McDermott & McGough talk to Bob Nickas. ('80s Then).
BOB NICKAS: If you were to make a panoramic history painting that would represent you in the '80s, what would you paint?
PETER McGOUGH: We already made that painting, in 1985. It's the two of us, and it says NOTORIETY. And on one side there are positive minds, temples to fame, success.
DAVID David, in the Bible
David, d. c.970 B.C., king of ancient Israel (c.1010–970 B.C.), successor of Saul. The Book of First Samuel introduces him as the youngest of eight sons who is anointed king by Samuel to replace Saul, who had been deemed a failure. McDERMOTT: We're in tailcoats at the very top, and all the other people are trying to climb up.
PM: We took it from an illustration in Hollywood Babylon. It has a huge eye and says PUBLIC EYE. It was about the art world.
DM: Hubert Burda Hubert Burda, (born February 9 1940 in Heidelberg) is a German art historian and publisher. Hubert Burda is CEO and owner of Hubert Burda Media, publishing more than 250 magazines inside and outside Germany (including Focus and Bunte) , the publishing heir, has it hanging in his cafeteria to inspire the workers.
BN: What if I commissioned you to make a companion painting? Since your career is about looking back in time, how would you paint that scene today?
DM: In the beginning we were peripheral in the art world. We were like decorative oddities that were allowed to be there. Julian [Schnabel] took us out of bohemia and the downtown scene and put us up with all the big artists. They didn't like us, but Julian championed us.
PM: He supported us by buying our work, and just pushed us on people.
DM: You'd have this whole powerhouse circle, and we would be there with Julian.
BN: That's the image?
DM: Yes. Picture us as little parrots on Julian's shoulders.
PM: I wouldn't paint that.
BN: Describe your painting.
PM: Mine would include Schnabel, Salle, and Clemente, and then this whole younger group of artists that came in, Philip Taaffe Philip Taaffe (born 1955) is an American artist
Taaffe was born in Elizabeth, New Jersey and studied at the Cooper Union in New York, gaining a Bachelor of Fine Arts in 1977. , us, Donald Baechler. And I would paint all those older artists sitting on a big bag of money.
DM: A big bag of money. And you know what? Coming out of their eyeballs would be more money. Right, Peter?
BN: It's easy to look at the '80s for their excess. I love quoting Mario Diacono, who showed you early on. He once said, "People back then, they thought it was going to be this never-ending feast."
PM: In 1989 a rich friend of mine was driving with an art dealer from Austria. They were in a convertible speeding along some beautiful coastline. They're laughing and saying, "The '80s were fabulous! Oh, weren't they great. And the '90s are going to get even better for us!" Then 1990 came, and bang! They were out of business.
BN: I thought you were going to say the car flew off the cliff.
PM: Well, it did for them. But you know what was interesting about the '80s? The East Village. You had all these people who saw SoHo and thought, "We can do that." They made their own little game in the East Village. There were some awful galleries, but even they sort of added to it.
BN: That's where we all started. And a big part of the motivation was an art world that was closed off. "Okay, they won't let us in, so we'll do it ourselves." Everybody I knew came out of performing and playing in bands after punk and No Wave.
DM: That's absolutely true. They made up their own art world. It was completely fake. There were fake critics. Fake dealers. Fake artists. The whole thing was fake. They were all pretending back then.
"Let's play art world. They won't let us, so we'll play over here in the dirt."
PM: Rene Ricard wrote about Fun Gallery and said that Patti Astor Patti Astor is New York City's original "walk on the wild side". Biography
She started out in Cincinnati, Ohio where she had a “perfect 50's childhood” and was a charter member of the Cincinnati Civic Ballet. was the new Mary Boone Mary Boone is a New York City based gallery owner. She represents many of the top artists today. Mary was an Art History major at the Rhode Island School of Design. Her two galleries reside in the art district in Chelsea and her main gallery is located on 5th Avenue above the men's . He was saying, "Don't go after these big galleries. Start your own war." That's what they did in the East Village. I tell you it was really fun. We lived on Avenue C, and they opened all these galleries, and on Sundays everybody came to look around.
BN: I think of you back in the early East Village days onstage at the Pyramid, before you began making art. I also remember walking down Houston Street, past the big car wash--remember Carz-a-Poppin'?--and I see this old roadster with the top down, and you're in the back with a driver in front. The car looked like you had to turn a crank to start it up.
PM: Right, 1913.
BN: I'd never seen anything like it. You were in raccoon coats raccoon coats
popular attire for collegians (1920s). [Am. Hist.: Sann, 175]
See : Fads , and people were doing triple takes. You had a very particular appearance, always in period dress. I certainly never saw you at an opening in jeans.
BN: Did the art world become this larger stage on which you could perform?
PM: We took all the money that we made in the '80s and threw it into our lives. We bought china, we bought furniture...
DM: We put it into our time experiment. That was our art as much as our paintings were.
PM: We had three different time machines, and the cars were part of it. Julian would come and see a bookcase bookcase
Piece of furniture fitted with shelves, formerly often enclosed by doors. In early times the ambry, or wall cupboard, was used to hold books. Bookcases were included in the medieval fittings of college libraries in Britain. with all these busts on it and he would say, "Make a painting of that." Our paintings were our ideas about homoeroticism homoeroticism /ho·mo·erot·i·cism/ (ho?mo-e-rot´i-sizm) sexual feeling directed toward a member of the same sex.homoerot´ic and time travel. And then our photography became a record of the way we lived.
DM: What was interesting about photography was that we had to change reality in order to create the pictures. With painting we could be in a fantasy world. But in order to get a photograph, we first had to put up the wallpaper, bring in the furniture ... Photography encouraged us to buy more old stuff and to get more involved in re-creating the past. It was a wonderful excuse to buy, buy, buy.
BN: Despite Julian's support, there must have been some resistance.
PM: People thought we were just Victorian queens who wanted to make little kitten paintings on pillows and be kitschy. That's when we switched to making "Time Maps" and "Time Spirals."
DM: We wanted to show that all time was "now time." That was always our goal. To show that it was completely stupid that everybody was living in this single corporate time when we could have all the times going simultaneously. We wanted to show that all time was lived at the same time, that we had a wealth of culture in every single year. In our paintings we were constantly trying to show how rich the past was and how foolish it was to abandon it all.
BN: Once you established what you were doing, did people have certain expectations? That sense of "This is what we want from you"?
PM: Massimo Audiello was a great dealer for us. He gave us money when he got paid. He supported us, took care of us.
DM: He understood the work. But the "Time Map" show was very difficult. I think we sold one painting out of the whole show.
BN: It's my favorite My Favorite is an independent synthpop band from Long Island, New York. They released two CDs: Love at Absolute Zero and Happiest Days of Our Lives. My Favorite broke up on September 14, 2005, when singer Andrea Vaughn left the band. show of yours, actually.
PM: Thank you. He said, "Stop painting these paintings. Paint me some scenery, some flowers, some landscapes. Give me something that I can sell, if you need money." We were like, "Oh, how dare you." We got all huffy and puffy. So we painted a flower arrangement on a pedestal On a Pedestal is an EP by the Swedish band Adhesive, released in 1998. Track listing
BN: Were artists collecting your work?
DM: They all wanted to trade with us. We weren't interested. We could have had the most fabulous art collection, but we didn't want any other work.
DM: Because our money was for our time experiment. Not to play in the fabulous '80s art world. We could give a shit about the '80s. We were interested in 1925. We were interested in 1850. We had a whole clique (mathematics) clique - A maximal totally connected subgraph. Given a graph with nodes N, a clique C is a subset of N where every node in C is directly connected to every other node in C (i.e. C is totally connected), and C contains all such nodes (C is maximal). of people who lived in the past. We were connected all over New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of State with antique automobile people, people who had plans to put in horse-drawn trolleys ...
PM: We did a painting called Rub-a-Dub-Dub . Keith Haring Keith Haring (May 4, 1958 – February 16, 1990) was a pre-eminent artist and social activist whose work responded to the New York street culture of the 1980s.
He was born in Reading, Pennsylvania but grew up in Kutztown and was interested in art from an early age. wanted that painting so much. He said, "I'll paint you a painting." We said, "What are we going to do with a Keith Haring in a Victorian interior?"
The thing about the '80s is that we went to all those parties and we knew all those artists. That was a lot of fun. That whole society of artists--it is much more interesting than if you go to Upper East Side society. I mean, I have been to those parties. They're just dreadful. But that whole crowd of art people, they were really interesting. Everybody was young, so they had a lot of energy. They all threw great parties. Julian would have these big movie-star parties. The society of the artist was great.
DM: The collectors, they had to buy in order to go to those parties. Otherwise, they didn't get into that scene. If they wanted to have a great social life, they had to buy art.
PM: It seemed to me like the '90s became more corporate even though there wasn't as much money. The '80s were like the '20s. It was flappers and hot jazz and all that. Then the '90s came and it was the '30s and everyone was depressed.
DM: But when that crash occurred, they weren't buying anything. We used all our art money to make a scene. Then we had to leave town because the millionaires didn't back us. We had to close everything down. They didn't give a shit. They just wanted to go to their black-and-white disco parties.
PM: At Xenon xenon (zē`nŏn) [Gr.,=strange], gaseous chemical element; symbol Xe; at. no. 54; at. wt. 131.29; m.p. −111.9°C;; b.p. −107.1°C;; density 5.86 grams per liter at STP; valence usually 0. .
DM: They just used us for extra decoration on their fabulous plastic lives.
BN: In the '80s, I was initially drawn to your work because of appropriation, even though I knew you were up to something else.
PM: We once went to the Niarchoses' and we were like, "Oh my god, these people are so rich." The room was just filled with Picassos.
BN: Well, it's a giant shipping fortune, second only to Onassis.
PM: But they weren't Picassos. They were all by Mike Bidlo Mike Bidlo (born 20 October, 1952) is an American painter, sculptor and performance artist.
Bidlo was born in Chicago, Illinois and studied at the University of Illinois and at Teachers College at Columbia University in New York. .
DM: Same thing happened when we went to Barbara Jakobson's. There was a huge Jackson Pollock and we thought, "Now we're in the home of a real collector." She said, "Of course, it's a Bidlo." And we thought, "Oh, the power of Bidlo, to be able to get people to have that kind of feeling."
BN: Had you taken note of Sherrie Levine's work?
DM: She's the one who dresses up in old-fashioned clothes?
BN: No, you're the one who dresses up In old-fashioned clothes.
PM: One of the things she did that was interesting was the sculpture of the pool table from the Man Ray painting. But we didn't really look at her work that much. When we did our first show, we made gigantic eight-foot-tall paintings of naked boys, all these classical images. We thought we were doing something really radical. We thought we were reviving classical art. We didn't even know how to paint classically.
BN: Collectors, take note. [Laughter.] Don't you have a funny story about being discovered?
PM: We would do little paintings, say, a teacup or a boy on a chaise. Like Elizabeth Peyton Elizabeth Peyton (born 1965) is an American painter who rose to popularity in the mid 1990s. She is a contemporary artist best known for stylized and idealized portraits of her close friends, pop celebrities, and European monarchy. , kind of scratchy, just the size of them, but more detailed than hers. We didn't have any money. We were living on the Bowery across from a homeless shelter Homeless shelters are temporary residences for homeless people. Usually located in urban neighborhoods, they are similar to emergency shelters. The primary difference is that homeless shelters are usually open to anyone, without regard to the reason for need. . So we took our little paintings and went to see all of our rich friends who had jobs. Those were rich people. They had jobs. We would go around and say, "Paintings for sale. Fifty dollars, one hundred dollars, a boy on ice skates on a pond." We would say, "Gash only." One day we were in SoHo and ran into Massimo. So we put our canvases on the sidewalk and said, "Massimo, buy a painting." He told Diego Cortez to come meet us, and Diego began to introduce us to collectors.
DM: We didn't know who anybody was.
BN: And now, twenty years TWENTY YEARS. The lapse of twenty years raises a presumption of certain facts, and after such a time, the party against whom the presumption has been raised, will be required to prove a negative to establish his rights.
PM: We went to Williamsburg, Brooklyn
Williamsburg is a neighborhood in the New York City borough of Brooklyn, bordering Greenpoint, Bed-Stuy, and Bushwick. , about a month ago, and people were coming up to us in stores and on the street, telling us they loved our work. It was like Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard Sunset Boulevard is a street in the western part of Los Angeles County, California, that stretches from Figueroa Street in downtown Los Angeles to the Pacific Coast Highway at the Pacific Ocean in the Pacific Palisades. , when she goes to the studio to see Cecil B. DeMille Noun 1. Cecil B. DeMille - United States film maker remembered for his extravagant and spectacular epic productions (1881-1959)
Cecil Blount DeMille, DeMille and they're like, "Oh, Miss Desmond, it's so great to have you back."
RELATED ARTICLES: '80s AGAIN
CASEY SPOON ER: In the '80s I was a painter and dreamed of living in SoHo, having a big loft, and being an art star. I loved Grace Jones's Slave to the Rhythm. Those videos and images were incredible! So was her makeup by Keith Haring in that awful horror film horror film n → película de terror or miedo
horror film horror n → film m d'épouvante
horror film horror n Vamp. I could go on, but I don't have enough time. I'm too busy. It's my turn. Now that's very '80s.
WARREN FISHER Sir (Norman Fenwick) Warren Fisher (1879–1948), was a British civil servant.
Fisher was born in Croydon, London on 22 September 1879. He was educated at the Dragon School (Oxford), Winchester College and Hertford College, Oxford University. : People think our Showy show·y
adj. show·i·er, show·i·est
1. Making an imposing or aesthetically pleasing display; striking: showy flowers.
2. overdressing is akin to '80s types like Adam Ant For similar terms like Adam Adamant, Atom Ant, adamant, adamantium, etc, see .
Adam Ant (born Stuart Leslie Goddard on November 3, 1954) is an English pop star, lead singer of 1980s New Wave/post-punk group Adam & the Ants and later a solo artist. and Boy George George Alan O'Dowd, better known as Boy George (born June 14, 1961 in Eltham, London) is a rock singer-songwriter. George grew up in a large, working-class Irish family, which originated in Thurles, in Co. Tipperary, Ireland. , as opposed to Alice Cooper or Kiss, which is weird, since this sort of extravagance happens in every decade. Then there's the stylistic reference to flatter, simpler, more angular sounds as opposed to the beefy beefy, beefyness
1. in dog conformation, used to describe overdevelopment of musculature in the hindquarters.
2. in cattle, used to designate the desirable physical conformation of a beef animal, but an undesirable character in dairy cattle. sort of Limp Bizkit thing. But it's not about irony. We're not Weird Al Yankovic. We stumbled on the idea of working within the narrow confines of things that are expected, listenable lis·ten·a·ble
Being such that listening is pleasurable: an undistinguished but listenable soundtrack.
lis , and consumable. And that's very 'SOs too.
As TOLD TO LARISSA HARRIS
Bob Nickas is a New York--based critic and the curator of more than forty exhibitions since 1984.