PHOTO: EVAN SUNG
1 1 M A D I S O N AV E N U E , N E W YO R K , N Y 1 0 0 1 0
The Cover Luchita Hurtado on painting, longevity and the imperiled Anthropocene. p. 34
Postscript Glenn O’Brien on the life and work of Dash Snow, as told to Bill Powers. p. 62
Afterimage Selections from the career of Don McCullin, photographer of presence. p. 82
Portfolio Jenny Holzer and what the ink conceals. p. 96
Portfolio Phyllida Barlow’s inextricable drawings, in preparation for the Royal Academy. p. 50
The Keepers A new column about collecting as a mutant species of art-making. In this issue: The pathos of Jim Linderman, outsider-insider, by Cassie Packard. p. 74
Profile On Kaari Upson’s Los Angeles DNA, by Jori Finkel. p. 106 7
Editor’s Note p. 12
Letters The devoted correspondence of Dieter and Dorothy. p. 14 Unknown Pleasures A tale of a cocktail waitress and a curator, by Jenny Jaskey. p. 20
Anxiety of Influence On Longing. Judith Stein on Susan Stewart’s daedal classic. p. 16
Epitaph Linda Yablonsky on the life lessons of Sister Wendy Beckett. p. 26
Books New and upcoming publications that make us happy. p. 30 Recipe Rita Ackermann on the virtues of stew, and patience. p. 120
Five Cities Artists on the places where they live and work. p. 122
Non Finito A newly published poem by Rene Ricard. p. 128
Kent Twitchell, Lita Albuquerque Monument, 1983. Courtesy Mural Conservancy Los Angeles and Gil Ortiz. Photo: Gil Ortiz.
Antiphony “Self Portrait as the Professor of…” A new poem by Cornelius Eady in response to a work by Rashid Johnson. p. 20
Photo Katharina Lütscher
Editor in Chief Randy Kennedy
Artwork Karin Schiesser
Managing Editor Catherine Davis Editorial Coordinator Anna Shinbane Art Direction Common Name
Contributing Editors Andrea Schwan Michaela Unterdörfer Contributing Designer Anna M. Tzeng Hauser & Wirth, New York Editorial Offices: 548 West 22nd Street New York, NY 10011 Tel: +1 212-790-3900 Presidents Iwan and Manuela Wirth Partner and Vice President Marc Payot Printed in Germany Offsetdruckerei Karl Grammlich
J O R I FINK EL
Finkel is a writer based in Los Angeles, covering art for The New York Times and The Art Newspaper. She is a coproducer of the documentary Artist and Mother (2018), which profiles four California-based artists who balance career and family by integrating motherhood into their work. Finkel’s writing has appeared in Art in America, ARTnews, Town & Country and W. Her book It Speaks to Me: Art That Inspires Artists is forthcoming. (Photo: Todd Finkel)
JENN Y JA S K E Y
Jaskey is Hunter College’s director of the Artist’s Institute and a distinguished lecturer in the Department of Art and Art History. She has organized exhibitions of the work of Pierre Huyghe, Carolee Schneemann and Hilton Als, among others. She is the co-editor of Realism Materialism Art with Christoph Cox and Suhail Malik. (Photo: Caroline Petters)
B IL L P O W ER S
Powers is a gallerist and writer based in New York. He is the founder of Half Gallery, a contemporary art space on the Upper East Side of Manhattan and the author of five books, including What We Lose in Flowers (2012) and Interviews With Artists (2013). Powers’ writing has been featured in ARTnews, GQ Style and The New York Times.
Thanks to Patrizia Guggenheim
Production Christine Stricker
Prepress Prints Professional, Berlin International Distribution pineapple-media.com Vol. 1, No. 2: Ursula (ISSN 2639-376X) is published quarterly, in spring, summer, fall and winter, for $60 a year in the U.S. by Hauser & Wirth, 548 West 22nd Street, New York, NY 10011. Subscriptions: Visit hauserwirth.com/ursula. Single copies may be purchased for $18. Postmaster: Send address changes to address above, care of Ursula Subscriptions.
On the cover: Luchita Hurtado, photographed by Max Farago in Malibu, California, January 21, 2019. On the back cover: Luchita Hurtado, Untitled, 1975, oil on canvasette, 19 7/8 × 16".
JUD I T H S T EIN
Stein is a Philadelphia-based writer and curator whose work has appeared in Art in America and The New York Times Book Review. Her book Eye of the Sixties: Richard Bellamy and the Transformation of Modern Art, a biography of the pioneering New York art dealer, was published in 2016 by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. She is a recipient of the Lannan Residency Fellowship and Andy Warhol Foundation/Creative Capital Arts Writers Grant.
A ND R E A B O W ER S
C O R NEL IU S E A DY
Focusing on contemporary activists in the fields of women’s rights, migrant justice, workers’ rights and climate justice, Bowers’ work revolves around an intersectional feminism devoted to dismantling gender privilege and building community. Based in Los Angeles, she documents activists whose actions forge meaningful change. She is represented by Susanne Vielmetter Los Angeles Projects, Andrew Kreps in New York, Capitain Petzel in Berlin, and Kaufmann Repetto in Milan. (Photo: Monica Nouwens)
Eady, a National Book Award winner and Pulitzer Prize nominee, is the author of several books of poetry. A professor in the MFA program at SUNY Stony Brook Southampton, he is also a co-founder of Cave Canem, an organization that supports AfricanAmerican voices in poetry. Eady is a prolific folk musician as well, regularly performing and releasing music (look him up on Bandcamp!). (Photo: John Griffin)
Editor’s Note by Randy Kennedy
On vacation in the late 1990s, my wife and I visited the Laurentian Library in Florence for the first time and approached those magnificently scalloped Michelangelo stairs when a guard blocked the way and wagged a finger. Dreading a Kafkaesque Italian closure, we began to protest but then heard a voice from somewhere above calling out: “ACTION…WENDY!” And up on the landing emerged the familiar stooped and bewimpled figure of Sister Wendy Beckett, the television art nun, shuffling slowly across the doorway to the reading room, silhouetted by the glow from its linden ceiling. If it was not exactly a holy moment in my art education, it was impressive. With the recent passing of Sister Wendy (eulogized elegantly by Linda Yablonsky, page 26), the day came back to me clothed in all its golden raiment. And it prompted some thinking about a kind of love so obsessive as to roust a deeply private monastic woman from a life of prayer and put her on the road for years proselytizing to the masses about the joys of art. This issue of Ursula, our second, is brimming with such obsession. The painter Luchita Hurtado, on the cover and in conversation with Andrea Bowers inside, recently turned 98. She has lived in or around the art world her entire life and has been making work all that time with almost no recognition, until recently—painting diligently, ecstatically, laboriously; with no choice, as she says. The Michigan outsider-folk collector Jim Linderman, an underground hero to a certain strata of contemporary artist, is another inpatient in this ward of the devoted. He’s the subject of a new column introduced in this issue, “The Keepers” (page 74)—inspired by Massimiliano Gioni’s madcap 2016 New Museum show “The Keeper,” which cast feverish collecting as an alternative form of art-making. Traditional collectors may gain entry into this company if their zeal burns brightly enough, but it is comprised principally of people with limited means and uncommon fixations: the editor who builds a private collection based on a doomed and obscure early modernist poet; the optician who hoards the used eyeglasses of the famous and the infamous; the folklorist (Harry Smith) who stockpiled hundreds of paper airplanes found on the streets of New York City; the museum director who collected salt and pepper shakers (this was Marcia Tucker, founder of the New Museum, whose shaker holdings amazed me). The late Glenn O’Brien was another such polymath accumulator, of art, people and passing scenes. In this issue we hear him in a conversation never before published, about the life and work of a kindred spirit, the artist and bookmaker Dash Snow, gone too young, in 2009, at the age of 27. I’d like to express my deep gratitude to Bill Powers—writer, gallery owner, culture surfer—for coming to me with his interview of O’Brien, along with a magnificent previously unpublished poem by Rene Ricard, mad crown prince of no-choice art makers, whom I like to imagine as addressing the ancient affliction in his 2006 poem “Boy Running.” Go away I don’t want you here that way unless you Bring the rope yourself
Exhibition catalogue: Courtesy New Museum.
PIPILOTTI RIST ÅBN MIN LYSNING [OPEN MY GLADE] 13 Pipilotti Rist, Mercy Garden, Audio-Video Installation, 2014 (Video Still). © Pipilotti Rist. Courtesy the artist, Hauser & Wirth and Luhring Augustine
This page: Dieter Roth, letter to Dorothy Iannone, Stuttgart, 1979. © Dieter Roth Estate. Courtesy Dieter Roth Estate. Opposite: Dorothy Iannone, birthday card for Dieter Roth, 1998, felt pen and collage (1972) on cardboard, 11 13⁄16 × 8 21⁄32". © Dorothy Iannone. Courtesy Dorothy Iannone.
Dieter Roth and Dorothy Iannone met in 1967, when Dorothy and her husband, James Upham, traveled by freighter from New York to Iceland with the Fluxus artist Emmett Williams, who was on his way to Reykjavik to see Roth. The moment Iannone saw Roth awaiting them on the pier, trailing a long, elegant leather coat and carrying a fresh fish as a welcoming gift, “I knew I would change my life,” she recounted in An Icelandic Saga, the text-and-image work she created later about their lightning-strikes meeting. And indeed Iannone changed it, returning home only long enough to separate from her husband. She and Roth lived together, in tempestuous and creatively fruitful union, until 1974. Even after their separation, the two continued to remain in close touch and to write each other regularly, in affectionate and often highly pictorial form. Their correspondence is collected in Dieter and Dorothy (Bilgerverlag Zurich, 2001).
To the left, Roth writes to Iannone from Stuttgart, in the summer 1979. Above, she wishes him happy birthday, using a 1972 collage, on April 22, 1998. He died less than two months later, on June 5. Dieter Roth (1930–1998) was one of the 20th century’s most idiosyncratic and restlessly inventive artists. Dorothy Iannone, born in 1933 and self-taught as a painter, has gained steady renown for her fiercely feminist, erotic and visually riotous work, which resides in the collection of the Tate Modern, the Centre Pompidou and the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, among other institutions. She lives and works in Berlin.
The Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection
by Judith Stein
Susan Stewart, 1991. Photo: Dias. Courtesy Special Collections Research Center, Temple University Libraries, Philadelphia.
Th eg ra vit
ati on al
pu ll o fS us an
St ew ar
lite ra ry
cla ss ic
anxiety of influence
Ann Hamilton wanted to see what the UC Santa Barbara library could offer her on longing, a topic that kept returning to her mind. When the university had hired her, fresh out of the Yale School of Art with an MFA, she’d been thinking specifically about the relationship between words and “things we know viscerally but which are very hard to express with language.” At Yale, she’d joined other artists of her generation in regarding the body as a sculptural ingredient, a visceral object to be seen in relation to other objects. For her unforgettable Toothpick Suit from 1984, Hamilton wore literal and metaphorical armor fashioned from a thrift-shop suit covered with thousands of spray-painted toothpicks protruding like quills. At once a sculpture, a performance and a photograph, the work signaled her emergence as a major talent. Thumbing through the card catalogue that day in 1985, Hamilton came across an entry for a book published only a year earlier, called On Longing: Narratives of the Miniature, the Gigantic, the Souvenir, the Collection, by the poet and literary theorist Susan Stewart. Both the enigmatic title and the opening sentence, expressing Stewart’s intent to concentrate “on certain metaphors that arise whenever we talk about the relation of language to experience,” captured Hamilton’s interest immediately. “Reading Susan,” she recalls now, “was like an enormous gift of vocabulary.” In the 35 years since its publication, On Longing has quietly established itself as a revered resource and a kind of linguistic catalyst for many artists, stimulating their work or, at the very least, helping them to articulate it more effectively to themselves. A book whose brevity belies its density (some say outright thorniness), On Longing has never gone out of print, though it remains something like a passedalong secret even in the world of letters—it has been mentioned prominently, for example, only twice in The New York Times, once in the context of Hamilton and once in a review of the work of the celebrated playwright and performer Taylor Mac, who is a fan. Though Stewart didn’t aim the book primarily toward the art world, it has seemed to migrate there more fully with each passing year. “The same surprising connections are made between things in her writing on art
as are made in the conjunctions of images in her poetry,” says William Kentridge, who recalled once walking together with Stewart in Italy, “struck by the quiet cautiousness of her words and her confidence in striding along the street.” The painter David Schutter regards the book as a shape-shifter, an “object that, as I turn it and look at it, I can change its facets.” The artist Laura Mongiovi said of it recently: “It spoke to me. It still does. There’s so much there. Besides, it felt good to read a book by a woman.” Stewart chose the tantalizing noun “longing” for her title, a word that she wrote connoted “a kind of ache.” Nostalgia, our “yearning desire” for the past and for things, is central to her examination—through a semiotic-feminist-Marxist lens—of the problems that arise when we try to describe things in the world and to make sense of our experience through narrative. She emphasizes the primacy of the body as “our mode of perceiving scale,” which leads to her unusual focus on the interrelated conventions of the miniature (toys, dollhouses, micrographic writing) and the gigantic (landscape, cities, earth art, fictional giants). “The miniature,” she writes, “represents a mental world of proportion, control and balance; the gigantic presents a physical world of disorder and disproportion.” This then leads Stewart to two additional ways of thinking about people and their representations of the physical world: the souvenir, whose purpose is to remember its original context, and the collection, which “replaces origin with classification,” recontextualizing objects within a world of attention. The University of Pennsylvania’s Folklore and Folklife program was a mecca for the kind of unconventional thinking that Stewart offered up in the’70s, a breakthrough era of rapid change as the field of folklore responded to new streams of thought in linguistics and critical theory. Stewart says she started grad school at Penn already fascinated “by the intellectual, ethical, and aesthetic methods we use to derive meaning from culture.” A summa cum laude English major who earned her BA in three years at Dickinson College, she was particularly drawn, she says, to “anthropology’s assumption that underlying cultural structures and rules, tacit as well as expressed, could be understood.” Her professors at Penn were irreverent scholars with broad interests, remarkable intellects like Dell Hymes, one of the first sociolinguists; John Szwed, an anthropologist, jazz scholar and pioneer of cultural
studies; and the literary critic and theorist Barbara Herrnstein Smith, one of the only women in the field. Stewart took a year off to earn an MA in poetry at Johns Hopkins, another locus for innovative theorists like her teacher Stanley Fish, who taught that the reader creates rather than discovers meaning. Thinking back to her early, intense interest in how we describe things, and how human beings are “the makers or creators” of themselves, Stewart has said she now sees that such questions “also had to do with my own, frequently dismayed, sense of myself as a marginal scholar—at Hopkins I was often one of the very few women, at times the only woman, in my classes.” “Folklore and the avant-garde were two poles of literary production that became quite close in that period,” she recalled in a 2014 interview with Lucy Ives for Triple Canopy, citing the interest in folk and fairy tales on the part of writers like Alain Robbe-Grillet, Italo Calvino, Angela Carter, and her friend Kathy Acker. Stewart’s friend and former classmate at Penn, the poet Edward Hirsch, the president of the John Simon Guggenheim Memorial Foundation, says of that time, “We were terrifically stimulated by the cross-disciplinary approach. Susan is one of our most original thinkers. She put things together in ways that they have never quite been put together before.” Stewart, now a professor of English at Princeton who is renowned for her poetry as well as her literary criticism, has privileged her creative work ahead of her critical work by alternating the publication of six books of poetry with six of criticism. She was still in her twenties when she wrote On Longing, which followed a book of poems and her doctoral dissertation, Nonsense: Aspects of Intertextuality in Folklore and Literature (1979). “I wrote my dissertation on ‘nonsense,’” she said to Ives, “out of an intuition about the hyper-rational systems on the border of rationality, and my study On Longing grew from consequent concerns with issues of scale, memory and value.” Nonsense spanned the fields of folklore, literary theory, anthropology and sociology, and covered a far-ranging selection of subjects, from Egyptian papyrus to knock-knock jokes, Gertrude Stein and skipping rhymes. A few years after Hamilton’s serendipitous discovery of On Longing, she and Stewart became correspondents and, in time, collaborators. “Intuitively, we have a thing,” Hamilton tells me. “I’ll be working on something, and it’ll be something she’s thinking about too. That’s what’s
constant daydream” conducive to narrative unlimited by reality, enhance understanding of the tiny, crumbling, dwelling places he’s built for an imaginary civilization of migratory Little People. (One of the best-known examples of this body of work resides partially hidden, permanently, in the stairwell of Manhattan’s Breuer building, now the Met Breuer and formerly the home of the Whitney Museum.) Today Simonds esteems Stewart “as an admired fellow traveler as regards thoughts about loss.” Her insights into the nature of collecting have been almost as influential as those about the miniature. The artist Allan McCollum relied on her in a 2001 essay he wrote about his friend and fellow artist Allen Ruppersberg, who has amassed a vast trove of popular culture ephemera, including comics, postcards, magazines and film strips, all the while maintaining that he collects not “for the sake of collecting stuff” but to retain the material for his work. “Ruppersberg repeatedly reminds us that we all remain, as social beings, collections,” McCollum writes in “Allen Ruppersberg: What One Loves About Life Are the Things That Fade,” and then he quotes from On Longing: “While the point of the souvenir may be remembering, or at least the invention of memory, the point of the collection is forgetting— starting again in such a way that a finite number of elements create, by virtue of their combination, an infinite reverie.” Artists who completed their education before critical theory became required reading in most art schools say that
The Contemporary at Poldi Pezzoli
The Mountain of the Muse 3 aprile-April / 12 maggio-May 2019 Photograph: Alex Delfanne . Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth, Copyright Anj Smith
been really interesting to me over the years.” In 2016, the year Stewart’s poem “Channel” appeared in The Paris Review, Hamilton gave it concrete form in habitus, an immense installation at a Philadelphia pier and other sites, commissioned by the Fabric Workshop and Museum and featuring towering, spinning wheels of billowing cloth. “These are two ways of reading: the page’s turn and the turning wheel,” Stewart wrote of the twinned works, “but beneath them both is the possibility of reading a river, which is one of nature’s gifts for reading time.” Photographer and author Rosamond Purcell, who has an eye for natural history collections and macabre medical specimens, experienced On Longing as an act of recognition, finding herself saying, “Oh, right. Yes, of course,” as she read. Stewart’s insight that miniatures trigger feelings of melancholy and desire, of wanting to hold and not being able to hold, resonated with Purcell, whose 1997 book Special Cases: Natural Anomalies and Historical Monsters includes passages from Stewart that seemed to speak directly to contemporary art: “Often referred to as a ‘freak of nature,’ the freak, it must be emphasized, is a ‘freak of culture.’” There are kindred spirits in the art world whose practice predates On Longing or who never read it, yet whose work is enriched when examined through its lens. Sculptor Charles Simonds has worked on a minute scale since 1970, well before On Longing appeared. Nonetheless, Stewart’s ideas about the elegiac implications of the miniature as “a
Il contemporaneo al Poldi Pezzoli
This Knot Intrinsicate (detail) 2019
From left: Ann Hamilton, body object series #13 • toothpick chair, 1984, gelatin silver print. Courtesy Ann Hamilton Studio. David Schutter, SKL 417, 2017, chalk and pencil on chamois colored paper, 16 ½ × 11 ⅝”. Courtesy the artist and Rhona Hoffman Gallery.
parsing On Longing on one’s own is no small task. Schutter says he feels fortunate to have encountered it in grad school at the University of Chicago in 2001, where conceptual artist and professor Robert Peters used it a starting point to examine the rhetoric of images. On Longing gave Schutter his “first legs,” encouraging him “to think about the power of objects together,” and to puzzle out “the erratic qualities of things that are bound to each other in one way or another. It is a seminal text that rocked me when I read it and has continued to influence me.” For Documenta 14, Schutter engaged with the notorious trove of art seized in 2012 from Cornelius Gurlitt. The elderly son of an art dealer for the Nazis, Gurlitt had squirreled away more than a thousand works of art—many with problematic provenance—mostly in his small Munich apartment, among them works by Matisse, Courbet and Monet, stored in a cabinet, under the bed, in a suitcase. Sifting through high-resolution files of the art, Schutter became intrigued by 36 drawings by Max Liebermann (1847–1935). After a forensic investigation that combined intense scrutiny, intuition and luck, he came to the conclusion that Gurlitt’s Liebermanns had most likely once been bound together in a sketchbook. Drawing from memory, Schutter then re-rendered Liebermann’s images, working on paper that he recreated, with help from a master papermaker, from the same components as the original. With the support of a Guggenheim Fellowship, Schutter will dive next into the collected material diaspora of Thomas Eakins’s world of art and teaching. All of this, he says, “started with Susan.” On Longing has served as an intellectual resource not only for artists but also for curators, art writers, scholars and so many specialists in subgenres of cultural exploration that it has become difficult to track. Ralph Rugoff’s 1997–98 traveling exhibition on miniscule and small-scale art, “At the Threshold of the Visible,” shares its name with an essay Stewart wrote for its catalogue. And commentators on subjects as varied as Jane Austen, dust and serial killers have buttressed their arguments by citing her on the miniature and the gigantic, the souvenir and the collection. Recently a blogger, irked by the seemingly “endless references” to On Longing, went so far as to exhort writers to “stop quoting Susan Stewart.” It’s a wish unlikely to be heeded any time soon, especially in the art world.
Museo Poldi Pezzoli / Milano museopoldipezzoli.it
Self Portrait as the Professor of Astronomy, Miscegenation and Critical Theory at the New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club Center for Graduate Studies, by Rashid Johnson
by Cornelius Eady
Rashid Johnson, Self Portrait as the Professor of Astronomy, Miscegenation and Critical Theory at the New Negro Escapist Social and Athletic Club Center for Graduate Studies, 2008, Lambda print, 51 ½ × 90". © Rashid Johnson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Johnson’s directorial debut, Native Son, based on the classic novel by Richard Wright, premiered in January at the Sundance Film Festival.
Well, said the officer, as he hands my card back. My dreads are clean, but are they too long? My suit, a professor’s armor, does he consider it stolen? He won’t say: Let’s see you talk your way out of this. He won’t say: I bet your lady is white. He won’t say boy, but we both know his knuckles itch To spell it. It is night, and we are under the stars. I know the one Tubman used to steer herself clear of Perhaps this man’s Great Grandfather. I profess To my students that she never lost a single soul, She would arrive like moonlight, and ghost away The field hands. You aren’t from around here, he says, But what I hear is, there’s nobody around. I know we are parked under the drinking gourd, And suddenly, I’m not new.
Or: Art workers don’t kiss ass 22
by Jenny Jaskey
Jimmy DeSana, Submission: Dog (cropped), 1979, gelatin silver print. Courtesy Estate of Jimmy DeSana and Salon 94, New York.
“You could be a nighttime girl.” Bridget said it matter-of-factly as she poured a line of four Jose Cuervo shots, one for each of us. It was the sort of compliment I wasn’t sure how to take, like when the lab tech doing my pelvic ultrasound told me I had a pretty liver. Bridget lined up our shots every night, right after last call when the shift was slowing down but there was still an hour of side work left. It helped to be a little drunk when you were wiping down sticky laminated menus and scraping puddles of dried wax off tables with a knife at 3 a.m. Bridget and Valeria were schooling me on strip clubs. “Daytime girls know how to dance, but nighttime girls are hotter,” Bridget continued. Valeria elaborated, “Some men think A-cups like yours are classy.” “They won’t get you many private dances, but you’d still make more tips than here.” Bridget was an aspiring actor and grad student in dramatic arts at NYU. A self-described ingénue, she enjoyed typecasting, a topic they covered in her Business of Acting seminar. Earlier in the evening, she’d deemed me foreign-assassin material based on my high cheekbones and wide-set eyes. Suddenly, I felt a thick pair of hands grab my shoulders from behind and start to massage them. “You girls are so tense.” It was Richie, the bar manager who reeked of weed and knew more than anyone about daytime and nighttime girls. He’d been front-of-house for decades at two strip clubs near Times Square—Private Eyes and Lace—a fact he reminisced about every chance he got, the way my grandfather wove stories about flying B-29 bombers into conversations about gardening. Sometimes a cab would pull up in front of the bar with an ad for Private Eyes on its roof, and Richie’s eyes, bloodshot from weed, would get animated when he saw the glowing sign. I’d been working at Terra Blues for two months, almost the same length of time I’d been in New York. I took the job because the shifts didn’t start until 6:30 p.m., which gave me exactly enough time to walk to Bleecker Street from the Bowery, where I was working as a curatorial fellow at the New Museum. Curatorial fellow was a position salaried by someone’s trust fund or
by the Columbia University PhD stipend office, and since I didn’t get those kinds of checks, a Greenwich Village blues bar that smelled like five-day-old beer was going to pay for it, one night shift at a time. I’d been doing “the freelance thing” throughout my twenties. I found nearly all of my jobs on a newish website called Craigslist, whose gigs section—if you ignored the regular ads for egg donors and foot fetish goddesses—was the internet’s fountainhead of odd jobs. Back then I was living in Philadelphia, and my first CL gig was figure modeling for two painting professors at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. This involved sitting or lying on various couches in three-hour stretches, stone-faced and still. As they painted, the professors would relate institutional grievances, mostly against the institution of marriage. When our sessions began to feel like reversetherapy with erotic transference, I started looking for a new job. The ad for cocktail waitress at Terra Blues screamed, “NY EXPERIENCE!!!!” and listed an address in Greenwich Village. Having no New York experience, I looked on Yelp for restaurants in my neighborhood that had recently closed—places they could never call—and made a résumé. I went to the interview on a Tuesday after work and changed into a fitted tank top in the museum bathroom before leaving. When it was my turn, the only questions from the man I’d come to know as Richie were: “Do you know your liquors?” and “Can you carry a tray?” I responded cheerily, “Of course, and I know the importance of timing the water service…” Before I could finish, he looked me up and down and said, “Yeah, that’s great, honey. See you tomorrow at seven.” I got the impression that Richie, like everyone in New York, was saying yes to more than I was offering. I quickly learned that if Terra Blues did anything well, it was ripping customers off. On top of a $10 cover, the bar had a twodrink minimum and mixologist pricing. The truth, of course, was that Bridget was fresh off a bartending course and had to look up most of the specialty drink recipes on her phone. No matter what call brand a person ordered, she used the well liquor if she thought she could get away with it. The clientele arrived one of two ways— an hour commute by car or a seven-hour
journey by plane. There were European tourists from England, Belgium and France who liked American blues and thought leaving a handful of spare change on the table was a good tip. The larger contingent was local tourists—couples from Yonkers or Jersey City who had come into Manhattan for the New York Experience, and by that they meant the New York of their college years. Depending on their age, they were headed to one of two places: the Bitter End, the club where Greenwich Village performers like Joni Mitchell and James Taylor got started in the 1960s; or around the corner to the Blue Note, the standard-bearer for jazz. Terra Blues capitalized on tourists who couldn’t get a table at either club but were determined to get drunk to live music anyway. Not that our musicians were bad. One had been a session player with the Allman Brothers Band and another had taught at Juilliard. You just got the feeling, watching them play every night on the sagging little stage, that they, like everyone else at the bar, were being their better selves elsewhere. The New Museum’s offices on the Bowery were behind a low-ceilinged gallery on the fifth floor. I shared a gray cubicle and computer with a PhD student who was there on days I wasn’t, and I amused myself, Sophie Calle-like, by imagining who he was based on his browser history. On a typical day, this included sites for classic cars, happy-endings massage parlors, the work of Joseph Beuys and neon tube socks. My job was to review the submissions for the museum’s new database of web-based art and to write entries for an online blog about art trends. I worked Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays. I was always tired and sometimes late. On the day I learned of my nighttime-girl potential, I’d arrived at the museum 20 minutes late. Like most nights, I fell asleep in my clothes and set my alarm so that I’d have 12 minutes to change my underwear, shake a bottle of dry shampoo over the roots of my hair, and put my clothes from the night before back on, grateful that the art world and the hospitality industry shared the same color scheme. That particular morning, I was moving zombie-like through my routine, forgetting things I would remember only on my walk to the subway—my black apron for Terra Blues, my wallet, my reading glasses. As I
It was becoming obvious to me that art’s value was socially determined, and I wondered if the ability to curate it was too. turned back to the apartment, I wondered if you could get fired for being late to a job that didn’t pay you. When I got in, the director of my department, L., popped her head around the corner of my cubicle. “Conference room, five minutes?” “Sure!” I said, trying to match her enthusiasm, though I couldn’t tell if she was being passive-aggressive, in-five-minutes-I’m-going-to-fire-you-for-being-late perky, or professional perky, an affectation of energetic politeness that inoculated true feeling. When we were in the glass conference room overlooking the fifth-floor galleries, I was relieved to see her professional smile. L. was a mystery to me. We were just a few years apart, and yet she was already running a whole museum department. I’d heard she’d gotten her start early because her best friend from college was a famous artist, and then there was her last name, the same as a famous New York family, which she may or may not have been related to. I wondered if she’d ever done an internship, or how exactly she had proved that she had what it took to run something, which is what I wanted to do. It was becoming obvious to me that art’s value was socially determined, and I wondered if the ability to curate it was, too. You needed a general art-historical knowledge base and a temperament, for sure, but there seemed to be ungraspable qualities beyond that, like knowing the people you needed to know. I guessed that’s what I was supposed to be learning through the fellowship, since I knew hardly anyone who knew anything about the art world. I just wished being a curator would be as easy for me as it seemed to be for her. “An opportunity has come up I think you’d be perfect for.” L. said, pushing a lock of blonde hair behind her ear. “I’m curating a show about freedom and the internet. Artists are thinking about how digital technology is changing everything from copyright law to economics. I’m sure you’ve been reading about Creative Commons and the sharing economy. I’ve done all the studio visits and have a preliminary checklist, but there’s going to be a lot of e-mailing and logistics to make it happen.” While L. was talking, I noticed a food
stain on my jeans. I pulled down the edge of my blazer to try to cover it. When I looked up, she was eyeing me expectantly. “I’m good with logistics,” I stammered. I thought back to the night before, when Valeria asked me to clear her tables while she snuck out back with Richie to smoke a joint and make out. “What would the hours be?” “It would be an additional position, on top of what you’re doing now, so you’d need to come in five days a week. And you should come along to some openings to get to know everyone.” When I mentioned to friends that I was working with L. at the museum, they would always say, “She’s great!” and I wondered if they were being sincere or simply hoping I’d tell her they’d said so. I wasn’t entirely a fish out of water; I knew a few people who worked at museums: artist friends with part-time gigs as preparators or tour guides, a couple of academic researchers. L. was different from them, neither shabbily hip nor nerdily professorial. She seemed able to move effortlessly from one social circle to another, giving those she met the gift of pure projection. If you’d told me she was a downtown ad executive or in real estate or chapter president of the Junior League, I would have believed you. She was so polite and put together it made me worry that my own social anxiety would make it impossible ever to find a place in the sphere she inhabited so naturally. I bet she was great at openings. “What’s the compensation?” I hesitated to say salary, since that would imply actual money being exchanged for work. Compensation sounded more open-ended. “This job is fantastic work experience for your résumé,” she replied. “The museum hasn’t budgeted for the role, but I could use the help, and I figured it would be a nice perk to thank you for the work you’ve been doing.” I thought about her offer on my walk to Bleecker Street, imagining myself at after-parties with artists, talking about the internet, but I was too tired to make sense of it. It would probably be hard to keep up my shifts at the bar. My body felt hot. I’d just started taking birth control pills, which, based on the number of times I’d been having sex with my boyfriend, were nearly as good a value as condoms. Condoms were 8 cents each, and if we slept
together at least eight times a week, I could justify the cost of the prescription. Ever since I’d moved to New York, I’d started making little calculations like this, mostly to figure out exactly how many hours I had to work to get what I wanted. Three hours for birth control, one hour for a cab ride home, 50 hours for rent. When I called a psychotherapist to inquire about his rate, I gave him the math before hanging up: “Do you understand I would have to work 16 hours to pay for a one-hour session?” It was a Friday night and the bar was already packed when I arrived. “You’re late,” Bridget said curtly as I put on my apron. I noticed the first couple of my night by the rose perfume that conspicuously trailed the woman when they arrived in my section. Dressed in a minimal sheath, she had an ease about her that made the bar’s dank interior seem even more disagreeable. She appeared to be in her mid-forties and her date maybe a decade older, an equally stylish man dressed in black. His physique, muscular and tanned, looked as if he’d ordered it at a spa in Palm Springs. When I got closer to their table, I thought I recognized him from a museum patrons meeting, a tech investor of some sort, but I couldn’t be sure. I brought over glasses of water and smiled and said my name (points of service!). I took their first order, a G&T for her, whiskey neat for him. I was pleased he went with my up-sell, Lagavulin single malt. Contrary to what I’d told Richie, I knew nothing about liquor, so I only ever suggested my boyfriend’s favorite, Lagavulin single malt, parroting lines he’d say, such as “delightfully peaty” or “taste of the Highlands.” The man ordered one after another. The woman drank less but required constant watering. My legs were aching by the time Bridget poured us our own Cuervo shots. Richie was right, I was tense. My section was cramped with an English tour group that kept ordering martinis, which were the hardest drinks to carry on the tray without spilling them everywhere. Bridget would fill the cone-shaped stemware all the way to the top; gin would slosh down my arm when I transferred them from the bar to the tray; I’d lose more liquid on the way to the table, only to discover I’d gotten the order wrong—they wanted them dirty with extra olives—which meant
They say that when the body undergoes stress, it experiences something called hyperarousal across the entire sympathetic nervous system. doing the whole messy business again. Despite my efforts, they would later leave three British pounds and a couple dollar bills strewn between crumpled napkins. “You enjoying yourself?” Richie asked as he kneaded my shoulders. “The band sounds good tonight,” I offered. The massage was having the double effect of turning me on and making me ill at ease. I wished he would stop. Ever since his girlfriend had left him for a bouncer at Private Eyes, Richie had been living in the Rockaways, which he liked because he could go for walks on the beach with Patty, his English bulldog. Patty went with him everywhere; most nights he’d leave her in his ’90s-era Jaguar and make trips outside with scraps of food. He gave us weekly updates on Patty’s kidney issues, her special diet, how she wasn’t getting younger. Richie wasn’t getting any younger either, a fact not concealed by the brown dye in his thinning hair. He wore starched shirts unbuttoned too far, with collars stylish in another era. Talking to men like Richie was new to me; in school I’d hung out only with guys my age. Part of me was flattered by his advances, proof of my adulthood in some way, but mostly he scared me. Our conversation was interrupted when the woman with the rose perfume, now less at ease, motioned me to her table. She wanted to pay, a transaction that would be the last thing she’d remember, no matter how well I’d served. I needed to be quick. The woman gave me two $100 bills. “I have to take these to the bar—back in a minute,” I apologized. The bills needed to
Jaskey after work, circa late 2000s.
be checked with a counterfeit-detection pen by Bridget, a formality that embarrassed me, but I’d be on the hook for the tab if I didn’t do it. I wound my way through the tables, past a man I swatted when he tried to grab my ass. I made it back with a handful of change, $3.25. I wondered whether to offer it. Usually a customer would just include it with the rest of the tip. As I started to give it to her, the woman stopped me. “Oh, you can keep that,” she said, looking as if I’d accused her of being cheap. “Thanks,” I said smiling, and paused for her to pull more bills from her wallet. Throughout the night, I calculated tips for each table in my head, keeping a running tally of the night’s hypothetical pull. I figured this couple should be good for $35, though for a pair this classy, I might get luckier. I fussed with my apron, pretending to seem busy. She didn’t reach for her wallet. I started to clear the glasses, hovering. No movement. I decided to be bold: “Excuse me, ma’am, is the three dollars all you meant to leave?” My Southern accent started to reveal itself, a singsongy lilt of controlled rage, like Loretta Lynn singing “Fist City.” The woman looked me full in the face, smiled and said, simply, “Yes.” They say that when the body undergoes stress, it experiences something called hyperarousal across the entire sympathetic nervous system. A cascade of hormones flow from two small quarter-moon shaped glands at the top of the kidneys, making the face flush, the heart start to pound like a jackhammer, the muscles stand at
attention. Hyperarousal also shuts down some functions, giving the body the focus of a sharpshooter poised for the kill. Peripheral vision goes dark, digestion stops, you hold your breath. After watching the woman’s lips form “yes” with the intensity of the Mouth in Beckett’s Not I, I felt the familiar rush of adrenaline: chest tightening like a balloon ready to pop, veins pulsing with fresh electric blood. As tunnel vision set in, my eyes shifted focus to the one single, useful object on the table in front of me. It was filled to the top. I’d done my job well. Pouring a glass of water over a woman with rose perfume at the peak of hyperarousal, in the depths of one’s New York Experience is, quite possibly, better than coming together at the same time with a new lover. The thrill of the water destroying her manicured blowout, running down the front of her silk dress, pooling beneath her suede heels on the beer-soaked floor! The musicians were doing their riffs and I was trembling. The woman sat still in shock. The room was blaring, but I couldn’t hear a thing. The silence broke when the muscular man beside her, five orders of Lagavulin backing him, stood up from his chair, raging. “You fucking bitch!” he bellowed. I ran to the back and the man followed. “Fuck you!” Richie, aroused from his cannabis stupor, blocked the kitchen door. “Thank god he used to work in strip clubs,” I thought. The man was threatening to beat me—the bitch—an insult he kept barking. I heard Richie tell him the bar would get their drinks and pay for dry cleaning, though I doubted the man was thinking about his girlfriend’s dress. I managed to find a hiding spot near the dishwasher, who was speaking to me in Spanish, agitated by the commotion I’d caused. The blues players had come off the stage, wondering what was going on. Five minutes later, Richie appeared. “Just go,” he said. “Hand over your cash. Don’t come back.” I ran out onto Bleecker Street. Music from the Bitter End trickled out onto the sidewalk as I made my way through a crush of rowdy NYU students. I headed down the steps to the F train, leaving the bleary lights of the bars behind me.
Remembering Sister Wendy Beckett (1930–2018)
Self Assignment, 2009. Photo: Ethan Hill. Courtesy Contour RA Getty Images.
by Linda Yablonsky
As an evangelist for art, Sister Wendy Beckett knew how to find God in the details. Being a Roman Catholic nun had something to do with it, but salvation was not her brief. Rapture was. During one of her televised tours of the world’s great museums, she spoke of Michelangelo’s Pietà in the rhapsodic terms of a steamy romance novel. Enunciating each word like a poet serving a sumptuous meal of the plainest English, she said, “I’m struck by the loneliness of these figures, grieving and beautiful,” viewing Mary “like a mountain and Jesus like a great river flowing down her.” The image is wonderful, even charmed. But what made Sister Wendy so captivating a personality, even for those of us in the contemporary art world who followed her televised exploits in the ’90s, was her wily ability to play against type while remaining very much in the character of a senior holy sister being ravished by art before our eyes. The incongruity was more than visual. With the Pietà looming over her shoulder, Sister Wendy looked directly into the camera and gave it her chipmunk’s smile. “They’re both isolated,” she said of her faith’s bedrock virgins, “and yet so intimately united—because they belonged to one another. “Michelangelo himself was a very lonely man,” she continued, as if speaking of a dear friend, “a man of enormous, tempestuous passions who lost his mother when he was very young.…He was always seeking what he shows us here, this beautiful young mother, too beautiful ever to grow old.” Here, Sister Wendy paused, as if embarrassed to admit, “I don’t myself feel the anguish of a mother for her child; I feel more the wonderful companionship of male and female.” Which other cloistered nun would have held up Jesus and Mary as exemplars of eroticism? For that matter, which television personality? The art historian
Leo Steinberg was the first to call attention to the overt sexual imagery of religious subjects in Renaissance art, and Sister Wendy, educated at Oxford, no doubt read him. But Steinberg didn’t live under vows and wasn’t followed by millions of adoring fans. A nun since the age of 16, Sister Wendy spent 15 years teaching in her native South Africa. After suffering three epileptic seizures, she repaired to the life of solitude she never relinquished, even after her discovery by a producer for the BBC, who had read her 1988 book, the first of 25, Contemporary Women Artists. (Ahead of her time, I’d say.) She made her television debut in 1991, during the gender-and-identity-politics-afflicted Culture Wars, and leapt instantly to international stardom despite her age (67), buck teeth, oversize spectacles, bad posture, slight lisp and total lack of vanity. Glamorous she wasn’t. And yet, when descending a museum staircase or gliding through its galleries, her robes took on the property of a superhero’s cape, empowering her to sweep us along in her wake. Offscreen, she secluded herself in a windowless trailer outside the tiny rural village of Quidenham, England, on the grounds of the Carmelite monastery to which she donated all her earnings— reading, praying and thinking. Despite her cloister, she appeared entirely conscious of the premium her medium placed on entertainment value. And though she never went to the movies, she also seemed fully aware of pop culture’s infatuation with women who betroth themselves to God. Think of the Singing Nun or Sally Field as The Flying Nun or Audrey Hepburn somehow stylishly cloaked in her novitiate’s habit throughout The Nun’s Story (1959). There was the unimpeachable Deborah Kerr as a conflicted nun in Black Narcissus (1947) and, on the other end of the spectrum, the hard-nosed Mother Abbess in The Sound of Music—all
worshipped by the masses. The figure of the stern sister was familiar even to someone like me, who grew up in a Jewish household. As a young girl, I was fascinated by the stories that neighboring Catholic-school kids told me of their wimpled teachers—punitive women who rapped their knuckles with a ruler, put them on detention for wearing red shoes, and forbade sex education of any sort. As a young adult, I started to believe that women who made it through Catholic schools were formidably promiscuous. One such temptress I knew became a prominent dominatrix. “I’m so bad!” she would bray at a full moon. “Spank me! Save me!” Sister Wendy could be just as sensational. Remember when she said, in reference to a Stanley Spencer painting, “I love all those glistening strands of hair, and her pubic hair is so soft and fluffy”? Professional critics resented her popularity, pooh-poohing her reverential commentaries as sentimental claptrap. For me, a critic who dreamt from an early age of having her own TV show, she was a role model. Was she any less authoritative than the red-faced Time magazine critic Robert Hughes, who never hid his contempt for contemporary art? Listen to Sister Wendy on the same subject: “Whenever I want to indulge in melodramatic hand-wringing—about four-fifths of contemporary art—I think of an artist like Balthus, who’s major.” Some of us might have wanted to offer more options, but not before giving her credit for the surreal narrative she imparted to a painting by that agreeably unsettling artist. In an interview with Bill Moyers, Sister Wendy even defended Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ. She celebrated artists who pushed boundaries and vilified “magazine-y” critics who dismissed out of hand Serrano’s amber-red photograph of a drowned crucifix. “It’s hard to judge a work in our own time,”
Which other cloistered nun would have held up Jesus and Mary as exemplars of eroticism? For that matter, which television personality?
she told Moyers, sensible and forgiving as ever. “Comfortable art is easy,” she added. “You don’t have to think about it. Real art makes demands.” Sister Wendy could be cloying but also acerbic and aphoristic when the occasion suited. Jan van Eyck gave the suffering bride in the Arnolfini wedding portrait a “horrid green dress.” Mark Rothko “made religious paintings without religion.” Picasso was the master of invention who “triumphed in the ferocious power of the ugly.” For a woman who spent much of her life in silence, she was an effective and prodigious communicator. “The great gift of the 20th century to artists,” she told us, “was this growing sense that they
weren’t bound by the rules”—an insight that, by itself, should earn her admittance to the pantheon of modern critics. Yet I never thought of Sister Wendy as a critic. For me, she was the greatest museum docent the world has known— exactly what everyone wishes for in a guide through art history: well-informed, articulate, open to challenge, impassioned, never patronizing. She was less like the self-important Hughes than like the chatty and disarming Anthony Bourdain, who took us on his journeys through the world of food without a hint of snobbery. In the final episode of her ten-part PBS series, Sister Wendy’s Story of Painting, she introduced Pop Art from a booth in a New York diner. The hokey
setting was probably her director’s choice, but she made it work. Considering a silkscreen painting of multiple Marilyns by Andy Warhol, she said, “Glamour. Sex. Death. I so wish he’d known Princess Di.” A moment later, she asked, “Don’t we all have a struggle with the mystery of death?” Sister Wendy died last year, a day after Christmas, at 88. I hope she was at peace with both the secular and the monastic worlds, which she had bridged so well with her infinite, and infectious, sense of the marvelous. “You’re a powerful artist if you create from your own truth,” she once said. The sentiment may have sounded like a cliché, but she lived it to the fullest.
Sister Wendy Beckett at the National Gallery in London, 1997. Photo: Geoff Wilkinson. Courtesy the Geoff Wilkinson and Shutterstock.
WWW.THEFIFEARMS.COM — MAIL@THEFIFEARMS.COM — +44 (0)1339 720200 MAR ROAD, BRAEMAR, ABERDEENSHIRE, AB35 5YN, SCOTLAND
New and forthcoming books
upright and upside down from 2016, a frenzy of mime makeup and geisha murals, the British performance artist displays a singular capacity to disguise herself from categorization. She is not a Young British Artist, but she can be sensational; she is not a child of Fluxus but she indeed makes things Happen. Pinning her to the printed page is no small feat. —A.S.
Sun Seekers: The Cure of California (Atelier Éditions) Lyra Kilston’s first book explores the (often self-perpetuating) myth of Southern California as a mecca of health and wellness by dialing back to the lesser-known origins of that wholesome renown, looking at naturopaths, healers and architects who praised the merits of plantbased diets, sunshine, and minimal spaces
I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating (Mack) The photographer Alec Soth is a nomad in the mold of Dorothea Lange and Henri Cartier-Bresson, to whose globe-trotting collective, Magnum, he belongs. Sleeping by the Mississippi (2004), his now-classic first monograph, set the stage for what was to come, shaped by his wanderings along the river. But lately Soth has taken an inward turn, posting poetry sometimes as often as images on his lively Instagram account and remaining off the road for more than a year. “I barely took any pictures at all,” he said of that time. What has emerged from this period of rumination is a quietly powerful new book—its title is a line from Wallace Stevens’ 1917 poem “Gray Room”—comprised wholly of interiors, some peopled, others only of peeling plaster or welters of clutter. “When I returned to photography, I wanted to strip the medium down to its primary elements,” he wrote, “to simply spend time looking at other people and, hopefully, briefly glimpse their interior life.” —Randy Kennedy
Opening 17 April 2019 Tickets & info available at museochillidaleku.com
Arco de la libertad - Arch of Freedom - (Corten steel, 1993). © Zabalaga Leku. New York, ARS, 2019. Estate of Eduardo Chillida and Hauser & Wirth. Photo Mikel Chillida.
The Supreme Deluxe Essential Monster Chetwynd Handbook (Edition Patrick Frey) Monster Chetwynd, known at various times as Spartacus Chetwynd and Marvin Gaye Chetwynd (she was born with the slightly more prosaic Alalia Chetwynd), is a shape-shifter in more than name. This first comprehensive survey, designed by Marie Lusa, journeys to the farthest reaches of Chetwynd’s fecund imagination through a collage of zines, performance photography and testimonial texts. The works featured, from 2007 to last year, bring pivotal moments in cultural history to raucous life through homemade costumes, papier-mâché creatures and pop-culture projections. In pieces such as Uptight
long before the 1960s. Combining playful anecdotes (Anton Chekhov’s request for a last meal) with more weighty research on the political effects of certain design trends, the book delves into the complex, fascinating history behind the Beach Boy bromides (“I wish they could all be California girls”) we have come to associate with the Golden State. —Madeleine Taurins Monster Chetwynd, Uptight upright, upside down, 2011, CCA Glasgow, Scotland. Courtesy the artist and Edition Patrick Frey. Photo: Julia Bauer.
Picture (New York Review of Books Classics) In 1950, Lillian Ross entered a sun-soaked suite in the Waldorf Astoria and sat down to interview American film legend John Huston. Over the next year, the New Yorker reporter remained at the director’s side as his film The Red Badge of Courage was dreamed up, cut down and spat out by the studio system of Metro-GoldwynMayer. This spring, New York Review of Books Classics re-releases Ross’ journalism epic, a shining model of the long form, originally printed over five installments in 1952. Ross’ observations are as crisp as the dry martini Huston serves. While the film was criticized for lacking stars and story, the same cannot be said of her record of its making, for which Ross should be thanked for courage in reporting. —Anna Shinbane
New and forthcoming books
Caribbean Pirates (Hauser & Wirth Publishers) Paul McCarthy’s evermore-complex multimedia experiments, which he describes with vast understatement as a way to “lampoon polite society,” take on historical resonance in this two-volume edition, Caribbean Pirates, based on nautical-themed works that McCarthy and his son, Damon, created from 2001 to 2005. Drawing on references as varied as Disney’s Pirates of the Caribbean franchise and historical pirates like Anne Bonny and Mary Read to Pasolini’s Salò, the project’s inflatable sculptures, videos and performances mingle eroticism and gore in ways that seem futile to disentangle. John C. Welchman traces McCarthy’s thinking from the early studio-based performances he realized as a student to his recent scripts and sketches. These volumes catalogue McCarthy’s art of the absurd in context—and in seething, carnal detail. —Sophie Kovel
Death to the Fascist Insect (Spurl) The Symbionese Liberation Army, the radical left-wing Bay Area group of the early 1970s, bequeathed several extraordinary items to the image bank of late 20th century America—among them heartbreaking memorial pictures of Marcus Foster, the Oakland school superintendent whom the group assassinated based on erroneous information; surveillance images of their famous kidnapping victim, the heiress Patty Hearst, wielding an M1 carbine as she helped rob a San Francisco bank; and Cady Noland’s SLA #4, her powerful 1990 silkscreen-on-aluminum work based on a newspaper photograph of Hearst and the group’s members posing before their revolutionary symbol, a seven-headed cobra. This new book, the latest in a series of impressive titles from the tiny independent publisher Spurl, compiles SLA writings, correspondence and transcribed recordings for the first time in decades, injecting the group’s incendiary thought back into the political discourse at a time when the radical left is rumbling once again. —R.K.
Eva Hesse: Oberlin Drawings (Hauser & Wirth Publishers) “When drawing becomes a drawing would be an interesting discussion to have,” writes Briony Fer in her essay for this new Hesse volume, which follows an exhibition of her drawings that will be traveling through Europe and the United States before its final destination at Oberlin College, the repository of the Hesse archive. The book features reproductions of a sweeping variety of works on paper, from life studies and fiercely colorful gouaches to collage pieces, abstract line drawings and diagrams of unrealized sculptures. Taken together, they offer a glimpse into the practice of an artist for whom drawing was clearly about action: doing, working, making, becoming. Edited by Barry Rosen, the book also features essays by Gioia Timpanelli, Manuela Ammer, Jörg Daur and Andrea Gyorody. —M.T.
Eva Hesse Zeichnungen 15 Mar—23 Jun 19
Eva Hesse, Ohne Titel, 1963, Allen Memorial Art Museum, Oberlin College. Ellen H. Johnson Bequest © 2019 The Estate of Eva Hesse, Hauser & Wirth Zürich
Museum Wiesbaden 32
The Painter and the Planetarian
In conversation with Andrea Bowers about history, nature, and art as a form of shouting
Photography by Max Farago
Luchita Hurtado in a section of Malibu, California, devastated by wildfires. Her recent work focuses on climate change and her fears about the environment.
If, as Isamu Noguchi once said, “We are a landscape of all we have seen,” then the painter Luchita Hurtado encompasses a particularly vast, astonishing stretch of terrain, one that takes in Venezuela, where she was born, as well as New York, Mexico City, San Francisco, Los Angeles and Taos, all which she has called home. It includes Noguchi himself, with whom she became close in the mid-1940s, and the other artist friends and acquaintances who have come along the way in her 98 years: Leonora Carrington, Frida Kahlo, Rufino Tamayo, Man Ray, Agnes Martin. It pulls in the movements she has seen come and go (and come again)—Surrealism, Abstract Expressionism, Pop, Neo-Expressionism. And it enfolds her family—her sons, Matt Mullican, the artist; John Mullican, a Los Angeles writer and filmmaker; Daniel del Solar, a Bay Area media activist, photographer and poet, who died in 2012; and Pablo del Solar, who died from polio as a child. Throughout her life in the art world—including her marriages to the Austrian Surrealist Wolfgang Paalen and the Bay Area Abstractionist Lee Mullican— Hurtado worked diligently herself, though she showed her paintings and drawings so rarely that even friends sometimes did not fully understand that she was an artist. That obscurity lifted in dramatic fashion beginning in 2016, when the Los Angeles gallery Park View showed early work, and then especially last year, when the Hammer Museum’s biennial “Made in L.A.” survey included her at the urging of one of its curators, Anne Ellegood, who visited Hurtado’s Santa Monica home and studio. (In The New York Times, Holland Cotter called the work one of the “hands-down stars” of an especially strong show.) After a solo New York exhibition at Hauser & Wirth’s Upper East Side gallery that continues through April 6, her most prominent appearance ever in her former city, she is to be featured in May in a survey, organized by Hans Ulrich-Obrist, at the Serpentine Sackler Gallery in London, and in 2020 an international retrospective will debut in Mexico City at Museo Tamayo, founded by her old friend. In early January, Hurtado—whose most recent work has turned intently to nature, revolving around the threat of climate change and environmental degradation—invited the Los Angeles artist and activist Andrea Bowers to her studio for a wide-ranging conversation.
Where should we start? Luchita Hurtado
Well, maybe I should start by asking you a question about how you feel about…No, I guess we shouldn’t be political, should we?
“[For those who neglected my work,] I don’t feel anger. I really don’t. I feel, you know: ‘How stupid of them.’ Maybe the people who were looking at what I was doing had no eye for the future and, therefore, no eye for the present.”
We have to be political! I mean, that’s all I am. I can’t help myself. I can’t say “Boo!” without it becoming political.
Oh, how awful. How awful.
Okay, but with the politics now, there are certain names that probably shouldn’t be spoken out loud.
But she lived with it. She fought it! She was so strong, and I’m so grateful for those years with her. I worry about my memories because she was the most important person in my life, so hearing that memory can remain gives me so much hope. It’s the one thing I don’t want to lose.
I’m with you there. LH
I mean, fascism is alive and well again in certain minds in this country.
Well, there are things you have to live with. You know, once when I was driving, my son and I, from Santa Fe to Taos, where I have a house, I suddenly discovered I couldn’t go there anymore because it’s too high and I couldn’t breathe. I used to be able to exercise, do everything there, and now I can’t, so I don’t go anymore. I gave my son the keys. It’s his house. That’s what happens. I’ve learned to accept that whatever comes with life is fine, it’s welcome, because that’s the way it is. And I’m learning a lot. There are a lot of things I didn’t plan on because you have to live it to know it, to really see what comes with 98 years old!
You know, on that topic, I read about when you studied at the Art Students League when you were living in New York in the 1940s and that you’d also worked for the Spanish newspaper La Prensa back when fascism was the topic of the day. I took drawing classes at the League once myself when I was in New York. Can you talk about the politics then? LH
I’m 98 now, and when I think back to those years, things come and go in my mind. I can’t visualize it. But if I wait a bit, it comes to me. Sometimes I wake up seeing my father’s face. He had green eyes, and I see him clearly, when I was young in Venezuela. I have this scar under my chin. I remember waiting for him once in the zaguán—that’s the space between the front door of your house and your gate. I see these things that come without even asking…unconnected to anything. I remember just by feeling this scar, me waiting for my father. And when I saw him turn the corner, I would run to him, and once I fell. So the scar is the memory.
Well, it’s impressive, and all this new work is impressive, too. LH
I just feel very lucky that I can still work, that I’m still interested, that I’m still involved. AB
I guess that talking about these fascist movements that are coming up again, it must be like having your own memories returning. Like, “Here we go—fascism again,” right?
That’s a beautiful story. I lost my mom four years ago. She had stage-four brain cancer for 12 years.
It’s too short a time. It seems like it
happened not so many years ago, that we were all involved. AB
I know from reading that we have something in common in our work. One of the biggest issues in what I’m doing right now is what’s called climate justice. LH
And that’s what my work has now become. AB
Let’s talk about that. What are you thinking? LH
The most interesting thing for me now is to make sure that the planet is going in the right direction. I keep the words sky, water, earth, fire in my mind. Those are the elements, and that’s what my work has come to be about. That’s what I’m about. Here I am, you see? That’s me and the trees, and we are related. [The two look at a recent painting on Hurtado’s studio wall that depicts a dark figure between two trees, over the words “Air,” “Water,” “Earth” and “Fire.”] AB
God, I love that painting. Why did you choose the black? LH
Because it looks good. AB
[Bursts into laughter] Perfect. You’re right. Oh, my god, I’m overeducated. I can make up so many ways of trying to explain why I choose something, when the truth often is: It just looks good! LH
When I think about my painting and the political and the planet, it’s about the hope that it’s not too late and that people can still get together and in whatever small way make a difference that adds up. As far
as physical strength and ability goes, I’m very weak, of course, because of my age, but I still can paint, I can still draw. And so that’s my contribution. AB
Well, not only that. You’re an art star now! LH
I’m a what? AB
You’re a big deal now, so you have a huge voice. What does it feel like after working so long to suddenly feel that you have this huge career, at your age? LH
I’m always just surprised that I’m here where I am, and there are a lot of people to thank for what’s happening now. AB
Yourself, most of all. The work deserves to be seen, and it’s past due. Looking at the work today made me think about my generation, about what we reaped in benefits from second-wave feminists who were making the world a better place for women. But I somehow didn’t realize that even I grew up in a time of patriarchy, in a way. It wasn’t until the Brett Kavanaugh Supreme Court hearings when I realized: He’s my exact age. I grew up with guys like him. Thinking about the kinds of patriarchy you’ve seen, I can’t even imagine. Your work should’ve been shown—and known—a long time ago. I’m a little mad about it. LH
I’m not. AB
No? Okay, then let me have all the anger. I’ll have rage for you. LH
You see, no, I don’t feel anger. I really don’t. I feel, you know: “How stupid of them.” Maybe the people who were looking at what I was doing had no eye for the future and, therefore, no eye for the present.
From top: Hurtado’s most recent work. Hurtado at her studio in Santa Monica, California, January 2019. Photos: Oresti Tsonopoulos.
Looking at all this work, I keep wondering how you seem to be able to shift so easily between representation and abstraction,
between different types of paper and materials, different techniques. I do that, too, moving pretty quickly between things, but I don’t know if I have that kind of fluidity. Where do you think that comes from? LH
You know, when I go to dinner, I always say, “I want to be the last to order.” And the reason is because whenever anybody orders the food, that’s what I want. AB
My grandmother did the same thing: “I never want what I order. I want what everyone else orders.” LH
Yes, but in the end, you have to order something, so I do. I don’t know if that really explains what you’re asking, but I guess I see what I want to make and then I do it. I enjoy life, and I feel I’ve been different people. I was a different person, for example, when I did these very sexy drawings and paintings of my body, looking at my body. [Laughs] It’s the truth. Sex was all I could think about. AB
That’s awesome. LH
Well, it’s true. I really get involved in whatever it is I’m doing at a certain time. AB
[Looks at paintings that depict the length of Hurtado’s body from the perspective of her own eye level, a recurrent motif in her work in the 1970s.] Were you standing naked and smoking in a closet when you were making these paintings? LH
Yes! And that’s part of the open door and the light coming in. It’s real time and real space. AB
I saw a couple works on paper, too, that have that beam of light. I like that beam of light. I always loved those Sylvia Plimack Mangold pieces in which she’d paint corners of her house, rooms where she was. They were super influential to me. I always felt like she felt cornered in some way, and sometimes there would be clothes on the
floor, and she’d paint the floor. But there was almost always light, a beam of light or light coming through a window. For me, that was about hope, in some way. LH
I have a painting of mine—I don’t know where it is, whether it sold or not—where I’m standing nude, very relaxed about it, and I have a cigarette in my hand (see page 42, bottom). I didn’t know at that time that smoking was bad for you, of course. AB
Nobody did. LH
I started when I was living in New York and working, looking after two children and so much freelance work to do, and so I went to a pharmacy and said, “I want to have something that will help me stay awake.” And the man was very upset with me. He said, “You New Yorkers just want to work all day and play all night. No, I’m not giving you anything.” Then a friend of mine said, “Don’t be silly. All you have to do is smoke cigarettes to stay awake.” And so I did, and it worked.
Untitled, 1981, oil on canvas, 24 × 26".
Untitled, 1954, oil on paper, 35 ⅞ × 24". All artwork: © Luchita Hurtado. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Yeah…nicotine. Very bad for you. But it also made for great subject matter for the paintings. Did you have a mirror above you when you did these paintings of your body? How did you do them? LH
No, no. Actually, you don’t need it. I think you can see yourself. AB
The foreshortening is super interesting in those paintings; not easy to accomplish. LH
[Points to a blue-and-gray near-abstract painting on the wall, with curved and circular lines that evoke a woman’s raised legs and abdomen.] This one is about birth, a very painful process. AB
I don’t have kids. I’m not as strong as you. I couldn’t do it. LH
Untitled, circa 1947–49, oil on canvas, 15 ¼ × 18 ¼".
It’s an amazing thing. There is a feeling
about a child in your arms that is…you know, the smell of the head, the whole thing. You become nature. We are all related. And there is this absolute love that you have for your offspring that doesn’t exist anywhere else. It’s a very animal experience. Terrestrial. AB
I feel that way about my cats. [Laughs] LH
Why not? There is that part of cats that is very human. AB
At least they keep me company while I work. LH
I had a cat in Mexico. His name was Pichano. A great cat. Short hair. And Pichano followed me always to the studio, and he was there with me, and one day I saw this bird at the market, and I had to have the bird. I brought the bird home, and the cat never forgave me. He stopped coming into the studio. This great love affair we were having ended, and that was that. I learned the hard way. AB
While we’re on the subject of self-portraits, can you tell me about that one you did of yourself as a mop? LH
Oh, that. I was feeling very low. I was feeling neglected, unloved. AB
In terms of not being appreciated for the work you were doing? Or for doing the kind of domestic labor that goes totally unrecognized? LH
All of it. That was a good painting. AB
Maybe it’s too far back to talk about, but I’m obsessed with trying to learn about second-wave feminism and what went on here with women artists in LA. I know that you had that stunning show in 1974 at the Women’s Building [the feminist art space in downtown Los Angeles that existed from 1973 to 1991]—your last solo show in this city! I saw some pictures
“When you think of the first cave paintings, they were shouting. They wanted something to eat. ‘Give me meat!’” from that show, and I got to see some of the work today. LH
That goes back to what we used to call “consciousness-raising.” There were meetings every week. I remember Alexis Smith and Miriam Schapiro and Judy Chicago—so very important. AB
Judy is also, for the first time, it seems to me, finally being recognized in the marketplace. Both of you are showing at the same level right now, I would say, after all these years. Last time I saw Alexis, she was so full of life and lecturing me: “Get a job, Andrea! Get a teaching job.” I was like, “I don’t want a teaching job!” She was like, “You can’t trust men, you can’t trust the art world. Get a job.” [Laughs] It’s so exciting to me that I get to live in a time where women of your generation—Judy and Miriam and Suzanne Lacy, that whole generation of pioneering feminists—is finally getting recognized. It’s about time.
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 35 ¾ × 48".
It is. Too late for some. AB
I have a question for you about your biography, but it’s not really a biographical question. The life you’ve led is super impressive, of course, but at the same time, I don’t think it’s as impressive as your art production. I don’t like that the two get crossed over in certain ways, that your biography gets promoted as your art practice, or obscures the work.
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 35 ¾ × 48".
Untitled, 1969, oil on canvas, 35 ¾ × 48".
A long time ago, people would say, “Tell us about you,” and I would say to myself, “There is nothing impressive about you. What are you going to say?” Then I would answer myself, “Make it up.” And so I did. You know, I’d say that I went to this great school, and I did this, and I did that, and
people listened and thought it was all real, but it wasn’t. My beginnings were really not much. I arrived in America when I was eight years old. I had been living with two old maiden aunts, with a brother. My mother had taken my sister to America at one point, so my first memories don’t include my mother at all. They are instead of these two wonderful old aunts, one of whom was always in the kitchen cooking. The kitchens at that time were outside in Venezuela, in Caracas, because they used wood; there was no gas. The 1920s! Not even a telephone. That was a long time ago. I remember playing outside with my dolls while my old aunt cooked, and finding it all very nice. A very rich cousin of mine had this house in the garden, and there was a stream that went through it. I remember sitting in this stream on a very hot day, eating a mango and thinking to myself, “Life cannot get better than this.” I was maybe eight years old. When you think of what was available at that time in a place like Venezuela… AB
Do you think about Venezuela now, what’s happening there? LH
I do. It’s very sad. There’s not even any food to eat. AB
A lot of it has to do with what we’ve already been talking about here, or at least alluding to: the government invested everything in oil, and now it’s destroying the country, in addition to destroying the planet. Disaster capitalism. LH
You know, money is responsible for many good things, too. It’s how you use it. There will be a solution to what we’re doing to ourselves and the earth. I have great hopes.
Okay, I’m trusting your wisdom. We’re both doing the same thing, trying to figure out how to work through all these issues as artists. LH
I still do trust the better nature of people. Even now. AB
Thinking about that kind of optimism, I wanted to ask you about having a sense of humor. I did this performance project once, an endurance piece with Suzanne Lacy, the performance artist. She doesn’t make objects, so it was my job to teach her how to draw, which was nearly impossible, but it was really about having my generation in conversation with artists of her generation, now in their seventies and early eighties—to have intergenerational discussions through the medium of drawing, basically. We did another one here in Los Angeles in which Suzanne and I lived together for 10 days, and she taught me about performance art. It was kind of crazy. It was exhausting, and we nearly killed each other. Intergenerational feminism isn’t always pretty, but it’s really rewarding. And one of the things it made me realize is that my generation has no sense of humor. Your generation, in particular, seems to have an amazing sense of humor. I think it’s kind of tied to the politics of being a woman, a way to be critical and to be empowered through humor. Somehow, my generation lost that. We aren’t funny. How does humor function for you?
Hurtado at the Grand Canyon, Arizona, 1970. Photo: Lee Mullican. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
I think that whoever made us must have had a sense of humor, right? I think it was given to us. It’s a blessing to have, because you might be aching with pain, but you’re laughing about it. AB
I think there are funny things in your art. Is that okay to say? LH Untitled, 1945, crayon and ink on paper, 12 ⅜ × 7 ⅝".
Hurtado, 1947. Photo: Man Ray. © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris.
Oh, yes. And I accept it. I think the whole thing is really hilarious.
Making art? LH
No, being human! Making art is kind of like shouting for me. “Look here! Look here! Please help!” AB
I always say to my students, “Imagine as an artist that you have a soap box, and you have 30 seconds to say something to the world. What are you going to say? ‘I like kitties’? ‘I like surfing’?” It really is like shouting, and you have to make up your mind what you’re going to shout. LH
When you think of the first cave paintings, they were shouting. They wanted something to eat in those caves. “Give me meat!” AB
Now they think a lot of those pictures were drawn by women. LH
Really? Well, I’m glad to hear that. It used to be that you could camp right at the mouth of those caves, and I did it. My husband Lee and I went off on this trip to Spain along the coast, and we came to these wonderful places, and you could camp right outside. The cave where we stayed was looked after by one family. AB
And you could go in and out and stand right in the place where the person must have stood who made the paintings so many thousands of years ago. It was an extraordinary experience to stand there and, in a way, to mentally touch the hand of your ancestors. We went back to the caves after years passed, and you had to make an appointment to go in, for 15 minutes only. Now you can’t go in and see them at all. They’ve had to make a duplicate, a simulacrum, with digital means. I don’t blame them. It’s too many people. We’ve overpopulated everything. [Hurtado pauses and offers a bowl of fruit to Bowers and to others in the room.]
Please, everybody, have a kumquat. AB
I’ve read a few pieces that talk about you hiding your work for many years and not showing it to people. Can you speak about why you felt the need to do that? LH
I guess it was partly because in the beginning, my mother and stepfather really weren’t interested in what I was doing or what I was about. Once we were in New York, my mother wanted me to go to a school to learn dressmaking. But I chose Washington Irving High School near Gramercy Park, where I learned a great deal from the other pupils, not so much from the teachers. I learned about the opera. I learned about movies and actors. For instance, Orson Welles, who at that time was at his best, with that great voice of his—we would go to the Mercury Theater on 41st Street and wait outside the door to see him. I learned from my contemporaries, because in my world, my family was completely out of it. AB
But later on, when you were among other artists, when you were painting at night, you weren’t really showing your work then either? LH
Well, I married when I was 19, straight out of high school. And I married a man, unfortunately, who, soon after I had two children, just came for his books and left, and I never saw him again. He just disappeared. And he married again. I never really felt that I had the time to show people my work, or that there was any interest. To make money, I began doing window displays for Lord & Taylor. AB
With all of these things that happened to you—some of them traumatic—and with you moving so much, how did you keep track of your artwork?
Untitled, circa 1950, crayon and ink on paper, 13 ⅞ × 10 ½".
I didn’t. I lost a lot of it. I don’t have much
from the early years. AB
There’s a young curator and collector here in Los Angeles, Olivia Marciano, from the Marciano family and the Marciano Art Foundation, and I think about her in the context of your work because she’s been thinking a lot about spirituality in women’s art. We’ve been interviewing a lot of feminists and women artists about it. I was wondering if you could say a little bit about that in your work. I’m not talking Christianity; I’m talking about the way that women have used different types of spirituality to invent experience, to get through things, as a kind of medicine, because medical care for women has always been bad compared to care for men, for example. LH
In our family in Venezuela, there was a background of that kind of belief and practice, but by the time I came along, people didn’t admit to it. AB
Do you mean shamans? LH
Native heritage in your bloodline, and native traditions and beliefs. People just didn’t talk about it. They did not admit to it. They made fun of it in our family. It was really hard to get any truth about it. There were people like me in my family who were very dark. When I used to go to my house in Taos, New Mexico, and go to watch tribal dances, they wouldn’t ask me if I was Indian; they would say, “What tribe are you?” I would say, “Venezuelan.” And they’d say, “I’ve never heard of that one!” Once I came to the United States, people would always come up to me and say, “Can I take your picture?” because I looked somehow, I don’t know, extraordinary to them.” AB
You felt exoticized in a certain way? LH
Yes. But also, within myself, I felt that I was Indian. I felt that very much when I went to the dances, because the tribes had a
complete attitude towards the earth, that it was alive. I remember asking why the dances in the winter were different from the summer dances. A lot of stomping went on in the summer. I asked a man about this once, and he said, “Because the earth is asleep, of course, in winter.” Instead of stomping, they drag the foot, so as not to wake the earth. It’s an attitude toward the planet as a living thing. Every person is different. For me, what works is feeling like a planetarian. Being a planetarian will bring out a lot of stuff that you didn’t know you had in you. AB
What is a planetarian? LH
Well, that you are looking for the world to survive, really. We’re all here together. We’re all involved with this. [Points to the ceiling, as if to outer space] Out there, there’s no air, let’s face it. And everything here breathes. The trees breathe out, we breathe in. We are related to everything here, and nothing really ever goes away. I think probably, at some point, we will be able to hear people who are gone, when we get the right machines. We’ll be able to hear Napoleon. Let’s hear Napoleon on next week’s program! Or George Washington. Let’s hear Washington’s address to Congress. AB
You think they’re going to invent a machine that can go back in time? LH
Of course. Because it’s all here, you see? It’s around us. AB
Who or what would you want to hear? LH
Oh god, I’m not clever enough to be able to give you a direct answer. AB
I mean, I’d love to be able to hear someone like Sojourner Truth or Emma Goldman. Or hear the speakers at Seneca Falls, the historic first women’s rights convention in Seneca Falls in 1848. Something like that.
Of course, I’d also love to just have some time with my mom again. LH
Well, there, of course. I think you do meet again, in this world. AB
You do? LH
I think so. I remember talking about this when I was with my son John once. We were driving through a terrible electrical storm, and I was sure we were not going to make it. I kept saying to John, “I hope we’re going to the same place!” He was very calm and worldly about it all. He said, “Oh, mother, we have rubber wheels. We’ll be fine.” AB
So, to try to conclude here, because I’ve been talking your ear off, and you’ve been so generous to do this, do you have any advice for me or for younger women artists? For myself, I’m trying to move more with love than with fear these days. I think I was not such a good person when I reacted because I was fearful, and I didn’t know it. And I behaved badly. LH
I would tell you, or anybody, just work away. Paint away. Give your heart to it. Have a good time. Face the world. It took me a while to learn how to do that. But we all know firsthand that doing it is what makes us the happiest. So choose it. AB
Choose it? LH
Yes. That’s the hard part. Because, you know, life can take over.
untitled: cul.de.sac (barrel/shadowplatform), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 ½ × 30 ⅜".
All artwork: ©Phyllida Barlow. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
The Paper Has Become a Space
“It’s before, during and after.” In 2011 the curator Hans-Ulrich Obrist asked Phyllida Barlow to explain where her career-long practice of drawing fit into the process of making the teetering, elegiac, chromatically apocalyptic sculpture to which the drawings have always been directly connected. Her answer—“before, during and after”—was less a response than a considered way of saying: I wish I could tell you. Unlike sculptors of her generation whose drawings either gestate formal ideas or serve as schematics for the making or follow as postscripts (Bruce Nauman once said, “I do a lot of drawings after things are finished; it helps me understand what I did”), Barlow’s drawings seem to be created for
their own sake while performing all three functions. On the pages that follow, drawings finished over the last year float from the quasi-figural (complete with shadows) to the fully abstract, yet all act as representations of form and color destined to become three-dimensional—a translation between two languages in which neither possesses a fixed vocabulary. “At the heart of all the processes,” Barlow has said, “is something close to chaos…a state of never quite knowing.” An exhibition of new sculpture by Phyllida Barlow, cul-de-sac, continues through June 23, 2019, in the Gabrielle Jungels-Winkler Galleries at the Royal Academy of Arts in London.
untitled: fall (cutter), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 Ă— 30 â…›".
untitled: shadow posts (cul.de.sac), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 ½ × 30 ⅜".
untitled: cul.de.sac (post stops), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 ½ × 30 ⅜".
untitled: shadow platform (cul.de.sac), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 ½ × 30 ⅜".
untitled: arrow (cutter), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 × 30 ⅛".
untitled: block on stilts (cul.de.sac), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 ½ × 30 ⅜".
untitled: lintel (cul.de.sac), 2018, acrylic on paper, 22 ½ × 30 ⅜".
Dash Snow and Glenn O’Brien at the Margiela 20th anniversary fashion show in Paris, September 29, 2008. Photo: Tamara Weber. Courtesy the photographer and Purple Diary.
I Don’t Believe in Masterpieces Anyway 62
Glenn O’Brien (1947–2017) on Dash Snow (1981–2009)
I remember calling Glenn O’Brien from my car on speakerphone after his advice book How to Be a Man (2011) was published. He had skipped a chapter on cellphone etiquette, so I apologized, thinking speakerphone—even when dictated by law—might be in bad taste. He said, “Don’t worry. The rules don’t apply to you, Bill.” Now, I knew that was just not true, but Glenn made me feel special in the moment. I suspect many of his friends felt the same way when they were around him. Glenn was an unspoken mentor. If I was working on a new project and he thought it was cool, that was all the validation I needed. So when I began doing interviews for an oral history of the late Dash Snow, I knew Glenn would have the culture to contextualize what Dash had meant to early 21st century art. We met at his apartment in NoHo, surrounded by paintings made by his contemporaries: abstracts by Christopher Wool and James Nares, a text painting by Rene Ricard and (my favorite) a scene of Jesus waterskiing by Robert Hawkins. Glenn reclined on his couch, odalisquely, shoes off. I want to remember him wearing an unfurled bow tie because, apart from David Bowie and William Eggleston, very few men can manage that look without it seeming contrived. He spoke with the fond exasperation of a scholar, puzzling together the pieces of a lost friend. Ultimately the Dash Snow book was shelved, sidelined by art-world politics. But Glenn’s words were wise and, in death, still carry his voice. The following is a transcript from our conversation. I excised my questions so he could have the last word. I owe Glenn that much. And more.
by Bill Powers
From top: Shoot-Out at Shit Creek, 2008. Slime the Boogie, 2007. All artwork: Courtesy Dash Snow Archive.
I met Dash through Shawn Mortensen1. It must have been after 9/11 because I was living on Bond Street by then. Shawn reminded me of Dash in a way, but if he had no money. Shawn would come by my place and ask to borrow $200 because he was headed to Ethiopia, that sort of thing. Anyway, I’d see Dash everywhere after that. I liked how he was off the grid. I thought it was a quality—if I’d been his age—that I would admire: being on the loose. I used to play softball with Dash’s dad2 on Long Island years ago. We had this sort of famous softball game with Neil Jenney and Scott Cohen. We played at the public school in Amagansett mostly. I also knew Dash’s grandmother3 through the art world. I remember going to a party at Christophe’s apartment in Paris back in the ’80s. I didn’t see Dash’s problem as being from this big social family as much as coming from crazy people. My own mother was pretty crazy so I could relate to that, and it didn’t have anything to do with money or social standing. For Dash, money was an option, which isn’t true for most people. But he was a refusenik. Dash might have had another life, but this was the path he chose. If he’d lived, who knows? I never really thought about money until I was 39. Coming from a background of wealth, though, he had a different understanding. Everyone sees it as this great thing, but maybe he could see the downside as well. Dash grew up around people with power, family who were on a first-name basis with Lyndon Johnson. There’s not that much difference, really, between Dash Snow’s background and George W. Bush’s. Dash’s titles—Gang Bang at Ground Zero, Bin Laden Youth—were as much about politics as they were about rebellion. It’s how a biker might wear the Iron Cross just to offend people. It was Dash exploiting symbols of offensiveness, playing with the same subject matter that Fox News does, only showing it from a different angle, taking things one step farther. There’s a line in Naked Lunch where Burroughs talks about seeing what’s on the “end of the long newspaper spoon.” I think that’s really missing from art today. We are living in this time when the world is a confrontational, scary place, and yet art has never been further away from that truth. It’s a dereliction of duty on the part of artists today. Not that all art should be political, but it is a part of life. And I do think that some of Dash’s art can be political. People try to make the events of 9/11 sacred or some holy thing, and Dash saw through that facade. You know, there’s a cultural center now at Ground Zero and I’m like: How does the World Trade Center have anything to do with culture? I don’t think Dash was alone in his perspective.
“There’s not that much difference, really, between Dash Snow’s background and George W. Bush’s.”
1 American photographer, photojournalist and activist (1965– 2009), revered for his portraits of artists and musicians. 2 Christopher Snow (1953–2013), artist, musician and composer; in 1981 married Taya Thurman, daughter of Christophe de Menil. 3 Christophe de Menil, costume and jewelry designer, arts patron; daughter of John and Dominique de Menil, founders of the Menil Collection in Houston.
I Hate America and America Hates Me, 2005.
Dash had a neo-shamanistic approach to art. He was drawn to magic in a psychological sense. It was about being an artist without means, using humble materials. Basquiat had that, too, the ability to make art out of anything. A lot of Basquiat’s early stuff was on found objects: refrigerator doors, window frames, plumbing. Do you know about No!Art from the ’60s4? They were these communist radicals who made art most people perceived as rude. They weren’t into money, which was easier then because New York was so cheap. There aren’t too many romantic artists, but I think Dash was one of them. I don’t see a difference between being a rebel and a romantic. I see them as being intimately connected. I mean, that’s why people walk around in Che Guevara T-shirts. If you go back to the roots of romanticism, back to poets like Shelley, they were romantics creating their own lifestyle. They weren’t on the barricades because they were aristocrats, but they were politically radical. In that sense, there’s a link there with Dash. He had a privileged childhood, but it didn’t come free. Being a dad strongly affected Dash, but it would have changed him a lot more if he’d stuck around longer. Kids, for the first couple of years, it’s mostly about life support. Things really get interesting when they hit seven or eight. I think if Dash hadn’t been on such an emotional roller coaster, he could have ended up a lot like Rauschenberg. Work by both is magical and political, and for Rauschenberg, money was a means to an end. Rauschenberg used to make more money than Warhol, but what did he do with it? He helped other artists or flew to Africa to do shit. Rauschenberg wasn’t looking to live the high life. I think the pictures Dash took of people sleeping relates to the getting-high thing; being lost in this mysterious part of our consciousness. In ancient Greece, they had ritual outcasts, the pharmakoi. Like Kurt Cobain, Dash was a version of the pharmakos, the sacrificial victim, but willingly so…like all those dead rock stars. It’s kind of an American thing, too, which you can trace back to the preColumbian civilizations. It’s an ancient way for a society to purge itself and a way to control the population. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that they flooded the ghettos with heroin in the 1960s, and then they flooded the art ghettos. The best way to cripple your enemy is to get them to kill themselves.
“There’s a line in Naked Lunch where Burroughs talks about seeing what’s on the ‘end of the long newspaper spoon.’ I think that’s really missing from art today.”
4 A radical art movement founded in New York in the early 1960s by Boris Lurie, Sam Goodman and Stanley Fisher, whose work often used provocative, violent and pornographic imagery.
Clockwise from top: Untitled, 2006–07; collage, clippings on paper; 13 7⁄10 × 10 4⁄5". Have Fun, 2006–07; collage, clippings on paper; 14 ½ × 10 4⁄5". Hate, 2006–07; collage, clippings on paper; 14 ½ × 11".
I remember seeing Dash the day after that New York magazine story came out5. The thing I didn’t get was the title, “Warhol’s Children.” Where does that come from? Although there was some element of the Superstars in them: Dan, Dash and Ryan. They might have been people Andy would have wanted to photograph. There’s definitely some Andy in Ryan, the idea of having the most beautiful boys and the most beautiful girls around you. And creating a scene that other people will want to be around. Dash and David Hammons are both artists with a witch-doctor feel to their work, which is important, because ultimately what is the value of art? Is it purely financial? Something to be bought and sold? In an increasingly secular society, it’s even more important as people try to form their belief systems. If you’re not going the readymade route, then you look around for the tools available to make something of your own. That’s a big part of the artist’s job or the writer’s job. It’s found in the moment, not in an academic way. You find it in the practice. I think the academic and institutional part of the art world is a big problem. Artists often collaborate with them to their detriment, because they think they need the institution as a go-between, a translator for the public. Dash, like David Hammons, understood that you don’t need the middleman. Cut out the middleman. Make him wait in line with everyone else. It has to be on the artist’s terms. Dan Colen asked me to read something at Dash’s memorial, but I thought it was more important that he eulogize his friend. I could have said a lot of the stuff that I wrote in my essay, but Dan was such an integral part of his life. I encouraged Dan to do it himself, because he was at a vulnerable moment himself. I don’t want to be the obituary writer for my generation. I said a lot when Basquiat died, and I didn’t feel like it was my place with Dash. But, you know, I don’t really believe in generations so much. I’ve been connected to people of all ages. I had a relationship with Brion Gysin6 that was really important to me. He was a great teacher. Dash’s beautiful collages relate a lot to Burroughs, but also to Gysin. I remember showing Dash all my Gysin books and showing him the cut-up newspaper pieces and how, just by shifting the columns of type, you could create new meanings, which Dash had already arrived at independently. I remember talking about abstract painting with Dash and just general bullshit, too. I saw him at the Margiela show in 2008 during Paris fashion week. It was the label’s last show with Martin Margiela at the helm, so it was kind of a hot ticket. It was great to see Dash there. If I ever wanted to see him, I’d just think about him and he’d appear.
I think Dash embraced contradiction, in most cases, as a reaction to political correctness. There’s something really great about the ability to see the good and the bad in any particular situation or person instead of damning a whole class of people; to have the guts to explore.
5 “Warhol’s Children,” a 2007 cover article by Ariel Levy about the downtown scene that developed around Snow and fellow artists Dan Colen and Ryan McGinley. 6 The shamanistic Canadian-English artist and writer (1916– 86) best known for his influence on the “cutup” writing method of William Burroughs and for his creation of the Dreamachine, a stroboscopic light device designed to induce a hypnagogic state.
There’s isn’t one masterpiece by Dash. But that makes me think about an artist like Ray Johnson7, whose lack of a masterpiece was in itself a masterpiece. Besides, I don’t believe in masterpieces anyway; they’re about marketing and the market. Ray, similar to Basquiat and Dash, would test people, test their integrity. See how far he could push them. I think Dash wanted to psychically win any exchange he had with people. Dash saw the transactional aspect to being an artist, and he wanted to be on the winning side. Which is maybe why he didn’t make more work. I remember going to his show at Rivington Arms8, and it was funny to see who turned up. I was used to seeing Dash intruding into other people’s milieu. His opening was kind of a freak show: all these people you’d never expect to be in the same room. I think Dash loved Polaroids because he was into instant gratification. Yes, there were digital cameras and camera phones, but you couldn’t hold those images in your hand. The Polaroid was still this magic thing. I was in high school when Kennedy was assassinated, which might have been a similar feeling to Dash at 20 years old living through 9/11. Both were formative to the attitudes of young people. I remember that the night Kennedy died we were already reacting to the mass mourning, the official seizing of everyone’s emotions, and kind of making fun of Kennedy even though we liked him. The experience hardened us to emotional manipulation by the press. That’s what the media does; it tries to train us in these attitudes, and I think that’s what a lot of Dash’s work is about: to play off knee-jerk reactions you associate with The New York Post or the Daily News or Fox News; to be skeptical of what the media says. I think the Bin Laden Youth thing was trying to force people to pick sides, as if you really could or that it would make any difference. You get into art because you want to change the world or do something different. You don’t want to just sell a painting for $100,000 that immediately goes into storage. You want an audience. I think that’s something younger artists understand—that Dash understood—the importance of having it be public. I talked to Basquiat about this; he wasn’t making work for Bruno Bischofberger or Peter Brant. He wanted to be Jimi Hendrix. He wanted to be Picasso. He wanted a mass audience.
From top: I Forgot More Than You Will Ever Know, 2006–07; collage, mixed media; 11 3⁄5 × 14". Newspaper 2, 2006, C-print, 33 × 50".
Glenn O’Brien was an editor, television producer, screenwriter, critic and influential cultural scene maker who began his career at Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine.
7 Collagist, early Pop artist and pioneer of the mail-art movement (1927–95). His work developed a cult-like following, but he disdained traditional commercial or critical success. 8 “Moments Like This Never Last,” February–March 2005. Rivington Arms gallery operated on the Lower East Side from 2001 to 2009.
The Government That Will Bring Paradise, 2006â€“07; collage, clippings on paper; 9 Ă— 14".
By Cassie Packard Photography by Oresti Tsonopoulos
The Pathos Collector
“I’ve never really been a postage stamp collector, which is what I call art collectors who need one of each,” explains Jim Linderman between sips of black coffee from a cup that sits far too close to his sprawl of vintage photographs for the comfort of a visitor who had traveled last December to meet him at his modest home in the lakeside town of Grand Haven, Michigan. “Me, I’ve always done things in themes.” Many collectors of obscure Americana might find sufficient satisfaction in possessing a rare postcard of a Midwestern river baptism, which flourished, cannily publicized by revivalist preachers, from the 1880s through the 1930s. Linderman, on the other hand, searched
photographs, folk art and unusual items of curiosity.” His evolving repository of material culture fills almost every surface in his office and shed, as well as his popular blogs (Dull Tool Dim Bulb, Old Time Religion, the now-defunct Vintage Sleaze, and his most recent, the highly specific Sewer Tile Sewer Pipe Pottery) and his illustration-heavy books. In the case of his river baptism photographs, Linderman not only assembled a book (with an introduction by Luc Sante) and a (Grammynominated) CD with rare repackaged gospel songs; his images also gave rise to the 2011 exhibition “Take Me to the Water: Photographs of River Baptisms” at the International Center of Photography in New York. Linderman and his wife, Janna Rosenkranz, went on to donate the photographs to the ICP’s permanent collection. Though he is the kind of person who distrusts superlatives, Linderman is widely regarded as one of the foremost figures in a field of vernacular art collectors working beyond the margins of most institutional axioms and impulses, in what is essentially its own self-taught art form. Vernacular art is one of several alternatives to outsider art, a term that Linderman and many of his fellow collectors regard today with some distaste. The concept originated with Jean Dubuffet, who coined the term art brut, or raw art, in 1945. Dr. Valérie Rousseau, the curator of selftaught art and art brut at the American Folk Art Museum in New York, said Dubuffet thought of the term as an admiring category to encapsulate art produced by “the marginalized, psychiatric patients, prisoners, eccentrics, psychics, recluses and anarchists— each entrenched in their own way in a mind-set that reinterpreted collective values.” In 1972 British writer Roger
Over the pa of collec st three decade to s, to doveta rs like Linderman the work il h growing in fascinating wa as begun m ys and galle ovement in the m with a ry u by self-ta world to build co seum ught and ll outsider ections artists.
An outsider’s mission moves inside
“river baptism photo” on eBay daily for a decade and purchased every single example he could find until he virtually exhausted both the field and his own acute interest. “I didn’t have much competition, really,” he says dryly. An ex-librarian and former 60 Minutes fact-checker, Linderman calls his collecting both “hobby and life,” as if there is no possible way, at the age of 65—perhaps there never was—to distinguish between the two. He seizes upon a specific, esoteric theme, educates himself deeply and then accumulates work in that vein for years or even decades, publishing his findings on his blogs or in limited-edition books. He defines his range broadly and somewhat obliquely as “antiques,
Cardinal proposed the designation outsider art as an English-language response to art brut. But the term has come to be seen as inadequately elastic, superficially lumping together artworks and artists that in fact share little common ground beyond their exclusion from a somewhat nebulous “inside.” Self-taught, vernacular, folk and, most recently, outlier (a term offered by the curator Lynne Cooke in her celebrated “Outliers and American Vanguard Art,” an exhibition that opened last year at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C.) are substitutes with arguably more nuanced and sensitive connotations, though Linderman believes that the entire outsider concept and its canon are more a marketing scheme than anything else. “Who determines what art belongs next to another?” he asks. When he speaks about people he calls “money om ions fr ion Select an’s collect es artists,” or institutionm ur Linder pipe sculpt r e m o w r f e ally of s orkers by w made pipe clay. r lef tove
canonized outsider masters—such as Bill Traylor (1854–1949) and Henry Darger (1892– 1973)—he notes that many such artists don’t belong in the same curatorial
categories and that their work would never be lumped together that way if they were “insider” artists. Furthermore, he adds, the term isn’t even helpful as a descriptor of context: Some self-taught artists work in isolation as “communities of one,” while others are part of particular marginal or localized histories and traditions. Over the past three decades, the work of collectors like Linderman has begun to dovetail in fascinating ways with a growing movement in the museum and gallery world to build collections by self-taught and outsider artists and to incorporate this art into the history of the 19th and 20th centuries, not as some kind of sideshow but fully as part of the canon. (Alfred H. Barr Jr., the founding director of the Museum of Modern Art, first championed the effort, heroically but ultimately unsuccessfully, in the 1930s and 1940s.) This reframing has gained speed recently with prominent exhibitions like Massimiliano Gioni’s “The Encyclopedic Palace,” the main presentation for the 2013 Venice Biennale, which mingled insider and outsider work in ways meant to obliterate the categories altogether—categories already under attack by major artists like Jim Shaw, Richard Prince, Allen Ruppersberg and Mike Kelley (1954–2012), whose
collecting of vernacular and popular material both shaped their work and became a form of work in its own right. Linderman lived in New York for many years, and in the 1980s he frequented contemporary art galleries in the East Village, where he fell in love with work by Neo-Expressionist painters like Eric Fischl and Julian Schnabel—work he wanted but knew he could never afford. Some of the appeal of vernacular collecting, back then, was simply financial. “It was a refuge for people who wanted art but wanted a deal, right?” he says. Linderman would typically pay no more than $20 to $50 for an individual piece, or seek out artists to purchase works in bulk (“20 for $500”). Sometimes, he’d even acquire pieces for free. Once, driving around the Mississippi Delta, Linderman happened upon what he called “the most beautiful quilt I had ever seen” hanging from a clothesline in a woman’s yard. At the time, he was amassing a collection of quilts by African-American makers. Linderman knocked on the woman’s door and asked if he could purchase the one hanging with her laundry; thinking that he was cold, she insisted instead on giving it to him. In addition to being a fan of the good old-fashioned yard sale and eBay, Linderman is particularly partial to flea markets. He remembers once running into Andy Warhol at one on 23rd Street in Manhattan. (Warhol is said to have thrifted and antiqued every day. His well-known hoarding problem made entire rooms of his Upper East Side townhouse uninhabitable.) We spend some time peeling back plastic sleeves to look at old photographs, an undertaking that
prompts a flurry of stories. Linderman and his friend Jay Tobler, with whom he shared common collecting interests, went on a road trip through Georgia in 1995. They came across what Linderman describes as a “Biblethemed amusement park,” a sculptural environment built by the Reverend John D. Ruth outside the tiny town of Woodville. Designed as a drive-thru spread across 23 acres, the installation featured statues and paintings scrawled with biblical inscriptions. (The Reverend Ruth’s garden is no longer extant but lives on in photographs by Linderman and others.) Around the same time, Linderman and Tobler paid a visit to Elder Anderson Johnson, a preacher in Newport News, Virginia, who regularly held religious services and musical performances for a congregation consisting of numerous painted portraits hung from his ceiling. Today one of Johnson’s paintings, Female Portrait (1994), lives in the collection of the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, D.C., gifted by Herbert Hemphill Jr., the pioneering folk art collector and first director of the Museum of American Folk Art. When I ask Linderman about his seemingly limitless interest in religious art, he says that religious art-makers tend to be the variety producing the most impassioned outpourings of work. “More motivation,” he explains. The conversation turns to Sister Gertrude Morgan, a self-taught AfricanAmerican artist and street preacher whose work is also in the Smithsonian (donations by Hemphill and the folk-art-collector couple Chuck and Jan Rosenak). Morgan used a steak
“I va the lue the a whe symm free-ha e that n there tr y, th nd inco e ’s pr ’s n esu so mu found o sisten mab ch i bjec cies, n ly p erfe the w ts— orld ct.”
bone as a stylus to dot eyes on the figures in her paintings. Linderman owned the bone for a time and eventually sold it for $100. “Who wants a bone?” he asks with a laugh but then adds with quiet earnestness:
“That was a tool of her ministry. How can you even put an aesthetic or value judgment on something like that?” Morgan is one of about 20 vernacular artists whose reputations were established by the Corcoran Gallery of Art’s landmark 1982 exhibition “Black Folk Art in America: 1930–1980,” which Sarah Boxer described in The Atlantic in 2013 as “the birth of the American self-taught canon.” Previously, such artists had been known predominantly only in their local communities. (One of the show’s stars, William Edmondson, a self-taught Tennessee sculptor and janitor whose religious visions inspired him to fashion tombstones from scavenged materials, had actually gotten his first big break in 1937 after Barr encountered his work through photographs and mounted an exhibition of 10 pieces, MoMA’s first-ever solo show dedicated to an African-American artist.) The mainstream art world’s interest in vernacular art has ebbed and flowed over the decades. Around the time of Edmondson’s solo exhibition, new
fieldwork by American folklorists piqued interest in what was then mostly labeled naive or primitive art. (Linderman notes that the first institutional exhibition of a cigar-store Indian carving also occurred in the 1930s.) The current wave of interest shows no signs of ebbing. The annual New York Outsider Art Fair turned 27 this year, and the Atlanta-based Souls Grown Deep Foundation, the brainchild of art historian and collector William Arnett, who built a collection of more than 1,000 pieces by selftaught Southern artists, has recently been placing works strategically in important museum collections, including those of the Brooklyn Museum, the Dallas Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Boston and the Metropolitan Museum of Art, which mounted a well-received show of its holdings last year. Not surprisingly, this institutional validation has begun to lift the market value of such works; Christie’s posted a “hot list” of outsider artists in advance of its January 2018 “Outsider and Vernacular Art” sale. Of Traylor, one of the artists featured in that sale, Linderman now says wonderingly: “All those little Traylor paintings were a dime each. There are around 1,500 of them. They’re now $50 grand apiece.” We set market talk aside and head to Linderman’s office, where an assortment of odd, small-scale brown sculptures line the shelves. Roughly fashioned by hand from clay, they include a planter in the shape of a tree stump, a charmingly corpulent groundhog, several misshapen heads, and a miniature top hat. These are sewer pipe sculptures, made by bored Midwestern laborers in the late 19th and early 20th centuries from vitrified pipe clay, a widely used material for American sewer systems at the time. At the end of the workday, for their own amusement, sewer workers would fashion modest
sculptures from leftover pipe clay before it hardened and became unusable. This pottery has been Linderman’s obsession for the last two years. He laments that there is only one book dedicated to the topic, Jack Adamson’s out-ofprint 1973 Illustrated Handbook of Ohio Sewer Pipe Folk Art. In addition to the pipe sculptures, Linderman is also currently collecting photographs of an unscrupulous pastor who rose to fame by preaching from a boat in New Orleans. The preacher (whose name Linderman would rather not disclose for fear of inviting unwanted collector competition) ultimately went on trial for murder following a catastrophic attempt to heal a congregant’s back. Linderman plans to turn his findings into his next book. I ask
jug with his owner’s name, LM, for Louis Miles,” Linderman says, then he adds solemnly: “I realized that his jugs today are selling for 10 times what Louis Miles paid for Dave himself.” Linderman eventually sold the jug to an up-and-coming African-American collector. “That was a pretty informed move for a young collector,” he says. “She understood the piece.” I asked Dr. Rousseau of the American Folk Art Museum what makes a good collection of outsider art. “A compelling one depends on the collector, the storyteller, on a capacity of persuasion, clarity of intentions,” she said. “And the ability to highlight remarkable expressions where least expected.” While Linderman’s compulsion to collect is executed with scholarly rigor, it arises primarily from that love of the least expected and also from a place of fundamental tender-
has ever pursued a holy-grail piece. “I’ve owned a holy grail,” he replies. The work he deemed such was a beautiful jug by a potter and slave named Dave (David Drake) in Edgefield, South Carolina. While it was illegal for slaves to become literate, Drake somehow learned to read and write, and he inscribed his own poems on the vessels he produced. “He had initialed the
ness: a love of the clumsy and the unpolished, of objects that bear deeply human histories. “There’s a pathos in almost everything I collect because they tried, but didn’t quite make it,” he says. “I value the free-hand inconsistencies, the asymmetry, the found objects— when there’s so much in the world that’s presumably perfect.”
Linderman kn ock could purchas ed on the woman’s door an d asked if he e the [quilt] ha nging with he that he was co r laundr y; thin ld, she insiste king d instead on g iving it to him . him whether he
HOME IS WHERE ONE STARTS FROM
Don McCullin, Britainâ€™s knight-errant photographer, measures the reach of a career 82
by Randy Kennedy
World War I battlefield of the Somme, France, 2000. All images: Courtesy the artist and Contact Press Images.
Don McCullin, one of the most revered British photographers of his generation and among the most relentlessly globetrotting (Vietnam, Cyprus, Iraq, Syria, Lebanon, India, Brazil, Biafra, Zambia, Zimbabwe, only to scratch the surface) was just back home in the English countryside after a vacation, or what passes for one in his life. “We were in Sri Lanka, my wife and I—but I was photographing, of course,” he related by phone on a late January afternoon. “The jet lag really laid it on me. I’m about to be 84, after all, you know. But I’m fine now.” For more than three decades, McCullin’s roosting place between assignments has been a low stone cottage overlooking a rolling valley in the Somerset heathland of South West England, which he knew first as a child, evacuated there from his impoverished north London home during the Blitz. In his darkroom, off the kitchen, he continues—as he has throughout a career of more than half a century, with The Sunday Times Magazine and dozens of other publications—to print his own work, an obsessive, perfectionist exercise he has described as “being hand-inglove with madness.” And in the last year, he has wrestled with his darkroom soul as mightily as ever before in his life, preparing for a retrospective at the Tate, which continues through May 6, the museum’s first-ever survey of the work of a living photographer. “There’s something like 260, 270 prints in the show, all made by me,” he said, adding dryly, “The walls will be fairly groaning with what I’ve done.”
Widely celebrated in Europe and in his homeland (he received a knighthood in 2017) but still underrecognized in the United States, McCullin said he was particularly gratified that such a commemoration of his work was coming from the Tate. “I’m nearing the end of the road, so to say, in my evangelistic crusade to show the world. So it’s very good right now for me to be there, to be here.” The occasion has given him an opportunity, he said, to think about why he became a photojournalist—he resolutely rejects calling any of his work art—and why he put himself repeatedly in extreme danger to document war, famine, crime, poverty and refugee crises around the world. “I’ve come to think part of it is about fear—I’ve been dealing with fear my whole life, since I was a child. Around Finsbury Park, where I grew up, if you wandered accidentally around the wrong corner, to a part of the neighborhood that wasn’t yours, you could get a nasty beating, you might get your face slashed with a Stanley knife. A camera was like Icarus’ wings to get myself out of that place. But I’ve always felt a kinship with people who have little and live in fear.” He said he hoped that his work— whether of hand-to-hand combat, of a dead bird noticed at his feet on a morning hike, of a flock of sheep being herded to an abattoir on a foggy London back street—has always carried a sense of moral urgency. But he added, looking back over the most wrenching of his images, “I feel I’ve spent a lifetime covering wars—60 years—and I don’t think for one second that my work helped
to stop any war, or ever will. As soon as one is finished, another one starts. It’s just what we humans do.” For a man with no formal schooling beyond the age of 15 (“My first job was in a steam train as a skivvy cleaning up in the dining car”), he said he considers himself especially lucky that his life has provided him with an education in the form of traveling with writers—John le Carré, Bruce Chatwin—and spending time among artists and filmmakers (in 1966 he was hired by Michelangelo Antonioni to produce the park “murder” still blowups for Blow-Up.) Now at least semiretired—he hasn’t been to an active combat zone in several years—McCullin said one fundamental lesson he has drawn from returning again and again to places he has known is that poverty, violence and corruption often have partners in the destruction of unique places and valuable cultures: tourism and development. “There’s a war just in protecting the very village where I live, against realestate companies who’d happily destroy it because, unfortunately, far too many people, want to live in beautiful places.” For many years now, when not traveling and sometimes when he is, McCullin has turned his efforts to landscape photography, focusing intently on the unbuilt earth—attempting, he says, to take a longer view, toward the end of his own life, of the life of the planet. “I’ve been trying to get the perfect photograph of a lovely group of trees not far from here. It’s eluded me for years. I well might never get it, but it’s going to snow tomorrow, so maybe that will be what I need. I haven’t given up hope.”
On the way to the slaughter house, early morning, near Caledonian Road, Islington, London, 1965.
The Somerset Levels below Glastonbury, England, early 1990s.
Anti-fascist demonstrator protesting against a National Socialist Party rally, Trafalgar Square, London, 1962.
Dassanech tribe, Omo Valley, southern Ethiopia, 2003â€“04.
Catholic mission food distribution, civil war, Biafra, Nigeria, April 1968.
Hadrian’s Wall, begun in 122 AD most likely to separate Roman Britannia from the barbarian north, Northumberland, England, 2008.
U.S. Marines with a captured civilian suspected of being a North Vietnamese sympathizer, Têt Offensive, Battle of Hué, Vietnam, February 1968.
Turkish militia leaving the side entrance of a cinema, Limassol, Cyprus, 1964.
American car owned by a local West Indian boxer on Fonthill Road, Finsbury Park, London, 1963.
British peacekeeping soldiers transport the bodies of Turks killed by Greek militia, Cyprus, 1964.
An anti-fascist demonstration at a National Socialist Party rally, Trafalgar Square, London, July 1962.
U.S. Marine hurling a grenade seconds before being shot through the left hand, TĂŞt Offensive, HuĂŠ, South Vietnam, 1968.
Ancient Temple of Bel, Palmyra, Syria, 2006.
Temple of Bel after destruction by Islamic State militants, 2018.
“I feel I’ve spent a lifetime covering wars—60 years— and I don’t think for one second that my work helped to stop any war, or ever will.”
I was arrested (detail), 2013–19. All texts: U.S. government documents. All artworks: © 2018 Jenny Holzer, member Artists Rights Society, NY. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
What’s Not There Jenny Holzer’s enduring exploration of painting and power
In Catch-22, Joseph Heller’s classic World War II farce about organized human cruelty, the antihero Captain Yossarian is given the tedious task of censoring the letters of enlisted men, whose accidental revelations might endanger United States forces. “After the first day,” Heller writes of Yossarian, “he had no curiosity at all. To break the monotony, he invented games. Death to all modifiers, he declared one day.…The next day he made war on articles. He reached a much higher plane of creativity the following day when he blacked out everything in the letters but a, an and the. That erected more dynamic intralinear tensions, he felt, and in just about every case, left a message far more universal.” For more than a dozen years now, the artist Jenny Holzer—whose primary material has been the language that humans use both to oppress and to emancipate each other—has
been at work on paintings that take redacted government documents as readymades and then assist them into the realm of a deeply troubled abstraction, made more unsettling by its beauty and clear affinity with the high-modernist canon. Many of the documents, obtained through freedom-of-information requests, relate to the United States’ intractable post-9/11 military presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The words that remain legible amid the censor blocks, seemingly at random—“blunt force trauma,” “rendition,” “enhanced techniques”—function as sad windows into what Holzer once described as “the covert stuff that makes fate.” “Jenny Holzer: Thing Indescribable,” a survey of more than 40 years of the artist’s work, will be on display at the Guggenheim Bilbao from March 22 through September 9.
This page: I was arrested, 2013â€“19. Opposite: June 6, 2013 (detail), 2018.
This page: 12, 2018. Opposite: We don’t know, 2014–18.
Opposite: 12 (detail), 2018. This page: June 6, 2013, 2018.
This page: waterboard, 2018. Opposite: 234., 2018.
UNDER THE SKIN Kaari Upson in the Los Angeles gene pool
by Jori Finkel Photography by Dean Podmore
When Gagosian Beverly Hills opened its Mike Kelley exhibition in 2011, the last big show in his hometown before his death the following year, some of us felt a keen sense of déjà vu. The show featured, under gleaming glass bell jars, his Kandors, futuristic cityscapes named after the birthplace of Superman. Most dramatically, a lurid yellow Kandor under pink glass glowed within a large black cave—part of a long line of claustrophobic and subterranean spaces that have figured prominently in Kelley’s work: among them, basements, tunnels, crawl spaces and stalactite-dripping caverns. But this particular cave recalled another of Los Angeles vintage: the grotto of Kaari Upson. Two years earlier, Upson had filled a space in the
Hammer Museum’s exhibition “Nine Lives: Visionary Artists from L.A.” with a craggy resin cave designed to resemble the swinging pleasure center at the heart of the Playboy Mansion, part of a larger exploration by the artist of a troubled Hugh Hefner wannabe that she had both discovered and created, named Larry. The Los Angeles curator Catherine Taft mentioned the similarity between the works in Artforum, calling the Kelley show “as irresistible as it is tricky. ‘Is that vacuum part of the work?’ asked one attendee, and then, ‘Is that a Kaari Upson grotto?’” Given his decades-long focus on cavelike spaces, Kelley was clearly not shoplifting. But the resemblance to Upson’s work was startling nonetheless, and, as her work has evolved over the following years, I’ve watched a flowering kinship between the two artists that extends far
beyond a single claustrophobic form. I’ve noticed similarities in their punk-philosophic installations (often a deliberately disordered or nonhierarchical blend of drawing, sculpture and video or performance) and in their deeply Freudian themes (exploring the notion of the uncanny; exposing the seamy underbelly of the American dream; using architecture as a metaphor for memory). I’ve walked away from her studio with thoughts about both the inevitability and impossibility of artistic reincarnation. Upson, 46, has planted the seeds for such commentary herself by talking about Kelley and Paul McCarthy, his most memorable collaborator, as fundamental to her thinking. She once told me that Paul Schimmel’s apocalyptic, zeitgeist-defining 1992 show “Helter Skelter” at MOCA, which featured provocative works by Kelley and McCarthy, along with 14 other L.A. artists, was the first museum exhibition she could remember seeing. McCarthy’s installation The Garden—a decidedly un-Edenic carnal spectacle— had an especially profound impact. “My first memory of walking into a museum involved seeing his Garden—the giant outdoor piece where the mechanical doll is screwing the tree—and it changed my life,” Upson said. “I said, ‘If that’s what art could be, I want to make art.’ I was 19.” Recently critics and curators have begun to make more of such connections. In the catalogue for Upson’s 2017 New
Still from As Long as It Takes, Part I: The Head; 2007; video with sound; 50 minutes, 8 seconds. All video stills and artwork: Courtesy Kaari Upson.
Upson’s first clear museum memory involves Paul McCarthy’s The Garden, “the giant outdoor piece where the mechanical doll is screwing the tree....I said, ‘If that’s what art could be, I want to make art.’ I was 19.”
Museum exhibition “Good Thing You Are Not Alone,” her most prominent institutional show to date, the curator, Margot Norton, discusses Kelley and McCarthy in her essay, and the book includes both an interview with Upson by McCarthy and a short essay about her work by Jim Shaw, another “Helter Skelter” participant and early Kelley bandmate. For a talk at the museum that December, Raymond Pettibon, a third alumnus of the Schimmel show, served as her interlocutor. Upson says she got to know most of these artists only recently: you might call her their student, but they were never actually her teachers. Recognizing the complexity of artistic influences, I’m not especially interested in building an argument for Upson as the rightful or overlooked heir to Kelley’s legacy. Along with Harold Bloom, I believe artists have reason to hide their most powerful creative debts even from themselves, which often makes the game of delineating those influences futile. But in thinking about Upson, something else has always appealed to me: the idea of a less linear, more simultaneous or even preposterous (literally, when what is “before” comes “after”) reading of the artists’ connections, in ways that their deliberately disordered work itself seems to invite. To the extent that there are similarities between Upson and Kelley, we could even try using criticism about him or by
him—he was one of contemporary art’s best self-probers—to illuminate her work, which has been the subject of far less interpretation. In turn, by bringing her work into the “Helter Skelter” conversation, we might be able to see Kelley and his collaborators in a different light. What would a female “Helter Skelter” look like? And how does our understanding of an artist’s handling of the abject and the pornographic change in the hands of a woman? For one of her earliest installments of The Larry Project, Upson would paint two portraits in oil—one of Larry and one of herself—and smash the faces together when the canvases were still wet so that they would, however awkwardly, merge. Her blonde hair would fall across his face. She called this series, rather sweetly— as if one of Larry’s dolled-up girlfriends had named the work—Kiss paintings. In some ways, you might think about this essay as a kiss painting of its own. II. The Larry Project, 2005–ongoing As Upson tells it, The Larry Project, which has taken the form of drawings, paintings, sculptures, videos and an artist’s book, had a clear beginning but no clear end. It started on October 26, 2003, when a small fire took place at a mysterious party house across the street from her parents’ home in San Bernardino, California, and firefighters had to break down the back door. This cleared the way for Upson to enter the house, where she discovered a man’s abandoned property, including boxes of photographs, old diaries and legal files. An undergraduate at the time at CalArts, Upson took the material home with her to Los Angeles. She already knew from her parents that the man, whom she chose to call Larry, was in the business of throwing
parties wildly out of character for the sleepy residential neighborhood. From his journals, she learned that man worshiped Hugh Hefner and used his over-mortgaged McMansion to attract eye-catching women, whom he then suspected were interested in him only for his money. Upson saw through his playboy swagger to a sort of emotional insolvency. The Larry Project echoes some of the early, voyeuristic investigations of the French artist Sophie Calle into the intimate lives of strangers. In Suite Vénitienne (1980), Calle spent nearly two weeks stalking a man known as Henri B. through the streets of Venice; The Address Book (1983) began with the happenstance discovery of an address book on the streets of Paris, which Calle read. She then proceeded to interview people listed in the book about its owner (and to publish these interviews) without speaking directly to the man. Both artists engage in a disturbing invasion of someone’s privacy and mine the information for their work. Trespass becomes a tool in the conceptual-art arsenal. But even more dramatically than Calle, Upson quickly cedes all credibility as a trustworthy narrator: fantasy overtakes facts, and her investigation into a stranger becomes a form of self-exploration. Upson says the turning point was losing one of Larry’s journals while in graduate school and realizing that she had to “bridge the gaps.” Her projections about Larry fed her final MFA exhibition in 2007, then became the subject of a show at the Hammer that year and, finally, part of “Nine Lives” at the Hammer in 2009. By that point, as Ali Subotnick, the curator of “Nine Lives” described it, the artist’s conflation of subject and self had become almost complete: “Upson demolished any sense of objectivity as she further delved into this quest, View of “Hammer Projects: Kaari Upson,” 2007–08.
making a life-size doll of the man and beginning a relationship with him that some might deem disturbing. One of the most fascinating aspects of the project is her absolute vulnerability: she’s as present in the project as the mysterious Larry.… When she exposes his birth certificate, she also exposes her own; when she gets his handwriting analyzed, she also has her own analyzed.” By pursuing Larry in this manner, Upson found multiple roles to play: “a mother, a lover, a sister, a seductress,” wrote Subotnick. A castrator and murderer too, one could add. Particularly with her Larry videos, in which Upson found ways to violate his body, dismember him or offer herself up for his pleasure, she plunged into classic Kelley/McCarthy
territory: the realm of abjection. It’s hard to watch Upson pouring baby oil on herself in the video 101 (2009) without thinking, for example, of McCarthy smearing himself with ketchup in Sauce (1974). And in her two-part As Long as It Takes (2007), she inflicts at least as much violence on the Larry doll as McCarthy and Kelley did to the mannequin in the 1992 video work Heidi, based on the story of the plucky Alpine heroine in Johanna Spyri’s children’s classic. Wearing white surgical scrubs and blue gloves, with a Larry doll laid out on a table like a patient, Upson subjects his body to a series of operations. She stitches up the mouth of his fabric face before loudly ripping out stitches elsewhere. She then saws through his neck to decapitate
him and carefully removes his fabric face from his head to stretch it over her own. While the bright yellow foam core of the doll is highly unrealistic, the act of peeling back the fabric skin still generates the kind of repulsion that Julia Kristeva describes in her classic account of abjection in the 1980 philosophical treatise Powers of Horror: our response to what threatens the integrity of the body, typically things reeking of death, the diseased, the defiled or waste. “If shit signifies the other side of the border, the place where I am not and which permits me to be,” she wrote, “the corpse, the most sickening of wastes, is a border that has encroached upon everything.” In a 2016 interview with the critic Jason Farago, Upson described her version of it: “When something is outside the body, it becomes disgusting, but when it’s inside, it’s as natural as blood. Those issues are very ingrained in me. They follow me everywhere. I like to look for new abject things, or take something that might not be abject and fully flood it with possibilities.” Kelley offers another way to think about Upson’s Larry Project videos—as “fake pornography.” He used that term in project notes to describe a pair of photographs he made in 1990 featuring S&M performers Sheree Rose and Bob Flanagan interacting, naked, with stuffed animals. Rose straddles a large bunny rabbit so that it seems to be going down on her, while Flanagan squats near
Hers, 2016–17; steel shelves, latex, synthetic hair, acrylic, fabric, paper, urethane foam, duct tape, cat hair, debris.
Could the macho posturing that defined much of the heavily male “Helter Skelter” show be read as a parody of a certain brand of toxic masculinity? It’s a perverse idea—to turn “Helter Skelter” into a feminist project.
another stuffed animal, his buttocks smeared black as if he’s just defecated. (It was really chocolate syrup.) Kelley wrote that the photographs— coming after work with stuffed animals that was widely discussed and broadly misunderstood—functioned as self-parody. He didn’t define the term “fake pornography,” but I’ve always taken it to mean sexually explicit material designed not to arouse or satisfy the viewer, perhaps because it exaggerates the tropes of the pornography genre to the point of satire. Upson’s pseudo-porn videos in The Larry Project, some of which toy with the ultimate Playboy fantasy of having sex with twins or watching twins together (a.k.a. “twincest”), quite literally show their seams. In these videos, planted deep in her grotto sculpture for peephole-style viewing, Upson wore large silicone breasts and a silicone vagina of her own making. But the edges of the prosthetics, which pull onto her body like a tube top and underwear, are visible. They shift and buckle as Upson moves. The skin tone doesn’t match her real body. Her fake boob job is itself a fake and her sculpted labial folds protrude, disturbingly, well beyond the body. For me, some of McCarthy’s work and at least one collaboration with Kelley (their 1997 installation with Francis Picabia’s girlie pictures) have edged into real porn, but the notion of “fake” pornography allows for a more nuanced reading
of such work. Could the macho posturing that defined much of the heavily male “Helter Skelter” show be read as a parody of a certain brand of toxic masculinity? It’s a perverse idea—to turn “Helter Skelter” into a feminist project—but also one that I can’t quite get out of my mind. III. MMDP (My Mother Drinks Pepsi), 2014–ongoing When Mike Kelley curated “an exhibition within the exhibition” for the 1993 edition of Sonsbeek, the recurring sculpture festival in the Netherlands, he brought together a range of dummies, mannequins, anatomical models and figurative sculptures that were intended to evoke a sense of the uncanny. He wrote an essay for the occasion, “Playing With Dead Things: On the Uncanny,” which draws
Mother Drain, 2017; urethane foam, aluminum, pigment; 90 × 90 × 11".
heavily from Freud. “Freud’s contribution,” Kelley wrote, “was to link the uncanny to the familiar. He defines the uncanny as the class of the terrifying which leads us back to something long known and once very familiar, yet now concealed and kept out of sight. It is the unfamiliar familiar, the conventional made suspect.” In his 1919 essay on the subject, Freud had used the German word unheimlich, which suggests something un-homelike: “The unheimlich is what was once heimisch, familiar; the prefix ‘un’ is the token of repression. “An uncanny experience,” Freud continued, “occurs either when infantile complexes which have been repressed are once more revived by some impression, or when primitive beliefs which have been surmounted seem once more to be confirmed.” Along with anonymous dolls and dummies, Kelley included a range of figurative sculptures and bodily fragments by artists like McCarthy, Paul Thek, Jeff Koons and Robert Gober. Duane Hanson’s hyper-detailed sculpture of a slumped custodial worker, Janitor, from 1973, and Charles Ray’s generically modeled but realistically endowed Male Mannequin from 1990, were among the highlights. You could picture Upson’s lifesize rag dolls from her New Museum exhibition right at home in this hall of mirrors. That show, which read as an expanded, or exploded, version of her 2016 exhibition at Sprüth Magers in Berlin, “MMDP,” featured about 100 of these dolls, each dressed in a short blonde wig and red-and-blue plaid shirts to look like the artist’s mother, stacked on Costco-size racks. Upson calls them “the hers,” or more descriptively, “prosthetic mother cat beds” after her own cat, Bandit, began sleeping on one of these dolls at the studio, prompting her to send other
dummies to cat owners for the cats’ use before the museum display. (She made the first mother-dummy as a kind of scarecrow behind her studio, to deter neighborhood thieves; it worked.) Before making the cat beds, Upson wore this plaid outfit and wig to play the role of her mother in various videos, reenacting her strolls through Costco aisles or dragging wood planks across a lawn. If we grant that the uncanny originates in a repressed infantile urge, what could be more elemental and, later in life, subject to more repression, than the urge to merge with your mother? One impetus for the project, which also involved creating sculptures and plinths out of hundreds of Pepsi cans (painstakingly drained, cleaned, dried with a hairdryer and then filled with molten aluminum), was the artist’s experience
In Search of the Perfect Double (1), 2016; urethane, pigment, aluminum; 79 × 31 × 76".
of uncontrollable disgust as a child—a condition called misophonia—when hearing her mother drink Pepsi. “The sound she made isn’t important and it can’t be written phonetically,” she said in a 2016 Artnet interview. “It was an attempt to communicate externally her internal joy or satisfaction; it was projected out, and it needed an audience.…I found it elicited a feeling of distance and disgust in me at a young age.” She added: “The cans are a fossilized echo of the distance and disgust covering the original repetitious sound she made at 4 p.m. every day.” That last sentence is somewhat circuitous, like the idea of the unheimlich itself (which, Freud points out, is strangely similar to one of the definitions of heimlich), raising the possibility of the uncanny in her altered readymades as well. Certainly the experience of seeing an object that has been remade or reframed and knowing that it is both the original and also a surrogate for itself can elicit a feeling akin to uncanniness, which is often described as the darker counterpart to déjà vu. Kelley has much to say about object doubling in his essay, from the categorically confusing doublings of Duchamp’s readymades to the repetition compulsion inherent in collecting art or any other objects. He noted that accumulations of fetish objects have been called “harems” and included several of his own (comics, fossils, record albums) in the Sonsbeek show. Upson put a kind of harem of her own on display in the New Museum: her collection of Complete Idiot’s Guide books, with The Complete Idiot’s Guide to Gambling Like a Pro and other improbable how-to titles appearing near a harem of mother dolls, not far from a harem of Pepsi cans. “It cannot be denied that collecting is based on lack,” Kelley wrote, “and that this sense of lack is not satisfied by
one replacement only. In fact it is not quenched by any number of replacements.” Or, looked at another way, an ocean of Pepsi cans may never be enough to drown out the detested sound of your mother drinking from one. IV. In Search of the Perfect Double, 2015–ongoing Freud didn’t invent the idea that the mind is like a house, with a main floor scrubbed and arranged for visitors and a basement full of urges that we struggle to keep out of sight and under control, but he did popularize it. In describing the structure of the mind, he often depicted conscious thinking as lying atop the unconscious, ego on top of id.
Overtakelessness, 2012, graphite on paper, 62 × 56".
In his essay “Mike Kelley: Sublevel” for the catalogue of Kelley’s 2012 retrospective, George Baker explores the creepy, basement-like forms in Kelley’s work, and their functions. Most notably, Kelley used substructures to explore the mechanism of repression. The best example might be Educational Complex (1995), for which Kelley created table-top-size architectural models of his childhood home, plus all the schools he attended since he was a child. CalArts received special treatment, with a model of its basement screwed to the underside of the table. Glossing this work, Kelley spoke slyly about using “repressed” memories to fill blank areas in the models, representing spaces he couldn’t remember. He also spoke about the McMartin Preschool witch hunt of the 1980s, in which a form of mass hysteria swept the parents and prosecutors who accused teachers, employees and the owner of a school in Manhattan Beach, California, of conducting satanic abuse rituals that toddlers corroborated in “recovered” memories. Some of their memories involved underground-tunnel torture chambers, which were never found to exist. With his sublevel architecture and invocation of the notorious McMartin trial, Kelley suggests that memories dug up from the subconscious are rarely reliable— or reliable only as products of orphaned desires and wish fulfillment. Upson also frequently uses architecture as a metaphor for memory, representing the irrevocable or irretrievable past. In 2014, following treatment for breast cancer, the artist reconnected with a close friend named Kristine, whom she had met in her early twenties when she was waiting tables. Upson became obsessed with the idea of locating a “perfect double” of Kristine’s family house, a 1979 tract home with a double-sided stone fireplace, a product of the capital
“In the end, I just threw [the Larry doll] in the hole. I couldn’t deal with anyone wanting the object and deciding it was archival material worth saving.” of speculative housing development, Las Vegas. Knowing that the floor plan for this home was replicated, with variations and permutations, in countless other homes nearby, Upson set out to find and buy its exact duplicate—a seemingly impossible quest to recover something unadulterated from or of childhood. (Kelley’s Mobile Homestead, a walk-in replica of the artist’s childhood home that is now a public artwork in Detroit, began with Kelley’s poignant quest to buy his actual childhood home, which the thenowner declined to sell to him.) Despite visiting dozens of houses (filmed for the video In Search of the Perfect Double, 2016–17, in which Upson doubles as her mother again, rubbing up
against the walls and fixtures of houses as if to imprint them on her memory), she never found the perfect duplicate. Instead, the more she filmed inside Kristine’s childhood home—“pathologically recording the house,” as she said—the more drawn she was to a dollhouse there, made by Kristine’s mother, which reminded Upson of a rustic dollhouse made by her own mother for Upson’s daughter. She started experimenting with a 3-D scanner and milling machinery to record and blow up the interior surfaces of both dollhouses, building life-size wooden versions of the structures for use in video performance and as an installation. Initially titled home/home´, the project was still in progress at the time of this
Teeth on Pepsi Plinth (square), 2017; crystal selenite-resin composite, aluminum.
writing. But it’s already clear that the dollhouse carries a loaded psychological charge for Upson: real but fictional, small but large, transmitting both maternal history and fantasy, with rough spots she calls “ill-defined” from the loss of magnified information, not unlike the way Educational Complex blended institutional history and fiction with its own stubborn blanks. What’s more, Upson is giving her new home a basement, even though the original dollhouses don’t have them. She plans to raise the large replicas, now fragmented and combined, by several feet, and plant sculptures of related domestic objects underneath—a rocking chair and table here, an extra-large baby tooth there. You can catch glimpses into the dollhouse structure by looking up through
Upson at her studio in Los Angeles, December 2018.
Stills from In Search of the Perfect Double, 2016–17; video with sound; 36 minutes, 18 seconds.
cracks in the floorboard. Earlier, her Playboy Mansion– inspired grotto also toyed with restricted access and thwarted visibility; videos were embedded and even hidden in the structure. For The Larry Project, she created yet another subterranean work, a staircase-shaped hole dug on the grounds of Larry’s old house (by then completely razed by a second fire) in order to cast it in latex as a sculpture. The negative staircase form was not easy to carve into the soil. Days of heavy rains washed away her work, and when the new property owner learned of the project, he gave her two weeks to wrap it up and fill in the hole. The cast was rushed and far from perfect. “We pulled it, it tore, we truck-bedded it, and it sat in my studio like a dead body,” she told me. What few knew was that Upson had another dead, or at least lifeless, body on her hands while she was digging the stairs: the original Larry doll, still in her possession, a Frankenstein’s monster she was finally ready to rid herself of. By this point, she had cast the doll in charcoal and used it to draw on the walls of Maccarone gallery in New York, abrading and degrading Larry’s body. But she envisioned one last act of violence, a final transformation, if you will. “The doll had already mutated from play object to transitional object to a prop for videos to an art object to being this cast sculpture in charcoal and then to becoming a drawing,” Upson says. “In the end, I just threw him in the hole. I couldn’t deal with anyone wanting the object and deciding it was archival material worth saving.” And so it goes: Upson brought Larry to life and, with a forceful shove into a staircase-shaped hole, returned him to the realm of the sublevel—the home, at least temporarily, of the rejected, the repressed and the buried.
Patient Hungarian Stovetop Deer Stew
Rita Ackermann and Harmony Korine, Sekret Klubs; acrylic medium, sand, spray paint, oil, oil stick, popcorn, latex on vinyl; 2010. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Rita Ackermann was born and raised in Budapest and has lived and worked in New York since the early 1990s. Her most recent major public exhibition, “Rita Ackermann: Movements as Monuments,” was on view from June 22 to September 9, 2018, at La Triennale di Milano, curated by Gianni Jetzer.
2 pounds venison meat 2 deciliters (around 1 cup) furmint (Hungarian dry white wine) or sauvignon blanc Fresh thyme Fresh rosemary 2 tablespoons whole black pepper 2 bay leaves 1 tablespoon of salt 2 or 3 garlic cloves 1 cup of white or red onion, chopped 3 large carrots, cut into small pieces 2 large parsnips, cut into small pieces
Fill 3/4 of a saucepan with water and add the white wine. Add the fresh herbs, salt, garlic, black pepper and onions. Place meat into the saucepan and cover. Let the venison marinate for three days in the fridge or the “winter kitchen” in order to soften, turning the meat occasionally.
Take the meat out of the marinade, rub fresh rosemary and a little salt into both sides and let sit. Boil the marinade, then wait until it cools completely. Once the marinade is cool, place the meat back into the saucepan and simmer on the lowest of low heat for at least 1 hour. Keep a tight lid on the pan while cooking, occasionally checking to see if the soupy liquid is simmering. If yes, turn the meat over and cover the pan. After an hour of slow cooking, add the chopped vegetables and cover. Continue cooking for at least 2 hours without changing the steady, low heat. The key is to wait until the juices of the meat and the vegetables become one, which is possible only by the most patient slow cooking. The result will be delicious! Serve with fresh horseradish and celery puree.
ZHANG ENLI The Chinese painter’s work often magnifies everyday objects and places until a fragment of a scene dominates the picture plane, as if enlarged through the viewfinder of a camera.
Ideal day in the city I’d take a London-style walk, starting from my studio in Colonia Condesa to my favorite park, Parque México, which has some original Art Deco features. From there, I’d head to Colonia Roma, where there is great architecture, and then get lost in Colonia Doctores, which has an amazing energy and where all the streets are named after important scientists. I would then head to Zócalo, the main public square in Mexico City and visit the Cathedral de Mexico, where I used to spend hours as a child. My mother was an archaeologist who worked on the excavation of this site, where they discovered the first cathedral built by the Spanish.
Ideal day in the city On a fine, clear day, I have a snack and a cup of coffee and then go to my studio, work until about 2 or 3 in the afternoon, drive to the used-car market or even farther, to the suburbs, to have a farmhouse dinner. If friends are visiting, we might go to a Michelin-starred Cantonese restaurant or to Shintori, which has been serving unique Japanese cuisine for many years, or to Qianmen Quanjude Roast Duck Restaurant, which is renowned for—what else?—its Peking duck and its traditional feel.
Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors For me, the Museo Diego Rivera Anahuacalli is where postmodernism started. As its name suggests, the museum was conceived by Mexican artist Diego Rivera. His enthusiasm and interest in Mexican culture was such that he collected more than 50,000 pre-Hispanic pieces during his lifetime. The building to house this collection, made of black volcanic stone and influenced by Teotihuacan culture,
was completed after his death by architects Juan O’Gorman and Heriberto Pagelson, as well as Rivera’s daughter, Ruth. Favorite under-theradar attraction I take the Metro without a fixed destination. Just the feeling of being underground and then surfacing somewhere in one of the biggest cities in the world is an experience. Attraction to avoid The traffic jams. Unfortunately, this is something you won’t be able to escape. I try to walk as much as possible; the city is much more interesting when you walk through it. Favorite local work of art I love to visit the murals of David Alfaro Siqueiros, José Clemente Orozco and Diego Rivera at the Antiguo Colegio de San Ildefonso, in downtown. The school was
central to the Mexican muralist movement in the 1920s. It’s a great source of inspiration for me in the sense of how architecture and ideology can blend into art. The scale of the murals is impressive and dramatic. Favorite local non-art museum The UNAM Botanical Garden, which was founded in 1959. It’s a place I like to go to hide from the intensity of the city. Favorite escape from the city When I was in high school, I used to enjoy visiting the former Jesuit school located in the town of Tepotzotlán, just north of Mexico City. The Churrigueresque-style complex was built in the late 16th century, and now houses the Museo Nacional del Virreinato. It is well worth the two-hour drive there, especially if you love Baroque architecture.
This page: Courtesy Alamy Stock Photo. Photo: Roberto Michel. Opposite: Courtesy Alamy Stock Photo. Photo: Michael Kemp.
STEFAN BRÜGGEMANN Born in Mexico City and working between Mexico and London, the artist often employs text in conceptual installations rich with acerbic social critique and a post-Pop aesthetic.
Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors Shanghai’s largest Buddhist temple, Longhua Temple, which dates to 242 AD and preserves beautiful Song Dynasty architectural traditions.
Attraction to avoid Crowded places like the commercial district around East Nanjing Road and the Bund waterfront area during holidays. Favorite local work of art I used to go to the Shanghai Museum to see the varieties of ancient Chinese art— calligraphy and paintings, bronzes and lacquer ware. I love so much of what’s here it’s almost impossible to name favorites. Favorite local non-art museum The Shanghai Brush-pen & Ink Museum on Fuzhou Road, which displays traditional Chinese stationery, brushes and ink sticks. Fuzhou Road is suitable for walking and there are many good bookstores along the way.
Favorite escape from the city A favorite getaway is a day in the suburban districts of Shanghai— either Qingpu, Songjiang or Nanxiang, whose histories stretch back well more than a thousand years, with many ancient buildings, pagoda towers and stone bridges.
REBECCA MORRIS The L.A.-based painter’s work explores many of the mechanisms of abstraction—stroke, gesture, grid, map, patterning—along with suggestions of textile and ceramics.
Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors The immense 15th-century altarpiece by Veit Stoss at the Mariacki Basilica. It’s a peculiar gold-and-blue Gothic spectacle. Favorite under-theradar attraction There is a mound called Kopiec Kraka, tall enough that one can take in a panorama of the city from its peak. It used to be a pagan ceremonial hill. Some people come here to celebrate the longest day of the year or the Day of the Dead. Attraction to avoid The Market Square, which has become a packed, touristic sham. But to see the altarpiece, you have to pass through there.
Favorite local work of art Nowa Huta, a district built from scratch after World War II as a model proletarian city, is an art piece unto itself. It was originally a settlement for steel-plant workers, bringing people from all over the country. It’s a socialist-realist experiment in urban planning that you can experience just by walking through its streets. Favorite local non-art museum The Polish Aviation Museum, at the site of an old airfield, has a collection of early aircrafts inside and a number of out-of-commission military jets outside. Favorite escape from the city The protected forest Las Wolski, just west of the city. It’s easy to get lost there and brings to mind a Polish version of Thoreau’s Walden.
This page: Photo: Anna Spysz. Opposite: Courtesy Pasadena City College. Photo: Richshell Allen.
WILHELM SASNAL The Polish painter, photographer, illustrator and filmmaker blends photorealistic figuration with surreal overtones to depict a wide range of subject matter, including the social and political history of Polish culture. Ideal day in the city I start at Karma, a vegetarian place that serves the best coffee in the city, from its own roastery. Then I take a 10-minute walk to Blonia (Commons), a huge meadow in the city center. I sit under the vast sky, reading or drawing; that’s what I miss while traveling, when there’s too much to do. But not today, when everything is accessible by foot and there’s no need to visit a museum. If I get hungry, bagel stalls are around. But if it’s already time for lunch, I go to Momo in Kazimierz, formerly the Jewish district. It’s an old-school vegan diner, unique because of its unpredictable clients: academics, weirdos and beggars. There are several bookshops around. I choose Lokator, and sadly watch the list of the books I’d like to read grow even longer. At least I can get a coffee and skim some of them. I have to be on the other side of the river before 8 p.m. to get to Si Gela for a carrot ice cream. Sitting on the bank of the river, I consider my plans for the evening. The party period of my life is over, but it’s nice to go out sometimes. Kazimierz is full of bars and late-night booths with street food.
Ideal day in the city The day would be spent in my studio in Lincoln Heights. I need daylight to work, so I’d get there early. For lunch, I’d go to Dino’s, across the street, which is best known for its chicken and burgers. City workers, the police and nearby USC Medical Center employees, as well as people from the neighborhood, all frequent the place. I’d get the BLT with avocado, no mayo. In the evening, I’d attend the Monday evening concert series at Zipper Hall, which focuses on contemporary music; recent seasons have included works by Julius Eastman, Meredith Monk and Steve Reich. Afterwards, I’d want to extend my euphoric concert energy with conversation over dinner. Given the late hour, dinner at the Pacific Dining Car (a classy, oldschool, white-table-cloth, whiterose-in-a-silver-vase, 24-hour steak restaurant) would be the perfect ending to the day. Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors I love taking people to El Matador State Beach. It fully communicates the aching beauty of California. Being there at “golden hour” is sublime.
Favorite under-theradar attraction The Pasadena City College flea market takes place on the first Sunday of every month, and it’s free. The range of items and vendors is vast and inspiring.
Favorite local non-art museum The Gem and Mineral Hall at the Natural History Museum is totally bonkers. The specimens themselves are breathtaking, and I love the displays and the exhibition designs.
Attraction to avoid The 405.
Favorite escape from the city The central coast: Pismo Beach, San Luis Obispo, Morro Bay. I love this part of California: the rolling green hills, the beaches and the relaxed attitude. It’s heaven. I got married in Cayucos and have many warm feelings about this area.
Favorite local work of art I don’t like picking favorites, but I will say that I am a big fan of the iconic 1984 Olympic Freeway Murals. The artist Jim Morphesis, one of the subjects, was a fellow teaching colleague for many years, and his portrait faces a matching tribute to L.A. artist Lita Albuquerque. I love that these works were designed to welcome people to L.A. for the games.
Ideal day in the valley If it’s summer, I wake up at 5:30 and ride my mountain bike up Teton Pass and out to Black Canyon for what feels like an eternal downhill ride through creeks and over roots and past an occasional moose until I arrive home. By then the kids are up and ready to roll, and I take them to Crazy Tom’s Adventure Camp, where they learn outdoor skills of all sorts. Laura, my partner, is in the studio making ceramics, and Andy Kincaid and I are making something in the studio. We go to Persephone and eat the best chicken sandwich in the world, washed down with an incredible cup of coffee, or we go to Pearl Street Market for a schnitzel sandwich. At night, Laura and I make dinner, and friends come over to share a meal and a fire. If we’re in the mood for civilization, we go to Glorietta, which has an amazing bar. Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors Every year Camille Obering, Andy and I organize an event called the Full Moon Ski, which invites a group to an evening of cross-country skiing in Grand Teton National Park under a full moon, eating and drinking too much, talking about art and politics, or more skiing. We call our collective Peradam Capital, after
the stones in René Daumal’s Mount Analogue, which are highly valuable but invisible to those who do not seek them. Yellowstone and Old Faithful might seem like clichés, but the park is a place of such remarkable beauty that it’s still a joy to show it to someone who has never seen it. I like to watch people’s faces when they experience this place; it is a validation of my love for it. Favorite under-the-radar attraction Jump Rock at Phelps Lake is an exhilarating leap, and the lake is so beautiful. Attraction to avoid The Town Square Shootout. Google it. One of many expressions of American culture that keep us from achieving what we can be. Favorite local work of art There is a sculpture along Route 22, a carving that looks remotely like the silhouette of a cowboy
or soldier burnt to a crisp. I like thinking that it is a cowboy facing Teton Pass, which has the silhouette of a woman standing at the top. I enjoy the absurdist narrative that these images have created in my mind. Favorite local non-art museum The Teton Raptor Center. Go meet Gus the Golden Eagle. They say he’s fast. Favorite escape It’s in the mountains, so every nook and cranny is an escape, but as one moves physically out into the great expanse, there’s also an inward and internal space created by being in such a place. I think of my experience in the mountains as being enveloped by earth. Because of the topography, one can move relatively short distances linearly and have the sense of traveling quite far, though without ever really leaving.
Oppostie: Oudolf Field. Photo: Jason Ingram. Mark Dumbleton at Durslade Farm. Photo: Rosie McAllister.
MATTHEW DAY JACKSON Jackson, an innovative multidisciplinary artist who works in sculpture, video, performance, photography and collage, often explores esoteric histories in culture and art.
“What makes seeds special?” asks Mark Dumbleton, head gardener at Durslade Farm in Somerset, England. “They grow up to form the world we live in, the air we breathe, the food we eat and all the medicine we could possibly need. Plants are the perfect blueprint for life.” A grandson of nursery owners and son of orchid specialists, Dumbleton lives and breathes horticulture. Since 2014, he has worked at the farm to cultivate the vision of renowned Dutch landscape designer Piet Oudolf, who designed the naturalistic yet dynamic Oudolf Field that surrounds Hauser & Wirth’s Somerset gallery. “The garden subtly evolves,” says Dumbleton of maintaining the field’s essence. “I may adjust the location of certain plants or leave self-seeded plants to grow, prune plants to obtain a certain height or flowering time, suggest new plants to complement existing ones, but my job is to stay true to Piet’s original design.” Building on Oudolf’s approach to gardening—which prizes plants for their vibrancy, compatibility, and endurance— Dumbleton has developed a new seed collection to be sold at the Somerset gallery this spring. The box set includes a selection of perennial flowers planted in Oudolf Field, as well as vegetables grown in the gallery restaurant’s kitchen garden. He chose the assortment—Mexican Feather Grass, Button Snakeroot, Hungarian Echinops, Chinese Meadow Rue, Cosse Violet Climbing French Beans, Spanish Black Carrots, Chocolate Habanero Chili Peppers, and several others—with the casual but enlightened home gardener in mind. “Plants that are easier to grow have little negative environmental impact, needing no fungicides, pesticides or fertilizers,” he explains. “I would much rather a person sit in the garden relaxing as opposed to working. It might be asking a bit much of a packet of seeds, but hopefully, the contents will remind them how amazing nature is and encourage them to look after it.” —Anna Shinbane
Seeds of Somerset: Gleaning from Oudolf Field
“The greatest thing,” the poet Rene Ricard (1946– 2014) wrote, “is to come up with something so good it seems as if it’s always been there, like a proverb.” Ricard made this observation in 1981, in the renowned Artforum essay “The Radiant Child,” about graffiti and Keith Haring and Jean-Michel Basquiat, whose career the piece helped launch. Ricard was referring specifically to Haring’s radiant-baby figure, which had achieved the ubiquitous solidity of a corporate logo. But he was undoubtedly also taking the measure of his own work, that of a Wildean autodidact who professed to hate poets and published only sporadically during his lifetime but who devoted his entire life 128
to the perfection of a kind of auratic verse that seemed not to have been written but delivered from Mount Sinai in the back of a stretch limousine (along with a briefcase full of cocaine and four of the five Rolling Stones). Because of the lawless nature of Ricard’s life, his oeuvre trails a cloud of myth even now, five years after his death. Raymond Foye, his literary executor, friend and neighbor at the Chelsea Hotel, begged him to put his return address in the notebooks he carried. In one, Ricard wrote simply: “If lost, please find.” The poem above, at the fulcrum of public and private grief, is published here for the first time.
The second issue of Ursula features a cover conversation between Luchita Hurtado and Andrea Bowers that delves into contemporary politics, f...