When I spoke with Armstrong in anticipation of this month's opening, I asked about his selection process, particularly with regard to artists outside the U.S., and about his emphasis on work that reinforces American and European models. Armstrong also discussed his decision to mount a smaller show and to concentrate on established as opposed to emerging artists. Two figures who have surprisingly never before made it into an International - Richard Tuttle and the late Donald Judd - emerge as pivotal players in Armstrong's survey.
ALLAN SCHWARTZMAN: What guiding principles did you use in putting this show together?
RICHARD ARMSTRONG: I had a prejudice against recapitulating what had been done in 1991. That meant leaving out a number of wonderful artists and certain viewpoints, primarily installation-oriented work. More specifically, I wanted to represent sculpture as wholly as possible. I could have put together a show consisting exclusively of white plaster casts - it's a very strong vernacular at this moment. One sculptor whose work is especially compelling is Donald Judd, who died while I was considering people for the show. He'd never been incorporated into an International, and in my mind he is probably today's most influential sculptor (along with Carl Andre and Richard Serra). We have a space that is a re-creation of the interior of an ancient temple on the Parthenon - what better place to present Judd? Further, I also knew early on that Rachel Whiteread deserved an in-depth presentation. I was also impressed with Miroslaw Balka; and Doris Salcedo was an early favorite.
AS: All these artists in different ways come out of a lineage traceable to Judd.
RA: I'm not sure you can make abstract sculpture today without being strongly cognizant of what he did.
AS: How did you approach painting?
RA: I looked for great strength and perhaps for young artists who might show different possibilities. I had seen Georg Baselitz's fantastically successful show at the Louisiana Museum in Denmark two summers back, and I was won over by his new work. Then other people offered themselves up, such as Beatriz Milhazes and Guillermo Kuitca; in Israel. this powerful older artist, Moshe Kupferman. whose abstract work I came to admire; and another New York artist. Louise Fishman, whose work is entirely unrelated to his.
AS: You've included artists from 16 countries. How did you organize your search?
RA: My pattern was to travel every other month, mostly to a place I'd never been. I would pound on doors until I had a list of people to visit and I'd settle on a Sherpa. I'd see 40 or 50 studios over the next five days, then get on a plane and fly off.
AS: Explain how you choose a single artist from an entire culture - in the case of Israel, Moshe Kupferman.
RA: I saw numerous studios during my visit there, and the breadth and depth of the culture was impressive, but Kupferman embodied the entire history of that young country. His paintings were so powerful and expressive and so embodied the landscape - both mental and physical - that I couldn't ignore them. I didn't want to. His work is an important representative of gestural abstraction. In the case of Germany, I felt that, especially in his recent work, Sigmar Polke, like Baselitz, demonstrated great strength of invention. They represent two serious poles inside one culture.
AS: So how did you decide to include Baselitz and Polke, and not Gerhard Richter?
RA: I thought Baselitz and Polke might be more yeastlik - they might offer contemporary culture different kinds of opportunities for growth. Their work is especially rich and provocative.
AS: Did you specifically decide to exclude painters associated with the `80s, like Julian Schnabel, Eric Fischl, and Francesco Clemente, or media-based artists, such as Jenny Holzer?
RA: No, but they were well represented in the International during the '80s. And don't forget, I've put together a smaller group of artists. When you consider people from other continents, certain North American artists get knocked out.
AS: Are any artists creating special projects for the show?
RA: Commissioning didn't seem as necessary this year, but I did commission in a couple of cases. Per Kirkeby will make a large brick sculpture outdoors, the first time he's done so in the U.S. Rirkrit Tiravanija is going to update Untitled (Still), 1995, the piece where everything in storage is out on view and he cooks curried rice. He'll be on a 62-foot landing on two different levels. We're bringing a fair number of architectural elements from 303 Gallery, where he first realized the piece.
AS: It sounds like it will be somewhat artifactual.
RA: Yeah, it'll be a past-perfect instead of a present tense.
AS: Will there be other installation-oriented works?
RA: Richard Artschwager has made 30 or 40 crate pieces that'll be displayed in a large, oblong space. In the center will be a diamond-shaped space in which Guillermo Kuitca's paintings will be shown. In the midst of the Artschwagers is Table Prepared in the Presence of Enemies, 1993, a crate he transformed into a place to eat.
AS: Is this related to Robert Therrien's piece [Under the Table]?
RA: Bob's piece is a 19-foot-long, 11-foot-high table with six 9-foot-high chairs. You walk underneath it - it's about structure and perhaps a reconfiguration of childhood experience.
AS: Did you deliberately seek out works with these kinds of correspondences?
RA: No. I tried to go out into the world without a program. But there are definitely relationships. Rachel Whiteread has chosen to make a 100-unit piece cast from the space underneath the same chair. Doris Salcedo's cement pieces of furniture contain some of the same language.
AS: There are few young artists in the show. None are younger than 30, and only seven were born from 1960 on.
RA: It's not that kind of show. I conceived of it as offering a few opportunities for people like Beatriz Milhazes and Rob Birza to present their substantial bodies of work to a newer audience, but I didn't consider it especially useful to bring in people who were just getting started.
AS: How would you describe the work of the less familiar artists?
RA: Rob Birza from Amsterdam is brand new. In my travels I repeatedly saw attempts to reinvigorate the incorporation of popular culture into art. He was the most rambunctious. He makes big three-dimensional works centered around his fetish for funky '60s light fixtures and plastic furniture. I went to see him three times and pigeon holed him that way. But then I saw the Mondrian show and realized - maybe I'm crazy, but I think he's after the same kind of spirituality.
Beatriz Milhazes seemed the most inventive and cleanest reflection of the exuberance of Brazil, in both natural and cultural terms. Brazil is a giant mine full of opportunities.
Tomoharu Murakami's interested in a diaristic approach, in a Zen-like fashion - even though he's Catholic. He makes black paintings, emptying out the subject so they become completely topological. They're worked on for months or even a year at a time. He's been at this for over 20 years. He's an atypical example of the Japanese esthetic, but I felt he curiously reflects the Japanese ability to focus intensely. His work evokes great pleasure.
AS: Throughout the show you have painters who seem similarly involved in a language of abstraction - Murakami, Miroslaw Balka, Louise Fishman, Moshe Kupferman, Agnes Martin, Joan Mitchell, Sigmar Polke, even Leonardo Drew and Remy Zaugg - yet the work of each remains grounded in unique cultural traditions.
RA: I've always felt abstract painting indexed a culture's self-esteem and is an especially important late-20th-century project. Those are the people I approached, occasionally with rose-colored glasses.
AS: Is there another line running through the show linked to Robert Gober?
RA: Yes - it's the cliche other people call identity, which might be called portraiture.
AS: Were there things you thought were important at the beginning of your research that faded as you proceeded?
RA: No, I went out into the world ignorant. I wanted to define "international" as broadly as possible. I wanted to avoid reverting to the United States, which I had known so well from all those years at the Whitney Museum.
AS: Were you looking at Latin American communities within the United States or at culturally hybrid work?
RA: I didn't make an effort to seek them out. I tried to be as inquisitive as possible, but I didn't go out looking for anybody left-handed with blue hair.
AS: Do you see the role of these large international survey shows changing or even the need for them waning?
RA: I wish there were more, and that they were more intellectually defensible. I wish regional biases would be reflected and that from our first-hand acquaintanceship with these different conglomerations of information we could maintain a higher level of dialogue. I think everyone gains from these projects. They give form to the moment.
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|Title Annotation:||1995 Carnegie International|
|Date:||Nov 1, 1995|
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