Retrospect A rediscovery of the pioneering artwork of Jean Follett (1917–91) by Melissa Rachleff. p. 56
Essay Gary Indiana on the submerged continent of Louise Bourgeois’ psychoanalytic writings. p. 80 Conversation Stefan Brüggemann and Iggy Pop on language, art and a plate full of marijuana. p. 98
Portfolio A rare look at portions of Charles Gaines’ Shadows series, reconsidered by Gina Osterloh. p. 86 Portfolio Travels through Mika Rottenberg’s Spaghetti Blockchain. p. 104
Oral History: Maria Lassnig, Augenmensch, 1992, oil on canvas, 49 ¼ × 39 ⅜". © Maria Lassnig Foundation. Essay: Snapshot of Louise Bourgeois with Jerry Gorovoy. © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY . Photo: Rob Singleton.
Oral History To mark the centenary of Maria Lassnig’s birth, voices from her life and work, assembled by Gesine Borcherdt. p. 42
The Keepers Our column about collecting as a mutant species of art making. In this issue: selections from Alec Soth’s extremely specific vernacular photography collection— people on seesaws. p. 66
Thanks to Mr and Mrs Ashton
The Cover Agnes Gund and Mark Bradford on the art world and social accountability. p. 26
Artwork Karin Schiesser
Score A conversation between conductor Teodor Currentzis and director Peter Sellars, moderated by curators Olivier Renaud-Clément and Caroline Bourgeois. p. 74
Photo Stefan Indlekofer Claudia Knoepfel
TO BREAK THE RULES, YOU MUST FIRST MASTER THEM.
Editor’s Note p. 8
Letters “Or is that a laff?” John Chamberlain to Leo Castelli on striking out in a new direction, September 1965. p. 10 Unknown Pleasures Joseph Grigely on stonemasonry for the self. p. 12
Antiphony A new poem by Shayla Lawson in response to Lorna Simpson’s Chess. p. 16
Epitaph Melanie Maria Goodreaux on the gathered tribes of Steve Cannon (1935–2019). p. 18
Five Cities From our artists and friends, personal views of Taos, Kyoto, San Juan, Siena and Sydney. p. 120 Permaculture Mexican designer Fernando Laposse’s symbiotic transformation of the corn husk. p. 126
Books New and upcoming publications that make us happy. p. 22 Recipe At summer’s end, a day on the beach with Maira Kalman. p. 118
Non Finito Our farewell until next time: A look back at Allan Kaprow’s barrier-toppling Sweet Wall, Berlin, 1970. p. 128
AUDEMARS PIGUET BOUTIQUES SHANGHAI WEST NANJING ROAD | BEIJING SKP | BEIJING WF CENTRAL
AUDEMARS PIGUET® | INFRARED PHOTOGRAPHY
Editor in Chief Randy Kennedy Managing Editor Catherine Davis Editorial Assistant Anna Shinbane Art Direction Common Name Production Christine Stricker Contributing Editors Andrea Schwan Michaela Unterdörfer Contributing Designer Erin Cave 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
S H AY L A L AW S O N
G ES INE B O R C HER DT
J O S EPH GR I GELY
Based in Berlin, Borcherdt is an editor at the German art magazine Blau, a supplement of the newspaper Die Welt, for which she also writes. Over the past six years she has run the exhibition space Capri in Düsseldorf. Next year, she will organize a group exhibition at Haus Mördath outside of Cologne, featuring Lynda Benglis, Laurie Simmons and Paul McCarthy, among others. Her writing also appears in Architectural Digest Germany. (Photo: Christian Werner)
Grigely is a writer and artist based in Chicago. Known for installations of gridded scraps of paper used for his daily communication, his practice engages the ephemera of his experience of being deaf. He is currently a professor of visual and critical studies at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. Recently, he has exhibited at the Centre Pompidou, the Graham Foundation, and the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has authored many books, including Textualterity: Art, Theory and Textual Criticism; Conversation Pieces; and Oceans of Love: The Uncontainable Gregory Battcock. (Photo: Amy Vogel)
MEL I S S A R AC HL EFF
O L I V IER R EN AUD - CL ÉMEN T
M A IR A K A L M A N
Rachleff is a clinical associate professor in the Visual Arts Administration Program at NYU: Steinhardt, where she concentrates on the nonprofit sector. In 2017 she curated “Inventing Downtown: Artist-Run Galleries in New York City, 1952–1965” for NYU’s Grey Art Gallery. Her essay “Do It Yourself: A History of Alternatives” was published in Alternative Histories: New York Art Spaces in 2012. In 2018, she curated “Narrative & Counternarrative: (Re)Defining the Sixties” for Bobst Library, using selections from NYU Libraries special collections archives. (Photo: Omer Ben Zvi)
Renaud-Clément has organized exhibitions and acted as an advisor to artists and estates in the United States, Europe and Japan for many years. He has worked frequently with Hauser & Wirth, collaborating with the gallery on 23 exhibitions to date. He has collaborated with Takesada Matsutani, the estate of Fabio Mauri, Lygia Pape, August Sander and Mira Schendel, among others. Renaud-Clément is the founder of the International Friends of the Munich Opera and a board member of MusicAeterna, under the musical and artistic direction of Teodor Currentzis. (Photo: Yuma Martellanz)
Kalman, based in New York, has written and illustrated numerous books for children and adults, including Ooh-la-la (Max in Love); My Favorite Things; And the Pursuit of Happiness; and The Principles of Uncertainty, and is a frequent contributor to The New Yorker, illustrating many of the magazine’s covers. Most recently, her work was exhibited at the High Museum of Art, Skirball Cultural Center, Metropolitan Museum of Art, and Julie Saul Gallery, where she has been represented since 2003.
Printed in Germany Offsetdruckerei Karl Grammlich
Lawson, a poet based in New York, serves as writer-in-residence and chair of creative writing at Amherst College. Lawson is the author of A Speed Education in Human Being; I Think I’m Ready to See Frank Ocean and the forthcoming essay collection This Is Major. Her work has appeared in Tin House, Salon.com, The Offing, Guernica and Colorado Review, among others. (Photo: Kareem Black)
Prepress Prints Professional, Berlin International Distribution pineapple-media.com Vol. 1, No. 4: 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: Mark Bradford, Life Size, 2019; cast handmade cotton paper, pigment, gouache, ink, letterpress; 12 × 9 × 1". © Mark Bradford. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Joshua White.
Limited Edition Collection, coming October 2nd 2019
Celebrating London’s architecture, Barbican Centre. Photograph: Dan Tobin Smith.
As I write this introduction to the fourth issue of the magazine—marking the first full year of Ursula in the world—I’m on vacation in Michigan, in the politically labile Midwest. A few days ago, a field of Democrats still too large to number gathered in Detroit for a second round of presidential debates, word of which reached me only distantly because I have no Wi-Fi here and barely a cell signal, a blessing and a curse. A few days earlier, the Supreme Court issued a decision giving the White House permission to use billions in Defense Department funds to wall up America’s border with Mexico. Amid these pieces of news, we are laying out the pages of our cover story, a conversation between Agnes Gund, the great collector and activist-philanthropist, and Mark Bradford, the great artist and activist-philanthropist, in which the two friends talk mostly about social justice and their work on its behalf in the world beyond what is often seen as the art world’s border, a distinction that both—along with a growing number of their counterparts—see as specious. As the artist Nayland Blake wrote recently on Twitter: “The point is not to make an art world of absolute moral purity. The point is to stop pretending that you don’t have to answer to your fellow citizens once you step inside of a museum.” The same, of course, could be said of galleries and foundations and artists’ studios. Much in this issue speaks to that challenge: Gina Osterloh’s reconsideration— seen through a deeply personal lens of race, bias and belonging—of Charles Gaines’ still too-little-known Shadows series from 1979–80; the legacy of the East Village’s late, great Steve Cannon as community builder for alternative avant-gardes; Mexican designer Fernando Laposse’s apotheosis of the humble corn husk as a way to unite beauty, utility and belief in the viability of earth as a home for the human race; Allan Kaprow’s confectionery barrier-building farce in Berlin, Sweet Wall; even the artist Alec Soth’s eccentric personal collection of snapshots of people on seesaws, an obsession that ultimately leads back to a laughably simple thought about human interdependence and joy—it takes at least two to seesaw. Situating art’s place in citizenry has always been fraught and will grow only more so as conceptions of social justice—concerning economic opportunity, immigration, law, language, culture and philanthropy—broaden and deepen in a new generation. I’ve always agreed with the sentiment Trotsky once expressed in a letter to The Partisan Review in 1938 about art’s relation to the world, set within his terms at the time: “Art can become a strong ally of revolution only in so far as it remains faithful to itself.” But this principle does not mean that artists and art institutions are in any way absolved of political responsibility, even among—indeed because of—the vast contradictions of privilege within the art world. As Hans Haacke once told me: “Yes, you do get your hands dirty, so to speak, and if you stay out of it, you might be pure. But you might also have no effect whatsoever. Unless you want to start throwing bombs, but that’s another story.” —Randy Kennedy
Frieze London & Frieze Masters 3–6 October 2019 Tickets at frieze.com
Allan Kaprow (right) knocking over Sweet Wall, 1970. © Allan Kaprow Estate. Courtesy Hannah Higgins. Photo: Dick Higgins.
This page and opposite: John Chamberlain letter to Leo Castelli, September 22, 1965. Leo Castelli Gallery records, circa 1880-2000, bulk 1957–99. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Opposite: John Chamberlain, Cerro Gordo Compound, Santa Fe, New Mexico 1966. Photo: © Dan Budnik.
In his classic 1980 New Yorker profile of the dealer Leo Castelli, Calvin Tomkins described Castelli’s traditional division of labor with his cigar-waving aide-de-camp, Ivan Karp. While Castelli dealt with the gallery’s inner-circle members—Rauschenberg, Johns, Stella— Karp kept watch over “the rougher and hairier artists.” Only one name seemed to merit specific inclusion in this second category: that of John Chamberlain—Indiana saloon-keeper’s son, World War II Navy vet, one-time Chicago hairdresser, drinker, brawler, poet and one of the 20th century’s most adventurous pioneers of polychrome sculpture, whom another dealer, Allan Stone, had once described as looking “more like a north woodsman than a sculptor.” But if Castelli considered Chamberlain too feral for comfort, Chamberlain seemed to hold the cosmopolitan dealer in almost filial regard, as evidenced by the letter above, written just after Chamberlain and his family relocated from New York to Santa Fe in 1965. In Tomkins’ profile, it becomes clear that Castelli, in his own way, returned the affection: “One time, when Chamberlain was in an unproductive period and his debt to the gallery stood at more than forty thousand dollars, Karp suggested that they cut his monthly stipend in half. ‘How could I?’ Castelli replied, in a shocked tone. ‘He couldn’t get along on that.’ The regular stipend continued.” “John Chamberlain: Baby Tycoons,” an exhibition of a rarely seen series of works begun in the late 1980s, continues through October 19 at Hauser & Wirth, 32 East 69th Street.
Stonework Travels in the art of transience by Joseph Grigely If things had gone a bit differently, I might have become a bricklayer instead of an artist. As it turned out, bricklaying led me to stonework, and stonework led me to making art, and in the process I learned about the pleasure of making. I also learned that, as an artist, a lot of what you make is simply for the meaning that comes from the making. My father was a stonemason, and throughout high school and college, I spent my summers doing masonry. We mainly built fireplaces and chimneys and block-walled buildings. The traditional New England house was built up around a massive chimney system with multiple fireplaces, and this was one of my father’s specialties. It was hard work, first as a mason’s tender, which involves mixing cement, carrying it up scaffolding in a hod and moving around heavy concrete blocks. We didn’t have mechanical lifts back in the 1970s; everything that went into a chimney we carried up a ladder on our shoulders. A hod full of 18 brick weighs 80 pounds. A single 16-inch concrete block weighs 55 pounds. Handling the materials of masonry made a mess of our hands—fingertips and knuckles skinned and bloodied. Our most important tool was a box of good Band-Aids. For various reasons, the profession of bricklaying never worked out for me. Most contractors on our job sites, the plumbers and electricians and framers, also had their sons alongside them. The doors of their trucks said things like “William Creighton & Sons, Plumbers” or “Anthony Serafin & Sons, Electricians.” But my dad’s copper- brown dump truck said simply, “J.C. Grigely, Inc. Mason Contractor.” The other contractors asked him why he left his sons out, and his reply was always the same: He wanted them to do something different. So he was very supportive when I later decided to study English literature as an undergraduate, even if I had no idea what I would do with an English degree. The idea, for a while anyway, was that I
liked reading, and if I was going to read a lot of literature, why not get a degree in it? After I had become deaf at the age of 10—I fell down a hill during a game of King on the Mountain—reading was my one, essentially singular, way of learning. But to get to the point of studying literature, I first had to graduate from high school, and this wasn’t easy for a deaf person in the 1970s. There were no sign language interpreters in my school, so I took a lot of “see-and-do” classes. Like bricklaying, wood shop and metal shop involved working mostly with my hands. In other classes, I learned to feign understanding. To keep my sanity, I would often skip school altogether and go fishing. My parents, thankfully, understood. To assuage their guilt, they bought me outdoor magazines like Field & Stream, Fly Fisherman and Outdoor Life. From their perspective, I was reading, and that’s what mattered. They wrote absentee notes that said, “Joey wasn’t feeling well on Thursday, so he stayed home,” when, in fact, I had been drifting muskrat nymphs on the Farmington River all day long. At least by tying flies and fishing, I was learning, which was more than I could say occurred in English class as I struggled to lip-read the mouths discussing The Scarlet Letter and other required texts. I flunked a lot of courses in high school. But somehow I graduated and got into college, and then made it into Oxford for graduate school. All those fishing stories I had read paid off. There would be rewards for the masonry, too, but they came later. It was at Oxford that I met the artist Rob Evans, who is largely to blame for my interest in art. On a train from London to Oxford one day, Rob brought along a copy of Delacroix’s Journal and gave me an emotional spiel about Delacroix’s The Shipwreck of Don Juan and his handling of paint and scale. He gestured expansively, spelling out words in big letters with his
Google Earth view of a Joseph Grigely stonework still visible in a quarry in Montpellier, France. © Google 2018. All images: Courtesy Joseph Grigely.
index finger. From Delacroix, he went on to Géricault. This was the beginning of my art education. During a period when I was commuting to the Keats House in Hampstead, I’d spend mornings researching Keats manuscripts and afternoons in the galleries with Rob. London was intense in the early ’80s—dungeon masters like Bacon and Freud and Auerbach ruled the Cork Street corridor, Schnabel’s plate paintings were making a scene at the Royal Academy and Tate, and Tarkovsky was visiting Riverside Studios. We would sometimes hold all-night life-drawing sessions in the common room of my classmate’s house, where we’d take turns being the model, the model being required to read poetry aloud. I got my first serious art lesson during one of these sessions, with a large sheet of paper in front of me and no idea what to do with
it. Rob saw the situation and commanded: “Stop staring at that paper. Attack it!” A few years later, in the summer of 1986, when I was in Chicago and should have been writing on Keats as part of my Mellon Fellowship obligations, I chanced upon an empty lot in Hyde Park littered with rubble from a demolished building. The rubble sang a siren’s song that said: touch me, lift me, pile me up. And so for a week I gathered the stones and piled them. I didn’t have equipment to help me, not even a wheelbarrow, so it was a bit slow. I had no mason’s level, either, so I had to do it all by eye. Finally, I had no scaffolding. As the stack rose higher and higher, I made narrow tottering shelves of stone and timber to get each stone up to the next level. It took three levels of shelves and four lifts to put the last row of stones in place, one by one. I learned
by mistake a very important rule that every builder of stone walls knows: When you pick up a stone, you want to know where it is going in the wall, because you don’t want to have to put it back into the pile of loose stone and pick it up a second time. In the summer of 1989, I spent two months in France—first in Bordeaux and later in Montpellier. While in Montpellier, I passed a lot of time in the workshop of ABRP, a small masonry atelier on the outskirts of the city near the village of SaintGeniès-des-Mourgues. ABRP was run by Antoine Bekker and Reginald Pineau. I had previously met Bekker in Chicago, where, during the opening of a show of Ulrich Rückriem’s work at the Donald Young Gallery in 1987, he explained with a series of gestures that only a stoneworker would know how Rückriem’s minimal monoliths
of Normandy blue granite were cut and assembled. Bekker invited me to visit his workshop should I come to France and I took him up on the offer. ABRP specialized in maçonnerie traditionnelle and restoration using soft limestone from the nearby quarries in Castries and Beaulieu. Its atelier was only a short walk from the abandoned part of the quarries. For several weeks, I’d walk into the quarry daily. I’d proceed along the roadway verge for a half kilometer, turn left at the first vineyard, then take another left at a two-track into the quarry. At this point the landscape became a maze of paths among shrubs, small trees and limestone pits. The walls were scarred with deep cuts from the huge carbide and diamond saw-wheels that had excised slabs from the quarry decades ago. In one area containing
three large pits, I gathered and piled stones as I had done three years earlier in Chicago. The sculptures were bigger and harder to make this time: The taller one was 14 feet high, on the edge of a pit, so I could work from only three sides. The second was longer and wider, less a tower than a blocky edifice. The stones that went into the second piece were big, some of them almost 18 inches square and weighing more than 200 pounds. They were too heavy to lift. Instead, I tumbled them to the site from different nearby locations using a simple lever apparatus to help prod them along. When they reached the rim of the pit, I’d push them over the edge. It was immensely satisfying to watch them fall 30 feet and thud into the limestone sand, to see the small puff of dust rise into the hot Mediterranean air. Sometimes, when you are making things, small moments like these are their own reward. The second sculpture was not quite right—a fact my father pointed out the moment he saw pictures of it. When building with dry stone and no mortar, gravity and friction hold things together—the more contact between stones, the better. The second sculpture had long seams and was therefore less stable. To avoid this problem, I’d needed half stones, but I wasn’t able to find any, and cutting stones was out of the question. Sometimes you have to overrule your knowledge as a way of getting things done. It was hot, dry, exhausting work, but I had two important tools at my disposal: a broad-rimmed straw hat and a pair of heavy gloves. By the time I was done, the gloves had holes worn clean through the fingers. Over the years, I have glanced at photos of these sculptures as a reminder that sometimes, when making art, you are doing it solely for the satisfaction of making it. I had imagined that the sculptures probably wouldn’t last long. But a little while ago, on a whim, I went looking for them via Google Earth. I started by finding the atelier of ABRP, then retracing my walk into the quarry. The two-track that
led into the quarry remained amazingly clear, and before long I located the three pits where I had worked. The tall sculpture was gone, probably pushed into the pit beside it, though it was hard to tell for sure because the site was overgrown with trees. But the large blocky sculpture was still largely there, mostly intact, missing only a corner. With Google Earth in 3-D, I could swivel around the piece and see it from different angles. The trees, which had had 30 years to grow, obscured some views. But as I sat in front of my computer, it felt like a small miracle to be able to see the sculpture again at all. In the mid-’80s I was trying to develop some kind of creative pathway as an artist— testing various media forms in particular. My initial attraction was to the outdoors, in part because it was a defining place for me, especially hiking in the White Mountains of New Hampshire. Around this time, I started experimenting with a genre that I called site-reflexive sculpture. Like site-specific sculpture, the work is made for a specific location; but crucial to the process is that all the materials used to make the work also come from the site itself. The stone piles I made in Chicago and in the quarries near Castries were the beginnings of this idea.
Grigely with his Montpellier stonework, 1988.
In those years I also made sculptures from fallen trees. One such project took place in the woods of northwest New Jersey, on the slope below the Appalachian Trail, near the town of Branchville. I was working part time as an assistant for the sculptor Robert Lobe, whose hammered aluminum rocks and trees were produced in the same area. One day I saw a tree that had been struck by lightning and had fallen atop two rocks. It was about 40 feet long, and the way it intersected the verticality of the trees around it with its horizontality intrigued me. For a couple of weeks I worked on it, hewing the log into a four-sided beam. I made shallow crosscuts with a chainsaw, then used a small ax to hack through the sapwood. Cleaving the underside of the log was the hardest part—it was like working in a crawl space. When I began, the nearby trees were just budding, but by the time I finished, they had fully leafed out. The beam curved slowly, then reverted back to a section of tree, then ended with a small knob of beam as a coda. Finishing a project like this, it’s hard to describe your feelings, knowing that the work has no audience, except maybe for some juncos and squirrels. Not all of the log projects were made in the woods. For five years, when I was teaching in Washington, D.C., and kept a studio in Baltimore, I made a series of sculptures I called Morphemes and Perforated Tympani. The logs, carcasses of trees felled by storms, came mostly from a log lot maintained by Montgomery County, Maryland. The wood was beautiful: cherry, red oak, ash and walnut. The Morphemes were about two feet thick, cut with a chain saw then planed with a drawknife to taper at the ends—they were named for how they looked like an elemental shape in the morphology of visual form. The Perforated Tympani were named for
Grigely’s stonework in Hyde Park, Chicago, 1986.
the way in which I became deaf: I had fallen down a hill and a tree branch perforated my eardrum, totally destroying the ear. The sculptures reversed this, consisting of slabs of tree trunks that I cut and shaped with a chain saw, then perforated with steel beams so that the wood dried and shrunk around the beam. They were a form of art that combined identity and abstraction, without privileging one over the other. When I moved my studio to the New Jersey waterfront in 1991, I started to develop more conceptual work that eventually became the basis for my first New York show at White Columns, “Conversations With the Hearing.” These conversations consisted of scraps of paper onto which people had written notes to me in the process of communicating. The notes were arranged into formal grids; the handwriting, the shape and color of the paper, and the narrative content all played a role in organizing the work. With the stoneworks, I had employed a similar process of organizing material as an irregular grid—that is, to minimize the length of the seams so that constituent elements appeared to be more integrated with one another—more of a piece, or a whole. As an artist, you learn a lot directly from
Tympanum #16, 1990.
your material, and you don’t always learn it consciously—it becomes an ineffably intuitive operation. Years later, this became evident when working on installations of a piece called White Noise at ARC in Paris (in 2000), the Whitney (in 2001), and the Pompidou Metz (in 2009). White Noise is an oval-shaped room, almost 30 feet long, 20 feet wide and 14 feet high, filled floor to ceiling with conversations on white paper. Unlike my smaller wall works, the installation has no template to guide it—it is done largely by intuition, until all 2,300 papers that comprise it have been attached to the wall, a process that takes a team of five people ten days to accomplish. The opportunity to turn from puttering in quarry pits and the studio to showing the work in a public setting occurred in 1994, when the curator Bill Arning came to my studio and offered me the show at White Columns, saying that I could do what I wanted—show the Tympani and Morphemes, or the Conversations With the Hearing. In the end, I decided to show the work that I had developed in the time since I had been in New York, the conversations. The Tympani, especially, had led me in a new direction, personalizing abstraction without letting it become too didactic. The
stoneworks had done their job in cultivating the grid as a narrative form. It was, in a sense, time to move on. It’s a given that you have to make bad stuff in order to make good stuff—work that doesn’t get seen by others, work that you do because you have to get past it. The trick is to know when to let go. Warhol said to save everything—as if it’s easy to lug around and save sculptures for 10 or 20 or 30 years. Sometimes you just need to destroy the work, like Baldessari did with his paintings—making the act of kicking in the canvas a performative turning point in his career. Yet works of art are not easily destroyed, unless they can also be destroyed from memory—they linger, even in their material absence. The stonework in Hyde Park is long since gone, but the one photograph I still have keeps it alive. The Montpellier work remains, though as a ruin. If the Branchville beam is still there, shrouded under a canopy of green, I can’t find it on Google Earth. Ultimately, the Morphemes and Tympani were destroyed, starting in 1999. Of course, I wish I had saved one, or even the parts of one—but experience and evanescence are as meaningful as materiality. Sometimes, that’s all you can hope for as an artist: to make meaning.
Works of art are not easily destroyed, unless they can also be destroyed from memory— they linger, even in their material absence.
Chess (After Lorna Simpson) by Shayla Lawson
Can you play yourself depends on the opening depends on the cross-fade wig depends on the stiff white pawn depends on the zip-up stiff of a white shift cute depends on the bent wrist mute (think). depends on your opening. depends on your opening ( ) move depends on the length of your konk depends on slick-black bloc depends on the window pane suit.
Can you play me depends on the sick-back keys depends on the five-point scale depends on the bent-five chord, its rival echo depends on if we mirror. a nation depends how much we confederation.
depends on the en passant. the thief in the rook of your neck depends on the knight’s first feel in the bishop’s close; it depends on the what that king might know. it depends on who’s your queen. Lorna Simpson, Chess, 2013; three-channel HD video, black and white, sound, looped. © Lorna Simpson. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Can you really play yourself
depends. how many castles you give to discredit my memory.
Can you really
How long can you play yourself depends— Who wins.
I Need You and You Need Me
The Legacy of Steve Cannon (1935–2019)
Steve wasn’t about hemming and hawing. He was about getting things done. In the school of Steve, ain’t nobody got time to hesitate.
Steve Cannon, 2017. Photo: Adam Golfer.
by Melanie Maria Goodreaux
I knew Steve Cannon for more than a quarter century. I knew him as the immeasurable gravitational force behind A Gathering of the Tribes, his literary and art magazine. I knew him as the sightless patriarch who presided over his storied East Village poetry and performance den with wit and grace and fierce intelligence. I knew him as the man who published our books and our poems, who came to our plays, who listened to us and counseled us and chided us and made us his tribe. I knew him as someone who had already lived several lifetimes before I met him. But until three weeks before he “left the planet,” as he would say, I somehow didn’t know that Steve had been a paratrooper during the Korean War. I found out just after he’d had hip surgery, necessitated by a fall from his exercise bike at home. I rode the empty elevators and walked the lonesome hallways of the Manhattan VA hospital to see him, presidential portraits staring bizarrely down at me from the walls, U.S. flags drooping from their poles. Steve lay shivering in a hospital gown, no smile on his face this time, his dentures across the room on a hospital tray. For once, he really looked like the old man that he was. But even with the pain of a broken bone still acute, he issued commands from his bed just as he had from the roost of his couch for so many years. “Read me my e-mails, my dear!” he said. For a man who was blind and 84 years old, Steve saw, and oversaw, many things. He was a novelist, poet, playwright, publisher, everyone’s fill-in father, mentor, culture vulture and archetype of New York City cool. A Gathering of the Tribes nested wherever he happened to be, centered since the early 1990s in his home, the townhouse he owned on East Third Street between avenues C and D. Tribes was more than a literary magazine. It was an art gallery, meeting space, website, writing collective, crash pad,
office, global hangout and a conduit for us all into Steve’s brain and compassion. He was a handsome, smooth-brown example of black-don’t-crack. We were a collection of his eyes. Steve and I were both native New Orleanians living in the big city. We enjoyed laying easy on pronunciation and telling tall tales in Southern-city accents. Whenever I could, I’d bring him a pot of my homemade gumbo. I had heard all the myths and stories that other poets and writers had heard about him, at least since he had begun losing his sight to glaucoma in the late 1980s and became “the blind guy.” How he’d yell, “Read the goddamned poem!” at the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, heckling green poets at the microphone, perched on a barstool in the back in his suit and sunglasses, full of red wine, waiting to smoke his next Winston. How he told stories in grand exaggerations in his rich New Orleans accent and slur. How he knew you for “thousands and thousands of years” and “loved you, madly” at the end of e-mails. I knew about the mound of poetry books he had published and his pride in them. I knew he had been featured in The New York Times and had, just last year, received the Writers for Writers Award from the organization Poets & Writers, along with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Richard Russo. I knew that his ethos was far-reaching and that he liked his coffee black with two sugars in the morning. We formed a friendship through morning ritual. I would go to see him and read him his e-mails and The New York Times, catching up on gossip and news. He would make sure that I was writing something, anything—a play, a poem, an essay, a review. I would listen to him answer the phone in his husky, friendly, important voice: “Yallo, Tribes,” and chat it up with whichever literary giant or curious young intern was on the line. “I need help around here.…What time can you
come in, my dear?…Well, well, well… can you write a review?” His long brown hands hunted over the curly cord of his rotary phone in search of the base. Sometimes he’d trip over a fifth cup of coffee, spilling a black river of caffeine toward the stacks of poetry books set to be read to him. More times than I can remember, I cleaned the coffee stains and cigarette ash from his table. And yet, somehow, I did not know that he had jumped out of airplanes. As a paratrooper, your job is to leap with no hesitation, to fly, to land, to roll, to kill. You can look only forward—even the plane that plops you into the drop zone disappears immediately, leaving the rest up to you. Steve took one big leap after the next, earning his jump wings so many times that he seemed unstoppable. Unstoppable, he had already survived without a mother; his had died just months after his birth. Unstoppable, he grieved over a young son, who had bled to death in New Orleans in 1976 after cutting himself on broken glass while playing. Unstoppable, he jumped from the third floor of his house to the sidewalk one night during a fire. Unstoppable, he began publishing books on his own as soon as the Xerox machine became available and did so without pretentiousness or a plan for what was next. Unstoppable, he wrote a filthy novel called Groove, Bang and Jive Around, full of enough sex, rhythm and New Orleans bite to turn even the most disenchanted reader into a voluptuary. He wanted words to fly, to float off the plane, to land wherever their chutes took them. Blindness didn’t stop Steve; it transformed him into a guru who offered a regal economy of exchange: I-need-you-and-you-need-me. Keith Roach, slam master of the Nuyorican Poets Cafe, brought me to Steve’s house for the first time one night in 1992 after an evening at the legendary arts space. My father had just died,
and I was in New York City from New Orleans looking for a way to drown my grief with adventure. A blind black man from New Orleans who smoked like a fiend and knew everything about poetry? A townhouse party that seemed to blend big-city mischief with French Quarter mystery? A real-life Black Gatsby? What could possibly be better? The hypnotic smoke of a chic poetry den floated up into a solar system of Afrohairballs that David Hammons, the artist himself, had made from the sweepings of Harlem barber shops. Another Hammons piece, a red wall detailed with golden squiggles, became the backdrop against which the boundless vibes of parties at Tribes echoed. Steve could
usually be found on the throne of his couch, nestled amid a group of women whose legs dangled over his lap. He’d whisper charming questions into their ears and file the responses away in a memory that seemed able to retrieve particulars wholesale, whether the subject dropped by again in a week or a decade. The crowd would wind down the back stairway of the house into the garden, where poets recited work toward the stars. A jazz quartet and a singer would bounce songs off the bricks of the tenements. White folding chairs would hold the artsy-fartsy asses of audiences set up to hear Ishmael Reed or Lydia Cortes or Jesús Papoleto Melendez.
There were annual Charlie Parker Festivals with second line parades and art exhibitions and readings and rehearsals too many to count, along with the occasional drunken fights at the edge of the night, prompting threats from Steve to call the police, even on his friends. Steve was one badass motherfucker. That’s what he’d call you if he was really impressed. He couldn’t quantify us with colors, shapes or lines. He had to feel out our vibes and listen really hard to the various melodies of our voices. We had the luxury of having him on view the whole time, taking in his stature and his personas—hot and sexy Steve, grumpy Steve, Saint Steve. He lived at the intersection of upper echelon literary society and East Village cool, friend and publisher to figures like Paul Beatty, Eileen Myles, Sun Ra. But he’d give you a place to stay if you were homeless and willing to help out, to serve as another pair of eyes. And if he thought you weren’t doing enough, he would complain vehemently, because he didn’t tolerate laziness. Or hesitation. Somewhere deep in the construction of “Just read the goddamned poem” was Steve with the parachute on his back, flinging himself into the air at the sight of the green light, looking from 14,000 feet toward the ground below. Steve wasn’t about hemming and hawing. He was about getting things done. In the school of Steve, ain’t nobody got time to hesitate. One night during a party at the house, we all watched a performance by an artist who had created sculptures from glass-enclosed honeycomb, which oozed into gray-blue slushy forms before our eyes. When I arrived at the house at seven the next morning to read him the paper, Steve asked—as he always did—for a postmortem: “Thumbs up or thumbs down, my dear?” “Thumbs up, Steve. The art is actually changing right before our eyes. What do you think?” “What are you asking me for? I can’t see it. I’m blind, remember?” By morning, Steve would turn into a particular iteration of himself—part Professor Steve Cannon, who taught humanities at Medgar Evers College;
part headstrong director of a tenacious nonprofit arts organization, always abuzz with publishing the next issue, hosting the next show, making the publishing process accessible to diverse writers. Sometimes he would tell stories of the trade, like the one about the well-dressed customer who approached a table that he and Ishmael Reed, young black publishers, had set up on the sidewalk in Harlem. The two had just released the novel Francisco by Alison Mills. “I’m sitting at the table, and who comes up looking at books but Arthur Ashe. I said, ‘Say, man, congratulations. You’re the baddest fucking tennis player out there. You got to buy some of these books. We’re a little publishing company. The least you can do is support us.’ He smiled and pulled out 10 dollars and bought our book.” The last time I saw Steve he was at a rehab facility working on his hip. He was content enough, but he wanted to go home. “I’m bored, my dear.” Bob Holman, his longtime friend and colleague, arrived, and we talked about art, about the Venice Biennale. Bob recounted memories of going with Steve to the movies. We imagined smuggling him out of rehab and into the Film Forum across the street. Steve’s best-loved friend, Mary Chen, arrived that Tuesday wearing a pretty dress. They had shared
lots of good times, and he loved listening to jazz at Lincoln Center with her. Steve could hear my voice light up over Mary’s pretty outfit. He was all smiles. Bob announced, “Party at Steve’s!” We gathered near our gatherer for one last good hurrah. The night he died I had a beautiful dream of orange lanterns on a road that stretched far away beneath me. I won-
Cover of A Gathering of the Tribes, Issue 8, 1998. Artwork: David Hammons, Era of Corn, 1997. Courtesy A Gathering of the Tribes magazine.
This page, from top: An interior wall with two works by David Hammons on the left; the entrance to Cannon’s East Village townhouse, 2006. Photos: Nikki Johnson.
dered the reason for all the lights and the beauty. “Anne Waldman is reading,” I heard. The road, cobblestoned, seemed to go on forever. The orange lamps were covered in a tangerine fabric that I wanted to be closer to. I moved to walk down the road, but quickly I realized I was standing on a ledge, about to fly. I wasn’t afraid. Later, I wondered if this was me or a vision of Steve heading to the next planet. Steve believed in spirits. I know this because he once told me that he felt the presence of the poet Diane Burns in his house after she had gone on to the land of her ancestors. I hope he leapt off the edge that evening, flying down into the amber light toward a never-ending poetry reading. Steve with full sight, in flight. I hope he saw all the colors and shapes he hadn’t seen in such a long while, and the people—Butch Morris, Keith Roach, John Farris, Charlie Parker and the rest. I hope he got to see how President Obama actually looked and the covers of all the books he had published. I hope he saw the face of his mother and his son and the prettiness of Mary Chen, finally. We shared our eyes with Steve and now, with super-sight, he leaps toward what’s next.
New and forthcoming books The Contemporary Art Museum of Luxembourg
Geometry of Shadows (A Public Space) Canonized as a pioneer of metaphysical painting and respected for his fiction in French, Giorgio de Chirico was seldom recognized for writing in Italian, his native language. Stefania Heim presents this collection dedicated solely to his Italian poetry and prose, printed in parallel with
her English translations. Emphasizing de Chirico’s adventurousness in word play, Heim seems attuned de Chirico’s every wandering step. Crossing the page from English to Italian, one finds footing in a metaphor only to slip on a dangling modifier in the next verse—a sensation not unlike realizing that the sun sets in the East, on a tilted horizon, in the artist’s 1913 painting The Red Tower. —Anna Shinbane
Posters From Paddington Printshop (Four Corners) Paddington Printshop opened its Central London doors in 1974 with the purpose of acting as a community arts space to promote local campaigns. Until its closure in 1988, the studio also served as a haven for social activism at a time of political turmoil in the United Kingdom, producing vibrant posters that took on issues such as racism and housing discrimination. In a poster from 1988, designed by John Phillips—Printshop’s founder and the author of this retrospective look—the jaws of a construction claw are clamped like gritted teeth, peering out between a gent’s suit and bowler hat, above the waggish phrase “We are a little worried about our landlord.” This collection of 100 posters brilliantly reveals Printshop’s radical spirit and pop-meets-punk aesthetic. —A.S.
Steven Leiber Catalogs (Inventory Press) It sounds like a Conceptual gambit: make a sales catalogue for artists’ books that becomes an artist’s book itself. Leiber, the San Francisco dealer and collector, who died tragically young of cancer, at 54 in 2012, pulled off this trick with each of the 52 unique volumes he published to enumerate the unclassifiable titles and multiples from his vast inventory, which played a defining role in the understanding of the material culture of the Conceptual movement and other even harder-to-define art scenes from the 1960s on. Edited by David Senior, chief of library and archives at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, this invaluable book is imbued with Leiber’s irreverent yet somehow wholly reverent spirit, his mission, as he once humbly characterized it in an interview, “to make otherwise unknown material known—it was that simple.” —Randy Kennedy
Anri Sala, Untitled (Italy), 2018 | Courtesy the artist and Chantal Crousel
FESTAC ’77 (Afterall) In January 1977, the week before Roots premiered on ABC, thousands of artists, musicians, writers and scholars from the black diaspora gathered in Lagos, Nigeria, for what is now regarded as the unprecedented culmination of a half-century of transatlantic and pan-Africanist culturalpolitical gatherings. Known as FESTAC ’77, or the Second World Black and African Festival of Arts and Culture, the event is the subject of this first-ever comprehensive account, which focuses on the festival’s monumental happenings. Featuring new commissions as well as previously unseen archival materials from the likes of Wole Soyinka, Marilyn Nance and Sun Ra, the book is a worthy mirror of the event’s massive scale and lasting impact. FESTAC ’77 is the tenth title in publisher Afterall’s “Exhibition Histories” series, which has set out on an ambitious mission to broaden and diversify the concept of what an art exhibition means. —Eileen Cartter
Anri Sala Le Temps Coudé 11.10.2019 — 05.01.2020
New books from Hauser & Wirth Publishers
Takesada Matsutani Accompanying a major survey of Matsutani’s work at the Centre Pompidou in Paris from June 26 to September 23, 2019, this catalogue illustrates the exhibition’s artworks in full, a retrospective ranging from 1958 to 2019. The text features an introduction from Centre Pompidou Director Bernard Blistène and President Serge Lasvignes, and essays by Christine Macel, Valérie Douniaux, Yves Peyré and Toshio Yamanashi. (Release date: June 2019.)
Guillermo Kuitca Published on the occasion of Kuitca’s summer 2019 solo exhibition at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, this book debuts two new series of the artist’s works—The Family Idiot and Missing Pages. The catalogue includes two richly illustrated essays by art critic Christian Viveros-Fauné and writer and artist Chris Wiley. The volume’s extensive plates section and installation views present readers with an immersive experience of the exhibition and a panorama of the artist’s work. (Release date: August 2019.)
Planting the Oudolf Gardens at Hauser & Wirth Somerset Piet Oudolf, internationally renowned garden designer, has a profound knowledge of plants, which informs his skill in selecting and arranging them, expertise displayed in one of its most virtuosic forms in the gardens at Hauser & Wirth Somerset. In this book, plantsman and garden designer Rory Dusoir describes the characteristics of these vibrant and versatile plants, scrutinizes Oudolf’s classical planting techniques, and marvels at the garden’s Sporobolus Meadow (centered around plantings of the airy grass Sporobolus heterolepis), which Piet himself has described as “wilder than wildness itself.” (Release date: September 2019.)
Resilience: Philip Guston in 1971 Published on the occasion of an exhibition highlighting the artist’s works from 1971 at Hauser & Wirth Los Angeles, this book features a seminal essay authored by Musa Mayer, Guston’s daughter, offering an intimate view of her father’s state of mind during that year—a period defined by the artist’s stalwart resilience and creative reinvention. (Release date: September 2019.)
Before or After, at the Same Time: Rome, Milan, and Fabio Mauri, 1948–1968 Taking the life of artist Fabio Mauri and the history of his family—a publishing dynasty with close connections to radical Italian art, poetry, cinema, philosophy and literature— as a departure point for a reexamination of the forces that shaped Italian visual culture between the end of the Second World War and the Years of Lead, this publication combines commissioned essays and first-person accounts with translated writings from the period. The book explores the spectrum of ideas circulating in Rome and Milan in the 1950s and 1960s, providing an alternative perspective on a turbulent period and drawing attention to the pivotal personal and professional networks that shaped postwar Italian art. (Release date: September 2019.)
Piero Manzoni: Writings on Art This is the first English translation of Writings on Art, featuring 25 texts from 1956–62, accompanied by commentary from the editor and rich archival image material. (Release date: October 2019.)
Bottom right: Piero Manzoni signs Inge-Lise Vestergaard Poulsen, Herning (Denmark), 1961. © Ole Bagger/ HEART, Herning Museum of Contemporary Art. Courtesy Fondazione Piero Manzoni, Milano.
Agnes Gund and Mark Bradford on art’s relationship to social justice Agnes Gund, the pioneering collector and former president of the Museum of Modern Art, has devoted her life to a form of activist arts philanthropy that stands as a paradigm not only for her generation but also for those to come. To address the near-elimination of arts education in public schools during the New York City fiscal crisis in 1977, she used her resources to begin Studio in a School, a nonprofit that sends professional artists into schools and community organizations to lead classes and assist teachers; to date the organization has reached more than 850,000 students with its programs. For that and other efforts, she received the 1997 National Medal of Arts, the highest award given to artists and art patrons by the United States government. Two years ago, in what may come to be seen as the defining act of her charitable career, Gund sold one of her most prized paintings, Roy Lichtenstein’s 1962 Masterpiece, and devoted $100 million from the proceeds to found Art for Justice, a five-year initiative aimed at addressing the failings of the criminal justice and penal system—particularly its racial biases— through cultural grants, administered with the help of the Ford Foundation and Rockefeller Philanthropy Advisors. Mark Bradford, one of the most esteemed painters of his generation, has worked for much of his career to address the community needs of the South Los Angeles neighborhood where he was raised, efforts that have broadened in recent years
into wide-ranging social-justice initiatives. The recipient of a 2009 MacArthur Foundation “genius” award and the 2017 representative of the United States at the Venice Biennale, Bradford co-founded Art + Practice (A+P), a nonprofit organization that grew out of his community work, with the assistance of his partner, Allan DiCastro, and philanthropist and art collector Eileen Harris Norton, in 2014. A+P houses the nonprofit social-service provider First Place for Youth, which helps foster youth who are transitioning from the foster care system find housing, education and employment support; it also hires youth from First Place as paid interns and helps pay for their education. A+P welcomes worldclass museums and other institutions to its campus to organize exhibitions and public programs that champion artists of color and seek to diversify contemporary art audiences. This year, the sale of a limited-edition sculptural print created by Bradford—Life Size, an unsettling and purposely ambiguous rendering of a police body camera—has raised several hundred thousand dollars in support for Gund’s Art for Justice program. Against a backdrop of powerful social-justice movements now underway in the United States and around the world—deeply embattled efforts to bring about what the essayist Masha Gessen has described as “an entirely different structure of power”—Gund and Bradford sat down recently to talk. This is an edited transcript of their conversation, moderated by Randy Kennedy.
“I thought, ‘I’ve just got to do something.’ Our system is so skewed towards putting black people in prison.” —Gund AGNES GUND It really was…Wait, before we get into it, I have to ask you, Mark, did you hear about your friend Jesse Krimes? He’s got this new fellowship with the Civil Rights Corps. [Krimes, a Philadelphia artist who served most of a six-year prison sentence for a nonviolent drug offense, became a vocal prison-reform activist upon his release and now works to help formerly incarcerated artists. The Civil Rights Corps, founded in 2016 and based in Washington, pursues criminal-justice reform litigation, primarily against bail practices that discriminate against the poor.] MB Oh, yes!
Previous page: Mark Bradford in his studio, Los Angeles. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Sim Canetty-Clarke. This page: Agnes Gund, 2014. Photo: © Annie Leibovitz. Courtesy Agnes Gund. Opposite: Roy Lichtenstein, Masterpiece, 1962, oil on canvas, 54 × 54", signed and dated verso. © Estate of Roy Lichtenstein.
RANDY KENNEDY Maybe it would be best to start by talking about when the two of you first met. And because it’s what both of you do, I thought that the heart of the conversation might be about social justice and its relationship to the art world, which you’ve thought about in overlapping ways. MARK BRADFORD What struck me about what Aggie did with Art for Justice was the simplicity. I’m reading a lot of articles now about museums selling off certain artists’ work to buy other artists’ work, to try to fill big holes in
their collections, such as a lack of women of color. And Aggie sees that and has an idea: she takes a single work, one of the best she has, one of the best of its kind, and she decides to turn it into a kind of endowment. That simple gesture was even more meaningful because of who you are, Aggie, and what you’ve already done. I’d heard of you, obviously, for years. I’d heard of the collection in your home. Honestly, I can’t remember the first time we actually met, but I know when we did meet, it was just so comfortable.
AG Jesse is teaming up with people to create something called the Mass Incarceration Quilt, which will be a touring show of quilts with images made by prisoners,
and that is really due to you. I was with a bunch of people visiting your studio, and I remember you honed in on him. Jesse and another man in the group, Russell Craig, were both artists who had recently been released from prison. You got both of them to talk. I hadn’t known them to be very talkative in the past, but they were really open with you. Jesse and Russell are both Art for Justice grantees. MB I didn’t know that they had been incarcerated when they came with the group. Russell had been in foster care. In just talking, he casually mentioned, “Oh, I was in care.” And I was so surprised because you don’t typically see that in museum groups—someone who’s been a foster kid—when they come to your studio. But he felt safe enough to talk, and then it led to a conversation that really became a sharing thing. I asked both of them what the critical needs were for the people they help. They said, “We need employment and we need mental-health support.” Just getting a job sometimes is not enough; people need those wrap-around services once they leave that system. AG Thank you for pointing that out, because I think that’s one of the most important things that these young men and women don’t get. Many of them were convicted for low-level drug possession—mainly marijuana—and the state courts gave out sentences that were mandatory. And because they couldn’t pay for a lawyer to properly defend them, they ended up getting such incredibly stiff sentences, sentences that put them into a kind of cycle that is very difficult to escape.
“What keeps me up at night is the Mark before art school, when I was in the public school system, and I kind of fell through the cracks. When I could not find that safe space in my local neighborhood to express myself… it’s a miracle I got out.” —Bradford
RK Aggie, you’ve been involved in various aspects of social justice—can you talk about what led you to want to put a lot of resources into the issue of incarceration as opposed to, say, education? AG Well, I think the decisive moment was seeing Ava DuVernay’s movie 13th [the Academy Award–nominated 2016 documentary, which makes the case that mass incarceration and many aspects of the criminal justice system are racialized systems of control deeply related to slavery and Jim Crow]. But really, the reason I started Art for Justice was because I have six black grandchildren and their lives have opened my eyes to many things. I thought, “I’ve just got to do something.” Our system is so skewed towards putting black people in prison. In California, where you live, Mark, and in New York, where I live, there’s more of an interest in addressing systemic racism, but on the whole, in many states, it still very much exists. Do you find discrimination even now, as a well-known, successful artist? MB Oh, yes. The discrimination now is just more subtle. And it’s always taken its own forms in the art world. I remember when, 25 years ago studying painting, there were a lot of questions around abstraction and figuration, and questions to me, like: “Why don’t you want to depict your culture more figuratively?” Or it would be suggested that identity should be more upfront, that I should spell it out more.
Of course, now there has been more opening up, but if you look at art history, it’s far from balanced. There are still huge holes in the art world. I think we are addressing some of that now. The deep historical disparities among races, genders, classes—those are all conversations that we’re finally having now in ways that seem to be sticking. AG It’s gotten much looser in many ways, in art and in society in general. But not, I think, in many places in the middle of the country. Not in Ohio, where I come from, or even in Cleveland. And a lot of that can be traced back to huge ongoing problems in the education system, in school systems that are still essentially segregated and so lopsided in resources. Which is something that I wish I could do more about, but it’s a big problem and there’s only so much money. MB There are the people and then there are the power structures. Looking at the power structures, you see a construct of America that badly needs to be questioned and challenged. And I think that we’re also questioning what a philanthropist looks like in the 21st century. What does an artist look like in the 21st century? Those are questions we’ve both been asking. When I first started becoming an artist, there were so many rules—I found a lot of it old-fashioned. I thought, “Well, who said?” There are as many different ways to be an artist as there are artists. And on the philanthropy side, I’ve always
been obsessed not with the resources of a Mark Bradford when I finally got to CalArts and found my tribe in the art world and started having shows where I could speak in my own voice. That’s not what keeps me up at night. What keeps me up at night is the Mark before art school, when I was in the public school system, and I kind of fell through the cracks. When I could not find that safe space in my local neighborhood to express myself, and it’s a miracle I got out. That’s what keeps me up at night. AG You don’t think that’s changing enough? MB It is changing. What you’re doing is changing it. What many people are doing is changing it. Art and artists and writers and collectors and philanthropists and everyone, we can belong wherever we choose to belong. Your background, Aggie, certainly did not prepare you to build bridges between who you are and mass incarceration. You did it because you chose to do it, because you decided to put yourself on the line for it. More than the financial help that’s involved, I look at the importance of it as bridge building. A lot of unexpected bridge building. AG What have you been surprised by? MB I’ve been surprised by how simple it really can be. We make the idea of building the bridge too complex in our minds, and we’re not prepared for the conversations once we get there. We’re talking so much about building the bridge, and then once we get to the site that the bridge will take us to, sometimes we’re unprepared for it. I say let’s build the bridge really quick, and let’s get the conversation going. Don’t wear yourself out talking about how to help and overthinking and overpreparing. Just go out and do something. RK In your position now as an artist with considerable power in the art world, Mark, have you found that such bridges
aren’t as hard to build as people think? AG You do have to have a clear idea that you can unite people around. MB And you also have the intent and the purpose. I knew, for example, that being chosen to represent the United States in Venice was a big thing, and I started thinking, “Okay, what exactly does that mean to me?” What I knew for sure was that it wasn’t just about what I was going to do in the American pavilion with the art. I didn’t know anything more than that. I didn’t even know where to start, but I did know that I wanted to do something else. And what I found when I started working with Rio Terà [Rio Terà dei Pensieri, a social cooperative in Venice with which Bradford is collaborating to establish job opportunities for formerly imprisoned women and men] was that it was not that difficult to build a bridge—people just want to be heard, they want to be validated. And as long as you do a lot of listening, you can have a conversation. AG Don’t you think that you’ve already built a solid background? People know that you care about certain things, and you’ve become a place for people to direct attention and seek help and get advice. It makes me think about Bryan Stevenson [founder of the Equal Justice Initiative in Alabama, which has challenged entrenched bias against the poor and minorities in the justice system]. He’s built such a wide audience, and he’s gotten so many people to go to Montgomery and other parts of the South to see firsthand how things are. And that, to me, is one of the best ways to spread ideas: It’s to get people together in places where they might not necessarily be together, to talk to each other in ways that they might never, ordinarily. MB You’ve got to have passion for it— Stevenson has a tremendous amount of passion, which persuades people. And
Clockwise from top left: Jesse Krimes, Tumbling Blocks, 2019; hand-sewn fabric, image transfer, acrylic paint; 81 × 102". Courtesy the artist. Rally on the steps of the State Capitol for Louisianans for Prison Alternatives Coalition Lobby Day, 2019. Courtesy Voice of the Experienced and Art for Justice. Bradford and a foster youth install a photo mural wrap to the outside of the Art Deco building on the A+P campus, Leimert Park, L.A., 2014. Photo: Sean Shim-Boyle. Members of the Arts for Incarcerated Youth Network work on a mural, Los Angeles Juvenile Detention Camp Rockey site, 2016. Courtesy AIYN and Art for Justice. Photo: Cam Sanders.
“I think I’m happiest when I go to the schools and look at our program. Art really does take you away from the ordinary. I can only get that through art.…It transforms me.” —Gund you have to have a lot of intent. You really do have to do it for the right reasons. I know it sounds super corny, but on some level, you have to sincerely want to leave the world a little bit better than how you found it. I always say that the best way to heal any trauma, for me personally, is to do something for someone else. That has made a big difference in my own life. AG When did you start to think about that? Was it before you started doing your art? MB God no. I was just trying to survive. But I saw something in the faces of the people that I would come to work with later. I would see their kindred spirit. I saw it in Jesse’s face. You know when you’ve touched someone, when you’ve helped someone meet a goal that they have been struggling to reach. It reminds me of me. And it just heals something. RK I’m curious what both of you think about the ability of art itself—the work itself, aside from financial support and arts philanthropy and art education—to effect social change. There’s the strain of thought running through the 20th century, but going back even further, to figures like Oscar Wilde, who wrote, “All art is quite useless,” that holds that art has, or should have, no real social utility other than for itself. But there are a lot of young artists now who make art very much as activists and feel that art is not worthwhile unless it is working actively for social change. MB Well, all art starts with an idea, right? You’re activating a young person’s thinking process to use their imagination as a
space that they can enter into and they can move things around—the sooner they learn that, the better. It’s giving that child permission to use their imagination and their ideas. When the world was sometimes not a safe place, before there was such a thing as an Xbox or a smartphone, you could go in and use your imagination. I do believe that if you’re not simply looking at a piece of art as something that hangs on the wall or as a sculpture you walk around, but if you really expose the young person to the ideas of why Henry Moore made that sculpture or why Jasper Johns made that target, it gives young people permission to think about ideas, and that is endless and powerful. I think it goes with everything. RK When you were young, was that space of the imagination, of finding some kind of power in imagination, important for you? MB Oh god, yes. It saved me. When the world was a little too hostile—and the world was oftentimes hostile towards me—I always had my imagination. Walking down a block with bullies, maybe the block frightened me, but I could go inside of my own imagination and be somewhere else walking down another street. I could be walking down a street on Mars and thinking about what Mars would look like, instead of walking down that scary street. AG Was that something that happened to you a lot? MB Oh, absolutely. We didn’t call it bullying in the ’70s; we just called it getting your ass whooped. That space of the imagination
Previous spread: Mark Bradford, Frostbite, 2019, mixed media on canvas, 132 ¾ × 230 ½". © Mark Bradford. Photo: Joshua White. This page: The Process Collettivo Organic Garden, Giudecca Women’s Prison, Venice, Italy. Photo: Agata Gravante. Opposite: Four stills from Bradford’s Dancing in the Street, 2019, video. © Mark Bradford. All images: Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
and creativity might seem to some people to be different in the digital era. But if you look at young people and the way they use their phones, and the way they send texts and Instagram and use filters and emojis, they’re still using the same impulses of creativity, just with different tools. They’re editing, they’re filtering, they’re splicing, they’re posting and messaging. It’s not what we did: We used paper and glitter and macaroni, man! But there’s still a basic impulse in people to create that will never really change. They’re just doing it in a very different way than we did it. It’s still completely alive, just in a different space. So yes, I do think art itself is important. And believing that is not corny. AG I agree that art does change minds. I watched Glenn Ligon come to one of our schools the other day to talk about his art with kids, a group of sixth graders. When he started, I thought, “Will he be able to capture them?” But he really got them
thinking by going systematically through how he worked and how he used his imagination. He talked about how he began and what he did to get where he is, and why he used the materials he did. And they were able to do some things after he left that they wouldn’t have done before because he transferred a sense of imagination to them. It was wonderful to watch. That’s why I’m happiest when I go to the schools and look at our program. Art really does take you away from the ordinary. I can only get that through art. If you are interested in theater or dance, of course you can get it that way too. But for me it’s always been art. It transforms me. For instance, you look at this Twombly that I’m looking at now [Gund points across her living room to an imposing, spare, highly calligraphic Cy Twombly painting in her collection], you look with a sense of complete wonder at what Twombly did to make that work. It’s so subjective. It could be seen as just so many…splotches. But it works power-
fully in a way that cannot be explained. MB It just works. I feel the same. RK In talking to younger people in L.A., through your Art + Practice programs, do you find that young people have hope in the face of the political crisis taking place in this country? Especially students of color, who are just now becoming politically aware and realizing that they have a president who is stoking the racism and xenophobia of his base and reenergizing the monsters that have always been there in the cracks in American history. MB I’ll tell you that it is really kind of great. We’ve seen record numbers of young people getting involved in the political process. They’re talking about it, they’re talking about Trump, they’re talking about policy. That is one positive thing that is coming out of all this. Many more people are aware of the political climate. You would never have had this 10 years
ago—so many more young people are aware. I think young people are always hopeful, but this is a new kind of involvement. And I lived through the ’80s and the AIDS crisis. AG My daughter Catherine had a friend who had AIDS, and she would go to see him. He had fallen out of bed one night before they went, so they had to set up an aroundthe-clock watch in his room to make sure he wouldn’t fall again. It was just awful to think of so many young people dying and other young people eulogizing their friends who had died, an entire generation. You have to remember how often it was artists, like Keith Haring, who helped bring the crisis of AIDS to the fore. MB When you put enough pressure on a people or when a policy or crisis presses down so much on them, it often causes an explosion of arts and film and culture, which leads to change. It’s almost like the context creates it. Squeeze culture hard enough and something meaningful comes
From top: Students from ICEF Innovation Charter School in L.A. visit the exhibition “Maren Hassinger: The Spirit of Things” at A+P, Leimert Park, L.A., 2018. Photo: Natalie Hon. Opening reception for the exhibition “Head Back and High: Senga Nengudi, Performance Objects (1976–2017)” at A+P, Leimert Park, L.A., 2018. Photo: Josiah Green.
out, as it did during the AIDS crisis. It does remind me a little bit of this moment, which was hard to see coming and then you’re just right in the middle of it. So what do we do with it? RK Meaning Trump? MB Trump’s just the gasoline. Obviously, a lot of these ideas had to be here or they wouldn’t have taken flight to the extent they have. First you go, “I can’t believe we’re here.” But at a point you have to say, “We’re here. Now what am I going to do with this moment? How am I going to make work out of this moment? How am I going to live out this moment and be in this moment?” We are all thinking of living through this moment, but living with our eyes very open. AG How do you erase something like the Trump phenomenon? MB You can’t erase it. AG When he did things like the public crusade he undertook to vilify the Central Park Five? How can you try to make sure that something like that never happens again in this city, or anywhere? MB By doing what you’re doing. By activating yourself. By being more present and lifting your voice publicly. I think people are getting busy. Lots of people are woke, and I think they’re going to stay woke. The way the commander in chief thinks and acts and speaks does hurt, but I don’t wallow that long in the hurt. I work, I take that energy, and I put it somewhere where I can help. What else are you going to do with it? The help can lead to a bigger conversation. AG It seems to me you’ve done that with Life Size, which makes people think about police body cameras and what effect they have on policing when they are used.
MB It’s a very loaded image. It’s this thing that’s supposed to protect us, but doesn’t always protect us, and sometimes is a false comfort. AG Don’t you think the cameras have had some effect for good? MB Yes, they have. AG The police know they’re being watched in a way they maybe weren’t before… MB Sometimes. But it only goes so far. It’s so much more fundamental than bad cops, bad policing. We have an environment where people in power tell other people they don’t have value. This administration tells people of color and immigrants that over and over and over again. We can’t wait for other people to tell us that we have value. We have to make it for ourselves. RK The image of the body camera reads as such an ambivalent symbol—powerful, like an ancient totem as you rendered it in the print, but also almost ominous. MB I wanted to leave in that ambivalence. It’s not Superman. It’s loaded, and I wanted to highlight that. It’s in the same realm of ambivalence as the penal system itself, which says that it just wants you to pay your debt to society and learn your lesson and get out and become a productive citizen, but when people get out they’re penalized again and set up to fail. They can’t find a job because of their record. They can’t find this, they can’t find that. AG They have no place to go. MB These men and women have done their time. But they have this indelible mark. AG I feel very much that that’s why I wanted to do something about it. They are so marginalized when they go into the system
Process Collettivo, Malefatte Recycled PVC Lab, Venice, Italy. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Agata Gravante.
and when they come out. There is still not much help, even after all these years of mass incarceration. I have a friend who went to prison for only four months. He was at Rikers. I asked him to tell me some of the things that affected him, and he said, “It really comes down to the way people are treated.” MB It’s the stigma. And to be sustainable, you need a job. If you have a job, you can find a place to live. But without a job, because you have that stigma, it’s always going to be a struggle. People also need mental health support because you have to have help after being in that kind of system. I find that working with foster youth as well. Those are the big tenets: a job, a place to live and mental health all go hand in hand. RK There seems to be some movement toward changing sentencing laws for drug-related offenses. Do you have any sense that the political fulcrum is tipping? MB There’s definitely more conversation
around it in the public. We have officially acknowledged that this is an epidemic problem, even on the political right. AG I think it is changing. And some of the people that you would least expect to be interested in talking about it are interested in what prisoners have to go through. MB Bryan and other great people have done a lot of work around this, and the films that have come out recently—it is part of the national conversation now. But we have to work to keep it in the conversation. RK I wanted to ask you both about the institutional art world. There have been recent upheavals over museum support by the Sackler family, because of the role it played in the opioid crisis, and the Met and the Guggenheim have said they are no longer accepting donations from the family. [After this conversation, the Louvre removed the family’s name from a wing.] There is the opposition to Warren Kanders, the Whitney vice chair. [Kanders stepped down in July, after months of pro-
“When you put enough pressure on a people… it often causes an explosion of arts and film and culture, which leads to change. It’s almost like the context creates it. Squeeze culture hard enough and something meaningful comes out, as it did during the AIDS crisis.” —Bradford tests over his company’s sale of tear gas.] These protests seem to be headed into some very difficult territory in the world of museums and boards. Do you think the institutional art world is doing enough to examine its sources of support to make sure they aren’t antithetical to their missions? MB As we try to move more towards transparency, man, you really start to see the foundations of some things, and quite frankly, it’s troubling. I mean, that’s part of what we’re addressing. I’m talking also, broadly, about art history and about who’s in that history in museums. Even just with abstract painting in the Americas, you start to see who’s not there. And you start to see the politics around who makes those decisions and who’s on the boards and who gets hired on the staff. It’s the same kind of lens that I think we’re opening up in other areas and, man, some of it is real uncomfortable. Should you not do it because it’s uncomfortable? I don’t think so. RK Aggie, what’s your sense regarding boards of large institutions like ones you’ve been involved with? AG I really don’t see boards on their way to becoming more open yet. I think the trouble is that what it takes to buy yourself onto a board is a lot different than it was a few years ago. I mean, it could be 10 million dollars now. It used to be much less in some cases, around 200, 300,
400 thousand dollars. The kind of wealth that becomes necessary changes the nature of boards and makes them less diverse. MB You just have to bring people onto boards for more than monetary reasons. You have to bring people from different areas—from activism, from art, from public planning. The metrics can’t always be who’s going to write the biggest check. If you let people say, “I can write the biggest check so I have the biggest voice,” that’s always dangerous. RK Who can change that? Can artists like you help change that conversation? In your city, MOCA has had artists on the board for years. MB I think all of us are going to change it. Like a lot of things, it can’t keep going on the way it is. AG MoMA PS1, for instance, has artists on the board now. MoMA still doesn’t, but I think they’re willing to open it up, and I think eventually it is going to change. MB It has to. The conversation about art and what gets seen and who sees it involves all of us. So we all need a place at the table.
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Many Ways of Being
Catherine David Deputy director of Musée National d’Art Moderne at the Centre Pompidou in Paris. Martha Edelheit American figurative painter based in Sweden.
The painter Maria Lassnig (1919–2014) pioneered a daring, deeply psychological version of postmodern figuration, and during her long career—which remained in the shadows until she was in her 60s—she orbited within a far-flung social solar system of artists, writers and curators. On the centenary of her birth, a host of voices assemble to commemorate her life.
by Gesine Borcherdt
Maria Lassnig in her studio, Avenue B and East Sixth Street, New York, c. 1969. Courtesy Maria Lassnig Foundation Archive. All images (unless indicated): © Maria Lassnig Foundation. Courtesy Maria Lassnig Foundation.
Peter Eleey Chief curator of MoMA PS1. Organizer of a 2014 survey focusing on Lassnig self-portraits. Liz Larner American sculptor based in Los Angeles. Matthias Mühling Director of Lenbachhaus in Munich. Hans Ulrich Obrist Artistic director of the Serpentine Galleries in London. Peter Pakesch Chairman of the board of the Maria Lassnig Foundation. Hans Werner Poschauko Austrian artist and curator. Student under Maria Lassnig and her assistant until her death in 2014. Elfie Semotan Austrian photographer. Gabriele Wimmer Curator and partner at Galerie Ulysses.
Hans Ulrich Obrist I met Maria for the first time when I was 17 and went on holiday to Vienna with my parents. I had started visiting artist studios during high school—and it was actually Rosemarie Trockel who gave me the idea to ask in every big city for the overlooked female artist, kind of like the Louise Bourgeois who had just come to recognition in that time during the ’80s. When I went to Vienna, everyone told me that their “Louise Bourgeois” was Maria Lassnig. So I skipped the tourist program of my parents and instead gave Maria a call. And she was very open to meeting a teenager! I spent an hour with her in her studio and she explained so much to me. Very quickly it became clear to me that she had invented something totally new in painting: Her idea of “body awareness” had really anticipated Vienna Actionism—even though she never left the area of painting. A few years later, I started curating exhibitions. In 1993, Kasper König invited me to co-curate the show “The Broken Mirror” at the Vienna Festwochen, traveling to the Deichtorhallen in Hamburg. It was a show about painting. We approached it with artists from different generations, including Eugène Leroy and Leon Golub—but Maria was the center of the show, even showing her animation films, which were not well known at that time. This was very intriguing for thenyoung painters like Marlene Dumas and Luc Tuymans. And it was the beginning of a deep friendship between Maria and me. Matthias Mühling “The Broken Mirror” was where I first saw Maria’s work! It was a time when nobody was looking at painting. Even though Maria was always kind of visible, she stayed more in the context of Austrian art. Even in the early ’90s, museum directors were not interested in showing or buying her work. This truly only changed at about her 90th birthday, when the mumok in Vienna did a big exhibition. Until then, she had never had a retrospective. When we approached her about one once, she said, “A retrospective is for old or dead artists. I am a contemporary artist! I want to show my new work and nothing old.” She said it in a way that you wouldn’t argue
with. I found this extremely impressive: to constantly make new work at the age of 90 and not to be pocketed by a retrospective look. I mean, there are hardly any artists who make new work when they are 70. Peter Pakesch Most artists start repeating themselves after 40 or 50. She didn’t. All her life, she had this gigantic inner freedom to do whatever she wanted to do, like Picasso. She even once called herself “Madame Picasso.” But of course, she realized that she was not getting the same attention as all those male artists. Gabriele Wimmer In the ’90s, the museum landscape was very male. Also, many museum directors didn’t touch Maria’s work—because they were scared of her. She was not just a woman, and thus rated on a lower level, but she was a difficult character. She was sort of a split personality. She could be incredibly sweet, writing the most beautiful letters, and the next day she was the opposite. I never really understood why. Maybe because she was treated badly by some of her lovers throughout her life. And her whole family situation, how she grew up in the 1920s in Austria, was really tough. Something obviously went very deep and later came out this way. Pakesch Maria’s childhood was extreme, in all senses. She grew up as an illegitimate child in the Austrian countryside, in Kärnten, raised by her grandmother. That was really tough. Then the mother married a baker and they moved to the city of Klagenfurt. So they didn’t suffer from hunger as many did at that time, but Maria certainly knew what poverty was. Her mother must have been a very dominant woman, but Maria had a close relationship with her. Her death would later become an intense topic of Maria’s paintings. Her mother supported Maria’s talent and sent her to drawing lessons early on. When Maria was 10, she was able to copy Old Master drawings from pictures she had seen on postcards. But her mother, who was practically minded, urged her to become an elementary school teacher. Maria even started
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Kleines SciencefictionSelbstporträt (Small Science Fiction SelfPortrait), 1995, oil on canvas.
teaching, but it was not easy for her. So she rode a bicycle from Klagenfurt to Vienna— which took her two days!—in order to enter the art academy. She got accepted and was a very good student. At a certain point she got into trouble with her teachers. It was for artistic reasons. As she was thinking ahead artistically, she didn’t fit into the ideology of the Nazi era. It was not about obvious politics. She just didn’t compromise. Liz Larner Maria was fierce! We did this show together called “Zwei oder Drei oder Etwas” [“Two or Three or Something”] at the Kunsthaus Graz in Austria in 2006, curated by Peter Pakesch, together with Adam Budak. And there is a story that completely explains the experience: I usually write a list of people I want to thank after every show because there are people I want the acknowledge who helped me along. I gave my list to Peter, and he asked Maria for her thank-you list—but she never turned one in. So I asked, “Maria, don’t you have anyone you want to thank?” And she said, “No.” I loved her for that! It was like: Bang! So good. She did it all by herself! I’m sure there were those along the way that helped her, but she mostly did it all alone. Mühling It was amazing how she set up her career again and again, in all these different places. Starting out in Vienna, moving to Paris in 1960, then to New York in 1968—she was almost 50!—then a year in Berlin in 1978, another year in New York, and in 1980 she moved back to Vienna. And she always did it against the odds, totally on her own and without any money, without ever complaining about it.
“When we approached her about [a retrospective], she said, ‘A retrospective is for old or dead artists. I am a contemporary artist! I want to show my new work and nothing old.’” —Matthias Mühling
Martha Edelheit She came to New York with absolutely no money. Nobody knew who she was. But she was funny and stubborn and very sure of herself. I met her when she had just moved there, and we became good friends. She lived in a loft in the East Village, right near Tompkins Square when it was a drug haven. And she said, “Oh, it’s so wonderful in my building! People are there all day and
all night!” You walked up the stairs to the building, and it was covered with discarded needles and trash and cat and dog shit. It was incredibly awful! But she said she felt safe! She lived with the most minimal amount of materials. She was determined to do what she wanted to do. She moved out only after someone broke into her place and stole her camera. Afterwards, she moved to Spring Street and West Broadway in SoHo. But even there, her life was stark: She had one cup, one saucer, one spoon, one plate, one fork, one knife, one glass. When she was given a big Austrian art award, all these formal people came to her place. They stood in a circle and said how important she was, and they crowned her with laurel leaves. They brought a bottle of champagne, but we ran out of plastic champagne glasses, and there was literally nothing to drink out of. I think they were quite taken aback at the total sparseness of how she lived. But like many artists, when you did have some money, you spent it on supplies and materials; you don’t buy another cup. I think the first time she had money was when she got the professorship in Vienna. As much as she loved living hand-to-mouth in New York, I guess she was happy to get some financial stability late in her life. Hans Werner Poschauko She was 60 when she got this professorship. And it was the first time she really could live off of her art. Before, she always had to do other jobs: In New York she was making portraits and backgrounds for animation films. In Paris she was writing articles for Austrian newspapers to get by. She could never even heat her place properly. In the winter it was very cold. Can you imagine living like that for so long? It’s kind of unthinkable today. She really was a major role model for artists of my generation. She told us students, “As artists, you have to be prepared not to make any money.” Catherine David When I worked with her for documenta X, of course she mentioned she had been left aside. But I would not say she complained. She was just very realistic. She knew what
Selbstporträt, als Zitrone (Self-Portrait as a Lemon), 1949, pencil on paper. Photo: Roland Krauss.
had gone well and what went wrong. But she gave it a very positive meaning, with a kind of humor. If you see the few videos she did, it is obvious: She was very humorous, but at the same time, there was something very deep. Edelheit We were both part of this group called Women Artists Filmmakers that we founded in New York with other artists, including Carolee Schneemann. All of us were either painters or sculptors or both, and we wanted filmmaking to be an extension of our work as visual artists. Maria fit into that completely. She was amazingly inventive. She didn’t have any money. For her films, she used a couple of bricks she had found on the street, a piece of broken milk glass from the garbage can and a Bolex—a 16 mm hand camera—that she had gotten from a pawn shop for maybe 10 dollars. She would work frame by frame by frame. And her films were wonderful! The animations were so different from what everybody else was doing. Her self-portrait film, which was of the first ones I saw, was so moving. It was a portrait of herself that merges into Greta Garbo and her mother and all these different personas, but she is
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Obrist Maria had a lot of doubts about doing an exhibition at the Serpentine in London. She didn’t think it would be a success. This was in 2008, and she was still unknown in England. A week before the opening, she wanted to cancel because she thought the ceilings were too low. In the end, she did it, and it was a huge success. The English press celebrated her as the missing link between Francis Bacon and Lucian Freud. So she was really very happy the day of the opening.
still always somehow herself. It’s a powerful set of images. I think the self-portrait film reflected who she really was as a person. In many ways, that film is close to what she did in her paintings. It’s more isolating in terms of transforming her into different kinds of images, and that’s what her paintings are about. That’s a fi lm she did in 1971, and yet her late paintings that she was doing in the ’90s and 2000s were very related to it, in the way she isolated herself. She left a lot of open space, whether she was doing a self-portrait with a gun or a self-portrait just sitting there, staring out at you. It’s a shame that in those early years, in the ’70s, she wasn’t showing her paintings in New York very much. Wimmer Living in New York didn’t have any effect on her sales. She earned money by doing commissioned portraits, but nobody wanted to buy her actual paintings. Of course, that was also because she was a woman. At Galerie Ulysses, we had our first show with her in 1988—she had joined the gallery just because my business partner, John Sailer, had planned to set up a gallery in
New York. And that’s where she wanted to succeed. But the market was difficult for her. Very few museum directors were interested in her. We really had to work hard. It’s very different from today, when the museums are coming all by themselves, unasked. Still, there were a few great offers from international museums. I will say that Maria also refused a lot of offers. I think she was kind of shy and maybe even afraid of an international career. She had a kind of avoidance tendency—if you asked her to do a show, it happened five years later.
Peter Eleey You could consider her pessimistic I suppose. But she also had this wicked sense of humor. She told me that no one was interested in her work in New York. “Why would I want to make an exhibition there?” Of course, that reflects the 12 years that she lived there receiving minimal recognition for her painting. Yet she told me she had moved there from Paris because Nancy Spero had told her that the place to go as a woman artist in the 1960s was New York City. So our encounter in early 2011 was like the end of a long wait since her departure from New York in 1980. Eventually she recognized that there was a great interest in her work over here, and luckily she lived long enough to read the many great reviews
that were written about our show. I think this was very gratifying for her. Poschauko I remember she flipped through all these reviews in disbelief. But on another level, she knew herself extremely well, and she knew how other people would see her. Once a collector came by with Matthias Mühling. Before they came, she said, “Now I need to change.” And she put on a pair of old jogging trousers with moth holes and a pullover that was full of holes, too. She laughed and said, “It looks better like that!” Then the doorbell rang and her face changed. The collector said, “Maria Lassnig! How are you?” And she said, “Can’t you see? Very bad. I am being misunderstood. Nobody likes my work.” The collectors answered, “But you just had a big exhibition at the Lenbachhaus in Munich, and everybody respects you and your work!” She shook her head and said, “No.” It was so funny! Then the two look at her paintings and the collector bought some of them for quite a large amount of money. He said, “This is the happiest day of my life!” And Maria said, “This is my worst. You have stolen my paintings.” The minute he was out of the door, she starts laughing and changes her clothes. There are so many stories like that. With Maria, there was always a little bit of show involved… Mühling I remember that she would never throw away any food but rather cut off the moldy part to save what was edible. She did this even with her famous apple pie before she offered it to you. Obrist You couldn’t refuse to eat her apple pie! I actually don’t eat sugar, but there was no way to get around it.
“I think there is this very special space she’s dealing with. And she was able to find a representation for it— elements and events and situations which don’t really belong to the figurative register.” —Catherine David
Clockwise from top left: Mutter und Tochter (Mother and Daughter), 1966–67, oil on canvas. Sciencia, 1998, oil on canvas. Zwei Arten zu sein (Doppelselbstporträt) (Two Ways of Being [Double Self-Portrait]), 2000, oil on canvas. Selbstporträt (SelfPortrait), 1945, watercolor and pencil on paper. Photo: Roland Krauss.
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Mühling Well, she had lived through World War II, so this was in some ways typical for her generation. She was annoyed, for example, when she would get big fruit baskets because she felt obliged to eat it all. It’s true that she totally knew how to stage herself. Just look what she did for photographers! If you came across as being a dominant woman, at the time when she built her career, you quickly got the reputation of being difficult. Men could always push forward and be loud and be the first to talk, but when women did that, and this is still the case today, it was seen as negative. So Maria had to also be disarming, and she had an incredibly charming way of giving herself an eccentric look, long before the selfie age. Just look at her glasses! Peggy Guggenheim had nothing on her. Elfie Semotan I thought she wasn’t vain because she always painted herself in such a brutally honest way. But I was wrong. It was completely different in photography. Her painting is all about a translation of her personality, her thoughts combined with what happens around her and her role in society. But doing something like a self-portrait photograph for the German Zeit Magazin was a completely different matter. She was very clear about what she wanted. She looks very focused and intense. It is not a sensational photo in the sense that she is not doing anything crazy. But she comes across as incredibly concentrated and consequential. It took her two years to like the photo!
Pakesch What really amused me was her youthfulness. When you saw her from behind, she always looked like a student, no matter how old she was—also because she would always wear sneakers. She was the first to bring sneakers from America. This was completely unusual in Vienna, to wear that kind of shoe, especially as a woman. She did it with such coolness. And she would always wear colorful clothes, so she seemed very juvenile, even when she was old. That made her extremely likeable.
Poschauko She really enjoyed dressing up and going to openings. She would put on a tie, a dress, a coat and her sneakers. She looked amazing! But when it came to meeting with people, she would do it only one-on-one. Never in a restaurant but at her studio apartment, in part because she didn’t want to spend money on lunch or dinner, but also because she was very sensitive to noise. When Maria felt something, she felt it 20 times more than anyone else. Depression or desperation would go deep into her body and wouldn’t disappear for hours. She simply couldn’t handle talking to more than one person. Mühling I mostly only met her one-on-one. The meetings had an amazing quality. She wanted to know exactly what kind of person you were. She was absolutely focused on the conversation and also on talking about her work. Today, it’s normal that you deal with assistants and gallerists and art handlers. With Maria Lassnig, it was only Maria Lassnig. The choice of paintings, the work on catalogues—you would deal only with her, nobody else, which made you feel very exclusive. There was no e-mailing. When she wanted to talk about something, you had to get on a train and come to her. And, of course, you did. Poschauko She spent a lot of time by herself. This was very important for her art. She often blocked out the world, especially towards the end of her life, when more and more museum directors, gallerists and collectors wanted something from her. She didn’t want to confront them. She just wanted to be in her studio and paint. Sometimes I picked up the phone when a museum director would call and offer her an exhibition, and she would shout from the back of the studio: “Hang up! Cancel it all!” She was very strict with that. She said everything just the way she was thinking it. There was no filter. She was extremely direct, and she offended lots of people with this behavior. Sometimes she would even kick people out of her studio. This was, in a way, self-protection because of her
Top and left: Three stills from Baroque Statues, 1970–74; 16 mm color film, sound, 14 minutes, 55 seconds. © Maria Lassnig Foundation and sixpackfilm.
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hypersensitivity. Any kind of rejection—also from partners in her personal life—she felt much stronger than other people. Pakesch The writer Oswald Wiener, a lifelong friend—also a lover in the 1950s—who later ran the famous artists’ restaurant Exil in Berlin, once described her incapacity to deal with groups as a kind of autism. Once she was in a group, there were always misunderstandings. One-on-one, she communicated much more precisely, in a very intense way. Especially with the younger men who played a role in her life: Arnulf Rainer, Oswald Wiener, Hans Ulrich Obrist, Friedrich Petzel, Iwan Wirth and myself. She couldn’t deal with women so well. She didn’t get along with Valie Export, for instance, with whom she shared the Austrian Pavilion at the Venice Biennale. All in all, she was a person who really enjoyed being alone. So towards the end of her life, she was in misery because she had these people around to help, and she did everything she could to kick them out of the house. She was extremely stubborn and contradictory. But this was also her artistic quality—a kind of obstinacy that was rare, combined with an enormous talent that was always there.
Right: Two stills from Palmistry, 1974; 16 mm color film, sound, 10 minutes, 23 seconds. © Maria Lassnig Foundation and sixpackfilm.
Poschauko A lot of stories make her seem grumpy and lonesome, but this wasn’t the case. This was a self-chosen loneliness. She could work only this way—absolutely focused on painting—because the painting was all about her body awareness, the feeling of the body. It is extremely important to understand how she experienced that: Where does it hurt? And then the painting happened. The body awareness would last for three or four hours—and in that time she made a painting. And she was extremely fast in transforming this feeling! She always said, “The next day, I can’t get the feeling back, so I have to do it now.” In fact, the next day, the maximum she could do was paint the background. So all her paintings were made in a very short amount of time, experiencing her unique kind of body sensation. If you
look at her catalogues, you might think her work looks grotesque or surreal, but that’s not what it was. She lived through all these things. She related the colors she used to sensations—love, hate, loneliness, depression. She was very precise about this. The forehead would get a thought color, the nose a smell color, the pain would get its own color and so on. It was a system she had been working on since the late ’40s. At that time, she recognized the feeling for the first time, sitting on a chair and feeling the chair melting into her. She funnily called it the “buns feeling.” Later in her paintings, she would melt into animals or machines. Eleey One of the great things about Maria was that she was an artist who brought together the experience we have as individuals moving through the world as we feel things and as others see us. We acquired a great painting at MoMA from the 2014 PS1 exhibition, which is called Sciencia. In it, the figure of Maria is almost like a subject for an experiment, which I think the title alludes to. There are all these lines coming out of her body. She described them as lines of energy emanating from her. The idea of using one’s work in the studio to dig deeper into oneself and, in turn, to find a vehicle for sharing that with the world—that’s so much a part of what makes all great art great. I think that was key to Maria’s entire way of working. Her earliest self-portraits have that. There are these binaries in her work, of inside and outside or of human and animal. In a number of self-portraits, she is with some other creature; it’s the idea of a “creaturey” life as distinct from human consciousness. We find these things throughout her entire work. It actually isn’t a sense of different identities; it’s more Maria digging into herself in different ways. And as she feels different things over the course of her life, those representations of herself change. Obrist Her body awareness was constantly changing and showing up in totally different ways in her paintings. She appears as a Cretan bull. She appears with virtual reality glasses as a science-fiction figure. She appears on a
Two stills from Iris, 1971; 16 mm color film, sound, 10 minutes, 15 seconds. © Maria Lassnig Foundation and sixpackfilm.
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different planet, with a Janus face, with a third eye. The idea behind this is that we have different identities, that identity is fluid—which is one of the main reasons why many young artists today are interested in her. Her reception has in some ways just started. There are so many great exhibitions you could do with her, just by picking one aspect of her work: her animations, her drawings, Greece, science-fiction, country life, animals…it’s endless! There are very few artists—Picasso, Polke, Richter—whose work is so complex that you could easily do 50 exhibitions with them. Pakesch What makes her work so unique is this incredible sensitivity and versatility. And it’s astounding how she sticks with the same topics and looks at them from so many different perspectives, constantly generating something new from within her own work. It is an artistic attitude that doesn’t really fit into the era of late modernism; it has much more to do with contemporary art. For a long time, people didn’t understand how she dealt with the abstract and the figurative, the inner and the outer body, and the meanings she gave to color. It was amazing to see her work at Tate Liverpool, parallel to a Francis Bacon show. You could see that these were two different eras. They were born only 10 years apart—Bacon in 1909, Maria in 1919—but she looks so fresh! Her work fits much better with Kippenberger than with Bacon, even if Bacon was important for her.
“When Maria felt something, she felt it 20 times more than anyone else. Depression or desperation would go deep into her body and wouldn’t disappear for hours.” —Hans Werner Poschauko
David In the second half of the ’90s, she was working on drawings and doing, from my point of view, very interesting ones, so I wanted to focus on them for documenta. They showed what was between different realities. I think there is this very special space she’s dealing with. And she was able to find a representation for it—elements and events and situations which don’t really belong to the figurative register. It was also a way of drawing engendered by an attention to performance, to the movement of the body, the feelings of the body.
Poschauko Maria had two concepts of perceiving the world: one way was watching with open eyes, which is looking at reality, and the other way was looking with closed eyes, which is an introspection so that body awareness can come onto the canvas. There is a painting called Zwei Arten zu sein [Two Ways of Being]: It shows her with open eyes, painted in a realistic way, and also with closed eyes, rendered in more abstract shapes, visualizing sensations. She really was the most complex person I ever met in my life. Pakesch She was an absolute master of color, in putting them next to each other and creating space. This is a quality that you find in the best Impressionist paintings. You can see this especially in her abstractions from the early ’60s, which many connect with Willem de Kooning’s work from the ’80s. But she did it much earlier. And the fact that she gave a meaning to each color—I guess this could be connected to a kind of synesthetic experience. Apparently, Alexander Scriabin could hear colors and see sounds. I can imagine that, for Maria, it was a similar thing with colors and language. She was extremely strong with words. The titles of her works were very important to her. And her diaries feel like philosophical texts. In fact, she had a very close friendship with the poet Paul Celan. Obrist We were pen pals. I’ve got about 50 very long letters from her—in fact, she left a last, unfinished letter to me on her table before she died. We are now publishing a book with these letters. Her polemics against photography are especially intense in these letters, her claims that painting has to go where photography doesn’t. Semotan Towards the end of her life, she had an exhibition in Graz, where I met her. She seemed pretty weak, sitting in a wheelchair. I thought she probably wouldn’t remember me, so I went up to her and said, “Maria, could you sign the catalogue for me? Do you remember me?” And she laughed and
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Top: Three stills from Couples, 1972; 16 mm color film, sound, 9 minutes, 9 seconds. © Maria Lassnig Foundation and sixpackfilm. Bottom: Lassnig at Studio Maxingstraße, Vienna, 1997 (crop). Photo: © Heimo Kuchling.
said, “Of course!” She signed it and wrote, “For the competitor.” Can you imagine? She was still so funny, at that age! She really saw photography as her rival. This had not occurred to me until that day. Larner When we did the show together in Graz a few years earlier, I realized what a superstar she was in Austria. I thought that it was really cool that she was able, over time, to have that presence there. She was seen as a very strong person. I think that this was what she wanted and that she worked hard to maintain that kind of strict understanding of herself. Her work was incredibly expressive. She was kind of like Agnes Martin. They were similar in the way they were in their lives and in how they needed to live to do their work, and also in how they became revered, eventually, in their own countries and cities. I think it was part of their time that they had to be almost like art nuns, these sorts of singular women. They make me think of the goddess Athena, very tough and armored and totally singular and independent. Incredible! It felt like Maria had a shield so that she could do her work and not take on aspects of the culture that she was trying to make work against. I don’t think she called herself a feminist, but she certainly was a feminist in her own life. She did everything to have her world be her way. Pakesch She was always skeptical when it came to feminist or women-only exhibitions. When she went to New York, the feminist movement was new to her, and she would embrace it by helping to found a women’s filmmaker group. But she was not interested in politics in an obvious way, even if she could be quite political and feminist in the art itself. For instance, she made a painting called Traditionskette, with herself next to Velázquez, van Gogh and Munch. And in 1960, she had a photo of herself with a mustache on the invitation card for a show at the Galerie St. Stephan in Vienna and called herself Mario Lassnig.
Edelheit When you talk about things that happened 50
or 60 years ago, it’s very hard to perceive what it was like back then. I mean, we didn’t think of ourselves as women artists; we thought of ourselves as artists. The feminist movement really kicked off in the ’70s. It was a spinoff from left-wing politics, which was very radical. You know, we were all people who were born during and before World War II. I was born in 1931 and Maria in 1919. Maria grew up in the same world I did, except that she was living in a country that was occupied by the Nazis. I was living in America, which was at that time the bastion of democracy. I still remember when I went to visit her in Vienna. We were walking around town and came to a square and she said, “You see that balcony up there? That’s where Hitler stood and addressed us.” I got goosebumps. So we both shared these very bitter memories from the war. We didn’t talk about it a lot, but it was deep back somewhere, and I think some of Maria’s images do reflect that, because those are things that were there. But as artists, it was more about our own perception of the world than it was necessarily about being a woman artist or being a feminist or being a political person. Yes, there are some women who use politics in their art in an explicit way, but I don’t think Maria did. Carolee Schneemann, who was part of our group, did it a little bit more. But in the end, it was always more about making art. If that makes it feminist, okay. But that’s not what defined the work. Eleey Maria was ruthless and fearless. I remember when I showed her my checklist of works for the show, she told me she thought the selection wasn’t tough enough—which was baffling. It’s funny to be told that by an artist, when you’ve included in the exhibition a self-portrait of the artist with her brain falling out of her head! And work about the children that she never had. She really bared everything for us as an audience. I tried to include as much of the joys as of the sufferings. But I think it is a mark of how rigorous and demanding she was of herself that she saw even a checklist like mine as not efficiently severe. You know, life is brutal. It’s just that she had the courage and the generosity to share that experience with us.
FLOWERING IN DARK SOIL
by Melissa Rachleff
I count you as one of my strong influences and am always a staunch supporter, as I’m sure you know. —Allan Kaprow in a letter to Jean Follett, November 11, 1963
Jean Follett in her New York studio, 1949. Courtesy Charles Gallup and Matthew Murphy, Minneapolis.
A reconsideration of the work and life of a lost artist: Jean Follett
At the beginning of the 1950s, as the juggernaut of Abstract Expressionism crested in New York and a younger generation of artists began to question its foundations— making new kinds of work that thrived in its shadow—a tiny gallery in the East Village became one of the unlikely spaces where the soul of the art world’s future was contested. Opened in 1952 and named partly for Hans Hofmann, the influential teacher and theoretician of the New York School, the Hansa Gallery, at 70 East 12th Street, embodied in its very founding the complex, often contradictory handoff between the philosophies of Abstract Expressionism and the movements—or side currents or anti-movements—that were soon to follow, spawned in part at the Hansa itself. And in perhaps no artists of the gallery’s universe were the stakes weighed more personally and consequentially than in two whose work developed in intense dialogue, one long celebrated and canonized, Allan Kaprow (1927–2006) and another now little remembered, Jean Follett (1917–1991), among the most innovative painters and sculptors of her day, whose work is finally beginning to be understood and retrieved from obscurity. Kaprow is best known as one of the pioneers of performance-based art, which he called Happenings, actions distinguished by their insertion into everyday situations. He began as a painter and was deeply influenced by the two years he spent studying with Hofmann in the late 1940s at his school in Greenwich Village, while finishing his undergraduate degree at New York University. Hofmann’s aesthetic theory, which he called push-pull (a creation of oppositions through color, volume and shape) had a lasting conceptual influence on Kaprow’s thought. Ten years
older than Kaprow, Follett joined the Hansa, an artists’ cooperative, in 1952 in the midst of a sudden artistic flowering that took the New York art scene by surprise. She had come to New York from St. Paul, Minnesota, in 1946, after studying for six years with Cameron Booth and LeRoy Turner, both of whom had studied modern art in Europe. After meeting at Hofmann’s school, she and Kaprow hit it off, a friendship that deepened during their years at the Hansa. Her work, part painting, part construction, is dominated by figures, both human and animal. In 1950, six years before Kaprow began to use found objects in his work, Follett started incorporating industrial remnants, along with black paint mixed with dirt, stones, and twine. Her work juxtaposes compositional acuity with highly personal, emotionally charged themes ranging from alienation to exuberance. Profoundly influenced by the primary currents of modern art, especially by Picasso and Surrealism, Follett saw her work as an extension of those currents, in direct conversation with the then-recent past. She called herself a painter, but the work she produced during the ’50s was also included in sculpture exhibits—no one was quite sure where it fit. The way her objects confused existing categories, in fact, is part of what appealed to Kaprow, and in 1956 he too began experimenting with collage techniques that gradually expanded outward until they began to incorporate the gallery space itself. His approach abstracted the tension at the heart of push-pull with other, more radical ideas about art’s relation to life that he gleaned from composer John Cage in the late ’50s. For Kaprow, the incorporation of the actual led to a fruitful aesthetic confusion about what was “real.” The objects incorporated? The painterly gestures and
traces of the artist’s hand? This uncertainty turned collage into a dialectic: both an object in and of itself, and life in actuality, not a representation of it. In the extreme, this combination put in jeopardy the autonomy of art from daily life, and by extension its permanence. Follett, after several years of increasing critical acclaim and inclusion in important exhibitions, was forced to move back to St. Paul in 1962 after a devastating fire in her studio, but she regularly corresponded with Kaprow about moving back to New York to pick up where she left off. She hoped to sell the constructions she had salvaged from the fire and sought advice about who might be willing to purchase them. “I, unfortunately, know very few collectors now that I’ve been doing my present work,” Kaprow responded in late 1963, alluding to his ephemeral, collaborative performances, “but rest assured that I have always spoken very highly of your art to everyone and will continue [to].” And Kaprow did actively champion Follett, advocating on her behalf with collectors, with curators including William Seitz at the Museum of Modern Art, and with influential editors like Thomas Hess of Art News. Most significantly, he included her work in the book he considered his “canon,”
Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, published in 1966. But something happened in Kaprow’s support for her work that went directly to the heart of a debate about artist intention and artistic purpose that continued to play out into the 1960s and, in some ways, continues to this day. The framework Kaprow used to evaluate Follett’s work was his own, his belief in his work’s decisive rupture with the modernist tradition: an insistence on “the real” that favored conceptual ideas and rejected humanist sentiment; indeed, it defined sentiment as sentimentality, something overwrought and undesirable. Yet Follett’s aims were very much formal and compositional, imbued with a strong sentiment that she identified with humanism. Kaprow’s reading of Follett’s missed, or maybe ignored, her engagement in the lineage of modern art, especially a Cubist understanding of space and a representation of emotive expression. And his positioning of her work as a conceptual break, much like his own, points to a persistent instability—an instability that has affected the reception of the work of many artists, among them many women—in the prizing of concepts over sentiment in midcentury artwork. DEFINING AN ERA Kaprow was instrumental in organizing “Artists of the New York
Jean Follett, Many-Headed Creature, 1958; oil, light switch, socket cooling coils, window screen, nails, faucet knob, mirror, twine, cinders, castor, springs, rope, wood panel; 24 × 24 × 4 ¾". Courtesy Larry Aldrich Foundation Fund. © Museum of Modern Art/licensed by SCALA/Art Resource, NY.
Follett started incorporating industrial remnants, along with black paint mixed with dirt, stones, and twine.…She called herself a painter, but the work she produced during the fifties was also included in sculpture exhibits—no one was quite sure where it fit.
School: Second Generation” in 1957 for the Jewish Museum, the first survey to encompass the second wave of the city’s namesake avant-garde, which included works by 23 artists, ranging from the abstractions of Helen Frankenthaler, Alfred Leslie and Joan Mitchell to figurative paintings by Robert De Niro Sr. and Elaine de Kooning; construction-type work by Follett, Kaprow and Rauschenberg; and the breakthrough painting-collage Target in Green by Jasper Johns. At the time, Kaprow was acting as an art adviser to Horace Richter, the scion of a textile manufacturing family and one of the leading collectors of contemporary art. The Jewish Museum intended the show to focus on Richter’s collection—in which nearly all the Hansa Gallery members were represented—with additions that Kaprow recommended. In his hands, the concept of the “second generation” began to move away from abstract painting to show the full range of strategies that coexisted with it during the ’50s and that would eventually lead to new movements. (The Hansa gallery’s personnel, in a way, prefigured these movements: on staff was the dealer Ivan Karp, who would go on to play an important role in the promotion of Pop, and Richard Bellamy, whose Green Gallery would be pivotal in the development of Minimalism.) In Kaprow’s recollection, his shift worried the museum’s administrators, who grew increasingly concerned by his selections; they were especially puzzled by Rauschenberg and Johns. Columbia art historian Meyer Schapiro, as Kaprow later related, was “called in at the last moment to correct some of the ‘deficiencies’…namely that there wasn’t enough soul-searching painting in there, which I wasn’t terribly interested in.” In fact, he found it retrograde. He had outlined
this rationale in 1956, one year before the Jewish Museum exhibit, in “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” an essay written soon after the artist’s death and published by Art News in 1958. For Kaprow and others of like mindset, modern art’s exhaustion was made patently evident by the mid-1950s in the work of Pollock, which epitomized to them no more than an “advanced style.” Pollock, who died in 1956 in the midst of a then-ill-regarded figurative series, “created some magnificent paintings,” Kaprow wrote. “But he also destroyed painting.” And Kaprow viewed a return to figuration as no way out of the predicament of how to move forward. Instead the focus had to be on things beyond the scope of painting’s diminishing concerns, on everyday objects, “either our bodies, clothes, rooms, or if need be, the vastness of 42nd Street.” The trick was to create
something that belonged to neither figuration nor abstraction, to neither painting nor sculpture. Donald Judd saw this too, and in his 1965 essay “Specific Objects,” he set out to define a form of working that challenged the conventions of painting, especially the inherited shape of a rectangular canvas, and pointed toward a new kind of work whose wholeness belonged to “neither painting nor sculpture.” The issue was not whether a work was representational or abstract, but how the materials were used, how they resisted hierarchies of meaning. Working in between categories had become the new advanced art by 1960, when Kaprow and many of his downtown cohort took part in the first New York exhibition to survey the so-called “junk” tendency. The title, New Media, New Forms, offered a descriptor, not a definition. The show was
Cover of Assemblages, Environments & Happenings by Allan Kaprow, 1966. Courtesy Allan Kaprow Estate and Hauser & Wirth. Photo: Thomas Barrat.
divided into two parts, the first in June and the second in October, at the Martha Jackson Gallery at 32 East 69th Street (the uptown headquarters now of Hauser & Wirth). The show presented more than 70 artists and included an environment by Kaprow titled Subway, made of wire, cloth and paper. Follett, who had recently ended her longtime relationship with sculptor Richard Stankiewicz, one of the Hansa’s founders, was included in both parts, with two works that indicated her dark emotional state at the time: Death, shown in the first exhibition, and then My Creature Washed Up All Over the World, both presumably from 1960, neither documented in the publication. That October, in an essay titled, “Some Observations on Contemporary Art,” Kaprow wrote that New Media, New Forms proved that the central concern for all advanced art was a sense of “extension.” Written after he had concluded his studies with Cage at the New School in 1958, the essay is permeated with Cagean concepts of indeterminacy. Extension means a feeling from an artwork that nothing is fixed; space is not alluded to; it is actual, part of the artwork. Through extension, Kaprow wrote, the “plastic arts have become increasingly indistinguishable,” making it difficult to differentiate sculpture, painting and drawing. And concern about art as object, “as a thing to be possessed,” was lessened, replaced by work that occupied ordinary places, “the household, nature, the ash can and the hardware store” and extended into real life, “the whole world of experience.” It was one step from the extended object to an environment, a term Kaprow used to signify that the spectator had become a major aspect of the piece because the artist had created a situation for the spectator to enter. And this, of course, lead
to the final iteration, Happenings, “events in a given time in which, put simply, ‘things happen.’” The object is no longer necessary. While New Media, New Forms was on display, Seitz, at the Museum of Modern Art, was completing research for The Art of Assemblage, an international survey exhibit that included Follett but not Kaprow. (MoMA purchased Follett’s Many Headed Creature after the exhibit closed.) Seitz’s interpretation of contemporary assemblage and Follett’s work moved in the opposite direction from Kaprow’s. Rather than the instability of realism, Seitz saw work deeply engaged by social history, especially by art as a response to the urban environment. “The city—New York above all others— has become a symbol of modern existence…” he wrote. “The tempo of Manhattan, both as subject and conditioning milieu, has been instrumental in forming the art of our time.” Assemblage, for him, was linked to abstract painting through this connection to New York’s “vernacular power” and by an “affront to tranquility and taste,” and was an extension of the fine art tradition. “Every work of art is an incarnation: an investment of matter with spirit,” he wrote. “It is often ironic, perverse, anti-rational and even destructive. Yet, with its negative side fully recognized, this temperament is one of the beauties that has flowered in the dark soil of 20th century life”—“dark soil” referring to the two world wars, as well as the Korean War, cataclysms that he saw as imbuing assemblage with sentiment. Seitz found his critical framework in the art criticism and poetry of Guillaume Apollinaire, who had experienced World War I and wrote in 1913 of artists rediscover-
ing inspiration amid the slaughter in the quotidian, in “pipes, postage stamps, postcards or playing cards, candelabra, pieces of oil cloth, collars, painted paper, newspapers,”— a list in many ways similar to the one Kaprow outlined above as his concluding thoughts in “The Legacy of Jackson Pollock,” but positioned toward very different ends. Seitz viewed assemblage, including contemporary work, as inherently modern, but Kaprow didn’t, a rejection of modernism that was not due solely to Cage. It was evident as early as 1955, picked up in a review by Fairfield Porter of Kaprow’s solo show at the Urban Gallery, where his depictions of the George Washington Bridge (six of which Hauser & Wirth presented in winter 2018 in “Allan Kaprow: Paintings New York”) were on view. Porter could not quite situate Kaprow’s art historically: “He is not an Expressionist in having emotions that must be put down anyhow in heat. In a manner that looks emotional, he is expressing calculated, basic, formal preoccupations.” Kaprow’s fascination with calculation would become more pronounced in his Happenings, for which he devised scripts for choreographed actions and sounds, a further blurring of the real. ASSEMBLAGE, ENVIRONMENTS & HAPPENINGS Part of Kaprow’s challenge in recuperating a place for Follett’s work during the 1960s was that it had to fit into an art system in which the vanguard had again shifted. Assemblage, Environments & Happenings was published in 1966 during the ascendancy of Pop Art and the burgeoning of Minimalism, two styles that very nearly eclipsed the book’s subject. Kaprow hoped his ambitious volume would bring renewed attention not only to his
work but also to Follett’s. “Maybe someday the opposition to my book, which reproduces several of your works, will abate, and this would be a little help, too,” he wrote to Follett in November 1963, before he secured the publishing contract, brainstorming ideas for how to restart her career. The oversized, square, 300-page book, covered in burlap (resembling the kind of material encounter one would find inside) was designed by Kaprow and divided into three parts: photographic documentation of mainly Kaprow’s work along with the work of others he saw as sympathetic, Kaprow’s extensive text, and a portfolio section that included a range of specific performances. The book had two goals: to situate Kaprow’s own work dating from the late 1950s through the mid-1960s among that of his peers and to provide a complete discussion of his conceptual aesthetics. “These materials [a reference to the quotidian selections artists make] are the subject matter as well as the media; unlike the more neutral substance of paint, they refer directly to the specific aspects of our lives.” “Looking broadly at the whole of recent modern art,” he argued, “the differences which were once so clear between graphic art and painting have been practically eliminated; similarly, the distinctions between painting and collage, between collage and construction, between construction and sculpture.” This disciplinary merge placed assemblage as the most relevant, innovative art form to be salvaged from the wreckage of modernism. Kaprow based his analysis largely on his own trajectory away from figurative painting to collage, then to assemblage in increasing scale, to the room-sized environment and to performance; he cast his aesthetic biography a bit like a science experiment whose
Whereas formerly the unique artwork induced a related state of mind in the observer, the process is almost reversed.… Marcel Duchamp conceived his Readymades in something of this spirit and so, probably did John Cage in his piece of “silence” entitled “Four Minutes and ThirtyThree Seconds,” during which a pianist sat at a piano and only opened and closed the keyboard
cover at prescribed intervals within the allotted time of the piece. [Robert] Rauschenberg achieved the same effect with his series of blank canvases, and George Brecht arranged an event by sending small cards to his friends with a few words neatly printed on them. Four of Follett’s constructions were included in Assemblage, Environments & Happenings, a quite generous representation for nonperformative work. The first appears on page 4 and is the first artwork in the book not by Kaprow. It is the not-quite square plywood-backed assemblage Lady With the Open Door Stomach, from 1956, now in the collection of the
Lady With the Open Door Stomach, from 1956, now in the collection of the Whitney Museum of American Art…suggests a woman who acts as a vessel, a container of meaning. 62
Whitney Museum of American Art. The construction suggests a woman who acts as a vessel, a container of meaning. Where her stomach would have been, Follett constructed a small, rectangular door covered in black-painted stones, tar and dirt. In the book, the door is photographed ajar, propped against the figure’s left side, revealing a “stomach” full of wood chips, sand, cement and more tar. The door reveals what is hidden; it is pregnant like a womb, and the figure resonates as a fertility symbol. In fact, Follett’s figure— outlined in rusted metal, wood and twine—is filled with the very materials that gave birth to her assemblage method. Lady With the Open Door Stomach’s surface is highly structured, a subtle formalism not immediately noticeable. Follett holds the center with the figure’s triangular form; thin horizontal and vertical elements bisect the picture plane and establish the boundaries of the figure. The lines organize the picture into triangular quadrants. The only color comes from
This spread: Assemblages, Environments & Happenings, 1966. Pages 4–5, from left: Jean Follett, Lady With the Open Door Stomach, 1956. Robert Rauschenberg, Interview, 1955. Pages 84–85, from‑left: Jean Follett, Many-Legged Creature, 1955. Clarence Schmidt, Untitled, c. 1930. All book images: © Allan Kaprow Estate. Courtesy the Estate and Hauser & Wirth. Photos: Jeffrey Sturges.
success proved the logic of his historical sweep. Of course, he wasn’t operating in a vacuum, and in the text he frequently mentions other artists who question modernism. Halfway through, he proffers an alternative modernist lineage that today reads as axiomatic:
the untreated found elements. The logic follows compositional rules: a part-to-part relationship among the elements (they are not all equal) and a part-to-whole organization in the use of the repeated triangular motif governing the picture plane. Opposite Lady With the Open Door Stomach is Rauschenberg’s Interview from 1955, a Combine comprising three panels, one of which, an actual door, bisects the work at nearly midpoint on a 90-degree angle from the picture plane. Attached to the flat surface are paintings, drawings and photographs in addition to newspaper, a brick, string and other elements. In Rauschenberg, the door exists as it might be in actuality, suspended open. All the elements can be seen directly, at once, as discrete objects and also as part of a larger schematic based on the artist’s selections. In Follett’s piece, the objects are far less individually recognizable, and each element is used to construct an icon, which is then carefully balanced by the division into quadrants. In other
words, Follett engages in what Rauschenberg called the picture plane’s “complexity,” but unlike Rauschenberg, she invites the viewer to ponder the symbols of what feels like a kind of pictorial puzzle. Next, Kaprow pairs Follett with George Brecht, a combination that appears antithetical. Kaprow selected an untitled 1956 artwork by Follett in which the order is far looser than the elegant geometries in Lady With the Open Door Stomach, a grid barely implied. In its minimal use of elements, in fact, the work is unlike her other assemblage. Also built on a base of plywood, it contains items across the top two-thirds of the plane in a loose configuration: bottles, paint brushes, nails, wire and materials from the street—Follett’s arsenal, what you would expect to find lying around her studio. The panel is divided into three sections by a wooden dowel and some kind of industrial hand tool. A piece of metal, suspended on a gentle diagonal, bisects two of the rect-
angular panels beginning in the center and migrating leftward. The lines suggest a kind of order in an otherwise impressionistic space; they secure the vertical orientation of the work. This dichotomy keeps the composition unresolved, especially when viewed next to Brecht’s carefully constructed Blair from 1959, a rectangular piece painted in black and white that also follows the vertical axis. Similar in attitude to Rauschenberg, though fastidious in appearance, Brecht’s work includes a narrow, rectangular boxlike shape divided into five sections: a full-length portrait of a tennis player turned horizontally, nine sets of cards, two of which are blank, with words—mostly conjunctions and no verbs. Below that grid, a thermometer shares the horizontal axis with a day calendar fixed on October 4, 1959, followed by nine slots for playing cards hung on nails, then an array of crossword puzzles. The overall effect is of a series of games set into a highly ordered carrying case. Every element in Brecht’s work is intentional
and coded; Follett’s is just as deliberate, but her use of randomness, by comparison, conveys an ethos of sadness, a emptiness or hollowing out due in part to the scale of the small items against the grand scale of the picture plane. It is a piece out of alignment, even more so when juxtaposed with the organized objectivity of Blair. Toward the middle of the book, Follett’s circa 1955 ManyLegged Creature, today in the collection of the List Center in Massachusetts, appears next to the outsider art of Clarence Schmidt, who turned his home and property in Woodstock, New York, into a baroque sculptural labyrinth made of found objects, mirrors, tar and aluminum foil. Kaprow asks us to compare Schmidt’s “web” (Kaprow’s term), the jumble of metal debris set into a garden outside his home, with the “spider” Follett creates, playfully inviting us to imagine that what Follett referred to as a “creature” was the author of Schmidt’s environment. In addition to referencing
the human form, Follett’s assemblages regularly included what she called “creatures.” ManyLegged Creature might have been made from materials acquired at Charles Raimondo’s shop at 51 Bond Street, near Follett’s studio. Raimondo, a dealer in scrap metal, was the source for much of the “junk” that appeared in New York artists’ work at the time, a kind of Carrara quarry for the assemblage movement. Follett selected light sockets, caster wheels and heating coils and fixed them onto a ground composed of black-painted dirt and wooden scraps, which emphasize the creature’s strange, arresting form, its many legs falling from a vertical axis and poised just above two rectangular elements. Here the found material is less disguised; it takes more scrutiny to pick out the face, body and legs of the “spider” in Kaprow’s formation. Unlike the two earlier pieces, Many-Legged Creature is whimsical, playful, an interpretation furthered by its placement next to Schmidt’s garden.
The final pairing of Follett’s work in Assemblage, Environments & Happenings plays on the mechanistic, with Follett’s now lost horizontal piece, Gulliver, from 1956, and a still from Jean Tinguely’s 1960 Homage to New York, in operation for one evening in MoMA’s sculpture garden. In Gulliver, metal parts from an engineer’s measuring instrument are turned sideways to symbolize the eponymous sleeping traveler to Lilliput, with nails representing the tiny figures he encountered. The white wooden planks read as closed space—no escape from the adventure. The organization—on the horizontal axis, and on a much larger scale than in her previous work, approximately eight feet long—maintains a tension using larger areas of white wood nailed onto the black background. The use of engineering tools (emphasized by Kaprow’s caption, “Machine Dream,”) connects the work to the similarly fantastical engineering feat of Tinguely’s infamous self-destroying installation. Tinguely painted
Assemblages, Environments & Happenings, 1966. Pages 108–109, from left: Jean Follett, Gulliver, 1956. Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York, 1960.
most of his elements white, which added unity and a type of elegance to them. He also worked with bona fide engineers, including Billy Klüver of Bell Labs, to time how the elements moved. While Tinguely’s and Follett’s work share some affinities, ultimately the self-destroying energy and cacophony of his multipart, large-scale machine sit uneasily across the page, and in history, with the constructive narrative quality of Follett’s assemblage. UNTANGLING THE HISTORY Kaprow held that artists working in assemblage aimed at “relinquishing the goal of picture making entirely by accepting the possibilities that lay in using a broken surface and a nongeometric field.” But Follett certainly was not relinquishing an image, geometries or modernism in the constructions, a fact that Kaprow seems to have elided by insisting on what he described as the works’ almost medieval formation, a “magical” quality achieved not through Follett’s Cubist understanding of object-space-dimension but by a pictographic representational style almost “primitive.” He wrote: “These fetishes do not function on or in their field as images within a space, that is, the object-ground relation is not present. Instead, the rectangle is
the ‘aura’ of the image; it is in fact the equivalent of a mandorla, or halo, and so here too we bypass pure painting.” In other words, the only way Kaprow could possibly fit Follett into the radical canon he had devised was to leapfrog the work’s power back to long before modernism, before even the Renaissance. Follett, however, consistently stressed that she drew her greatest influences during the 1950s from elements of French Dada and Surrealism. In 1963 she explained to the Whitney Museum that her goal was not only to advance but also to reshape ideas that both movements spawned: I should like to make my contribution that of not only a revival of Dada but a new and better kind of Dada. For I do not believe in negating art as Dadaists do. In my kind of Dada, I should like to make it positive art, though surreal in expression, and Dada both in technique and expression, but always keeping the principles of balance and the laws which I believe basic and intrinsic and constant throughout all the ages in a true work of art. She drew upon a dialogue with the art of the generation just before her and believed in the validity of rules governing proportion and balance; indeed, they were central to her thinking. Two decades later, she seemed to recognize that her
[Follett] drew upon a dialogue with the art of the generation just before her and believed in the validity of rules governing proportion and balance.…Two decades later, she seemed to recognize that her work truly had not “fit” into the new histories of contemporary art. 65
work truly had not “fit” into the new histories of contemporary art formulated by Kaprow and eventually by postmodernism. Asked for an artist statement for a 1987 publication, she gave up trying to situate her contribution and offered a kind of tautology, borrowing a touch of Kaprow’s terminology: “My work could be described as abstract, primitive and surreal, but can only be wholly understood, being so deeply personal, in terms of its own, innate plastic language.” The object, in other words, is the artist, and in this case, the artist is autonomous from the field, a field that has still not found a place for her. Traditional art history teaches that what the artist says is unreliable, unstable and ultimately inscrutable. But a major reason for rejecting what artists say is that it is intellectually unfashionable in its time. Representing emotive-psychological concepts was an important concern of postwar artists, especially female artists, and definitely Jean Follett. Even Larry Rivers, who studied alongside Kaprow and Follett at Hofmann’s school and was not known for sentimentality, told an interviewer, “Whatever it is I’m painting, I want to do it more precisely in the realm of the psychological.” Tastes shifted and favored ironic, rationalized work, epitomized by Pop, Minimalism, Conceptualism and their successor styles. Why are they still so attractive after half a century? Finding an answer requires untangling the history of aesthetic preferences now so embedded as to go unquestioned. The work to be done involves relieving the tension surrounding art’s incorporation of sentiment, to situate accomplished artists like Follett not simply as harbingers of developments like performance but as catalytic in their own right in furthering the poetry of human subjectivity.
See Wh at T From the hey collection of Saw Alec Soth, angles of counterpoise 66
This actually all started with another obsession. Before seesaws, there was pingpong. I play ping-pong, and I love ping-pong, so I collected pictures about ping-pong, of people playing it, for a long time. It was really dumb, I guess. Because eBay exists, you can poke around pretty easily and find things, and it was fun. But then it fizzled out, and I moved on, and the idea of seesaws came into the picture. I’ve struggled to explain why for a long time. This was during a period when I’d stopped photographing people and mostly stopped traveling, when I was taking a break from a lot of things I’d been doing for a long time. I just didn’t want to photograph people anymore. That lasted about a year. Around this time, the Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, which is one of my galleries, had this experimental space called FraenkelLAB. They’d been asking for a while if I wanted to do anything there, and I kept putting them off. But then I decided to see if I might be able to engage with people in a new way in the space. Outside of Minneapolis, where I live, I have this old dilapidated farmhouse, in Princeton, Minnesota. During the time when I wasn’t photographing people, I’d go out there and build these kinds of weird sculptures—before I did photography, I was very into sculpture and particularly into artists who worked outside with found materials, like Richard Long. So I was out in the farmhouse, grooming dust into piles, stacking things up, that kind of thing, very much for myself. Once, I actually made a seesaw sculpture out there. It was kind of a joke, about how you can’t really do anything with a seesaw alone; you have to have someone on the other end. And I guess this was related to no longer being interested in just photographing people and pinning them down, but rather I wanted to collaborate with them, to work with people and try to make something together. In the Fraenkel space—this was the fall and winter of 2017—the artist Matt Olson designed a seesaw piece, and I made pictures with it. We also brought in dancers and performers and other people, and I collaborated with a choreographer named Isak Immanuel. Isak asked me if I was familiar with Simone Forti’s See Saw,
a performance piece she did with a plywood seesaw for the first time in 1960 with Robert Morris, her husband then. I didn’t know it and wasn’t familiar with Forti at the time, but I learned about it. Later I even photographed Simone and had a pretty amazing experience with her. All of this stuff with seesaws then started to make me think that I wanted to look at pictures of seesaws, and so I started trying to find snapshots, just amateur pictures of people on them. I was curious about this plaything. I also thought a lot about the name. I can’t really take credit for this, because I’m sure others have noted it before, but the name seems to work as a description of the action and your position and experience: When you’re up on the top, on the end that’s in the air, you see, and when you’re down…well, you saw. I like the control and lack of control that happens. It’s about two people who are exchanging energy. In photography, in portraiture, you can deal with that in different ways. Someone like Avedon, for example, when he was making a portrait, he jerked the seesaw, so that it startled the subject into an unguarded state. If it was a powerful person, especially, it caused them to drop their power mask for a second, which is what he was after. One reason I like these kinds of pictures is that people can pose only so much on a seesaw. It’s also just about me getting to have fun in the huge ocean of vernacular photography, looking at what people created with very few pretensions. It makes you realize how hard it is to make a good picture and how sometimes, when you’re not conscious of the difficulties, how good of a picture you can make. I guess this was part of going back to my very first impulses—why did I want to make things? Seeing people playing, and people playing with snapshots, was really appealing to me. Another thing that’s great about it is that I don’t feel a lot of competition from other seesaw collectors. There are just not that many of us out there. To say, someday, that I’m the preeminent collector of vernacular seesaw pictures in North America? That will really be something. —Alec Soth, as told to Randy Kennedy
Sothâ€™s most recent book, I Know How Furiously Your Heart Is Beating, was published in February by MACK, accompanied by exhibitions at Sean Kelly gallery in New York, Fraenkel Gallery in San Francisco, Weinstein Hammons Gallery in Minneapolis and Loock Galerie in Berlin. All images: Courtesy Alec Soth and Fraenkel Gallery.
A conversation about the groundbreaking work of conductor Teodor Currentzis, with Peter Sellars, Olivier Renaud-Clément and Caroline Bourgeois Opposite: Teodor Currentzis with the MusicAeterna ensemble and choir. Photo: Olya Runyova. This page: MusicAeterna and Peter Sellars’ production of The Indian Queen, Perm, Russia, 2013. Photo: Aleksey Gushchin.
“[Music is] like a sacred book—every person has his or her own interpretation. There isn’t one way to understand the text.… That’s what freedom is: to imagine something that I do not know and leave a little space for that.” —Teodor Currentzis Two years ago, during the Venice Biennale, Pinault Collection curator Caroline Bourgeois and I were invited to an usual event, a symphonic concert to take place at Teatro Goldoni on the occasion of the opening of the Moscow-based V-A-C Foundation’s Venetian arts space. We are both music aficionados, and over the years, I’ve turned Caroline on to this classical passion of mine, taking her around Europe to concerts and opera productions. Music has functioned as a good counterbalance to the demands of the art world, and this concert seemed like the perfect respite. The program was Mahler’s First Symphony. The orchestra was MusicAeterna and the conductor was Teodor Currentzis—names neither of us were familiar with. As the concert started, notes, sounds and tempi surprised us and made us aware of something we’d never heard before—a grand gesture, an unusual offer and a most idiosyncratic approach to a familiar tune. Only by the second movement did we realize that the majority of this symphonic ensemble were standing and moving on stage to the rhythm of their interpretation. The musicians
were handled as soloists, each with an individual skill and personality; even so, the orchestra felt whole and unified. The conductor was young, wearing black tights, high-laced boots and a black shirt buttoned up the back, topped off by a subtle Mohawk hairdo. He was a soft punk whom we assumed was Russian but turned out to have been born in Athens. Astounded by what we had just witnessed, we were determined to find out more. After meeting him that night, I knew we had encountered a Glenn Gould-like talent. Since that unforgettable encounter in May 2017, we have followed and listened to Teodor and his orchestra and choir from Perm to Paris, Salzburg to Stuttgart, where he is the principal of the recently recomposed Radio Symphony Orchestra. Teodor surprises and destabilizes. He does not use a baton. His unconventional interpretations of classical music challenge listeners while taking them to new heights. Even audiences not steeped in the classical repertoire can’t help but be affected by his spiritual approach to sound and construction.
This November MusicAeterna will perform for the first time in New York, at the Shed, the recently opened arts space in Hudson Yards. The orchestra will present Giuseppe Verdi’s Messa da Requiem, accompanied by a commissioned film by Jonas Mekas, the legendary avant-garde filmmaker’s last work before his death in January. This past July, Caroline and I sat down with Teodor in Salzburg, where he has been welcomed into the family of international excellence in the birthplace of Mozart and the kingdom of Herbert von Karajan. There, ahead of the annual Salzburg Festival, he was preparing to conduct Mozart’s Idomeneo, directed by the indomitable Peter Sellars, their second collaboration after a hugely acclaimed production of La Clemenza di Tito, where Currentzis surprised audiences by adding musical extras into the opera score itself. Sellars joined us for portions of the conversation. These are edited excerpts. —Olivier Renaud-Clément OLIVIER RENAUDCLÉMENT Peter, I want you to talk about Mr. Currentzis. PETER SELLARS There’s only one. CAROLINE BOURGEOIS That we know of. ORC So, your first collaboration in Salzburg was [Mozart’s] La Clemenza di Tito? TEODOR CURRENTZIS That’s right, two years ago. PS Well, we first met through Gerard Mortier [the late Belgian opera director, 1943–2014, who led the Salzburg Festival for a decade]. He’s the person who introduced us in Madrid.
Two scenes from La Clemenza di Tito, Salzburg, Austria, 2017. © Salzburger Festspiele/Ruth Walz. Photo: Ruth Walz.
ORC That was when, 10 years ago? PS Yes, that’s when I met this incredible man. And then, for [Purcell’s] The Indian Queen , I went to the Siberian city of Perm, and got a sense of the culture that surrounds Teodor. It’s a culture of what music is; it’s a culture of everybody being present and creative; it’s a culture of everything being alive; it’s a culture of constantly challenging yourself and everyone around you. That energy is what you hope for from every human being, but certainly from artists. The classical music world has stopped living for challenge. We should challenge things in this world and
say, “Is that the way that needs to be? What else is possible?” And that sense of challenge is very powerful there. We live in a period now that is so materialistic. There is a book I love by Chögyam Trungpa, the Tibetan lama who moved to Colorado a generation ago. The title of one of his books is Cutting Through Spiritual Materialism. It’s about how people—even when they are talking about spiritual things—think in materialistic terms. What does it mean to actually go beyond spiritual materialism into this other place where nothing is an object, everything is actually alive in a moment? CB That’s why I love music, because
everything disappears. You are in another space. PS And the miracle is creating new space. Because the space we know is claustrophobic. And new space is needed for new ideas, for new generations. ORC At what point in your collaborative process do the two of you meet? Right from the beginning or as the work progresses? TC From the very beginning. What is amazing to me is that my work without Peter is not the same. I’ve also seen Peter’s work without me, and it’s also a different thing. PS [Laughs] It’s totally different. TC Sometimes he will make a suggestion. He might see something in a way that I would not, and it works. And we’ll go in that direction. The idea is not to have too rigid a conception of the work. You have an idea of what the work means to you, but you are open to see what the people around you can do. You are always talking and trying to dive in with your partner to find the harmony of communication between people, not in the isolation of your egoistic idea of what the work is about. PS Teodor’s gift is working with the people in the room. He finds notes, a style, a feeling, a vocal line for each singer. Totally unique. And he works with that singer until the qualities of that singer are incredible. But he wouldn’t do the same thing with another singer. TC Of course. You cannot have the same medicine for everybody, the same vitamin. PS Both of us work in the moment— listening, watching and responding, and adding something that creates a dialogue. As soon as people are in dialogue, they arrive at something that nobody thought of before. We go to a new place that we hadn’t foreseen, and that is the really inspiring part. TC One thing that is important to note is that Peter is a teacher.
Two stills from Jonas Mekas’ Requiem, 2019, 82 minutes. Courtesy the Shed.
He wants to give the people he is working with an opportunity to find something themselves. If this works, then there will be all this bioenergy and this resolve in a serious way. You shouldn’t judge Peter aesthetically. If you are thinking, “Ah, that is a nice combination,” or “What you are doing with the hand is beautiful,” that is not what he means. All the people who have worked with Peter change. And I have changed by working with Peter. PS Of course, no performer is the same. You are creating this opening in people—what they think is possible and how far they think they can go—and supporting them. With Teodor, he shatters anything you thought of a piece. It’s not possible to listen to any other Mozart performance; it just isn’t. Teodor invites you into a completely new way of listening to this material—and feeling it. And also it’s moving to see that his orchestra and chorus have devoted their lives to
working with him. They’re a part of his electricity. CB Kind of a big body? PS When I went to Perm for the first time, Teodor was on tour with the Mahler Chamber Orchestra. Every day the MusicAeterna orchestra met in the lobby of the Perm Opera and played every piece in The Indian Queen before Teodor arrived. They played it fast, slow, this color, that color, more dance, less dance. So when Teodor arrived, the orchestra could play it every way possible. The atmosphere he creates is self-discovery. You can sense that the musicians know that this is the greatest performance they’re ever going to give, which is why they don’t want to work with anybody else. And with most every production on earth, there’s this thing called a second performance, when a little slump occurs. For MusicAeterna, every performance feels like a first performance. Every performance has the energy of everybody arriving at a place of discovery, arriving at a place of breakthrough, arriving at a place of some new understanding, not saying, “Okay, that worked, let’s repeat it.” It’s quite miraculous. TC This is also the case with the revivals. We have worked a lot with Peter, and so we have done revivals of our work. And what is incredible is that we come back with new ideas. ORC And new singers as well, I assume? PS Sometimes, but it takes a while to find the right people. We might change the cast, but also you wake up every morning with new ideas. Hopefully, life is waking up every morning with new ideas. Also, when you have more rehearsal time, particularly when you can rehearse across years, you try many different colors. So every time you come, there’s another color, and you are painting over that and painting over that and painting over that. And finally all these colors are present; it’s never a backwards step. Everything is part
of a continuum. You’re understanding more. ORC Music people tend to think that music is written one way, that’s the way it is, and that’s the end of it. TC That’s not true. It’s like a sacred book—every person has his or her own interpretation. There isn’t one way to understand the text. All communication is based in an agreement of common senses. I take for granted that when I say “green,” we mean the same thing, but I cannot prove that. The professionalism of our musical system creates musicians who are very skilled at playing this spiritual material, right? But there is no true spirituality in that, because spirituality has to do with the freedom to imagine that there is another way to see the material you’re dealing with. That’s what freedom is: to imagine something that I do not know and leave a little space for that. And this little space is what gives challenge to the music. PS And we’re all here to do something that no one else could have done. ORC With Idomeneo [the production of Mozart’s opera seria that Sellars and Currentzis performed at the Salzburg Festival from July 27 through August 19 this year], are you again adding other elements, musically, to the score? TC Not exactly. We took off “Non la morte,” a banal cliché aria that doesn’t animate the personality of Idamante to fulfill the drama. Instead, we inserted the aria “Ch’io mi scordi di te?” which is actually one of Mozart’s concert aria masterpieces. Written six years later, it’s based on the same text for Idomeneo for a revised version the opera, together with the whole concertante for hammer clavier. This insertion gives another dimension to the drama, and it takes its natural position in the opera. ORC So you’re not supplementing it; you’re exchanging it. PS Well, Idomeneo was unfinished
“An unfinished piece is something beautiful. So, so much is there. It’s an invitation, and we’ve made a path through the music Mozart left.” —Peter Sellars
as a piece. Mozart kept experimenting. He never had a version that he was satisfied with, so it remains an open, unfinished work. An unfinished piece is something beautiful. So, so much is there. It’s an invitation, and we’ve made a path through the music Mozart left. Almost at the end of his life, he knew this one moment in the opera was a failure; it’s the moment when Idamante confronts his father. Of course, Mozart couldn’t write this when his own father was present. So years later, before Mozart leaves the world, he revisits the work and says, “This is what it should be.” And it becomes one of his great masterpieces—something written by the 30-year-old Mozart visiting the 24-year-old one. [Peter exits] ORC Teodor, after recently stepping down following your eight-year residence as artistic director at Perm Opera, why was it important to you to continue to direct the International Diaghilev Festival in Perm? TC Because I would never leave Perm. The situation was that we didn’t speak the same language as the authority of the city. They have different views about opera theater. But at least we have educated this audience. ORC Which is amazing. TC Yes, an amazing audience there. I cannot throw away what we established in the city, so we need to keep doing the festival once a year. As you know, this festival is like an atomic energy station; it gives electricity to the rest of the country. ORC I think it’s a great idea to keep doing it. Another thing I’ve wondered: Why did you choose to remain in Russia?
TC I have enough freedom to move the way I want in Russia. I’m not talking about political freedom; I’m talking about social freedom. At the Moscow Conservatory, I can play a concert at four o’clock in the morning. ORC I know. And the public follows you. TC It’s a place where I have the courage to experiment with music and not just play traditional music that repeats and repeats. It might be possible to do this in other cities, but I know that it’s possible in Russia. I can go from one club to the other at three in the morning. That’s what I love. ORC A cycle of string concerts in May, during the last festival in Perm, was a beautiful experience. I loved how we didn’t get a program until after the fourth piece was played. You like to have a rapport with the audience, like, “I’m bringing you a work, but you have no information on the work, so you have to absorb it entirely and process it by yourself.” TC Actually, it’s a little like what I’m doing with the Diaghilev Festival. It’s like a music monastery in the mountains. It’s very experimental. We have dancers, we have people preparing theological discussions, there are artists performing— not for an audience, but for themselves. It’s like a permanent camp of art. And once every two months, we will embark on a tour to other cities or locations and show what we do, and then return to that place. I don’t want to be a part of the center of the city. ORC And how would you describe your orchestra, MusicAeterna? TC MusicAeterna is an association
of interesting people exchanging progressive ideas about music. It’s more than an orchestra. It’s not an association that brings together musicians who have the same idea about music. For us, it’s important not to have the same idea, the same ideology. It’s important to exchange ideas, to have individual visions. ORC How do you find your musicians? TC There are many musicians who I won’t work with, and many who won’t work with me. Of course, the highest possible skill of musicianship is important, but somebody with high skills might not make the music that I want to make. I haven’t fired anybody for years—everybody has a contract of one year. But there have been people who cannot live with us! CB It sounds like it’s a way of living much more than a profession. TC Yes, it is a different way of life. For most professional musicians, music is of course a personal passion, but playing in an orchestra is work that gives them money to lead their lives. But, for us, it is a very important part of life. We interpret life through music. It is a kind of kaleidoscope that gives us the opportunity to see the forbidden colors of life, to dig in the unknown part of emotions. ORC Caroline and I come from the art world, so we see and deal with objects, with something that goes on a wall or in the middle of a room. CB Well, the object and the space. Art is about the object in space and not just the object alone. And that’s why our relation is really with space.
Peter Sellars and Teodor Currentzis in Salzburg, Austria, 2017. Photo: Alexandra Muraviova.
TC There are some artists I like because I understand their work, and that’s not always a good thing. The most beautiful works are the ones that don’t have logical meaning to us, but they grab something deep in us that we don’t understand. That’s the mystery of art. It’s not an intellectual thing; it’s very animalistic for me. The spiritual is when you get some weird signals in an ancient part of yourself—you feel a part of yourself that you don’t feel every day. You know that it is you, but it is not you. And you cannot logically describe the sensation. CB It is beyond words. TC Yes. And it’s not about aesthetics; it is beyond aesthetics. Beauty is not about beauty. I think that real art is protest—a protest of the
frame of time. Time is something that is our discovery. All our science and art are based in time. I read recently that the Norwegian island of Sommaroy supposedly wants to do away with timekeeping. Because of summer solstice, when the sun doesn’t set, the people have a more biological sense of time. Time was created as a system of communication, as a measure. But my work is a protest against time. We try to grab with time’s own weapons what is forbidden in time. The timeless stuff. ORC But that is why you are criticized sometimes. TC We are querulous. We make operations. ORC Like surgery. TC Yes, surgery to the body of time.
A Coney Island of the Viscera
Gary Indiana on Louise Bourgeois and the discovery of her psychoanalytic writings
A selection of Bourgeois’ psychoanalytic writings in the metal boxes in which they were stored. Photo: Christopher Burke. All images: © The Easton Foundation/VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), NY.
An artist, a house, a continent of thought submerged:
I want to be the owner of my own trouble. —Louise Bourgeois When I met her, in the mid-1980s, it was by way of a mash note she sent in the mail to the paper I wrote for, not so much thanking me for a review but offering something better than thanks: a terse, oddly touching missive indicating that I’d fathomed her current show very well. Soon afterwards, Louise Bourgeois and I became friends. We met infrequently, however, and seldom by design. Perhaps I should say we bore an emotional likeness that precluded seeing each other with any regularity. We were both intellectually combative, anxiety-ridden, insecure, depressive and wretchedly insomniac, and we both sported egos prone to inflate like dirigibles, then shrink to pea-size within the span of a sneeze. We wanted love but couldn’t stand most people from whom we wanted it. My encounters with Louise were always cordial, affectionate in fact, but a spectral nervousness pestered the atmosphere. Her fear of others mirrored mine, and I knew how unaccountably that fear could flip into aggression. I cringed at the prospect of bothering her, making her angry or losing her respect, and I thought the risk of those things happening would likely rise the more time I spent with her. Few figures in the landscape besides Jack Smith activated this kind of guarded endearment in me. And Jack was scary. Possibly I was paranoid. But there it is. There was nothing simple about Louise. But unlike the market-conscious artists I knew, she was refreshingly direct and said what she thought without holding
We were both intellectually combative, anxiety-ridden, insecure, depressive, and wretchedly insomniac, and we both sported egos prone to inflate like dirigibles, then shrink to pea-size within the span of a sneeze. back. She didn’t waste words, and she used them precisely, in both French and English. Her observations cut through the grease of small talk. She referenced literature, philosophy and science, all eruditely and with fervor. I didn’t know she’d attended the Lycée Fénelon or studied mathematics and philosophy at the Sorbonne; finding it out later didn’t surprise me. She was tiny and, by the time I met her, old, though she lived for many more years. Like many old people do to young people, she looked like a peacock feather could knock her over. Once in a blue moon, I dropped in on the Sunday salons she hosted at her Chelsea brownstone—a peculiar mix of international pathologies. Young artists turned up to show off their work and often got a brutal reception. Louise was a hilarious terror. She enjoyed getting people drunk to prod secrets out of them. She loved sexual gossip. She insulted strangers at whim, ignored their flattery, ridiculed their clothing, acted out. Her home had a take-it-orleave-it decrepitude. When she moved there in 1962 with her husband, the art historian Robert Goldwater, the townhouse was newly renovated; after his death in 1973, she got rid of its domestic trappings and turned the whole place into her studio. She had grown up in a Balzacian milieu of high-end artisans, amid external signs of refinement. She didn’t
want any of that around her. Louise, who used every imaginable material in her work, from steel mesh and Carrara marble to miniature safety pins and her own ripped-up dresses, was visibly not a materialist in her life. Not a consumer, at any rate. She remained indifferent to pricey creature comforts even when, in later life, she easily could have afforded them. She cooked on a hot plate, in a kitchen smaller than a Hollywood closet. She jotted phone numbers on the walls, where she also pinned snapshots, invitations, awards, exhibition fliers, newspaper clippings, postcards, letters, little watercolors and whatnot. She scribbled and sketched on any handy surface—envelopes, scraps of newspaper, torn cardboard, playing cards. She treasured books, mostly paperbacks, stacked and shelved in no discernible order. She never threw anything out. In those years, she still left the house; we ran into each other at openings. As it happens, I loved her. At her house one afternoon, she fetched the monkey fur she wore in the famous portrait by Robert Mapplethorpe, draped it over my shoulders and said, “I think you should wear this for a while.” • • • In the summer of 2007, Louise’s longtime assistant, Jerry Gorovoy, contacted me, proposing I collaborate with her on what became the
emotions emanating from Louise’s pictures, which seemed to fuse antic defiance and saturnine resignation. My rough model was the Henri Barbusse novel L’Enfer—Hell. That book describes what occurs over an uncertain span in a single hotel room. The occupants change, but each one is in some personal inferno, even during coitus. The stories in To Whom It May Concern are the sub-vocal ruminations of nameless people fucking. Coming apart. Disembodied voices brimming with rage, remorse, erotic sublimity, self-contempt, melancholia. The texts accumulated over many months. My depression lifted, one suspect layer at a time. I then had the bizarre task to sustain, for half the book, the tone of psychic extremity I’d started with and had just crawled out of. If you read through the texts now, it’s impossible to distinguish between “written from Hades” and “written.” Moreover, they’re not as bleak as I thought they were. Which tells you something about the solipsism of depression—and by corollary, perhaps, a little about Louise Bourgeois’ creative process as well. As she once embroidered on a handkerchief, “I have been
• • • It wouldn’t be flippant to say that Louise Bourgeois devoted a lifetime to excavating her unconscious. She worked with what she dug up, transforming it into art that, in turn, peered into everybody’s unconscious. Libidinal spillage and reverberating trauma assumed shapes of mutating bodies, paradoxical architectures and amorphic objects that seemed to inhabit “the world inside this one,” a Coney Island of the Viscera that would have been Freud’s first stop if he’d come to America decades later than he did. Keenly introspective, she knew that conflicts stemming from her childhood—fears of abandonment and betrayal, depressive episodes, bursts of rage, wishes for revenge, erotic frustration—were both the primary cause of her neuroses and the vital catalyst of her work. As the
The front parlor in Bourgeois’ home on 20th Street in New York, 2019. Photo: Rob Singleton.
handmade, sewn-linen book To Whom It May Concern, fabricated in an edition of seven. (A larger facsimile edition was later published by Robert Violette.) Louise had done a gouache series of headless, distorted human figures, some male, some female, their thin red outlines filled in with mottled washes. I could add whatever I liked. Rather than tamper with these risibly unsettling pictures, I decided to write separate prose poems (37, it turned out) as verbal accompaniment. This project took nearly three years. It isn’t entirely out of place here to say that when I first met with Jerry about it—in a restaurant, over dinner, in the company of his friend Scott Lyon and the artist Nicola L.—I was so firmly immured in a years-long depression that I nodded off at the table after we looked over the maquettes. I dimly perceived that Louise and Jerry were throwing me a lifeline, but catching it took a supreme act of false bravura. With copies of the gouaches nearby, I slowly began writing, a process that felt at first like dragging myself over razor wire. I wanted to match the tangled
to hell and back. And let me tell you, it was wonderful.” While working with Louise, I gleaned a clearer sense of her work’s ingenious diversity, its meticulousness, its sources in her lived experience. And with that, a sense of the multiple roles Jerry Gorovoy, whom I’d known for years outside Louise’s realm, played in her life: as studio assistant, best friend, negotiator, muse, model, lay psychiatrist, exhibition supervisor. He was indispensable. Louise lived at the mercy of her moods, except when at work on tangible things, when she could translate her physical and emotional sensations into some form of art. Believing, sensibly, that working held her inner chaos at bay, she never stopped. Inactivity was her nemesis. Jerry kept her as steady as possible, with the sensitivity and patience of Prince Myshkin, for 30 years. “You do the work,” he told her, “and I will take care of everything else.” He did.
poet John Giorno memorably put it, “You got to burn to shine.” Memory served and undermined her in syncopation. She struggled to live in the present by somehow repairing the past, the way she’d helped repair tapestries for her family’s restoration business in her youth. The configuration she incessantly revisited, turning it every which way like a Rubik’s Cube, is well known. Louis, the adored, resented, philandering father; Josephine, the revered invalid mother; Louise, the daughter alert to mute transactions buried under the family’s genteel lineaments. This ensemble cast of a psychic ceremony moved restively through her memories. Sometimes its personnel changed into figures from her second family (husband, adopted son Michel, natal sons Jean-Louis and Alain). If the puzzle pieces never clicked into lasting resolution, Louise explored their every conceivable Oedipal nuance and possible restaging. This is far from the only theme in her work, but it is the central one, the ur-geometry problem, the existential triangle. In interviews, she often cited psychoanalytic theory. Louise consumed the work of Sigmund Freud, Melanie Klein, Marie Bonaparte, Karen Horney, Carl Jung, Wilhelm Stekel and many others. She fibbed, on at least one occasion, that she’d never needed treatment herself. In reality, she undertook analysis soon after her father died in 1951. She first saw Dr. Leonard Cammer, who later founded Gracie Square Hospital, then Dr. Henry Lowenfeld, a Freudian trained by Wilhelm Reich, from 1952 through 1982, with diminished frequency after 1966. The first 11 years of analysis marked a prolonged dry spell in which Louise produced very little art. Her father’s loss triggered an
Her dream records and process notes belong to a category of literature that isn’t really a category but a threadable array of texts impossible to imitate or classify. unbearable depression. Grief over her mother’s death in 1932 had prompted her to abandon mathematics and become an artist. The death of her father had an almost contrary effect. In 2004, Jerry uncovered two metal boxes of Louise’s writings tucked away in her house—records of dreams and process notes on loose sheets, created as an adjunct to her analysis with Lowenfeld, for whom she sometimes made carbon copies. After studying these all-but-forgotten papers, Louise later began to feature statements and phrases from them and from her diaries on lead metal plaques, and in prints and fabric pieces. She often used handwriting as a drawing stylus to render spirals, spokes or snaking lines, in the spirit of Apollinaire’s “Calligrammes.” In 2010, Jerry found two additional boxes of writings. Almost a thousand pages in total have turned up. With Louise’s approval, Philip Larratt-Smith selected and edited 93 of them for the catalogue accompanying his exhibition “The Return of the Repressed,” which toured South America in 2011. A version of the show, along with several of the actual writings, ended up at London’s Freud Museum in 2012. The bulk of the psychoanalytic writings are currently being prepared and annotated by Larratt-Smith for publication by Princeton University Press, in conjunction with his exhibition titled “Freud’s Daughter,” which will open in September 2020 at the Jewish Museum in New York. Aside from obvious documen-
tary value, these writings usefully add to the history of psychoanalysis, and also comprise a compelling, frequently deranging literary artifact of a very high order. I think their distinction owes a lot to the fact that they weren’t intended as literary works, since today so many things intending to be merely ape the idea of literary works. (I’m aware that the latter sentiment was voiced in previous eras but doubt if it’s ever been as true as it is now. Today’s MacArthur genius is yesterday’s Edna Ferber.) Louise wrote many things in a conventionally accessible style— artist statements, reviews of books and exhibitions, magazine articles. She wrote about the little antiquities Freud kept on his desk, about Gaston Lachaise, about gender issues, about individual pieces and discrete phases of her own work. She was a prodigious letter-writer, and, as previously noted, kept daily diaries. Owing to a lifelong fear of abandonment, she identified with the discarded and the rejected, and hence never threw anything out. (Maggie Wright, the director of Bourgeois’ foundation, The Easton Foundation, can attest to the archival vastness of written material Louise held on to.) The psychoanalytic writings differ radically from other pieces Louise produced. Drastically unfiltered, they emanate from the most defenseless part of the writer’s brain. Though meant to be read by at least one other person, her analyst, they clearly speak to the author herself rather than to an audience:
Week end: chestnut thorns on the outside masochism = thorns on the inside. guilt turned against self return to the symbolism of the bottle play at filling up bottles (hot water) The box shaped like a small coffin. story of the roasted child = a child is killed—Finally the bottle of hot water—The good little girl is laid down in the small coffin. Equivalent to a masochism brought to an expiatory suicide— early religious training—later on, for my mother I will become a prostitute— aggression against children… I listen, unalarmed to the owl that cries (11 am) about— The death which I feared in the house was mine—I tell myself but Louise you are not going to kill yourself it is not necessary, you are strong enough now to push suicide away— (loose sheet of writing, c. 1959 [LB-0230])
Close mimicries of consciousness, such texts necessarily resist cohesion. They rupture whatever forms they assume, whether novel, play, poem or fable. Louise’s loose pages most closely resemble what Francis Ponge dubbed his “proems,” multiform variations on a subject—in Louise’s case, her own interiority. Some pages simply list associations around an isolated fixé, like a broth reduction:
a face like a ripe melon. He may be the only peer whose work comes readily to mind when encountering hers. The screaming mouths in her fabric heads echo the scream of Bacon’s pope. The writhing figures in Bacon’s paintings could plausibly inhabit Louise’s Cells. Her dream records and process notes belong to a category of literature that isn’t really a category but a threadable array of texts impossible to imitate or classify. Many such writings (though hardly all) perform for the author a purgative or exorcistic function, and reflect a paradoxically winning indifference, even hostility, towards a prospective reader. Their approx-
imation of how thought is conditioned by emotion, the attempt to stop received language from overdetermining how we use words—or to say it another way, the struggle to make language record what’s really going on in our heads instead of turning it into a manicured lie—is nicely exampled by Gertrude Stein: It is not well to doubt the reason why fortuitous is colored in the way that not to think again . Thank you. Enigma makes Susan do. Separately fall follow through antagonistic. What is grammar to a hare in running. A grammar is in need
A loose sheet of Bourgeois’ writing, September 13, 1957 (LB-0219), 10 ½ × 8".
These writings don’t “explain” Louise’s visual art. Myriad things informed her practice: Sartrean existentialism, La Fontaine’s fables, Pascal’s Pensées, Leibniz’s theory of monads, Molière, René Descartes, Montaigne’s essays and Stéphane Mallarmé, to cite only a few literary and philosophical touchstones. Music was also important. Art history, not so much. At least not in the sense that she made anything with an eye to historical antecedents, or even to current art. She never aligned herself with any school or movement; the only contemporary she seems to have spoken of with unqualified respect was Francis Bacon. Louise visited Bacon in the late ’50s, later writing that he had
of little words. There can be no grammar without and if if you are prevailed upon to be very well and thank you. Grammar is meant to have fairly soften fairly often it is alight in white and makes a goat have a mother and a sister two are mother and daughter when the days are long there is more necessity for distraction and walks are pleasant. Arthur a grammar or manner. (Stein, How to Write)
The analysis is a jip is a trap is a job is a privilege is a luxury is a duty is a duty towards myself my husband. my parents my children my is a shame is a farce is a love affair is a rendez-vous is a cat + mouse game is a boat to drive is an internment is a joke makes me powerless makes me into a cop is a bad dream is my interest is my field of study— is more than I can manage
makes me furious is a bore is a nuisance is a pain in the neck— (loose sheet of writing, c. 1958 [LB-0127]) Ontological present and recollected past oscillate inside her psychoanalytic texts, demolishing boundaries. Vagaries of spelling and grammar, quirky line breaks, and shifts between French and English reflect their fidelity to the ebb and flow of cogitation. Louise compulsively returns to what she called “the family virus,” examining it in a prose Petri dish. Tales are never quite spoken aloud but rather whispered in snippets, intruded upon by the sudden appearance of a boiled egg or Victor Hugo, and then they start telling themselves again, their details abruptly, weirdly recast by baffling changes in the narrator’s demeanor. Something similar occurs in the tenseless novels of William S. Burroughs and the oneiric texts of Unica Zürn. In Anna Kavan’s novel Ice, the narrative’s premise begins to dissolve almost as soon as it’s established. Ice tells a story that advances only by undermining its own logic, going back on its word, so to speak, as the author repeatedly tries and fails to assemble compulsively recurring, fetishized images into a sequence that will rid her of them once and for all. This cannot happen. Like Louise Bourgeois’ fixations, they can be expelled only in order for them to return. At their extremity, the writings I have in mind share instantly legible characteristics: anomalous, organic, elusive, fragmentary, issuing from the soul’s depths and driven by an overpowering and tortuous desire, recognized in advance as futile, to scrape down to the raw marrow of existence.
One astonishing example is Sarah Kane’s final play—the prelude to her suicide—4.48 Psychosis. Another is Antonin Artaud’s The Nerve Meter (1925): I have aspired no further than the clockwork of the soul, I have transcribed only the pain of an abortive adjustment. I am a total abyss. Those who believed me capable of a whole pain, a beautiful pain, a dense and fleshy anguish, an anguish which is a mixture of objects, an effervescent grinding of forces rather than a suspended point. —and yet with restless, uprooting impulses which come from the confrontation of my forces with these abysses of offered finality (from the confrontation of forces of powerful size), and there is nothing left but the voluminous abysses, the immobility, the cold— in short, those who attributed to me more life, who thought me at an earlier stage in the fall from the self, who believed me immersed in a tormented noise, in a violent darkness with which I struggled —are lost in the shadows of man. For much of her life, Louise Bourgeois lived close to the edge. A brilliant intellect and vast artistic gifts inhabited the same body as a medley of ungovernable emotions, a strong self-destructive urge conspicuous among them. Yet she never had to be institutionalized like Artaud and didn’t manage to kill herself like Kane; Louise knew how to save herself. “Art is a guarantee of sanity”: This was her credo, her unwavering faith, and although it doesn’t always turn out to be true for artists, for her it did. Which was very fortunate for us as well.
THE SHADOW AND THE GAP A personal and political consideration of work by Charles Gaines 86
by Gina Osterloh
Shadows 1978–1980 is a series of works that I continually return to—or, rather, they continually return to me—as a powerfully concise demonstration of how we, as viewers, construct meaning in the world. Seeing the work for the first time in person, at Gaines’ solo exhibition at Pitzer College Art Galleries in 2012, provoked a radical shift in my consciousness as a multiracial woman from the Midwest. In essence, Shadows became a roadmap by which to free myself from the language of representation, systems and social codes that attempt to describe and summarize my personhood without my participation. My interest in the formation of social constructs, especially as they pertain to race, began in high school in Ohio in the 1980s, when classmates asked, “Hey, are you black or white?” Being of Filipina-German heritage, I discovered that none of the categories available to me actually fit. On college applications, there was never a correct box to check. I became acutely aware of the limitations of language as it narrowed sharply into the binary categories of identity. It wasn’t until graduate studies at UC Irvine that I found photography’s potential to address these limitations with two radical operations: exposing the ways in which viewers perceive difference and playing with perceptions of race and gender. Shadows 1978–1980 uses conceptual and formal strategies that imbue the breadth of Gaines’ work, setting out some of his chief concerns, among them how images, like words, are systems unto themselves—and how both produce truths as well as fictions and illusions, along with the Real and, ultimately, ideology. The notion of ideology may at first suggest higher shared belief systems, such as political movements or religion. But ideology is also intrinsic to the everyday, the banal.
It dictates how we conceive of our bodies, the social codes and concepts that we adhere to unconsciously, and the means by which ideas are disseminated and dispersed through visual recognition and through everyday acts, such as speaking. Shadows consists of groupings of four sets. Each set is arranged sequentially, beginning with a photograph of an ordinary house plant and then a photo of the plant’s shadow. These two photographs are then consecutively transposed onto two numerically plotted grid drawings— one depicting the shape of the plant and the other, the outline of its shadow. To generate a series, each plant is photographed at four positions or rotational turns: 0 degrees, 90 degrees, 180 degrees, and 270 degrees. As each grouping “progresses,” the grid drawings include all the prior positions of the plant and its shadow. As a result, the two grid drawings in the fourth set of each grouping present an amalgamation of the shapes and outlines of all the previous rotations. Easy to overlook amid Gaines’ systematic process are the material conditions and conceptual underpinnings implicit within photography. The inherent nature of a silver gelatin photograph, created by a camera from a film negative, implies potentially endless reproduction. In the case of Shadows, however, each set’s limited edition and rarity, with some sets gone missing or damaged over the decades, suggests instead tenuousness and limitation. My point here is that Shadows does not so much suggest the possibilities of repeated mechanical reproduction as it suggests a disruption of the endless act of signification and production of meaning that we all participate in, often unconsciously. The etymology of the word image includes the “artificial representation of an object, likeness, statue; (optical) counterpart,” and “mental representation,” as well as the formation of an idea or a mental picture. In mathematics, “to image” is a sequential process in which a point or set
is formed by mapping from another point or set. The Latin root word for image is imitari, to copy or imitate. The process of making a concept legible and part of shared language involves “fixing” the concept and then repeating it in a cultural context. The significance and signification of the shadow, particularly of the artist “fixing” an image via a shadow, dates back to antiquity. In Natural History Book XXXV (circa 77 CE), Pliny the Elder gives us the first written account of an artist “picturing” a subject. (We’ll never know how much of Pliny’s account is factual, but his intent in wanting it preserved is telling nonetheless.) The story concerns a potter, Butades, from Sicyon, living in Corinth. The potter’s daughter, according to Pliny, “was in love with a young man; and she, when he was going abroad, drew in outline on the wall the shadow of his face thrown by the lamp.” Her father then made a clay relief of the profile. This tracing of shadow speaks not only to the ancient inventions of drawing and painting, leading eventually to photography; it speaks to the formation of mental concepts. To make a shadow permanent, an artist may either trace it or click the shutter. Pliny’s account of the attempt to capture the shadow or “stand-in” for a person (or object)—the idea made material—is the most basic building block for understanding the language of representation: “This means that,” or “This stands in for that.” But suddenly, in Shadows, “This means that” is interrupted by the gap between the two photographs, the space between. The signifier (shadow) is severed from its signified (the plant). Both plant and shadow then have the potential to generate individual meaning, independent of each other. Continued on page 97
Being of Filipina-German heritage, I discovered that none of the categories available to me actually fit. On college applications, there was never a correct box to check.
Shadows VIII, Set 1, 1980; photographs, ink on paper, four sheets. All artworks: ÂŠ Charles Gaines. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Shadows VIII, Set 2, 1980; photographs, ink on paper, four sheets.
Shadows VIII, Set 3, 1980; photographs, ink on paper, four sheets.
Shadows VIII, Set 4, 1980; photographs, ink on paper, four sheets.
However lightning-like it may be, the punctum has, more or less potentially, a power of expansion. This power is often metonymic. —Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, Reflections on Photography (1980) When I stood staring at Shadows in 2012, this is what arrested me: There, within and between the first two photographs of each set, the production of a sign was interrupted! Barthes describes the “punctum” as an object or area in a photograph that pricks the eye, something that escapes codification, to which the viewer perpetually returns, perhaps even after looking away from the photograph. For me, the punctum in Shadows is precisely this gap, the space between the image of the plant and the image of the plant’s shadow. As I took in this model of an artist using photography to help viewers see and conceptualize differently, the gap underscored a perpetual question for myself and my work. How can an artist separate her body from limiting cultural signifiers at this particular moment in time and space? In other words, through art, how can I unhinge my person from the dominant ideological language of representation, as well as from many of the social structures into which I was born? How can I disrupt the seemingly natural process by which pictorial and linguistic representation work? While Gaines’ grid drawings are consecutive transpositions of his photographs, they operate differently from the photos. The photos deconstruct a seemingly natural system of representation by cutting a signifier from its referent. The grid drawings, on the other hand, model multiplicity and remind us that seeing difference depends on one’s position in time and space. Each rotational turn or state of
Shadows IX, Set 1, 2, 3 and 4, 1980; photographs, ink on paper, four sheets each.
being is both discrete and part of a larger whole. The grid drawings hold an object’s individuality and the multiplicity of its states simultaneously, mapping fluidity in identity. Grids democratize space. Their inherent structure distributes equal weight to all points in the picture plane, setting up a system by which one can quickly perceive similarities and differences. In contrast to the photographs, the grids do not offer a central focus point produced by camera angle and aperture. As we move from photographs to grid drawings, a meticulous dispersal of the image/idea to a set of coordinates occurs. The grid drawings serve as a reminder that we perceive difference and create meaning in relation to our own rotational turn, dependent upon our particular set of coordinates in time and space. Although Shadows does not literally address race and identity, it provides us with tools for understanding the structure and the potential fallacies of racial and identity categories. Each plant’s rotational position is most recognizable by differentiation in hue, as well as by its outer edge. The meticulous numerical mapping of color and edges points to our innate ability to perceive “edges” and discern difference. Our categorization of gender and race is a compression of our cognitive tendency to code difference, deeply mapped in the language we speak and the ideologies that govern our perceptions and bodies. Gaines’ conceptual explorations have emerged from his deep studies in philosophy, mathematics and Tantric Buddhist art, as well as decades of his own art practice. But they also concern his own experience as an African American. In a 2018 roundtable discussion with MFA students in the Department of Art at the Ohio State University, Gaines spoke of growing up in the South, then moving to New Jersey, then continuing to visit family in the South during Jim Crow. This experience of travel, of shifting positions—physically, politically, culturally—between North and South became a primer for understanding
the conceptual frameworks of race. The physical signs that demarcated where he could or could not shop or sit or eat or even drink water were the productions of an erroneous, irrational and violent rule-based system that presented itself as entirely given and rational. Shadows invites us all to ask questions—questions that function as building blocks for creating meaning in art and for thinking critically through our own subjectivity in relation to language and the ideologies that attempt to bind and define our identities. As artists and cultural producers, how do we become conscious critical thinkers? What strategies and structures do we use to create meaning—and cultural and political agency—in today’s fractious, fragile world? With Shadows 1978–1980, Gaines reminds us that we have agency, and with it the power to determine, and to refuse, and to shift, how meaning is made.
The grid drawings serve as a reminder that we perceive difference and create meaning in relation to our own rotational turn, dependent upon our particular set of coordinates in time and space.
Art, music, improvisation and language as a virus. A conversation between Iggy Pop and Stefan Brüggemann, moderated by curator Mathieu Copeland.
The artist Stefan Brüggemann, who lives in Mexico City and London, labors in the mines of language. For more than 20 years, his painting, sculpture and installation work have revolved around the meaning and mystery of human communication, fragments of which he seeks out and saves obsessively, repurposing them into visual experience. In a 2003 conversation, Brüggemann told the curator Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Sometimes I tear things out of magazines, or I might be at the theater or a friend’s house and see something there that might be useful. Then I put these cuttings on blank pages in my studio. I think it’s an obsession that is based on a need for information. Perhaps it is very superficial information, but it is information all the same.” Iggy Pop, the punk pioneer, has spoken often of his lyrical debt to renegade postmodern writers like William S. Burroughs, who ripped into the surface of language to expose its underlying mechanisms of power and control. Last fall, Brüggemann, 44, and Pop, 72, came together for the first time in Miami, where Pop lives, for the purpose of an unusual recording session in which Pop lent his sepulchral baritone to pieces of text
Let the Mice In
MATHIEU COPELAND Iggy, your energy and your voice were perfect for the reading of Stefan’s statements, which were, in some ways, inspired and informed by what you’ve done with lyrics. IGGY POP I enjoyed reading the material. I didn’t dwell on it, but I came to understand it by the time we started. So after that, there’s not much you can do except to get over that museum feeling, if you know what I mean. STEFAN BRÜGGEMANN Exactly! IP That’s always a problem. MC Indeed, why do we expect silence in a museum? SB It’s like going into a church—you have to be silent and only whisper. IP There’s also always the classic gallery hostess who’s placed at the front of the gallery to intimidate you and make you speak really
from Brüggemann’s work, giving voice to the works by reading them aloud; portions of the recordings were then played in the exhibition space for Brüggemann’s show “HyperPalimpsest” at Hauser & Wirth, London (February 27–April 27, 2019). From September 4 through September 29, 2019, as part of the Centre Pompidou’s third annual Extra! literary festival in Paris, the collaboration between Brüggemann and Pop will resonate once more, in a version to accompany the exhibition of a monumental new Brüggemann painting, Headlines and Last Lines in the Movies (Guernica), a twosided text-based work designed to the same specifications as Picasso’s masterpiece, on display along with another piece composed of posters affixed directly to the museum’s walls. Pop recently appeared in Jim Jarmusch’s new zombie-movie homage, The Dead Don’t Die (as an undead version of himself). In October, Penguin Random House will publish ’Til Wrong Feels Right, a collection of his lyrics, along with essays, notes and rare photographs. His most recent tour, through Europe and Australia, wrapped up in July.
quietly. Your balls shiver up into your neck if your voice rises an octave. SB [Laughs] Do you enjoy going to art exhibitions? IP I do. Some of them. In the ’70s, I used to hang out at the National Portrait Gallery in London. In those days, I could walk in and be the only person. There was a time in the late ’80s, early ’90s, when I could go into a contemporary art, modern art or an Old Master exhibition at Sotheby’s or Christie’s and, again, I would be the only one in the room. I could have my nose two feet from a Renoir, all alone. It was so interesting to see the way that commerce came into how they placed things. I remember the day that they finally let Basquiat into one of the contemporary exhibitions, but they put him at the top of the stairwell, not in the room. As you walked up, you saw him, but he wasn’t in the room. Andy was in the room.
SB Did you ever meet Basquiat? IP I only met him once. I was at dinner with David Bowie and a large group of people—some of them record-business people—in a restaurant in a penthouse overlooking Central Park, called Nirvana. We sat down, and I had the menu, and suddenly this large dark figure lurched over my shoulder and poured a large amount of marijuana onto my plate and didn’t say anything. It was about, like, half a kilo. And then he left! SB It was your salad! MC An offering to the gods. IP Somebody said [stage whispers], “That was Basquiat—he likes your music.” I never spoke to him. I knew who he was. In those years, you’d see his stuff all over, his tag SAMO© and those statements that he wrote all over the streets, in Manhattan.
From top: Charlotte Moorman and Nam June Paik perform “Opera Sextronique,” 1967. Photo: Fred W. McDarrah/Getty Images. Iggy Pop at Park West, 1979. Photo: Kirk West/ Getty Images.
SB Did you relate to his art then? IP I was painting in a similar vein in the ’70s, except not nearly as well. Basquiat is half Haitian. I started getting interested in Haitian art in the ’70s, and later, when I could, I started buying it. I’ve got a painting by Hector Hyppolite [1894–1948], three by Edouard Duval-Carrié [born 1954], and a lot by André Pierre [1914–2005], who was a Vodou priest. There is a lot of commonalty between the depths of what Hyppolite got, the spell of it, and Basquiat. Although Basquiat is bringing in Dubuffet and a whole lot of other influences that you can see. MC André Breton was extremely appreciative of Hyppolite, whose work he discovered in 1945 in Port-au-Prince, on a trip with Wifredo Lam, the Cuban painter. The two of them began to buy his work. The infamous 1947 International Surrealist Exhibition
in Paris featured several Hyppolite paintings. His work should be better known. IP I got my Hyppolite from Geoffrey Holder, the Broadway dancer and actor. He was in that James Bond movie Live and Let Die, where he played a character based on the Baron Samedi, the Haitian spirit of the dead and guardian of cemeteries with, you know, the top hat and the bad teeth. Holder had a really nice collection that he sold when he got very old. I also got my three Duval-Carrié pieces from him. I got a lot of that stuff all at once, and then I got a few good things from Brion Gysin [the Canadian-English writer and artist best known for his development of the Cut-Up Method of chance word composition, a major influence on Burroughs]. MC Did you know Gysin well? IP He used to come snort coke with me from time to time. He was an
old roué, but he would always bother to wear the blue blazer with the three gold buttons and the nice pair of khaki pants and comb his hair properly. I loved guys like that, who were totally relaxed around whores and drugs, around all types of behavior, and yet they would always behave properly, so to speak, and that put me at ease. MC Did you discuss cut-ups or Gysin’s other writing techniques? IP He didn’t really say much about that. But he gave me one of his books, called Brion Gysin Let the Mice In, that elaborated on the idea of just letting the words talk—and that language is a virus. SB A contaminant! IP There were so many unbelievable ideas. If you look in some of the old Burroughs books, in The Ticket That Exploded and Nova Express, he delves into the Middle Eastern tradition of assassination. Which is
Previous spread: Stefan Brüggemann, Headlines and Last Lines in the Movies, 2016; four mirror panels, spray paint. © Stefan Brüggeman. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth. This page, two artworks: William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, The Third Mind (‘Of Nuclear War Danger’), c. 1965, p. 12 and p. 154; gelatin-silver print, typescript, offset Lithography, newsprint on paper; each 14 ¼ × 20". © Museum Associates/LACMA. Courtesy Los Angeles County Museum of Art, purchased with funds provided by the Hiro Yamagata Foundation.
basically how certain people operate now! For Burroughs, it was the figure of Hassan i Sabbah [c. 1050–1124 CE, founder of the breakaway Nizari Ismaili state in the mountains of Persia and Syria], who would tell young men, “If you go assassinate so and so for me, you’ll live in paradise and have a virgin and hashish every day.” Burroughs also had this idea of do-it-yourself borders—like, “What is with this damned border shit anyway? All you do is you get a trailer and put it by the side of the road and have a couple of guys in it with machine guns, and you’ve got a border!” And of course now, that’s come to pass in a lot of places. MC The reason I was asking you about cut-ups is that you’ve often spoken about how, for a time, you were writing your lyrics with 25 words or less and about how you were influenced by speeches on TV and advertisements and— IP Jingles! Jingles were really important!
MC I think there is a nice parallel to be made with Stefan’s very simple and to-the-point statements. IP Yeah, I’ve thought about this. There is a similarity between Stefan’s text messages and how I title songs. I try to give the song a title that, in itself, can walk around and become its own little song without any of the music or words or anything. SB That’s beautiful. IP That’s something I try to do more with the rock stuff. It usually has to connect to some feeling, some motivation I have. When I was young, I would often get them from Time magazine. Like “Search and Destroy,” “Raw Power.” I just nicked them out of Time and put them in a pure context without thinking about wars or anything. Something like “Cold Metal” is more descriptive. SB I have another body of work, called Headlines and Last Lines in the Movies, that I spray-paint on the wall, like handwriting. IP The last line from a movie? SB The last lines of dramatic films and the headlines from the day’s newspaper. For me, the work is about how society is being shaped unconsciously, how those statements influence us. And then how that noise becomes abstract. Even if we try to be free and opinionated, we are already being so manipulated. It’s a very existential work. For me, it is important as a way to get an imprint of our present, like what you’re saying— how you were a sponge, reacting to a context at a specific moment. IP In America, where there are big balls of activity and so much money and insecurity, as soon as anybody starts their day, they think of their own lives in headlines: “I Am Driving the Car!” SB It’s true. IP I obviously do that when I work live. They asked John Wayne
once, “You’re six foot four—why do you wear three-inch cowboy heels?” [Impersonates Wayne] He said, “’Cause I want them to be thinking about John Wayne.” So when I appear somewhere, the first message is “Here comes Iggy!” “I am fucking Iggy!” “Iggy, Iggy, Iggy!” And at the end, it’s like, “You just saw Iggy.” Unfortunately, that doesn’t leave room for a lot of other nice nuances, but you can get them in the door with it, hopefully. I think everybody is forced to scream a little bit, which is not always wonderful. Andy Warhol told me in 1970 that I should… [impersonates Warhol] “just buy a newspaper, and whatever it says in the newspaper, sing that, and that should be your record!” MC Such a beautiful idea. John Giorno’s first collection of poetry from 1964 [The American Book of the Dead] consisted of just that, appropriating texts from newspapers. He never sang them, though. SB There’s also this idea of immediacy. In capitalist society, we are constantly looking for a kind of present-future. Speculation is a part of that. It’s very difficult to stop that race, to stop chasing it. Did you ever have idealism about changing the world? IP Who me, personally? No, never. Well, when I was around 12 years old, I believed all these wonderful things they told us about what America was supposed to mean, the freedom and these great things. On the other hand, I noticed that some people were always on top, and some people always at the bottom. When I started to get a little idealistic, and then Kennedy got shot, I thought, “Oh…” SB You thought, “I’d better be careful!” IP At the time, I actually thought that I might go into politics. I went to something in Michigan called Boys State. They have that in every state. It is a program where young men—young women were not invited at that time—who were interested in going into
government would put together a mock government of the state for one day. I went, and we were lectured at by this professional, Irish, military, histrionic public speaker who was supposedly skilled in making young men feel that they had to be patriotic and fight and die for their country. He was so over-the-top. And I thought, “This is some bullshit.” He turned me right off. For many years, I hardly even knew who the president was. I just didn’t want to know about that. SB You obliterated it. IP I just wanted to live my music life and be. SB But the power of music reaches so many people. You have a lot of power in sending a message, especially to the youth. IP It’s an interesting thought. When I started in rock, it was a fascinating challenge because nobody started out being any good at it, or sounding good. You just started out wanting to. At the same time, you also wanted people to accept and participate in what you were doing. It’s a very interesting puzzle for those first five or ten years as to how you’re going to make something that’s interesting and exciting and that you like, and yet for others to accept it, too. It’s a genuinely exciting challenge in and of itself. It takes time for all practitioners, and then finally maybe you get to something.
SB When you are producing content, there is a moment for it to make sense. And you are waiting until it makes sense. IP That’s a good point. SB You may do something when you are young that makes sense only when you are 50. IP Especially to other people. SB To others, and to you. IP And your perspective changes. SB It’s very interesting how we think that, chronologically, time travels in a straight line, yet it is more abstract. That is very challenging in producing content. MC Talking about the past, you often mentioned that Charlotte Moorman was an influence for you. IP More the idea of what she did, when I heard about it. There it was: the bondage, the nudity, the confrontation of it and also the abstract nature of what it was. I heard that there was a woman playing the cello, nude, while a guy smashes a piano—that is a memorable image even when you haven’t seen it. And of course we know now that she wanted to be understood as an artist for much more than those images, but other artists would never let her into the boys’ club, which is what the art world mostly was then.
SB Resistance is always important to generate. IP This is right. SB You need resistance to push, challenge and fight. It creates energy. When everything is open, there is nothing to break into. IP That’s true. There was a Japanese guru, George Ohsawa, who said that was what Jesus meant by saying love your enemy. Love your enemy because, by opposing you and threatening you, these are the people who are going to make you really creative and strong and keep you in check. That’s one step further than resistance. SB Have you ever felt that way? IP Oh yeah! My whole career. I still get it depending on where I am. If I play something that is more general public, I still get a little. Or if I go to L.A., they say: “We still remember what you did with the razor blades. We haven’t forgotten!” [During a 1974 performance at Rodney Bingenheimer’s English Disco on the Sunset Strip, Pop infamously carved an “x” into his chest, bloodying himself.] MC You were pushing Artaud’s Theatre of Cruelty in a direction he could have only dreamed about. IP I didn’t know what he meant. Somebody gave me a book on Artaud—it might have been Nico—that talked about the ideas
Brion Gysin and Iggy, Hotel La Tremoille, Paris, September 1977. © Philippe Auliac. Courtesy Philippe Auliac.
From top: Henry Flynt, #18, The SAMO© Graffiti Portfolio, 1979. © Henry A. Flynt Jr. John Giorno, Everyone Is a Complete Disappointment, 2015, acrylic on canvas, 40 × 40". © John Giorno. Courtesy the artist and Sperone Westwater Gallery.
“[I use] the last lines of dramatic films and the headlines from the day’s newspaper. For me, the work is about how society is being shaped unconsciously, how those statements influence us.…Even if we try to be free and opinionated, we are already being so manipulated.” —Stefan Brüggemann behind the Theatre of Cruelty. I just kind of intuited it. I—this Midwestern kid barely out of my teens—took that ball and ran with it in my own direction. I had noticed already that there were several popular assholes in my business, in rock ’n’ roll, and people seemed to like to be totally assholed by these assholes. So I thought, “Okay, this seems to be a theme. Let’s find a vein to open.” It wasn’t really gonna work stabbing the audience, but I could stab myself a little bit ’cause my body’s mine. I thought that would be okay, but people didn’t think so. People were like, “What the fuck!?” The sight of blood is a good stimulant for any crowd. I was aware of that early on. I don’t really try for that anymore. MC To what extent was an action like that planned? Or was it improvised? IP What I’ve always done, since I started, was that for any
performance, there had to be some form of blocking. You block the areas, and then you allow the rest to happen. Early on, that was about the music, too. We didn’t really have songs. We had riffs. We knew three or four riffs, so I would tell the guys, “Okay, you play riff one, and when I give a certain hand signal, switch to riff two, and after a certain signal, switch to riff three.” So I knew it was going to go from this musical ambiance to this one to another one. There is your building block. I knew that I was going to be barefoot, wearing very little clothing, and when I started out, I was wearing white face makeup. Some nights I would use a boat emergency horn and blow it just to scare everybody; some nights I would use a megaphone; some nights I would bring a pie and throw it at the audience. Some nights I wouldn’t do any of those things. It just depended on the night.
And I would have a name for each song in my head, but when I played the songs, I would improvise. I am pretty quick, mentally, with words. I would free form and just make up some rhymes. But now, I’m older and more calcified and more in the big time, so I know the set list—I always know the music and what order— and I block it out. In other words, if you see me do “I Wanna Be Your Dog” three different nights over a five-year period, you’re going to notice that I work a certain amount of time all-stage. I go to the mic for the first verse and maybe part of the first chorus, and then you’ll see me work left, work right, work left, work right, work front, work back, and have some sort of idea where I want to be when I end it. And then within that, I just do what I feel like. SB As an artist, I see not being trapped in a body of work and able to get out of it and back again as real freedom. When people recognize me for a certain body of work, I change and do something else. It’s like having a piece of plasticine that you are molding over and over again, and not just repeating the same form. It’s always an act of freedom. That freedom in art is a joy to see. IP That’s one reason I’m doing this. I do rock stuff, but I also like to do voice-over, things that other people wrote. I recently released an EP [Teatime Dub Encounters] where I just improv with the electronic band Underworld. Some people like it, and other people, well…Americans are like: “You can’t get away with that shit! You didn’t even think about it!” But the English like it. Because they like a good laugh.
All stills: Spaghetti Blockchain, 2019; single-channel video installation, sound, color, approximately 18 minutes, dimensions variable. © Mika Rottenberg. Courtesy the artist and Hauser & Wirth.
Tableaux Vivants From Mika Rottenberg’s Spaghetti Blockchain
The Byzantine Generals’ Problem:
Blockchain—the radically decentralized information system behind the rise of cryptocurrency— sounds more like an obscure branch of analytic philosophy than a digital database. Its history involves concepts with Wittgensteinian oomph, like “Merkle trees,” “hard forks,” “proof-of-existence” and “the Byzantine Generals’ Problem.” It resides in the same nebulous ether as late capitalism itself, “at every level an eerie entity,” in the words of the late writer Mark Fisher, “conjured out of nothing.” When the artist Mika Rottenberg began work on her latest labyrinthine video opus, to which she gave the apt title Spaghetti Blockchain, events that helped shape it occasionally played out as if they, too, had been directed by the director-less hand of the eerie. Fascinated by particle physics, Rottenberg had begun listening to the lectures of the Nobel laureate Richard Feynman and was struck by mention of Feynman’s longstanding, quixotic
plan to travel to Tuva, the remote republic in southern Siberia. “I think it was just a desire to try to go to the most difficult, inaccessible place he could possibly imagine,” she said recently. Feynman never made it to Tuva, but his obsession led Rottenberg to the tradition of Tuvan throat music, the otherworldly overtone singing practiced for centuries on the steppes of Siberia and Mongolia. The singing is primarily a male tradition, but one group of women singers, Tyva Kyzy (“Daughters of Tuva”), has achieved prominence, and Rottenberg became determined to track them down. “It took me a while even to find them online, and I wasn’t sure of how to communicate with them,” she recalled. “But as I was looking around, it turned out that they were on a 25th anniversary tour and were going to be in a bar in Park Slope in, like, two days, like, ten minutes from my house in Brooklyn. If I’d missed them, I really would have missed them,
because they don’t leave Tuva very often. It was unbelievable that they essentially came to me.” Like much of Rottenberg’s work, Spaghetti Blockchain brings together seemingly irreconcilable worlds—the throat singers, filmed on the steppes; surreal interiors of the Large Hadron Collider near Geneva; the mechanical harvesting of a massive potato farm; ASMR-video-style scenarios with tingly overdubs of jiggling and sizzling—and places them in a kind of superfluous factory of her devising, whose primary product seems to be imagery that’s simultaneously pleasurable and queasily troubling. Because her work has dealt so extensively with labor, particularly labor by women, it is often read allegorically, with a Marxist slant, though Rottenberg once told me that she read Das Kapital mostly as a form of poetry about human productivity. I asked her if #MeToo and other social-justice movements now afoot had caused her to think more overtly about the
Spaghetti Blockchain made its debut in “Easy Pieces,” Rottenberg’s mid-career survey at the New Museum (June 26– September 15, 2019).
political implications of making work. “It’s maybe too early to tell,” she said. “I definitely feel like there used to be more separation between fact and fiction in the world, and it seems like, more and more, truth is being distorted and facts are becoming entertainment, and so you have to think more about what you’re doing. At the same time, a lot of my work is about mediums being confused and about disorienting you and you having to figure out your position and find your voice, which has its own value. Maybe art should be about color and sound and experience and about what it does in and of itself, and you either do that or you stop and become a hard-core activist. I think that it’s two separate things. And that you can do both, but maybe not at the same time.” —Randy Kennedy
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LARRY BELL One of the most revered and influential artists to emerge from the 1960s Los Angeles scene, Bell explores the luminous possibilities of glass and chromogenic materials in mediums from sculpture to furniture design. Ideal day in the city The perfect day for me starts with no pain anywhere in my body. I would start by sitting on my porch and soaking up the sun while I sip my coffee or drink my smoothie. The afternoon always includes lunch with my staff if they can do it. Dinner would include my ex and one or two of my adult kids and my four grandkids. I like to go to bed early when I am home, no later than 9 p.m. if possible. Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors I like to show visitors the Rio Grande Gorge Bridge and my guitar collection. The bridge is a thrill to walk on, especially when you stop and look down at the river 600 feet below. While the cars drive over it, you can feel entire bridge shake.
Favorite under-the-radar attraction Kit Carson’s grave in the back of the park, which is named after the frontiersman. In our little town, Carson was a big player as a scout and explorer, and he also had good relations with the Native Americans; a kind of camaraderie that he passed on to us. Attraction to avoid I try to avoid going to all the art openings. Favorite local work of art My favorite artwork is in the backyard of my own studio. It is a sculpture by the French artist Bernar Venet. We traded outdoor sculptures.
Favorite local non-art museum The Kit Carson Home and Museum and the Harwood Museum of Art, but there should be a museum of motels. Favorite escape from the city My favorite escape is to go to my studio in Venice Beach, California. I do it about every three weeks and stay for three weeks. I drive my Suburban with my assistant and my dog, Pinky. I take out my hearing aids, turn off the radio and treat the drive as a 14-hour meditation. It is roughly a thousand miles door to door, mountains to the sea and back again.
This page: Kit Carson Home and Museum courtyard, Taos, New Mexico. Courtesy Kit Carson Home and Museum. Opposite: Raku Chōjirō (1589), Omokage (Shadow of Remembrance), black Raku tea bowl. Authentications by Ishikawa Jian (1583–1672) and Yamada Sōhen (1627–1708). Courtesy Raku Museum.
MARIKO MORI In an otherworldly practice reminiscent of science fiction, Mori creates installation, film and performance that delve into the elastic quality of identity in the context of science and technology. Ideal day in the city I would visit the Shinto shrines in the morning, followed by drinking matcha tea while viewing the rock garden at Ryoanji Temple. In the evening, I would eat kaiseki or Zenmonk-style cuisine. Afterwards, I would walk by the river to enjoy the ambiance of the city lights. Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors The tea ceremony in Kyoto offers insight into the traditional culture, as well as opening each of your six senses (yes, six). The ritual begins prior to entering the teahouse, when guest are required to purify their minds. The experience can be deeper if a guest has a sensitive mind, open to understanding the host’s thoughtful and special preparation. Favorite under-the-radar attraction Visiting the antique market in Toji Temple early in the morning, a perfect time to hunt for hidden treasure. If your eyes are well trained, it is possible to find precious objects. Also, it is fun to test your intuition in finding the real valuables. The market is open only once a month.
Attraction to avoid Visiting in the summer; Kyoto can be very hot and humid. The best seasons are spring and fall, but it is very busy then, with too many tourists. June, the rainy season, is a good time for viewing the moss gardens, and winter is the quietest time. Favorite local work of art The sacred stones that can be found in the shrines around Kyoto. The tradition of worshipping stones, which come from a small mountain in the southeast of the city, began in the Yayoi period (500 BC–300 AD) and is still active today. The sacred stones are considered to be landing places of the gods.
Favorite local non-art museum The Raku Museum has a collection of Raku ceramic ware from as early as the mid-16th century. The tea bowls from this era are considered to be the first to articulate the aesthetics of the Japanese tea ceremony. Favorite escape from the city When I’m in any city, I often find myself going to a park in the morning. It is a time for contemplation. It is truly an important ritual to begin my day.
SASKIA SPENDER Raised in Tuscany and based in London, Spender is a multidisciplinary artist and president of the Arshile Gorky Foundation, for which the painter, her grandfather, is the namesake.
Ideal day in the city My days almost always begin by going to the town of Miramar to visit La Hacienda for some coffee and breakfast. It’s easy to run into friends in the area, and I’m often catching up with someone there. Afterwards, it’s a short distance to Old San Juan, where I spent a lot of time when I was young. Since the areas in San Juan are all very close, I can easily go to Condado for dinner, where my good friend Jose Enrique owns a restaurant named after him. It’s always great, no matter what’s on the daily menu. If I want to go out for a drink with friends later, I head to La Placita, which has a lot of bars and restaurants.
Ideal day in the city The great thing about Siena is that everything is within walking distance. A perfect day begins with waking up in Hotel Certosa di Maggiano, visiting the Duomo and the Baptistery with its inlaid marble floors, and the Museo dell’Opera. A sophisticated lunch at the austere Tre Cristi would follow, and then tea at the Hotel Continental on Banchi di Sopra. In the early evening, aperitivo at the Fonte Gaia in Piazza del Campo, and then dinner at Antica Osteria da Divo, which is built inside an Etruscan tomb carved out of the local soft volcanic rock.
Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors Old San Juan is a magical place that holds the history of Puerto Rico. The colonial architecture is stunning and has been well maintained, down to the cobblestone streets. The area is filled with little bars, restaurants and artisan shops. You can go to Castillo San Felipe del Morro, a 16th-century citadel that looks out to the ocean, and if you follow the streets down, you will reach El Paseo de la Princesa, a beautiful esplanade.
Favorite under-the-radar attraction Luis Muñoz Rivera Park, located between Old San Juan and Condado. People usually drive through it and don’t take time to see the beautiful landscape and sculptures. Attraction to avoid The areas that try to replicate the South Beach, Miami environment. For me, those places don’t represent what the island is about. Favorite local work of art Garden of Intolerance by Arnaldo Roche Rabell in the Museo de Arte de Puerto Rico. Roche Rabell is one of my favorite artists, and this painting brings back a lot of memories from when I was young and looked at it for a long time, trying to understand the artist as well as how he painted. His process has always been relevant to me.
Favorite local non-art museum Casa Museo Felisa Rincon de Gautier. Not only was Doña Felisa the first female mayor of San Juan, but her efforts to preserve Old San Juan helped shape the historical context that you see while you walk through the streets today. Her home, filled with artifacts and furniture from when she lived there, is a good way to get some background on how the city developed. Favorite escape from the city Vieques, the small island off the east coast of Puerto Rico. It’s a perfect place to disconnect from the city and enjoy the calmness of the white-sand beaches and the area around you. The local food is super fresh, and in the evening, you can visit the Bioluminescent Bay.
This page: Old San Juan, 2019. Photo: Angel Otero. Opposite: Palio di Siena, 2018. Photo: Luca Venturi.
ANGEL OTERO Using a process he describes as construction through destruction, Otero scrapes layered paint and deforms canvases as a means of invoking personal and art-historical memory.
Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors Piazza del Campo, shaped like a conch shell, never disappoints. It’s dominated by the Palazzo Comunale, which has a series of frescoed rooms. The Allegory of Good and Bad Government, the series of fresco panels by Ambrogio Lorenzetti, shows how good governance brings peace, trade and prosperity, while poor rule leads to famine, strife, cruelty and war. Favorite under-the-radar attraction Truffle hunting with Alessandro and his Lagotto dogs, which you
arrange in his shop in Vicolo del Pollaiolo off Piazza del Campo. The market that starts at 7:30 on Wednesday mornings may seem like a Dollar Store at first glance but in fact sells everything from vintage hand-woven hemp and linen sheets to live hens, as well as strings of coral and beads for the amateur jeweler and useful things like nail brushes for the rustic gardener. Attraction to avoid Museo della Tortura (Museum of Torture)—avoid it like the Plague. Favorite local work of art The Maestà by Duccio in the Museo dell’Opera del Duomo, and a minute Lorenzetti landscape in the Pinacoteca. Some of Siena’s best works are now in the National Gallery in Washington. However, the Santa Maria della Scala has a fascinating Etruscan collection buried in the deepest catacombs.
Favorite local non-art museum The Palio in July and August, in which jockeys race horses bareback in the Piazza del Campo, is a great spectacle. The costumes and customs, like all rituals, are a conservative demonstration of tradition, but they contain the Anatolian roots of the Etruscans’ cattle culture. Favorite escape from the city The countryside around Siena is extraordinary, and also deeply varied—limestone oak forests and vineyards in the north (Chianti), undulating clays in the south where a Devonian lake once was, metal-rich Etruscan truffle zones in the west. You cannot miss the Signorelli frescoes at Monte Oliveto Maggiore, the architecture of Pienza, the hot springs at Bagno Vignoni, the Chianina cows of Bartolo’s farm and the wineries of Montalcino.
ANGELICA MESITI Mesiti trained in classical and contemporary dance and continues to use movement and music in multi disciplinary work that examines subjects like the limits of language; she represented Australia in the 2019 Venice Biennale.
Favorite iconic attraction to show visitors It’s not very original, but I have to say the Opera House. I love walking around the exterior at night, with the harbour bridge illuminated in the background. The giant sail forms take on a very different dimension from this perspective.
Welcome to The Berkeley. Modern luxury in the heart of London.
Favorite under-the-radar attraction Sydney has some wonderful ocean swimming pools carved out of coastal rock. When I’m not feeling up to being tossed around in the surf, I love a refreshing swim in salty tidal water. One of my favorites is Wylie’s Baths in Coogee, built in 1907. The boardwalk and changing rooms have been kept faithful to the heritage of the place. Attraction to avoid Bondi Beach on Christmas Day, New Year’s Eve and Australia Day. Favorite local work of art The Vladimir Tichy ceramic mural on Foveaux Street in Surry Hills. Tichy is a ceramic artist who found asylum in Australia from Czechoslovakia in the 1960s. In the 1970s he produced many architectural ceramic murals in buildings across Sydney. This is one of the few that remains. Its organic, somehow female shapes remind me of my ’70s childhood.
Favorite local non-art museum The Susannah Place Museum is a great way to experience social and architectural heritage from the perspective of the historical working class in Sydney. It’s a row of four townhouses built in 1844 by Irish immigrants. The buildings and exterior washhouses have been preserved to represent different periods of their inhabitation. It’s a perfect example of neglect being the best form of preservation. I love the curious and eerie feeling of stepping back in time, with just the right amount of age and decay to evade romanticism. Favorite escape from the city Blue Mountains National Park, two hours west of Central Sydney, is spectacular, with walking paths to waterfalls and cliffs. I like listening for the remarkable native birdlife, like the mighty black cockatoo, the uncanny mimicking lyrebird or the call of the eastern whipbird.
Susannah Place Museum, Sydney, Australia. Courtesy picturelibrary/Alamy.
Ideal day in the city My ideal day would be in January, when it’s summer. There’s a holiday feeling, and lots of events, shows and exhibitions around the Sydney Festival. I’d start the day with pancakes at Bill Granger’s restaurant in Darlinghurst or with avocado toast and a flat white at a café on Crown Street in Surry Hills. I’d then head over to the Carriageworks farmers market in Redfern to find fresh-cut native flowers before moving inside to see an installation or performance as a part of the festival program. I would fit in an afternoon swim at Nielsen Park beach in Sydney Harbor in Vaucluse, the Andrew Boy Charlton Pool in Woolloomooloo or the women’s-only sea baths in Clovelly. My ideal day would end by seeing Nick Cave or the Dirty Three perform at the Art Deco State Theatre.
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A Mexican design project turns the humble corn husk into a beautiful veneer and a model of sustainability
Sin maíz, no hay país (“Without corn, there is no country”) is a Mexican aphorism that Fernando Laposse takes literally. With his project Totomoxtle, the designer has created a small-scale circular economy in a mountain village in southeastern Mexico, using indigenous varieties of maize seeds. The corn itself, sourced from the International Maize and Wheat Improvement Center, has higher nutritional value than the homogenized varieties that dominate Mexican agriculture. Following a nothing-goesto-waste philosophy, Laposse developed a technique that uses the corn husks to create a naturally colorful veneer that can be applied to furniture and interiors. To showcase the color palette and range of patterns possible with Totomoxtle, he has also designed pieces of his own using the material, including lamps, vases and wall coverings. The idea for using native corn as a design material came to him in the wake of protests and legal battles over the past few years to stop agricultural giant Monsanto from introducing genetically modified
seeds to Mexico. “I was surrounded by this enthusiasm to address the problem politically and practically,” Laposse says. “I decided to focus on what I know, which is how to elevate a humble material to something that can be perceived as luxury.” The base of Totomoxtle’s operation is Tonahuixtla, a farming community in the state of Puebla, where Laposse spent summers as a child. Local farmers, who had already been applying ecological methods to fight soil erosion and infertility, were receptive to his idea. “There was a will go back to the old ways, and a will to be open to new ideas,” he says. Aware of how poorly indigenous communities in Mexico typically fare in the exchange of labor and resources, Laposse is determined to return economic power to the people who grow the corn and produce the Totomoxtle material. “In a way, I am a middleman between Tonahuixtla and the world,” he says, “but it is much more about a partnership.” At the core of the project is the designer’s strong belief in the need to look to traditional indigenous practices
as a source for ecologically responsible industrial innovation. “If you are going to be talking about sustainability, you have to include indigenous communities in the discussion,” he says. “At the moment, that’s not being done. All the decisions and plans around the environmental issues that we will be facing in the future are done at a government level, by teams of scientists, and we rarely include indigenous communities in a meaningful way. It’s their knowledge and, in this case, their seeds, that might have a lot of solutions for the problems we are going to be facing.” —Anna Shinbane
From left: Tonahuixtla woman; Totomoxtle material. Photos: Courtesy Fernando Laposse.
Walls Made to Fall
At a time of renewed nationalistic barrier-building in Europe and the United States, a look back at a poignant performance by Allan Kaprow.
In the fall of 1970, in a deserted area near the Berlin Wall, Allan Kaprow and a handful of fellow artists erected a cinderblock wall mortared together with nothing but bread and strawberry jam, a piece of Lewis Carrollian agitprop that piqued the attention of few Germans and seemed to exert no discernible political effect on the real wall, which severed the country for another 19 years. But Kaprow, whose work lived at the tangled intersection of art and activism, was playing the long game, which he understood better than almost any artist of his time. Sweet Wall, he wrote later of the performance, was less a wall than an idea of one. “The Berlin Wall was an idea, too,” he added. “It summed up in one medieval image the ideological division of
Europe.” Making a farcical barrier solely for the purpose of its destruction—he and the other artists pushed it down just after finishing it—was about clearing a psychic space in which symbols could be “produced and erased at will.” “The participants could speculate on the practical value of such freedom, to themselves and to others,” he concluded. “That was its sweetness and its irony.”
Spreading jam on bread for Allan Kaprow’s Sweet Wall, 1970. © Allan Kaprow Estate. Courtesy Hannah Higgins. Photo: Dick Higgins.
Our cover story, a conversation between Agnes Gund, the great collector and activist philanthropist, and Mark Bradford, the great artist and...