An Interview with Donald Kuspit

by Diane Thodos

A Conversation on the Situation in

Contemporary Art and Culture

New York City, April 29, 2009


                  











Donald Kuspit is one of America’s most important art critics.  He is a Distinguished Professor of Art History and Philosophy at the State University of New York at Stony Brook and has received fellowships from the Fulbright Commission, the NEA, and the Guggenheim Foundation among others.  He is a contributing editor to Artforum, Sculpture, the New Art Examiner, and Tema Celeste Magazines as well as editor of Art Criticism.  He is author and editor of hundreds of articles and books including The End of Art published in 2004.  He frequently writes for Artnet.com


Diane Thodos is an artist and art critic and was a student of Donald Kuspit at the School of Visual Arts in New York City from 1987 to 1992.  She is also a former student of Stanley William Hayter and Sam Gilliam and received a Pollock-Krasner Foundation Grant in 2002.  She has exhibited most recently at the National Hellenic Museum in Chicago and is represent by the Paule Friedland/Alex Rivault Gallery in Paris, The Traeger/Pinto Gallery in Mexico City, and the Thomas Masters Gallery in Chicago. She will be exhibiting at the Kouros gallery in New York City in 2010.




Diane Thodos: I believe, as you do, that postmodernism represents an inextricable cultural crisis:  a collapse that cannot repair or heal itself.   I wouldn’t want to be an artist if I had to be, ideologically speaking, a postmodern artist.


Donald Kuspit:  There is no direction    .  They don’t know what art is. We’re in a nihilistic endgame.  I was reading a review about Bruce Nauman, a piece in Newsweek by Peter Plagens.  It begins by saying that he’s perhaps the most influential American artist since Warhol, and I though now what does this mean?  Everyday he was trying to redefine the art “ex-nihilo”  - out of nothing - and my thought is even God started with something.  But also that means that he does not know what art is. He believes you have to redefine it, reconceptualize it.  So what is it? Does it exist? It is annihilative: perpetual redefinition, unstable, etc.


DT:  It isn’t ex-nihilo, it’s ex-nihilism.  It is consciously nihilistic in its intent.


DK:  I think it’s over for a lot of those people and one of the things I see happening is a return to tradition in a variety of ways  (without mimicking it).


DT:  Regarding the postmodern problem I remember you once raised the question in class about why is it artists don’t allow themselves to go back to being influenced by a tradition.  I really have to pose the question why have we come to the point that an artist doesn’t even think about being influenced by some of the artists we have seen exhibited today - like the German Expressionists at the Neue Gallery or Francis Bacon here at the Met.


DK:  Well they are.  Lucien Freud was influenced by Bacon.  The change in his art was due to his friendship with Bacon.  There are a lot of repetitions, quotations, and appropriations.  There is a sort of Duchampian mode/conceptual mode that’s still operational.  I think of the art of the spectacle - the British sensationalism is related to that.


DT:  It’s gotten very academic and old by this point.  It’s a very narrow road extremely well travelled.


DK:  That’s correct.


DT:  And at this point when you think of the incredible diversity that occurred (I remember you talking about the “Big Bang” of Modernist creativity at the beginning of the last century around 1905 – 24) we still have these rich aesthetic Modernist traditions that have barely scratched the surface of their possibilities in a sense.


DK:  Well, part of the whole idea of Modern is “make it new” so there’s this momentum of novelty until then this becomes a cliché itself.  But I think there’s a deeper reason.  We look at this Expressionism show  [Brucke: The Birth of Expressionism in Dresden and Berlin 1905 - 13 at the Neue Gallery, Feb. 26 – June 29 2009].  What we see is artists who are people who have certain life experiences.  It comes through certain attitudes and ideas.  They are responding toward objects:  Kirchner toward women, or landscapes, or African art.  They are engaged in life enhancing experiences and then they are making the art as part of it.  It’s not exactly reifying it but the art becomes part of that life experience.   So they go to the coast and are excited by the waves.  They’re taking it in, they are receiving it, they

are very open to all this that is happening. 


DT:  Open to life in that sense.


DK:  They are open to life, and the art becomes part of this openness.  Now art is self-ghettoized.  Think for a moment there has been no adequate response to 9-11.  Compare that to other responses from the World Wars, or even Rosenquist’s painting  F-111 responding to American power.  But a lot of this has been taken over by photography – documentary photography.  These guys who are right up there with the troops and quite a number of the images are just stunning.  So it is a kind of “artistry”, not what we call high art.   That’s part of it.  The events are outside the art world and may be too overwhelming and they just don’t know how to deal with it, or they don’t want to partly because they are “in on themselves.”


DT:   Is this a tremendous inadequacy to connect with life?  A denial?


DK:  A narcissism.


DT:  And a fear of the emotion in life?


DK:  That’s right, it’s a fear of the emotion in life.


DT:  Why is there a tremendous fear of emotion when it should be part of life?


DK:  They probably do have emotions in their lives – I don’t see how they couldn’t –  but they split it off and deal with “official “ issues of art.


DT: Hermetically sealed off.


DK:  Right.


DT:  That is a bizarre state.


DK:  It’s a split state.  It’s pseudo-rational art.  To me it goes back to something that T.S. Eliot wrote about  - what he called the disassociation of sensibility.  This is a famous distinction - set in art of the Modern period - between the separation of cognition and feeling.  The issue is to get them together.  So these guys are on the side of cognition - Nauman turning to instrumental reason, technology, theory machines, neon – rather primitive technology though some of it is sophisticated.  The emotions have been flattened.


DT:  You have often written about the exclusion of experiential depth in the great morass of conceptual art that dominates today’s art world.  To use a strong term, do you see the art world projecting a kind of “indoctrination” as a means of control and as a means of destroying humanist and expressionist tendencies in art, or is it something else?


DK: Well, as you know certain groups – for example October most notoriously  - have attacked humanism quite explicitly.  I think they have a naive idea of the human.  But the larger issue is – I think it’s something Greenberg once said – that in the Modern period there’s no clear idea of what it is to be human.  We are not sure anymore so you have all this talk about cyborgs – semi-robots, semi-humans.  The other day I had a computer repaired and I went to a tech serve which has a place on 23rd Street.  While I was waiting they were showing videos.  These were videos made by “avant garde” artists and there was one that was quite fantastic.  It showed  a robot female with a kind of pretty face but with a body made of pipes.  She’s underground with all these other big pipes surrounding her and she’s plucking some sort of artificial flower and very tenderly looking at this flower.  I thought  - now look, there’s this image in front of me, she’s a robot with this mask on her and she has simulated feelings – it’s all simulation. Or it’s like in Japan where now they have made robot pet dogs which are very useful for people who are terminally ill.  They feel companionated by them.  To buy them actually it’s about $4,000.  So you have this world of this technological society.


DT:  Yes  - referring to the title of the book written by Jacques Ellul The Technological Society.


DK:  Yes – that’s very important.  So in such a society the question is what is the fate of feeling - that’s one way to put it – and what is the fate of the human?  Now certain analysts who I admire argue that the problem of being human is to create a “margin of freedom” within determinism.  There are all these determinisms – biological, social - so how do you create this margin of freedom in which you can be human and have feelings?  And I would say now we have technological determinisms.  For example let’s take this little machine you have here [digital camera/tape recorder] – a brilliant incredible invention.  In five years it will be half the size and do twice the work.  The question is what is it for?  I have seen some people get hung up on gadgets – they have got to have them.


DT:  Yes  - they are playing video games all the time, they are on the cell phone all the time, or constantly texting.


DK:  But what do they think?  These are just transmission machines – like television, a terrific invention, or the telephone – another terrific invention.  But content is not there - the human content.  It’s like the technology is slowly overwhelming, even replacing the content.  There is a fascination with the technology for the sake of the technology. 


DT:  It is replacing the emotive affect and communicative element of the human being.


DK:  That’s right – and people think  Aha!  If we follow the mechanical model then we are emulating the “zeitgeist.”  There is this old debate which comes back in various forms  - including in existentialism and psychoanalysis and in the 19th century – between the robot model of man and man as an organism.  So the Modern period pushes us to more and more robot models.


DT:  Like what Picabia was talking about when he had his Orphic ideas in painting and then transformed them into the Dadaist idea of the machine?


DK:  Right.  But let’s take the famous statement by the surrealist poet Leautremont – the meeting of a sewing machine and an umbrella on an operating table.


DT:  He was a very strange poet.


DK:  Yes but that’s his metaphor for sexuality which was picked up.  But think of that – it’s all machines: umbrellas, sewing machines…


DT:  Sadistic really.


DK:  Sadistic, absolutely.  That’s what the opening of Les Chants de Maldoror is all about.  The point is it’s all inhuman.  It’s perverse.  It breaks down the barriers.  So now you have this sort of closed system.  Now you have the computer model – our brains are like computers.  Well, maybe they are and maybe they aren’t.  Computers are not as plastic as brains.


DT:  No - brains are far more subtle.


DK:  Most subtle, and the most complicated organ apparently ever created by nature from what I have read.  All of this militates against affect and yet I believe affect is there unconsciously and it erupts from time to time.  There are mass murders and you get these sudden enactments – and a lot of art is about that enactment.  People like this guy at the MOMA, writing about himself in every little enactment in different modes – a “happening”….


DT: Like Paul McCarthey?


DK:  No  - though McCarthey is another one of these horrors.


DT:  Based on the German Expressionist art show we just saw  [Brücke: The Birth of Expressionism at the Neue Gallery, February 26 – July 29 2009] I have an important question.  Do you see any parallels between what is happening now and the circumstances that created the Degenerate Art exhibit in Germany in 1937 – that is – the individual vs. the doctrinal?  If so is there a kind of covert censorship going on as to what art gets shown and what does not?


DK:  Oh yes. 


DT: Can you relate this somehow to what is meant by the individualistic vs. the doctrinal regarding the Degenerate Art show?  To put this issue another way I read a wall text written by Jay A. Clarke from the recent exhibit Becoming Edvard Munch: Influence, Anxiety, and Myth at the Chicago Art Institute that exhibited from February 14 – April 26, 2009.  Here are the critical parts of it.


The Edvard Munch of popular imagination – a tortured bohemian rebel who seemed almost a living version of the famous figure in The Scream – was in fact a myth, carefully constructed during Munch’s lifetime by critics, historians, and the artist himself….The Norwegian art critic suggested that he suffered from the psychological condition known as neurasthenia…otherwise known as nervous exhaustion…Adopted and adapted by social commentators, the disorder was connected with decadence and degeneration and applied to the visual arts….Munch deliberately embraced disturbing subject matter and the personality of the sick, socially aberrant artist…[he] adjusted his emotional pitch at precise moments in order to achieve the outcomes he desired.  Munch’s self portraits, such as the brooding blue hued Self Portrait in Moonlight and Self Portrait with Cigarette, offer a rich opportunity to explore this persona in the act of construction, reminding us of the artist’s central role in the process of his own mythmaking and reputation building.


I feel this writing reflects a historical “revision” of Munch’s work that intends to desublimate the power of his work by making him into an everyday huckster.


DK:  Like contemporary artists – like the Jeff Koons of his day.  That absolutely fascinates me – what the curator did, why the curator did it, what’s the argument behind it, what’s the proof?


DT:  This brings me to the question – do we have historical revisionism today that’s working as a means of not merely avoiding the presence of emotion in art, but being destructive of the importance of emotional sublimation in art?  Does this revisionism assert itself as a means of supporting a postmodern/postart agenda that keeps the emotions out of art?


DK:  What you say is exactly right.


DT:  Do you feel it is like, in a sense, the way the Germans in the Degenerate Art show degraded Expressionist/Modernist art and displaced it with their own doctrinal kitsch that was the official art?


DK:  What I would say has happened is the avant-gardeavant gardism  - has become institutionalized.  It has become a tyranny.  It’s become a dogma, and for all the art world’s talk about diversity - echoing the social diversity – it’s not diverse. It’s an inertial system.  So we go to a Whitney Biennale and we do not see the range.


DT:  You see the opposite – a very narrow path.


DK: Exactly.  The mandate of The Whitney Biennale is to show the range so you see different things.


DT: But it is not the case.


DK:  It’s not.  It’s a party line.  It’s Fascist.


DT:  I was just getting to that.  Fascist is an interesting word because when we speak of the Degenerate Art show we are speaking of the condemnation of Modern art by this doctrine.


DK:  But there is something else going on.  Let’s go back to the Degenerate Art show.  I have this theory which I have written about.  I argue that the Nazis were perceptive; they saw something that was there in the art; but what they did not understand what was there in the art was in the society.  The artists were talking about – if you want – the degeneracy in the society:  the savage etc.  So the Nazis - in their corrupted notion of purity or Aryanism – felt threatened.  They did not like the underside showing.  They did not like their own underside showing – their own aggression, their barbarism.  But there it was in the art, so they called it “degenerate” because it was threatening.  It was threatening because it touched them on the inside.  The fascinating thing about the Nazis is that they had a passion for art.  Do you know the book The Rape of Europa [Lynn H. Nicholas 1995]?


DT:  Yes.  Göhering stole a lot of art.


DK: Hitler wanted to turn Linz his hometown and Berlin into big art centers. Speer assimilated a lot of Modernist ideas to make his art.  He tried to subsume it, or dialectically sublate it – and some of the structures are still interesting like the Olympic stadium.


DT:  He was part of the Modernist movement even though he was complicit in horrible atrocities.


DK:  You know he was an “organization man.”


DT: Yes, he was in on the Nazi slave labor too.


DK: Right.  He was denying the slave labor.


DT:  But he knew all about it.


DK:  Sure.


DT:  There is an interesting duplicity here.


DK:  It’s a blindness.  It’s a blind side.  It’s not that they are duplicitous.


DT:  Well I mean in his reaction to the press.


DK:  Yes.


DT:  The way he appeared and what he was.


DK: I don’t think he knew there was a difference.  I think Hitler knew there was a difference, I think the major anti-Semites knew there was a difference.  I think he believed in the cause, he believed in Hitler, he believed Hitler was fine for Germany.  He began to realize it was all going to hell, and he was one of the first to perceive it.  There’s a fantastic book by Gitta Sereny  - a thick book some 700 pages [Albert Speer: His Battle with Truth 1996].  It’s interviews she did with Speer after his imprisonment.  He just had no perception.  He was just like; organization - let’s do it…


DT:  Do you think it is because in the culture there is structure before there is emotion?


DK:  They are obedient.  The Germans are obedient.


DT:  But was it structure before feeling, structure before perception?  Was there a structural element that was built into the culture that made Speer that way?


DK:  That’s a difficult question to answer.  I think there are Nazis and there are Nazis.  They weren’t all uniform.  A lot of them were military men.


DT:  Prussian.


DK: Prussian.  A certain notion of honor – that’s why they turned against Hitler.


DT:  Yes.  I have heard about these things too.  But the interest I have is also that there was enough of a presence in the culture that had a strong structural element.


DK:  Their obedience.  Mitscherlich writes about that.  “Gehorsamkeit. “ Put them in a line and they just keep going.  They are brought up that way.


DT:  In the Leni Riefenstahl film Triumph of the Will it is interesting how rigidly the soldiers march in tight box formations.


DK:  The Authoritarian Personality of Adorno [first published in 1950].  Part of the new Germany is to go against that authoritarianism.  Transparency of government – that’s why the Reichstag has a glass dome.  The young people are very different. Now the Nazis were not unperceptive about Modern art – it’s just that they did not like what they saw because it was really a split off part of themselves.


DT:  Yes – it had power because it was.


DK:  Yes, exactly.  Unless it had that power they would not have responded to it so negatively.


DT:  And they would not have wanted to destroy so much of the art.  That’s why people hid the art both during and after the war, which is why a lot of this art did not surface at auctions for so long.  Right after the war people kept the art hidden because they were afraid it would end up being destroyed again. 


DK: Sure


DT:   But getting back to my original question – do you feel that when we speak about the relationship between Fascism and the Degenerate Art show that this has a parallel with the contemporary postmodern censorship that seems to enforce itself against the validity of an emotional relationship to art…


DK:  That’s a good point.


DT:  For example the way emotional or expressionist art is downgraded; how this text from the Edvard Munch exhibition focused on casting his art in the light of a marketeering strategist.  This was profoundly distorting and in my opinion shameful.


DK:  I’m really curious.  I’ve never seen anything like that before.


DT:  This is the creepy part of my question:  It’s no longer about just the ignoring of expression, but trying to marginalize and degrade it.  It is a different program.


DK:  It’s saying Munch is inauthentic.  It’s just an act.


DT: And that he’s a hustler, that we are all the same, and that this is an everyday kind of thing.


DK:  And we all understand it because we are all the same – exactly. Unbelievable.


DT:  Do you see shades of George Orwell’s book 1984 when the Whitney Museum claims there is great diversity in art when there is just the opposite.


DK:  That’s right.


DT:  Claims that are false and made up...


DK:  Well there are a lot of things happening, but they are not showing it.  Anyone who takes an ordinary stroll through the range of galleries in New York can casually see all kind of different styles, different modes etc.  The real power today is the power of money.  Money is heavily invested in what used to be called avant gardism –and that controls it.  Also there is the need for fodder for the machine.


DT:  Novelty, entertainment.


DK:  Look at Capitalism; it’s so wonderfully inventive and innovative…


DT: And it’s only interested in its own self-sameness.


DK: Oh for sure.


DT:  It’s only interested in the absolute mirror of its own image to itself and what is projected outward by the power of it’s capital, its money, patronage, connections…


DK:  That’s it.  What really needs to be studied is not so much the artist but who’s buying the art and why they are buying it – even more than the galleries.  Like who is buying Koons, who is buying McCarthey.  Why is McCarthey getting the Sculpture award from Skowhegan this year?


DT:  That is a profound perversity.


DK:  I am telling you he is getting the award this year - or why is Bruce Nauman in the Whitney Biennale?  Or let’s look at it another way; let’s go to the Museum of Modern Art.  Why do we have pride of place, simply in terms of quantity of works given to Jackson Pollock and Barnett Newman?  You come into the Pollock room and you have almost a dozen.  You turn another direction and there is large Barnett Newman piece.  Then you have one or two Gorkys and you have a few DeKoonings.  Why is this shown the way it is?  No doubt they are moving their collection around but there are certain fixtures that are there.  Why coming, into that third floor, do you have a Wyeth, Christina’s World, a few other “American Realist” works, and then boom - you come into Modern art.  [Before that] you have a Scheeler and a few other things - what happened to Ben Shahn for example?  You have a Hopper that is a small example.  Why are these artists not shown in depth?


DT:  Right.  Hopper is a very significant artist.


DK:  When you look at their selection of German Expressionists they have a few Beckmanns; they have The Departure.  I’m talking about what I’ve seen the last time I was there when Kippenberger was showing.


DT:  There is a prejudice for certain artists that follow a particular historical view.


DK:  That’s right.  A certain reading of history.


DT:  Getting into a big subject here - on your suggestion I have read Jacques Ellul’s book  The Technological Society [first published in 1964] and was struck by his prophetic insight about the present.  Can you briefly outline the most salient aspects of how  technique, that is, “creating systems of ever greater efficiency” manifests itself in the current art world culture?


DK:  I think it is, in a way, very simple.  There is all this focus on video.  My understanding of the Nauman show is that there are going to be sound pieces, with all this high tech, low-tech computer art.  For me this is just an instrument.  Look – it is like the invention of the paint tube – the paint tube made Impressionism possible.   You could carry the tube out in plein air, where you didn’t have to make sketches and then go into the studio.   All kinds of people were using paint tubes, but not everyone was a Monet: artists who we honor and admire.  I think there is now a fascination with technology for the sake of technology.  Technique for the sake of technique.  This paradox was already pointed out in the late 19th century by the so called proto-existentialists - Kierkegaard, Nietzsche, and so forth – that the very success of instrumental reason in industrial society reduces reason to simply a matter of technique.


DT:  Yes.  It’s more and more efficient; it gets down to a formula.


DK:  Not only do you get more and more efficient, is shuts out what you call the “dark area”  - it shuts out emotion, because emotion is inefficient.


DT:  Well right.  It’s very inefficient, because its uneven, its unpredictable, it cannot be streamlined.


DK:  Yes, and it can’t be short-circuited.  If it does it will kick back, it will come back. You can’t throw it out.   You can’t say, for example, typewriters are obsolete and computers are in, so this kind of fear is obsolete and here’s this new kind of fear. You can’t do that. 


DT: No.


DK:  It is too unpredictable for a lot of people and also involves what psychoanalysts call a “need for observing ego.”  If you are looking inside  - what broadly what is termed introspection – in a  “Technological Society” you do not want to be introspective.  That’s the last thing you want. 


DT:  That’s the last thing a “Technological Society” wants.


DK:  It doesn’t want introspection.  You turn inward and you forget the techniques.  Think about these Reality TV shows.   All these people confessing what they have done – they had a bad relationship with someone etc.  Think for a minute what is going on.  What happened to privacy?  What happened to the need to do what analysts call the working it through.  Instead of working it through they are acting it out - performing it.  They have real and serious problems.


DT:  Reality TV can be very exploitive.


DK:  That’s a good word, but it’s not the whole story.  They are performing and they think if they perform that will solve the problem.


DT:   In other words they feel the need to do this in front of Judge Judy or whatever.


DK:  Yes, exactly.  Say there is a problem of somebody swindling someone else or they did not pay back a loan.  They think if they are performing it in front of a camera somehow that’s going to solve the problem.  They are very exhibitionist


DT:  Which is totally deceptive.


DK:  Exactly, but that is part of the technology.  Spectacle is connected to technology.  You can create these fantastic Hollywood spectacles that are dazzling.


DT:  But they seem to be about nothing…


DK:  Well that’s the point.


DT:  It’s not like watching an Andre Tarkovsky film where you get this incredible Dostoyevskian poetic depth.  Have you seen his films?


DK:  I have seen some of them.


DT:  Like Andre Rublev, Solaris, My Name is Ivan, The Sacrifice


DK:  Yes.


DT:  And also Ingmar Bergman has extremely profound films.  You don’t walk out of a Bergman film without being affected…


DK:  Well you see there the camera is a means.  He uses it very subtly - for example with the use of dark shadows - and he focuses on certain issues, and those issues aren’t going away. He works them through in a process.  It is interesting you mention him because recently I saw his film The Virgin Spring


DT:  That’s an amazing film.


DK:  Yes.  It just goes on and on and on, and you are working it through.  It’s not just an act.


DT:  He holds the traumatic moment with this tremendous tenderness and anguish at the same time…


DK:  The key word is Trauma there


DT:  He is very traumatized…


DK:  He is willing to express the trauma of existence, even when he is lighthearted.


DT:  Even so.


DK:  The camera becomes part of the experience.  It is dominating the experience, or becoming the spectator of the experience. 


DT:    It is a witness to an internal experience that is amazingly constructed.


DK:  Thinking of that what comes to mind is Robert Redford in F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Great Gatsby.  It’s all pose, you get the profile, and there is no depth or sense of internal life.  What the camera’s doing – actually something I like about the film- is it’s highlighting all the secondary features.  There is no human being there.


DT:  You mean all the sets and the lighting….


DK:  It’s very interesting to see this – the sets, the clothing, the environments they create - this Americana scene. 


DT:  It’s quite a formulaic kind of film.


DK:  It’s formulaic, but the formulaic is true to the American values!


DT:  That is what America is very much based on.


DK:  When people talk about Americanization they are talking about standardization with a vengeance.


DT:  Very much so.


DK:  And even customization which grows out of standardization.



DT: Do you feel, in reference to Jacque Ellul’s book The Technological Society, that technique as an absolute standardization of means also relates to how artists have become these sort of glorified commercial producers of brand name products: in other words formatting the product to streamline the marketing system?  For example there’s hundreds and hundreds of these post painterly abstractions all equally looking like slightly decadent wallpaper patterns of some sort or other…


DK:  That’s one way of putting it.   Let’s put in another way. Let’s take Mr. Koons who is always a good example:  a sort of capitalist art about Capitalism.  Now here’s a commodity; taking something we know  - a vacuum cleaner – and it’s new.  So there’s newness, and it’s American, and it’s “art” which is supposedly to “make it new. “  What he is doing by putting it in a vitrine and exhibiting it as art is he gives it this exhibition value, which is the only art value now.  What he is doing is highlighting something that is meant to be exhibited, initially, to get you to buy it -  and then it has certain use value.


DT:  A janitor can use it to clean up the museum later on.


DK:  That’s right, but he’s not interested in that.  What he is interesting in is the exhibition value - a term that [Walter] Benjamin uses…


DT:  …is that the aura of an object, or something different?


DK:  It is a different theory.  It subsumes what Marx called use value and exchange value.  The thing acquires its use value and exchange value by being exhibited.  The moment it is exhibited it becomes this technique of exhibition, of staging.  Think for example of Warhol who begins by doing windows for Bonwit Teller.  Rosenquist begins by doing advertising posters.  That is staging a product - a commodity - in some way.


DT:  Right.


DK:  It’s now called “incentive marketing.”


DT:  It’s like you could put a pair of shoes in a thrift shop and no one would see them.  If you put them in a window for Bonwit Teller and surround them with all the right accoutrements you can sell them for $500.


DK:  Right.


DT:  So it is all contextually based on how it is presented.


DK: That’s exactly it. There was a very decisive moment in the sociology of art, in our business culture – generally – the Warhol idea…


DT:  He said, “Business art is the best art”…


DK:  Yes – but remember when there used to be the Soho Guggenheim that was at the corner of Prince Street and West Broadway?  It closed and was replaced by a Prada store.  It is still there.  The Prada store was designed by Rem Koolhaus - a very hot architect - you know who he is.


DT:  Yes.


DK:  I don’t think they do this anymore, but the shoes are brought out every morning and exhibited like precious objects.  Remember [Hiam] Steinbach who showed sneakers…


DT:  Yes, garbage cans and masks and things on display shelves…


DK:  Well he did sneakers too.  He had a whole exhibit of sneakers and I showed this to my class.  A student said “Oh God I wish I had those; those are collector’s items.”  They were brand new sneakers from a certain period – the 70’s – and they were 50 years old. 


DT:  A collector’s item – even though they are everyday kitsch stuff.


DK:  That’s right.  That’s what happens; everything becomes collectable.  So the point is here was this place which had been an art site but now becomes, shall we say, another art site that is fused with business and the product.


DT:  A quasi museum/store.


DK:  Yes, quasi museum/store.  I don’t know whether these shoes are worth whatever the price is.  Another example; you may remember up in Chelsea there is a Comme Des Garcons store that looks like a hole in the wall from the outside.


DT:  Yes, I was in there.


DK:  You go in this high tech metal tunnel, and then you enter.  There are these dungarees with tears in them for $350 a shot.


DT:  You are paying for an experience I guess.


DK: You are paying for aesthetic marketing and the people who are the salesmen are more like Maitre d’s that are doing you a favor by showing you to your table…


DT:  It’s extremely pretentious garbage.


DK:  Yes, but you see that’s an outside judgment; you are not becoming part of the spectacle/exhibition.


DT; No, I don’t trust it, but it works


DK:  It is the art industry – it works…


DT:  Yes, it obviously wouldn’t be there if it didn’t work.  It’s all about sales.


DK:  Marketing is the term that is used.


DT:  Is marketing as you see it – the way this American Capitalist marketing system operates – part of the efficiency of technique in a sense?


DK:  That’s very well put, yes.  I think it is part of the efficiency of technique; but it also may be technique running away with itself.  You finally have to ask what’s the value of technique?


DT:  Is it a sort of absolutization of technique for its own sake?


DK:  Well - let’s talk about cameras.  Everybody’s got a camera. Taking photographs is useful, but when you think about it you got the camera so you got to take the photograph because if you don’t take the photograph then the camera is useless.  So you have to use the technique to get the value.  There is the person of the American tourist.  They go to Versailles or the Eiffel Tower and they take their photograph.  They look at the photograph - not at the building or structure.  They don’t see it.  They don’t have a perceptual experience.


DT:  They don’t linger and wonder about qualities of what is before them.


DK:  They say “ I have been to the Eiffel Tower, here is my photograph, I took it at this particular date:  look there’s proof, it’s printed out on the side of the film” So technique takes over the experience when it is meant to serve the experience.  You need technique; but if technique takes over the whole process then what is the point of it?


DT:  So the question is who is in control, which leads to the next question.  Has technique become so all encompassing that individual initiative is completely excluded within the context of the art world would you say?


DK:  No, I think agency is still possible, but I think the agency has to fight.  It has to somehow break the compliance to the technique.  That is a paradox because in the Modern Art movement the artists broke compliance to every Old Master technique around -  then any piece of junk could become art.


DT:  So all the rules were broken and then there were none.


DK:  And that was the rule:  break the rules.


DT:  And then there were no rules.  So we now have chaos.


DK:  That’s right.


DT:  It’s total chaos and it’s all up for grabs.


DK:  What is the meaning?


DT:  There is no meaning left.  On that point, what advice would you give an art student entering a university program regarding what you refer to as the organic and existential necessity of art?  I know this is a very generic question, but in fact I have met a lot of people in art programs who find themselves bumping around lost in a labyrinth without a light. They do not really understand why they are dissatisfied with their school experience.


DK:  The only thing you can get out of art school - the main reason art school should be around  - is it should teach you every technique that has ever been around; from stained glass to carving stone to working with video.  You should learn every technique.


DT:  painting, printmaking…it should be a pluralistic experience of all media.


DK:  Exactly - of all media.


DT:  And it isn’t anymore in many places


DK:  They want to get rid of the “hand”…


DT:  They want to get rid of drawing, painting, and traditional art.  So what would you say to a student to be on their guard against the kinds of programs that may wish to have them narrow their scope?


DK:  Stay away.


DT:  Stay away and don’t enroll.


DK:  Unless you want to have success for five minutes after getting out of the program - it’s shorter than 15 minutes these days.


DT:  There has been a tremendous degradation in a lot of art education.


DK:  Yes. I think it’s a disaster.


DT:  And what has brought this about? 


DK:   Conceptualism.


DT:  Conceptualism wants to create it’s own self-fulfilling propaganda and have no dialectical relationship outside of that?


DK:  There are certain modes of stylistic dominance as well as technological dominance.  I remember [sculptor] George Segal who went to art school here in New York.  He was very interested in German Expressionism and figuration.  His professor told him “You’re and idiot – you don’t want to go that way; abstraction is the way to go.”  It’s the truth.  He writes about this.  I’m quoting him now.


DT:  Incredible.


DK:  He just stuck with it and made this special amalgamation of expressionism and the figure – but he had the strength of will to do that.


DT:  So you need the strength of will to separate yourself from the things that do not give you the diversity of experience you need?


DK:  You cannot fall for any party line.  There are always professors who say, “This is the way to do it.”  But that’s the way they’re doing it, and usually when they’re doing it, it’s reified.  It doesn’t necessarily have to be this way.  There are people like Ad Reinhart who was a professor at Brooklyn College for a long time.  He had his own ideas of art but from what I understand he sort of encouraged other modes. I don’t know how it works that way.  I have seen a lot of works by one student of Hans Hoffmann, a woman student, and he went over [her work] and in fact turned everything into a Hans Hoffmann  - so there’s a problem.


DT:  There is the problem of this sort of a dogmatic overlay?


DK:  You have professors who are very concerned about their own identities and want…


DT:  …the perpetuation of their own system?


DK:  Right.  Students reinforce it the more students you get  - and that will end up with the kiss of death.  A famous example of this is Frank Lloyd Wright who developed a school of architecture, but no significant architect of similar stature to him has emerged from it.  You got some very good architects working in the Frank Lloyd Wright mode, so it’s very good to have a master but…


DT: …individualism becomes subsumed by the larger purview?


DK:  And there is the argument that Harold Rosenberg made in relation to Arshile Gorky, that his apprenticeship was good – Picasso to Miro – and his work was quite different from theirs, derivative but an interesting derivation at that.  So it’s tricky.  You have to be an apprentice somewhere and learn thoroughly one mode that you are inclined to, but then you have to have the guts to sort of break with it but develop it, move it somewhere else or get to your own creativity on the basis of it.  But In art school you also have a great opportunity for a real learning experience:  to learn all the media and to learn art history.


DT:  So you have to be very selective about the school you choose:  that it offers the range that gives you an opportunity to learn.


DK:  I think the Bauhaus had a good idea.  That seems to be, from what I have read about it, the model. The first year of apprenticeship you had to learn all the properties of all kinds of materials and all kinds of techniques.  Then if you finished this you were admitted and you worked with a master - but that didn’t mean you had to work in the master’s manner.  He would just sort of critique you, if I understand it correctly.


DT:  So we have a problem today with there being this attempt by the art world to canonize the past and rigidify it…


DK:  …A certain limited past…


DT:  Yes, a certain limited past.  There is a lot of censorship which disallows students from going back to learn certain modes of art making.  Is this because there are a lot of teachers who don’t know these techniques are just trying to, pardon the expression, “cover their asses” because they lack the knowledge?


DK:  That’s one way of putting it but I don’t think so.  They just don’t believe in the art techniques.


DT:  They don’t believe in them?


DK:  They don’t believe in them.  “Who wants to paint?  It’s obsolete.  The death of painting.  Who wants to paint? I can do it all on video.” I have heard students say this.  I have heard teachers say this.  You must know this.


DT:  We really are in a post-art age.


DK:  Yes. Exactly.


DT: That is precisely the point.


DK:  It’s all conceptual.


DT:  producing pseudoistic stand-ins for what art was.


DK:  And also art doesn’t become a learning experience anymore.


DT:  No and it’s not connected to life.  It really has to be disconnected from life for  - as you have written - a student to become a card-carrying member of the “contemporary  art” party.  It has to be disconnected from emotional life, which is really the death knell of art ‘s potential.


DK:   Or your emotion can be focused through this mode.  I think it is still possible for example to make very interesting Abstract Expressionist works today. I have seen some.


DT:  I myself as a critic have always tried to find artists who have that emotional connection to what they do, whether it is figurative, surrealist…


DK:  And that the emotion somehow comes through the work.


DT:  Yes.


DT:  There is a transference in fact.


DT:  Well, the work can stand on it’s own.  It does not need texts.  A single image can arrest you and engage you because of the power of what is inherent in it.


DK:  I’m with you completely.


DT:  Getting back to the issue of exclusion and censorship I remember once you talked about – and I think it’s absolutely true – in the late 80’s how women were starting to enter the art world more and more but their work was very novelty oriented in the neo-conceptual art mode.


DK:  I think that has changed.


DT: You have found different types of women artists today?


DK:  It has been a lucky experience that I have met women artists in their 60’s who have been working for years and who I think are making pretty profound art.


DT:  Wonderful.  Name some names.


DK:  Lynn Stern is a first rate photographer.  She’s done incredible images of death heads in black and white.  When she was shown in a New York Gallery the images were too strong.  Nobody wants to look at skulls.


DT:  Well, I don’t know.   For me it was hard to look at the Otto Dix War series but the fourth time I looked at them they sunk in.  For me his skulls made a reverberation over time.


DK:  You have to be in touch with death inside yourself first of all.  So she is one.  I have supported these people and we just sort of met.  Maybe it has something to do with the fact of my age.  I am interested in older artists, older women artists, and women artists who know how to work with materials, whatever their material is  - paint or black and white photography  - and who have a certain serious intentions.


DT:  Like Alice Neel?


DK:  Some of these people are even more interesting.


DT:  Really?  That’s good to hear.


DK:  That’s my opinion - but Alice Neel is fine.  Maybe it ‘s because these are people of my generation.


DT:  That is a very important point because their schooling would have dated from a time when you could learn techniques.


DK:  Yes.  That’s quite true


DT:  And now I don’t think you can.  When I look at my alma mater Carnegie-Mellon University in Pittsburgh, students aren’t producing anything like the variety of art that was there in the early 80’s.  I was very lucky to get the figure drawing and painting training that I did; it is no longer available at the same school.


DK:  What these artists have is also a persistent curiosity about learning and are knowledgeable about many other things.  They completely develop themselves.  They are not resting wherever they have been.  They have open horizons.


DT:  So it’s like the stream of life is the effective force that brings the art along, as witness to it.


DK:  That’s part of it, but also there’s a very solid sense of what it is to make art.


DT:  Yes.  There’s no confusion; no jumping on the trend wagon.


DK:  No.  They know their history and have a certain way of doing things.  They keep developing it and the works are fairly stunning.


DT:  So there is a concentrated essence that keeps evolving.


DK:  Yes.


DT:  When I was a student here in New York  at School of Visual Arts from 1987 – 1989, one thing that confused me tremendously was how trends occurred in the art world.  The artists who would hop on the bandwagon to imitate these trends kept changing their style.  Then you’d get weird hybridizations of the last trend with the present one.  For example you’d get Neo-Expressionism with some conceptualism mixed in.


DK:  They had no identity of their own.


DT:  Yes, it was very confusing


DK:  But of course SVA has always been about being au courant about whatever is “hot.” I haven’t been there for a while.  There are always certain places that think that it is important to attract students because they are a place that is “with it.”  You got to do latest “thing” and this will help you “make it.”


DT:  I was in the graduate painting program.


DK:  What year were you there?


DT:  I was in New York from 1987 – 1992 starting with two years graduate school when you were my teacher.  I continued taking your class because I worked for SVA and was allowed one free class, so it was for five years total.  Frankly I wanted to continue because you were the only person I knew who could answer the questions I had about what was really going on in the art world.  It made a big difference in my life.


DK:  That may be before I was disillusioned.


DT:  Well, yeah, before the art world completely destroyed itself – before it imploded.  I remember you saying back then that the art world was like a jet without a pilot.  It had powerful force but had absolutely no steering to determine its course.


DK:  The pilots are now people like Saatchi who invent whole movements.


DT:  They have hijacked the plane.


DK:  Yes.  There is a book you should read called Supercollector: A Critique of Charles Saatchi by John Walker and Rita Hatton.  It’s really worth looking at.  I did a review of it years ago when it first appeared.  Walker is a sometime artist and admits that the book is sort of Marxist in orientation; but what he and Rita Hatton have done is an absolutely brilliant piece of investigative reporting and documentation of the Saatchis from the very beginning and with artist’s comments about what it is like dealing with them; just well researched like you’ve never imagined.


DT:  I’m going to want to read this.


DK:  I reviewed it years ago for artnet.com.


DT:  I will certainly be checking it out.


DK:  Walker also did a first rate little book about media and art.  He has a very smart mind and as researcher is very perceptive.  The book on Saatchi is just incredible.  Sacchi got where he is through advertising.  He invented Margaret Thatcher. Walker documents this.


DT:  Yes, he ran the ad agency that put Thatcher on the map.


DK:  Whatever you may think of Thatcher, Saatchi understood the connection of art and advertising in a way that even Warhol didn’t – the connection of art and publicity.  Did you ever read from the series I have on artnet.com A Critical History of 20th Century Art?


DT:  Yes. I’m about three quarters of the way through.


DK:   I have a whole section on publicity. Henri Lefebvre wrote Publicity is the Only Ideology of our Time.  It is the quote heading one of the chapters.  He’s a French sociologist and very brilliant.  He wrote the book Everyday Life in the Modern World.  But Saatchi knew how to take over publicity, just like Damien Hirst does.


DT:  He’s got his own auction going. You’d think it’s about the efficiency of technique brought to a hyper level of being.


DK:   Plus the power of money.  I was in Amsterdam not too long ago and I went to the Rijks Museum  - a classic museum.  The Rijks was being restored and rebuilt but they kept one section where they had a number of their older works.  When I went there – and I didn’t know this would be the case – they had Damien Hirst’s diamond skull on display.  Not only did they have the diamond skull, but also at the beginning of every room – and it’s no exaggeration - they had a little plaque that said something like “if you keep on going you will get to the Damien Hirst Skull.” I didn’t ever see anything saying “if you keep on going you will get to Rembrandt’s Night Watch.” So then you got to a room that was roped off like for a movie marquee with a velvet rope which you stand behind.  Then you went into a room, and there it was alone.  I was really irritated by this thing.


DT:  That is just perverse beyond imagination…


DK:  This is not the end of it.  The signs lead through a circuit because there was a part of the museum that was cut off.   There was one last room where they had arranged a nice selection of old master works, relatively small, with a little text explaining provenance etc. discreetly next to each.  Above each of these works in bigger lettering and in a different coloring (I think it was pink) was a commentary by Hirst on each of these works.  The most insipid banal crap I have ever heard as comments: so he gets the voice over this old master art and then people read it.  When you exited, following the circuit, you noticed on the side there was a big black Damien Hirst tent, and if you liked you could go in there to buy catalogs and write your comments.   So I met the director of exhibitions at Gemente Museum in The Hague and I said “what is going on here?   Has anyone protested?  Is that what the Reichs Museum is about?”


DT:  It destroys the credibility of the institution.


DK:  Exactly.  He said there was a new director and he wants to bring in more people.


DT:  What a total joke.


DK:  But that’s what it’s about.  He told me that Hirst had a contract – something like a hundred page contract – that everything had to be done just so.   The assumption is that the museum got a lot of money for this, and they just followed the contract to the letter allowing the artist to control.   The artist took control just like he did with the auction.  What are we interested in here?  We are interested in the demonstration of power.  We are interested in the spectacle and what he as done is degrade the other art with his insipid comments.  It is not historical interpretation of any kind or critical consciousness.  There is a skull with diamonds in it for 20 million dollars: everybody is looking at the money. 

You know what has happened to art now?  It is exactly like the way the magazines announce a movie that is opening.  They say, “This movie is the best because it brought in 20 million dollars” and “this movie number two because the first weekend it brought in 18 million.”    Now there’s no evaluation.  What are these movies about?  They give you some narrative line, but what about the cinematography?  What about the acting?

 

DT:  It’s just the sheer power of money speaking for itself.  The Rijk’s museum exhibit of Damien Hirst’s Skull is also an attempt to destroy the authentic art that was already there in the museum.

 

DK:  Yes, he said explicitly that he has “no integrity” – that’s a direct quote.

 

DT:  So he’s aware of it.

 

DK:  Well it is the “hot” thing to say.  He is saying,  “See I have no integrity, I’m the new bandit, I’m the new hotshot gangster.”

 

DT:  He wants to be the “bad boy.”

 

DK:  He’s saying “I’m the bad boy and the godfather and you know there’s always a role for this in a popular culture.  Have you ever seen him?  He looks like a sly gopher or something.

 

DT:  I have never really taken much of any interest in him.

 

DK:  The sociology of art is more important right now.

 

DT:  Arnold Hauser’s book The Sociology of Art? [1974]

 

DK:  What I mean is the sociology of the contemporary situation is in some ways more interesting than the art.  Don’t kid yourself.  It’s about what is the social role of art and how people are invested in art.  This is why opening parties are such big events.  Art is an occasion for socializing.

 

DT: Networking, climbing ladders…

 

DK:  And art openings have an atmosphere a little different than if we met in a boardroom or a restaurant where we would eat, chat, or make our deal. It’s interesting that art is a status item; it’s all about what is your status?

 

DT:  Everything is getting extremely distended and abstracted from any meaningfulness in terms of what is sold and what the art actually is.

 

DK:  It’s getting abstracted from experiential meaning and from aesthetic meaning.  It’s even getting separated from any kind of serious social commentative purpose. Who cares what you are transgressing?  Nobody cares.  Art has lost its way.

 

DT:  Yes, it’s a completely lost situation.  I recall reading an essay by Robert Hughes about William DeKooning.  He made the observation that his kind of expressionism was rare in American art.  Why is this so?  It is rare in terms of established practice within the American art tradition.  In other words DeKooning was pretty unusual.  Compared to Pollock, DeKooning brought his work closer to what the German Expressionist tradition was about.

 

DK:  I think he is more important than Pollock.

 

DT:  Yes he is more important, I agree.

 

DK:  Well he was European.  Gorky was European.  Hans Hoffman was European:  it goes back to Europe.  If you look at the history of 20th century art the largest amount of art produced, the most continuous stream of art – for better or worse - was Expressionism, whether it was figurative expressionism or Abstract Expressionism.

Now in America the art may have to do with some sense of Puritanism - a sense of shame about “letting it all hang out” unless of course you got a TV camera in front of you.

 

DT:  It’s an anti-figural attitude unless it’s about spectacle?

 

DK:  Unless it’s about spectacle.  Also I think it’s very hard to sustain genuine Expressionism.  It’s really a kind of intuitive painting.  You have to be with it.  When you look at a Kirchner painting full of dashed lines and marks you got to be totally focused, totally absorbed.  Saul Bellow once said we live in a distraction society.  That’s why it’s hard to sustain focus.  There is also a strong figurative tradition in American art.

 

DT:  Artists like Edward Hopper, Thomas Eakins, Winslow Homer…

 

DK:  Let me put it this way.  Warhol is another social realist in a certain sense – a social realist who is dealing with things like Hollywood stars, celebrity, whatever.  That is a strong American tradition. Forget about any stylistic considerations – it’s about observing the society.  Warhol said, and I think he’s right, that his best works were about death.  A lot of them deal with social violence.  That’s social observation: social realism.  In a certain sense he’s a kind of Hollywood and New York regionalist.  So there is a lot of art like this and that’s an art that comes from the outside.   Some of it gets inside but it starts from the outside.  I think there is actually a need now for what I call a new objective art.   It starts from the outside and pays attention to observation.  I think this is happening, but this is more of an American tradition than Expressionism, which comes from the inside out. 

 

DT:  When internalized feelings coming out.

 

DK:  It is the externalization of the internal through this mode.  When you look at the paintings of Kirchner you can sort of follow the lines.  But if you look at DeKooning, particularly some of those black and white pieces from 1948 - 49 it gets very hard to follow what’s going on.  You have to sort have to of immerse yourself in the image and do this unconscious scanning.  It’s a difficult thing.  It’s much easier to stay with an object – be it a landscape or a movie poster.

 

DT:  Knowable human content is easier to grasp that the sort of attenuation of abstraction into, if you will, more and more of a conceptual mode?

 

DK:  Yes I think so.  The problem with the conceptual mode is that it signals a certain end of observation – of looking at the object out there –and then it gets filtered through the media and gets lost.  But then there are people like Philip Pearlstein: artists still looking at the human body.

 

DT:  There are also R. B. Kitaj, Jim Valerio, and Vincent Desiderio…

 

DK:  There are people like that - people who get a balance of inside and outside. That’s the heart of it.  They are looking at whole objects, not fragments; some resonance comes through.  I think the conceptual mode has kind of run away with itself.  If you look around you can see other things but certainly the conceptual mode seems to be market dominated or given pride of place. 

 

DT:  Well, what I meant was there is a leap of concept that occurs between, let’s say DeKooning’s Women paintings of the early 1950’s and the more abstracted landscapes he did in the 1970’s: there’s a subtle shift of concept.

 

DK:  DeKooning had something else: he had a hand, he had touch, and he had skill.

 

DT:  He had draughtsmanship, he loved Soutine, and you could see the lushness of the color.  He liked Matisse.  He was integrating a lot of traditions plus the influence of Arshile Gorky.  Gorky really turned him into a poet of paint.  Without Gorky he couldn’t have done the transition.  Gorky brought this great soul to his art that you don’t see in DeKooning’s work from the time before he met him.

 

DK:  DeKooning was a very accomplished abstract artist.  That’s all gone now.  Today you don’t need skill in the arts.

 

DT:  But on the other hand I think that you do  - if you are going to engage that inwardness you need to have the linguistic means of transposing it outwardly.  I think of the great discovery of automatism that comes from Surrealism.  On this point I don’t think it is well known that a former teacher of mine – Stanley William Hayter – had a big impact on the American Abstract Expressionists.  Originally he had set up his print shop Studio 17 in Paris where a lot of the avant-garde artists there came to print. He fled France because of the invading German army during World War II.  He had been producing pamphlets in his print shop on how to blow up German tanks.

 

DK:  Really, I did not know that.

 

DT:  He was extremely anti-Nazi and Hitler had placed a bounty on his head.  Hayter was a pretty tough individual.  When he fled France he experienced a month long trip across the Atlantic on a boat that was dodging submarines.  He finally arrived in New York City around 1940 where he set up his Studio 17 print shop anew. This was an important meeting place where all the expatriated European artists would come to do art and interact.  Printmaking is fortunately an art of praxis - artists have to come together to use the same press and equipment.  Technical necessities bring printmakers together; with that comes an experimental chemistry of exchange.  The American Abstract Expressionists knew all these famous artists like Andre Masson and Max Ernst who came to do work at Studio 17:  the artists they had read about were suddenly here in the USA.  Many came to Studio 17 to have contact with members of the European avant-garde who they revered.  From what I understand Hayter had artists do preliminary exercises on test printing plates: exercises in automatism.  This was the exercise he had me do in 1984 when he was my teacher and it was the same one that Jackson Pollock had done in 1944 – 45.  It is very interesting to see the transformation of Pollock’s work compared to what he had done previously.  He was painting abstract work based on American Indian symbols and iconography; these had some movement but were not completely open and gestural.  After he did the experimental plates with Hayter the subconscious gestural element started coming out and began his launch into the drip paintings.

 

DK:  How long did you work with Hayter?

 

DT:  For about 4 months in the fall of 1984 in Paris.  This experience at Studio 17 transformed me completely because the discovery of automatism – the subconscious and spontaneous flow of gestural line - made me understand the mystery and meaning of the abstract plane in a completely new way than had previously existed.  It liberated a potential that I could not have perceived before.  This same abstraction was a mystery I had seen in DeKooning’s work that I could not have solved until I had done this exercise.   DeKooning had worked in Studio 17 too.  After Pollock practiced automatism and it entered his painting the idea caught fire with DeKooning.  Even then DeKooning transferred these ideas to his friend Franz Klein.  So there was this ascendancy that was happening.

 

DK:  Through Hayter.

 

DT:  Through the exercise of automatism.  Hayter’s work in automatism actually had a fairly dry biomorphic quality to it, but the important thing was that he created an environment of serious and open experimentation which allowed the transmission of some important Surrealist ideas.   The use of automatism to delve into abstraction and the subconscious was essential to Abstract Expressionism.

 

DK:  It sounds like it was a very good experience.  How did you get access?

 

DT:  It was by chance really.  I had a printmaking teacher at Carnegie Mellon University named Joanne Maier and I told her I was going to study at the Alliance Francais in Paris for a semester.  She noticed I was a complete fanatic about printmaking - I couldn’t keep the ink off my hands.  She knew Studio 17 in Paris and wrote me a letter of introduction to Bill Hayter.  I believe anyone could study there as long as you were a serious printmaker and you followed his instruction making the experimental test plate.  At the time Hayter did not have a high profile status the way DeKooning and Pollock did.

 

DK:  Yet his name has always been there.

 

DT:  It has always been there and Studio 17 is important as a junction of exchange between Europe and the US.  Much teaching about printmaking was brought to this country and spread by his students, like Mauricio Lasansky.  Many printmaking departments were created in art schools because of Bill Hayter’s influence.  It was a wonderful gift to this country and what I learned was a wonderful gift to me.  If I hadn’t tripped upon the circumstance of studying with Hayter I don’t think I could understand art the way I do today.

 

DK:  That’s interesting.  That ‘s quite a compliment.

 

DT:  I am also grateful to have had you as my teacher for five years.  You were the person at the right time and the right place to answer critical questions I had about the art world and to give me the perceptual distance I needed from what was happening in the New York art world.  I needed to unravel the history even as it was happening around me.   Your teaching gave me the perception and tools I needed as a way out of the puzzlement I was feeling about the art world.  I was very confused about how it operated - what was its modus operandi.  By that time in the late 1980’s anti-art already had a very strong hold within the art world.

 

DK:  Right, the anti-aesthetic.

 

DT:  By that time it was very strongly entrenched.  I needed someone who could give me some real answers.  I recall you had once criticized certain art of the 1980’s as being the equivalent of junk bonds.   In today’s art world do you see the work of Jeff Koons and those like him being similar to toxic assets - both financially and spiritually - to use a current terminology?

 

DK:  Yes - a simple yes.  They represent the spiritual bankruptcy of art.  Art is no longer spiritual: I use the German word Giest.  They are anti-Giest.  The word “corrupt” is too generous.  They don’t know what it would be to not be corrupt.  The word corruption does not figure in their way of thinking.

 

DT:  It is more supremely nihilistic?

 

DK:  I would say it is ultimately nihilistic.  I think it is not only anti-art - it is anti-life.  Let’s just think for a moment of what Koons did with Chicholina - I’m referring to his sculptures of her.  She was his Italian wife, also once a member of the Italian Parliament, and some say a prostitute or call girl or model as well as a celebrity of sorts.  They're now divorced.  The sculptures were on view at the Sonnabend Gallery.  In one work she looks like a glamorized not to say whorish belle femme sans merci--the eternal feminine downgraded/degraded to a media slut -- anti-life indeed. 

 

DT:  Pornographic stuff.

 

DK:  Yes, but pornography does not have to do with the spectator, it has to do with Eros.

 

DT:  The objectification of the human body?

 

DK:  Exactly.

 

DT:  I remember very clearly the day in class you described the difference between the erotic and the pornographic.

 

DK: There has been a lot written about this by Robert J.  Stoller. [Perversion: The Erotic Form of Hatred 1975]

 

DT:  And also about how the Christian religion downgraded the body and split the body from the spirit, demonizing Eros.

 

DK:  Yes, absolutely.

 

DT:  This distinction struck me because I have something of a Greek ancestral background, not that the modern Greeks are just like the ancient, but I had some exposure to the pre- Christian Greek art of antiquity.  I had a different perception growing up.  That didn’t always have to do with the current society, which is shaped by different forces.

 

DK:  Yes, I think so.  It’s interesting to me that contemporary artists appeal to very rich people.  It’s very important to have a high price.  There is a kind of saying in the art market – you may have heard it– that if you put a work out there with a low price on it people will say it can’t be worth very much.

 

DT:  Right.

 

DK:  They perceive low quality because the price is low.  I remember a dealer who once said that people were questioning him about piece of art because it was for $200,000.

 

DT:  As if to say  “The price is too low - what’s the matter with the art?”

 

DK:  Yes - It is as though if it were priced for $300,000 they would consider it.  They look at art with the dollar sign.

 

DT:  Very bizarre.  It didn’t used to be that way 50 years ago.

 

DK:  You know this piece I wrote called Art Values or Money Values [artnet.com March 6, 2007].

 

DT:  Yes.  It’s one of my favorite essays.

 

DK:  That’s what it is all about.  You remember there was this dealer who started an operation in Miami with artists whose prices were $2000 or $5000 a work?  Now they have changed their prices to $10,000 to $20,000 a work and somehow that is supposed to give it value.  You know $10,000 is a lot of buckaroos, at least to some people.

 

DT:  There are also covert relationships to fix the art market between dealers and collectors. 

 

DK:  There have been some cases which you may know about that have been printed in the newspapers.  A work sold at auction for a certain amount - then it turned out there was some sort of kickback.  It was not really the stated price but less.  The gallery was partly financing the auction bid and this act of manipulation was reported in the news.  There was a wonderful piece in the Financial Times, which covers the art market very extensively because art is big business.  They had a piece on one of the last auctions around a year ago about an Ellsworth Kelly.  They showed a picture of the art and said, “Is this blob work worth one and a half million dollars?”

 

DT:  Brilliant.

 

DK:  They talked about how there was uncertainty that was entering the art auctions.  What’s the relationship between this blob and one and a half million dollars?


DK:  From a New York perspective the money seems to veil the art – to be the clothing of the art.

 

DT:  So there is no sociological history of the artwork being shown and having a real engagement with an audience.  It’s all been completely skipped over and is now reduced to only the patron/dealer relationship.

 

DK:  Well Hirst carried it further - he got rid of the dealer.  Now he goes directly to the collector.  And of course he’s a democrat – selling something for every pocketbook.  Put out a bid of a dollar or a million dollars.  It’s very shrewd.  It’s really a sort of marketing brilliance how people fall for it.

 

DT:  But it’s all a denigration of the potential for art to have a life in the sense of art’s relationship to life.  This is all completely antithetical.

 

DK:  It blurs the boundary between art and life – but the boundary has to remain intact.  Art makes a certain difference and that difference is lost.  But it connects it up to social life and to Capitalist life – to the life of the commodity.

 

DT:  To hype, to marketing, to business…

 

DK:  The money creates the value.  I think Hans Haacke got it absolutely right in this piece he did many years ago where he showed a little work by Seurat – a dancer.  The artist had given this work to a friend of his who loved his art  - a civil servant.  When the friend died the family sold it for some nominal sum.  All that Haacke did was track it right through to when the price went up in the 1970’s and who owned it now.  All this was documented.  There was some Swiss consortium that owned it and it was valued at that time for several million dollars.  Now I am sure it is even more than that.  Seurat has become a “brand” name.  That’s the whole thing – you become a “brand” not by selling to the mass market like Coca Cola or Campbell’s Soup.  You become a “brand” by selling to certain collectors that will make you – that have a lot of money.  They may have the power to create exhibitions and so forth.

 

DT:  That’s a fascinating point because these people are pretty different from the kind of collectors who donated art for Alfred Barr to the Museum of Modern Art in New York when it was just starting up in the 1930’s.  There was a lot more intellectual guidance given in terms of the commitment to Modernist ideals which became the basis for the collection.

 

DK:  Capital is always looking for the rare item.   The one-of-a-kind thing.  It’s willing to pay for that. 

 

DT:  Even if it is a total fraud?

 

DK:  Yes, or like it’s a fake one-of –a-kind, like the one-of a kind Hoover vacuum.   It’s a mass produced product presented as one-of-a-kind, standing by itself in a pristine room in a glass case with a label.  There is a whole strategy to this – the aesthetics of reception.  It’s only a small part.  We are talking about it so much because it’s so conspicuously in the news.  Art is big business, big money.

 

DT:  This is the “technological society” where the media is in collusion with the promotion of this art.

 

DK:  The media wants sensation, excitement.  Big money always generates excitement.

 

DT:  The ones who contribute to the magazines and advertise want to get the “bang for their buck” so there’s this collusion…

 

DK:  Well look at Artforum…

 

DT:  Actually I rarely look at Artforum.  I stopped reading it!  It’s over for me.  It got to the point where there was only maybe only one article I might read in a whole year’s worth of magazines.  It’s not even worth the trip to the library to read.

 

DK:  Look at how thick it is with advertisements filled with current art images with nice color and all that – so there’s marketing.

 

DT:  Yes but it is homogenous and boring too.  It gets repetitious.

 

DK:  It’s like the Sear Roebuck catalogs but upscale, like Tiffany.  It features the “rare item.” What is this month’s “really different” jewel?  What’s the “Hope diamond” of the month?

 

DT:  Which means, of course, that if you are seeking for such a thing you could be taken by many a huckster on the way.  Regarding Bernie Madoff and how he ripped off his clients, do you think this is a lot like how these “hot “ artists are also financial/spiritual rip-off artists as well?  Aren’t they running a pyramid scheme?

 

DK:  All I can say is I know and respect those who know the money side and they say the whole thing is a Ponzi scheme.

 

DT:  I agree - the art world can act like a Ponzi scheme like what is happening on Wall Street.  So there is a reflection of how the financial structure is within the art world itself.

 

DK:  However let me emphasize, for the record here, that it doesn’t mean that all the works that are assimilated into this Ponzi scheme are not works that may also serve an existential or aesthetic purpose. 

 

DT:  You are right.  I recall you made that distinction once in class.

 

DK:  There are major and, I think, very important works that certain collectors pursue.

 

DT:  Certain ones, yes…

 

DK:  And there are collectors and connoisseurs with conviction.  If there were not then we might as well just go home and culture would be Hollywood movies and the like:  what star actor is this year and what star actor is next year.

 

DT:  I agree with you.  I recall you made this important distinction in class.  I remember this from over 18 years ago, when you said that art had two different lives.  One was based on the market value, for example when this Willem de Kooning painting recently sold for 137 million dollars.  But the social history and aesthetic life of the work, the import it has on the average person who is not involved in this market transaction, is on a completely different track.   I do understand and appreciate this distinction.

 

DK:  A long time ago Meyer Schapiro very simply said that you got to make distinctions in the spiritual value in a work of art - values of consciousness for all time - and it’s market value; it’s very expensive stuff.  Now he didn’t explain why it became so expensive, why it became this hyper-commodity, why an investment in art can pay off better than an investment in General Motors for sure.  So that’s missing, but there is this double life that it has. The problem, maybe, today because of both the society of the spectacle and because of the anti-art tendency anti- aesthetic tendency, is that it’s become confused.

 

DT:  Profoundly confused.

 

DK:  So you can look, let’s say, at our Hoover vacuum cleaner man and you can analyze that – you can do a very interesting interpretation of what that’s all about.

Do you know what I’m saying?

 

DT:  The phenomenon, the sociological phenomenon…

 

DK:  You contribute to a real interesting certain social meaning.  It makes a certain statement about life in the 20th century - attitudes in the 20th century.  This accords with a certain spiritual value so that we get a certain value of consciousness - so that we pay attention to it for that reason that it lives on in interpretation, in critical consciousness.  And that gives us meaning.  Now maybe there will come a time when it will simply become a symptom of the times or a symptom of Capitalism.  It will just recede into becoming another product.  I once wrote a piece years ago called The Short Happy Life of the Work of Art: From Artifact to Art to Arty-Fact [Idiosyncratic Identities 1996 p.48].  Art is the certain moment when you reach an idea of the transvaluation of values, and the thing acquired a certain value.  Now, whatever else is going on, say, with Mr. Koon’s object, it had a certain kind of value.  But then it becomes an “arty-fact” very quickly.   It’s something like what Leo Steinberg said (I have used him as one of my jumping off points) when he says it takes today only 3 to 5 years for an enfant terrible to become an elder statesman.  So the way I put it is the creative period is very narrow and small…

 

DT:  This art today.

 

DK:  Yes, today.  There’s no development.  Koon’s had a moment of “inspiration” or whatever you want to call it: let’s take this vacuum cleaner, let’s put it in a vitrine, all nice, clean and new, let’s put a label on it, let’s exhibit it, let’s sell it as art- the old Duchampian “Emperor’s New Clothes.”  So he’s done that, and at a certain moment everybody says “Wow!  That’s terrific.  It’s not a urinal; it’s a vacuum cleaner –goddamn genius to make the change! It’s innovation!”

 

DT:  I think the janitor would have still seen it as a vacuum cleaner.

 

DK:  Well, of course – that’s the point.  In my book The End of Art [2004] that’s the quote I gave.  But the point is we pay attention.  We say “Aha!  This is the Duchampian mode for the umpteenth time but it’s new, so it’s better than Marilyn Monroe’s face.  It’s a vacuum cleaner, it’s another commodity with star value, it’s a popular product.”  OK?  Then what will happen is this, in my opinion anyway:  critical consciousness will move away from it.  It will say, “OK, I got it – I got your “game. “ For a moment it was “art” because it appealed to my critical consciousness and I can interpret it in a certain way – it had certain implications.  When that moment passes the way it’s going to survive is as an expensive commodity.  The paradox today for this kind of art, and I don’t think anyone is even aware of it, is the only way art will survive now is as a commodity in Capitalist society.  It’s not going to survive any other way.

 

DT:  You mean Koon’s art?

 

DK:  No everybody’s art.

 

DT:  Only as a commodity?

 

DK:  It has to go through commodity value.   In my article Art Values or Money Values I pointed out that David Geffen sold to Steve Wynn, a de Kooning for about $137 million and a Pollock for something like  $140 million.  In my opinion, if this had not happened, if they had not been turned into extremely expensive commodities…

 

DT:  Far beyond any market value they had before…

 

DK:  More than Rembrandt.  My God…

 

DT:  Ridiculous

 

DK: …or any old masters.  If this had not happened their reputations would level off.  People might not look again. 

 

DT:  So their time may have been passing.

 

DK:  Their time may be passing.  They become part of our history, they settle in. I remember here in this museum, and I remember this very distinctly, when this museum…

 

DT:  The Met?

 

DK:  Yes, the Met bought two works - I remember this happened with two works.   They bought Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer by Rembrandt. When they first purchased it there were lines of people line up to see it like a first run movie or something and there were interviews as to why people came to see it -   “Did you love Rembrandt?  Were you very interested in Aristotle or Homer? What does it mean to you Aristotle Contemplating a Bust of Homer – a philosopher looking at a poet?”…

 

DT:  But it was the auction price.

 

DK:  That’s right. 

 

DT:  Just like with Van Gogh.  I remember in the 1980’s before the sale of the Van Gogh Irises painting sold for $49 million there were no ropes cordoning people to distance them from the Van Gogh painting section in the Met, but the week after the auction they set up ropes and there were tons of people in the room.  It was just a bizarre mass phenomenon.  It was like this commercial I remember seeing on TV where they ask the viewer “Do you want to invest in oil?”  They show a Van Gogh painting on the wall.  Then they take the painting off the wall and this giant avalanche of money comes pouring out of the wall from behind the painting, and then I said, “My God, they’ve really said it exactly the way it is!”

 

DK:  That’s extraordinary.  That was an ad in TV?

 

DT:  Yes - from sometime in the 90’s.

 

DK:  So no one is looking at the Van Gogh – it’s a cover.

 

DT:  Right, it’s a cover for this giant pool of money…

 

DK:  It’s a symbol of money.  The same thing happened when they bought the Velázquez painting of Juan Pares.  It was the first work they purchased by Velázquez that had a sort of Hispanic, not exactly black man, but a mulatto, and it cost a fair sum of money.  People came to see it not because of that, but because it was an item that cost so much money.

 

DT:  Well now they will go see a kitsch skull by Damien Hirst and it will be just as sensational, which is really a sad thing.

 

DK:  Well, there is a wonderful thing - there is this Bonham Gallery and they are selling meteorites….

 

DT:  Hilarious!  Now that’s out of this world…

 

DK:  Yes, it is, literally - $100,000 at auction just last year.

 

DT:  That’s so bizarre!

 

DK:  I looked at this stuff and I said to myself this is a terrific expression of sculpture…ha!

 

DT:  Well, you know, you could get a bunch of rocks together and call them meteorites and sell them…

 

DT:  Here is a 9/11 question - very important.  The occurrence of 9/11 in New York City was a profoundly traumatic event.  Given its unforgettable reality have you found any art by artists in the city that gives an emotionally reflective response to what happened or has there been nothing much that has resulted?

 

DK:  I would say the artwork that has come to be responsive to 9/11, as a symbol of that, is the upward projected beams of light on the footprint of the building.  That was shown again, and so the building is a ghost of light.  I’ve seen some work by an abstract painter that shows some emotional response to it.  Somehow the social trauma of 9/11 linked up with some personal trauma in.

 

DT:  What’s the name of the artist?

 

DK:  A woman named Ruth Friedenthal - and this connects up with the fact that she comes from a family of Holocaust survivors.  So you have this background…

 

DT:  Of catastrophe…

 

DK:  Yes, but there’s also something else that’s extremely interesting.  I received from an astronaut who was on the moon - this is not directly art - he sent me aerial photos made by the air force of the 9/11 disaster. 

 

DT:  They must be really intense images.

 

DK:  I thought to myself, what art can equal this?  What handmade art?  It was made by photographers – very cold, crude…

 

DT:  What about what the artist Otto Dix experience in WWI expressed in his War Series prints?

 

DK:  It was conveyed right through there.  They had everything from the planes hitting to the people running on the streets.  The whole thing…

 

DT:  Like a film?

 

DK:  It’s a series of stills and they are official air force US government photographs of this event and I assume they culled through all kinds of imagery but it was also recorded live on TV.  I was actually on the street when it happened.  I saw the first plane go in.  I immediately thought “Oh God  - this is what happened with the Empire State building years ago where a plane went right into it.”  Nobody expected the building to come down.  There was just some dumb pilot who didn’t know where he was going.

 

DT:  Yes, I remember seeing a picture of that.

 

DK:  It was a bright sunny day I remember very distinctly.

 

DT:  And so you experienced 9/11.

 

DK:  Yes.  And then all these people started running up 6th Avenue all covered with soot.

 

DT:  You saw this…

 

DK:  Oh yes!  And the subways were out.

 

DT:  It must have been extraordinarily shocking.

 

DK:   It was shocking. I knew it was a disaster.  The whole city was in lockdown and there were police all over the place.  Nobody knew what was going to happen.  Was this the beginning of something?  People had to figure out what was going on here.   And Giuliani was magnificent in what he did.

 

DT:  He was the man of the moment.

 

DK:  But he really kept things together.  He set up offices right down on the site and then had to move out.  Of course he realized these buildings were all coming down…

 

DT:  The city needed someone to carry the standard at that time.

 

DK:  He had Ego strength.  He did not disintegrate.  He did not fall apart.  And I remember what was striking about it was all these people who were trudging uptown…

 

DT:  or over the Brooklyn Bridge…

 

DK:  They all walked together…

 

DT:  Yes, there was solidarity.  Even in Chicago you felt more connection with people as you passed by them…

 

DK:  People did not emotionally fall apart.  There was a delayed trauma, a so-called post trauma – I am sure this happened.  One says “My God, I am lucky enough to have my life,” and then they begin to realize the horror of what happened.  It takes time to realize what is going on.

 

DT:  Well at first you feel that you have got to survive it…

 

DK:  Well here is this terrific catastrophe…

 

DT:  Unthinkable, unthinkable!

 

DK:  Coming back to the art scene, what can art say that these photographs haven’t said?  What can artists add except maybe though some means of gesture the sense of force, the sense of trauma?  I don’t know, but what would it mean to re-represent the buildings or the event that had been captured very adequately in these photographs?

 

DT: Another question- you had Theodore Adorno as your teacher and a very strong background in philosophy.  Can you comment on how this enriched your approach to critical interpretation in a nutshell?

 

DK:  Basically through dialectical thinking.  It has been understood as pushing to the extremes under the assumption that eventually the two will meet, like two parallel lines in infinity.  The assumption is that opposites are implicated in each other; one without the other is incomprehensible.   

 It’s thinking in terms of antinomies. It’s a dialectical integration of opposites and it carries forward into psychoanalytic thinking which is where a lot of Adorno’s ideas come from – conflict theory.  He was very influenced by psychoanalysis. 

 

 

DT:  So in the Frankfurt School Adorno’s approach had a lot to do with dialectical thinking in philosophy and psychoanalysis.

 

DK:  Yes, it is called the dialectical imagination.

 

DT: My last question is not about art criticism at all.   You sent me a book of your poetry a while back.  I’m very interested in your poetry and the profoundly personal and emotional Symbolist space which it inhabits.

 

DK:  That’s exactly what it is.

 

DT:  It certainly is a voice which I find is distinctly different from your art criticism.  How did your interest in writing this poetry develop and what were the motivating forces that brought it out in you?

 

DK:  I began as a poet.

 

DT:  You began as a poet?  How far back?

 

DK:  In college.

 

DT:  College?  My goodness, this was a progenitive source.

 

DK:  I thought the art world was a little less noble than the poetry world.

 

DT:  That’s true.

 

DK:  What books did I send you?

 

DT: Apocalypse with Diamonds in the Distance [1999].

 

DK:  Was that the only book I sent you?  I have another one called On the Gathering Emptiness [2004]. 

 

DK:  Also some new things have been published on an online magazine, Per Contra, run by a wonderful literary person named Miriam Kotzin.  She asked me to write.  I wrote something about Rilke there and she published some of the later poetry.

 

DT:  Rilke is one of your favorite poets?

 

DK: Yes, and Novalis.  The whole Germanic poetic tradition is very important –the better side of the Germans.

 

DT:  Yes, and frankly I am intrigued by the kind of engagement you have the poetry because it shows such the rich multitalented and multidimensional ability that you have.  For myself I write art criticism but it obviously lies in a different direction than my visual artwork.

 

DK:  It needs to be – yes.

 

DT:  I am always intrigued that there are different parts of oneself that have different needs that somehow extend themselves into other forms and types of spaces.  Was it the growing up with the Germanic tradition in poetry that began your motivation?  Was it French Symbolist poetry?

 

DK:  No, it was just there.

 

DT:  Your poetry is truly remarkable to read because you have a way of moving the reader into spaces that that are between distinctions, and that is very original, very unique.  Maybe that is what the Symbolist element does. 

 

DK:  That is the highest compliment that I have ever received.  Thank you.

 

DT:  Well it really does that.

 

DK:  I am working on a new series called THE GODS and Other Beings [2010}

 

DT:  I think reference to gods was also the title of some of your poems in Apocalypse.

I am interested in your reference to the Greek mythological figures in your poetry.

 

DK:  I am interested ekphrastos  [dramatic description of work of art] in the poetic translation of visual work.  You will notice in the book I write about Bronzino or Durer.

 

DT:  It is remarkable to see that you can occupy different dimensions of space within writing.

 

DK:  I don’t think of it that way.  I think of my writing in criticism as poetic. 

 

DT:   Well, right, yes it is.  There are moments in your writing when your critical interpretive abilities “turn a corner” so to speak - where this gem of perception comes out.

 

 

DK:  I try to restrain that because I want to keep the accessibility.

 

DT:  Right.  But you build to it and then it comes out as a crescendo all in a moment.  Certain of your essays are unforgettable for that. 

 

DK:  You have to keep the intelligibility going.  That’s where I have a big difference with Adorno.

 

DT:  Adorno is hard to read.

 

DK:  Well it’s sort of deliberate in a way.  I want language with more and more accessibility.  I think there are enough verbal knots around.  You want to communicate something that is already intuitively known by somebody, but you sort of bring it out and try to have a language that is accessible on a variety of levels.

 

DT:  I enjoy the freedom that the poetry gives – the emotional breath about it, the atmospheric breadth it has.

 

DK:  Thank you.

 

DT:  It gets into a spatial element.  I cannot explain it but verbally but you create a special element that stays with one, and there is a great deal of longing and mystery embedded in it.  That’s a very generalized term, but everything you write is different.

 

DK:  You are very sensitive. I appreciate your saying that.

 

DT:  Well, it takes sitting down and reading poetry too, and sometimes the spoken element is different from just reading the words.

 

DK:  Yes.

 

DT:  So there is this participatory projection of it…

 

DK:  It has to be spoken out loud.

 

DT:  Yes.  But one can read from the poetry and get the sense of your cadence and your shifting tenses and meanings in how the words are spaced on the page.   It is remarkable work because of the amount of emotional space it occupies.

 

DK:  I just want to say I am really grateful for your interest in my work because your are very intelligent, smart, sensitive, and you are very serious, and it is quite amazing to find that you have these qualities – it’s quite unique.  I mean I know a lot of serious students but you have a kind of calm about your own seriousness and going your own way, which I admire.  You’re very perceptive and articulate.

 

DT:  I really care about these things.

 

DK:  Yes I know.  And actually your caring makes me care.  As I get older I get tired of caring.

 

DT:  Well you live in a place that is extremely brutal.  I notice there is a difference between the Chicago Midwest and New York.  In a sense I never really fit here because of the intensity of the place and the way that the classes are structured in a very hierarchical fashion.

 

DK:  It’s a very harsh city.

 

DT:  Very harsh with very much of a hierarchy.  You don’t have a horizontal exchange between people, a kind of “middle”

 

DK:  Here people rub shoulders and there’s tension.  It’s what is spoken about as Modern alienation, really, right on the street there.  Depersonalization.  It’s like you don’t exist.  Everybody is encapsulated in their own little hell.

 

DT:  It’s survival – survival.  They need their iPods just to get through the day. 

 

DK:  Close out the world. 

 

DT:  Living in New York was very hard for me.  I lived here for five years [1987 – 1992] but New York is the kind of city that does not give you a break.  You really get crushed like a bug if you can’t “float” in this environment.

 

DK:  What you need to have in this city is an interior space.  You need to pull away.

 

DT:  A reflective inner space.  The Buddhist’s say exactly the same thing – that you can endure any suffering in the world, but you need this moment of the private inner self.  You need a way of nurturing that.  You need a contemplative point.

 

DK:  You need interiority, and you have to realize that it moves in a different way than the outside.  Look at what you see here.  A lot of traffic, its street traffic and people and cars.  Otherwise there is a very strange silence about this city.

 

DT:  It’s a very lonely place.

 

DK:  It is a curious environment.  It is really the epitome of what Berlin was supposed to been and was not.  And also it’s very private. 

 

DT:  Extremely.

 

DK:  You don’t know what is behind the facade.  I remember going to a place with fairly prominent people and it was down in Soho and the building was like a wreck on the outside and when you went inside – total luxury.   Utterly beautiful.   The whole point is you don’t want anybody to know what’s going on inside.  You don’t want anybody to know what your private life is, particularly in those days in places where a lot of crime used to happen.

 

DT:  People protect themselves in their shells.

 

DK:  Very much so.

 

DT:  And there are very strong cliques and groups and there’s no entrée into them.  There is no sense of this “horizontal” exchange of things.  It’s different in the Midwest.  For example it would be ridiculous to do a protest against the MOMA because they are not supporting certain kinds of art.  You would be laughed out of the media.  In Chicago we had a protest of the Museum of Contemporary Art [when they were on Ontario Street before 1996] because they were getting rid of their local  [Chicago] art space.  In their new building they were going to be showing all out of town artists, many from New York. We were taken seriously:  we had an article in the local newspaper and a spot on a local radio - and the word got out.  I remember talking to one of the Chicago art dealers Paul Klein and he ended up doing something by funding a room for Chicago artists in the new MCA building.  In the 90’s there was still a sense that you still could do something – but it is worse now because there has been a degrading of the art education system.  There is less a sense of initiative in the art world than had occurred in the 1970’s and early 80’s when there were more independent movements and when students took more initiative.

 

DK:  They have been assimilated into the system.   I always thought about a wonderful moment in New York when they had a show of art that was anti-museum.  There was an Ed Rusche painting showing a museum burning.   And it was in a museum!

 

DT:  That is hilarious!

 

DK:  I mean you have to be institutionalized to be recognized.  And then the question is what consciousness remains after the moment of recognition.

 

DT:  There is a betrayal as well.  I think that one thing that artists are not careful about is to guard against the attempts that are projected on them to censor themselves.  They are enacting self-censorship at a very early stage when they have not developed.  It is self-censorship is bolstered by a system, so that even from the very beginning you are at a tremendous disadvantage.  I feel pretty lucky that I was educated in the early 1980’s just before conceptualism pounced and destroyed the pluralistic art environment that had existed beforehand

 

DK:  It’s more than self-censorship - it’s self-ignorance.  People don’t realize what potential they may have - that they may be able to do this rather than that.

 

DT:  Right!

 

DK:  This may not be what the official system loves, you may never get a museum show, but it will have its validity.

 

DT:  I have this internal environment that is absolutely jam pack filled with things that have to be created.

 

DK:  But you can do it.  You see this is what interests me about you.  You can do it and you are not disillusioned.