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Art Diary International 2013/2014
is now out, packed with contact information for galleries, museums, artists, curators, critics, and other professional arts services around the world.


Marianne Vitale
Mary Rinebold

Emerging from an invented world, looming figures populate the Chinatown studio of 2010 Whitney Biennial artist Marianne Vitale. Sometimes sympathetic, often uneasy, Vitale’s

recent sculptures pull the tension between figure and abstraction, mid-process of either

melting or forming, with skin dripping from their frames. These extracts stretch, move, coil, hide, and invite to mark an encounter of sinister fragility. The studio of Marianne Vitale has always been an occasion of familiar curiosity since I can remember first visiting it for her

famed dinner parties. The sculptures seem to grow out of the diorama of that studio — a

visited world, a suspension from reality. Vitale’s drawings have always hung on the walls of

her studio, and these new sculptures developed from that changing cast of hung sketches. Always attracted to Vitale’s drawings, I walked into Sculpture Center this fall and was

overtaken by one of these volcanic creatures, now off the page and in nineteen-foot bronze form. Compared to the smaller scale creatures shown during June at Ibid Projects in London, this large creature, almost monster, seemed to come from a Roald Dahl children’s novel and some other indistinct realm. However, that is part of the mystery and fascination in Marianne’s work. There is a constant unexpected moment in everything she does — from building a hut

in White Columns and inside it screening a film that somehow successfully addresses the movements of a squirrel and Plutarch in the same thought — to her gestures as a performer.

In the following conversation, Marianne Vitale and I dance around these issues and reference many others during a visit to her studio and a dinner at Lucien.

 

Marianne Vitale – IBID Projects, 2000. Courtesy the Artist and IBID PROJECTS, London.

 

Mary Rinebold: I first met you through your food and environments. Once you did a party in the woods on East Long Island where you prepared a meal for what seemed like a mile long table. Every part of it reminded me of you. What I liked the most though were the boiled potatoes, perfectly salted. People were eating the halved red potatoes scattered along the

table with their hands, like primitive potato chips. Perhaps you can help me finish figuring out why salted potatoes remind me of you? Or why a mile long table reminds me of you? Help me finish this thought… 

Marianne Vitale: It’s all theatre. And about the salt — it’s important to regulate our water content, and if salt can take care of that, that’s less on my mind.

 

MR: When I first saw your drawings in your Chinatown studio, they seemed to be expressions of surrealist moments. They first struck me as part Hans Bellmer and part, well, something else that seems distinctly you (possibly related to the brilliantly salted potatoes…) So, this question comes in two parts: Which artists do you find yourself looking at? Of those artists, do any of them make it to your work as conscious influences? 

MV: A friend recently invited me to a Caspar David Friedrich exhibition — what skies! Prints and woodcuts of Dürer.  Old Masters who painted still lifes of partridges pinned to the wall, fruit and vegetable compositions, Cotan? All ancient artists, the ones who made figurines of snake charmers and the ones who painted stories on clay. Arp’s orbs. Persian miniatures. Georges Méliès’s cinema. Jean Tinguely’s machine experiments. I look at what my friends are doing. There’s so much out there, though one must be selective. Yet I don’t believe the forms and ideas of other artists, whether a living friend or a dead legend, enter my work consciously.  Our visions are realms apart. I become the bewildered visitor in front of great works of art. I’m also easily inspired by the EPA workers who constantly climb down the trapdoor in the lot outside my window. What’s going on under there? They have clipboards too, and weapons I suspect.

 

Marianne Vitale Studio

 

MR: Do you feel that your process is in any way automatic?

MV: There is, I suppose, an automatism… in letting the work define itself. The drawing

instructs me.  It dictates its content — it’s not as though I am trying to actively transcribe my dreams or desires.

 

MR: You also make films. I’ve seen one you made in France with your friend and, at that moment, collaborator, Michael Portnoy. You are definitely performing in it, and I saw you make some similar movements once with him when he iterated the piano destruction performance. But I want to ask, in your film making and performing, do you see yourself as a filmmaker, or as a performance artist? Or both?  Where does one end and one begin, or does that

delineation even happen in your process?

MV: I was trained as a filmmaker and it’s where I will end up, perhaps. As far as me as a player, its just that — play… and like the best type of play, it’s a form of learning… like animals, they play fighting… in order to learn how to fight. I Know Who I Am was shot on Ile d’Yeu. We would sketch out situations each morning at breakfast, then attempt to film them, swapping roles. It was out of control, which made for some great moments in time, as it became this urgent search for meaning, with camera rolling.

 

MR: In 2007 you performed at White Columns with Agathe Snow, taking over the space and minds of everyone who attended. From two ends of a giant abstracted chicken coop, you and Snow crawled toward each other with a caged rooster between you, accompanied by a live

piano and saxophone. I have never seen so many yokeless eggs in a room, and never next to a monolith of almond vodka. Tell me about this performance…

MV: OK KO: Broodies in the Nesting. The yolk blowing was torture. Agathe and I created the OK Vodka distillery, producing case after case of spirits. I eventually had to stop serving it at parties as I’d get calls two or three days later asking if anyone else had been dosed. Maybe

the silver almond dropped in each bottle actually does leak cyanide. We’re not chemists.

 

Marianne Vitale Studio

 

MR: You have generously provided a gathering point for many artists and varying communities in New York for a long time. You take a dinner party to an entirely new level. I have been lucky enough to experience your loft for a variety of occasions that include: one of the best New Year’s parties I ever went to, Christmas parties, impromptu art fair “rabbit stew” parties, and even once, a Mexican and New York political magazine party where I don’t think I spoke to one person from the art world the entire night, but instead talked to a fabled political writer from Vanity Fair, a politically influential mathematician and economist, as well as a comedic writer for The Onion.  In other words, a top night. TOP. What I noticed is that all these disparate groups seem not only indebted, but that each shares a personal history with your generosity and relaxed style of hosting.  There seems to be something about your studio, and even about you, that is from another time, a time that I think many of us hoped to find when we came to New York and were disappointed not to find.  Knowing you has been a window, actually more of a doorway, into that seemingly impossible-to-find world. 

Then of course, there are your elaborate food displays. One never knows what one will be treated to in terms of presentation on that dining room table when walking into your house.  It’s like the window display at Barneys or Saks Fifth Avenue, but much better. And, gasp… ‘relational.’ All this is to ask, since you are such a magnificent host, and since you seem to bring together such a consistently eclectic mix of people around your sculptural culinary presentations, do you see hosting as a branch of your overall output as an artist?

MV: Shucks, well thanks Mary, glad you had a nice time. It’s all a coping mechanism. Unfortunately, I’m not really comfortable around people unless they are in my kitchen. That last “political” gala starred Radio Free Al, who is a magnet of luminaries. I met him back when I occupied a storefront which had its door literally swung open, with a hibachi roasting corn on the pavement. There were visitors. Judith Malina, Hanon Reznikov, Ira Cohen, Gerard Malanga, Nat Finkelstein, Tuli Kupferberg, Michael Archangel. There was a nun from the Catholic Worker who would drop in. I didn’t know who these folks with flair and composure were at the time, just that they seemed to be flipped-out, raw, emotional geniuses. I continuously have the urge to swing open my door and see what the wind blows in. The Christmas time exhibition in my studio a few years ago was organized by Liutaurus Psibilskis. The space was filled with artwork. A collector lent us Picasso prints, which were nice to wake up to, Michael Auder videos, David Adamo’s wall of whittled axes, an Afghan Tea Room with stone carvings and Jonas Mekas book piles.  So yes, I allow for things to find their way in, yet I also reach a point when I need to slam the door shut. These days, an occasional, impromptu leg-of-lamb bash or pork butt assembly is not out of the question.

 

Marianne Vitale Studio

 

MR: We’ve had some good laugh attacks together — but on a professional level, who is your favorite comedian?

MV: Tricky questions. Tomorrow I’d answer them all differently. Gilda Radner.

 

MR: So let’s get down to business, you’ve been making sculptures lately, using mostly bronze. Why bronze?

MV: It lasts for three ice ages.

 

MR: Do you sketch out your sculptures or is there a more intuitive process for shaping them?

I ask because I noticed that the sculptures at your recent Ibid Projects show in London were

all unique.

MV: All unique. I sketch, but I don’t wish to know ahead of time precisely what’s to come.

 

MR: At what time of day do you tend to draw?

MV: No specific time for anything though sunrise is best for stirring ideas…

 

MR: Did you make models for your bronze casts in your Delancey studio?

MV: The bronzes were cast from forms made of burlap and wax. I developed this all at New Foundry.

 

MR: Did you work with a bronze fabricator here in New York or in London?  How did that go?

MV: I worked with Paige Tooker of New Foundry out in Greenpoint, just down the road from

that state of the art sewage refinery.  She lived in a trailer next to the foundry, along with an obscenely large rooster, which she’d bathe in her sink, chickens, dogs, rats, doves and a sprawling garden. I showed up expecting to conduct a small experiment, maybe cast a Dorian Mornthong as a paperweight. I became charmed by the environment, the toxins, the dipping, and the fire. I stayed for months. Looking back, my fleet of creatures seem as though they

were birthed out of the flames.

 

MR: You also make sculptures from found materials — where do you see the connection and divergence between your work in bronze and with found material?

MV: “Found materials” — exercises of desperation. Haha. No, I’m not opposed to such.  If I

had my druthers, my next piece would be a totem carved from a Dragon’s Blood tree of

Socotra. However I work with what I can get my hands on. Cargo from Yemen has been a bit prohibitive lately. Fresh paper and ink look good for the next stretch.

 

MR: Your sculpture at Sculpture Center’s outside space was large scale, steel and

magnificent. Couple of questions about that work: Is this the biggest you’ve gone with sculpture?

MV: My huts (previous sculpture) were getting up there. I’ve constructed, by now, a colony of them, but they are always, sorrowfully, disassembled and turned back into refuse, one by one.

 

Marianne Vitale Studio

 

MR: How was working with steel?

MV: Heavy metal.

 

MR: You incorporated landscape into the piece, tell me about that.

MV: The sculpture, at some point, was supposed to be a refuge parasite from a nether genetic slop sink. I did what I could.

 

MR: Are you still working mostly at Delancey Street?

MV: That’s headquarters.

 

MR: Do you see narrative in your drawings and sculptures, or are they more abstract bits?

MV: There’s always a narrative. Whether it’s expressed concretely is another thing.

 

MR: When you perform, do you script yourself? Do you have an idea of where you are going--or is there an automatic element to your performance, similar to what comes out of your

drawings?

MV: Script? Well, let’s say there’s a score, which gives me legroom within certain parameters.

 

MR: Who are your favorite writers?

MV: Johnny Mercer. He wrote Glow Worm, Jeepers Creepers, One for my Baby (And One

More For the Road). Who else? Cortázar, Jacques Maritain (the few pages that I’ve read over and over), Robert Greene, Dave Hickey, Harry Mathews, Plutarch.

 

MR: Who is your top favorite, most heroic, political exile?

MV: Polanski.  


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