A similar conflict arose out of the notion of art as someone’s property. The museum assured its clients that they would have the option of receiving a work evolving, if it did, out of collaboration with the artist (and exceeding in value the amount of the company’s contribution). To forestall legitimate grievances of artists that they were obliged to hand over free art gifts to a company, the museum advised them to work in series — not because seriality might be integral to their work, but because they would acquire most of the results. In one of the most delightfully imperious letters ever written by a modern artist, Claes Oldenburg blew the whistle of this duplicity and told Tuchman he would not submit to manipulative arrangements in which he was deprived of tax breaks or a sale, was made to work at a reduced salary for three months, and forced to travel coach instead of first class. Jean Dubuffet, for his part, considered himself so patronized that he would rather have contributed his monument at his own expense than be the recipient of payment generously “corresponding to the cost of my cigarettes.” At first Robert Irwin seemed to have feared exploitation, too, for he was quite against the production of an object when there was so much to be gained from a purely “interactive” situation at the Garret Corporation. This attitude did not prevent him from hastening to exhibit one of his acrylic pylons in the final show, though it had nothing to do with the project.
As for the “Art and Technology” venture itself, no better introduction to its buffetings can be imagined than the cover of its Report. It purveys 64 photographs of participants — artists and engineers or managers, equally divided. Even the most casual viewer would have no difficulty distinguishing, on the basis of shaggy versus close-cropped, who was who. This difference of mien and style all but announces the general falling out of the collaborators and the ultimate realization of a mere 16 projects. Though theoretically asked to make only modest sacrifices, with tremendous financial inducements, many of the corporations fought shy or had to be pressured or specially gulled by the boondoggle. They had no settled idea, and rather unhappy suspicions about what would be asked of them aside from money. Nor would the artists have imagined how much red tape, unnecessary channels of control, inflexible modes of fabrication, and stubborn resistance to concept they would encounter when they left the studio for the factory. For the artist, the unaccustomed medium of corporate production seemed to thicken before his eyes into an intransigent glop. For the engineer, the planning of the artist thinned out often into the most hare-brained and ludicrously expensive schemes. There were companies that withdrew because the artist would not meet the implementation halfway; and there were artists who wandered for months in the corridors of industrial power without finding people with whom to connect or any appropriate means to materialize there goals, if we assume they had any clear-cut notion of them in the first place. Requests that companies send rockets into outer space or to Mars were turned down. And everywhere there ensued chronic searches for answers, some in good faith, others, often enough, in bad. One remembers John Chamberlain addressing scores of memos to “Everyone at Rand,” stating simply, “I’m searching for ANSWERS. Not questions!,” and getting back emotional but unrevealing responses. Or the truly witless James Lee Byars, at the Hudson Institute, asking “What’s the most important question of the 20th century?” to which the thoroughly humorless Herman Kahn, the Report goes on to say, replied “Well, this question is on three levels. First of all there are cosmic questions like, How is the world created, does God exist and this sort of thing. We can dismiss those.”
Predictably, then, the conflict was between literalists and visionaries, between those who would shrink all questions about phenomena to a matter of testing know-how, and those who would expand all affairs of making into pure conditions of being and concept. The two types get along infamously together. Even on a workday level, artists strived to gain more shop latitude for various capers from engineering and researchers engaged in trimming down budgets, gaining executive assent, squelching put-ons and catching up with rip-offs (such as Dan Flavin’s at G.E.). Through the portals of Kaiser Steel, Litton Industries, Lockheed Aircraft, and Teledyne, traipsed some of the most playful men in the Western world.
Oldenburg makes the most poignant chart of the internal contradictions of their experience by pairing off the attitudes and qualities of the artist in the studio in the collaborative situation: “1. intolerant — tolerant, 8. violent — restrained, 10. vindictive-paranoid — forgiving, 15. drunk or high (looking for sublimity) (custodian of the sublime) — sober (indifferent to the sublime, like airplane pilots) . . . etc.” If these opposites are inaccurate, or apply only to the creator of the giant ice bag, it may be because proximity with the factories seems to have produced a certain megalomania in many artists ordinarily less obsessed than he.