Claudio Santoro in conversation with Laurent Grasso at Galerie Perrotin in Paris.
Claudio Santoro: The centerpiece of your recent exhibition “OttO” at Perrotin is a film shot in Yuendumu, Australia. You mentioned that indigenous landowners granted you access to sites according to Aboriginal protocol. I take it that this project is largely rooted in their complex history, which you said you wanted to “evolve instead of reflect upon.” Were you able to connect with the Yuendumu community while conducting research in the Northern Territory?
Laurent Grasso: The project doesn’t assume an « unreflexive approach » towards the history of aboriginal people. On the contrary, the very existence of the project was conditioned by a connection with the Yuendumu community. Like many of my projects, it was very intuitive from the beginning. I had an intuition that I would connect with this history and geography, so I asked that my research trip involve traveling to the Australian desert. There, we found many different communities and languages — there is not one Aboriginal culture — so we started searching to find an honest connection between my work and different parts of Australia. We were interested in the Northern Territory and Perth, as there are very strong electromagnetic fields there due to the metal mines. Art historian Darren Jorgensen and I started with very broad research, and discovered different kinds of phenomena and stories in the country that we collected over one year. I like contemporary mythology, as I have always viewed my work as somewhat anthropological, so we studied the light phenomenon known as Min Min light. We were also interested in caves with Aboriginal rock paintings in them, which due to a certain bacteria maintain very strong colors. This temporality and activation of power remained interesting for me, so we began to collaborate with the Warlpiri community, who introduced me to The Songlines by Bruce Chatwin, and this began an exchange about Aboriginal people navigating their territories through stories and chapters in the book in relation to cosmology and astronomy.
Many cultural bodies in Australia rightly acknowledge the history of Aboriginal inequality and dispossession in their programming, which becomes problematic as many of these initiatives are underpinned by a colonialist advantage. Did this political separatism influence the gaze of your research or is this an outsider story?
We had to take these political dynamics into account but We were not intending to talk about these main issues directly, we were more interested in a normal exchange which required being aware of their history.That being said, and beyond the perspective of the work itself, the obvious and clear message to restate is that the aboriginal people want to regain possession of their land. However, My work is not directly political or documentary in that I don’t want to illustrate a singular message and tend to dissociate myself from the kind of art that instrumentalizes political struggles and their victims under the pretense of serving their cause. Instead, We wanted it to be like a usual film collaboration. It could seem disconnected from this issue, but their life is not just about this long-term fight whose importance I however do not mean to minimize. It is also a daily life with an art center and practice. The Sydney Biennale informed us about the necessary protocols for an artist who wanted to collaborate with Aboriginal people over which the Warlpiri community has not much of a say and which at times even impeded the project. What allowed the project to exist was less the help of institutions than a shared enthusiasm with the people in Yuendumu.
I had one picture in mind to connect a scientific measuring of reality with an abstraction of their practice. I had another picture of this experiment in which some Buddhist monks are meditating under electroencephalography: a method of electrophysiological monitoring, and I wanted to connect these fields. We used hyperspectral thermal cameras to continue exploring this nonhuman perspective, which I’ve worked with in the past. It is a machine filming something totally unknown to itself. I was really interested in the research of Eduardo Kohn, and this idea of anthropology and geology becoming studied from a futuristic perspective. This was a way in which I was able to work without knowing too much about these methods of research, using futuristic tools to study something old and sacred, and putting these two fields together to create this imaginary fiction, in which it could be possible to visualize the radiation of these natural sites.
There are moments in the film in which we see acid yellows oozing out of rock crevices, and a new lexicon emerges between the viewer (human or otherwise) and the land, which is something I see as inextricably linked to Aboriginal Dreamtime.
This is what the Aboriginal people said of the project. I didn’t try to express their point of view or appropriate their forms; it was an interpretation, or re-creation, the real stories of how they interpret the country are secret and, before starting the project, I knew that being interested in the aboriginal traditions meant preserving their secrets. I had to find a way to show the status of these places without access to their historical belief system. So I created this sense of fear, as a kind of visual emanation or exploration of what could be sensed in these sacred sites.
Do you see a sequential narrative in the film?
My work more often deals in a visual narrative or sensation, or something that suspends the viewer in a kind of floating moment, where different meanings are crossing each other, rather than clarifying one particular message or story. There are different stories together in the film. This what I try to do with all the objects in the exhibition at Perrotin Paris — objects crossed by different forces, which create a tension that goes in many directions. I like this floating status between one state and another. In alchemic exercises, one might metaphysically charge something in order to alter its state. My work is in line with this potential power along with a certain radiation: it’s not just readymade objects — I try to create things, and here it becomes obvious in the use of frequencies. The spirals that you can see are inspired by Georges Lakhovsky, who created tools to cure people of illness using frequencies, most famously with the Multiple Wave Oscillator. Here, you have a portrait of Lakhovsky, and of the original machinery he created. I am interested in the power of the machine.
In Western folklore, monsters often undergo processes of bodily manipulation in which they are torn apart and stitched together into Frankensteinian forms. Estranged, dispossessed, misunderstood, and feared — they are eternally othered. In her latest body of work, Cole Lu reimagines myths of monstrosity into a speculative — and at times satirical — fiction that is based on her own personal narrative of illness and alienation.
Stephanie Kang: You preface “Animal Fancy” with a quote from Thomas Mann’s The Magic Mountain: “And life? Life itself? Was it perhaps only an infection, a sickening of matter? Was that which one might call the original procreation of matter only a disease, a growth produced by morbid stimulation of the immaterial?” How does this novel about the isolating journey of a man diagnosed with tuberculosis relate to the narratives you’ve created in “Animal Fancy” and “While Removing the Garbage or Paying the Cleaner”?
Cole Lu: I see the community in The Magic Mountain as a tiny model of society that reflects the very nature of human beings, particularly in the ways that they treat issues of illness and exile. And in this kind of enclosed microcosm, the environment can easily become toxic and isolating for outsiders, who are perceived as atypical and potentially dangerous. When reading Mann’s writing, I sensed some coding for queerness within the language of infectious materials, and the overlap between experiencing otherness as someone who is queer and was once disabled with an illness is eminently relatable. Essentially, how humans perceive otherness is so ubiquitous, so I wanted to express this using the visual language of a very familiar anthropological principle.
Yes, Mann’s portrayal of exclusionary communities is, of course, a familiar story for many. How then do the themes in The Magic Mountain relate to your own biography? Looking at the pieces you’ve included in the exhibitions, they all read as deeply personal. How are they infused with your own experiences?
The Magic Mountain particularly relates to my experience of being treated for tuberculosis. It’s an illness that you’re more likely to contract when you have a deficient immune system or an inflammation of the lungs; and because of the nature of its contraction, it sometimes overlaps with HIV patients. Since tuberculosis is such a stigmatized illness and I’m a queer person, I encountered some false assumptions about my status. When I was in the ER for over thirty-six hours with a fever, I was misdiagnosed with pneumonia, offered the incorrect medication, and forced to undergo an invasive bronchoscopy procedure. All of this medical mistreatment could have been easily prevented with a sputum culture, but because the doctors falsely believed that this illness was “less likely to be contracted by a young person,” I was dangerously misdiagnosed. Geographically, emotionally, and physically, I was isolated. I felt othered and stigmatized because of my physical health, sexual orientation, and immigration status all at once. It was like I was being reduced to a nonhuman (a thing or a label) — as a foreign, ill, gay person.
In The Magic Mountain, the protagonist’s three-week visit to a sanitarium is unexpectedly extended to seven years. His time there became like a steep, steady climb up a mountain that seemed to have no summit. The plot felt familiar to my situation as an immigrant, who was also experiencing an extreme illness. While my time undergoing treatment was unexpectedly extended, my visa status review period was simultaneously delayed. There was so much anxiety, agony, and pain in those processes of waiting in limbo.
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Cole Lu, the width of the boundary awash in color. zero-width skin. chest. ribs. diaphragm. spine. air on the other side. you, 2018 (detail), installation view at Monaco, St. Louis. Courtesy of the artist.
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Cole Lu, You begin this way (a unit with two large windows, a concrete floor, no interior walls), 2018 (detail), installation view at Monaco, St. Louis. Courtesy of the artist.
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Cole Lu, So much of the river I do not know (I can drink you out of town), 2018, installation view at American Medium, New York. Courtesy of the artist.
These perceptions are threaded together in their shared experiences of otherness or, as you say, being seen as nonhuman. This then brings up the subject of monsters, which seems to be a central source material for you in this project. How do you see myths of monstrosity relating to The Magic Mountain’s themes of illness and isolation?
As I mentioned, tuberculosis is a highly stigmatized illness — a sentiment that is often placed on both the queer community and immigrants. When you’re from a certain country (that is not predominantly occupied by Anglo-Saxons) you’re perceived as an alien, someone who carries foreign bacteria. And when the body is constitutively bound to a disease, it is separated into parts, and you’re not seen as a whole human. As Mann writes in The Magic Mountain, “Illness makes people even more physical, turns them into only a body, […] just as disease in an organism was the intoxicating enhancement and crude accentuation of its own corporeality.” Going through such an antagonizing process of being treated like a nonhuman (i.e. through language in medical or daily usage, general stereotyped responses, and behavioral reactions) made me feel ostracized, dehumanized, and monstered. It felt like I was stamped with a label of danger, like I was a monster that needed to be caged so that I wouldn’t spread my disease.
This follows a long tradition of discriminatory viewpoints from this villainizing perspective that decides what is considered a transmittable disease and who is perceived as highly contagious (dangerous).
I believe that mythology is a gateway for introducing these thoughts to an unauthenticated narrative, and I’m particularly interested in how it tends to portray monsters as othered and animalized. And that is where the title of the exhibition comes from: animal fancy, a hobby involving the appreciation, promotion, or breeding of pets and domestic animals. This desire to categorize animals and monsters is very similar to Western accounts of race, gender, and colonialism.
While you speak generally about Western perspectives and their relation to monsters, you point specifically to the iconic tale Beauty and the Beast by inserting visual signifiers and vignettes from the Disney film into your sculptures and reliefs. What is the significance of this particular source for you?
While making this work, I was very aware of my place within Western culture. Personally, I see it as something that I was exposed to unwillingly as a child. So I wanted to use source material from Western culture for this series, and address this experience of being an outsider using the language and collective memory of a certain kind of folklore with a common understanding.
Like many other Disney movies from my childhood, Beauty and the Beast has an embedded problem of othering whoever is not considered white, straight, able, and healthy. So anyone who doesn’t fall into those categories is either a monster, a home appliance (unwillingly), someone with a major personality flaw, or a source of comic relief. I think that makes this film a suitable platform to talk about intersections of diversity.
But while the movie does have its problems, it simultaneously functions as a source of comfort for me. In the story, the protagonist is an independent thinker who doesn’t abide by heteronormative social values, and she falls in love with someone who is not human. They come to recognize each other as mutual outsiders from society. I particularly related to the Beast’s experience of isolation during my time in quarantine. While I was receiving chemo medicine, the most basic actions, like breathing or moving, became difficult. It was like my body wasn’t whole anymore. Thankfully I was still able to read (after five hours of brain-mush from my medication every day), and that allowed me to take my mind to other places. In difficult times, you seek comfort and perhaps cope with magical thinking, so reading and fantasy became my personal antidotes.
There are clear distinctions in process and output in “Animal Fancy” and “While Removing the Garbage or Paying the Cleaner” to your previous works. Would you consider it to be a departure, an extension, or an evolution from your previous work?
I see them as a bridge between my old and new works, particularly in their utilization of readymades. And while many of these pieces are about the stimulation of time and tactility, I’m still trying to maintain the same conceptual rigor. I think it’s all about that balance for me now. When I’m putting together a readymade object, I think it through thoroughly and look at every object I have. Then as I begin compiling its form, the idea is composed and finalized in the process. It’s like going through this journey in my head that no one else knows about. But with the more tactile strategy, the idea that I want to execute is already fully formed. They both act as alternative forms of therapeutic release for me.
Cole Lu (b. Taipei) is an artist, curator, and writer based in New York.
Stephanie Kang is an artist, writer, and historian currently pursuing a PhD in art history from Ohio State University.
With their layers of scrubby brushstrokes, washes of color, and lively squiggles, the work of Henning Strassburger pulses with seeming chaos. “It’s not actually expressive; it’s very calculated,” says the Berlin-based artist, a 2009 graduate of Kunstakademie Düsseldorf (where he studied with Albert Oehlen). His “strategic” approach pays off, in constellations of skillfully suspended elements: controlled explosions masquerading as spontaneous combustion. Strassburger recently made time to discuss his anti-process process, the joy of printing paintings, and why Pierre Bonnard is not to be underestimated. Henning Strassburger: Fünf Bilder at Robert Blumenthal Gallery marks the artist’s first solo show in New York.
Stephanie Murg: When you’re starting a painting, are you looking at source material? Where do you begin?
Henning Strassburger: My way of painting is strategic. I try to have my tools ready, so I know what I can use. Last year, I challenged myself not to use certain techniques, just to see what would happen. For example, working without a grid in the painting or without spray paint. Sometimes I limit myself to a point where I have to find a solution in terms of color only. This is how I try to work. I’m not a process-based painter, so it’s never about what happens before.
SM: So you’re not a “process” painter, yet there are many steps and processes at play in your work. And usually these techniques are not readily apparent, as with works that you create using digital images of paintings.What role does reproduction play in your work?
HS: I recently had a show in Moscow [at Osnova Gallery], and half of the paintings were printed. I took some smaller paintings and works on paper, and we scanned and printed them as large as the original paintings. I want to have a quality of surface that relates to other images in my paintings. So it can happen that one painting is printed and another is painted, but I don’t want this to add something to the work.
SM: How do you decide when a work is finished?
HS: I think it’s like being the singer in a band. If the band stops, you don’t keep singing. It’s the same thing with painting. The painting tells you pretty clearly when it’s ready. There’s a certain quality, which could be the content, the painted quality — it changes from painting to painting — and if a painting has it, it’s able to survive.
SM: “Air Conditioner” was the title of your Moscow exhibition, and this term also appeared in the titles of paintings shown at Blumenthal Gallery in New York. Where does that come from?
HS: I had a studio in New York, and it was so hot I was dying, so I started drawing air conditioners. In the New York show, there were smaller paintings based on those drawings. In the Moscow show, the printed paintings were the drawings I did in New York, so one thing led to another. And I just liked the strange idea of air conditioners — this system that hides behind the wall, that connects the rooms to each other and also to other apartments. It’s a weird thing, an air conditioner.
SM: I never thought about the fact that air conditioners are often invisible.
HS: Now that I think about it, I should tell you that my whole family is in the air conditioner business! My father and my two uncles are all in the cooling industry. I never thought about this before, but that’s probably where it comes from.
SM: Bonnard has also popped up in the titles of your work. What do you think of Bonnard?
HS: I’m a huge Bonnard fan. When you’re at a museum and there’s a huge Matisse and a tiny Bonnard, everybody just takes pictures of the Matisse and looks past the Bonnard. But I think the angles he chose for his paintings, and the way he cut figures was way ahead of his time — beautiful, ugly, muddy.
SM: “Beautiful,” “ugly,” and “muddy” all feel relevant to your work as well. Just when I think I see glimmers of antecedents — the work of Oehlen or of Julie Mehretu, for example — I think twice, especially in light of how you play with digital culture. Are there other artists that you find yourself especially drawn to?
HS: The only consistent one is Bonnard. I recently discovered later works by Roy Lichtenstein that are much more painterly, almost like a de Kooning. I liked Lichtenstein as a teenager because everybody did, but now I see that he’s better than I thought.
SM: You’ve described what you create as “a painting that’s not a painting.” What do you mean by that?
HS: You see lots of paint drips in my work, but they never happen by accident. I drip onto cardboard, which then drips onto the painting, so it’s composed dripping. The drips have no visible source. It’s not actually expressive; it’s very calculated.
SM: What are you working on now?
HS: I’m working on a fall exhibition with Blain|Southern. It’s based around works on paper, so I have some series going on in the studio. I wanted to go back to the “Pool” paintings that I did in 2014. I thought it would be fun to see what happened if I started that series again, after a four-year break. It’s a good challenge.
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,” 2013. Robert Indiana (born September 13, 1928, died May 19, 2018) was an American artist living and working in Vinalhaven, United States.
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?
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.
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 became the director of the David Anderson Gallery, which was Martha’s son’s gallery.
RB: Who became the. . .?
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.
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 re-entered 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.
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…
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, Lichtenstein 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.
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.
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.
ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Alina Perkins painted room divider; Grau01 floor lamp; Pedro Friedeberg illustrations, Sophie Stone carpets, Studio 65 Capitello chair. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Dominic Nurre veiled lamp; Lisa Jo tiled stood. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Studio 65 Capitello chair; Sophie Stone carpets; Spencer Ashy bondage equipment; Anna Fidler Magician’s Dress; Morgan Peck ceramic lamps; Riley O’Neill wind chimes; Lukas Geronimas carved plaster dining table; Fabian Martistacking plates. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Alison Veit sand mirror, Tiziana La Melia wall lamp, Michael Parker ceramic bath tub hanging spout; Michael Parker stacking lanterns; Sophie Stone carpets; Alina Perkins painted room divider. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Sophie Stone caprets; Riley O’Neill wind chimes; Lukas Geronimas carved plaster dining table; Kazuki Takizawa hand blown glass goblets; Fabian Marti stacking plates. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Nicola L. floor lamp; Art of the Uknown tattooed toilet; Alison Veit sand mirror; Tiziana La Melia wall lamp; Lisa Jo tiled stool and Ben
Wolf Noam ceramic vase; Brittany Mojo porcelain bead curtain. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Tiziana La Melia wall lamp; Alison Veit sand mirror; Lisa Jo tiled stool and Ben Wolf Noam ceramic vase. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Brice Chatenoud coat hanger; Kelly Akashi Twisty Doorknobs, Fabien Cappello metallic candelabra; Ben Wolf Noam ceramic vase; Olivia Erlanger ceramic slippers; Michael Parker stacking lantern; Oren Pinhassi sterling silver cutlery set; Max Hooper Schneider silk foulard; Marion Mailaender handbag vases; Alison Veit sand ashtray. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation, from left to right: Fabien Cappello metallic candelabra; Olivia Erlanger ceramic slippers; Oren Pinhassi sterling silver cutlery set; Marion Mailaender handbag vases; OOIEE birdseed sculpture. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation: Michael Parker ceramic fruit bowl, juice cups & reemers; Ben Wolf Noam ceramic mushroom & ceramic vase; Brice Chatenoud coat hanger; Cirilo Domine bent elm branch crown. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018 installation: Glenn Lewis ceramic bowl; Ben Wolf Noam ceramic vase; Piero Golia marble fruit bowl; Scarlet Rose paddle & tickler; OOIEE birdseed sculpture; Charles Hollis Jones lucite chess set. Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
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ANNEX winter 2018: Greg Ito candlestick stool on Sophie Stone carpet; Photo by Ed Mumford. Courtesy of M+B Los Angeles.
ANNEX is a newly opened showroom in Los Angeles dedicated to applied arts — a collaboration between Benjamin Trigano of M+B Gallery and Jay Ezra Nayssan of Del Vaz Projects. Focusing on a closer dialogue between art and design, ANNEX has already reached out to more than one hundred artists who embrace an interdisciplinary sensibility. Participating artists include Kelly Akashi, Spencer Ashby, Maurizio Cattelan, Olivia Erlanger, Pedro Friedeberg, Piero Golia, Candice Lin, Nevine Mahmoud, Jill Mulleady, and Max Hooper Schneider.
Your first curatorial presence in Los Angeles was the show “Synesthesia,” co-curated with Daniele Balice, in 2012 at M+B Gallery. What’s happened since then?
Jay Ezra Nayssan: For the two years after “Synesthesia” I was principally concerned with familiarizing myself with the creative community here in Los Angeles. I am from LA but had been living in Paris and New York for several years up until 2012. I was incredibly excited to build new relationships in my old hometown. In September 2014 I started a program of intimate gatherings and exhibitions in my apartment known as Del Vaz Projects. And earlier this year I co-founded ANNEX.
What did you find in Los Angeles that you could not find in New York or Paris?
LA is a city of dilettantes who are eager to experiment, equally interested in success as they are in failure. These are the echoes of the 1849 Gold Rush, the California Homestead Laws, and the experiments in modern living during the first half of the twentieth century. In the aftermath of the 2008 economic crisis, LA was once again becoming a sanctuary, the last frontier. It felt as if we were at the end of the world where nobody could watch us. Parties like “A Club Called Rhonda,” “Mustache Mondays,” and “Spotlight” pushed us to the limit in terms of fashion, dance, and sexual expression. François Ghebaly was above an auto repair shop; Night Gallery was only open Thursday nights after 11 PM. And Joel Kyack was staging puppet shows in the back of a pick-up truck while in traffic on the freeway during rush hour. This freedom of doing, this fearlessness, didn’t exist in Paris or New York. At the same time, the Getty Foundation had its first iteration of Pacific Standard Time, which provided us with a tangible and logistical model for collaboration and communication across the city. In that sense, LA felt a lot less fractured than New York or Paris.
Where does your interest in interior design and objects come from?
While studying anthropology at UCLA I came across Le souci de soi, in which Michel Foucault describes the importance of “the care of self.” I imagined this cultivation of self within the space of the private home, much like an actor in a dressing room of a theater. And so I began to consider domestic objects as props and cues and interiors as sets used in the formation and mastering of oneself, or rather, one’s character. The show “Synesthesia” butterflied the home into the personal (the vanity) and the public (the living room) and placed these two spaces side by side and on the same plane, as in a theater set. Del Vaz Projects is very much a performance (in my own home) of the Iranian cultural practices of welcoming and hosting that I have inherited from my parents and community. With ANNEX, I want to create a space that will encourage people to consider objects as I consider them — as ritual tools that can assist in the care (or performance) of self.
How did the idea to create ANNEX originate?
Following “Synesthesia,” Benjamin Trigano and I developed an ongoing exchange of our interests and disinterests. When he invited me to return to the gallery in 2016, he expressed a need to break free from the rigidity of the standard exhibition model. At around the same time, I was reading de Chirico’s Hebdomeros and Fernando Pessoa’s Book of Disquiet and revisiting Fellini’s La Dolce Vita and George Antheil’s Ballet Mécanique. We were both yearning for something nonlinear, unfinished, and nonnarrative. It is this mood in which ANNEX developed in the two years that followed — as one long run-on sentence stitched together by a group of over one hundred artists.
What is ANNEX, in one line?
ANNEX is a space that outplays the traditional binary paradigm of fine art versus applied art. (See Roland Barthes’ The Neutral).
Charles Teyssou and Pierre-Alexandre Mateos: You recently opened the art space Sundogs in Paris with the inaugural exhibition “Attention Danger” by Willem Oorebeek. Please talk about the project.
Tenzing Barshee and Robbie Fitzpatrick: Willem Oorebeek is a printmaker who always worked in lithography. In the 1990s he decided to stop reproducing images and discovered the “blackout,” a method of printing black ink over existing materials. One of the first things he blacked out was a poster warning the French population to not look — without protection — at the solar eclipse in 1999. This works lends its title, Attention Danger, to the exhibition. By taking ready-made materials and clouding them behind layers of black ink, his gesture mirrors signage. He calls it an attack against the mass of images — against representation. His method counters the logic of Pop and opposes industrial image culture.
CT/PAM: His works look quite “beautiful.” How does that figure into the critique?
TB/RF: Even though the blackout acts as a symbol against the endless repetition of representation, Oorebeek doesn’t make images disappear solely as a critique. For him, that would be too simple. In his process, the image doesn’t vanish behind the ink. Instead, the black rectangle becomes almost equalized, with traces of color and the contours of the original image pushing through. This leads to a delayering of image information that flattens out its hierarchies. Generally, he only blacks out things that he feels an affinity for.
CT/PAM: The bulk of your exhibition consists of blacked-out Paris Match posters. Does the artist care deeply about the French people’s magazine?
TB/RF: He doesn’t care about the publication’s content at all. In fact, he’s never read an issue. His interest lies in the insistence of its weekly recurrence, the system of information distribution. For him, Paris Match is one of the most convincing examples of how images are aligned with text as a singular unit, and consistently has been since the magazine’s inception after World War II. Between 1999 and 2012, the artist collected posters advertising the magazine in Brussels. At SUNDOGS, he presents a grid of arbitrarily sequenced blacked-out Paris Match posters, covering all available walls with consideration of the architecture.
CT/PAM: A “blackout” describes the switching off of lights — voluntary or not — or the loss of memory. How does that tie in with his project, and why did you choose to start your program with this?
TB/RF: The work suggests an alternative timeline of barely discernible moments in history. But Oorebeek’s project is carried by humor, turning this period, the beginning of euro currency, that is told through faces and catastrophes (the crash of the Concorde, 9/11, etc.), into a caricature of itself: a memory of an outdated Europe. Today, in the interregnum we live in, we are witnessing how these old structures are barely holding up under the weight they’ve accumulated for themselves. This proposal for a different vision of the status quo and alternative models of representation has set the tone for our upcoming exhibition program — not forgetting how Oorebeek not only diffuses his images but ambiguously celebrates them behind a shine of black. We, equally, intend to do both: critique and celebrate.