Left: Yvonne Rainer, The Mind Is a Muscle (first version), 1966. Performance view, Judson Church, New York, NY, May 24, 1966. Right: Yvonne Rainer, Parts of Some Sextets, 1965. Performance view, Wadsworth Atheneum, Hartford, CT, March 6, 1965. Robert Morris, Lucinda Childs, Steve Paxton, Yvonne Rainer, Deborah Hay, Tony Holder, Sally Gross, Robert Rauschenberg, Judith Dunn, and Joseph Schlichter. Photos: Peter Moore © Estate of Peter Moore / VAGA.
The choreographer, dancer, writer, and filmmaker Yvonne Rainer was born in San Francisco in 1934 and moved to New York in the 1950s, where she helped cofound the Judson Dance Theater in 1962. This summer marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first concerts at Judson Church, and to commemorate the occasion, artforum.com is presenting a series of interviews with key participants in the group.
JUDSON’S IN MY GENES! I mean probably more than for the others. It was such a defining period for me. I came to New York in 1956 to study at the Herbert Berghof School of Acting. I studied with Lee Grant, who at that time was blacklisted because of her leftist politics. (Sandy Dennis, then seventeen, was in the same class.) I was in my early twenties, and I was no good. Objectively speaking, I never had a talent for mimesis.
A musician friend of mine was going to a dance class. She said it would be good for my acting, and I went to this class in the Village taught by Edith Stephen. She had studied African dance and Humphrey-Weidman technique, so it was very eclectic. After the first class, I asked her for an evaluation. She said, “Well, you’re not very turned out, but you’re very strong.” I loved it. I loved jumping around. I had a huge amount of energy, strong legs, and I luckily had no idea how structurally ill-adapted I was for traditional dance of any kind. I was ignorant of that until relatively recently.
At that time, Merce Cunningham didn’t have a studio of his own, and he would rent space from Edith. I would go there early and peek through the curtains, and he would be rehearsing by himself. It was like he was on ice. It was so beautiful. So when I began to use running in my early work, I made a comparison to that freedom, that pleasure in movement that I attributed to him when I first saw him—it was like the feeling I had when I ran.
After Edith, I studied for a year with Martha Graham. I slowly gravitated toward John Cage and Cunningham, and I studied with Merce for eight years and took ballet classes. But very early, I knew that I would not be accepted in any professional dance company, and that if I wanted to continue dancing, I’d have to make my own work, despite the fact that, unexpectedly, James Waring, that great choreographer of mismatched dancers, invited me into his company. I worked with him from 1961 to 1963.
In 1960, Robert Dunn, who was a kind of acolyte of Cage, was playing the piano for Merce’s classes. I think Cage induced him to teach some kind of workshop in Merce’s studio. There were five of us in the workshop that first year, including Simone Forti and Steve Paxton—Steve was already dancing with Cunningham. The initial basis of the class was analyzing Cage’s chance procedures for Fontana Mix. We all began to make work. In the following year, four more people came in. Then in 1962, some of us tried out for this annual dance concert that took place at the 92nd Street Y. We auditioned before a jury of three choreographers, and we were all turned down: Lucinda Childs, Trisha Brown, Steve, and I. None of us made the grade.
We realized that we had to do something on our own if we wanted to show our work publicly. I was already going down to Judson Church to see productions by the Poet’s Theater there. Judson had an art gallery, too, where Claes Oldenburg and Robert Whitman and Allan Kaprow were showing work. The director was Howard Moody, this ex-marine who was the chief minister of the place—a very progressive guy. Al Carmine was the artistic director. I arranged for some of us to show Al what we were doing, and he invited us in. Later, he would say, “I didn’t quite know what I was looking at, but I sensed that it was important.” That’s how the first concert of dance at Judson took place, on July 6 of 1962. And we were launched!
I think Steve’s work was the most far-out—and kind of arcane—of everything that went on there. His stuff was the most resistant to pleasureful expectations. He was physically so gifted but absolutely refused to exploit these gifts. I can describe a dance that kind of demonstrates this. It was called Afternoon (1963). Six of us rehearsed this very difficult, Cunningham-esque movement. Remember: I had to work very hard against the strictures of my body to master this technique. And I worked my ass off to learn these steps. The dance was to be shown in a forest in New Jersey, and the audience was bused out. It took place after a rain on very mushy ground, so it was impossible to keep your balance and to do the steps as he had taught them in the studio. I was outraged. But of course it was totally deliberate on his part. He knew that the surface would affect the quality of the movement. And that’s what he was interested in, this destruction of virtuosic movement. That was his mentality, and it was very hard for a lot of people to take. Some people might say this was the spirit of Judson, but Steve was definitely in the vanguard of all the multifaceted work that emerged from the Judson cauldron.
Katie Holten is an Irish-born, New York–based multimedia artist whose work explores the relationship between human beings and the natural environment. She represented Ireland at the 2003 Venice Biennale and in 2009 created Tree Museum, a public artwork celebrating the centennial of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. She was recently selected by the New Orleans Museum of Art to create a site-specific installation for the institution’s Great Hall Project series. “Drawn to the Edge” opened June 15 and will be on view through September 9.
I LOVE MAPS. I’m drawn to the macro and micro view of things—self-similar patterns found on different scales, across the physical landscape as well as through time. The shape of river deltas is found to repeat at scales all the way down to cracks in the mud. We see this in man-made as well as organic structures—a simple underlying mathematics to it all.
When I was invited to create a work for New Orleans, I immediately began thinking of those “edges” where the man-made meets the organic; where today meets yesterday, ten thousand years ago, and tomorrow; and where solid meets liquid meets air. I met locals who work with land and water and I went on expeditions to places like Cocodrie and Venice, Louisiana. I saw the extent of the problems inherent in this landscape, which is literally disappearing. Much of this is due to oil and gas prospectors who cut channels through the wetlands, allowing salt water in. As the salt water spreads, the land dies. I kept finding myself standing at the edge of the land, looking at where the water and earth touch. Silence was all around and I felt a palpable sense of foreboding.
Because I couldn’t place anything on the floor or walls of the Great Hall—as they often hold events there—I proposed suspending massive drawings from the ceiling that could be lowered to ground level, acting as walls within the space. The double-sided drawings, made on canvas, are twelve feet tall and range from sixteen to thirty-six feet long. They became sculptural in their scale. I used simple materials—graphite, charcoal, chalk, black oil stick, and sediment.
Getting up in the air to see everything from above was essential. I took hundreds of aerial photographs. Zooming in on New Orleans and flying south with Google Earth, it’s easy to spot man-made channels—all the straight lines. I used this as an aesthetic strategy—hanging the drawings to form straight lines and channels that confront visitors as soon as they enter the museum. When you walk into the Great Hall, a thirty-six-foot canvas blocks your path. It changes how you enter and navigate the museum. In this sense it’s also an architectural project.
It was important to give titles that could place the viewer within a narrative. For example, one drawing looks like a night sky, but the title is Constellations (maps of Louisiana oil and gas wells), so you realize that each of the many thousands of little dots is a well—the seemingly cosmic turns out to be a human-made manifestation of the underlying geology. I made the drawing using chalk from the Cretaceous era, which I collected from the former ocean floor in Kansas—a place intrinsically linked to southern Louisiana. Water from half of the US finds its way down the Mississippi River, carrying sediment from as far away as Pennsylvania and Montana—the same sediment that actually formed the land that is now New Orleans.
Time feeds the entire project, and in many ways the drawings are an attempt to capture it. The drawing Found Islands depicts, on one side, an island that existed 4,500 years ago where New Orleans is today, while the other side features a contemporary island formed by the combined processes of man-made events, sediment accumulation, and encroaching salt water. City (New Orleans) is an animated drawing that shows the city expanding and contracting back to its origins in an endless loop. The speed is synced to mimic the pace of a human breath—the course of several centuries is condensed to seven seconds.
Last year, independent curator and writer Jessamyn Fiore organized the exhibition “112 Greene Street: The Early Years (1970–1974)” at David Zwirner Gallery, which brought together many of the key works shown in the landmark noncommercial venue. A new book copublished this month by Zwirner and Radius Books shares the title of that exhibition and features extensive interviews with many of the participating artists. On Thursday, July 26, Fiore will discuss her research at 192 Books.
AFTER RUNNING THISISNOTASHOP, a small alternative art space in Ireland, I found myself yearning for a few historic examples of similar independent exhibition venues for inspiration, and that’s when I began investigating 112 Greene Street. I was already quite familiar with one of its founders, Gordon Matta-Clark; my mother, Jane Crawford, is his widow, and I basically grew up with his estate. But I was surprised to discover a scarcity of published articles about the history of the venue. There is one lovely book by Robyn Brentano, which she compiled between 1978 and 1980, when the organization left Greene Street and became White Columns. Unfortunately today that text is out of print. I ended up writing my master’s thesis at the National College of Art and Design in Dublin on 112 Greene Street, and in doing so I discovered a treasure trove of fascinating stories from interviews with the original artists, which made me I realize how important these primary resources are. It only made sense to have this book take the form of an oral history.
Today 112 Greene Street exists mainly as legend, since so much of the art that was shown there was ephemeral or destroyed. There are some incredible documentary images, but the bulk of the information about the space really comes from the recollections of the vibrant artistic community who worked, lived, ate, and partied there. They used the building as their own creative laboratory, as a site to experiment with multidisciplinary forms of practice. It’s really their stories that capture the essence of that moment. It was important for me to make a primary resource of those narratives for future curators and researchers to take from and use for their own projects. But this book is really just scratching the surface. It would be exciting to see it inspire more exploration about not only 112 Greene Street but other spaces like it, particularly in connection to those that exist now, since they play an essential role in supporting artists and deserve recognition.
The amount and diversity of work that happened at 112 Greene Street in such a short time is truly humbling, and that’s one reason I wanted to include the time line in the book. In the four years I focus on—its earliest years—you can see that hundreds of artists passed through the space. So many of the great stories in the book about these artists are centered around Jeffrey Lew. He was like the ringleader of a circus there, making it a place where really interesting things could happen. For instance, he did not care about having a pristine space; he left it rough so you could dig holes in the basement and carve holes in the walls. George Trakas did a piece in 1970 where he actually had a sculpture come up through the floor from the basement to the first floor. Though Jeffery was irked at first, he grew to love that work, and many said that piece was a key moment in the venue’s history.
Another important point is that 112 Greene Street was just one in a constellation of alternative venues. Nearby, at Chatham Square, Tina Girouard, Mary Heilmann, and Richard Landry were renting a building where they hosted large dinner parties with music and dance performance. Simultaneously, Carol Goodden, Matta-Clark, and Girouard were organizing the restaurant Food. The latter became a gathering place for the community while also giving employment to those who needed it and providing a venue for food performance. When it came to artmaking and exhibitions, they would help each other out and critique each other’s work. It becomes clear in the book how essential that networking and peer review was to some of the artists in strengthening their practice and helping them pursue successful careers.
Another aspect that stood out to me during my research was the important role that women played at 112 Greene Street, in not only producing so many shows there but also contributing greatly to the running of the space. Rachel Wood was Jeffery’s wife and she was involved in the day-to-day operations, as was the artist Suzanne Harris, who also lived in the building with her husband, Paul. I think her work is some of the most exciting from that era, but sadly it has been largely ignored by art history. I tried to push Girouard’s and Harris’s art to the forefront in the show at David Zwirner, and I hope that through this book art historians will become more interested in their output. One of my most sincere wishes is that these two artists get a second look. They are both among the great, but unfortunately often forgotten, artists of that generation.
View of Amanda Ross-Ho’s studio, June 2012.
“TEENY TINY WOMAN” is the first solo museum exhibition in Los Angeles by Amanda Ross-Ho. On view at the MoCA Pacific Design Center from June 23 to September 23, this show finds Ross-Ho characteristically spanning the disciplines of sculpture, photography, collage, and installation in a deliberately self-referential project that draws from and remixes her own output and artistic history of the past several years.
THE IDEA OF THE RETROACTIVE GAZE is a consistent factor in my work, but not in the sense of cultivating historical distance or nostalgia; it is more a backward way of thinking, an understanding of something by turning it upside down or inside out. Dissection. So the invitation to prepare a survey exhibition simply afforded me an opportunity to broaden the arc of a rigorous investigation that was already heavily evolved in my output. For some time now I have been reaching back into the origins of my own production—extracting, cannibalizing, and translating forms. For me this is less a reclamation or recuperation of individual artifacts as it is a way of mapping the structure and scale of the bigger project as a large holistic organism with a looping logic. In a way, my entire practice is a “survey” of sorts, and typically I employ an omnipotent point of view. This exhibition aims to perform this infinite regress/progress through a heightened or somewhat hyperbolic theater of my own activity.
Since I moved to Los Angeles in 2004, I have been interested in the idea of collapsing authentic gesture with authored or performed gesture. I guess initially I thought I was proposing that the two were one and the same. More recently I think I have located the distinction that rather through their collapse, a third, more compelling form emerges: a hyperaware activity that embodies intuition and immediacy as well as total intentionality and consciousness. I’m invested in cultivating a scenario in which I play the roles of maker and observer, oscillating between these roles to create slippage between the subjective and the objective.
The architectural schema for my MoCA exhibition is a reiteration of a large installation I made in 2008 for the California Biennial. In this work, Frauds for an Inside Job, I excavated the walls of my studio and imported them into the museum, presenting their accumulated residue of activity as formal compositions. For MoCA, I’m performing a “looping theater” or inversion of this. I had walls built at the museum to the exact perimeter and height measurement of my studio, and then had those walls moved to my space. Ultimately, the structure of the exhibition is a result of embedding layered redundancies into the work. The architectural exchange repeats the grand gesture of that former artwork, permanently altering the singularity of reception for both projects. Within this context, individual images and objects enact similar repetitions that mediate my immediate surroundings as well as the vocabulary I’ve cultivated.
Within the individual images and objects in the show there are recontextualized versions of former artworks, reflexive references to my existing lexicon, and found stand-ins for works from my own creative history. There are also direct translations of primal gestures and there are forms located within incredibly recent popular culture that find root in something personal or intimate. In this sense I am interested in deboning time and suggesting something more cyclical, organic, and multidirectional. For this show I made a diptych, UNTITLED ONE AND UNTITLED TWO, which is a direct translation of a pair of paintings I made when I was four years old. The process of laboriously re-creating the intuitive marks made by my own hand thirty-three years ago was an intense exercise in muscle memory and regression. For me this creates a loop between my current production and the deep origins of my practice.
After I had worked within this doubled studio lining for several months (producing work for this show and other projects), the walls again accumulated authentic activity but also afforded the opportunity to perform gestures onto their surfaces in anticipation of their eventual exhibition in the same manner. This created a self-conscious space of intentionality, in which I was extremely mindful of every move, and every gesture became meaningful. In addition to producing the works you will see in the show, I made several large-scale pieces directly on the wall surfaces and then removed them, leaving only their residue. I will release these works within other projects at a future date. I love the idea that in the future, by closely examining the long view of the work, you could identify this reversal. To me this strengthens the bones of the work. It’s a method of decentering by scrambling the sequences of production and reception, and allowing access to the absence or trace of something before being given access to its primary form.
Susan Morgan is a Los Angeles–based writer and contributing editor at Aperture. With Kimberli Meyer, she cocurated the 2011 exhibition “Sympathetic Seeing: Esther McCoy and the Heart of American Modernist Architecture and Design” at the MAK Center/Schindler House in LA. Morgan recently edited Piecing Together Los Angeles: An Esther McCoy Reader, the first gathering of the diverse writings of Esther McCoy (1904–1989), a critic who significantly impacted cultural understandings of midcentury modern California design. The collection is the debut title from East of Borneo Books.
I MOVED TO LOS ANGELES just over twenty years ago. I’d always lived on the East Coast, in New York and before that in Nantucket, where the town council would meet to decide whether the pitch of a residential roof could be altered a few inches. When I arrived in LA, the variety of architectural styles seemed like a Whitman’s Sampler: a Spanish hacienda next to a Norman castle next to a concrete modernist structure. It was daunting and hard to read. A friend recommended Five California Architects and I immediately fell in love with McCoy’s writing. For any writer, the question of how to translate visual and spatial information to the page presents a real challenge; McCoy was able to do that successfully in a clean, direct, and evocative way. Her writing about architecture is very different from standard histories or theory-based discussions.
As I read more by McCoy, I was surprised that so many people didn’t know about her. People interested in midcentury design were familiar with Julius Shulman’s photographs but McCoy’s writing on the same subjects was often overlooked, eclipsed I suppose by Shulman’s flair for self-promotion and theatricalized images. Although she was generally recognized for having written about the Case Study House program, it was her subjects—the houses and architects—that became known. Even readers of her architectural writing were unaware of the incredible range of her work: novels, radio plays, short stories, and progressive journalism. McCoy is really a major social critic of the twentieth century. This book brings together articles, lectures, correspondence, memoirs—writing that had appeared before only in those more ephemeral formats.
Within an academic context, people tend to talk about “Esther McCoy and her project.” That strikes me as curious, because when you’re a freelance writer with no institutional affiliation—like McCoy was—you don’t actually have a “project.” What you have is your writing, and all you can do is try to find subjects that engage you and are compelling to think and write about. McCoy called Los Angeles “a place that was not taken seriously” and she wanted it to be taken seriously. Southern California became a fascinating and rewarding subject for her.
It’s the quality of McCoy’s writing, though, that makes what she writes about especially memorable. Reading her work is like looking over her shoulder and seeing what she sees. During WWII, she worked as an engineering draftsman for Douglas Aircraft—one thousand drafting boards and blueprint girls on roller skates delivering drawings—and later worked as an architectural draftsman for R.M. Schindler. In 1945, she published her first architectural writing, an article about Schindler. In 1987, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth, McCoy wrote a terrific memoir about their first meeting and a fresh, sympathetic appreciation of his talent. She wrote: “He simplified everything, from the filing system based on vowels, storage of nuts and bolts, and an address book filled mainly with the names of plumbers and electricians and carpenters. He had simplified his life. He had simplified his design and made it more complex.”
McCoy closely observed how things come together and are constructed, whether a building or a story. She credited her childhood love of fairy tales as a major influence on her own concisely drawn modernist prose: No detail is arbitrary and every element of the story absolutely delivers.
Robert Morris lives and works in New York and is known for his significant contributions to Minimalism, Land art, and process and installation art. Not long after moving to the city in 1961, he began performing with the Judson Dance Theater, an informal group of artists and dancers working at the Judson Memorial Church in Greenwich Village. This summer marks the fiftieth anniversary of the first concerts at the theater, and to commemorate the occasion, artforum.com will present a series of interviews with key participants in the group.
THE JUDSON CHURCH was well known to those who lived downtown. There was a gallery downstairs, and performances, plays, concerts, and readings went on in the basement gym as well as in the church proper. All of these activities were supported and encouraged by Howard Moody, the pastor of the church. Jim Dine’s Car Crash was the earliest event I recall attending at the Judson Gallery.
In the early 1960s, Robert Huot lived and worked in a loft across Church Street from me. We had a friendship that had a certain edge; we argued a lot and insulted each other. Huot, who was physically quite powerful, once grabbed me as we were walking down the street and threw me on top of a car. I no longer remember what I said to provoke him to do this. One day we were discussing the dangers of peace and came up with the idea of having a combat. Each of us would make our own armor and weapons. It came about that we would enact our “war” in the basement gym of the Judson Church as one of the events of an evening of performances. I believe the other events were all billed as dances. So by default our performance of War was categorized as a dance.
I knew Mark di Suvero from having worked in a small studio below him near the old Fulton Fish Market before moving to my loft on Church Street, and I asked him to make me a steel gong. He cut a four-foot circle from a plate of steel with his cutting torch. The heat caused the circle to deform slightly into a concave/convex shape, which seemed perfect for a gong. I made a large wooden frame in which to hang the gong and asked La Monte Young to “play” this instrument for the combat-performance. We performed War on January 30, 1963, and it was my first involvement with the Judson.
We never rehearsed War. It started with La Monte just hitting the gong for fifteen minutes in pitch-dark in the gym. Then the lights went up with Huot at one end and myself at the other. We began running toward each other and we slammed into each other with our shields. We were each holding a pigeon. I had bought the birds, after first trying to trap some in Washington Square Park. When we hit we let them go and they flew into the audience. The piece consisted of us hitting each other with fake swords and maces until all was demolished. Then the lights went out. I gave the gong to La Monte. Six months later he called; he wanted me to listen to a recording he had made with it. He had wired it with contact microphones and played it with a bow.
Excerpt from Robert Morris’s Site, 1964
Our weapons were made to break and our costumes were sturdy. Neither of us sustained injuries. My costume was made with mops for epaulets, and I had a large foam rubber muscle on my right arm tattooed with a red heart and an arrow through it. There were plywood greaves; two rubber bath mats were worn like a kind of skirt. A real fox fur and two beer cans dangled down in front between the bath mats. I had a plywood shield with a photo of Eisenhower on it and medals attached, one of which was the Iron Cross. I remember Huot’s armor was made with many license plates.
Before I moved to New York I had been living in San Francisco and was married to the dancer Simone Forti, who was working with Anna Halprin. I became involved with Simone in setting up a workshop in San Francisco to explore areas of performance and dance we both felt were ignored by Halprin. We met with a small group of dancers, painters, musicians, and poets on Sunday evenings where we experimented with sound, light, language, and movement in a workshop situation. This was my first involvement with dance-related explorations. When I moved to New York in 1961, these investigations were still fresh in my mind, so the open forum of the Judson appealed to me—although I don’t remember specifically how Huot and I got our collaboration War into that basement for a performance.
I stopped choreographing works when Yvonne Rainer, with whom I was living at the time, told me, “One dancer in the family is enough.” This was after Check, a work for fifty-plus performers, was first performed in Stockholm in the fall of 1964. It was the last work I choreographed. I can no longer recall particulars of time, place, or context, but the words themselves have stuck in my mind, as they precipitated my decision to stop working with dance.
I have many memories of working at the Judson Dance Theater, but to set them down, even to describe the works I performed there, would perhaps generate too long a text. So I will cite one example here. Carolee Schneemann suggested that we collaborate on a work and I agreed. We met twice in the basement of the Judson to improvise together to see if anything would come of it. I felt at somewhat of a loss at the first session and now can’t recall, or perhaps have repressed, what I did. I do remember distinctly what Carolee did. She took off her clothes and began to paint her body, and I found this distracting. The second time we met Carolee did the same thing. I stopped whatever it was I was doing (probably running around banging into walls) and announced to Carolee that it wasn’t working. I suggested that each of us should have a turn making something in which the other performed. I said I would go first and think of something that would include her. What I came up with was Site, a work in which Carolee did take off her clothes, got painted white, but did not move. She never made a work with a role for me as a performer. This may have been because she disapproved of my casting her as Manet’s Olympia in Site. Still, she did not refuse to perform in the work.