I saw my first Haim Steinbach a few days after seeing Haim Steinbach. I interviewed the artist for BOMB in July, flying into New York City from a cabin in the Nova Scotia woods, and then shuttled back to the cabin long enough to do my laundry before flying to Minneapolis for a family gathering. But putting my family on hold for the moment, I went straight from the airport to the Walker Art Center, where a Steinbach piece was on view as part of the exhibit This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s. In a typical Steinbach format, it was called Untitled (cabbage, pumpkin, pitchers) #1.
Josiah McElheny creates astonishing installations out of many materials, frequently collaborating with any number of experts. His projects have often begun with handmade pieces of glass, crafted in his own studio. In addition, he creates films and performances that are important features of his exhibitions. Catalogue design, new translations of historical texts, and book publishing are also crucial parts of his work. It is difficult to sum up the artist’s practice in a sentence or two, but one can fairly say that altogether his art is motivated by an intense curiosity about the unrealized potential of utopian projects captured in the forms of objects.
Lucy Raven and I both favor the more social impulses of image making. In the following conversation, which took place over the phone in July, we loosely follow the results of her recent investigations. Her movie China Town (2009), an animation of the production of copper from an open-pit mine in Nevada to the ingot smelters of China, is comprised of thousands of still photos.
I first met Jaime Manrique roughly 30 years ago, and we’ve been friends ever since. I’m not sure I remember the precise circumstances. I think we both attended a poetry workshop run by Enrique Lihn, the late Chilean poet, at the Americas Society, though Jaime remembers our meeting as we danced to salsa at somebody’s party. Regardless, I was attracted by Jaime’s good-natured charm, sharp intelligence, and poetic talent, and after all these years, I still find those qualities extremely appealing.
In 1967, I saw The Ambushers, one of the (terrible) Matt Helm secret-agent movies that starred Dean Martin and many, many young women. The whole point of the movie, at least for a 13-year-old boy, was ogling the super-sexy girls. I like to think that the bit-part actress who particularly caught my eye was the 22-year-old Susanna Moore. Twenty-four years later, I met her. The investor/photographer/collector Jean Pigozzi had (with Charles Saatchi) just bought Spy magazine, of which I was a cofounder and coeditor. One of the first things Pigozzi did was introduce me to Moore, whom he thought should contribute to Spy. I’m more grateful to Pigozzi for that matchmaking than anything else he did.
Six Organs of Admittance
Ben Chasny and I have known each other since before time began. Even back then, he never stayed put—he’s always on the move. Time eventually copied him. I have always been an ancient and ardent admirer of his six-string sorcery and his ability to shape-shift. I’ve followed him closely over the years but there are those instances in which his tracks vanish unexpectedly, leaving me to wonder where he will pop up next. His main vehicle since 1998 is called Six Organs of Admittance, a moniker that most often represents him as a solo performer but can also involve any number of other musicians who happen to be in his live or studio orbit.
When I first read Amy Herzog’s script for After the Revolution, I knew instantly that it was a play I wanted to direct. Herzog’s work grabs you from the first word. She draws you into the lives of people you will come to care deeply about. They are passionate, interesting, and unfailingly honest. Without any manipulation, Herzog’s characters tug at your heart. She writes lines that make you want to be an actor just for the opportunity to say them. Often very little happens by way of plot and yet you feel seismic shifts beneath the surface. While we were at work on After the Revolution, Amy gave me a draft of The Great God Pan. A thought-provoking, entertaining, beautifully written yet unproduced new play is an indescribable gift for a director. The characters in Pan instantly burrowed their way into me. I couldn’t stop thinking about them and wondering how they were getting on in their lives.
Back in 1996, I was teaching at an improvisation festival in San Francisco. On my last night there, one of the organizers invited me to a going-away party for some dancer in Joe Goode’s company who was moving to New York. His name was Miguel Gutierrez—in the Bay Area he was somewhat legendary. I’d never met him or seen him perform, but I was lured by the prospect of a party and free beer. The atmosphere at the event itself was a mixture of a drunken Irish wake for a dearly departed and a shipside bon voyage. People were teary and I felt genuinely distraught because he was leaving them, but there was also a celebratory feeling that one of their own was moving onward. We must have exchanged numbers, because not long after he arrived in New York my friend Jennifer Lacey called me needing a man for her new project. Working with Jennifer led Miguel to work with John Jasperse for seven years. The rest, as the cliché goes, is downtown dance history.
During the 1990s, Catherine Howe and I were painters in the same downtown studio building at the edge of the West Side Highway and frequent visitors to each other’s work space. I don’t have a great memory, but I do have total recall of a day in ’94 when I walked into her studio and saw Gothic, a portrait of a black woman that Howe confirmed was ”an appropriated 19th-century painting of a Moroccan slave woman, which I put into an abstract context.” This unknown woman, portrayed with an aristocratic posture and demeanor, somewhat evoking the style of John Singer Sargent, was imbued with great self-possession, posed with a book, and comfortable in her own skin. “Gothic’s self-contained gaze stared right back at me,” Catherine recalled, identifying the painting as “a watershed moment.” I remember thinking, Now I know what’s going to happen with figurative painting.
For the past year I’ve worked in a studio adjacent to Katie Bell’s, at the Marie Walsh Sharpe Foundation. It’s been thrilling for me to watch her work evolve over this period of time. The following piece is my attempt to illuminate Bell’s current processes through a collage of texts that are pertinent to her work.
I don’t think New York is a melting pot at all. Nothing melts here, it all just stands out like a sore thumb. — Robert Rauschenberg After my recent visit to Wendy White’s studio, I kept mulling over her description of the cladding of a building being like one giant paintstroke comprised of all the various layers of a building’s facade revealing elements from the past and the present simultaneously—the facade being the sum total of a variety of architectural details on a building as well as the various spots where designers, signmakers, and graffiti artists all vie for our public attention.
All That You Aren’t but Might Possibly Be
You’ve been out two weeks when you audition for a revival of A Hatful of Rain. One of those cloudy late fall afternoons. You come from the Lower East Side in a royal blue blouse with large lapels, the top three buttons undone. From a flea market: five dollars. A slinky black skirt. Your sister says you look like a bruise, all black and blue. The skirt falls below your knees, slit on one side, high up a thigh. Cranberry-colored tights with black platform pumps. A black 1960s-era sweater—again from a street fair. It is deliberately tight fitting, with delicate pearl buttons and a sequined flower design on the chest.