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Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt

Tenemental (With Sighs Too Deep for Words) Howl! Happening:An Arturo Vega Project in cooperation with Pavel Zoubok Fine Art

Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Cover: Day Time, Nite Light, Solitary Drinker, 1975. Foil, plastic, plastic wrap, light bulb, Magic Marker, wood, and staples, 39 x 28 x 18 inches. Collection Anita Grossman Solomon. Made for the inaugural exhibition, Holly Solomon Gallery. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus This page: Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Original exhibition announcement for The Hangups of a 22 Year Old Catholic Homosexual in the Great Techno + Cyber Judeo Christian Empire, 1970. Offset-printed flyer. From the Estate of Jean-Claude Vasseux, courtesy of Glen Santiago and John Hoge.


Christ The Judge (the image not made by hand), 1978-79. Foil, plastic wrap, staples, and other media, 20 1/4 x 14 5/8 inches. Collection John Serdula


Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt

Tenemental (With Sighs Too Deep for Words)

Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project in cooperation with Pavel Zoubok Fine Art November 16 – December 19, 2018 Howl A/P/E Volume 1, No. 27


Documentation from an environmental situation (4th Street between Aves. B and C) by Mr. T (TLS), 1968

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Collage of family and personal photos

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Sketchbook: (Pieta) Still Life and Self-portrait, 1966-67

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Photo booth self-portraits Opposite page: Sketchbook, June 1967

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Photo booth pictures with TLS and Henry Geldzahler Opposite page: Photo booth self-portrait

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Tommy by David Carter

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Most of the world knows Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt either as an artist or the only still-living person who is in Fred McDarrah’s iconic photos of the gay street youth who were the fire in the Stonewall uprising. But what is the story of Tommy’s life? He ran away to Greenwich Village from his home in Linden, NJ, because as a gay youth he feared a violent death at the hands of the ditchdigging crew in which his father had gotten him a job. His entire young life was centered on art and spirituality. In Catholic school he had fallen in love with one of the most advanced mystical texts in the entire Western canon, The Philokalia (the basis for the kind of mysticism that brought about a crisis in the life of Franny in Franny and Zooey). Tommy also loved to make and collect art. What better choice of refuge could there have been for a sensitive, intelligent, creative gay teenager with a strong spiritual bent than Greenwich Village in the mid 60s? But life there for Tommy did not prove to be paradisiacal. It

turned out to consist of unexpected horrors, delights, and just plain-out oddities, such as Dorothy encountered on her way to Oz. Much of the dark side of Tommy’s life came from poverty. For most of that period, he lived in a dangerously dilapidated tenement on the Lower East Side. Still, had he not been poor, one wonders whether Tommy would have encountered some of the important figures he did. While Tommy found true camaraderie with homeless gay youths, he found his paradise at Greenwich Village’s Stonewall Inn. While the Stonewall had its dark side as a Mafia clip joint, Tommy was there free to dance openly with other men—slow dancing with them, luxuriating in their embrace while listening to rhapsodic lyrics. No wonder he compares the Stonewall experience with going to Mass. Tommy has stated that the Stonewall was “home,” inspiring one of his most iconic artworks, Mother Stonewall and the Golden Rats. In this brief essay I cannot explain much about Tommy’s


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life, and so must regard it as a preface to a biography: trying to set a few guideposts, in hopes of inspiring investigations into Tommy’s life and work. So let me leave you with a couple of notes about the last-named work of art as hints of the deeper meanings that run throughout his artwork. The heart of Mother Stonewall and the Golden Rats is a text written in the form of a handbill. Tommy once commented to me that he modeled the text’s rhythms on a composition by St. John Chrysostom. On another occasion, Tommy explained the meaning of a line in the text, the one about how even though he went to college, he never had the security that college experience gave to middleclass youth. At the beginning of a semester, Tommy’s father was late in sending the tuition after he was admitted to the Pratt Institute. Tommy got a note from the school saying that he could not eat in the cafeteria or attend class, making him feel “as cold and flat as if he didn’t exist.” This is the basis for the phrase in Mother Stonewall that states that street youth

had “no cafeteria for certain food.” Tommy’s experience was far removed from that of the typical gay world of the time. Fortunately, his working-class parents valued culture and provided stability in his life, so in some ways Tommy fared better than most of his street-youth friends. For example, although the family did not have a car, they had two sets of good encyclopedias. When Tommy asked his mother why they didn’t have a car, she would point at the encyclopedias and say, “These books will take you farther than a car.” Tommy has characterized his early life as being epitomized by Dylan’s famous lyric, “When you ain’t got nothing, you got nothing to lose.” But, as the proverb says, life is what we make of it. And just as Tommy has created art out of what many would consider trash, he also has constructed a wonderful, singular life out of the jewels and the garbage that life brought him.


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By Agosto Machado

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Come June 28, 2019, it will be a half century since the Stonewall Riots. Tommy was inside, and we were outside. From that event till now, his faith and talent and dedication have generated a treasure trove of wondrous beauty and truth. His friendship has helped achieve our mutual goals—"all for out.�


Fred W. McDarrah (1926-2007). Celebration After Riots Outside Stonewall Inn, Nelly (Betsy Mae Koolo), Chris (Drag Queen Chris), Roger Davis, Michelle, and Tommy Lanigan-Schmidt, June 1969. RC Print, 8› x 5› inches. Collection Pavel Zoubok. Photo © Estate of Fred W. McDarrah. All Rights Reserved.

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Maximalist Art an interview with Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt by Jonathan Weinberg

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On March 19, 2018, I interviewed Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt by phone for the catalog of the exhibition Art after Stonewall, 1969-89. Organized by the Columbus Museum of Art and timed to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Stonewall Riots, the exhibition will open in New York City at the Grey Art Gallery and The Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in April 2019, and travel to Miami’s Frost Museum in September and the Columbus Museum of Art in January of 2020. Tommy is the only artist in Art after Stonewall who is also a veteran of the Stonewall Riots and was actually present in the Stonewall Inn on June 28, 1969, when a police raid sparked what historian Martin Duberman has called “the birth of the modern gay and lesbian political movement.”1 I spoke to Tommy about the impact of that historic night on American culture, as well as the relationship of art to queer identities and his career before and after the Stonewall Riots. However, because of limited space, only a fraction of my interview with Tommy will appear in the catalog for Art after Stonewall, which will be published by Rizzoli in the spring of 2019. What follows here is almost the entirety of our one hour and thirty-minute conversation. Jonathan Weinberg: What do you remember about Stonewall? Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: Whenever I smell lighting fluid, the

memory comes back to me very quickly, of the Stonewall Riots. That sums it up very quickly. And that’s just like, if someone is lighting up charcoal to barbecue. That’s an involuntary memory. Because that smell was in the air. I associate the whole thing with the police coming there and basically trying to stop us from dancing with each other. Because that was the only place in the world where we could dance slow together. I mean, gay people. So, the way I see it is what is called the revolution that

happened at the Stonewall, happened inside—the kids, the street kids.... Because I was a teenage runaway, a gay teenage runaway. I’m probably the only person still alive in Fred W. McDarrah’s photograph (Page 17) [that was taken soon after the riots]…I have a kind of survivor’s guilt. I mean that’s a hard thing to explain, but I know so many dead people. From before AIDS even. Most people in that picture never reached 25 years old, because street life was so unpredictable and could be so suddenly violent, and people could get killed easily if they met with “a bad trick.” JW: So, at that point, you were already making art? TLS: I’ve been making art since I was a little kid. I would say I’m

a fusion of many types of art. But the fusion happened before I even knew the word “fusion.” I started making art when I was a kid, and there’s really no break. There are conscious decisions that a kid made, because in 1967 or ’68, I met Christopher Scott, Henry Geldzahler’s boyfriend.2 They’re the people in the David Hockney portrait. I was one of those street kids but at the same time, I’m hanging out in a huge apartment full of art. Like, Warhol and Oldenburg and tons of art. There was a huge John Chamberlain [sculpture] when you came in. JW: This is Henry and Chris’ apartment on Ninth Street? TLS: No, this is not Ninth Street. This is before that. This was

up on Seventh Avenue, like two blocks down from the park. Because that’s where they lived before Ninth Street. And then the apartment, they probably had more wall space in the apart-


ment than they did in the house. The Ninth Street place was littler inside. So, they had less art, and smaller-scale art on Ninth Street. In their Seventh Avenue place, they had museumsize stuff on the walls. There was a big Larry Poons [painting]. They had a whole bunch of Warhol Jackies. To see that when you’re a teenager, and it’s just naturally part of your life, and especially when you’re a street teenager, it’s just part of the world to you. So, that was as much a part of the world to me as Marcia P. Johnson.3 And also, when I was there, that was the first time I got to see Artforum. And I liked Artforum right away because I thought the language was so ridiculous. It reminded me of theological language. I was always very good at church-speak when I was a kid. JW: And where did you grow up?

TLS: I was born in Elizabeth. I grew up in Linden, New Jersey. They are right next to each other. I’m actually from both, because I’m from a very big family that overlaps the two towns. And Linden was famous for Standard Oil, and Elizabeth for a bunch of factories. They’re towns that are basically working class. So, it was very, very immigrant Catholic where I grew up. And immigrant Catholic back then was a very intense cultural experience. It wasn’t watered down like it is now. JW: And you came to New York after high school? TLS: Well, I went to Pratt for a year—I managed to get into

Pratt, which wasn’t hard, but there’s no money to go to Pratt, and I didn’t know how to do anything…. And my father really didn’t want me going there. So, when the two semesters were over, I went home and then my father, in his wisdom or whatever you call it, decided I should be on a ditch-digging crew. I think he thought that was going to make a man out of me. It was like the working-class version back then of having an internship at a gallery or something. And so, the day that I was to start, I went and did a little bit of registering for the ditch-digging thing, and then I went into the most blank focus of either total sanity or total insanity—I’ll never know what it is. My mind went totally blank and totally focused and I just went to New York. Because I walked in the room where the other kids were sitting on different benches in the Municipal Building. These were all the kids that always tried to murder me in high school. These were kids that hated me. These were the kind of kids, because their families have enough political connection—they could drive their cars when they were drunk through some-

one’s front window and never go to jail. Or beat someone half to death and never go to jail. So, I thought—well, I didn’t think anything. I just went out into the street, outside the door of that office—back then it was kind of a dusky dirt road. And I remember seeing the heat lines rising—because it was May, and it was a hot day in May—and the heat lines in the street were making those squiggles, and then I went home first, actually. My father said, “Oh, here’s a nickel—go get the newspaper” And I said okay. And I already had less than a dollar in my pocket. And I went out, and I got to the corner down from where my parents’ house was, and a friend of my brother was driving by and said, “Can I take you somewhere?” I said, “yeah, wherever you’re going, if you’re going to Elizabeth.” I went to Elizabeth, because I didn’t have enough money for a bus or train from Linden—I had like, 55 cents, something like that in my pocket. I got the train to New York. And I want this somehow seriously emphasized: this is not someone coming to New York—it’s not the art world. I’m broke, this is really having nothing. Nothing to fall back on and having nothing. I came into New York having no money, knowing no one, not knowing anyone with any money. And so, I came in as a teenage runaway. And then I went to 42nd Street right away. And 42nd Street was always too fast for me. I mean it was always like, too much happening, too much all the time. So, I went down to the Village and made friends with other teenage gay runaways. Some of them were as young as 12 years old, and some were in their twenties. And you know, you learn quick to panhandle in the street, things like that. In other words, I was an actual beggar. You figure out quick who is too dangerous to be around. You’re not going to be around people that are like murderers and things like that. You have to figure out who is the less lethal—or not lethal—criminal. JW: When did you start going to the Stonewall Inn bar? TLS: Okay, so May ’66 I get to New York. So, the Stonewall

opens in ’67. And when the Stonewall opens, that was a big deal. Just because there were smaller bars and things like that around that didn’t allow slow dancing. It’s very important to remember. This was a world where being gay was not only criminal, it was considered insane. And all the kids I was around, they had been in what was called “juvey” [juvenile detention facilities]. But they had it worse at home than they would on their own. They were beat up at home by their parents. Some were thrown through plate glass windows; some had boiling water thrown at them…. They were in a survival mode, and they would fight back immediately.

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But, because it was still the 60s, there was a magnificent optimism among them all. And they all wanted to do something with their life. Like maybe be a beautician, or anything like that. These were kids that had no guidance from their parents or relatives for the most part. To want to be a beautician would be a very big deal thing.

So now I have a place where I can make art. I started making little knickknacks right away. There’s still a few of them around, like cut-outs from gay magazines. You’re probably familiar with the little gay magazines. JW: Oh, yeah, yeah. Of course. Physique Pictorial and things

like that.4 JW: So, even then, you were making art I assume, right? TLS: Because I used to steal them when I was a high school kid. TLS: Well, making art was the first thing I thought of, and that

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depended on getting an apartment. So, for the first couple months, from May to October, I stayed with different people, but they were people who always had apartments. So, it was more like hippie crash pads, and I would stay on the Lower East Side. But then—toward the end of the summer, I had been looking for some kind of a job. And you could get sleazy messenger jobs—because back then there was no such thing as email—but a sleazy messenger job, by that I mean there were all these places, especially around Sixth Avenue in the forties, which is all big buildings now. They were called things like the Mercury Messenger Company…you would just go in, and they would give you things to deliver to places. You didn’t know what was in it. I don’t even think they cared if you stole it. So, when I got the job—the job was very significant, because I was still living with all these other people, and then nobody would rent to me, so I was going further, further east. And by that time I ended up between Avenue B and C. That was my first official apartment. The whole building was drug dealers and all kinds of things like that. And gang people and everything. So, when I first moved in, the apartment starts getting robbed right away. I’d go to work and come home, and the door would be broken down and—thank god they never took any books. They never took art; they never took books. They would just take an appliance, like a radio or something like that. Anything that was sellable like that. So, it was 35 dollars a month, and I was on the verge of suicide. Because I didn’t know what to do. Because there was nothing to turn to. And then there was a knock on the door, and I looked through the little peephole, and there was a man standing there who in the neighborhood was a big deal—in gangs and like, drug dealing. So, I let him in, and he was very polite. “Can you read?” And I read to him. “Okay, since you can read and you can write, you can help my nephews in writing letters for school for teachers.” Everything would be okay for me. And then the apartment never got broken in. I could leave the door open and no one would bother it. I was under his protection.

I stole them because I couldn’t be seen buying them in the town I was from. Because they did sell them in these forbidden candy stores that we were told by priest and church not to go to. And then you knew where to go. 'Don’t go to the Penn Sweet Shop,’ and so that’s where I went. JW: Of course. TLS: So, I would make little knickknacks out of them. And then

other ones were like self-portraits where I cut my face out of a photo-booth picture and scotch-taped it onto a figure with a dress on underneath, so it would be me wearing these little dresses. Because I was planning on marrying my high school boyfriend. I had this whole crazy notion that Frankie, who I loved in high school, I was somehow going to end up married to him. We would have this little house, little knickknacks that were going to be made by me. They were all about celebrating me in drag, and then these gay magazines. What was going on in my head I could never quite clarify from that, because that was never going to happen. But I was setting the ground work for that. But then, when I’m doing that, then I meet Christopher Scott. TLS: It was during that time I went to the Museum of Modern

Art for the first time in my life. I was hanging out behind the sculpture garden on the other street. And then this guy with a shaved head comes walking down the street. Now among the street queens, if someone had a shaved head, it means they just got out of jail and I said, “Did you just get out of jail?” And he made a little laugh. And then we started a conversation. And it was only like a block and a half to where he and Henry Geldzahler lived. So he said, “Do you want to come over and smoke a joint?” So we go to his place, and he was wearing gold tights under his pants and he said, “I hope this doesn’t shock you.” And it didn’t. And [the Ridiculous Theatrical Company] was just winding up Big Hotel with Charles Ludlam, and they were getting ready for When Queens Collide. Okay, first thing when you walk into that apartment was a huge John Chamberlain [sculpture]—when I saw it I didn’t think it was real art. I first thought it was just a bunch of art students


making like, imitations of real art. And within a short time, I realized it was the real deal. Chris was a very amazing person. Okay, so Henry didn’t like me at first…. It was only a few days, or like a week or so before he stopped hating me. He treated me like I was a stray dog dragged in or something. Which, in a way, I was but—you know, strays get adopted. Okay, so this alters the dynamic, because I’m making those little knickknacks, then all of a sudden, I’m in a place that has not only art, but like, Artforum. That Artforum language starts to change everything. Because the art I’m making, it’s fine with me, but then I’m reading Artforum and getting that perspective, and also Chris loaned me Clement Greenberg’s essays, that book Art and Culture. And then the essay “Avant-Garde and Kitsch,” and then we would have discussions about that. Like, this has already been contradicted by Warhol and all those people. You know, making a Marilyn Monroe [painting] was elevating kitsch to high art. So, it’s a done deal. But Henry—we started to have friendly arguments. This was the years between when Stonewall opens and before the Stonewall riot. I would go over to their place and I would bring a bunch of my 45 RPM records, and I’d play them and me and Chris would dance, like teenage girls. And Henry would walk into the room and say, “what do you listen to that stuff for?” And I would say, “well you’re the big supporter of pop art, what are you talking about?” Because these are good songs. These are like, the Shangri-Las, and the Shirelles, and all that stuff. This was like—Motown and the Wall of Sound. It’s really—it’s high art. JW: Indeed. Brill Building music…. TLS: Yeah, this is all the Brill Building stuff. And then Henry

said, “Well that stuff is just picked out for you” and I said, “Oh, cut it out Mary.” And I said, “You curate at the Met and all that stuff, they pick out things too. It’s just the same dynamic in a different setting.” And so, we would have little chats like that. He actually encouraged it. Both of them were very good for me. It felt like—it was kind of like a new family almost for me. Because you know Henry, if he wanted to be nasty, could make short work of me. When I think back, they were very generous. They were very generous in a lot of ways, because I learned a lot from them. They gave a lot that at the time I didn’t even realize that they were doing. They were so really good. They were the best of that kind of 60s thing. It’s a class interaction that I don’t know how much it happens today. I mean I really came straight from the bottom. And then they more or less treated me fairly quick equally.

So back then, I was reading The New York Times and The Village Voice. Henry gave me some really good advice. Because Henry said that when he first came to the city from Belgium and he was a little kid, he learned to talk English well from reading out loud. He said just get The New York Times every Sunday and read the art section out loud. So, I did that, and I got The Village Voice and read that out loud. So, then after reading that I just felt it was time to do something, to get reviewed. Mostly because I got rejected by Cooper Union. I was planning on going to Cooper Union. But the rejection by Cooper Union really pissed me off. Because I was rejected not for the art—you probably know people who took the Cooper Union test. Everyone does. JW: Oh, yeah. I taught at Cooper Union. One of my first jobs

was teaching there. TLS: Okay, so you know where the Great Hall is. That’s where

the test was given. And it was like, a whole-day test, or many-hours test. And part of the test was an essay. They had a blank piece of paper. I was 18 or 19, and someone gets up, some guy I think it was, just stands up and gives a very moving speech about how “At the Cooper Union, we want you to be yourself, who you really are. And we’re not lying to you. This blank piece of paper is our psychological test. We want that to be transparent. That we are not trying to fool you or con you in any way.” And so, like an idealistic 19- or 18-year-old, I wrote about being gay. I used the word homosexual back then. And wrote about how Oscar Wilde was homosexual, and I pulled from all over the place. There was no such thing as gay history yet or anything. You knew what you knew, but you found out willy-nilly. And there were no books or anything. There were just occasional negative things that you found out from other people. You might read somewhere or other that there were certain gay people. And actually, I found out when I was a kid, from The Book of Catholic Quotations, there was a quote from Oscar Wilde, and I said to my father “Who is Oscar Wilde” and my father made a crazy face and said, “a homosexual!” and the issue closed. But anyway, I was sure I got into Cooper Union, because of course they wanted us all to be ourselves. And so, I got the rejection letter; I thought, “what the fuck’s going on?” I mean, for drawing all they wanted you to do was draw in that realistic way, and that was not hard to do. I haven’t done it in years, but it would be easy to do for me back then. So, I made an appointment with their admissions people to go and talk about it.

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I went in and there was this closet queen—like a punctilious queen, a typical punctilious, functionary queen…. He had the latest-style eyeglasses. And he looked at me and said, “We don’t mind if you’re this way. It doesn’t bother us; it doesn’t bother me personally. But you should never tell anyone.”

Because that’s actually one of my most favorite things in the whole world. Because I honestly still believe that it is revolutionary in a way that most people have never followed up on. Because after reading Tony Smith no street looked the same after that.

TLS: And then, that was that. And so then I called the American

JW: No, that’s not going to be the same.

Civil Liberties Union, and they told me to go to a psychiatrist. TLS: You see these big slabs of endless asphalt and then conJW: So, this is after you met Christopher Scott and Henry

Geldzahler? TLS: This was after I met them. JW: And Cooper Union would have been free if you had gotten in. TLS: Yeah, that’s why I wanted to go there. Because I couldn’t

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afford to go anywhere. I was furious in a volcanic way from that…I was festering and fuming with anger. And so, I said to myself I have got to get written about in The Village Voice because all these fucking people, they go to art school, and they want to get an article written about them in The Village Voice. Remember, I’m nineteen years old, right? So, I did a piece on the block I was living on. The block was very broken down and very dangerous. It was all junkies and gangs and half burntdown buildings. But the half burnt-down buildings were still being lived in, because they were burnt down in the back part of the building, and the front was still functioning. I mean, because the building I was living in had most of the back burned down. And the landlord kept it going; the people kept living there. If you could get to your apartment, you were safe. And so, the block looked very different from most tenement blocks; it was in such bad shape. At this time the thing that was going on in the art world was minimalism. It was Donald Judd and all those straight people. You know—Frank Stella, Donald Judd, Larry Poons—there was a whole bunch of them. And I liked their stuff, but I had a resentment toward it. It’s a fixation on a kind of aggressive hetero-male thing. So, I wanted to do something that would be dialectically picturesque. Something that would have a romantic element that would be in a very dangerous situation that makes it not so romantic. So, what I could do, I could stencil the words “object art” all over the street. It was actually supposed to be the verb “object.” Like to object to art, and the noun “object.” Because there was Michael Fried’s essay “Art and Objecthood,” things like that. And then the other part came from the Tony Smith [interview] on the New Jersey Turnpike.5

crete on the sidewalks or whatever and it just becomes like, culture, sculpture, sculpture, sculpture. So, that’s what these stencils were about. Also, it was supposed to be conceptual graffiti. There were no graffiti, like officially recognized graffiti artists. That doesn’t happen in the art world until the 80s. It was only there so the person could look at what was around it. It wasn’t so much for the words. What was the object? The object was everything around it. And that was also the objective point of view. And so I wrote a short letter to John Perrault, because I didn’t know him.6 And I was very terrible at writing it—I based it on Pier Paolo Pasolini’s film theory. One of the many ideas of Pasolini was that the texture of a thing is what defines it. In order to define a thing, you somehow just let it be what it is, and throw emphasis on that. So, I wrote on a crinkled-up piece of graph paper: “this is the first real art.” It was really adolescent of me to write that. Even though it had some high intellectual things going on. The whole point of it was so that Perreault should think the person writing that note was a 45-year-old insane heterosexual. That’s what I was aiming at. I wanted him to come to see it, and I wanted him to think I was one of these neurotic heterosexuals that people are always doing things for. JW: You had no idea obviously that John Perreault was himself

gay, though. TLS: I didn’t know anything about him. I knew he wrote for The

Village Voice. When the next issue of The Village Voice came out, I ran and got it, and lo and behold, it was in it. This was June, 1968. And so bang, that was a big boost to me. I said okay, I don’t care about Cooper Union anymore. So, that inspired me. And so, I said well, next the building is going to be a gallery, but the gallery has nothing in it. Just the building. So, a few months later, I stenciled on each stair the word serial—spelled with “s” like serial boxes—not the ones you eat, but like the Donald Judd series. So, you go up, you see a series of steps, and then on each landing would be stenciled “East Fourth Street Gallery Environmental Situation Sculpture Series”.


And then, eventually, you get up to the roof, and there’s no gallery there at all. JW: And this is in your actual apartment building? TLS: It’s the actual apartment building…. There’s a logic to do-

ing these things. First comes the street, then comes the apartment building. And that piece, you end up on the roof. So, Perrault wrote about that again, and he loved that. And so, the next thing I did was The Sacristy in the Hamptons. And that was after I went to the Hamptons with Henry and Chris, and since they bought a bunch of art there, I said oh, their lives in the Hamptons are kind of like the sacristy in a church—where the vestments are stored and everything. I’m a very provincial Catholic, immigrant type person—so most of my references come from that. So that’s The Sacristy in the Hamptons. And then when I was out there I was mostly with Chris, and we’d have to go around and visit people, to get things from Ethel Scull.7 She would send flower clippings over to Henry. In little plastic cups and things like that. And me and Chris would go get them. So, there I met Ethel Scull personally. And I thought gee, I’m going to invent a character called Ethel Dull. Because, to me, I just found it all so crazy. You know, it was such a natural thing to be there, that I wasn’t star-struck by it. I was there, I deserved it, that’s it. And Henry, at the same time, was sending Yale students to visit me, so that was natural. It fanned the flames of my ego, but in a way, I didn’t even think about it.

put some makeup on our face. It was always called “scare drag” among the street queens. It creates a look; it has an amazingly practical effect. It looks so queer in a subtle, not-so-subtle way. And it gets you laid by these very sexy, straight-ish type men, easily. It just reads like queer in neon. It kind of almost looks like a crazy person when you see it. It looks like what the fuck is going on? You can tell that’s a boy. It’s mostly teenagers doing this. And it’s nothing like gender fuck—that’s a San Francisco thing, you know. When you might have a beard or something and then tease the hair up in a bouffant—this is a totally different thing. And if you see the Ethel Dull pictures, you’ll get what it is. I made earrings for that out of cutouts from Artforum that were Frank Stella-like V-shapes, and L-shapes. And they were just the right size in the ads. When I glued them to little pieces of cardboard, they could hang on like little screw-on earring type things. And I made a necklace with Josef Albers’ paintings hanging from it—again from Artforum. JW: That’s wonderful, sort of the crossing between the art world

and the queer world…. TLS: Also it’s an important thing to note, Chris Scott was one of

good friends?

the first people pushing the use of the word “queer” in a big way among intellectuals. Because I had only heard it in the street sense, like “that’s a queer.” But he always thought in terms of a more expansive thing—of a person being interestingly unusual. And we would have long discussions about that. My early stuff was [signed] “Mr. T.” It was not Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt yet, because when I made the street graffiti stuff, I was afraid of getting caught by the cops or recognized by the neighbors. So, they were just signed with a T.

TLS: Oh, we had sex for a while, and then we became just good

JW: It was “Mr. T.”, or just “T.”?

friends. I was someone who entered on the sex-trick level, but even then, the first time we had sex, it was a lot of talking about art and things like that.

TLS: When John Perreault wrote about it, he called me “Mr. T,”

JW: Just for the record—were you lovers with Chris, or just

JW: That was very typical of gay life then. You would often tran-

sition from boyfriend to close friend. TLS: It was actually better that way. Just because it makes

things less complicated, too. Okay, so Ethel Dull—all her jewelry, her way of appearing—it was just “scare drag” dress. People don’t know what that is. It’s based on what street kids would wear because if you got caught by the cops in drag, you could really get in trouble, because it was against the law. So, what we would do, we’d maybe tease our hair up and wear a fluffy sweater, and then regular pants, and maybe paint our nails, or

but actually it was just “T.” It was just a little “T” in the corner. And this is what Ethel Dull means—she’s a transition into kind of coming out as a single individual. So, I bought a cheap fall on Fourteenth Street, and I attached it to a t-shirt that I tied around my head, so that when people knocked on the door, I could put the fall on quickly. People were coming, sometimes the day would be very hot—okay, what I would do then, this is when I start making the rats and chalices. I love the rats; I still make them. And the chalices I still make. The rats and the chalices. Because the chalices were once in a sacristy, and I make all these churchy things…because it was supposed to be a metaphor of like Ethel Dull has her art collection, kind of like a medi-

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eval person with their relics and things like that. And it was part of the Charles Ludlam Ridiculous Theatrical Company. I always have a connection to that, more than to the art world. JW: You had these different personas that you would sort of

move in and out of? TLS: Ethel Dull was constant for The Sacristy of the Hamptons

up through The Gilded Summer Palace of Czarina-Tatlina. People would visit, and I would play music and open and close curtains to let shafts of light come in…and during this period, that was when I met Jack Smith, and he came over and would invite me back to visit him. I had already kind of known Jack Smith through Chris, but it wasn’t the same as re-meeting him in a way that wasn’t connected to Charles Ludlam. JW: Was there an opening when you invited people to come to

your apartment?

meet them at the door, and then some of them might run away right away. And the ones that would come in, I would just start talking about things. I’d say things like, “Oh, and this is a relic of the true cross.” It was all done through records. There were tons of records. Like 19th century Russian music, mostly. And the Shirelles, and Motown. And then, it was all done with the lights being turned on and off and flashlights shining on things. And sunlight being blocked through big, thick, like drapes on the window that were just like bedspreads. And then at times those would be opened, and a shaft of light would come in. Some people would stay for five hours, some people would leave in two minutes. It could go on as long as I made it go on. And it was all orchestrated through whatever way I did it, which was always the music. It was more music than me talking. And I kind of played it by ear. Some people were very relaxed and into it right away and really got into it just as some kind of experience. And those were my favorite people. Then there were the nervous people—[who] after like six or seven minutes or maybe even two minutes would think of some reason to leave.

TLS: No, it was not an opening, it was nothing like that. Perfor-

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mance art back then was this horrible, dull, boring thing. This was the kind of performance that wasn’t supposed to be dull…. Chris would always talk about docents, and he’d always put them down. He would always say “they’re rich, bored women,” and “they keep younger people from being able to do that,” and all this stuff. So, it was docents, and Jackie Kennedy’s tour of the White House mostly as the comedy album, not the exact tour, that inspired Ethel Dull. So, Ethel Dull would give a tour of the apartment.8 They would knock on the door and mostly people—some people—would run away right away. It was a very scary building. It’s a building with garbage all over the hallway. Junkies here and there, so persons really had to have some kind of fortitude to stick it out even to get to the apartment.

JW: This is remarkable and so very queer. I think what’s really

JW: You could come at any time?

JW: Right.

TLS: They could come more or less at any time. And that’s the

TLS: Holding on to people tells you more than talking about it.

way it was. So, that’s why I had to have to be able to put makeup on quick. Which was okay, because it’s street stuff…scare drag is not a pretty thing.

JW: But this is contemporary with just a little later, when you

JW: And you would be the docent. Presenting this as if the pieces

TLS: Well, while I’m doing Ethel Dull, the Stonewall is opening

were part of an art collection or museum, rather than you being the artist who made them.

on the other side of town. I’m on East Fourth Street between B and C, and Ethel Dull is happening on Fourth Street. This is all leading up to 1969, and Ethel Dull continues after that. When Stonewall happens, people in a certain way know it’s a great

TLS: And so, people would come in, and I would graciously

important for people to know is that it wasn’t as if the Stonewall riots happened and everyone came out. You know, what seems so amazing about this is that certain people were already so out, right? And that’s why the riots happened in a certain way? TLS: Yeah, the riots happened because the Stonewall Inn cre-

ates a central place to go. And there were no gay community centers or anything like that. And also, every class mixed there together. But the big thing at the Stonewall was the mixing together and being able to dance slow. Dancing slow, when you have no place else to dance slow, and you’re defined as a group that has no dignity and you’re totally aberrant, is like a huge physical, spiritual thing.

were doing these kinds of art experiences.


event, but it’s not like everyone suddenly stands up and says suddenly history is changed. You don’t articulate it that way. It is a huge event because we fought back, that’s why. No one knew the totality of the things that were going to come out of this.

those things, it is in the name. But it was that before it had the name. Like, you’re you before you know your name. JW: In your own small way, or maybe large way, by doing the

Ridiculous Theatrical Company or Andy Warhol’s Factory, I mean, they are all places where people were being queer….

kind of work you’re doing, before the riots even happened— people coming to your little apartment, and not knowing who they were and how they would react—that was sort of similar to the riots themselves.

TLS: But Andy Warhol, with no disrespect to him. He wasn’t

TLS: It’s very similar. I’m glad you’re figuring this out. Because

really out. He was telling everyone that he was asexual.

to me, that is what it is in my own small way. But I like small/ big at the same time. It is small. But it’s small like St. Francis of Assisi is small. I know what wasn’t going on in the world back then; I know how viciously anti-gay the art world was back then. There is this stuff that comes out of Clement Greenberg. They wouldn’t come out and say something like, “Oh, gay people are not worth talking about.” They would just make this whole big deal that anything decorative was considered frivolous. It was a way of talking about things that’s very much like manipulative politicians do today. It was a manipulative talk that wreaked havoc. About applying aesthetic prejudices…telling people if you’re going to go in a certain direction, you’re never going to be taken seriously.

JW: You know, whether you’re talking about Jack Smith or the

JW: I meant more that there was a kind of experimentation and

ways of being which certainly would have shocked or dismayed or amazed a lot of people. TLS: These ways of experimentation are like—what’s the

word—evolution? Like when fish turn into amphibians, and it’s like thousands of years happening in a few years. It’s a very powerful transition. This is a huge conjunction of really forceful, creative stuff, with the heart and the dick and everything coming together, and us defining ourselves. This is huge. It’s something that younger people somehow assume that the world was like it is now, but it wasn’t then…. They have no idea what a hell it was back then. And what a struggle this was to define. Like Chris Scott talking about queerness: that was a hugely potent thing. To actually feel ideas forming in your head as they’re forming and like something that’s going to become a huge thing in a culture eventually—it’s like magma under the earth becoming a force. It is evolution.

JW: Of course, it’s misogynistic too. Right? TLS: Well, it’s all those things. And a lot of that is still held onto

today. Like the crazy word usages that still apply. If someone uses the word ambitious, it means it’s big. A person can make little things and be very ambitious. When you know, big paintings can be a piece of shit.

JW: Let’s talk about this small piece that I think is so wonderful,

JW: Exactly. [Laughter] That we certainly know. And there’s also

Allegory of the Stonewall Riot.

of course the other side of it, which is being subversive…you know. The ability to sort of sneak something in?

TLS: I didn’t make that and call it “Allegory of the Stonewall

Riot”—that was just the street queen. And those are the knickknacks. Those are all the knickknacks that are—they’re part of The Gilded Summer Palace of Czarina-Tatlina but they’re all made before that, or during it, but they’re not the chalices. They’re just a different category. JW: Why did you choose to give it that name?

TLS: Well, see, I never thought about being subversive. I just

thought about being myself. I mean a word like “subversive” never occurred to me. JW: Right after I said that, I kind of picked up that’s not your

mode. It doesn’t seem like you were somebody who was quietly subversive. You might make things that were small, but they weren’t quiet.

TLS: Because that’s the one that kind of looks like the Statue

of Liberty. That was totally born of an intuitive creative process. And only later on could I parse it into intellectualized detail. And that’s what happened. Although when it was made—it is all

TLS: Well, that’s why these things should always be shown with

covers on them. You know, like a Plexiglas box. Never standing there naked. It needs to be covered. Well, I think that if people

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desire to touch these materials, then they have patience to be frustrated from doing that. JW: I know that 20 years later you made a statement, Mother

Stonewall and the Golden Rats. TLS: That’s just the continuity of everything. I always think of

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my art as maximal. I wanted to be creative, and an art that can cover everything. All the art together is one big installation. If someone would just show it all, it would make total sense. Or just one piece at a time, it makes sense. And it’s been growing in whatever way it has grown since my first days in New York. And I still make it in my apartment. I’ve never had an official studio. I could never afford it, and I’ve never met a magnanimous, protective donor or anything. But Holly Solomon was significant in the process. Holly Solomon comes to visit me on the Lower East Side. When I wasn’t doing Ethel Dull anymore. Even though all her stuff was still there. She comes to visit in 1972. And she didn’t have a gallery yet. She opened a gallery in 1975. And when I first met her, something told me I had to leave the Lower East Side. It was getting more and more dangerous. And then the guy who was protecting me got murdered. So, that meant my whole world was going to cave in. I had to find a new protector. And that would be Holly Solomon. When she called me up, I was very forward with her. I said, “Listen, lady. Don’t wear any fur coats or anything like that when you come here.” So, Holly then comes to visit me in a little cloth coat with a babushka on her head, kind of a babushka. And then she waits for like, 40 years to get even with me for that. She comes over to visit me where I live now, and there was smoke coming up from the basement door. She said, “I think there is a fire in the basement.” And they’re really was. So, she goes running across to the fire department on Eighth Avenue in her fur coat and her jewelry…. And then the firemen, they all stand up and follow her, across Eighth Avenue, jaywalking with those big hatchets that firemen use. You know, the big axes? And me and her in the middle of Eighth Avenue, and she’s wearing her fur coat and her jewelry, and she turns to me right there and says, “See Tom, it pays to know women who wear fur coats.” I loved that. Because she had the fucking memory of an elephant. I mean, it was like she waited all those years for the perfect moment. [Laughter] Actually, she did save the building from burning down. The building I’m sitting in now. JW: So, when she opened her gallery and took you on in 1975,

that’s when she also was with Gordon Matta-Clark. Great woman!

TLS: Yeah. She made a point of going around and meeting all

these different artists, then at a certain point—because I meet her in like ’72 or ’73 and then at a certain point she asked me, do I want to be in a gallery that she’s going to open. So, I say, “yeah, sure, why not.” And looking back on Holly as the years go by, I like her more and more. Me and her could get in some pretty bad arguments sometimes, but thinking back, she stuck her neck out for the kind of art she believed in. JW: Is there something that you want to add about the Stone-

wall Riots and their relationship to the art world? TLS: The Stonewall event itself is like high art. I mean it’s a

high-art reality. It’s one of those moments where reality and everything come together to create history. But, it was created before the riot: it was in the place itself, by everyone holding on to each other and dancing. And that is a very important thing. That way of giving meaning to peoples’ lives who were told their lives were totally without meaning. That is the major thing with Stonewall. That’s why everyone fought back. Yes, we were all pissed off by the way we were being treated, but we had something to hold on to that was going to be taken away from us. JW: And how does your art or some kinds of art work into that? TLS: I just automatically feel like my art connects…I’m a very

good teacher and I know how to go out of my way to do certain things. I’ve been teaching for fucking 40 years at the School of Visual Arts. God knows how that happened too. I mean, I’m a fucking street queen. So, my life is full of anomalies and crazy things. I mean, it could not happen today. I mean, the world that happened to me and that I have created doesn’t exist anymore. It exists in whatever art I made. But I can’t imagine someone coming from New Jersey with nothing and actually getting any kind of foothold in Manhattan today. And meeting the kind of people I did and having them be so responsive and generous in their response. And so encouraging. So, that’s totally on the same page as the Stonewall. The Stonewall is about bringing together what could be called the—what wasn’t called—the gay community. A word like gay community didn’t exist back then. There was no such thing. There was no differentiation of generations among gay people. There was just a bunch of fags and dykes that were hated by the world and called insane and called criminals. And we decided we’re not. In a way that is like art; it is much greater than intellectual decisions. It’s a total spiritual, physical, everything decision. Holding on to each other dancing.


In high school (I was in the Catholic Youth Organization) we would have dances. And you dance slow together, you dance fast. But that’s all heterosexual. At the Stonewall we did the same dances, the same music basically, that I was doing in CYO. To me, it was just a natural transition that was so easy, but so forceful. Because it only existed in there. It didn’t exist anywhere else. The place happens before the riot. This is what’s so perfect about the Stonewall riot—nothing in it is incidental. JW: Right. I’m wondering too—how does that thing get embod-

ied in the work? TLS: It’s as organic as jerking off. I mean, it’s like asserting that

kind of presence. Okay, I’m 70, I can still jerk off. But every time I cum I say wow, thank god I’m still alive. But that’s what art is about. It was about that when I was 12. It was about that when I was 16. It was about that when I was 21. It’s still about that. It’s one of those moments, one of those orgasmic moments, where it asserts “here we are!” Here I am. I don’t know if you’re old enough yet to feel that difference in your body, but it doesn’t spurt as far. It takes more effort for it to come out. And you remember fondly when it would shoot over your shoulder. But you’re still very happy to be able to do it. That’s actually what art is about. We all know we’re going to die. Everyone knows that in a way that they never even think about, because we know it on such a basic level. What do we do? We decompose. We make art, we make music, and things like that. It’s just a basic human thing. And the more desperate the situation, if a person has the talent and the ability to articulate that desperation into a moment, bang, there’s art. That’s it.

1. Martin Duberman, Stonewall (New York: Dutton, 1993), xv. 2. Christopher Scott (1945-2002), was an artist and a member of the Ridiculous Theatrical Company which was led by Charles Ludlum (1943-87). His long-time companion Henry Geldzahler (1935-1994) was the first curator of 20th century art at the Metropolitan Museum of Art and later New York City Commissioner of Cultural Affairs during the Koch Administration. He was a close friend of Andy Warhol and David Hockney and a big promoter of pop art. I became good friends with Henry in the late 70s when I had a summer job working for New York City’s Art Commission, and later I assisted him on the curation of an exhibition at PS1. 3. Marsha P. Johnson (1945-1992) was an activist, performance artist, drag queen, and one of the first participants in the Stonewall Riots. She was a founding member of the Gay Liberation Front and transvestite advocacy organization S.T.A.R. (Street Transvestite Action Revolutionaries). 4. Physique Pictorial (1951–1990) was a magazine edited by Bob Mizer and published by the Athletic Model Guild that focused on photographs and drawings of the male nude. It initially claimed to be targeted towards artists, but by the 60s its imagery became increasingly overtly erotic and geared towards a homosexual clientele. 5. See Samuel Wagstaff, Jr. “Talking with Tony Smith” in Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology, edited by Gregory Battcock (New York: Dutton & Co., 1968), 386, in which Smith talks about his experience of driving the New Jersey Turnpike at night and that “the experience on the road was mapped out but not socially recognized…most painting looks pretty pictorial after that.” 6. John Perreault (1937-2015) was a poet and artist who was an art critic for The Village Voice. 7. Ethel Scull (1921-2001) was an art collector who assembled with her husband, Robert Scull, an important collection of pop and minimalist art. She was also the subject of Andy Warhol’s famous 1963 work Ethel Scull 36 Times. 8. Vaughn Meader’s 1962 comedy album The First Family included a spoof of Jacqueline Kennedy’s famous televised tour of the White House.

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Stonewall friends: and Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Mother Stonewall the Golden Rats, 1989.
Xerox photocopy Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Real Rhinestone Golden Rat, conceived in the late 1960s/created in 2017. Foil, rhinestones, hot glue, pins, and other media, 4› x 10 x 3 inches

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Grace Before Beauty by Carlo McCormick

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Tommy has a bunch of things he wants to tell us—and yes, everyone calls Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt ‘Tommy.’ We’re in Hell’s Kitchen, a scream away from Times Square, in a tenement walkup of that decrepit vintage that still gives this town a shadowy patina amidst its shiny newness. It’s something, somewhere and somehow between a hoarder’s home, an alchemist’s kitchen, and a profound eccentric’s cabinet of curiosities, crammed and crowded in ways that challenge gravity, full of wonder, suggestive of a disused warehouse right before it gets tossed to the dumpster, and in every way utterly beguiling. But enough of that. Tommy is insistent that we get this right; he knows his story is not only unique but, most importantly, it is inspiring. What it is not however, at least in his telling, is entirely linear, rather looping through time with gorgeous symmetries, resonant echoes, magical feints, and street-smart lessons. It’s the biography of a wandering homebody as told by a poet, a life-story evidenced in a chimerical making of things so stunning and funny that art seems hardly satisfactory as a description. There’s really no way to properly retell this story here, but Tommy wants us to give it a try…. It begins with a book, pretty much the definitive one on its subject, and the picture of a bunch of street kids who were a big part of that rambunctious and irrepressible energy that ignited the 1969 Stonewall riots that forever altered the history of gay culture in America. One of these kids is the young Tommy—the rest, they’re all dead, most long before AIDS because the life span of runaway street kids has never been all that long. And

just because that photo is nearly a half-century old by now, you know it’s not the beginning of the story because that kid came from somewhere, just as you know this scrapbook memory is hardly the whole story for a man who would go on to become one of the foundational figures of New York art. Perhaps too, not surprisingly for an artist who has manifested spiritual and exotic dimensions in his work through the most impoverished of materials, it is a story bound up in the defining differences of religion, class, and sexuality. Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt was raised working class, and this has been a critical distance between him and the art world, as much as it remarks upon an equally crucial difference between his art and a lot of what we see in that art world. His family had stability—a grounding he attributes to why he was different from the other street kids damaged by broken homes—were New Deal Democrats, more progressive than many, and taught him that rare perspective to question authority. Progressive however is not the same as permissive, so when Tommy, alienated by the class difference he felt in art school dropped out and moved back home, his dad got him a job as a ditchdigger. No joke. Without really thinking about it, he walked off the job, left home, and came right back to New York City that very same day. In retrospect we may presume the world lost a very bad ditchdigger and gained a great artist. The other fundamental feature of his background is his religious education. Lanigan-Schmidt was raised in a Benedictine


tradition. He could tell you all about it, certainly better than my atheistic understanding of these things. But really it probably has a great deal less to do with the tenets of faith than a life view, a particular set of iconography, and a manner of theatricality that continue to inform his art. These various environmental influences of course have a way of intermingling in the formative mind, so beauty as it touched this young artist came with an aesthetic equivalence, the radiant glory of a bishop’s miter for instance, of comparable splendor as his mother’s costume jewelry. In each the ersatz is not a sham or impersonation but a direct honesty, a preciousness not of jewels or metals, but of beauty itself, not put on but worn with a grace and humility that defies the limits of wealth. It’s time for Tommy to take some more books off the shelves, big old tomes heavy with the gravitas of gods. For it seems there are two potent and contrary kinds of Benedictines. The one who clearly guides Lanigan-Schmidt’s vision is familiar to art history —the 12th century Abbot Suger who popularized Gothic art and architecture—the other Saint Bernard, who didn’t like art one bit. Contemporaries as they were, Tommy explains that Bernard was affiliated with the pope, while Suger had the support of kings Louis VI and VII, allowing him not simply the wealth by which to create a more lavish vision of the divine but also a protective access to the real power. No matter how vulgar and profane his highly ornate tastes must have seemed to Bernard, he couldn’t fuck with him. Abbot Suger’s flamboyant gift to the arts, this power to put together a kind of transcendent spectacle, or what Tommy

described to us as the giving of elation and intoxication, runs rampant in Lanigan-Schmidt’s art. But if he learned a bejeweled pomp from the high rituals of the church, he really figured out how to put on such a show in the East Village. Living there in the 60s, Tommy became involved in radical, ultracamp, trashy, urban, and exotically subversive new directions in narrative, most notably through his friendships and collaborations with figures like the pioneering underground filmmaker Jack Smith, and Charles Ludlum, the actor, director, and playwright who founded The Theater of the Ridiculous. Together, the magical thinking of spiritualism and the equally elaborate pageantry of gay performance brought a compound theatricality to Lanigan-Schmidt’s aesthetics of delight. Through this transubstantial yet highly material language of his religious upbringing, the delightfully delirious antics of New York City’s early drag culture brought to Thomas LaniganSchmidt a new language of desire and awe that was based, like the artist, in the savvy vernacular of the streets. It’s a heady kind of make-believe, seductive and hilarious, impoverished yet richly imaginative, at once enigmatic and earthy. This highly edited and no doubt inadequately retold bit of creative biography is perhaps, like the artist, the unlikely stuff of dreams: a fantasy of what lies outside the limits of church, class, sexuality, or the art world, when grace and beauty remain proximate but on the other side of the threshold. The journey and the unimaginable place in art that it has taken him to is indeed, as Tommy told us, quite extraordinary and inspiring, but in truth no more so than the enchantment of his pictures and sculptures.

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Untitled, ca. 1967. Foil, plastic wrap, Magic Marker, print material, glitter, pipe cleaners, and staples, 22 1≠x 17› inches. Collection Pavel Zoubok. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Lollipop Knick Knack (Fire Island), ca. 1968-69. Foil, printed material, linoleum, glitter, cellophane, staples, acrylic paint, found objects, and other media, 14 x 8 x 4 inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Lollipop Knick Knack (Let’s Talk About You), ca. 1968-69. Foil, printed material, linoleum, glitter, cellophane, plastic wrap, staples, wire, string, and other media, 9 x 16 x 5› inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Allegory Of The Stonewall Riot (Statue Of Liberty Fighting For Drag Queen, Husband, And Home), 1969. Foil, plastic wrap, pipe cleaners, linoleum, glitter, acrylic paint, acrylic floor shine, food coloring, staples, wire, printed material, found objects, and other media, 12 x 7 x 4 inches

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Original exhibition announcement for The Gilded Summer Palace of Czarina-Tatlina, 1969-70. Offset- printed flyer. From the Estate of Jean-Claude Vasseux, courtesy of Glen Santiago and John Hoge

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Medley of installation views

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Installation views, Childhood Memories, Ackland Museum, Chapel Hill, NC, 1984

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Petrine Panagia, 1986-87. Foil, fabric, plastic wrap, clear contact paper, print material, and staples, 10‹ x 5fi x 2› inches. Collection Michael Duncan and Barry Sloane

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Memories of Luv, 1973. Foil, plastic wrap, staples, and other media, 24 x 17 1/2 inches

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Happy Tunes, 1973. Mixed-media figurines on 45 RPM record with found phonograph, 12 x 12 x 11 inches

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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The Dialectic Between Eros and Agape, 1989. Foil, Magic Marker, plastic, staples, and other media, 48 x 48 inches

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The Week Between Christmas and New Years, ca. 1980s. Foil, Magic Marker, fur, plastic, staples, and other media, 49› x 49› inches. Collection Dr. David Richardson

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Day Time, Nite Light, Solitary Drinker, 1975. Foil, plastic, plastic wrap, light bulb, Magic Marker, wood, and staples, 39 x 28 x 18 inches. Collection Anita Grossman Solomon. Made for the inaugural exhibition, Holly Solomon Gallery. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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A Drag Queen's Shoulders in the Dawn, 1969. Foil, plastic wrap, linoleum, glitter, cellophane, staples, acrylic paint, found objects, and other media, 12 x 6› x 5› inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Eucharist Chalice, 1969. Foil, plastic, holographic tape, tinsel, photographic material, and staples, 15 x 8 x 6 inches

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Mysterium Tremendum (detail), late 1980s. 125 lasagna pans: mixed media on aluminum trays, installation dimensions variable—13 x 10 x 2 each. Photo: JSP Art Photography. Courtesy of the artist and SVA Galleries, New York

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Real Rhinestone Golden Rats, conceived in the late 1960s/created in 2017. Foil, rhinestones, hot glue, pins, and other media, 4› x 10 x 3 inches each

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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The Scent-Center of the Flower and the Fart, 1996. Black and blue garbage bags, reflective sheeting, holographic tape, laser copies, packing tape, and wire clothes hangers, dimension variable. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Russian Czar Crown, ca. 1970. Foil, plastic wrap, pipe cleaners, staples, and other media, 13› x 7 x 7 inches. Collection John Serdula

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Open Unveiled Tabernacle with Veiled Ciborium Inside, 1988. Aluminum trays, tinsel, pen, and paper, 12› x 10› x 2 inches each

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Iconostasis, 1977-78. Installation view, Pattern and Decoration: Ornament as Promise, 9/21/18–1/13/19, Ludwig Forum fßr Internationale Kunst Aachen. Photo: Carl Brunn/Ludwig Forum

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Authority, Power, Conformity, and Dullness (Salvatore Kaminski, My Bi-Ritual Friend), 1981-83. Graphite, ink, glitter, Disco Tape, printed material, and other media on paper, 12 x 9› inches each

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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The Romantic Reality of Proletarian Constructivism, 1985-86. Foil, wood, plastic wrap, cellophane, tinsel, staples, Magic Marker, plastic bottles, and found objects, 41 x 18‚ x 12ďŹ inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Titanic: Ice Cubes and Icebergs, 1985-86. Foil, wood, plastic wrap, plastic bags, tinsel, staples, found objects, and other media. 52 x 14 x 10 inches. Collection Izhar Patkin. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Rite of Passage in a Cheap Hotel: The Bed Bug Palace at 4 A.M., 1985. Foil, wood, pipe cleaners, cardboard, theatrical gels, plastic bottle, staples, ticket stubs, artist drawing, printed matter, and other media, 84› x 11 x 10› inches. Collection Asher and Michelle Edelman. JSP Art Photography, courtesy of the artist and SVA Galleries, New York

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Sunrise in Venice, 1985. Foil, wood, plastic wrap, cellophane, staples, fabric, and other media, 28 x 14 x 11â „ inches

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Toothpick Tray with Bottles for Non-Drinkers, 1985. Foil, wood, plastic wrap, pipe cleaners, tinsel, staples, Magic Marker, plastic beads, plastic bottles, plastic packaging, and other media, 52› x 13› x 10› inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Fragments from Holly Solomon’s Bedroom, 1988. Mixed-media installation, 88 x 88⠄ inches

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Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Lollipop Knick Knack (Eros Separating Order from Chaos), 1968-69. Foil, plastic wrap, pipe cleaner, linoleum, glitter, acrylic floor shine, food coloring, staples, Magic Marker, printed material, and found objects, 14 x 9 x 5 inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Untitled (Crown), 1995. Foil, plastic, staples, chenille stems, photographic material, and other media, 12› x 8 x 10 inches. Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: The Art of Transubstantiation* by Roger S. Wieck

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Transubstantiation is the name given to the mysterious event that is the core, as well as the climax, of the Catholic Mass. When the priest pronounces, “For this is my body,” and “For this is the chalice of my blood,” the substance of the bread and wine used in the service, while remaining to our eyes ordinary food and drink, is, according to Catholic dogma, miraculously transformed into another essence, that of the body and blood of Christ. The host, a wafer of unleavened bread, became the center of a cult the intensity of which during the period encompassing the late Middle Ages, Renaissance, and Counter-Reformation had a profound influence on art, architecture, and the liturgy that involved both. The desire to see the consecrated host, for example, gave birth in the early 13th century to the practice of the Elevation, when the priest raises the Blessed Sacrament above his head immediately following the moment of the transubstantiation so that the congregation could venerate the wafer that was no longer just a wafer but the body of Christ. Other cults, such as that of miraculously bleeding hosts—and other practices, special feasts, and elaborate processions—followed over the centuries. It is useful to understand the theology of the transubstantiation, as well as its influence on art, because a similar transformation of substance lies at the very heart of the art of Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt. The artist uses such material as aluminum foil, clear thin plastic, and greeting cards, but the work does not remain just a collection of cheap material. Tapping collective childhood memories, alluding to sexual trepidations experi-

enced by all, referring to religious concepts that are at the foundation of Western civilization, Lanigan-Schmidt converts these ordinary materials into objects through which, like Proust’s magical madeleine, we can relive a part of our past lives that would otherwise be lost. If one can understand the ability of a favorite Christmas tree angel, a traditional cardboard birthday crown, or a stuffed bear won by a boyfriend at a country fair to trigger intense emotions or to conjure bittersweet memories, then one understands the art of Lanigan-Schmidt. Like the transubstantiated host, his art is not what it seems, but what we believe, feel, or know in our hearts it to be. This art works not in spite of the materials used, but because of them. Lanigan-Schmidt began his career with two seminal pieces. In the spring of 1969, in his own Fourth Street apartment, the artist mounted the exhibition of his first major work: The Sacristy of the Hamptons. The Sacristy consisted of a multitude of objects, a kind of medieval treasury such as one can still view in European cathedrals: vestments such as miters, chasubles, stoles, and a bishop’s ring; relics of the True Cross, the Crown of Thorns, a hair of Christ, and the Virgin Mary’s veil, as well as sand and grass from the Holy Land; crosses, books, chalices, and chalice palls; a crown of the Infant King; regal paraphernalia such as crowns and an orb; and the Thirty Pieces of Silver (two sets). All were types of religious objects that, in the Middle Ages, would have been used in liturgical services, but in this Sacristy they were all made of cheap materials such as foil, candy wrappers, pipe cleaners, staples, and cellophane. They

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were offered in this setting, however, for the viewers’ fun. The Sacristy was one such as kindergartners might fashion. In the spring of the following year, again at his own apartment, Lanigan-Schmidt mounted The Gilded Summer Palace of Czarina-Tatlina. This piece was a two-room installation, like a harem tent, that represented the ideal playroom for the fictional czarina, Tatlina. The Gilded Summer Palace was an environment furnished with various altar-like pedestals, shelves holding such precious objects as chalices, vases, and examples of Venetian glass, and runways, strewn with “candy,” on which frolicked numerous rats—nice ones, made of silver or gold foil and some wearing ecclesiastical costumes. Tatlina was not around, of course; you imagined yourself her visitor or, if less inhibited, you became Tatlina herself upon entering the room. Taken together, the Sacristy and the Gilded Summer Palace explored two important themes in Lanigan-Schmidt’s work, themes that will appear and reappear throughout the work of the next two decades: religion and childhood. Lanigan-Schmidt is obsessed with the religious object and the romantic and emotional hold it can have over us. The potential power embedded in these objects is visible to children, or to the child within the adult. Lanigan-Schmidt’s fascination with liturgical objects goes hand in hand with his presentation of them, and, indeed, of the secular furnishings of the Gilded Summer Palace, from a child’s standpoint. This is effected by the materials he uses; made of “real” materials (gold, silver, or enamel), the objects would then distract the viewer, causing him to miss their poetic allusions.

The sense of fantasy, as well as of an ideal, childlike world, integral parts of the Sacristy and the Gilded Summer Palace (both were dismantled and exist only in fragments) can be readily seen in the decoration Lanigan-Schmidt applied to his bedroom. The artist sleeps in a winter garden with trees and cattails catching the silently falling snow. The garden is not cold, however, but glows with a pink, yellow, and warm blue light. Christmas tree lights are strung among the branches of the trees because in the bedroom, as in the most pleasant of dreams, every day is Christmas. Colored glass beads hang from the doorway that separates the artist’s room of pleasant dreams from the real world of the adjoining kitchen. In 1973 Lanigan-Schmidt showed, at Holly Solomon’s 98 Greene Street Loft, his watershed piece: Panis Angelicus (this work was remounted at Hofstra University in 1975, the Pratt Institute in 1981, the Whitney Museum in 1986, and is now owned by the Stichting Groninger Museum voor Stad en Lande in the Netherlands). At the center of this piece is a cardboard “host” that is the “panis angelicus,” the “bread of angels,” a name given to the consecrated wafer by St. Thomas Aquinas. The work is an evocation of the mysterious and magical worship of the Most Holy Sacrament of the Altar, called Forty Hours’ Devotion, during which the Blessed Sacrament is exposed to the public’s veneration for 40 hours in memory of the number of hours Christ’s body lay in the tomb. The host in Panis Angelicus is mounted inside an enormous monstrance and illuminated by lights set into two large candlesticks; these objects are set upon


Self-portrait (Artist as Christ), 1965. Photo-booth portrait with halo cut into it, made into a negative then made back into a photograph

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an altar cloth decorated with multiracial singing angels’ heads, that covers an altar whose frontal is adorned with the motif of a lion embracing a lamb. Also part of the piece are a large missal with an elaborately decorated cover that leans against the altar and, behind the latter, three large panels, all covered with shining foil, that form a protective triptych. A copy of St. Joseph’s Daily Missal, open to a description of the origins of Forty Hours’ Devotion and of the indulgences (15-year or plenary) available through the Devotion, offers those viewers unfamiliar with this particular Catholic practice a key to the piece. Another key, this one to the emotional connotations embedded within the work, is offered by a photocopy of two pages of Oscar Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Swirling penwork added in the margin by Lanigan-Schmidt, like that to be found in Gothic manuscripts, draws the visitor’s attention to the relevant paragraph: “It was rumoured of him once that he was about to join the Roman Catholic communion, and certainly the Roman ritual had always a great attraction for him. The daily sacrifice, more awful really than all the sacrifices of the antique world, stirred him as much by its superb rejection of the evidence of the senses as by the primitive simplicity of its elements and the eternal pathos of the human tragedy that it sought to symbolize. He loved to kneel down on the cold marble pavement, and watch the priest, in his stiff flowered vestment, slowly and with white hands moving aside the veil of the tabernacle, or raising aloft the jeweled lantern-shaped monstrance with that pallid wafer that at times, one would fain think, is indeed the panis coelistis,

the bread of angels....” Panis Angelicus is a very powerful and extremely romantic work. Using the exuberance of Italian baroque art as his starting point, the artist explores the ability of art itself—even ignoring its service to theology—to be not just a dazzling experience, but also a moving one. Panis is romantic because it looks back lovingly and longingly to those liturgical services of the Catholic Church that, now modernized and stripped of their Latin by the decrees of Vatican II are no longer celebrated (pace the Swiss schismatic, Archbishop Lefebvre) except in the memories of people like Lanigan-Schmidt.** Not all of Lanigan-Schmidt’s iconography is strictly religious. There are works that explore childhood pleasures (Childhood Memories, 1984), adolescent trials, usually sexual (A Rite of Passage in a Cheap Hotel: The Bed Bug Palace at 4 A.M., 1985), adult problems (Noli me tángere/The Kiss, 1986-87), and social issues (The Preying Hands: In a Little Corner Chapel to Mammon in the Cathedral of Moloch, Greed Makes Human Sacrifice Expedient Upon the Altar of Racism, Displacement and Gentrification, 1985). Lanigan-Schmidt treats these pleasures, trials, problems, and social issues, because they are part of our common experience, like various religious rituals. Like the medieval artist who, even when not painting an altarpiece, could not help from imbuing his profane subjects with moralizing lessons, Lanigan-Schmidt cannot help from seeing allegory in the events of everyday life. Lanigan-Schmidt’s works succeed because they are as


richly textured in medium as they are in message. They both delight the eye and stimulate the mind. The recent Noli me tángere/The Kiss is a kind of medieval chronicle of the history of the world. It begins, at the lower left, with a caveman and travels through the Middle Ages via Joan of Arc and the Hunchback of Notre Dame. From there it quickly jumps to the 20th century and, through juxtapositions of images, comments on the redeeming quality of human love, the validity of an alternate sexual orientation, and, on the darker side, how man can use religion to force his own particular sense of what is and is not moral onto others. The work, like a large Byzantine icon composed of numerous small pictures, has the face of Christ at its center. The shining foils of God’s glittering halo expand, surrounding and framing the small images like a saving grace, a divine and patient understanding of both what is good and bad about man. The Infant of Prague as a Personification of Liberation Theology (1986) is another recent work with both a rich surface and a subtle message. Foil, feathers, glitter, and beads in this work are hot and dazzling: a palette of bright pink, chartreuse, and yellow dominates. The piece seems to attract all the light within a room and send it out again, brighter and more colorful, crackling with electricity. This flamboyant treatment of the Christ Child’s robe is quite traditional, however. The original statue of the Infant Jesus, to which are attached numerous miracles, owes its real fame to the rich wardrobe of more than 50 dresses made over the centuries by the Sisters of the Con-

gregation of Angelic Maids. What is not traditional, of course, is the color Lanigan-Schmidt gives to the Christ Child’s skin. The dark color might shock the viewer, but that is not its purpose. Incorporated into the image are small photographs of a Puerto Rican child with members of her family. The liberation theology referred to in the title is one of the universality of human love and compassion.

*This essay first appeared in Thomas Lanigan Schmidt: Halfway to Paradise, which was published upon the occasion of the exhibition of the same title presented at the Holly Solomon Gallery, New York; the University Gallery of the University of Massachusetts at Amherst (both in 1988); and the Laumeier Sculpture Park, St. Louis. I wrote it when I was associate curator of rare books and manuscripts at the Walters Art Gallery (now Museum), Baltimore. **Since this essay’s original appearance in 1988, there indeed has been a revived interest among traditionalist Catholics for the Latin Mass.

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The Preying Hands: In a Little Corner Chapel to Mammon in the Cathedral of Moloch, Greed Makes Human Sacrifice Expedient Upon the Altar of Racism, Displacement and Gentrification, 1985. Mixed-media installation, 5 panels: 70 x 35 inches, (2) 55 x 20 inches, (2) 72 x 25 inches. Golden rats from the collection of Agosto Machado

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The Preying Hands: In a Little Corner Chapel to Mammon in the Cathedral of Moloch, Greed Makes Human Sacrifice Expedient Upon the Altar of Racism, Displacement and Gentrification, 1985. Mixed-media installation, central panel detail, 70 x 35 inches

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Courtesy of MoMA PS1. Photo: Matthew Septimus

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The Least Shall Be Greatest by Dan Cameron

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While a general acceptance seems to exist within the visual arts community that each generation of artists and art lovers gets to write their own version of art history, the deeper implications of this principle are often underappreciated. Whether it is because we implicitly defer to authority when it comes to ranking artists who have come before us in terms of their relative contribution to our shared perspective today, or whether as a result of simple intellectual laziness we simply fail to remind ourselves that most of today’s reputational sacred cows will either be forgotten entirely in another hundred years, or the mention of their names will be as the punch line to an oft-repeated joke about how clueless one’s forebears were in their aesthetic judgments. As we also know, certain artists who were marginalized and then buried sometimes have a habit of being yanked back to life in the hands of impassioned grave-robbing devotees who recognize in the ‘rediscovered’ work an implicit validation of certain changes they are hoping to instigate within the art of their own historical moment. If we are still debating the origins and invention of abstraction, which occurred more than a century ago, what makes us think we know anything at all about the 70s, especially if we lived through them? If one happens to be searching for ways to throw future art historians off one’s trail, a surefire method for doing so is to come to prominence as part of a highly visible art movement which has little to do with your own work. In Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s case, this forced entry onto the stage of national art world scrutiny happened at the end of the 70s, when the gallery owned

by one of his most devoted collectors, Holly Solomon, became the epicenter of a short-lived movement known as Pattern and Decoration (P&D for short), which was accompanied by efforts to shoe-horn Lanigan-Schmidt’s work into that discourse, where it didn’t actually belong. The underlying paradox to this situation is that one can imagine how easily some people could have embraced the notion that the work Lanigan-Schmidt was making at the time was somehow related to the much larger and more expansive art produced by Robert Kushner and Joyce Kozloff, whose cross-disciplinary pursuits became more mainstays of the P&D movement. After all, Lanigan-Schmidt’s pictures and sculptures also employed color and decoration in a highly sensual, historicized framework, and they were also just as clearly a rebuke of the monochromatic conceptual art prevalent in the early to mid 70s. His works employed meticulous handcraft and traditional subject matter, while actively pursuing the much-ballyhooed idea of a revival of pictorial beauty. But a great deal more information about what his work of the 70s and 80s meant can be derived from what Lanigan-Schmidt’s work was NOT. Rather than attach itself to one or another argument about the state of painting or sculpture at that moment, Lanigan-Schmidt’s art rejected formal ideas about art altogether. In contrast to the bold deployment of large scale and bold color then in vogue, his art was cramped and intimate, even selfeffacing. Attuned to the rise of market forces in contemporary art, many artists had begun to use better and more durable materials, while Lanigan-Schmidt made his fragile, perishable

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art using scraps and knickknacks, often recycled. Rather than building off a foundation of French post-structuralist philosophy or the Frankfurt School, Lanigan-Schmidt’s work was unabashedly Catholic in its references, and it seemed fully invested in the notion that art should emerge less from dueling schools of continental thought than from the artist’s personal psychic repertoire of tics, quirks, secrets, and obsessions. It was not until the 90s that the beginnings of a critical framework began to emerge that might be used in support of Lanigan-Schmidt’s work, and unsurprisingly it came in the form of another short-lived artistic movement, one that was couched in the idea of the abject. The purposely, even strident, aesthetics of the 80s, which had specialized in bulletproof critical defenses of the more polemical artists and stratagems, suddenly gave way to the art of the indefensible, in which vulnerability, bathos, and subjectivity served as a visceral reminder of—among other topics—the terrifying toll that AIDS was having in the U.S. and the rest of the world. Although other critiques (i.e., feminist) were also brought to the foreground at this moment, for many viewers at the time, the very drawn-out and wrenching process of experiencing the demise of colleagues, friends, and lovers during the first 10–12 years of the AIDS crisis laid bare an aesthetic of loss that had been tacitly present all along, but suddenly seemed to link the work of otherwise unrelated gay male artists, from Jack Smith to Felix Gonzalez-Torres, and including Joe Brainard, Paul Thek, Martin Wong, Ray Johnson, and Tony Feher, among many others. In a curious power inversion, it was gay men’s twinned

status of marginalization and endangerment that, for a brief but critical moment, bestowed a sort of heightened prestige on those artists who appeared to have foreseen that by representing their own status of powerlessness through choices of materials and processes that embodied or conveyed that status, they might implicitly call into question the value system that perpetuates such hierarchies in the first place. Of course, gay male artists (and others) have been scrapbooking for centuries, and perhaps as many gay male artists create monumental works from imperishable materials as any other demographic. But with the issue of mortality unexpectedly thrust into the foreground of the art world’s collective consciousness at that particular historical moment, it seems pointless to try and disentangle the various strands of loss and fear that went into the sudden community-wide consensus that a highly perishable, precarious art, fully immersed in its own private domain of occult symbols and secret iconography, might just be one of the few viable ways forward. Although one could be excused for believing that the emergence in the 90s of a favorable critical environment for his work means that Lanigan-Schmidt was in some noticeable way the beneficiary of that transition, nothing of the sort actually transpired. In its place, however, a network of discernible connections between his work and other essential art of this era was mapped that, once established, would not be easy to disavow once vicissitudes in taste changed direction once more. In part, this has to do with the unrelentingly anachronistic character of Lanigan-Schmidt’s chosen subject matter, which is as eager


to address the intricacies of a centuries-old schism in Vatican doctrine as it is the flourishing rat population of New York City. Perhaps these are simply topics that the artist personally wishes to bring to our attention, but somewhere in the midst of Lanigan-Schmidt’s impassioned devotions one also detects the faint whiff of an artistic temperament whose capacity to unleash the human imagination is tempered only by his idiosyncratic wish to base his work exclusively on topics that are of concern to no one but himself. Over the past couple of decades a ramped-up commodification of contemporary art appears to have generated a daunting wave of triumphalist taste, in evident tribute to the wisdom of the free market in serving as sole arbiter for what can stay and what must be cast aside. This in turn may have laid the groundwork for a systemic rejection of a broad spectrum of aesthetic principles that celebrate art’s servility towards the ruling class and its boundless power to buy, sell, and swap greatness for the sake of maintaining economic advantage. Such a rejection, while unlikely to register much of an immediate impression on the breathless transaction-driven art journalism of our times, is no less inevitable if the recent history of sudden and extreme inversions in art’s stylistic evolution is to serve as a guide. This is where the case for Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt’s work starts to gain traction, since one of its defining features is an absolute refusal to modify or compromise his tendency towards idiosyncrasy in order to meet the discerning viewer halfway. It is nothing short of apostasy to think that someday there will be bronze-cast

Lanigan-Schmidt works in editions of five, nor will he be filling vast white gallery walls with giant oil paintings any time in the near future. Because the art world cannot offer him anything that he doesn’t already have, Lanigan-Schmidt’s works are invariably difficult to penetrate, challenging to preserve, irascible to a fault, and monkish to the point of mysticism. They represent the opposite of worldly cosmopolitanism, while standing for a type of hard-earned pleasure that depends foremost on recognizing the frailties and fallibilities of the human condition, and rejecting the premise that art needs to be permanent in order to last.

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Twinky as Prima Ballerina (Self-portrait), 1967-69. Foil, printed material, linoleum, glitter, cellophane, staples, acrylic paint, found objects, and other media, 9 x 7 x 3› inches

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Twinky as Gypsy Maiden (Self-portrait), c. 1967-69. Foil, printed material, linoleum, glitter, cellophane, staples, acrylic paint, found objects, and other media, 10 x 6 x 3 inches

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HOWL! COMMUNITY Arturo Vega Foundation Lalo Quiñones Jane Friedman Donovan Welsh BG Hacker BOARD OF ADVISORS Dan Cameron Curt Hoppe Carlo McCormick Marc H. Miller Maynard Monrow Lisa Brownlee James Rubio Debora Tripodi Howl! Board of Directors Bob Perl, President Bob Holman, Vice President BG Hacker, Treasurer Nathaniel Siegel, Secretary Brian (Hattie Hathaway) Butterick Riki Colon Jane Friedman Chi Chi Valenti Marguerite Van Cook, President Emeritus

Founder and Executive Director: Jane Friedman

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt Tenemental (With Sighs Too Deep for Words)

Gallery Director: Ted Riederer Director of Education and Public Programs: Katherine Cheairs Program Coordinator: Sam O’Hana Collection Manager: Corinne Gatesmith

Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project November 16 – December 19, 2018

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© 2018 Howl Arts, Inc. Howl! Archive Publishing Editions (Howl! A/P/E) Volume 1, No. 27 All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, electronic, mechanical, photocopy, recording, or otherwise, without prior written permission of Howl! A/P/E.

© 2018 Dan Cameron © 2018 David Carter © 2018 Agosto Machado © 2018 Carlo McCormick © 2018 Jonathan Weinberg © 2018 Roger S. Wieck Apartment photos by Jason Wyche Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project 6 East 1st St. NY, NY 10003 www.HowlArts.org 917 475 1294 Editor: Ted Riederer Copy Editor: Jorge Clar Design: Jeff Streeper

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Howl! Happening takes its name from the unpredictable, free-form happenings of the 60s and 70s, where active participation of the audience blurred the boundary between the art and the viewer. More to be experienced than described, Howl! Happening curates exhibitions and stages live events that combine elements of art, poetry, music, dance, vaudeville, and theater—a cultural stew that defies easy definition.

The history and contemporary culture of the East Village are still being written. The mix of rock and roll, social justice, art and performance, community activism, gay rights and culture, immigrants, fashion, and nightlife are even more relevant now. While gentrification continues apace and money is king, Howl! Happening declares itself a spontaneous autonomous zone: a place where people simultaneously experience and become the work of art. As Alan Kaprow, the “father” of the happening, said: “The line between art and life should be kept as fluid and indistinct as possible.”

Back Cover: Original exhibition announcement for The Gilded Summer Palace of Czarina-Tatlina, 1969-70. Offset printed flyer. From the Estate of Jean-Claude Vasseux, courtesy of Glen Santiago and John Hoge

For more than a decade, Howl! Festival has been an annual community event—a free summer happening in and around Tompkins Square Park, dedicated to celebrating the past and future of contemporary culture in the East Village and the Lower East Side.


Stonewall friends: Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt (TLS) (top left), Martin Boyce (top right), Birdie Rivera (center)

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Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: Tenemental (With Sighs Too Deep for Words)  

Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project in cooperation with Pavel Zoubok Fine Art November 16 – December 19, 2018

Thomas Lanigan-Schmidt: Tenemental (With Sighs Too Deep for Words)  

Howl! Happening: An Arturo Vega Project in cooperation with Pavel Zoubok Fine Art November 16 – December 19, 2018