Gene Beery

04.05.13

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.

— As told to Frank Expósito

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.

— As told to James Eischen

Lundahl & Seitl, The Memory of W. T. Stead, 2013. Performance view, Steinway Hall, London.


Swedish duo Lundahl & Seitl’s most recent installation, The Memory of W. T. Stead, in a collaboration with experimental pianist Cassie Yukawa, places the visitor inside the structure of classical music by enhancing the experience of listening through the amplification or nullification of tactile and visual senses. Produced by NOMAD and co-commissioned by NOMAD and the Montblanc Cultural Foundation with support by Steinway & Sons and Arts Council England, The Memory of W. T. Stead will run at Steinway Hall in London from March 27 to April 6, 2013.

FOR ABOUT A YEAR AFTER GIVING BIRTH to our daughter, we both couldn’t escape an image that appeared on our retinas, an image that looked not like a void but rather a passage. When we would focus visually on that passage, it was clear to us that it was sealed; time was flowing in two different directions and it felt as if those forces were conducting us. We were empty vessels where things could just pass through.

Born in 1875, John William Dunne, an aircraft engineer, had similarly strange visions as well. But these more resembled premonitions by way of precognitive dreams. He once dreamt about a catastrophe in Haiti in the beginning of the 1900s where thousands of people were going to die. He didn’t think much of it until he happened across that news a few days later. Upon realizing this, he started having more dreams. What could they mean? After investigating them in parapsychological experiments, he discovered the concept of serialism—that many different time periods could exist simultaneously, every person having his or her own time within them as they walk through space.

After the Steinway & Sons showroom in London closes at night, we’ve been granted use of the space for our latest work, The Memory of W. T. Stead. In this site-specific piece, people are invited into the dimly lit building where they are first greeted by a man who has worked there for over thirty years. He ushers seven visitors at a time to a silent room that is filled with pianos. It is also filled with portraits of past employees and pianists—a room of memory, as it were. As the visitors sit on piano stools for some time, someone comes in and gives them headphones. After putting them on, the visitor hears a minimalistic sound, fragments of a Bach Fugue in A Minor and Ligeti’s Pour Irina, which are played by pianist Cassie Yukawa as if on the ghostly, surrounding pianos. While listening to these three-dimensional recordings, the visitors wear whiteout goggles, which blind them.

Déjà vu is a concept readily present within the fugue in its repetitions, reversals, and spirals. The title of our piece comes from the true story of William Thomas Stead, a journalist who predicted his own death at the turn of the twentieth century. He once wrote about himself drowning, a fate he would later experience on the Titanic. Accounts by several of the survivors described him as just sitting there, quietly reading a book as the ship sank. In Pour Irina, there’s a sense of expansion that refers to time, whether in the future or remembered from the past, at one point collapsing like a euphoric drowning of the present moment. The music doesn’t have an end either; it just continues further away from the listener, like a life slipping away.

Fully blinded, the visitor in the piano room then hears a voice that says, “If you stretch out your hand, you will feel my hand.” The voice acts a narrator in a way, predicting what is going to happen. The listener won’t know whose hand it is they reach out to, but that’s not important. When you cannot see, absences are actually felt more strongly than the pressure of touch because you don’t know where its source went. This creates the sense of a three-dimensional presence around the body, activating the spine as if someone were standing behind you.

The disembodied hand also acts as the embodiment of the voice in front of the visitor. It expresses space and time as it physically and phonetically guides the visitor through different rooms, be they real or in the mind, making them crouch or contort through the halls and doorways of the sound’s architecture. The music and voice, in a sense, together create a more accurate room of memory by forcing the visitor to recall the a priori acoustics of childhood or a walk alone in the forest.

When you gaze at a sunset, it is perceived like a postcard. The earth doesn’t turn; east and west do not rise and descend. The experience of looking at art has also fallen into this quick and selective treatment, pushing it away and flattening it while passively standing in front of it. When you use peripheral vision—and peripheral senses—it is as if the world comes forward to wash over and change you psychologically. When we started working together as an artist duo, we just merged with the other. We saw this passage but never thought about it relating to birth. Perhaps it was a vibration of another sense, or an echoing throughout the body.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Kara Walker

03.27.13

View of “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!,” 2013, Art Institute of Chicago.


For her latest exhibition, Kara Walker draws upon two white supremacist texts from the twentieth century, building a breadth of work that centers pointedly on the present moment. The show is titled after a line in Barack Obama’s 1995 memoir, Dreams of My Father, and presents five sweeping graphite drawings and forty mixed-media works that image racist fantasies, providing an indictment of the way these drive contemporary politics and culture. The show also marks a return to her seminal cut paper silhouettes, which polarized the art world when she debuted them at the Drawing Center in 1994 and have been peripheral to her practice for a number of years. “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!” is on view at the Art Institute of Chicago through August 11, 2013.

JUST A FEW MONTHS AGO, one of my drawings was veiled at the Newark Public Library in New Jersey. The work depicted a lynching as well as a scene of sexual violence and was part of a series of forty-four drawings I exhibited in 2011 at Sikkema Jenkins in New York in 2011—these were on loan to the library by a private collector. One of the so-called more explicit sections of this drawing provoked a strong reaction from the staff, which led to its eventual censorship and caused the complicated imagery that defines my practice to become a topic of conversation again. Controversy has always been a constant to my work, but in this particular instance it was not my silhouettes that sparked the reaction but my drawings, which are far more about the present than the cutouts. The silhouettes literally turn away from the here and now—they’ve always contained this kind of manic cruelty, but the job of the silhouette is to feign a very neutral front—it is duplicitous in this way.

My drawings erupted as a kind of backhand slap to my cutout work. The point of the silhouettes was to locate racism, blackness, and, in particular, my draftsmanship in an anachronistic nonspace: a place that would allow the work to exist as a fully realized second-class citizen poking at the margins of mechanical modern art practices. This gesture quickly became a useful shortcut for others to illustrate dissertations on history, politics, and feminism. Taking that social cue—that my work serves as good graphics for historians—I decided to illustrate texts. Making sweeping graphite gestures is all about being in the moment, but I hope to retain that question of what moment are we? Or, what moment is this? Is it all moments?

As we approached Election Day this past year, I became absorbed in an unsavory paranoia about mass violence in general and the expedience with which racist fantasies provide leverage to messy actions. I wanted to understand how narrative unfolds in the production of dangerous mythologies. I began reading two white supremacist texts, which my Chicago show is based upon. The first was The Clansman: An Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan, written in 1905 by Thomas Dixon Jr., which was also the premise for the 1915 film Birth of the Nation. I then looked at William Luther Pierce’s 1978 The Turner Diaries, a book the FBI described as “the bible of the racist right.” Narratively, the two works couldn’t be more different. The Clansman, written just after the close of the nineteenth century, is a reverent call for a romantic era in which everyone knew their caste. It’s a melodrama soaked in perfume and truthiness; the entire narrative pushes the reader forward toward the tantalizing allure of an impending rape, so that fury and vengeance will unleash history from the bonds of law.

By contrast, The Turner Diaries is a dystopian novel depicting a bloody overthrow of the United States government by Aryan militants. The novel begins in 2099: The nation is run by Jews and blacks, civilian firearms have been outlawed, and the book depicts white men and, to a lesser extent, young blonde women as tragically and grotesquely disenfranchised, which prompts a barbaric overthrow and ethnic cleansing. The narrative is a convoluted jumble of munitions instruction, futuristic diary entries, and end-of-days scenarios. The effect is jarring for its relentless lack of irony and reckless dependence on the hapless other to serve as foil, enemy, disguise, and cleaning crew for the protagonists’ escalating bloodshed—grubby anarchy that misidentifies itself as pure order.

So what can be said about this work for Chicago? The exhibition is titled “Rise Up Ye Mighty Race!,” which was Jamaican political leader Marcus Garvey’s activist call that Barack Obama references using an ironic voice in his book Dreams from My Father. In order to deal with these texts visually, I have had to delve unapologetically into language. To do this, I have brought together drawings and silhouettes plus a number of watercolors. I am thinking of it as a first chapter—laying out the terrain needed to work with these obscure fictional accounts. The watercolors function as a kind of anchor to the novels; some quote Pierce and extrapolate images from the text. The large graphite drawings pose as grand history paintings and add thoughts about racial codependence, black separatism, and Civil War reenactment into the mix. Looking at what I have created, I see the aesthetics of Thomas Dixon, whose prose is all about the nobility of aggression. In future pieces, I’ll aim toward an overwrought multipart piece where I can burrow further into the devastating and artless conclusions each novel proposes, and take a look at the problems that develop as an “author” inserting herself into a text whose only purpose is to destroy her.

— As told to Allese Thomson

Mark Dion

03.22.13

Mark Dion, Curator’s Office, 2013, mixed media, dimensions variable.


New York–based artist Mark Dion has moonlighted as an amateur geologist, ichthyologist, and archaeologist, while working with a wide range of research material. His recent work, Curator’s Office, 2013, is currently set among the many period rooms at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts—a departure from the confines of the artist's now famous Wunderkammern. Here books, furniture, and personal effects do not reveal their collector’s taste or knowledge (as traditional curiosity cabinets would have it) but rather spin a fictive tale about a curator gone missing in the 1950s in a period of American anticommunist paranoia. Curator’s Office is on view in the touring exhibition “More Real? Art in the Age of Truthiness,” which originated at SITE Santa Fe and is now on view at MIA until June 9, 2013. Dion’s current solo show at Tanya Bonakdar in New York is on view until April 13.

BARTON KESTLE, THE “FIRST” MODERN ART CURATOR at the Minneapolis Institute of Arts, is an East Coast–educated intellectual. He once lived in New York and had lots of artist friends. He’s quite erudite but also egalitarian. He’s known to be retiring and shy but perhaps only is to hide another life he leads where a collection of matchbooks from exotic bars and other strange places in the Minneapolis area begin to tell a different story. He is Walter Benjamin by day and Dean Martin by night.

I became interested in curiosity cabinets in the early 1990s. During the pre-Enlightenment, they were like microcosms of a diminutive projection of the world, which at that time seemed tangible. There were no established rules in the culture of display back then, just competing models for reality since there yet wasn’t a consensus of how to represent it. Prevalent was the Judeo-Christian model of willful ignorance embodied by blind faith. But there were also these quirky hermetic and mystical traditions; their histories show a lot of roads not taken. They had the idea that objects were more than they are—that an object could have metaphysical properties.

Actual curators’ offices from Kestle’s time in the 1950s were a real hodgepodge. A curator may have had a high-end designer lamp on his desk, while the desk itself was from the ’40s and behind him stood a cobbled-together DIY bookshelf made of bricks and boards. Encoded in these details was a period of rampant suspicion and red-baiting, of anti-intellectualizing, and the maltreatment of gays, women, and people of color. The intense romanticizing of that era today comes from popular culture, through television shows such as Mad Men, which is set in 1958, where everything in Don Draper’s office is from 1958. It supports this false notion that one would never have had anything the slightest bit older than what was current in the immediate present.

The Curator’s Office, with its cigarette butts and coffee stains, is like a crime scene, motivating the viewer to uncover the identity left behind by this illusive figure. It is a lived-in space: Among stacks of paintings, one might find a sock on the floor or a crumpled-up newspaper, or the half-finished glass of orange juice from a hasty morning. You can see the watermarks from where Kestle would leave his galoshes. I wanted to create someone who was an intellectual, a liberal, who was perhaps gay, perhaps a communist, or just merely worldly—residing slightly outside of this prepackaged society. In the literal sense, because plastic and cardboard weren’t much in use for packaging at the time, if Kestle were to have bought a typewriter, the ribbon would have come in a tin container. A roll of cellophane would have come in a circular canister made of fortified metal. Everything was built of a much more robust material, which for me has meant that everything had the potential of being a better hiding place, even for truth.

— As told to Frank Expósito

Douglas Davis, Images from the Present Tense, 1971, black-and-white TV, 16 x 22 x 12”. From “Video Art,” Institute of Contemporary Art, University of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia, 1975. (Photograph: Will Brown)


Primary Information was formed by James Hoff and Miriam Katzeff in 2006 and has since published a range of artists’ books and writings by artists, in addition to reissuing seminal magazines such as Avalanche and REAL LIFE. Hoff and Katzeff recently curated the final entry of the Excursus series, organized by Alex Klein, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia. The show runs March 20—June 16, 2013, and leads into the fiftieth anniversary of the ICA this fall.

THE ICA ASKED US to go through their archive and let the process determine the show, and we began by searching for artists and exhibitions that we thought would be of interest to us, an approach that was later coupled with the idea of—in keeping with what we already do—taking ten catalogues out of their fifty years of publishing them, and then digitizing and putting these projects online. We knew we wanted to canvass a large area and then focus on a few important people and shows. We also knew that we wanted to show work by artists that we’ve had past relationships with or material we’ve already worked with, which complements the archival material we’ve pulled from the ICA’s archive. Curtains (Vidas Perfectas), a large hanging canvas by Sarah Crowner, will be a framing device for the show.

It got interesting when we came across thirteen folders for a video art exhibition that happened at the ICA in 1975. Suzanne Delehanty, the director and curator at the time, started working on it in 1973, and it seems that she wasn’t afraid to embrace all the different ways that people were working with video in the ’70s—a lot of radical installations. From the ample documentation in the archive, it looks like the exhibition was exciting—something you’d want to see then, or even now. In 1973 there had only been a handful of ambitious video shows at museums, so it was great to see all the different requests to so many people trying to figure out how to preview and exhibit this medium—everyone was comparing notes or trying to get sponsorship for the equipment, which was incredibly expensive. An artist who came up repeatedly in the archive in a number of different ways is Douglas Davis, who was the art critic for Newsweek for a long time. It seems as though he was constantly connecting people while at the same time making amazing work himself. Meanwhile, all these video art distribution channels or microdistributors were springing up. For the most part it seems like a bunch of people having to figure out how to do video art shows, let alone make video art, because everything is really impractical. We’ll present a good deal of this correspondence—fascinating diagrams from artists about their installations, for instance Vito Acconci’s drawings, and instructions from Robert Morris.

It was compelling to us to get a sense of the political and social issues surrounding those networks, not only because the issue of distribution is so fundamental to what we do but also since this was such a new model in the mid-’70s. It was really a moment when people were beginning to think about how to produce and show videos and artists’ books on an institutional level—from Art Metropole in Canada to Printed Matter in New York to Bill Viola’s work at Art/Tapes/22. These kinds of discussions provide a nice background for what we’re talking about with regard to putting something out in an exhibition space versus publishing it in book form or putting it online. We hope this show provides an opportunity to highlight or think about those conversations, which are really important to us as an organization.

We were also thinking hard about our work after Hurricane Sandy basically threw it into relief. We lost about a quarter of our inventory in our storage space in Lower Manhattan, and about three quarters of our annual budget was wiped out by that storm. After that, all of our efforts went into hurricane recovery, which meant talking to insurance companies and corresponding with individual supporters. It was heartening to see all these organizations, individuals, and galleries sending out e-mails on our behalf for support, and it was incredible to receive this help—Artists Space gave us a humidifier, and librarians from New York Public Library and MoMA came down to help us when we were cleaning out the storage unit to see what could be saved. Later, White Columns, Triple Canopy, Light Industry, and others organized a benefit for us and other organizations. Sandy pushed everything back three or four months, but we are now able to focus on our new projects again. In addition to the ICA exhibition, we have a new artists’ book with Florian Hecker. We’ve also been working with Andrew Lampert and Haden Guest on a George Kuchar reader, which we’re really looking forward to. It should be out later this year.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler