Conversation with Robert Irwin



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Artist Robert Irwin sits down with Richard McCoy, an IMA conservator, to talk about his career in art, conservation issues and his three-story fluorescent light installation entitled Light and Space III, specifically designed for the Indianapolis Museum of Art's main 60-foot atrium Pulliam Great Hall.

Richard, Thanks for your reply. I am aware of the four-part categories and the book 'Being and Circumstances...' Those definitions go a long way in helping to fill in some background for this particular discussion. In fact they were the original source of my questions. In those definitions Irwin makes the point/distinction between what he does and what someone like Serra does. I think it is an important distinction. I think for the most part Irwin’s work does follow the fourth category, of being Site conditioned/determined. Where “….the sculptural response draws all of its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings."

Still, the IMA work, raises questions for me as being a strict site-conditioned/determined work. When Irwin employs the scrim and lights we are immediately reminded of how he has used those materials in the past. In this case the work reminds us of the recent past, (especially with the light work in San Diego,) and of course with the numerous scrim works from other settings. In this respect the work at IMA seems to be more like a Serra work in that we recognize it first as being Irwin’s, or Irwin’s materials. According to Irwin’s own definition he seems to have simply adjusted these signature-materials to fit the site. Perhaps this is just hair-splitting, but I think works like his proposal for the Ohio State courtyard or the work he did at DIA Beacon come closer to his definition of Site-determined, in that they seemed to be totally original works that evolved out of an intimate reading of the site, while works like the IMA installation come closer (in my mind) to categories 2-3.

Again, I know there is a big difference between what Irwin does and what some one like Serra does. Irwin’s reading of a site is much more nuanced. I am also aware that every artist in this field is testing materials/ideas; and a certain material might have potential beyond a single use. I feel that is all fair game and I have no problem with that. However, Irwin has really been making a case for his definition – site-conditioned/determined for a long time. In fact in the four-part categories you can see clearly where he comes down on this issue (just look at how long the fourth part is in comparison to the other three). For this reason I feel the work at IMA (a beautiful work) fits more in the site-conditioned category, with some gestures toward the site determined. At this point I am probably beating a dead horse. I am also aware that this issue is of little importance to most people.

Having said that, you have a great site and it was great to hear your interview. Your questions took Irwin in some unexpected directions, and it was really interesting to hear such a detailed discussion of the project. Irwin’s work is simply fantastic. I am really happy a major museum is finally taking on the challenge of putting his work in such a prominent position, as well as taking it’s long-term up-keep so seriously.

This doesn't directly respond to anonymous' statement, but I think it's worth putting on here because it addresses much of those ideas:

Back in 1985 Robert Irwin set out some "general working categories for public/site art, in terms of how we generally process (recognize, understand) them" in his publication *Being and Circumstance -- Notes Toward a Confidential Art*

Here's the categories and the first sentence of the definition:

"1) Site dominant. This work embodies the classic tenets of permanence, transcendent and historical content, meaning, purpose; the art-object either rises out of, or is the occasion for, it's 'ordinary' circumstances -- monuments, historical figures, murals, etc.....

2) Site adjusted. Such work compensates for the modern development of the levels of meaning-content having been reduced to terrestrial dimensions (even abstraction)....

3) Site specific. Here the 'sculpture' is conceived with the site in mind; the site sets the parameters and is, in part, the reason for the sculpture

4) Site conditioned/determined. Here the sculptural response draws all of its cues (reasons for being) from its surroundings. This requires the process to begin with an intimate, hands on reading of the site."

Clearly, he defines the IMA's work as site conditioned/determined.

After viewing the video one question came to mind. It would be directed to Mr. Irwin., so in that respect - since he is not responding - it’s more like a comment than a question. I am a big fan of Irwin’s work, so this should be understood in that light. Irwin makes a case for his work being defined as site-determined, or site-generated. He reinforces this definition by contrasting and comparing his work to people like Serra, whose work he defines as being site-specific. He further distinguishes his work from people like Mark di Suvero, and then further from more classical approaches to making art (particularly in public spaces). Irwin stress the fact that all his works evolve out of a detailed consideration of each space; that each space has a particular set of circumstances that make it unique from any other place. Yet, this work has a clear set of materials and imagery that he has used in other situation. For example, the lights were used in a somewhat similar manner in his recent exhibition in San Diego. In this work he did use them differently, in that they were counter poised to the strong angle of the escalators. Whereas in San Diego he had the lights set at an angle, which played off of the strong rectangle of the gallery wall. Still, these seem more like nuance adjustments as opposed to being a completely new response to the situation at the Indianapolis Museum. This comment could also hold true for the use of the scrim.

Having said that, I like very much how he has incorporated what he learned in San Diego into this new situation. I also think he has considered all those local details like the need for more light in the Great Hall, the movement of the escalator, the visual play with the lights being located on two different planes but appearing to read as one visual field, as well as the removal of the wooden slats. All this makes for a beautiful solution to a difficult space. A fantastic work! Still, I am wondering if he can call this a truly unique solution to this space. It is unique in that it is an original response to a set of circumstances, but not unique in his oeuvre. Well, I guess I am asking is it ever possible for an artist to respond in a totally unique way to a give set of circumstances? Don’t artists always bring – to a greater or lesser extent – a set of experience to each situation (bag of tricks?) or is it just a matter of degrees? Certainly Irwin is considering the site more than most artists, or is considering it in a different way than most artists. However, he does recycle some ideas like the large rebar planters at the Getty were first tested in another situation. I don’t know if this is formulating into a clear question. Any thoughts on these points…would be interesting to hear.

Thank you for this excellent interview. It's a great time capsule, and like Amber said, it's strength is its thoroughness. I think the video's original aim as an internal document for other conservators and curators gave the interview and great focus and depth.

Thanks, Amber, for your kind comment. From the outset we knew that we wanted to have an interview on file with Mr. Irwin so that we could have some guidance on how to maintain and conserve this important, permanent installation.

Though I'm pleased with the interview, I have to say when we I did it I wasn't thinking about it being out in the public like this. But I'm glad to see it here.

From conception to creation to care! A complete package and a wonderful interview. Fabulous to hear the artist's input and reflection of it all.

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00:00:00 My name is Richard McCoy, I'm an Assisting Conservator of Objects here and I'm thrilled to be sitting with Robert Irwin, in front of the IMA's new sculpture, Light and Space III, that was just finished.

00:00:13 Which is not an object!

00:00:15 Which is not an object. Okay! That's a great way to start.

00:00:20 So it falls under my responsibilities because I take care of things here that are basically, that are three-dimensional. So, I take care of things that are not paintings, not works of art on paper

00:00:30 and so, to me, this falls as a kind of sculpture, but I'd be interested to hear how you define it, and I'd like to, maybe, just start it

00:00:40 kind of a top level to talk about the context of the space and then to have you describe what the piece is,

00:00:51 and then move from there to talk about, you know, what are the materials in the piece and then to give myself and then future

00:01:01 IMA staffers an understanding of how we can maintain this piece and how to preserve its integrity and to preserve all of your

00:01:11 intentions as to what it should be and so...

00:01:15 first when I said that it wasn't an object, I think the sort of essential thrust of what I do now,

00:01:26 because I started out as a painter and I did make objects at one point, but the thrust of it is that it starts out that there's a certain kind of logic

00:01:36 that allows us to frame our intentions, our activities and that's a quantitative process having to do with identifying those kinds of

00:01:46 critical pieces of information on a meaning structure and on the basis of that, we can make the object as an object, the man on a horse in the middle of a plaza

00:01:56 who saved the city, great meaning, he becomes central to that and basically the plaza is around him. In the recent history

00:02:07 of modern art, we've been breaking down that meaning structure and we arrive at a certain point where, just as a kind of step-by-step, where

00:02:16 the object became, in a sense, rather than a site dominant, it became site conditioned, in a way, where it,

00:02:27 I mean I shouldn't say conditioned site, I don't know I've forgotten the word, but

00:02:33 Specific or...?

00:02:34 No, not yet, that's the next step. It would be like a Mark Di Suvero, say, which is made in the studio,

00:02:44 still an object in the original sense but when it's put in for this plaza maybe it makes it a little taller, makes it a green instead of blue or whatever

00:02:54 and that was a step in which the site and the object begin to become interactive. The next step is what they call site specific. Richard Serra might be a good situation

00:03:05 in that and the thing there is that it's made specifically for that site and theoretically is not movable, couldn't go any place else easily.

00:03:15 Its meaning would change.

00:03:16 Yeah, its meaning would change, well, to some degree and Serra does move them, on occasion, but that's

00:03:27 sort of the intention of it. I am moving the next step which would be to say that something is site conditional. That is, there are a set of conditions that exist

00:03:37 that make every site, every place in the world, everything, there is no universal ideal place. There are places and they are all different and they are understood differently. For example, to say the scale of something

00:03:48 is understood not just by standing in the space but what you walk through to come to the space. Scale in New York, to walk into a room, is one thing,

00:03:58 scale in Wyoming is something else altogether, okay? So, in New York it may seem like a huge space to leave empty. In Wyoming, it's just, you know, no big deal, okay?

00:04:08 So, every site has a set of conditions and everything that exists bears on the history of the site, the use of the site, how and which way, as they say, you've come to it,

00:04:19 all this in a sense counts. This is essentially a very unique site. This is not something you find anyplace else in the world, not a set of conditions that will be repeated.

00:04:31 In fact, when I was brought to this site, I was a little depressed by it at first because that was the reason I was brought here as everybody here was very unhappy with this thing.

00:04:40 It was not working, it was dim and sort of morose, and what have you, and at first I had no idea what I would do, but everything that I've done

00:04:50 is conditioned by this site. I mean, it's something that came out of what happens here and how you might experience this thing. So, you are not going to see this any place else in the world

00:05:00 and what's also crucial to it is that someone coming to look at, say, the Richard Serra still understands it or processes is that

00:05:12 by thinking about the history of art, i.e., leading up to that moment and why and how Serra fits in that context and the second is the history of Richard Serra.

00:05:22 So, you look at it on both these levels and that's how you process, I like it, I don't like it, it's good Serra, it's a better one, it's an extent, you know, etc., etc., etc.

00:05:32 What I would have proposed is that in situation like this you really don't have to know anything about the history of art or, necessarily, about me. You look at this space,

00:05:42 you knew this space, you understand what it was, you understand all the transfers, you say, well I would've done this, it's interesting or I would've done it differently. In other words, you process it within the context.

00:05:54 By processing it within and against all the same cues that I used. I would say, I didn't sort of bring something to this, per se, I sort of grew out of it, okay?

00:06:03 The escalators being a classic example. I love the fact there an integral part of the thing. It was one of the unique elements in the room and, in the beginning, I didn't know how but, actually

00:06:14 managed to take advantage of it which I think activates the thing in a really interesting way. It makes a very, not a static but a rather interactive plus you can walk through

00:06:23 it yourself and go up the escalators. So it's...the key here is, it's unique to the situation.

00:06:34 Some of the reasons why I did the things I did was; one, the room very dark, somewhat, I think they had planned, the skylight would actually make it a lively space, it turned out, it wasn't enough light really for it

00:06:45 and so the space had a kind of dark, dingy sort of quality to it, so light seemed to be something that was really necessary here.

00:06:53 Or you know, what do you do? Clean the skylight? Change the level of filtration on it? That's a possibility, you know, because it certainly is a big item in here,

00:07:04 but not really in a sense that's the kind of the thing that the janitor could do, you know, clean the skylight, so it's not quite

00:07:14 in the provence of what I do, and the second thing was that I think one of these that bothered everybody here was the sort of

00:07:25 Danish modern wood striping on the sides. It seemed out of context, really. It had no other reference in the place,

00:07:35 and it was not a very successful solution at all. So there was a couple of issues there that I thought had to be dealt with and, obviously, the light element was where it came from.

00:07:46 I liked the pattern that I have because it isn't object-like, you don't find yourself focusing on it. It does not read in anyway. In fact one of the problems that people have

00:07:56 to some degree is they keep wanting to read into like there are stories or messages or symbols or signs. I like it. It's very neutral. It has none of that, becomes a sort of

00:08:06 mesmerizing sense of the whole, obviously the use of the scrim is by degrees, to take this light and you see it on one level and then you see it through the scrim

00:08:18 and then you see the wood, sort of, through the scrim and then finally becomes almost opaque in the outside. So it was a way of dealing with just exactly

00:08:28 the problems that existed there. So everything came from looking at that situation. I looked at all the other parts of the room,

00:08:37 they were always opportunities but nothing that really presented itself having any kind of power. The third thing was that this is supposed to be sort of

00:08:46 what is the grand hall or the...

00:08:48 Great hall!

00:08:49 The great hall..., okay great hall and when you enter the museum there is a kind of entrance downstairs. You come up the escalator, there's another kind of, there's a desk there,

00:08:57 little bit of a no man's land but could be thought of as a second entrance, in a way, and then theoretically this grand hall, which was, in a way, sort of the focal point

00:09:06 of the museum, wasn't the focal point of the museum. So that was one of the responsibilities that whatever you put in here needed to do it, need to address that and be strong enough

00:09:16 and have a scale so that it became the grand hall, you know, and that's...I think it does and that it's got a monumental scale to it, so and it has a power to it,

00:09:27 so in a funny way, even though you go through those, this could be almost now figured as the, at the moment, the key moment of entry into the museum proper, you know.

00:09:36 It's one of know, there is a couple introductions to art when you get here, but this is certainly the biggest most, you know, a very strong introduction to it.

00:09:45 Well, like I say, it's confusing that there is more than one entrance and you know, it needed to kind of organize itself, so and that was the result of the fact that the museum is an add-on.

00:09:58 And there are different ways you can come to this space. You can come up, sort of the main ticketed entrance, then you can come up these escalators here, come out there, you can actually even come from that side too,

00:10:08 so this really is the center of institution.

00:10:10 It is. I mean, ideally when you look at it, and when you actually start looking at the art, this is the center and you keep coming back into it and going back out of it, so this had a big responsibility, in a way.

00:10:20 And it was such a big space and it was so, in a way, empty. I remember joking with someone that, you know, the only thing that could fill this space would be putting a battleship on end.

00:10:31 You know, it just needs something that was so big, but you know this clearly isn't a battleship, but the space now is full.

00:10:38 Has the same scale, you know, it's a scale that matches the set of circumstances and anything small down in here could be nice but it wouldn't accomplish

00:10:49 what we're talking about and so that's how it came about.

00:10:53 Great! So I wonder if we could talk through, sort of, the specific details that comprise the structure. I know them reasonably well. There are 160 light fixtures here

00:11:05 Is that right?

00:11:06 Yeah, and most of them are the two-foot pieces and some of them are the four-foot pieces, and I know that you laid this design out at home

00:11:16 and made a kind of design for it and then on each side we have, depending, somewhere between fifty and fifty-five feet of stretched scrim material.

00:11:29 The light, the pattern of it in a sense became square, vertical because of the fact of the escalators. Normally, I think I would have rotated them,

00:11:42 made them more active, but actually because those things are going through it, they create the foil for the square to play against the angles.

00:11:50 Now that I think about that, the one is San Diego that had angles in it.

00:11:54 It's all on it, take the same thing, just rotate it, you know, forty-five degrees and everything and that's what gave it more energy. This was squared up

00:12:06 because the energy comes from, you know, plays against the elements in there which is the escalators and the light itself,

00:12:17 I like a lot and that's one of the things we are discussing right now about in terms of maintenance. The story, I don't know if its true, but it has a ring of truth to it,

00:12:27 and that is that, I always wonder why nobody made a really 54-52 Kelvin light, a really white light.

00:12:36 All these big companies, all made it, they called a daylight and it was blue and they called it cool white that was actually warm yellowish

00:12:45 and, turns out, I was told that a very eccentric man owns the patent on it and just simply would never give it to Sylvania or GE or any of those.

00:12:55 And so that the way that I understand they arrive at those color temperatures is by mixing the different phosphors inside the lamps into this. [Correct.] This produces a spectra and a color temperature

00:13:03 which is we talk about in Kelvin and so you've made very specific decisions about the color of the two-foot lamps.

00:13:10 I really like the idea of a completely neutral color. I mean, really just daylight, pure white light, and so these things are actually manufactured now in Thailand,

00:13:24 I guess he's given them the, whatever, the right to make these things.

00:13:33 And so then, but you liked the four-foot, that one the Sylvania has made one, you know, as a four-foot one and you liked that.

00:13:39 Now, Sylvania makes a four-foot one that is near or close. It's actually a little more red in it, its a little pinker, but it's not so much so that it becomes a focal point, that you cognate on that.

00:13:52 So was that an idea that you would have in an ideal situation, would they both be the same?

00:13:57 Oh, of course. I mean, if there is somebody made, Feit doesn't make a four-footer. Okay! Sylvania right now doesn't make a two-footer. So you are, kind of twixt and between.

00:14:08 The scrim material is a material that I found forty years ago just walking down the street in Holland in Amsterdam.

00:14:18 They make a big thing about windows in Amsterdam and so it's a kind of fetish with them and on almost every window when you looked in, there was this material, a sort of gossamer material

00:14:28 which was very beautiful, the way it played with the light, what it did with the light, and I was very, you know, I'm always looking at things, and I said "God, that's really great looking."

00:14:38 So, I inquired about it and it turns out that they make it 13-feet-by-9 1/4-inch wide, which is spectacular, and it's extremely durable material,

00:14:53 has a lock weave to it, so if you were to cut it, it doesn't unravel. It's a total synthetic but I've never seen the loom,

00:15:03 but it must an incredible loom, and it's all made in the same part of the world. It's all made in Lyon, France. So I ran it down, found the materials,

00:15:11 started playing around with it, and I like it really well. It depends on the circumstances, where if you put it up in certain lights, like down this hallway here, with light being equal in front and back of it,

00:15:24 people would walk, some people would walk right into it, yet it diffuses, what you're seeing just enough to put, what it does is take everything else out of focus

00:15:33 and leaves what isn't behind it, in focus. So there is just real perceptual issue. But it works and it's a good material, too.

00:15:45 I wanted to deal with two things; one I don't know if you know with that first hall there of scrim, that was actually the wood striping.

00:15:56 Right, it came all the way out to there.

00:15:57 Right. I made it wider because, obviously, it was little too narrow to get the kind of scale that this thing needed. I took the granite,

00:16:05 which I really liked, and broke it down and created that space, that width of it there. I also think that it made the granite work better

00:16:14 because it was kind of, as beautiful as it was, kind of pondersome in the room, the character of the room, where it was. So to cut that down, I think

00:16:24 was a big improvement and then by making it - you get clear, you have slightly translucent, then you have, gets more opaque as it goes.

00:16:34 So it sort of like frames it, I think. Interesting enough, having just seen it the other day, or yesterday, it looks like it's always been there.

00:16:44 Didn't look gerrymandered or stuck in there, it looks like it was that is how it was meant to be, you know...

00:16:50 Same with this triangular piece up at the top is that I don't think anyone will ever realize that's a new piece. You know, we built here for your work.

00:17:00 But the triangle was a nice item in there and really accentuated what the escalators were already doing, to bring it forward actually frames the inside when you are up there...

00:17:09 Yeah, it's fascinating space inside.

00:17:11 Yeah, now it's better. Also, it's fun that it's interactive that you do go up the escalators, you see people going up the escalators, so the thing is active on that level.

00:17:19 They move through it.

00:17:20 And when you get on this level, because the lights are on two planes, as you walk along, it looks like it's shifting. So the whole thing has a kinetic quality about it

00:17:31 without being self-conscious about it. In fact, there was a period of time when several people, I think, a guy named Rickey was the most famous, did these

00:17:41 kind of kinetic sculptures. They were self-consciously kinetic. They were little corny, actually. I liked this real work because it is kinetic but, you know, yet it is self effacing,

00:17:53 you don't focus it on that I made the thing, it is kinetic, you know, just by its use so that's kind of a nice several sort of add-ons,

00:18:03 I had not really expected this kinetic as much as it was. Doing these things, whenever I do them, what you are trying to kind of capture the phenomena of the place.

00:18:16 In this case, let's say for example people going up and down the escalators, or what have you, and the fact that when you walk here, you are trying to capture that but you never could quite predict how

00:18:26 or in what way or to what degree that will happen. You kind of say well, I think, you know, this is possible, this is possible, and you try and make judgments and decisions but I never know till I see them

00:18:37 and then you walk in and say, "Oh my god!" Usually if you capture it all, it does more than you ever thought about and it does things that are really terrific in that

00:18:45 they are almost subliminal to it. It's like, you know, you see something happen and it's really interesting, like say the kinetic sculpture, but you recognize

00:18:56 how it's done. It's like seeing the magician's hands and you know, and so the beauty is that when you capture this phenomena it all starts working for you

00:19:05 and but is also very, you know, mysterious and rich and sort of, you know, coming from all the different directions rather than being specifically there. It's a good game.

00:19:16 Yeah! When you were talking about moving through it, I was reminded of some of the decisions that were being made around the work and how the museum had a kind of influence

00:19:27 in the way that it came to be and what I mean specifically is that in the escalators, we asked to have, in the escalator well, those lights shifted up a little bit

00:19:39 because we were concerned people might bump in to them and I wonder if you have any thoughts about that or how you feel like that affected the piece or if that..

00:19:45 It didn't ruin it.

00:19:47 Okay... glad to hear that...!

00:19:48 I don't know that it added anything particularly. You know, I did a garden, the Getty, Central Gardens, for example at one point I put a stream,

00:19:59 there was a fall-line on the property and the natural place for the stream and the natural thought would be that you'd walked down along the edge of the stream. That's how you usually experience a stream

00:20:11 and then along came the handicap people and they said, "You can't do that because we can't walk down, it's too steep, etc." At first, I sort of riled against that because you know that's the natural thing

00:20:21 we've been doing for thousands of years, you know. Why can't we do that, you know? And aren't we being dictated to, blah, blah, blah... and all sort. And finally it's, you know, that's the way it is.

00:20:32 So, I ended up making this exaggerated zig-zag path, which is the last thing I would have ever thought to do and it turns out it's ten times better.

00:20:43 It really makes the thing, it creates a kind of mesmerizing, if you pass in and out over the stream. Each time you crossover, the stream has a different character, a different quality, a different sound,

00:20:53 so when I tuned all those things and it also makes the time that it takes to get down there enough, it's a small property, if you are going straight down

00:21:03 it would have been over with too quickly, you know? The thing about working in the conditions is that it forces you all these things come to bear on it,

00:21:13 you know, economic, physical, social, rules, laws, the handicap issue, in this particular case.

00:21:23 They force you to have to think, you know, completely think outside the box to rethink, reconsider, and try and somehow turn what was, theoretically,

00:21:32 a negative to start out with, into a positive and when you do, it's great because this is a total surprise, you know like I said this path is terrific,

00:21:42 you know, it just made it and same thing here. In this particular case moving it up didn't hurt anything. I don't think it necessarily improved anything, but it didn't hurt anything.

00:21:55 So, I'm interested in further, sort of, narrowing it down into the specifics, so when we installed all of the fixtures obviously it's important to have all of the, you know, the wiring all of that hidden

00:22:06 and to have them at the very specific angles that you've outlined, and that's a pretty straight forward thing. I mean, what, to me, was a little less straight forward is when you work with Jeff

00:22:17 Jamison for the past couple of weeks to get the scrims up and to get them to read as planar, so it's a really challenging thing to stretch an enormous piece of fabric

00:22:28 and to not get any waves in it, to not have any errors, it's a really complicated thing, which you...

00:22:34 I did it for years, as of about two years ago, I worked with Jeff Jamison who helped on a very big one and he at this point having done it for a lot, he's better at it than I am now.

00:22:48 He's fussier. He's more particular about it and so this particularly challenging one because of the height, I mean you're working up at sixty feet in the air.

00:23:01 The material is very good. In terms of maintenance, this material is probably not going to be affected at all for, I don't know how many years but I have seen it up two or three years in this situation.

00:23:11 It doesn't shrink and doesn't expand with heat and temperature change and humidity. It does, of course, like anything it will collect dust and whatever, but it can be dusted,

00:23:25 and it can get soiled although probably not much in here.

00:23:30 We have a pretty clean place.

00:23:31 Yeah, you don't have a lot of, you don't have a kitchen putting grease up in the air and if it did, it could be washed in place.

00:23:41 So the maintenance of it, you know, I have no idea how long under these conditions, I would say you're not going to have to touch it for minimum of five years

00:23:52 and if you do, what you'll do is re-stretch it. Just take it down, start from scratch and re-stretch it. I don't even think it'll be that often.

00:24:00 I actually think you are going to have, it's going to be a long time because you are not, you are not going to see, just that this is not a dusty place. It's not a dirty place, so it's not going to be collecting a lot of stuff.

00:24:11 One of the things that, when we were installing it, we started with this panel here and I think Jeff wanted to start with the outside panel but we didn't have the materials ready, so we started on this one, so we put this one up

00:24:22 and when we first did it we noticed we had a lot of these sort of waves in it and you can pick these up really easily because of the raking light. It is a diffuse light but it eventually puts raking light on there.

00:24:33 Raking light reveals all sins.

00:24:36 It does...and so we got this one up and then we did this one and then we came over here and did this one and by the time we got here we were pretty good at it. We were lot better than we have started

00:24:45 and Jeff, I don't know if you know this, but he made the decision to actually take that one down.

00:24:49 I know. We discussed every night.

00:24:51 Yeah and because he wasn't satisfied with the waves.

00:24:55 That's why I'm satisfied with Jeff.

00:24:57 Yeah, and so we put that one back up and there's a lot, you know, we've absolutely fine-tuned the technique of stretching and stapling. But I wonder, if you have any, but when you know if you really look

00:25:08 you can see some kinds of the waves in there but I wonder if you could comment on that.

00:25:11 You know that there is, one of the reasons why I like having Jeff do it it that when you are making something you are really into it, you know, at this level, you know, you're making it, you're working at it.

00:25:21 The thing about the viewer coming in here and has to do with all the kind of details. You stand there, and it happens, and in this case

00:25:31 it's sort of overall very kinetic, as we talked about. If, for example, there is mistake in there and every time while you are doing it, bang,

00:25:42 you end up looking at the mistake, then you got to correct it, I mean, because it's entered into now the whole process and it's become a distraction. In this situation you stand here now,

00:25:52 there are no problems that any way whatsoever do that, and so if you were to look at it as a technician like right now, they're talking about

00:26:03 closing a gap on the side that pulled apart. In terms of the piece, it doesn't, no, it's not an issue. In terms of just everybody's sensibility,

00:26:12 it's a good thing, you finish it, you clean up. You do all those details as well as you can do them and in cases like that part what they're doing now basically that should be straight forward.

00:26:23 You know, straight forward meaning, you're doing something, it's going to cause to pull these things together, the idea that the element looks like it pulls them together,

00:26:33 not a problem because you don't have to mask. You can mask it, that'll work also, but you don't have to really because essentially it's like an honest thing.

00:26:42 There's an honesty in materials and you see what they do and when they do it really well, they're acceptable. In this particular case, none of that even enters in here, you know.

00:26:53 You know, I'd love to hear you talk about the honesty of materials because one of the very fine details of this is that you can see all of the exposed staples and a lot of people

00:27:03 that come around to see it for the first time they get up right on it and they look at the staples and they "Oh, are these to be covered?" and Jeff has always said, "No, no, you know, that's the way it is..."

00:27:12 I've used this material before. Over the years, I tried covering them every way possible and nothing improved it. Nothing made it better and actually when you're standing there just looking at it

00:27:23 and viewing at, not inspecting it, but in viewing it, they're not an issue. You don't really see them at all, you know? And also, but Jeff being, I'm saying, he being,

00:27:34 you know, after a number of years, maybe I'm not as insistent as he would be, I love the fact that, man, he puts them in, they're very orderly. They're not here, there, wherever he is,

00:27:45 I mean, to put that many staples, I don't know, thousands of...

00:27:48 I think we estimated fifteen thousand.

00:27:50 Yeah...something like that and to do them all really as neatly as he's done them.

00:27:55 It takes great concentration and great effort.

00:27:57 takes dedication. He's that kind of a guy, you know, and a sweetheart at the same time.

00:28:04 No, absolutely!

00:28:05 He is the guy to work with.

00:28:06 Yeah. He called me yesterday to know, to kind of touch base, to see how it's going.

00:28:10 Oh... yeah... well, one of the nice things, going back to materials thing again, every project I do pretty much like all last week, I spent all last week buying trees,

00:28:21 exotic trees, most of them palm trees and travelling. I travelled all over hell and gone. We flew, we had four flying trips

00:28:30 and driving up into the mountains to buy these trees. Now, I have an idea what I want the tree to look like. I have an idea why I'm looking at this or seeking out this particular tree,

00:28:43 but I wouldn't buy a tree without bringing along a real arborist or a real tree expert, you know? I mean because, I could buy some bad trees, it could die on me, you know? And, the point is that

00:28:53 now in these situations, I'm obviously over my head all the time, okay? And the talent you have to have in a way, is to find a Jeff Jamison.

00:29:03 To find like the tree guy I have, is spectacular, this guy not only knows the tree, he knows the whole history of trees. He knows, like one particular tree

00:29:13 that he was recommending as's famous in the south, big white blossoming.

00:29:25 Magnolia?

00:29:25 Magnolia. The reason why he wanted Magnolia is that Magnolias are the first flowering plant in the history of the earth.

00:29:36 Oh! I thought even in spring they flower pretty early.

00:29:38 Well, no it's not that. No. They are the earliest flowering plant on the earth. Before that, there were no flowering plants. We have plants that are cycads and this thing,

00:29:48 that were the first plants on earth. It pretty much covered the whole earth. The reason for that is that this whole project I am doing is in a thing called La Brea Tar Pits. There is this phenomenon

00:29:59 of this tar bubbling up out of earth and they keeping finding saber tooth tiger bones and I mean it's just continuously bringing up all these things.

00:30:09 Therefore, it's a unique site in the world. It is this primal situation, you know, it's totally primal thing of the earth, still oozing and alive

00:30:18 and so that everything in this, palm trees or because it's one of the first trees ever, a very primal tree, very different than every other kind of tree,

00:30:28 they're not the same. They don't grow the same way, they don't function the same way, but everything in this project has that kind of primal quality.

00:30:39 I'm using, I found this place in Washington where there is a six sided,

00:30:53 there is a place called the Devil's Pile Post. [Okay.] What did they call...

00:30:58 Is it a flowering shrub?

00:30:59 No, No, No! It's a stone.

00:31:01 Oh, really.

00:31:01 Oh, yeah. You know, it's one of the geological wonders of the world in which these things, you cut off the earth and there's just these

00:31:14 thirty-five to forty-foot, six-sided posts taking up, you know, just like this. Incredible, you know. So, I found those and so I'm putting all that, so I have to find a man

00:31:25 who really knows where that kind of certain thing is, how we could harvest them, who you harvest them from, etc., etc., so it's like an adventure story.

00:31:34 Every project I'm like, in this project, I had to find these. I am finding these stones, I'm finding these trees, these incredible trees, etc., and the point being is that

00:31:46 at a certain point I am essentially on a continuous learning curve and I find people that can take me on that learning curve, take me on that trip,

00:31:55 but there's no way I'm going to know everything they know and then when I take a project like that and I go to the field, when we actually go into the field,

00:32:05 the man who is going to set them, he'll start telling me about how the different methods for setting them, or a guy, I am going to do some metal work in there using Core-10 steel.

00:32:15 The Core-10 steel guy would tell me how to weld it and what the different options are in that, and so I actually then, when he tells me that, then I go back and re-think

00:32:25 how I'm going to be...

00:32:27 Kind of response to that.

00:32:28 Based on the, what he's telling me is the honesty of this material. This is how this material works, this is it's properties, these are what you can do, these are what you can't do, these are the things that makes no sense with the material,

00:32:38 here are the things that really do and so I re-think the whole thing based on that in, it's like another kind of input and has to do with the honesty of the material, straight forwardness of the material,

00:32:49 and in being in-kind, not to pretend it's something else or trying to make it into some faux or fake thing. So, it's a great kind of activity

00:32:59 which is continuously interactive. Information's coming in all the time, the handicapped people say you can't do this. So suddenly you have to re-think that, the steel guy says, well you can't hook stuff up,

00:33:10 you can't weld stuff under these conditions, blah, blah, blah, or if you make the steel right, you are going to bring grass right up to it. It probably won't work because this piece of steel is facing south.

00:33:20 It'll get a lot of sun, build up heat, it'll burn the grass, you wouldn't even know that it would, but it'll transfer the heat to the soil, and the grass will die.

00:33:28 Stuff like that, you know, oh, well, something, I can't use grass and what am I going to use? You know, you have to sort of re-plan the thing. So it's a kind of like a long running adventure

00:33:38 but in terms of what you're saying there's a whole thing about materials and the honesty of materials and so I spend a lot of time in the field with people that make things.

00:33:48 People that, you know, are craftspeople. One of the things I take some pride in Jeff calling you yesterday is a perfect example, is that when that welder does a perfect, you know,

00:33:59 I ask him for, I want a perfect one. The guy who's building a bridge doesn't need a perfect weld, but I need a perfect weld. So a guy does it, they bring their family to the opening,

00:34:09 you know, because basically they are craftspeople, most of the time they're not being asked to work on a certain level, but they can do it and suddenly somebody says it...First you are kind of a little irritated, you know,

00:34:19 this is just too much work and blah, blah, blah...and they get in to it and their pride comes into play and they really enjoy it. So, there's an overlap with what you do

00:34:29 and what I do in that sense.

00:34:33 Along the sort of same thought process one of the things that I'm thinking about is playing out the scenario, let's say in thirty years from now I'm not here, you're not here, we need to make some decisions

00:34:45 about this piece, and so for example, it's not unthinkable that we're going to have a tough time finding two-foot fluorescent bulbs that are around 5500 Kelvin or four-foot bulbs that are around.

00:34:55 There's no doubt about it. They're going to phase them out pretty quick, they are going to do what you call T8, these are T12.

00:35:02 Much more narrow.

00:35:03 Much narrow and will be more energy saving, etc., and

00:35:07 Less mercury content.

00:35:08 Yeah, they won't be around, so you're going probably have to stockpile these.

00:35:12 One of the things were are going to do is buy as many of these lights as that we can feasibly purchase and store in the same way with the scrim material, but maybe it's not a worthwhile exercise

00:35:22 but you know, I wonder if you could play out the thought is that what if we couldn't get the T12 bulb. Is there another kind of thing that we could put there?

00:35:30 I don't know the answer to that but I have a riddle for you that puts it into context, of when the abstract expressionists

00:35:41 painted their paintings, you know, let's say Franz Kline, you know? Zoom zoom zoom, using the kind of materials they used in that, art historians were, on one level, really pissed off

00:35:52 because they said all these paint in fifty years or whatever, this is all going to peel off, okay! It's not going to last.

00:36:00 Going back to it, I would like to say there were time when people did egg temperas, built on it stuff made to last as long as possible and people cast things in bronze

00:36:11 made to last as long and it's not an accident they did that. At that point in time one of the thrusts of art, one of the concepts that people were really entertaining within their religions

00:36:22 and their lives, is the society of transcendence. The idea that it transcended our death, it transcended our time, and we have built this entire concept of history

00:36:32 based on this idea of this transcendence which is a very beautiful idea. In religions it's like heaven and hell and an afterlife, you know, etc.,

00:36:45 and these are comforting ideas and they are in essence a rather beautiful idea of an ideal art. If you look at the history of art, it's never stood still. All those methods, all those techniques

00:36:56 as good as they were, as brilliant as they were, somehow didn't make sense in the next generation and the generation after that. So we've come to a point where, say, Franz Klein does this thing

00:37:07 and one can say, well it's not going to last the way those other things lasted and he's basically saying it's not supposed to last.

00:37:18 Transcendence is a wonderful beautiful idea but it's not real. It's not the world we really live in. We live in a world that is in constant change and constant flux

00:37:28 and chances are we don't transcend in any way, I mean, our mark on the earth doesn't transcend and that's something that we can debate philosophically, or what have you, but there's an honesty in that material

00:37:38 having to do with. It's like when I did the garden, I could have looked at all the gardens in the world; there are incredible gardens but if you look at each one of those gardens they represent a point of view about man and nature,

00:37:49 the French garden, the Italian garden, the English cottage garden. These are really not just gardens, they are philosophic treaties on how people, you know,

00:38:03 [move in space and how all these things...]

00:38:05 understand who they are and what they are, you know. And so, the issue for me was if I had to look to those gardens I would be overwhelmed by them because they're spectacular. So I took the gamble to be naive and to try

00:38:15 and do a garden based on the issues that I've been talking about here. This conditional and with the idea that it maybe would be the first

00:38:26 21st century garden that represents a different aesthetic, a different set of values, a different idea about reality, about meaning and so and so forth and when you get to that without going into length,

00:38:38 that's what art is about. Art really in a sense is close to philosophy because it doesn't have a function, in the critical sense, the way an architect does. I mean architecture has a function

00:38:49 and in fact a lot of what's going in architecture now is really in a sense unethical. I mean, they build museums now that you can't use as a museum and that's unethical, I mean, it's built for a reason.

00:39:02 It has a component of it about aesthetics. It has a component about, in the sense, representing points of view, of courthouse as opposed to an outhouse; you know what I mean.

00:39:14 there is a difference in them and the process of being an architect is very, very tough thing to do, to take that into consideration to all the practicalities and consider all of the codes

00:39:26 and so on and so forth and the fact that somebody has to live in there and put them together, so when it does, it's a spectacular thing to do, but art doesn't have, art in a sense is a continual

00:39:37 inquiry into the potential of human beings to perceive and know the world with an aesthetic bias, and so art, in a sense, is what we see is the art world

00:39:49 which is not art, per se. It is the process of how art is being innovated into the world and corrupted at the same time, you know.

00:39:58 This is not an either/or, or a better than proposition. If without this process of the art world doing what it does, well or not well,

00:40:09 the inquiry of art would be like the tree that falls in the forest, it has no effect, so the act of art is this inquiry about the potential of human beings, but everything

00:40:19 from that point is something else, that has to, you know, and so this whole idea about making histories which has been very crucial and worked

00:40:28 when the object had a kind of permanent transcendence about it, we set up the museum and we take the position of trying to maintain it in perpetuity.

00:40:37 The beauty of that is the idea that it creates this record, this body of knowledge from which the world steps off and we have that as a reference point.

00:40:45 I think all the folks that work in this institution really take that, you know, take that point to heart and really try to...

00:40:51 One of the problems is now is in Contemporary art that basically it won't hold still for that, you know? It's creating, but on one hand that's a problem

00:41:00 but at the same hand it asks a set of questions that are unbelievably magical. How would we make a history? You can't photograph it.

00:41:10 That doesn't really do it. It's all experiential, requires the presence of you there. I can talk about it. We can make, you know, films, so and so...

00:41:18 Photographs, notes.

00:41:19 Photographs would, no better or worse, they are product of the object-form of thinking. That is, they really are a sign system.

00:41:29 They have a certain amount of tactile quality but basically they are a series of signs, symbols, and images which we read as a figure and etc., what have you.

00:41:40 When you take that out, then the question becomes, how do you make a history? I mean, the art historians right now are in an unbelievably interesting point of view because all their

00:41:50 methodology doesn't really work right now. I mean, for example, this one now is semi-permanent, but it maybe like fifty years from now

00:42:02 that everything I did, which was some for a minute was art, none of it exists. For me, someone says "! Isn't that a problem?" Yeah it is, but it also an amazing question. It doesn't exist.

00:42:14 We're talking about an entirely different concept about museums, our concept about how one goes about playing this aesthetic things. Right now, I don't know the answer to them,

00:42:25 no one, none of us do, but the whole import of modern art ultimately has to do with this idea of the phenomenal and we can't in the sense hold the phenomenal still,

00:42:36 or in our hand.

00:42:39 What's interesting to work at an institution that, you know, is beginning to develop a conservation science department and being in touch with other departments or other institutions that have conservation science departments,

00:42:48 you know, I'll bet that, you know, there's folks out there that are working on ways, you know, for example to re-adhere Franz Klein's paintings, you know, from a scientific perspective,

00:42:59 you know, try to hold time still. In the same way, you know, you could imagine again this thirty years from now.

00:43:04 Let me give you a simple proposition. You could paint a painting would be the most spectacular painting imaginable or absolutely everything you would want a painting to be

00:43:15 but it's going to fall apart, or you can paint a painting which is okay, not bad but will last for a long time, you have a choice, okay?

00:43:26 But it's a really, I mean, it's a choice of values, a choice of meaning, a choice of defining how you, who you are in the world and that. So, it's not, when artists

00:43:36 do these kind of things, they're not incidental. I mean, we're dealing with issues about the nature of human beings in the world and our concepts of meaning and etc.,

00:43:47 and so on and so forth. That's what makes it an interesting activity, is that a lot of what I do, I don't know, in fact the movie I'm in that is called the Beauty of Questions. At one point, I became a question addict.

00:43:59 It's not about answers. In philosophy, the beauty of philosophy is that it's not about answer. It's about the wonder of asking and you know, moving forward in the world. Reexamining what we think

00:44:09 and why we think and certainly it makes it a really different kind of activity and when one makes an object, you're not really making the object as much as you are honing your own sensibility to make the object,

00:44:21 your ability to decide and make the choices and so on and so forth and you do that for fifty years or sixty years, you get pretty good at it after a while. Because that's what you're really working at. People think, it's all about this.

00:44:32 It's really about this and that's the result of this, okay? You get it kind of backwards, the idea that communication is what art is about. It's not about communication. It's about knowing.

00:44:44 If it's not about knowing then basically what we're putting out there is just, you know, drivel.

00:44:52 You're certainly, I mean, you're setting up some wonderful challenges for conservators.

00:44:56 Well, you know, also we're in the interim here and that's really where we're and we are in the middle of a sense going through a change in which all the old methodologies are on shaky

00:45:07 ground. There's a guy named Jack Brogan that I worked with for years, I mentioned him before. This guy has a fountain of information for all the kinds of stuff that are being made.

00:45:17 It's not being taught in school. It's not, you know, there are the sciences, one of the places you have to go is to people like Brogan or like that that welder that did that, you know.

00:45:27 They can tell you how it can be done or if it can be done, you know. Some of these things won't even be around. I mean, Core-10 steel, I've used, say, for example, is a simple obvious material

00:45:40 but it wasn't successful in architecture and so now to get it, you have to special order it, you know? Same thing with these tubes, they're just liable to go right out of business.

00:45:49 We can prepare for the next fifty years.

00:45:53 So can I be comfortable with the idea...Maybe it's a question.

00:45:56 I don't know what you could be comfortable with.

00:45:58 You know, say so, what this institution can do is to try as long as it can to get the materials that this consists of.

00:46:06 Of course, that's the best you can do.

00:46:08 And there may be a day when you can no longer get those.

00:46:10 And that's the way it is.

00:46:11 And that's the way it is.

00:46:12 But by that time, somebody else would have made something just as good or better and certainly something more relevant probably.

00:46:19 Some other artist?

00:46:20 Yeah...the thing is that when you look at the history of art, it has continually changed, okay? Continually changed. Never stood still. Everybody re-inventing the meaning, re-inventing the medium,

00:46:31 reinventing the format, reinventing this place, reinventing the questions and so it's going on all the time alright, so in a sense all these things before

00:46:41 no longer are relevant but this thing is doing this but it's not, in a sense, lost in any way. I mean, if you stay on the cusp of the question

00:46:52 you really actually where what it's about. All this is about history and history is a very valuable thing but how we make histories in a sense can't dictate how we make inquiries okay...?

00:47:05 There has to be, there has to be reciprocation there. There has to be a relationship there and that relationship is having to change. I mean, the first time I took a painting to New York, they hated them.

00:47:17 And one of the reasons they hated them is because there was a hole in the wall. I patched the hole up. There was a baseboard like that and I did this thing

00:47:27 and the baseboard became a part of the painting and somewhere, I was taking on that whole wall, so they thought I had excessive potty training, you know, some kind of anal anxiety,

00:47:37 you know, and they couldn't understand why I would do that. I did it because I could see it.

00:47:48 Stella and I had a dialogue one time. He asked me why I finished the edge of my painting so carefully. I said because it's important. He was doing these octagonal paintings like this,

00:47:59 with a hole in the middle, quite famous, good paintings and he just pulled the canvas around and tacked it, okay? Very simple, straight forward, honest

00:48:07 and I asked him why he didn't deal with that and in this case right in the middle of the painting, right in the middle. He said, because it's not important.

00:48:16 I mean, in a sense, he didn't see it. I saw it. Not a matter of good or bad, but once I saw it, I had to deal with it.

00:48:25 After we had that dialogue, he started stretching more neatly. He never went where I went, but he, you know, cleaned it up because I had pointed it out to him, you know

00:48:37 but it has to do with it. I stopped being a painter in the original sense, not because I didn't like painting. I love being a painter. I love being in the studio but at a certain point, I no longer could find

00:48:48 my eye to that frame. I started seeing things here, there, and they were more interesting. How do I get that, I mean that's beautiful, how do I get that in my work, you know.

00:48:59 So I had to reinvent the meaning. Now, each of these arts at each of these moments of time is art but none of them is art, per se.

00:49:09 The idea of an ideal art or transcendent art, see, had the idea that at some point you would do an art that was the answer for all time

00:49:18 but actually, in fact, what we have is, each one of them perfectly represents a moment in time which is the flex of the art,

00:49:27 it's right now...

00:49:27 Right! Right now, and it becomes a whole, whole different set of issues, a whole different set of values because the game that we are playing here is a value game,

00:49:37 about values, about our personal values, and how we are influenced. We come into the museum to some degree theoretically, we should walk out with some understanding of those values,

00:49:48 and we apply them to our lives, changes the world. That's the way art works in the world. You know, it doesn't stand on corners and handout leaflets.

00:49:57 I'm not a Christian, you know, proselytizing, but I am essentially in a way acting out the way of looking, the way of knowing, the way of seeing and pointing out that

00:50:07 human beings are really quite spectacular and that our perceptual mechanism is almost unfathomable. Most of the people in biology and mind research

00:50:19 and are still trying to resolve the issue of the human consciousness to some type of quantitative set of measurements. Dead wrong,

00:50:29 never going to happen.

00:50:30 Lot of paper work.

00:50:31 There is a quantitative facet to us. There is a qualitative facet and one of the key elements of modern art is the idea that certain things don't exist,

00:50:41 values in essence, qualities don't exist without a human being to actually stand there and act on them and keep them in play.

00:50:49 So we try and quantify them. One of the ways for example, we call, where there is this thing called design. Design is an attempt to quantify proper, you know, the golden mean, certain

00:51:01 proportion, certain colors like to act together and that and all that's very useful but has absolutely nothing to do with the process of perceiving the qualities of these things.

00:51:14 We are in a very interesting moment in time. This revolution has been going on for 200 years, and we are only at the half way point. We don't even know if it's going to work yet. What kind of world it's going to make?

00:51:24 So being an artist right now is like you have to roll the dice.

00:51:29 Well, not that I necessarily came to this looking for some kind of comfort, but I think that the way that you have explained it does help to me to understand what, you know, my role is and what the institution's role is

00:51:40 and to maintaining and preserving this to, as we can.

00:51:43 Your interest and your dedication to this thing is really important. You know, it's a piece in the part. Like I said when the thing goes in world,

00:51:54 like for example those things none of them existing for fifty years, you know, creates a real problem, real issue. Here is one that's here and it's important that it be here for a while.

00:52:08 Just starting this life.

00:52:09 Got a job to do for a while and not an infinite job necessarily but a job, you know.

00:52:14 Well, I thank you very much for your time.

00:52:16 My pleasure!