Theater pathfinder and MacArthur “genius” Richard Foreman has played many roles over the past five decades, diligently writing, directing, and designing his numerous plays, operas, films, and videos. This year his Ontological-Hysteric Theater, a touchstone for several generations of artists, celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary.
Foreman was born in 1937 in New York City. He received a BA from Brown University and an MFA in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama. In 1993, Brown presented him with an honorary doctorate. Foreman’s latest work, the chamber play Old Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance), marks his return to theater after a brief retirement during which he focused on filmmaking. The play continues his interest in building an abstract and minimal “web of language” and, characteristically, features a small cast (Alenka Kraigher, Stephanie Hayes, Nicolas Norena, Rocco Sisto, and David Skeist). The work begins preview performances at the Public Theater in New York on April 30 and will run through June 2, 2013.
Interview with Richard Foreman.
Michelangelo Frammartino, Alberi (Trees), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 28 minutes.
Michelangelo Frammartino’s Alberi (Trees) is a twenty-eight-minute rumination on ancient rituals performed by villagers in Italy’s Basilicata region. The piece builds from his 2010 film Le quattro volte, which meditates on the eternally cyclical, transformative nature of experience—in both a physical and spiritual sense. Alberi is on view at MoMA PS1 until April 27, 2013.
MY IDEA OF FREEDOM is connected to the television shows and films I watched when I was young. I grew up in Italy in the 1970s, when commercial TV began to invade everyone’s home. It was made to seduce people, to guide them in a specific ideological way, which was all intimately connected to power and maintaining control over the greater public consciousness. Much of my practice emerges as a reaction to this enforced passivity of viewership. When the audience can actively participate in constructing their visual experience, the connection between the image and the viewer becomes stronger. For this, one needs the freedom to interpret and enter the image at will, and so when I started working on Alberi, I began looking for ways to make images interactive—attempts to create participatory experience that result in freedom of viewership.
I have found that one of the ways to do this is through the loop—Alberi is a never-ending installation, meaning that you can enter and exit when you want. It is the viewer that drives and controls the beginning and decides what is the final cut. In this sense, this work is also a tribute to cinema. In Italy it was normal for us to go to the movies and enter a showing anytime we wanted. So the first time I saw a movie, I saw it from the middle, watching first the second half of it, and coming to the film’s beginning only after having seen its end . . . and when I reached my own starting point in the middle of the film again, the pleasure was so great that I couldn’t help making another round. So my first experience with a film was like a loop.
Alberi is inspired by an ancient ritual of the Basilicata region based on the myth of a treelike man called Romito, who rejected the idea of migration and planted roots in his own land. When I discovered the character of Romito, I understood it was still very connected to the cultural identity of this region, even though the ritual was no longer enacted. The Romito myth now exists only in the memory of the people, but it is deeply part of their mentality. It symbolizes a land surrounded by woods (the ancient name of the region, Lucania, is thought to come from a word for sacred wood) and refers to a fusion between humans and vegetation.
I knew, therefore, that I was shooting something that was inside the people. However, filming the ritual ended up changing it. Making fiction gave life to a new reality, and so there is a strange connection between our work and that ancient tradition. I dressed nearly one hundred people like trees to perform the ritual; they enacted a procession through the surrounding forest, culminating at the village square, which was literally turned into a forest.
For the construction of this installation, I focused heavily on sound, which here is connected to the idea of freedom I mentioned earlier. Also, the sound is interactive: It comes from many different sources, and it invites the viewer to move, to walk around, to discover something maybe unexpected.
Left: Lucy McKenzie, exhibition poster for “Something They Have to Live With,” 2013. Right: View of “Something They Have to Live With,” 2013. (Photo: Gert-Jan van Rooij)
Lucy McKenzie is a Brussels-based Scottish artist. In 2008, with designers Beca Lipscombe and Bernie Reid, she launched Atelier E.B., a company that works on fashion and design projects with a particular emphasis on applied arts and artisan techniques. McKenzie’s first exhibition in Amsterdam is currently on view at the Stedelijk Museum until September 22, 2013. Along with the show, Atelier E.B. will have a temporary showroom at Magazijn in Amsterdam from May 15 to 18.
THE STEDELIJK SHOW BEGAN with my impressions of visiting three different sites at the end of 2012: the Alhambra Palace in Granada, Spain; Adolf Loos’s Villa Müller in Prague; and an exhibition of Sol LeWitt’s wall paintings at M Museum Leuven. I knew I wanted to investigate the Villa Müller and Alhambra a little more after I realized that these two places share several things in common: They’re archetypal, ideal representations of perfection in interior design; they’re UNESCO-protected places; and in both, women are present but also hidden from the outside world. In the Villa Müller, for instance, there is a boudoir with a small window that looks down into the main space so that the lady of the house could watch but not be seen.
I taught myself how to devise and paint some of the patterns I saw in the Alhambra. If you want to understand patterns you just have to make them, and the paintings in this show are big studies of how those patterns work. My initial interest in the Alhambra came from reading Owen Jones, one of the founders of the Victoria and Albert Museum in London. He was the first Western designer and architect to give the palace any kind of importance. He had the elaborate texts rendered on its architecture translated to English, and he realized that these are like speech bubbles. It’s the building talking directly to you.
With the Villa Müller, only seven people at a time could visit, so you could feel very clearly how it would have been to live there. I created a scale model of that structure, using fake marble in a sculptural way—to explore what it is about those volumes and their spatial harmony that is so satisfying to be around, as well as go against Loos’s driving principle of using only natural materials for surface decoration.
But the show is about opposing ideas, not chic architecture; there is a counterbalance of themes that are direct and personal. Quodlibet XXVI (Self Portrait) deals head-on with appropriation—or rather a whole cycle of appropriation. In it the viewer can read that not only do I appropriate, but also that artists have tried to appropriate images of me (particularly those taken by Richard Kern). And there are mannequins on view; idealized skeletons underneath clothes. I want to show the direct connection between architectural interiors and the body, to what is always under clothing, as well as reflect on what is private and what is public, real and idealized.
The Ost End Girls Collection showroom will be open in May. It’s like being in a very square band, touring different cities: Amsterdam, Brussels, London. We’ll come to New York in the fall and we’ll have a shop with the Artist’s Institute on the Lower East Side. We don’t do normal retail because shops put on too much markup and we want the clothes to be as cheap as possible. Also, we’re interested in alternative economic models and different ways to distribute and to present our designs.
Guadalajara, Mexico–based architects Magui Peredo and Salvador Macías of Estudio Macías Peredo recently won a competition for the Pabellón Eco 2013 at the Museo Experimental El Eco in Mexico City. The spatial and aesthetic configuration of the winning entry not only expands the concept of what a pavilion could be, but also reevaluates the function of the museum’s courtyard. Here Peredo and Macías speak about their intentions for this work and their interest in architectural integration. The pavilion is on view until May 26, 2013.
WE’VE ULTIMATELY UNDERSTOOD this proposal as the placement of another diagonal in the museum’s courtyard. The effect that this new slanted flooring, which steadily rises from El Eco’s floor-to-ceiling back window to meet the higher level of the abutting street, has on the exterior space is clear: The courtyard ceases to be static and restricted and instead houses an active plane, one that can be traversed throughout, connecting what is happening on the inside of the museum to what is occurring on the outside. From the street, the slope becomes a forum that looks straight into the museum’s main gallery, where the latest installation of Mexican artist Abraham Cruzvillegas can be seen—another structural intervention that transforms the otherwise pristine interior into a chaotic construction site.
One night, when we initially began drafting our concept for the exterior, we noticed that the courtyard was quite crowded with visitors. We began to realize that the work could not hinder the events that took place there. The visitor had to become an integral part of the project, able to cross it and engage it in different ways. Earlier chosen projects dealt with the space’s topography, its roof and its walls, and as such seemed to close it off in a circle that encompassed the vertical and horizontal limits of the courtyard. We’ve tried to open it up to show the museum as a public space, transforming what was already there. It literally gives rise to another way of understanding the museum in situ.
Artist Mathias Goeritz, the founder of El Eco, once described architecture as emotional, and as a spatial experiment that attempts to discover emotions one can move in. In essence, that is what we’ve tried to do. Our approach to this project disregarded the construction of volume, as most pavilions aim to create. We wondered if we could make the lines between the street and the museum vanish, to go beyond the limits of volume. For Goeritz, a critical aspect of the museum was its diagonal walls and distorted flooring. We appropriated the original terra-cotta grid of the courtyard, and even the trees, activities, and the visitors themselves, to create a dynamic and dissolved window between two worlds. The pavilion never became an exercise in composition; for us, it simply became one of reflection.
Translated from Spanish by Jane Brodie.
Over the past thirty years, Thomas Ruff has engaged with various photographic genres, from portraiture to reportage to astronomical imagery. His current exhibition at David Zwirner in New York consists of two bodies of work: new abstract photograms and the “ma.r.s” series. The latter extends several themes from his previous output: fascination with the cosmos, 3-D imaging, and an equivocation between fact and fiction. Below, Ruff discusses the impetus behind these chromogenic prints. The show is on view until April 27, 2013.
I’VE ALWAYS LOVED ASTRONOMY. After I finished high school, I was faced with the decision of becoming either a photographer or an astronomer. Obviously, I chose the former, but I’ve always tried to keep some engagement with astronomy in my life, and my work. My engagement with the “ma.r.s” series began by encountering these long black-and-white photographs of the surface of Mars taken by NASA’s Mars Reconnaissance Orbiter. “ma.r.s.” is an abbreviation for Mars Reconnaissance Survey. Scientists use these images primarily to study the geography of the planet. I downloaded the images from NASA’s website and then changed them by altering the perspective and adding color so that the image turns into what you might see if you passed Mars in an airplane and looked onto its surface. Maybe it’s a view that we’ll have of the planets someday in the future.
NASA’s pictures are all very high resolution, and there are countless images on their website. No wonder it’s the most popular site for images of space. The European Space Agency, for instance, is not as accessible. But NASA puts everything into public domain, and the issue of copyright doesn’t exist for them—perhaps because machines took all of the images and machines cannot have a copyright.
I believe that vision has little to do with our eyes and more to do with our brain. The brain sees, not the eyes. I think this is one reason I’ve been interested in working with 3-D. So when I realized that NASA also makes stereoscopic photographs of the surface of Mars, I was very excited. It’s really amazing looking at a far remote planet in 3-D; you feel like you can almost touch the peaks of the craters of the mountains. The process of making 3-D images is actually rather simple, and I think it’s interesting that the 3-D effect, which lets you experience actual topographic highs and lows, is basically made possible through using a nineteenth-century technology—3-D glasses. Simple things usually inspire me, however, as I’m constantly curious about how basic perception works. For example, seeing myriads of light rainbows on the floor of a medieval church when the sun is coming through the stained glass at just the perfect angle. I think these pictures of Mars have more to do with that kind of soft sensation and stimulus.
Sometimes I think the popular shift from analog to digital photography was more about replacing film by bits and bites. But of course with digital photography as well as digital and post-production software, the possibilities of altering images became really incredible. I’m not yet sure about the consequences.
Yinka Shonibare MBE is one of the foremost figures of postcolonial contemporary art. He was born in London but moved to Nigeria at the age of three, returning later to the UK to study fine art. His most iconic sculptures of headless men, women, and children evoke this physical displacement as well the universal language of globalization. He currently has a full retrospective showing at Yorkshire Sculpture Park from March 2 to September 1, 2013, and an exhibition of new work at Stephen Friedman Gallery, London from March 16 to April 20, 2013.
MY SCULPTURES ARE HEADLESS because being headless disavows humor. They look strange, a bit surrealistic, yet you can’t pin them down. From the ambiguous shade of their skin, you can’t even say they belong to a particular race. In their anatomical positions, they try to perform an action that, with a head, would normally be quite easy to do. At the same time, not having heads allows them to do what they’re trying to do. So they’re still rather funny. They actually started as a joke about the French Revolution, when guillotines were used to chop off the heads of the aristocracy. I’m never able to just stick to a singular moral stance because I always feel context is everything. We’re all capable of being greedy.
Because of the current banking crisis, there’s an ever-increasing gap between the very wealthy and the people who are just trying to get by. Children, the eventual bearers of this disparity, often appear in my sculptures because they closely emulate their parents. In terms of ideology, children will get indoctrinated into holding their same ideas very early. A little rich girl, just like those depicted in my piece Little Rich Girls from 2010 may not be aware of where her privilege comes from. But if she has parents who own factories in African countries, they make money off the back of pollution by turning a blind eye. So she’ll live in a big mansion, skipping and playing, not knowing that her ambivalence and happiness come from something darker.
I probably would have grabbed onto the money too. I’m human, after all; I have a personality that can be frivolous and serious, and it certainly can be dark. They’re human emotions and I don’t think anyone, regardless of their race or gender, should be excluded from having and expressing a wide range of them in their work. Homi Bhabha’s theories of hybridity come to mind. None of us have isolated identities anymore, and that’s a factor of globalization ultimately. I suppose I’m a direct product of that. The fabrics I use also look like they could be just African, because they are used a lot there. But what you see on the surface is not really what you always get. The fabric has a complicated history in its trade routes: It was originally designed as an Indonesian fabric, produced by the Dutch, and the British sold it into the African market. It’s a perfect metaphor for multilayered identities.
In a way, my sculptures produce this volume. It’s most apparent in Wind Sculptures, which capture the wind to produce something tangible out of the intangible. The shape of the sails capture a moment, like how the headless sculptures portray a larger historical moment. The difference between them is that something as insignificant as a breeze is turned into something monumental, while a historical time period is made universally ambivalent. That’s significant. Ultimately, I’m trying to grasp living with more than one culture in my head.
Gene Beery, Untitled, ca. 1990s-2000s, C-print, 7 3/4 x 11 3/4”.
Throughout his fifty-year career, California-based painter Gene Beery has been described as an expressionist, Pop artist, Minimalist, and Conceptualist. His text-based and earlier figurative canvases tend to show all of these strains of art, like the many walls of a museum, often by placing them in literal conversations with one another. His exhibition “Early Paintings and Recent Photographs” presents work from as early as 1961, and is on view at Algus Greenspon in New York from March 16 to April 27, 2013.
I GUARDED MY OWN PAINTING at MoMA in the early 1960s. I wasn’t the only artist working as a guard there. Dan Flavin was too; so was Bobby Ryman. Lucy Lippard had a job in the print department and Sol LeWitt was a night clerk in the museum’s offices. I remember an elevator would get stuck there every so often. At night, when people would hear the loudspeaker say that the museum was closing, Sol and I would bullshit around or he would sometimes suggest interesting authors to read, like Henri Barbusse. Sol was really literate like that, erudite. So I started to read some of them.
The second floor of the museum at that time had a lot of older modern masterpieces. There was a room full of Matisses that I really liked. It was a good spot to be stationed. But I had to stand all day, so I would get stuck looking at a work until the damn thing started moving on the walls like a movie. You can start to see Matisse’s process that way, and what a fabulous dream it really is to turn something out like that.
It inspired me to submit five works of mine to MoMA curator Dorothy Miller for the exhibition “Recent Painting U.S.A.: The Figure” in ’62. Five was the limit, so I entered them all and actually got one in: It was a female torso with just the torso and the hips cut out in cardboard, painted silver, with two loops at the top—breast, breast—and holes that looked like some weird torture mask. It was a pretty good size. On one side, her arm read ARM. On the other: MRA.
When I was a young kid, my grandmother had a boarder that lived at her house. When I used to go there for the summer, the boarder would read me nursery rhymes from books that had all these pictures. In that combination of image and text, each really affects the other, and affected me, qualifying and creating a third thing—the result of the juxtaposition—that has helped me go back to the previous two to see if what they said initially is what they now are meaning. I wrote a story once about a man at a museum. He was a guard there and was knocked on his butt by understanding Matisse in a red room. One line from that era still resonates: “Canny is a nose that knows an onion that is called a rose.” That was Nicholas Johnson, one of Earth’s seminal semanticists. I personally prefer the reverse, a canny nose that knows a rose that is called an onion.
Richard Jackson, Bad Dog, 2013, fiber, reinforced composite skin, steel, 28 x 32’. Orange County Museum of Art.
Richard Jackson is an artist based in Sierra Madre, California, whose first retrospective, “Richard Jackson: Ain’t Painting a Pain” is on view at the Orange County Museum of Art until May 5, 2013. The exhibition will travel to the Museum Villa Stuck in Munich from July 25–October 13, 2013, and then to S.M.A.K. in Ghent from February 28–June 29, 2014. Here Jackson discusses the show, his long career, and his new “accidents.”
I DISLIKE ART BUT ENJOY THE PROCESS OF PRODUCTION. The outcome of a project or the value judgments about aesthetics should not be so important. Give up and paint on an easel if you cannot learn from your process! A good deal of today’s art is totally devoid of any meaningful content but created with the use of extremely expensive materials. Opulence is everywhere yet the result is a bunch of polished turds stinking up museums. The job of an artist is to create pieces that are unlike anything else. My tools are predominantly chance and experimentation; all I do is lay down the groundwork and then watch what happens.
Currently I am working to set off a new round of accidents within painting. Across the history of abstract painting, pretty much every fluke has happened or been hashed out a thousand times over. Now I want to orchestrate a big mess, one serious accident. I thought about crashing a Bentley—there are plenty of those around. Then I decided on wrecking six sedans that will each be painted a different color and loaded with paint akin to its exterior. I plan on colliding complementary-colored cars and inserting wreckage into a gallery.
Over time my work has become larger and my ideas more ambitious. I end up fabricating most pieces for myself and by myself because galleries voice disinterest due to constraints on time or on the budget. I tend to avoid self-promotion and elude validation as a notable figure in the art community. That whole scene boils down to drinking cheap beer in different locations night after night. Making art by relying on your own resources cuts you out from a crowd that is begging for cash to do anything. Fostering independence in yourself, wherever you are, can be more isolating than working up in the mountains. The capabilities of an individual are what most intrigue me. Corporate activity or work that originates from a collective is not so compelling. This attitude has probably caused me to be sidelined or excluded from key exhibitions. People also tend to think that I am cranky, which is not true. I circumvent dependence on others’ interests and do not screw around waiting for answers. For this reason, very few people have seen most of my work. But—as is typical of the art world—there is so much bullshit swirling around that people get on the phone and describe my work pretending to have seen it or to possess knowledge about how I have made it. Their hyperboles make my projects much larger than I ever could. I purposefully play off of this collective imagination as my output is molded by bigger and bigger fibs.
One benefit arising from the small level of government subsidy for American artists is that there is plenty for us to push against. Lack of societal support probably explains why the US breeds so many talented artists. The public, however, has created an atmosphere in which our ideas are condemned beforehand. We are largely to blame for encouraging that environment. I sympathize with those who attend exhibitions of Minimalist art that walk away feeling insulted. Understanding such work mandates knowledge of a whole other language and our entire industry has become just as exclusive as a country club.
My involvement with art stems from my background in engineering. Mechanical renderings were all done manually so I had to learn drawing in one-, two-, and three-point perspective. I worked for years as a contractor in order to pay for much of my artwork and in that setting I was always perceived by others as self-sufficient, as someone who could be trusted with the task of fixing or building a house. A critic’s job may be to hardwire connections between artists, but this often occurs by carving out groupings or movements according to the shallowest parameters. Historians hope that they will switch on lightbulbs by stringing together the work of unknown artists with that of more renowned ones. I cannot think like that. My reputation has almost always hinged on my friendships: I was this or that person’s friend and so forth. No one seemed to realize that these artists were my friends too, or that there might have been something interesting about me. For my retrospective, I principally hoped to evidence that I am still working.