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Title: Everybody Talks About the Art Establishment
Author: Emile de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman, Abbeville Press, NY, 1984
Excerpted from the book Painters Painting - A Candid History of the Modern Art Scene, 1940 -1970
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Everybody Talks About the Art Establishment
Emile de Antonio and Mitch Tuchman
Based on transcripts from the 1972 Emile de Antonio film:
"Painters Painting - A Candid History of the Modern Art Scene, 1940 -1970"
Cast of Characters:
Emile de Antonio, Filmmaker
Philip Johnson, Architect
Philip Leider, Critic
Robert Motherwell, Artist
Barnett Newman, Artist
Thomas Hess, Critic
Jules Olitski, Artist
Robert Scull, Collector
Hilton Kramer, Critic
Leo Castelli, Dealer
Larry Poons, Artist
Henry Geldzahler, Curator
Andy Warhol, Artist
Jasper Johns, Artist
Clement Greenberg, Critic
Brigid Polk. Artist
Ethel Scull, Collector
Phillip Pavia, Artist
I think the collectors have made an enormous contribution, not only to the market but to painters themselves. These people that buy, that set standards, make everyone else itch to emulate. The itch to emulate, the desire for status, is certainly one of the main things in our society. It's not true that you get rich by buying paintings and reselling them later. Nevertheless, if you think it's true, it'll help the market; it'll start a sort of circular motion. I find that if I look at a photograph of Ethel Scull, and behind her back hangs a particular painting, I am more apt to take a look at that particular phase of that particular artist's work than I would if I hadn't seen it behind her back. So each of us goes and looks at each other's collections, and that gives us all a sense of escalation, if you will.
It's unbelievable what the collectors have done to establish a market, but more than a market, I think it helps the whole art world to have the younger artist think his work could be in the Scull collection or so-and-so's collection.
I remember hearing Adolph Gottlieb on a panel once at NYU, and Adolph said, in effect - I'm not quoting him exactly - "I don't paint for the masses. I paint for the elite. The masses are not interested in what I do. They won't understand this kind of painting that I do, and it wouldn't come through to them."
I understood perfectly what he meant, and I was totally sympathetic. But the audience, which was not quite an audience of proletariat workers but an audience of school of education, art teachers, or art teachers to be, were going out of their heads with rage just at the mention of the elite.
I think there is an elite, and there always was an elite for painting or for good music or for good literature. For a long time there has been, and I don't see anything wrong with it. What it means to a lot of people, the elite is the wealthy or something like that. Adolph, I don't think, was referring to an elite of the wealthy, where the people run the government or something like that, but to those people who are concerned and interested in the most sophisticated, meaningful painting there is.
Each time that I went to [Richard] Serra's show, there were only artists there, other artists.
It was very evident that behind the Iron Curtain there are all kinds of painters who are dying to see more of modern abstract art, who try in various ways to make it, and so on. Now, let's say that they're young, in their twenties. There would be nothing in their cultural background to lead them to want to do this. It certainly has to be some direct perception, as direct as when one sees a beautiful woman and is attracted. This has nothing to do with social circumstances, but something that is in another level of existence.
if one compares modern art with the art of the past, one, it's an art of individuals as compared with a tribal art; second, it's not an art in the interest, despite what young radicals may say, of any particular class, which is to say, the people to whom it appeals are people who are after a realm of spirit that transcends classes, precisely the same way that sex transcends classes. I mean, I would not accept that there is a proletarian sexuality and a bourgeois sexuality, et cetera, in terms of the immediacy of the experience.
The young radicals' argument was parodied to me in the 1930s by a Marxist who said that Picasso is a traitor to the working class. That is to say, to the degree that he made objects that gave sheer pleasure, he made human existence more endurable and distracted people from the real task, which was to bring about a revolution. It was obviously a simplistic argument.
I would say the subtlety of my argument would be that if the aspirations of revolutionary change are for greater individuality, greater spiritual growth, for expressions that are humanistic, or to use a more immediate, New York word, for an existence that is more menschie, then certainly part - and a main part - of the struggle of art has been to make an art that is direct, simple, humane, unconnected with powers that be in their essence, and so on. To the degree that it is connected with the bourgeoisie via the marketplace and so on is not necessarily an artist's problem.
The great thing about painting as an art is that this primitive structure is the essential nature of the enterprise. There is no real industry waiting. (Perhaps it's now developing. I'd hate to see that happen.)
In other fields, for example, writing, the man's a poet. He presents his work; the publisher says, "Sure, we'll publish the poetry, but there's no real money in it. But you're a writer, why don't you write us a novel? You can write." And in order to get his poetry published, he gives up his art and becomes a novelist, because the thing begins to move in terms of motion picture rights and serial rights and their industries. Painting is still a primitive business.
I really don't know why art suddenly became a possible thing for an upper-middle-class man or woman to buy. I think that has something to do with the media: news, magazines, and television. The media are always on the lookout for some kind of sensation of news and some kind of vitality. Of course, American art had tremendous vitality. I think it went from the studios into the media and then bounced to the collectors.
My first purchase after the Abstract Expressionists was to buy out almost completely the 1958 show of Jasper Johns. He did very poorly in that show, and I couldn't understand why it wasn't selling. I thought it was so marvelous, because he was using the technique of Abstract Expressionism, but he was the hatchet man who really was the moment that Abstract Expressionism started to come to the realization that something new was happening.
I told Castelli I wanted to buy the whole show, and he said, "No, no, that's very vulgar. We can't do that." So I bought about eight things, and then I went down to the studio after that and bought more.
Everyone talks about the art establishment, and I don't know anyone who doubts that it exists, but it is a very difficult entity to define. At one end of it, you have the talent that's required to have the art itself; at the other end, you have the enormous sums of money that animate the whole scene; and in between, you have the sort of phalanx of dealers, museum curators, critics, collectors, and in some cases writers on art who are themselves collectors and - how should - one put it? - tipsters for dealers and collectors.
I myself really don't subscribe to conspiracy theories of history and that includes art history. I think it's naive to suppose any one single critic or one single museum director or one single collector can establish a no-talent artist overnight and establish a big market for his work. It doesn't work that way. It works in a more complicated way.
It works the way everything else in the upper crust of society works. There's a kind of "interlocking directorship" (using those words in quotation marks) of people who stand to gain certain increments in privilege and profit and prestige, and in some cases the social prestige is as important, or even more important, than the money involved. People like the Sculls I don't think went to the art world to make money. They went to be somebody, and they had a very canny understanding of what it takes to be somebody in the art world. It takes money, it takes a certain kind of bravado, and it takes a certain capacity not to mind having other people think that one is terribly vulgar, what, I suppose, some people might regard as insensitivity. The establishment is open to anything, to any new artist, to any new collector whose activities reaffirm the essential importance of the establishment itself.
I had many shows of Jasper through the years, about one every two years, and prices of Jasper have gone up in a fantastic way.
Most of those paintings that I saw the first time I went down to his studio are not for sale. They are securely lodged in various collections.But occasionally one of those paintings comes up, and the greatest collectors now of American art are not American. Some Germans, especially Dr. [Peter] Ludwig. Recently, about two years ago, he wanted a flag of Jasper's. He saw a red, white, and blue one in my apartment, and he said, "I'd like to have that flag over there on the mantelpiece."
So I said, "Sorry, but that one is not for sale."
And so he looked at me and said, "What about $75,000 for it?"
And I said, "Sorry, but it's still not for sale," Then I sold him a white numbers painting for $50,000.
Later he found a flag, and he paid $100,000 for it.
There are certain paintings of Jasper's that would be much higher than $100,000. For instance, let's take the big white flag. I think that it could easily achieve $200,000. Or the target with plaster casts that's in my apartment: that should be about $150,000, and so on. Prices are extremely high.
I heard that Bill de Kooning had said about Leo, with whom he was annoyed over something, "That son of a bitch, you can give him two beer cans, and he could sell them."
At that time I had made a couple of sculptures. I'd made one or two of a flashlight and one or two of a fight bulb. They were small objects, sort of ordinary objects. When I heard this story I thought, "What a fantastic sculpture for me. I mean, really, it's just absolutely perfect."
So I made this work [Painted Bronze, 1960]. It fit in perfectly with what I was doing. I did it, and Leo sold it.
Frankly, this accusation that is leveled against the dealers that they are responsible for shaping the art market is a very silly one. Naturally, we are there to do that job, and we are doing it. Now, if people - ourselves and the critics and the museums - go along with us, then there is a consensus, and we are right, not wrong. I think that we are merely doin our job.
The whole phenomenon of the art dealer in this situation is frankly a mysterious one to me. I think that the really successful and influential ones, like Castelli and Sidney Janis, have functioned for their clients a little bit in the way that their psychoanalysts function for them. That is, they fill a void in the lives of their clients just as they fill avoid in the life of their clients' culture. The psychiatrist assists the patient in discovering his own personal history, and the dealer comes on as the man assisting the collector in discovering his personal taste.
Tom Hess of Art News appeared one day at the gallery. You know, all these people like Tom Hess or various critics or museum people were demigods at the time, and the fact that they would come with the rickety, small elevator up to the fourth floor of that obscure gallery was a great event for me. But I was at the same time very arrogant and ambitious.
Some German dealer who had been giving a lot of these younger Americans first one-man shows (it's surprising how many kids after 1964 had their first shows in Germany) gave a party. I was sitting next to Michael Heizer. At a certain point, Heizer said, "You know, you ought to do an issue [of Artforum] on duck season. You ought to get some great authority on ducks to describe the upcoming duck season and say what the best ducks are and how it compared with last season."
It was perfectly clear I wasn't getting the point, and I just looked at him in a funny way, and I said, "What's this about?"
And he said, "Do you think about art in terms of seasons?"
I still couldn't make out what he was talking about. I said, "What do you mean 'in terms of seasons'?"
"Well, you know spring is when flowers come out, and winter is when snow is on the ground. Do you think of art that way?"
I said, "No, not as far as I know."
And he said, "Well, how come you keep talking about what this artist did this season as opposed to what he did last season; and his show this season wasn't as good as it was last season?"
And, you know, I suddenly realized that the critique that these kids were laying down was extensive, and it covered the most normal assumptions about art, normal assumptions because we've normally come to it as if to assume that every year an artist will put up a show for that season.
Artists don't work that way anymore; they don't work toward shows. A show is a situation. The invitation to do a show simply becomes another situation in their lives. Winding up on the corner of Fifth Avenue and Thirty-fourth Street is the same thing as winding up with an invitation to a show. You deal with the situation as it comes up.
About 1952 or '53, I wanted a piece of art in the house, and we went to the Plaza Art Galleries. I bought a Utrillo for $245. I knew that it was a fake. I knew that, but it was fun to have. It was very beautifully done. And we hung it, and I got great pleasure out of it, although it wasn't, of course, unique; it was phony.
I was doing some gardening, and some people came along and happened to mention within earshot, "You know, this guy Scull, he's got some fantastic Impressionist collection," and I really liked it.
One day someone called and said they were doing a book on Suzanne Valadon and they wanted to have a reproduction of my Utrillo, and I got panicky, you know, and I brought it back to the Plaza Art Galleries and decided at that time that no matter what I bought, I was going to buy a very contemporary drawing or painting, but I would never buy a reproduction again.
I always knew I was going to buy art. It was simply a question of having enough money for it, with three boys to bring up, with a house in the country. But I always knew. Years ago, before I was in my own business, I used to belong to the Museum of Modern Art, and when they moved a Léger from one wall to another, I used to write letters, saying, "No, it looked better in the old place," and so forth.
I involve myself four to five nights a week and maybe thirty-five weekends out of the year in doing nothing but getting down to studios, involving myself with artists and even artists who haven't really made it yet but just are at the beginning of their careers, so you've got to jog them along. It's not me and Ethel even. As a matter of fact, we don't have a Scull family buying commission. I buy what I like, because once a collection starts to involve itself with a man and a woman having different attitudes and so on, you get a watered-down kind of thing. So I have to really jam into my thing to the exclusion even of Mrs. Scull's sometimes not having a complete approbation. I have to do what I like, and I can't do what I like if I have to come home and discuss it; that's no way to get a character to a collection. And let me tell you something: it's not easy for Mrs. Scull to say, "Hey, you know, I saw a gorgeous Cardin" or "a beautiful St. Laurent," and I say, "Well, I don't know about that," and then that afternoon go out and buy a piece of art. You have to have a really understanding woman to get away with that kind of thing. I'm very grateful for that, as a matter of fact. I don't think my collecting could be possible at all without her understanding of what I'm doing. And then you get these wild phone calls at one in the morning: "I'm being dispossessed"; or someone needs an abortion; or someone's having a baby; or someone needs this, or that; and, you know, that's part of your involvement with the whole thing.
I started to buy Abstract Expressionism at a time when the movement was already under way by about seven or eight years. I certainly wasn't a great pioneer in Abstract Expressionism. I bought Kline, de Kooning, Rothko, and Still after they had already made major statements. In other words, I was very happy to buy them, but at the same time I was not involved in the beginnings of their careers, the way I was with Pop and with later art.
With the beginnings of Pop art, I became aware of the fact that collecting is not just going into a gallery and buying a painting. Suddenly I became very deeply involved with artists who later were to make a group of Pop artists, but they didn't even know each other. We had parties up here and dinners up here where a lot of these Pop artists met each other, and my purchase of their pictures seemed to be crucial to their development.
You know what happens to a young artist when you buy a painting of his: he looks at you like you're completely mad. And then suddenly he starts painting like a maniac. So there I was, already in 1963, having twenty or thirty tremendously important works of Pop art.
It has been suggested that I was responsible for changing the lives of a lot of artists. John Chamberlain came to me. I saw his sculpture, and I got to know him, and I found out that he was a hairdresser, this big, hulking fellow with a huge moustache and black fingernails. He was a hairdresser who hated his job, so that every day that he went to work it was killing him. So one summer he said to me, "I need just about fifteen weeks of steady income." (I think it was one hundred dollars a week.) "if I had that," he said, "I would be able to tell my boss to go to the devil and really do this work."
I was so impressed by his work that I said, "Go ahead." And, of course, after that summer, he never was a hairdresser again; he became a full-time sculptor.
When I met Larry Poons, he was a short-order cook. I said to him, "Well, how much do you make a week?"
He said, "Twenty-five dollars."
I said, "What are you talking about? Nobody makes twenty-five dollars anymore."
He said, "Well, what I mean is, I only work two hours a day, and that gives me enough to......
"Well," I said, "I'll give you eight weeks' worth of salary: I'll buy a painting from you."
And he looked at me very suspiciously, and he said, "Well, I'm willing to quit my job, but I want the eight weeks in advance, because if you change your mind, I'm out of a job."
Robert Scull never walked up to me and said, "Here, Larry, I want you to ... I want to help you." He did it through Dick Bellamy, and it was a dealer, and it was business. I mean, if he wants to think of himself in that way, I've got nothing against it. He really thinks that if it wasn't for him nothing would have happened. He bought a lot of people who were potentially good. I mean good. We're talking about really being good. He bought a lot of people who were potentially good, like me, twenty-three years old. There's some potential there, and you buy it.
When I first became aware of the Pop artists in 1960, which is when I first came back to New York from graduate school, I was lucky enough to run into them one at a time before most of them knew about each other, and so I was able to introduce lvan Karp to Dick Bellamy and Rosenquist, Lichtenstein, Wesselmann, Oldenburg, Warhol, and Segal, and so on to each other. Few of them knew each other independently, but they had something in common: an appreciation of American painting of the previous twenty years.
My first purchase in Pop was the work of Claes Oldenburg. Through artists generally you get to know other artists. So my ear was always attuned to the suggestions of other artists, and I heard there was a man called Claes Oldenburg. I went down to his place - he had a store on Second Street - and I was overwhelmed by the work he had. I started to buy some drawings, and then he had a show there in 1960. I started to buy some Pop. I didn't even know it was Pop. It wasn't called Pop. It came at a moment when Jasper Johns and Rauschenberg were at their very heights, and they really opened up the doors to Pop because they used objects in their paintings that became valid works of art, and those doors opened up the floodgates to Pop artists who were using very popular images.
Pop art comes directly out of Abstract Expressionism. I think one of the great things about Abstract Expressionism is an attempt to get away from the arty part of art and to break through style, to break through conventions and to get to something real both inside the artist and in the public. The Abstract Expressionist painters all adored billboards and highways. De Kooning's pictures are often named after highways. David Smith used big farm implements. There was this idea of getting through to a larger America which perhaps contained a reality. This is a romanticism, but this was what they had, or this is what they were stuck with, or this is what America stuck on them. And this was talked about all the time. This was a well-known longing, this longing to break through.
I think the Pop artists picked it up, and I think they distilled it. In other words, they made something out of it, but I think it lost some of its depth and some of its nuances and some of its complexity. I'm all for the Pop artists; I think they have made terrific images, but they have restricted themselves by the image itself.
I heard about James Rosenquist through Richard Bellamy, and I went up to see him, this North Dakotan who had lived in Minnesota. He showed me some Abstract Expressionist pictures that were fairly wild, but in the heyday of Abstract Expressionism they weren't really tremendous. Then he brought out three or four new pictures that he had done which were completely different from anything I'd ever seen. They sort of used enlarged images of everyday objects in a kind of Cubist statement, almost like a Léger except, of course, done thirty-five years later.
I saw one picture, and I said to him, "I like that painting. What is it?" I saw four men on the corners of the picture. They were sliding out of the picture. In other words, only parts of their faces were visible. I said, "What's this all about? Why didn't you put the people right in the center?"
He said, "Well, the name of this picture is Four 1949 Men. This is 1961, so they're sliding out of the picture. People who are in the center of pictures today are 1961 people."
I said, "How much is it?"
He said, "I don't know."
I said, "What do you mean, you don't know?"
He said, "Well, I've never sold a picture before."
I said, "Well, how much do you want for it?"
He said, "I don't know." Then he called his wife, Mary Lou, down, and he said, "How much is this picture?"
She said, "I don't know."
I said, "I'll tell you what: I'll be back in about a week, and that will give you time to see what you want."
And he said, "Wait a minute. You wait here. How about $200?"
And I was floored, because the picture obviously was one that he had worked on for a long time.
I said, "$200! "
He said, "Wait a minute. Maybe that's too much."
I said, "No, it isn't. I think it's worth more than that."
Well, I paid him $250 for the picture called Four 1949 Men. I didn't take the picture with me because I had a small car, and when I came back a week later to get it, he thought I wanted the money back, because the first thing he said to me was, "Listen, I spent that money you gave me." He was very upset.
"I don't want the money back,"I said. "I saw another picture when I was here last week - I'd like to take a look at that."
He thought I was off my rocker. He said, "You mean, you want to buy another one?"
I said, "Yeah," and I bought a second picture from him, called The Light That Won't Fail.
One of the greatest experiences I had in those early years of the 1960s was meeting Andy Warhol for the first time. lvan Karp took me to his studio, and we became fast friends immediately. I remember very well that first day seeing this painting of Dick Tracy in Andy's studio. I said to him that I had seen the work in New Jersey of another artist, Roy Lichtenstein, who was also working from comic strips.
Andy had three or four other paintings besides Dick Tracy . There was a Nancy and Sluggo, and there was a Popeye, and, again, they were closer to Abstract Expressionism. The paint was allowed to drip, the message was unclear. There's a kind of accidental aura about them. At the same time in his studio I saw paintings of Coke bottles. I saw a before-and-after nose operation. And I recognized with a kind of thrill that I was in the presence of, let's say, a genius or someone who epitomized the age in a very special way. That's been my experience with Andy over the years.
Andy picked up the images, for instance, of Elizabeth Taylor and Marilyn Monroe in two paintings, one in color and one in black and white. He repeated them in a way a film strip repeats an image, one after the other; the way a television image comes at you electronically, second by second; the way a million copies of Life have the same cover running off the press one after the other. It's a contemporary kind of feeling in a contemporary image. The electric chair painting, which he calls Orange Disaster , is, I think, perhaps the most powerful single Pop art painting, that I'know of, and it brings to mind the remark attributed to Elaine de Kooning, that the only American contribution to the history of furniture is the electric chair.
The Campbell's Soup Can could be called perhaps the Nude Descending the Staircase of the Pop movement. It's the image that Life magazine uses to sum up art in the 1960s. It's the image that comes to many people's minds when you say Pop art in the first place. Here are thirty-two hand-painted Campbell's Soup Cans [1961-62] by Warhol. They are painted very flat, very dead on. Andy at the time said he used the Campbell's Soup Can because every day for lunch he had exactly the same thing: a sandwich and a can of Campbell's soup.
When I met Oldenburg, I started to buy, and then I heard someone mention to me about a fellow called Andy Warhol. I went to see him in 1961, early in 1961, and he said to me, "I want to sell you some paintings."
And I said, "What do you mean, 'some' paintings?"
He said, "Well, I don't care how many you take, but I need $1,400."
I said, "What do you think this is?" I couldn't get used to the idea.
He said, "Look, here are five pictures."
I was really overwhelmed by the art. The art was sensational.
Then he said to me, "Well, if that won't do, here's another one. As long as it's $1,400, you can take whatever you want."
I said, "You're completely mad," but my first purchase of Warhol consisted of $1,400 worth of art.
I began to realize that these men who didn't even know each other and didn't even paint like each other, no matter what you call the Pop artists as a group, they are so diverse in their techniques, but the pressures of the times, the reaction against Abstract Expressionism, created through this pressure a whole group of men who were working in an entirely new direction that became known as Pop art.
It's often said about Pop art that it's alI put on, that people are being put on; it's a gag, a gag that the squares have mistakenly taken seriously. While therds something to that, my own theory of the put-on in modern culture, the way our culture conducts its dynamics, is that the put-on is always to some degree a try-on. What is being tried on is an idea to see how far it will go. In a sense, nothing can be a permanent put-on. If it's tried on and there's a public for it, it's no longer a put-on; it has to be taken as a perfectly serious statement, it exists, it's what it is.
In away, the critical point of view that says, "Oh, this is all just a put-on," is really avoiding the main issue, and that is, what is the status of a serious artistic idea in this culture? Is it something that the artist himself creates, or is it a kind of temporary transaction between an artist and the public, mediated by all the so-called pacemakers, whether critics, museum directors, collectors, and so on?
I think more and more our culture is dominated by these temporary transactions that have no real spiritual substance. To that extent, the artists of the New York School were practically Franciscans by comparison.
Pop art is an important phenomenon, but it's a phenomenon that belongs to the history of taste more than to the history of art, I think. It was a release for a lot of people from the rather puritanical restraints of modernism that the New York School abided by so strictly. The whole abstract aesthetic of the New York School was full of "thou shalt nots." It imposed a kind of abstinence on the whole visual vocabulary of painting, and Pop came along and said to a lot of people for whom the whole modern aesthetic is just too difficult and too devoid of fun it said to all these people, anything goes. It released them from a certain kind of seriousness, a certain kind of solemnity, but I think, as an artistic statement, as an artistic vision, it's totally facetious.
When I first knew you, you weren't painting, and then you did become a painter. Tell me why that happened and when it happened.
Well, you made me a painter.
Let's have the truth.
That is the truth, isn't it? You used to gossip about the art people, and that's how I found out about art. You were making art commercial, and since I was in commercial art, I thought real art should be commercial, because you said so. That's how it all happened.
I think the idea of Pop art isn't very interesting, because I think the idea of any art isn't very interesting. The things that have interested me in painting and in thinking are the things - of course, I will tell lies here - the things that can't be located, the things that turn into something else while you locate them or are located so nicely that you know they can't survive. it's never interested me just the idea of forming a territory or a thought and defending it. It seems to me that Pop art, the term Pop art, suggests that everything is certain. I don't enjoy that.
Pop has the same something, an attitude similar to the Dada and Surrealist artists, who deliberately used academic means to illustrate unconventional things, like Dalí and Magritte and Delvaux, whose art I don't sneer at by any means, but, then, they made better pictures than most of the Pop artists. With the Pop artists, there's the trick of saying, "I'm going to make it look just the way the cheapest art looks, but with a difference and a twist," and so forth. People like Warhol and Lichtenstein do paint nice pictures, but most of them are just spinning. They don't know their ass from their elbow. Still, in all, you hear them out instead of missing them.
The Pop artists paint nice pictures, better than bad Tenth Street painting, most of the Tenth Street painting of the 1950s. All the same, it's easy stuff. It is. It's minor. And the best of the Pop artists don't succeed in being more than minor. It's scene art, the kind of art that goes over on the scene.
The best art of our time or any art since Corot, not just since Manet, makes you a little more uncomfortable at first, challenges you more. It doesn't come that far to meet your taste or meet the established taste of the market. The Pop artists almost knowingly come more than halfway to meet your taste, just as Dalí did.
Brigid [Polk] does all my paintings, but she doesn't know anything about them.
What do you mean, Brigid does all your painting?
Well, Brigid has been doing my paintings for the last three years.
How does she do them?
I just call Mr. Goldman, and i just tell him the colors, Or I go down there, and I just choose them from anything that's lying around - a Stella poster, you know - and I just pull off a piece, and say, "That color and that color." I take Polaroids of the four flowers, and I switch the colors around and superimpose four cutouts one on top of the other. Take a picture and have Mr. Goldman do it.
But Mr. Goldman's dead.
No, his son.
The reason we can say Brigid's done it is because I haven't done any for three years. So, when the papers say that Brigid's done all my pictures, Brigid can say she does all my pictures because we haven't done any.
Andy does all his own ideas though. That's his art.
You said all people are the same and that you wanted to be a machine. Is that true?
Is that true, Brigid?
No, he just wishes it was all easier. He said to me last week on the phone, "Brigid, wouldn't it be nice if in the morning we could get up and at ten o'clock go to all the movies and then all the galleries? And just think, it would be just like Teeny and Marcel used to do."
How did you actually paint a picture when you started doing them six or seven years ago, before Brigid did them? Tell me about the electric chair, which is one of my favorite paintings.
Oh, I just found a picture and gave it to the man, and he made a silkscreen, and I just took it and began printing. They came out all different because, I guess, I didn't really know how to screen.
Ethel Scull 36 Times , I think, is the most successful portrait of the 1960s. It's a new kind of look at a single human being from thirty-six different points of view. It's obviously influenced by the cinema and by television. Andy had the rather simple and beautiful idea of taking the subject to one of those photomat machines.
Andy and I had seen a bit of each other in the early 1960s and were rather excited about breaking the traditions of formality of portraits done in magazines to that time. As art director of Harper's Bazaar, I had a series of pages to do of young, new personalities in the arts, and I thought l would give him the assignment and see whether he could come up with something that would look different than anything that had been put on fashion pages before. Out of that discussion came the words photomat machine. It was the machine doing the work and not the artist with his particular individual stamp on the page that fascinated me. So we just decided to go ahead and see what came of that.
I gave him the list of names, the people to be photographed, and he took them to some photomat machines that he found on Forty-second Street and came back with a series of portraits: out of focus, front, side, feet showing, heads cut off, everything wrong, and everything right because of it. I loved them and just put them down on the page in the most honest way I could: not cropping, not making them look better, and certainly no retouching. The people he photographed were Larry Poons, the painter; Lamont Young, the composer; Henry Geldzahler; Edward Villella, the dancer; Rosalyn Drexler, the playwright; and Sandra Hochman, the poetess.
Bob had asked Andy Warhol to do a portrait, which sort of frightened me, naturally, because one never knew what Andy would do. So he said, "Don't worry, everything will be splendid." So I had great visions of going to Richard Avedon.
He came up for me that day, and he said, "All right, we're off."
And I said, "Well, where are we going?"
"Just down to Forty-second Street and Broadway."
I said, "What are we going to do there?"
He said, "I'm going to take pictures of you."
I said, "For what?"
He said, "For the portrait."
I said, "In those things? My God, I'll look terrible!
He said, "Don't worry," and he took out coins. He had about a hundred dollars' worth of silver coins, and he said, "We'll take the high key and the low key, and I'll push you inside, and you watch the little red light." The thing you do the passport with, three for a quarter, or something like that.
He said, "Just watch the red light," and I froze. I watched the red light and never did anything. So Andy would come in and poke me and make me do all kinds of things, and I relaxed finally. I think the whole place, wherever we were, thought they had two nuts there. We were running from one booth to another, and he took all these pictures, and they were drying all over the place.
At the end of the thing, he said, "Now, you want to see them?" And they'were so sensational that he didn't need Richard Avedon.
I was so pleased, I think I'll go there for all my pictures from now on.
When he delivered the portrait, it came in pieces, and Bob said to him, "How would you like ... don't you want to sit down at this, too?" because there were all these beautiful colors.
He said, "Oh, no. The man who's up here to put it together, let him do it any way he wants."
"But, Andy, this is your portrait."
"it doesn't matter."
So he sat in the library, and we did it. Then, of course, he did come in and did give it a critical eye. "Well, I do think this should be here and that should be there." When it was all finished, he said, "it really doesn't matter. It's just so marvelous. But you could change it any way you want."
What I liked about it mostly was that it was a portrait of being alive and not like those candy box things, which I detest, and never ever wanted as a portrait of myself.
Did you know they sold their paintings?
I heard they sold them to some Germans.
And they paid $100,000 for that portrait, Andy?
How much did she pay for her portrait? Surely $5,000.
Hers was so much fun to do.
But how much did she pay you?
I don't know. $700.
$700 for that portrait!
I'm not sure.
People don't know in the 1940s, when we were starting, Franz Kline made a living making portraits. He used to make portraits on Macdougal Street. I made portraits; I used to make a living at it, too. Bill de Kooning made portraits. A lot of us did. It's always been the bread and butter of artists. We didn't make it that commercial. We didn't knock them out. We just did them when we really were excited by the subject. I think Bill de Kooning made some terrific portraits, and they're all people he liked. Franz Kline made an awful lot of them; in fact, too many maybe. I only made ones I liked, and others felt the same way. It was not a hack way, making portraits.
The Sculls in their front hall have a double portrait of themselves by George Segal, which replaced a portrait they had of me for a couple of years. I remember Ethel calling me before she went out to Segal's to be cast, wondering whether she should wear a real Courrèges or a copy. I think she wore a copy; she didn't see any point in destroying a real Courrèges for such an ephemeral purpose.
As curator in a museum, I get the question about once a month from the wife of a Supreme Court justice or from a governor, from somebody who has to have an official portrait done, who can we get today to do a portrait that will have meaning or that will stand over a period of time. It seems to me that Larry Rivers, Jim Dine, and Andy Warhol are the natural portraitists of our age, but most of the institutions of government haven't gotten around to understanding that yet. I think a close look at the kind of personality that's revealed in a painting such as Ethel Scull 36 Times should help people to make legitimate portraitists of many of the Pop artists.
Why do you choose the subjects you choose? What led to the series on death: the car crash and the electric chair?
I think it was on July 4th, and the radio kept saying, "Six hundred people are dead on the highway." I guess that's what did it.
What about the electric chair?
Well, that was the time they stopped killing people in the electric chair. (Or was it before?) So, I thought it was an old image, and it would be nice.
You ran into some practical political problems at the World's Fair in Flushing.
I guess I painted the most wanted men.
The story of Andy and the most wanted men was a peculiar political event of 1963. We had at the World's Fair, at the pavilion that I did for New York State, a space on the wall that I hired six - was it six? - great artists ... I just gave them the space and said, "Do what you want to." And Andy did a dramatic sequence of the most wanted men. It just happened, though, that in the research it turned out that these men were not wanted. They were all well and happy and living with their dear families. Perhaps more important politically, they all had Italian names. How it got to the government, I don't know, but they called me in anguish, and we had to drop the thirteen most wanted men. I never looked into whose fault it was, whether they were wanted or not. We just dropped the idea.
It seems that my ideas about Pop art change every year. Right now I sort of think of it as a kind of reintroduction of a Surrealist content, and in a way, almost a reintroduction of poetic content. There again, you run into the problem of the expression Pop art. What really counts are Warhol and Lichtenstein and Oldenburg. Those three guys were doing very different things. Lichtenstein was getting right back to an enormously strong suggestion of figure-ground relationships. Oldenburg's great contribution, I think, was the loosening of the possibility of literary art. What you get in Oldenburg are a succession of extraordinary metaphors. Warhol's life-style produced certain kinds of works. He moved into film, he moved into silkscreening, he moved into a whole variety of things. He moved into a discotheque. It simply suggested that the world was going to have to come back into art if it was going to have any meaning at all.
In the last 150 or 200 years, you can say that most of the art, most current art that's in the foreground of public attention, current art done by people under fifty, is not the art that will last. That's something to do with the history of taste in our times and the past century and a half. The fact that taste when it comes to contemporaneous art is so fallible has sunk in. People try not to make the same mistakes as were made in the past, but it's no use. You go on making the same mistakes again and again. You say, "I'm not going to miss the next Cézanne" or "I'm not going to miss the next Pollock," and then you go looking for the equivalent thing in the next Pollock or the next Cézanne and you make the same mistake all over again, because the equivalent thing always comes up in a surprising way. It always crosses you up.
Just as very little is learned from history, so very little is learned from art history. So the same mistakes go on being made, but, of course, with certain differences. Artists, great artists in our time, the few of them, aren't quite as hard up for money. Let's say, they get recognized a little faster in terms of sales than they used to - not always, but on the whole. But essentially, it's the same old thing. Certain heroes on the art scene today will diminish with time, just as certain heroes of the 1950s have and heroes of the 1940s, and people will say to themselves again, "We're not going to miss out again the next time." They're going to do the same thing, look for the same stigmata. Looking at contemporary art, and to some extent at past art, involves a readiness to be surprised.
These movements of the 1960s don't have progeny.
The Pop art leaders - and this doesn't say anything about their intrinsic quality, but it's something to be noticed - nothing follows after Pop art.
Do you feel that the kind of painting that most painters are doing today, like the color-field people, is a form of art for art's sake with no relationship to life, as opposed to Pop, or whatever you call the kind of work you do?
I think all the art that's being done now is so terrific.
Does stained color mean as much to you as an electric chair?
Oh, yeah. Don't you think stained color is terrific?
Were there any people in Henry's show whose work you didn't like?
Oh, no. I like everything.
What did you like best about the show?
I never did see the show.
You never went?
I went to the opening, but I didn't go inside. I pretended to be Mrs. Geldzahler and invited everybody in. I just stayed on the stairs and didn't go in. So I never did see it.
I think the exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum is a big, beautiful, optimistic, bouncing, gorgeous show of a big, beautiful, bouncing, gorgeous, optimistic American society. It had nothing to do with American painting of the 1940s, little to do with American painting of the 1950s, and it was the attitude of the swinging '60s. There's nothing wrong with this, if the organizer of the show, Henry Geldzahler, had not written a catalog and made statements to the press and spread a few rumors that this was not an exhibition, but, on the contrary, a laundry list of who was in and who was out.
And, of course, the exhibition has no such value: it omitted many fine artists. It used a standard which was called "deflectors," which reminds me of shin guards for hockey players more than artists. I'm sure that in - well, I was going to say, fifteen years, but it might be fifteen minutes - the whole scene will have changed, and there'll be other people making other shows, just as happy but with a different lineup, equally right and equally wrong. The show itself was beautiful.
The idea of Action Painting is that in the action comes the painting; and in one of the magazines, Henry Geldzahler said that he didn't know what the show was going to be like until he had it up. He had no ideas. Like you get a bunch of pictures - like an artist might get a bunch of materials for a collage - and you put them around, and suddenly - bam! - there's the art. There's the exhibition.
Did you see what Tom Hess said about Henry? He called him an "action curator." He said the real art was making the exhibit, not the painting.
Oh, we know that. All the critics now are the real artists.
And the dealers, too?
Yeah, the dealers are the new artists, too.
Are there any critics you like?
I like the kind of critics who, when they write, just put the people's names in, and you go through the columns and count how many names they drop.
Suzy is the best.
The best critic?
Yeah, because she's got the most names.
Henry was weak about sculpture through the whole show. He simply didn't know what to do with it. He kept planting it like trees in places; you knew if you saw a room with a lot of David Smiths in it, it was an important room. Frank Stella's room had a tremendous number of Smiths in it. So did Pollock's room. Those were the high points. He kept using it to carry messages. If he didn't like an artist, he put a bad sculptor in the same room with him.
One of the basic problems of Geldzahler's show at the Met - l think it's reflected in every part of it - is the question it raised about the qualifications Geldzahler had to organize such an important exhibition in the first place. He's a man whom everybody finds charming and amusing, and I suppose he's our number one camp curator in the New York museum world; his reputation consists largely of facetious publicity. He's made absolutely no intellectual contribution to the art world, to the museum world. He's published nothing of any significance. He has no bibliography. He's written no critical essays that amount to anything. Nobody takes him as a mind seriously. He made his way in the art world through friendships with artists, the Pop artists primarily, whom he has now, in the catalog of this exhibition, come to agree are not major artists, which in turn raises the question why they're in the show at all, because the show is supposed to consist only of these deflectors, and in the catalog he says, well, they haven't deflected anybody. They haven't produced a second generation of artists who can build on their work. It turns out to be a footnote after all, but it's the footnote that launched him, so to speak, so for that reason it's given special status.
I just don't like the title of the show. I think it should have been called Henry Geldzahler's Choice: 1970. Then there would have been no discussion about omissions. Everybody knew this was a whim of a very individualistic man. I would have done a different list, but it would have been just as controversial.
I like the Museum of Modern Art's old formula: the Sixteen ... Thirteen ... Fourteen Americans. You don't have to choose them. You don't have to agree with them. It could have been called Dorothy Miller's Choice; everybody knew it.