nspiration is often surprising, and it can be exhilarating to catch a glimpse of that spark. Cy Twombly’s art often absorbed passages of literature and mythology. In the pages that follow, works of Twombly’s are accompanied by a selection of poems, classical, global, and contemporary. We feel privileged to peek into Twombly’s references and perhaps to illuminate his work through these evocative words. Our current moment, with equal rights for women foregrounded in a new way, brings a fresh perspective to the strength and power of Jenny Saville’s large, fleshy painted bodies. Her awe for that beauty and her experience as a mother dominate her monumentally scaled paintings, which assert themselves now with renewed urgency. Inspiration often appears in the commonplace. Rachel Whiteread’s US Embassy (Flat pack house) casts a suburban house that might have been bought and built out of a 1950s Sears, Roebuck catalogue as a wall sculpture for the new American Embassy in London. The gesture connects to ideas of home as a place of sanctuary and refuge but also as impermanent, which is particularly poignant amidst the political turmoil resulting from Brexit and the continuing refugee crisis. In this issue we explore how Jeff Koons pulled familiar objects from our daily routines and elevated them in his Easyfun-Ethereal paintings to engage the traditions of Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Dada, and Pop. The act of making can itself prove fertile ground for new ideas; Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall discuss how technological innovations have shifted the capacities of their shared medium, photography, while Jonas Wood talks with master printer Jacob Samuel about how his investigations with printmaking have expanded his painting practice. Encountering works by a number of Chinese artists in New York in the early 1990s, Mark Tansey was immediately struck by the similarities he saw to his own art. His background and theirs were vastly different, yet they had all arrived at remarkably similar places. We present a roundtable discussion that investigates the influence of Soviet Socialist Realism on the work of Chinese artists and the resulting synergy with Tansey’s work. We hope you find this latest issue full of inspirational new art and ideas! Please visit our website for the latest in videos, artist talks, studio visits, and much more. Alison McDonald, Editor-in-chief
26 Andreas Gursky A conversation between Andreas Gursky and Jeff Wall on the state of photography today and the evolution of the medium.
34 Jenny Saville Dr. Simon Groom studies the evolution of the artist’s practice.
58 Becoming Home
Rachel Whiteread’s commission for the new American embassy in London is explored by Virginia Shore, the curator for the project.
Spotlight: Walter De Maria
Work in Progress: Dan Colen
Lars Nittve investigates Truck Trilogy, Walter De Maria’s last work, conceived in 2011 and currently on view at Dia:Beacon.
We visit the artist’s studio in Brooklyn, New York, to get a behind-the-scenes glimpse of his new series of Desert paintings. Text by Ben Eastham.
80 EasyfunEthereal In 2000, Jeff Koons and David Sylvester discussed Koons’s paintings and sculptures.
88 Life and Technology: The Binary of Nam June Paik Alexander Wolf explores the intersection of life and technology as it exists in the work of Nam June Paik.
106 In Conversation Director Gus Van Sant sits down with Derek Blasberg to discuss his influences, his new film, and life in Los Angeles.
Cy Twombly and the Poets Anne Boyer, the inaugural winner of the Cy Twombly Award in Poetry, introduces a portfolio of works by Twombly accompanied by the poems that inspired them.
Cover: Andreas Gursky, El Ejido, 2017 (detail) © Andreas Gursky, VG BILD-KUNST, Bonn Top row, left to right: Dan Colen in his studio, Brooklyn, New York, 2018. Photo by Eric Piasecki
Walter De Maria, Truck Trilogy: Red Truck/Square, Triangle, Circle (2011–17), 1955 red Chevrolet pickup truck with three polished stainless steel rods, 120 × 195 × 75 inches (304.8 × 495.3 × 190.5 cm) © 2018 Estate of Walter De Maria. Photo by Rob McKeever
future history On the completion of their artistic collaboration, Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh spoke with Derek Blasberg.
112 Painters without Borders A roundtable discussion featuring Mark Tansey, Peter Drake, Vitaly Komar, Jane DeBevoise, and Xin Wang.
Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, Kyoto Ensoˉ, 2018, acrylic on canvas mounted on aluminum frame, 55 ½ × 47 ¼ × 2 inches (141 × 120 × 5 cm) © Virgil Abloh © Takashi Murakami Bottom row, left to right: Cy Twombly, Untitled (Les Fleurs du Mal), 1990, acrylic on handmade paper, 30 × 21 ⅞ inches (76.1 × 55.4 cm) © Cy Twombly Foundation Jonas Wood, Matisse Pot 2, 2018, 30-color screen print on Rising museum board, 27 ½ × 28 inches (69.9 × 71.1 cm), edition of 50 © Jonas Wood. Photo by Brian Forrest
TABLE OF CONTENTS SUMMER 2018
In Conversation: Ed Ruscha and JoAnne Northrup Ed Ruscha sat down with JoAnne Northrup of the Nevada Museum of Art to discuss the exhibition Unsettled, which the two co-curated.
Photo credits: Above: Ed Ruscha, Nevada Museum of Art, Reno, September 2017. Photo courtesy Nevada Museum of Art Right: Anselm Kiefer, Uraeus, 2017–18 (detail), lead, stainless steel, fiberglass, and resin, 298 ⅛ × 441 × 346 ½ inches (757 × 1120 × 880 cm) © Anselm Kiefer. Photo by Georges Poncet. Image courtesy Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer. Left: Glenn Brown and Xavier Bray at Gagosian Grosvenor Hill, London, February 28, 2018.
Gagosian Quarterly Talks: Glenn Brown The artist discusses his exhibition Come to Dust with Xavier Bray, the director of the Wallace Collection.
Below: Installation view, Cy Twombly: In Beauty it is finished, Drawings 1951–2008, Gagosian 21st Street, New York, March 8–April 25, 2018 © Cy Twombly Foundation. Photo by Rob McKeever.
128 Gold Standard Michael Slenske discusses the uses of gold in art, from the Aztec Empire to Chris Burden and beyond.
Tomas Maier tells Derek Blasberg why he’s a fan of John Chamberlain’s work and explains his latest runway show for Bottega Veneta.
Wyatt Allgeier discusses the 1984 Arion Press edition of John Ashbery’s “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror.”
152 Game Changer Jenny Saville’s Hyphen debuted in an exhibition called Territories, the artist’s first ever solo show in New York, in 1999. Derek Blasberg revisits this painting.
Jonas Wood Prints The artist speaks with Jacob Samuel, a legendary printmaker based in Los Angeles, about the development of Wood’s printmaking practice and its influence on his paintings.
A video of the installation of Anselm Kiefer’s Uraeus at Rockefeller Center.
THE GAGOSIAN QUARTERLY WEBSITE HAS LAUNCHED
132 Steel & Style
134 Book Corner: 122 The Lives of the Self-Portrait in a Convex Artists, Part Mirror Two: Prodigy A short story by Francine Prose.
Behind the Art: Anselm Kiefer
Cy Twombly: In Beauty it is finished An exhibition of Cy Twombly’s drawings, spanning the years 1951–2008, took place in New York this past spring. Mark Francis, director of the exhibition, describes the impetus for this expansive presentation and details the stories behind some of the works on view.
The site brings readers unprecedented behind-theart access and insightful editorial by leading art world professionals, including studio visits, artist profiles, engaging videos, archival finds from our over thirtyyear publishing history, and more.
Louis Vuitton Blossom Collection
Featuring artwork by Andy Warhol ©/®/™ The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc.
Andreas Gursky Andreas Gursky was born in 1955 in Leipzig, Germany. He attended the Folkwang Universität der Künste, Essen, from 1978 to 1981, and the Kunstakademie, Düsseldorf, from 1981 to 1987, where he studied with Bernd and Hilla Becher. From 2010 to 2018 Gursky held a professorship at the Kunstakademie. A major retrospective of his work was on view at the Hayward Gallery, London, earlier this year. Photo by Dominik Asbach
Dr. Simon Groom
Currently Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, Dr. Simon Groom lived in Japan and Italy before starting his career at Kettle’s Yard, University of Cambridge, where he curated the first UK retrospective of the Japanese group Mono-ha. He later moved to Tate Liverpool as Head of Exhibitions.
Anne Boyer is a poet and essayist, the inaugural winner of the Cy Twombly Award in Poetry from the Foundation for Contemporary Arts, and a 2018 Whiting Award winner. Her latest book is the essay collection A Handbook of Disappointed Fate (Ugly Duckling Presse, 2018). Her poetry collection Garments against Women (Ahsahta, 2015) won the CLMP award.
Lars Nittve is an art historian, curator, and writer. For almost thirty years he was the director of a number of major museums around the world, including the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Denmark, Tate Modern, London, Moderna Museet, Stockholm, and most recently M+, Hong Kong. Since the spring of 2016 he has been an independent writer and advisor to museums and foundations worldwide.
Francine Prose is the author of twenty-one works of fiction, including, most recently, the highly acclaimed Mister Monkey. She is the recipient of numerous grants and honors, including a Guggenheim and a Fulbright, and was a Director’s Fellow at the New York Public Library’s Center for Scholars and Writers. Photo by Christine Jean Chambers
Jonas Wood Jonas Wood’s first print survey at Gagosian New York demonstrates his intuitive synthesis of painting and printmaking. His scenography, collage, and patterning contain gestures toward narratives both real and imagined, while maintaining a graphic deftness and a lively sense of wit.
Jacob Samuel Jacob Samuel’s imprint Edition Jacob Samuel (EJS) was established in 1988 and published sixty-five series of prints by sixty artists before closing in 2015. Archives of EJS publications are included in the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum, Los Angeles, and the Museum of Modern Art, New York. In 2016, he began working with Jonas Wood on prints by WKS Editions.
Ben Eastham is a writer and editor based in London. He is founding editor and publisher of The White Review and associate editor of ArtReview. He was an associate editor of the documenta 14 magazine, and his writing has appeared in the London Review of Books, the New York Times, Frieze, Mousse, the Times Literary Supplement, and elsewhere.
Eric Piasecki is a photographer based between Santa Fe and New York. His work has been extensively published in leading shelter magazines including Architectural Digest and Elle Decor, as well as in monographs for many top architects and designers. Upcoming titles include Atmosphere by designer Steven Gambrel and A Place to Call Home by architect Gil Schafer.
Jane DeBevoise is Chair of the Board of Directors of Asia Art Archive in Hong Kong and New York. Before moving to Hong Kong in 2002, Ms. DeBevoise was Deputy Director of the Guggenheim Museum, responsible for museum operations and exhibitions globally. She joined the museum in 1996 as Project Director of China: 5000 Years (1998), an exhibition of traditional and modern Chinese art.
Peter Drake is a visual artist and the Provost of the New York Academy of Art, a progressive figurative and representational graduate program in New York City. Drake actively exhibits, lectures, curates, serves as a Board Member for the Artist’s Fellowship, Inc., and is a jurist for Base Istanbul and the XL Catlin Art Prize. In spring 2018 he co-curated Figurative Diaspora with Mark Tansey.
Dan Colen’s paintings continually investigate to what extent art comes from the artist and to what extent it arises from forces independent of the artist. His work is included in the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York; the Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens, Greece; the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Washington, DC; the Jimenez-Colon Collection, Ponce, Puerto Rico; and more. An exhibition of his work was recently on view at the Newport Street Gallery, London. In this issue we visit the artist’s studio and preview the Desert series. Photo by Eric Piasecki
Takashi Murakami earned a PhD from the Tokyo University of the Arts Graduate School of Fine Arts. He began exhibiting while still at the university, and in 1996 established the Hiropon Factory studio (today Kaikai Kiki). In addition to the production and marketing of Murakami’s art and related work, Kaikai Kiki functions as a supportive environment for the fostering of emerging artists. With the curation of the 2000 Superflat exhibition, Murakami advanced the Superflat theory of Japanese art. He has exhibited widely both in Japan and overseas.
Michael Slenske is a LA-based writer and editor. He has served as the editor-at-large of CULTURED and LALA and as a contributing editor at Modern Painters and Art + Auction. His work has been anthologized, included in numerous artist monographs, and appears in WSJ., Architectural Digest, W, Wallpaper*, and DesignLA. Photo by Steven Perilloux
Virginia Shore is an art curator, advisor, and advocate living in Washington DC. She is currently collaborating with the Emerson Collective, Halcyon Arts Lab, and the Hall Group on public art projects. Previously, Ms. Shore was the Chief Curator of the US Department of State's Arts in Embassies (AIE) Program.
Virgil Abloh was born in 1980 in Rockford, Illinois. After earning a degree in civil engineering from the University of Wisconsin–Madison, he completed a master’s degree in architecture at the Illinois Institute of Technology. Abloh’s experience has spanned varying platforms over the past two decades. In the year 2016, he curated an exhibition of works (“free cubes,” “material table,” and “trivision sign”) from his furniture collection for Design Miami at Art Basel. 2013 marked the inception of a Milan-based clothing line entitled Off-White, for which he was awarded the British Fashion Council’s Urban Luxe award in 2017. This past spring he was appointed artistic director of menswear at Louis Vuitton. In 2019, the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, will hold a retrospective of his work, curated by Michael Darling. Photo by Koichiro Matsui ©︎ Virgil Abloh and ©︎ Takashi Murakami
Vitaly Komar, like his creative partner Alexander Melamid, is a Moscowborn artist who emigrated to New York in 1978. Komar is one of the founders of the Sots Art movement of the 1970s and ’80s, which is considered the USSR’s answer to Pop art. Their work used the iconography and propaganda symbols of Soviet Russia to deconstruct and explode established myth.
Xin Wang is an art historian, curator, and art critic based in New York. Her writing has appeared in numerous exhibition catalogues and publications such as E-flux, Artforum, Rhizome, Kaleidoscope, Art in America, Flash Art, Hyperallergic, and Leap. She is currently pursuing a PhD in modern and contemporary art at the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU.
Mark Tansey was born in 1949 in San Jose, California, and received his BA in 1972 from the Art Center College of Design, Los Angeles. He completed his graduate studies in painting from 1975 to 1978 at Hunter College, New York. Tansey’s work has been the subject of numerous solo museum exhibitions. He currently lives and works in Portsmouth, Rhode Island, and New York City. In this issue Tansey participates in a roundtable discussion about the 1994 exhibition he hosted called Transformations as well as Figurative Diaspora, the recent exhibition he co-curated with Peter Drake of the New York Academy of Art. Photo by DPA Picture Alliance Archive/Alamy Stock Photo
Wyatt Allgeier is a writer and an editor for the Gagosian Quarterly. He obtained a degree in studio art from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill before moving to New York City to complete MoMA PS1’s Summer School program with Genesis Breyer P-Orridge in 2012. He is currently working on a collection of poetry. Photo by Brian Gilmartin
Derek Blasberg is a writer, editor, and New York Times best-selling author. In addition to being the Executive Editor of Gagosian Quarterly, he is Vanity Fair’s “Our Man on the Street” and the host of the television show CNN Style. Photo by Pier Guido Grassano
Jeff Wall was born in 1946 in Vancouver, Canada, where he continues to live and work. He has exhibited widely, including solo exhibitions at Tate Modern (2005), the Museum of Modern Art, New York/Art Institute of Chicago/San Francisco Museum of Modern Art (2007), and Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam/Kunsthaus Bregenz (2014). A major exhibition of his work at the Kunsthalle Mannheim, Germany, will be on view June 2– September 9, 2018. Photo by Miro Kuzmanovic
Alexander Wolf Alexander Wolf has written for Modern Painters, Art in America, The Last Magazine, and The New Republic. He joined Gagosian New York in 2013 and has recently written on Mark Tansey and Robert Therrien. For this issue, Wolf discusses the work of Nam June Paik.
Gagosian Quarterly, Summer 2018
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
Website Wolfram Wiedner Studio
Distribution David Renard Distributed by Pineapple Media Ltd Distribution Manager Kelly McDaniel Prepress DL Imaging
Cover Andreas Gursky
Printed by Pureprint Group
Contributors Virgil Abloh Wyatt Allgeier Jane DeBevoise Derek Blasberg Anne Boyer Chen Danqing Dan Colen Peter Drake Ben Eastham Dr. Simon Groom Andreas Gursky Vitaly Komar Takashi Murakami Lars Nittve Eric Piasecki Francine Prose Jacob Samuel Virginia Shore Michael Slenske Mark Tansey Jeff Wall Xin Wang Alexander Wolf Jonas Wood
Thanks Rebecca Adib Eric Brown Julie Chappell Elizabeth Childress Angharad Coates Georgina Cohen Cristina Colomar Elizabeth Conn-Hollyn Nicola Del Roscio Valentina Di Cesare Katherine Driscoll Heidi Elbers Douglas Flamm Emily Florido Rebecca Fortey Mark Francis Darlina Goldak Qianfan Gu Amanda Hajjar Stefan Hostettler Kat Hughes Jacqueline Hulburd Luke Ingram Jeff Koons Liu Xiaodong Lauren Mahony Tomas Maier Rob McKeever Adele Minardi Karisa Morante Lily Mortimer Ni Jun Sam Orlofsky Miriam Perez Cindy Xingyi Qi
Stefan Ratibor Kinsey Robb Lauran Rothstein Ralph Rugoff Jenny Saville Sarah Sickles Nick Simunovic Rebecca Sternthal Xanthe Sylvester Jean Tansey Kelsey Tyler Gus Van Sant Kara Vander Weg Annette Völker Patricia Waters Gary Waterston Rachel Whiteread Eva Wildes Penny Yeung Yu Hong
WALTER DE MARIA Lars Nittve investigates Truck Trilogy, Walter De Mariaâ€™s last work, conceived in 2011 and currently on view at Dia:Beacon. 20
he American landscape: we have it in our mind’s eye. Unspecific, but concrete; open and infinite, apart from that mountain range, of course, that always seems to be looming on the horizon. An endless country traversed by telegraph poles, straight roads, and now and then a solitary car—or, actually more likely, a light pickup truck, slowly burrowing its way through the landscape toward the vanishing point. And if it were up to me, that truck would be an early-1950s Chevrolet Advance Design 3100. The 1950s were when the pickup truck boomed, and this Chevy sold more than any other model by far.1 It came to epitomize the hard-working WWII veteran generation and “real American values,” but also, later, the light-hearted American Graffiti teenager. It certainly was everyman’s truck, and maybe that’s why the Chevy 3100, more than any other pickup, has become emblematic in cinema—from small background parts to starring roles, in films from the epic slasher movie The Texas Chainsaw Massacre (1974) through The Getaway 22
(1972), with Steve McQueen and Ali MacGraw, to Every Which Way but Loose (1978) with Clint Eastwood and Sondra Locke. And now, here it stands. Well, not one truck, but three. And not on the concrete apron of a Mobil station along a dusty Route 66, but rather on the polished concrete floor of the bright white industrial cathedral of Dia:Beacon. One black, one dark green, and one equally dark red Chevrolet 3100. No classic beauties, perhaps, but shiny and bright, and with a sort of blunt yet timid charm that, whether despite or because of the absolutely perfect, fetishist finish of every detail, totters on the boundary of the uncanny. The familiar has suddenly turned alien, and we all at once realize that not only are the cars cleaned and polished to perfection, they also appear to have been purged and stripped of any aesthetically superfluous trappings. Gone, for instance, are their side-view mirrors, windshield wipers, license plates, and exhaust pipes. What remains is something exceedingly well-known and comforting—yet foreign. Walter De Maria, the artist behind Truck Trilogy (2011–17), has performed what
Previous spread and above: Installation view, Walter De Maria: Truck Trilogy, Dia:Beacon, NY, September 22, 2017–Fall 2018 Top right: Installation view, Walter De Maria: Truck Trilogy, Dia:Beacon, NY, September 22, 2017–Fall 2018. Photo by Bill Jacobsen Bottom right: Walter De Maria, Truck Trilogy: Red Truck/Square, Triangle, Circle (2011–17), 1955 red Chevrolet pickup truck with three polished stainless steel rods, 120 × 195 × 75 inches (304.8 × 495.3 × 190.5 cm)
could be called a classic Marcel Duchamp maneuver, transplanting familiar, mass-produced objects into a museum. More precisely, this would be an example of what Duchamp called the “assisted readymade”—were it not for the fact that more has been subtracted than added. With the exception of the cargo. On the cargo bed—if you have the opportunity, don’t forget to admire how the Chevrolet designers created a smooth and exquisite metal fold along the edges— there are no chainsaws, or even spades or pitchforks. Instead, three shiny rods of stainless steel rise proudly from the lacquered-wood-panel bed of each truck. One square rod, one triangular, and one round, each exactly eighty inches tall and around five inches thick (their widths vary slightly with their shapes), are grouped in different constellations. The primary geometric shapes of the rods, so incompatible with a truck from the dirt roads but so at home in a museum, are, of course, universal, defined in ancient Greek mathematics and found in most civilizations throughout the ages. The Chevy pickup, on the other hand, is an American icon,
THREE SHINY RODS OF STAINLESS STEEL RISE PROUDLY FROM THE LACQUERED-WOOD-PANEL BED OF EACH TRUCK. 23
rooted in a very particular moment of American history, a moment with which De Maria would have been deeply familiar. Born in California in 1935, he belongs to a generation that learned to drive when the Chevrolet Advance Design dominated rural highways. And it could easily have been a ’50s Chevy pickup truck that drove him into the deserts and mesas of Nevada and New Mexico in search of, and to work on, the major Land Art projects that engrossed him for ten years in the 1960s and ’70s, a
Walter De Maria, Bel Air Trilogy: Square Rod; Bel Air Trilogy: Triangle Rod; Bel Air Trilogy: Circle Rod, 2000–11, stainless steel rods with 1955 Chevrolet Bel Air two-tone hardtops Artwork © 2018 Estate of Walter De Maria. Photos by Rob McKeever unless otherwise noted
1 See Don Bunn, “Chevrolet Trucks. Segment Five: 1947–1954 Advanced Design Pickups,” online at https://web.archive.org/ web/20071018040424/http://www.pickuptruck.com/html/history/ chev_segment5.html (accessed March 2018). 2. Tony Swan, “A Fabulously ’50s Way to See the USA,” New York Times, October 21, 2011. 3. Walter De Maria, quoted in David Bourdon, “Walter De Maria: The Singular Experience,” Art International 12, no. 10 (December 1968):39.
DE MARIA HAS PERFORMED A CLASSIC MARCEL DUCHAMP MANEUVER, TRANSPLANTING FAMILIAR, MASS-PRODUCED OBJECTS INTO A MUSEUM.
project that culminated in the extraordinary Lightning Field (1977) in New Mexico. The Truck Trilogy was De Maria’s last work, conceived in 2011 but incomplete when he died, in 2013. Not until now has his estate been able to complete the work in accordance with his early decisions and instructions. The result is singular and unique. And it is striking how, in this and the work preceding it, Bel Air Trilogy (2000–11), and for the first time in a practice spanning more than five decades, De Maria can be said to have transgressed his fixed principle of never leaving his viewers the slightest possibility of confusing his person—his background, his feelings, his life—with his work. As I said earlier, it is impossible to avoid the thought that the 1950s Chevrolets—whether it be the workhorse Advance Design 3100 or the 1955 Bel Air dream ride—coincided with the college student De Maria’s coming of age. It is hard not to imagine that the iconic cars were making a new appearance, after decades of disciplined artistic work, like an American version of Proust’s madeleine, as catalysts of memory. At least for a moment. But then, of course, there are those ultrashiny stainless-steel rods. They yank us out of our “California Dreaming” and into a world we’ve never set foot in. There they stand on the truck beds, upright, inert, and firmly planted. It is hard to envisage these Chevys speeding down even the straightest of country roads—on the contrary, we sense an echo from the poles of The Lightning Field, which stand immobile, deeply burrowed into the earth. In Bel Air Trilogy, on the other hand—the Bel Air is the car with “a look that’s long, low and lean”2—a rod, either round, square, or triangular, protrudes through the front and back windscreens with a sort of surgical violence emphasizing the driver’s perspective, out across the bonnet and arching over the powerful V8. One set of cars is firmly planted and proud, the other is fast and aggressive—both are simply, strikingly beautiful. With amazingly wide margins, both fulfill the criteria De Maria set for himself in an early interview, namely, that “every work should have at least ten meanings.” They are multifaceted, polysemous, and impossible to pin down or categorize. Yet, the feeling they inspire is intense, dizzying, and hard to handle—the feeling that De Maria strove for and called “the single experience.”3
Previous spread: Andreas Gursky, Utah, 2017 Left: Andreas Gursky, Les Mées, 2016 Below: Jeff Wall, Men Move an Engine Block, 2008, silver gelatin print, 54 ½ × 69 ½ inches (138.5 × 176.5) © Jeff Wall
This past January, the Hayward Gallery in London mounted a major survey of Andreas Gursky’s photography. For the occasion, Gursky and Jeff Wall started an e-mail conversation to discuss the state of photography today and the evolution of the medium.
JEFF WALL There is a distinction to be made between
what I will call the “manner” of photographing for advertising and most magazine work and that which we usually accept as a way of photographing that conforms to the criteria and attitudes of pictorial art. Not only a distinction but a conflict. You can always tell when a photographer is working in the spirit of publicity, even when he or she appears to be making something serious, or trying to. This is a complicated matter because there are really no rules and things that can appear very commercial and even objectionable turn out to be artistically really good—for example some of Roe Ethridge’s work. This line has been blurred ever since Pop art emerged. But even keeping this large complication in mind, and knowing that there are no set guidelines, we always have to deal with this distinction. Because you began where you began, you must have had to deal with this right from the start. ANDREAS GURSKY I wasn’t just forced to deal with this difference, I had to completely free the way I saw from this old commissioned-photography aesthetic. As artists, it’s our job to see images liberated from existing known or acquired aesthetic standards.
of photography as a “museum art.” There’s a feeling of resistance to all that, probably also because of the market aspect. Nevertheless I feel quite akin to much of the newer work and have the feeling that the artists have gotten something positive from what we’ve been trying to do. It’s interesting also how much of this work takes it quite easy in terms of any distinction between photography and other things, like painting or collage. That’s a different attitude from the one that insisted on the total distinctness of photography from everything else, the one I grew up with. What do you think? Since you’re teaching, you’re likely to be closer to the situation than I am. AG You’ve touched on a range of issues about which there is a lot to say. I understand your self-critical doubt, which also plagues me sometimes, but the fact that we appear less often in the contemporary discourse, or in the countless biennales, doesn’t mean in any way that our old works are no longer relevant. I’m thinking, for instance, of The Storyteller (1986), one of many of your works that haven’t lost any of their impact over the last thirty years. The idea that with purely photographic means one could engender a painterly impetus that connects so seamlessly with so many things I’d seen in art history—it really blew me away and inspired me in a very decisive way. And then there was the overwhelming size, the clarity of the formal composition, and your concept of using the familiar medium of advertising photography to allow something to not immediately look like art—a criterion that I often recommend to my students and one that hasn’t lost a shred of its currency. The introduction of the light box was an ingenious move and will always remain an unmistakable signature of your work. I find it interesting, in the first instance, that you talk about our work. However different our works might appear to be individually, I see a great affinity between them. Yes, of course, you talk about filmic characteristics, and sometimes the subjects have a literary background or art-historical references. At a narrative level, I try to avoid these kinds of references—my most recent pictures are perhaps a little drier, a little more analytical.
I discovered how hard this was to do when I began to work digitally and started constructing my images. When I started out, I needed weeks, months to find an image. Ethridge and [Christopher] Williams take an interesting approach to subtly frustrating the subject of commercial photography. This concept can only take one so far, though, and I find the original images they have created more interesting. JW It’s become pretty much conventional now to say that the kind of photograph you and I were making in 1995 or so is something no longer current—that is, the large-scale color image, possibly involving digital construction, in my case involving some form of “cinematography,” meant to establish a new scale and identity for photography closer to that of the other pictorial arts. It’s clear that younger artists feel that they have to go elsewhere—toward more overtly visible and mannered digital work, smaller scale, studio work involving various kinds of hand crafting, and of course dealing with the online image-traffic question. I get the feeling that younger artists are turned off by the prospects of working at a large scale, with all the attendant problems—that they see it as too involved with cultural spectacle and the whole ’90s upsurge 29
I ﬁnd it interesting, in the ﬁrst instance, that you talk about our work. However different our works might appear to be individually, I see a great afﬁnity between them . . . . I see the essential commonality behind that which is depicted. The subject seems to be just a pretext for our interest in and concern with the way the world is constituted. The eye of the camera stands in for the position of the novice, who questions the world and who cannot construe things that are supposedly self-evident. Andreas Gursky
Opposite: Andreas Gursky, Bahrain I, 2005
One could perhaps say that they function, societally speaking, as surrogates for physical states. I’m thinking, for instance, of Amazon , the tulip pictures, or Les Mées . I see the essential commonality behind that which is depicted. The subject seems to be just a pretext for our interest in and concern with the way the world is constituted. The eye of the camera stands in for the position of the novice, who questions the world and who cannot construe things that are supposedly self-evident. I’m thinking here, for instance, of [your photograph of] the dismantled engine block carried by two men . Compared to the compositions of your masterworks, it looks almost unfinished, and yet it remains firmly fixed in my memory, in terms of what I was just talking about. In certain ways, it is perhaps paradoxical to want to say something about the way the world is constituted, while at the same time insisting on the visible in all its clarity and detail—an extension, so to speak, of textual speech and cognitive thinking. That probably sounds very theoretical and I’ve deviated rather from your questions, but ultimately it is also simply the pure joy of seeing and the fascination with it that constantly drives us to make new pictures. I think that we have created an intrinsic visual system that believes in the possibility of depicting reality, and through it creating knowledge. We will probably never abandon this territory, and preserving this tradition doesn’t make any sense to the younger generation. Or they see very few possibilities in inheriting and developing it, because the field has already been ploughed and the whole subject has, as we so charmingly say in German, been gobbled up for breakfast. I completely agree that the younger generation have persuasively developed other approaches and have calmly disregarded concepts like authenticity. Concepts that, in certain ways, seem sacred to us. Wade Guyton comes to mind, who has broken new ground with his montage and destruction techniques and who bridges different disciplines
convincingly. I think he is the big figure that the younger generation are identifying with at the moment. JW You and your colleagues who were together in the [Kunstakademie Düsseldorf] with [Bernd and Hilla Becher] accepted the basic premise that photography, whatever else it might be, was specially rooted in the process of giving an account of the visible, of “things as they are,” or at least as they appear. In the ’80s and ’90s, your work was popularly seen as different from that, as part of a new kind of photography, but now it looks much more to be an extension, a “later phase” of classic modern photography, perhaps of German modern photography. AG The classic Becher students followed Bernd’s doctrine of typologically breaking down the phenomenology of the visible world and exploring a subject arising from that process, like a scientist dissecting their area of interest beneath a microscope. The tool used was generally the large-format camera with tripod, which offered the best basis for this. The generally accepted credo was as follows: life tells the best stories and one must simply help it to tell them. In this sense, we didn’t try to psychoanalyze, but kept our distance and picked light conditions that allowed for as much information and richness of detail as possible. A working method that was more focused on interpretation and subjectivity would have missed the target. The world was meant to appear as it actually is—it was for the viewer to come to any conclusions about it. T he first generat ion of t he Düsseldor f School was able to profit from this approach and to develop important, individual artistic concepts. For instance, Thomas Struth, with his views of streets and architecture, and Thomas Ruff, with his prosaic architectural images and scientifically oriented pictures of stars, but primarily with his radical portraits. These images adhere to a certain mercilessness. Finally Candida Höfer created interiors with a wonderful lightness and poetry, which were 31
Left: Andreas Gursky, Ocean II, 2010 Unless otherwise noted, Artwork © Andreas Gursky/ DACS, 2018
w w w. s a c a i . j p
grainy and not very sharp, but it didn’t do them any harm. She was the only one who worked with a small-format camera, showing that it could also be done differently. Despite this, she didn’t deviate a single centimeter from implementing her idiosyncratic interiors. She sometimes accompanied her father during his stays in the sanatorium and created completely unique images there. But for the second generation, the concept was already starting to crumble and one tried to find new and unexplored areas to conquer. Both Jörg Sasse and I can be placed in the intersection between the first and the second generations. I saw straight away that our forebears had already covered most of the ground available and that the playing field was getting smaller and smaller. To begin with, I put my plate camera in the cellar and tried my luck with a 6 × 7 Plaubel handheld camera, a compromise between the Leica M and Nikon F2 cameras common in Folkwang [the Folkwang Universität der Künste, where Gursky studied between 1978 and 1981] and the Linhofs 32
and Plaubels that were common in the Düsseldorf School. This camera creates passable, sharp pictures, but, most important, doesn’t require a tripod and allows for a more spontaneous way of working, which would have a decisive effect on my visual language. Bernd grumbled that, yes, these early landscapes had a certain something, but that if I’d used a large-format camera they would have been much sharper, that is to say better. I didn’t feel like Bernd understood me enough during this period and listened more to Kasper König, who called these pictures “Sunday pictures.” In retrospect, I can now say that the influence of the Bechers was completely seminal for me, but that it wasn’t the only foundation for the artistic position I hold today. It probably has something to do with the structure of my personality, that I can allow very different, sometimes contradictory archetypes and influences to coexist without them actually contradicting one another. Interview published in full in Andreas Gursky, Hayward Gallery Publishing, 2018
JENNY SAVILLE Dr. Simon Groom, Director of the Scottish National Gallery of Modern Art, Edinburgh, studies the evolution of the artistâ€™s practice. 34
enny Saville remains one of the most complex, ambitious, and instinctive figurative painters working anywhere in the world today. She erupted into public consciousness in 1992 with her graduation show at the Glasgow School of Art (GSA), which caught the eye and wallet of the British collector Charles Saatchi. Since then she has continued to make works that extend the subject matter and test the possibilities of painting, as well as powerfully articulating a very contemporary consciousness of the experience of being in the world. As the late, and great, art historian Linda Nochlin wrote in 2003, the formidable power of Saville’s paintings derives as much from their sheer scale as from the ambiguity of their subject matter. But Nochlin also identified the ambiguity of the work’s formal language, “a language that inscribes a conflict at once visceral and intellectual between the assertive pictorial naturalism of the subject matter and the openly painterly, at times almost abstract, energy of the brushwork. It is as though a Sargent had mated with a de Kooning before our eyes, and the coupling was more of a violent struggle than a love match.”1 This sense of tension, almost violence, is a defining characteristic of Saville’s work to date. Her portraits of large, mostly female nude bodies—“I try to find bodies that manifest in their flesh something of our contemporary age”2—provoke discomfort as much as fascination, repulsion as much as attraction. The technical bravura of the brushwork vies with the often brutalized appearance of the subject matter; lyrical passages of abstraction coexist with figurative details, the visceral with the conceptual. If the mark of intelligence, as Scott Fitzgerald once defined it, is the ability to hold two contradictory beliefs simultaneously, then Saville is a super-smart painter. Never one of a group, or identified with any particular movement or style, Saville has remained distinct and distinctive. She arrived in Glasgow in 1988, when figurative painting was strong at GSA but was identified almost exclusively with the male painters who came to be known as the “New Glasgow Boys,” Steven Campbell, Stephen Conroy, Ken Currie, Peter Howson, and Adrian Wiszniewski. At the same time, painting was being challenged as a self-sufficient medium nowhere more vigorously than at GSA: the school’s newly founded Environmental Art program, which emphasized context, concept, and critical theory, led to a fertile period of experimentation that was to galvanize a whole new generation of artists, from Christine Borland and Cathy Wilkes to Douglas Gordon and Richard Wright. In this context, painting itself seemed to some to have arrived at a dead end, being seen as reactionary and perhaps, more crucially, inadequate to contemporary expression. This milieu forced Saville to test the medium all the more. The interest in the body, and particularly the manipulation of the body, and the construction of a gendered identity, became central to her work at GSA, where a language of contemporary discourse around feminism and critical theory helped to inform her thinking. Propped (1992) shows a nude woman wearing silver shoes, and perched precariously on a Singer-sewing-machine stool. We encounter the figure first through her knees, large in their proximity to the viewer, as our eye then follows her hands and travels up the body to be met by the model’s direct stare, a look that appears to issue us a challenge, confident and defiant in the assertion 36
at college, everybody was into [Anselm] Kiefer and [Georg] Baselitz, and big-time macho paintings. If you painted figuratively, it was seen as a little quaint. I liked those big paintings. I loved [Jackson] Pollock and [Mark] Rothko and all those enormous paintings. And I didn’t feel like being figurative was quaint. And I didn’t want to make paintings that were going to go in someone’s living room. I wanted to make paintings that were going to be in big spaces, that would be taken seriously. The scale of these paintings forces the viewer into a powerful, even uncomfortable physical confrontation with them. It also emphasizes the materiality and construction of the painted surface itself. In works such as Branded (1992), Plan (1993), and others, the women’s flesh shows markings in preparation for plastic surgery, transforming the body into a territory to be mapped. Saville recalls that in Glasgow in the early ’90s, knowledge of cosmetic surgery was almost nonexistent, and she would have to explain what she was doing: “What are these target marks?” people would ask, because they simply hadn’t come across the notion of plastic or cosmetic surgery. I used to spend my whole time describing liposuction to people because they would say, “What is it? That’s a weird word.” And now I don’t think there’s anyone in the Western world who doesn’t know what that is. Another work from this period, Cindy (1993), was based on an image Saville had spotted in a magazine article about a woman who had used her inheritance to rid herself of any resemblance to her family. She had even changed her name, wanting to look like a Sindy doll: I liked this idea of a kind of fictional normality that this woman had created. It was like a mask, of its own physical encounter. Scored in reverse lettering across the surface of the painting, literally carved out of the thick layers of paint with a lino-cutter, is a quotation by the French psychoanalyst Luce Irigaray: “If we continue to speak in this sameness— speak as men have spoken for centuries, we will fail each other. Again, words will pass through our bodies, above our heads—disappear, make us disappear.”3 In Saville’s degree show at GSA, she installed the work with a mirror placed opposite it, a simple device that made the words legible and at the same time placed the viewer reading them firmly within the symbolic space of the painting. Propped is also a massive statement of ambition, seeming to combine two quite contradictory and irreconcilable traditions. The presence of the script asserts the flatness of the picture plane, a key feature in the development of painting as described by Clement Greenberg. But Greenberg applied his theory of historical advance principally to American abstract art, and Saville’s work is figurative—and not only figurative but absolutely contemporary in its depiction of a body type that is familiar but not readily celebrated as heroic in modern times. While large bodies are of course not exclusively contemporary, they are very much a contemporary subject. At the same time, they also refer back to earlier periods of art history when such subjects were more commonplace, and Saville has spoken of her admiration for Rubens. Similarly, she looked to the past in her search to give form to the body, and
the unusual perspective of Propped clearly owes its inspiration to her study of art history: “When I was at Glasgow, I was obsessed with Michelangelo. All my early Prop paintings are based on his big knees coming out from stone, in those unfinished slave sculptures.”4 The title too is significant: referring literally to the support on which the model sits, it also conflates the idea of the woman with that of the prop, suggesting a temporary state, a proxy, something constructed, often simply for the sake of show. Although large in scale, the subject of Propped is riven with the idea of impermanence, almost literally figuring a sense of precarious balance that would run throughout Saville’s work. At well over six feet tall, the figure in Propped, and in the related painting Prop (1993), is made to feel even larger by the perspective, which forces the viewer to look up at a body literally too big for the frame. At a moment when there was open criticism of Saville’s decision to paint such a subject, the works’ scale constituted an assertion of the validity of the figure, and particularly of the female nude, as a subject matter for painting. It was also a reaction to the status of painting at a time when the medium was overtly identified with a particular kind of mostly male, large-scale work, perhaps masking a very real concern over its continuing adequacy: They actually shocked me, those paintings being so big now. I wanted to be taken seriously as a figurative painter. I remember, when I was
which is why the piece looks the way it does. It doesn’t have a kind of form or an edge.
the possibilities of changing yourself, and the same with that of your gender.
Saville’s fascination with the representation of gender and the manipulation of the body was deepened after she left GSA, when she went to New York, at the invitation of one of her collectors, to learn more about cosmetic surgery with the surgeon Barry Weintraub.
It is extraordinary how radical the reconceptualization and normalization of gender issues have been in the past twenty years. Today, Facebook offers fifty-six gender-identity options, and Tinder thirty-seven. But when Saville made these paintings, she remembers:
I already knew I was going to seek out a surgeon. I just found it completely fascinating. There was a certain egotistical side to the surgeons, I have to say, and also the patients, the people who went there thought they were ill. They thought they were sick and I was quite intrigued by that [idea] that if they went through this process, they could come out more natural than they were when they went in. So they had this idea in their head, this fiction of what their natural self should be and the surgeon was going to help them reach that point.
People didn’t even realize that you had bodies that were in-between male and female unless you were in the medical profession, or someone who had a particular interest in that. So I tended to spend a lot of time explaining things, talking to a journalist or an art historian about the issues. In common language, those terms were not there.
Matrix (1999) takes as its subject Del LaGrace Volcano, who was born intersex, raised as a female, and was then transitioning to a male. Volcano was the first such subject with whom Saville worked. Like Cindy, Matrix undermines the conceptual underpinning of traditional portraiture, identifying its interest precisely in the subject’s refusal of a stable identity. The subject matter is also contemporary: the body it shows, thanks to surgery, could not have physically existed previously. When I started researching surgery, there are a huge number of before and after pictures. So when you had somebody who is in between, like Cindy, she’s not before or after. . . . I was interested in the state of in-betweenness, that’s what kind of got me. I was reading a lot about the monstrous feminine—just lots of issues around the body. It was a very contemporary issue—identity, Previous spread: Photo by Robin Friend, courtesy TransGlobe Publishing Ltd, reprinted from Sanctuary: Britain’s Artists and their Studios Opposite: Jenny Saville, Aleppo, 2017– 18, pastel and charcoal on canvas, 78 3⁄4 × 63 inches (200 × 160 cm). Photo by Lucy Dawkins Left: Jenny Saville, Propped, 1992, oil on canvas, 84 × 72 inches (213.4 × 182.9 cm). Collection David Teiger Trust Following spread: Jenny Saville, Out of one, two (symposium), 2016, charcoal and pastel on canvas, 59 7⁄8 × 88 1⁄2 inches (152 × 225 cm). Courtesy Modern Forms. Photo by Mike Bruce Artwork © Jenny Saville
The revelations for Saville of watching a surgeon at work extended beyond the body, it informed her practice as a painter: I liked this idea that flesh was something you could manipulate and move, in the same way you do with paint. So the idea of paint as a substance, as a potential body, and f lesh being moved by a surgeon, came together. And I think watching a surgeon at work actually changed my painting technique because I could see what the layers of flesh were like, and the manipulation of a human body, in the same way that you move paint around. And I wouldn’t have made such scraped, thick paint had I not seen the surgeon at work. It was really influential. The idea of paint as a kind of liquid flesh became more instinctive for Saville when she was working on the Stare series, from 2004 to 2011: “I was working on the Stare Head when I was pregnant with my son, and it was so profound to be making flesh in my body while I was trying to produce flesh on a canvas.” Struck by the port-wine stain on the face of the subject in a small photograph in a dermatological textbook, Saville produced a number of works based on the image. Uncertain in gender, the face in these paintings stares out somewhere slightly beyond the viewer’s gaze, appearing not fully present yet physically insistent: “I guess there’s something enigmatic about a person, or a look, that runs through my work. It’s a kind of blank intensity.” Saville has spoken of how the repeated address of the same subject gave her the freedom to test and expand her ways of working, so that her paintings, while remaining figurative, also became more abstract. She was able to explore abstraction in her handling of the paint, moving from the particular to sensations and ideas with more universal resonance. The Stare paintings demonstrate this thought in process, introducing the paradox of combining the durational notion of time with a stasis corresponding to the work’s subjects—the stare, a prolonged act of fixed looking. The introduction of time, and the increasing emphasis on the physical passage of the paint, demonstrate the increasing complexity of the artist’s conceptual vision and technique. While the body remains the focus of works such as Compass (2013) and Ebb and Flow (2015), made largely in pastel and charcoal, there is a shift from single to multiple figures and a merging of figuration and abstraction. The transparency and fluidity of drawing allowed Saville the opportunity to figure multiple realities simultaneously. This was partly a result of the way she worked, finding inspiration in 37
for the Roman Empire, and a foundation of Western culture. Saville was to spend time living and working in Sicily’s capital, Palermo, between 2003 and 2009, where she came to appreciate the hybrid formation of culture through the layering of time in successive waves of immigration. Her time in Palermo had a powerful influence upon her work:
the countless images that catch her eye, whether from art history, medical textbooks, or Abu Ghraib, the prison run by US forces outside Baghdad after the Iraq War. Pinned to the walls of her studio or scattered across its floor, these images facilitate a way of looking that corresponds closely to the way we process our current experience of the world, with its vast range of eclectic, fragmentary, and simultaneous visual imagery: “I don’t have a hierarchy of what I look at. . . . Google images changed everything: there is no concept of scale or time. A page-three girl and a prehistoric cave painting exist on the same page—it’s so exciting.” The shift to multiple figures also coincided with Saville’s pregnancy:
mixed with a piece of Picasso, and something from Matisse. I just see color combinations and so it becomes this very organic process. As drawings set one on top of the other, the works remain open-ended, layered, full of possibility. The lines both make and obliterate, blurring the edge between creation and destruction. The ambiguity of the figures themselves—whether they are male or female, whether they are different figures or variations on the same figure—reflects the artist’s own more profound and complex experience of self: I’m not drawing a hermaphrodite. I’m drawing many bodies together so that the gender becomes fluid. So parts of the male body become the female body, and that becomes really exciting, because it almost represents more what we’re like as humans, rather than these separate sexes. We’re made up of masculinity and femininity, so those are the things that become interesting by layering them up.5
After I had children, I wanted to find an art that felt like the rawness of giving birth. I lived in Sicily for a long time, so being in Palermo around those myths and ancient history really linked me to that and the myths of the ancient Greek world . . . gods and goddesses and the power of fertility. So that seeped into my work a lot then and it’s a big driving force in my life now, especially in the drawings, a kind of creative urge. I’m much more interested in what the life force is of a creative urge, or how to make something and destroy it and bring it back. Through that cycle, which is basically a cycle of nature, you get to a greater truth, or a more interesting area of the work. I only really managed to do that through looking at ancient art.6 Archaic and classical Greek sculpture, which Saville encountered primarily at the British Museum, London, and the National Archaeological Museum in Athens, is an art almost exclusively about the body. In particular, the fragments of ancient sculpture, which in their cool and pristine detachment retain a power of form and suggestion unmatched in the history of art, have provided a formal and imaginative inspiration for Saville’s work. A comment of Nochlin’s from 2003 remains uncannily prescient today: “Jenny Saville has indeed returned painting to its origins at the same time as she has made it new. . . . above all, she has recreated painting in the image of our own ominous and irrational times, and that in itself is no small achievement.” Saville remains a remarkable artist because so instinctive, because unafraid of contradiction, because only too conscious that the risk of engaging with the art that has come to define us over the past 2000 years could not be greater, but that central to risk is the promise of change:
I had kids and that changed everything—there was a shift between the heavy, singular objects, basically of bodies, to multiplicity. So I’m watching a body grow and a body moving around, and then one year later I had another child, so I had two babies within one year and two weeks. So I was doing drawings because I was so busy with the kids and I just started drawing one on top of the other, on top of the other, and the multiplicity of lines became more descriptive to me about humanity or human bodies moving, in terms of my kids. Then that related me to old master drawings again.
Although the work is figurative, the eye is never allowed to settle or rest—it moves ceaselessly through the work’s tangle of lines, in a constant effort to read, re-create, make whole, as if the only thing that kept the work together was the very act of looking.
To deal with motherhood, Saville embarked on a series of works directly referencing some of the most iconic works of Western art, from Michelangelo’s Pietà to Leonardo’s great Burlington House Cartoon in London’s National Gallery. She also worked from life, taking up to 2,000 photographs at a sitting of couples who came to the studio to model for her:
That’s my aim. That comes from looking at Pollock, hours and hours of looking at Pollock, or de Kooning. With them, your eye is active in the making of the picture and I thought, “Why can’t figurative painting do that?” It doesn’t mean the figures are moving, but you employ those techniques in a figure so you can create a movement through the figures with the paint and the line.
I think I’m really passionate about trying to make what I do relevant. There was a lot of guilt about being a figurative painter, and it’s really hard to be a good figurative painter. You can adopt a sort of bad painting idea, but that was just too novel for me. I guess it wasn’t my thing. And so, I desperately wanted to be serious about it. I didn’t want to be banal, deliberately banal, because all the great art that I like has been serious. So I thought, “I have to try to do this or I might fail desperately.” But I definitely want to try to navigate my time in a serious way and if that means I look stupid or sometimes they’re naff, then that’s something I’ll just accept. That’s a risk worth taking.
Instead of setting up a very still image, I might start like that and then they just move, and so I photograph constantly, almost like constantly drawing. And then a lot of those images are of bodies in movement, as they shift from one position into another position. And instead of trying to seek out one, I just have all these images scattered over my studio floor, from which I pick certain ones out, which I mix with art history. So I might have, for example, an ancient Greek leg mixed with the leg of a model I’ve worked with,
Sav ille’s ambitious evolution of a radical visual language for the fluidity of identity could not appear more contemporary. But in fact these concerns connect directly to a far older tradition, exemplified not least by that great handbook of change, Ovid’s Metamorphoses, which deals so explicitly with the ambiguity of gender and the instability of the self. Drawing on an older Hellenistic tradition of metamorphic myths, the mythical setting for many of the stories Ovid recounted was Sicily, a country settled by the Greeks, a crucible
1. Linda Nochlin, Migrants, exh. cat. (New York: Gagosian Gallery, 2003), n.p. 2. Jenny Saville, in Simon Schama, “Interview with Jenny Saville: New York, May 2005,” in Jenny Saville (New York: Rizzoli, 2005), p. 124. 3. Luce Irigaray, “When Our Lips Speak Together,” trans. Carolyn Burke, in Signs 6, no. 1, issue titled “Women: Sex and Sexuality, Part 2” (Autumn 1980):69. 4. Saville, in conversation with the author, January 12, 2018. Unless otherwise noted, all quotations of Saville are from this source. 5. Saville, in Elena Cué, “Interview with Jenny Saville,” The Blog, Huffpost, June 8, 2016, available online at www.huffingtonpost. com/elena-cue/interview-with-jenny-savi_b_10324460.html (accessed March 3, 2018). 6. Ibid.
T WOM BLY A N D T H E P O ET S
To read and to make nothing is to make a cathedral of oneself, the invisible kind that has no use for the general worship, points to no god but the one that is lost. That cathedral is fragile, always degrading, exhausting to repair, lost when a life is. To live quietly, inactive, and alone with all one’s hoarded reading is to live with a mind that is both alien and overcrowded, to exchange one’s thoughts for Homer’s or Keats’s, the dead poets always going on about Achilles or idleness or the sea. To read and to make nothing, too, is to live in a lapsing ecology, all impressions out of balance, input and output disrupted, any possible equilibrium always impossible. To read and make nothing—no conversation, no further literature, no instruction, no notes—is to have only halfread, the necessarily transmutable untransmuted, all materials that exist most fully in their realization perpetually left unrealized. But to read and make something—in Cy Twombly’s case an entire art, from beginning to end— is to have read the literature all the way through. Cy Twombly’s work is the work of a total reader. His work is a marginalia so amplified that the world itself—the sea, wars, grief, love— is all text, and any flat surface the margins to which he is compelled. Reading is a process of the body, the object of a book or page in hand, words entering through the eyes, the entered words then creating impressions and sensations, these sensations then resulting in the reader’s gestures—now you move your eyes, now you have wanted something, now you turn the page, now you have felt, now you make a mark with your pen. Any gesture a reader makes is as biological and responsive as any other act of love, and Twombly’s work is to date that love’s—the readerly kind’s—most ardent and realized expression. Many people who love poetry as much as Cy Twombly did can only approach the enormity of this love by making more poetry. To write more poetry always seems—at least to the poets I know—like a failed expression of love for poetry. A poet is always falling short of her poem, but Twombly bypassed the poet’s always surprised failure by knowing from the start that this failure is a precondition of this love. What Twombly did in the perfect face of poetry is gesture, again and again, in humble and perseverating devotion to an art that, of all of them, always exceeds itself. His gestures, like any lover’s, are evidence that he was moved, and moving, but beyond that love, he knew not toward what. And this space beyond knowing—what Keats once called “negative capability”—is the real site of any poem. Cy Twombly’s is a response to poetry that could neither accept the degradations of making nothing from his love nor perform the hubris of pretending that poetry will ever live up to poetry. It is no wonder, then, that the poets love Cy Twombly, who seems at all times to stand both among us and apart from us. No matter how far Twombly’s practice gets dislocated from its roots in poetry by a marketplace that prefers to understand art in the diminishment of money and not in the amplitudes of love, every work by Cy Twombly is an irrefutable act of devotion to an art—poetry—that in its very substance repels this materiality.
cy twombly & the poets by anne boyer
As official descriptor “plutonic ideal” ritual mourning receipts
of ephemeral agonies
I had just thought of you but was not so sweetly
to being a filter that mortality
distracted by women’s graves
sending a picture
just to let you know we are corpses
requiem by anne boyer
in the mouth
Like a quince-apple
Like a hyacinth in
ripening on a top
The mountains, trampled
branch in a tree top
By shepherds until only a purple stain
not once noticed by harvesters or if not unnoticed, not reached lament for a maidenhead (fragment) by sappho translated by mary barnard, in sappho (university of california press, 1958)
remains on the ground
Hang iambics. This is no time for poetry.
fragment by archilochos translated by guy davenport, in archilochos, sappho, alkman (university of california press, 1980)
Now Is The Drinking Nunc est Bibendum When the gods leave do you think they hesitate, turn and make a farewell sign, some gesture of regret? When they leave, music is loudest, sun high, stores fat with harvest and you, dizzy with wine, befuddled with well-being, sink into your body as though it were real, as if yours to keep. You neither see their going nor hear their silence, you sleep, bereft of dreams in your good bed.
now is the drinking by patricia waters
In Beauty it is finished
The pistil of the Peony Gushes out into the noonday Sunlight
navajo night chant (this line is from a prayer that is part of a nine-day navajo ceremony) viii
haiku by tan taigi
Quasi tutti gli scrittori di vero e squisito sentimentale, dipingendo la disperazione e lo scoraggiamento totaleÂ della vita, hanno cavato i colori dal proprio cuore.
Almost all writers of real feeling, in describing their despair and their total disenchantment, have drawn the colours from their own heart.
from zibaldone di pensieri (august 18â€“20, 1820) by giacomo leopardi translated by iris origo, in leopardi: a study in solitude (hamish hamilton, 1953)
opening page: cy twombly, untitled, 1990, acrylic, wax crayon, and pencil on handmade paper, 30 ⅝ × 21 ⅝ inches (77.8 × 54.8 cm)
ii cy twombly, delian ode 25, 1961, pencil, colored pencil, wax crayon, and ballpoint pen on paper, 13 ⅛ × 13 ⅞ inches (33.4 × 35.2 cm) iii cy twombly, aristaeus mourning the loss of his bees, 1973, oil, wax crayon, and pencil on paper, 27 ⅝ × 39 ⅝ inches (70 × 100.5 cm) iv cy twombly, untitled (to sappho), 1976, oil, wax crayon, and pencil on paper, 59 1⁄6 × 53 ¼ inches (150 × 135.2 cm) v cy twombly, untitled (to sappho), 1976, oil, wax crayon, and pencil on paper, 58 ⅞ × 63 ¾ inches (149.6 × 162 cm) vi cy twombly, untitled, 1989, acrylic and pencil on paper, 30 × 22 ¼ inches (76 × 56.5 cm) vii cy twombly, coronation of sesostris (part vi), 2000, acrylic, paint stick, wax crayon, and lead pencil on canvas, 80 ¼ × 61 ¼ inches (203.7 × 155.6 cm) viii cy twombly, untitled (in beauty it is finished), 1983–2002, acrylic, wax crayon, pencil and pen on handmade paper in unbound handmade book of thirty-six pages ix cy twombly, untitled (to leopardi), 1988, oil, wax crayon, and pencil on paper, 55 × 38 ½ inches (139.7 × 97.8 cm) opposite: cy twombly, untitled (in beauty it is finished), 1983–2002 (detail), acrylic, wax crayon, pencil, and pen on handmade paper in unbound handmade book of thirty-six pages
all artwork © cy twombly foundation photos by rob mckeever “cy twombly & the poets” and “requiem” © anne boyer, 2018 “now is the drinking” © patricia waters, 1996
Rachel Whiteread’s US Embassy (Flat pack house) was unveiled in its permanent home at the new American embassy in Nine Elms, London, earlier this year. Virginia Shore, the curator for the London embassy project who worked with Whiteread to realize this site-speciﬁc commission, reflects on the history of prefabricated housing, the power of “home,” and the connecting force of art.
The strength of a nation derives from the integrity of the home. —Confucius, Analects, sixth–fifth century bc Home is the place that, when you have to go there, they have to take you in. —Robert Frost, “The Death of the Hired Man,” 1905/1906
All images: Rachel Whiteread, US Embassy (Flat pack house), 2013–15, installation at the US Embassy, London © Rachel Whiteread. Photo by Mike Bruce
Rachel Whiteread’s monumental new work US Embassy (Flat pack house) (2013–15) is first encountered in the approach to the new American embassy in Nine Elms, South London. The work begins outdoors under the building’s covered consular entrance, pauses with its glass wall, and continues inside, where visitors are greeted and directed into the building. Here Whiteread has installed casts of the complete interior of a two-story prefabricated house, in thirty-one unique elements spanning the entire height and length of these soaring walls. The vertical mounting wraps the visitor in the familiar constituents of home; we recognize the outlines of staircases, windows, architraves, outlets, roofing, wall decor, flooring, and tiling. Yet the inverted presentation unsettles. Cast in a light-gray concrete that augments the details and surfaces, the panels bestow presence on the absent interior of the house, breathing life into features often overlooked. As the light changes and moves along the surface of each element, varying depths teach a lesson in geometry, illuminating and obscuring shapes, lines (vertical and horizontal), cut-out spaces, diagonals, rectangles, squares within rectangles, and triangles embedded within horizontal reveals, all in a poetic play of shadow and rhythm. The US Embassy in London stood for many years in Grosvenor Square, Mayfair. State-of-theart security needs and inevitable expansion were the driving force for the move to the Nine Elms site, which President George W. Bush signed a conditional agreement to acquire in 2008 (despite the recent claims by President Donald Trump that the decision had been one of the mistakes of his more direct predecessor, Barack Obama). As plans developed, the London embassy became the most ambitious commission to date for the State Department’s Art in Embassies program (AIE), which has created more than seventy-five permanent collections for new American embassies and consulates around the world since 2005, and for thousands of temporary exhibitions in ambassadorial residences since 1963. Thematically, the curatorial focus of the commissions for these new embassies and consulates has orbited around ideas of national identity, and on the exploration, through art and culture, of critical connections and juxtapositions between the host country and the United States. In addition to Whiteread’s installation, the London embassy demonstrates that inquiry with works by a mix of host-country and American artists: Mark Bradford, Cerith Wyn Evans, Ryan and Hays Holladay, Jenny Holzer, Idris Khan, Richard Long, Catherine Opie, Eva Rothschild, Sean Scully, Barbara Walker, and Alison Watt. As the site of a country’s diplomatic representation in another country, an embassy has many roles, one of which is to promote its home culture, science, and economy in the hearts of its host. Although embassies are often considered “foreign soil,” they actually remain part of the territory of the receiving state, but they are protected with significant privileges that make them effectively inviolable. As such, they hold a peculiar status as places in which two countries play the roles of both host 61
HOME IS THE PLACE THAT, WHEN YOU HAVE TO GO THERE, THEY HAVE TO TAKE YOU IN. Robert Frost and home. Regardless, for many the real significance of an embassy is the link and lifeline it provides to one’s home when abroad. US Embassy (Flat pack house) greets all who come to the embassy to deal with consular affairs and issues that typically have a personal impact: birth, death, marriage, adoption, child custody, citizenship, movement among countries. This public place is where intensely private matters are addressed—where the refuge of home is longed for and missed. In 2012, with the design for the new US Embassy well underway, I approached the Gagosian Gallery requesting a meeting with Rachel Whiteread about a potential commission there. My hope in engaging her was spurred by her demonstrated commitment to public artworks, which has led her to make four exceptional memorial sculptures in London and Vienna over the past twenty years. Her work has been described as a form of social renewal, responding to and conveying the complexity of history and memory. Inspired by her stature as the first woman to win Britain’s prestigious Turner Prize, I was also aware that Whiteread has acknowledged the influence of American artists such as Donald Judd, Bruce Nauman, and Gordon Matta-Clark, and has spoken of her sympathy for the American Romantics Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. I felt certain that her contribution would be powerful and consequential. We met a few months later and discussed the broad parameters of the commission, the physical site, and the cultural-diplomacy objective of demonstrating similarities or productive differences between our two countries and cultures. Whiteread’s inspired and compelling response was to create a transcendent work referencing affordable and transitional housing in both the United States and Britain. The theme has deep historical resonance in the two countries, recalling our shared trajectories and intertwined histories. Prefabricated buildings served as dwellings throughout Britain’s colonial expansion. They provided critical accommodation for military and civilian personnel during and following both world wars. To replace homes destroyed by bombing during the second of these wars, Winston Churchill sponsored a government program to 62
provide temporary prefabricated homes developed in consultation with American engineers. Prototypes were erected outside the Tate in Millbank to demonstrate their ease and speed of construction, raising public enthusiasm for the initiative. Over 156,000 of these houses—many of them proving not so temporary, for they are still standing today—sprang up throughout Britain to give refuge to those made homeless by the wreckage of war. In the United States, meanwhile, prefabricated buildings sheltered hopeful miners in the California Gold Rush of the 1840s and ’50s. As in the United Kingdom, military personnel lived in prefabricated buildings through both world wars, and some of these structures were later adapted to house families during peacetime. The American dream of home ownership meanwhile propelled the popularity of the flat pack, the home delivered in a kit. Between 1908 and 1940, the catalogue company Sears, Roebuck produced over 70,000 models of such homes, bearing picturesque names such as Alhambra, Rosita, Savoy, Cinderella, Windsor, Hollywood, and Betsy Ross to feed the fantasies and aspirations of middle-class Americans. These havens could be customized with features both basic and ornate, and were available on adventageous borrowing terms. As materials were developed and adapted to reduce building costs and the need for skilled labor, home ownership became an achievable ambition. US Embassy (Flat pack house) embraces these histories of renewal, optimism, and striving, and similar creative adaptations were necessary to realize the work itself. Whiteread, AIE, and the embassy’s architects struggled for months, for example, on the formula for the concrete, which had to be light enough for the building structure’s to bear its weight. The solution ultimately proved to be concrete reinforced with glass, a material that is lightweight but strong and allows for finer detail than traditional concrete generally does. The symbolism of the home as cultural connector is profound. Here Whiteread responded to the site, acknowledging the complex significance of home for travelers abroad. Her sculpture is a still life, showing no obvious residue of human presence, yet its quiet bulk elicits a vast range of visual,
cognitive, and emotional responses. The work emphasizes the solemn, the stoic, and the heroic. Human ambition and promise are dignified and memorialized by its silent spaces. “Home” conjures up ideas of warmth, family, love, security, and harmony, but also the threat and reality of their loss. “Home” also signifies origin, place, and belonging; its meanings inevitably provoke social comment and question, underscoring the critical state of the world today, with its large forced movements of refugees and migrants. Prefabricated buildings currently provide refuge for many of the 65 million displaced people around the globe, while upward of 1.6 billion people struggle without adequate shelter. US Embassy (Flat pack house) honors those lives and admonishes our complacency. We are sheltered by the work, comforted by its familiar forms, and disquieted by its ambiguity. While the notion of home may transport viewers to their own personal space, their own idea of domesticity, this archetypal flat-pack house is disorienting and mysterious. It is a cast of space, made inside a home that was or that may be, invoking memory and hope. It embodies paradox, home away from home, absence and presence together. Consciously and unconsciously, US Embassy (Flat pack house) will connect all who pass through it with a human aspiration as basic as breath: the longing for home. As we face the piece, the electrical outlets also remind that this particular home is distinctly American. On January 12, 2017, Whiteread was awarded the State Department’s Medal of Arts, acknowledging her work and her enduring commitment to cultural diplomacy through the visual arts and international cultural exchange. She is recognized as defining a generation through her artistic excellence and her belief in the underlying premise of art as a potential unifier. US Embassy (Flat pack house) humanizes and energizes the new embassy, creating an environment that opens dialogue and forges cultural links. As Whiteread has said, “I don’t think art changes the world in terms of stopping people dying of aids or of starvation or being homeless. But for an individual, seeing a great piece of art can take you from one place to another—it can enhance daily life, reflect our times and, in that sense, change the way you think and are.” tamaramellon.com
WORK IN PROGRESS
DAN COLEN We visit the artistâ€™s studio in Brooklyn, New York, to get a behind-thescenes glimpse of his new series of Desert paintings while he prepares for an upcoming exhibition in Beverly Hills. Text by Ben Eastham.
liny the Elder recounts a competition between Zeuxis and Parrhasius, the two preeminent painters of their era. To resolve a dispute over which is the greater artist, each paints a mural. When the time comes for the works to be seen, Zeuxis unveils a still life so convincing that a flock of birds swoops down to peck at his painted grapes. Confident of victory, he calls on his rival to draw back the drapes covering his painting and let his work be judged. Pointing out that the drapes themselves are painted, in exquisite trompe l’oeil, Parrhasius wins. The first principle of painting, it seems, was to mislead. Approaching Dan Colen’s Brooklyn studio, I peer through plate-glass doors at a large painting that appears from a distance to be a geometric abstraction in a mid-century American tradition, a jigsaw of interlocking planes in flat secondary colors. As I move closer, the forms resolve into a desert landscape bisected on the diagonal by a road diminishing down a mountain tunnel. Only once in the studio do I realize that the image—like all of the works in Colen’s new Desert series—is abstracted from Fast and Furry-ous (1949), the first of Chuck Jones’s animated film and television shorts to feature the Roadrunner and his pursuer, Wile E. Coyote. Colen’s painting re-creates a still frame showing a painting—the sham tunnel that the coyote has painted on a cliff face, adding a painted highway leading directly into the rock. In a neighboring painting, the flummoxed Wile E. Coyote and his pots and brushes have been edited out of a picture showing the same trompe l’oeil tunnel from a different angle, a still just a few seconds later in the cartoon. The spatial illusion of perspective is undone by the oblique angle from which the coyote’s mural is now seen, so that any viewer who might conceivably have been deceived
by the tunnel as it is depicted in the first painting— because the illusion is so effective—is alerted to the trick. The revelation is typical of the experience of Colen’s paintings, which play on our faith in the capacity of painting to transcend its own two-dimensionality. The idea for a series of desert paintings first came to Colen in the early 2000s, when he imagined that they would be based on selections of photographs he had taken with a medium-format camera during his travels around the United States and Mexico. For all their preoccupation with trompe l’oeil, these paintings are less concerned with creating an illusion of the world as we experience it than in interrogating the purpose of painting itself, and as such participate in a long tradition that plays on the dynamic between paint as material and paint as image. That Colen abandoned the idea of using photographs in favor of source material that makes no claim to realistically depict the landscape—material that the viewer already understands as constructed and secondary— serves as a means of complicating our understanding of what it means to represent and reimagine the world. The popular imagination’s association of the American West with painters and pioneers in search of an elusive sublime may be reflected in the name given to the Road Runner’s antagonist in Jones’s preliminary sketches for his cartoon series. The doomed attempts of “Don Coyote,” as he was at that point evocatively named, position him as US pop culture’s representative in a lineage of fictional obsessives stretching from Ethan Edwards through Captain Ahab and back to Cervantes’s errant knight. These are characters in search of an object that is also an idea. Armed only with a gift for sculptural assemblage (one early episode features a self-propelling machine constructed from a refrigerator, a meat grinder, skis, and suspenders), a gift for trompe l’oeil painting, and, not least, monomania, the coyote pursues a goal that would give meaning to his life. 67
Colen has been preoccupied with themes of performance, illusion, and self-portraiture in painting ever since his first exhibition, at Rivington Arms Gallery in 2003 (an exhibition that showcased his own obsessive streak, given that its four paintings took him four years to complete). In Me, Jesus and the Children (2001–3), the artist’s bare torso serves as the backdrop for three frolicking cherubim, the resemblance of his parted shirt to stage curtains playing on the relationship between theater and painting, artist and subject, figure and ground. In this new suite of paintings, the protagonists have been edited out of the scene, transforming pictures that in their original formulation served as fleeting moments in a seamless moving image into static scenic backdrops like those knocked up by Wile E. Coyote and placed in front of broken bridges or gaping ravines. The objecthood of these paintings is most clearly telegraphed by the wrapping of each image around the edges of the stretched canvas that supports it, so that each picture extends—in the literal sense— across three dimensions. The surfaces of the works, too, make clear that paint is being treated as a physical material as much as a vehicle for the communication of pictorial information. They show this not through impasto—although the surfaces are heavily worked, the topography of these paintings is flat—but through close attention to the physical qualities of the pigments, which are predominantly unmixed and suspended in the bare minimum of oil. The consequence is that the surfaces are as harsh, arid, and granular as the desert scenes they describe. Because the pigments are so dry, the relationships among the colors is defined as much by the basic elementary constitution of the materials on the canvas as by their reception in the mind of the perceiver. Thus Colen and his studio obsess over the particular textures of the iron-oxide earth pigments that yield the paintings’ variegated ochers, siennas, and umbers, and over the chemical constitution of chromium yellows and cadmium
reds. The paint is built up slowly, with particular attention paid to the border areas in which the pigments combine unpredictably. The results contrast markedly with the Purgatory paintings that I had seen in Colen’s upstate New York studio the previous day, a series of sprayed paintings of light-dappled clouds rendered in oil so thinly diluted as to resemble the gaseous forms it represents. At the back of the Brooklyn studio, under sharp winter light skimmed by a low sun across the Hudson Bay and through the studio windows, an assistant is busily rolling thin layers of brilliant cornflower blue into a desert sky. The cerulean color riffs thrillingly off the ocher of a mountain in the foreground, to Colen’s visible excitement. As we move around different desert scenes, he describes the variety of sometimes idiosyncratic tools with which he and his team have sought to create different effects—at one point cutting squeegees into narrow sections so as to pull hand-width strips of paint across the canvas—and points out a selection of brushes, rollers, pallet knives, trowels, and spatulas. These experiments in color and tone are facilitated by the tightly regulated process through which each painting is made. Over the two years dedicated to these Desert paintings, Colen and his studio have identified different phases in the completion of a canvas. The intention is not to transform the practice of painting into a series of mechanical steps but to ensure that the focus does not stray from the means—the way one color responds to another, how a pigment is absorbed into the canvas—by which a painting proceeds to its ostensible end, which might crudely be summarized as the creation of a picture. The value of these paintings consists in their meticulous attention to the various properties of the materials of which they are composed. The paintings are in this sense the records of a push and pull between creativity and constraint, accident and design. The source image is the most
Artwork © Dan Colen. Photos by Eric Piasecki
obvious constraint, outlining the broad parameters of the painting’s composition. But this basic design doesn’t stymy creativity any more than the landscape restricts a plein air painter: it simply sets the boundaries within which to create. An example: in the bottom-right-hand section of one painting is a scruff of dappled shrubbery that, at the time of my visit, more closely resembled a late-Impressionist flirtation with abstraction. Colen exhorted his team to “go wild” in their rendering of what, in the original image, is nothing more than a green smudge denoting bush scrub. By isolating moments and incidents on the canvas, the procedures Colen has put in place encourage chance and by extension providence, making it possible to “go wild” in ways likely to be almost entirely imperceptible to
the casual viewer but that nonetheless nuance her experience of the painting. These works are exercises in the study of color through trial and error rather than through theory; they take time to make and demand time to appreciate. I stand silently by as Colen engages in an animated discussion with two studio assistants about a half-inch-square region in one of the tunnel paintings, a hard border between fields of iron blue and brick red that in its tonal juxtapositions represents, I gather, a breakthrough. Colen has isolated a barely perceptible blotch of acid green at the narrow overlap of these imbricate planes, and wants to replicate it. These lessons are carried across from one canvas to another, meaning that a discovery about the precise effects of a certain color in the context of one of the paintings will have ramifications for all the others. So the paintings are linked together in the process of their composition—the lessons learned and applied, the happy accidents transformed retrospectively into method—as much as in the subject matter. These immediate-seeming images, which flash by in their original function as animation, are in their reimagination as paintings underpinned by months of intensive labor. The accumulation of paint over time—the fourth dimension in which these paintings exist—offers a model for understanding the way experience is encoded into material, a function of art that has long preoccupied Colen. Wile E. Coyote’s attempts to trick the Road Runner into running into the trompe l’oeil tunnel, incidentally, are at once a success and a failure. Speeding down the diverted highway, Road Runner “meep meeps” blithely through the painted passageway and disappears out the far side of the mountain. Trying to shake off his bewilderment, our determined antihero sets off in pursuit but only stuns himself against the rock face. It’s a reminder that Colen’s paintings are at once illusions and objects, pictures and things, and are predicated on faith.
Following their artistic collaboration, Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, the recently appointed Louis Vuitton menswear designer, spoke with Derek Blasberg about how they met, their admiration for one another, and the power of collaboration to educate and impassion new audiences.
DEREK BLASBERG Takashi and Virgil, when did you
two guys first meet? TAKASHI MURAKAMI It was about ten years ago and I just remember your shape. You were the biggest guy in Kanye [West]’s group! But you were also kind of quiet. VIRGIL ABLOH [Laughs] That sounds like me. Kanye was doing an album cover for Graduation and it was one of the first trips I had taken with him as, basically, one of his assistants. We were working on the cover, coming up with ideas on the roll-out, and technically we met for the first time then, even though I was sort of in the background trying to make projects come out on time. DB How did the idea of this collaboration come to pass? TM I reached out to Virgil, probably on Instagram. A few years ago I noticed all these K-pop bands—friends of mine—wearing Off-White, and I was like, “What is that?” I then met Virgil in Chicago when I was working on my show [at the Museum of Contemporary Art] there. Soon after, I had the chance to do a panel talk with him at ComplexCon and I saw that he had a good understanding of contemporary art. DB That’s where you’re from, right Virgil? VA Exactly. In 2019 I’ll have a show at the Museum of Contemporary Art from my own career’s worth of work. So I saw on Instagram that they were installing Takashi’s show—we have the
same curator, Michael Darling—and I was like, “Hey, can I come by and see what you’re working on?” They walked me through the exhibit, which started me thinking. When you see an artist’s work, you start drawing parallels, and that started a conversation. DB I remember when Takashi’s show opened, in June of 2017. So that’s when this star ted happening. VA Exactly. A lot of it is, if you put magnetic creative types in a room, something comes out of it. I think that’s why we have a lot of ideas and not much fear. DB I know you’ve both collaborated with several brands, artists, designers, and so forth in the past. I guess my question for Takashi, who I see is wearing Vuitton pants, is, “How is collaborating with Virgil similar to and dissimilar from the projects you’ve done in the past?” TM When I was collaborating with Marc Jacobs it was still the early days of e-mail. We were communicating that way, and then people would go on vacation in the summer and we would lose contact for like twenty days. My studio and I were like, “What are we going to do?” We were worried about it. But with Virgil, of course, he’s a very modern, contemporary kind of guy, so he’s using everything from Instagram to WhatsApp for any message he has to communicate and shuffling it to all of the people around him. It took all I had just
WE LET OUR IMAGINATION RUN. WE DIDN’T THINK OF GENRES, WHICH I THINK IS THE STRENGTH OF THIS SHOW. Virgil Abloh
to keep up with the quota of information. Which was very much fun! VA That’s another interesting touch point in our narrative. One of my most impactful fashion purchases of all time was when Marc Jacobs decided to collaborate with Murakami. In Chicago, you know, like me and Kanye, we were in love with rap music, obviously, we love luxurious things, we love art, but we would never go to a museum in an afternoon. We did go, though, to Louis Vuitton, which ironically was only a block away from the Museum of Contemporary Art, and it inspired us to check this guy out. The new collaboration was in the Louis Vuitton store and I bought a white multicolored monogram pouch, which I still have, I can show it to you. It introduced me to Murakami. I first saw his work in the store, so in a way I’m a product. DB I’m sure the Vuitton collaboration was a way lots of new people encountered his work. VA Imagine, when you release stuff, it educates somebody. You don’t even intend to. So that’s an ironic thing: I first interacted with the work through a Louis Vuitton bag. DB Virgil, I’m going to ask you a similar question: after collaborating with so many other people, including Kanye, how was working with Takashi? VA More than anything, what I’ve learned up to this point is that Earth at any given time is
populated by a certain number of hypercreatives, people who are on the planet solely to think and drive and output ideas. Like Kanye or Karl Lagerfeld, who exist for that sole reason, Takashi can think and process in a way that is not work. They exist to create and it’s effortless. I mean, yesterday was the first day we’ve both been tired [laughter]. TM I was happy to see Virgil tired, so then I knew he was human! DB Let’s talk about the work. How did you decide on the actual artworks that are going to be displayed today? VA We let our imagination run. We didn’t think of genres, which I think is the strength of this show. It’s two people who obviously have their own practice, but in our conversation there was no limit. Usually it’s the other way: a fashion designer works with an artist to make a print that makes a garment. But we went limitless: Let’s make serious art objects that represent these same ideas, that don’t mask themselves in ways that have existed before. For me it was like, Let’s make a good sculpture, let’s make large work, let’s make serious paintings, let’s make small things, let’s share DNA and put it on a timeline of 2018 contemporary art, and let’s see what happens. DB That’s a good way to put it: Let’s share the DNA of the art. VA We’ve seen fashion evolve because it looks and feels different. I went to Balenciaga yesterday
and there was a line outside. That means, culturally, there’s something exciting happening. It’s been the same name on the store since Cristóbal Balenciaga was alive, half a century ago. That’s exciting to me. There’s a way to design clothing that makes it more intriguing. DB It’s London Fashion Week and I’ve been to a bunch of fashion shows, but the feeling is that people are more excited about an interesting collaboration and an art exhibit than just another show. Why do you think these sorts of collaboration are more important or more influential now than a traditional runway show? VA Everything that brought us to the industry we understand. You constantly have to reexcite your audience, you know? If they believe in you, they believe in you, but now it’s like, “Show me something new.” So you have to challenge yourself to progress to make something new. And collaboration is a modern way of working. If you look behind every one of Takashi’s paintings, the name of every person who contributed to it is written on the back. I’m the same way—it’s my studio, my team, it’s like this is an opportunity for a collective. I think our work is, “Hey, we collaborate!” Because we collaborate behind the scenes every day. It’s not like the designer stitches everything and packs it in a box and drops it off at FedEx and keeps the receipt. Takashi’s making art in the same way.
Previous spread: Virgil Abloh and Takashi Murakami. Photo by Fabien Montique © Virgil Abloh © Takashi Murakami Opposite: Installation view, Murakami & Abloh: future history, Gagosian Davies Street, London, February 21–April 7, 2018. Photo by Lucy Dawkins. Artworks © Virgil Abloh © Takashi Murakami Right: Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, Glance past the future, 2018, acrylic on canvas mounted on aluminum frame, 55 1⁄2 × 47 1⁄4 inches (141 × 120 cm) © Virgil Abloh © Takashi Murakami
Takashi, I think a lot of contemporary artists have been fearful of playing with fashion, of entering a world of expression not considered traditional art. You’ve never been afraid of that. Why do you think you’ve been so fearless with the way you create? TM I’m an outsider, I’m Japanese, I don’t feel obliged to play by the rules. Which isn’t to say I don’t know them. When I see Western, contemporary artists who are considered very serious, I can be jealous, because they don’t have to explain their art. The other reason I’m happy to play in other mediums is the reason in Virgil’s story about Louis Vuitton. There’s an audience in art, but in fashion there’s another set of eyes. They found my collaboration and looked up what else I was creating. DB You once told me you have Instagram to thank for this collaboration. TM It’s true! VA It’s like a high school reunion for everyone! DB How do you anticipate that the creations you two have done together will integrate themselves into the art world? TM That’s a very good question. We have great supporters in young kids. Young kids, like sneaker heads, they’ve already bought something from him and something from me, maybe a toy or a gadget. At the same time, they’re interested to see how this comes into contemporary art. These guys have fast DB
desires. They want to buy something and keep it in their collection. VA There’s obviously an evolution of education. It all starts with what you know, right? If you know that’s a Royer couch you’re sitting on, all of a sudden you’re comparing Royer to Restoration Hardware. In a large sense, the biggest education device in art is fashion—fashionable things. Style. Now that sort of epiphany, it’s one of those blurry lines that lends a space for people to create. I think we both see this huge explosion on a highway that no one’s playing in. Everyone’s still in the same lane. The kids standing at Supreme, or wearing the latest fashion trend: imagine how much they’ve invested in their apartment, or specifically how much they’ve spent in their closet, cost per square inch. They could probably afford this painting! My thought was, “It doesn’t matter what sells. What matters is that it exists.” Once you’re awake in that space, in that fever for the latest trend of shoes or sneakers, once someone makes something for a wall, or for the rest of your environment, that will enlighten your lifestyle. That’s how the right couch can make your whole existence. You can literally only wear so many clothes at one time. That’s where I think it’s inspiring to me: the kids that are in our legions, in our communities, are going to see something in a different medium than typically expected.
Above: Takashi Murakami and Virgil Abloh, TIMES NATURE, 2018, acrylic on canvas mounted on board, 59 1⁄8 × 59 1⁄8 × 2 inches (150 × 150 × 5 cm) © Virgil Abloh © Takashi Murakami
Below: Installation view, Murakami & Abloh: future history, Gagosian Davies Street, London, February 21–April 7, 2018. Photo by Lucy Dawkins. Artworks © Virgil Abloh © Takashi Murakami
THE FIRST-EVER LS 500. LIVE IN THE NEW. The 2018 LS 500 is the pinnacle of craftsmanship. With available Art Wood Organic trim, formed with the same process used to decorate the highest-quality musical instruments. This attention to the finest details carries over to the LS 500’s thrilling performance. A Lexus-developed twin-turbo engine delivers 416 horsepower1 and goes 0–60 in just 4.6 seconds.1,2 While the Lexus Multistage Hybrid system in the LS 500h delivers seamless acceleration and torque, without requiring a charge. This level of craft and innovation is, quite simply, immeasurable.
lexus.com/LS | #LexusLS
LS 500h shown with options. 1. Ratings achieved using the required premium unleaded gasoline with an octane rating of 91 or higher. If premium fuel is not used, performance will decrease. 2. Performance figures are for comparison only and were obtained with prototype vehicles by professional drivers using special safety equipment and procedures. Do not attempt. ©2018 Lexus
EASYFUNETHEREAL In 2000, Jeff Koons met with David Sylvester to talk about his work. They discussed the influence of childhood, the power of the Baroque, and the optimistic aims of his practice. 80
When you were first working on the Celebration series [1994– ], there was sometimes quite a team of assistants. How many assistants did you have on your recent series of paintings, which are a part of Easyfun [1999–2000]? JEFF KOONS I had one person on the color table at all times, mixing colors as we went along. And then I had three people painting, and at times, with myself, four, and even another assistant stepping in. DS With the Celebration paintings, you’d often explain where you were with a piece by telling me what you were telling the assistants about the changes that you wanted. And I was always struck by the precision of it, by the way you were able to define exactly what you wanted and exactly what you did not want and why. JK You know, art, to me, is communication. I try to communicate to the assistants, and of course the assistants who are with me now have worked with me over a long period of time, and they know what I’m looking for. To communicate ideas, verbally or visually, you have to repeat. So I’m not afraid to continue to let everybody know what I’m looking for. I hope that the work, when it presents itself, continues to state what its ideas are. DS With these three new paintings [from the Easyfun series], were all the ideas ready before you made any of them? JK There was an image that I saw, which was of a cutout. Like if you go to an amusement park or a fair, there might be a board that’s painted— maybe it’s an astronaut—and you put your head through a cutout in the plywood, and then you’re the astronaut. Anyway, this image I saw was of a workhorse, and I really liked it. So I kept it for a long DAVID SYLVESTER
time, because I love two-dimensional sculpture, and I knew that I wanted to make a painting with this idea of a cutout. This was the first of the three, and I called it Cut-Out. Then, I guess, the second one that I started to develop was Hair, and the last one was Loopy. They all have their own texture, and they’re kind of dealing with different aspects of abstraction. DS Did you find the cutout of the horse in a photograph or in a Disney image, say, or on a cereal packet or anything? JK The idea came from a photograph in a newspaper. The image is slightly manipulated. I wanted to pick up aspects of the workhorse, so I put in these little iron things and threw in a flower in the hat—things like that. My painting is really, for me, about my background. I was trying to show that I come from a provincial background. Eventually, over a period of time, the provincial always wins. When I’ve made other bodies of work in the past, or images, I’ve worked with things that are sometimes labeled as kitsch; but I’ve never had an interest in kitsch per se. I always try to give the viewers self-confidence, a foundation within themselves. For me, my work is about the viewer more than anything else. My work, I think, is a support system for people to feel good about themselves and to have confidence in themselves—to enjoy life, to have their life be as enriching as possible, to make them feel secure. I mean, what I really try to do is to give people a confidence in their own past history, whatever that may be, so that they can have enough self-respect to move on, to achieve whatever they want. There’s Mount Rushmore in the back of Cut-Out, that’s kind of saying, “If you want
Previous spread: Jeff Koons, Lips, 2000, oil on canvas, 120 × 168 inches (304.8 × 426.7 cm) Above: Jeff Koons, Bluepoles, 2000, oil on canvas, 120 × 168 inches (304.8 × 426.7 cm) Opposite: Jeff Koons, Hair with Cheese, 2000, oil on canvas, 120 × 168 inches (304.8 × 426.7 cm)
Following spread: Jeff Koons, Grotto, 2000 (detail), oil on canvas, 120 × 168 inches (304.8 × 426.7 cm)
to grow up to be President. . . . ” And the cereal exploding with milk behind: that’s just optimism. You can put your head through a cutout and for the moment become whatever you want to be. Mount Rushmore in the sky, I painted the sky there. I looked at images from Winnie the Pooh and different colorful images like that, again, to give a very optimistic feel to it. DS It has great elation. And it’s nice that instead of a head coming through the hole, there are a lot of Cheerios. JK The texture of them is such that sometimes you look and they could even be bagels. I wanted this painting in particular to have this texture, like a cutout. A cutout would not have a perfectly defined surface. It’s something that would be done rapidly, because it’s just used at an amusement park or a fairground. Nobody’s going to labor on it too long. So I don’t know if they’re Cheerios; they could be bagels. I mean, the texture gives it just this little bit of abstraction. DS And in Hair, where did the hair come from? JK The hair came from an ad in a magazine—a coupon-type ad. It was originally of a blonde. Trying to create more of an image of Everywoman, I changed it from blonde into this kind of brownish color with blonde and red highlights and brunette aspects. The cookies came from, again, those coupon-type advertisements in the newspapers. The background came from a box for an inflatable toy, that sort of image where people are in a pool, with young children playing with an inflatable toy. For me, that painting’s about sexuality. DS The chocolate-chip cookies are a very erotic image, or an alternative to a very erotic image.
I‘ve always loved the Venus of Willendorf, and I think Hair has that aspect of fullness. DS A nd the whipped cream and cherr y in Loopy? JK Loopy is a collage of a rabbit along with whipped cream and a cherry. I also added a face made out of cereal. But it was more like a spatial abstraction that I got involved with. Then I have these whiteouts that are kind of John Baldessari– type circles. But because of their placement within the collage, some are overlapped by the cereal and some are right on top of the image. DS Did the cereal remind you of the basketballs in the Equilibrium series ? JK Yes. I mean, as far as it’s floating in space there. And even the whiteouts reminded me of them too. But I wanted to make this painting a very aggressive, visual painting. I love Pop art, and I really want to play with aspects of Pop. So much of the world is advertising, and because of that, individuals feel that they have to present themselves as a package. The work gives them a sense that they really feel they are packaged, like this cherry. Childhood’s important to me, and it’s when I first came into contact with art. This happened when I was around four or five. One of the greatest pleasures I remember is looking at a cereal box. It’s a kind of sexual experience at that age because of the milk. You’ve been weaned off your mother, and you’re eating cereal with milk, and visually you can’t get tired of the box. I mean, you sit there, and you look at the front, and you look at the back. Then maybe the next day you pull out that box again, and you’re just still amazed by it; you never tire of the amazement. You know, all of life is like JK
My work, I think, is a support system for people to feel good about themselves and to have conﬁdence in themselves—to enjoy life, to have their life be as enriching as possible, to make them feel secure.
that or can be like that. It’s just about being able to find amazement in things. I think it’s easy for people to feel connected to that situation of not tiring of looking at something over and over again, and not feeling any sense of boredom, but feeling interest. Life is amazing, and visual experience is amazing. DS lt’s very interesting how certain artists of our time have dealt with childhood in some ways more precisely than it’s ever been done before. [René] Magritte constantly reminds us of various childhood activities and games. [Jasper] Johns’s work seems to me to be about a lonely childhood, about a child alone in the schoolroom. It seems to be about a very sad childhood. Your work seems to be about happiness and excitement in childhood. Did you in reality have a happy childhood? JK I think other people could have had a much more painful childhood than myself. I have fond memories of my childhood, and I think of those years as supporting. I know that I deal with that experience within my work. I have a son, and art is such a wonderful experience to be able to watch occur in young children. My work has continued to go in this direction. It’s about being able to create a work that helps liberate people from judgment. First of all, the art has to make them feel that it isn’t making any judgment on them. Then, it has to free them to have the confidence to understand that judgment being placed on them in life is irrelevant; there’s no place for it. So sometimes when I’m with my son and he’s making a drawing, he’ll pick up a dark-purple marker to put in an area. And in my own mind I’ll think, “If only he would use the orange, it would be so much nicer.” But then he’ll use that dark purple, and it’s beautiful. Just because of this confidence and this sense of self, it can’t be wrong. I try to give my son this self-confidence that he can’t do anything wrong. I mean, if he’s making a mark and puts something down and then tears it up and says, “That’s not right,” I’ll say, “Well, why is it not right?” “Well, it’s not right.” “Well, you know, you’re in control of making this. And if you take your arm and you do this, it’s right.” So when I made my sculpture Play-Doh [1994–2014], I was very consciously trying to make a work that’s about no judgment. You know, the viewer can’t judge it, and it can’t be wrong. It’s just this mound of Play-Doh. You know, the intentions were good in doing it. I tried to give myself all the freedom of piling it up. DS The preoccupation with experiences of childhood goes back a long way in your work. But do you think it’s been altered by closely watching, as you have, your son playing? Are you conscious of how watching Ludwig play has affected your work? JK Absolutely. The education that I’ve gotten back from him is like tenfold. I mean, it’s like an avalanche or a tidal wave. I’ve always been aware of art’s discriminative powers, and I’ve always been really opposed to it. It’s just helped me simplify my method of being able to deal with that, and to try to go against this discriminative power of art. DS I was very excited to see the Easyfun series we’ve been talking about because over quite a long period I’ve been seeing the Celebration paintings and loving them, and the Celebration sculptures even more. They’ve seemed to me to get better and better; in your continuing to work on them, there was nothing neurotic or 84
obsessional about it, but you were actually making those paintings and sculptures better. It’s been gratifying to see how, in these three new paintings, you’ve gone off on another tack. Peter Schjeldahl has said that if there was an artist today whose work should be in every public place, it was you. JK That’s kind. One version of my Puppy  is in front of the Guggenheim Museum in Bilbao. Its location is the high end of where public sculpture may be. Another Puppy is going to be at Rockefeller Center later this year. This is an incredible location. At one point, there was even talk of it ending up in an entertainment complex in Arizona with a sporting arena for a hockey team and huge theaters for films and shops. When I first realized that this was going to be the home of Puppy, I thought, “Mmm . . . I don’t know.” Maybe I always thought a city would get it for its park or something. Even though Puppy is not going to end up in the entertainment complex, I really just came to the realization that every place that public sculpture goes is really similar today to a mall, or it’s a commercial environment. My own art is about aspects of entertainment. I believe that one of the increased interests in art today is not just economics but that the form of entertainment that art’s providing is more passive than other competing things. The passivity of television is something that art is kind of fulfilling. Because even though we speak about the Internet as a kind of public entertainment, the Internet is not passive. There’s a lot of layering. To get the information you want, or if you want to communicate, you have to keep going; you have to keep doing. Whereas art is a more passive type of experience physically. Mentally, it’s maybe not passive, but physically it is. DS Your work often makes me think of the Baroque, and you’ve said the same thing yourself. JK I have always loved the Baroque, because I love the negotiations in the Baroque: the symmetrical against the asymmetrical, the aspect of eternity through spiritual life or biologically through procreation. DS The Baroque does give one confidence and comfort in existence, does it not? JK I think so. But the Baroque for me has always placed the viewers in a state open to intervention. It gives them enough confidence and security to do that. DS When we were in the studio earlier, there were the plasters of some of the Celebration sculptures, and I felt I was walking from one Bernini fountain to another. Also, you showed me the Play-Doh painting [1995–2008], which you’ve started working on again, and that is an utterly Baroque work. The weight of those volumes yet at the same time the éclat, the explosive vitality, this combination of solidity and upward movement is very Baroque. JK With Play-Doh and the other Celebration paintings, I started with photographs that I shot from little setups, almost like a form of still life, and then from that I made a projection onto the canvas and put the basic proportions there, and whatever else I could still pick up from the photograph. Then the paintings went through this process of being stylized into a kind of superrealism through a kind of paint-by-numbers method. It’s not that we were laying numbers down there, but specific shapes, so that there was no blending, so that it was all hard edge against hard edge. But you have to continue to be able to create ways to 86
make breakdowns—to have something go from light to dark—so that it doesn’t become Op Art in style, and so that it works in kind of a highly superrealistic way. I mean, that’s my goal. But they still have a coloring-book-type quality. They’re bright, and they’re very Pop. They maintain an innocence about them. DS Going to sculpture, tell me about that recent small piece called Split-Rocker [2000, a sculpture from the Easyfun series]. JK It comes from a polyethylene rocking horse. I like the title, Split-Rocker, because you think of maybe a rock star having a split personality or a person with a schizophrenic quality. But it’s really an innocent image that at the same time is menacing. My son happened to have this rocking horse, and when I was working on Shelter [1996– 97], the painting, I thought I needed something for scale in the background, so I used that. Then I remembered another rocker that I had found, which was a dinosaur. So I would lay in bed, and I’d think it would be great just to cut them down the center and put them together, and then put the bar back through the handle. So I finally did it [in Split-Rocker]. Because of the nature of their forms, the horse has an eye looking out to the right and the dinosaur’s eye is looking straight forward. So there are references to Picasso. I love two-dimensional sculpture, such as Picasso’s wooden pieces and Roy Lichtenstein’s sculpture. But for Split-Rocker, what I was really interested in was the split where there actually isn’t any form, that interface where the overlap occurs. The space between the two is really what I was interested in. Though the piece has a sweetness, it also has a Minotaur-type quality to it, or a Frankensteintype quality. DS So along with the allusion to the rocking horse, and along with a certain comic quality, it has at the same time a menace, even a horror. JK I think that’s in a lot of my work, David, even though pieces sometimes can seem so optimistic. Like Balloon Dog [1995–98]. It’s a very optimistic piece; it’s like a balloon that a clown would maybe twist for you at a birthday party. But at the same time it’s a Trojan horse. There are other things here that are inside: maybe the sexuality of the piece. Or even like the sculpture of Play-Doh. It has this external aspect about it, but it’s actually a sculpture with twenty-five separate sections that lay on top of each other. The inside of the sculpture, to me, is as important as the outside, because it’s like the subconscious of the piece, the internal reality of the piece. DS You talked a lot about your work giving comfort and reassurance. But the force with which it does so is surely dependent on its always containing a dark side: the id, if you like. As well as being affirmative, it is also disturbing and shocking. JK I never consciously sit down and try to create a work that is optimistic and that at the same time has a dark side. I just follow my intuition. If I’m feeling a little down or something, my images probably present themselves as happier or more upbeat. But I’m not doing it on a conscious level. I think that I’m doing it on a truthful level. I hope that my work has the truthfulness of Disney. I mean, in Disney you have complete optimism, but at the same time you have the Wicked Witch with the apple. I don’t tend to be pulled toward the idea of making a menacing work, but if I ever was pulled to that, I’m sure that it would also have this other aspect connected.
I have always loved the Baroque, because I love the negotiations in the Baroque: the symmetrical against the asymmetrical, the aspect of eternity through spiritual life or biologically through procreation.
Artwork © Jeff Koons This interview is an excerpt from the catalogue Jeff Koons: Easyfun-Ethereal (Guggenheim Museum, 2001) © 2000, David Sylvester. Interview with Francis Bacon by David Sylvester, published by Thames & Hudson, is available online and in stores.
LIFE AND TECHNOLOGY: THE BINARY OF NAM JUNE PAIK ALEXANDER WOLF EXPLORES THE INTERSECTION OF LIFE AND TECHNOLOGY AS IT EXISTS IN THE WORK OF NAM JUNE PAIK, REVEALING THE ARTIST’S ABILITY TO BALANCE TECHNOLOGICAL CONCERNS WITH HUMANITY THROUGH MUSIC, PERFORMANCE, EXPRESSIVE PAINTING, AND IMAGES FROM NATURE.
Even among the steadfastly independent artists of his circle—Joseph Beuys, John Cage, Merce Cunningham, George Maciunas, Charlotte Moorman, and others— Nam June Paik’s artistic journey stands out for its fluidity over mediums and continents. Following a decade of musical study and performance in Asia and Europe, Paik came fully equipped to the Happenings-centered scene of downtown Manhattan in 1964, jolting the Fluxus movement with performances that demonstrated his musical and technological acuity and his absolute openness to the inflections of chance. The audio/visual pastiches that remain—in the forms of found-object sculptures, installations of modified TVs, fast-paced video mixes, handmade robots, paintings, drawings, and combinat ions of the above —are active artifacts of his quest to humanize or naturalize advances in technology, particularly in TV, video, and radio, mediums that he co-opted to broadcast his art and that of his peers to the world. “Skin has become inadequate in interfacing with reality,” Paik wrote. “Technology has become the body’s new membrane of existence.”1 Twelve years after his death, Paik’s questioning of where human and nature end and tech begins is only more prescient, as personal devices are increasingly relied upon to expedite basic actions such as communicating, eating, sleeping, and moving from point A to point B, not to mention more complex endeavors such as learning languages, tracing ancestry, and finding love. Paik closely followed and made use of evolutions in tech, to unexpected ends. Many of his works reveal a desire to familiarize television and other technologies, to make sense of these rapidly developing fields within the known framework of the natural world. Paik touched down in New York after a yearlong stay in Tokyo, bringing with him “K-456,” a remote-controlled robot that he had built in aluminum with the electronics engineer Shuya
Abe, with whom he would later collaborate on the Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer (1969–72). Named after a Mozart piano concerto, “K-456” was outfitted with rubber breast paddings, a tin-foil pie plate as a hat, and an electric fan as a navel; could walk, talk, and wave; and was often modified to perform new functions for performances. 2 “I imagined it would meet people on the street and give them a split-second surprise,” Paik said, “like a sudden shower.”3 Days after his arrival in New York, Paik met Moorman, a twenty-four-year-old Juilliard-trained cellist and protagonist of the avant-garde music scene. Paik and “K-456” performed several weeks later in Moorman’s second Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York, in which the robot played a recording of President John F. Kennedy’s 1961 inaugural address and defecated white beans.4 Paik had planned to spend six months in New York. Despite his first impressions of the cit y—”as ugly as Düsseldorf, and as dirty as Paris”—he would make it his home from then on, and Moorman would remain a key collaborator and muse.5 Between 1969 and 1972, Paik made four works specif ically for her use in performances: “TV Bra for Living Sculpture” (1969), “TV Cello” (1971), “TV Glasses” (1971), and “TV Bed” (1972). Echoing Paik’s robot in their technological humanism, each work was activated by Moorman’s physical engagement. “TV Bra” comprises two miniature telev isions, attached to v inyl straps, that Moorman wore across her chest as she played the cello, which partly covered the rest of her. 6 (As Hilton Als of “The New Yorker” recently observed, “Moorman took her cello and married it to her body.”)7 “TV Cello” is a stack of three TVs—the smallest sandwiched in the middle to mimic the shape of the instrument—with a vertical bow of four thick wires. As the instrument was played, the screens showed footage of Moorman and other cellists mixed with live images of Previous spread: Nam June Paik sitting on “TV Chair” (1968/1976) in “Nam June Paik Werke 1946–1976: Musik—Fluxus— Video,” Kölnischer Kunstverein, Cologne, 1976 (1968/1976). Photo by F. Rosenstiel, Cologne, Zentralarchiv des internationalen Kunsthandels (ZADIK), Cologne Opposite (top): Nam June Paik’s “Robot K-456” (1964). Photo by Peter Moore Opposite (center): Staged accident with “Robot K-456” in front of the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982. Photo courtesy Nam June Paik Estate
Opposite (bottom): Nam June Paik and Shuya Abe’s Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer, 1969–72, made for WNET-TV/ Channel 13, New York. Photo by Peter Moore Above: Nam June Paik, “TV Garden,” 1974, singlechannel video (color, sound) with live plants and monitors, dimensions variable, installed at the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, 1982. Photo by Peter Moore
the present performance. “TV Glasses” likewise showed live images on two tiny screens covering Moorman’s eyes, while “TV Bed” comprises eighteen monitors face-up on the floor between a headboard and a footboard.8 Although these works built for physical interaction cannot be called useful devices, they portend the wearable digitized products—glasses, earphones, watches, wristbands—that many now use to stream video, communicate, measure heart rates, count steps, and simulate or “augment” reality by, for example, bringing three-dimensional images from the news of the day into the living room. Designed to rest on the body as comfortably as possible, such devices make up the new skin whose encroachment Paik already felt in the 1960s, resubstantiating his prophetic conflations of tech and the body. In subsequent works, Paik used animal s, plants, and natural events, both present and recorded, to further
interrogate the relationship of tech to nature, as well as the line between reality and representation that technological developments can blur. In “Video Fish” (1975), aquarium tanks full of fish are set in front of monitors playing footage of . . . fish. “The real environment of the fish placed over the recorded one of the television set causes the monitor to become a fish tank and the fish tank a monitor,” wrote curator and Paik expert John Hanhardt in 1982. “Here, representation and reality join together as equals.”9 Paik’s compressions of present and recorded action, like Moorman’s live performances incorporating video mixes, elegantly represent the tech/life paradox that was central to his thinking by requiring the viewer to distinguish between realit y and recorded representation. “TV Garden” (1974–78) likewise pairs recorded imagery with natural elements. Placed among lush plants like bright
electronic blooms, the sets play Paik’s “Global Groove” (1973), an all-encompassing video and audio patchwork that juxtaposes images of performer friends such as Cage, Cunningham, and Moorman with traditional Korean and African dancers and with American jazz and rock. Here Paik draws parallels between the growth of plants and the development of television as a fertile technology.10 “TV Garden” also evokes the beauty of chance, apparent throughout nature and also throughout Paik’s video and television work. As Paik explained, “My experimental TV is not always interesting but not always uninteresting. Like nature, which is beautiful, not because it changes beautifully, but simply because it changes.”11 Calvin Tomkins wrote in 1975, “A true disciple of Cage, Paik did not want to make anything that would be a mere reflection of his own personality. What he was after was indeterminacy—the image created by chance—and he found that the behavior of electrons in a color television set was truly indeterminate.”12 Paik described his primary medium as “video compost”: disparate imagery from seemingly infinite sources that he constantly combined and reedited, poeticizing the potential of technology to connect a heterogeneous planet. The diversity of Paik’s imagery reflects not only his global trajectory but his roots in musical performance and collaboration. His early work as a musician and composer cannot be overemphasized in discussing the active and inclusive nature of his sculpture, a normally static medium. Following studies with the German composer Wolfgang Fortner, Paik worked from the late 1950s at the Studio for Electronic Music in Cologne, where he integrated “acoustic events” into his music.13 Through performances and happenings that he termed “Action Music,” Paik, like Cage, sought to emphasize the music of everyday life and in the late 1950s and early ’60s created instruments Above: Peter Moore, “Charlotte Moorman Performing Nam June Paik’s ‘Concerto for TV Cello and Videotapes,’” 1971, framed: 10 1/4 × 16 1/4 inches (26 × 41.3 cm), gelatin silver print, Gift of Barbara Moore in memory of Peter Moore, Charlotte Moorman, and Frank Pileggi, 1994 © Barbara Moore/Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY. Courtesy Paula Cooper Gallery, New York
Opposite: Nam June Paik, “Lion,” 2005, three-channel video (color, silent) with 2 plasma monitors and, 26 CRT monitors and wood lion with acrylic and permanent oil marker additions, 133 × 109 × 65 inches (337.8 × 276.9 × 165.1 cm). Photo courtesy Nam June Paik Estate Following spread: Nam June Paik in Miami, c. 1990. Photo by Brian Smith
Left: Nam June Paik, “TV Cello,” 1971, video tubes, TV chassis, Plexiglas boxes, electronics, wiring, wood base, fan, and photograph, dimensions variable. Photo courtesy Walker Art Center
for the purpose, which audience members were invited to play: a modified piano containing light bulbs, telephones, and alarm clocks; a colander outfitted with a bell; a violin with a twine leash meant to be dragged in the street. In 1963 Paik made “Zen for TV,” a television, turned on its side, that he altered so that it displays only a single vertical line, evoking a stringed instrument.14 Two years later came “Magnet TV” (1965), in which Paik invited viewers to alter a television’s transmission by moving a large magnet across its top. The performative and engaging nature of these early works endures through Paik’s television sculptures of the next forty years, many of which have invited the viewer’s participation. At minimum they reward being watched (as one watches a performance) rather than simply seen. As familiar carriers of images from around the world, TVs were the natural vessels for Paik’s art. His first solo exhibition, at the Galerie Parnass in Wuppertal, Germany, in March of 1963, included thirteen secondhand televisions scattered around the apartment gallery. Paik had modified the TVs’ components to produce unusual effects, and continued to do so for the duration of the tenday show, a work in progress in which he and his peers kept tinkering with the TVs and three “prepared pianos.” Beuys, for his part, attacked one of the pianos with an axe in an impromptu “action.”15 The exhibition, billed “Exposition of Music— Electronic Television,” is now considered an early milestone in v ideo art. “It was the first time Paik appropriated television technology and it signaled the beginning of a lifelong effort to deconstruct and demystify television,” observes Hanhardt. “With sets randomly distributed in all positions throughout the gallery, each television became an instrument, removed from its customary entertainment context, handled and manipulated in a direct and physical way.”16 As such, the TVs announced themselves as a new medium that by its nature provided an endless supply of current, exploitable images. Paik used them to locate intersections among technology, spirituality, art, music, and nature. Like Robert Rauschenberg’s reflective “White Paintings” of 1951, and Cage’s compositions featuring ordinary sounds, Paik’s televisions frame reality. Rauschenberg said of his “White Paintings,” “It is completely irrelevant that I am making them— Today is their creater [sic].”17 Paik might have said the same of his altered TVs. As TVs became ubiquitous in the home, Paik saw them as surfaces with as much potential for meaningful manipulation as the canvas. As an artist who had been awakened at a young age to the music of life by Cage, and to the symbolic power of everyday objects by Beuys and Marcel Duchamp, he was perhaps uniquely positioned to do so. Paik delighted in fresh innovations and found the screen of great use as a frame for a wide spectrum
Below: Nam June Paik, “Magnet TV,” 1965, television (black and white, silent) with magnet, 28 3 ⁄8 × 19 1 /4 × 24 1/2 inches (72 × 48.9 × 62.2 cm), Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, Purchased with funds from Dieter Rosenkranz. Photo by Robert E. Mates Artwork © Nam June Paik Estate
new technologies, that things were out of control, that our lives and environment were threatened.”21 Paik’s most enduring assertion may be that art that claims to engage life must now also engage tech. As curator Michelle Yun observes, “Paik was adamant that it was the art ist’s dut y to reimagine technology in the service of art and culture.”22 Those who pursue a balance between life and the inescapable realm of cyberspace might consider his straightforward prescription, made in 1986, that “our life is half natural and half technological. Half-and-half is good.”23 Paik made poetry of this inevitable coexistence.
1. Nam June Paik, quoted in Eva Respini, “Art in the Age of the Internet, 1989 to Today,” exh. cat. (Boston: The Institute of Contemporary Art, and New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 2018), p. 78. 2. See Reuben Hoggett, “1964–Robot K-456–Nam June Paik (Korean) & Shuya Abe (Japanese),” cyberneticzoo.com: a history of cybernetic animals and early robots, online at http://cyberneticzoo. com/robots-in-art/1964-robot-k-456-nam-junepaik-korean-shuya-abe-japanese/ (accessed March 2018). 3. Paik, quoted in “Nam June Paik, ‘Robot K-456,’” Medien Kunst Netz/Media Art Net, online at http:// www.medienkunstnetz.de/works/robot-k-456/ (accessed March 2018). 4. See Calvin Tomkins, “Profiles: Video Visionary,” “The New Yorker,” May 5, 1975. Available online at http://www.namjunepaik.eu/category. php?category=32 (accessed March 2018). 5. Ibid. 6. See John G. Hanhardt, “Paik’s Video Sculpture,” in Hanhardt, Nam June Paik, exh. cat. (New York: Whitney Museum of American Art, 1982), pp. 95–97. 7. Hilton Als, “The Legacy of the Topless Cellist,” “The New Yorker,” September 12, 2016. Available online at www.newyorker.com/ magazine/2016/09/12/charlotte-moorman-thetopless-cellist (accessed February 2018). 8. See Hanhardt, “Paik’s Video Sculpture,” pp. 95–97. 9. Ibid, p. 98. 10. See Hanhardt, “Non-Fatal Strategies: The Art of Nam June Paik in the Age of Postmodernism,” in Toni Stooss and Thomas Kellein, “Nam June Paik: Video Time—Video Space,” exh. cat. (New York: Harry N. Abrams, 1993), p. 80. 11. Paik, quoted in “Nam June Paik, Section 5: Electronic Nature,” Tate, online at www.tate. org.uk/whats-on/exhibition/nam-june-paik/namjune-paik-room-guide/nam-june-paik-section-5 (accessed March 2018). 12. Tomkins, “Profiles: Video Visionary.” 13. Dieter Ronte, “Nam June Paik’s Early Works in Vienna,” "Nam June Paik," in Hanhardt, p. 73. 14. Ibid., pp. 73–76. 15. “Nam June Paik: 1932–1964,” in Hanhardt, Nam June Paik, p. 12. 16. Hanhardt, “Paik’s Video Sculpture,” p. 92. 17. Robert Rauschenberg, quoted in Sarah Roberts, “White Painting [three panel],” San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, online at www.sfmoma.org/ artwork/98.308.A-C/essay/white-painting-threepanel/#fn-2 (accessed March 2018). 18. Paik, quoted in Hanhardt, “Nam June Paik: The Late Style,” exh. cat. (Hong Kong: Gagosian, 2015), p. 29. 19. Hanhardt, in ibid, p. 36. 20. Details of the work “Lion” were confirmed by Jon Huffman, Paik’s former studio manager, now curator of the Nam June Paik Estate, in an e-mail to the author on January 18, 2018. 21. See Hanhardt, “Non-Fatal Strategies,” p. 79. 22. See Michelle Yun, “Nam June Paik: Evolution, Revolution, Resolution,” in Yun, Nam June Paik: Becoming Robot, exh. cat. (New York: Asia Society, 2014). 23. See Douglas C. McGill, “Art People,” “New York Times,” October 3, 1986. Available online at www. nytimes.com/1986/10/03/arts/art-people.html (accessed March 2018).
New York May 3–6, 2018 Buy Tickets Now
A Step Away from Them, excerpt from Lunch Poems by Frank O’Hara. Used by permission of City Lights Books. Photography: Clément Pascal.
Top: Nam June Paik, “Zen or TV,” 1963/75, altered television set, 22 7/8 × 17 × 14 1/4 inches (58 × 43 × 36 cm). Photo courtesy Museum of Modern Art, New York
of imagery; yet his works, assembled and often painted by hand, also remain solidly within the world of painting and sculpture. In an effort to humanize the technologies he engaged, many of his sculptures are figurative or physically engage the human form. These include robots, TV screens with painted facial features, and works made to be worn or handled in performances. Following a major stroke in 1996, Paik, ambitious as ever, began to infuse his T V sculptures with notes of personal and spiritual reflection. He made sculptural video homages to artist friends and gesturally painted and inscribed the old TVs and other found objects that crowded his studio, producing multilayered works that fulfill a promise he had made as a young and determined artist (while assembling his Paik-Abe Video Synthesizer) “to shape the TV screen canvas as precisely as Leonardo/as freely as Picasso/as colorfully as Renoir/as profoundly as Mondrian/as violently as Pollock/as lyrically as Jasper Johns.”18 In an increasingly connected world, will tomorrow’s artists aspire to shape their works as eclectically as Paik? “After his stroke, Paik would sit in a wheelchair at his worktable in his studio, surrounded by Buddha statues, toys, birdcages, old telev ision sets, radios, drawing paper and canvases, paintbrushes, felt markers, and other objects,” recalls Hanhardt.19 At the time, nature videos provided solace. Few works embody Paik’s ability to fuse the forces of tech, nature, performance, and human expression as compellingly as the monumental installation “Lion” (2005), one of his final television sculptures. “Lion’s twenty-eight monitors—whose screens measure anywhere from 5 to 58 inches wide—form a towering arch, which frames a found wooden statue of a lion that Paik tattooed all over with his signature TV pictograph and signed multiple times in English, Japanese, and Korean. The screens show electronically produced images of flowers, fish, and other natural subjects, as well as footage of lions in the wild. “Lion” also conveys Paik’s reflective spirit in the twilight of his life: clips of his old friend Cunningham performing appear alongside the flora and fauna.20 Following its role in Moorman’s Annual Avant Garde Festival of New York and several appearances through the end of the 1960s, “Robot K-456” reemerged for Paik’s Whitney Museum retrospective in 1982. Paik planned a performance in which the robot began to cross Madison Avenue via remote control, was struck by a car, and fell to the pavement. Hanhardt, who organized the retrospective, remembers, “When interviewed by the television news reporters documenting the event, Paik described the accident as the first catastrophe of the twenty-first century, and added that we were practicing how to cope with it. This catastrophe was the sense, created by the impact of
NE ON IN GR DA YL EA IGH TP LE WR T IS A ITE SU A ,A R E, A SA SE RE DW LIG IN HT DE BU NB LB YW S IN OU DA LD YL IGH —F ran T. kO ’Ha ra
JONAS WOOD PRINTS Jonas Wood’s ﬁrst survey of prints recently premiered at Gagosian New York. For the occasion, the artist spoke with Jacob Samuel, a legendary printmaker based in Los Angeles, about the development of Wood’s printmaking practice and its influence on his paintings.
Previous spread and opposite: Jonas Wood, Untitled (from 8 Pots), 2017 (details), etching with chine-collé on white Somerset satin paper, in 8 parts, each: 16 × 14 inches (40.6 × 35.6 cm), edition of 15. Photos by Brian Forrest Left and below: Jonas Wood, Untitled (from 8 Etchings), 2014 (details), ink on Japanese paper, in 8 parts, each: 16 × 14 inches (40.6 × 35.6 cm), edition of 10. Photos by Brian Forrest
JONAS WOOD You and I started working together three
or four years ago, around 2013 or 2014. And in the last couple of years you helped me start my own print house, WKS Editions. We were thinking about setting up a whole silkscreen studio. And then we realized that it’s probably best to find people who are excellent at this who we could, not collaborate with, but outsource the work to, and that actually became a much better plan for us. Now we are working with Kevin Giffen and Daniel Wlazlak. JACOB SAMUEL Kevin worked with the silkscreen printer Jeff Wasserman— JW Yes, and he was looking to work for artists. So we didn’t have to create a whole setup. In the last year we’ve been making detailed prints, with about thirty colors, of red Matisse pots. We’re re-creating works of mine that already exist, but making hybrid versions with more immediate drawing on top. JS Well, one of the great things about printmaking is that you can edit. You can add and subtract. JW Exactly. So it’s perfect, because now we’ve started to work with them, and we can use their studio to make my prints. We didn’t have to create a whole setup. The only thing that we had to set up was the etching studio. That was when you and I decided to work together and you became my spiritual and professional printmaking guru. JS Yes. [Laughs] Exactly. You know, we met earlier, though. The show of your [Alexander] Calder plants was up at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles at the same time that my archive was on view there. JW Yes, 2010. But we didn’t know each other yet. JS Well, we met briefly at the reception, but we didn’t really get to talk. JW And in spring 2013 you invited me over to your studio in Santa Monica. You were working on a Christopher Wool project. JS I’ve been working with Christopher for almost twenty years. It was interesting to me that you wanted to try line etching as it was something completely different for you. And what I really liked was that you took your time learning how to draw on the plates. JW Yeah, there was a big learning curve. JS Yes, but you were willing to do it. And you used lots of different drawing tools until you found things you were comfortable with. You have lines that are very strong and thick, so you weren’t going to get that thickness just through etching. You actually needed to get it through the drawing tool and then etching it deep. JW I remember—you gave me a little practice plate and before I really started, I was doodling on it and I was like, “Can we print this practice plate?” and you were like, “Fuck no. We’re not going to print this practice plate” [laughter]. There was nothing—there was no image. It was just a bunch of scribbles. I was overwhelmed with the idea that everything was going to happen only through lines. I think we even messed around with— JS With a little spit bite. JW And we realized it wasn’t going to work. The first one I made was a still life, and if you look at that still life in the 8 Etchings  we made, you can see it’s the beginning. And the last one we made was of an interior— JS Yes, the interior with a plant. JW Yes, and if you look at the difference, you can see the timidness of the first one and how much I learned— JS Well, it was a year and a half of working. JW It really was. JS Yes, it was. JW And you never rushed me, so I would work on it a little bit and then I’d put it away. I’d finish one plate, you’d print a test proof, and I would etch it up to a certain point, but I knew it wasn’t done, and then you’d print 101
it. Then I would print out the print in reverse and we’d recover the plate with hard ground. JS You could see your drawing underneath and you could just keep adding. Some of those prints—the one that’s a self-portrait, I think you drew that six times. JW Yeah, the self-portrait has a lot of depth to it. JS That was in the acid six different times, which is the way to build it up. JW Yes. So the set of 8 Etchings basically documented my whole learning experience. And I remember telling you how much it was informing my painting. I was really focusing on mark-making in my painting that was relating to mark-making in the etching. We ended up working from four paintings that were already finished and four paintings that I was in the process of making. So the etchings felt like studies for those unfinished paintings. I didn’t even know what chine-collé was before that. I always assumed you printed right onto white paper, until you explained the whole chine-collé process, which was an important part of how you make a lot of your prints. JS Yes. JW And that really added so much depth to the print, just having a slightly different color of Japanese rice paper to print on. And the technique of printing on that, and then gluing it down—I didn’t understand any of that stuff, I was just going with the flow, and you were such a great teacher. That was 2014, right? JS Yes. And around that time, there was a second acquisition of my archive, by MoMA in New York. When they reached out, I felt, well, I’m kind of done now, you know? I’ve been printing for forty-two years. JW Yeah, you told me you were retiring. JS And you said, “Well, maybe you want to do something with me,” and I said, “Well, yeah, as long as I don’t have to do production.” JW Six or eight months later we decided to make a set of pot prints. And we started with this one Greek pot with an orange background. We got halfway through and you decided it was time to retire. You thought I should continue working with Sam, who was your apprentice. JS Sam Gessow. JW He had worked with you for a long time and had worked with us on the etchings. Then Sam and I worked together for a year. We got a lot of work done. JS We did two prints. We did a Snoopy-inthe-airplane pot. JW Yes. And that was when you and I decided to publish my work, no other artist’s. And we had Sam working for a year on this set of 8 Pots , which were similar in style, but this time we used colored papers and some colored ink. JS Exactly. JW At first we were going to make all these pots black and white, but then we wanted one of the Greek pots to be orange, which led to investigating different-color gampi papers, in slightly brown and slightly pink. JS Yes. JW And having the pots be cut out was a big deal. JS In your previous paintings show at David Kordansky Gallery in LA [2014–15], there was a beautiful big pot painting that was a whitish silver paint on black, and that opened up a lot of possibilities too. JW Originally we were going to make four pots and four landscape pots, but then we ended
Previous spread: Jonas Wood, French Open, 2012, 4-color letterpress print on Crane’s Lettra paper, 8 × 11 inches (20.3 × 27.9 cm), edition of 20. Photo by Brian Forrest Left: Jonas Wood, Untitled, 2014, lithograph and 7-color screen print on white Coventry rag paper, 48 × 37 inches (121.9 × 94 cm), edition of 50. Photo by Douglas M. Parker Studio, Los Angeles Below: Jonas Wood signing an edition of the screen print Matisse Pot 2 (2018) with his son Kiki in Wood’s studio, Los Angeles, February 2018. Photo courtesy Wood Kusaka Studios Artwork © Jonas Wood
up just making eight pots. For one, we printed white ink on black paper, and it was spectacular. And for another one we printed brown wood grain on brown paper. Sam printed those with us, and a couple of other prints at the same time too. JS Yes, he made an orchid and a little doodle etching that was more in line with the prints I made with Hamilton. And Sam finished off the year with the Jungle Kitchen  etching, which was based on the painting that was in my last show at David Kordansky Gallery in fall 2017. That was everything I’ve learned with you in one print. When we first started, my inclination was to try to figure out how to make flat planes, and then we ended up doing this last print with a series of eight to ten aquatint planes, all gray tonalities on top of the hard-ground etching. JS There’s also soft-ground etching there as well, so it’s hard ground, soft ground, and aquatint. JW That’s right. Well, that takes us to where we’re at right now. We’ve been talking about making a couple more interiors with this kind of density and then maybe even some landscapes. And we’ve just started dabbling with color in the small orchid and the doodle, which is new. JS We need to do some color aquatint as well. JW Yeah. Sam and I were doing the color ones because we wanted to make some color landscapes with that fine saturated line. And now we’re starting to work with Kevin, Daniel, and a new etching person to make some more prints. We can’t stop. JS The main thing is that we have a good time. JW Yes, it’s always fun. Also, we’ve never really had any time constraints, which is good. It just seems more natural. And I’ve gotten better at actually etching so things go quicker now. JS You know, it’s a bit unusual for an artist to have their own print workshop, most just work with existing publishers. But when Sam Francis hired me all those years ago, in 1981, to be his printer, the first thing he said to me was, “There are no time constraints. This is an artist’s studio. We’re not making prints for publishers and we’re not making prints for dealers, we’re making prints for ourselves. Whatever it takes to get it right, that’s what we’re going to do.” And he even said to me, “I don’t care if we release any prints. I just want to work and see what we can do.” And so that’s always been my attitude. JW I like that. And printmaking is informing my other work a lot. I’ve never made sculpture—maybe I will one day, but an artist like Ed Ruscha, for instance, has a really rich combination of printmaking, drawing, and painting all informing each other, and there’s a lot there for me to dig into. So for me it makes sense to have this be an extension of my practice, instead of working in a print shop, where there’s a deadline. This way I can experiment and learn new things. Before 2017, I had never done soft ground before, I had never done aquatinting before. We were only doing hard ground. And there are so many other things that I haven’t even learned about yet in printmaking. It just seems like there’s a big world ahead of me in printmaking. There aren’t a lot of young people making prints. And I like the idea of establishing that for myself, and also hopefully for other people in the future as time goes on, so I can do the same thing for a young artist that Ruscha did for me. And there are amazing printers in LA, but it’s kind of a dying art form. JS We’re another generation. JW Yeah, another generation. We’ve got to start some new stuff up. JS And get people excited. Make it real for younger artists. JW Exactly.
Director Gus Va n Sa nt sits dow n with Derek Blasberg a nd discusses his early art influences, life in Los Angeles, a nd his new feature film “Don’t Worr y, He Won’t Get Far On Foot.”
Derek Blasberg: Let’s start
new friends and go to new
DB That’s awesome!
because I didn’t realize you
at the beginning. Where
schools all the time helped
Gus Van Sant, 2018.
GVS Yeah, it was super
need to get out sometimes
are you from and what was
adapt you into doing what you
Photo by Derek
awesome. That was just
to stay sane. You have to
before the Italian cinema
balance things out by going
Gus Van Sant: I was born in
GVS One thing I noticed was
started to disappear. We
somewhere on the weekends.
Mayfield, Kentucky, and I
that wherever I went there
didn’t really know how
I wouldn’t go anywhere on
guess it was sort of like
was always a certain set
Joaquin Phoenix as
awesome it was. Honestly,
the weekends. After about
“To Kill a Mockingbird.”
of people who slotted into
John Callahan in
I don’t think I’d ever
a year I was like, “I’ve
It’s a very enclosed
similar personalities. Once
“Don’t Worry, He
seen a Pasolini film. In
had about enough of this.”
community, but anything that
we moved from Atherton,
Won’t Get Far on
college I abandoned painting
I wasn’t making use of the
exists, say, in New York
California, to Darien,
because it was the mid-
city properly, I was living
City exists on some small
Connecticut, and even though
’70s and a lot of students
as if I were in the suburbs—
scale in Mayfield. I never
those places were super
did. The Talking Heads were
meaning I didn’t go out, I
saw anything that would
painting students and they
didn’t see shows or go to
resemble modern art, but
there were people who
decided to be rock stars.
parties. I did things about
there was a painter named
resembled each other
There were a lot of people
as many times as you would
Helen LaFrance, who was
personality-wise. [Moving so
changing majors and changing
if you lived in Connecticut.
black and in her eighties,
much] probably made me good
objectives. You kind of
Also, I thought that my place
and she cranked out tons of
at orienting myself, too.
fled painting because it
on Canal Street was going
oil paintings. My father was
With film work you’re often
felt like there was an
to go down in value because
involved in trying to get her
doing that, because you have
overabundance of painters
everyone was moving out
work seen outside of town.
a brand-new crew every time.
then. Looking back, maybe if
after 9/11, which was wrong.
Maybe you’re able to get some
you’d stuck it out, things
It was a bad real estate move
DB Was your family artistic?
of the same people, but a lot
would have gotten rosier.
GVS Not really. But we moved
of times they’re new people
But percentage-wise, fewer
around quite a bit, I’d say
and you have to learn quickly
painters succeeded than
DB When did you move here
almost every year.
how to get what you need out
almost anything. Sometimes
former graduates would come
DB Why did you move around
GVS I went back to Portland
back from New York and tell
was sixteen because I had
a millionairess who was
GVS I moved to Oregon in
and I stayed for another
DB I saw a Rhode Island
classes, “There’s only forty
realized that some painters
friends with the Churchill
1983. Well, I moved back
decade or so. I bought this
GVS My father was a men’s
School of Design mug in your
galleries and I’ve dropped
were making films in New
family. He’d come down and
there, because I went to high
place and started coming
clothing salesman. [The
these off at forty galleries
York City. Like Jonas Mekas.
hang out through all those
school there from 1970 to
down every now and then.
company] was called
GVS I was living in Oregon
and nobody looks at any of
I bought a camera and was
periods, before the war,
’72. After RISD, I went and
And then last year I sold my
McGregor-Doniger and in the
for high school and was
them.” So we were thinking,
playing around with film. I
during the war, and up until
lived in New York and worked
place in Portland because
1950s it was sort of like
looking for a good art
“Maybe I should be majoring
started playing music when I
in advertising, but I had a
I bought a place in Palm
what Polo is today. You know
college. I got into RISD
in something different
was thirty because you could
project in mind that I wanted
Springs and now I go there as
the shirts that Desi Arnaz
early and I was going to
than painting.” Back then,
buy a multitrack recorder,
DB History doesn’t think
to do in Portland. I saved up
much as I can.
would wear on “I Love Lucy?”
send a box of art to CalArts
I thought majors meant
which was brand new in 1980,
of him as a creative, does
my advertising money so that
Those were McGregor-Doniger.
but my parents were like,
something and now I think
for $1,000 and it did a
it? In your case, though,
I could afford to make the
DB Is it easier to work here
They made some pretty cool
“No, you can’t. This is too
they kind of don’t.
good job at recording four
filmmaking is not stress
movie and made “Mala Noche”
than in New York?
stuff. Funny story: Ralph
good, you’re going to RISD.
different channels of sound.
relief, it’s about telling a
, which was my first
GVS For sure. It’s like a
Lauren applied for a job
Just say yes and don’t make
DB That’s a very
That was huge. Before that
there and he didn’t get it. I
them wait.” I took their
discouraging alumni visit.
it was like, “How do you mix
GVS All of it is a kind
photographed him once and he
advice. I’m happy about
GVS Yeah, for the painting
the sound without going to
of stress relief. If I’m
DB Was it crucial to be
DB Ha! I fantasize about
recognized my name because
that, although I have a lot
department. For me it
an official sound mixing
not doing anything, I get
the idea of having a real
it’s the same as my father’s.
of CalArts friends now.
was easier to be in film.
stage?” And this was the
stressed. So I do things just
GVS It was set there. I guess
life with a house and dog
He said he’d met him and
Really, Providence was so
Painting was already getting
answer. I made six albums
to not be stressed.
it could have been adapted
and a car.
tried to get a designing job
odd that now I think CalArts
a little boring because I’d
with that thing, but those
to another city. It was skid
GVS I think I really like
in the 1960s but it didn’t
wouldn’t have been as cool.
painted long enough, it
were more of a hobby.
DB How are you inspired to
row in Portland, so you could
that. I found out that about
Providence is really one of
was something I felt like
find your stories?
have done it on the Bowery, I
myself. Although I still
the most unique places in
I did already. I’d done it
DB Oftentimes someone will
GVS Honestly, it’s just me
guess. But you’d have to have
fantasize about New York,
DB Interesting. So if your
the United States. Some of
through high school pretty
say, “When I’m stressed I
sitting around and finally
changed some other things
I should just go there for
dad had hired Ralph Lauren
the people who seemed to be
seriously. Filmmaking was so
prefer to paint, or make
I’ll go, “Oh! It’d be cool to
too, and I didn’t want to
a month and that would be
then maybe there’d be no
rebels at that time aren’t
complicated and it was fun to
music.” I’m jealous of
do this.” And then I just do
enough. I don’t need to live
like that at all now. Now
learn something that was so
whatever it is.
GVS I hadn’t thought about it
those are the guys who go to
GVS Did you know Winston
like that but yeah, I guess.
the reunions. I guess as you
Churchill painted? DB You didn’t abandon
get older you get mellower. DB I like the idea that we’re defined by our failures.
DB How did you get into
It probably gutted him when
McGregor didn’t hire him
GVS One of the RISD teachers
but then he started Polo and
brought ten students to Rome
now he’s worth a billion
in 1975 to visit filmmakers.
My film teacher was Marian
GVS Also, it feels good
Marzynski and we were being
to hear about failure
guided by Gideon Bachmann,
when people have been so
who was this US journalist
stationed in Rome and knew all the directors. So we
DB Going back to you moving
were visiting Fellini’s
around so often as a young
sets while he was shooting
person: do you think being
“Casanova,” and we visited
transient and having to make
I’ve been making things up from my imagination, recently at least, as opposed to from life. It looks like it’s from life, but it’s just from my own mind.
in the city all the time. DB Were you averse to leaving
Part of it is, my business
DB Are you gonna make a
isn’t really in the city.
painting of the millionaire
GVS A little bit. I left
It’s not really anywhere. I
painting entirely, which I
DB Yes, but only because,
expat who hosted Churchill?
in 2000 when I moved to New
used to just drive back and
know because you exhibited
randomly, where I grew up
GVS You know, I’ll say no
York because I was shooting
forth between Portland and
at Gagosian in 2011. You’ve
in St. Louis, Missouri,
now, and then it’ll be the
there. “Finding Forrester”
LA. Sixteen hours. I liked
also shown your photographs
there was the largest
next thing I’m thinking
was the film. I was renting
driving so I just would do
in museums. Tell me: how do
retrospective of Winston
about, and then I’ll do it.
a place on Canal Street,
it once every two weeks and
you switch gears between
I’ve been making things
and while I was renting that
think on the way.
these media? Are there
up from my imagination,
place the upstairs penthouse
GVS Was he any good?
recently at least, as
came up for sale and it was
DB Would you say you’re
opposed to from life. It
affordable so I bought it.
GVS For me, they’re all just different disciplines that
DB He was pretty good, but he
looks like it’s from life but
After about a year and a
GVS I think my family always
were picked up along the
did it more as therapy.
it’s just from my own mind.
half, the World Trade Center
moved so I always move. I’m
way. The first thing that
GVS Fascinating. He painted
was hit by planes, which
intrigued by the idea of
I was doing was drawing and
a lot, probably while
DB I was surprised to learn
was scarily nearby. Looking
moving anywhere. If you say
painting and printmaking
he was working, while he
you lived here in LA now
back, I wasn’t doing the
there’s a great place in
in art class, and then I
was dictating. There’s
because I assumed you were
New York thing correctly. I
Greece I’ll remember it and
started filmmaking when I
a book I just read about
still in Oregon.
didn’t have the knack for it
I’ll look into it. I don’t
Left: Joaquin Phoenix and Jonah Hill in “Don’t Worry, He Won’t Get Far on Foot” Film stills courtesy Amazon Studios
As a quadriplegic, he had some assistance from an insurance company from the accident and from the government, but the therapy involved in being quadriplegic is so intensive that it’s almost like a sisyphean effort. You’re basically a head without a body. And he was drinking all day! On top of being a mess, he was a mess. DB For your creative process, are you trying to tell a story or are you trying to express yourself? Or are you just trying to know if I’d move there but
and our version of his life
That usually gets me very
create works of art?
I’d look into it.
is sort of centered on that.
interested, because if
GVS I try to make it
So it’s like a self-help
they can be the character
narrative, but it’s coming
and make new things up, it
from a social environment,
starts to become more real
or even just the social
DB Talk to me about the film you’re working on now. GVS “Don’t Worry, He Won’t
DB Your version of a self-
than reading a script. It
reactions in an environment.
Get Far on Foot” is about
help book. Got it. Have you
feels more genuine that
For example, I’ll go to a
a cartoonist who lived in
worked with Joaquin in the
way. Although one time I
flea market and think, “This
Portland, Oregon. It’s
found an actor who couldn’t
would be a great movie.”
coming out in July. The
GVS One time, in the movie
do the script but was great
Then I’ll start to see the
cartoonist is a guy named
“To Die For” .
at making stuff up. I was
entire movie happening in
tempted to go with him, but
front of me because all these
John Callahan, who’ll be played by Joaquin Phoenix.
DB Of course! He was so young
I thought, “Well, we do have
different interactions are
Callahan is dead now, but
in that. He was so good in
to actually tell a story,
happening. I can be almost
he was working in the ’80s,
that. Tell me: what are you
so maybe it’s not a good
anywhere and begin thinking,
’90s, and ’00s. The ’90s were
looking for when you’re
idea.” That’s usually what
“This is a really good place
his big decade. I knew him in
I’m looking for: people who
for a setting.” Then if I
Portland, and he did things
GVS In Joaquin’s case it’s
are naturally able to be the
go farther I start actually
for “The Village Voice,”
somebody I knew and we had
making up characters
“Penthouse,” and “Playboy.”
talked about working on
He became a quadriplegic
something together again.
DB In “To Die For,” Joaquin’s
That’s where it starts,
after a drunken accident
We sort of found this and
character is obviously on
the environment, usually.
when he was twenty-one,
it seemed like a really
the fringe of society. And
Not necessarily a singular
which is a part of the story
good mix. Originally this
a quadriplegic cartoonist,
we’re telling. Some of his
was Robin Williams’s
one would probably agree,
cartoons were about people
project. He had bought a
is also probably not the
DB Do you think you’ll always
with disabilities and he
biography written by John
center of society. Would
attend to people on the
would get in trouble because
Callahan because he knew
you say you’re always on
fringes of society?
they were humorous at the
the cartoons. As a San
GVS Probably. I think all
expense of disabled people.
Franciscan, he knew the
GVS Yeah, John was definitely
subsets of society. You
The public wouldn’t know
weekly paper that printed
on the fringe, he was an
could do a movie about the
that he also was disabled,
Callahan. He had bought the
alcoholic quadriplegic and
fringes of the financial
so he would receive a lot of
book and then invited me to
for seven years he didn’t
business if you wanted. They
help with it. So it was an
work as a cartoonist, he was
might be considered a higher
old project from the ’90s
always hanging out in parks
fringe, but every group is
that I had been working on.
drinking wine. He realized,
still outside of something.
DB And then he’d have to
that are in that world.
after seven years of that,
Even the White House: very
GVS I don’t think he even
DB Is there a Gus Van Sant
that his difficulty wasn’t
fringe right now.
bothered. I think he liked
formula for casting? What
the wheelchair, it was his
the whole reaction that
appeals to you?
drinking, and he had kind of
DB You could do a trilogy
GVS I like people who can go
an epiphany and stopped.
of movies about the Trump
reveal his disability?
administration. Did you see
off script. I sometimes cast DB What appealed to you about
doing that. In “Elephant”
DB That’s a real epiphany.
that Hope Hicks just quit?
 there was no script
GVS He just stopped,
GVS Let’s think about that
GVS Part of his story is
and the actors had to
although his life was already
story. Why do you suppose
about his alcoholism,
go entirely off script.
Ellsworth Kelly, Broad Street Studio, New York, 1956. © Onni Saari, courtesy Ellsworth Kelly Studio.
Ellsworth Kelly: Black & White Works Curated by Jack Shear 10th Floor
Painting/Object Sarah Crowner, N. Dash, Sam Moyer, Julia Rommel, Erin Shirreff
545 West 25th Street, 9th Floor New York, NY 10001 Wednesday - Saturday, 11AM - 5PM
February 23 – May 19, 2018
Free Admission www.flagartfoundation.org
â€“ PAINTERS WITI IOUT BORDERS
academically trained artists, particularly those who work with fairly anodyne subject matter— beautiful women, for example, or nostalgic scenes of an old Shanghai. But Liu Xiaodong is different; he often works with dystopic Beijing scenes— gritty city streets and displaced people. His painting skills are so good, it would be hard for Western and Chinese audiences not to take note, but even so, in general I’d say he’s not as widely recognized in the West as he is in China. PD Even though he’s represented by a powerful American gallery, his audience is still mostly Chinese based. JDB Yes, that’s my feeling. The big change in visibility around these artists—at least in the last ten to fifteen years, and particularly for those who retain a closer connection to the Socialist Realist tradition— is that Chinese audiences have grown significantly. And now these audiences not only have the means to collect, they also understand the grammar and the tradition. They see where it’s coming from. They respect the academic training and recognize
In 1994, Mark Tansey, moved by the artwork of young Chinese painters who had recently arrived to New York, organized an exhibition of their work titled Transformations. Over twenty years later, Tansey and Peter Drake have co-curated Figurative Diaspora, which presents paintings by ﬁve Chinese artists, three of whom participated in Transformations, alongside work by ﬁve Russian artists, all of whom create “unofﬁcial,” subversive, nonstate-sanctioned art, thus tracing the influences of art across borders. Figurative Diaspora, at the New York Academy of Art in early 2018, was in some ways motivated by the Transformations exhibition that Mark Tansey put together back in 1994. It was hosted in his apartment and consisted of four Chinese Socialist Realist artists: Liu Xiaodong, Chen Danqing, Yu Hong, and Ni Jun. In Figurative Diaspora there is a notion that while a visual language was marginalized in the United States and Western Europe, it was also migrating across cultures, still being preserved to a degree in the East. There, reanimated as propaganda, this language was kept alive. Vitaly, you were the one who originally introduced Mark to these artists, so maybe you can explain how you first encountered their work. VITALY KOMAR At that time, Alexander Melamid and I published a call to artists in Artforum magazine. We asked for proposals of what to do with Soviet communist-era monuments or Socialist monuments to Vladimir Lenin and Joseph Stalin. Russia started to destroy these monuments in the early 1990s, after the collapse of the Soviet Union. Artists from countries including Germany, China, ETER DRAKE
and Russia responded to this. Our studio became a kind of meeting place. PD When you saw work by the Chinese artists, did you immediately recognize traces of the education that you had received in Russia? VK Yes. Moscow represented a traditional Western academy for China in the same way that Rome did for Russian artists in the nineteenth century, when Russian artists were moving to Rome to study the Renaissance and Baroque periods. PD Mark, were you and Vitaly friends at that point? MARK TANSEY Yes, we had met. I very much admired Komar and Melamid’s work and how they had internalized critical content in the Socialist Realist form. PD Were you ever in a studio of theirs at the time? MT The first time I visited their studio was for one of the evening meetings Vitaly mentioned earlier. That’s where I first saw slides of Chen Danqing’s pictures and was introduced to him. PD Danqing was living in the States for about twenty years, wasn’t he? XIN WANG He came in 1982. MT I remember a very striking painting by Danqing, of a field worker listening to a radio announce the death of Chairman Mao. It struck me. JANE DEBEVOISE It’s an interesting early work of his that was shown at the Guggenheim Museum in 1998 in the exhibition A Century in Crisis: Modernity and Tradition in the Art of Twentieth-Century China. MT I was intrigued by the idea of presenting the unpresentable, of visualizing the auditory. That goes beyond realism, it gets to realization, it’s where things come together. PD In your essay for the Transformations booklet, you said, “Chen’s work served as an introduction to me to the works of Liu Xiaodong, Yu Hong, and Ni Jun. And this transformational edge in his work led me to appreciate the importance of understanding their work in terms of extending temporal transformations of their culture rather than the narrow temporal postures of mine.” You were seeing it through a very particular point of view and it took you a while to adjust. MT It was common at that time to view contemporary art as existing in a singular, formal present. But apprehending the art of Chen Danqing or Komar and Melamid involved multiple times, multiple styles, and multiple relations between form and content.
Mark, I remember going to that show in your apartment and needing you to guide me on understanding why Yu Hong’s work was progressive because when I saw it, I thought it was just pictures of women. There was nothing about it that struck me as progressive until you put it in the context of Socialist Realist work, and then suddenly it felt extremely unusual but also refreshing, even potentially dangerous. MT Her painting involved self-representation with a sensitive exuberance that was well beyond the agenda of Socialist Realism. PD Xin, do you know if the Chinese artists were puzzled by the American reactions to their work? I’ve heard that Chen Danqing was disappointed that the level of success he had achieved in China was so different from what he was achieving in America. XW I wouldn’t even say he had an American reception, because there was a lack of any mainstream recognition of these artists at the time, before contemporary Chinese art started appearing in major museum exhibitions in the 1990s and subsequently as an art-market phenomenon in the mid-2000s. I don’t know what kind of feedback they got from the Transformations exhibition because that was a more intimate crowd of people who probably understood them on some level. After moving back to China, Chen Danqing published several extremely popular memoirs and essays about his time in New York, and one of these chapters was dedicated to his friendship with Mark. In this essay and others, he wrote candidly about his frustrations but also offered insightful observations about anachronisms of the New York art world, its hierarchies, and how it functioned to distinguish the “mainstream” and the peripheral practices—a category as much stylistic and temporal as historical. He was so amazed that Mark took an interest in the realist works by him and other Chinese artists and offered to reflect on their practices in an exhibition context. PD Yu Hong and Liu Xiaodong have had phenomenal success as artists. Was any part of that due to Transformations? Did a kind of bump happen afterward? JDB Yu Hong and Liu Xiaodong’s acceptance and celebration have grown significantly since the 1990s, but I feel their audience is still mostly Chinese. Mainland Chinese are wealthier than they were in the 1990s, and some have embraced these PD
the controversial aspects of what the artists are doing to disturb or subvert it. They see the critique, while Westerners disregard it or don’t understand the context from which it emerges. I suspect that in the ’80s and ’90s, when these artists arrived in New York, some of them might have felt somewhat frustrated, as many had already been highly recognized in China. That may have been discouraging, but in some ways it was good because many went back to China and did great things there. For example, Ai Weiwei was more or less working in obscurity when he lived in New York in the ’80s. It wasn’t until he went back to China in the ’90s that his career as an artist and instigator began to take off. VK When I came to the United States, I tried to understand the echoes of the past, the realistic and academic art in the West. In Russia during the first years of the revolution an academic system of education was destroyed as a bourgeois tradition. It was rebuilt in the beginning of the ’30s. Simultaneously, Germany established a totalitarian Previous spread: Mark Tansey, Landscape, 1994, oil on canvas, 71 1⁄2 × 144 inches (181.6 × 365.8 cm) © Mark Tansey Opposite (top): Chen Danqing, Tears Flooding the Autumnal Fields, 1976, oil on canvas, 64 5⁄8 × 92 1⁄2 inches (164 × 235 cm) © Chen Danqing Opposite (bottom): Komar and Melamid, AntiChrist (Glory to God), 1990–91, oil on canvas, 72 × 54 1⁄8 inches (182.9 × 137.5 cm). Collection of Neil K. Rector © Vitaly Komar and Alexander Melamid Left: Yu Hong, Resolution, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 70 7⁄8 × 78 3⁄4 inches (180 × 200 cm). Private Collection © Yu Hong Below: Ni Jun, China Central Television under Construction, 2008, oil on canvas, 17 3⁄4 × 17 3⁄4 inches (45 × 45 cm) © Ni Jun Following spread, left: Liu Xiaodong, My Hometown, 2014, oil on linen, 30 × 38 inches (76.2 × 96.5 cm). Arthur Zeckendorf Collection © Liu Xiaodong Following spread, right: Erik Bulatov, Red Horizon, 1971–2000, colored pencil on paper, 11 × 12 1⁄4 inches (27.9 × 31.1 cm). Collection of Neil K. Rector © Erik Bulatov
academy of art. The Bauhaus was destroyed and instead National Socialists started to rebuild the tradition of “the hero.” I understood the history of twentieth-century art as not just the history of Cubism, abstract art, and Abstract Expressionism but also of totalitarian art, which was occurring in Spain and Italy as well. Chinese and Tibetan art were proto-abstract geometry. Abstract Expressionism couldn’t be popular [in China] because Chinese hieroglyphs are by concept, by origin, the same as Abstract Expressionism. That’s why Chinese artists themselves were attracted by the realistic depiction of nature, and to poetry, and sometimes combined the two. That’s one way to understand why the tradition of realism was so popular and is still popular in China. In Russia, there was a different reason for the explosion of academic art. The height of Russian art was during the end of nineteenth-century symbolism. It was famous, even in Europe. The idea of depicting another, imaginary world was reflected in the communist idea of building another world, a new world, an ideal society on this earth. It was a great illusion, which ended tragically in Russia. It was a tragic lesson to all humanity because sometimes it’s very dangerous to turn a fairy tale into reality. PD Part of what you’re known for, especially when you were collaborating with Alexander, was an ironic repurposing of the grammar of Soviet Socialist Realism. That’s been a thread through your work—using this language, repurposing tropes from the ’50s, from the film world, from illustration, from art history, and turning them on their heads. Mark, was that something you found in the work by the Chinese artists? MT Danqing’s work in par ticular involved cross-cultural juxtaposing and repurposing of images of different times. What the artists had in common was an emerging sense of self-reflection and self-authorship. PD But always with authenticity, right? They weren’t indulging in some of the notions of a bankrupted culture that a lot of ’80s postmodern artists were. MT There was a vitality that stood out against the narrow presence of the ’80s commodity critique. I don’t know how to put it simply. I noticed a quality, a depth, a complexity in the work. I saw that in Komar and Melamid’s work as well as in the Chinese artists’ work. PD From the New York Academy of Art’s point of view, our interest in Figurative Diaspora is this notion that a certain language, while it was marginalized in the US and Western Europe, could be migrating across cultures, being preserved and reenlivened, even though it was being repurposed for propaganda. This language was kept alive, which explains why artists from the Central Academy of Fine Arts in Beijing have a phenomenal skill set. You look through a book of drawings of student work and you can just be blown away by the facility. I don’t know if you could go to any academy in America and find that level of talent. It has disappeared inside of two generations. MT We have an American history of the avantgarde, where abstraction supplanted representation. In the late 1970s and early ’80s there was a return to figuration, but even so, it’s fascinating to see other things happening in different cultures, to see the flows of official and nonofficial and academic versus avant-garde. VK Early on in postmodernism, at the beginning of the ’80s, the New York Times ran the headline 115
“Today’s Avant-Garde Artists Have Lost the Power to Shock,” above an article by Hilton Kramer. The avant-garde had lost the element of surprise. MT Yes, it had become academic. PD It became mainstream. JDB The continuation of figuration and realism and their pervasiveness outside the Euro-American sphere is something that fascinates me. It proposes a certain kind of resistance to the mainstream as we have developed it, this hegemonic view of what is and what is not art. There is a Euro-American modernism, and then there is modernity, and then there is the socialist modernity. We don’t seem to adequately acknowledge that modernity comes in different packages, and that socialist modernity is just as relevant to world culture as Euro-American modernity yet is almost never embraced, almost never validated in Euro-American institutions. Whatever we think about totalitarianism, there is something within the wreckage of Mao’s socialism that still resonates in the minds and hearts of many artists in China. Acknowledging that may make artwork by people like Yu Hong or Liu Xiaodong more legible and clarify their desire to continue to communicate broadly. It may be interesting to think through realism and figuration in a broader, more ideological sense, as well as an artistic sense. PD Part of that must be how the avant-garde positioned itself in the culture, wanting to be exclusive and not for the masses. To a certain degree there was a kind of intellectual elitism that was not interested in speaking to the average person. The notion of communication to a broader audience, whether it’s through Socialist Realism or any other form of realism, is sort of antithetical to the avant-garde. VK In Russia, the avant-garde ended in the late 1920s, when it lost the ability to attract official power within the government. From the beginning, they’d said the masses did not understand the abstract art of Kazimir Malevich and the others. At a certain point, even Malevich started to paint realistically. PD De Chirico changes also, a little earlier. VK There was a tendency to change in search of the “new.” Paradoxically, realism became new for a short time at the end of the ’20s, beginning of the ’30s. Nowadays we have an entirely new situation, where all kinds of art coexist. Just take a walk in Chelsea and you will see video art, realist art, photographs, abstract expressionism, abstract geometry, surrealism, etc. That means our criteria of what’s good in art has opened up. We have become tolerant of many contradictions. PD But that also creates a critical crisis. VK Sometimes crisis is the period before you go back to health. PD Jane, it’s interesting that in contemporary Chinese art, particularly with the artists who were in Transformations, there remains a strong attachment to realism. Where does this attachment come from? JDB We just had a show of contemporary Chinese art at the Guggenheim Museum in New York. It’s interesting to note that the curators of this show made a choice to omit painting, at least for the most part. Among the paintings that were included were works by Yu Hong, Liu Xiaodong, and a few others, but the core of the exhibition relied on other media—installation, performance, and video. We should remember, however, that many of the artists in that exhibition started out as painters and have retained the skills you mentioned. They are academically trained artists from the Central Academy 116
I guess it depends on how long you stayed in New York. HEIDI ELBERS Vitaly, Chinese artists exhibited in Moscow when you were studying. Do you remember what kind of art was shown? VK It was Chinese Socialist Realism. HE In the ’60s? VK In the ’60s it was different. It was a more provocative time. XW Mark, you were very tuned in to unpacking something about these Chinese artists, and you mentioned the conceptual and perceptual in our previous conversations. That seems to be the duality where irony or ironic meanings would manifest. Interestingly enough, however, in these Chinese artists’ works, there is not the same kind of irony that you practice or subscribe to in your work. MT I’m not sure to what degree irony overlaps with humor or satire. There is an outward aggression in humor that can be alleviated by laughter. But Vitaly had said recently that irony is “related to the idea of self-reflection.” That’s what I saw vividly, in multiple senses, in the work of the Chinese artists. VK Sometimes I feel that my self-irony is very close to self-destruction. Because in purifying yourself you’re also losing part of yourself. VK
in Beijing, or the China Academy of Art in Hangzhou, for instance. Behind the conceptual art that the Guggenheim curators decided to present are amazing realist painting-and-drawing skills. After June 4, 1989, and through much of the 1990s in China, public museums, which were almost entirely state run, were prohibited from displaying so-called avant-garde art, exemplified by much of the work that you saw at the Guggenheim. Artists like Yu Hong and Liu Xiaodong, both students and young teachers at the Central Academy in the late 1980s and ’90s, may have wanted to continue to exhibit their work publicly, to continue their conversation with the public. In one of his essays Vitaly used the term “official conceptualism,” which I thought was lovely. Is that what we have here? PD Wasn’t it also true that Yu Hong was taking some chances with her own career? JDB Yes, but she stayed with a more traditionallooking vocabulary and she perfected it. As did Liu Xiaodong. They were truth-tellers in the sense that they were showing a Beijing that was not bright, shiny, and red, required characteristics of politically acceptable art during the strident Maoist years. That willingness to tell the truth was controversial within a mainstream context. For example, one work by Liu Xiaodong in the recent Guggenheim show showed two boys, liúmáng or hoodlums, burning a rat—marginalized, unemployed guys hanging around, doing nothing, being bored, and burning a rat. That was the f lip side of the new economy that was beginning to surge. People were going to be left behind. Liu Xiaodong communicated this new reality in a language that was at once legible and unsettling. PD That’s one of the aspects I was attracted to in Lu Liang’s work too. He does these incredibly bleak pictures of ghost cities and strange vistas, on an enormous scale, you feel like you’re stepping into reality in a strange way. All the skill sets are there. He’s using everything he’s learned and deploying it to make a very dark statement. But they’re still incredibly beautiful, hauntingly so.
There’s a certain kind of disenchanted idealism that uses irony to sort of attack one’s previous faith. Mark, do you feel that the word “irony” implies a lack of faith, or a lack of authenticity? MT It seems inadequate to try to put a tight definition on it. Satirical artwork, humor, visualizing irony—there are relationships that are volatile, beautiful, and funny at times, but how they come together is quite explosive, an enigma. VK “Explosive” is a good term. PD That’s funny, because I remember back when critics felt your art depended on one-liners, so you started to embed text in your work. MT I realized that text as texture can become picture. PD They didn’t see the complexity of the work. They weren’t willing to invest themselves in decoding its complexity. MT At that time, even though a lot of attention was certainly given to representational artists, the critique of representation had it that representational meanings were “single coded,” “single messaged,” and “totalizing.” But if you go beyond that reductive thinking it becomes apparent that there is inherent complexity in how the perceptual and the conceptual interact with the making of a representational picture. That’s the vitality of the figurative, you’re not re-presenting anything PD
literally—you’re re-presenting, metaphorically. It’s about the interaction of seeing, thinking, and making. And when I see people doing it with verve, it’s a pleasure. It can be dangerous, satirical, ironic, critical, insightful, revelatory. . . . VK Also sometimes sarcastic. MT Its many reflective modes show the adequacy of representation as a form of signification. HE Peter and Mark, you have been working toward the Figurative Diaspora exhibition for quite a while. Can you talk about your thought process? PD At the start we wanted to focus on technical sophistication, but over ten or fifteen years, the proposition changed dramatically, and now it’s something more like traditional skills and contemporary discourse. The artists in both Transformations and Figurative Diaspora have made an enormous effort to acquire an incredibly difficult set of skills, and they’re trying to do something progressive, something that hasn’t been seen before. Part of what makes their work so interesting is that the language has morphed as it has moved along. Some of the tropes from Soviet Socialist Realism still show up—you’ll see figures portrayed from below, or lit with artificial light. But those devices are used in different ways now, and it feels like there’s a real connection between all three cultures.
That duality is embedded in the work of a lot of artists who want to maintain a certain kind of visibility, or work within the system, and yet at the same time feel deeply about the social problems in China. PD In America, earlier generations of conceptual artists have now become deeply embedded in academic life and there seems to be little interest in technical training. It’s a very strange moment. These are people who took chances with their creative lives, saw themselves as progressive, but then institutionalized their beliefs. You go around the country now and even foundation programs are being done away with. And there’s very little room for that training in the larger art marketplace. It’s an entirely different sort of institutional culture. XW At the same time, it feels like a familiar story, where progressive and democratizing goals almost inevitably become institutionalized. I think what Jane has just laid out about China specifically is important because it’s not just about preserving something—a tradition or a genre—it’s also about expanding and transvaluing it into something completely different, often in response to changing times and cultural/political climates. PD That’s the most important thing. Part of what’s frightening about traditional atelier practice is that the drawings that come out of it frequently look very similar. But in China at the moment, you don’t actually see this salon sensibility of just repeating the past, you see really great figurative work, and it’s looking to the future. It’s taking advantage of all these linguistic skills but deploying them in ways that haven’t been seen before. It’s fascinating and exciting. JDB It’s interesting to consider the community of Chinese artists who came to New York around the time of Mark’s Transformations exhibition, a community that included both Ai Weiwei and Liu Xiaodong. On one hand, they came from a similar milieu and were friendly colleagues in New York, yet there’s a divide in terms of their approach toward the system. Vitaly, when people from Russia first came to the United States, did that same sense of community pervade? JDB
TRANSFORMATIONS: NEW YORK, 1994
In 1994 Mark Tansey hosted the exhibition Transformations in his apartment which featured four Chinese artists living in New York at the time: Chen Danqing, Ni Jun, Yu Hong, and Liu Xiaodong. Long before any awareness from critics and discourse, they recognized the potency and bandwidths of realism—marginalized by Conceptualism then as well as now—in each other’s drastically different practices, informed by radically different cultural, pedagogical, and temporal parameters. It is serendipitous that Tansey and the Chinese artists were connected by Vitaly Komar, part of the Soviet artist duo Komar and Melamid, not least due to the legacy of the Soviet brand of Socialist Realism that continued to loom large in art academies in China. Thank You For Your Love 1994, a forthcoming publication edited by Xin Wang with contributions from Cindy Xingyi Qi, will delve deep into the circumstances and confluences of Transformations, a singular event that speaks volumes to the constellation of contemporaneous experiments as well as anachronistic connections in the increasingly globalized art world in 1990s New York.
This transformational edge in his work led me to appreciate the importance of understanding their work in terms of extending temporal transformations of their culture rather than the narrow temporal postures of mine. Mark Tansey
When I first saw one of Chen Danqing’s large triptychs several years ago in his studio on 42nd street I was deeply struck and puzzled. The Socialist Realist grammar taken to the hilt was combined with recent familiar vanguard conventions of appropriation and juxtaposition normally associated with the 1980s postures of neutralized meaning. My immediate reflex was toward quick judgment. However, it didn’t take me long to take my temporal blinders off and realize that I wasn’t looking at these paintings—they were looking at me. Two thousand years of ink painting, about forty years of Socialist Realism, and three years of cultural surge since Tiananmen Square were grinning at my temporal chauvinism. The triptych panel on the far right, based on Caravaggio’s Death of the Virgin, showed me that Chen’s hand was closer to Caravaggio than any I’d ever seen. In the panel on the left, a wounded girl being lifted from Tiananmen Square shows his Socialist Realism at its source. And in the center panel one sees any of us at a New York club in our glorious precision obsolescence. What holds the pictures together is the similarity of gesture, the figural dynamics, and the Socialist Realist voice. But the edge between each panel is a cultural temporal maelstrom.
Chen’s work served as an introduction to me to the works of Liu Xiaodong, Yu Hong, and Ni Jun. And this transformational edge in his work led me to appreciate the importance of understanding their work in terms of extending temporal transformations of their culture rather than the narrow temporal postures of mine. In Liu Xiaodong’s art, painted just after Tiananmen Square, one can follow a transition of increasingly robust individuation away from the restrictions and uniformity of Socialist Realism. The work of Yu Hong, “who expands Eastern attitudes of women’s liberation” by painting women, including herself, makes readily apparent a transition from her Socialist Realist to an exuberant celebration of the human body. Ni Jun goes directly to gesture grammars of power and political transactions, which may be the most fundamental site of cultural transformation. It’s my hope that this private showing will add to a progressive international discourse based on the renewed vitality and complexity of the pictorial language we have in common. —Mark Tansey, Transformations brochure, 1994 Opposite: Mark Tansey, Action Painting II, 1984, oil on canvas, 76 × 110 inches (193 × 279.4 cm) © Mark Tansey Left: Ni Jun, North Korea, 1991, oil on canvas, 31 1⁄2 × 26 3⁄4 inches (80 × 68 cm) © Ni Jun Right: Yu Hong, A Girl At Leisure, 1993, oil on canvas, 47 1⁄4 × 35 1⁄8 inches (120 × 89 cm) © Yu Hong
Left: Liu Xiaodong, The Heavy Rain, 1993, oil on canvas, 56 3 ⁄8 × 72 1⁄8 inches (143 × 183 cm) © Liu Xiaodong Below: Ai Weiwei at John Ahearn’s Studio (1993). Photos by Liu Xiaodong
Opposite: Chen Danqing, Leather Shoes and Leather Boots, 1987, oil on canvas, 22 1⁄8 × 27 5⁄8 inches (56 × 70 cm) © Chen Danqing
My experiences tell me that artists here are open-minded and they communicate with each other no matter what race or nationality. Chen Danqing
itting at a bar on the Lower West Side one night in the early 1990s, Mark Tansey took a look at photos of my paintings that had been given to him by a mutual friend and simply said, “When you have time, we need to have a longer conversation.” On a brutally cold day a week later, Mark traveled to my place by subway. When he arrived, he sat down and was quiet for a while, but we eventually ended up talking until midnight. To use an old Chinese term, Mark is a shu-sheng (scholar). He contemplates while discussing, sometimes smiles, but just for a second, and soon returns to pondering. He seldom talks about himself, never interrupts, but is both forthright and cautious. If he speaks for longer than he deems appropriate, he will stop himself: “Oh, I think I’ve said too much. What do you think?” Sometimes he is just shy. Mark’s personality seems to contrast with the irony-tinged content of his paintings: a cow is led to an oil painting; a TV host extends a microphone to a sphinx statue for an interview; a group of painters sit in front of their easels and sketch mushroom clouds; two literati scuffle on the edge of a precipice composed of words. I saw the last piece at the Whitney Biennial in 1985 but did not know that one of the two literati depicted was Jacques Derrida. What does that mean? At the time, I thought I could see through everything but I still didn’t understand. There must be some implication or intention. Clearly, the artist had taken ignorance and knowledge into consideration; in other words, our knowledge becomes useless in front of these paintings. Our early correspondence was quite formal. Mark mailed me handwritten notes a few times 120
to make appointments or reschedule our meetings. Living in the contemporary era and in the same city, he wrote letters instead of making phone calls—such a long-absent, old-fashioned gesture. However, talking to Mark face-to-face sometimes confused me, so much so that I often got lost in language, even in Chinese. He patiently instructed me in words such as “structure,” “deconstruction,” “metaphor,” “rhetoric,” etc., by referencing the English-Chinese dictionary I would bring with me. But I would get confused again when the words mixed together in his long sentences. Sometimes when we discussed my paintings, I would respond, “I don’t get it.” He would reply seriously, “Yes you do. You have it in your paintings already. I can see that.” After long conversations with Mark, I would feel exhausted and intrigued. That said, I often wondered if a three-person conversation might be more interesting than just he and I trying to understand one another. He would often apologetically remark, “I wish I could speak Chinese.” As time passed, however, I realized that we did understand each other, and that Mark wanted a confidant. He needed a listener, someone with whom he could talk to about the possibilities of painting and so-called conceptual art—of not giving up on canvas while also indulging in conceptualism. He appreciated having a sounding board to explore his thoughts on the matter. He repeatedly emphasized that his success was only one of a very few exceptions among the postmodern paintings of the 80s. As to his recognition among major art museums and collections, he simply felt that he was lucky. He would speak of the word “lucky” in a self-deprecating tone, but with remarkable anger when talking about “avant-garde art.” With his eyes glaring down at a corner, as if avant-garde art was lying
there, Mark would say, “I hate it. I hate their attitude of, ‘You’re all wrong and we’re correct.’” He would also make a kick in his leather shoes, reminiscent of the domineering gestures made by avantgarde artists. To this day, he often speaks contemptuously of the “mainstream.” I would comment, “You’re on that mainstream list yourself,” to which he would reply, “No, no, I’d rather not be.” Mark always stands in a nonmainstream position and views the mainstream as a foe that he knows well. He respects non-Western mainstream art, however. He once asked me timidly about the issue of space in landscape paintings of the Song dynasty. He assumed that I knew much more than he, but I could only tell him that the concept of “space” did not exist yet in Song-dynasty China. Another time he took me to a party during which he listened intently, like a college student, to artists from the former Soviet Union. Mark also visited one Whitney Biennial that had received a bad review from the New York Times. After seeing the installations by young artists, he commented, “Well, yes, it was strident, but the New York Times writers just want to remain in the glory days of Abstract Expressionism to ensure the steady victory of holding the authority in their hands. The young ones should have fun playing their own games. Vitality, that’s the most important thing!” In early 1994, I brought a few young peers from Beijing to pay Mark a visit. He had decided to hang our paintings in his home (for which he had cleared out a large room). He prepared good wine and food and gathered dozens of people, including his gallerist and the professor and art critic Arthur Danto. It was a snowy day, and Mark seemed more excited about this event than about preparing his own show. He even asked me twice, “Would your
friends feel uncomfortable about having their paintings hung in my place?” His worry reminded me that Westerners are often extremely serious, even with casual events. Mark wanted to make the event special. A few days later I went to pick up the paintings. We sat in his kitchen smoking. He had a cigar and, with a hint of sentimentality, he said, “The paintings had to outshow ‘the mainstream!’” He then said, “Mainstream means that some things get to be exhibited, but others don’t.” I laughed. “Is that funny? No, that’s their political game and it’s not interesting to me at all.” Mark wanted to reach out to galleries for me, but made the suggestion in a roundabout manner. Out of stubbornness or laziness, or maybe both, I had not tried to reach out to galleries for about eight years. I worked on my own. Mark could see through this and tactfully suggested, “I totally understand you. But things just need to be shown. Let them have a look and decide.” Of course, Mark knew more about galleries’ strategies than I did. But he was a friend with whom I wanted only simple discussions, with no worldly business involved. I promised I would comply with his suggestion but never called him back. Almost half a year passed. Eventually, Mark called me, and with his clumsy self-deprecating tone said, “I’m sorry, okay? I don’t contact people that often. I know it’s bad.” The thing is—it was my bad. I should have apologized but I didn’t. I invited him to my place and he came without bringing the note with my new address and phone number on it. He wandered around the building, finally went home to call me, and apologized several times. The next day he came back with a pack of beers. I feel Westerners drink beer like water.
Over time, I have heard voices questioning the cultural centralism and hegemony of the West. I’ve also seen earnest efforts in the United States to advocate for and support non-Western and nonwhite art. The “loudness” of these efforts makes me uncomfortable, however. Perhaps we are just fine without them, but these activities make us see the “center” and smell the “hegemony.” This is probably what Mark was referring to when he talked about the “political game.” Nonetheless, my experiences tell me that artists here are openminded and they communicate with each other no matter what race or nationality. Jean Renoir, the French film director and son of the Impressionist painter, called himself “a citizen of the world of films” in the last chapter, “An End to Nationalism,” of his memoir My Life and My Films. He wrote, “If a French farmer should find himself dining at the same table as a French financier, those two Frenchmen would have nothing to say to each other. . . . But if a French farmer meets a Chinese farmer they will find any amount to talk about.”1 Is this postulate true? Very possibly. Renoir’s comment was based on his experiences after he had moved to Hollywood and developed close relationships with American directors. Notably, his observation mirrors the situation between Mark and me. With regards to language, we may only understand partially, but we indeed fully comprehend each other. Excerpt from Chen Danqing’s “An Artist’s Portrait— Tansey,” 1998 Translated from the Chinese by Qianfan Gu 1. Jean Renoir, “An End to Nationalism,” in My Life And My Films (Boston: Da Capo Press, 2000), pp. 279–80.
the lives of the artists ii
Hollis has never been able to explain why, of all the children she has been sent to photograph, she should have chosen Nadja. Maybe it was simply because there were so many children, and each one seemed to be asking a question to which Hollis answered No no no no. Maybe she just got tired of saying no and, on an impulse, said yes. She’d reached that point: worn down by how little she could do. The Foundation helped with the adoption, helped gladly, because of its long and successful association with Hollis. It made things easy, walking her through the interviews and advising her on how to complete the government forms. Hollis is one of those still photographers and documentarians whose work has been proven to move people, to brings tears to eyes, lumps to throats, to touch the human heart in a very particular place that inspires donors to be generous—a miracle at a time when there is so much competition for charitable donations. Consequently, these filmmakers and photographers are very much in demand. If she wanted, Hollis could work constantly, which she tries not to do, because of Nadja. The videographers film children being pulled from bombed-out wreckage; they move in for closeups of newly freed hostages and refugees, uniformed soldiers weeping in the arms of their loved ones. Sometimes Hollis imagines that her employers count (electronically or optically) the benefit-dinner attendees with visible tears in their eyes, then plot that information against the size and number of donations and decide whether or not to rehire her based on the results. Hollis takes photos of orphans. She likes the pictures she takes. The children don’t look like puppies, as they so often do on the TV ads for kids in need, their faces heartbreakingly hard to tell from those of the puppies pleading—silently, like the kids, with their eyes—to be rescued from shelters. At least there are no toll-free numbers to call on the pictures she takes. She lets the kids show their real selves. She finds ways for them to keep from having their personalities, their souls, reduced to their lack of parents. She’s making art, or something close enough to it for her to feel there was a point to all those hard years of apprenticeship, art school and whatever. She earns a decent living, not a fortune but enough to hire people she trusts to take care of Nadja when she’s away. Best of all, and unlike some of her artist friends, she never has to ask herself if what she is doing is useful. Not just useful, but good. She carefully vets the organizations for which she works. She wants to know if the money is going to the kids or to the private jet in which the CEO flies to pose with the orphans. The Foundation raises millions. It sends medical supplies and food, and has even started little schools for refugees in camps in Sicily and Greece. Hollis’s artist friends consider her one of them. No one thinks she’s sold out. What with her work and raising Nadja, they tell her she’s a saint. During the adoption, the Foundation suggested a complete medical workup, which Hollis agreed to, even though she had already made up her mind from the minute she’d seen Nadja sitting by an orphanage window, looking out on the winter rain and the cold gray Bucharest street. Hollis had thought, A girl in a fairy tale. Not any fairy tale but a particular fairy tale, though she couldn’t remember which one. She still doesn’t know. Maybe it was an illustration she’d seen as a child, maybe something she’d dreamed. She took Nadja’s picture, which she used for the visa and the papers. Nadja has dark hair and eyes so improbably blue that they look, Hollis remembers thinking, like artificial food coloring. She was—and is—small for her age and terribly slight. The report was not encouraging. Hollis had thought Nadja was four but actually she was six. She was not HIV positive, so at least there was that, though Hollis would have taken her anyway. Nadja was diagnosed with significant learning impairments. When Hollis asked the agency what that meant, they said, Sometimes nothing. Apparently it was customary to bribe the doctors if you wanted to hear good news. Sometimes parents took mute kids out of the orphanage, and in six months they were speaking two languages and reading above their grade level.
All of this went over Hollis’s head. She wanted that little girl or no one. It was one of those decisions that didn’t feel like a decision but like the only possible option. The obvious path. It was a mystical thing, really, but she knew—she knows—better than to say that. Hollis’s mother died a Catholic. Hollis was never a believer, but she still finds herself wondering what and how much her mother believed. Now Nadja looks six but is ten. She is beginning to develop breasts, so soon something may have to change, though Hollis hasn’t figured out what. The initial report said that Nadja would continue to suffer from a range of developmental disorders. But Nadja never seems to be suffering. She appears remarkably cheerful and laughs and smiles a great deal, though she doesn’t speak. She has never learned to read. She doesn’t seem to care. At first Hollis tried to teach her, and then Nadja’s teachers did, but Nadja would sweetly shake her head no, and that was that. She can bathe and dress herself and cook simple dishes. And sometimes not so simple. Once, only once, she watched Hollis make egg salad, and now she can make it just like that. Egg salad’s her favorite food. She doesn’t seem proud of what she can do. It’s just what she does. Nadja can spend hours by the window looking across the street at the park. The real miracle here is rent control, because though Hollis still makes a good living, the costs of raising Nadja—tutors, caregivers, a lawsuit to get her into the public school, transportation, programs and therapies, none of which changed anything—Hollis needs the money she earns. Hollis has tried all sorts of things. After reading a book by a man whose child was drawn out of his shell by the magic of Walt Disney, Hollis bought several DVDs of feature-length cartoons, but Nadja fell asleep, always when the princess—the secret princess—was singing. Hollis tried a letter board, a ouija board, various simple computers, but of course Nadja can’t spell. Hollis hasn’t given up on trying to give her daughter more life skills, better social skills. But it’s begun to occur to her that this is who Nadja is. This is who she is going to be. Now Hollis tries to approach each new attempt to break through without hope and without frustration. To begin and end with acceptance. Still, sometimes she wonders: How could Nadja not be unhappy? Is she really content, sitting alone and motionless for hours? Like a Buddhist nun. Sometimes, secretly, Hollis sees Nadja as her teacher, but she would never say that to another human being. At the Foundation dinners, she’s heard speakers say that about children they met only once. In four years, three young women have taken care of Nadja. They stay over when Hollis is gone and bring Nadja back and forth from school. They’ve all seemed to enjoy the job. Hollis pays well, Nadja’s sweet, and Hollis’s Upper West Side apartment, where she’s lived for twenty years, is way bigger than theirs. They quit only when they get other jobs (the work for which they’ve been studying) and move to different cities. The job has been passed down from one helper to the other, which is why all four have been Columbia graduate students. Along the way, Hollis lost two men—first her husband, Rich, and then Frank, the serious boyfriend—because they weren’t on board about Nadja. Neither was saying send her back to Romania or even put her in treatment. But neither could hide their belief that Hollis was a naive sentimental woman who’d gone a little crazy when her biological clock stopped ticking. Both told her that she’d known better—that she must have known what was going to happen when she took on a child like Nadja. They’d lost her at “a child like Nadja.” There was no other child like Nadja. The thought of what might have happened to Nadja without her intervention is, for Hollis, as sad and confusing as imagining her own death. Thinking about Nadja growing older in government care, Hollis half-enjoys what the Chinese call tongue-in-sore-tooth pain. That’s why it didn’t
work out with the two men, both of whom she loved. She even loved daily life with them, which is harder and rarer than love for a person. But finally it became impossible to live with someone who didn’t understand about her daughter. Being alone seemed less lonely. Her current helper, Sigrid, is a very smart, very nice, very young woman from Denmark who is writing her doctoral thesis on Scandinavian science fiction from the 1950s. It’s getting harder to pack a carry-on and fly to Quito or Lima. Travel is losing its appeal. Maybe it’s just inertia, because when Hollis finally leaves, she is often glad to be someplace else and engaged by what she’s doing. On the road she’s in constant communication, by text and phone, with Sigrid, and she talks to Nadja—Sigrid holds the phone up to Nadja’s ear. Nadja says nothing. Hollis hears her breathing. That sound is her voice, in which Hollis recognizes her daughter’s hello. Now the Foundation has “adopted” an orphanage on the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, and it asks Hollis to go photograph the children. She has an overnight in Palermo. How intensely she longs to stay there and cancel the rest of her trip is her first real indication that something has changed. If only she could stroll around, eat offal sandwiches from carts, and photograph the writhing statues, marbled with car exhaust. But she’s a professional, still. She lugs her equipment onto a boat, then onto another boat. Most of the children are Syrian, terrified and shell-shocked. Many are sick. At night, in her hotel, she can’t stop hearing them cough. The children seem drugged, they don’t even flinch when the shutter blinks. Someone has to take these pictures. To show someone what’s happening here. To try to get someone to help. But not Hollis. Not any more. Take this cup from me. With Nadja she went from no to yes, and now, as abruptly, she’s going from yes to no. This is going to be her last job of this sort. She will find something else. She can’t look at their poor sad faces. She’s agreed to do this, but afterward it’s over. She talks to the kids, she tries to talk, but the kids aren’t talking. She has learned a few magic tricks, pulling quarters out of their ears and so forth, but the kids don’t laugh, they don’t even register surprise. They’ve had some surprises. Big ones. A coin in their ear seems like nothing. She edits the images half-heartedly. She e-mails the least upsetting ones—that is, the ones that have the least power to upset her. Of course the Foundation adores the Lampedusa photos. They say it’s her best work yet, and when (backing down already) she says that she’s thinking of taking a break, the woman who heads the Foundation says, Let’s take a break from thinking about taking a break, and they need to have a conversation about negotiating her salary upward. Hollis can’t remember feeling this uncertain about things that, only a short time ago, she took for granted. Until now she’s always gone from less certain to more. Three plane flights after leaving Lampedusa, Hollis gets back to New York at four on an autumn Saturday afternoon. The city has that weekend feel, and the haze and mist have so weakened the sunlight that it no longer has the strength to warm. You want to be cozy, you want to be home inside with your family, problems and all. Sigrid is at the kitchen table, reading. Hollis finds Nadja where she so often is, sitting by the living room window. Hollis kisses Nadja’s forehead, Nadja lets herself be kissed. Nadja’s skin smells like the lavender soap she loves. A previous helper, Ivy, introduced them to the soothing qualities of lavender. Sigrid asks how her trip was and Hollis says tiring but fine. She asks Sigrid what she’s reading: a Norwegian dystopian novel that got its author into trouble because it seemed to refer to things that happened during the Second World War.
“Interesting,” says Hollis. If someone forced her at gunpoint to repeat what Sigrid just said, she couldn’t. “How’s Nadja?” They spoke yesterday from the Rome airport, but now that Hollis is home, they can say things that might seem less important but are possibly more revealing. Normally, when Hollis comes home, Sigrid sticks around long enough to talk about Nadja. Sometimes she asks if Hollis wants something to eat, if she can make her a sandwich, if she needs anything else, and then she goes back to her apartment. This time, Sigrid says, “Can I show you something?” She takes Hollis into Nadja’s room, with its unique, dear scent of lavender and egg salad. Sigrid takes a folder from a book shelf, the same shelf where the ouija board and Disney DVDs and interactive picture books that haven’t worked are gathering dust. In the folders are a half dozen sheets of white typing paper. On each sheet is a drawing done with colored pencil. Each is very elaborate, in a style that can’t be categorized as one thing or another. Boldness of anime, simplicity of folk art, stylized grace of Aubrey Beardsley. In one image a gray wolf is spread out flat, as if he’s been skinned and made into a rug, or crucified. Turned to one side, his toothy mouth hangs open. Inside his body, unmoored, tumbling, as if in outer space or drowning, are a girl in a red cape with a hood and an old woman in a white nightgown. “Little Red Riding Hood,” Hollis says. “You got it,” says Sigrid. In the next drawing, a mountainous woman in a tight green-and-red-striped gown holds up her foot, contemplating, with horror, a tiny transparent slipper dangling off her big toe. “Cinderella,” Hollis says. “Bingo again,” says Sigrid. In the third, a dead woman, streaked with blood, lies slumped in one corner of a white room, while on the other side of the room a beautiful, frightened young woman is talking to a giant black crow in a cage. The women in the drawing look like no one Hollis knows. “I’m not. . . . ” “The Robber Bridegroom,” says Sigrid. “Grimms’ fairy tales,” says Hollis. “Right again,” says Sigrid. “Did you read them to her?” “Never,” says Sigrid. “I assumed you did. She went to the bookcase and got the book without even looking at it, and took it to her room and did these.” ‘Maybe one of the others,” says Hollis. “I mean, the other helpers. Maybe one of them read the stories to her.” “No doubt,” Sigrid says. Hollis still has the others’ e-mail addresses and she e-mails each of them. The header says: Strange Question. The text: Hi! Did any of you ever read or tell Nadja Grimms’ fairy tales? Snow White? Cinderella? It’s not a problem if you did, just curious, XOXO Hollis. They had been chosen for being the kind of people who answer e-mails right away, and within a few hours all of them have sent back responses ranging from I’m sure not, to No, to I’m pretty sure not, to Maybe Hansel and Gretel. The next day, jet-lagged from the journey, Hollis wakes up at five. Nadja’s light is on, though ordinarily she sleeps late. Alarmed, Hollis goes into Nadja’s room. She’s sitting at her desk. A piece of paper is in front of her, the plastic tub of colored pencils by her right hand. She is drawing with that hand, while with the other she holds a volume of Grimms’ fairy tales up to the side of her head, pressed against her ear, as if it’s a phone on which she’s listening to someone speak.
A girl in a fairy tale, Hollis thought once. Only now does she understand that she wasn’t thinking about her past or about Nadja’s present, but about the future they’d share together. About this moment that finally seems to have come. Is Nadja hearing the stories in the book? She’s not looking at the pages. The book is closed. She seems to be receiving some sort of transmission. Hollis wants to see Nadja do the drawings, she wants to see it herself. In the back of her mind she had wondered if Sigrid was playing a trick on her, or maybe it was Nadja, or Sigrid and Nadja together. Maybe Sigrid found the drawings and pretended Nadja did them. But why would Sigrid— why would anyone?—do that? Nadja’s hand moves across the page, then back and across the page again, in a funny sweeping motion, right to left and left to right, more like windshield wipers than like than a hand drawing. Gradually the drawing appears. A little boy sitting on the ground beneath . . . a gallows. Where would Nadja have seen a gallows? How would she know that such a thing existed? Her hand glides across the paper, pauses. She puts the pencil back in the box, then carefully and deliberately chooses another color. Afraid to disturb her, Hollis hangs back, but she can’t help herself and inches closer. Nadja gives no sign of being aware of her presence. She draws a girl tenderly holding a frog. A man and a woman contemplating a fish that is larger than either of them. Holllis leaves the room. She hears the toilet flush, several times, but no other sound. It’s all she can do to keep herself from going to check. Nadja goes to the kitchen, makes herself some egg salad, pours a glass of milk, eats. Then she returns to her room. When Hollis goes in there at the end of the day, three more drawings are spread out across the table: a donkey vomiting gold coins. A man playing a violin. Seven black birds—ravens, maybe, or crows. Hollis wonders what to do. Should she show them to people? Tell her friends? Nadja’s work may not be what’s happening in the art world right now, but given who Nadja is, and what she seems to be doing, it’s a story. There’s no doubt about that. And someone will want to tell it. Hollis can imagine Nadja on 60 Minutes. Miracle orphan artist girl. Maybe Nadja’s drawings will sell, and Hollis won’t have to work any more, or at least they will buy her some time to decide what she wants to do besides take pictures of orphans. Hollis doesn’t want to think this, but once she does—well, there it is. At the same time, she thinks she should keep this a secret, tell no one, spare Nadja the unwanted attention and the inevitable misunderstanding that will come along with the strangers who will want to know—and want the world to know—what she does and how she does it. Maybe Hollis doesn’t want to know, doesn’t want the mystery explained. She likes being reminded of how much she will never understand. She knew that when she chose Nadja. But from time to time—for long stretches of time—she forgets. She’s staring at a picture of the Grimms’ golden fish. The wishes that are granted are always the wrong ones. The worst ones. She’s startled when Nadja takes—no, seizes—the other edge of the paper. Nadja looks at her mother, her bright blue eyes shining. Otherwise her face is as blank as the sheets of paper on which she has not yet made a mark. Nadja looks at the drawing, then at Hollis. Her lips are moving, as if for speech. “Mine,” Nadja says, and looks away. She has said all she has to say.
“The Lives of the Artists, Part Two: Prodigy” by Francine Prose. Copyright © 2018 by Francine Prose. All rights reserved.
Michael Slenske discusses the uses of gold in art, from the Aztec Empire to Chris Burden and beyond. When New York ’s Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum installed Maurizio Cattelan’s America—a working toilet made of eighteen-karat gold—in its fifth-floor public bathroom, the sculpture immediately became a nonpareil conductor for political discourse. The work, which the Italian artist called “one-percent art for the ninety-nine percent,” went operational for museum visitors’ use on September 15, 2016, as the presidential campaign between Donald J. Trump and Hillary Clinton reached peak frenzy. Perhaps foreseeing what then seemed to most an inevitable Clinton victory, the Guggenheim’s press release marking the occasion stated that “the aesthetics of this ‘throne’ recall nothing so much as the gilded excess of Trump’s real-estate ventures and private residences.” Less than two months later, Trump defeated Clinton to become the forty-fifth president of the United States. On September 15, 2017, exactly one year after the opening date of America, Nancy Spector, the Guggenheim’s chief curator, proved undaunted. Having received a request from the Trump team to borrow Vincent van Gogh’s Landscape with Snow (1888) for the president’s and first lady’s private quarters (it is not unusual for the White House to ask for such loans, though mostly from Washington museums), Spector doubled down in her e-mailed response: the painting was “prohibited from travel,” she said, but the museum was “fortuitously” able to make the Trumps the “special offer” of a loan of America, whose exhibition had closed that same day. “The work beautifully channels the history of 20th-century avant-garde art by referencing Marcel Duchamp’s famous urinal of 1917,” Spector wrote. “We would be pleased to help facilitate this loan for the artist should the President and First Lady have any interest in installing it in the White House. It is, of course, extremely valuable and somewhat fragile, but we would provide all the instructions for its installation and care.” This burn ruffled the feathers of Fox News pundits, who called for Spector’s resignation. (This has not happened.) And it skewered the auric style of our gilded-cage potus, whose sixty-sixth-floor penthouse in Trump Tower supposedly brims with twenty-four-karat doors, lamps, columns, and moldings, whose private jet is equipped with gold-plated seat belts, and whose Trump International Hotel in Las Vegas sells branded chocolates in the shape of bullion bars wrapped in gold foil. More relevant to us here, the incident added a new luster to the use, value, and perhaps the use value of gold, a mythical element throughout (art) history. The Spanish funded an empire with stolen Incan gold; as US president in 1933, Franklin Delano Roosevelt made it illegal to hoard gold, part of a plan to devalue the dollar and stimulate the economy; Hitler stashed gold, and the motherlode is believed by some to lie in the wreckage of a shipwrecked Nazi cruise liner off the Baltic coast. Just this February nearly $50 million worth of recovered ingots and coins from the Gold Rush– era “Ship of Gold” (the SS Central America, which sank in a hurricane 160 miles off the coast of South
Carolina in 1857) went on display in Long Beach after years of legal wrangling with the treasure hunter who discovered it. The lengths we’ll go to in this primal pursuit of gold, while somewhat manic, make sense: it’s running through our veins in trace amounts. Gold is literally, and quite poetically, in our blood. In short, our obsession with gold has created a legacy that has long been an inspiration for historical museum surveys. “Humans have often been drawn to gold,” says Kim Richter, senior research specialist at the Getty Research Institute, Los Angeles, and the co-curator of Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas. The show opened at the Getty last fall as part of the museum’s Pacific Standard Time: LA/LA initiative and traveled in the spring to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. (The Met is itself no stranger to the subject of gold and metalworking in the Americas, having produced the 1985 exhibition The Art of Precolumbian Gold: The Jan Mitchell Collection, which led to the museum’s acquisition of a rare fifteenth-century Tairona pendant.) “The shine, color, and malleability of gold are appealing and make it the perfect medium for creating objects for ritual and regalia,” Richter continues. “It is also not surprising that many cultures associate its golden color with the sun and
MANY CULTURES ASSOCIATE THE COLOR OF GOLD WITH THE SUN AND DIVINITY. Kim Richter
divinity—the Mexicas of the Aztec Empire called it teocuitlatl (‘divine excrement’) in their Nahuatl language and believed it was literally divine matter that came from the sun.” Judging from the number of modernist and contemporary Mexican and Mexico-based artists who have worked with gold, the material appeal of that “divine excrement” hasn’t worn off in the region. To wit: one of the literal highlights at the home and architecture studio of Luis Barragán is a panel, gold leafed by Mathias Goeritz, to reflect divine sunshine from a window overlooking the pink foyer. Both the Guadalajaran minimalist Jose Dávila and the Vietnamese-born, Mexico City– based conceptualist Danh Vo have found success in museums and the market by gold-leafing Mexican beer boxes. The former employs them as formalist tweaks on Donald Judd stacks, while the latter flattens them to hang on walls, or like flags from the ceiling, embellished with gilded renditions of the stars and stripes, or with calligraphy by Vo’s father invoking colonialist overtones of the United States and/or beer brands such as León, Corona, Victoria, and Pacifico. During a recent visit I made to the Kurimanzutto gallery during Mexico City’s Zona Maco art fair, José Kuri unveiled a suite of 24k-gold rings that Gabriel Orozco is deriving from his Samurai Tree paintings, which themselves are made with tempera and burnished gold leaf. Elsewhere, Rudolf Stingel used gold-tinted panels in his 2007 installations at the MCA Chicago and New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art; Sylvie Fleury has unveiled a series of golden sculptures in the form of an 18K-gold shopping cart, a 24K-gold-plated city trash can, and a ceramic truck tire with luster glaze; and Marc Quinn famously enlisted Kate Moss to pose with her legs behind her head for a fifty-kilo 18K-gold sculpture dubbed Siren (2008), which the British Museum exhibited a decade ago alongside some of its classical statues of Greek goddesses. Before these contemporary efforts, Andy Warhol, Yves Klein, James Lee Byars, and many other artists took a shine to gold. Among other gilded works, Byars’s sixty-six-foot-tall sculpture The Golden Tower, first shown in 1990 at Berlin’s Martin Gropius-Bau, made its outdoor debut in the Campo San Vio (next to the Peggy Guggenheim Collection) at the Venice Biennale last year. This spring, as part of its Stories of Almost Everyone survey, the 129
Hammer Museum in Los Angeles exhibited Torture of Metals, a sculptural installation from Manilaborn, LA-based artist Miljohn Ruperto featuring six 3D-printed metal samples in “lesser metals”—mercury, silver, copper, lead, iron, copper, and tin—cast from a naturally occurring gold nugget for a reverse alchemical critique that called into question the perceived (and real) value of this elusive element. “The most pure food you can get is milk with honey and . . . we try to understand how we cross over into the afterlife by using honey and gold,” argues Gabriel Rico, an ascendant Mexican artist who made his New York debut at Perrotin this fall. We were walking around his sprawling Guadalajara studio compound during the city’s PreMaco weekend (i.e., the weekend before Mexico City’s Zona Maco week) and he was explaining a disarming new sculpture, Crudelitatem (I will say the romans that spread upon the world but it was the world that spread upon the romans), and its relation to the use of honey to embalm the dead and preserve seeds in ancient Egypt, and also to nasa’s “Golden Record,” which carried sounds of Earth into outer space aboard the Voyager, in 1977. Preserving a humanitarian time capsule of its own, Rico’s one-branched, white fiberglass tree captures the lust for life of our current civilization while simultaneously anticipating its greedy death. Ornamented with a glowing 24K ceramic beehive, the barren branch drips golden honey onto a ceramic skull lying beneath it atop a pile of white sand. “This is us without soul, without spirit,” Rico says. “This is us.” Perhaps it was always thus. On the early-bird side of the Romantic age, William Blake, the poet who reminded us that “the road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” added gold and silver to paintings in tempera on mahogany. The Ghost of a Flea, based on a vision informing him that the titular insects were inhabited by “bloodthirsty to excess” souls, depicts a man-beast who ogles a blood chalice under the light of golden stars. In the Trump era that image feels fresh again. In 1968, Marcel Broodthaers founded the Musée d ’Art Moderne—Département des Aigles, a cross between a museum and a conceptual artwork, at his home in Brussels. Three years later, on the cover of the 1971 catalogue for the Cologne Art Fair, he announced the sale of the museum as a result of “bankruptcy” and attempted to raise funds by producing and selling an edition of one-kilo gold ingots, priced at double the market value of gold and stamped with the institution’s eagle mascot. The project was shown, fittingly, at the old Monnaie de Paris, formerly the French mint, in 2015. Broodthaers’s bullion has a descendant in Chris Burden’s Tower of Power (1985), a ziggurat of 100 stacked one-kilo gold bars surrounded by an army of paper matchstick men. When the work was shown at the New Museum, New York, in Burden’s retrospective there in 2013, the metal alone was worth $4.4 million and the display was heavily guarded. Halfway up the stairwell connecting the museum’s third and fourth floors is a forty-squarefoot, thirty-five-foot-tall nook known as the Shaft Space. Over the past decade this curatorially tricky gallery has been used for a variety of equally tricky site-specific installations—Agathe Snow’s floating column of magnetized rubber handballs (Master Bait Me, 2009), for example—but nothing could have prepared the New Museum for the complexity of borrowing and showing Burden’s bounty. That complexity has limited the work’s exhibition history: the only other time Tower of Power has
been exhibited was at the Wadsworth Atheneum in Hartford, Connecticut in 1985. Not only did the New Mu have to secure funding, in part from a board member, to borrow the bars, it had to take out a large insurance policy and install an armed guard who watched visitors watching the tower—one person at a time, sans bags and jackets—from behind a Plexiglass window. “It really surprises me that this historical work is not owned by a museum or a private collector,” Lisa Phillips, the museum’s director, said at the time. “It has something to do with the fact that it’s a very big responsibility to insure and maintain, and two, you have to supply the gold, and people see it as a representation of pure value but in fact it is a work of art. What is the value that one can ascribe to the idea? . . . It changes day to day, in this case.” If Burden was carrying the conceptual torch for Broodthaers, the LA–based artist Henry Vincent may soon carry the baton into the future. Vincent spent the early part of his career acting in the films of Raymond Pettibon and making videos with Jason Rhoades, as well as running a private museum called Art Center Los Angeles. In 2006, though, Vincent took a break and moved to Berlin, where he became friendly with artists such as André Butzer, Jonathan Meese, and Andreas Hofer (aka Andy Hope 1930). He also met Reinald Nohal, co-owner of Berlin’s renowned artist hangout the Paris Bar. Nohal invited the artist to stay at the Bunkhouse, a hotel he owned in Dawson City, the gold-rush town in the Yukon, Canada, where Martin Kippenberger built one of the wooden entrances for his Subway to Nowhere installation series. There, in the summer of 2010, Vincent met the seasoned gold prospector Shawn Ryan, and his life and career were forever changed. “I just wanted to go make art in the wild but then I met Shawn Ryan. He’s a billionaire but he had no teeth at the time and was living in a shack,” recalls Vincent, who has gone back to Dawson City every summer since and started his own prospecting outfit there, O.K. Creek Mining and Exploration, in 2013. The company is supported by shareholders— mostly curators, and collectors such as Beth Rudin DeWoody—who are paid yearly dividends in the actual gold that Vincent has been pulling out of his 22,000-acre plot in the Yukon Territory over the past five years. Part business, part art generator, part critique, the mining outfit is a lifelong Gesamtkunstwerk that could well turn Vincent into what he calls “an industrialist artist” who might buy up the town and turn it into “the next Marfa.” Outside the literal goldmining project—run with a full-time summer crew that resembles a special-forces insurgency team—Vincent makes James Rosenquist–like paintings (with gold-flecked paint) that mash up his Chippewa roots, Disneyana, and modernism; hyperrealist drawings and watercolors of the local flora, fauna, and roughneck mining scene; and a collection of hand-cast gold jewelry depicting erotic encounters and female forms. “Every single day you hear references to gold, it comes up maybe every two hours, all these terms that are deep in our subconscious: a nugget of information, mining this or that, the motherlode, all this stuff that’s in humans. Why do we look for it? It has no major significance—it’s a conductor but it’s not used for that. Why is it part of our monetary systems? Explain this to me. It has to have some purpose that we don’t know yet that someone dropped down to us way in the future, or maybe in our DNA,” says Vincent. “Gold is the root of all of it—myth, man, evil, art—gold is in everything.”
GOLD IS THE ROOT OF ALL OF IT— MYTH, MAN, EVIL, ART—GOLD IS IN EVERYTHING.
Previous spread: Maurizio Cattelan, AMERICA, 2016, bowl: 18K gold; pipes and flushmeter: gold plated, 28 ½ × 14 × 27 inches (72.4 × 35.6 × 68.6 cm), installed at Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York. Photo by Jacopo Zotti. Courtesy Maurizio Cattelan’s Archive.
This page, top to bottom: Gabriel Rico, Crudelitatem (I will say the romans that spread upon the world but it was the world that spread upon the romans), 2017, ceramics, gold, fiberglass, marble sand, 53 1⁄8 × 76 3⁄4 × 39 3⁄8 inches (135 × 195 × 100 cm) Octopus Frontlet, c. 300–600 ad, Moche culture, La Mina, Peru, gold, chrysocolla, shells. Museo de la Nación, Lima, Ministerio de Cultura del Perú
Chris Burden, Tower of Power, 1985, one-hundred one-kilo (32 oz) pure gold bricks, sixteen matchstick men, vitrine (wood, marble, and glass); gold bricks: 20 × 18 × 18 inches (50.8 × 45.7 × 45.7 cm); Vitrine: 70 × 30 × 30 inches (177.8 × 76.2 × 76.2 cm) © 2018 Chris Burden Estate and Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Image courtesy New Museum. Photo by Benoit Paley.
Tomas, let’s start at the beginning. Why did you want to show in New York this season, and when did the concept start to form in your head? TOMAS MAIER The show in New York occurred at the same time as the opening of our own new Maison on Madison Avenue at 64th Street. Opening our largest store in the world and celebrating the brand’s return to the avenue where we first opened, in 1972, seemed reason enough to bring our Milan fashion show to New York. DB The set was not typical for most fashion shows. Talk to me about that idea. TM I wanted to show in an environment that represents both Italian design and New York architecture. I designed and built the set with the award-winning Broadway designer Scott Pask and the fashion-show producer Alex Betak. The idea was an individualistic mix of contemporary and vintage furnishing in a brutalist environment, along with outstanding art pieces. The idea was to present the Bottega Veneta lifestyle in its appropriate setting. The same idea was executed but in a different way in the apartment on the fifth floor of the Maison on Madison and will be seen in yet another way at Salone di Mobile in Milan in April. DB How long did it take to build out? TM Planning and finding the vintage pieces took several months. Building the actual set took ten days, with builders working around the clock. DB Now, let’s talk about the John Chamberlain piece. Why was it important to have on the set? TM The piece itself is a great composition—it’s unique. I loved the all-white/chrome composition, which one doesn’t come around often. The dimensions of the piece are spectacular as well. The sculpture made a great statement on how art always inspires me—not literally and never in a commercial way. DB When did you first become aware of Chamberlain’s work? What drew you to it? Where have you seen it? TM I’ve been a fan of Chamberlain for many, many years. My dear friend Ralph Gibson took me to meet him in his studio in SoHo in the early ’80s. I love to visit the Chamberlains at DIA:Beacon—a museum I am very fond of—as the displays are so indulgent. DB I thought it was marvelous to be at a fashion show that incorporated art and fashion in a way that seemed real. The models were almost like a performance piece. Have you wanted to show in that way before? Will you want to show in that way again? TM I have shown in different architectural environments that suited the mood of the collection, as well as in my own space that I built in Milan. This form of presentation was new to me, and what I liked best was the spontaneous interaction between stage and audience at the end of the show. DB The relationship between art and fashion has been often debated, and for a very long time, too. As a designer, how does art inform your work? TM Art has been a great interest to me life long. I’ve never missed a show of an artist I am interested in or curious about. This has been a great inspiration to my own creative work but never in a direct translation to commerce. I have too much respect for what artists do, and for the sacrifices many of them make to have their work shown. DB So will you want to show in New York again? TM Never say never but for now it’s back to Milano. DEREK BLASBERG
STEEL & STYLE John Chamberlain’s ACEDIDDLEY (2008) featured prominently in Bottega Veneta’s Fall/Winter 2018 fashion show this past February. Tomas Maier, the Creative Director for the brand, tells Derek Blasberg why he’s a fan of Chamberlain’s work and what brought this historic Italian brand to New York City.
Artwork: John Chamberlain, ACEDIDDLEY, 2008, painted and chrome-plated steel, 86 3⁄4 × 55 × 53 1⁄4 inches (220.3 × 139.7 × 135.3 cm) © 2018 Fairweather & Fairweather LTD/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Photos opposite (top) and this page courtesy Bottega Veneta. Photo opposite (bottom) by Billy Farrell Agency.
SELFPORTRAIT IN A CONVEX MIRROR
Wyatt Allgeier discusses the 1984 Arion Press edition of John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, featuring prints by Richard Avedon, Alex Katz, Elaine and Willem de Kooning, and more. This edition was selected for the Gagosian Shop by rare-book specialist Douglas Flamm.
“Poets when they write about other artists always tend to write about themselves.”1 So wrote the poet John Ashbery about Gertrude Stein, and as true as it is of her, it is just as true of Ashbery himself. Indeed the statement presages the poem that would cement his poetic legacy some three years later, “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror,” of 1974. The poem, which takes the sixteenth-century Parmigianino painting of the same title as both subject and vehicle for introspection, pushes Ashbery’s thoughts on Stein to their full-bodied conclusion, engaging in a play of selves and surfaces that reflect back images of both the painter and himself, the poet, in equal measure. “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” was published in 1975, the centerpiece of a collection of the same name that would become Ashbery’s most dazzling success, winning a trifecta of prizes—the National Book Critics Circle Award for that year and both the Pulitzer Prize and the National Book Award for 1976. The multilayered title poem remains Ashbery’s most famous work to engage so directly with the visual arts, but he was in some manner always writing with and through the aesthetic realm. As early as his childhood in Rochester, where he took painting classes at the city’s Memorial Art Gallery, Ashbery was dazzled by the magic of the visual. By the 1950s, his was a full-fledged curious eye discovering the works of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko in New York City.2 Of those years he would later remark, “American painting seemed the most exciting art around. American poetry was very traditional at the time, and there was no modern poetry in the sense that there was modern painting. So one got one’s inspiration and ideas from watching the experiments of others.”3 In the next decade, first as a Paris correspondent for Artnews (1963–66), then as the magazine’s executive editor (1966–72), Ashbery would continue to watch these visual experiments, which provided a cache of conceptual and visual material available for integration into his poetry. Grasping this symbiotic relationship between the poet and the world of visual art, the Arion Press published the most apposite version of “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror” in 1984, on the poem’s ten-year anniversary. Made in an edition of 150, this striking livre d’artiste, in a clever marriage of form and content, deftly reifies the philosophies and observations at the heart of Ashbery’s poem. From the start, the stainless steel case, which mimics the design of film canisters, aims to echo the concerns reared by Ashbery’s lines. Housing forty unbound sheets, the case has as its center a convex mirror. Here, the reader, too, gets to partake in a “life englobed.” . . . This otherness, this “Not-being-us” is all there is to look at In the mirror, though no one can say How it came to be this way. A ship Flying unknown colors has entered the harbor. Inside the canister, on handmade circular pages, each eighteen inches in diameter, the publication continues its loyal interpretation of the poem. Eight artists were enlisted to contribute original works. Most of them, such as Jane Freilicher and Larry Rivers, were longtime close friends of Ashbery’s. 4 Logically, the eight prints, also on circular sheets, partake in the same thought-work as the poem, using lithography, woodcut, etching, and other methods to consider the relationship between the creative act and the slipperiness of the self. In addition to Rivers and Freilicher, Richard Avedon, Jim Dine, Alex Katz, R. B. Kitaj, and Elaine and Willem de Kooning contributed work.
Avedon photographed Ashbery reaching into his blazer. (For a pen? A mirror?) Rivers overlaid a typescript of Ashbery’s poem “Pyrography” (1977) on a drawing of the poet in profile, dutifully typing away. Katz’s female subject mirrors Parmigianino’s pose in the original self-portrait, particularly the artist’s intensely present hand. Willem de Kooning responded abstractly with wisps of lines undulating on the circular page, a hint of numbers around the edges like a clock evoking the temporal unease of the opening lines from Ashbery’s third strophe: The balloon pops, the attention Turns dully away. Clouds in the puddle stir up into sawtoothed fragments. I think of the friends Who came to see me, of what yesterday Was like. A peculiar slant Of memory that intrudes on the dreaming model In the silence of the studio as he considers Lifting the pencil to the self-portrait. How many people came and stayed a certain time, Uttered light or dark speech that became part of you Like light behind windblown fog and sand, Filtered and influenced by it, until no part Remains that is surely you. . . . For the poem itself, Arion Press set the lines of Ashbery’s text radiating out from a central circle containing the page number, like spokes from a wheel or rays of light from an iconographic sun. If not exactly user friendly, the effect is nonetheless thematically precise and visually stunning. And since, below the leaves of art and text, the publication includes a vinyl record of Ashbery reading his poem, one might reasonably forgo the spinning motion required for reading, choosing instead to sit back and listen as Ashbery’s singular vocalization transports them like a “carousel starting slowly/And going faster and faster.” By including this vinyl recording, the publication continues its faithful, formal understanding of the influences girding Ashbery’s works, for the album, through association, ties in the crucial dimension of music. As Ashbery said, “Communication is what interests me in poetry. . . . What I like about music is the persuasion that takes place, though one is not aware of it. At the end of a Bruckner symphony one may rise to one’s feet to applaud. One receives a message without knowing one has been told.”5 Or as he writes in “Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror”: That is the tune but there are no words. The words are only speculation (From the Latin speculum, mirror): They seek and cannot find the meaning of the music. We see only postures of the dream, Riders of the motion that swings the face Into view under evening skies, with no False disarray as proof of authenticity. But it is life englobed. 1. John Ashbery, quoted in David Herd, John Ashbery and American Poetry (Manchester: Manchester University Press, 2000), p. 70. The original source is the February 1971 edition of Artnews, where Ashbery was writing on an exhibition of Gertrude Stein’s collection at The Museum of Modern Art. 2. See Richard Kostelanetz, “How to be a difficult poet,” New York Times, May 23, 1976. Available online at www.nytimes. com/1976/05/23/archives/how-to-be-a-difficult-poet-john-ashberyhas-won-major-prizes-and.html (accessed March 20, 2018). 3. Ashbery, quoted in ibid. 4. See ibid. 5. Ashbery, quoted in ibid.
This page, top to bottom: Richard Avedon, John Ashbery, New York, September 27, 1983 from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, offset lithograph © 2018 The Richard Avedon Foundation Alex Katz, Untitled from SelfPortrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, lithograph © 2018 Alex Katz/Licensed by VAGA, New York Frontispiece for Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Arion Press, 1984 Stainless steel case for SelfPortrait in a Convex Mirror, Arion Press, 1984
This page, top to bottom: Elaine de Kooning, Untitled from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, lithograph © Elaine de Kooning Trust Willem de Kooning, Untitled from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, lithograph © 2018 The Willem de Kooning Foundation/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York Jane Freilicher, Untitled from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, lithograph © Estate of Jane Freilicher Page from John Ashbery’s Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, Arion Press, 1984
This page, top to bottom: R. B. Kitaj, Untitled from SelfPortrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, etching and aquatint © 2018 R. B. Kitaj Larry Rivers, Untitled from Self-Portrait in a Convex Mirror, 1983 (published 1984), photogravure with hand additions © 2018 Estate of Larry Rivers/ Licensed by VAGA, New York, NY Jim Dine, Untitled from SelfPortrait in a Convex Mirror, 1984, woodcut © 2018 Jim Dine/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York
COURSE OF EMPIRE Inspired by the works of Thomas Cole
11 June – 7 October 2018
Ed Ruscha, Expansion of the Old Tires Building (detail), 2005. Private Collection © Ed Ruscha / photography Paul Ruscha
Thomas Cole, The Course of the Empire: Desolation (detail), 1836. Courtesy of the New-York Historical Society © Collection of The New-York Historical Society, New York / Digital image created by Oppenheimer Editions
See the artist who inspired Ed Ruscha
Book online and save
11 June – 7 October 2018 Members go free Exhibition sponsored by
Exhibition supported by
Exhibition organised by the National Gallery, London and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
Exhibition view “Rachel Whiteread“; photo: Johannes Stoll, © Belvedere, Vienna
7 March — 29 July 2018
For over three decades, Rachel Whiteread (* 1963) has materialized the intangible. Her sculptures make voids visible and awaken memories of that which has been irretrievably lost. In Vienna Whiteread is best known for her Holocaust Memorial on the Judenplatz, with which the British artist has had a lasting effect on the city and changed the discourse about the past. For the first time in Austria, the Belvedere 21 is showing a substantial survey of the renowned Turner Prize-winner’s thirty-year oeuvre. The exhibition is co-organised by Tate Britain and the National Gallery of Art, Washington, DC, in association with the Belvedere 21, Vienna and the Saint Louis Art Museum. Supported by the British Council Austria.
ARSENALSTRASSE 1, 1030 VIENNA WED TO SUN 11 AM – 6 PM LATE NIGHTS: WED & FRI 11 AM – 9 PM WWW.BELVEDERE21.AT
TATE BRITAIN 28 FEB – 27 AUG 2018
‘BRU TAL, TENDER AND BIZ ARRE, THIS IS LIFE, NOT ART ’ THE GUARDIAN
ALL TOO HUMAN BACON,FREUD AND A CENTURY OF PAINTING LIFE
PIML I CO u FREE FO R TAT E M EM B ER S Supported by the All Too Human Exhibition Supporters Circle, Tate International Council, Tate Patrons and Tate Members Media partner
Lucian Freud Leigh Bowery 1991 Tate © The Lucian Freud Archive / Bridgeman Images
Photo by Blackletter/Patrick Crawford
Lunch Monday–Saturday 12–3pm Dinner Monday–Saturday 6–11pm 976 Madison Avenue, New York T. 212 906 7141 email@example.com
LOCATIONS New York 980 Madison Avenue 980 Madison Avenue New York, ny 10075 T. +1 212 744 2313 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6
London Davies Street 17–19 Davies Street London w1k 3de T. +44 20 7493 3020 email@example.com Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10–6
New York 976 Madison Avenue 976 Madison Avenue New York, ny 10075 T. +1 212 744 2313 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6
Paris rue de Ponthieu 4 rue de Ponthieu 75008 Paris T. +33 1 75 00 05 92 email@example.com Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–7
New York Park & 75 821 Park Avenue New York, ny 10021 T. +1 212 796 1228 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6
Paris Le Bourget 26 avenue de l’Europe 93350 Le Bourget T. +33 1 48 16 16 47 email@example.com Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–6, by appointment only
New York West 24th Street 555 West 24th Street New York, ny 10011 T. +1 212 741 1111 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6 New York West 21st Street 522 West 21st Street New York, ny 10011 T. +1 212 741 1717 email@example.com Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6 Beverly Hills 456 North Camden Drive Beverly Hills, ca 90210 T. +1 310 271 9400 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6 San Francisco 657 Howard Street San Francisco, ca 94105 T. +1 415 546 3990 email@example.com Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–6 London Grosvenor Hill 20 Grosvenor Hill London w1k 3qd T. +44 20 7495 1500 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10–6 London Britannia Street 6–24 Britannia Street London wc1x 9jd T. +44 20 7841 9960 email@example.com Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10–6
Rome Via Francesco Crispi 16 00187 Rome T. +39 06 4208 6498 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 10:30–7 Geneva 19 place de Longemalle 1204 Geneva T. +41 22 319 36 19 email@example.com Hours: Monday–Friday 10–6 Athens 3 Merlin Street Athens 10671 T. +30 210 36 40 215 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–6 Hong Kong 7/F Pedder Building 12 Pedder Street Central, Hong Kong T. +852 2151 0555 email@example.com Hours: Tuesday–Saturday 11–7 Gagosian Shop 976 Madison Avenue New York, ny 10075 T. +1 212 796 1224 firstname.lastname@example.org Hours: Monday–Saturday 10–7
GAGOSIAN SHOP NEW YORK Jonas Wood and Matt Johnson, Wicked Curse Reversed, 2004, 1-color acrylic screen print on paper, 24 × 19 inches (61 × 48.3 cm), edition of 86 © Jonas Wood and Matt Johnson. Photo by Brian Forrest
To coincide with Jonas Wood’s first survey of prints, an installation and selection of objects by the artist are on view at the Gagosian Shop in New York through May 25, 2018. The exhibition presents more than fifty limited-edition prints produced between 2004 and 2018. One of the
items featured in the shop selection is Wicked Curse Reversed (2004). Gagosian Shop 976 Madison Avenue New York, NY 10075 212.796.1224
PARIS Sterling Ruby has created an immersive environment in the Gagosian Shop in Paris. Visitors will find a selection of his graphic posters, laundry bags in custom-printed fabrics, and books through May 26, 2018. Also available are publications, catalogue
raisonnés, prints, editions, and décor from a wide range of Gagosian artists. Sterling Ruby, STRIP STRIP (RB), 2016, poster, 28 × 22 inches, (71.1 × 55.9 cm), edition of 30 © Sterling Ruby Studio. Photo by Robert Wedemeyer
Paris Shop 6 rue de Ponthieu 75008 Paris +33.1.75.00.05.92
WEBSHOP If you can’t visit the Gagosian Shop in Paris or New York, be sure to visit the online Shop for gallery publications, artist books, rare collectibles, prints and editions, and much more. While you’re browsing, you can purchase the complete set of the Cy Twombly
Catalogue Raisonné of Drawings, edited by Nicola Del Roscio.
Jenny Saville, Hyphen, 1999, oil on canvas, 108 × 144 inches (274.3 × 365.8 cm) © Jenny Saville
Anselm Kiefer Uraeus
GAME CHANGER Each issue we look at a particular painting that influenced the course of contemporary art. Here is Jenny Saville’s Hyphen (1999). Text by Derek Blasberg. 152
In 1999, t went y-nine-year-old Jenny Sav ille debuted an exhibition of paintings called Territories in her first ever solo show in New York, at Gagosian’s Wooster Street gallery. This specific work, Hyphen, a gargantuan canvas that’s twelve feet long, commandeered the space, overflowing in its fleshy, corpulent textures off the wall and into the viewers’ laps. (One review described Saville’s style: “She seems less an easel painter than a maker of baroque billboards.”) The painting is a selfportrait of the artist with her sister, perhaps as children and perhaps as Siamese twins. In Vogue in May 1999, Dodie Kazanjian characterized Hyphen
as something “you don’t forget,” and said of the group, “They’re tough, challenging, disturbing, and strangely beautiful pictures. Only a woman could have painted them.” From this show onward, Saville helped to rewrite the art world’s narrative of the nude, pulling from Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud before her but creating her own genre, which was similarly graphic and baroque but also feminine and light. As Kazanjian put it, these are “mountainous, monstrous, pungently physical bodies, whose swollen volumes assault the eye, the mind, and the senses, not to mention 400 years of Western Art History.”
Presented by Gagosian Organized by Public Art Fund and Tishman Speyer May 2–July 22, 2018 Channel Gardens at Rockefeller Center®, New York