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PHOTO: EVAN SUNG
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Features Impeccable service and inspiring creative flair, the art deco jewel of Mayfair is the epitome of grand English style.
The Cover Gallery pioneer, filmmaker and activist Linda Goode Bryant in conversation with the artist Senga Nengudi. p. 34
In Conversation Angry Birds: Ida Applebroog talks with Randy Kennedy about art, power, feminism and feathered things. p. 66
Profile Down to Earth: On the work of architect Thomas Phifer and the dance of architecture and art, by Thomas de Monchaux. p. 92
Portfolio Amy Sherald: Three recent paintings, with details. p. 102
Feature Essay This Is Not a Photograph: Luc Sante, son of Belgium, explores the neglected byways of Belgian surrealism and its engagement with the camera. p. 50
Portfolio A Wild Energy: From Paris, the 1960s silkscreen prints of Takesada Matsutani. p. 82
View Roni Horn: Seasons. A look at new work, on the land. p. 110
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Editor’s Note p. 14
Letters Ursula’s reimagining of a magazine letters page, drawn from the post office of history. In this issue: From Siegburg Prison, Germany, 1943. p. 16
Antiphony Mother Church Number Ten: Homage to Whitten. A new poem by Robin Coste Lewis in response to the sculpture of Jack Whitten (1939–2018). p. 22
Unknown Pleasures On the tempestuous correspondence between the collector Baroness Marion Lambert and the writer Dominick Dunne. A darkly comic personal history of obsession, by Alissa Bennett. p. 24 Anxiety of Influence A recurring look at thinkers who have influenced artists. In this issue: A rediscovery of Norman O. Brown, the classicist whose radical writings spoke to a generation. p. 18
Epitaph Curator Patterson Sims remembers the sculptor Betty Woodman (1930–2018). p. 28
Books New, upcoming (and even a few older) publications that make us happy. p. 31
Recipe Pipilotti Rist on Japanese pickles and the perils of presumption. p. 118
Five Cities Our personal picks in the places where we live and work. p. 120 Non Finito The mind and hand of Jack Whitten. A last look into his private studio logs. p. 128
OPENING DECEMBER 2018 WWW.THEFIFEARMS.COM — MAIL@THEFIFEARMS.COM
MAR ROAD, BRAEMAR, ABERDEENSHIRE, AB35 5YN, SCOTLAND
Editor in Chief Randy Kennedy Managing Editor Catherine Davis Editorial Coordinator Madeleine Taurins Art Direction Common Name Contributing Editors Andrea Schwan Michaela Unterdörfer Contributing Designer Anna M. Tzeng Production Nadine Engler Christine Stricker 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
LO R N A S IM P S O N
LU C S A N T E
A M Y S H ER A L D
Simpson came to prominence in the 1980s with her pioneering approach to conceptual photography. Her early work—particularly her juxtapositions of text and staged images—raised questions about the nature of representation, identity, gender, race and history. She earned a BFA in photography from the School of Visual Arts in New York and an MFA from the University of California, San Diego. Her work is held in numerous public collections, including the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Modern Art and the Walker Art Center. She was born in Brooklyn, where she lives and works. (Photo: James Wang)
Sante’s books include Low Life: Lures and Snares of Old New York, The Factory of Facts and The Other Paris. He is a frequent contributor to The New York Review of Books. He was born in Verviers, Belgium, and grew up in suburban New Jersey. He teaches writing and the history of photography at Bard College. He is at work on a translation of Léo Malet’s Life Is a Toilet, as well as a biography of Lou Reed. (Photo: Laura Levine)
Sherald received an MFA in painting from Maryland Institute College of Art and a BA in painting from Clark Atlanta University. She was a Spelman College international artist-in-residence in Portobelo, Panama, and was the first woman to win the Outwin Boochever Portrait Competition grand prize. The same year, she was selected by First Lady Michelle Obama to paint her official portrait. An exhibition of new work will continue through December 31, 2018, at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. (Photo: Justin T. Gellerson)
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Vol. 1, No. 1: 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: Lorna Simpson, Linda, 2018, digital chromogenic print and ink on paper, 18 ¼ × 14 ½". © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Original photo: Dwight Carter, DwightCarter.com. On the back cover: Amy Sherald, detail of She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them, 2018. © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, and Hauser & Wirth.
A L I S S A B EN N E T T
R O B IN C O S T E L E W I S
Bennett, a crime enthusiast, writer and curator, was born in Providence, Rhode Island. She is the author of Dead Is Better, a twice-yearly zine dedicated to obsession, celebrity death, criminal behavior and to the American television program Intervention. She is a frequent collaborator with the artist Bjarne Melgaard. For 2019, she is the recipient of a Rauschenberg Foundation residency. She lives in Brooklyn and is a director at Gladstone Gallery. (Photo: Ryan McGinley)
Lewis is the Los Angeles poet laureate and a winner of the National Book Award for her 2015 book of poems, The Voyage of the Sable Venus. She earned an MFA from New York University’s Creative Writing Program, where she was a Goldwater Fellow in poetry. She also earned a master of theological studies degree in Sanskrit and comparative religious literature from Harvard Divinity School. She was born and raised in Compton, California, and her family is from New Orleans. (Photo: Guo�björg Harpa.)
T H O M A S D E M O N C H AU X De Monchaux teaches design at Columbia University’s Graduate School of Architecture, Planning and Preservation. He was the inaugural recipient of the Winterhouse Award for Design Writing and Criticism. His book Slow House: Fixtures, Features, Masters, Neighbors, and a Year in Pursuit of a Sweeter American Home is forthcoming. His writing has appeared in The New Yorker, The New York Times, Artforum and n+1. (Photo: James Weber)
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1 8 1 P I C C A D I L LY, LO N D O N
F O RT N U M A N D M A S O N . C O M
Editor’s Note In his 1986 essay “Art as Design/Design as Art,” the artist Dan Graham drolly—and admiringly—compares magazines to the mysterious pods in Don Siegel’s science-fiction thriller Invasion of the Body Snatchers, a special category of objects “subliminally planted in the home,” propagating ideas as if through their sheer physical presence, through the worldview their glossy covers seek to instantiate, radiating an energy that neither books nor newspapers possess in quite the same way. I’ve always loved this analogy and, carrying it to its logical conclusion, I’ve always rooted for the aliens. Magazines have been irreplaceable sources of pleasure and intellectual sustenance in my life, and the birth of a new one—devoted to almost anything, as long as the devotion is unwavering—has been a cause for celebration. Especially now, as print traditions give way to shifting digital futures and attention spans fracture, the pages of a well-made magazine feel like a refuge in the thrum of words and images, a place to think lingeringly and look long. It is in this spirit that Hauser & Wirth introduces the new quarterly you hold in your hands, Ursula, named after the gallery’s matriarch, Ursula Hauser, one of Europe’s most revered collectors and a longtime champion of challenging, under-recognized artists, many of them women. In this inaugural issue, we’ve set out with no overarching theme, in part because so many strong, manifold ideas crowded forward when the doors to a new publication opened. But if a presiding idea were to be articulated—for this issue and the ones to follow—it would be that of the film critic and artist Manny Farber, in his acclaimed 1962 essay “White Elephant Art vs. Termite Art,” the subject around which an entire exhibition is now devoted at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles. Farber believed in the value of work that, by not taking its own significance too seriously, operated more like life itself and found consequence obliquely. He was for an “eager, industrious, unkempt activity,” a “squandering-beaverish endeavor,” an artist with no goal “other than eating away the immediate boundaries of his art, and turning these boundaries into conditions of the next achievement.” His manifesto was, in one sense, a reaction to the suffocating dominance of the art-historical determinism that excluded so much meaningful expression in those years simply because it didn’t fit the paradigm of what was supposed to be important. But Farber’s preference for the lowly termite over the mighty elephant had more to do with exalting the spirit of insurgency, infiltration, guile and nerve that he found in the art he loved best. It’s an ethos embodied in the work of so many of the artists, writers and subjects in this issue—Ida Applebroog’s politically barbed, menacingly unresolved mise-en-scènes; the late Jack Whitten’s deeply personal sculpture; Luc Sante’s looping descents into the past; Linda Goode Bryant’s persistent underground incursions against the racial boundaries of the art world itself. I’d like to express deep gratitude to Iwan and Manuela Wirth and Marc Payot for believing in the virtues of the printed word and for entrusting me with this incarnation of it. I’d like to thank Andrea Schwan, knower of many things, for introducing me to the world of Linda Goode Bryant, whose pioneering accomplishments are the subject of our first cover. I’d also like to thank Brett Fletcher Lauer and the Poetry Society of America for their introduction to the poet Robin Coste Lewis, who has written a powerful new work for this issue. Finally, I’d like express the sincere hope that you get as much pleasure from reading this new magazine as we have had in the making of it. —Randy Kennedy
Randy Kennedy photo: Marcelo Brukman.
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In 1927, between the two world wars that shaped his life, the great German photographer August Sander (1876– 1964) wrote: “Allow me to be honest and tell the truth about our age and its people.” And in his masterwork, People of the 20th Century, he devoted his life to that desire, creating a vast collective portrait of the German people through individual pictures—of bakers and bricklayers, urbanites and villagers, rich and poor, old and young—whose profound particularity defied Hitler’s noxious vision of herrenvolk, a superior Aryan oversoul. The most bitter truths of Sander’s age reached deeply into his own life: not only was he persecuted by the Third Reich because of his work, but German officials arrested and jailed his eldest son, Erich, a fellow photographer and student member of the Socialist Workers Party, for antiNazi activities. Between 1935 and 1944, before Erich suffered a burst appendix and died in custody due to poor medical care, he wrote dozens of letters to August and to his mother, Anna, much of the correspondence smuggled from Siegburg prison near Cologne, where he was held with other non-Jewish political prisoners. The letter opposite, dated June 19, 1943, was—like many—cloaked
by clandestine means that perhaps only two photographers could have devised so marvelously: Erich wrote with ink that disappeared seconds after writing, made from potassium ferrocyanide, a reducer used to develop prints. August was able to render the words legible again by brushing them with a solution of ferric chloride from his darkroom— producing, in essence, a photograph of his son’s words. The 1943 letter, held in the August Sander Archive at the SK Stiftung Kultur in Cologne and published here widely for the first time, conveys both Erich’s tenuous, tragic hope that he will survive his imprisonment, and also his general ignorance of the horrors of the Holocaust being perpetrated outside his prison walls. He died shortly before he was to be released. Erich Sander’s photographs from prison are featured in August Sander: Persecuted/Persecutors, People of the 20th Century, a new book published by Steidl, the Shoah Memorial and the August Sander Foundation to coincide with a major 2018 exhibition at the Shoah Memorial in Paris devoted to August Sander’s work during the Third Reich.
Erich Sander, letter to his parents, June 19, 1943, ink on paper, recto. © Die Photographische. Sammlung/ SK Stiftung Kultur. August Sander Archive, Cologne, 2018. Opposite: Translation by Elizabeth J. Berman.
“My current situation, like that of other political prisoners, lies with the mercy…of the Führer’s chancellery. If, contrary to expectations, I should suddenly be sent away from here, you will immediately receive a message from one of my friends. Then you should reckon that I am in the ‘concentration camp’ Buchenwald, near Weimar. Like I said, it is no longer so terrible there, and if I can get into the Zeiss-Werke [the Carl Zeiss optical instruments factory, where some prisoners were sent to work], I will have some prospects. Besides, I am fairly sure I’ll be spared.…If only all the misery would come to an end soon.”
Let’s Get Lost
an X iet Y of in flu enCe
Rediscovering a radical scholar as art shaman
When a classicist—even a revered one— decides to decamp from one university to another, it isn’t usually momentous news. This was true even back when ancient letters still carried more prestige in academia. But in 1968, when a professor named Norman O. Brown headed from the University of Rochester to the newly established University of California, Santa Cruz, his arrival there was greeted with the kind of commotion more often associated with revolutionaries. “He was incredibly controversial,” recalled Rita Bottoms, a university librarian, in an oral history of those years. “The classics department didn’t want him. Historians didn’t want him. They created a chair of humanities for him. It was really a major thing.” Brown’s reputation rested on two books that sounded as quietly donnish as he himself was: Life Against Death, a reappraisal of Freud, published in 1959; and seven years later Love’s Body, a heavily footnoted critique of contemporary culture that wove myth, religion, poetry and psychoanalysis together in collagelike effect. But both books dropped like bombs on American minds just then opening to visions of counterculture. Taken together, Brown’s writings advocated nothing less than an erotic revolution in political thought, a return to what he saw as a more primitive and deeply human form of consciousness rooted in Freud’s concept of polymorphous perversity, the state of libidinal openness that prevails in childhood before repression tidies things up. The work was mostly ignored by mainstream historians and Freudians, but adventurous intellectuals like Susan Sontag and Marshall McLuhan proclaimed it. Norman Podhoretz, before his neoconservative turn, called Brown, admiringly, a “Norman invasion.” Thomas Pynchon undergirded his masterpiece Gravity’s Rainbow with Brownian thought. And Time magazine listed Life Against Death as required reading for undergraduates who wanted “to be with it.” Little more than 50 years hence, it would be hard to overstate the degree to which that kind of renown has been forgotten. While many of his fellow trailblazers on the sex/ psychology/delirium continuum—Herbert Marcuse (Eros and Civilization), Wilhelm Reich, R.D. Laing, Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari—still factor prominently in
by Randy Kennedy
contemporary debate, Brown’s name tends to draw a blank even in well-read circles, and if he’s remembered at all, it’s often as a relic of his era, a tweedier Timothy Leary, one who didn’t partake in the revolution he espoused. But Brown’s influence continues to percolate through one unlikely field, in ways probably even he could not have foreseen: contemporary art, especially firstgeneration conceptual and performance art and their unruly progeny. This is the first of a series of columns in Ursula that will trace the circuitous and often obscure paths by which non-art thinkers—philosophers, poets, songwriters, scientists, folklorists, visionaries, outlaws—have shaped postwar art. And I can’t think of a better opening act than Brown, not only because many of the artists and art-world figures he inspired— John Cage, Allan Kaprow, Paul McCarthy, Carolee Schneemann, Richard Bellamy, Billy Klüver—have been among the most original and fearless of their generation, but also because Brown’s riotous political vision seems newly relevant during a period in which rational institutional change feels increasingly futile. Marcuse, who admired Brown, criticized Love’s Body at the time of its publication, 1966—a year in which the U.S. began bombing Hanoi and Huey Newton and Bobby Seale founded the Black Panther party—as a work of literature purporting to be a political manifesto. “The roots of repression are and remain real roots,” Marcuse wrote. “Consequently, their eradication remains a real and rational job.” Brown, he added, was carrying the “burden of radical thought to the farthest point: the point where sanity must appear as madness.” But other philosophers saw some value in that. Sir Stuart Hampshire, writing several years later about Closing Time—Brown’s last major book, a powerful virtual conversation constructed between Brown’s hero James Joyce and one of Joyce’s heroes, Giambattista Vico, who posited that history was wholly man-made and cyclical—wrote that Brown pointed to “a way of salvation by changing minds after revolutionary changes of institutions have turned out to be either no change at all or a change toward tyranny rather than a liberation.” Brown came to radicality as a late bloomer, after fairly straightforward productions devoted to Hermes and Hesiod’s Theogony. His own biography had mythic overtones—born high on a mountainside in El Oro, Mexico, where his English father worked in gold mining; educated at Oxford under the tutelage of
the eminent humanist philosopher Isaiah Berlin. After his deep dive into Freud—as well as Blake and Nietzsche—he wrote that “the power of sleep was taken from me,” and he became a different scholar, following a trail through myth and history to find an urgent need for a Dionysian reawakening in language, culture and humankind’s relation to the body, which modern society was putting to sleep. His writing was not particularly effusive about visual art itself; in a short chapter about Freud’s view of art in Life Against Death, he comes to the fairly unspectacular observation that “art seduces us into the struggle against repression.” But his general battle cry against literalness and the tyranny of reason, for the power of delirium and carnal knowledge (in Love’s Body, he says all true knowledge is carnal, bodily, “when thought and speech become re-sexualized—as in schizophrenia”) appealed immensely to artists who were also trying to blow open doors of perception, like Cage, who became a lifelong friend and correspondent. I got my first inkling of Brown’s importance for artists sometime in 2012, in the passenger seat of a Subaru hatchback that Paul McCarthy used to shuttle between his studios in Los Angeles, during interviews I was conducting with him for The New York Times Magazine. I’d heard of Brown only enough to know that he had some connection to Freudian psychoanalysis, so I was surprised to hear McCarthy list him as a major influence. I asked how. “Oh, God…” he said, meaning that he had no idea even where to begin. Later he told me: “Life Against Death said a lot to me at the time I read it, in the early 1960s. It really connected notions for me about what the role of the artist was in relation to the psychology of repression. I still have two or three copies of Love’s Body and Life Against Death. They’re all underlined almost all the way through and written all over by me.” In some of McCarthy’s earliest work, performances still disturbing by today’s standards—Sailor’s Meat (Sailor’s Delight) in 1975, in which he enacted sex with a pile of ground, raw hamburger; Class Fool, the following year, a naked ritual with plastic dolls and condiments, inside a shocked college classroom—he followed a no-holdsbarred program of what he later described as plumbing the productive potential of derangement. Like the work of some other contemporaries—Schneemann, Mike Kelley, Vito Acconci—those explorations became powerfully influential for the generation of artists to follow, for whom
John Cage and Norman O. Brown, c. mid-1980s. Photo: Betty Freeman. Courtesy the John Cage Trust.
permission was given and a path lighted for pushing experiential boundaries far past what polite art audiences were generally expected to stomach. “I was looking through the pages of Life Against Death recently, and the word becoming was somewhere,” McCarthy said. “I had underlined it over and over, a big black mark under it. Becoming for me became about forming a language of art. We’re kept in this illusion, or delusion, of language and history. The apocalypse is the breaking out of that captivity. Maybe I’d call it finding a state of delirium. It all gets really trite when you start to use the word subconscious—I mean, What the fuck are you talking about Paul? But it’s where I was going, and I’m still there. Brown was just the first one I discovered who spoke that language.” His language had a shamanistic effect on some of its readers, who made uninvited pilgrimages to his ranch-style house just off a golf course in Pasatiempo, California. The Bay Area conceptual and performance artist Paul Cotton—a kind of cult figure who jettisoned his name and began to call himself Adam II (the late Paul Cotton)—took Brown’s philosophical program perhaps as far as an artist could, making his entire career about an attempt to render Brown’s word flesh, a body of cabbalistic work that continues to this day. While Brown was still teaching at Santa Cruz, Cotton—whose work had been included in the landmark 1969 conceptual
art exhibition “When Attitudes Become Form”—would stage incursions into his classroom. One involved Cotton riding a donkey, dressed as a kind of cosmic sage, trailed by an entourage, a sympathetic performance Brown did not welcome; he promptly exited the room. It may ultimately be this disconnect between Brown’s vision and his person— or between the revolution he espoused and its conceivability—that contribute to the shadow presence he now inhabits in contemporary discourse. The filmmaker David Cronenberg, whose 1975 horror movie Shivers was deeply inspired by Brown, once said: “Even old Norm had some trouble when he tried to figure out how that kind of Dionysian consciousness would function in a society where you had to cross the street and not get hit by a car.” But that conundrum might also be why Brown beat such a strong pulse beneath the art world. The only real trouble, Brown once said—and it was trouble for humankind as a species—was the unwillingness of people even to try holding both imperatives in their imagination, the practical and the possible. “I perceive a necessary gap between seeing and being,” he said. “I would not be able to have said certain things if I had been under the obligation to unify the word and the deed. As it is, I can let my words reach out and net impossible things—things that are impossible for me to do.”
Mother Church Number Ten: Homage to Whitten
Once you were a saddle made of smoothed wood—
by Robin Coste Lewis
a saddle worn by a stallion— crab-stepping over the sand on the bottom of the ocean. Once you were an omen, ochre and dusted with rust. Or you were just gray matter. Sawdust. But still: everything. You were an alarm clock. You were linen. You were twine—once. You were a fragrant black tin of shoe polish my dead father left, tucked way back inside a drawer in our kitchen. Only you can read this.
by Jack Whitten
Jack Whitten, Pregnant Owl, 1983–84; olive wood, black mulberry, ebony, bones, spark plug, mixed media; 15 ½ × 6 × 6". © Jack Whitten Estate. Courtesy the Jack Whitten Estate and Hauser & Wirth.
Pregnant Owl (1983–84)
Black mulberry, marble, glue. Pane of glass. Copper. Wire. Wax. Wild cypress. Brass. I’ve placed all the bones you will ever need inside you. I challenged every zealous god, and nailed each one down—here—for you. Olive tree. A lock of virgin’s hair. Outside I am a bird, but inside I am a boat, a boat in which I ferry our future back and forth between the ancient and modern world. I sleep where Socrates slept: inside a burning tree, spears rushing the door. I am trying to make the wood happy. Every engine in the world depends upon me.
Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion Repetition Compulsion On the unknown correspondence between Dominick Dunne and Baroness Marion Lambert by Alissa Bennett
u nknow n pleasu r es
Robert Gober, Untitled, 1997–98; leather, cast plastic, aluminum, silver-plated forged iron, woven cotton, enamel paint; 16 × 9 × 5 ". Photo: Erma Estwick. Courtesy the artist and Matthew Marks Gallery.
There is nothing unusual about the tendency many of us have to fall into the loop of the repetition compulsion. We revisit the traumas or victories of the past in an attempt to correct or capture; we reopen old injuries with the fantasy that the present holds the capacity to address injustice, to bring back what we’ve lost, to correct our errors, to ameliorate our regrets. There is an undeniable psychic pleasure to be found in the recapitulation of the familiar. We are all tourists of the past, all bound to the people who haunt us. I first wrote about Baroness Marion Lambert in July of 2017. She’d been killed in an absurd accident one year prior when she stepped into the path of a city bus in London, and though it would be inaccurate to claim that we were ever particularly close over the 10 years of
our acquaintanceship, her death saddened me deeply. The two of us met in 2007 at a particularly precarious moment in my life. I’d just begun a new job—my first in the art world—where it quickly became clear to all involved that I was unprepared and ill informed, unqualified to the point of comedy. In the month of March, I’d been a passionless shopgirl halfheartedly shilling designer clothes at a boutique in Manhattan’s Meatpacking District. By April, I was working on the fifth floor of an Upper East Side townhouse where I secretly kept a list of unfamiliar technical terms and artists’ names with the errant belief that, if I could commit them all to memory, I could somehow prove to the strangers who employed me that we were the same. It was the first week in May that I received a text-message breakup note
from my husband of six years, an artist whom my employers had been interested in working with at the time. I knew then that my secondhand allure had vanished for good, that I would never belong with these people, and that I was no different than I’d been two months prior when I’d wept in the boutique’s stockroom and depression-slept in purloined cashmere sweaters that I couldn’t sell and hence couldn’t afford to buy. I was interested in Marion before I even met her, mostly because it was made known to me that she was a necessary but difficult (a word that followed her so closely it remains impossible for me to detach it from my idea of her) art-world fixture, a woman whose presence was to be tolerated even if it was not always enjoyed. I will not recount the details of our initial interactions (it would be an unnecessary loop in this particular repetition), but I will say that she navigated her insider status according to the impulses of her outsider nature. She maintained an obdurate refusal to kowtow, which, in a world where codes of conduct are fiercely policed for the sake of business, often telegraphed itself as social disobedience. The time that she was willing to spend with me made me feel seen in an environment where I often felt insignificant to the point of invisibility, and though she undeniably appreciated the fact that glamour gilds misfits (as was evidenced by the artists she supported), I never suffered from the misconception that her willingness to send me notes about my writing, or sit with me in my office, or complain with me at an opening indicated anything especially significant. When I learned shortly after our first meeting that I was precisely the age that her daughter, Philippine, would have been had she not taken her own life in 1997, I understood immediately why she had shown such easy interest in me when others had not. The jagged pieces of our respective outsiderness seemed to fall into place, mostly because there was comfort in the shared space of our need. While Marion was busy collecting a series of young women who could function as rotating surrogates for her absent daughter, I was busy looking for a person in the art world who could reliably follow through with a performance of liking me. It didn’t matter that it meant I would be cast as one of many understudies for the ghost of the girl she’d lost. In 1997, Marion began to air a series of pointed charges that Philippine had made in her diaries, among them that the
London philanthropist Vincent Meyer had sexually abused her from the ages of 12 to 15. This decision to seek public redress was one that would cast a shadow on Marion’s position within European society, not least because the accused belonged to a family as well known as the Lamberts themselves. In a direct affront to aristocratic conventions dictating that public expressions of grief are stained with unmitigated vulgarity, Marion chose to honor her daughter’s request that justice be pursued against a man she claimed had contaminated her life. “I want him,” Philippine had written shortly before her death, “to pay 40 million Swiss francs and go to jail for the rest of his life.” Taking up the directive literally, Marion spoke freely of the allegations; she named names in newspapers and magazines, at charity balls. Entirely undeterred by the raised eyebrows that her actions elicited, she sought every avenue toward rendering the accused’s name irreparably destroyed, even if his freedom was not. The desire to understand Philippine’s suicide was an obsession for Marion, and the loss of Marion became one, in turn, for me. The tragedy of their interlocking deaths spoke to me in all the familiar ways of my obsessive curiosities, but it held an additional heartache because this tragedy felt personal in ways more literal than the lurid stories I regularly write about. My interest in the deaths of strangers is one that always feels easy to explain; it is simply a mechanism of self-identification that happens to be routed through circuits of loss or disappointment. This is the pleasure of déjà vu, the uncanny thrill of childhood memory instigated by the smell of a particular type of hand soap, the masochistic comfort we find in recounting our greatest mistakes. When I first wrote about Marion, it was in part to reconcile my own failures, to examine my own losses and deficits through the lens of her life. I wanted to use my sadness over her death as a reflecting pool in which to contemplate not only our relationship, but my own regrets that I didn’t know her in a more complete way. My initial research was typically chaotic—I read and re-read old items in British newspapers; I searched family trees and e-mailed strangers; I asked mutual acquaintances if they would share seemingly insignificant details with me so that I might get closer to a shadow of something that I wanted to understand. It was only after the publication of my initial essay on Marion that I stumbled across a newspaper clipping that eventually led me to an box of archived letters in Texas. It is
those letters that have taken me back to a story that long ago reached its conclusion. In 1998, Page Six, the gossip column in the New York Post, ran a photograph of the celebrity crime journalist Dominick Dunne and a four-paragraph Liz Smith item under the headline “No Job UnDunne.” “Real life has again stopped Dominick in his tracks. He is heavily involved in examining the facts behind the suicide of Philippine Lambert, the beautiful heiress (Swiss, Belgian and French banking) who left a diary accusing Vincent Meyer, another big banking name, of having molested her when she was growing up.… This prominent man will soon be up for trial on the charges leveled by this girl’s family, and the Lamberts have become one of the most unpopular bastions in European society.” Surprised by a connection that had been previously unknown to me, I began a series of searches that eventually led me to the website for the University of Texas at Austin. It did not take long to learn that Dunne had bequeathed a lifetime of papers and correspondence to the school’s Dolph Briscoe Center for American History. The search term “Philippine” produced a reference number; I immediately began the process of locating a researcher who could document the contents for me. It was three weeks later that I received a zip file from the woman I’d hired to photograph every scrap of paper that lay inside Box 2009-337/14. It contained 195 images, the complete correspondence between Marion and Dunne from 1998– 2001. I read the letters in a state of disbelief, not quite able to reconcile that Dunne had long before anticipated the fact that there would always be people like himself and like me, who harbor an overwhelming desire to search for meaning or answers in places where we don’t belong, to rifle through the drawers of lovers who are not our own, to press our ears against strangers’ walls and feel satisfaction when we finally hear exactly the secrets we are looking for. Sometimes the only way really to know someone is to examine the things they never meant for anyone to see. The letters between Dunne and Marion are inarguably private—they document a mother’s desperate need to reconcile the loss of her child, and they frame Dunne not only as a man whose hallmark was the investigation of the lurid crimes of the untouchably rich but also as the father of a murdered daughter. It was the connective tissue of this shared loss that undoubtedly attracted Dunne to the story
in the first place, and the letters between them make clear that both are trapped in a vortex of mourning and revenge. In spite of the familiarity each recognized in the other, the letters are a master class in the arc of failed negotiation, a blueprint for how desperate sadness and unyielding single-mindedness can collude to spoil the machinations of seduction. The correspondence began in early 1998 following an introduction by a mutual friend who understood that Marion was interested in speaking with the press regarding Meyer’s upcoming sexual abuse trial in Geneva. (Meyer ultimately never went to trial; Swiss officials ruled that insufficient evidence existed for a prosecution.) Initial faxed missives contain promises to deliver secret investigatory files and psychological assessments; Dunne delves briefly into the details of his own family tragedy and says that his understanding of the Lambert’s grief is “perhaps…why I have always been so touched by your beautiful daughter”; there are translations of Philippine’s poetry, details transcribed from her diaries, unsubstantiated and incendiary gossip about high-society families who harbor their own squalid incest and sexcrime secrets, and a fervent insistence by Marion that the only acceptable outcome of the entire ordeal is to see the accused incarcerated for life. Amid gritty legal details and withering assessments of mutual acquaintances, the letter writers discuss books and lunches and restaurants; Marion expresses tender concern over Dunne’s ongoing battle with cancer; she addresses the possibility that Dunne will encounter gossip about her personal life suggesting a series of affairs that she stridently denies; she offers to introduce him to a notable psychiatrist whom she suggests might be of help in an ongoing family crisis; she passes along inside information on another European society doyenne whose own domestic scandal had recently surfaced in the news, and she expresses again and again her desire for Dunne to take up Philippine’s case in the pages of Vanity Fair. It is immediately apparent to anyone who reads the letters that Marion used every tool in her arsenal to secure a public damnation from America’s foremost expert on the dirty secrets of the filthy rich, but Dunne repeats again and again that if the article is to go forward, it will be his work and not her sense of vengeance that defines it. “As an advocate, and as the father of a murdered daughter, my sympathies in this tragic story are with
The final letters between [Lambert and Dunne] are painful to read, appalling in their cruelty. you and your husband,” he wrote in 1998, “but I am not, nor would I ever be, in your pocket. That is the kind of writer you appear to be looking for, someone to cave in to your dominance and control.” It seems improbable that the two would have maintained contact, but the letters show us otherwise—for months and months, Dunne and Lambert continued to fax letters to one another, letters often punctuated with the subtle cruelties perfected by the very wealthy and those in their orbit. Dunne’s interest in continuing the communication was certainly not limited to either his thirst for scandal or the genealogy of his own trauma. His relationship to wealth and power was a complex one. His years as a Hollywood writer, within various circles of highpowered friends, had brought him, in the end, almost to financial ruin. There is little doubt that he found pleasure in Marion’s pursuit of him and almost no question that her letters, which verged on the obsequious, complimented both his vanity and his resentments. Though neither were crass enough to address the power differential in writing, Marion’s tacit financial promises were consistently met with a particular kind of punishment that Dunne discreetly meted out, word by word. Over the next two years, the tone of Marion’s letters oscillates. She shifts between controlled displays of epistolary charm and frank assessments of what it means to be abandoned by those unable to tolerate the increasingly divisive effect of her efforts to demolish the man she believes responsible for her daughter’s death. “The campaign of slander against us goes on,” she wrote in 2000, “but one sort of gets used to this. It certainly cleared my circle of friends, and I will never have to see a lot of people ever again. For my own satisfaction, I made a list, which is on my computer, and I add to it whenever their opinion is revealed to me in one way or another.” With the last of the legal avenues against Meyer exhausted in 2001 came a disastrous end to the letter writing. In the absence of a trial, there was no story to
be had, and in lieu of an exposé, Dunne instead published a brief item in the Diary section of Vanity Fair that skimmed the surface of the case but offered neither damnation nor exoneration. Marion followed its publication by sending an open letter to the magazine that she requested be printed in response. In this letter, she levels accusations that a friend of the accused sabotaged the opportunity for a full-length article sympathetic to her family. “The duty of the press is to inform and listen to both sides,” she wrote. “In failing to do so and in denying me the right of reply, Vanity Fair transforms itself into a publication for child molesters.” The faxed page is heavily notated in Dunne’s looping scrawl, the words “gossip” and “hearsay” and “actionable” written in giant letters next to bracketed sections. The insult to Dunne was exacerbated when a letter written by Marion was forwarded to the magazine’s editor, Graydon Carter, by a society jeweler who had a very well-placed friend at Condé Nast. In the letter, Marion suggested that it was clear to her that Dunne believed in the accused’s guilt but was too cowardly to see it through in writing; it was a slight that would see their relationship deteriorate irrevocably. The final letters between the two are painful to read, appalling in their cruelty. “Fuck you and your gem-cutter pen pal, you stupid bitch. You deserve each other. I feel betrayed by you, I regret I offered you my friendship. It is now withdrawn. I don’t trust you anymore. I don’t like you. Stay away. I will always say a prayer for your beautiful dead daughter, but I hope to never see you again,” Dunne wrote, adding bitterly: “Evil stalks you.” Marion’s final communiqué to Dunne perhaps best sums up the entire trajectory of their brutally codependent correspondence. On April 2, 2001, she wrote him a conciliatory letter that closes with the following: “There is a huge difference between what I live and what you lived and probably live every day. Your daughter was murdered, and no one in his right mind sided with the scoundrel. In our case, not only do people not wish to believe it happened, but they blame my daughter, us, and think Meyer is a wonderful man.
My rage and quest for truth comes from there, and I hoped you would understand. Even if you do not, I would like to keep my friendship for you intact, and need to talk to you. I will be in NY from the 4th onwards and will call you. Please do not hang up on me. Much love, Marion.” We will never know if she placed the call. We can confirm only that the letters stopped, that whatever social pretense served as the container for their painful friendship was damaged beyond repair when neither of them was heard in the expected way. In the end, Marion gave a lengthy interview to the Telegraph magazine; I searched fruitlessly for a copy for several months and was eventually able to read it by chance when a casual acquaintance encountered the issue at the bottom of a stack of old magazines at a beach house in the Hamptons. It is not the article that Marion had wanted, but it gives the most detailed public account of Philippine’s life and death. I have read it many times and will certainly return to it again. In October of last year, a convoluted series of e-mail exchanges landed in my in-box from a man named Kevin, who claimed to have been Philippine’s secret fiancé in the two years leading up to her death. He had never recovered from the loss, he told me, and was writing for reasons he could neither resist nor explain—he did not need to explain why a person might seek emotional intimacy from an absolute stranger; I understood perfectly. We spoke on the phone at length, and Kevin asked again and again what had happened, what I knew that he didn’t; he made irrational references to scenarios that seemed the province of absolute fantasy to me. In the end, I felt assaulted by his need. His pain was simply too profound for me, and I stopped answering his calls and e-mails. The simple truth is that I didn’t know how to help him. I mention him here mostly because I think his desire to walk back through his life in an attempt to identify what happened is probably the heart of this story; I guess I just couldn’t figure out how to tell him that neither of us will ever know.
Remembering Betty Woodman (1930–2018) by Patterson Sims
Betty Woodman in her studio in New York, 2014. Courtesy Stefano Porcinai and Salon 94, New York.
I first met Betty Woodman in 1980, just as she had begun to push beyond her prodigious gift for making functional pottery, a talent that she discovered at 16 and that flowered during her subsequent study at the School of American Craftsmen in Alfred, New York, where she made her first humble, useful, “official” piece: a custard cup. I had become a curator at the Whitney Museum of American Art, and I thought of her work back then—in the days before the contemporary art world finally woke up to the deeply human importance of pottery and of the medium of clay—as a guilty pleasure. In 1980, Betty and her husband, the writer, painter and, later, photographer George Woodman (1932–2017) bought a loft on West 17th Street in Manhattan. It was, as I learned (somewhat to my amazement, because they weren’t wealthy), their third place. They also had a house in Boulder, Colorado, and a converted former Tuscan farm property in Bagno a Ripoli, outside Florence. A mutual friend, knowing my admiration for Betty’s work, arranged an invitation for tea on 17th Street—the first of visits that grew beyond count. Those times at the loft always included something delicious served on Betty’s handmade pottery or on pieces she loved that were made by others; she maintained an almost moral conviction that living with and using beautiful objects every day improved one’s life. Preparing meals for her family and friends and sharing them on a colorfully adorned table remained a lifelong creative act, a fundamental pleasure for her and those lucky enough to be in her circle. The Woodmans’ tripartite existence was a defining quality of their lives for, as Betty explained, “the physical and emotional part of moving, packing, leaving and arriving, and then stopping, pushed me very hard” and “encouraged constant experimentation and pushing definitions.” After the addition of the New York City loft, their base remained
in Boulder, where they taught at the University of Colorado and raised their son and daughter. As they had since the late 1960s, they continued to spend long academic summers in Italy, at their farmhouse, which was situated a hair-raising drive above the town of Antella. In the distance, the glorious panorama of Florence could be seen, with Brunelleschi’s dome a crowning facet in a 180-degree view, most of which appeared virtually and verdantly unchanged from 15th century paintings of the Tuscan landscape. From the late 1960s on, and even more so after 1998, when they stopped teaching and sold their Colorado house, Betty was as much a European as an American artist. She was especially grounded in the history of Italian painting, sculpture, and decorative arts, but keeping one foot in New York, she told me, was essential for seeing how both she and “clay, in my hands, could be a participant in the art discussions of the day.” She could sense how those discussions were changing as the arc of contemporary art bent ever so slowly in her direction and that of artists like her, many of them women, working in ceramics and other forms long dismissed as craft. “All materials became acceptable for making art,” as she said. “And the use of pattern and decoration and overt pursuit of ‘beauty’ in art were being taken seriously.” In 1981, Betty and George’s daughter, Francesca, committed suicide at the age of 22. Her death profoundly transformed her parents’ lives and intensified their dedication to making art and friends. They seldom spoke of Francesca in the past tense, which was both a powerful way to lessen the pain of her death and to make her vividly present for all of us who spent time with them. Few parents who experience a child’s death have the solace of the kind of feverish creativity that Francesca left behind in her own work, and George and Betty worked diligently to bring
her powerful vision in photographs, short videos and writing to international cultural attention—a difficult job that meant managing Francesca’s fame even as they mourned her and pursued their own busy lives as artists and professors. The Woodmans existed fundamentally as a family of artists; their son, Charlie, became a gifted artist and an art professor as well, making video work often in collaboration with dancers, composers, and musicians. The entire family was driven by a potent drive to create, possessed by an ambition that was most emphatically evident in Betty. With clay, she had chosen a borderless medium in use since the dawn of human creativity. Magpie-like, she eagerly annexed everything that she found useful from art history and from her extensive travels, building on a foundation of the dual allure of function and beauty. Vases and platters, the swirling oval building blocks of so many of her larger works, remained at the core of her art throughout her life, and to her gratification and wonder, she watched as these forms gained a following. The metaphorical and professional distance from her twice-a-year sales of plates, casseroles, and cups during the early years in Boulder to the resplendent “Theatre of the Domestic,” her 2016 survey at the Institute of Contemporary Art in London, was probably difficult even for her to encompass. That exhibition and other European museum shows following her 2006 retrospective at the Metropolitan Museum of Art— the museum’s first-ever retrospective of a living female sculptor in clay— unequivocally declared her art’s impact and import, as well as its unalloyed joy. (Peter Schjeldahl, in The New Yorker, described her 2001–06 Aeolian Pyramid, a 35-part vase installation at the Met, as “a visual ‘Hallelujah’ Chorus.”) Despite the tolls of aging, Betty seldom discussed her health. She maintained a nonstop work and travel
She maintained an almost moral conviction that living with and using beautiful objects every day improved one’s life.
her vases wherever she lived. For breakfast, there would be couscous pancakes, for lunch, Turkish eggplant, for dinner, poisson à la marocaine (as cooked in Fez), often followed by baked apples. Friends old and new were invited to stay with Betty and George in Italy, to bask in their hospitality, in the hillside’s terraced gardens and an idyllic swimming pool, with their olive grove spread out beyond. They would ferry us all on daytrips to the major and minor
Woodman in the exhibition “Betty Woodman: Roman Fresco/Pleasures and Places,” 2010, American Academy in Rome. Photo: Bruno Bruchi. Courtesy Galleria Alessandro Bagnai.
miracles of their beloved region— a favorite cathedral in Cortona, a remote hilltop restaurant. Somehow, all of this kindness and warmth coexisted within, and perhaps helped to propel, an arduous studio practice that made Betty’s lushly beautiful and ever-evolving work a living realization of her aim to be, as she so modestly put it, a “participant.”
From Hauser & Wirth Publishers, a focus on artists’ writings
Dubuffet and the City: People, Place, and Urban Space, 2018 “Fragmented, busy and discontinuous, yet interconnected through invisible networks.” The scholar Dr. Sophie Berrebi uses this phrase to describe both the city and Dubuffet’s work in this new book. Her insights are grounded in and broken up by little-known texts by Dubuffet himself, many translated here in English for the first time. His prose is often comprised of short sentences propelled by a sense of overwhelming urgency. “Life gallops by,” he writes. “We need to hurry.” And hurry he does, whether in writing or painting, mimicking the pace of urbanity itself. Dr. Berrebi focuses on works in which Dubuffet depicts city dwellers and urban spaces, and she discusses his architectural projects against the backdrop of heated debates in the field of urbanism. The book accompanied a 2018 exhibition of the same name at Hauser & Wirth Zurich (June 10–September 1, 2018). —Madeleine Taurins Eva Hesse: Diaries (in association with Yale University Press, 2016) There is a form of diary keeping in which the writer, if only hopefully, addresses an unknown future audience. Eva Hesse’s diaries are not that kind. Oscillating between the poetic and the quotidian, her entries are clearly intended for no one beyond herself. Phrases are often distinguished by dashes: marks of the subconscious flow from one shape-shifting thought to the next. Sometimes these thoughts take the form of mantra: “Do not fear, do not anticipate, live in the moment. Do and say as you are, as Eva is now—not past not future.” At other times, they are prescriptive and descriptive: to-do lists, dream logs, detailed plans for artworks, the laments of a young woman in love. Her diaries show the myriad ways in which personal writing can catalyze a visual artist’s work, and they form a composite portrait of an artist fiercely devoted to her work. —M.T.
All photos: Peter Abrahams. Courtesy Hauser & Wirth Publishers.
ethic. Her death at the beginning of this year was a shock even to those of us who spent time with her in her final days, as her work seemed to grow only stronger and more ambitious. She continued to be called upon by a legion of friends: artists (frequently younger women), curators, art historians and collectors. And she never stopped asking people over for tea or for the meals she prepared on tables set with bouquets of cut flowers that filled
Arshile Gorky: The Plow and the Song, A Life in Letters and Documents, 2018 Expanding on the sculptor Matthew Spender’s 2009 Arshile Gorky: Goats on the Roof, this gathering represents the most expansive portfolio of Gorky’s personal writings to date, providing a fine-grained documentary window into the nuances of his life and rich context for the pivotal role he played in the history of abstract painting. His identity as an Armenian immigrant in the evolving New York art world is traced through letters, poems, reviews and written ephemera drawn from the course of his too-brief life, which ended at the age of 44. Edited by Spender, the artist’s son-in-law and son of the poet Stephen Spender, the collection helps demystify an important history of artistic accomplishment and adversity. —Paige Landesberg Maria Lassnig: The Pen Is the Sister of the Brush, Diaries, 1943–1997, 2009 This volume offers the first English translation of the Viennese painter Maria Lassnig’s diaries, edited by the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist. The writings include poems, letters, notes, photographs and drawings that address Lassnig’s relationship with nature, aging and childhood memory. Like her famously unsettling self-portraits—many of which she produced using what she called “body awareness,” a method of painting based not on sight but on internal awareness of self and emotion—her writings are deeply felt ruminations on her life and epistemology, providing insight into the hard-won humanism of her work. —P.L.
New and forthcoming books from elsewhere
Just Another Asshole (Primary Information) Among contenders for best title of a publication series ever, the hard-to-classify No-Wave zine Just Another Asshole— published in seven sporadic installments from 1978 to 1987—always finishes in the money. Masterminded by Barbara Ess, an editor and photographer, the zines brought together, anarchically, some of the most interesting artists and writers at work in New York in those years. The lineup for this facsimile reprint of No. 6, a compendium issue co-edited by Glenn Branca, the avant-garde composer, sounds like a Mudd Club crowd from heaven: Kathy Acker, Dan Graham, Cookie Mueller, Peter Nadin, Richard Prince, Lee Ranaldo, Lynne Tillman, David Wojnarowicz, Linda Yablonsky. For several years now, Primary Information has been on a mission to resurrect some of the best small-edition artists’ books and cult publications produced over the last half century. They’ve chosen well yet again. —Randy Kennedy In the Cut: The Male Body in Feminist Art (Kerber Verlag) In 1963, when Carolee Schneemann produced Eye Body: 36 Transformative Actions, she posed the question: “Could a nude woman artist be both image and image maker?” In the Cut takes up a related question also beginning to be explored in those years, that of women artists’ interest in the male body, often nude, sometimes clothed. This catalogue, published on the occasion of an exhibition at the Stadtgalerie Saarbrücken, presents many different kinds of feminisms and works by artists like Schneemann, Louise Bourgeois, Herlinde Koelbl, Betty Tompkins and Joan Semmel, as well as by the generation that followed—Sophie Calle, Tracey Emin, Mwangi Hutter and Paula Winkler, among others. These representations of the male body are a much overdue compendium of the varieties of the female gaze—as exciting for their perspective as for their formal inventions. —Sophie Kovel
2019 Research Fellowships
Intermedia, Fluxus and the Something Else Press: Selected Writings by Dick Higgins (Siglio Press) If anyone in postwar art could be called a “polyartist,” it was Dick Higgins, a cofounder of the Fluxus movement, poet, scholar, theorist, composer, performer, and, as if in his spare time, publisher of Something Else Press (1963–74). Higgins’ conception of “intermedia”—art happening in the spaces between genres— provided new room for forms that defied categorization. This comprehensive collection of Higgins’s work includes a complete annotated checklist of the Something Else Press catalogue, featuring avant-garde writers and artists such as Gertrude Stein, John Cage and Ray Johnson. Thoughtfully edited by Steve Clay of Granary Publishers and Fluxus artist Ken Friedman, the book is the latest effort from Siglio Press, itself dedicated to publishing cross-disciplinary forms. —S.K.
Hauser & Wirth Institute, a nonprofit organization dedicated to art historical scholarship and to the advancement and preservation of the legacies of modern and contemporary artists, invites scholars to apply for its 2019 fellowships. The fellowships support research in modern and contemporary artists’ archives. To encourage a new generation of art scholars, the Institute awards predoctoral candidates funding for two consecutive months of archive-based research. lt also awards funding to postdoctoral and established scholars to undertake archival research for up to twelve months in order to promote field-enriching scholarship.
The Kindness of Strangers, by Salka Viertel (New York Review Books Classics) If two of the greatest Austrian storytellers—novelist Robert Musil (The Man Without Qualities) and director Billy Wilder—had somehow united to concoct the most fascinating Austrian woman they could imagine, it’s unlikely they would have come even halfway to the reality of Salka Viertel, whose affecting 1969 autobiography, The Kindness of Strangers, is being republished by New York Review Books Classics, with an introduction by Lawrence Weschler. Exile, actress, screenwriter, confidante of Garbo, doyenne of a cultural salon in her Santa Monica home that was frequented by Charlie Chaplin, Sergei Eisenstein, Thomas Mann, Christopher Isherwood and Bertolt Brecht—Viertel was a deeply connected and now all-but-forgotten, Zelig. Her story reads like a bittersweet novel of the restive Mitteleuropa diaspora set against the shimmer of Hollywood’s golden years. —R.K.
DEADLINE FOR APPLICATIONS: DECEMBER 19, 2018
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Linda Goode Bryant in conversation with Senga Nengudi
Photography by Oresti Tsonopoulos
The artist Lorraine O’Grady once wrote about the joys of a “unique art-making moment, one when the enabling audience—the audience which allows the work to come into existence and to which the work speaks—and the audience that consumes the work are one in the same.” For many artists in the 1970s in New York, such grace moments were possible because the art world itself was still small and the audiences for work on either side of the equation were likewise limited, sometimes distressingly so. For artists of color, however, the situation was dire, as it had always been. These artists were generally ignored not only by commercial galleries and museums, but even by most nonprofit art spaces. And institutions that would begin to change the landscape, like the Studio Museum in Harlem and El Museo del Barrio, were still young. In 1974, Linda Goode Bryant, a Columbus, Ohio, native who had come to New York for grad school and worked briefly at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and the Studio Museum, decided to do something for the African-American artists she knew, and the ones she wanted to know: She founded a commercial gallery—which she called Just Above Midtown, or JAM—smack in the heart of the old-guard art establishment on West 57th Street, the only blackowned gallery of its kind in the city. During its 12-year existence, uptown and after a move to TriBeCa, JAM was a tireless, boldly experimental pioneer, one whose impact is still far too little acknowledged in the history of the 1970s and 1980s contemporary art world. It showed the early work of many African-American artists who have gone on to great renown: Lorna Simpson, Senga Nengudi, David Hammons, O’Grady and Fred Wilson, to name only a few.
By the mid-’80s Bryant had grown disillusioned with the art world and the increasing power of money within it and she left it to pursue filmmaking. Flag Wars, her award-winning 2003 documentary, co-produced with Laura Poitras, examined the complex politics of a working-class black neighborhood in Bryant’s hometown, Columbus, during a period in which it was being gentrified by gay white homebuyers. In 2003, while documenting the run-up to the presidential election for another film, Bryant became convinced that she needed to move more fully into the realm of activism. She founded the nonprofit Active Citizen Project, a youth-focused initiative that encourages the use of art and new media as tools for social change; by 2008, the organization led to the creation of Project EATS, a network of urban farms across New York City whose goal is to help residents of economically challenged neighborhoods eat healthier and have greater control over their food supply, stimulating job creation and community-building. Bryant’s catalyzing role in the art world is highlighted in “Soul of a Nation: Art in the Age of Black Power,” a sweeping survey of AfricanAmerican art from the 1960s through the early 1980s, which remains on view at the Brooklyn Museum through February 3, 2019. The following conversation between Bryant and Nengudi was recorded in Bryant’s Upper West Side apartment one morning in the summer of 2018. When I arrived, the two friends, longtime tennis fans, were watching an episode of the HBO documentary Being Serena, about Serena Williams’ struggle to balance motherhood and professional tennis. —Randy Kennedy
“He asked me why I wanted to burn down the Met, and I told him. ‘It’s a racist institution. It’s living on public money but not representing the full public. Fuck you.’ ”
We can start wherever. We could just talk about Serena Williams all morning if you want. But I’m wondering when the two of you first met each other.
Linda Goode Bryant
Senga and I have known each other since ’76, right around there. I always tell this story, and I’m sure Senga thinks, Why does she tell this story? I think that Senga and I were destined to meet. I was a single mom and had two babies, a threeyear-old and an infant. I came to New York when my daughter was three weeks old. I didn’t know anybody. I’d graduated from Spelman College in Atlanta, and I’d been accepted at City College. I had always, since the age of four or five—because of Shirley Temple, quite frankly—wanted to live in New York. I would say to myself or say to God, “God, I don’t know why you made me here, because I’m supposed to be in New York City.” My parents said I would look at a Shirley Temple movie and turn around and say to them, “When I grow up, I’m gonna live in New York City. I’m gonna have eight rooms, river view!”
[Laughs] Well, you didn’t exactly get that river view when you came here, did you? No, I didn’t. I lived on 80th between Columbus and Amsterdam. And shortly after I arrived that August of ’72, there was an article in The New York Times that said that block was the worst drug block in New York City. I didn’t think about where I was living; I just needed a furnished apartment, and I had just enough money to get it—$500. New York, no matter how it looked, was the magical place, the Land of Oz. By the way, Judy Garland was another one of my sheroes, along with Pippi Longstocking. Those three gals kept me going.
So tell the story. 37
Right, so how does this tie to Senga?
Central Park is the next block over from Columbus, and I would take my kids there. My son loved that block between Columbus and Amsterdam by the Museum of Natural History, because pigeons would cover the sidewalk. I’m crossing one day to go into the park, and this tall brother was crossing from the other side. I noticed him because he was tall. And as we’re getting closer to one another, he goes, “Sister, can I talk to you?” And to myself I’m like, “What? I don’t know anybody in New York.” And he goes, “Can I talk to you, beautiful sister?” And I go, “Uh, yeah.” He was really warm. I think something about him sensed I was by myself, and he goes, “I live in this house in Harlem, a bunch of us live there, and you should come live with us too, you and your babies.” It was just the most generous thing. He said his name was René Pyatt.
René was my significant other at the time. We were living together in Spanish Harlem, in a house that was a kind of a gathering place for artists, 243 East 118th Street, a brownstone that’s still there today. René, who’s no longer living, was an artist who was connected to the Weusi collective and gallery in Harlem, an African-American group that was part of the broader Black Art Movement and was formed in 1965 by artists who were focused mostly on African themes. I never did take René up on his offer to live in the house, and I never saw him again, but when Senga and I finally did meet— we met through David Hammons—it was like I knew we were supposed to be friends. Things kept putting us on the same path. And now we’ve been friends, and we’ve been having essentially this conversation you’re sitting in on, about art and everything else, for more than 40 years now. It’s a whole lot of life. I had come to New York at that time from Los Angeles, where I grew up, because
1 Senga Nengudi performing Air Propo at Just Above Midtown in New York, 1981. Courtesy Senga Nengudi and Lévy Gorvy gallery. 2 Postcard for Kaylynn Sullivan’s Victims, a Performance at Just Above Midtown, 1981. Conceived and written by Sullivan, and performed by Sullivan with Tone Blevins, John Parton, and Mary Shultz. All invitation cards and flyers: Courtesy Linda Goode Bryant. 3 Invitation card to the inaugural exhibition at Just Above Midtown, “Synthesis,” 1974.
I had a teacher who told me that if I really wanted to be a serious artist, I needed to go to “New York City boot camp.” I was always in love with New York, the same way Linda was as a girl. I first came as a teenager, I think in ’61, and stayed with my cousin. We went to Macy’s, and I got all these wonderful clothes. She had a station wagon, and would you believe it, we stepped out of the car for one minute, and somebody stole everything! That was my introduction to the city. So I knew what I was getting into. If Linda was into Shirley Temple, I guess I was into Holly Golightly and Breakfast at Tiffany’s. I wanted that kind of New York apartment building, filled with a bunch of wild people, a bunch of misfit toys, and that’s what I got in that brownstone.
Correct me if I’m wrong, but you were doing work having to do with silhouettes when you were there, right?
It’s like a dance.
Right. I was working abstractly in Los Angeles, making pieces in which I sealed up water in heat-sealed plastic forms. I guess I felt a little intimidated in New York—where so much work being done by black artists tended toward the figural—to do what I’d been doing in L.A. So the silhouettes were the closest I thought I could get. They were made out of flag material, and I’d take them and hang them outside on the fire escape and let the wind kind of move them. I drew bodies on the material, bodily forms, almost abstractly. I’ve always been taken by movement. I was really moved by the swaying bodies of the drug addicts I’d see on the street. At that point in the ’70s, it was heroin, which was all over the place. And the addicts on the streets where I lived looked truly like a forest of trees in the wind, because they’d be standing there, scratching, looking around, swaying slowly this way and that as they nodded, almost to the ground. There’d be maybe eight or ten people on a corner.
But they never fell, did they?
They never fell! They go so low. Where my office is now, on Eighth Avenue not far from the Port Authority, sometimes you still see an addict or two. And the other day, watching one who was really far gone, I thought, “I’m gonna stand here and watch this motherfucker because he’s gonna go down.” I’ve never seen one go down. His whole body was bent. His shoulder came almost to the ground. And then he righted himself back up. It’s always just absolutely amazed me. It’s a sad sight, of course, but it’s also some kind of testament to human resilience.
So the two of you never came across each other at all in those years in New York? Somehow we never did. I got pregnant and went back to California. I said, “I just can’t drag a stroller up and down the subway steps.” So I went home to mama and had plenty of love there. Although I had plenty of love here, too. You do what you have to do. There was a time when I should have met her because a bunch of artists came to New York from D.C., for a National Conference of Artists event, and David Hammons was one of them. They all went to Senga and René’s house in Harlem, but I was just too intimidated to meet David then. I knew his work and revered him, but I said to myself that I wasn’t ready to meet him. I chickened out. And I didn’t chicken out about much. Later, when I came to know David, he was the one who kept saying to me, “You’ve got to meet this artist named Senga. The two of you need to know each other.” He was very generous, and he was always making connections that way.
And Linda, did you know you wanted to be in art from the time you were young? 4 Invitation card for the David Hammons exhibition “Dreadlock Series” at Just Above Midtown, 1976. 5 Invitation card for Howardena Pindell’s “Recent Work With Paper + Video Drawing” at Just Above Midtown, 1977. 6 Invitation card to a 1981 exhibition at Just Above Midtown of installation and performance work by Senga Nengudi (with Butch Morris and Cheryl Banks). Photo of the Nengudi video and performance work Masking It, 1978–79. Photo: Adam Avila.
Very young. I knew at the age of four or five. I announced to my parents I was going to be an artist, and they put me in art school when I was six. I come from a family that had very, very few financial resources. I don’t know how they found money to take me to Saturday art classes, but they did. When I was 12, I’ll never forget, we always had Sunday family dinner on my mother’s side. We called my grandmother Big Mom. This one Sunday at dinner, somebody said, “Linda, what are you gonna be?” And I was the only girl, by the way, in a family of all boys on both sides. Which is significant. I always think that’s where she got her drive. It was significant for me: “I can do anything better than you.” Anyway, someone asked me what I was going to be, and I came right out with, “I’m gonna be Picasso’s first black mistress!” I had been studying Picasso and was really digging his shit. And I knew he had mistresses. I thought, “Well, I’m a black girl from Columbus, Ohio. How am I ever going to get noticed, to get my foot into the art world?” In my mind, the only way the world would ever look at my work would be because I was attached to someone like Picasso. Now, the word therapy was just not something that was ever mentioned in the larger black community that I grew up in, but I remember someone saying that maybe they should take me to see a therapist. I was out there. It was probably the first time I ever really appreciated the power of sheer words.
I know you worked at the Metropolitan Museum of Art briefly when you were first here. That wasn’t so many years after the Met’s “Harlem on My Mind” show, which drew huge criticism because it was about
the art world of African-American New York, but it didn’t include any works of art, besides photographs.
I interviewed for a Rockefeller Foundation fellowship there, and I went in basically determined not to get it but to use the opportunity to speak my mind. I had on full Army fatigues, had a huge Afro, had my babies with me. And the guy who interviewed me first asked, “Why do you want to be a Rockefeller Fellow?” And I already knew what I was going to say. I said, “’Cause I want to burn this motherfucker down.” He looked at me and said, “Okay, wait right here.” He left the room and went to get his superior, and I told him the same thing. Finally, they bring in Thomas Hoving, the director of the museum. And he asked me why I wanted to burn down the Met, and I told him. “It’s a racist institution. It’s living on public money but not representing the full public. Fuck you. I’m gonna burn this down. If I’m a fellow, I’ll know all the best places in the basement to set the fire.” Of course, I got the fellowship. Hoving seemed to be utterly intrigued by me. He thought I was a nutcase. He would ask me to come and talk with him twice a week. I’d go to his office and his secretary would have to keep the kids and entertain them. And he and I would debate. When I say debate, it was largely around a fairly pervasive belief in New York’s art world that African Americans could not make art. I think that was a fundamental belief; that there was African art but no worthwhile AfricanAmerican art. It’s now probably hard for some people to believe that was really the case, but it was. I think it’s why “Harlem on My Mind” was conceived as a show with no art but just documentation—photographs of the rich cultural life of Harlem but no other works from that life. Hoving would say to the curator Henry
7 Flyer for American Dreams series, curated by Tony Whitfield at Just Above Midtown, 1983, featuring performances by David Hammons, Bill T. Jones and the band 3 Teens Kill 4, co-founded by David Wojnarowicz.
Geldzahler, because Henry was the contemporary-art guy, “You’ve got to talk to her.” [Geldzahler (1935–94) was the Met’s first curator for 20th century art and one of the most revered contemporaryart figures of his generation.] Henry resented that. He’d say, “I’m only talking to you because Tom said I have to.” I think Hoving was interested in anything that fell outside of his realm; he had a genuine curiosity. Or it might have been just a mode of survival: “If this is happening over here and I don’t understand it, it has the possibility of…”
Of biting his ass. Exactly. But Hoving protected me, because he could’ve put a kibosh on me bringing my kids to the Met. That was unheard of back then. With Henry, it was different. I don’t think he was terribly aware of what black artists were producing at that time or cared much. Though he certainly had to become more aware. When I told him I was planning to start a gallery to show black artists, he thought it was absurd. There was this thing at the time—you’re not going to believe this—that black artists mostly made paintings on black velvet. Henry and I had that discussion. Really?
Oh, yeah. Hell, yeah. More than once. It was bizarre. That whole thought was just really news to me. I mean, what? Was he just goading you? Who ever knew with Henry? He just thought I was so naive. He was exasperated with me. But my many conversations with Henry were very good for me because they helped me put on a hard scab, so that later, when dealers themselves were hostile, I could handle it. 7
I want Linda to tell the story about how
she rented the space for Just Above Midtown gallery on West 57th Street and how the people in the building responded to her. Didn’t somebody say to you, in essence, “We’re not gonna let you in.” Meaning: “This is our game—a male, white game.”
Yes. There were those on 57th Street who shared that sentiment. There were those who expressed it. The one I had to live with daily was the dealer Allan Frumkin. He was so angry that someone had leased me that space. Originally, I had wanted to start the gallery at 86th and Broadway, where I lived. But Geldzahler, at lunch one day, said, “My dear, if you’re going to have a gallery, don’t have it on 86th and Broadway. If you’re going to be serious, you have to be on 57th Street.” Probably he was thinking, “You’ll never get on 57th Street.” But a collector named Bill Judson rented me a space. To this day, I really don’t know why. We never really had conversations about it. His broker was like, What the fuck are you doing? Bill and I had no relationship other than I think maybe he connected to me in terms of passion and belief. In the face of what he knew seemed like absolute impossibility. Andi Owens, a Rockefeller Fellow who went on to found the Genesis II Museum of International Black Culture in Harlem, loaned me $1,000 for security and first and last month’s rent. Even Romare Bearden didn’t believe what I’d done. When I got the space, I ran down to Canal Street and ran up those five floors to his studio. He was like, “How did you get a lease?” It was 724 square feet, fifth floor, at the back of the building, no windows. I had no insurance. I could never pay the rent. My debts to my printers are still in the archives: “Please pay us, Linda. Please. Please.” There were some dealers who were very nice: the Janises, Sidney and his son Carroll; Betty Parsons was always very sweet; Terry Dintenfass, who showed Jacob Lawrence, was
always supportive. But a lot of hostility otherwise. Oftentimes people would say, “You’re not showing 57th Street work.”
Which meant what? It wasn’t just about us being black. It was the idea of it being so out there, so experimental, very little painting. It was the thought that if you’re going to show David Hammons or you’re going to show Senga Nengudi, that’s SoHo shit; that’s not 57th Street shit. “What are you doing showing this on 57th Street?” That was what that meant.
And the reason you were there was to say, “This kind of work is worth being on 57th Street?” Right?
Oh hell yeah. I’m glad you clarified that. It wasn’t marginal or just experimental art; it was solid art, and it belonged in the heart of the establishment and deserved to be acknowledged. It was made complicated also by the fact that, at that time, you had this ideological, philosophical, stylistic war that was going on within the black community, which has been written about a lot, but which I think some people still forget: the battle between people who worked figuratively and were very political in how they portrayed blacks in paintings or sculpture, and the group that was working in the abstract continuum of Western art, or trying to break boundaries in that continuum. And the lines of demarcation were really clear. I don’t know if Senga experienced it as much in L.A. because artists there tended to
be more experimental. But in New York, you were this or that. And the whole discourse was trying to determine what a black artist was. You’re not a black artist just because you’re of African descent; you’re black as an artist because of what you’re creating. And eventually I think JAM became a place where those rigid lines of demarcation started to bleed.
There was a show—show might not even be the right word—that the gallery did in 1978, called “The Process as Art: In Situ,” where Linda just let a lot of us come in and make work or do performance while people watched. We basically lived at the gallery for days. It was really exciting, because you were given carte blanche, and there were no restrictions, none, related to materials, processes, anything. It was…I don’t know, it was like vibrating. That’s the kind of energy that the whole gallery had. LGB
That was very hard to deal with, too. Older artists sat me down and said, “You can’t do that. There are too many black artists in New York. You’re only gonna have a small gallery. All of us here need that space.” That was the first time I ever thought about galleries as real estate. And then also the abstractionists versus the figurative artists. And the figurative people, some of them black nationalists, were like, “You gotta show us. You can’t show them.” And I said, “I’m gonna show what I want.” And let me declare myself: I was a black nationalist at the time and still believe in some aspects of its strategy and vision. But I wasn’t drawn to the aesthetic that emerged from nationalism.
It was not about educating in a professorial way, but connecting—that would be the language I’d use now. Connecting people to our innate ability to use what we have to create what we need. People were saying, “They won’t let us.” I was frustrated by us not letting ourselves. Not understanding that we, in fact, can create what we need. If the doors aren’t being opened for you, then go out and make your own doors. Artists need opportunities for their work to be experienced by others. So let’s just create that.
Talk about why that was. The best experience of art, for me, is when that thing—whether it’s movement or an image or a text or a sound—opens windows and doors in my mind. And what I found in nationalist work was that its didacticism didn’t allow it to trigger my mind about what was possible. It shut it down because it was trying to teach. I would liken it to the over-texting of labels in museums now. I just can’t stand it. You cannot go into a gallery and experience the work without it being mediated by all these fucking labels that are designed and installed in locations that force you to read them. A lot of abstraction didn’t really work for me either, but there seemed to be more possibility in it. Artists were exploring, more than explaining, what they were trying to make in their work.
I have some video of you from that show, and it’s not clear exactly what you’re doing. I don’t even remember myself! But that was the way I worked and how I still work. People would say, “Well, send me some slides to show me what you’re planning,” or now, “E-mail me some images.” But I haven’t a clue until I get there and see the space. They’ll say, “I’m really looking forward to seeing what you’re going to do.” And I say, “You know, I am, too.” That’s how she is. I also think the impact of JAM had a lot to
“JAM was in some ways an art project for me. David Hammons always called me on it and was really upset about it. He would go, ‘Linda, I am not your paintbrush!’ ”
were doing and have them buy that work, be patrons.
do with you making the decision to show a lot of West Coast artists like me.
You’ve said one of the things you wanted to do from the beginning was to educate collectors—black collectors, middleclass, upper-middle-class collectors— to form a generation of people who understood what their contemporaries
I think that’s important to emphasize because that’s always been Linda’s mantra. It was creating a base of collectors, supporters, patrons, and believers who valued and supported this creative work that was being done within the community itself, cultivating black people who had the financial ability to buy work. And to buy work that wasn’t figurative. JAM was in some ways an art project for me. David Hammons always called me on it and was really upset about it. He would go, “Linda, I am not your paintbrush! I am an artist. I am not your artwork.” The fact of the matter is that we’re all artists. You run into an obstacle, and you have to figure out creatively and resourcefully how to get around it, under it, or above it. For me, the farm project, Project EATS, is kind of like a museum. It’s a new museum. You should be able to experience art, experience creative thinking, the way you could in ancient times with hieroglyphics, which was a form of communication. It was something you could experience just in the course of daily life. It wasn’t something you had to schedule or go somewhere special to see. You need to realize that that’s the other
8 Reproduction of Lorna Simpson’s Waterbearer (“She saw him disappear by the river, they asked her to tell what happened, only to discount her memory.”) in B Culture magazine, a quarterly published by Just Above Midtown, 1987. 9 Bryant in the third grade, Columbus, Ohio, 1957. 10 Bryant as an undergraduate, Spelman College, 1968. 11 Bryant at work on the 2003 documentary Flag Wars, produced with the filmmaker Laura Poitras.
aspect of Linda: she has an MBA from Columbia, so she’s able to do what 99 percent of artists can’t do. At JAM you had a course where you taught artists how to try to make a career, right?
Oh yeah, it was a full, multiweek workshop on the business of being an artist. So it wasn’t just collectors and art lovers. After JAM moved downtown, you probably could have continued to run it as a nonprofit cultural center up to today if you’d wanted to. At what point did you decide the art world wasn’t where you wanted to be?
By the mid-’80s, it was clear. Overall, the whole culture of art had shifted toward the artist as a commodity, to a degree that continues to amaze me. I think what happened was that the resolve of artists broke down, and of course I don’t mean all artists. But what happened was that dealers were seeing Wall Street and saying, “Whoa, there’s all this new money we can tap to expand our businesses, to grow our sales.” And they started placating those Wall Street folks. And what do I mean by that? It used to be that if somebody walked into your gallery and said, “I’m interested in buying some work that’s gonna be worth double three years from now,” a dealer would say, “I can’t play that game, but I can show you this. And that. And that over there.” The dealer would engage in helping people see something not as a commodity but as a work of art. But by ’83, ’84, ’85, dealers were more and more succumbing to what I would call “Let me help you find something that matches the color of your couch.” Because the Wall Street crowd didn’t have time to learn. More and more what happened was that artists started to succumb to that mindset through pressure from dealers. Like, “Will you please make big things?” And I’m not saying that was completely new, of
course. But this was something different, because there was a belief and an ethics that started to get eroded. I saw work become increasingly more mediocre. I was finding myself going into JAM and saying, “Why am I coming in here when there’s a lot of stuff here I don’t think is strong work?” There were artists who were really, really angry that I closed. But I couldn’t go on like that.
What was it exactly about filmmaking that made you want to go that direction? The whole way a film gets made, the process, is absolutely heaven for me. There’s nothing more satisfying than the close relationships that are necessary for it, especially documentary films— being with a group of people and being able to hone that ability to make something meaningful. From holding a camera to editing, I am on a constant high, exhausted, ready to cut my wrists because I’m so tired, but just as happy as hell. The reason I moved away from it eventually was not that, but a frustration with what it can accomplish. With Flag Wars, I really thought we had made a film where people would look at it and see themselves, understand themselves a little better. But I watched people sit in the audience and say, “That’s somebody else, not me.” When it really was them. It was a reflection of them. Something about that devastated me. I realized that if you can show someone their reflection and they still refuse to see it, then it isn’t what I want be doing, even though making films is heaven for me. Were you surprised when Linda told you that she wanted to start a bunch of city farms? Well, I’ve learned after all these years never to know what to expect. But, yes, that was shocking. I said, “But, Linda, do you know how to farm? I’ve never even
seen you raise a plant. You don’t even eat healthy.” And she said, “Well, maybe not, but it’s gonna be done.” She has a driving intellect. It’s almost like a Rubik’s Cube. It starts turning, and she figures out new possibilities, new ways of doing something, and off she goes. I’m not surprised that she only eats prepared foods because she’s worked 5 a.m. to 10 p.m. most of the time I’ve known her. When do you get a chance to do the things that regular people do? So, yeah, I was surprised that she bounced from filmmaking to farms, but it was because she was working on the election at that time, and she was seeing people in neighborhoods that weren’t able to get anything other than cheap food that would harm them. There was no good grocery store. And she said, “Well, something has to be done about this.” That night, she told me, she slept and had, in a sense, a vision that this thing could work.
Next year, 2019, will be our tenth year with the farms. And what I’m seeing in the communities where we farm is a shift away from a widespread disbelief that we can convert a parking lot into a halfacre farm in, say, Brownsville [Brooklyn]. We have 12 farms now throughout the city. People used to think we were crazy. And in a very short period of time— which is why farming’s wonderful—this thing they thought had no value and could not create value has value that’s very important to them, that they count on. Which is fresh food. In communities where there are tensions between one block and another, when we throw a dinner, in that moment, people feel there’s something they share. They may not feel community per se, but they’ll think, “If nothing else, I’m sharing this space and time with you. We’re eating food together and we’re not at each other.” I can see that happening. Then the next thing is to move from that to
helping people think, “If we can do this, we can do other things, make other changes politically. We can vote. We can run for office. We can find the power to push against what’s happening now in this country.” To me, that’s one of the wonderful opportunities and challenges of what I think of as this piece of art. How to help people realize: “I can make the life around me what I want.” The artist is within the human. We spend so much time talking about the artist, but we don’t talk about the human in the artist. I experience it as particularly challenging for women, especially for women who choose to have children. And then add, on top of that, women who choose to have children who are single. I was reminded of that, and moved to tears frankly, when I was watching the royal wedding on TV the other day. What really captivated me was Ms. Ragland, Meghan Markle’s mom, who’s from Ohio, like I am. And seeing her standing alone, seated alone. And when I say alone, I mean that in the most glorious, powerful way. Standing singularly there, with this daughter that she was the primary caregiver to. I was a single mother. Senga, for a while, was a single mother. And we worked.
With our babies on our hips. We’ve been doing that since… Since always. We were agricultural labor. You had that baby, and you threw that baby on your hip, and you worked. That’s how we lived. What else are you gonna do? What else are you gonna do? For more information about Project EATS, visit projecteats.org.
A son of Belgium and self-described historical spelunker—“I do have this immense feeling toward the past. That’s the country I come from, you know”—conducts a tour of Belgian surrealism’s undertraveled byways, scattered with strange pictures. by Luc Sante
This is not a photograph 50
Paul Nougé, La naissance de l'objet from La subversion des images, 1929–30. © 2018, Artists Rights Society, New York/ SABAM, Brussels. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
Between December 1929 and February 1930, the Belgian poet and artist Paul Nougé, using an ordinary cheap camera, took a set of 19 photographs that, when eventually published as a group, bore the collective title La Subversion des images. They are strange little pictures, the size of snapshots, and like snapshots, they include his wife and friends. But they depict an alternate world, with a tone that oscillates between humor and horror: a woman is frightened by a piece of string; two men seated at a table appear to clink glasses, but there are no glasses in their hands; a group of people stare intently at an empty corner of a room. A woman rests her head and arms on a table, with spheres of graduated sizes arrayed in an arc between her open palms. A pointing hand emerges from behind a door. The pictures, exquisitely deadpan, are beautifully framed and lit, despite the fact that Nougé is not known to have made any other photos, before or after. They evoke spirit photographs, of the kind that rose to popularity in the afterworld-besotted late 19th century, showing mediums emitting spumes of ectoplasm or consorting with dubious sheet-draped revenants. Nougé’s pictures also suggest the paintings of René Magritte, which is hardly surprising since Magritte and his wife, Georgette, figure among the participants in these staged scenes. What purpose, if any, Nougé intended for his pictures at the time remains a mystery. Three of them were published in 1954 and 1955 in Les Lèvres nues, a post-surrealist journal edited by Marcel Mariën, but the set was published by Mariën only in 1968, a year after Nougé’s death. That little chapbook, issued in an edition of just 230, includes
captions by Nougé that follow his usual artistic modus operandi, which was to pursue philosophical points aggressively, exhaustively and with no undue literary flourishes: e.g., “For the viewer, what consequence can follow from the spectacle of a woman terrorized by a piece of string?…It is a question of the abnormal relations that can arise between a human and an inanimate object.” René Magritte, The Hunters’ Gathering, 1934. Standing, from left: E.L.T. Mesens, René Magritte, Louis Scutenaire, André Souris and Paul Nougé. Seated, from left: Irène Hamoir, Marthe Beauvoisin and Georgette Magritte. © 2018, C. Herscovici/Artists Rights Society, New York. Courtesy Latrobe Regional Gallery.
René Magritte, Portrait de Paul Nougé, 1927, oil on canvas, 37 ½ × 25 ½". Photo: Bancque d’Images ADAGP/Art Resource, New York. © 2018, C. Herscovici, Artists Rights Society, New York. Courtesy Musée Magritte, Brussels, Belgium.
Outside Belgium, Nougé (1895–1967) is remembered today mostly in the company of (and shadow of) his far more celebrated friend Magritte, who depicted him in a 1927 portrait as a bespectacled doppelgänger decked out in white tie. But getting reacquainted with Nougé’s slim, elusive oeuvre presents a rare opportunity to wander some of the more secluded passageways of surrealism, that juggernaut of European modernism, and also to revisit the ferment of early 20th century Brussels, which the critic John Russell once described as “the capital of the slow burn, the general headquarters of purposed absurdity and the last redoubt of a close-knit group of writers, painters and collectors who counted the rest of the world well lost.” Nougé was the leading theorist of the Brussels-based group of Belgian surrealists, a group whose very existence, properly speaking, was never quite resolved by the participants themselves. (The Brussels crowd had a counterpart in the southwestern province of Hainaut, somewhat differently oriented, led by Achille Chavée.) The Brussels surrealists—Nougé, Magritte, Camille Goemans, André Souris, Louis Scutenaire, E.L.T. Mesens, Paul Colinet, Marcel Lecomte, and later on Mariën, Christian Dotremont, Pol Bury and Marcel Broodthaers— sometimes cosigned tracts issued by their French counterparts, but
sometimes they refused and sometimes they were not consulted; relations between the two bodies were often strained. Besides their disinclination to follow André Breton’s every whim, as their French colleagues were expected to, the Belgians maintained several significant theoretical divergences from the creed. They were suspicious of manifestos and loose prattle about revolution, for one thing (Nougé had been a founding member of the Belgian Communist Party in 1919, and was expelled from it in 1925). For another, as the poet and chronicler André Blavier wrote, “With the exception of Chavée and his circle, [the Belgian surrealists] proved themselves singularly skeptical with regard to automatic writing, oracular prophesying, the value of dreams and the exaltation of delirium, the delirium of dreams.” In addition, they had little to no interest in alchemy or the occult, which had become major preoccupations of Breton’s after World War I. The Belgian surrealists set out to change life itself, but they were not about to tackle the problem by employing hot air from the unconscious. Rather, their main tactic was a kind of radical clarity. Nougé, who for 30 years held a day job as a biochemist, believed that the task of poetry—a term he employed in its broadest sense—was to disturb mental habits, to break the template of conventional thought that kept people imprisoned in their lives. He believed that by pushing relentlessly on the pillars of cognitive convention, they would eventually give way. He was particularly attentive to the use of words, ever on the watch for contradictions, flabby reasoning and facile theorizing. In a concerted attack on Breton’s first Manifesto of Surrealism in the journal Correspondance in 1925, he turned Breton’s own words against him, quoting what the latter had written the previous year: “Words have a tendency to group themselves according to particular
The Belgian surrealists set out to change life itself, but they were not about to tackle the problem by employing hot air from the unconscious. Rather, their main tactic was a kind of radical clarity.
Raoul Ubac, Model for an Irrational Landscape, 1935. © 2018, Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
affinities, which generally have the effect of making them recreate the world along its habitual lines.” So much for the liberating properties of automatic writing! Nougé—whose legacy lives on particularly in the work of Broodthaers, the subject of a Museum of Modern Art retrospective in 2016—wrote poetry of a disarmingly limpid sort, along with ample theoretical ruminations and exercises in what would later be termed détournement, or “diversion,” by his admirer and occasional pupil Guy Debord (who published his first three important theoretical works in Les Lèvres nues and modeled his own journal, Internationale situationniste, on its format). These efforts, which turned the oppressive use of language against itself through judicious correction, ranged from a systematic rewrite of a school grammar manual to a group of poems called Transfigured Publicity, in which bold typefaces of variable size were at least as important as the words themselves. (Transfigured Publicity has just been published in an English translation for the first time by Brooklyn’s Ugly Duckling Presse.) In 1927 Nougé hired a cart to travel through the streets of Brussels carrying an enormous panel that read simply: “Look at this boulevard clogged with the dead: You are there.” In the mid-1950s Mariën extended this pursuit by supplying Les Lèvres nues with ferocious advertising parodies that look for all the world as if they had appeared in underground newspapers in the ’60s or punk fliers in the ’70s: “For a quicker death [an image of Socrates about to quaff the hemlock] drink Coca-Cola,” or “Straight to heaven [an airplane in flames plunging headlong earthward] with Sabena/Air France.” Until an undisclosed private dispute ended their friendship in the early 1960s, Nougé and Magritte were inseparable, virtually one brain with two bodies. In part because Magritte engaged in the production of highly bankable goods—his paintings—he became world famous, while Nougé, who published little until Mariën began to exhume his manuscripts and publish them in the 1950s, seemed nearly to desire obscurity, albeit waveringly. (As he wrote to Breton in 1929, “I would like it if those among us whose names are getting to be known a bit would step aside.”) Nougé gave titles to many of Magritte’s paintings, and he seemed to infuse his friend with his philosophical rigor. Witness Magritte’s sole textual contribution to La Révolution surréaliste, the essay “Words and Images,” which coolly enumerates various aspects of the relationship between the two without reference to dreams, the unconscious or any other surrealist hobbyhorse, insisting instead
Man Ray, Meret Oppenheim at the Printing Wheel, 1933, gelatin silver print, 4 ¾ × 7". © 2015, Man Ray Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris, 2018. Courtesy the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York.
featured photography prominently in the journals he controlled, especially La Révolution surréaliste (which reproduced four pictures by Eugène Atget, uncredited apparently because he did not wish his name associated with the movement) and Minotaure (which made capital use of surrealism’s brief collaboration with Brassaï). Krauss cites Breton’s dictum in the prologue to L’Amour fou: Photography & Surrealism, “Convulsive beauty will be erotic-veiled, explosive-static, magic-circumstantial, or will not be at all.” In Minotaure, where the prologue was first published, the three properties are illustrated by photographs: “erotic-veiled” by a Man Ray photo of an androgynous Meret Oppenheim leaning nude on the wheel of a printing press, her hand and forearm black with its ink; “explosive-static” by a Man Ray photo of a flamenco dancer caught in full blurred sway, arms, hair and skirt all cresting; and “magic-circumstantial” by a Brassaï photo of a potato caged by its tuberous outgrowths. She delineates the properties: Erotic-veiled “invokes the occurrence in nature of representation, as one animal imitates another or as inorganic matter shapes itself to look like statuary,” while explosive-static relates to the interruption of movement and magic-circumstantial to the found object. She further aligns these with the photographic strategies of, respectively, doubling (through double exposure or superimposition, for example), cutting (which might also be called “editing,” in the cinematic sense) and framing. These join the array of special effects in the surrealist armory: solarization, negative printing, cameraless photography such as Man Ray’s rayographs, and also the specialties of the Belgian Raoul Ubac: brûlage, which involves melting the negative emulsion, and petrification, “a process of off-register sandwich-printing by which his images gained dimension, appearing as if they were in low relief.”
on a kind of analytical surrealism: “An object is never so wedded to its name that another cannot work just as well….Sometimes the name of an object can take the place of an image.…Everything tends to make one think that there is little rapport between an object and its representation.”
Marcel Broodthaers, Thighbone of a Belgian Man, 1964. © 2018, the Estate of Marcel Broodthaers/Artists Rights Society, New York/SABAM, Brussels. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
The same spirit lies behind La Subversion des images, which is a set of philosophical propositions and, as such, requires photographs cleansed of artistic or circumstantial distractions. Much like Magritte’s paintings of the same period, they are intended to be generic in everything but their central premise. For Nougé, they were simply a visual extension of his written work, and he failed to publish them at the time very likely for the same complex psychological and political reasons that caused him to keep the bulk of his manuscripts unread by others until the much younger and phenomenally energetic Mariën forced them into the open. It is doubtful he was aware—or would have been much interested to know—that he was contributing a major item to the pantheon of surrealist photography. Which brings us to the question always running just beneath the surface of Nougé’s pictures and flowing out into the wider world of images made at that time and since: How can a photograph, a mechanical reproduction of what lies before the camera’s lens, be surreal? Shouldn’t surrealist photography be an oxymoron? As Rosalind Krauss wrote in the catalog for “L’Amour fou,” the important survey of the genre that she and Jane Livingston mounted in 1985 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art in Washington: “It would seem that there cannot be surrealism and photography, but only surrealism or photography.” She goes on to list the contradictions: Breton abhorred realism in all its manifestations, despised description of all sorts, believed strictly in visual art that arose straight from the unconscious through dreams or hypnosis or other altered states—and yet proclaimed as early as 1925 that books should be illustrated with photographs, had three of his own thus illustrated (Nadja, 1928; Communicating Vessels, 1932; and L’Amour fou, 1937) and
Hans Bellmer, The Doll, c. 1936. © 2018, Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
Opposite: Claude Cahun, Heart of Spade, 1936, silver print, 8 × 6". @ The Estate of Claude Cahun. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
Eugène Atget, Boulevard de la Villette 122, 1924–25. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
(In 2009, “The Subversion of Images: Surrealism, Photography, Film,” opened at the Centre Pompidou in Paris, the first extensive updating of Krauss and Livingston’s explorations in more than two decades.) The prospect of surrealist photography is vast and unwieldy. Of the mass of art photos from the interwar years, the items that are definitely not surrealist probably constitute the smaller pile. It might seem as though all that is required for a photograph to fall into surrealist territory is to have an invisible question mark hovering over it. Man Ray is more responsible than anyone for this sweeping ambiguity. A charter member of the surrealist group, he had brought photography with him from New York; a Breton loyalist, he was immune to the leader’s frequent ukases and excommunications; a relentless experimentalist (and sometimes opportunist), he could slide his every change of direction into the surrealist canon. Despite Breton’s general distaste for commercial collaboration with bourgeois culture, this included Man Ray’s fashion photography. Hence the three beautifully framed and lit but otherwise rather conventional photos of women’s hats he published in Minotaure in 1933, which do relate to the text they illustrate (Tristan Tzara’s “On a Certain Automatism of Taste”) but loom much larger—and have been many times reproduced independently—becoming erotic enigmas simply by virtue of context and authorship. There is little about them, however, that suggests they could not have been taken by fashion photographers of the time, like Baron Adolf de Meyer or Louise Dahl-Wolfe.
Opposite: Every effort has been made to trace copyright ownership and obtain reproduction permission. Corrections brought to the publisher’s attention will be incorporated online.
How can a photograph, a mechanical reproduction of what lies before the camera’s lens, be surreal? Shouldn’t surrealist photography be an oxymoron?
Man Ray, Untitled (Paul and Nusch Éluard), c. 1936. © Man Ray 2015 Trust/Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris 2018. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
Manuel Álvarez Bravo, The Skull Factory, 1933. © Archivo Manuel Álvarez Bravo, S.C. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
Man Ray, of course, gave surrealism many of its cardinal images in the form of photographs: The Enigma of Isidore Ducasse (1924; a sewing machine wrapped in burlap and tied with ropes, first made in 1920), Marquise Casati (1922; her eyes doubled vertically), Le Violon d’Ingres (1924; violin F-holes painted on the odalisque back of Kiki de Montparnasse), as well as numerous rayographs and portraits, solarized and otherwise. But then there are the photographs commissioned by Breton for Nadja and taken by Jacques-André Boiffard. If, as Breton wrote, “Swift is surrealist in cruelty; Sade is surrealist in sadism; Chateaubriand is surrealist in exoticism,” these might be said to be surrealist in their anonymity. They are Parisian street scenes, illustrating, very literally, locations mentioned in the text, showing hotels, cafés, storefronts and monuments more artlessly than any postcard. Despite Breton’s later reservations (in his preface to the 1963 edition, he found the pictures notably less magical than the places they depicted), the photos are imbued with mystery by their very blankness—they look like newspaper photos showing the scene of the crime. Before the year of the book’s publication was out, Boiffard had broken with Breton, and he joined the dissident camp headed by Georges Bataille, supplying ominous and sordid photos of a big toe for Bataille’s essay on that digit. If we were to judge the degree of surrealism in photographers’ works by their representation in Breton’s own collection, the clear winner would unsurprisingly be Man Ray, by whom Breton owned dozens and dozens of pictures, from masterpieces to snapshots. But after that, things get a little more complicated. Breton owned 27 prints, for example, by Manuel Álvarez Bravo, of whom it might be said that he was surrealist only in reportage—his representations of Mexico do not strive for effects but artfully record the inherent surrealism of a country marked by the often dizzying juxtaposition of European and Mesoamerican cultures and the looming presence of death. Breton had 19 pictures by Ubac, who did not frequent any of the Belgian surrealist
cabals but whose principal field of research was the nude female body and the violations that could be visited upon it in the darkroom. He had 11 prints by Hans Bellmer, the German whose single-minded pursuit of violent eroticism through the medium of dolls’ bodies makes him one of the most durable illustrators of the surrealist concept; his frequent joining together of two pairs of legs at a common waist, for example, instantly establishes the idea of the “erotic-veiled.” He had 11 pictures by Claude Cahun, all of them photographs of her tiny bell-jar assemblages, none of the work for which she is best known today: her shape-shifting self-portraits in a variety of costumes, dismantling gender roles. He had 11 photographs by Leo Dohmen, yet another Belgian, of a later vintage, who collaborated with Mariën on his long-banned erotico-anticlerical comedy L’Imitation du cinéma (1960). Breton also possessed photographs by Helen Levitt (three early pictures), by Brassaï, by Henri Cartier-Bresson, whose 1930s work is very close to surrealism though he never adhered to the group, and by E.L.T. Mesens and the Czech surrealists Jindrich Štyrský, Jindrich Heisler and Vítezslav Nezval. He had three pictures by Dora Maar, far better known for her turn as Picasso’s lover and model (1936–43, approximately) than for her own art, to no small degree because of her secretiveness and emotional turmoil, though she was as much a fountain of ideas as Man Ray. (Her advertising shot for Pétrole Hahn shampoo, which depicts a tiny sailing ship navigating an ocean of hair, is no less powerful and surrealist than her well-known, unsettling 1936 Père Ubu—made using what was possibly an armadillo fetus.) We can add to this Breton pantheon other photographers who at the very least took coffee on Place Blanche with the surrealist high command: Maurice Tabard, a master of the double exposure; Roger Parry, with his gift for simulated crime scenes; Frederick Sommer, who found surrealism rampant in the high desert after moving from Brazil to America; Pierre Molinier, infamous for his fetishistic, sadomasochistic
Paul Nougé, Femme effrayée par une ficelle from La subversion des images, 1929–30. © 2018 Artists Rights Society, New York/ SABAM, Brussels. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
Dora Maar, Untitled (advertisement for Pétrole Hahn), 1935. © 2018 Artists Rights Society, New York/ADAGP, Paris. Courtesy Sylvio Perlstein Collection.
photocollages; Georges Hugnet, who, although not a photographer, pursued the possibilities of photomontage more assiduously than anyone else. And, finally, André Kertész, who took some of the most expressively surrealist photographs of the period (the de Chirico-like Meudon, 1928; the Parisian roofscape seen through shattered glass of Broken Plate, 1929; the clockface-shadowed Pont des Arts, 1929–32) while having no apparent connection to the group or its ideology. Kertész could travel with brilliance and grace down virtually every avenue opened by photography in the first half of the 20th century. And with him in mind, in fact, it would not be difficult to mount a show of surrealist photographs taken exclusively by non-surrealists. For despite all of Breton’s attempts to define its meaning and patrol its borders, surrealism was and remains fluid and ungovernable, an entirely subjective optic, replete with contradictions. Surrealism results from chance procedures, unstudied juxtapositions, deracinated cultural artifacts, transient mysteries, erotic set dressing, unintended side effects. It grows wild in cities, especially in their most chaotically trafficked neighborhoods, especially when the spawn of clashing eras and unconnected cultures have been thrown together across the haphazard geometries of streets and walls. Any sufficiently open photographer’s eye will catch this transitory mating on the wing. Moreover, since surrealism, like humor, can simply result from thwarted expectations—I reach for my hat but instead grab a fish—all photography has to do to be surrealist, in the finally tally, is to be literal: A woman is frightened by a piece of string.
A version of this essay will also appear in A Luta Continua: The Sylvio Perlstein Collection—Art and Photography From Dada to Now, to be published in conjunction with the exhibition of works from Perlstein’s collection that was shown at Hauser & Wirth in New York, April 26–July 27, 2018.
It’s always your story: It’s never my story, it’s never someone else’s story. You come with the content in your own head and do a Rorschach kind of association, so whatever it is that you’re looking at is a do-it-yourself projective test. But it’s also a chaos of nameless possibilities. —Ida Applebroog, Are You Bleeding Yet? (2002)
Ida Applebroog in her Broadway studio, New York City, 2011. Photo: Emily Poole.
Angry Birds A conversation with Ida Applebroog
The artist Ida Applebroog has worked in SoHo since 1974, more than 40 of those years in a high-ceilinged, whitewashed loft on Broadway near Broome Street— one of the few still virtually unclaimed from its industrial past, a rambling, ragged space of the kind that transformed the neighborhood into an artists’ beachhead beginning in the late 1960s. Applebroog still lives, as it were, just above the store: her apartment is a short elevator ride down to the studio. The distance serves as a fitting metaphor for the career she has forged during almost half a century—deeply lived, urgently felt, highly idiosyncratic art that has earned her the respect of fellow artists and curators, in part because it has refused to fit comfortably into market or museum paradigms. In drawings, prints, sculpture, installation and film, she has followed her own imperatives, darkly comic and at times ferocious— taking inspiration from forebears literary (Beckett, Joyce) and artistic (Goya, Otto Dix, Käthe Kollwitz), as well as from her involvement in the women’s liberation movement as a member of the pioneering publishing collective Heresies. Born Ida Appelbaum in the Bronx in 1929 into a deeply Orthodox
Jewish family, she married and raised four children, living for several years in Chicago and San Diego, where her husband, Gideon Horowitz (a psychotherapist who died in 2015), held academic positions. In 1975, jettisoning both her maiden and married names, she forged a new identity, calling herself Ida Applebroog, a coinage like something from the Brothers Grimm. The previous year, she had returned to New York and, already in her mid-40s, emerged on the art scene. In 1998, she won a MacArthur “genius” grant. Her work has twice been featured in Documenta in Kassel, Germany, and it resides in the collections of major museums including the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum and the Museum of Modern Art. From late summer through winter of 2017, I visited Applebroog’s studio several times, conversations that took place during a tumultuous time in American history: the early presidency of Donald Trump; the rise of white nationalism and anti-immigrant violence; the #MeToo sexual harassment movement; mass shootings in Las Vegas and Texas. A new body of work in
progress during these visits centered on drawings and sculptures of dead birds, complex symbols of violence, beauty, nature and art history. —Randy Kennedy
X, and she learned, that summer, how to write Sara Appelbaum. It took her forever to get S, the A. She had to erase it. Start again. But she would practice, continuously writing Sara Appelbaum. How was your father abusive? Was he a large man?
These are edited excerpts from the interviews: Should we be old-fashioned and start at the beginning? Not just for the sake of chronology but because what you’ve told me about your early life—a girl in an isolated Orthodox Jewish family, in a family with an abusive father, in a very domineering male world in general— seems to speak volumes right now. My parents came from Poland, my father first. This was during a time of pogroms, and they were poverty stricken. My father sold salt, whatever he could sell to make ends meet. People had to share what little food they had just to survive. My father came to New York first, leaving my mother and my older sister in Poland for six years. What was your mother like?
She really had the temperament of an artist. She loved to sew, and that’s how she made her living in Poland. She was a dressmaker. When she came here, there weren’t those kinds of jobs. But she sewed everything for us—pajamas, coats. Nothing was ever bought from the store. My father was a furrier, so he had a drawer full of all kinds of little pieces of fur, which she would attach onto everything she sewed. I used to be so embarrassed to walk to school. My winter coat would have a rabbit collar on it and little pieces of fur hanging all over. She couldn’t read or write. During the war, we encouraged her, my sister and I, to take a night class. She signed everything only with an
No, he was a tiny man! He wasn’t five feet tall! My mother wasn’t five feet tall. I was the biggest in the family. When he got really angry, he would take pots and pans and threaten to throw them at you and throw them across the kitchen in your direction. He had a very loud voice. When he was displeased, you could hear it from blocks away, but he never really talked much otherwise. It was always: head down, reading a newspaper. My mother was always looking out the window, very depressed. The household was not the best, let’s say. What was your neighborhood like? We were near the Bronx Zoo. In those days, it was all Jewish immigrants from Poland, from Russia, from Hungary, from all over. Wherever the Jews were running from. There might have been one nonJewish person on your block, maybe a black person who was the janitor or the building agent. I remember one man who had an apartment in a building, and there were several buildings that he took care of. He had a Christmas tree. I had never seen a Christmas tree. He and his wife kept inviting me to come in and look at the tree, and when I mentioned it to my mother and my father, they almost passed out. “Don’t you dare. Don’t you go in there.” It sounds like the kind of isolation and poverty that Alfred Kazin wrote about in A Walker in the City, his classic about growing up in Brownsville, Brooklyn, not many years earlier.
Beulahland (for Marilyn Monroe), 1987, oil and resin on canvas, two panels, 89 × 72". Photo: Jennifer Kotter. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Stewart and Judith Colton. All artwork: © Ida Applebroog. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Did he ever say that out loud?
Yes. I knew that nobody bothered them. As long as you’re wearing something like that, who’s going to bother you? I would be respected, and I wouldn’t have to say a word, and nobody would have to look at me.
Oh yes. Of course. There was a saying he had, in Yiddish: “You’re better off to have stones than to have children.” How early did know you wanted to be an artist?
Applebroog in her Crosby Street loft, New York City, 1975.
When did you start going to museums in the city and begin to see art?
I think I always knew somewhere. Once, I asked my father to draw a picture, and he drew a stick figure, and I drew a little princess with a crown on her. I took one look at what my father drew and what I drew, and I was absolutely elated. I was an artist, and I was better than he was.
I was afraid of museums. Terrified of them. I wanted to go to some printmaking classes at the Museum of Modern Art, and I didn’t have the nerve. I remember going there, taking one look at the building and the people. They were so sophisticated, and I remember I turned myself around and headed home. I was so terrified that they’d throw me out and see what a fake I was. Instead, as I was going away from the museum, walking around the city, I went past Gimbels, the department store. They were offering a pottery course. That felt safe. Nobody would know or tell my parents, and so I went in and took a pottery course.
You knew it. I had one year in Brownsville myself. My father had a grocery there for one year. Our life was exactly the same as that book, if I can remember the name of the author…It was as if the writer’s family had exactly the same kind of store. Bernard Malamud! I couldn’t believe what I was reading. [The Assistant, published in 1957, included a character based on Malamud’s father, a struggling Brooklyn grocer.] At a certain point, when I started high school, my father felt it was time enough. There was no more reason for educating me. See, the thing is, if there had been a boy in the family, the boy would have been prepared for yeshiva, and the boy would be this treasured item, but the girls didn’t matter. They had to learn a trade. The earlier they learn their trade to make money to bring into the house, the better. Then somewhere they would get married and have children. And that would be that. Did your father, because he had daughters, feel…
Cheated? Yes. Cursed. God actually punished him by giving him three girls.
Five years old and I knew it. I remember you told me once that there was no decoration in your house, nothing really aesthetic at all, and that you decorated a dresser in your bedroom and got in trouble. They said I was a schmutzer. I schmutzed everything up. “You dirty everything! You’re a shitter-upper!” Which was true. I was.
Your first job was at an ad agency, after you went to school to study graphic design. What was it like being in the New York ad world at that time?
Do you remember the point in your life when you realized you didn’t share their religious faith? And that you wanted to be in the wider world?
I didn’t make it very long. Because there were a lot of boys there, and the boys were very free to…you know, with their hands. It was perfectly permissible. It’s still permissible, right? I was the only
All I wanted when I was a young, seven or eight, was to live in a nunnery. I wanted to be a nun desperately. I wanted to wear the habit. I wanted no one to be able to see my face really and nobody to bother me the way my parents would bother me with the Hebrew and the this and the that. I had never even been in a church, but I knew about convents and loved the idea of nuns. Because you knew they had a sort of solitude?
girl there, except for one stenographer. I didn’t know how to handle it. I didn’t have a big mouth to say, “Get your hands off me,” or, “Treat me respectfully.” They were so nice as they were doing it: “Oh, Ida, you’re so beautiful.” I went to work for the New York Public Library, helping with the famous Picture Collection—it was a dream job. Earlier, I had also worked briefly for another designer, Arnold Arnold, whose wife was the photographer Eve Arnold. At that time, she was starting to go into burlesque houses and do photography there. She had a baby, so when she had to take care of the baby, I was left to take care of her photographs developing in the bathtub. For someone who came of age before the Pictures Generation—artists like Cindy Sherman, Richard Prince, Louise Lawler—and who isn’t identified with that crowd, it’s always struck me how extensively your work draws on mass imagery, pictures from magazines and newspapers, reimagined, burrowed into. Did working around photographs and photographers influence you? At the library, in the Picture Collection, I was so taken with the images. I was breathless after a day of working with those images. It was a self-education. And I also learned about different artists that I didn’t know because with all these images came the descriptions of what it was and where it was coming from.
“I wanted to be a nun, desperately. I wanted to wear the habit. I wanted no one to be able to see my face, really, and nobody to bother me the way my parents would bother me.”
Trinity Towers, 1982, ink and Rhoplex on vellum, two panels, 85 Ă&#x2014; 55". Photo: Alex Delfanne. Courtesy David Roberts Art Foundation, London.
Were some of the pictures reproductions of art? You’re getting press photos of things happening in the world, but art, too? A picture of a Rembrandt painting or a picture of …
being let loose in a candy store when no one is looking.
Everything. You name it, it was there. I learned about artists I’d never heard about. I remember George Bellows so clearly, the painter of the boxing paintings.
I honestly don’t remember. What I do remember is how important Claes Oldenburg was to all of us.
When I was a kid in rural Texas, the schools sponsored a statewide contest called Picture Memory. They’d give us postcard-size laminated images of paintings. Then on the back you would have to memorize all the information: the painter, the year, title of the work, nationality of the artist. There was a Leonardo and Chardin’s Soap Bubbles and a George Bellows painting called, I still remember it so vividly, Both Members of This Club, because it was a boxing club, and it was one of those really meaty paintings. It looked almost like Lucian Freud or Soutine. Very meaty, bruisy bodies, slugging each other. He interested me. Why would I be interested in boxing? I still don’t know why, but he interested me a lot. To me, they were kind of scary paintings. Yes, they were. It’s so funny. We have something in common: Bellows! In 1956, you moved to Chicago with your family and later managed to go to the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Did you think of yourself as a working artist in those years?
I can’t remember what I thought. But I loved the whole idea of walking through the museum every morning, being that close to the paintings. If the guards weren’t looking, I could even feel the paint and the pigment, whatever it was that was hanging; that was extraordinarily important to me,
Were there any older works there, canonical works, that really knocked your socks off?
It surprises me that his influence was already so deeply felt among his peers. He was born the same year as you, 1929. We were all making little Claes Oldenburgs. We’d put the latex on whatever, on a can or something, on every object that was around to make these little Claes Oldenburg objects. I remember how influenced I was by the kinds of materials he used, everything floppy and soft. Then later came Eva Hesse, and of course she took that softness to the ultimate point at that time, but I didn’t know about her then. The soft sculpture that I did later, when we had moved to San Diego, was a carryover, in a sense, of some of the influence of Oldenburg. Those are the pieces that I’ve only seen pictures of, that you eventually destroyed because you thought they looked too much like Hesse’s work? Yes, I don’t remember when I started those, but probably those pieces had come after the hospital. [In 1969 Applebroog suffered a nervous breakdown and spent several weeks in Mercy Hospital in San Diego]. I had started working on those because the first piece reminded me of the form of a lifeboat. It had two openings in it, and you could sit in it like a lifeboat. I used to sit in it and paddle away. It was just my little joke to myself. I made 43 of those forms in muslin and then would hang them in different ways until they became different pieces. I made others that I thought of as game bags, like the kind you use when
Excerpts from Red Journals, c. 1970s. Photo: Emily Poole.
“There are all kinds of feminisms. I hate to say ‘I’m a feminist, that one’s not a feminist, or that one could hardly be called a feminist.’ ” you’re hunting, to put the animal in after you’ve killed it. All the hunting stores had those. San Diego was full of those. Some of the pieces from those years that you’ve shown me pictures of seem to be covered in plastic wrap and look like cocoons. Later you started using the clear coating of Rhoplex, on top of vellum, to create a shiny, skin-like surface that became one of your trademarks. Were you drawn early on to that kind of shiny effect? No, it wasn’t about shiny stuff. The plastic wrap was to get it to look like a cocoon but for you still to be able to see the material under the plastic, like a mummy. It was just practical. That’s what I found, and that did the trick. Those were the ones that Robert Hughes destroyed. The art critic Robert Hughes? How? Why? The sculptures had gone to New York and were being kept in a storage place by the dealer Max Hutchinson, who was also an Australian, like Hughes. They were friends. Hughes saw the pieces hanging there and decided they looked like punching bags and that he would punch them out. And he punched them to nothing.
And then later, after you came back to New York in 1974, you destroyed all of the rest of that work yourself because you felt it looked too much like Hesse? A curator at P.S. 1 [now known as MoMA PS1, in Queens] said that he thought I was ripping off Hesse. I think that was what made the decision. So when the garbage men came the following morning, I just wrapped them up in black plastic bags— bagged them up and threw them away, little by little, over a couple of weeks. And you saved none of it? No. Looking back, do you ever regret that, or do you think it had to be done? It had to be done because that’s who I was at the time. Every step of the way, that’s who I was.
He wrecked them completely?
After A. Moreau: Gentlemen, America Is in Trouble, 1982, detail of installation, Great Hall, New York Chamber of Commerce. Private collection. Photo: Robin Holland.
guts to do something about it. I was too frightened. I mean, he was such a big name. How do I go against someone like Robert Hughes? I met him later on in San Diego; he did a lecture there. I didn’t have the guts to go over to him and say, “You fucking shit! What did you do?” Nothing. He offered me a ride on his motorcycle, and I didn’t even want to get close to him. Those were my two encounters with Robert Hughes.
Destroyed. He was the first destroyer of those pieces. And I never had the
At what point did the women’s movement and feminism become a part of your life? Was that in Chicago?
Applebroog in her studio, 2012. Photo: Emily Poole.
Oh, not at all. Didn’t have a clue. That happened in California. As far as I was concerned before, that was life. It never even occurred to me that there was anything wrong. I mean, I knew there was a lot wrong, personally, but it never occurred to me it was something I could do anything about. It was only later on that I read Betty Friedan. It was like this whole world suddenly opened and, “Oh really? Oh my God. Really? Yes, really.” That’s pretty much how my world opened up, very slowly. How did you come to be involved in Heresies?
The Ethics of Desire (Studies), 2012; ink, tape, vellum on paper; 12 × 9". Photo: Emily Poole.
It was Lucy Lippard and Miriam Schapiro and Joan Braderman, Joyce Kozloff, I can’t remember all the names…Pat Steir, Joan Snyder. It was a large group of women, and they were just starting the issue, and they asked me if I wanted to be part of it. It was better than winning the MacArthur. I remember it really saved my life.” I was involved, with Pat Steir and others, in making the second issue. I got a lot of women, like Louise Bourgeois, Annette Messager,
and others I thought did some interesting work and were funny. They were not deadly serious. Instead, they were funny at being deadly serious. And the thing is, there are all kinds of feminisms. I hate to say, “I’m a feminist, that one’s not a feminist, or that one could hardly be called a feminist.” There are all kinds, and that was from the very early wave of the ’70s. As it went on, it changed, and that was good. There are beautiful characters now like Harvey Weinstein and our dear President Trump, dare I say his name. So how else can you be but feminist nowadays? This is when you’re already back in New York. Did you have a gallery then? I had no idea about how to get a gallery. I began making the books [small selfpublished books based on Applebroog’s drawings of characters in ambiguous, often deeply unsettling situations, framed as if by a proscenium or a window]. I made a mailing list, of writers and artists I knew or liked until it was finally at 500 people. And I’d take all the books in a shopping cart to the Canal Street post office and mail them in bulk. Cost me very, very little. There are a lot of people who have them still. And there were people who wrote back and said, “Who are you!? Don’t ever send me anything like that again.” I kept all the responses. I thought the books were reasonable, myself. I thought they were kind of funny, too. In fact, I even had a little fantasy and sent some out to The New Yorker. I thought they would make nice New Yorker cartoons. I got a very polite response saying, “Thank you, but no thank you.”
Maybe we should talk about the work you’re doing now, which you’re calling Angry Birds of America. When did the fascination with birds begin in your work? I do love birds. I will admit to you that I used to go to country auctions and get taxidermy birds. Nobody really wanted them except me because they’re a little creepy. But I used to collect them for two dollars, five dollars, and I have a huge collection. I started to read up on Audubon, and then read the history of ornithology. Did the impulse for this work start out with the idea of actually drawing from nature, birds, out in trees. I would have loved to, but I don’t think I’m capable of doing that any longer. Besides, it was just stupid on my part to think that somebody could actually do that, because birds fly, they’re all over the place. You have to shoot the bird first, of course, and then sling it, put it into different positions that you want, put it on a pedestal. That’s the way ornithologists did it. The birds were
all killed. They were dead. We started painting birds and making little birds with plaster, painted like these. [As we spoke, Applebroog, with the help of her assistants Robert MacDonald, Emily Poole and Andrew Coppola, was painting and sanding hundreds of white plaster bird sculptures, basing them on birds in ornithological books piled around her.] I started calling them Angry Birds of America. It was just something that stuck in my head. And then I realized I was in the middle of the Trump era. There was a lot of anger, not just me, but all over America. My feeling was, whatever I was doing, it had to do with angry, dead birds. For whatever it’s worth, I feel like I’m living in a world where we’re all very, very angry. And I know there’s a game called Angry Birds. I have it on my phone. My kids make fun of me for still playing it. They’re like, “That’s a really old game, Dad.” I don’t know it at all, but the title just stuck in my head. They’re going to kick this president out of office. They’re going to find out about his money and all the terrible things he’s done in the past. I would love it to happen, but I’m not too sure that I will live to see it happen. You’ve got a lot of birds to go here. There are. I like doing this a lot. Painting of any kind is always a pleasurable activity.
Bird sculptures in progress, made from plaster and wood, in Applebroog’s studio, 2017. Photo: Oresti Tsonopoulos.
A WILD ENERGY
Takesada Matsutani injecting air into vinyl adhesive at his studio in Paris, 1981. Courtesy the artist.
Takesada Matsutani’s early silkscreens in Paris
In the Morning (Green), 1970, silkscreen on offset paper, 22 5/8 × 17 ¼". Photo: Christopher Burke. All artwork: © Takesada Matsutani. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Propagation 100-S, 1969, silkscreen on offset paper, 24 × 23 ⅞". Photo: Genevieve Hanson.
Propagation-W-S, 1969, silkscreen on offset paper, 30 ⅝⅝× 25 ½". Photo: Genevieve Hanson.
Room-White, 1970, color silkscreen on offset paper, 23 ¼ × 21 ¼". Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich.
Room-Yellow, 1970, color silkscreen on paper, 23 ⅜⅜× 21 ¼". Photo: Stefan Altenburger Photography Zurich.
Curve-B Shut Out, 1970, silkscreen on offset paper, 25 × 24 ⅜". Photo: Christopher Burke.
Kukan-1, 1969, silkscreen on offset paper, 30 ¾ × 22 ½". Photo: Christopher Burke.
Van Houten, an American-born artist living in Paris, works in painting, printmaking, editioned artists’ books and performance. She and Matsutani met in Paris at Atelier 17 and married in 1976. A selection of Matsutani’s early prints from Paris is now on view in “drop in time,” his first solo exhibition of works at Hauser & Wirth Somerset, continuing through January 1, 2019.
Object-C, 1971, photo silkscreen on paper, 30 × 22 ¼". Photo: Christopher Burke.
For Matsutani, the most seductive argument for taking up printmaking came first from a material discovery— the exquisite depth of black intaglio inks. And his lifelong love of materials springs principally from the rich possibilities they have always offered for experimentation. He began printmaking in Paris as much by chance as by choice. He received a grant from the French government as a result of being awarded first prize in the inaugural Mainichi Art Competition in Kyoto in 1966, an event that would change his life. At the start of his sojourn, he submitted to obligatory French at the Alliance Française, but he quickly fled the classroom and lit out instead on a journey to trace for himself a notion of Western culture’s origins, traveling through Egypt, Greece and Italy. Back in Paris at loose ends, he fortuitously remembered that Atelier 17, the renowned studio of master printer Stanley William Hayter, was in that very city, in the 14th arrondissement. The reliable Parisian Japanese network connected him with the Tokyo artist Yayanagi Tsuyoshi, then working at Atelier 17, who introduced him to Hayter. And thus began a wondrously rich affiliation. From 1967 through 1969, Matsutani pulled untold numbers of etchings and engravings on the presses of Atelier 17. He approached printmaking with a methodical concentration—each day occupying the left corner of the second table, his back to the door, mastering the burin, Hayter’s favorite tool to make a line. As an artist in Japan’s avant-garde Gutai movement, Matsutani pursued experimentation in action. However, printmaking’s alchemy—that’s the perfect word for it—forces the artist to proceed step by step. A finished plate goes through a medley of actions: brushing on varnishes, etching with acids or engraving with the burin,
preparing the rag papers, as well as setting up the press itself. Only the printmaker fully understands all these actions. Matsutani watched, imitated and calculated the mastery necessary to be able to forget about skill and give himself over altogether to action. He had gone through this same process earlier, in Japan, working with vinyl adhesive on canvas (a tricky material process) to create three-dimensional, sexually reminiscent forms. In printmaking, he explored more and more daring approaches by cutting the plates into the forms of his vinyl works, juxtaposing lines and employing unexpected color solutions. A joyful freedom suffused the work, but also always an anxiety to renew, to find the new. One day he said unexpectedly, “Show me how to make a silk-screen print.” The force of flat, intense color achieved in silk-screening impressed him. He took to it with a wild energy. He coupled etching or burin with silk-screened forms. He returned to painting, which fed the prints, which in turn nurtured the paintings. He improvised preparing screens in daring new ways: One evening he tossed a handful of rice onto a photosensitive screen rather than cut a stencil to transfer a form. It was a Man Ray sort of gesture. But it also arose from the Gutai work, which supplied him not only with forms but also with the notion of the importance of uninhibited action. Next, going a step further, he focused on transforming photos of his early object paintings, blown up almost to their original size and transferred to stencils. A three-dimensional form embodied through a filtered photo in gentle grays or disappearing purples and whites suspends the images in time like haunting memories. Matsutani’s production of prints is less extensive now, but the energy of action, even in his newest etchings, has never waned. —Kate Van Houten
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, 2018. Photo: Iwan Baan.
Down to Earth
Architect Thomas Phifer’s explorations of architecture for art
“Clarity. And warm bread.” Those are the two things that architect Thomas Phifer remembers most indelibly from Italy in 1976—his first time living outside his native South Carolina— while attending a Genoa academy affiliated with Clemson University, his alma mater. The rustic bread, “a revelation to someone accustomed to the sliced-ina-plastic-bag kind,” came steaming from the bakery downstairs each morning. The clarity, as it has for generations of American architects taking the traditional grand tour of Athens and Rome, the Near East and North Africa, came from the old stone monuments of the classical world— amplified years later by a residency at the American Academy in Rome. Of Rome, Phifer recalls less the well-trafficked Forum than the adjacent Palatine Hill, in which the ruined villas and palaces of ancient aristocrats and emperors have become so embedded in two millennia of geology that the lines between architecture and landscape have blurred. Phifer remembers especially, during his college travels, a visit to the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London, Britain’s oldest public art museum. The 1815 design by the radical classical architect and antiquarian Sir John Soane features a system of greenhouselike rooftop lanterns, innovative for its time, that direct a diffuse—and, for a gray metropolis, surprisingly luminous— daylight onto the Poussins and Gainsboroughs below. “It was a clarity about daylight,” recalls Phifer, “and the movement of light.” Back in America, after a decade working with architect Richard Meier— whose signature white-walled grid-pluscurve motifs were epitomized in Los Angeles’ own modern acropolis, the Getty Center—Phifer began his own
by Thomas de Monchaux
practice in 1997. He produced a series of celebrated houses and pavilions that he describes now as “light buildings that landed lightly on the land.” Silvery and sprightly in reflective glass or white-coated steel, all stilts and fins and latticework meshes, these buildings combine an expression of technology and tectonics gratifying to any admirer of High Tech monuments like Richard Rogers and Renzo Piano’s 1970 Pompidou Center in Paris. Phifer’s early buildings have a tendency—thanks to slender but deeply overhanging eaves or diaphanous walls that surpass the boxes they bound, shedding layers as they go— to melt into air. But when he made them, he was still very much in the process of learning what he wanted. “Even though the buildings that were done then seem very calm and simply organized,” he says, “I was unsettled about the work.” What unsettled him was that the buildings themselves were unsettled in their relation to the ground upon which they sat, seeming to float above it. After mastering a certain soap-bubble lightness, he wanted to understand how a building could be more like a river stone, embedded in the flow of its place. “We were trying to get at this heaviness,” says Phifer of his practice, “to get down to earth. Landscape seems to me like a stiff word, but the word land carries the weight of the world. I think when you talk of the work of Michael Heizer”— the sculptor whose 1970 piece Double Negative, two 50-foot trenches incised into the edge of a Nevada mesa, helped birth the Land Art movement—“you don’t say that he was digging into the landscape. You say the earth.” The earth that Phifer eventually found his own way into—not
water garden. “There’s the memory of Ryōan-ji, of losing the horizon and what happens then,” says Phifer, referring to the 17th-century clay-walled rock garden in Kyoto that is all sky and ground, air and earth. That Japanese rock garden features 15 boulders, some in compositions not so different from the subtly pinwheeling array of Phifer’s boxy and stony pavilions. One of his pavilions, with a prodigious 18-foot-deep singlepour concrete soffit overhead—and an even taller pane of glass that unexpectedly lines one side of a relatively narrow slot cut into its seeming mass—accommodates the entrance. Another pavilion, a kind of visual breakout room distinguished by a wooden lining and a vast window, looks out and away from the cloister, toward a meadowy vale. The view from that window, in the context of an art museum, necessarily becomes another kind of picture, and its prominence underscores an essential element of Phifer’s thinking. The stiffness connoted for him in the word landscape seems to derive, at least in part, from its function as a pictorial word, like the word portrait, already framed and hung. Architecture has long had a fraught relationship with art, to which it intentionally or inadvertently provides the pedestal or enclosure. To neoclassical architects like Soane, architecture was itself the Mother Art, on a continuum of plasticity and proportionality with the sculpture and drawing that architects long obliged themselves to master. And yet a work of architecture’s defining distinction, separating it from a notionally more selfreferential or self-reliant artwork, is its service to what architects call program: the sheltering of the events and people
“In architecture, if you’re not shaky, you’re not being curious.”
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, 2018. Photo: Iwan Baan.
coincidentally in the occasional company of Heizer himself—is situated on a few hundred rolling acres in Potomac, Maryland, on a low hill once dotted with dairy barns and stables. The land is part of the estate of Mitchell P. Rales, a billionaire industrialist, and his wife, Emily Wei Rales, a curator and art historian, who, in 2006, opened the Glenstone Museum—Glen for neighboring Glen Road, stone in honor of nearby quarries—to display pieces from their substantial collection of postWorld War II art, in a building designed by Meier’s close contemporary, Charles Gwathmey. Phifer’s new addition— a short walk away through glades and wildflowers configured by the landscape design firm of Peter Walker—is, in its own way, all glen and stone. It’s a freestanding complex of some dozen granitic and prismatic cast concrete pavilions embedded into grassy berms and swales, half-buried like the ruins of Rome’s Palatine Hill, all arranged around a central sunken water garden and accompanied by separate wood-clad amenity and admission pavilions. The $200 million complex, which opened in October to critical acclaim, adds some 50,000 square feet of gallery space to the 9,000 square feet of the original Gwathmey structure and is projected to accommodate a tenfold increase in visitors, to some 100,000 a year. Most of Phifer’s skylighted but largely windowless gallery pavilions are customized to the long-term display of work by a single artist—Michael Heizer, Roni Horn, Brice Marden, Cy Twombly, Lygia Pape, Pipilotti Rist and others. Visitors move between the pavilion rooms in tunnel-like passageways and around a glassy cloister surrounding the
and things that take place within. The accommodation of art, and the ritual of its experiencing, is a special case of that sheltering. Different eras of design have deferred to and accommodated art in different ways—the palatial enfilade of salons established by Soane at Dulwich; the “neutral” white-cube galleries of the 20th century; the adaptive reuse of large-scale industrial warehouses and factories born of the good-bones, lowrent structures legendarily converted into studios and homes by artists beginning in the 1960s and 1970s in neighborhoods like Manhattan’s SoHo. The non-neutrality of an ostensibly neutral gallery space, even and especially of clinic-white walls, was made plain by Brian O’Doherty in his canonical 1976 essay “Inside the White Cube,” which described such space as a kind of wishful fiction: “The outside world must not come in. Walls are painted white. Unshadowed, white, clean, artificial—
the space is devoted to technology of esthetics.…Ungrubby surfaces are untouched by time and its vicissitudes. Art exists in a kind of eternity of display, and though there is lots of ‘period’ (late modern), there is no time.” Phifer describes this yearning for timelessness, for “a container without character,” as a misunderstanding of Modernism: “The best artwork gets challenged a bit by its architecture.” This capacity to withstand—indeed to inspire—a meaningfully challenging context might be one definition of successful art, and conversely, the provision of such a context might define successful architecture. One purpose of a gallery, both literally and figuratively, is to prompt points of view on the work it contains. A contemporary challenge is that the adapted former industrial spaces that were once, in their picturesquely grubby character, such a tonic to the false neutrality of the white cube have now,
Glenstone Museum, Potomac, Maryland, 2018. Artwork: Brice Marden, Moss Sutra With the Seasons, 2010â&#x20AC;&#x201C;15. Photo: Iwan Baan.
in their success, become another kind of default setting into which all sorts of connotations and associations are already tacitly embedded—another impetus for Phifer and his contemporaries, in designing art spaces, to try to establish new terms.
North Carolina Museum of Art, Raleigh, North Carolina. Photo: Scott Frances.
His own understanding of container and character was developed in two earlier major American museum projects. His building for the North Carolina Museum of Art in Raleigh, opened in 2010, is essentially a single 65,000-square-foot gallery room, divided by a composition of thick partitions that stop well below a dramatic ceiling—a sweeping array of filtered elliptical skylights that resolve through double-curved vaults into a grid of narrow rectangular panels. Sculpture courts—one of them a reflection pool, anticipating Glenstone’s water garden—
form notches around the main space’s perimeter and function like outdoor rooms. A big box under a big roof, the North Carolina Museum encourages a kind of speculative, wandering drift by visitors—accomplished by leaving open the corners of the spaces defined by the partitions and by sustaining a kind of optical orientation along the grain of the visually stimulating ceiling. The idea of universal flexibility under a do-it-all roof is a longtime dream of modern architecture, dating back at least as far as the early work of Mies van der Rohe and epitomized by his 1968 Berlin Neue Nationalgalerie, which is seemingly a floating roof, with nearinvisible glass facades somewhere far behind the perimeter of its profound overhangs. But as Phifer acknowledges, “Flexible spaces can sometimes become noncommittal, and sometimes you need commitment. Sometimes the room has to be accommodated with the work.” If you could map the looping, drifting trajectories of the North Carolina Museum’s visitors between all those partitions, you might find the almost calligraphic lines of the kind traced by the internal partition walls of Phifer’s 2015 Corning Museum of Glass Contemporary Art + Design Wing, at a former industrial site in Corning, New York. Viewed from above, these lines form a sinuous figure suspended inside rectilinear edges. The curves of the cyclorama-like white-plastered walls stop well below the ceiling, as in North Carolina, and amplify effects of daylight and shadow. Since glass art— unlike paintings or works on paper— can hold up under, and in fact invites, unusually bright daylight, the ceiling above is almost all glass between fin-like beams. The curves below direct visitors’ footsteps and sight lines away from the walls and toward the in-the-round displays of three-dimensional objects. Interestingly, one of Phifer’s inspirations
for these curves against straight edges came not from fellow architects but from a painter. “I love Brice Marden’s work,” Phifer told me at the time of the design. “I began to look at his paintings very closely—he takes these ribbons of color, he connects them and directs them. I love the interactions with the edge of the painting, that wonderful tension there.”
Thomas Phifer, 2018. Photo: Iwan Baan.
At Corning, the idea of the white cube is somehow turned inside out: The exterior of the cubical gallery volume was engineered, through glass encasing various polyvinyl laminates, to produce perhaps the whitest white that’s materially possible—in stark juxtaposition to the weathered patinas of the surrounding manufacturing campus and the charcoal-like cladding that Phifer gave to an adjacent sawtooth-roofed structure, formerly a Steuben Glass factory building, now a theater. This juxtaposition of light and dark volumes anticipates a current work-in-progress
by Phifer, the Museum of Modern Art and TR Warszawa Theater in Warsaw, Poland, in which, as if in an impossible chess endgame with only two pieces, a dark cast-steel performance center uncannily counterbalances a pale concrete gallery block. Marden has returned to Phifer as one of the artists whose work, in a pas de deux of architecture and art, occupies a singular room at Glenstone. So too, does the work of the painter Cy Twombly, another master of calligraphic ribbons inscribed within rectangles, who died in 2011. The year before, Phifer visited Twombly at a storefront studio he kept in the small town where he was born, Lexington, Virginia. The work space was a deep and narrow former eye-doctor’s office, a remarkably pedestrian room whose linoleumfloored humility has been documented in Remembered Light, a project by the photographer Sally Mann. Phifer recalls his practice being in a state of philosophical flux during this period, and his nervousness about meeting Twombly, whose work had long influenced his design thinking, compounded his general anxiety. But “in architecture, if you’re not shaky, you’re not being curious,” he says. He was surprised by the studio. “It had all come out of there: just a storefront studio with a nine-foot drop ceiling. It took a minute to get my head around that.” Phifer remembered that Twombly spoke relatively little of his own gallery pavilion at Glenstone. “He talked instead about the ensemble. He said that you need to move toward abstraction. He was an amazing critic of architecture.”
After mastering a certain soap-bubble lightness, he wanted to understand how a building could be more like a river stone, embedded in the flow of its place.
lucky as to have it be raining when you strip the cast from the concrete, you get these streaks,” subtle watermarks that travel in a sinuous but syncopated way across the grid of the blocks. “It’s raw,” says Phifer, “but extremely precise”—more, perhaps, like a piece of Genoa bread, touched irreversibly by vicissitude, than a pre-cut slice from an industrially uniform loaf. A serendipitous virtue of those cast blocks—at least in the context of some architects’ and artists’ affection for thinking in multiples of certain measurements—is that they could be stacked to a height of precisely 192 inches, which proved to be significant in one important case. “What I learned from Michael Heizer,” says Phifer, “is that he went below the horizon.” Phifer’s pavilion for Heizer is open to the sky, another losthorizon courtyard and Ryōan-ji, enclosing the 1967–2016 sculpture Collapse, in which long, square tubes of Cor-Ten weathering steel poke out of a rectangular pit lined with the same material and set into the earth. The rectangle of the pit is misaligned with the rectangle of the courtyard. The ground in between was originally to be covered in gray gravel to match the concrete walls, “but six months out, he changed the gravel to red,” says Phifer, extending the rusty russet of the weathering steel, “and that changed everything.” Heizer also wanted to set the height of the walls to match the depth of the pit, and it turned out that both dimensions could be resolved evenly to 192 inches, rising and descending. “It was very simple for him,” Phifer recalls. “How far you go down is how far you go up. “I wish we could all have that kind of clarity.”
“It was very simple for him,” Phifer says of the sculptor Michael Heizer. “How far you go down is how far you go up.”
Corning Museum of Glass, Corning, New York, 2018. Artwork: Javier Pérez, Carroña (Carrion), 2011. Photo: Scott Frances.
The memory of that Lexington storefront echoed in Phifer’s reflections to me about the kind of space we call a room: “Rooms have height and depth and width. They have ways of entering. They have their own character. They have openings. They have proportions. They are rooms. They are not flexible spaces.” About Glenstone, he said, “Because it’s an embedded building”—embedded perhaps like a storefront in a small town main street—“it’s not a reversible building.” The room intended for Twombly’s work has one of the more striking approaches among the Glenstone pavilions. A long, shadowy passageway gives way to a tall room with proportions almost like one cube stacked above another. “Daylight comes from above, and we’re not filtering it very much,” Phifer says. “There’s just 45 feet of height for the light to fall on the work.” One way in which Phifer’s rooms at Glenstone, unlike the white cube of Doherty’s critique, admit the outside world and acknowledge time is through the absence of artificial lighting. The rooms are illuminated by daylight alone, and their experience thus changes by the hour and the season. “On a darkened day in December,” says Phifer of Twombly’s room, “the work is going to be brooding.” At Glenstone, there’s also not much that’s white. Inside, the pavilion walls and floors are mostly cast concrete, while outside, they have been clad in unusual masonry: more concrete, but cast into blocks (in whole-number dimensions of one foot by one foot by six feet that recall the scale of the human body), and then stacked into walls like oversized bricks. “We cast 25,000 of them on-site in just 12 months,” says Phifer. “And if you’re so
AMERICANS DOING EVERYDAY AMERICAN THINGS * She had an inside and an outside now and suddenly she knew how not to mix them, 2018, oil on canvas, 43 × 54". All artwork: © Amy Sherald. Courtesy the artist, Monique Meloche Gallery, and Hauser & Wirth.
Three new paintings, with details
* In a 2016 interview for the National Endowment for the Arts, Amy Sherald was asked about her motivations in painting African-American figures. She said she hoped her work would be seen as “portraits of Americans doing everyday American things.”
Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between, 2018, oil on canvas. 100 Ă&#x2014; 67".
She always believed the good about those she loved, 2018, oil on canvas, 43 Ă&#x2014; 54".
A survey of Sherald’s work, “Amy Sherald,” continues through December 31 at the Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas.
I had known that I wanted to do the painting that became Planes, rockets, and the spaces in between for a long time. I had the stretcher built two or three years ago, but the idea was never really the right idea. It’s something I’ve always wanted do, to place figures in an open landscape, and I thought for years about how that would work and what it would look like. I wanted it to have the same essential qualities that the individual portraits have. I knew I wanted the horizon line to be low. I knew I wanted the sky to take up most of the painting and I wanted you to feel almost as if you’re walking up behind the two women, into their space but feeling that, if you crossed that threshold into their space, your body might turn the same kind of gray they are, that something would happen to you. Where did the rocket come from? It’s kind of hard to figure that out myself. Part of it was that I just had to fill the space, and I had to think of something. A bird wasn’t going to work. It wouldn’t be big enough. There’s something about a rocket—it’s symbolic of the highest height of the spirit, of unlimited potential. It really captures your imagination because it’s going someplace where we can’t go. It’s almost like a dream. It’s just a very American thing, watching rockets go up. But I also feel like rockets are very white and very male, somehow, you know, the space program, all those white guys. The two women who served as the models were women I met when I went to a meeting once at the Baltimore Renaissance Academy High School, when we were raising money to send the students there to see the movie Black Panther. One woman had graduated from the school a few years earlier and the other woman is a teacher. As soon as they walked into the room for the meeting, I knew that they were the ones for the painting, so I asked them.
There’s also something in the painting that makes it feel uneasy, and I’m not quite sure what it is. Maybe it’s that you can’t see the face of the woman on the left, or that the woman on the right is turning around and looking right at you, directly, and you feel excluded from what they’re seeing, not belonging to the scene. I think a lot about the gaze, and that’s why my figures look directly at the viewer. When I grew up, there was a way to act in public and to act around white people, and when I was young and immature, I internalized that. But as I got older, I began to figure it out and take it apart. It’s like walking around and trying to sense who’s your friend and who’s your enemy, as a black person. In a way, I feel like I’m trying to rid myself of that sense in painting. The people have relieved themselves of the need to perform, and they’re just being themselves. When you walk into the painting, you’re walking into their space. The gaze is different. I think about when my parents grew up, in the Deep South, in the 1930s and ’40s, and that they were really lucky not to get lynched, my father in particular. I’ve always read about lynching and the reasons why men in particular were lynched, sometimes for just looking at a white woman, in passing, just an incidental look or a perceived look. So for me, the idea of the gaze is really powerful. I don’t take it for granted. I wouldn’t say that the rocket painting is really a new direction. I’m not going to quit making individual portraits. But there are some ideas that just don’t fit into those canvases. Let’s call this a meaningful tangent. —Amy Sherald
What then of these images here, cast off from the surface, merely, with nothing to impede their discharge or their progress? They travel, therefore, faster and cover a greater distance in the time it takes the light of the sun to fill the sky. As a demonstration of how impressively rapid these images are, let us consider a lake or a pond, some body of water, the surface of which reflects light. You can see in the smooth water the constellations above answering back in their twinkle in the pond’s motionless water. You see, here, how the image came down from the distant heaven to appear again almost instantaneously on earth. And from this you may infer the rate at which images move. ucretius, from Book iv, De rerum natura L (On the Nature of Things, trans. David R. Slavitt)
Air Burial, Solid cast glass with as-cast surfaces; 51 ¾" height, 53–56" (tapered) diameter. All photos: Michael Wolcover. Artwork: © Roni Horn. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
A look at new work by Roni Horn
Roni Horn’s Air Burial (2014–17) belongs to an important group of cast-glass works that the artist has made since the mid-1990s. Air Burial—the title refers in part to the Tibetan funerary practice of leaving a body exposed on a mountaintop—is the first of these works conceived specifically by Horn to be sited outdoors amid
the elements and to assimilate into the local ecology. This iteration, installed in Cairngorm National Park in Scotland, will be shaped by natural factors such as temperature fluctuations, wind, rain and snow. Over time, the sculpture will break down—an entropy intrinsic to the work as it adopts the identity of its surroundings.
PIERRE HUYGHE UUmwelt
3 OCTOBER 2018 – 10 FEBRUARY 2019 Serpentine Galleries Kensington Gardens London W2 3XA
Pierre Huyghe, UUmwelt, Installation view, Serpentine Gallery, London, (3 October 2018 – 10 February 2019). Photograph © Ola Rindal. Courtesy of the artist and Serpentine Galleries.
THE FANZHI FOUNDATION FOR ART AND EDUCATION Zeng Fanzhi, widely considered one of the most important Chinese artists working today, sees his role in the country’s emerging art world as one that extends far beyond the creation of his own work. “It’s not just me; everyone who works in the art industry here is responsible for contributing to the development of Chinese contemporary art,” says the Beijing-based artist. “It is a great motivation that keeps my feet on the ground.” Zeng’s contribution to this effort is the Fanzhi Foundation for Art and Education, a nonprofit organization he founded in 2011, whose stated mission is to support and promote art and cultural events in collaboration with institutions from around the world.
Combining art and education, Zeng contends, is essential to building the next generation of artists and arts audiences. He understands this from experience. “Times were difficult during my early years of studying art,” he says of growing up in the central Chinese city of Wuhan. “There weren’t many learning opportunities around, let alone opportunities to exhibit my own works. This is why I feel it’s important to groom and support the growth of young artists today.” One source of this support is the Tanhualin Road Fellowship, which Zeng set up five years before establishing the Fanzhi Foundation. Named after the historic Tanhualin Road, where Wuhan’s arts district now resides, the fellowship is granted to young artists studying at Zeng’s alma mater, the prestigious Hubei Institute of Fine Arts. More than 227 students have been awarded the fellowship and have been shown in group exhibitions since its inception. But Zeng hopes to encourage students to think beyond prizes and accolades. “Young artists need to reflect upon their background, identity and strengths,” he says. “The earlier they can figure them out the better, because these are decisive factors for their future creative paths.”
“ART EDUCATION SHOULD NOT BE CONFINED TO TRAINING ARTISTS. IT IS A FORM OF EDUCATION THAT TEACHES PEOPLE THINGS THAT MIGHT BE DIFFICULT TO LEARN ELSEWHERE.…THE BEST WAY TO LEARN ABOUT ART IS TO FREE OURSELVES FROM THE BIAS IMPOSED ON OUR MINDS AND TO OBSERVE AND EXPERIENCE ART.”
The other half of nurturing a viable arts community, Zeng believes, is fostering art audiences. With the massive growth in the art market of China over the last decade has come a mushrooming of private collections, galleries and museums. Museums want people to attend their exhibitions and, more comprehensively, a public hat appreciates art to seek out that art. To this end, the Fanzhi Foundation is planning a series of seminars, “with topics evoking profound influences and inspiration in art history.” “Art education should not be confined to training artists,” he explains. “It is a form of education that teaches people things that might be difficult to learn elsewhere, such as a deeper comprehension, the training of a good, critical eye and taste, as well as compassion and love. These are important for one’s life. And the best way to learn about art is to free ourselves from the bias imposed on our minds and to observe and experience art.” With the establishment of his foundation, Zeng hopes to inspire others to join the mission. “I hope more organizations and friends can come and support us,” he says. “But even if I cannot find like-minded partners to walk this path with me, I will not give up.”
117 From top: Zeng Fanzhi with other judges reviewing the entires for the Tanhualin Road Fellowship, Wuhan, 2012. The Art Talks seminar “Brushwork: Its Styles and Development in Traditional Chinese Painting,” Central Academy of Fine Arts, Beijing, 2017.
ALT (washed out by rain water S rinsed through the mineral rocks of the mountains) V EGETABLES (most of their leaves are green to catch the widest range of different light-wave lengths between ultraviolet and infrared) WATER (the substance, with more than 200 chemical anomalies, that enabled the evolution of organic forms!)
Cut the vegetables in pieces. Pour over saltwater so that they are fully covered. Let them rest and ferment for 3 to 21 days. Take out. Drip off. Enjoy. Did you think they were made with vinegar? Wrong. It is one of the facts that made me aware that I should remember not to trust my first assumptions.
est place to take a friend B visiting from out of town I try to mix art with natural beauty. The Box, in downtown L.A., always has interesting exhibitions. I like to take people on hikes in Elysian Park, L.A.’s second largest park. Or, for a more manicured outdoor experience, it’s hard to beat the Huntington Library, Art Collections and Botanical Gardens in Pasadena. I particularly recommend the cactus and succulent garden. Ideal Sunday in the city I would begin with breakfast burritos at Country Kitchen in Malibu, followed by a few hours of surfing and sunning at Surfrider Beach. Having close access to the Pacific Ocean is a huge part of what makes L.A. so special. For dinner, I’d go to Casita Del Campo, a classic Mexican restaurant in Silverlake with delicious food and margaritas.
Ventura Favorite escape from the city I love my hometown of Ventura. It’s a beautiful seaside community with strong ties to ocean culture and great, cheap eats.
Foxglove Best place to take a friend visiting from out of town The new Herzog & de Meuron– designed Tai Kwun space in Central is great for a dose of arts, heritage and architecture. This historic compound of the former Central Police Station has been transformed into an urban oasis for contemporary art and cultural events.
Worship Favorite place to shop Vashti Windish and Sara Villard’s vintage boutique Worship, in Echo Park, always has interesting and fun stuff. Oof Books, which opened in Cypress Park last year, is a small, beautifully curated shop dedicated to art books. Artist & Craftsman Supply, which has two locations in L.A., is employee owned and has everything you need to make art.
David Shull, Head Technician, Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles
Ying Yue Li, Director, Hauser & Wirth Hong Kong
Favorite music venue I used to play and attend many shows at Zebulon in Brooklyn before it closed in 2012, so I was glad when Zebulon was reborn in Frogtown a year ago; it books some of the best shows in town. Another must for underground music is Ye Olde Hushe Clubbe, hosted every Wednesday by Nora Keyes and Don Bolles, at Hyperion Tavern in Silver Lake.
Our personal picks in the places where we live
Favorite unexpected place I love hiking in the lush green hills of Chuen Lung, a Hakka village with a history stretching back 600 years, at the foot of Hong Kong’s highest mountain, Tai Mo Shan. After hiking, Duen Kee Dim Sum and Choi Lung Teahouse are perfect for bamboo steamers of dim sum and Chinese tea.
Favorite music venue Foxglove in Central is a glamorous speakeasy hidden behind a bespoke-umbrella storefront, with rooms inspired by vintage luxury liners and trains. There’s live music throughout the week, mostly jazz ensembles, but I once saw a great Cantonese rockabilly band there. A more low-key option is Visage One, which is a cozy one-man hair salon during the day, and on Saturday evenings it becomes an intimate venue for jazz and blues musicians.
Sai Ying Pun Favorite place for a drink Ping Pong, a Spanish gin bar is located in the quieter streets of Sai Ying Pun. A former ping-pong hall, it has retained its industrial interior, and it often showcases the works of local artists.
Favorite escape from the city Sai Kung is a beautiful peninsula north of Hong Kong with hiking trails, fishing villages, and beaches. You can take a speedboat from Sai Kung village to the white sands and turquoise waters of Tai Long Wan or hike the Hunchbacks trail over Ma On Shan for stunning views.
Phillip Edward Spradley, Events Manager, Hauser & Wirth New York Favorite music venue I go to hear music of varied genres, which takes me to venues across the city. Currently, my favorite places in Manhattan are Pianos and Mercury Lounge on the Lower East Side, and Village Vanguard in the West Village. In Brooklyn, I favor Saint Vitus Bar in Greenpoint, Baby’s All Right and Rough Trade in Williamsburg, and Elsewhere and Alphaville in Bushwick. That may seem like a lot, but it’s only a fraction of what’s available in New York.
Baby’s All Right Favorite performance venue The Slipper Room, a Lower East Side theater and lounge with burlesque and comedy variety shows, is a good spot any day of the week. It’s not
New York Aileen Corkery, Director, Hauser & Wirth London
for the shy: if you are close to the stage, you might receive a verbal assessment or be asked onstage to take part in a ritual of (fun) humiliation. Favorite place for a drink ABC Beer Co., in the East Village, has rotating selection of beers on tap and an impressive selection of beers to go. I’m partial as well to a dive bar that makes a decent Old Fashioned: Whiskey Town, also in the East Village, has a wide variety of whiskey and a place to throw darts. Good restaurant for a big dinner party Bacaro and Mission Chinese, both on the Lower East Side, are great for big parties, whether they’re vegan or carnivore. Another great place for all, especially for pancakes or mac’n’cheese at 4 a.m., is L’Express on Park Avenue South. Favorite place to shop Printed Matter, in Chelsea and the East Village, has a great selection of criticaltheory books, artists’ prints and tons of self-published artist books.
Printed Matter Favorite park My favorite park to have a drink is Riverside Drive Park, at either Boat Basin Café or Ellington in the Park. My favorite park to run around in is Socrates Sculpture Park in Long Island City, Queens. For people-watching, it's Fort Greene Park. And of course, there is always Central Park, where I constantly find surprises. Favorite escape from the city I was born in upstate New York, in Newburgh, north of Storm King Arts Center and west of Dia:Beacon. Upstate is beautiful, especially during the fall. I’m happy if I can make it to Cold Spring or Beacon for a day trip or a weekend.
Favorite park When I walk along the Regents Canal towpath in the park, I have no idea what century it is. And a swim in the mixed pond on Hampstead Heath, at 7:30 a.m., with its quiet and timeless landscape, is a genuine gift to Londoners. Favorite performance venue I love to attend afternoon matinees at the Almeida Theatre in Islington, where you’ll see the best contemporary playwrights, directors and actors.
Hampstead Heath Favorite place to eat The high-end seafood restaurant Scott’s, in Mayfair, keeps me very happy
(especially during highly demanding times like Frieze Week). The setting, food and service are always immaculate.
Favorite art space The nonprofit arts organization Studio Voltaire, in Clapham, which is currently showing McDermott & McGough’s powerful “Oscar Wilde Temple.” This is also the home of House of Voltaire, a truly groundbreaking artist pop-up shop.
Simone Rocha Favorite place to shop Mayfair is undeniably one of the most remarkable areas to browse and shop. Here you’ll find the Simone Rocha flagship store, the classic British label Connolly (incredible pieces of English and Italian heritage design) and the TukTuk Flower Studio for gorgeous flower arrangements. In St. James’s, you’ll find Tricker’s for shoes, Hatchards bookstore, and, of course, the incomparable Dover Street Market, where you’ll find my number one place for lunch, Rose Bakery.
Dover Street Market Favorite escape from the city When I need to get away from this dynamic but exhausting city, Ireland is an easy hop. My favored destinations are Lismore, County Waterford, on the east side of the island; the Burren, County Clare, on the west; and Schull, County Cork, on the south.
Zurich pit stop. Next, I’d go to Kunsthaus Zurich to see the amazing Adolf Wölfli works there. If it’s summertime, I’d head to the Frauenbadi on the lake, which is a women’sonly bathhouse during the day and the “barefoot” bar Barfussbar in the evening. In the cold seasons, I might go to the Markthalle, which has a variety of restaurants and, of course, the Löwenbräu art complex across the street.
Best place to take a friend visiting from out of town A stroll through the old town to the lakeside is dazzling.
Not many cities can boast such scenery right in the middle of town, with a panoramic view of the Alps in the distance. In summer, bring your swim gear, rent a pedal boat and take a dive into the lake.
Favorite place to eat
Ideal Sunday in the city
I’d start the day at one of the many cafés all over the city for a casual breakfast, then I’d stroll through the beautiful Rieterpark to Museum Rietberg, which has an astonishing collection of art from Asia, Africa and the ancient Americas. After that, I’d head back to town for a late lunch in the Niederdorf area, and perhaps get bratwurst at
A remarkable trend in Zurich right now is temporary restaurants in unusual locations, with exciting menus. They are located in soon-to-bedemolished houses, awkward spaces like garages, or hidden garden pavilions, and vanish after two weeks.
Favorite place for a drink
Nothing beats the atmosphere at the Kronenhalle Bar, a legendary watering hole with an expert barkeeper (he does a good Negroni). The moment you step into the room, with its beautiful mahogany paneling and Diego Giacometti lamps, the outside world retreats.
Vorderer Sternen—a classic
Florian Berktold, Director, Hauser & Wirth Zurich
Favorite place to shop The Bahnhofsstrasse is the
shopping area for swanky stuff. If you cross one of the bridges over to Niederdorf, the old part of Zurich, you’ll find quirky, seedy and posh shops. Behind the Grossmünster church, you’ll find a number of superb antiquarian bookshops.
Favorite place to unwind
The river badi (outdoor pool) on the Letten section of the river is a unique place to swim. The pool is flanked by bars and a park area, making it the ideal place to relax in the middle of the city.
Late Capitalism Studio Roam, Arshile Gorsky blanket Sonia Ambrosano and Lachlan Munro met at the renowned Scottish College of Textiles and teamed up in 2007 to found Studio Roam, a luxury textile and knitwear company with its own micro factory on the banks of the River Tweed in Galashiels, Scotland, in sight of Sir Walter Scott’s pastoral-fantasia estate, Abbotsford House. The town, steeped in the history of the textile industry and renowned for its local yarn spinners, drew Ambrosano and Munro, who wanted to honor its heritage while at the same time producing textiles with a distinctly contemporary vibe. Now in its fifth year of collaborating with Hauser & Wirth, Studio Roam has painstakingly transformed the works of artists Mary Heilmann, Lee Lozano and Eva Hesse from paint to yarn. This process, described by Munro as a translation, bridges traditional knitting and digital technology with the goal not only of producing a faithful reproduction but of capturing an original artwork’s presence and character. The duo’s latest effort, a cashmere blanket in collaboration with the estate of Arshile Gorky (1904–48), uses more than three million stitches in order to suggest the painter’s intricate brushstrokes in a boldly graphic semi-abstract gouache and watercolor study from 1939, Transport by Air, Sea and Rail. Color selection, always important in the designers’ process, in this case required yarns specially dyed to order in Italy. Overcoming such technical hurdles is tough enough, Munro explains, but the biggest challenge will always be the more ineffable one of translationfrom one medium into another, from art into functional object.“If we’re successful,” he says, “the blankets take on a new life as they drape and fold and wrap, and new perspectives and forms reveal themselves.”—Madeleine Taurins
Alba fragrance Hauser & Wirth has once again collaborated with perfumer Julian F. Bedel, the Argentine founder of Fueguia 1833 Patagonia. A new fragrance inspired by Iwan and Manuela Wirth’s commitment to the landscape, history and sporting culture of the Scottish Highlands. (Alba is the Scots Gaelic word for Scotland.) The scent, structured around bog myrtle, heather and Scots pine, is made in a limited quantity. Each bottle comes wrapped in paper made from Scots pines and encased in a handmade cedar box. Takesada Matsutani notebook This is a special artist’s version of the A5 notebook, handcrafted in Japan by the innovative stationery brand Postalco. The cover artwork for the notebook, Hands On, was created in 2017 in graphite pencil and black ink, especially for this collaboration, by the painter, sculptor and printmaker Takesada Matsutani. The notebook features archival photographs and text throughout. Dieter Roth silk scarf This scarf, 100 percent silk twill, made in Italy, is a collaboration between Jane Carr, the esteemed British luxury accessories designer, and the estate of Dieter Roth (1930–98), one of the most daring and influential artists of his generation. The design is based on the large tablemats that covered Roth’s work surfaces and became visual diaries of his creative process.
Photo: Oresti Tsonopoulos.
Jack Whitten (1939–2018) One of the late 20th century’s great, under-sung painters, Jack Whitten was also renowned among friends and fellow artists as a great wordsmith— a magnetic talker and a deeply sensitive writer. Beginning in the early 1960s and continuing until just before his death, Whitten maintained a personal studio log on an almost daily basis, a free-form amalgam of diary, commonplace book, laundry list, comic monologue, selfencouragement and existential philosophizing. Taken together, the logs form a vivid record of a pivotal era in the New York art world, of Whitten’s own mind and of his struggles as an African-American painter and citizen. 128
He called his writings “Notes From the Woodshed,” a tribute, as the curator and historian Katy Siegel notes, to jazz musicians’ description of improvisation as simultaneously freeing and hard work, a letting go and a digging deep. (Jack Whitten: Notes From the Woodshed, a compendium released in 2018 by Hauser & Wirth Publishers, documents and examines Whitten’s logs and his other extensive writings.) The page below is taken from logs Whitten kept in the spring of 2001, just before he embarked on an annual trip to Crete, where he and his wife, Mary, spent summers for more than four decades and where, as Whitten once said, it was much easier to “see the temporality of human existence, in the rocks and the soil.”