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Miranda July on Somebody new App

Carolina Cavalli: Is the gap between the emotion of the sender and the action of the deliverer of particular value?

Miranda July: Having just delivered my first message between strangers I can say there must be something valuable about it because I felt completely ecstatic afterwards.

Finding this woman named Fiona, driving around being unsure if this would work out, having to tap the “can’t find” button, getting an update from her that said “Garage Pizza,” looking for someone in the pizza place who matched her picture, leaving the pizza place feeling a little hopeless… Then up walks a familiar face, glowing (she has my picture too). “Fiona?” I said. Part of the message was to give her a smiley face heart, which I had dutifully made beforehand (I think it was from her best friend). I don’t quite know why it feels so great. But given how utterly inefficient the whole process was, it’s worth wondering what we are losing when we don’t have to engage with anyone to get the things we need. And yes, of course she didn’t “need” a smiley heart — but maybe humans get sad and dumb without the unexpected. Of course it would be awesome if we could all just have the discipline to resist the Amazonification of the world and hear our subtler needs. But perhaps it’s the artist’s job to point to that. And from there the public can do what they want with their new hunger — their brain will be reminded to seek out more of the unknown, to allow time for it.

CC: Who is the deliverer of your dreams? What message he would deliver to you?

MJ: I’d love to get a warm, intimate message from the kind of person I have a strained or formal relationship with in real life. Like those dreams you have where your boss is actually your best friend, or your enemy has actually liked you all along. The fiction writer in me hopes for a delivery with a bit of narrative arc built in.

CC: What is the first image from daily life that comes to mind when you think about intimacy shared between strangers?

MJ: Recently I somehow left the gas stove burner on in my studio — no flame, just gas pouring out while I did errands for three hours. When I got back and opened the door the air was unbreathable — I ran through the house, turned off the burner, then stood across the street to call the gas company. But guess what? My phone battery was dead. A neighbor came out — it was the mother of the gang-y sons that generate a tremendous amount of police activity on the block. Speaking Spanish, I explained the whole thing to her, and she not only loaned me her phone but set up a little chair under a tree, by a table, and brought out a glass of water (even though I said I was fine just standing on the street). Sitting on the chair, drinking that water, with my phone dead, waiting for help to come — it was really sublime. When the gas company guy came he said the house would have burst into flames if I’d gotten home about fifteen minutes later (my pilot light was on). He too was very nice. We discussed the possibility of a ghost turning on the burner, since I was certain I hadn’t done it. He said nine times out of ten it isn’t a ghost.

CC: “Texting is tacky. Calling is awkward. E-mail is old.” Somebody is…?

MJ: Somebody is also awkward, but in a more inspiring way.

by Carolina Cavalli

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Judith Bernstein on Art, Politics, and the Birth of the Universe

Emi Fontana: When did you know that you wanted to be an artist? What or who inspired you then? Who or what inspires you now?

Judith Bernstein: I wanted to be an artist from as far back as I could remember. Even before I understood what that meant. I loved to draw, paint and explore my imagination, and many things influenced me.

For instance, I became fascinated with scatological graffiti after reading an article in The New York Times in 1963 about Edward Albee taking the title Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf from bathroom graffiti. At the time, I was a graduate student at Yale School of Art, when Yale had an all-male undergraduate program and the Vietnam War and draft were happening. The graffiti I found was very raw and poignant. I realized that graffiti has psychological depth because when someone’s alone and releasing on the toilet, they’re also releasing from the subconscious. I began to use text like “this may not be heaven but Peter hangs out here” in my drawings and paired it with crude images. Looking back over the span of my career, there have been a number of factors that have led me to where I am today. I’ve always been attuned to what’s happening in the world and especially interested in exploring human behavior. My curiosity is always evolving. Currently, I’m inspired by the advances in science, astronomy, in the expanding knowledge of the universe and how it relates to ever-changing dynamics between women and men. This is the source for my new “Birth of the Universe” series, in which I use the active cunt to explore issues of women’s rage with both severity and humor. This work represents a major break from the type of work that I made earlier on in my career, including the large phallic screws that confront male dominance, warfare and sexuality. I’m now working with a vibrant, fluorescent color palette and centering my focus on human relationships.

EF: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? leads us right into the heart of our conversation. The story of that title is brilliant: originally the play was supposed to be titled Who’s Afraid of the Big Bad Wolf? from Walt Disney’s Three Little Pigs, but then, as you said, Albee saw this graffiti in a bathroom and used Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? instead, saving himself the hassle and money required to ask Disney for the rights. The subject of the play is obviously sexuality and role-playing among heterosexual couples at the dawn of the sexual revolution. We could say about the two main characters of Martha and George, played in the movie by Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, that she is a cunt and he is a dick. Can you talk about this in relation to your work?

JB: Virginia Woolf’s vagina! Now that’s an interesting topic! When I was inspired by the story of Albee taking the title from bathroom graffiti, I didn’t consciously think about the plot of Who’s Afraid of Virgin Woolf and relating it to my work — but it certainly does relate. The play is about anger and relationships. The characters act out their deep psychological wounds, and I directly confront these types of relationships in my work. Throughout my career, I’ve focused on dominance and aggression through a humorous lens. Aggression, sexuality and humor are strongly connected. My new “Birth of the Universe” series addresses these themes. I put the angry cunt (or “cuntface”) at the center of the painting. She is the source of the universe, representing the birth. Orbiting phalluses, which are sometimes passive and sometimes active, surround the cunt figure. She’s a self-validating vagina and doesn’t need the cocks’ validation! My work playfully addresses the dynamic between men and women, women and women, and men and men. The paintings are absurdist and chaotic, expressionistic strokes of radiant color, which is how I view relationships. My roots are in antiwar and feminist activism, but I’ve continued to broaden my subject matter to focus on the underlying psychology of human behavior. It’s fun but it’s dead serious. In Who’s Afraid of Virgin Woolf, George and Martha invite over a young couple. The couple witnesses their tumultuous — often violent — interactions. The young couple is the voyeur. I use the theme of the voyeur in my series. The voyeur represents human curiosity and the role of the spectator. In a sense, when someone enters my exhibitions, they become a voyeur entering my universe and my mind. There’s an innate curiosity that I like to play on. It’s a marvelous curiosity about science and the universe, about the subconscious and of course sexuality. Societal norms of the 1950s centered on the concept of the nuclear family. Women were expected to become wives and mothers. Albee’s play is a rejection of that ideology by shedding light on the ugly side of the American dream and inequality within these constructs. My work is very much about confronting this ideology as well. During that time, women and minorities were marginalized and did not have access to the system. My work threatened the ideology and I experienced censorship as a result. In many ways, the 1960s represented the start of a revolution in America. And, it’s a struggle that continues and I’m confronting it in a new context.

EF: Did you start to paint phalluses in the 1960s? How were your first paintings received? It was quite transgressive for a woman to do that. Did you encounter criticism from the feminist side, too?

JB: I first used the phallus in my scatological graffiti drawings as a graduate student at Yale, which was in the mid-1960s. Most of the work from that timeframe was never shown, so in that sense it wasn’t received at all! The image of the phallus represented the subtext for warfare and male dominance. Lester Johnson (then chair of the art department at Yale) pulled my first dick painting from a public exhibition in New Haven. Johnson called me to say that the exhibition was not an appropriate venue to protest the war. I found his reasoning to be preposterous! Ironically, his response to my painting represented the type of posturing that I was commenting on. Robert Doty, a curator at the Whitney, was the judge of the exhibition. Around the same time, I sent slides of my work to be duplicated at Kodak and was told that the company would not reproduce “that kind” of image. I started to see a theme. I began to realize that the content was viewed as defiant (and still is!), but I never saw myself as a “bad girl” and I naively imagined there would always be a platform to exhibit. When I experienced censorship and criticism, I realized that my work threatened a lot of people. At Yale, I was hanging out with some of the ABC Theater Fellows, including playwrights John Guare, Ken Brown, actor Ron Leibman and graduate playwright Ron Whyte. They loved telling me crude vernacular words and limericks, all the synonyms for cock and cunt that you could imagine! I was starting to tap into my hilarious side. I continued to use the image of the phallus throughout my career. In the early 1970s, I began making screws that morphed into humongous charcoal phallic presences. The screws stood as silent witnesses to the atrocities of the Vietnam War. In 1973, I had my first solo exhibition at AIR, the first women’s gallery. The feminist gave me a venue to exhibit. Otherwise, my work would never have been seen. Even as a feminist, I was always an outsider. For many feminists, my work was not considered feminist art because it was not self-referential. I was not portraying women. Instead, I was observing the guys in a critical way. Just to clarify, I was never against men but I wanted what they had. I wanted equal opportunity.

EF: And then in more recent years you switched to vaginas — we mentioned this a little bit at the beginning of the conversation: for me as viewer, in the latest paintings you represent so well the feminine force of creativity, the Shakti, the vortex of energy from which everything began. Can you talk more about this transition? Did this change in your art correspond to a change in your view of the world?

JB: My shift of focus definitely paralleled some major changes in my life. My art is autobiographical. After decades of using the phallus and observing men, I decided to start looking at women. It’s been a psychological experience, and I’m now confronting rage that I’ve seen with women. I’m reflecting on my involvement in feminist groups and, on a more personal level, reflecting on my own childhood. My mother had great deal of anger. And in that sense, women’s rage is an integral part of my background and I wanted to address it, as well as my own anger. There’s also a lot of humor and play there. I’ve channeled that energy into my work and the results are astounding. There’s a vibrancy and resilience that’s connected to survival — and sex and birth on the most primal level. The last few years have been an extremely productive period for me. When I began the “Birth of the Universe” series a couple years ago, I had no idea how much my own universe was going to expand. In that time, I received a lot of exposure and had the opportunity to exhibit my work internationally in a number of venues. I’ve always had the momentum, but with the new platform I have the chance to create even more. And I love to go for big scale! The “Birth” paintings engulf a room and the viewer feels like they’ve entered a bombastic universe. So, yes, the feminine force is undeniable.

EF: Can you talk about the use of black light paint in your recent works? Among other artists who used that I can recall Andy Warhol, especially with his series on the “Last Supper,” and more recently Jacqueline Humphries. I like the idea of looking at paintings in the dark — it connects us with history: all the masterpieces of the past were looked at in candlelight. It seems particularly appropriate for religious and mythological subjects that transport the viewer to a space of contemplation…

JB: The black light experience is very unique. My paintings are transformed under black light. Some elements fall into the darkness and intimate nuances become forceful brushstrokes — brought to the forefront. It is a hyper-energized experience. At the same time, there’s serenity in viewing “Birth of the Universe” under black light and in the dark. It’s almost like the paintings transform into stained glass windows, appearing lit from within and glowing like embers. Nighttime has always been my most productive time. The outside world quiets and I connect with my inner self and my creativity. The darkness quiets everything in that way, and in the “Birth of the Universe” the borders disappear and the paintings morph into each other. It becomes an environment that surrounds the viewer in the space and invokes a sense of mystery. The gallery walls and borders vanish and the images of cunts, cocks, nooses, eyeballs, teeth, black holes and celestial bodies protrude into the space. As we venture into the new, unprecedented Information Age, and as our knowledge of technology and outer space broadens exponentially, we’re thrown further into darkness. I use the massive black hole to symbolize mystery. A black hole is a region of space that theoretically violates everything that we know and understand. Both interconnectivity and feelings of isolation define the digital world in which we live. Human relationships have become ever more complex. With knowledge also comes the unknown — the primordial scream. I’m referencing Munch’s Scream and Courbet’s Origin of the World in a whole new context. My art is extraordinarily challenging. It’s more important now than ever to confront these issues head-on, as the state of the world changes rampantly.

by Emi Fontana

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Interview with Francesca di Mattio

Francesca Di Mattio has been showing new ceramic works beside her paintings in a display titled ‘Vertical Arrangements’ in London within ‘Painting from Zabludowicz Collection’, a group show with Albert Oehlen and Matthew Chambers. A resident of New York and represented by Pippy Houldsworth Gallery in London and Salon 94 in New York, Francesca is a graduate of Cooper Union and Columbia University. Flash Art spoke with Francesca as she was preparing the work for the public.

Joshua White: Why have you placed flowers in the ceramic sculpture, Totem?

Francesca Di Mattio: It’s really a sculpture inspired by vase structure, form and histories. To house the flowers makes a lot of sense but without flowers totally works too. All of these ceramic pieces in the show have the ability to be candlesticks and candelabra too in different configurations. ‘Totem’ is really heavy and takes five guys to lift. It’s made of three pieces, which are lifted onto each other for the exhibition. Clay is weird. These are hand-built slabs an inch and a half thick. It involved lots of different techniques being used to produce these effects.

JW: I heard that you had to teach yourself and learn from scratch?

FD: Yes, I had to learn how to make work in clay. I had a great teacher. I taught myself to some extent, but Kurt Weiser, my father-in-law and a ceramicist taught me. He’s really famous in his field in the craft world. He also taught for years, so I had to go out there to study with him in Arizona. I would ask him how do you do that? I learned a lifetime’s ceramics in a month, which was a unique experience. We stayed up until 3 in the morning and sometimes we accidentally broke things.

JW: Your paintings have a dizzying quality of stacked elements incorporating architecture and domestic objects. What are the formal or thematic effects are you trying to achieve?

FD: I am looking for something that is not static so everything is interrupted or interfered with, which creates sense of movement. In finishing one object you’re interrupted and it turns into something else. I don’t want something to stay still. These paintings are really stacked. I think of them as sculptures within in a space to some extent.

JW: What’s your starting point?

FD: To begin, I produce a schematic idea of a space and start building something. Initially I have insane amounts of images that I sift through before starting a work and at that point it’s quite freeing. I’m looking at things formally and I search for difference. You’re starting with three points pulling in different directions and then from there I react to it, but it’s not a mapped out thing initially. It’s Important to get right in there. Each painting learns from the one before.

JW: I read in a previous interview with Amy Sillman that you don’t want to make a picture static. How do you create the right balance and tension within a picture?

FD: I don’t want it to be completely dizzying. Parts happen simultaneously not fifty things at once. Paint used to describe a face is also pulled to describe a house. You get stuck in fused moments so that in new paintings a couple of descriptions are happening at the same time. It’s a tension between being overwhelming and being able to have a slippage, which is something uncomfortable. Flowers may wilt but are not dead.

JW: What are the developments in your new work like the painting ‘Damask’ (2012) on show in the exhibition?

FD: There’s a strong linear quality articulated in the rope described in ‘Damask’. I was thinking about stitching things together like the undulation that happens in sewing, weaving, crocheting and crafts. Through the interlocking drawings of different things, abstractions are made in between so the space is where the lines intersect.

JW: You appear to have a consistent interest in ‘craft’. What draws you to that?

FD: As I get older, the more I have the desire to bridge gaps. I make things and find ways of bring them together. I want to make a candelabra next. I make a lot of things and I do a lot of sewing. It’s not a big leap. There’s a direct relationship between ceramics and paintings. I find it frustrating that there are a thread of adjectives that follow these crafts like ‘small’, ‘girlish’, ‘hippyish’ things. I take the same modes of making but over scale them with a tougher hand.

JW: Why do you quote art and design history such as making references to Delft pottery and ‘chinoisserie’?

FD: It’s about the history of the material whether it’s painting or ceramics. Ceramics are quite hybrid and specific. I’m most interested in different languages and histories but also the various ways of handling materials.

JW: So it’s hybridity of style and material that interests you and the breakdown of those boundaries and histories?

FD: I want them to be non-hierarchical in a kind of dissolve through juxtaposition and proximity of this difference. In some pieces, I used china paint a historically revered gilding technique but also what grandmas do on plates. I’m interested in really expensive antiques and a grandma’s taste in plates, a huge range from tacky to nice. There’s a shift through proximity from something beautiful to something disgusting.

JW: So one of the ceramic works can tip quickly from the respectable to the vulgar?

FD: Yes, there’s a tablecloth in the painting ‘Damask’ that has does a similar thing because it’s looks like both a baroque floral pattern and a cheap tablecloth at the same time.

JW: So there’s an enquiry in your work about traditional notions of fine art and class iconography while at the same time there’s a dialogue around what’s undervalued and disregarded?

FD: Through that instability I’m making it less fixed, so notions of high class or vulgarity are questioned.

JW: That has that been a challenge for other ceramicists working in clay. In the craft tradition there’s been a distinction made between craft and fine art, those who make pots and those who paint. You seem to be interested in that cultural gap.

FD: I suppose it depends on the pot. So I can’t defend all of them. In terms of the whole craft argument, the gap is more about taste than craft. You can make anything if it’s good out of anything, but I was in part drawn to ceramics for that cloud above it. I was drawn to it for that ambiguity, that it’s separated out more than any medium. Working with ceramics demanded this craft approach and that’s fascinating to me.

JW: You can see that confusion in the way museums distinguish between ‘fine art’ and ‘craft’.

FD: For ‘Totem’ it’s all porcelain and it doesn’t naturally want to behave in this way on such a scale. You wouldn’t choose this kind of clay to make big slabs from. There also all these fingerprint marks in it and it shows crude handling, behaving more like stoneware with grit in it. I was thinking about the Expressionist potter, Voulkos, when I made it and giving it lots of surface decoration and making it out of porcelain with an almost grotesque pattern and feminine overlay. The figurine would be the kitsch element, but based on an 18th century piece while also looking as if you could find it in a gift shop.

JW: How does your work sit in this curated show? What do you learn from participating in this exhibition alongside other artists with a curator in a public exhibition? Does it put your work in a new light?

FD: It’s probably too early to ask. I only put in the flowers yesterday. But there’s an interesting connection to the other artists in terms of language such as the shifts in Matthew Chambers’ paintings from piece to piece and how they are installed. Albert Oehlen leaves mushy fingerprints over a taped-off ‘fade’ in a painting and the space between those gestures and the digital printing too with the expressionist hand over the top. I become more involved in the hanging and arrangement of my work, which is probably related to growing confidence and age.

JW: What you do want to do next? You mentioned making a candelabra out of clay.

FD: I want to make a large, hanging, low chandelier that would comprise clay and metal. It would cover a lot of different references in terms of candlesticks. I want to do my own thing now having digested different style histories. It would possess crude protruding extruding clay and produce lot of different handling techniques.

JW: There’s a balance in your work between collapse and something evolving, asserting form and volume. There’s so much dialogue and quotation, such as the patterned surfaces. Your interest seems to lie with pushing the possibilities of technique and materials.

FD: Some of this is just piling on the glaze in the ceramic sculptures, as if in the process of learning. It’s harder rendering effects this way. Technically being out of control is actually hard to achieve. The quantities are shocking. The sculptures appear haphazard as if a student had made them but it takes a lot of piling on and I mixed all the crackling glaze myself. You still have to have know the direction you’re taking.

JW: For all it’s mashed together and jagged appearance, there’s a completion in ‘Totem’ that feels whole.

FD: You could intervene and break Totem after firing but ‘brokenness’ is different from my rugged handling of the material. The finished work is not meant to look ‘archaeological’. It’s really important to me that through all this fracturing that it comes back together to being whole again. Like the paintings, I don’t want to create a dizzying, empty space. I want to build a ‘wholeness’ at the end of the process. Formal connections in the work are what interests me, for example, how the grid in ‘Diptych’ (2008) resembling a ship’s mast relates to the grid of a chair, the inside of an umbrella or holes within a ladder, so that everything has a structural similarity. ‘Diptych’ moves from panel to panel and some of it gets lost. I look at everything as a source. I started with the fade from dark grey to light in house paint that was really a reductive landscape, moving from a Richter-like palette knife effect to oil. I rip up lots of books and have piles of images in my studio. The ‘schlocky’ figures in that painting are from an art history book.

JW: Were you ever conscious of failing when you were making ‘Totem’?

FD: This piece was meant to fail. My father-in-law said there was too much happening to complete it, but I said I was fine making it by myself. I was working in a school environment and not my studio so the works felt vulnerable. It was weird and I didn’t have full control so some work was destroyed and I couldn’t accept it. ‘Totem’ was designed to make up for it. I worked for two weeks on my own when the school was closed over Christmas and it was really depressing. The process is slow and the clay is fragile before firing. Instinctively, I had a better sense of weight and space than I had expected having only painted before.

JW: It’s an example of how you learn by falling back on your own resources and pushing through. I see you are giving a talk to accompany the exhibition. Is it important to find a ‘language’ to discuss your work?

FD: No, I really don’t think it is necessary but I’m happy to do it. It can be interesting, but the work stands on its own.

JW: Where is your practice moving now? You’ve developed a particular language in your paintings and sculptural ceramics. There’s a nice articulation now across media of shared interests and themes. Can you see what you’ll be doing in future?

FD: I will be working for a show at the Blaffer Museum in Houston opening next winter so I want to make paintings and sculpture using new materials like acqua resin, so I will aim to produce greater height in the ceramic sculptures without the weight and fragility because clay can make them super-heavy. There’s no way to fire them in New York and they are very expensive to make. That’s one of the reasons I went out to Arizona to use a special kiln. I need to work in sections. From working with ceramic glazing, the surfaces of my paintings are becoming more articulated. There’s a lot more variety. Having used cake decorating extruder tips for the ceramics, I’m now using them to make paintings.

by Joshua White

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Interview with Danh Vo

Timothée Chaillou: For your show “Where the Lions Are” at the Kunsthalle Basel in 2009, you were inspired by “the idea of a kind of momentary or fleeting occupation of light”.

You installed one of the chandeliers that were hanging over the negotiation table in the Majestic Hotel in Paris (upon which the peace agreements for the Ivory Coast, Kosovo, and Vietnam were signed), under a skylight “where the sun, moving around it and shining through it, would rip it from history and time itself.” At the Musée d’Art Moderne de la Ville de Paris, you are exhibiting the three chandeliers in a state of transit: one on a hanging rail, one in a wooden box, one in separated pieces on the floor. What were the reasons for these displays? Why did you choose to dismantle one of the chandeliers to fill a room plunged into darkness?

Danh Vo: I like to try different methods of installing a work each time it is shown, if it’s possible, and if it makes sense. I really liked the way the chandelier looked at the Musée d’Art Moderne, spread out on the floor and lit up. The other chandeliers were borrowed from individuals and institutions and came with the support systems used in the exhibition. There was less flexibility with those, but the concept behind the exhibition was to have them come together again in Paris, after they had travelled and been exhibited in different museums around the world; the idea was not necessarily to play with their components.

TC: For the Venice Biennale, you have imported the skeleton of an entire 200-year-old Catholic church from Thai Binh Province, Vietnam. Do you think of this piece as a “refugee”?

DV: I don’t really like the word “refugee” because it conjures up specific images we all have of someone in a crisis, and it doesn’t allow a person to have a complicated identity. It implies a subjugated position as we have come to understand the word through the media. Likewise, I wouldn’t put such a heavy label on the church. It was demolished and the wood was up for sale. Usually the wood is purchased to create houses; it was going to be repurposed anyway so why not repurpose it in its original form for an exhibition? In addition, the church was not “fleeing” Vietnam. In a way, you could see it travelling to Italy as a kind of “homecoming” for a Catholic structure. Yet, if you look at its style, it is clearly not Italian.

This project actually began with a trip I took where I retraced Caravaggio’s route from Napoli to Malta during the late period of his work. On this journey, in Syracuse, Sicily, I discovered the place where he painted The Burial of Santa Lucia in 1608; this was the most beautiful experience because painting as well as the actual burial, the grave, was gone. When Constantine moved the capital to Istanbul (Constantinople), he took Santa Lucia’s bones with him. Then, when the fourth crusade defeated Constantinople, they took all the relics back, and now Venice has the bones. Syracuse attempted to get the bones back when Italy was unified as a nation, but instead they were given all these Murano chandeliers. That was what triggered the installation in Venice, thinking about how things move, how history moves things…

TC: “Cultural Boys” (2007) are photographs taken by Joseph Carrier in Saigon in the 1960s. He photographed young men in the streets who are often holding hands or ambiguously engage with each other. Do you think of Joe’s photographs as fantasized self-portraits of you (like Jack Pierson’s “Self-portraits”)?

DV: I have definitely referred to them this way before, but in reality it’s more complicated and should be seen instead as a set of relationships, which might be crushed by this reading: the relationship between Joe and the men he photographed, between me and those men I never met yet feel a connection to—not simply as Vietnamese but through the “homosexual veil” that Joe cast onto them when he took the images, and my relationship with Joe and the authorship (and power) I have assumed in exhibiting the images. All these details are equally important and should be held in tension with one another.

TC: What led you to use vitrines as a conceptual and structural framing device? Were you interested by the idea of inaccessibility and virginity?

DV: These are devices that have existed for hundreds of years in both a consumerist and museological realm. Why should I create something new when these designs have “worked” to showcase precious things for so long? These frames should not be taken for granted, they aren’t simply accessories, they have a history and a function of their own. It’s interesting, I hadn’t thought about the vitrines in relation to “virginity” because the objects I put in them are not new, they are crumpled cardboard boxes or an old ring for example… I don’t think the vitrines make the works inaccessible because that is the device that makes them available to the public. Because there is this glass, you can look it up close. It suggests a preciousness to something that might otherwise not be seen that way.

TC: Everyone has their own little arrangement of objects, somewhere right up front or stacked in a niche. Why is it that we have to express ourselves through objects by creating a mise en scène?

DV: I’m not sure I can comment on why everyone does this. However, I do think that we collect things that we desire, because what we desire tells us something about who we are. I guess that’s why I like to shift and change my arrangements from one exhibition to another. These things should never be fixed or totally resolved. Desire is a complicated thing.

TC: At the MAMVP you are showing belongings of Robert S. McNamara: “Lot 100. Six Small Middle-Eastern Antiquities” (2013), a photograph from Ansel Adams (Lot 89. Adams, Ansel, 2013), “Lot 1. Annotated Carbon Copy of McNamara’s Letter of Condition of Accepting Position of the Secretary of Defense” (2013), “Lot 20. Two Kennedy Administration Cabinet Room Chairs” (2013), “Lot 39. A Group of 4 Presidential Signing Pens” (2013) and a lacquered box (Lot 11. Vietnam Photo Album, 1962, 2013). For what reasons was it important for you to show his belongings as traces that recall a political history? How did you manage not to drift into nostalgia?

DV: These sorts of items never end up in public auction; it was purely by chance that I was able to get my hands on these objects because they are normally donated directly to Presidential libraries. When Sotheby’s put them up for sale, they produced the most beautiful catalogue with well-researched entries about the items and beautiful illustrations. I wanted to preserve their work, in part, by keeping the lot numbers and descriptions as the titles of the works, and working from these groupings to make new works. I suppose I tried to avoid nostalgia by not being sentimental with the objects. If something needed to be ripped apart, like the cabinet room chairs, then I ripped them apart. I didn’t give the objects new names or identities; they were simply transported into an art context.

TC: Your father’s story of survival after the Vietnam War served as inspiration for a collaborative work with Tobias Rehberger titled “Go Mo Ni Ma Da” (2004) – which is also the title of your show at the Musée d’Art Moderne. After the fall of Saigon, over 20,000 Vietnamese citizens were evacuated to an island called Phu Qouc, where they lived under horrendous post war conditions. After four years, your family decided to risk their lives and escape by building a massive vessel that could carry over 100 refugees away from Vietnam and, ideally, to America. Your father had to find a way to cover production costs, find materials, create the design and bribe local officials so they would look the other way as the refugees escaped. Your father built his boat and the refugees were able to sail out to sea. Your journey was interrupted by a large tanker headed for Denmark which forced your boat to anchor. Your family has been living in Copenhagen ever since. Are you using this story as a mythology (like Beuys’ accident)? What are the connections between this piece and your show in Paris?

DV: I think that whether or not I used my biography in my work, my work would be read in relation to my personal history, so I anticipated this when I wove it into my work. Beuys created his story and then made work out of it, that is one difference between our practices.The project with Tobias Rehberger did not go as I had planned but I liked this title very much… it comes from a New York Times article I read in the travel section about a journalist who is greeted every morning in Vietnam with “Go Mo Ni Ma Da”—“Good morning, Madam”. So I wanted to have a second chance to use the title and think about what it means.

TC: Do you think of your appropriated objects as “talkative”?

DV: If they are talkative, I hope they aren’t saying anything too specific. I think we always bring a lot to a work when we look at art and what we bring to the work engages us in a conversation with the objects in front of us. In that way, I suppose they are talkative. But I try as hard as possible not to give them “lines.”

TC: When someone calls you a “conceptual artist” what does it mean to you?

DV: It makes sense if you have to give me a title to see my work and mode of production within the legacy of conceptual art because I am not someone who sits in a studio and produces new things. I take things that already exist in the world and alter them—not just objects but systems and ideas.

TC: Do you think of all your works as love letters?

DV: Inasmuch as the work consists of things I desire, they are love letters in a sense, yes, but they aren’t addressed to anyone in particular.

by Timothee Chaillou

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Judith Bernstein The Box Gallery / Los Angeles

Based in New York City for over forty years, Judith Bernstein is a trailblazing artist whose impact on postwar American art is only beginning to be fully understood. She emerged in the mid-1960s with a series entitled Fuck Vietnam (1966-1967), a body of raw and raunchy political canvases that plumbed the psychological depths of sex and war.

Executed on distressed unprimed linen, they were dominated by giant penis forms doubling variously as military tanks and despotic heads of state—as in Cockman #1 (1966) in which Bernstein lampooned Governor George Wallace of Alabama, depicting the face of the southern segregationist as a pink hairy testicle sack with a flaccid member for a nose. A caustic, violent and often hilarious use of language accompanied such imagery. Writ large in scrawling loose paint and charcoal, Bernstein’s wry engagement with text—Uncle Sam Balls Vietnam and Gets V.D. not V.C. (Venereal Disease not Viet Cong)—evoked the crude gonzo aesthetics of artists such as R. Crumb and Wally Hedrick, presaging the later linguistic permutations of raconteurs like Jean-Michel Basquiat and Raymond Pettibone. Wordplay of a different sort followed when in the 1970s Bernstein embarked on her massive charcoal screw drawings, the work for which she is best known today. Visually and linguistically conflating the idea of the hardware screw with the phallus (screw, screwed, being screwed) Bernstein’s screws were infamously censored from a 1974 exhibition at the Philadelphia Civic Center: “Women’s Work – American Art 1974.” A founding member of the women’s art collective A.I.R., Bernstein has been discussed primarily within the limiting discourse of feminist art history; yet her rich and layered creations speak to an engagement with traditions ranging from conceptualism to neo-dada. Laboring largely in obscurity throughout the 1980s and 1990s, since 2009 Bernstein has found renewed inspiration and been newly embraced by the art world; recent exhibitions include Hard (2012-2013), a solo show at the New Museum in New York and Keep Your Timber Limber (2013), a group exhibition at the ICA in London. Flash Art sat down with Bernstein on the occasionof Birth of the Universe, her current exhibition of eighteen new paintings at The Box gallery in Los Angeles.

I look around at your new canvases, at the florescent pulsating colors, at your giant electric vaginas and your aggressive and expressionistic paint handling and I find it completely exhilarating. The male sexual violence and power has given way to a fiery and explosive cosmos populated by massive riotous cunt faces, as you call them. Your cunts are surrounded by planets, radiating bands of paint in bright orange, royal blue, yellow, atom signs, numbers, text. I am interested by this shift away from the overtly political to what seems more universal and even mythological, as if you are tapping into some collective Jungian consciousness of archetypes and symbols. When did this all start?

Judith Bernstein: Birth of the Universe began in 2012, I have become fascinated with science. There is so much in science that is surreal. Black energy, black holes, twin galaxies, the idea that time is actually completely relative. So Birth of the Universe is a meditation on these ideas. I have never painted on this scale before or in such a bright color palette. Though I did a few early cunts, like A Soldiers Christmas in Vietnam (Baby The Fucking You Get Ain’t Worth the Fucking You Take), now the cunt talks and she shouts and she will not be silenced. By contrast the cocks in this new series of mine have become cute. They float around with eyelashes like galaxies and are slow and quiet in comparison to the big bang of the feminine, which is both a life giving force and symbol for rage. The cunts have teeth: the angry cunt, the rage of the woman—I was a guerilla girl—rage at the growing power of women, rage in general.

The canvases read “Cuntface,” “The Source,” “Infinity,” “Birth of the Universe.” Your use of text as an anchor is a tie that runs through your work. When did language come into play for you?

JB: The title of the new series is in part a riff on Courbet’s Origin of the Universe. I began my career at Yale where I was one of the few female graduate students enrolled. In fact the university only began admitting women as undergraduates in 1967. My friends at Yale were all men, mostly playwrights and actors like Ron Liebman and Ken Brown, who wrote The Brig. I had already been working with language and then one day I read an article in the paper about the fact that the title of Edward Albee’s play Who’s Afraid of Virginia Wolf? was taken from bathroom graffiti. I ran to the men’s bathroom and that was the beginning of my fascination with scatological graffiti, which became an important touchstone. Many people think graffiti is one-dimensional, but when a man is on the toilet he is defecating on one end and releasing his subconscious on the other. There was a lot going on at the time, the Civil Rights Movement, Vietnam. Men were scared of being drafted. The work that I started making, the cock faces, the crude language, it was all very liberating. It was a commentary on male posturing, male imagery, of observing men, even trying to be one of the guys, politics. Something that always stayed with me were my father’s stories of attending the University of Alabama during the time of Jim Crow Laws. These were situations that I felt compelled to deal with and continue to concern me. I recently updated my Fuck by Number in Vietnam to Fuck by Number in Iraq and Afghanistan for the ICA.

What do you make of the politics of art history and the manner in which your work has been received almost exclusively through the lens of feminism?

JB: I was shown mostly in exhibitions on women, though I was never really completely accepted by women. And while I was glad to have a place to exhibit, my work should not be limited to these ideas. It should not be relegated to the back of the bus, so to say. No one made the connection that there was so much more going on.

I am so bored by the vapid and decorative abstraction that seems to have taken over contemporary painting. One of the aspects I find particularly compelling about your new work is how free and boisterous your paint handling is and how funny and personal the series is.

JB: In many ways I see Birth of the Universe as my re-birth as an artist. Sometimes in life you cannot make the work you have inside you until the time is right. I couldn’t have made these paintings twenty years ago, and at the same time they come out of that experience and they probably are more personal than my other work, from the significance of the numbers that float through the galaxies, some of which relate to my age, to my large signature, which I started doing with the screw drawings, by embedding my name into the charcoal cocks. I always wanted people to know that a woman made them and these paintings are a strange sort of celebration. I have always thought of humor as a form of sexual ejaculation. It relieves tension but is also very powerful.

by Yael Lipschutz

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Robert Indiana

The following is an excerpt from the catalog Robert Indiana: Monumental Woods, published on the occasion of the opening of the show “Robert Indiana: Monumental Woods,” on view at galerie gmurzynska in Zurich until July 30.

Richard Brown Baker: When did you start working on these columns of wood?

Robert Indiana: They came first. They came before the word paintings. The constructions came into being because many of the old warehouses were being razed in the neighborhood for the widening of Water Street and the wood was just lying around waiting to be picked up, and I brought it into my studio and, as you know, at that time assemblage was kind of in the air.

RB: What year was this?

RI: ’59, I suppose.

RB: You didn’t start those until ’59. I see. I’m going to look since… to find out – –

RI: The constructions, too, were first used without words, but the words appeared on them first, Richard.

RB: I was just checking on the date of our meeting there in December 1959 because my recollection is that at the time you came with Larry Calcagno to my apartment to see my painting collection that you were not an exhibiting artist and were rather holding yourself, presenting yourself as a person who had not yet, wasn’t ready, shall we say? To exhibit.

Is that correct?

RI: Quite correct.

RB: Then, this was really on the eve, anyway, of your developing these various achievements both in the sculptural form and in the painting form, isn’t it?

RI: I think I exhibited first in ’61. So there was a whole year there before I…

RB: ’61 is when you had your—

RI: “New Forms, New Media”.

RB: — show at Martha Jackson Gallery and the David Anderson thing. Well now, I wanted to figure out, to confirm my impression during this time, you did not seek galleries…

RI: No, I didn’t.

RB: You were not trying to; you were just trying to evolve…

RI: That’s right.

RB: … rather than to offer yourself, your work. You felt that you were a bit undeveloped, or you felt also that your tendency was somewhat contrary to what seemed to be the fashionable thing? Or both factors, or…?

RI: I think my main goal was just to develop or to acquire a body of work, Richard. I felt that it was very necessary to be able to work consistently in a given style for a given period of time. And that was my main preoccupation. It was very easy to zig and zag, to change from one piece to another, and I knew that I could not feel that I had found my own expression until I could cover a body of time with a given style and a given direction.

RB: Yes. Let’s get back to your wooden structures. You may have said, but I’m not sure when you first did those.

RI: Started in ’59.

RB: ’59. Now how long did you keep doing them? Are you still doing them?

RI: Still working on them. Still doing them occasionally.

RB: Still doing them occasionally. Well, you did some very beautiful ones certainly. Are these included in – any of these in the Walker Art Center show?

RI: One.

RB: Just one.

RI: Marine Works.

RB: Well, how many have you sent out into the world, as it were, in this form? How will we describe these: wooden columnar pieces with painted areas and lettering sometimes? Or always? Do they always have lettering?

RI: They do now. They didn’t to start with.

RB: Sometimes they have a little metal attachment, like a wheel.

RI: A wheel.

RB: Always have a wheel or just some…?

RI: No, not all of them have wheels. Most of them did. The wheels came about because of meeting Steve Durkee. He knew of a place where there were a number of old wheels that had been abandoned and provided me with a great number of uniform wood and iron wheels that had been probably for baby carriages or something. And he himself was working in this form at that time. And we often competed for the wood that was in these demolition sites.

RB: I see my opportunity to make history in art. I should buy up some commodity and give fifty or sixty pieces of it to a creative artist who will then manage to incorporate it into some stylistic development that may make history.

RI: This is what the Rewalds did with their Buick when they gave it to César.

RB: Oh, when they gave it to César to smash up. Well, I think they directed him to do that, though. I wouldn’t be able to conceive… But that is interesting, that just by having this group of wheels made accessible to you, you really worked them into a…

RI: However, it wasn’t an unnatural assimilation because I had become very interested in the circle and used, the circle consistently in my paintings. And after all, the wheel is merely a physical projection of the circle. So it was just a natural find and one, which I could put to use with complete ease and relevancy.

RB: Speaking of sculpture reminds me of one of the evenings that I interviewed you earlier. You were dashing off to a meeting of sculptors called by Louise Nevelson. What was the result of that?
RI: There’s due to be a group sculpture show at a gallery in New York, not my own, not Louise’s. I don’t know that very much is going to come of it, Richard; it would mean the inclusion of one of my constructions in this group show, that’s all — nothing — My new constructions, (and I guess I can’t call them constructions), my new pieces of wood are — I’ve had these columns for some time; they were originally the masts of old sailing ships, and you can still see the worn areas where the iron rings that held them together were once fitted onto. Then they became columns for these warehouses that were built after the fire of 1835. And then as the buildings were demolished I acquired several of these columns. I had to, unfortunately, had to cut them in half to get them into my loft; they were once nine feet tall. And I’m working now almost exclusively on them. They will not be assemblages in that there is nothing, there is no other material being added to them except words painted around the perimeter of the columns.

RB: Am I right in thinking, Bob, that you make use of the weatherworn surface of the wood? In most cases, you do not –unlike Louise Nevelson, for instance – most of her pieces are constructed of wood and then painted either black or white or gold or something. Yours have paint on them, as you say, like lettering or sort of bands, sometime of color perhaps, but a good portion of them remains weathered wood. Isn’t that correct?

RI: It is so, Richard, because the weathered wood was so beautiful that I was just reluctant . . .Now, here are a few which I did stain – I didn’t stain like Louise – but which I did paint black, because the wood was not in such good shape. It had been scarred and disfigured. But where the wood was in good shape I couldn’t resist leaving the natural surface, which of course therefore makes a separation between my painting and the constructions. To be consistent with my painting, my constructions probably should be made of brand new wood, which has no patina or age whatsoever. But that’s not how it got started. I found the wood. . .

RB: That’s an interesting point, isn’t it? I don’t see any reason you have to be consistent, but it is an interesting thing to reflect upon, that your paintings are completely freshly-painted sort of things; you don’t go in for the kind of surface which certain painters do which seems to repeat old walls or things like that, cracks and seams and discolorations. You reject that totally in our painting but you accept it in your wooden material in your sculptural work.

RI: Just as it was found. I think there’s validity in the “foundness” of the object.

RB: And yet there’s no question but what your, to my mind, maybe it’s because I’ve seen some of these wooden pieces from the very first time almost that I saw any of your own work, but they seemed to belong with your painting very much and, as you say, the circles and other things, the lettering –It’s all very consistent. Your style seems to have emerged almost; shall we say, fully matured?
RI: The work became harder and more geometric and then when I did start using words in 1960 and these were as I said, forced on the constructions, because the constructions just needed the words; they did not look complete without them. And they were only decorative until they had their words. This was the beginning of my present work.

RB: The words on the constructions were usually one word only.

RI: Yes. That’s right. And very brief, usually three letters or four letters.

RB: They could, though, have been simply abstract letters or something similar. . .

RI: They could have. . .

RB: Like Cy Twombly’s scratches or something. . .

RI: But they never were. They always meant – they always said something from the very beginning.

RB: Yes. I’m trying to recall — of course, it’s well known that Stuart Davis many years before you were painting incorporated words into his paintings. I suppose there were many other instances.

But it wasn’t quite as general. In the last few years more people have been using words, haven’t they?

RI: It seems that everybody was using them. I think that was probably the incentive, Richard. Again, just like assemblages were in the air, everybody was making assemblages; everybody was beginning to use words. Remember that Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns, who I knew, (Ellsworth introduced me to them the very first year on the Slip) and at that time they were still doing department store window. They were still doing their display work. I even worked for them once on one of their display jobs.

RB: I didn’t even know they had worked in that fashion.

RI: Yes. They had a terrible job whereby they did mass displays that were sent all over the country to chain stores. . .

RB: The two together in association?

RI: Yes, and they got stuck in a bind and they needed help and they called up and so some of us went and helped them on these displays. But you see they were only two blocks away. Now I never became personal friends of Jasper Johns or Robert Rauschenberg but they were both, particularly Rauschenberg, they were very concerned with assemblages. And Steve Durkee was making assemblages and then, of course, it all culminated in Martha Jackson’s “New Media New Forms” and eventually in the assemblage show at the Modern.

RB: How did you become known to the Martha Jackson Gallery? How did that develop? Martha Jackson Gallery is one of several that could claim to be among the leading galleries. It’s not automatically a cinch for an unknown artist to get consideration by them, I shouldn’t think.

RI: Not at all. It came about solely just through good luck, Richard. One of my neighbors on the Slip who had once wanted to be a painter himself and has now long since given up that ambition…

RB: Who was this?

RI: This was Rolf Nelson. He was on the Slip, oh, for a good two or three years just as a struggling artist like myself. . .

RB: I didn’t realize Rolf had intended to be a painter.

RI: Yes.

RB: If I’m not mistaken, he’s now got a gallery in California.

RI: Yes. He has his own gallery in Los Angeles. But in order to make ends meet he took a job as gallery assistant to Martha Jackson, and when their idea came up for an assemblage show, he, of course, knew of the things that I had been making and invited me to participate. In other words, he was responsible for bringing Martha down to the Slip, and she saw the pieces and said okay, and I was in the assemblage show. Then it was thrown again; there was a second version and I had. . .

RB: I think that show came in 1960.

RI: Yes. Both of them did. One was in the spring and one was in the fall.

RB: I saw the one in the spring. I missed the one in the autumn. And Steve Joy also — I saw Steve Joy today in his new gallery, Alan Auslander’s. But I remember they were going around visiting many artist’s studios, weren’t they? Trying to find new media. . .

RI: Of course, he didn’t have to search me out because he had known me for several years. And that was the beginning and, of course ,from there he be came the director of the David Anderson Gallery, which was Martha’s son’s gallery.

RB: Who became the. . .?

RI: Rolf.

RB: Rolf Nelson?

RI: Yes. So that then the next stop was a two-man show at the David Anderson Gallery with Peter Forakis and that was the real. . .

RB: Was it a show which contained just two or three of your paintings?

RI: No. Six.

RB: Six paintings. And. . .

RI: And many constructions.

RB: Many constructions.

RI: Because the garden was. . .

RB: The garden! Well, I sort of remember the garden. I thought possibly there hadn’t been room, since it was a joint show, for more than two or three of these paintings. And from this show Alfred Barr bought the painting that. . .?

RI: Nothing happened during the course of the show. Not a single thing of Peter’s or a single thing of mine was sold, and it was very disappointing because Rolf kept the whole operation secret. He didn’t want me to be disappointed. When the American Dream was called to the Modern to be looked at, he did not let me know because it was very possible that a work could come back rejected. They look at many, many more things than they ever accept, so he didn’t tell me until he knew that it had been accepted. And that was the real, that was the beginning of —

RB: Well, was it sent to the Museum because the Museum asked to have it sent, or was it just sent?

RI: No, no, of course not. The Museum asked for it to be sent. These details, though, I have never been completely filled in on. I’ve never even asked, it didn’t — I’m not very much concerned…

RB: But it was boost to your career, as any purchase by the Modern Museum is apt to be for any artist’s career in this country.

RB: How did Eleanor Ward (Stable Gallery) happen to come? I mean, was that easy to arrange, or…?

RI: I had nothing to do with it, Richard. It so happened that one of my pieces was being shown in the penthouse at the Museum of Modern Art. The curator of the penthouse, Campbell Wylly, knew my work and had selected this piece, and one day Eleanor Ward, I think, was just visiting the penthouse and she remarked that she liked my work very much, but was sorry that I was tied up. And Campbell merely let her know that I was not so committed as people thought. And that it might be very possible that I could be invited to show with her. And as it turned out, that was all arranged in one weekend. It just happened like that.

RB: Very good. Now I ask that partly because I have the impression that it’s not easy often to get a dealer of any standing to come to see an artist’s work.

RI: It helps if someone acts as an intermediary.

RB: Of course, it helps if they see an example on their own and like it, as this instance shows.

RI: Sure.

RB: But I mean if you try and drag somebody down, they are rather psychologically resistant, I think. But that is a good gallery, I think, to have got a connection with and your show was then only a year ago? When was that?

RI: It’s a year now, yes.

RB: A year now.

RI: It was last October.

RB: And that was really your first show anywhere other than —

RI: My first one-man show, yes.

RB: — other than that half show that David Anderson…?

RI: Well, I did have a three-man show, which I didn’t mention. I think on a previous tape I said something about my first loft being that of a former friend and classmate from Chicago, Paul Sanisardo, and in – oh, by ‘59 or ‘58 he had his own dance studio where he taught. And he had a foyer and he thought it would be very nice if he presented some small showcase exhibits in this foyer for the benefit of his dance students. And so he invited me to form a three-man show and I asked Steve Durkee and Dick Smith, and English painter who had taken a loft just a few blocks away from Coenties Slip on the waterfront, on Whitehall. They joined in with me, and we had a three-man show, which was roughly simultaneous to the two-man show at the David Anderson GalleryRB: I think maybe — Did I see this? I remember going to some show in which Dick Smith had some little construction-like things.

RI: That was it.

RB: Yes. Well then, I did see that.

RI: And I had just constructions. I didn’t show any paintings in that show. In fact, that was the point. It was a construction show. Steve Durkee exhibited some of his constructions, Dick exhibited his very small constructions, and mine, some of the ones. . .

RB: I think I met you through Richard – through Dick Smith, not through James Harvey.

RI: That’s very possible. I’ve really lost that. . .

RB: Well, it’s just that I now associate the two of you together and I can’t quite remember — maybe I met him through you. I don’t know. No, there was a man, Loren Libau who I met through Steve Joy, whom I think. . .

RI: Yes. Well, he lived just a block away on Broad Street.

RB: Well, he’s the one actually that brought Larry Calcagno, so it must have been through him…

RI: Loren, yes.

RB: He was busily trying to get into a gallery.

RI: I still see Loren once in a while. I don’t know whether he’s still painting now or not. It was he who interested Castelli in coming down. Castelli came to see his work and he was gracious enough to ask me to hang one of my paintings in his studio so that Castelli might see it at that time. And that’s the first painting of mine that Castelli saw. And Castelli later came to visit my studio at the very time when people were becoming interested in — shall we say, a number of people were becoming interested. But it was Eleanor Ward’s invitation which came through

first and became final.

RB: Well, you really haven’t mentioned the one at the Museum of Modern Art, the American ‘63.

RI: Yes. Well, of course there was nothing acquired from that show, Richard. That’s the. . .

RB: No, but as far as participating in an important manifestation among the museum patronage that was an important thing.

RI: Well, that was the next most important thing that occurred was that inclusion, and that came

very quickly, very quickly after my becoming affiliated with the Stable Gallery. Dorothy Miller came and saw my work…

RB: Came to the studio or…?

RI: Yes. And I was one of the first artists that she selected for the American Show.

RB: How many paintings did you have in that? I forget…

RI: Oh, it was, I think, six or seven, Richard. And one had to be omitted from the Modern Show because of lack of space. But it was reentered in the show in its traveling aspect.

RB: I didn’t realize that that show was traveling.

Where is it…?

RI: It’s going to about seven or eight museums all across the country.

RB: Really! Is this the first time that her American Show…

RI: I think so. I think so.

RB: . . .because Dorothy Miller on many occasions has selected shows called “Twelve Americans,” “Fifteen Americans” and various things, and I don’t recall their traveling around.

RI: Well, apparently they’ve gained in some sort of prestige and it’s going to Florida; it’s going to California; it’s going to Washington; it’s going to Canada; it’s going to Washington, D.C. It’s really going to make quite a circuit of the country.

RB: Well, when we stop to – I suppose just in the last year then there must be all these shows – Pop art. Now, how do you link yourself with Pop art? You’re included in Pop art. Pop art I think as a phrase is a sort of catch-all that’s caught on so much that I and everyone else sort of use it automatically, and it’s a kind of tie-in with certain other new artists. And it’s useful promotionally as far as your career is concerned. But your work to my mind is quite different from most of the called Pop artists, like is quite James Rosenquist and Lichtenstein. But the fact that that probably led to your inclusion in more shows than might have been the case otherwise, because there are all these sudden exhibits that include—

RI: It’s really happened more, Richard, and of course my own attitude about where I stand is pretty well explained in the current Art News.

RB: Yes.

RI: Swenson’s article. But all this happened really because of the time thing. For instance, Rosenquist and I were old friends and we knew each other’s work intimately. I mean, I saw his development and he saw my development.

RB: But they’re certainly not too closely allied.

RI: No, not at all. But, as I’ve said about other things, like assemblage and the use of word, these things, they sort of, they’re in the air; people’s ideas are intermingling and – not that I ever – you know there is no program — the Pop people did not sit down together and. . .

RB: I know that.

RI: . . .decide now overnight we’ll do this, as maybe the Dadaists did in Zurich or something. There was never anything like that. This happened rather independently, but I did know Claes Oldenburg, he’s an old classmate of mine from Chicago; I knew Rosenquist. I did not know Wesselman. But I soon did. I mean from seeing their first shows.

RB: Yes. Now you’re all lumped together as if you were members of the same football team.

RI: But there is an element in my work which, you know, no one would ever have coined the term “Pop” for me…

RB: No.

RI: . . .no one would have thought, “Ah! here is the artist of the popular image.” But there is an aspect to it, and this is mainly reflected in my paintings, my “Eat” paintings. I mean this is taken from a roadside sign. There are literally thousands of these signs all over the country. That painting came directly from that sign, and painted in the manner of the sign just as much as Andy Warhol’s Coca-Cola bottle is painted in the manner of a Coca-Cola sign. Now that only happened by coincidence with that, shall we say, that one painting. But just by the very nature of that, and maybe a few subsequent paintings that I’ve done, I do have a tangential interest or contact with Pop.

RB: Oh, I think you do! What I meant was that so many museums now seem to be wanting to put on some sort of a show including Pop art, which means including you in a number of different ways they approach it, but it probably has accelerated the dispersion among museum galleries of your paintings just as the others individually too, by the fact that there is a group to which you can be affiliated, so it’s not just you alone bucking the trend, but a group of you.

RI: Well, there’s an aspect there, Richard, and that is as far as I’m concerned there really are only four Pop artists working in New York who are really Pop and nothing else but Pop.

RB: They are. . .?

RI: And for me that’s: First of all, Liechtenstein and Warhol, Rosenquist and Wesselman. Now these four are, to me, only Pop. I couldn’t think of them as being — you know, they’re not in any way related to abstract expressionism or surrealism or realism.

RB: Well, I think Rosenquist has certain surrealistic aspects.

RI: If he does, he fights this. He doesn’t want to be a surrealist. Yes, there are certain art overtones but that’s all. Whereas the other people who are sometimes exhibited with – and this includes my self – who are exhibited with the Pop people – Rauschenberg, Dine, Jasper Johns, and people like this, they all are something else. They too have Pop inclinations or Pop overtones but essentially they are something else, as essentially I am a hard-edge formalist.

RB: Yes.

RI: In the Washington, D.C. formalist show I fit in; I don’t say I fit in perfectly, because I was one

of the few painters who did use words and, for instance, there was the Beware! Danger! American Dream Number Four. I used the imagery of the danger stripes that are on the backs of trucks and on the street signs and so forth. Well, this has a Pop aspect to it, which is not just formalism, but — and I think perhaps my painting was a little, perhaps just a little out of character with that show. . .

RB: I didn’t see that show; but would you have been twice shown then at the Washington Gallery of Modern Art – once as a Pop. . .?

RI: No, no, I was not included in the Pop, and I was included in the Formalist, so there is this real split in that some people feel very strongly that I’m only this; other people feel yes, but I’m also that.

RB: Yes.

RI: And this of course, as you suggest, is working to my advantage, it’s very true; it gives me an exposure and an audience which I would never have without it, and I’m not going to discourage this, mainly because I like Pop and there’s going to be a certain phase of my work which will probably be closer to Pop and I would like to, shall we say? I’d like to be an artist more like Picasso than like Rothko. I don’t feel that I have to go down one straight, narrow road at all. I would like to do several different things.

Richard Brown Baker (1912-2002) was a major force of vanguard collecting in post-war American art. Referred to as the ‘collector’s collector’ Baker was a devout advocate of contemporary art who sought out young, un-established artists and formed an over 1600 work collection of every major movement of the second half of the twentieth century. He was an early collector and supporter of Robert Indiana and donated his entire collection to museums, with the majority going to the Yale University Museum of Art.

Robert Indiana (born September 13, 1928) is an American artist living and working in Vinalhaven (United States).For more info: http://www.gmurzynska.com/

by Richard Brown Baker

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