard of about 30 by 22 feet, dimensions he had grown accustomed to, having worked there since 1972.2 Tellingly, he also divided his first museum exhibition—in 1984, at LA’s then nascent Museum of Contemporary Art
(MoCA)—into six rooms of this size. As Heather Pesanti, who curated an exhibition of Therrien’s work at The Contemporary Austin in 2015, observes, “The Pico studio has left an indelible physical and psychological imprint on the artist’s life, functioning as both the underlying plan for his workspace and a psychic current driving the work and rooms that have emerged from his studio walls.”3 A wide staircase leads to a large, bright, gallerylike space with white enamel floors, which Therrien uses in part to consider how his sculptures will appear in galleries and museums. (A precarious stack of giant plates, modeled on the artist’s own kitchen plates, is currently the first sculpture visitors see upon entering The Broad in Los Angeles. In an imposing trick of the eye, the plates can seem to quiver as one walks around them, even giving vertigo on occasion.) One section of the space is currently dominated by a massive shipping crate whose interior is a freshly painted white room. In a handful of recent works, Therrien has used these freestanding rooms as the spatial equivalent of blank canvases, enabling him to posit objects and architectural elements as the subjects of still, carefully staged scenes: a wood-paneled office, furnished only with a stack of tambourines and a ladder to an escape hatch, or a vertiginous corridor leading to a pair of emergency doors. These contained environments are the latest and largest results of what Therrien has called his ongoing “figure-ground play.” No title (room, pants with tambourines) (2014–15), for example, also features a stack of tambourines in the foreground, and what appears to be a pair of pants—they are in fact painted cardboard—hung on the far wall. The work derives from an earlier photocollage, a composition that Therrien has transcribed seamlessly from two to three dimensions, but for one change: in the original the background element is a coffin, which bears an eerie resemblance to the trousers that have replaced it. This investigation of the relationship between objects and space is also evident in Therrien’s drawn images, which almost always
Therrien’s tendency to use what is most immediate to him makes one wonder which among these rooms and their furnishings might serve as his next subject.
Previous spread: The artist holding No title (pots and pans maquette, II), 2005. Photo by Josh White/ JWPictures.com with Robert Therrien Opposite (left): The artist’s fugitive Polaroid of a bed and mixed media in the room under the staircase in his studio, Los Angeles Opposite (right): The artist’s fugitive Polaroid of a bed and sawing log in the room under the staircase in his studio, Los Angeles Right: The artist in his kitchen, Los Angeles. Photo by Jerry Sohn Below: No title (the cloud) in the artist’s kitchen, Los Angeles, 2007. Photo by Josh White/ JWPictures.com
hover in the center of the page, and in his early wall-mounted sculptures, which appear to recede into the wall. This kind of spatial ambiguity—parallel to dramatic fluctuations of scale—has informed Therrien’s art since some of his first engagements with large exhibition spaces, in which he altered existing architecture to achieve more abstruse settings. (He also seems to prefer such indeterminate conditions in daily life. He has said of living in Los Angeles, “You’re in a large metropolitan area but it seems small because you can’t see very far due to the smog. This is psychologically more comfortable.”) The shipping-crate rooms give him a way to explore how his images exist in space within individual works. As with any sculpture, one must walk around them, especially since the interior elements sometimes transcend the frame of the room, continuing onto the exterior walls. To observe them in a gallery is to drift between the real world and the corners of Therrien’s imagination. A door in a corner of Therrien’s studio leads to his apartment, where beige-painted walls and brown linoleum flooring feature throughout. The pink-and-white-tiled kitchen is like a stage set, with a great chasm between the tops of its metal cabinets and the soaring ceiling. There are also a spartan bedroom, a bathroom, and an office area with a walk-in closet packed with vinyl LP’s, tape cassettes, and CDs. Adjoining the kitchen is a space called
“the other room,” an in-between area with a wooden table and four chairs that were made famous when Therrien replicated them at three and three-fifths times their size, a towering example of his ability to adapt the most immediate things to supernatural effect. These often include furnishings that could be described as standard or ubiquitous, heightening the surreal impression when they shift in scale. Beginning in 2012, Therrien and his two-person studio team began to meticulously replicate the many two- and three-dimensional contents of a wall in this “other room.” Using these copies, they made a mirror image of the wall on its other side— an interior wall of the studio—including facsimiles of the several photographs and drawings that were pinned to it at the time, as well as carefully mapped pinholes and cabinetry. Later, visitors to the exhibition at The Contemporary Austin experienced the wall as an image, or collection of images, on the far wall of a freestanding room—complete with beige paint color and brown linoleum floor—to be observed but not entered. Walking around the sculpture, titled No title (room, the other room) (2012–14), one saw the wall’s uncanny reflection on its back. When Therrien’s building was close to completion, he was told that it would need an indoor dumpster to be up to code. A small room, no larger than a walk-in closet, was constructed beneath the staircase for the purpose.4 The room is accessed by a set of dutch doors, a feature of Therrien’s grandparents’
house during his childhood and a recurring subject in his artmaking. For Therrien, the independently swinging top and bottom halves of the doors “represent a sort of balance.” Space for him is an active presence that he manipulates to explore questions related to perception and perspective. And in the end this tucked-away closet—a nook better suited to certain intimate projects than any other area in the vast studio—has, like all other facets of the space, had a higher calling. Curator and art historian Margit Rowell, who organized an important exhibition of Therrien’s work at Madrid’s Reina Sofía in 1991–92 (among several other Therrien projects), wrote in 2007, On my first visit to Therrien’s studio in the late 1980s, he showed me a room under the stairs that was a very private, even magical place. I remember that this is where I first saw the plastic stencils, which surprised me. Also, in this Ali Baba’s cave, I found Kodak boxes filled with small torn-out newspaper illustrations, cut-out comic book characters, and fragments of Therrien’s own drawings. The small, rectangular room was relatively empty, and I remember saying to myself: “Here is Bob’s real universe; here is where everything begins.”5 As an artist whose primary subject is the slippery nature of perception, Therrien is especially
Below: Artist’s pots and pans in the room under the staircase in his studio, Los Angeles. Photo by Josh White/ JWPictures.com Opposite: Robert Therrien, Red Room, 2000–07, 888 red objects, housed in the room under the staircase with dutch doors, 96 × 80 × 112 (243.8 × 203.2 × 284.5 cm). Collection of Tate and the National Galleries of Scotland. Photo by Josh White/ JWPictures.com
Opposite (detail) and below: Robert Therrien, Transparent Room, 2010, steel, glass, and plastic, 145 × 108 × 156 inches (368.3 × 274.3 × 396.2 cm) Photo (opposite) by Josh White/ JWPictures.com Photo (right) by Jens Ziehe/ Photographie
involved in the matter of how his work is seen. In particular he seems to have sought specific settings for exhibitions of his early wall-mounted sculptures, which, seen together, gave the impression of amply spaced pops of primary color in otherwise white rooms.6 Following the precisely scaled galleries he created for his 1984 exhibition at MoCA’s Temporary Contemporary, he made a rotating exhibition of such works at Leo Castelli’s New York gallery in 1986–87, sometimes forgoing the main gallery spaces for a more intimate basement.7 Therrien’s engagement with exhibition space evolved into sculptural/architectural interventions that presaged his most recent room works. In 1992, for documenta IX, he covered the walls of an attic space at Kassel’s Museum Fridericianum with sections of cardboard painted white, creating an ambiguous space into which he inserted subtle visual notes, mounting a cabinet of matching white on one wall and applying three tiny cutouts of bluebirds to another. 8 That same year, at the Angles Gallery in Santa Monica, he used wood and cardboard to create Bench Room, a work of multiple levels holding long bright-red benches: a transient meeting place that enabled awkward interactions.9 Simultaneously, Therrien’s elegantly pareddown representations of objects gave way to increasingly realistic representations of tables, chairs, kitchenware, and other items, often greatly enlarged. He now replicated familiar things at multiples of their actual scale, with a level of precision
that invited viewers to suspend their own disbelief. Photography was key to the success of these works: Therrien took hundreds of Polaroids from underneath his kitchen table (a wooden Gunlocke model), assuming the perspective of a small child to capture its undersides and legs, as well as four matching chairs (and the feet of various guests).10 The images would serve as the basis for Under the Table (1994), the nearly four-times-larger replica—an adult can stand underneath each piece of furniture. These two practices—the alteration and staging of spaces, and the use of photography as a drafting tool—merge in many more black and white Polaroids that Therrien shot in the room under the stairs and elsewhere in the studio. In 1995, he collaborated with the art critic and poet John Yau on Dream Hospital, a limited-edition book comprising a text by Yau and photogravures made from eight such Polaroids.11 The cover image was shot from the room’s entrance—as if gazing through a keyhole, or in this case perhaps between the dutch doors—and the ceiling, walls, and floor serve as built-in framing elements. Above a shabbily made-up wooden bed is a cartoonish apparition of a saw cutting through a log. Here Therrien plays upon photography’s supposed veracity, levitating self-possessed objects in a modest bedroom (the image clearly anticipates the surreal stagings in the freestanding rooms). Other photographed yet unlikely scenes include flying beards, tangles of
Therrien has used these freestanding rooms as the spatial equivalent of blank canvases, enabling him to posit objects and architectural elements as the subjects of still, carefully staged scenes.
phones and wires whirling through the air, and running barbeques. These impossible images are closely linked to the equally impossible sculptures, which sometimes appear in the photographs, and at other times are triggered by them. Alike objects congregate in various corners of Therrien’s studio—here a few old Cosco high chairs, there a group of long-spouted oilcans, and many molds and stencils for his recurring images. One day around 2000, Therrien received several redplastic-mold samples in the mail. Over time, the molds attracted other red objects: red sneakers, crayons, fake bricks, fake strawberries. At some point the collection was moved to the room under the stairs, where it continued to grow—a red gas lamp, a red quesadilla grill, a red kilt appropriated by a friend from her old Catholic-school uniform. Therrien imagined that a red-haired family might live in the room. Its contents were mostly found, but included some objects the artist made: an egg carton, for example, held large red-plastic drops. (He has also made stainless steel drops the size of rugby balls.) By 2007 the collection had grown to 888 objects, making the room no longer enterable.12 Since that year, the objects have been shipped and reinstalled for exhibitions at Gagosian New York and at Tate Britain, which now owns the work in partnership with the National Galleries of Scotland. The departure of this collection, which came to be known as Red Room, left the room under the stairs Above: Robert Therrien, No title (hands and tambourines), 2009, graphite and ink on board, 40 × 32 inches (101.6 × 81.3 cm). Right: Robert Therrien, No title (paneled room), 2017, wood and mixed media, 129 3⁄4 × 186 5⁄8 × 139 1⁄8 inches (329.6 × 474 × 353.4 cm). Photo by Josh White/JWPictures.com Artwork © 2017 Robert Therrien/Artists Rights Society/ARS, NY
vacant, available to Therrien for new projects . . . or for storage. One recent morning it was filled to the brim by two floor-to-ceiling stacks of massive Revereware pots and pans, like the kitchen cabinet of an untidy giant. But within Therrien’s studio, where one struggles to grasp the expansive, constantly changing spaces and the familiar but curiously large objects within them, it was easy to imagine that I was in fact small, and the pots and pans were just as they should be. 1. All quotes from Robert Therrien are from Margit Rowell’s interview with him in Robert Therrien, exh. cat. (Madrid: Museo Nacional Centro de Arte Reina Sofía, 1991). 2. The dimensions of Therrien’s former studio were confirmed in an email from Therrien to the author, July 31, 2017. 3. Heather Pesanti, “Robert Therrien,” The Contemporary Austin, 2015. Available online at www.thecontemporaryaustin.org/ exhibitions/robert-therrien/ (accessed August 2, 2017). 4. Therrien described the impetus for the closet to the author during a studio visit on June 5, 2017. 5. Rowell, Robert Therrien, exh. cat. (New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2008), p. 33. 6. Ibid., p. 24. 7. Maureen Mahony, a consultant who has worked closely with Therrien ever since she organized several exhibitions of his work at the Leo Castelli Gallery during her tenure there, discussed Therrien’s Castelli exhibitions, studios, and room-related works with the author on May 23, 2017. 8. See Gregory Salzman, Robert Therrien Polaroids and Drawings, exh. cat. (Santa Fe: site Santa Fe, and Toronto: York University Art Gallery, 2000). 9. Mahony, conversation with the author. 10. Ibid. 11. Therrien and John Yau, Dream Hospital (Santa Monica: Jacob Samuel, 1995). 12. See Rowell, Robert Therrien (Gagosian), pp. 33–34.
ART& From The Last Supper to The Dinner Party, the presence of food and the dining table has been a faithful companion to the visual arts. Mary Ann Caws, author of The Modern Art Cookbook, discusses this journey–its rituals, evolutions, and narratives– with art historian Charles Stuckey and the Quarterly’s Wyatt Allgeier.
Previous spread (left): Salvador Dalí, Retrospective Bust of a Woman, 1933 (some elements reconstructed 1970), painted porcelain, bread, corn, feathers, paint on paper, beads, ink stand, sand, and two pens, 29 × 27 1⁄4 × 12 5⁄8 inches (73.9 × 69.2 × 32 cm). © 2017 Salvador Dalí, Fundació Gala-Salvador Dalí, Artists Rights Society. Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art/Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY Previous spread (right): Left to Right: Moïse Kisling, Pâquerette, and Pablo Picasso at the café La Rotonde, Paris, August 12, 1916. Photo by Jean Cocteau, photographic print, 2 3⁄4 × 2 inches (7 × 5.5 cm). © 2017 ADAGP, Paris/Avec l'aimable autorisation de M. Pierre Bergé, président du Comité Jean Cocteau. Image courtesy Thierry Le Mage/ RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY
Left: Paul Cézanne, Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants, 1893–94, oil on canvas, 28 1⁄2 × 36 inches (72.4 × 91.4 cm). The Metropolitan Museum of Art Below (left): Man Ray, Untitled, 1931, gelatin silver print, 7 × 9 inches (17.8 × 23cm). © Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2017. Image courtesy The Museum of Modern Art/ Licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY Below (right): Andy Warhol, Wild Raspberries / Salade de alf Landon, 1959, lithograph and partial watercolor, 17 × 10 5⁄8 (43 × 27 cm). © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy bpk Bidagentur/Sammlung Marx/ Photo by Jochen Littkemann/Art Resource, NY Opposite (above): Edgar Degas, In a Café, Absinthe Glass, 1875–76, oil on canvas, 36 1⁄4 × 26 3⁄4 inches (92 × 68.5 cm). © RMN-Grand Palais/Art Resource, NY. Photo by Martine Beck-Coppola
How did you decide to make The Modern Art Cookbook? MARY ANN CAWS My grandmother was a painter and a cook. She would take me to the Met and say, “You can only see three paintings, so be sure which ones you want to see first.” My favorite was always Cézanne’s Still Life with a Ginger Jar and Eggplants [1893–94]. The eggplants! That’s what started it. Making the book was exciting. It’s organized according to how you arrange your meal. People who really write wonderfully about cooking were the inspiration for the book. Ironically, though I’m passionate about ice cream, my publisher couldn’t bear ice cream, so there could be no ice cream recipes in the desserts, only fruits. Luckily there are lots of fruits in still lifes [laughter]. And it came full circle in regards to Cézanne, as I include his recipe for anchoïade. As I mention in the book, Cézanne’s favorite dish to take on a picnic was eggplant rolled over with anchovies in the middle. CS How did you ever find out about Cézanne’s recipe? MAC There was a show of Cézanne and Picasso at the Musée Granet in Aix-en-Provence. I found a cookbook there, La Cuisine selon Cézanne, and HARLES STUCKEY
nobody had ever translated it into English. So that’s where it started. CS The Monet Cookbook: Recipes from Giverny was also published recently. This interest in the private lives of artists seems pretty new, mostly starting in the early 1960s. Before that, if you read a book about an artist, it wouldn’t mention his wife and children, much less what they liked to eat. MAC Yes, that’s right. CS But Andy Warhol published Wild Raspberries in 1959, with Suzie Frankfurt, and Salvador Dalí published Les Dîners de Gala in 1973, and both found an audience. MAC Yes. The idea that life has something to do with art does seem to gain steam by 1960. Now it’s everywhere! To go back to Cézanne, after I discovered La Cuisine selon Cézanne I made a lot of the recipes. I became so meticulous that I only wanted to use the red wine that he would have used in his mulled-wine recipes, and the oranges that he would have used when he made orange marmalade, and so forth. It was ridiculous, because actually what he liked eating was just potatoes and olive oil and garlic. But he had this housekeeper, Madame Brémond, and she wrote about “affectionate vegetables.” I loved the idea that you should use leeks because they were more affectionate than onions. Cézanne really is all the way through The Modern Art Cookbook. CS Fascinating. WYATT ALLGEIER That transition from, say, Cézanne’s Madame Brémond, housekeepers, and picnics to the rise of café culture and public dining as a place for creative thinkers to gather is interesting. And art comes out of that. The Café Guerbois in Paris, for instance, where Manet, Degas, and others used to go—Manet did a painting of the owner in 1873, Le Bon Bock. Do you know that painting? MAC Yes, absolutely. My next book—forthcoming with the same beloved publisher, Reaktion Books—is about art colonies and salons and cafés. It’s tentatively entitled Modernist Gatherings: Tables and Moments.
Opposite (below): Meret Oppenheim, My Nurse, 1936–37, metal plate, shoes, string, and paper, 5 1⁄2 × 13 × 8 1⁄4 inches (14 × 33 × 21 cm). © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York/ProLitteris, Zurich. Photo by Prallan Allsten/ Moderna Museet
The cafés became epicenters. We tend to forget that Manet and earlier generations of artists didn’t have electricity [laughter], so at a certain point your workday was essentially over and you had to hang out someplace else. MAC And typically they had to be cheap places, so cafés, not restaurants. CS Yes. I think that’s partly why so much of that life shows up in early modern art, starting with Impressionism. MAC It’s interesting to me that things often appear over and over, almost ritualistically. Cafés were this way—artists always met at the same café. There was a sort of sacredness about it, which I find fascinating. WA There seems to have been an interest in table settings as well. Picasso worked in ceramics and made a lot of plates and pitchers, and Dalí made a set of cutlery in 1957. CS It seems to me that one of the breakthrough works of art in all of this is that wonderful sculpture Picasso made of an absinthe glass, Glass of Absinthe from 1914. MAC Oh yes. CS And that sculpture incorporated real elements, like a spoon, into what was otherwise a nonrealistic sculpture, which connects to ideas about incorporating life into art. Mary Ann, with your rich literary background, do you have any thoughts about the possible connection between Proust’s Swann’s Way, where biting into a madeleine brings about an intellectual, memory-based explosion, and Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, where eating the cookie changes the world around you? Could Proust possibly have had that in mind? Alice in Wonderland was published nearly fifty years before Swann’s Way. But then again, the theme must go back to antiquity, right—the story where you eat something and then the world changes for you, your whole outlook?
A CHRONOLOGY OF ART AND FOOD:
Highlights from over 150 years of delicious history by Charles Stuckey
Publication of Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin’s book Physiologie du goût, ou Méditations de Gastronomie Transcendante. Among the many gastronomic axioms Brillat-Savarin gifted to the world, the most famous remains “Tell me what kind of food you eat, and I will tell you what kind of man you are.”
Decorative-arts entrepreneur extraordinaire William Morris, along with James Gamble and Edward Poynter, decorates the café at London’s Victoria and Albert Museum. Previously known as the Green Dining Room of the South Kensington Museum, it is now known as The William Morris Room.
Yes, it’s there in Boccaccio, where you have a group around a table and whatever you quaff or eat introduces the story you’re about to tell. I love this thread about the madeleine de Proust and the Alice tale. It leads to The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book from 1954, with its wonderful brownie recipe, allegedly provided by Brion Gysin, but also to The Book of Salt, a novel by Monique Truong from 2003—she makes up a Vietnamese chef who cooks for Alice B. Toklas and Gertrude Stein. Of course it’s an invented chef, a fiction, but somehow it transports you, almost as if you were sitting around the table with artists and then they went out to paint. Or if they’re composers they go out and write scores, or if they’re writers they go out and write. They take the MAC
Publication of Lewis Carroll’s Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, with illustrations by John Tenniel. On the first leg of her journey through Wonderland, Alice encounters a bottle labeled “drink me” and a cake marked “eat me.” These comestibles transform her in ways necessary for her journey.
Modernizing the old master genre, Gustave Caillebotte paints still lifes such as Calf’s Head and Ox Tongue (1882), Still Life with Crayfish (1880–82), and Calf in a Butcher Shop (c. 1882), showing food served in restaurants and meats on display to be sold.
Nearly three years after painting his early masterpiece The Potato Eaters, Vincent van Gogh organizes an exhibition at the Grand Bouillon– Restaurant du Chalet, Paris, with his own paintings and works by his comrades Louis Anquetin, Émile Bernard, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
To take advantage of world’s-fair tourism in Paris, Paul Gauguin and friends organize a June–October exhibition of their “Groupe Impressionniste et Synthétiste” at the Café des Arts on the Champ-de-Mars.
Lautrec produces the lithograph La Bouillabaisse, Menu Sescau, a humorous menu for the opening banquet of the play Les Pieds nickelés, by his friend Tristan Bernard. In later years he will continue the idea with the lithographs Suisse Menu and Menu Le Crocodile.
Founding of the Caffè Giubbe Rosse (under the original name Fretelli Reininghaus) in Florence. The café will become a crucial hub for the Futurist movement, attracting artists and writers such as Filippo Tommaso Marinetti and Umberto Boccioni and serving as de facto office space for a number of literary journals, from Solaria to L’Italia Futurista.
Self-exiled in Tahiti, Gauguin makes eleven differently illustrated menus in watercolor for the guests at a banquet he hosts.
table to the canvas, the score, the page. To me that connection is what’s really exciting. Consumption and creation—and don’t forget consummation. The legend behind Meret Oppenheim’s Déjeuner en four rure , for example, her fur-covered cup, saucer, and spoon, ties in nicely to food. Picasso and Dora Maar were at Café de Flore with Meret, who was wearing a fur bracelet that she had created for Schiaparelli. Picasso looked at the bracelet and said, “You could make anything from fur.” So it’s about fashion and class, but it’s also an undeniably erotic thing—the hair, and drinking from the hair. It’s all there, and interestingly it’s then taken into art history as rather sterile—“Oh, a fur teacup.” Well [laughs], yes and no. WA That’s from the same year Oppenheim did My Nurse. Are you familiar with that one? It’s a platter with two white heels from a pair of woman’s shoes sort of bound like a roast chicken. CS Right. The shoes are presented on a platter as a dish. MAC That’s fashion, food, sex, and art once again. Very dishy. CS This is all from 1936, but to think about firsts, I’ve had a hard time finding an earlier example
of real food being incorporated into a work of art than the pieces presented by Dalí in a group show in 1933. That would have been the immediate inspiration for Oppenheim and these other Surrealist objects. In Retrospective Bust of a Woman, for example, Dalí put a baguette on the head of a mannequin. There’s the funny story that going to see the exhibition, Picasso’s dog ate the baguette [laughter], which had to be replaced. MAC Don’t you love it? Of course! It had to be Picasso’s, right? It couldn’t be anybody else’s dog. CS And in the same room, I mean right next to the baguette piece, was a work that tragically is lost to us: an oddball Art Nouveau chair that had been given to Dalí, who loved Art Nouveau, by the designer Jean-Michel Frank. Scatologically enough, Dalí had the idea to have the seat cast in chocolate and then to present it as an art object. And then he put one of the legs of this chair into a glass that was half full of beer. So viewers would have had the aroma of chocolate and beer. Surely that was one of the first times an art gallery produced such an experience. There’s a lovely photograph of the work by Man Ray, but you don’t get the sensory richness in full. It’s nice to look back at that and calculate the impact, how from a tiny little splash the ripples expanded—today it’s become more ubiquitous to incorporate real food into works of art. WA And then there’s Dalí’s Rainy Taxi installation in 1938, where there was an omelet in the mannequin’s lap. MAC Dalí’s favorite meal was oursinade, sea urchins—he would eat three plates of them. And then, thinking about sea urchins, Picasso has that wonderful recipe for scramble in sea urchin shells, and Renoir loved having a sea urchin sauce over things. So we see how one element radiates into all sorts of art and food. It’s something that connects us. That’s why meetings at cafés work—gathering people around a table, focusing, discussing, absorbing, and then moving into whatever else they’re doing for the rest of their creative day. WA Yes. And it seems that some were more conscious of that than others. For instance, the Futurists: Filippo Tommaso Marinetti was very interested in revolutionizing cooking, whereas while the Surrealists worked with food, I haven’t found anything that says they wanted to revolutionize cooking in the way the Futurists did.
In Homage to Cézanne, a group portrait of Cézanne’s young Symbolist admirers, Maurice Denis represents the master through one of his still lifes, Fruit Bowl, Glass and Apples (1879–80), then in the collection of Gauguin.
Founding of the Café de la Rotonde in Montparnasse. Run by by Victor Libion, the café will go on to be frequented by Amedeo Modigliani, Pablo Picasso, Diego Rivera, and many other artists. It will also receive a nod in Ernest Hemingway’s novel The Sun Also Rises (1926).
Picasso creates La Bouteille de Suze, a depiction of a liquor bottle and a cigarette, paired with actual newspaper and other collaged materials in a flattened space. The work translates a simple pedestrian morning at any Paris café into Picasso’s revolutionary Cubist collage idiom. By 1914, Juan Gris will specialize in Cubist still lifes incorporating the labels from bottles of his favorite aperitifs. In the same year, the composer Erik Satie writes in his Memoirs of an Amnesiac, “My only nourishment consists of food that is white: eggs, sugar, grated bones, the fat of dead animals, veal, salt, coconuts, chicken cooked in white water, fruit mold, rice, turnips, camphorated sausages, pastry, cheese (white varieties), cotton salad, and certain kinds of fish (without their skin). I boil my wine and drink it cold mixed with the juice of the fuchsia. I am a hearty eater, but never speak while eating, for fear of strangling.”
The consumption of a madeleine is the sparking event in the first volume of Marcel Proust’s novel In Search of Lost Time: Swann’s Way. Like the cookie in Alice in Wonderland, this little cake triggers an amazing reaction in the person eating it, this time entrée into his memories.
As if responding to Boccioni’s revolutionary Futurist sculpture Bottle in Space, Picasso creates a Cubist Absinthe Glass as an edition of six bronze casts, each painted differently. Extending his collage revolution into the realm of sculpture, he surmounts each bronze glass with a real absinthe spoon.
Giorgio de Chirico produces paintings—Metaphysical Interior with Biscuits, Death of a Spirit, The Revolt of the Sage, The Greetings of a Distant Friend, and others— that include representations of imaginary paintings with biscuits and candies adhered to their surfaces. Had de Chirico actually made such collages with real foodstuffs, at this date they would have been unprecedented.
Founding of Le Boeuf sur le Toit (The ox on the roof), by Louis Moysés. This Paris cabaret will attract many artists, writers, and musicians, including Picasso, Satie, René Clair, Jean Cocteau, and Darius Milhaud.
Inspired by Gris, the young Salvador Dalí joins the avant-garde by inserting miniature toy spoons and plates into his Cubist collage Pierrot with a Guitar.
The Art Deco brasserie La Coupole is opened by Ernest Fraux and René Lafon. This Paris restaurant will be frequented by a wide spectrum of influential artists and writers, including Josephine Baker, Marc Chagall, Alberto Giacometti, Yves Klein, Man Ray, Jean-Paul Sartre, and many more.
Opposite (above): Pablo Picasso, La Bouteille de Suze, 1912, pasted papers, gouache, and charcoal, 25 3⁄4 × 19 3⁄4 inches (65.4 × 50.2 cm). Mildred Lane Kemper Art Museum, Washington University in St. Louis. University purchase, Kende Sale Fund, 1946. © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY Opposite (below): Man Ray, exhibition at Pierre Colle's gallery, curated by Salvador Dalí, 1933. © Man Ray Trust/ Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ADAGP, Paris 2017. Photo by Telimage
No, me neither. So it’s interesting how these different groups of visionaries and thinkers addressed food—was it just a material, or was it part of an aesthetic revolution that they were seeking? MAC In part, that brings us back to ideas about ritual. The Surrealists were committed to drinking the same thing at the same hour in the same café, every day. WA Georges Bataille, too, was obsessed with the importance of ritual. MAC Yes, and this makes me think about Raymond Roussel, who made a star-shaped glass box that encased a star-shaped biscuit. As in his play L’Étoile au front , the star is a crucial element. Attached to this star-shaped biscuit and glass case is a note that states, “A star originating from a lunch I attended on Sunday July 29, 1923, at the Observatory at Juvisy with Camille Flammarion presiding.” Flammarion was a popular astronomer from that time. Some years later Dora Maar found this cookie in a flea market in Paris. She was living with Bataille at the time, and when she left him, Bataille found this strange object in his drawer. I will read you what he said, because I love it and it ties in nicely into our conversation here: MAC WA
Left: Luis Buñuel, The Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie, 1972, a still from a color film. Image courtesy Greenwich/ Kobal/REX/Shutterstock Below: Giorgio de Chirico, Metaphysical Interior with Biscuits, 1916, oil on canvas, 32 × 25 5⁄8 inches (81.3 × 65.1 cm). © 2017 Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY/ SIAE, Rome. Image courtesy The Menil Collection, Houston. Photo by Paul Hester
in Cadaqués one summer [Menjant garotes (Eating sea urchins), 1930]. He decided to show Dalí’s father (who famously disowned the artist later on) eating a huge plate of sea urchins. It’s a silent movie, so there’s a phonograph spinning silently, and then it just shows this large man indulging in a plate of food. You can feel Buñuel’s distaste for class and privilege, and how film can miraculously portray it and pull the rug out from under it at the same time. WA Then there’s Buñuel’s Discreet Charm of the Bourgeoisie . The whole movie is the bourgeoisie trying to get together to eat, and it never happens. MAC Right. That seems to get at transubstantiation, embodiment, and the absorption of the talisman as ritual. This goes literally and symbolically
The star did not belong to me, but it remained in my drawer for several months, and I could not speak of it without feeling troubled. Roussel’s obscure purpose appeared to be closely connected to the fact that the star could be eaten. He obviously wanted to appropriate to himself this edible star in a manner more important and actual than simply by eating it. The strange object signified for me the way in which Roussel had achieved his dream of eating a heavenly star. Roussel’s L’Étoile au front leads into a lot, not just Surrealism but American poetry, through John Ashbery, who learned French in order to read Roussel. This star and this biscuit go from place to place, like the madeleine de Proust in many ways, so that all these people and memories meet. CS I imagine that if you study modern literature and early cinema, the perception, the appearance, of food is a springboard to symbolism, whether in terms of desire or social class or whatever. I was once lucky enough to see a short homemade film that Luis Buñuel made when he was visiting Dalí 93
all the way through the representation of the ingestion of food. The madeleine and the rest: it goes into all of literature, art, and everything without anybody having to say, “Oh, guess what? We’re referring to Proust” [laughter]. CS Do you think Giorgio de Chirico read Proust? Do you think those wonderful metaphysical
interiors where he shows imaginary paintings— MAC Yes, I do. The de Chirico painting Le Salut de l’ami lointain [Greetings from a distant friend, 1916], where you have the biscuit at the bottom. CS Fifteen years later Dalí is putting real food on display, but de Chirico is already imaging it. MAC Exactly. CS It’s a shame he never really made them, but he’s portraying a studio with pictures where someone has taken biscuits—cookies—and glued them onto abstract canvases as collage events. It falls right into what you were saying about transubstantiation—the suggestion that if you want to understand your art, you should eat it. WA It’s interesting that The Last Supper was one of the most popular topics of Christian art. A lot of the artists we’re talking about have done their own Last Supper interpretations. Dalí did a Last Supper, and— MAC Warhol. WA Yes, that’s interesting—the gathering, the supper, and, of course, transubstantiation. MAC In 1987, one of Warhol’s Last Supper paintings was shown right across the street from Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper in Milan. And of course Warhol was quite religious, as some tend to forget. CS Yes. Transubstantiation, that moment of the Eucharist, seems to me in some ways the culmination of the food myth of Genesis: the idea that reality and our existence—that we’re doomed to know it—comes from taking a bite. Original sin is commenced through food! MAC Absolutely. And a bite is often enough. You
Left: Lucas Cranach the Elder, The Fall, after 1537, oil on beechwood, 19 1⁄2 × 13 3⁄4 inches (49.5 × 35 cm). Image courtesy Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna/Art Resource, NY. Photo by Erich Lessing Below: Andy Warhol, The Last Supper, 1986, silkscreen ink and colored paper collage, 23 5⁄8 × 31 3⁄8 inches (60 × 79.7 cm). © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photo by Rob McKeever Opposite (above): Ed Ruscha, Year After Year, 1974, cherry extract on moiré, 36 × 40 inches (91.4 × 101.6 cm). © Ed Ruscha Opposite (below): Wayne Thiebaud, Slice of Pie, 1963, etching, printed in black on J. Green paper, 9 7⁄8 × 8 inches (24.9 × 20.1 cm). Art © Wayne Thiebaud/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Image courtesy Museum Associates/LACMA/ Licensed by Art Resource, NY
Following page (above): Salvador Dalí wearing his Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket. May 16, 1964. Bettmann Collection/Getty Images Following page (below): Judy Chicago, The Dinner Party, 1979, mixed media, 36 × 576 × 576 inches (91.4 × 1,463 × 1,463 cm). © 2017 Judy Chicago/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Image courtesy Judy Chicago/ Art Resource, NY. Photo by Donald Woodman
Maurice Joyant publishes Lautrec’s La Cuisine de monsieur Momo, also known as The Art of Cuisine. With over 150 original recipes, artworks, and menus, this posthumous publication seemingly holds the distinction of being the first artist’s cookbook.
Dalí paints Oeufs sur le plat sans le plat (Eggs on the plate without the plate). The painting’s source of inspiration, according to Dalí, was the experience of being in the womb, which he will (somehow) recall was like seeing “a pair of eggs fried in a pan without a pan,” adding that the “intrauterine paradise was the color of hell.”
At a Surrealist group exhibition in June, Dalí displays an unbalanced Art Nouveau chair, the seat of which is cast in chocolate while one of its legs stands in a glass of beer. Next to this he shows his Retrospective Bust of a Woman, adorned with a necklace of ears of corn and a hat made from a real baguette (in the event, eaten by Picasso’s dog). This is followed by a solo exhibition for which Dalí provides his own catalogue introduction, where he proposes a table made half of poached eggs, half of stone—the whole to be hung at the top and within the shaking leaves of a pair of poplars.
For a Surrealist exhibition at the Galerie Charles Ratton, Dalí creates Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket, an actual jacket embellished with shot glasses of crème de menthe.
1954 wouldn’t have to have the whole meal; just a bite is enough to symbolize the whole thing. CS Yes. The power of suggestion. MAC There you are. CS All of this leads into, I suppose, the culture of unprecedented decadence that we’re living in right now, which is marked most of all by the Pop art revolution, where we all came to agree that ordinary things could interest us as much or have as much importance as something from the canon. With this flood of food in art, food preparation as art, and food serving as art, we arrive at one of the building blocks of twentieth-century American culture. Warhol didn’t stop at illustrating Amy Vanderbilt’s cookbook, he went on to actually make paintings of soup cans and record jackets with bananas. And in doing so he was simply keeping up with Wayne Thiebaud and Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns and Claes Oldenburg—it goes on and on. Food art has come into its own by, let’s say, 1970. What, though, compels artists to use food as a material? Ed Ruscha made works on paper where he was applying color with spinach and beets and things that you would never have imagined. Or those Vik Muniz works where sugar and chocolate are simply what he challenges himself to use to re-create his memories. It adds to a sense of wonder, in a way. MAC Yes, and one must ask, what kind of specificity makes it more or less exciting? When do we care about the specificity of the foods that are used? Is it only if we are going to have to consume it afterward, before it molds? CS Well, I can’t think of too many pieces where the concept allows the food to go bad, though it surely presents a conservation problem for the future. It seems to me that there’s a preference in these works for shells and exoskeletons—urchins and lobsters and mussels and eggs. They all play
leading roles in the drama of food and art—because they are indestructible, perhaps. MAC Yes, think Dalí and his fondness for the exoskeleton. But I’m trying to get at the question of narrative. Exactly what you are using in art is important. If it decays, if it’s affected by time, this is important. CS Right. MAC Dalí ’s chocolate doesn’t decay. Though it could melt. CS Right, and of course Felix Gonzalez-Torres created an installation that’s a mountain of hard candy. That has become one of the seminal works of the late twentieth century. MAC Yes. And you’re invited to take some. Another ritual act.
Alice B. Toklas, Gertrude Stein’s life partner, publishes The Alice B. Toklas Cook Book. Part cookbook, part autobiography, part window into history, the work bridges many genres while still providing real recipes.
Wayne Thiebaud, while on leave from his professorship at the University of California, Davis, visits New York City, where he begins painting pictures of cakes displayed in bakery windows.
Robert Rauschenberg creates Coca-Cola Plan, a threedimensional work incorporating three Coca-Cola bottles. Works of this kind, termed “Combines” by Rauschenberg, were created to address the interchange of art and life in popular culture.
Meret Oppenheim stages Spring Banquet at the Exposition Internationale du Surréalisme in Paris. For the opening, a live woman, garnished with fish, fruit, and nuts, lies on a table set with cutlery. Much to Oppenheim’s chagrin, the Surrealist leader André Breton will later rename the work Cannibal Feast.
Andy Warhol and his friend Suzie Frankfurt, later a renowned interior decorator, together create Wild Raspberries, a whimsical cookbook with recipes such as “Seared Roebuck” and “Roast Igyuana Andalusian.” The book contains nineteen of Warhol’s hand-colored illustrations; the first edition, a run of thirty-four hand-bound books, is mostly given to friends. The book will be republished for a mass audience in 1997, when Frankfurt’s son Jamie discovers an original in his mother’s belongings.
Daniel Spoerri makes his first “snare picture,” Kichka’s Breakfast, created by affixing a “found situation,” in this case his girlfriend’s leftover breakfast, to a board. Spoons, a coffee tin, cigarettes, an eggcup, and more are left exactly where they were found; the board is mounted to a chair, which in turn is hung from the wall.
In that instance they don’t go to waste or get moldy, they end up consumed. It’s a different narrative. CS Well, it’s interesting that so much great art of the twentieth century was created to be fleeting or is lost, and was really only appreciated as it was documented or recorded. If you were to do a serious history of modern sculpture, many of the significant pieces don’t exist anymore. Artists are able to use temporary materials now, because we document so much more than people were able to do in earlier generations. In early modernism there was the option of documentation, certainly, but new technologies liberate twentieth- and twentyfirst-century artists to think differently about materials. MAC What’s your favorite work of art that incorporated food? CS Dalí’s Aphrodisiac Dinner Jacket . MAC Oh, the jacket was wonderful. Some dinner! WA
CS T hat would be one of the works where the original is gone. But if people were to drink the crème de menthe, you would just fill the little glasses up again and be right back where you started. MAC Of course. A replaceable piece of art. Replaceable—not imitable, but replaceable. Pour the liquid back in. CS Exactly. And that’s the secret of the GonzalezTorres, that it’s ongoing, and in his case it feels like a meditation on everlastingness. But we need to talk about Judy Chicago’s Dinner Party. I can’t think of a more ambitious or successful work of art about food than that. MAC That’s right. The eroticism of it is fantastic and the wit is over the top. CS And it brings this delirious extreme to the furlined teacup and the other Surrealist objects. Did you ask Chicago for a recipe for your book? MAC I did not, but I would if I were doing it again. I was told I should do a postmodern cookbook. WA What artist would you be most curious to receive a recipe from? CS Jenny Saville or Urs Fischer, I think. What about you? WA Francis Bacon. I know he was fascinated by food—I read that he would read cookbooks at night, and he loved one in particular, Mrs. Beeton. MAC Mrs. Beeton’s Book of Household Management. It’s wonderful, yes indeed. Bacon was the person whom Robert Motherwell would always talk to me about. He would say, “There’s so much in Francis Bacon I want to be like.” You cannot imagine two more different people! That idolization of or confrontation with an opposite person is how I would approach the question. So were I to ask for a recipe from somebody, I would probably choose somebody who didn’t like anchovies and peppermint ice cream. I’d probably choose somebody like Marcel Duchamp, who only ate simple things, like white spaghetti with very little sauce and one glass of wine.
In response to Willem de Kooning’s quip about dealer Leo Castelli—“Give [him] two beer cans and he could sell them”— Jasper Johns creates Painted Bronze (Ale Cans), a set of two Ballantine ale cans cast in bronze.
Warhol provides illustrations for the best-selling cookbook by famed queen of etiquette Amy Vanderbilt.
Pop art pioneer Claes Oldenburg creates Pastry Case, I, a found display case holding a candy apple, ice cream, cake, and other desserts—all handmade, the ingredients being plaster, burlap, muslin, and paint.
Edward Kienholz’s installation The Beanery re-creates the famous Los Angeles pub Barney’s Beanery as a warped, unruly scene, complete with bar-goers (with clocks for faces), a poodle, alcohol bottles, a soundtrack of glasses clinking and laughter, and even a depiction of the pub’s owner Barney himself.
Marcel Broodthaers begins to make his famous series of sculptures accumulating dozens of either egg or mussel shells.
Arakawa’s Taste It silk-screen features a found recipe for fried pork with sweet-sour sauce, culminating in more than a dozen arrows, evidently as instructions for the cook to follow.
Dieter Roth creates Gerwurzkasten (Cupboard of Spice), a series of wooden cabinets filled with undulating layers of spices. The sculptures, either mounted to the wall or freestanding, interact not only with the audience’s sight, but also through smell, as the aromas of the different spices form their own type of variegated landscape.
Dalí publishes the first edition of Les Dîners de Gala, a Surrealist homage to his wife, Gala. With over 120 recipes and a trove of original illustrations, this cookbook becomes a cult sensation. From bizarre to scrumptious, the recipes are consistently decadent and, as the preface reifies, “uniquely devoted to the pleasures of Taste. Don’t look for dietetic formulas here.” Ed Ruscha begins to make word paintings and works on paper with pigments sourced from food, including cilantro, coconut milk, spinach, ketchup, cherries, blueberries, and more. One work, Mr. Chow L.A., commissioned by the prodigious restaurateur Michael Chow, includes pigments derived from oyster sauce, red cabbage, soy bean paste, red bean paste, red beets, and a “secret ingredient.”
Hannah Wilke begins her S.O.S.—Starification Object Series, which focuses on eroticism and women’s liberation. Many works in the series incorporate “vulval” sculptures made of chewing gum.
Judy Chicago completes her monumental sculptural installation The Dinner Party. The work, begun in 1974, consists of a triangular table bearing thirty-nine place settings, each a unique set of customized china, chalice, and napkin. The table celebrates groundbreaking women throughout history, from Sappho to Virginia Woolf. It stands on Heritage Floor, made of porcelain tiles and inscribed in gold with the names of an additional 999 women who have positively affected history.
Harmony Korine The artist sat down with Alicia Knock, the curator of his recent exhibition at the Centre Pompidou, to discuss the power of mistakes, outsiders, and the marginal.
Harmony Korine, Caker Plino, 2015, oil, acrylic, house paint, and ink on canvas, 101 × 72 inches (256.5 × 182.9 cm)
Harmony, you’ve been playing with the scales, forms, and textures of images for years. Can you talk about your creative process and your interest in the “translation” of images— how images are repeated, rephotographed, photocopied, endlessly looped? Harmony Korine I’ve always liked the idea of loops and repetition. To break images down and bring them back up again—to deconstruct imagery and then reconstruct it. . . . I’ve photographed TV screens, filmed projections of my movies, photocopied my drawings, rephotographed stuff. When I make paintings I often work in series. There’s something hallucinatory about loopbased repetition. It can even approximate something hypnotic and physical, almost like a drug experience. A lot of my films and artwork share that sense of looping. Alicia Knock It feels like you’re searching for the essence of the images, chasing the ghosts hidden behind them. The figurative and the abstract meet in your paintings; the positive side of the image and its shadow are often mirrored. Harmony Korine Yes, I’m interested in reaching under the image into the soul. Sometimes when you strip something you just keep stripping it, stripping it, stripping it, until you reveal its core. That can be haunting and powerful.
Above: Harmony Korine, Thin Profiler Looper, 2012–14, oil, latex house paint, spray paint, and collage on canvas, 87 × 74 inches (221 × 188 cm) Below: Harmony Korine, Pink Check Wit, 2013, oil and latex house paint on canvas, 64 × 41 inches (162.6 × 104.1 cm)
Opposite: Harmony Korine, The Rewinder, 2013, acrylic on VHS tapes, 22 ¼ × 16 ½ inches (56.5 × 41.9 cm)
Part of your imagery deals with underground America and the margins of society: freaks evolving in desolate landscapes, in the lonely parking lots you would skateboard in as a kid. Do you feel like you belong to an American counterculture? I definitely belong to American culture; counterculture, I don’t know. I’m from it, I grew up in it, but I’m not of it. My work isn’t really a reflection, it’s more of a feeling, it has a vibe. But there’s definitely an American vernacular that I saw growing up: alleyways, dilapidated buildings, the backs of supermarkets, and other American ruins that I find irresistibly attractive. In many ways, particularly because of your unified aesthetic and your interest in both social realities and inner visions, you can be considered a romantic artist like Victor Hugo, who was a relentless experimenter and a poet fascinated by politics and ghosts. Do you feel as though you belong to that tradition? Sure. I’ve always seen art as everything and I never wanted to limit myself to one specific medium. Some ideas come to you in the form of writing, some in the form of painting, film, sound. I never question, I usually just try to act on urges, and I don’t differentiate between high and low. Forms are like musical instruments. It’s fun to see everything brought together in the exhibition though. Thirty years of work since high school! In that type of context you can see more fully how things relate to each other. It’s revealing. The collage aspect and broken narratives in your work paradoxically lead the viewer to experience an ongoing phenomenon, that of the haunting image. Everything looks fragmented but in the end there’s a constant backbone behind it all. I never really think about where it comes from; since I was little I’ve always just acted on impulse. When I was young I loved joke books, books of quotations, riddles, rumors, myths. I was never attracted to long form, I usually try to simplify. I always wanted to write novels where pages are missing in all the right places. I think the undefined is always powerful. To me, art, whether conscious or not, always involves leaving the margins undefined. It lies in what’s not said or what’s missing. Whether it’s the scripts or the paintings, when I’m done, most of the time I look at them and they often look too literal, or they make too much sense. That makes me wonder, what if I pull this paragraph away, what if I have this story shift, what if. . . . I used to play games with myself: I would read an interview in a magazine with someone like Clint Eastwood and I would imagine the same interview except I’d think, What if it was said by Snoop Dogg. Then I would reread it and it would be hilarious. I’ve always loved the shift of an idea, changing who’s saying what, who’s making what. A lot of my early fanzines did that, replacing words. In high school I was so bored I would just play games with myself—personal jokes, and that must have transferred into the work. Mistakes and failure have always played a role in your aesthetic. Do you consider failure a leitmotif? I used to call that “mistake-ism.” The idea of the mistake or accident is often the most interesting part. Before making something,
the false steps, the misspellings or the malapropisms, tend to be exciting to me. You always hear people shying away from mistakes, but they’re what’s most revealing. When I say “mistakes,” I mean the things that are the most awkward, or that were done with the least amount of forethought. It’s the things people want to change, to edit or autocorrect, but that dulls the edges. In the end the work is perfect, it’s meant to be the way it is. The mistakes are like a coded logic or an internal vernacular. I’ve always loved when people would invent their own language. Mark Gonzales is a good example of that. I love his poetry—all his misspellings, how the text transforms and opens up to multiple meanings. Alicia Knock You came to art through friendships with artists you worked with: Rita Ackermann, Christopher Wool, Josh Smith, and others. Can you talk about those collaborations? Harmony Korine They were just like anything else, being in the proximity of friends. It was organic, and usually came out of the desire to find ways to cause trouble together. Somebody would draw something and then you would draw on top of it and that was it. Just like riffing together. It was the spirit of the time, though I guess now things have changed and become more and more marketed within the art world. Alicia Knock It seems like it was all about building a community. That was also how you started collecting artworks. Harmony Korine When I was a kid I met Larry Clark and moved into his house for a year. He was the first person I saw who actually lived with artwork, he had a great collection. And I loved living with art. The same thing happened when I would hang with Christopher Wool, I would see all the art and books, it was exciting to be around, and I loved the energy. At that point, even as a kid, whenever I had extra money I would buy artwork. Mostly from friends. Alicia Knock Can you talk about your visual references, specifically those not directly related to the contemporary art world? You often talk about Southern folk artists, or, for instance, that fisherman/painter from Texas, Forrest Bess, who was recently rediscovered. Harmony Korine Growing up in the South, black vernacular artists were my favorite. I just always love visionary art and painting, more based in the soul or things that are inexplicable. I always have problems with work you can define too easily. When I was growing up, artists like Thornton Dial, J. B. Murray, Purvis Young, those guys, were my heroes. Just the way they would create things, painting on whatever was around: trash, trees, sticks, signage. The immediacy and the strangeness of it, the world that you would create. Also a lot of it had visionary, quasi-religious connotations. The art that I love has this transference, speaking to a kind of god. Alicia Knock You often say you don’t remember how your paintings were made, as if you were a mediator of some unknown force. Your work has to do with parallel worlds and even the sacred. Harmony Korine The sacred and the blasphemous, it’s all interconnected. I always try to make things that aren’t earthbound. The work becomes about transcendence. In the films and artwork there’s this kind of magical realism: it’s like the real world but pushed into something hyperextreme.
Above: Harmony Korine, Silt Bree Line, 2015, oil on canvas, 102 × 84 inches (259.1 × 213.4 cm) Below: Harmony Korine, White Porrige Circle, 2015, oil and pastel on canvas, 70 × 64 inches (177.8 × 162.6 cm)
Artwork © Harmony Korine Photos by Rob McKeever
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KING OF THE JUNGLE Walton Fordâ€™s most recent paintings focus on the history of California through fantastical interpretations of humanity and its encounters with animal life. Text by Dan Duray.
rt viewing does not come naturally to the human animal—we need to be coaxed into stopping, looking, thinking. In the past decade, museums and galleries around the world have remodeled and rebranded to make visitors feel more welcome. Step inside please, the buildings seem to say— we won’t bite, and moreover we’re leed-certified. The opposite is true of art-storage facilities: every aspect of them reminds you that art is also a commodity. Identification is demanded, doors are locked behind you, and someone is always following close behind. It was in these circumstances that I saw the latest pieces by Walton Ford. We were shuttled through a warehouse of crate-stacked halls like the one at the end of Raiders of the Lost Ark, finally reaching a simulacral conference room in the center. The nineteenth-century ornithologist John James Audubon’s to-scale portraits of American birds are a recurring touchstone for Ford, whose watercolors accordingly always feel like artifacts of an earlier time, whether at The Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, or the Smithsonian. But his works have never felt more rarefied to me than they did in these conditions. They were big secrets finally revealed, leaning against a wall. When Walton Ford starts showing you giant griffins, you start to wonder if he might not have actually found some. “This show has been a big breakthrough in that way,” Ford said at his TriBeCa studio, where he and he alone creates his works. “As a general rule,
I rather loathe the whole fantasy thing. I don’t have a great urge to paint fantasy animals. It’s pretty corny. Mine will never be as cool as the Game of Thrones dragons.” But the new work, Ford’s first significant foray into the subject matter of California, explores an early creation myth for the state that required him to picture griffins. To create these imaginary creatures he merged California mountain lions with California condors—he wanted to create a New World griffin, as opposed to the classical depictions that borrow from Mediterranean or African wildlife. This amalgam actually goes a long way toward verisimilitude, since the animals’ wings, beaks, and haunches were shaped by Californian natural selection. But it’s the interior life of Ford’s animals that makes his images—they don’t just look real, they seem to move and emote. If he simply drew a bird’s head on a lion’s body, it wouldn’t look natural, you wouldn’t be able to see it in your head. “The way that I actually solved that problem was that you have to decide you’re going to pick one of the animals to emphasize. In my case, I emphasized the feline qualities,” he told me, pointing out that his alighting griffin lands like a cat jumping off a kitchen counter, and that “even though they’re bird claws, they’re resting in a lionlike way.” “When the popular press writes about me, they love to take a natural-history figure like Audubon and then add a pharmaceutical to it,” Ford added. “They say, ‘Like Audubon on Viagra,’ or ‘Roger Tory Peterson on Ecstasy.’ That’s become a thing. They’re not really wrong.” While it’s right to praise the creativity and craftsmanship of Ford’s
Previous spread: Walton Ford, Ars Gratia Artis, 2017 (detail), watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 60 1⁄4 × 119 1⁄4 inches (153 × 302.9 cm). Photo by Tom Powel Imaging Opposite (detail) and right: Walton Ford, Grifo de California, 2017, watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 60 1⁄4 × 83 3⁄4 inches (153 × 212.7 cm). Photo by Christopher Burke Studio, NY
Opposite (detail) and below: Walton Ford, La Madre, 2017, watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper mounted on aluminum panel, 108 × 144 inches (274.3 × 365.8 cm). Photo by Tom Powel Imaging Following spread: La Brea, 2016, in the artist’s studio, New York, NY. Photo by Christopher Burke Studio, NY
execution, though, such appraisals miss his work’s conceptual underpinning, the self-made rules that he has followed since the beginning of his career. It is not merely that his pictures are almost always invented studies of animals. As with Audubon, Ford’s animals are always life sized, and are rendered in watercolor in scientifically accurate detail. As a rule, though, they go on to do things they wouldn’t do in nature: the ape got drunk at dinner and is making a fool of itself. The lions are that melodramatic couple you know, always breaking up and getting back together. The Cuban red macaws represent the legacy of José Martí. Add to these rules too the fact that, while being eerily accurate, these animals also cannot look too real. “When I was a young kid looking at Audubons, I wanted one,” Ford said, I wanted one of my own. I thought, “What a cool thing to have.” Then later, that evolved. I would see Bruegel’s The Harvesters painting and want that. I just started doing knockoffs. It was like I didn’t want to forge the things but I wanted to own them. Then I thought if I could do them, I could add my own sensibility, which was informed by underground comics and horror films and Frank Frazetta and all kinds of tacky shit that I grew up with that I loved. My teenage-boy aesthetic mixed with this very gun-room, conservative, Republican-looking art. Which is to say that the “David Allen Sibley on poppers” tag underrates Ford’s postmodern elements of pastiche and collage. His animals are so
good at being uncanny because they’re dramatized, or anthropomorphized, not from nature but from a Platonic form known to all of us. “I’m more interested in animals in the human imagination,” he said, “than in animals as they appear in nature.” (Personality wise, it should be said, Ford is hardly the type to camp out for days in a blind in the Serengeti, like a Planet Earth cameraman. “When you go into nature, animals are sitting around,” he told me. “They’re trying to either get calories or not burn too many, so they loaf around a lot. That’s why the zoo is always a big letdown. It’s like: ‘Where is it? What’s—is that it, in the fucking log?’ ‘Yeah, you see that little thing? That’s its tail sticking out.’ Like, great.” He rolled his eyes.) As such, Ford’s TriBeCa studio is not what you might imagine. Less menagerie than library, it contains only a few animal models, though there are walls and walls of books, from the classics to the intellectual to the pulpy: Audubon’s journals, and biographies of him. Eros in La Belle Epoque. Eleven copies of Moby-Dick. Blondie Iscariot, Siren of the Underworld. The origins of this show, Ford’s first with Gagosian, lie in a book: the Spanish novel The Adventures of Esplandián, by Garci Rodríguez de Montalvo, published in 1510. Ford likens it to one of the chivalric books that are burned in Cervantes’s novel Don Quixote (1605–15). “Know,” Montalvo writes, “that on the right hand of the Indies there is an island called California very close to the side of the Terrestrial Paradise; and it is peopled by black women, without any man among them, for they live in the manner of Amazons.” This was enough to
encourage the Spanish conquistadors in the New World to seek such an island, and when Francisco de Ulloa discovered the Baja Peninsula, in 1539, he decided to name it “California” after this passage. Ford, then, has mined a fiction to address a state whose chief export is fiction. “The deal,” Ford said, “is that when men would fetch up on the shores of California, this Amazonian tribe would kill them by feeding them to griffins, which were raised as a flock of fighting beasts to wage war on all mankind.” Ford has an East Coast sensibility; he’s as well read and wisecracking as you may have guessed from his pictures. For most of his career he painted in a barn in Great Barrington, Massachusetts, among the longest-colonized parts of the United States, where nature has been thoroughly categorized and subdued. But his work, of course, thrives on the irony of trying to categorize nature in a scientific way, or even an artistic one. His work is marked by the disruption of this mannered ethos— by chaos, by emotion, or by the sublime. For the largest work in the show, then, La Brea (2016), he has probed a similar if better-known dichotomy: the sinister underside of Los Angeles’s glamour. In this image, all the natural beauty that has been devoured by the La Brea tar pits over the eons returns to feast upon those who have lived too well around it. Camels, buffalo, and dire wolves roam the flaming grid. Ford’s paintings usually come with little throwaway jokes—the skull tucked away near his baby griffins, or the griffin electrocuting itself in the background of the otherwise majestic work Isla de
California (2017). In La Brea that wit is seen in the presence of the Chemosphere, the distinctive house built by the architect John Lautner in the Hollywood Hills, today owned by Ford’s friend the publisher Benedikt Taschen. Here it is rendered empty, hovering over this zoological Helter Skelter. Ford’s first instinct for this show was to do something on Hollywood’s animals, like those in the private zoo once called Goebel’s Lion Farm, where the actress Jayne Mansfield’s six-year-old son was once attacked by a lion during a visit there. (This idea is transformed in Ars Gratia Artis , in which Ford depicts the MGM lion doing a Sunset Boulevard kind of thing, lounging by the pool, drunk and forgotten.) As I was writing this he texted me the sketch for a forthcoming work, La Madre, in which a “freak giant grizzly—emerging from a cave” takes up two thirds of the panel. Around the end of the nineteenth century, he told me, well before California adopted its current, bear-logo flag, it had a bear problem: leather traders were leaving piles of cow carcasses that attracted bears. Vaqueros would hunt the bears with lariats, pulling them apart, or pitting them against bulls. By now you can probably see the Walton Ford painting in that, no? This show taps into a rich vein for the artist, to put it mildly. “When I go to LA, I get the creeps about the earthquake, the Big One,” Ford said. “About the fact that even the ground you’re standing on can rise up and kill you. It really is real and people know it. It’s fucking inevitable! I actually legitimately get the willies when I’m there. I could picture myself losing it in LA, like in Mulholland Drive.”
Walton Ford, Ars Gratia Artis, 2017, watercolor, gouache, and ink on paper, 60 1⁄4 × 119 1⁄4 inches (153 × 302.9 cm). Photo by Tom Powel Imaging Artwork © Walton Ford
REDISCOVER A M ODERN M ASTERPIECE
838 VELIERO DESIGNED BY FRANCO ALBINI
DEVOTION PATTI SMITH
Last spring was for me the season of Simone Weil. I read two biographies while simultaneously reading her work, beginning with Gravity and Grace. Simone Weil was a French visionary and activist. During World War II, owing to her Jewish heritage, she was unable to stay in Paris or join the French resistance movement and was obliged to contribute to the war effort in England. Suffering consumption, she was forced to enter a sanitarium in Ashford, some sixty miles from London. It was there that she died, never seeing her mother’s face or her beloved France again, and was buried in the cemetery not far from the train station. I could not help but feel sadness that her body could not be returned to her own country. I read the account of her death while in Southern France. That afternoon I found a patch of lavender. I thought of her in her patient’s bed, with no hope of recovery or return to her homeland. I imagined how much a small bouquet, with its intoxicating fragrance, would have meant to her at that moment. Small things with incalculable worth. ¶ Impulsively I wrapped some of the lavender in a handkerchief and decided to find her grave and place a bit of France where she was buried. Visiting the resting places of people I never knew, but whose work has guided or inspired me, is one of my missions while traveling. I travel a lot, for work, literary conferences, exhibitions, and touring with my band. Not being very social, I find myself drawn to obscure cafés and cemeteries. The café to think; the cemetery to thank. In this manner I was able to thank Hermann Hesse for writing The Glass Bead Game. Sylvia Plath for her poems. Genet for The Thief’s Journal. Dag Hammarskjöld for his quest for peace. Often, after simple meditation, I take a photograph, as a remembrance, as a relic. ¶ And so, armed with a bundle of lavender, I left France, taking a train to London. At St. Pancras International I boarded another train to Ashford, to find Simone Weil’s grave. As we passed endless row houses and a somewhat lifeless landscape, I noticed the date on my ticket, June 15, the birthday of my late brother Todd. His only child is a daughter named Simone. I immediately brightened. Only good could happen on such
an auspicious day. ¶ Arriving, I found a coffee stand, then looked for a taxi. The sky was deepening and there was a strong chill in the air. I removed my camera and watch cap from my suitcase. The taxi ride took about fifteen minutes and I was dropped off in front of the entrance of the Bybrook Cemetery. I half expected there would be a little stone carriage house or someone distributing maps, but there was no one—only a groundskeeper cutting weeds in a veil of light but steady rain. ¶ The cemetery was more sprawling than I anticipated and I had no idea where Simone’s resting place might be. I walked up and down paths, somewhat daunted. The light was low. Only noon, yet more like sundown. I took a few photographs. An embedded cross. An ivy-encrusted tomb. Nearly an hour passed. It continued to rain. A part of me was succumbing to the notion that it was an impossible task when I suddenly remembered that she was buried in the Catholic sector. I found an area with many likenesses of Mary, and crosses everywhere, but no trace of Simone. The sky grew darker. I sat on a bench, somewhat demoralized. Would Simone approve of this pilgrimage? I thought not. But I had lavender in an old handkerchief to leave her, small bits of France, and recalling her love of her homeland, her longing to return, I pressed on. ¶ I looked up at the menacing clouds. ¶ I entreated my brother— ¶ Todd, can you help me? I’m alone on your birthday and searching for someone named Simone. ¶ I felt his hand guiding me. On my right was a wooded area and I felt compelled to walk toward it. Suddenly I stopped. I could smell the earth. There were larks and sparrows, a small shaft of light that appeared, then disappeared. I turned my head with no exalted pause and found her, in all her modest grace. I opened the bellows of my camera, adjusted my lens, and took three Polaroids. I slipped them in my pocket and did not look at them. As I knelt to place the small bundle beneath her name, words formed, the gestation of a poem or prayer, tumbling like a nursery song. I felt helplessly at peace. The rain dissipated. My shoes were muddied. There was an absence of light, but not of love.
THE BIGGER PICTURE
RXART Derek Blasberg speaks with Diane Brown, President and Founder of RxArt, and with contributing artists Dan Colen, Urs Fischer, and Jeff Koons about the transformative power of visual art.
t the most fundamental level, a children’s hospital is designed to make young people feel better. We know many traditional ways of doing this: clean beds, fast-acting medicines, life-saving surgeries, nice nurses. But what of children’s mental health when they’re in the hospital? What about the things they see and they’re surrounded by? Enter RxArt, a nonprofit organization whose mission is to help children heal through the extraordinary power of visual art. RxArt by the numbers: in the past sixteen years, the organization has completed nearly forty projects with sixty artists in hospitals throughout fifteen cities in the United States. Diane Brown, a former pre-med student turned New York–based art dealer, started the organization in 2000 with this mission statement: “We commission exceptional contemporary artists to transform sterile health-care facilities into engaging and inspiring environments full of beauty, humor, and comfort.” By this year, RxArt will have reached over 1,000,000 patients and their families. Derek Blasberg discussed RxArt’s good works with Brown and artists Dan Colen, Urs Fischer, and Jeff Koons. How did RxArt come about? When I first started RxArt we were installing framed artworks in patient rooms, corridors, and treatment and waiting rooms. We and the artists we work with have become increasingly ambitious, and we find that in most cases we can make the biggest difference by creating DEREK BLASBERG DIANE BROWN
immersive environments. This includes projects like Jeff [Koons]’s dramatic redesign of the CT-scan suite at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Illinois. Jeff completely transformed the scanner suite, creating “wallscapes” for three walls of the suite using his iconic imagery of hanging heart, balloon dog, and pin-the-tail-on-the-donkey. Once the scanner and walls were transformed, Jeff suggested that a colorful floor would complete the project. He was right. JEFF KOONS I would hope that maybe a child would come to this room and maybe get a little smile, and feel, “You know, this isn’t gonna be so bad after all and I may actually enjoy this part of it.” Having monkey faces on the scanner I think creates an optimistic situation, something a child won’t be frightened by. It feels more like an amusement-park ride, a f un experience, not something to be scared of. DIBR The scanner suite was an especially important project for me personally. In early 2000 I underwent a CT scan; I wasn’t afraid about what they might find but the environment was scary, it was cold and sterile feeling. I wanted to get out of the room, but that was not an option. Looking up at a totally white ceiling, I began imagining an artwork, eventually becoming completely absorbed by this fantasy. Then the test was over—I felt like I had been out of the room. I decided that I wanted to help others escape the hospital, even for a few minutes, in their imagination. At the time of the scan I’d been a gallerist for sixteen years and was working as a private curator. I began to ask my friends and colleagues—curators, critics, collectors—“Do you think I can put
DAN COLEN ST. MARY’S HEALTHCARE SYSTEM FOR CHILDREN, BAYSIDE, NY. Previous spread: Photo by Christopher Burke Studio, NY
museum-quality art in hospitals, pay the artists, and not charge the hospitals?” Everyone thought I was crazy. Agnes Gund said, “Try it!” Her encouragement was enough for me to start. DAN COLEN RxArt feels very tied to my own beginnings in the art world. Maybe a year or two after my first show, Diane asked me to be a part of one of the first RxArt coloring books. I was very honored to have been asked—to be included in something a group of artists were participating in was very exciting for me. A year or two after that I did the rock-paper-scissors puzzle with RxArt. I love that thing—I have vivid memories of signing those boxes late at night. I was really in a groove and left some great anecdotes on those boxes. DEBL Dan, you did a building in New York, an enormous project at St. Mary’s Hospital for Children, in Bayside, Queens. What was it like to do something nearer home? DC I’d never been there before. Doing a hospital project in New York was a very exciting possibility for me. Both sides of my family have been here for many generations; I have cousins in every borough and suburb. To have an impact on something like a hospital, which to me seems so far outside of the art world, has been very fulfilling. A lot of it has to do with feeling the city has given me and my family so much for so long, it feels like a more direct way to give it something back than just a show at an art gallery. DEBL Had any of you had experiences in hospital pediatric units? DC I had a virus when I was very young in which I lost my motor skills. I remember having to go to the hospital every day for a few weeks to have blood work done. I hated it—the needles, the
hospital vibe in general, it was all pretty scary. This is obviously nothing compared to what the kids are going through at St. Mary’s. It’s so important to have places that specialize in caring for children. They undergo so much pain and fear and discomfort—to have a staff and a facility geared toward their needs, which are much different than an adult’s, can have a hugely positive impact on their experience. URS FISCHER I once spent two weeks in a children’s hospital when my daughter was in intensive care, I was next to her bed the entire time. And I saw these other families—some of them lived there for months. They’d give up their jobs, they’d give up everything to be with their children. Also, both of my parents are doctors and I grew up in hospitals, so I was always very aware of the sense of pain. I believe that what you see can cheer you up, which is the whole concept of RxArt. Being in a hospital is brutal, both on the kid and on the parents. JK Art can make something a little more pleasant and soothing, putting children in a healthy state of mind. They’re in very vulnerable moments. Art can be reassuring, giving them a sense of future and optimism. DEBL Talk to me about your concepts in the hospital. JK A lot of my images have a childlike quality to them, or at least people say that. I looked into different images from my past to see if any were appropriate. This just seemed like a wonderful opportunity to do something for when children are in a very stressful time, to create an environment that’s a little more cheerful. I’m aware that the environments in facilities can really affect how things feel as they’re taking place. I’ve been
JEFF KOONS ADVOCATE CHILDREN’S HOSPITAL, OAK LAWN, IL. Photo by Michael Tropea
URS FISCHER CEDARS-SINAI MAXINE DUNITZ CHILDREN’S HEALTH CENTER, LOS ANGELES, CA. Photo by Bill Pollard
to children’s hospitals and seen murals, and you get the sense that they’re not such daunting places when there’s more color. It helps to create a sense of community, the feeling that you’re not going through this alone. DC I’d been making abstract paintings for a few years using photographs I’d taken of falling confetti. I hadn’t managed to satisfy my ambitions with the concept by simply making those paintings. When Diane approached me I knew immediately how perfect an immersive environment related to the confetti imagery would be. At its most basic, the series and its translation in the hospital is very bright and celebratory. But I’ve also always been attached to something more serious and melancholy in this body of work, which is important both to my own and I think RxArt’s intentions. My goal was not just to create a playful environment but to bring a real art experience into the children’s lives. The work was to allow for a multifaceted experience, which I think it does. UF There were various options. I thought if you had a lot to look at, rather than one thing, that would be good if you were lying in bed. My childhood dentist had this weird poster right by the dentist chair—it was nice to have something to look at. The elephants came in because for an RxArt fundraiser two years ago I made elephants for the invitation and the decoration. You want the children to have as much to look at as possible—something cheerful when the walls behind their beds are full of machines. DEBL Diane, is there a specific concept that you look for in these collaborations? Or do the artists have free reign?
We don’t charge the hospitals. We raise money to pay for every installation, including all fabrication, installation, and travel costs. We try to select artists who are appropriate for the demographic and geographic patient population, as well as for the particular unit in which they’ll be working. We don’t tell the artists what to do, but they all understand that they’re working to make a pediatric-hospital environment a more inspiring place. We do ask them to submit preliminary drawings, which we in turn submit to the hospital for approval. The staff of the hospital will be living with the work and they have to be happy too. DEBL Did you see any of the kids when they were in there? How was that? DC I was there for a music class one day. It was pretty amazing to see that happen in that environment. There was a lot of joy in the room—totally uninhibited dancing, singing, and instrument playing, the ideal activities to happen within my project. DEBL There’s nothing more bittersweet than doing something for children. How did you feel when this project is completed? DC Diane and I had worked on this project for five years. There were many times when I felt it was slipping away, and was too ambitious for the hospital context. She and I were both very committed to it, and to finally realize it was one of the most satisfying moments of my career. It’s a permanent installation in an environment the children visit daily. It doesn’t feel “complete” to me—it feels like it’s just the beginning. DIBR
BLAZING The Mogao Caves, set near the ancient Silk Road city of Dunhuang, are an oasis of Buddhist art that evolved over many centuries. As professor and theater director Peter Sellars embarks on his most ambitious project to date—a ten-year study in and of Dunhuang—he returns to themes that have animated his long and storied career:
BEACON that ideas and practices are shared across geographies and time, and that the art of performance can best reveal these living traditions. In the following text, Sellars tells Thomas Francis about his long-standing fascination with the Mogao Caves and his desire to bring the experience of the caves to a wider audience.
How did you first learn about Dunhuang, and what was inspiring about it at the time? PETER SELLARS Well, for twenty-f ive years I’ve been completely obsessed with one of the first Mahayana Buddhist texts, the Vimalak rti Sutra, which probably dates in its worldly form from the first century a.d. It’s the first of a new brand of sutras that was followed by the Lotus Sutra, the Flower Ornament Sutra, and the Amitabha Sutra, which are about getting Buddhism out of the monastery, out of the intellectual surround of pure mind theory, and moving it into a public space where a nonliterate audience can enter the highest levels of practice. The strategies are amazing, in the Lotus Sutra they almost read like supermarket giveaways—everything is like, “No matter who you are, no matter what you’ve done, you’re already a Buddha.” That’s extremely different from the long, complex, straight-and-narrow path of the earlier texts. The Vimalak rti Sutra is quite entertaining. Like most of the sutras it’s in dialogue form: every time there’s a sutra it’s because Buddha has gathered a bunch of people to teach them something, or a bunch of people have gathered to ask him to teach them something. In fact one of my favorite parts of every Buddhist sutra is chapter 1, because it’s ten pages of guest list. Every time Buddha speaks, everybody is there, and they’re from all the worlds: animal worlds, spirit worlds, human worlds, gods and demigods—everybody is assembled. That for me is one of the most moving things: understanding that wherever you are, all the people you admire are present—Martin Luther King is standing right next to you. If you have one beautiful, positive, inspired thought, if your mind is directed positively and you’re focused on doing something of benefit to other human beings, you’re not alone. In chapter 2, Buddha tells his disciples that there’s a businessman, Vimalak rti, who is sick, but they can learn a lot from him because he’s very wise, so they should go visit him and offer him comfort. The disciples refuse to go; they’re offended by this guy Vimalak rti. It’s very moving: if you’re serious about Buddhism you renounce the world and devote yourself to spiritual practice, so the idea that this guy is both a businessman and has spiritual teachings to offer the disciples is a stunning reversal. Finally Buddha says “Just go.” So they arrive, but their heads are too big to fit into Vimalak rti’s house, so one of the first miracles is performed to reconfigure the architecture so that the disciples can all fit inside [laughs]. Then they’re all sitting down, but they need to sit on lion thrones, so lion thrones are flown in from some other galaxy [laughs]. Then Vimalak rti is lying on his sickbed, the disciples are sitting on the other side of the room, and finally Buddha’s most famous disciple, S riputra, breaks the ice and says, “Okay, if you’re so holy, how come you’re sick all the time?” Vimalak rti’s answer is astounding: he says that all human beings carry with them so much pain— acknowledged and unacknowledged, spoken and unspoken—that the only way he can hear what they’re trying to say is to be in more pain than they are. He can listen through pain to recognize what people are going through; his sickness is his Buddhist practice. TF So the room is silent. PS Right. Then in the next chapter, a goddess is floating around in the rafters of the newly enlarged room and she decides to drop in. Buddha’s HOMAS FRANCIS
disciples are freaked out—they all say, “Get away, woman unclean, horrifying, stay back.” She’s in a very good mood, high hilarity, and she exchanges bodies with S riputra. The switch is a great theatrical moment, a kind of virtuosic and thrilling theater trick, and profound at the same time. S riputra is freaked out now that he’s in a woman’s body, so she says to him, “Still feeling unclean?” [laughter]. TF Bait and switch. PS As far as I know, it’s the first statement in all of world literature about the equality of women. I don’t know of anything else before the first century that just lays it out with that kind of vividness [laughs]. Then a few chapters later it’s five minutes to noon and S riputra panics, he says, “Oh my god, we’re going to miss lunch,” because as a Buddhist monk you have to go out begging for food and eat by noon, and then you’re not allowed to eat for the rest of the day. So they’re going to miss lunch and S riputra is freaked out. Vimalak rti says, “Dear S riputra, have you come here for spiritual teaching or for lunch?” There’s lots of comedy in it. So Vimalak rti sends for takeout, a billion galaxies away, where there are these beings who live only on perfume. It’s an entire world of perfume and magical fragrance. The perfume people travel a billion galaxies to Earth in less than a second, they arrive with takeout, and everybody is given the perfume feast. It’s the best meal they’ve ever had. Then the perfume people start sniffing around. They notice that everything on Earth is dirty and smells bad, and they say, “How can you people live here?” So Vimalak rti does this amazing teaching where he explains to the perfume people that they live in their sublime gated communities of perfection, but here on Earth people have to deal
Previous spread: The Mogao Caves. Photo by Mick Roessler
The Nine Story Temple at Mogao, a unesco World Heritages site in northwest China, with sand dunes on the plateau above the cliff. Photo View Stock/Alamy Stock Photo Opposite: The Mogao Caves can be seen from a distance. Carved into the cliff face, the site sits along the Daquan River and is surrounded by desert. Photo View Stock/Alamy Stock Photo
with bad smells, dirt, inadequacy, anger, and therefore they have to learn to practice compassion and understanding and wisdom and love. In this way life on Earth is actually superior to places where life is easier. Anyway, the whole sutra has these amazing reversals, these miracles, this unexpected humor. The high goes low, the low goes high. I’ve always wanted to stage it. For twenty-five years I’ve been collecting books with images of the Vimalak rti Sutra, and most of them turn out to be, of course, in the Dunhuang caves. I was assembling an entire shelf of books without ever quite putting it together that all roads lead to Dunhuang [laughs]. The Getty Conservation Institute in Los Angeles has been working with the Dunhuang Academy on the protection and preservation of the caves for twenty-seven years. In the summer of 2016, the Institute and the Academy, together with the Getty Research Institute, mounted a stunning exhibition: Cave Temples of Dunhuang. As the exhibition was taking shape, I was able to be part of a series of encounters with the curators and was invited to imagine some of the ancillary programs. This was the first moment when it occurred to me that I could actually visit Dunhuang—that it was a real place, not just a shelf of books, and I began planning my own projects. TF Tell me the history of the Mogao Caves in Dunhuang. PS The history of the caves lies in their geography. For many centuries, anybody going in or out of China—from or to India, Iran, Greece—had to go over what’s now called the Silk Road. And the whole world was being invited to China, particularly during the Tang Dynasty, because it wanted the best of everything, whether it was spices or fruits or slaves or lapis lazuli or horses. Buddhism was one of those things. People in China recognized that there was something in India—something outside of their culture—that they needed. The arrival of Buddhism, which happened over several centuries, came over the Silk Road. You have this path that goes between two deserts, the Taklamakan Desert and the Gobi Desert, with, in the middle, an oasis town, Dunhuang. It was a treacherous path because the desert dunes are shifting all the time. Entire caravans were just erased. TF Was Dunhuang ever threatened by that? PS The dunes are right on the edge of Dunhuang, and that’s actually part of the story. Once people made it through the Taklamakan Desert they’d want to offer a prayer before going through the Gobi desert, which is a little less friendly because it’s volcanic ash, so it’s gray and austere and quite terrifying. So for the offering of those prayers, there began to be a carving of caves in a cliff face at
the edge of a river about twenty miles outside Dunhuang. This was around the fourth century a.d. Interestingly there’s a tradition of Buddhist rock-cut temples in the same formation in India, in the Ajanta Caves in a cliff above a river bend. There the rock was such that you could carve into it, so there are these amazing Buddhist sculptures emerging from the rock. The sculptors could not make a mistake, because they couldn’t put back the rock that they’d just chiseled out. There was a tradition of three prayers to every chisel stroke, because they had to be totally concentrated; so their carving was a spiritual practice. In Dunhuang, farther along the route, the rock is crumbling, it has no substance, so they couldn’t carve, they had to paint. They’d carve out caves, plaster them, then paint on the plaster surface. This was China’s westernmost frontier, and it was a very violent time; the area was quite contested. Tibet ruled Dunhuang for a period in the eighth and ninth centuries. And the caves reflect all of this in an interesting way. The interiors of the caves were carved out and plastered as if they were textiles—the walls are deliberately supple, they have a little bit of curve to them, and textile patterns are painted all over them, so you’re surrounded by wall hangings, tassels, and banners. When you enter a cave it feels like you’re going into a tent. In the middle there are four ceiling pieces that go up to a point, and always in the center you see Buddhism’s seven heavens going up. It’s bizarre—you come across the desert where there’s no color, only scorching sand or volcanic ash, and suddenly you enter this cool dark place of magical color. Every surface is painted with astonishing images and fields of color. TF How many of these caves are there? PS About 500. You can’t generalize about them, either, because they represent hundreds of years of the evolution of Buddhist iconography. In the early phase of Buddhism, as in the Hebrew and Islamic traditions, it was forbidden to show an image of Buddha, so Buddha is represented as a tree, a wheel, or a pillar. Later we get an anthropomorphic image of Buddha that comes to China by way of Greece through what is now Afghanistan, is transformed in Gandhara and Indian art, and then takes a Chinese form, and you can watch this morph ethnically and culturally across the centuries in the Dunhuang caves. Some of the earlier caves have fantastic examples of Buddha sitting with a kind of amazing Jimi Hendrix psychedelic nimbus of flames of inspiration in fourteen colors, and next to Buddha are Shiva and Ganesh, and on the other side is Brahma, and above them is the Goddess of the East bringing the sun with her in a chariot drawn by geese, and above them are all these Chinese weather gods, gods of thunder, gods of rain,
YOU COME ACROSS THE DESERT WHERE THERE’S NO COLOR, ONLY SCORCHING SAND OR VOLCANIC ASH, AND SUDDENLY YOU ENTER THIS COOL DARK PLACE OF MAGICAL COLOR. Peter Sellars
gods of lightning, and also the god who introduced architecture to China. So there’s an amazing simultaneity of interlocking cosmologies, where all of these traditions are present simultaneously in the same cave, and are not at war but are mutually supporting. That is so moving to think about at this moment in history right now, to see multiple traditions that aren’t canceling each other out but deepening each other. TF How are the caves generally laid out? PS In most of them you enter through a central portal. Typically there was a first vestibule room and then a deeper chamber, but because of centuries of crumbling and earthquakes, most of the vestibules have fallen off and only the deeper chambers remain. But what’s very powerful is how it’s a totally immersive installation work—the ceiling is alive, the side walls are alive, the wall in front of you is alive, and the wall behind you is alive. You’re in a 360-degree experience of an expanding mind. The walls all illustrate Buddhist sutras or stories of Buddha’s previous lives. Reading them you’re overwhelmed, every wall is packed with layers of information—gods, goddesses, divine beings, mortal beings, beings in transformation. Scholars still haven’t decided what these caves were used for. I think they were used for performance, to gather people for sutra readings and 127
chanting. As in any liturgical religious practice, you’re repeating something hundreds of times in order to deepen your perception of reality. In Cave 85, when you turn to go back out into the world—this blazing hot sun—the wall that’s been behind you as you’ve been looking at Buddha, depicts Vimalak rti and Manjushri, who engaged in a famous debate about how you can best represent perfect Buddhist realization. The imagery in Dunhuang is incredible: Vimalak rti and Manjushri are in a pavilion in a garden. The debate reaches this incredible moment where they’re going back and forth, and Manjushri finally says, “So how could you describe perfect realization?” Famously, Vimalak rti is silent. . . . And then Manjushri says, “Oh my god, you’ve won the debate. Silence is the only correct description” [laughs]. So when you leave this spiritual cave to go back into the world, the door you walk through is the silence between Vimalak rti and Manjushri. Then you step back into the sun, sand, and desert. TF We were discussing earlier this idea of discovery through journey in the context of the Isra or Night Journey, one of the Islamic revelation miracles, in which the Prophet travels in the space of one night from Mecca to Jerusalem, and thereon through many heavens, meeting angels 128
Wall painting in Cave 285 (detail). Mogao Caves, Dunhuang, China. Photo by Zhang Peng/Contributor
Opposite: Reclining Buddha in Cave 148, Mogao Caves, Dunhuang. Photo by Sura Ark
and prophets along the way. There’s a particularly exquisite fifteenth-century Timurid manuscript of this myth, held in the Bibliothèque nationale, that’s apparently heavily inspired by the Dunhuang murals. PS Yes, the idea of the wisdom that comes from journeying, from moving your body through a pilgrimage, through geographies, through cultures— that is the power of the caves. I want to create a modern response to them, a series of discrete but linked art projects involving collaborations between filmmakers and poets, dancers and sculptors, installation artists and musicians. They’d be about multiple art forms and cultures, cultural positions in dialogue. TF Only composite art forms could properly respond to this composite civilization. PS Exactly. One of the most important things we’ve been talking about with our Chinese partners is that our interest in Dunhuang is our interest in Los Angeles—what we’re interested in is art on the Western frontier. We’re interested in a city that is an immigration capital, and in the flow-through of different peoples. Los Angeles is actually a great way to think about Dunhuang and Dunhuang is a great way to think about Los Angeles. The caves at Dunhuang are fragile and remote. To create a body of work that isn’t situated in the caves anymore but that is able to move itself across the world, to be seen in a range of cultural capitals or in extremely remote locations—that’s very exciting. The idea is that this project is ten years of commissioned work by teams of artists from Africa and from Russia and from China and from Peru. It’s a conversation about no fixed points, but rather about what kinds of dialogue are possible between art forms and cultural vantages. The Dunhuang caves are a unesco World Heritage Site, you can’t meditate in them. You have a security guard who looks at your little slip of paper and then goes and unlocks the padlock on the metal doors that cover the cave, and then you have fifteen minutes. The caves are cold and sandy and don’t have lovely textiles, incense, or meditation cushions [laughs]. You’re not invited to spend three days reciting a sutra [laughs]. TF So everything has to be transposed elsewhere, because that’s where those conditions obtain. PS Exactly. When you’re in Dunhuang you have to imagine, “What would the sensory experience have been?” Because the caves must be protected, you can’t imagine those possibilities there now, so you need to create other places that begin to respond to what they might have been, and also to now. It’s a way of creating a body of work that is forward looking and that has some spiritual immanence and challenge to it. So the attempt is to try, every May and December, to take a trip with twenty-five to thirty artists and historians to experience the caves—ideally a really interesting group of people, all of whom will see radically different things and have very different experiences from each other in the caves. I just returned from the first of these trips and I have to say the discussions were just thrilling, because being in the caves with people this rich in perceptions and backgrounds is quite astonishing. You get new insights that you can’t get from art-historical literature. That literature is absolutely involved with answering important questions, but the caves are asking larger questions. First of all, they’re asking for knowledge of the Buddhist sutras, and that’s very powerful. When you walk into a cave knowing an actual sutra, the cave speaks back to you,
and the sutra takes astonishing new forms. TF Will it always be the same protagonists? PS No, every trip will be different people. We’re all being challenged by the incomprehensible, the transcendent, the beyond, the world of what the Vimalak rti Sutra calls inconceivability. That’s a really thrilling place to be with a bunch of artists. TF Will Dunhuang be your major preoccupation? How do you see it bearing on the other work you’re doing in Europe and in the West? PS I’ve got to clear my schedule and make ten years of effort focused on a concentrated set of projects. I want to make it a series that could one day be assembled in some contiguous way, but for now they all have to be considered and financed and logistically arrived at as separate units. Maybe one day in the future they could actually be joined together to create one epic picture. TF Do you have any preconceived ideas of what you’re looking for? Any parameters? PS I don’t want to say there’s a protocol or procedure, but maybe the projects do inform each other, and maybe that turns into some kind of dialogue. The artists are all so different from each other, and what’s so cool about artists is that they will always do something you didn’t expect—that’s one of the most thrilling parts of working with artists. We’re taking a big step into particularly unknown territory and it’s an unlimited field. That’s a very exciting space of political possibility, of spiritual possibility, of cultural possibility. TF You say you’re going to invite dancers, performance artists, visual artists, musicians, and academics. Do you see merit in bringing practicing Buddhists to Dunhuang? PS That’s very important. Every group will include practicing Buddhists. That’s made more complex by the fact of diminished practice of Buddhist traditions in China for many years, so Buddhist art isn’t immediate for most people who have grown up in China. It’s also not the primary focus of most art-historical writing. We need to make sure that every group includes practicing Buddhists who understand what the caves represent as a ritual, not just as something you read but as something you have to internalize in your body.
How did the Getty’s exhibition treat the caves?.
The Getty did something quite amazing. What’s powerful is its sense of the way in which this material has to be reexperienced. A generation of Chinese artists went to the caves in the 1940s and started to preserve them. They had different ideas of preservation than we do now, and some of the overpainting and other things they did had to be undone, but one of their most powerful ideas was to make replica caves. They recognized that the caves are fragile and should not have visitors, should not be disturbed. So what they started doing—and they’re still doing this in Dunhuang eighty years later—is creating replica caves that you can see in their museum. The replica caves have no time limits on your stay. Your presence, your breathing, isn’t loosening the paint. There’s a full program of students from the leading arts institutions in China who come for residencies to work on painting replica caves. There are artists in residence—some of them have been there for thirty years—who are in charge of the initiative to create more replica caves. There are three caves right now in London at Prince Charles’s School of Traditional Arts, and three caves came to the Getty. It’s very moving for me to watch the students painting. Every inch of these caves has been documented digitally but the digital documents have no qi, no spiritual energy, they don’t breathe. These young artists use those images but work freehand, using a brush, mixing the paint, and making a gesture that is both very careful and precise but also free and genuine. Again, the process of making the caves was not a construction project, it was a spiritual practice. I have rather controversially announced that I preferred the replica caves to the originals, because the replica caves involve young people engaging in Buddhist practice right now. Buddhist practice has to be new every day, it has to be renewed at every moment. You can’t just say, “Oh, these people in the fifth century did something beautiful.” They have set the bar for you, and now you have to meet them at their level. So I love the replica caves. I love that they’re clean, I love that they’re not dusty, I love that you can see really clearly what’s going on in them, PS
THE CEILING IS ALIVE, THE SIDE WALLS ARE ALIVE, THE WALL IN FRONT OF YOU IS ALIVE, AND THE WALL BEHIND YOU IS ALIVE. Peter Sellars
they’re well lit, and that you can spend hours and hours in them. They’re much more welcoming. But I also love that people in our lifetime have engaged in the practice. That’s very beautiful. TF That’s a common tension in archaeological and historic-preservation circles. There’s a cult of authenticity. PS Right. Western art distrusts copies, and of course in Asian culture the copy is the point. A copy isn’t less valuable. We’re so sure that there’s this one moment of authenticity and everything else is the machine, mechanical reproduction. In fact, mechanical reproduction is one thing but reproduction by human beings is another. Even mechanical reproduction—when the subject matter is infinity, how can you have too many images? TF Right. There’s this presupposition that people are struck by moments of divine inspiration, like the angel of history flashing up. PS Jesus, Muhammad, and Moses were not just speaking to their own personal friends. They were speaking across all of history. These are spiritual traditions that exist outside of time. Our history is about dating something correctly, whereas the tradition itself is inviting you to experience time at a completely different level. TF How do you think these caves can relate to people today? PS Oh, they strike me as deeply exciting in terms of where we all are in the world right now, with all cultures on the move, with everything in conversation with everything else, with no purity available in any direction, and with all of our vocabularies morphing and trying to be more inclusive, trying to recognize what someone else is saying, trying to represent people who are not like you in your pain. And you’re doing it because you’re in their painting and they’re in your painting, because you’re in each other’s lives. And because culture cannot be considered as a fixed point, but has to be considered as an open, evolving reality. 129
CAVE CONSERVATION Dr. Neville Agnew, Senior Principal Project Specialist at the Getty Conservation Institute, speaks with Shannon Cannizzaro about the future of the Mogao Caves and the specific conservation challenges they face.
Shannon Cannizzaro: You have personally led the partnership between the Getty Conservation Institute [GCI] and the Dunhuang Academy in China since 1989. Can you talk us through the various stages of the Mogao Caves project over that nearly thirty-year period? Dr. Neville Agnew: It’s had many facets in that time. In the initial five years, the GCI and the Academy were focused on immediate issues outside the grottoes. The most important was that a tremendous amount of sand had blown from the dunes over the top of the cliff and was burying the entrances to the caves. The site was abandoned for centuries, from the Ming to the middle of the Qing dynasty, and there are frequent sandstorms in that area; during that time the sand buried the entrances of many caves. Thousands of cubic meters of sand had to be cleared away. We also had to examine the geological stability of the cliff face, which is very soft rock, full of cracks. We began monitoring the cracks, some of which were opening due to earthquakes, which are a huge problem in that part of China. The cliff face and many of the caves are very susceptible to earthquakes. And we monitored and researched the color stability of the pigments in the wall paintings, studying how they aged under the influence of visitors and lights, and of the salts that come out of the rock into the clay paintings and destroy them. This is one of the big issues at the Mogao Caves. That period culminated in 1993, when we held the international conference “Conservation of Ancient Sites along the Silk Road.” After the conference we also began studying Cave 85, which I will discuss in more detail later. Simultaneously, we worked with the Dunhuang Academy and others to develop a set of national principles, which we call the China Principles, for conservation and management of heritage sites in China. We think that’s the most important thing we’ve done in China because now there are national guidelines for conservation and management. The principles were issued in both English and Chinese, and have been revised and reissued in both languages. As you can see, many initiatives were going on at the same time. They weren’t sequential. While we were studying Cave 85 and compiling the China Principles, we were also establishing a set of guidelines for visitor management. More and more people are arriving at the sites. When we first started, they might have received 50,000 visitors a year; today it may be more than a million visitors a year. There can be more than 20,000 visitors on the site at one 131
time. So we embarked on a very detailed plan for visitors and issued a book on that. In early 2004, we held the “Second International Conference on the Conservation of Ancient Sites on the Silk Road.” What we’re doing isn’t just technical work; it’s scientific, it’s research and training, it’s analysis. We’re looking at a comprehensive picture of the site. And then last year at the Getty Center we had the exhibition Cave Temples of Dunhuang: Buddhist Art on China’s Silk Road. Everything we’ve done has been in collaboration with the Dunhuang Academy and with the full support of both the national authority in Beijing and of the provincial authority in Gansu. What are the key goals of the project? There are multiple goals, but the overarching goal is to provide support, guidance, and training in China—and specifically at the Dunhuang Academy, which is responsible for managing the Mogao Caves and other sites— to take care of their historical treasures for the future. As such, the way we treat the Dunhuang sites serves as a model for other areas in China and stands as a kind of beacon, if you like, of a successful international collaboration. Our work in conservation, broadly speaking, which also encompasses management, is concerned with stabilizing and saving what is there and trying to slow deterioriation—it’s impossible to stop deterioration, but we want to slow it down. So we’re saving the authentic, stabilizing it, and trying to slow deterioration as much as possible. You’ve already spoken of specific problems threatening the caves, including earthquakes, sand accumulation, and the influx of visitors. Can you talk about specific conservation problems that you and your team faced when you first started? I understand that some early conservation techniques were less successful than others. When we began the partnership, one of the first problems we encountered was the belief that science was conservation and that all conservation was technical conservation, that conservation was fixing things, stopping things from falling apart. Some earlier conservation techniques were in fact harmful in the long run; we had to identify these and try to stop them. You need to understand what’s causing deterioration before you can do anything. You should never go in blindly and concentrate on an adhesive or a treatment, because unless you understand the causes—I mean, a doctor doesn’t give you pills of any 132
Previous and this spread: Technicians work to restore the Mogao caves in Dunhuang in northwestern China’s Gansu province, May 2013. Photos by Ed Jones/ AFP/Getty Images
old kind, right? The cure needs to be related to the underlying problem. Diagnosis is everything. And in the case of conservation, you want to test your methods before you apply them. So testing, research, more testing, diagnosis. The mantra is to do as little as possible. So you must learn as much as possible about the site before you begin? Yes. Of course you do what has to be done for conservation, but you never act in haste. Conservation intervention is the last thing you do, not the first. There’s no one universal material that’s good for conserving wall paintings. You have to understand the problem, and you have to understand the properties of the material you’re proposing, you have to test them. Have the goals for the caves’ conservation evolved over time? What are some of the future goals for the site? No, I wouldn’t say they’ve evolved over time, but they’ve had to adapt to the changing realities there, mainly in response to increasing tourism. It’s not just a question of crowding, it’s the impact of visitors on the grotto environment itself. For example, we found that if it rains, as it sometimes does in the summer, the outside humidity rises. If the doors to the caves are opened and visitors go in and out, that humidity comes in and is absorbed by the salts in the wall paintings, causing them to dissolve. When the air dries out a few days later and it’s a normal desert environment again, those salts recrystallize. If you shine a strong flashlight on the paint
you can see them glinting in the light, disrupting the surface. It’s like a cancer affecting the wall paintings. So that’s why we had to understand the salts and the impact of visitors—an indirect impact in this case, mainly when the outside humidity is high. From there we can determine what management interventions to put in place as a response. One example is to have environmental monitoring to know when the critical humidity of 67 percent is reached, and then those caves that are particularly susceptible to salt damage through recrystallization have to be closed to visitors. Cave 85 is an example of this case; terrible salt damage has occurred there. So you can see how research plays into the policy and the decision-making that management has to put into place for good preservation. Flooding has also become a more serious threat to the caves. In the last five or six years, there have been two or three major f loods. Fortunately they didn’t do much damage to the caves because there’s a big channel outside for the river, and it’s almost deep enough, but flooding did sweep away the bridges and railings and almost got into the caves. This may or may not be right, but we think it’s a climate-change-related issue. I wondered if you and your team had seen any growing threats to the caves as a result of climate change. Yes, we think it’s very likely. But we must remember that climate change is difficult to discern, especially when you’re looking at what might be normal variability over a short period of time. Another threat that the Dunhuang Academy is facing is development
in proximity to the site. When we dra f ted our master pla n, we requested that a big buffer zone be applied around the site. The new exhibition and visitor center is actually about ten miles away from the site. Visitors go there first and then they get bused to the site. What is a day in your life like on this project? [Laughs] It’s been ver y variable, I must say. W hen we were working on Cave 85—I should say that I never did any wall-painting conservation work myself, I’m not trained in that—but I would go into the cave and discuss management issues with the wall-painting conservators there, document and record the visitor flow, look at environmental monitoring data, hold meetings with people from the Dunhuang Academy, decide on next actions. Then as a way to enhance the collaboration, we would invite the Dunhuang Academy staff to come to stay here in LA with us—it improved their English, allowed them to see how we work here, and, very important, it cemented bonds of collaboration and friendship. So it was both diplomatic and practical. Why was Cave 85 selected as a case study for GCI’s restoration work? What was special about that cave? During the first five years of our partnership with the Dunhuang Academy, we’d been focused on looking outside the caves, mainly to stabilize their structure and stability. Next we needed to look inside them, and that’s when we chose Cave 85 as a model conservation project for the other caves. Remember you don’t conserve first, you conserve last. So the very first thing you do once you’ve chosen the cave is document it. What’s its condition today? You do that through photographs, drawings, and other techniques. You also look at the history of the cave, archives relating to the cave, earlier photographs of the cave. . . . you spend a couple of years amassing information, getting to understand your patient. The patient here was Cave 85. It’s a spectacularly beautiful cave. It had the scale, it had the beauty, it also had much of the original work. A great deal was known about it. Its date of construction was known. The ninth-century donors who donated the money for its construction were known. It’s famous. There are photographs of it from the early days of the twentieth century. Essentially, it’s a spectacular cave with problems symptomatic of the site. Those problems, once solved, could be applied more widely. Were you involved in the replication of caves 275, 285, and
320 for the Getty’s exhibition? Can you talk about the complexities of replicating these caves? We chose them with the agreement of the Dunhuang Academy, which was responsible for their replication. We were not directly involved in that aspect, as they have a highly skilled set of artists at Dunhuang and a long tradition of copying the wall paintings in order to, first of all, study how they were done. That practice also allowed for alternatives should there be some catastrophic loss of some of the caves, through, for example, earthquake or flooding: they have copies. And they can send those copies, replicas, on exhibition elsewhere. You can’t move the actual caves themselves, but you can send the replica, and that’s what they do. Was it difficult to bring these replicas to LA for the exhibition? It wa s enor mously c ompl ic ated logistically. The replicas had to comply with safety codes in LA and the United States against earthquakes and wind. We had thirty technicians from the Dunhuang Academy come for about six weeks beforehand to put up the replicas and then come again for a month at the end to take them down. It was an amazingly complicated process but the exhibition was a great success. We also had a digital reproduction of Cave 45, which was an immersive experience. You could wear 3D glasses and experience a seven-minute video in three dimensions. As such, we had four caves here, three real replicas and one virtual replica, in addition to a lot of rich imagery and loaned material from Dunhuang.
Limitations on visitor numbers have been def ined and applied to the caves. That’s very impressive, 20,000 in one day? Yes, per day. This is often in the beginning of October. They’re enormous numbers. What are the next immediate steps? In early September we did a training course with the Dunhuang Academy to help to disseminate the China Principles document. This was a China-wide training course, not at Mogao but at another cave site, Maijishan, also in Gansu Province and also a World Heritage Site under the authority of the Dunhuang Academy. Much of the methodology that we researched and applied at the Mogao site is encoded and enshrined in the China Principles, which are now going to be disseminated at Maijishan and other sites.
Do you have a lot of these training courses? We don’t, actually; this was a special one. And I should clarify that the China Principles isn’t actually our document; we initiated it, we worked on both versions, but we wanted it to be a Chinese document. We’ve been involved in training courses from
time to time. The reason we did this one with our Chinese colleagues is that it was really an opportunity to promote the China Principles on a wide basis, but actually it’s not our business to continue running training courses. In the same way, we’re not going to do another wall-painting conservation project like the one we’ve done for Cave 85. We initiated that project with the express objective of developing methods, materials, practices, and policies for conserving a site that is representative of many other sites on the Silk Road. Painted on mud stuck on rough-cut walls . . . fragile hand-hewn caves with salt problems . . . these are unique characteristics of those sites in the Gobi Desert and beyond on the Silk Road. And GCI’s concern is less with any one site than with endeavoring to identify and address the big problems in conservation. Whether it’s technical conservation, analysis, research, or management, we really like to have a long-term impact. Otherwise there’s no point in just conserving something. It might be fun while you do it, but without that larger framework it’s probably going to—you know, just go to hell after you’ve gone [laughs]. We always make it a priority to try to put in place the sustainability aspects.
Can you discuss the measures that have been taken to manage future visitors to Dunhuang? As I understand it, a set of guidelines has been established for this. The tourism industry in China is one of the largest in the world at present, and it continues to grow because the country has such a huge population. Today, with greater wealth in China, Chinese nationals can travel to Dunhuang by car, train, or plane. We’ve done work to establish capacity: we know that the caves can handle about 3,000 people a day easily and safely and without impact on them. With 20,000 people it’s more complicated to manage, with overcrowding in the peak summer and holiday seasons and bad air quality in many of the caves. To give you a brief overview, the China Principles stipulates a comprehensive strategy for managing visitors and interpreting the site that would include considerations for a visitor center, methods of enhancing the visitor experience, and a reservation system to reduce crowding. 133
A short story in four parts by Christopher Bollen
“Oh, it’s beautiful,” Kit said unconvincingly. She sat on the arm of a leather sofa, her bare legs goose-bumped from the blast of an entirely-too-low air-conditioning unit, her face and neck beaded with sweat from the record-high temperature of late spring in Manhattan. Standing before her in the spacious hotel room was Ronell Stephens’s mother, Alice. The attractive older woman wore the same lavender suit she’d sported the night Kit first met her, at the basement prayer meeting celebrating Kit’s miracle painting. The lavender suit must be Alice’s best outfit—or her only outfit, as far as Kit knew; she’d only laid eyes on the woman these two times. All Kit really knew about her was that her son had been convicted of homicide. “Absolutely stunning,” Kit exclaimed more loudly, as if volume could be confused for sincerity. “All the sparkles! How creative!” The madness of the moment overwhelmed Kit as she faked a smile and adjusted her perch on the sofa arm. It was as if she had been suddenly asked to identify herself in a police lineup. She couldn’t recognize her own life—not to point to it with certainty and proclaim, Yes, that’s the one. How did she get here? What had she become? A month ago she’d been minding her own precious business, painting portraits of unknown murderers and enjoying the success of a rising-star artist. Since her painting of Ronell had magically sprouted tears, she’d been dropped from her gallery, turned into tabloid fodder, visited a maximum-security prison, appeared on two morning talk shows to lecture a blinking camera about the inherent racism of the US judicial system, and, oh, yeah, had her life threatened by the revenge-seeking son of the cop Ronell had allegedly shot to death. It was that last item that had brought on bouts of queasiness about the plan for today. Mateo Esposito, who had already tried to bash her head in with a baseball bat, was out there somewhere on the loose. The police had been unable to find him. He was out there with god knows what arsenal of weapons, and in one hour Kit was scheduled to speak alongside Alice at a rally at City Hall, demanding the reopening of Ronell’s case. In other words, she’d be a squawking sitting duck (or standing, really), ripe for Mateo’s aim. Kit had rented this hotel room for Alice as a gift. It was two blocks from the rally, so Alice didn’t have to worry about traveling from the outer boroughs on top of everything else. Nearly a thousand protesters were expected to besiege the courthouse steps this afternoon, many of them from Alice and Ronell’s Queens neighborhood, many others from the Manhattan art world, where Kit had suddenly become a symbol of resistance. Kit assumed that the robe Alice was currently presenting to her in the middle of the hotel room was her idea of a thank you. The robe was hand stitched, covered in shiny black sequins, and lined with fake black mink fur. Alice held it out and shook it as if tempting a bull to charge her. It was the ugliest piece of clothing Kit had ever had the misfortune of beholding. “I made it for you myself,” Alice said, with pride and raised eyebrows. Her lavender eye shadow matched her suit. “For you to wear today at the rally for Ronell.” “Oh,” Kit moaned. “I couldn’t. I couldn’t possibly.” She struggled for a reason other than vanity (which had always been reason enough, as far as Kit was concerned). “It’s so eye-catching, it will steal the attention away from Ronell, from our message!” Kit thought this excuse rather coherent considering she had had all of five seconds to invent it. Alice’s face deflated, her eyebrows dropping and the lavender eye shadow shrinking into squinted folds. Kit glanced at her friend Bruce, who leaned against the hotel door right next to the emergency escape-route map. Kit had brought him to serve as her support
St. Kit of New York
system—she could always trust her friend’s sarcastic pragmatism to keep her feet glued to the ground. Surely he wouldn’t want her draped in black sequins in 100-degree heat delivering a speech about police brutality? Kit imagined explaining the outfit to her greatgrandchildren while watching some future version of YouTube. Bruce’s only reaction was a fond nod. She grunted at his unhelpfulness and rotated her eyes back onto Alice. “Does it look too much like a judge’s robe?” Kit asked. “I don’t know if we should encourage references to authority figures.” Kit had purposefully chosen to wear a simple green shirt and skirt—pale cadmium #084 in her box of oil paints—because of the color’s vaguely militant, Viet Cong, camo-uniform associations. The tucked-in blouse and tightat-the-waist skirt also flattered her thin frame. “I thought of it more like a choir robe,” Alice replied, delicately bunching the synthetic fabric. “The rest of us will be wearing our choir robes. Yours is the only one with sequins. Because you’re the one who made all of this possible for Ronell. The beads will catch the sunlight just like you’re a saint.” Tears streamed down Alice’s cheeks and disappeared into the creases of her broad smile. Crying while smiling always reminded Kit of those times growing up in the suburbs of Baltimore when it rained while the sun shone. She rose from the sofa and grabbed the robe. “Let me try it on.” She nodded at Bruce to follow her into the adjoining bedroom. Alice’s two older sisters sat on the bed, also dressed in pantsuits of Easter egg pastels. Between them were a number of open photo albums starring Ronell as an infant and a toddler. There were even a few loose shots of him in junior high school—right up to the point of puberty and, presumably, the moment he started to involve himself in more criminal after-school interests. Ronell had admitted being a drug dealer when she visited him in prison. The sisters turned from their knee-to-knee huddle and stared up at Kit with adoration. The bedroom offered no privacy for a candid talk with Bruce, so she opened the bathroom door and waved him in. Before she closed the door, she caught Alice’s face in the outer room, watching her with apprehension. Alice Stephens’s son had dealt drugs and may or may not have shot an undercover narcotics officer. But she disapproved of a young woman entering a bathroom with an older man—even if Kit happened to be paying for the hotel room, even if Bruce happened to be a fifty-year-old gay man who bragged about not knowing the names for most parts of the female genitalia. Kit slammed the door shut. Alice’s makeup tubes were spread across the counter. Bruce pressed his knuckles on the marble countertop and stared at her in the mirror. She searched for his sarcastic smile but couldn’t locate it. To induce that smile, she waved the robe in her fist. “Maybe if it were bullet-proof I’d consider it,” she whispered. “But, my god, look at it! Sequins! What was she thinking? I’ve finally found my breaking point. It wasn’t the death threats. It’s this robe.” Bruce wasn’t smirking, only watching her soberly in the mirror. Kit turned and grabbed him by the shoulder. “What’s wrong with you?” she asked. “Let me guess. You think it’s perversely chic!” He didn’t laugh but kept his eyes trained on hers. “What difference does it make?” he asked. “Easy for you to say when you don’t have to be caught—” “Kit, you’re talking like this is still about you.” Bruce’s cement-fixed gaze on her face was starting to spook her, as if she should have heeded Alice’s warning about locking herself in a small, confined space with him. “Why not wear it if the poor woman wants you to? After all she’s given you. . . . ”
“Given me?” She took a step back. “Don’t you mean, all I’ve given her? All I’ve done, all I’ve thrown away—” “She’s given you the opportunity to change,” he said, as his hands mimed a cable breaking between them. “Who gets that chance? Are you completely blind? You have the chance to make a real impact, to give people a belief in something more than they’ve ever been offered anywhere else. Kit, don’t waste it. Please don’t.” Only when Bruce pinched his eyelids did she realize he’d been crying. What was it about this hotel room that caused everyone who set foot in it to break down? Kit also only realized when he wiped his tears away that her friend was not the same hilarious, hedonistic socializer she’d known for a New York eternity. “Do you think I want to continue on like I have?” he asked. “To be that man for the rest of my life? To sleep with any young person who’s willing to say yes to me? To consider it an achievement if I don’t start drinking until noon? To be writing articles about twentyyear-old painters who think they’re the next de Kooning even though they only learned who de Kooning was a year ago? To be the walking, talking, sighing joke in every room?” He shook his head as if to answer the questions for her. “I’m not alive to be someone’s amusing lunch partner. This situation with your painting has woken something inside of me, and I don’t want it to go back to sleep again. Kit, I’m asking you to take what you’re doing seriously. I need to believe that it’s possible to change, that a hand can reach out in life and shake you. This miracle is bigger than you are. Don’t ruin it. Let people have their hope.” Right up until that moment in the bathroom, Kit had mistaken the crying painting for her story. In the back of her mind, she had assumed that once this weird season was over, she’d return to her art career and its cocktail parties, and an August vacation at Bruce’s house in San Sebastián, and a future of pretty women and men as lovers, and the hope that one day this entire bizarre interlude might inspire a clever series of canvases. At most, Kit thought the incident was a test of her character—never a test of her herself. But as she stared at the reflection of her friend sobbing into his hands in the mirror, she finally understood that it mattered very little what Kit Carrodine felt about anything that had happened. This wasn’t her story; she was merely its instrument. “Oh god,” she wheezed, staring into the sink. Bruce put a hand on her back. “What’s wrong?” She wanted to tell him, Oh god, she’s gone. The old Kit I was is gone. Instead she said, “Nothing,” and slid her arms into the robe. Downtown Manhattan boiled in the heat. That Saturday noon, most of its gummy sidewalks were deserted—the residents who hadn’t escaped the island for cooler shores were taking refuge from the hot snap in their air-conditioned apartments. But the park and streets at City Hall were crammed with the angry and the faithful. They were of all ages and skin colors. The estimated 1,000 attendees had swelled to 2,000, and many brandished signs or posters or T-shirts of Kit’s now iconic Untitled, #7 showing Ronell Stephens. Others carried water pistols that had initially been intended to symbolize police violence but were used instead to relieve the crowds with cascades of water. On a different day, Kit might have recalled that these courthouse steps were the same ones where not long ago her ex-boyfriend Kai had garbled a mention of their getting married. “Uh, you know, we should do it one day, it’d be so quick,” he’d said, as if quickness were the chief selling point. “We could do it right here at City Hall and bring one friend as a witness. You know, because I want to be with you. Think about it. Seriously. Are you hungry? Tacos?” Kai’s squeamish nonproposal had been the actual deathblow to their relationship. Kit couldn’t continue to date a man who even unrealistically fantasized about making her a wife. She’d broken up with him a few weeks later, right before her painting started weeping
St. Kit of New York
at Haskell Vex’s gallery. That seemed so long ago now—almost another planet ago, another universe. As Kit mounted the steps alongside Alice Stephens, she wasn’t thinking of Kai. A young poetess activist with dyed-white dreadlocks introduced Kit, “the painter of miracles,” and handed her a bullhorn. She spoke into it to the thousands of faces in front of her, some weeping, some nodding devoutly, some chanting her name. Kit was here to give people the hope they’d been longing to taste their whole lives. Manhattan had once been a city of transformation, and she’d prove that it was possible for this soulless shopping complex to transform again. All could be reborn here, shaking off one existence for the fresh skin of another. A photojournalist knelt before her to snap pictures as she spoke, her arms moving through the sequined folds as if she were swimming in black, moonlit water. Hundreds of phones recorded her every movement and word. On the screens she appeared as a shining column of light. “I cannot say if my painting is a divine or an earthly act, but I will say with absolute assurance that we can change ourselves into agents of good. We can perform a human miracle. We can think collectively instead of individually and make amends for the sins we’ve caused. Who among us feels they can take another step in this same, dead direction?” Noooooo, went the crowd’s roar in response. “We start over as one right now! We start by releasing Ronell Stephens from prison today!” Cheers erupted across the park. The frail metal gates that separated Kit from the multitudes were beginning to buckle with the press of bodies. Kit fed the crowd that was feeding her. She demanded an official response from the mayor and the resignation of the district attorney. Then she grabbed Alice’s hand and hoisted their arms high in the air. “This is what solidarity looks like,” she promised. Why had no one told her this fundamental secret: the answer to pain wasn’t all those years alone in her studio trying to create meaning from art; the answer was this tight clench of hands, this soft embrace of people, this gathering together under the open sky. Nothing had ever made her feel so alive. She offered Alice the bullhorn. “They want to hear from you,” Kit said. She ceded the steps to Ronell’s mother. It was only once on the sidelines, listening to Alice describe the state’s murky evidence against her son, that Kit processed the full intensity of the crowd. Like running her fingers across smooth wire only to hit upon a sharp barb, she stared out at the faces and envisioned Mateo, her assassin, somewhere in the crush. She was so vulnerable on these steps, within mere arm’s reach of anyone, and she noticed very few police officers in sight. In any case Kit doubted the cops would do much to protect her, since she was, in effect, asking for the release of a man convicted of killing one of their own. Fear began to burrow into her brain. She imagined a bullet striking her chest, or a hammer blow to the back of her skull. Kit had too much to live for, too much to do—she felt she’d only just woken up to the world. A teenager in a wheelchair was pushed toward the metal gates, a Japanese boy with twisted legs and a twisted spine. Kit bent over the gate to touch her palm to his chin. The boy seemed to appreciate the attention, and his father thanked her behind his thick glasses. “I’m so glad you two could make it,” she said as she stood up. That’s when she caught a flurry of movement shooting toward her from deep in the crowd. Bodies were shifting around some advancing force, the way stalks are swept aside when an animal charges through a field of corn. An instinct told Kit that she was in danger. She stumbled back from the gate and gathered the hem of her robe to hop up the courthouse steps. Aware that she was now standing too close to Alice in the middle of her speech, accidentally hogging someone else’s spotlight, Kit hurried across the steps. She spotted a figure darting through the congested front section to intercept her on the other side. It must be Mateo, she thought. Here, finally, was the son of Anthony Esposito to take her life in exchange for his. It was too good a life to lose.
Kit climbed over the security gate and entered the squeeze of bodies. Hands reached out like branches in a forest to shield or scratch her. “Excuse me,” she said politely, “please let me through.” But Mateo Esposito was not far behind, she could feel it, so she dug through the people—her people—shouting less politely, “Excuse me! Out of the way! I need to get through!” The sequined robe was too obvious of a target, for Mateo and for every single protester hoping to soak up her spirit by skin-to-skin contact. Kit yanked the dense fabric from her body, and as she slipped between two sweaty, heavyset men as stationary as sequoias, the robe came loose from her grip. At least she looked like a civilian again, anonymous and free. She made it out of the park and into the far street, where there was room to maneuver. In the corner of her eye, though, she still saw the figure chasing behind her. She dodged a pretzel vendor and two black children hugging a Great Dane, and nearly lost her balance as she stumbled over a sidewalk curb. The young man in pursuit was temporarily corralled by the Great Dane’s leash. Kit found herself at the entrance to the uptown subway, and without thinking she dove down its steps to disappear deep inside the earth. Knocking against riders exiting the station, she raced to the turnstile, jumped it, and sprinted for the car doors. She was too late. The steel doors shut in her face. She chased after the retreating train until it was swallowed by the tunnel. Kit’s run sputtered out as she reached the end of the waiting platform. Down here, in the balmy winds of the underground, where the horrors of the city scavenged for food in the trash cans and scurried with long pink tails on the tracks, she had hit a dead end. How could she be so stupid after so many years in Manhattan surviving on her wits? As she turned around, she nearly accepted her fate. The man who had been chasing her passed through the turnstile and started his approach down the deserted station. Kit stood her ground. At least Mateo would have to walk the forty feet to kill her. She wouldn’t meet him halfway. “Kit,” the man hissed. “Why the hell were you running?” The monotone voice was so familiar—so specific to eighteen months of her previous life—that her fear turned into an admixture of happiness and rage. The man wearing ratty gray sweat shorts and a paint-flecked tank top, now the length of a public bench away from her, wasn’t Mateo Esposito. It was her ex-boyfriend. Kai’s face was hollow in the cheeks and swollen in the eyes. A recent haircut hadn’t eased the sharp desperation of his features. In other words, Kai looked exactly like the man who had spent the past month phoning Kit at her studio, begging for a chance to win her back. Thanks to her assistant, Grace, she’d avoided all of his calls. She had so many other hearts to fill now that his seemed claustrophobic by comparison. How had she fit inside it for even a day, let alone eighteen months? “I’ve tried to talk to you so many times,” Kai said. “I know. But it wouldn’t have done any good. We’re never going to get back together. I’m not even the same person you shared an apartment with. I’m sorry.” “It’s not that,” he scoffed. It might not have been that, but clearly a second dose of rejection stung. Kai rolled his eyes and, in hurt, studied the grimy wall tiles. “I felt guilty. I felt like I owed you an explanation or an apology. But look at you now. Celebrity miracle worker. I caught your interview on TV. Christ, Kit, are you aware of what a fool you’ve become? The Kit I knew would have preferred a razor blade to the wrist.” Kit took a patient breath. “I accept that you’re hurting,” she said, “but you don’t owe me any apologies or explanations. You weren’t a bad boyfriend. What you need to know is that I’ve changed.” Now she wished she hadn’t removed the robe. Kai always did learn best by visual evidence. “I’ve taken a new path. For whatever reason, I’ve been chosen to help heal the wounds of the world.”
St. Kit of New York
For a moment, Kai nodded respectfully. But his respect was a show, and he followed it up with mocking, sniggering laughter. He strapped his arm over his stomach and bent into it. “You’re hilarious. You were chosen?” “I don’t expect you to believe me. It doesn’t matter if you do.” “Because of the tears on that painting?” Kai stepped forward, his chin raised and his jaw clenched. “I did that! I put those tears there! That was me!” Kit couldn’t absorb this information. She tried to picture Kai summoning the telekinetic power of automatic tears on inanimate objects. He must have caught the look of confusion on her face. “It’s a chemical compound one of my science friends whipped up. It’s a gel that secretes water over time. I went into Haskell’s gallery right after you dumped me, chose one of your prisoners at random, and smeared it on the eyes. It was revenge!” “Revenge?” Kit repeated almost soundlessly. In her shock, she was still trying to comprehend the chemical compound part. She was still trying to comprehend the That was me part—which meant, That wasn’t her, which meant, That wasn’t some divine spirit who chose Kit Carrodine specifically to be a guiding force. “You didn’t cry,” Kai shouted. “You didn’t cry once when we broke up. I think I even saw you smile when you turned away. You were so thrilled to be rid of me. You couldn’t even bother with tears. I don’t know why that surprised me. All you ever cared about was your work. So I decided to make one of your paintings cry!” There had been no miracle. The entire last month had been a joke. There had been nothing special about her, or Ronell Stephens, or any of the thousands of faithful sending their prayers skyward. A joke. The destruction of her whole career had been a joke. “I figured when Haskell ran some tests, they’d discover the gel right away,” Kai said. “I was angry, okay? I wanted you hurt. Embarrassed. Why didn’t Haskell test the damn painting the first week?” “I didn’t let him,” she mumbled. “You’re the last person I expected to fall for a crying painting. It was supposed to piss you off, not turn you into a believer. I’m sorry, okay?” “Sorry,” she repeated. She thought of Bruce. She thought of Alice Stephens. She thought of Ronell in his prison cell upstate. She thought of the 2,000 protesters above them right now in City Hall Park. “Well,” Kai muttered, “the show’s over. Now you know. If you’d just picked up my call I could have told you the truth weeks ago.” “Kai,” she wheezed. She was finally thinking clearly. Her brain had caught up to her heartbreak. “You can’t say anything. You can’t tell anyone what you’ve done.” He scowled at her. “Oh, I get it. You don’t want the curtain pulled on your act. You want to keep being beloved St. Kit of the Chelsea art world. No way. I’m coming clean.” “You can’t.” “Yes, I can. And I will. Fuck you, Kit. It’s not fair manipulating everyone just so you can have your name in the papers. Jesus, this really is the perfect city for you because clearly you’ll do anything to be famous.” But it was no longer Kit Carrodine that Kit was worried about. She couldn’t let the trust and faith that so many had built around her painting be destroyed. It couldn’t be revealed as a fabrication—worse, a prank—when so many had staked their past selves on the promise of their future ones. Kit heard the echoes of an uptown train whistling along the tracks. “I forgive you,” she heard herself tell him. “I forgive you for all of it.” Kai cocked his head distrustfully. “You do?” “Yes. And I’m tired of all of this beating each other up. Can you forgive me?” The whistling grew louder in the mouth of the tunnel. She didn’t have much time.
Kai poked his tongue around his gums. “I guess so, yeah. I forgive you. You really hurt me.” “I know.” “I’m still going public with the truth,” he warned her. “If you’re trying to—” “I’m not talking about the stupid painting, alright. I’m talking about us. Did you mean what you asked me a few months ago on the courthouse steps?” She worried she was rushing too quickly toward her goal. Kai wasn’t an idiot. “Oh, never mind,” she demurred. “Forget it.” Kai gave a last suspicious glance at her before staggering over in the typically lazy manner that she used to find adorable. He blushed with smug satisfaction at their inseparability. The old Kit could not have sacrificed him, but the new Kit had the wounds of the world to consider. There was a serial subway pusher on the loose, and who could say if Kai’s life was more valuable than any of the pusher’s other victims? Which story would lead on the front page of the newspaper tomorrow—her munificent call for unity or another tragedy on the tracks? She hoped it would be the former. The city needed more stories of goodness and hope. “I love you and will always remember what you’ve given,” Kit said as she reached her arms toward him. For a second, had anyone been watching, they might have looked like any young couple staking their future on each other right below City Hall. The uptown train rounded its last bend before whipping into the station. From here on, Kit would have to arrange the miracles herself. THE END
FROM THE SHOP
SOMETHING SPECIAL 1
C Y TW O M BLY TH E PRIN TED GR APH IC W O R K CATALO G U E R AISO N N É
ED ITED BY H EIN ER BASTIAN SCH IR M ER /M O SEL
Art of the Sixties (1971) is the fifth revised of a catalogue on the Ludwig Collection and features works by ninety-two artists including John Chamberlain, Roy Lichtenstein, Pablo Picasso, Richard Serra, Cy Twombly, and others. The book was created with an embossed plastic cover, a Plexiglas spine, and 209 color plates tipped in on special paper with a printed transparency overlay for each artist section.
First published in 1984 and now reprinted for the first time, this edition of Heiner Bastian’s Cy Twombly: The Printed Graphic Work Catalogue Raisonné has been revised and updated to include Twombly’s graphic works from the time of the first edition until his death, in 2011, creating a comprehensive overview of the artist’s graphic work. Photo courtesy Galerie Bastian
With its text by the curator Alan Solomon and photographs by Ugo Mulas, New York: The New Art Scene (1967) is a time capsule of the city’s art world in the 1960s. These were the years of Pop art, but in addition to studio visits to Roy Lichtenstein, Andy Warhol, and Tom Wesselmann, the book documents John Chamberlain, Marcel Duchamp, Jasper Johns, Barnett Newman, and others.
Rudolf Stingel’s Instructions (1989) is a self-published artist’s book that identifies and illustrates the tools and steps needed to make a painting. The publication includes texts in English, Italian, German, Spanish, and Japanese.
By or of Marcel Duchamp or Rrose Sélavy was originally published on the occasion of the first major retrospective of Duchamp’s work, at the Pasadena Art Museum (now the Norton Simon Museum) in 1963. The exhibition was curated by Walter Hopps, and is considered one of the most significant shows he organized while at the helm in Pasadena. Duchamp was deeply involved in the design of the catalogue.
Couleur de Picasso is the original 1948 issue of Verve devoted solely to illustrating the paintings and drawings of Pablo Picasso. The issue includes texts in French by Picasso and Jaime Sabartés. © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.
Helen Frankenthaler: After Abstract Expressionism, 1959–1962 was published on the occasion of an exhibition at Gagosian Paris in 2017, the artist’s first exhibition there in more than fifty years and one exploring a radical and lesser-known body of her work. The exhibition catalogue illustrates the sixteen works in the exhibition and features a new essay by curator John Elderfield, published in both English and French.
Carsten Höller’s Multiple Mushroom Dome (2012) is a handmade and hand-painted small-scale version of his signature Giant Triple Mushroom works which congeals multiple types of fungi into one sculpture.
In 2016, Edmund de Waal created fault line, his first edition of porcelain. The series contains the shards of a vessel that was glazed a soft, dark, black basalt and then broken into fifty fragments. Each shard is gilded on one of its edges.
The well-known American architect Peter Marino has used Varius writing instruments for many years. Caran d’Ache has now unveiled the special-edition pen Varius Peter Marino, designed by the architect and reflecting his unique personality. The body of the pen is clothed in French-sourced calfskin adorned with handmade leather lacing and silver- and rhodium-coated eyelets. The pen was produced in an edition of 150.
The Hard Edge Etchings (2016) are a new group of intaglio prints by Michael Heizer, produced in collaboration with Durham Press. Made using custom-cut copper shaped-plates, the prints were derived from hundreds of drawings that Heizer made with rulers, protractors, and French curves. Their unique silhouettes relate to the shaped canvases of Heizer’s Wet Paintings (2016) and their distinctive lines reflect his interest in the visual lexicons of European, Egyptian, and Mesoamerican art.
Pablo Picasso’s Dessins d’un Demi-Siecle was published in 1956 by Berggruen & Cie and features on its cover an original four-color lithograph by the artist. © 2017 Estate of Pablo Picasso/Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
Chris Burden’s Custom Metropolis II Car is a limited-edition multiple, originally made to accompany the artist’s large-scale sculpture Metropolis II (2010) when it went on view at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Each car has rubber bumpers on the front and rear ends, the artist’s name and the work’s title molded into the sidewalls of all four wheels and into the bottom of the car, and a magnet embedded in the chassis to draw the car up the conveyor belts. Each car stand is signed and numbered on the bottom by Chris Burden.
Jeff Koons was published on the occasion of an exhibition of the artist’s work at Gagosian Beverly Hills in 2017. It features works from his recent series Celebration, Gazing Ball, and Antiquity.
This humorous neon sign by Douglas Gordon and Jonathan Monk is produced in an edition of twenty-four, each one timed to light up, in various colors, at a different hour of the day. This particular sign lights up daily from 4 to 5 p.m., a perfect daily reminder to indulge in a happy-hour treat.
Urs Fischer’s Mixing Palette #1, created in 2016, is an unlimited-edition wallpaper that brings the artist’s palette from the studio to the home.
Anna Heyward discusses Andy Warhol’s Gold Book and touches on the artist’s early years.
From his student days until his death, in 1987, Andy Warhol was obsessed with books. Their image-bearing capacity, their reproducibility, and their immediate, tactile relationship with their readers were all exploited in the characteristically stylish, comic, decorative, irreverent artist’s books that he designed and made. Douglas Flamm, Gagosian’s rare-book specialist, has recently acquired a signed and numbered copy of A Gold Book, from 1957, a highly sought-after edition of 100. The book contains twenty offset lithographs, fourteen of them printed on gold paper, six, of which four in
this copy are hand colored in watercolor, printed on white; this particular example has an additional illustration affixed to its cover. At least a handful of the copies were gifted, as was Warhol’s custom—he sent one copy to Russell Lynes, an editor at Harper’s magazine and a well-known photographer and writer, as a Christmas gift that year. This book encapsulates early Warhol, a world notably distinct from the canny multimedia and sharply Pop aesthetics that make up his primary legacy. In the 1940s and ’50s, as a student at Carnegie Institute of Technology and during the years
Images from Andy Warhol’s Gold Book (1957). © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./ Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY. Photos by Rob McKeever
when he worked as a commercial and fashion illustrator, Warhol (then Andrew Warhola) demonstrated skillful and sensitive draftsmanship in expressive figurative line drawings and minimal sketches. There are clues and precursors to his later work in these drawings; he drew from photographs, keenly transfigured images into iterations of visual themes, and took inspiration from the world and social milieu of his youth. The images—some from photographs, others drawn freehand—show Warholian iconography: shoes, f lowers, a self-portrait. Pieces of pastel-
colored tissue interweave the pages to protect the watercolor. The hand painting of each copy varies: a different rose in a bunch, or a different fruit on a tree branch with a perching bird, may be either colored or left blank, or filled in with a different hue, as though Warhol were using his creation as a kind of coloring book or paint-by-numbers game. A Gold Book was featured in the exhibition Warhol by the Book, at The Andy Warhol Museum, Pittsburgh, in 2015–16, and another copy lies in the Drawings and Prints collection of The Museum of Modern Art.
A Gold Book has a warm radiance. The lustrous matte gold of the pages is warm enough to reflect light from a reading lamp, though in a soft, diffuse way. Gold, a mark of extravagant richness, aesthetic ornamentalism, and form before function, intertwines with the pale purple tissue that encases it, like a gift that is partway unwrapped. The purple is equally symbolic in its associations with royalty. Even while marked by a certain diffidence, the young artist’s use of signs and symbols, of social mores and rules of consumption, is as clear as in any of his later works. At the same time, A Gold
Book is both a nod to pure visual indulgence and a handheld fantasy of the artist’s life. The only text in this artist’s book is the lettering on the cover’s overleaf, a looping cursive executed by Warhol’s mother, Julia Warhola. (There is a computer font, FF Pepe, based on her florid handwriting.) Typically Warhol whimsy, it reads: This is # 70 of a limited edition of 100, Copies signed by the Artist Andy Warhol Dedicated to Boys Filles friuts [sic] and flowers shoes and t c and e. w. Book designed by Miss Georgie Duffee
Celebrating the 40th anniversary of Walter De Mariaâ€™s iconic projects The Lightning Field The New York Earth Room The Vertical Earth Kilometer Dia presents Truck Trilogy
Support for the fabrication of Truck Trilogy was provided by Gagosian Gallery.
Walter De Maria, Truck Trilogy: Red Truck/Square, Triangle, Circle, 2011–17. © Estate of Walter De Maria. Photo: Rob McKeever. Courtesy Gagosian
Through April 2018
Dia:Beacon, Riggio Galleries 3 Beekman Street Beacon New York www.diaart.org
WILLIAM FORSYTHE x RYOJI IKEDA December 1st – 31st 2017 La Villette / Festival d’Automne à Paris
© Dominik Mentzos
Book now Advance booking essential Free for Members #BoomForReal
Basquiat Boom for Real 21 Sep 2017â€“ 28 Jan 2018
Photo: © Edo Bertoglio, courtesy of Maripol Artwork: © The Estate of Jean-Michel Basquiat. Licensed by Artestar, New York
TA TE LIV ER PO O L
RO Y N I E T S N E T LICH 22 SEP Â± 17 JUN 2018
IN FO CU S FREE
@ TATELIVERPOO L #LICHTENSTEININFO CUS #ARTISTROOM S
ionalGalleries ofScotland. Roy Lichtenstein,In the Car1963.Nat ate ofRoy Lichtenstein/DACS 2016. Photography Antonia Reeve.(c)Est
A RTIST RO O M S
at the South London Gallery 28 September – 3 December 2017 Free admission
65–67 Peckham Road, London, SE5 8UH / 020 7703 6120 email@example.com / www.southlondongallery.org With thanks to the Henry Moore Foundation and Gagosian.
Katharina Grosse, Asphalt Air and Hair, 2017. ARoS Triennial THE GARDEN – End of Times; Beginning of Time. The Garden – The Future, Aarhus, Denmark. © Katharina Grosse und VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2017. Photo: Studio Grosse
KATHARINA GROSSE: THIS DROVE MY MOTHER UP THE WALL
November 17, 2017–March 12, 2018 In collaboration with the Musée Rodin in Paris, the Barnes Foundation presents contemporary artist Anselm Kiefer’s experimental responses to masterworks by Auguste Rodin. Unearth how both artists capture the architecture of the human body and the drama of humanity in an exhibition of more than 100 works.
Kiefer Rodin is sponsored by:
2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway Philadelphia, Pa 19130 barnesfoundation.org #KieferRodin
The exhibition catalogue is made possible with funding from the Gagosian Gallery. Anselm Kiefer. Die Walküren (The Valkyries) (detail), 2016. Photo by Georges Poncet. © Anselm Kiefer Auguste Rodin. Meditation Without Arms, but with Left Knee, large version (detail), after 1900. Photo by Christian Baraja. © Musée Rodin, Paris
Z EN G FAN Z H I c atalo g u e raiso n n é Advanced order
From the same publisher
Unseen works published for the first time
To be published in Winter 2017, this first volume of the catalogue takes as its focal point the first 20 years of Zeng Fanzhi’s artistic career, including such many well-known series as early portraits, abstract works, Hospital Triptychs, Meat, and Mask.
This catalogue, co-published by Skira and the Fanzhi Foundation for Art and Education, will be distributed globally. Established in 1928, Skira is an internationally renowned publisher of catalogues raisonné of classical, modern and contemporary masters.
Complete oeuvre of works 1984-2004 Compiled with international standards and methodologies, the catalogue illustrates chronologically every confirmed work by the artist, detailing their background stories, intentions, together with exclusive bibliographic and exhibition records. As a result of years of research and editorial endeavours, it incorporates verified information from collectors, museums and the market, accompanied by unpublished photographs and archival documents, all together to form a landmark publication and an independent reference valuable to collectors and academics specializing in contemporary Asian art.
Book specifications Boxset main book in English: 592 pages, 430 color illustrations, HC clothbound Insert in simplified Chinese: 112 pages, 260 color illustrations, paperback Contributors include, among others, Fumio Nanjo, Chang Tsong-zung and Philippe Dagen. Edited by Gladys Chung. For more information and orders: firstname.lastname@example.org
September 16 / January 7
nashersculpturecenter.org Tom Sachs, Chasen, 2015, Photo: Genevieve Hanson Tom Sachs: Tea Ceremony is made possible with the generous support of the Dallas Art Fair Foundation. Additional support is provided by Amy and John Phelan, Baldwin Gallery, Aspen, CO and Angela Westwater, Sperone Westwater.
Photo by Blackletter/Patrick Crawford
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Â© Urs Fischer, Photo by Stefan Altenburger.
Andy Warhol, Triple Elvis, 1963, silkscreen ink and silver paint on linen, 82 1⁄4 × 72 inches (208.9 × 182.9 cm). © 2017 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc./Licensed by Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY
GAME CHANGER Each issue we look at a particular painting that influenced the course of contemporary art. Here is Andy Warhol’s Triple Elvis, (1963). Text by Derek Blasberg
1963 was a critical year in the history of Pop: John F. Kennedy, considered television’s first president, was assassinated; the Beatles released their first album, Please Please Me; and Andy Warhol mailed a single, thirty-seven-foot-long, rolled-up canvas bearing sixteen images of Elvis Presley to Irving Blum at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, with instructions to unroll it, cut it, and stretch the pieces for his upcoming show. Warhol told Blum that he couldn’t make it to LA for the installation or the opening—a convenient fib; he did in fact arrive at the gallery for the opening, following an eye-opening road trip from New York with Gerard Malanga, Wynn Chamberlain, and Taylor Mead. He would later comment, “The farther West we drove, the more Pop everything looked on the highways. Suddenly we all felt like insiders because even though Pop was everywhere . . . to us, it was the new Art.”
None of the works in the show sold, not even one of the ten new paintings of Elizabeth Taylor, but the exhibition’s importance exceeds that little detail. The series of Elvis paintings on view furthered Warhol’s creative course and refined many of the hallmarks we now associate with his influential career: Hollywood obsession, camp sensibility, commercial appropriation (the image of Elvis was lifted from an advertisement for the 1960 film Flaming Star), and silver. This luminescent sheen appears throughout Warhol’s career; it was the color of his 47th Street Factory and was the background for Tunafish Disaster (1963), Little Electric Chair (1964–65), Silver Car Crash (1963), and more. Warhol would tell the Factory’s archivist, “It was the perfect time to think silver. Silver was the future. . . . The astronauts wore silver suits. And silver was also the past—the silver screen.”