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Young Artists Trying to Make it in New York
Artists Talk On Art, February 9, 2001
Donna Marxer, Moderator
Jeanne Lorenz, Amy Wilson, Sarah Bedford
Sara Kay, Executive Director: Donna Marxer is a painter with 45 years experience in solo and group exhibitions. She is also an arts activist. She was Executive Director of ATOA for the past three years and on the boards of NY Artists Equity and Organization of Independent Artists. As a graphic design entrepreneur, she knows her way around the day job She is presently creating an Artist In Residence Program In Everglades National Park and looking for applicants for late 2001. If you want to be sent an application, you can sign up for that by calling her at 212-966-5212. Donna is writing again for the newly reinstated Art Calendar Magazine where you will find an article further exploring tonight's issue in the April issue.
DM: Thanks everybody. It's so good to be back here. I am sorry that Deborah Solomon and Rebecca Smith cannot be here tonight, both for grievous reasons but they send their warmest regards and deepest regrets but we have our three stars, so we are in good shape.
The topic, "Young Artists Trying to Make it in New York" was suggested by this rather wonderful article by critic Deborah Solomon in The New York Times Magazine a few weeks ago and . . . Deborah covered Rebecca Smith's first year in New York, trying to make it big time as an artist. Rebecca found the usual woes and troubles and worked briefly for a well-known artist and it just didn't work out at all, although they are still speaking, I understand, and finally decided to start her own gallery in Brooklyn. And she got a storefront and she got a lot of attention. She held a successful auction and she had courage. She maxed out her Visa card and she managed to pay it off with this terrific auction she ran. Deborah Solomon was very taken with Rebecca and decided to follow her career and at the end of the year, Deborah went back to see Rebecca's new work.
And guess what? There wasn't any. Rebecca had been too busy making a living and she didn't have time to make art. Sound familiar?
It's your story; it's my story; it's all of our stories. How to deal with the day job and keep doing your work.
Critic Jed Perl wrote a rather amazing article recently about the same time called "The Adolescent City" in The New Republic and it's about young artists coming to the city for inspiration and to work. Jed says, "If you ask artists and writers why they live in New York and whether or not it influences their work, you are as likely as not to get a look of incredulity. They have all the usual reasons for loving the city and hating the city. Artists and writers find in the city what lawyers and merchants find. This is where the action is. And if you press them for an explanation, they will probably reply that if you can't find the answer in their work, you will probably not find it anywhere, which leaves you where you started.
Perl finds the influence of New York in the work of artists. In Tennessee William's "Streetcar Named Desire" he sees New York and the influence. He sees the cafe Paris life in Hopper's lonely New York interiors. And he believes that if you come from the country and go to live in the city, you will paint the country differently. It's kind of a nature vs. nurture syndrome.
We'll ask our guests tonight to answer why they are here and what they are looking for and finding here.
So tonight we may be missing our original moderator and guest subject but we have me, an artist and activist who spent the last 45 years struggling to achieve a balance between art and life.
Years ago, there was a wonderful columnist/writer/cartoonist named Don Marquis. He had a couple of terrific characters who were best friends: Archie the cockroach and Mehitibal the cat. Archie used to write poetry by diving headlong on the keys (and these were manual typewriters, I mean this hurt.) He suffered for his art. And, of course, everything was in lower case and he wrote all this marvelous poetry in lower case because he couldn't operate the shift key. Once he got so despondent, he tried to commit suicide and he threw himself out the window but he was so light the wind caught him and took him two floors up-- which saved a lot of good poetry.
But, Mehitibal was the one who really suffered. She was a dancer and an actress and she was once portrayed by Carol Channing in that wonderful catty voice of hers. It was purrfect. She was always trying to create but she also liked to make love and she had so many kittens that they kept her from her work and she said to Archie, "Oh Archie, the constant struggle between art and life is simply wearing me out!"
And thereby hangs the tale. And we'll find out from our guests tonight whether this constant struggle between art and life is wearing them out.
Our guests, the three artists trying to make it in New York are currently exhibiting at Rebecca Smith's gallery, Bellwether. The show opens this Sunday and pick up a card from the front desk. . . Please come to see their show after you meet them tonight. I am going to introduce them.
To my left is Jeanne Lorenz, who went to the California College of Arts and Crafts. She hails from Milwaukee and she went to Yale Graduate School, class of '98. She won the Helen Winternitz Award. She's had, get this, a USIA Fellowship in the former Yugoslavia. And she's shown at PS1.
Amy Wilson, to her left graduated from Visual Arts in '95 and she got her MFA at Yale in '97 and she lives in Jersey City. She's a painter with a day job and she's also showing at Bellwether in this show and she's shown at the Bronx Museum, the University of Illinois and she created a print portfolio that has been purchased by the Brooklyn Museum and the Whitney. Very enterprising.
Sarah hails from Cooper Union. She's been in New York for 12 years and she took part in the Maine Skohegan Residency Program and she has a fellowship at the Lower East Side Printshop and she's in numerous private collections.
So we'll start with Jeannie. Jeannie, you want to move up here and take the mike?
JL Hi. I'm very happy to be here and I'm sad that Deborah and Becky couldn't be here. Becky is actually one of the more high profile people in my community so she's really under the weather and couldn't make it.
I've never been on a panel like this and I think that it's an interesting topic because I feel that I'm mainly speaking to artists about being an artist so I feel that I'm kind of in my community. So, I think I'll talk a little bit about my background and how I came to be here in New York. I've only been here for a few years and I've moved down right after finishing my MFA at Yale. So, my little story starts in Milwaukee at the Milwaukee Art Museum where I spent several semesters studying and looking at a lot of art. And if you've ever been to Milwaukee, I know it sounds incredibly provincial but it's really one of the best museums. It's an Aero Saarinon modern building right on the lake and it has an incredibly diverse collection. While I was there I looked at a lot of Gabriella Munter who was Kandinsky's lover and actually an excellent painter. I looked at a lot of Milton Avery, Rothko. While I was in high school I was able to meet Helen Frankenthaler and Julian Schnabel so I feel like even though I was in this sort of bastion of provinciality I was really able to have a taste of what was going on in New York and really also get a good sense of art history.
After I graduated from High School, I received a fellowship to study in Zagreb in Croatia in the former Yugoslavia so I spent a year there so when I came back I had to get out of Milwaukee so instead of coming to the East Coast like some of my smart friends, I went west and I ended up in California where I stayed for eight years and when I first got there I think I really felt like I had made a big mistake because of finding all this culture, I thought it somehow would be more sophisticated or have more going on than Milwaukee, I really thought it was incredibly beautiful but didn't have a lot going on culturally. And this was before the MoMA, the new Mario Boto MoMA had been built so at the time I spent a lot of time riding my motorcycle all over the state and doing a lot of camping and painting but not finding the sort of intellectual community that I needed so I did my Bachelor of Fine Arts at the California College of Arts and Crafts and had some wonderful theaters there. I studied with Raymond Saunders, Judy Fusinger and Mary Snowden. I feel that I got a good education but then I knew that I needed to come to the East Coast. At that point I was at a phase of my life that I had graduated and I was doing all sort of various nefarious day jobs and I am a job tourist. In my life, I've had over 50 jobs, everything from, I am a certified four-shift forklift operator and I've also been
a vagina textbook model. I was in a nursing textbook and I've been told I have a beautiful cervix so these are some of the things I have done to do a living and it's not always been fun or easy, but at this time... I really can't live off my art in any way. But during that time when I was doing all these jobs, driving a truck at this recycling center, I had a garage where I painted. It wasn't heated and I painted and I knew that I wanted to get into a graduate program where I wanted to start showing.
Well, I tried to get my slides into galleries in San Francisco and couldn't do it but that same year I applied to grad school and was accepted to every grad program I applied to. So that was interesting to me because I learned that something wasn't working in the commercial gallery world but I was ready to be pushed in an intellectual way to further my own work.
So that's when I came out to the East Coast and my experience at Yale was really wonderful. The school has a really hard-core reputation for painting and I really feel like it's one of the few programs in the county where painting really is respected and taken seriously. And the program there is incredibly formal. So I was coming from a very conceptual background in California and I arrived at Yale and just slammed into this brick wall of formalism.
Since finishing my MFA, I'd been living in Greenpoint. I'd been living in the same studio for almost three years now and I'm supporting myself as a teacher and continuing to make my work and since I've been here--the slides that I'm going to show are mostly from the beginning of this project that I started outside grad school. I'm just starting - even though I've been painting for 15 years, this is work where there hasn't' been a break between undergrad and grad. I'm done with school and starting to move into my own. I have to admit that some of the work that I started right out of school was a bit of a rebellion against Yale and people always say that when you go to school, you have to get that out of your system, so you are going to see the beginning of the project and then, where I am right now. By no means do I feel that this project is complete but it should give you some kind of indication of where my thoughts are.
(Jeanne Lorenz's work is based on kitsch-style figuerines that are very cute. She transforms them in large paintings so that they are edgy, slightly scary still lifes.)
What I did when I got into my studio in NY was that I decided to work on paper so everything you see is on paper and they are actually large-scale watercolors. They stem from this lamp that I bought in a pawn shop that I called "Pinky." It's a kitsch lamp and I feel that my whole deal with Midwestern kitsch is that I grew up in this family with a sister who is very close in age to myself and we always shared a room and she is a person who collected tiny ceramic animals and I always remember sitting there thinking , "Who are you?" She was so different. We had very different tastes so what I decided to do was think about hybridizing still life and portraiture and think about making these almost self-portraits. They are 6'X8' and they're watercolors so I'm using this traditionally kitschy medium to talk about still life and portraiture.
Then I moved into collecting these kitsch objects of animals and thinking of notions of cuteness and what we consider cute is always truncated and somewhat sexual. So I put them in these situations where it was a still life but there was a narrative so I'm still sort of resolving that. Egg cups in the background.
So at this point I was thinking about how to deal with these figure-ground relationships and whether or not I was going to put the objects on a background. What I was going to do with the space, how flat was I going to make it, how detailed.
. . . I don't like working smaller than my body so I kind of go out from there (15"X19") This was in a 100 drawing show at PS1 and it's interesting because I've always felt I'm not super-conceptual, I'm always formal so I thought my work would have no place at PS1 but because I've been working so much on paper they decided to include some younger people working in New York and I think that the fact that I do work on paper has actually helped me in that respect. (Slides)
. . . This I call "Weinerlabra" (a candlestick with hot-dogs rather than candles.) I have a lot of bad ideas and this was one of them. I made a couple of weinerlabra paintings and boy were they stinky pieces. Phew.
(Showed a piece that she had thought was great but decided it was too saccharine. It "did not have the edge I want my work to have.") So, it's never gone anywhere. It's rolled up in my studio but there were things about it like the eye in the flower that I thought . . . in retrospect I know that it led to something else.
This I called "Ass-loving Skunk" and still thinking about how these objects are so sexual we grow up with them but everything is overemphasized in a way that seems so inappropriate and yet we all live with it and it's all about what banality is.
. . . I'm always trying to figure out, is my work too cute? How am I going to get away from that. So the new work that I have recently made that is in the show at Bellwether is definitely different because I've bleeped all the color out of the work and it has really become more of a truthful portrait in a sense because I'm actually using my own features now. So, I'm drawing from the kitsch objects but I'm putting my own eyes on them and I'm thinking about how there's definitely psychological tension going on between these objects and they seem to be more strange than the colored paintings. So this is just something I'm going through now and I'm not sure where I'll end up with it but this is the new work. So once again, I'm thinking about these new relationships...
What I'm starting to do now is downloading images from e-bay of these kitsch objects because I can't afford to buy them and I've seen these photographs that people take in their homes, the most amazing things where they position the se things. This is a salt and pepper shaker that they positioned on a black and white check carpet with some kind of plaid fabric in the background and it was really like going into somebody's room and seeing what they are doing, so in a way I'm really fascinated by it and I also feel like there's this spacial thing happening where I'm getting the source material from the Internet which is sort of interesting I'm still not sure what I'm doing with it yet.
This is a beaver painting . And it's a W composition.
. . . "Dead Puppies In the Snow." "Spanking The Frog". . .
AW: Jeannie's a tough act to follow. She's had a much more interesting life than I have. I went to Visual Arts and I went to Yale which means I had a really heavy-duty conceptual art background. I wanted to talk about my work instead of talking about my life. My work is about conspiracy theories and it's art about politics. It's not political art. There's no ideology that I'm touting in this work. There's no point of view. They are not saying "George Bush is bad" or anything like that. They are just works about politics. A lot of the sources for the work actually come from sort of dubious sources--fringe literature where the people writing these books may or may not know what they are talking about. Fringe books like "The 13 Blood Lines of the Illuminati." You get the idea when reading these books, Oh, they might be mentally ill, or they might be schizophrenic, but that's my source material but I'm using this really innocent imagery. There's a lot of flowers and rainbows and happy clouds and snowy scenes and that sort of thing. And the reason why I'm doing that is two-part: First of all, one of the interesting things is that it takes something that's really innocent and warps and perverts it in a weird way.
I was thinking about this and I was thinking "Bananas" and the trouble that banana importation has had in our country and that most bananas that come into this country are Chickita, which used to be the United Fruit Company.
Basically the United Fruit Company was in the 1950s the largest privately owned company in Guatemala. It was American-owned and the chairman of the board was the brother of the CIA director. So there was this really strong tie-in between our government and the UFC. And they just decided they were not going to pay their taxes to Guatemala. They decided they were the main employer, the main landowner so what are they going to do? So, the Guatemalan people democratically elected a president who said, "I'll tell you what I'm going to do. I'm going to take your land because you owe us all this money and I'm going to give it to the poor people of Guatemala. So he went in and did this and our government responded by sending in the CIA which engineered a coup which overthrew that government, put in a military reign, got rid of labor unions and literacy programs and basically started a government that became responsible for tens of thousands of disappearances and murders in Guatemala. And all this comes back to the banana. So when you think when you are eating a banana, it is this sweet thing that your mom always wanted you to eat instead of a candy bar but it has this legacy of pain and suffering.
(Amy showed slides of work that connects images and texts with rainbows, insects, etc. The colors are sweet pastels in contrast to the conceptual ironic sugject matter).
The other reason I'm using this sort of imagery is that as each thing breaks down, the rainbows serve as connectors from one drawing to the next. There are bumble bees that connect information within the drawing. There's the globe-head who serves as the patron saint of the drawings, the main guy.
This drawing is about Carol Quigley, a professor at Georgetown who was one of Bill Clinton's professors. He wrote a book called Tragedy in Hope. A mug (on the painting) says "Tragedy in Hope" This book became the great-granddaddy of conspiracy theories. It's about Cecil Rhodes who was the diamond baron who started DeBeers and he's the namesake for Rhodesia, Rhodes Scholarships, and he started groups called Roundtables. If you look you can sort of pick up these things: There's Cecil Rhodes, there's this Council on Foreign Relations, this Trilateral Commission, the DeBildebergergers , all of which came out of the Roundtables and relate to the one-world government.
All that is true. Then I've got some sort of shady historical things like the Monarch project which is really devious. There are a lot of "survivors" of the Monarch project which are basically depressed housewives who claim to have been sex slaves of the CIA and they claim they have been abducted since the age six and put through this whole training where their subconscious mind has been warped.
According to the people who believe this, Dick Cheney is the great mastermind behind the Monarch project and this is a twisted thing where they talk about being used by Ronald Regan, Gerald Ford . It's insane. Major league baseball players fit into the whole scenario. You've got this, come on, Dick Cheney and major league baseball players are not conspiring to enslave young women. That's bizarre.
Then you've got something that's equally bizarre that the Council on Foreign Relations is this body influencing global politics all over the world and that's not true so how do we know It throws all these questions into the mind.
. . . This is about LSD coming into America and how it came out through CIA mind control tests that were done in the 50s and 60s and how the CIA was trying to find a way to either use truth serum or a remote control assassin that could sometimes be turned off and remember other things. And they did all these different experiments on college students and military members and prisoners, using electroshock, microwaves, LSD, cocaine, heroin. And they did all these horrible things.
Here I have Richard Nixon as a flower and the gray bees are like drones. The way the drones work in the drawing, they convey one piece of information. So those are all the supposed Deep Throats who ratted on the whole Watergate thing. So I tried to get everyone that I could: Woodward/Bernstein, Communism, which was of course the scapegoat of a lot of U. S. intervention in different countries. So this is George Bush over here, Richard Nixon and Bill Clinton's scandal is over there, including the airstrip in Arkansas where supposedly we were bringing in drugs from Central America; Vince Foster and all.
This one, I don't know if you remember, two drawings ago where we had the snow falling continues on into these and so you can see the way those two connect and I have a William Blake poem and I do this whole little thing on FEMA, conspiracy theory people think of FEMA people as the helpful ones who come in and help you get your house back when the hurricane has come or rather it's people who want to come in and steal all our civil rights and rush us all off to detainment camps. So there's a whole little section up there about that. These are actually most of the drugs that were tested during the MKL tests. Then there's things here about multiple personality disorder, satanic ritual abuse, supposedly manipulated by the CIA so they can actually go in and to test. Satanic ritual abuse is a sort interesting side topic of conspiracy theories because in the mid-80s, I remember growing up hearing that everyone on the planet was in some fort of satanic cult and then, all of a sudden, that disappeared and there are no satanic cults.
Now, everybody's being abducted by aliens, that's the big thing.
I've heard talk that multiple personality disorder may actually be a myth. That that may not actually exist. So this is all about the New Age, more alien abduction, more mind control implant, that sort of thing, Majestic 12 . . .
Here's one from The 13 Bloodlines from the Illuminati, and those are different people who are main members of the Illuminati like Billy Graham, Jackie Onassis, is someone who has come up over and over again. She intermarried . . . started out as a Bouvier, which is some kind of prominent party in the Illuminati, and of course she married a Kennedy and an Onassis, which is even more. And there's Jackie and John. And these are all the people I've read about as being the possible true assassins of JFK.
"He will never find love, he will never find peace, for he must go on seeking the Golden Fleece." That's a poem that Jackie wrote John on their wedding night.
. . . This shows all the different connections. What I am trying to do is if their is some way I can relate Alastair Crowley to the Knights Templer I draw that in with a guideline and a bumble bee and show how these things interrelate. You can really draw a connection between anything, which is really fabulous.
SB: I'm from Montana. That's my only seagueway. My history is a lot about my work and I grew up in a very rural part of Eastern Montana out on a ranch and a lot of my beginnings in art were dragging paints out to the yard and painting flowers: a combination of that and the local Billings Fair, making art out of beer cans and yarn. So my work involves a lot of craft and I've always tried to make that an element of interest.
My interest evolved out of nature and the love of it so it was very strange coming to New York. I applied to several art schools and I lucked out with the lottery and got into Cooper Union which was an odd time, actually, the late 80s and early 90s and the whole economy had shifted downscale. I got in there and got out with a degree which is kind of useless and I guess some art degrees are somewhat useless some days.
It's interesting because I plan to stick it out but ultimately it's the work that keeps you going.
(Sarah showed slides that are a combination of collage, mixed media, drawing. There is much nature imagery. They are chock-full works, quite large).
My work is a cross between Currier & Ives and the Beverly Hillbillies. It's a combination of a kind of folk culture, handmade and with lots of parodies and humor. This is a diptych that's 6'X8'. It's kind of pale. I use a brush and a lot of surface material.
Mythic America is one of the themes, a mix of Alpine Switzerland. It's called "Moonshine" and it's swans, transformation, birds, winter. Acrylic, airbrush, glitter, stucco, masked-off sections, photo. I have interjected a combination of photos from my studio of things that I collect A lot of my work is based on ephemera from the flea market and I thought it would make it more interesting. You're getting a little preview of some photo montages. Airbrush, and a lot of masking off of heavy-duty impasto and small details in large open fields.
This panel is 6'X3' and it's called "Sapsucker." I thought about maple syrup and went from there. There's a lot of free association. Just playing with materials. Enamel paint, airbrush. I use a lot of doilies too.
Nature is obviously a major theme. This started out as a decapitated finch in the winter and then it turned into Granny shooting birds and lots of little mushrooms and things.
I let them kind of evolve. If I talk about them, it makes them less than they are.
"Bunk Bed" I was working on double meanings and duplicity and night themes of night. Fairytales. I was May Queen at my high school and I guess this came out subconsciously. I didn't realize it. Actually that's an image off the Miss Idaho spud bag. I sometimes appropriate. I try to alter things, though. Keep things and manipulate them.
"Silt" also water transformation, carp which are always these Chinatown kind of symbols of the stubborn, going upstream. Dragonflies. They are pale so I interject photos to make it interesting.
"Fan" started off as a peacock and then went from there to alluvial fans, mushrooms, the way that element thrives in a lot of images.
"Circus." I joined the circus briefly.
"Delft Cow." Doilies cut out--windmills, flowers.
"Sock Monkey" evolved into a beehive and kept changing.
. . . "Sod King" mushrooms and elves.
"Honey Tree" a woman's head, beehive.
DM: Thanks so much. Gosh, you all are so talented. I have a few questions for you and then we'll open up to the audience for questions. Sarah, you and I have something in common: I was once Poultry Queen and I had a big straw hat and someone took a very cute photograph of me holding the hat filled with baby chicks all of whom promptly shat in my hat.
It is frequently said that those of us that are old-timey artists don't have the same fix that you younger generation have about going about getting what we want in the way of a career. My generation had very low expectations. We always thought we'd just be poor artists and work and work and nothing would ever come of it. But I think your generation--this is really several generations back, I'm so old, I'm talking the 50s here--is more career-minded. You even have courses in art school about how to promote your careers and I've heard this. I wonder what your fix is on it? You all seem to be very dedicated artists and devoted to doing your work. You can tell this is work we're looking at, not just ideas that are not executed. How do you feel about it and how do you feel about your fellow artists in this respect?
JL You're speaking as a woman, right? In our generation, it's really common that women are interested in having careers but women weren't admitted to Yale until 1969 which is when I was born, so really there's been a lot of, if you're talking about sex discrimination, it's definitely out there but it's a good time to be a woman in the arts, so I find that I have a large community and I get a lot of support from my peers. Both male and female actually.
DM I was going to ask that question too, but maybe I didn't phrase this quite right, how much attention, time and so-forth do you give to your careers, promoting and so forth.
JL Very little. I'm very bad at promoting my career and really, I don't enjoy doing that. I enjoy doing my work so it's something I really have to work on.
AW I spend I think a decent amount of time doing promotion type things but I really like administrative work. I've worked for an art dealer for about three years now and so I'm really able to see the business end of it and I like doing the business part. I can easily see myself doing what Becky is doing, running her own gallery. I think I would really enjoy that. So for me doing the administrative part is sometimes a relief to be doing something that is helping yourself out but maybe is draining, making your own work. Sometimes it's hard to go to the studio when you can sit around and label your slides or write great letters. I can deal with that. Maybe 15% of my studio time is dedicated to doing promotion.
I don't know that we are the best judges of that sort of thing because I know that there are a lot of young artists who are really focused on their careers. Personally, if I could someday make $20,000 off of my art I would be in Seventh Heaven.
DM Me too!
AW I don't have any great expectations whereas I remember going out once with this artist who was in her 40s and she was very proud about the fact that she had just made $80,000 that year on her paintings, and 'last year I made $60,000!' and I was just like God, that doesn't interest me at all. I want my work to be out there because I want my work to be seen and I want to be part of a community but I'm not motivated by money at all.
I don't know if we've ever made any money off of this but in general I thought that after getting out of school that you just do good work and somebody will find you and it will all work out but, but ultimately, it does take a lot of finesse and it's a matter of finding good friends that you are involved with that keep you motivated because you can do your work in the studio and it's really isolated so to have people with whom you have contact on the phone helps because it forces you to really make the distinctions between promotion and work so it's a mess. You do actually have to promote yourself but I think it is a minor part and I think hopefully the role and goal is to get a dealer to do that for you. But, in the general sense, the promotion aspect is a drag but, you gotta do it.
DM From my own lengthy experience, I think it's a wonderful idea to have a dealer do it. I can't tell you how many dealers I've run through; I mean, I've outlived! And dealers are getting rarer. Most artists today, I think, have to do most of their own promotion. If you haven't had to do it yet, you probably will sometime. Oh, don't let me discourage you, you're doing fine. I'm glad to hear you are so dedicated.
But I'd like to know what your goals are. What so you see for yourselves in the future? What you want your careers to be? What you want to be?
JL For me for the long terms I'd just like to sustain my studio practice. For shorter term goals for the next five years I would like to have a relationship with a commercial gallery because as Sarah said, I'm really bad at the commercial end and I'd like to look for someone who can do that for me. Five years down the road, a commercial gallery. That's about it. I like doing the group show thing and just keeping myself interested in maintaining a rich intellectual environment with my peers. That's what I'm about right now.
AW I pretty much agree with you although you probably have a longer attention span than I do, probably from not owning a television. So for me it's more like two years I'd like to be in a commercial gallery. I think I can hang on that long. Pretty much, being in a supportive community, showing my work; I like to show my work. I had seven shows last year, which was a little crazy, and so I'd rather show more work at fewer shows instead of having a piece here, a piece there. That was a little crazy too. That's what I'd like to focus on for the next couple of years, to have more quality, more control over the work and over what gets seen.
SB I'm coming to that point where it would just be nice to move to Martha, Texas and live in seclusion. I'll just continue doing it and if something happens, fine. But, I think in about six years when I'm really sick of the city, it would be nice to live somewhere where I didn't have to deal with this. I'll just keep doing the work and it will kind of evolve out of that.
The city, the monetary stress it puts on you, the real estate, the whole thing. It'll just drag you down and you've got to have to sacrifice. So either you pay a lot of rent, work a 9 to 5 job, 40 hours a week, or you move out and do your work and be happy with what you've got. So it's two choices, and if things don't happen, that's fine. But I'm happy leaving too.
JL Just in terms of the group show thing, it seems to me there's a read trend in the emerging artists' world where there are larger and larger shows. And I know that in the last two years I've been in a 400 person show, a 100 person show and a 178 person show. So I'm really interested in what Amy said, showing in smaller shows. The show at Bellwether is actually the first one where I've shown more than a couple of pieces. So I'm actually looking forward to that and I think that I'm not sure what's going on with this trend, but I'm also not sure how helpful it is.
DM There are a lot more artists than there are venues. In comparison, it was a lot different than when I started out. There just weren't that many of us and there were plenty of galleries around for the number of artists.
I wanted to ask you all about art history. There's a common misconception that the young artists today don't know anything about art history, don't care anything about it. But, of course, we all have our influences and people we admire. What artists do you all admire or have influenced you?
JL People are always saying we don't know anything about art history and maybe I don't have a very formal background in art history but both of us (Amy) studied art history at Yale and so we do have a certain sense, even though I feel my range is somewhat limited.
I feel that I go though phases. Right now I'm looking at a lot of Balthus. And, I'm also looking at Mirande, so I'm looking at these incredibly still paintings that are formally composed. I go to the Met regularly. I was actually there three days ago and I was looking at Tibetan painting, so I feel that my sources are all over the place but in terms of Western art history, I'm definitely thinking about Vermeer, Goya, Velasquez, the big heavy-hitters.
DM How about Philip Guston?
JL Philip Guston is really interesting because I've been think about how people like Lisa Kuschavitch have been so influenced by Philip Guston and I think that when I was in art school in California, Philip Guston was the man that everyone was riffing off of therefore there were a lot of very bad Philip Guston paintings floating around.
A real Philip Guston is a great thing. The art school style was really hard to take.
DM That work was absolutely trashed when it came out and it is so influential.
AW Right now I think my main influence is Henry Darger, who I don't know if a lot of people know. He's an outsider artist. He lived in Chicago. He died the same year I was born, 1973 and he was a janitor who worked at a Catholic girl's school and there was something a little off about him. Not too much was known about him so we don't know exactly what but he wrote this book which I believe was about 19,000 pages called "Adventures of the Vivian Girls" and it was about these little girls who were being attacked by all these monsters and the trials that they go through.
And I was really taken by his work when I first saw it four or five years ago because as I am doing with my work, he has this incredible marriage of the beautiful and the horrible where he has these little girls, some of whom are naked, a little strange, a little weird looking at them but the are incredibly beautiful and really colorful and there are pictures of flowers and butterflies and that sort of thing.
I am not the best person to talk to about having historical precedent. I'm very interested in 70s conceptual art and video art is something I happen to be really interested in but it has little to do with my work. So, I'm pretty much like 70s on. Sorry if I sound a little ignorant but.
SB I had a very good art history program but you can only take what's applicable at the
time and so I threw out the whole Western canon and went into--actually last summer I saw a great Shaker show up at the Hancock Village in Massachusetts and it was predominantly done by women and inspired little drawings of flowers and sites of the village houses and stuff.
I kind of take what comes in the museums and the Museum of American Folk Art and that tends to be my interest. I think just in general people are throwing out the art history background and going with more contemporary of take and give and taking in what works.
DM All of us have to deal with disappointment all the time. I was really surprised one day talking with Marilyn Minter, a neighbor of mine about how she has a lot of assistants and I was writing an article about working as an art assistant and what was good about it and what wasn't. And she said, "Well I think it's good for young people to come in and work for an artist because they learn how to deal with failure."
And I said, "Surely you can't be talking about yourself?"
And she said, "I fail every day, every week. But the learn that that's just part of the whole thing."
I'm sure you've been disappointed already. How do you deal with it? Got any tips for us?
JL Don't get me started. I've applied to Skohegan eight times. I don't think I'm ever going to get in but that's okay, I'm living in an unheated loft right now. My heat's been off for a month. That is disappointing. This is the warmest I've been in a long time!
I've a very thick rejection file and I like to keep my rejection letters and sometimes I go back through that file and I look at the way they've misspelled my name and mangled my slides and I actually have a rejection letter with footprint on it and the person couldn't even bother to sign it. It was really charming. They put three "m"s in my first name and there are no ms in my first name. So it is a really careless, thoughtless rejection letter and I have a lot of them.
Sometimes it's harder than others. Sometimes when there is something you have been thinking a lot about and you really want and when you don't get it you might be surprised. You just have to live with it. I just don't know what to say.
DM I just want to throw in something. Caroll Michels in her book, "How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist", a terrific book, by the way, writes about one of her artists who has a "Rejection" rejection letter. A letter of rejection he sends out to anybody who sends him a letter of rejection saying, "I'm rejecting your letter of rejection and I apologize having to send this out as a form letter, but we have to handle so many letters of rejection in this office that we have to do it this way." I just love that because it is handles with wit.
AW I don't know if I'd had to deal with ground-shattering disappointment too much. When I first got out of school, I did an internship with the Gottleib Foundation which was an incredible education for me because they handled grants for artists and they get around 2,000 people applying for about 20 grants. So, immediately I saw things from the institution side and that was really great because you realize that it is nothing personal, that your slides go up for about 5 seconds and that's it and it helped me understand it a lot so I don't think I've been terribly disappointed in applying for things and not getting them because I understand it from that point of view too.
The main disappointments I've had are the type of things Jeannie mentioned about living in a loft with no heat. We've had our own problems about living in this insane building with a schizophrenic squatter who has taken over the basement. That was sort of disappointing to grow up and want to be an artist and go visit artist's studios and they have this beautiful rent-controlled loft where they are paying $300 for and it is about 3,000 square feet and I have a crappy debilitated apartment in Jersey City. That sort of disappointment is harder for me to deal with than the form letter that say's "Sorry you didn't make it, Kid."
SB I'm sort of in the same boat. I had no expectations growing up so I keep them low all the time and then if something happens, I feel blessed. Just keep them low!
DM I'm just going to ask you one more thing then we'll open the questions to the audience here. It's obvious we are all women up here. This used to be a big deal back in the 70s and was very much part of the feminist art movement And I want to know how you feel about being women artists now.
In the 70s, anyone looking at your work would say this is definitely, collectively, a feminine sensibility. How do you feel about that?
Do you think there's a glass ceiling?
JL In terms of our work I think it was great to look at both of your's slides. I am familiar with your work but I haven't seen the full . . . I think what we share is really a sense of humor and we all seem to be interested in kitsch on some level. and craft. But, most of all , in terms of being women artists we come from a generation where feminism has really in some ways become a dirty word, which I think is really sad because I remember being in college--my English class was taught by Michael McClure who was a beat poet and it was a great class but the woman sitting next to me said, "I'm not a feminist!" And I was really shocked by that because I really am a feminist because to me what feminism is is just wanting women and men to be equals. So I think there's nothing wrong with that and I feel that the education I've gotten in a formal sense, both undergrad and grad, I've had excellent male and female teachers.
In terms of a glass ceiling I think right now things are very good for women artists. I feel my perspective is rather limited because I don't work in the art world, as Amy works in the art world. She has a better or clearer vision of how women are really treated. I actually work in printshops from time-to-time which tend to be very macho places. When I am working in these printshop environments I'm aware that there is a lot of dirtiness going on that I am not included in which relieves me on one level but on another level it's kind of a shame because I can have a really dirty sense of humor as well. My sense of humor would probably not be found funny by these macho guys. Though with my "weinerlabra" sensibility anything is possible. That's all I can say about my notion of a glass ceiling.
AW I think I was much more aware of the idea of a glass ceiling when I was in school. I think art schools are incredibly sexist places. I can't begin to tell you how many female students were sleeping with their male professors at Yale and it's really icky and it's really bad and one of the things I heard over and over and over at SVA, and it has really sort of fucked up my head as a result, and a female professor told me this, "You have to make it as a woman,; you have to be in a commercial gallery before you are 30 or you can just leave. She told me this over and over and over. Several other female professors told me this and there was this unbelievable pressure that I still feel to this day. Like I've really got to get my act together because after that no gallery's going to want me. That's insane. That's completely crazy but there is this weird thing that happens in art schools. I don't know if it is really intense, I don't know if it is just that people come and go, 4 years, 2 years or whatever. I think that that is the last big stand of sexism in the art world.
I don't see it so much in the real world because so many of the dealers are women. Now a lot of dealers have kids. I don't see it as much in the art world as I did in art school where it was in my face every day.
SB I don't know where I will go with this. I used to work for Miriam Shapiro who was in Women's House in Cal Arts in 1972 with Judy Chicago and when I first started working for her I was terrified because I thought she was going to be evil what's the word,"Feminazi." She taught me just to persevere. Women from that era--there're weren't that many women then--just had to stick it out and now, it's interesting, the history, our generation doesn't even know what happened then and we just kind of accept it. And now, the majority, I think there is about a 30 - 70 ratio of women showing now, I don't know. The ratio I art school is 60 - 40 like 60%. I know it's not ideal but I think the key is the more women doing it that it will start t show it and it's starting to happen so I'm just hoping that that will continue.
DM Of course I know Miriam Shapiro from the old days. We were involved with the feminist movement. There were a lot of women involved with that doing a lot of pioneer work.
Molly, would you like to take the mike around now? We are open to questions now.
AUD I definitely feel that art school can be sexist. That was my experience as an undergrad and it was so negative for me that I have very strong feelings against going to grad school and I see that you have gone to grad school--two out of three and I wanted to ask you how important you thought it was for development as an artist and also for getting your career off the ground and if you could also talk about why you would choose not to go to grad school. That would be important to me too because I still may not even apply.
SB That's interesting because of that fear of going, of being put on the spot. I guess I might have applied in '95. The early 90s in art was not what I was up to. It was not decorative in any way and conceptually I just knew that my work was not founded in those concepts and so I made the choice not to go and I put the money into renting a studio and I think it's a good investment. I don't know. You get skills in grad school which are being really able to talk about your work and it's very helpful. At the same time though, I'm kind of happy I didn't. I think my work would have really changed and I wasn't really ready to make that change.
It definitely would have become more minimal and more conceptual because it would have gone away from the materials I was using at that time. I'd been using flocking and fabric and a lot o pattern decoration elements in the early 90s and I kind of knew that there's no grad program that offered, or at least I didn't see one coming out of the programs, or least UCLA had some of that. It started becoming popular in '97, '98 that it wasn't worth applying for because it became like an art scene kind of thing.
I don't know. I was for grad school and at the same time I wanted to put the money into something else.
AW I think you go to grad school for one reason and one reason only and that is to get a peer group. If you can do that some other way, then save your money and go get a studio. I had a fabulous time at Yale. I met my husband at Yale. I have a lot of friends I met at Yale. It was really great. I saw some really great artists and all those other things but I'm from New York; I have always lived near or in New York, it wasn't like anything really new. I could have written a letter or gone to an opening and met the same people and not spent a hell of a lot of money but what was really good is that I met people like Jeannie and Becky and all these people I never would have met. All these people flocked together from all over the country. From that it was really good. I don't have antagonism against my professors or anything. I don't think I learned anything from the faculty there.
I studied sculpture so I went to a totally different program from Jeannie. I went through a serious, hard-nosed conceptual program and I really could have used learning some skills and I didn't get that because we were sitting around and reading books all day instead of learning how to make things
It's a mixed bag but I think if there is some other way for you to get a peer group, do it. If you can't then you go to grad school. That's what I think the big thing is.
JL I agree. I have a close friend in California who has been asking me the same question and I feel like grad school is incredibly expensive and you really only go for a peer group like Amy said. It also allows you to teach which allows me to pay my student loans. So, it's really sort of a nefarious circle of iniquity and there are too many people with MFAs out there. I did learn a lot actually in my MFA program and it pushed me and it changed my work. I don't know if it was for the better or worse, but I'm glad I went so it's a personal decision and I would say you have to check out the schools very thoroughly before you go because you'll always be surprised with what you get but you should really be informed as to how you make that decision.
AUD I've seen a lot of work in the galleries in the past few years of which your work is part of the warp and the woof and my generation, we were concerned about finding our own language and to my dismay I discovered that finding one's own language is to disconnect to an audience and that you have to be, have a certain amount of literacy, or in the know, to read some of the work that is produced. And then they set up all these courses in undergraduate and graduate school so that you can read something that was supposed to be easy or accessible in addressing this.
You mentioned in your presentation your being influenced by formal elements yet your still lifes are full of symbolism (to JL) and contain all sorts of gestures that have meaning to you.
Could you ladies talk about this tension between formalism and polemic?
JL Sure, that's a great question and more than life itself, I would love to find my own language. I really don't feel that I'm there yet. I'm not exactly sure how one comes across this all of a sudden. I can look toward someone like Brice Marden who so clearly has his own language and his work is so elegant and tight, and yet he's also inspired by such sources as Chinese calligraphy. So, in a way, I feel like I'm almost not mature enough as an artist to really know where I am going.
I feel in my heart that I'm going somewhere and I do feel that the art-making process is a journey but in terms of formalism, mainly when I bring it up I'm thinking more about formal issues like composition. Because I do look at a lot of classical painting and when I'm thinking about creating a composition, I'm thinking a lot about mannerism.
I've been looking a lot at Bronzini lately because I think that formalism is a relationship between learning the language of the two-dimensional structure; thinking about the grid and creating images on this grid that make sense in terms of figure/ground relationships, etc.
But in terms of a content, I'm also influenced by people like Jeff Koons, who might be really distasteful to some people here and I can talk about him in the same way I talk about Brice Marden where I look at those aquariums with the basketballs and I think that those are incredible formal pieces, and yet many people think that he was making an insincere mockery of painting and art making in general so being my age, the first film I ever saw was Fantasia. I'm influenced by a lot of really diverse things so all this trickles in and I'm hoping that by the time I'm 45 or 50 I'll have a sense of how this will congeal into a language that's not merely referencing this sort of kitsch sensibility.
Does that answer your question?
AM For me it was my work. You know for me the work that really interests me the most is this really sort of dry, boring conceptual art that's like words on a wall. I'm actually really nutty about that. I think that's really great, but I have this sort of twisted work ethic that couldn't just put words on a wall. That would really bother me and I would go and touch the words or something. I have this sort of twisted idea where on one hand I can accept an artist that does that. I can accept a Joseph Gousoud (sp?) I can accept that fine; that's just great. But to do that would make me incredibly neurotic.
So, my work has been a way of dealing with that neurosis in many ways, by trying to make something that's beautiful or at least very pretty that people can look at and say, "Oh what pretty flowers!" or whatever. At the same time, it's really about the information.
For some reason, when you were talking I was thinking about the sequence in "The Prisoner." I don't know if you remember that. There's this dialogue between #6 and #2 when they are interrogating him. They are saying "Oh, what do you want?" Or he's interrogating the other guy and he says, "What do you want? What do you want from me?" And #2 says, "We want INFORMATION, INFORMATION, INFORMATION." That's what I'm really interested in. I want information. And I can see the formal aspects of it going eight million ways and changing completely but I think the information is always going to be around a certain set of ideas.
DM Do we have any more questions?
AUD I wanted to ask you about the flyer. "Young Artists Making it in New York" It came to my attention because I am not an artist. I am an architect. Even though I see architecture as an art form, it takes you many, many, many years to get the political power to understand the media so you can take architecture to the art world because it is already a complex medium. And you work with many people who have no intention to do art but have many other agendas. You know, it is a very muddy thing. So I do painting in my own time just to keep sane. So when I'm 60, and everyone about me retires, maybe I can do some stuff on my own.
But my frustration is that you get home, even though you leave your struggle when you finish school, more or less, but the problem is that when you get home, you are tired and you can sketch, and that's it. It's hard to do production and when the weekend comes, personally, I need two days to clean up my head. That's Monday, and you go t work again. So I have six years of work which is a lot of work but is the kind of work that you can create when you are tired and close your eyes and try to relax fast and so you get these 45 minutes before you go to bed.
I always fantasized what it would be to have a whole month and take a week off and work. . .
How do your see yourselves? How is the work different, having a second job, or having a chance to work for a month, or three weeks. How is that different as an experience?
AW I have been really fortunate in that I have been working for this art dealer for about three years. I worked for her steadily for about two days a week when I needed to, which is pretty damn often, though I pick up other work here and there. I was doing videotape transcription for a little while and sort of oddball jobs where I've been able to go and work for 18 hours straight and then have two days off, or that sort of thing, because I completely agree with you, I need eight hours, 10 hours at a stretch to make work and if you can do it in the 45 minutes before you fall asleep, god bless you. You're awesome. But, I can't do that. I need a full day and so it's constantly this balance between okay, I can do this for a little while or I can work six days a week doing this job for two months and then I'll make enough money that I can quit that job and pick up this this job and it makes you very nervous because you think there's only so many job out there and if I'm constantly picking up and dropping jobs, eventually I'm going to get screwed but you just kind of hope that it is all going to work out.
It's very difficult. I know last weekend was the first consecutive two days off that I've had since the end of October and the beginning of November. It was making me like a crazy woman just because of it. You are right. You need those two days off but you also need those days to paint.
I know a lot of people who do residencies and do those sorts of things. I can't afford to do that because I can't afford to take off for a month or I can't afford to do something like that. You just have to hang on for some mysterious grant money somewhere. I totally sympathize.
SB You've picked the worst profession. To try to paint and do architecture is near impossible. You have one life and you have to make a decision. If you really love to paint, then you should make that decision. Architecture--you've got to pay your dues. And that's not the business you can paint in.
Just because I had other roommates who were architects. They both gave up painting. I think you've got to quit your job. I realized that in the longrun, it's manual labor that was the thing that paid. The 9 to 5 thing was socially complicated and I decided to clean apartments for a Japanese corporation and it was the best thing I ever did. I made a lot of money. It was really tiring but I did it for three or four days a week and there were a whole group of artists who would rotate so we kept raking in the dough until the mid 90s and then they got onto us and started hiring cheaper labor. I did art assistance and sort of juggled painting and art assistance and cleaning corporate apartments and that was the way I did it.
And then you apply for grants and you apply for anything that will give you any money and/or residencies and you try to make your summers up and you get away for that and you take out a loan and then you do all this other stuff and leverage yourself. So I think you have to make a decision or there's the Henri Rousseau Sunday painting which obviously really worked for him and you just pick your day and you stick to it for an 18-hour day and do it. So, that's the other way.
JL I agree with Sarah. You cannot be an artist and work a full-time job and I've never had a full-time job but I have worked incredibly long hours like doing freelance for a month and then done what Amy has done. For two years when I first got her I did a lot of scenic painting so I worked on sets of music videos and a lot of small theater painting sets...
DM I have a friend who says "It's okay to be a Sunday painter as long as you paint every Sunday."
How about just one more question and we'll wind it up. Somebody had a hand up.
AUD I had a very practical question. Once you have your series of pieces, how do you get a show? Where do you go, what do you do?
JL That's a great question and it's not one I totally have an answer to but what I'll say is what has worked for me is sending your slides to reputable slide archives--registries. For instance, I've gotten shows through White Columns and through The Drawing Center, although I've never shown my work at The Drawing Center, I know that curators have gone and seen my slides there and have called me. So the few shows I've had have been through those slide registries and you know, a lot of things happen in New York because of connections, and so it's very important to know other artists. Which is not to say that you need to do that artificially, but if you know other artists, talk to them. If you know someone who is having a show, you can ask them how they got the show or try to get them to introduce you to the people running the gallery.
Actually, Amy's the woman to talk to because she actually works in the art world.
AW I'm a little scared now. Well I was going to say the best thing you can do is make genuine connections with people. There's a lot of schmoozing, going to openings and trying to chat people up and I think if you've been in the business for more than six months you see right through that, especially when you are the director of a Chelsea gallery you are like, "Oh come on, give me a break." But someone once told me that the best way to get a show is to go to the galleries; you see a gallery that shows work that you think your work would go with; you'd be okay in that gallery. And then you make it your business to get to know somebody in that gallery. And I think that is actually true but the caveat to that is that you have to make that real connection that I was talking about. It's not just a matter of if I say a couple of words to you.
Jeannie's right about group shows. Get to know the most people you possible can and this sounds retarded, but be a decent person about it and if you show people that. This sounds so contrary to what you hear about the art world but I think if you show people that you are a decent person and that you really care about your work and that you are really dedicated to it and are really genuine, and if you meet people from that base, people like you. I have had incredible things happen to me just because people liked me. The Whitney bought that print portfolio from me because the curator kind of liked me and so he called up all the other people on the committee that was looking at it and said, "Oh, this is really cool. Why don't you come over and see this." This incredibly dorky thing: The Whitney is buying me because they like me! This is just absurd, but that's actually the way things really happen.
So, just meet a lot of people.
JL I'm sorry. If we knew the answer we'd be showing at Chelsea galleries.
On that note, I just want to say on the calendar it says "Artist's TRYING to make it in New York." That's just what we are doing. All of us are really trying. None of us is at any hot place in our careers.
AUD I work in a gallery and I would just like to second that. Rather than just sending out slides cold to a gallery you don't know, you have to make a connection with somebody in that gallery. And even then, that gallery may just not like your work. It is just so sad that it is that way but a lot of galleries just have this money making thing and they are not going to take a chance and I don't know how you get started except to make friends with somebody but I sit there and have to write the rejection letters and it is just awful because I know that my bosses haven't really looked at the work. They just don't see that connection.
AW The tricky thing with that is that you've looked at the work. Mary Boone used to work at Leo Castelli. She used to be the person behind the front desk so when making connections, you make connections with everybody. The biggest mistake I've seen is I was working at this one gallery and I was behind the front desk and I was the Associate Director of the Gallery and people would walk in and be completely mean to me because my name wasn't on the door and I had such say in who she was going to visit and other things and people would be like, Ugh, well tell so-and-so that I was here. Be polite to me. You don't have to kiss my ass but just be polite to me.
DM Always be nice to secretaries. Always.
AW But the truth is. . .
DM Get their names. Call them up and say, "Hello, Gert!"
AW You could be Mary Boone or somebody. It always helps to meet as many people as you can and be as nice and genuine and honest as you can.
DM Sarah, do you have anything to add and then we'll close down.
Actually, we have the author of a very good book on hand, called "How to Get Hung." Right there, Molly Barnes.
MB I've been an art dealer in California for years and I wrote a book called "How to Get Hung" published by Tuttle. And it has actually become a cottage industry for me with all the things that you are covering. Even what to wear, what to say, how to court a dealer. How to keep going when they say "No." How many times to take a No before you ask them, "What's another gallery you'd suggest?" All the things they're saying.
DM I think we are getting ready to wind up. You all have been delightful. You give me hope! You really do. This is a subject that never goes away and it will continue here. We'll continue to talk about this.
You know, "Another Hundred People Just Got Off Of The Train." Thank you all.