Art Scrit, 2008
We are all collectors to a certain degree. It is perhaps the connotations, prestige, and expectations that are associated with collecting, say, for example in the arts, that separates the true collectors from the penny well. You could easily spend your lifetime buying and collecting white tube socks because you like how they look and feel when you wear them, but it is unlikely that you would be considered a collector – a consumer yes, strange maybe, but definitely not a connoisseur. It seems the difference between buying the same brand of Levis or Gap jeans over and over again – which, arguably, is a form of collecting brand names – and collecting Coco Chanel perfume bottles, is the difference between the object desired and its utilitarian function. After all, how many Salt-and-Pepper shakers can you shake before you return to the first ones you bought after tiring of cycling through the hundreds of sets you otherwise own? Not many I would imagine.
This is because when collecting, there’s probably a tipping point to having too much of a good thing. Surely, not all collecting is a form of Gluttony. One might rightfully protest that plenty of what is sitting in any art or natural history museum is, in part, due to the thoughtful foresight and panache of the individual who collected and then donated it – all the Indiana Jones’ of the world aside. However, there’s something about collecting for better or worse that preserves and immortalizes a person’s historical and social rank, which in turn, banks on its future. And in doing so, it also emphasizes the difference between a private and public practice, which begins in private, as – this is my collection only to be seen by friends and family – and later becomes public, as in – here is my gift to the museum.
I don’t buy art in order to leave a mark or to be remembered; clutching at immortality is of zero interest to anyone sane – Charles Saatchi
If you believe Saatchi’s assertion, however, then there must be other things which are also collectible that do not give us immortality, but give us the same feelings of satisfaction and preservation, the same “high” that comes with it, without the expense or loss of space. I once worked with a young artist from Washington, D.C., Vanessa Kamp, who like “Collecting Dust and Other Things,” literally collected such “things” as dust, cat and pubic hair, and any other sediments that fell to her apartment floor that she then meticulously compacted into little blocks of grey and brown proboscises displayed on shelves in the style of Donald Judd. Vanessa’s “act,” I believe, is similar to that of collecting and yet another manner of recording time and place. But isn’t it also a testimony to a certain desire or need, that at the same moment is instantly fulfilled? Collecting can become an accurate portrait of someone’s life – their thoughts, physicality, hopes, tragedies, and vision ad nauseam willed upon an object of consumption or passion which supposedly contains an inherent quality or meaning – a thing that has no voice but speaks volumes about its saviour and benefactor. It is an illusion of comfort we cannot possess nor attain in our lives that gives us a bit of solace and contentment, and a physical connection with an object that keeps us spiritually weighted and materialistically or financially bound. Do we, therefore, collect because we do not want to be alone?
Collecting probably involves some ancestral reflex rooted in survival that has become diluted over time as the need to survive has been replaced with the question of what to do with leisure. So, instead of foraging for food, we now forage for entertainment. Huddled around the camp fire, safe in numbers and with a full belly, leads naturally to the most ancient and universal form of leisure time – storytelling. Gossip, jokes, and first-hand accounts of tragic or spectacular events are also forms of telling stories in which we have participated, received from other collectors, or parlayed to others in bars, locker rooms, hair salons, board rooms and in the deepest darkest depths of the jungle. It is by far the most democratically social form of collecting that exists. We are no longer savage; we only enjoy hearing that we are. Besides, everyone likes a good story, don’t they?
Collecting Dust and Other Things, under the auspices of Four Walls gallery, is a different story altogether. I wonder, as a participant and someone writing this introduction – was this art, an interview, or just talking shop? Or, for that matter, was this reality TV, since everyone knew they were being recorded? It appeared from the outset that we were all invited to come in to get our hair cut. Stylists were present, appointments taken, and clients sat down as stories were clipped from their mouths in the process. Falling to the ground, each raconteur’s history was swept up like dust in Vanessa Kamp’s aforementioned pieces, and then later compiled into neat little stacks of insight and dialogue. How important was the mise en scene to all of this – perhaps little, if you compare it to the goal of organizing a local town meeting. Was it a crash course in cultural anthropology, or a form of participant observation of familiar behaviour, collected from a specific group that demonstrated their very different public and private faces?
I believe that the distinctions between a professional self and private persona is very similar to the act of collecting, since we exhibit different sides of our character and personality, to those who are “looking” at or interacting with us. In “Collecting Dust and Other Things,” the only characterization it seems required, was to come as you are.
That being the case, it is questionable whether the fourteen or so participants ranging in diversity and profession under the collective umbrella of the arts community as it exists in San Diego – i.e., gallery owners, teachers, curators, museum directors, performance artists, art critics, collectors and the like – revealed themselves entirely. If they did or did not – beyond each person’s stated role here – there would not have been any particular reason, in either case to defend, expound upon, or change the current balance of power and cultural status quo, since it was not required of the exercise. Did we attempt, nevertheless, to leave our own indelible mark upon the work? And did the process yield something vital or useful after all? Were we preaching to the choir or was it an accurate portrait of the city’s artistic health and viability? Yes, we all live and work here – some of us chose to, while others just made their way as they arrived. If there is something to be said about us as actors, it is that we are highly adaptable to artistic and cultural change, and like carpet baggers, we carry our product from town to town.
In fact, it doesn’t really matter where you live until you discover what it is that’s “apparently” missing – or that you don’t have, but need to collect – which, inevitably, is always something. The wealth of information contained in this book, is invaluable where it shifts perceptions of how our seemingly disparate roles overlap, or examines various criteria of individuals or clans working independently within the same cultural milieu, which in the end, have the same problems and needs of exporting Art, with a capital “A,” to the public, and, to each other.
I’ve seen plenty of bumper stickers that suggest we “think globally and act locally,” but often we find ourselves thinking locally as well as acting locally in San Diego. This is not necessarily a problem, per se – except when parameters for effecting change on a community or global level start to dwindle if implementation becomes too narrow or too self-referential. Not unlike the progression that collecting takes as your taste and judgement become more refined – which might be good for discerning vintage wines, but not so great if the actions you take become calculated or less altruistic – it can also have the opposite effect when the intent, focus and challenge becomes how to get noticed or simply, collected.
Who are we collecting – our peers? After all, collecting always involves the choice of one thing at the expense of another, whether it involves friendships, trophies, artists, or the art that they make. An artist can collect galleries, exhibits and collectors just as readily, but at what cost to their careers? In the world of art there are always prizes to win, fortunes to make, and glory just around the very next corner. But there remains one piece – la pièce de résistance – which often remains very elusive. A reward so great that our feeble attempts of support and recognition of each other pales largely before it – namely, the understanding, empathy and appreciation of the general public. The desire to show off one’s collection, although powerful and evident, may just as easily become a numbers game between those that have and those that have not. It can be expected of the collectors to collect art, artists to make it, galleries to show it and museums to archive it. But since the individuals and institutions here are numbered and few, an over reliance on them or other sparse resources at this developmental point in time is hardly conducive to healthy growth.
And that’s where Collecting Dust and Other Things comes in. The individual interviews contained in this book have expressed a panoramic range of personal and professional experiences with concrete examples of their successes, as well as their frustrations – in real time – freely offering their insight and inclinations regarding the arts in San Diego. They were under no obligation to make changes or offer solutions to actual problems, real or imagined. Hopefully free from posturing or presumption I, therefore, offer a couple of proposals for change which continues to build on dialogue, in an attempt to collect more than dust, or at least keep it off the shelf of abandoned desires.
It would be helpful, for example, to decide once and for all that the world of art is going to remain an inclusive machine of production, marketing and sales, in which the production of art is needed in order to generate sales – through either controlling the quality and critically viable interest in that output, which is ultimately derived from the artist’s hands – or accepting that there very likely is a limited amount of spending which could be labelled as art collecting. For instance, we may realize that there are only a few individuals capable of doing these things, and that their “tastes” might not extend to the full gamut of what is available out there, much less locally produced – ditto for galleries, museums and critics, whose choice it is to exhibit and write about what they happen to like. Without a golden rule or playbook to follow, it boils down to a matter of choice and an issue of courage in making decisions, to probe deeply how the system functions, to meld inventiveness with the sense of adventure in occasionally recognizing “masterpieces” in all their multiplicity, and contributing to the discourse in ways that elevate it to a higher form. Doing so would shift the focus off of who’s doing what, how, and with whom, and place it firmly back onto the art, as it is made, which is where it should ultimately be.
Mostly, however, it’s the sense of value – in offering the public an understanding of how people work and what they actually think – which is deftly promised in Collecting Dust and Other Things, not because the speakers are identified as smarter, but because they believe the public is. If this book or others like it can reach beyond its intended or cherry picked audience, it may also deliver a wealth of knowledge and power into the hands of individuals, who, by being affected by great work in turn help to provide better access to it. It may also enable the public to respond and comment on a wider menu of artistic content and ideas without diluting the discourse or process, and model the choice to collect in ways that tell the variety of stories we collectively own. Perhaps in the end, I am too a collector – of actions, ideas and quandaries – who is willing to donate my responsibility and faith in the process and the power of art.
Happenings are events, that, put simply, happen. Though the best of them have a decided impact – that is, we feel “here is something important” – they appear to go nowhere and do not make any particular literary point. ─ Allan Kaprow “Happenings in the New York Scene (1961),” in Essays on the Blurring of Art and Life, ed. Jeff Kelley (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993)
HAIR SALON APPOINTMENTS IN ORDER OF APPEARANCE:
Patricia Frischer, Coordinator of the San Diego Visual Arts Network, December 8, 2007, 6:30 p.m.
Kevin Freitas, Editor and Writer for artasauthority.com, an art blog, December 8, 2007, 7:30 p.m.
Michelle Robinson, Owner of Ray Street Frame, December 8, 2007, 8:30 p.m.
Monica Hover, Director of Voice, December 15, 2007, 4:30 p.m.
Hugh Davies, Director of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art, December 15, 2007, 4:45 p.m.
David White, Owner of Agitprop, December 15, 2007, 5:30 p.m.
Kinsee Morlan, Arts Editor for San Diego City Beat, December 22, 2007, 3:00 p.m.
Emily Fierer, Co-owner of Spacecraft Studio, December 29, 3:00 p.m.
Lea Caughlan, Co-owner of the Rubber Rose, December 29, 2007, 4:00 p.m.
Carly Delso-Saavedra, Co-owner of the Rubber Rose, December 29, 2007, 5:00 p.m.
Betti-Sue Hertz, Curator of Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Art, January 4, 2008, 1:00 p.m.
Larry Caveney, Artist and Instructor at the Art Institute, San Diego, January 4, 2008, 2:00 p.m.
Doug Simay, Owner of Simayspace, January 9, 2008, 4:00 p.m.
Luis De Jesus, Owner of Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects, January 25, 2008, 4:00 p.m.
PATRICIA FRISCHER, Coordinator of the San Diego Visual Arts Network
DECEMBER 8, 2007, 6:30 P.M.
Christine McGruder: Since we will do the “before” picture now, perhaps you can look like you’re feeling “blah” – and then at the end of the haircut . . .
Patricia Frischer: She’s asking me to do “blah.” Am I “blah”? I am not a “blah” person. It just doesn’t work for me.
Well, that’s probably a good thing.
It’s a little bit of a cheat isn’t it? For instance, it was suggested that it was ok for me to arrive without make-up. I’m telling you that you don’t reach a certain age, and then walk out of the house without make-up. It does not happen. This is supposed to be art, not degradation – right? Maybe you could just use the photo that comes out worst and say it was the “before” shot.
Because your hair is curly, I’m going to do a dry cut if that’s ok.
Do you ever flat iron on your hair?
I usually dry it with a brush and blow dryer. That’s why it is as straight as it is. It is also full because the rain and wind is so strong tonight.
The length is really nice on you and matches the length of your face, so we’ll only take an inch off the bottom.
More if you like.
The main thing you were just complaining about was the fullness of your hair and how thick and bulky it is.
Exactly. It seems to get flat on top.
Maybe we’ll take an inch or an inch-and-a-half off the bottom, and then we’ll layer it – which will be very nice – and then I’ll do a lot of texturizing, so it can be flowy for you and easy to take care of.
You’re going to really really love it. Tell me Patricia, what do you do for work?
I am one of a new breed, I guess you would say, of a combination of artist, art professional, curator, and commentator. Besides my own artwork, I am also the Coordinator of the San Diego Visual Arts Network (“SDVAN”), which is an online directory, with an events calendar. There are 1100 visual arts resources listed on our site.
It’s a big deal for San Diego, because when I first arrived ten years ago, I didn’t know anything about the art scene here and I found it quite difficult to figure things out. I was in London for twenty-five years before I came here. Anyway, the scene has improved enormously.
SDVAN also funds the San Diego Art Prize. I was fortunate enough to get a $50,000 grant which is used for an award only to San Diego artists. We choose three established artists each year, who then choose three emerging artists with whom to share the award. By the second year, the established artists could partially participate in the nomination of the next round of established artists. What we are really trying to do is show that the quality of art in San Diego is really very high – much higher than maybe people imagine. We think that every single artist that is nominated is worthy of the prize, but we think the general public can understand something like a prize, and, they can see that a prize means excellence.
We were lucky because when we started, the L Street Gallery at the Omni Hotel stepped forward and became the venue which holds all the exhibitions. Each pair of artists has had an exhibition there. The Omni sponsors the exhibitions, the VIP parties and the openings for us, and pays for the invitation cards, everything.
How did you get hooked up with them?
Well, you don’t do anything ever on your own. Everything involves collaborations and partnerships. In fact, I would say, that’s the thing that I do the best – help make collaborations and partnerships. For example, SDVAN has a committee which changes all the time.
[Kevin Freitas enters the gallery.]
Oh, Hi Kevin!
For instance, the gentleman that just walked in is a writer who is working on a component of the catalogs for the San Diego Art Prize, and we link to his art reviews on SDVAN’s website.
You asked the question about the Omni Hotel. The curator for the Art Prize exhibitions is Ann Berchtold. She’s had a website as long as SDVAN has been around, which is called SanDiegoArtist.com. So, we work together. When we decided to do the Art Prize and the Omni approached Ann to curate their shows, she asked if the Art Prize shows could be the exhibitions, and they liked that idea. They get a lot of publicity for doing them, so it’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Ann is also going to go on to do the first ever art fair in San Diego called Beyond the Border. Have you heard about the art fair in Miami? These art fairs occur all over the world now, but San Diego has never had one. She will put on the first one September 19th to the 21st of 2008. Galleries from elsewhere will take spaces at the Omni. It will be small but quite select.
How do you find your artists for these events?
Well, art fairs are different from art walks, so the event will be by invitation only to galleries not artists, and the galleries will be coming from other parts of the world, not necessarily the San Diego galleries. It will start in a small way.
The other woman who helps enormously with all of this is Joan Seifried, who has an art appraising business, which is an important component of the group, because she knows all about pricing and values of artwork, and luckily for us, is well connected. The three of us work together on the Art Prize project.
SDVAN has other projects in the works, such as “Movers and Shakers,” which is all about matching visual arts movers and shakers with artists – to do portraits of them, and put on a portrait exhibition. One of the reasons we considered this idea is that in San Diego we need more people to buy art. If somebody starts off feeling a little nervous and not very knowledgeable, usually the concept of a portrait – of their dog, their kids, wedding portraits, etc. may make sense as a first step to buying art. It seemed like an easy way to tap this niche and develop an audience from there.
A more sophisticated idea is the one that Four Walls is promoting – which is to start an art collectors group, which brings people together who really want to dedicate a certain amount of time and money every month, and learn about art and the market and work together as a cooperative buying group. The premise is similar to an investment club, where a group of people pool their money, research stocks, and buy and sell them together. It’s the same principal, but applied to art. Instead of owning bits of paper that a bank might partially own, the art collectors group will own artworks, which may be rotated amongst the different members’ homes.
Sounds interesting . . . Is there anything that you would like people to know about you?
Well, not many people realize that I am a serious artist. For example, I have a Masters degree in sculpture from one of the great art schools in the country, the California College of Art. When I graduated instead of taking a teaching job that I was offered, I went to London.
How long were you there?
Twenty-five years. Initially, I started working as a receptionist in an art gallery, and then ended up running the gallery. That’s where I gained a lot of my knowledge about the art world. The rest of my life I’ve always worked part time to be able to continue making my own art. When I taught as an Assistant Professor at Humboldt State University in Northern California, I ran the galleries and curated shows there.
I also became head of the art department in Nottinghill Gate for an international school and taught a class called “London as Classroom.” This allowed me to take my class every week to a new exhibition in London. What a job. Imagine, getting paid for that. In London there are so many galleries, that you can see a first class show at a different major museum every single week, all year long.
Whereas here, once you’ve gone to the Museum of Contemporary Art, the San Diego Museum of Art, Oceanside Museum, Lux Institute, and Cannon Gallery in Carlsbad . . .
The exhibitions don’t change very often here.
That’s right. Things stay up for three months because things are so expensive to put on. I don’t think people realize how much it costs to mount an exhibition, in terms of transportation, professional packing and shipping. And insurance is hugely expensive. That’s why shows stay up for such a long time.
How long were you in Nottinghill?
I taught there for fifteen years. I’m really old.
I’ve been listening to your annunciation.
I’m an American, born in Kansas and educated in California, but then spent the next part of my life in the U.K. My husband, Darwin and I met there. He is my second husband. First husband was actually English. So, I’ve had that whole experience of . . . Did you know there is still a “Season” in England? It starts with the Debutante’s Ball, the Henley regatta, opera at Glyndebourne and includes the Royal Ascot where you go to see horses in the presence of the Queen. When I got married the first time and I went to my in-laws’ house for the weekend, we dressed for dinner, which meant the men were in tuxedos and the women were in long dresses every Friday and Saturday night. It’s a different world over there.
I would love to dress up for Balls.
I got to know a lot of the artists in London by running a gallery there. I think it’s hard to meet artists if you haven’t met them from your school days. That’s why it was such a challenge to come here. A lot of artists in San Diego have gone to school here, but they seem divided into cliques, depending on which school they went to. It would be much nicer if they intermingled more.
I would have to say that the main thing that has held us back is that there is a lot of little empire building in San Diego – people very jealously guarding the names of their collectors and people who buy, and where they get their money from. It often seems like there is only a little pie and everyone is arguing over how the pie should be divided in terms of public money. If everybody worked together in a united front, we could develop a whole lot more and bigger pies. That’s my band . . . soap stand . . . what’s that called?
I suppose, if you do things as a team, success is more likely.
Absolutely – although artists have traditionally worked very much on their own. We’re only now, in the last fifteen or twenty years starting to see artist brands, which are actually cooperative groups of people working together. This is a relatively new concept in the arts. It’s actually a new old concept if you think about it, because a long time ago you had the atelier where professional artists had students they trained who would do the backgrounds of the pictures, and then the master would come in and do the face or finishing details, and each part of the team would perform different parts of the resulting piece.
What were they called?
Ateliers are like professional studios.
There is a salon in La Jolla with that name, which is where I’ve heard the term.
Traditionally a salon was an afternoon soiree held by a wealthy woman or man who would invite their friends to come around once a month.
I didn’t know that’s where the word salon came from. It’s probably pronounced differently?
It’s French. [laughs]
So, you don’t pronounce the last syllable?
It’s the last letter, actually – but pretty close.
Are there any rumors you’d like to correct about yourself?
This is interesting, because I don’t actually hear rumors about myself, particularly since the nature of a rumor is that it takes a long time to get back to the person that it is about.
We have a gossip column on SDVAN because I LOVE gossip and idea of chit chat about what’s new. I think it makes the world go around. But I have to say that I am a pathetically positive person, and really good gossip is really nasty stuff. People may enjoy reading a bad review because it’s more fun than reading a good one. Similarly, you want to read gossip that’s really juicy . . . but I’m not very good at juicy, since I put positive spins on everything.
I would probably find rumors about me entertaining. The only rumors that would astonish me, however, would be if people thought I was wealthy, because I’m dirt poor. [laughs] We don’t have a lot of money, but it is amazing what you can do in the arts when you don’t have very much money. We just have a wonderful lifestyle. I think that’s why people are generally envious of artists, because most artists do have a wonderful lifestyle, yet don’t have much money.
I can’t tell you the number of people that I have met that have been wealthy, who are in awe of artists.
This may be due to a lack of imagination about what to do with what one has, whereas artists use their imagination to overcome what they don’t have.
Is there any gossip that you have that you would like to share with us?
I have a LOT of gossip [laughs] – mostly about things that have been percolating over time. For instance, I think it’s going to be very interesting to see who the new Lux Institute brings to town for their new residency program.
The Oceanside Museum has just finished their capital campaign and they will be opening the new branch of the new museum. They have said that they are going to be the museum in the region showcasing San Diego regional artists. This is interesting, because if you look at the Museum of Contemporary Art or the San Diego Museum of Art, they of course don’t just show San Diego artists. They have a remit to bring artists in from other areas, which is good because when they do so – and also show San Diego artists – it raises the reputation of those practicing here. But it does seem that we also need someplace that is dedicated to showing just local artists, and on a very high level.
I would like to see San Diego become a significant center of digital art – and I don’t mean just digital photography, but rather anything that uses new technology and is computer driven, all the way to nanotechnology.
I hope that people looking through the window tonight don’t think that Four Walls is now forever a hair salon. [laughs]
What are your hopes and dreams for the art scene here?
I would like to see San Diego truly take pride in its visual arts scene, which I think it is on the way to doing. I think the best way for it to manifest itself is by people buying more art locally. That’s the bottom line. It isn’t about the city supporting it, or foundations supporting artists. It is about people realizing that art, particularly what people are producing right here, has value.
For example, I teach an artist agent course. In San Diego we have lots and lots of art associations, but we don’t have many galleries. The artists in all these various associations ultimately end up showing their work, basically, to each other. They don’t know anything about selling. They’re artists. Artists can put on a show, but they don’t know how to market so people see the show and buy the work.
One of the missing links, in my mind, is artist agents. Artist agents don’t have the overheads of the gallery. It is very expensive to run a gallery. On average, it takes seven years from the start of a gallery for it to break even by promoting its artists. So you have to be really well funded to last the course. Or, you have to have been a private agent or dealer for many years and have a really solid client base before you open your gallery. That’s why I encourage people to be trained to be agents – it’s different than just curating and putting on a show. Running a gallery is a lot about promotion and marketing. Marketing is a whole different animal.
As things improve, the first thing you’ll be able to see is more artists actually beginning to make a living. The second thing will be galleries making a living too. That’s what I would like to see – a vibrant art gallery scene here. On the other hand, we are in this interesting position where people are now much more computer savvy. Since I do a state of the art statement every year for SDVAN, I’m writing one now, and many of these topics are on my mind.
Right now, the auction houses have occupied a much larger role in the arts scene than ever before. For example, a piece by Jeff Koons, a work by a living artist, sold in November for twenty-three million dollars – showing the power of auction activity. But the big auction houses don’t have live auctions except for the highest end works anymore, at the same time that more and more people are becoming more interested in buying art. I suspect that we will probably see online auction sites of all kinds opening up and using marketing media, which includes deeper discussions of work, the use of video clips, and all kind of tools that will open a whole new world.
I have a limited knowledge of art and would not consider myself a collector. How would you hook people like me?
I have a very small definition of an art collector – if you have one work, you’re not yet a collector, but if you have two works, then you are. [laughs]
How would you get more art buying to happen?
One of the ideas that I came up with a couple of years ago, that I’ve mentioned Four Walls seems interested in, is to start an art collectors and investment group. Instead of trying to figure out everything on your own, why not join a group, which develops relationships with mentors who may educate the group – who are not giving art history lessons, but rather talking about living artists and their careers.
For example, on SDVAN, we have a huge feature called the Smart Collector. I wrote the table of contents for a book on art collecting a few years ago, then we set about writing all the chapters and posting them on the website – where you can read about different aspects of the process through topics such as Business Basics for Collecting, Meet the Collectors, How to Find the Marketplace. The information is right there like sections of a book, except that it is free on the website.
I think we’re just about finished. You look so good!
Do I look ten years younger?
Of course. Ferocious! Do you like it, really?
One thing I didn’t tell you too much about was my own art.
After all these years of being a painter, I’ve started doing sculptures again, and am doing really crazy wild sculptures.
Are they made of stone or plastic? What are you using?
I can’t even describe – it is so over the top, you just have to see it.
Let’s do an “after” shot of you now.
Ok. Are you doing more cuts this evening?
Yes, we are dying someone’s goatee, and then we’re shaving someone’s head.
Wow! Have you done that before?
I’ve never shaved someone’s head completely, but we’ve shaved other parts.
I’m not sure I want to know about that . . . but I do want to thank you for the fantastic job of styling you did on me.
KEVIN FREITAS, Editor and Writer for artasauthority.com – an art blog
DECEMBER 8, 2007, 7:30 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: How long have you been dying your goatee?
Kevin Freitas: About six months.
How are you finding it?
I like it, actually.
So, this treatment wasn’t just for art?
I’d sacrifice a lot for art, but this . . . I don’t know. [laughs]
What is your part in the art scene here?
I have an art blog called Art as Authority, which is dedicated to writing about art, showcasing artists’ works, and talking about the San Diego art scene, although not necessarily in that order. [Stylist adjusts subject’s body.]
Excuse me, I’m just trying to make you feel more comfortable here . . . [laughing] Ok, I’m going to have you tilt your chin up for me – that would be perfect. Do you usually self-apply this? [refers to hair dye]
Yes, I do.
Do you find that you get a little stain on your chin?
Yes. How can I prevent that?
There is a color guard that you can use. The main thing with color – and this is a general rule, since I’ve not used this particular product before – is that color removes color.
[Patricia Frischer walks up to Kevin and Sarah.]
Patricia: What color are you doing it?
We’re doing it in chestnut.
No. He opted for a seasonal color.
Please tell me more about your blog Kevin.
There are several contributors to the blog including myself. There are also a couple of local artists such as Richard Gleaves and Maura Vazakas, Poor Al out of Los Angeles, KAI1 from Arizona, who is a graffiti artist. It’s a pretty diverse art blog that covers lots of different topics. There are also European correspondents as well, who live in France and Brussels that send me images and articles occasionally. So, the blog covers a little of what’s going on over there too.
How do you socialize or network with people in the arts?
That’s a good question. Most of it happens by going to different galleries here and abroad, meeting people, and letting them know what I do. I also correspond with people who discover the blog for the first time or by chance.
You just put yourself out there?
I try to do that all the time. You have to. The woman whose hair you just cut, Patricia Frischer for example, is someone I met in response to an article I wrote about a show she helped organize. Since then, she’s been really good in circulating the word about my blog and activities. Little by little, through word of mouth, every little bit helps.
What have you heard about Patricia?
Wait . . . Do you want me to start gossiping?
Allegedly this piece is about collecting things that aren’t objects, such as conversations and gossip.
Actually, I don’t have any gossip about Patricia.
Not even good gossip, or some positive things you’ve heard?
That’s easy. She is very dedicated and enjoys what she’s doing. She is constantly looking at and promoting art. I’d say that our relationship was very formal in the beginning, though it has become less so over the past several months. You know, it had sort of an “in polite company” formalness that struck me as odd and somewhat amusing. I don’t know why . . .
Do you find it hard to speak while I’m tugging on your chin?
Actually, it feels pretty good.
You’re into chin tugging?
It’s a new sport somewhere, isn’t it?
I’ll have to look that one up on your blog. By the way, if you could reinvent yourself, how would you do so?
I guess I would reincarnate myself instead of reinventing myself as Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler, the Parisian art dealer who discovered Picasso. He handled Picasso, Braque, Juan Gris and several other well known artists from the 1930’s and 1940’s and is largely responsible for bringing them to New York. So, I guess that I’d come back as him. My second choice would be Leo Castelli, the New York art dealer who represented Johns, Rauschenberg and many more.
Did you get the roots?
Yes. Now we need to wait twenty-five minutes for everything to set and sink in.
Are you going to trim it a little maybe? What would you suggest?
We can clean it up a little. It all depends on what you like, since you’re the one who wears your style. I try to help the client reach whatever their style is – so, anything you like, I can probably help you get there.
Through your experience . . .
You want my professional opinion? I might just trim it up a bit and make it look a little cleaner on the ends. That’s about it – and, well – maybe I would wax your head.
Just kidding! [laughs]
What have you been writing about?
Recently it’s been about art exhibits here in San Diego. Although the blog is not exclusively limited to the activity here, just in case I find something else that I would like to write about elsewhere. I do go around to the local galleries to see what’s out there, and speak about the artists that are of interest to me.
I don’t feel obliged to write about every show, since I don’t think that’s my role, nor is it something that I want to do all the time. I basically try to speak about the art and what I’m seeing and experiencing – physically and emotionally – while I’m in each exhibition space.
How does judgment and criticism come into the work that you do?
I think we read a lot of reviews that are pretty neutral and descriptive. I try to provide some level of description of the work, if only to get my point across. However, since I usually upload images of the artwork anyway, the reader can see it for themselves. It can become a sort of compare and contrast to what I’m writing. And, although judgment might be harsh word, I do try to offer an opinion about whether the artist achieved their stated message or intentions. I try to react to what I’m seeing in the moment. I’m less concerned with the artist’s past achievements, but do a lot of research to establish some kind of framework for reading and writing about an artist’s work. In the end, it’s The World According to Garp syndrome, and I’m Garp.
Would you consider the dealers you’ve mentioned to be your mentors in some way?
Actually yes, and in terms of writers, I would say that Robert Hughes, John Dewey, and Arthur Danto among others have been big influences. Also Hunter S. Thompson . . .
Is there anything that you would like people to know about you or your involvement in the art scene here?
Mostly, I think it is about stepping up the quality of the work being produced, and taking responsibility for doing so – to get away from the idea that just because you’re an artist and you put artwork in a gallery, there is some automatic validation to it. More commitment needs to be made toward one’s artwork and to the public.
That’s how you personally feel about art and that’s what you would want people to know about you?
Now I understand your question. I’d like people to know that I’m dedicated to the process of looking and writing about art, that I’m attempting to learn as much as I can, and interested in keeping an open mind. This is the approach that I take in thinking and communicating about what I see. I speak my truth. Any other way, and I feel I am being dishonest to myself and to the reader who is less likely to believe what I’m saying if I don’t tell them that truth. As a matter of personal integrity, and an almost utopian obligation, my personal credence or cross to bear, so to speak, [laughs] is to right the wrongs of the art world. [laughing]
Seriously though, I feel as a critic, that you need to point things out, compare and contrast, and ask questions of the art and its maker.
What is your background or training?
I received a B.F.A. with a minor in art history from University of California at Davis. I was born and raised in Santa Cruz, then moved to Chicago, where I opened the Abel Joseph Gallery – named after my father – after curating a group show called Yale in Chicago. There are many graduates from Yale who live and work there in the city – at least it was so then.
My first claim to fame was to have long-time Chicago artist, Martin Puryear be part of that same exhibit – truth be told, after practically begging on my knees and calling Mr. Puryear every day. [laughs]
I later moved to Paris and worked for an art transportation company doing installation and packing, notably – and I guess this is my second claim to fame – I worked for the Louvre for several years moving and re-installing their entire collection of Dutch and Flemish paintings. I got to fondle real Rembrandt paintings.
Are you an artist?
I studied and practiced printmaking at the university, but I don’t make any artwork right now. When I was running the gallery, and now that I’m writing, I consider these to be my art making activity. I’ve always done or been involved in something creative. People have often told me that I am an artist or at least that I should become one. I’ve always been resistant to that notion, however.
When you arrive someplace new, what is the first thing you do to get to know the art scene there?
That’s a great question because, personally, I think San Diego is kind of tough to get to know – maybe because so much of the art activity here is underground. For example, there is a lot of good stuff going on, but there isn’t a whole lot of talk about it. You can’t just go to one source and get all the information you need.
But galleries like Four Walls, The Rubber Rose, Agitprop, Spacecraft, and Art Produce – which are all located within a few blocks of each other – are starting to become hubs of activity in terms of risk taking, presenting interesting shows, and getting and showing work of a certain caliber – which helps develop a heightened awareness and collective vision.
A friend recently sent me an article about what constitutes an arts community, which lists things such as – the need for more galleries showing quality work, more art collectors, more writers and artist publications, and museums. Nonetheless, it seems to me that responsibility begins with artists making work of a consistent quality, which then needs to be shown in better venues, so it can be viewed by a more critical public. For instance, I think that the Museum of Contemporary Art should have a much larger role in promoting the arts here, and should really step it up – a lot.
Out of curiosity, when you would arrive in a town and wanted to know what was going on – where things were not in your native language – what was your strategy?
It seems that galleries tend to gravitate into specific districts, which in Europe generally means being in proximity to a museum – like the Beaubourg gallery district in Paris next to the Georges Pompidou Center. You could also learn where things are by word of mouth. It isn’t hard to stumble upon an art scene in that kind of setting.
In San Diego, however, I believe that only now am I starting to scratch the surface and get a grip on what is actually going on here. You have to immerse yourself.
It seems that everyone in San Diego would like to see the art scene develop into something more prominent – so it’s not such a difficult search to figure out what’s going on. How would you propose that might happen?
– That the museums play a much more active role in the local art and gallery scene; that we have more galleries like the one we’re in now; that alternative art spaces and non-commercial venues take more risks; and that artists take more responsibility for what they produce and exhibit. But so much of this depends on getting the word out.
Being a native San Diegan, who loves art and enjoys going to the museums,
I have never come over to this district to view art before.
I don’t feel there are enough resources for me to know about it. For example, advertising might reach me. I am pleased to participate in this piece and see what’s going on over here. But I’ve lived here my whole life and run with a crowd that is into the art scene – although I’ve heard of Ray Street – it has never been promoted in a way that has drawn me over here.
On the same topic, if there was anyone in the San Diego arts scene that you could pick their brains, who might they be?
It’s understandable. I believe Ray at Night is currently in a state of entropy and needs to promote itself in a different way, not relying on the past reputation of being “thee” gallery district of San Diego.
On whose brain to pick, I would want to talk to the Museum of Contemporary Art and ask them what their politics are.
Who in particular?
The Board and the Museum Director . . .
Do you mean the money behind the organization?
It’s funny that you bring up money, but yes. I’m curious to know what their choices are, what they are collecting, and what their vision is.
For example, there was an incredible show by Dan Flavin in Los Angeles a couple of months ago. Why didn’t that show come to San Diego? It was a small retrospective show that would have been great for San Diego. In other words, what are the politics and decisions that go into these things? What kind of money are they spending, and what are they spending it on? What are they trying to create? How do they see their collection in ten years?
I think those are fair questions to even ask the galleries. If they’ve been here for a number of years, what do they want to do in the future? How would they like things to change? A little bit more transparency in the galleries and museums would go a long way to make people feel more receptive to art and comfortable participating in these contexts.
Money is a factor. We all spend money. To get our friends, relatives and acquaintances to spend it on collecting art, and to help them learn about the process, I think, is valuable and important.
How would you promote that activity to the layman who is not traditionally spending money on art?
I think I would try to bring a certain value and significance to it, help create a desire, and try to fulfill an emotional and intellectual need in that person. You could probably market art like an I-pod is marketed, get U2 to sing about the benefits of art buying [laughs] – that it’s a cool thing to do, that it’s important and necessary . . . It’s, of course, very important to at least go and look at art in the first place.
Do you think an art scene could be developed by hiring a marketing company to promote and grow it?
Maybe. Society is offered a gamut of products, information, and services which come in different colors and flavors, but often offer less of a choice due to their mainstreaming and perceived public need for conformity – not to mention peer pressure and keeping up with the Joneses – that lead to the buying of things like phones, cars, etc. You could probably just as easily do away with these commodities as you could with art. However, art asks you to think about it, form an opinion, and make different kinds of judgments. I don’t think people are used to doing that, at least not so much today. But it is good, necessary, and healthy behavior. When was the last time your cell phone asked you to think about something?
I’d agree that people are used to being told what to do through marketing and advertisement. Do you think applying the same tools to art, however, might compromise it?
It is a matter of integrity. Fundamentally, I don’t think marketing which might frame things in a different light is going to change the impact or inherent integrity of art, in terms of determining how successfully any given work might have achieved its goal, or why it was made to begin with. It’s more an issue of getting people to think for themselves and make decisions – to actually say, I like this and am not completely sure why – and learn to trust what comes out of that. Part of the problem is that artists sometimes reinforce the idea that it’s an art thing – so, you wouldn’t understand.
By trying to be aloof and mysterious?
Right – if only we could break down some of these false perceptions. It’s like wine, I guess. By tasting, you can incrementally learn how to determine what you like or don’t. If you sustain this kind of activity over time or bring this approach into other areas of your life, then you will be able to tell whether something is good or successful, or not. It will also help you develop your own glossary of definitions and feelings, which will support your decisions and affirmations.
I’ve been so involved in our conversation that I forgot about checking the time for the hair dye. It stains hard core, and I got some on my chin too. So, now we look like twins. What made you want to come out and participate in this particular installation?
I was invited. The idea of gossiping and getting one’s hair cut seemed intriguing.
What’s your juiciest piece of gossip?
I’m drawing a blank.
No you’re not. You’ve got something. You’re just pushing it down. Don’t worry – these conversations are all going to be edited anyway.
Sure they will . . . I don’t have any good gossip.
Actually, Robert Pincus stood me up recently. He’s the art critic for the San Diego Union Tribune. We’ve both been invited by Patricia Frischer to write an introduction to the forthcoming San Diego Art Prize catalog. We were supposed to have a preliminary meeting a couple weeks ago, and he left me standing on the corner in front of a café. I was mildly irritated and even called him to see if he was coming. He had the wrong date written down.
I guess this isn’t really gossip or of any real interest to anyone except myself . . .
Has there been any contact since?
Yes, I’m glad to say. He apologized, profusely.
Has a follow up appointment been scheduled?
Think you’ll be stood up again?
Not sure, actually. I’m a little gun shy.
[Laughs] As you should be, I guess.
Being the on-time kind of guy that I am . . . Do you have a list of questions for everyone who sits in this chair?
More like prompts than anything else.
You’re doing great, by the way.
Thanks! What’s the favorite part of your profession?
Meeting and talking to people.
Do you consider yourself a people person?
I’m getting better at it. I like going out to look at artwork and meeting and talking with artists and the gallery owners. It keeps you stimulated. It’s a challenge to really see and review the work. The other thing I like about the process is putting thoughts down on paper and trying to transmit some of the emotion I was experiencing to the reader. The creative thinking and writing aspect is something that I enjoy a great deal.
Could you name a local artist that you have recently found stimulating?
I would say David Adey, who just had a show at Spacecraft gallery a few blocks from here. He did a show of re-constructed lambs made out of porcelain and neon, along with some collage work. It was pretty challenging to review.
His work was so effective on many different levels – from Christianity to Frankenstein-esque notions of physical dissection and reassembly and resurrection-slash-redemption. It had a rich, dense subject matter that ran so deep you could take almost any aspect of it and just run with it for pages on end. I like that kind of work – something you can really sink your teeth into.
It’s hard to get a consistent concentration of good artwork in San Diego at any one time. For example, during Ray at Night the galleries change shows every month, which is an incredibly hectic pace to keep up with for the visitors and the galleries. I’m not sure how beneficial this is for their continuity or longevity. Shows of a longer duration would probably be better. The existing schedule also puts a lot of pressure on artists to perform.
If you could change something about Ray at Night, what would it be?
I’d extend exhibitions to last six or seven weeks, with more events, conferences, and panel discussions, maybe. But that’s kind of the problem. I think we all fall into these sorts of generic reflexes of old-school art world pandering to an audience we think is interested in what we are doing.
Maybe someone should ask them? I often wonder how you could make it fresh, or get away from doing predictable openings and art machinations. I think this piece is a good example of doing something other than a standard opening.
What kind of imprint do you hope to leave on the landscape?
As critic at large, as someone called me the other day. I’m interested in establishing a more fluid dialogue between the artist and the public, galleries and museums, and have more people willing to offer their opinions, make more profound judgment calls on quality, content, technique and the like, and be willing to be heard.
When first approached, we were turned off at the idea of gossip in this performance. As we began exploring the work further, however, it seemed that people would probably be more interested in talking about their opinions, perhaps playfully through the guise of gossip, since this format jettisons people into an intimate situation – where people are more comfortable talking about their perceptions one-on-one – rather than speaking in public or in a panel discussion. It seemed that you could probably tease out some real gems of information that might be less accessible in a different situational format.
Although, on one level, this conversation might be considered gossip – because we’re talking about issues and people not immediately present – it seems creative rather than negative, since the discussion seems to be concerned with promoting the arts. It’s just a different way to get to what’s going on in people’s minds.
The down side to what I think you’ve hit upon is all the gymnastics that go into discovering what is on people’s minds, which probably are unnecessary. I don’t think you have to get overly serious or haltingly professional about it either.
This is a prime example. It’s really weird to be doing this together, with all this activity going on around us during this reception – yet, I feel really comfortable. It’s like we’re in our own little world and having this great conversation – I hope. It has a quality of genuineness that goes against a lot of the ideas which privilege what goes on in a gallery. We happen to be in a performance art piece.
But is this performance art, or are we just having a conversation in a public place . . . where you just happen to be coloring my beard.
Could we do this out in the street on the corner?
How successful would that be?
MICHELLE ROBINSON, Ray Street Frame
DECEMBER 8, 2007, 8:30 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardner: If you would like to donate your hair to Locks of Love, then we need to cut at least ten inches off.
Michelle Robinson: Ok.
If we take off ten inches then we can do a really cute bob on you.
Are you trying to talk me out of having all my hair cut off?
No, I’m letting you know what your options are, and what the requirements are to qualify for a donation. For instance, if you want to donate more, it’s totally up to you. If you want, we cut it into two different pony tails for two different wigs, or just do one big one.
Why don’t we just do one pony tail, cut it, and see if I pass out or not. [Gathering crowd erupts in laughter.]
Ok. And then we can talk about it . . .
Sounds good, because my heart rate is off the chart right now.
We need to do a “before” picture of you first. Do you want a glass of wine?
I’m actually ok, but thanks.
[Photographer composes a “before” head shot of Michelle.]
Alright, why don’t you sit back down. Let’s make sure that our microphones are turned on. If you could, I need you to hold this bag for me, which we’ll put your hair into when we’re done.
This is fun. It’s quite a show.
I really didn’t expect a show this big, so I think that’s where my nervousness is probably coming from.
That makes sense. So, what is your affiliation with the San Diego art scene?
I work at Ray Street Frame and Print across the street.
What do you do there?
I do custom framing.
How did you get involved in this kind of work?
I studied art in school, so I’ve always been interested in the field. But it’s hard to live in San Diego and just create art – because it is so expensive here – so, I needed a paying job. I ended up talking to the owner of the business one day, to see if he needed help, and he hired me. I’ve been doing it for three-and-a-half years now.
[Someone from the crowd asks Michelle the following question.]
Why do you want to shave your head?
We are still deciding on the shaved-head part.
I don’t think she wants me to do it.
I’m behind you every step of the way, but want to make sure it’s what you want to do.
This hasn’t been a quick decision. I’ve been thinking about it for a long time. It’s something I’m doing for myself, and, I figure it will grow back. I’ve always had long hair, and I love it. It’s not because I don’t like my hair. I’m usually more talkative than I am right now.
That’s understandable. With regard to the art scene here, is there anything that would you like to see more of?
It would be nice if people took a more active role in supporting art. We get a lot of traffic and positive feedback, which is good. But people need to actually buy art. You can get some pretty amazing work here for cheap. So, it would be nice to see more of that.
Are you ready?
I am. This is not a problem.
Fantastic – here we go.
[Crowd begins clapping in unison as Sarah starts to cut Michelle’s hair.] Oh, my god . . .
[Clapping gets progressively louder.]
Can we take breaks after this part?
Of course – we can do whatever you want.
[Clapping becomes faster.]
I should have brought larger sheers instead of these tiny ones.
Is it thick?
You’ve got some thick hair.
[Crowd starts hooting and cheering when Sarah holds up the pony tail that she has cut from Michelle’s head.]
Oh, my god.
Hold on just a second.
It feels weird . . . really weird.
[shaking her hair out and looking in the mirror]
Do you feel ten pounds lighter?
It looks like you might want to take a break.
Yes – actually, I do. I was all set to carry the whole thing through, but I think I’ll take a break right now.
Alright. You take a break and we will be ready whenever you are.
We’re taking a break folks.
She needs a breather and I need a glass of wine – actually, I think we should probably turn the microphones off during the break. [Laughs!]
[The audience leaves the gallery for a twenty-minute break.]
Ok. The microphones are back on now.
So, what you have going on here is really cute, but rough, obviously. Since you weren’t expecting the reaction you had, if you are feeling like you would like to go with what you’ve got, and let me clean it up a little bit . . .
I’m not so sure that I want to continue. I think I need to stop for now, because I’m feeling quite shaky from the crowd’s response. I guess I’m having what’s called a fight–or-flight reaction, and am a little upset with myself . . .
Are you saying that you don’t want me to clean it up right now?
Since I will probably have it cleaned up or the rest cut off tomorrow, I think I’m done for right now.
That’s totally ok.
Yeh – I would like to de-compress.
Thank you for donating you hair to Locks of Love tonight. You’re very brave. Ten inches is a lot of hair, and you’re going to make someone very happy with your contribution.
Thanks for letting me do that. It was very nice to meet you.
Michelle Robinson, cheered on by friends, makes a donation of her hair to LOCKS OF LOVE
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
MARCH 29, 2008, NOON, Follow-up Interview
Barbra DesLauriers, Assistant Director of Four Walls: Now that all the interviews have been transcribed and we are finally ready to print what was collected since the performance occurred, I wanted to show you your “before” and “after” head shots – from the night you had your hair cut off, and a few days afterward when you had your own stylist finish the haircut.
Michelle Robinson: Wow! I’m shocked looking at the photos next to each other. Obviously, I knew there was a big change – but I almost look like a different person.
Looking back at that night – which now has been nearly four months ago – can you describe how it felt when everyone in the gallery and street began clapping and cheering you on?
I knew it was a big deal, but I thought I was prepared for it because I had so many friends present at the event to support me. However, I was definitely not prepared for the physical reaction – which was a bona fide panic attack, where I was shaking, had dry mouth, and couldn’t even finish the interview, much less the haircut. Although it happened several months ago, it feels like yesterday because it was traumatic. The result has also been life changing, however, which is why I did it.
For instance, I’ve always heard how pretty my hair was. Some of my motivations in cutting it off were to explore vanity, gender roles, societal judgments, people’s reactions, and lots of other things.
Do people treat you differently than when you had long blonde hair?
From behind, a few people have called me sir – which I didn’t expect. I’ve also run into people I haven’t seen for months, who have a hard time placing me, because I look familiar but not completely recognizable. So, I’ll have to reintroduce myself.
When I first cut it, I wanted to grow it back right away and experience all these different stages regarding its length. But now I realize that I’m not in a rush and am really enjoying having it short right now. As more time passes, some people don’t seem to remember when it was long.
You can certainly see more of your features.
I’m having fun with it in a light-hearted way, and don’t have hair anxiety anymore. For instance, I’d even consider having a Mohawk, just for the experience. So, I guess you could say that it’s been a liberating experience to let go of the long hair.
What other changes have occurred for you since December?
Lots of transitions have happened from 2007 to 2008! I turned thirty in August and then was presented with the opportunity to buy the framing business from Larry, who I worked for, and stay on Ray Street and provide this service to the arts community here.
Is there anything that you would want people to know about you?
That I am a natural blonde, obviously – and that I think you should cut it all off at least once! Actually my hair is kind of light brown at this point. [laughs]
Do you collect art?
Yes. I would like to eventually have a larger collection, but I certainly have some pieces. I bought my first piece while I was in college and still have it in my living room.
Where did you go to school?
I went to the University of Georgia in Athens, a very artsy school with good visual arts and music programs, which is pretty progressive compared to most of the conservative South. Lots of good bands came out of Athens, such as the B-52s, the Indigo Girls . . .
As a new business owner, do you have a mentor?
Well, my stepfather, who is an entrepreneur, has had a huge influence on me. I always knew that my path wasn’t going to lead me towards corporate America, and that what I wanted to do might not be found in the classified ads. Anyway, he owns several businesses, does his own thing, is a really hard worker and family man, and is involved in giving back to the community. Growing up in that environment has been a source of inspiration.
Since this piece, allegedly, is about collecting various things such as gossip, are there any rumors you’d like to address?
If you’re asking about stuff about me, I haven’t heard any – although, I suppose people could say that I am a loud mouth and have an intense kind of energy.
Like the children’s game of telephone – where details get distorted as a story passes through a string of listeners and speakers – my hunch is that there are probably always some strands of truth that make it through the circuit to the end. Otherwise, the bogus pieces of information might have no way to get transmitted.
What kinds of changes would you like to see in San Diego?
People need to support up-and-coming local artists by buying original art, fashion, design, and supporting local musicians.
Is there anything else you would to share?
Sure. I grew up in the conservative South, where you are taught to fit into very specific molds of social behavior. When I told my mom over the phone that I cut off my hair, she let me know immediately – without even seeing it – that she hated it. And here’s the kicker – even if my partner was a man, my hair would still be unacceptable.
By turning a relatively straightforward event, such as a haircut, into a kind of ritual, it feels like we got to visit someplace new with you. Thanks for letting us join you.
MONICA HOOVER, Director of Voice
DECEMBER 15, 2007, 4:30 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: What do you do in San Diego?
Monica Hoover: Are you interviewing me right now – is that what’s going on? [laughs]
Basically . . . So, are you from San Diego?
I moved here about eight years ago after college and worked for a design firm. I did that for a couple of years, and then just entered the world of freelance. I started the gallery in 2004. We just closed at the end of July, 2007 and the target date for the new space is June of 2008.
Are you doing most of the work yourself in putting that together?
I have four other partners, actually – but, am I the sweat equity in the business? Yes. [laughs] Am I the one putting all the pieces of the puzzle together? Yes.
Do you find that rewarding?
At times, certainly. At times I think it’s challenging, but exciting at the same time. I wouldn’t say it’s scary, so much – it’s just that I’m treading into new waters.
[HUGH DAVIES, Director of the Museum of Contemporary Arts, arrives.]
Maybe we can do this pretty quick – and then I can go.
I’ll give you a little style first and make you feel comfortable.
Ok. That’s cool.
[Monica Hoover and Hugh Davies are introduced to each other.]
Hugh Davies: Nice to meet you.
Monica Hoover: Hi. We haven’t met before. I’m Monica Hoover. It’s very nice to meet you. I know who you are, but do you know me? [laughs]
Sorry. I just walked in.
No problem. We had a gallery in downtown called Voice. Have you heard of it?
That was our gallery, which we closed recently. We’re going into a new facility in the East Village. Elliott has been involved in keeping tabs on what I’m doing, and been a big supporter of the art scene. I think he wants us to meet. [laughs]
Yes, it is.
How long was Voice there?
We had a run of three years. But now we’re going into a new venue, which is a 10,000 square foot space. We’re doing an art gallery, which will feature the same kind of work we’ve been showing, but also names that we don’t necessarily see in San Diego, except perhaps in the museum, or in other cities. The kind of art we show is from an underground kind of grown up street art kid experience, and what these people are doing now. It’s the kind of work that you see more in L.A. and San Francisco. It’s why I believe we’ve had the success we did downtown at Voice – because people weren’t really showing it here. There’s definitely a void. I don’t think there is a lack of people, but rather a lack of venues and the willingness to show this kind of work. There will also be a music venue in the back of the new space.
It sounds exciting. Will you have a staff?
That’s part of the reason we’re moving into a new venue. We will have a bar and a restaurant at the site in order to make it work, and be able to afford a staff and pay them. I’m trying to take what I’ve learned from being in business for the last three years and bring things to the next level. We have existed off of art sales up to now. However, the shows themselves have cost about $1,500 for the most basic PR, beverages, etc. – just the basic stuff . . . and I’m not rich! [laughs]
Have you had volunteers?
So far, it’s definitely been driven by volunteers. We’ve had twenty-six volunteers at a time, which included a bunch of great college kids and artists. Now were trying to do a grown up Voice.
What’s your background – are you an artist yourself?
I’m a photographer. I moved here from Philadelphia in 1999 and worked at Black Market with Shepard Fairey and Dave Kinsey. They moved to L.A. but I stayed here and have done freelance from that point on. I’ve been involved in the art scene, but don’t really want to move to L.A. My view is – if it doesn’t exit where you live, then you either make it happen or you move. There are times that I’ve thought about leaving, because I don’t feel there are the number of venues like what I’m used to, say, in Philadelphia, San Francisco, or L.A. – again, it’s not the lack of interested people, it’s the lack of proper venues.
[Hugh is offered a tour of the rest of the gallery.]
It’s been nice to meet you. We didn’t know when you were coming . . . you were supposed to go first – but I think this is going to be quick.
That’s fine. Nice to meet you.
[Hugh walks into another room.]
Sarah Gail Gardener: You’re going to look great when we’re done Monica.
Monica Hoover: Fantastic. My hair was all crazy while we were just talking.
I wouldn’t worry about it.
Would you like to wear a button for our gallery?
I’d love to.
Which one – hot pink?
Sure . . . for the hot stylist.
The name of our gallery is Voice. Right now we’re looking for community support, such as people recognizing and expressing the need and desire for more art venues and facilities here.
That’s why I’m participating in this piece. I’d love to see the art scene grow here.
I can’t believe that I’m getting my hair done right now! [laughs]
Are you going somewhere after this where you’ll show it off?
Yes, to my boyfriend’s – or, my life partner’s – Christmas party. I call him that, because I don’t know if we’re ever going to get married. [laughs] We’ve been together so long, that it’s pretty much like we’re married. He works for a surfboard company.
Since this is a piece about collecting different things, like ideas, postcards, and whatnot – do you have any juicy gossip that you’ve heard about yourself that you would like to correct?
[Laughs] Where is this going to be dished out . . . juicy gossip about myself, huh? I don’t know – I suppose there’s some . . .
I just heard some yesterday?
Not really. I’m just kidding.
That’s very funny. [laughs] I’m thinking – you don’t even know me. Sometimes I don’t return phone calls, so I’m sure people like to talk shit about that. I agree that it’s really annoying. [laughs]
Do you think there are any local artists that deserve more recognition?
The ones that are getting recognition seem to be making an effort to be seen and known, so people become familiar with their work. Anybody willing to take those kinds of steps probably deserves the recognition they get. For example, there may be artists who may produce better work – but if you stay in your own studio day after day and don’t bust out of that bubble, it’s a shame.
For instance, there are times when I don’t want to go to events or photograph things. But every time, after I’m done, I think – this is great, I’m really glad I went. Every single time! You’ve just got to get yourself out of your bathrobe, take a shower, and go out there and meet people. The bottom line in today’s art world is that you can’t sit home waiting to be discovered. Maybe it happens – but everyone I know who is successful and makes a living at what they enjoy doing, basically has to hustle. After saying all of that, I’m not going to name any names. I have a business about to open soon, so I’m not going to dig any holes, nor try to cover up any. [laughs]
If you could reinvent yourself, what would that look like?
I’d probably learn how to play an instrument. Drums are pretty cool, but playing bass guitar is pretty amazing. It’s an entirely different art form, which is beyond me. Maybe I’d play and instrument and be singing somewhere – that would be fun. Maybe I’d have become a veterinarian, get involved in animal rights . . . or get involved in of other social movements.
I think the gallery has definitely been a tool for progressive change. At this point in my life, with this new venue I’m finally connecting multiple goals that I’ve had for awhile, which is nice. I’m lucky that I get to work around things and people that I love. For example, one part of our project will be Youth Voice, which will be a non-profit component that works with other California charities to do things with children around the arts.
Well, here’s you new hairstyle. Time for your close-up.
No flash – please! [laughs]
HUGH DAVIES, Director of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art
DECEMBER 15, 2007, 4:45 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: How much do you want off?
Hugh Davies: Whatever you think.
OK. Your hair is pretty short, so I’ll just take a little bit off and clean you up and shape it up a little bit.
Whatever you think.
You’re giving me artistic license?
You’re the artist.
Are you a native San Diegan?
No. I moved here twenty-four years ago. I grew up mostly Back East. I was born in South Africa.
Do you still have family there?
I don’t. My parents were English. They went to South Africa after the Second World War, and moved back to England after that. We moved over here when I was eight.
I’m spraying keratin on your hair, which is just a mixture of water and the protein that your hair is composed of.
I’m using it instead of shampooing you.
How long have you been styling hair?
About two years now.
Are you a native San Diegan?
Born and raised – actually, I’m second generation. Although I really enjoy it here, I like to travel quite a bit.
Where have you traveled to?
Most recently Taiwan, Vietnam, and Thailand.
Nice. That’s great.
Yes, I really enjoyed it. I got some fantastic art while I was living in Taiwan that I have yet to frame. At the little local markets they had gorgeous hand made stuff. How long have you been working with the Museum of Contemporary Art?
Wow. How did you get involved in that?
I studied art history in college, and then I didn’t want to teach. For my first job, I taught and ran a museum in Massachusetts.
But you weren’t into teaching?
I was, but I preferred doing exhibitions and working with artists.
Gotcha. Do you prefer more of a hands-on experience with the artists?
Yes. And teaching is kind of like Ground Hog Day.
I agree. That’s what I was doing in Taiwan and absolutely hated it.
Were you teaching English?
My nephew, who went to Taiwan, was teaching English.
Where in Taiwan?
I’m really not sure, I think in Taipei. Does that make sense? He was there for about a year.
How long did you teach?
I taught for eight years. I didn’t have a full teaching load. Usually, I would only have one lecture class a year.
What would you lecture on?
Modern and contemporary art from 1900 to the present, which then was 1975.
Did you get to pick what you taught, or were you given the topic?
They invited me to teach that. I like the fact that the artists I get to work with are very creative in very different ways. It’s fascinating to see the world through their eyes for the time that you’re working with them, which may be a couple of years leading up to an exhibition.
They are very untraditional and very innovative. It’s a fresh perspective on the world.
What was the first piece of art you ever bought?
I bought art from friends of mine who were artists in college, for something like twenty bucks for drawings, and things like that.
Do you still have them?
Some of them, yes. The first so-called serious artwork was a print by Jim Dine, and that was two hundred bucks. I still have that. But I don’t collect a lot, because it’s sort of a conflict with my job.
Well, I’m supposed to use my best energy to find great art for the museum. We don’t want directors and curators putting their best energies into building their own collections.
I can see how that would be counter productive.
Yes, I mean you pay their salaries and travel expenses, so you expect to get their best ideas.
Do you travel for your job?
I do, quite a bit.
And where do you travel mostly?
Well, this Fall I’ve been to . . . the furthest was London. I’ve been to New York twice. I’ve been to Seattle and Portland . . . been to Miami.
How does that work? Do you hear about an artist who is having an exhibit that you want to go check out, or . . . ?
Well, I just came back from Miami. There is an art fair there called Art Basel Miami, and literally hundreds of galleries bring work there, and all these collectors shop. So, it’s a five-day sort of tribal fest of consumerism.
Do you like it?
Not very much. No.
It doesn’t sound it.
But Miami is great. I love Miami.
I used to live in South Beach.
What were you doing there?
Just hanging out. I was eighteen and just wanted to get out of San Diego, so I took the Greyhound to South Beach and waitressed and lived out there for a little while.
Where did you waitress?
I waitressed at the Van Dyke Café.
Did you have a mentor in your life that helped you get to where you are today?
Probably not one, but a series of mentors. I had an architecture professor that I worked with, named Emilio Ambasz who was very influential – a very smart guy who had been a curator at the Museum of Modern Art before he was teaching us.
Did you study architecture?
Yes. I studied architecture for a couple of years, and then I switched to architectural history, and from that I switched to art history. Then I had a professor named Sam Hunter, who had been a museum director – he’s the one who got me into visiting artists’ studios, galleries, and beyond the library.
What was the part that drew you in – what made you know that this is what you wanted to do?
I always liked going to museums and galleries and looking at art, and, once I started meeting these people, that made it was much more interesting. It seemed like a very engaging way to spend time.
What’s your least favorite part of your job?
The least favorite is probably administration, such as personnel and stuff like that.
Do you mean dealing with red tape?
Hiring and firing. It’s a lot of work, and it’s stressful. What’s the least favorite part of your job?
I really love my job, but it would probably be clients’ indecisiveness. It’s hard to give someone what they want when they don’t know what that is.
Good point. Where do you normally style?
On Washington Street with a really good friend who owns the salon. All of our clients are personable and friendly people, so it’s a very nice atmosphere.
My only concern in getting involved in this field of work was – since I’m really not a gossipy person – that I might be surrounded by it every day. However, I found a place where it never comes into play. So, I feel extremely lucky.
Why is that? Is it because people let their hair down, so to speak?
Sort of. I think these qualities motivated this particular installation – to gather gossip or personal conversations. Although the industry is fueled by image – which is what people tend to concentrate on – when you are interested in wanting to make a connection with people, and make people feel happy . . . it is a great space in which to do it.
Would you like me to trim up your beard at all?
Sure. Can you trim my eyebrows too?
Do you normally cut women’s hair?
I actually have more male clients than women, although I do both.
Why do you suppose you have more men?
We give a nice shampoo and head massage – so that’s always a bonus. I also think it’s nice to have someone listen to and take care of you for at least half an hour, once a month, and be nice and smile and share good conversation. It’s also quick . . . and, I do a good job on top of that.
Out of curiosity, is there any gossip that you’ve heard about yourself that you would like to dispel, or that you find interesting?
Umm . . . Let me think. [long pause] I don’t think so. I don’t think there is a lot of gossip about me – at least I hope not. I don’t think I’m particularly interesting in that way.
Well, if there was something that you would want people to know about you, that you don’t think most people know about you, what would it be?
Umm [45 second pause] . . . Sorry – I can’t think of anything interesting at all.
Like the fact that you can touch your chin with your tongue – or, something like that? [laughs]
I can actually touch my nose with my tongue.
Well, there you go. That’s a gift!
Yes, a gift.
Where are you going at 5:30 p.m.?
I’m meeting my wife to go see a movie.
How we are doing for time?
Actually, I should go in a minute.
I am just about done.
Sorry it’s so late. That was my fault.
No worries. We’re just glad to have you here.
Fun to be here.
One last question.
If you could reinvent yourself, what would you do?
If I could reinvent myself, I would work in some international capacity. I used to think I wanted to be a diplomat. But I don’t want to be a diplomat. I don’t want to have to toe the party line. But I would enjoy having an international business career and travel, a lot. And live overseas.
I think we are ready to do an “after” headshot of you now.
It was lovely to meet you.
DAVID WHITE, Owner of Agitprop
DECEMBER 15, 2007, 5:30 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: Since we are performing as a faux salon, I won’t be able to shampoo you.
David White: That’s alright.
I apologize if you have some stray hairs at the end of this.
You might want to shower afterwards. I’m just going to snip all around while we talk. How did you come to own a gallery?
I had been thinking about it for a little while and looking for a studio space.
Are you an artist? What kind of work do you do?
Yes – sculpture and video, depending on the idea that I have.
Were you looking for a space to do your own art in?
I had been looking for a studio and thinking about opening a gallery, so, when I found the space that I have now – which I really love – I thought it was a great opportunity to have both. I’ve had the space for about a year, but it took some renovation. The gallery opened when we had our first show in March.
How do you find it now that you’re there?
Pretty good – although I don’t really have any time now to work on anything of my own, actually – because of the time involved in working on shows.
What’s your training?
I have a BFA in sculpture from Ohio State.
Are you from Ohio?
Yes. I’m from Cleveland.
You lucky Gus.
What brought you to San Diego?
Just wanted a change.
I’m going to ask you not to move around, because I could cut you or me – and neither will be very pretty.
Sorry – I didn’t realize . . .
Or, you could end up with a really interesting haircut.
With stitches . . .
Then everything would just bleed into one big performance art piece wouldn’t it? Sorry, where were we?
I was saying that I came here because I wanted a change. Since my girlfriend was coming here also, we both decided to move to Southern California together. She came here for school.
How do you find the art scene?
I like what’s beginning to happen now – although, it’s hard to judge, since I feel like I’ve only arrived very recently. From what people tell me, however, San Diego is starting to establish a little more edge to its art scene.
What led you on this path? Did you have any mentors?
I came to things a little late. For example, I drew when I was a kid – but I wasn’t a super artsy kind of person. I went to college for landscape architecture, but hated it.
Often there’s only one way to find out . . .
Right. I discovered that I enjoyed having a more direct hands-on relationship with things. So after awhile, I stopped going to school and started working in fields where I could literally use my hands. My interest in sculpture came out of that experience, pretty much as a natural transition.
Is there a local artist in San Diego that you are dying to show in your space?
The idea behind my gallery space is that it is very open-ended, as a form of public forum. I’m fairly open to people coming in to the space, if they have a good idea.
When is the gallery open?
It’s only open on weekends, when there is a current installation.
Do you also feature your own work?
Not really – although, I have shown some work a couple of times.
This installation and performance, that we are participating in as we speak, is concerned with collection, among other things. For instance, some of the discussions have focused on how gossip might be something that people collect. Out of curiosity, is there any juicy gossip on the San Diego art scene that you’d like to share?
I can’t really . . . It might take me a little while to think of something.
Take your time . . .
That’s such a loaded question.
Is there any gossip that you’ve heard about yourself that you have found interesting, or would like to dispel?
Another tough question. I try and participate in gossip as little as possible.
That’s understandable since it’s not the most honorable pastime in the world.
Nothing comes to mind.
That’s fine. It’s just a question.
If I think of anything . . .
Feel free to interject.
If you could reinvent yourself, what would that entail?
These questions seem to be getting progressively more difficult. [laughs]
How about – if you could show your work anywhere, where would you?
I’d have to say almost any setting that is a public space, like a heavily trafficked street corner.
Are you going to decorate a cactus or something for the holidays?
Do you live near the gallery?
Downtown, on Cortez Hill.
Are there any galleries over there?
There don’t seem to be many downtown, but North Park seems to have quite a few. How did you get involved in this art piece?
My friend – the owner of the salon that I work in – has a friend who is involved in the Ray at Night art walk. Since I’m from San Diego and believe in promoting the arts here, I decided to donate my time to this project.
So . . . you are the person from San Diego?
The one and only, who is actually from here it seems.
What do you do when you go to another city to take the pulse of the art scene there?
I actually like just walking around in cities. I prefer staying in a small area and walking around a lot, to check out the daily life in one place more than anything. I don’t necessarily gravitate toward the art scene first.
If you could change or improve the scene here, how would you do so?
A few more galleries would be nice, which show contemporary work that pushes boundaries more – maybe galleries with more experimental work, and a better connection to the people in the community.
How do you suppose that could be accomplished?
It might be difficult, because it’s one of those things where people have to decide to be part of something larger – and be more supportive of each other, in friendly competition – rather than relate to each other from a posture or place of animosity.
Have you experienced the animosity form of competition?
Sometimes. However, there are people who have been extremely supportive.
Has anyone been particularly supportive to you since you’ve moved here?
Yes. There is an architect Petar Perisic. He’s been extremely supportive.
In what ways?
He is very interested in the arts. He’s helped me to get to know people in the local community and provided general support, advice, and moral support.
That’s great. How did you meet him?
He is a professor at my girlfriend’s school. This gallery has also been supportive, as well as Emily and Christopher, who have a nice gallery called Spacecraft.
Do you have any plans for this evening?
Yes. I have a fundraiser at the gallery for the group, Architecture for Humanity, to build a hostel/bed and breakfast in Kenya that benefits orphaned children.
That’s fantastic. I have lots of friends that do AIDS work in Kenya.
Did they just decide to volunteer and go there?
Yes. They do AIDS education for six months at a time.
How do you like your haircut so far? Is it short enough?
I wouldn’t mind going a little bit shorter.
Whatever you like. I just didn’t want to take you too short.
What do you think?
I think whatever you like will look good.
I don’t know. Last time I just shaved my head. I’m sick of the same haircut all the time – but then, I always get the same haircut all the time.
You sound confused.
I am confused. [laughs]
Are you going to stick around for the holidays?
Yes. Actually I ran out of vacation time at work.
Therefore, art calls?
It’s more the fear of unemployment calling.
The fear of eating Top Ramen for the rest of your life – I know that one. Have you given any further thought to how you might reinvent yourself?
Today – while I was thinking about getting this haircut – I thought of dying my hair bright red or applying rainbow colors to it.
I’ll give you my number and we can do that anytime.
It would probably only be for a day, otherwise I would probably get fired.
Then we’ll have to shave it soon thereafter.
I certainly wouldn’t mind doing it at least for a day.
Tell me more about your gallery.
I wanted to create a situation and context for other people to show their work – not necessarily artwork, but anything – like open-ended pieces, ongoing events, non-traditional works . . .
Your definition of art is fairly open?
That’s right, and I view the gallery as a public space.
It seems that community is a strong component of your vision.
I definitely want that to come across.
Are you from a large family?
Are your parents sad that you’re not going home?
I don’t’ think so, since they are going on vacation for the rest of the holidays.
Sounds like they’re really torn up about it.
They have come out to visit.
What does hosting the fund raiser involve?
This is the third weekend that we’ve held it, because it rained last weekend.
I’ve given you kind of a newsboy haircut.
Alright Sir. Let me blow dry some of the loose hair away and you’re all set.
KINSEE MORLAN, Arts Editor for San Diego City Beat
DECEMBER 22, 2007, 3:00 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: Do you live in Tijuana?
Kinsee Morlan: Yes, I do.
Have you always lived there?
I’ve lived there for about a year-and-a-half now.
What led you there?
I was working on a story when the Museum of Contemporary Art (“MCA”) did an exhibition called “Strange New Worlds.”
But, my relationship to Tijuana really began when I was a freshman at San Diego State University. Somehow, I ran into a promoter called Hollywood Ray. He was doing this thing where he would pull a bus up in front of the dorms and try to convince freshman to go down to TJ. For twelve bucks, you got the ride down and free drinks – because the club cover charge was included – plus the trip back to San Diego. Anyway, he needed someone to get inside the dorms, because they were locked and had pretty high security. I started working for him as part of that. As a girl from Colorado, I was excited about Mexico and everything it had to offer. This is why I was more comfortable with the border crossing, and Tijuana itself, than most people would have been in 2005, when “InSite” happened.
InSite is a big bi-national project – I’d hate to call it just an art exhibit, because it is so much more than that – which commissions artists from all over the world to do these large-scale projects in both San Diego and Tijuana. I covered that project when I first started as a journalist, even though it ended up being a really terrible story. [laughs]
Did you study journalism?
I did. But, I was just sort of a punk, who was like – what is this pretentious art stuff? The article I wrote came across as angry, because I didn’t understand some of the work. Unfortunately, art can be very inaccessible. For example, there are lots of different names for “Happenings.”
Do you mean that certain art terms come off as elitist?
Sort of. InSite called the performances they did “Interjections,” which was clever and easy to comprehend. But, when I’d take my friends with me to some of them, I discovered that unless you were super into the art world, things were actually difficult to understand. You really had to be an art lover, to first go to an information booth and pick up these documents, and then go on this wild goose chase to find where these projects were happening. Even then, you couldn’t understand some of them.
One piece, actually called “Good Rumor,” selected nodes or groups of people in San Diego and Tijuana to start a good rumor and pass it on. Since the media was informed and involved in the piece, if the rumor got out or became a big deal, then everybody would know about it. Although the thing never really took off, it was such a great concept. Almost everything InSite does is very conceptual. However, in 2005 they presented pretty standard exhibitions at the Tijuana and San Diego Museums of Art, which were a little more accessible – as far as that goes.
Anyway, I was twenty-three, it was the first big piece I had to write, and I remember being angry that the press people didn’t include us, because we’re a weekly.
Do you mean City Beat?
Yes. As far as the tiers of important publications go, weeklies are generally considered to fall somewhere near the bottom. We are the alt-punk kids that are just kind of snarky all the time. But good journalism goes on there. So, that was my second big experience with Tijuana. Then in 2006, or the end of 2005, there was “Strange New World.”
I think it was 2006.
I think so.
It was the largest known exhibition of Tijuana artists here. I was blown away by the show and ended up covering a few of the many artists that were involved in it. For instance, I talked to Bulbo, a group of younger kids in a media collective, which produced documentaries, radio and television shows, and a magazine. When I interviewed them, I was amazed at how people our age were doing such really amazing things. They were working and living together, and pooled all their money. I’ve always had a fantasy about living on a commune or in a collective, which just doesn’t happen on this side of the border. Everything is very independent here. You are expected to be successful on your own, because independence is one of the most valued characteristics of being an American.
It seems that way.
When I met that group, I was blown away by what they were doing. Another artist I interviewed for the piece I did on “Strange New World,” was Marcos Ramirez ERRE, a conceptual artist who is in his forties now. He hadn’t been working as an artist that long – but one of his most famous pieces, for InSite 1997 I believe, was a big Trojan horse, which was pushed across the border. It was very symbolic, and hilarious. He generally does very text-driven work. He can’t just paint a pretty painting, because he lives in a border town and there is lots of fucked up shit going on there.
At that time, I was also going through lots of personal transition, which included breaking up with my live-in boyfriend and looking for a place that I could afford. As a single woman going from a rent-sharing situation to not having that, I felt that I was at the age where I couldn’t go back to having a roommate. I mentioned this in passing to ERRE – that I was toying with the idea of moving to Tijuana – because it had the only affordable housing in the entire area. Ironically, or serendipitously perhaps, he told me the apartment on the floor below him was for rent. It all happened very quickly. Of course, when you tell people, like your parents or good friends, they think – are you fucking insane!
They think, you can’t possibly live in TJ!
Right. But, that’s how I operate. I’m a spontaneous person and don’t believe in fate, destiny, or god for that matter.
My sister is so completely the opposite that I feel like something happened in the womb – where she got all of the chemicals for being indecisive and planning ahead, where she just sort of gets stuck in places.
Do you mean that stuff happens to her?
Not exactly. For instance, she dated a guy for six years and knew she wanted to break up with him after three – but just couldn’t make that kind of decision. She went to five different colleges and she still doesn’t know what she wants to do with her life – which is fine – I love her and think she’s an interesting person for it. But, it seems that when I got to the womb, all of those genes were already gone. Like today – I almost bought a puppy . . . if they had just given it to me and let me take it home.
Did you go to the Humane Society?
I did. That place is insane. You have to get there right when it opens. They have lots of rules. For instance, I had to make up a landlord’s phone number – because they would have never have let me take a dog to Tijuana.
Anyway, in Tijuana one of my neighbors works for one of the museums here. Her husband is a fantastic architect. They are both creative and amazing. Besides being an amazing curator, she is also a painter – although I don’t think she has time to do her own work anymore. Miguel, the guy who owns the building, is also an architect and an artist that was featured in “Strange New World.” ERRE lives on the floor above, and there’s an L.A. artist who lives next to me.
So, you did kind of end up in an artist commune?
Yes – but, we don’t really operate that way. It’s more like angry neighbors that fight over parking all the time. [laughs] Nonetheless, it’s definitely inspirational. I recently had a chair show and my architect neighbor was in it.
I just took this top layer up a little bit back here, so you’ll be able to fluff it up a little easier and took a little weight out right here.
Exactly what I wanted and I didn’t even tell you – amazing!
Then I’m just going to do like a 1940s Veronica Lake thing that I’ve been wanting to try out. It will be an experiment for both of us.
OK. I put some gel and stuff in my hair.
That’s good for what we are doing, because I’ll need your hair to be pliable for this.
Shortly after moving to Tijuana, I met an artist by the name of Jorge Tellaeche. He’s my age, twenty-five. Actually, I just turned twenty-six.
Thursday was my birthday.
Happy belated birthday.
Thank you. So, I met Jorge. I’ve also worked with another woman who works at the museum that comes to Tijuana a lot. You’d be surprised. I didn’t lose many friends by moving there – I just don’t see them that much anymore. For example, the woman that I’m talking about – we weren’t really friends when we both lived in San Diego – but, since she goes to Tijuana on a regular basis – we became great friends through that.
[EMILY FIERER, Co-owner of Spacecraft Studio enters the gallery.]
Kinsee Morlan: I was just explaining the chair show. Emily Fierer and Chris Puzio, her husband, were in that show. I bought their chair and have it in my Tijuana apartment right now.
Emily Fierer: Is it too cold? It is steel after all. Have you actually sat in it?
I sat in it in my underwear the other day and was like – holy shit!
I could do a cover, but I usually just put a towel down on it.
I remember I sat on that chair a lot when I was pregnant.
How is the baby doing? Are you going to have another one?
I don’t think so. Esme’s probably it. She’s a lot. She’s five-and-a-half.
I bet she’s cool. I’ve never met her.
She’s really intense. She’s a brainiac and she hangs out with adults, mostly, so she’s become very savvy in the arts.
Is she in kindergarten?
Yes. She goes to an incredible school in Point Loma – it’s a charter school called Explorer. It’s a great fit for her!
What are you guys doing for the holidays – are you in town?
Yes. Today we are making two classic Polish dishes – pierogies and peaduk – because that is Chris’ Christmas tradition passed down from his grandfather and father. Even though we’re raising Esme as a Jew and we don’t celebrate Christmas, we do still keep some of Chris’ heritage alive through food.
Puzio is Polish?
Yes – I know – it sounds Italian, but it’s Polish. Some sort of Ellis Island-ization. So anyway, that’s an invitation to come by after you are done here – we’re at home hanging out cooking all afternoon.
I might stop by to meet your offspring.
That would be great. You met Henry, our bulldog, right?
Oh yeah, I like Henry. I was just saying that I almost got a puppy today. I showed up at the Humane Society at 11:30 a.m. They open at 11:00 a.m., and this little dog was already taken. I put a second hold on him. Hopefully, the first person will flake. Then I went to a mall to the east of that where they have a puppy store. Those things should be illegal. Since the dogs cost thousands of dollars, they offer financing – imagine financing a dog! I was so disgusted by the whole thing. Half of the dogs have kennel cough, and they have them sitting in a little glass cage, where they are passed off to millions of people who come in. They are bred for little girls who want to put them in their purses and dress them up – really sick stuff.
You know that’s your fantasy.
Right . . . totally. I do have to get a little dog, because that’s all my landlord will allow. Anyway, are you showing Brian Dick’s work in the gallery now? Did he do the photographs of masks? How is the show?
Yes, come see it. I’m just kind of . . .
Well, I guess it just doesn’t pull me in. He put up an artist statement that I found to be vulgar. Do you not realize that process isn’t the only thing going on in art – that you’ve got to be able to walk away from your work and leave it on a wall!?
We had Brian Dick in the first show we did – and, he has followers. We had someone show up before the show even opened and buy one of his photographs. I was like – really? Ok. I think it’s because he’s been a working artist in San Diego for so long. He is very fun. He did this car cozy a while ago. His videos are pretty crazy. Do you have a video installation?
Yes. I’ve heard from many people that he’s a prolific and respected artist. It may be that this work isn’t as powerful, although his photographs – which are video stills – are very colorful.
So, who is next – do you know?
Chris knows, but he won’t tell me.
We had a little schism there on whether to continue the gallery in 2008. Well, not really a schism, more a moment of paralysis, when we both faced the fact that we almost didn’t break even financially, and had to think hard about how we could keep doing this. I pulled away a bit because it was too overwhelming for me, on top of work and everything else, and Chris took the lead, organizing the first exhibits of 2008.
One thing that I’d like to do is let Esme show her work, or curate a show, but Chris thinks that’s completely inappropriate for a gallery like ours that is new and is trying to get established professionally.
Why do you want to do it?
Well, our daughter is about as steady at her art work as any artist I’ve seen. She really believes she is an artist and she works at it. She makes stuff every single day, often working in series, and when she feels she’s done with something, she stores it in her bin. Do you know about that whole weird thing that happened with that four-year-old in Manhattan recently, where her paintings were selling to dealers for very adult prices?
The documentary, “My Kid Could Paint That”?
Right. Crazy, wasn’t it – and yet, I get it. Little kids DO make amazing art because it is all instinct – all Id – no Superego. I consider Esme’s “work” to be a reflection of an innocent’s view of the world, and I’m fascinated by the view. I just think it would be worth putting it up and looking at – not only for us – but for other people. Chris just says no way – if we are going to be a legitimate gallery, then we don’t put up a five-year-old’s work.
Oh, come on.
He said, well maybe a private show would be ok. But I said that I don’t want just friends to see it. I would like to put it on the wall and look at it and see what kind of presence it has – and how thought provoking it might be in its own right. But that’s probably not going to happen.
You wouldn’t have to pitch it as, “our daughter the prodigy,” but instead – just come look.
Right. She’s just a kid and learning to use pictograms. Anyway, we do have some other people lined up – adults – but I’m really still looking for women artists.
We have a hard time finding them too. It always seems like an afterthought – which is bad because two of the three curators in my group are women.
There aren’t a lot of women artists here. I have a couple of friends who’ve stayed with it, but they don’t have enough work to fill a gallery. It’s alarming to me. Where are the women artists? ARE there women artists?
One of our artists has two kids and I literally had to go to her house and say – I will baby sit your kids, now go paint! That’s why she doesn’t work anymore, because she has two babies. The other artist totally flaked on us and didn’t produce any new work. She doesn’t have kids, but was having emotional problems.
Same thing. [laughs]
I’m not saying that it’s women’s emotions – but kids are absolutely a reason why women stop producing work.
Male artists who have kids seem to become more prolific. Maybe it’s the desire to leave the house and go somewhere quiet!
And make a lot of work!
Yup. Actually the women artists Chris knew at Cranbrook who have succeeded are already represented by galleries – so we can’t show them. And they are doing work that I love and it’s incredible. I’d love to show their work. Ironic.
Do you think its just San Diego, or all over?
I don’t know if it’s San Diego, particularly. In order to be an artist you have to have strong financial support, and women artists don’t tend to get supported by their mates, strangely enough. I’ve seen more women financially support male artists over the years.
That’s true. I’ve supported boyfriends that are artists. [laughs] Although I hate generalizing, it seems we are better care givers, more responsible, and, have these full-time jobs. I know male artists who go from woman to woman and get supported. They make their art, end up breaking up, and are like – my art is more important than you will ever be. I’ve had that line used on me. Once. [laughs] It’s probably not just here.
San Diego is sick with other problems in the arts, such as the lack of collectors. We certainly have enough fucking money in this place and nobody buys art. It’s ridiculous. The whole green movement is cool. Although it’s become super trendy right now, part of being green is understanding that you should buy locally. Hopefully, that will catch on – because even though people in La Jolla fill their houses with expensive art – they just don’t buy it here. People need to reach into their own community.
You own a gallery Emily. Does it rely on the artists?
In terms of sales?
The pieces we’ve sold have almost been like matchmaking. Each and every piece has had a real story behind finding the right buyer for it – especially the expensive pieces. Also a lot of the work is large and/or ugly – not ugly, but you know, not easily domesticated. You really have to find someone whose house will hold it. There just aren’t that many people. And there are a limited number of walls left in my parent’s house. [laughs] They’ve bought work now – and my brother, too. They’ve all bought sculptures from Chris. Chris and I always laugh and ask – does it count when you are married into the collector’s family? I guess it has to count in a way, or else we’re all doomed.
Women artists – I don’t know – I also don’t have women friends anymore, because I work in construction. I’ve just lost the network I used to have of interesting women.
There was Girl Power for a while and they were doing interesting stuff. But, ironically they were run by Bill Pierce, who is not female – if this conversation was off the record then I might say a few things . . . Anyway, Kelly Orange and Bridget Roundtree, I think is her last name. There are a few that do interesting shows. They mostly show at smaller venues like the Art of Framing. For instance, they had a show at a pet store recently. That’s the other problem – there are not enough spaces for people to show their work.
Work gets commodified in this strange way too. I still feel odd when I go into a clothing store and see paintings there. I try not to, but it’s a weird old school form of snobbery, where I’m thinking – this is not an art gallery! I look at the price of the artwork, versus the pair of jeans, and try to understand – if art is just a commodity like everything else, then I’ll decorate my home while I’m buying some clothes.
It is a commodity if you treat it that way. The last story I did was on Doug Simay, who runs the Art Academy downtown. I visited him and checked out his personal art collection. I was there for about five hours, because each piece was like – oh, this artist came from here, and back in 1977 he did this . . . Every piece had a story, and it was amazing to see his memory triggered by each one. He said in his interview that art can be a commodity – but for him, each piece is a story of a friend’s life, since he usually befriends the artists whose work he buys.
Are you having contact lens issues? I have saline solution at home.
It’s probably from all those dogs. I have kennel cough now.
Or kennel eye – you have incredible eyes. Is that your own color?
Thank you – yes – they are really red right now. I live in Mexico, and didn’t get to go home last night, so I am totally grubby right now, and am really sorry.
Oh yeah, I mind. Look what I’m wearing! A men’s military jumpsuit!
So, we scored a show at The Children’s Museum.
Really? Tell me about it.
Before they open, they are going to let us use the space to do whatever we want.
We’re stoked about it. It’s a beautiful building.
Is it? I am impressed! Do you know what you want to do?
We know the name and the concept of the show. We are in the process of finding artists. We get a few emails here and there, but we don’t have a website and are pretty underground – it’s kind of hard for us to find artists that we want to show.
Do you want to tell me the concept?
I’m not sure I can explain it yet.
We are going to use the area outside too, because they have that super cool park with the little mounds that look like breasts. So, we want to do some sort of light installation out there that involves LED clothing. We definitely want to do interactive, playful stuff, since it is at the Children’s Museum.
Sounds awesome. When will it be?
February. We are way behind schedule. We also got a call from a Baja developer. As you probably know, they are building like crazy down there still – but no one is buying anymore. They will probably pay us to do a show there, since they just want bodies and people to talk about it. They sent us a picture of the project, which is a beautiful beach front house with a fountain.
I just don’t know if we can get people to go down there yet. We did one show in Mexico, but no one came from the states. A lot of people came from Tijuana – but when they started asking if the prices were in pecos not dollars – I knew, financially, it was not going to be a success. [laughs]
I’m also getting ready to move – so I will be leaving the literal border, and going deeper down into an actual neighborhood.
Sarah: I’m just going to let your hair set right now.
Wow. That’s fancy.
Sarah: After it sets, we’ll comb it out – which will give it a wave.
At first, because I was a bit of a socialist, I thought – I’m not going to get a Sentri, I’m going to wait in line at the border like everyone else, since mostly Americans and rich people get a Sentri. Well, that went on for a year before I realized that I couldn’t do it anymore, because it took two hours everyday. I would listen to language tapes.
Are you fluent?
No, absolutely not. It really is a different language on the border compared to what they teach on the tapes. Mexican people that will be in the car with me will say – that’s not right, we don’t say that. I can get by, but can’t have an in-depth conversation with anybody. Anyway, now that I have Sentri, border crossing takes about twenty minutes, more or less. Lately, there are more problems with the system, because everybody is getting Sentri now.
Although the border is open twenty-four hours right now, you do give up certain personal freedoms. For example, they put a chip in your car and monitor your activity, from what I’ve been told. I don’t know how much truth there is to it, but when they were putting it in my car they said – now if you park in front of Ariano Felix’s house, we will know – and I’m thinking – thanks, I better stop hanging out with the Mexican mafia immediately.
What’s your place like?
It’s a shit hole. People fantasize about living there, like it’s some great idea. I say – are you really the right person? Can you handle not having running water, your electricity going out, and cockroaches and bugs everywhere? It’s a fucking third world country. I actually have – this is going to be gross [rolling up her pant leg] – flea bites from living in Tijuana. And I don’t own an animal! Because street sweeping doesn’t happen there, the fleas live in the dust. So, when you walk down the street, they jump on you, they are so fucking starved. You’ll look down and think, god dammit! It’s freaky. It’s a third world country!
But focusing back on the discussion about art – most creative people I know there are resourceful, inspirational, and intelligent. The people and networks are more old school, in that once you are in, it’s more of a community there.
I’d like to come visit and check it all out, one of these days. But now I have to run. Please stop by after you are finished here. Your hair looks great!
Thanks. I will.
[Emily leaves the gallery.]
Sarah: Do you think there is an arts center in this town?
I think that urban design is so fucked up here that there will never be an arts center . . . but that’s just my personal opinion. Maybe in Barrio Logan, but that’s going to take awhile. I mean – this is kind of an arts center. But you walk into all of these boutiques that seem to be getting into the art thing, and the galleries can’t afford to stay in North Park anymore. Gentrification is a tricky thing.
What we need is to have Woodbury, New School, UCSD, SDSU, and Nazarene somehow – because they are so alienated and everything is all spread out . . . if there could be satellite art programs someplace where they could all get more involved . . . even North Park, conceivably, could be the new center.
The city would love NTC to be the arts center, because there are all of these huge buildings that they don’t know what to do with, so they want to give them to art people – but it’s such a terrible location. It’s in Point Loma where there’s just never really been much of an art scene. It doesn’t have any urban edge to it. It’s like an art suburbia. For instance, Voz Alta is closing next month. Through eminent domain, City College is taking over the building that they are in – so the city suggested NTC to them. They are a Chicano/Chicana urban art gallery, and they’re thinking – can you see us in NTC? Their audience is not there, and they want to be close to their audience. I hope that NTC doesn’t become the new arts center. I mean, it’s good for dance if the dance people want to be there. We’ll see.
Look at this hair. Fancy.
If you could reinvent yourself, how might you do that?
Since I just turned twenty-six, I feel like I am still doing that. Although it may sound egotistical, I think we are who we are by choice. I had a good upbringing, so I wouldn’t erase any of that. Maybe I would have more hair – I mean, physically, I could name some things.
But why get into that?
I guess I’m ready for my “after” shot now . . .
EMILY FIERER, Co-owner of Spacecraft Studio
DECEMBER 29, 2007, 3:00 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: I can give you a haircut and style it afterwards, or just style it – it’s totally up to you. You like your hair kind of wild, right?
Emily Fierer: I do. I like long enough so I can put it up and it can fall down and do things.
What I do with people with curly hair is take the crown up and cut about an inch, so you almost have two layers – but, because you have curls, it doesn’t appear disconnected.
Are you a gallery owner and an artist?
I’m actually not an artist. But my husband, Chris Puzio, is an artist. I helped put him through art school, which I’m very proud of.
Where did he go to art school?
He attended Cranbrook Academy of Art outside of Detroit. We moved to Michigan together in 2000 from Boston, where we had been living for many years.
Did you meet in Boston?
We met in Boston and married. Then he said he really wanted to go to graduate school. The next thing you know, we moved to Detroit, which ended up being two of the best years for both of us. We lived right downtown, which seems astounding to people who don’t know Detroit.
I only know the city through my grandparents, who lived there.
As you probably know, there was this white flight in the 1960s – which literally meant that the city’s population was devastated since about 75% of the homeowners left the city.
Was it because car production was taken oversees?
Nope. Race conflict. What happened in Detroit, was a suburban ring formed around the inner city, which became extremely wealthy, due to the big three. By the 1960s, the center of the city had no money, no infrastructure, a lot of tensions between blacks and whites, and riots. People who left the city for the suburbs, literally abandoned their houses – they just closed their doors and left. The city has had abandoned property for thirty to forty years now. There are houses that look fully intact, until you notice that the roof is caved in. It’s surreal. Cranbrook, on the other hand, is located in one of the wealthiest areas in the country, called Bloomfield Hills – a spectacularly beautiful area.
When we got there, we realized that it is really quite habitable at the inner nucleus of the city – so, we decided to live there. Right downtown, we lived in this amazing high rise designed by Mies van der Rohe. It was one of the only places in the world we would have ever been able to live in an original van der Rohe building. In Chicago, for example, such buildings are luxury condos. We took advantage of the opportunity, since we are both architects, and are huge fans of his work. It was like living in Mecca – it was tremendous to live in a place that had been so well considered – a thoughtful and poetic piece of architecture, not just an apartment building!
Did you go to school for architecture in Boston?
I did. I went to Harvard for my Masters degree. Chris has an undergraduate degree from the Boston Architectural Center. Then he pursued a Masters degree at Cranbrook, where he sort of caught up to me, in terms of educational credentials.
But his program was so art-based, and mine so theory-based, that we ended up in completely different worlds, which has been very healthy for us – particularly since I had had such a bitter experience at Harvard, where I felt that my spirit was broken. Going to this other place [Cranbrook] that believed so completely in collaboration, where all the students were always crossing over the disciplinary lines – all of the things that Harvard didn’t believe in – was very freeing.
When we lived in downtown Detroit, Chris had a reverse commute. He would drive from the inner city all the way out to these crazy wealthy suburbs, where his beautiful academy was located, in lush landscape with amazing architecture . . . while I worked in a construction trailer downtown. The biggest project I worked on was the renovation of the Renaissance Center, which became the new headquarter for General Motors.
It was an amazing time to be there. For one thing, we were white living in a black majority city. That was a very unusual experience and made us aware of race and of racial pride in a way we hadn’t been before. We also had our daughter there, which was a kind of the cherry on top, until winter came and then we were desperate to get to warmth. Also, once she was here, we realized that we wanted to be to closer to family – which is why we relocated to San Diego.
Whose family is here?
Mine. I grew up in La Jolla, but escaped a bored and angry adolescence by going to Boston for college, and then staying there. I was gone from California for a total of twenty years.
I imagine that it might be hard to return to the place you’ve grown up.
Definitely. The old high school nightmares returned! [laughs] Seriously though, I think my transition was successful, because I had a six-month-old who needed me! I couldn’t worry too much about what happened on prom night with a baby to take care of. Chris and I also built a house together and opened our gallery.
THAT helped me feel like I returned “home” as a different person.
Did you and your husband know what you wanted to do when you started to design the house?
Well, actually yes. The time we spent living in the van der Rohe apartment gave us an opportunity to think about what we believed in and really valued – in terms of residential space. I think you can find a lot of van der Rohe inspirations in our house. But in many ways the house serves as a way for us to experiment with things, ideas, and materials. Since we were the builders as well as the designers, we were limited to what our skills and craft could accomplish. But the experimentation goes on! Every month we work on or change some aspect of the place. I’m quite sure it will never be “finished.”
It sounds like a living art piece.
It is – which is incredible. We are so lucky to have this.
How long did it take you to build?
Two years, start to finish.
Did you live in part of the space as it was being built?
No. Thank God. No doubt, that would have ended our marriage. Since it was a complete tear down and rebuild, the process was challenging enough without trying to camp on the jobsite! People seem to want to know if it was hard on our marriage. Of course it was! But I think it was probably better for us, since we are both architects, than for couples with limited or with no design or construction experience.
Where is it?
Just two blocks away, behind the North Park Theatre. It’s a compound that is kind of well-known at his point, which is fun. A lot of people in the neighborhood watched us build it, and they seemed to have developed an emotional relationship to the house. For example, people would go by on their daily walks and stop to say that they didn’t think we were going to make specific design decisions – or that they liked the direction we were heading . . . or didn’t! Many of the people in the neighborhood are now our friends.
It’s really been incredible to go through that experience of building our own house. It’s probably what every architect hopes to do at some point – and we did it in the very beginning of our careers, when we said that we were going to figure out how to build – not just design, but build – what we design.
When people ask me if I’m an artist, I always have to say no, but I think about making, building, and creating things everyday – it’s just not within the context of a fine arts medium. For instance, I am just realizing now, that to be an architect, you have to be a generalist. You have to know a lot about everything, like plumbing, air conditioning, water proofing – and you need to know about van der Rohe’s work and construction! And architects often don’t know crap about construction.
Anyway, about seven years ago I switched from architecture into construction management. I wanted to complete my architectural education and round out my professional skills. I was thinking that I would only be in construction for a couple of years – to put Chris through graduate school – but ended up staying. I now work on large commercial projects, not residential houses like ours. And yet, without my construction experience and contacts, I don’t think our house would have gone so well.
Has this been a difficult field to break into as a woman?
When I started there were very few women in the profession, and there still aren’t. I was able to make the transition – perhaps because of timing, and my personality. But it hasn’t been easy, that’s for sure!
Most contractors are very suspicious of architects, and don’t tend to hire them. When I started to work at Turner Construction, I spent the first few years there trying to hide my architectural background. Now I realize that it’s a source of strength. Being a woman in this profession has also been suspect, yet intriguing to people. There has also been a sort of cult of personality around it, once I’d established myself.
If I was ever to do an art project, it would probably involve something about this world – which I often feel is perfect food for satire. There are some fantastic stories about it that I would love to tell. Chris once said that I should write a Construction-English/American-English dictionary of the things that the guys say on job sites, because I can decode that form of speech to outsiders, especially architects. Poor architects who work for two years designing a project, then, during construction, come on site only once a week into a crazy, frantic, often hostile environment, where they are treated as idiots who don’t know anything!
I have recently become involved in Women in Architecture, a group that was recently started here through the local chapter of the American Institute of Architects, made up mostly of young women trying to break into the field and establish themselves as architects.
Is an architectural license required to join?
No. What’s nice is that it’s an open group. I realized when I joined the group, as one of the original members, is that I have all this construction experience that others may need.
You see yourself as a resource?
Yes. This has been fun. Since the members of the group are so receptive to knowledge of the jobsite and are eager to learn, we can have an honest exchange.
I can be myself with them more than I can be at work – which has been awesome. We meet once a month for different events. I love grassroots efforts and am excited to have the ability to say, we are women supporting each other, and not be ashamed of it.
I came of age when my mom was just getting into the Women’s Movement in the 1970s – when I was a young girl – and she gave me no choice but to become her model feminist. And I did in every way, because it was such a birthright for me – kind of like the Cool Aid I drank back then. Now that I am friends with women who are quite a bit younger than me at work – as an unofficial mentor to this twenty-something and thirty-something crowd – I realize that they don’t think about themselves in the same terms that I do, at all.
There’s this really interesting slippage that I have to let happen, in order to not close doors between us. If they want to call themselves “girls,” yet be very determined to be professionally successful and have a say in decisions, then I need to let them call themselves that – rather than harp on the fact that I think we are “women.” I’m really old school in that way. I’m like – please don’t call yourselves girls. And they’re like – whatever dude, it’s just a word.
I can’t deny that as language changes, culture changes with it – vice versa. It’s just that I was always the younger eager student among older people, and now I’m the older one. It’s good to kind of pass the baton.
What other sort of stuff comes up in your field?
I’m finding there are major differences between how men and women express and situate themselves professionally, in terms of outward habits. The classic example in construction is that the superintendent is invariably male. He is usually a big and strong frat boy out there telling the other boys what to do. He speaks of everything in the first person, like – I’m not going to let you fuck up my deadline . . . you are not going to do that to me.
In this environment, women tend to be the engineers, who occupy the more analytic and intellectual side of things. They work to feed information to the superintendent in order to get the job done correctly. They might say things like – well, we need to have a meeting and work on this together. They really try to share information about everything, and their decision making involves a more collaborative world view. None of them would think they own the entire project.
Since I see this over and over, what we end up talking a lot about is how to be authentic to yourself, and, also be effective. I think that the women engineering types are tremendously effective – because you don’t stay in construction if you don’t have the aptitude and a certain weird kind of macho love for being out there in the mud. They remain very female and very effective – but they just don’t seem to rise to the top, because they don’t have pissing contests. They do not speak the same language.
Although I recognize that this goes on, sometimes I’m not sure what to do with it. For instance, is it even feasible if these are foreign languages to each other? I know that I’ve made serious adjustments over the years, and can negotiate. I can now tell people to fuck off, or get out of my office. I can say a lot of things, and now they don’t laugh, because they know I am serious and I have power. I can also say a lot of things that I couldn’t when I was an architect, because I was scared and wanted people to like me.
Now, I am no longer driven by the need to have people like me. Although it’s a huge pleasure in my life to have these friendships and relationships and collaborations at work – ultimately, I’m not afraid to make somebody angry, because I realize anger is a transient emotion. The women that I’ve seen become most successful are the ones who have adopted a male pattern of speech. Some have been through the military, are gay or closeted, and seem to be able to speak in a similar manner to the straight men – where things become more goal than process oriented.
That’s what I find so interesting in running an art gallery – is how many artists seem obsessed with process, and speak about it so intrinsically – as opposed to something that gets buried. Truly, it’s the opposite end of the spectrum to the construction world.
Do you and your husband run the gallery?
Yes – as well Andy Ralph, who is phenomenal and been with us for three years. He is a steady force in the storm – one of these very quiet and talented people who can just go and basically do everything. He’s put up most of the exhibits. Some we curate with the artists, while others know exactly how they want things – but they’ll want someone to actually hang the pieces. Andy is great. His eye is right on. He helped my husband, Chris, build our house. They are building an addition for some friends now. He’s had his own shows as well.
Is there anyone that you want to show that you haven’t?
Not yet. We’ve just completed our first year of being open.
Thank you. In the first year, we had a lineup. I’m not totally sure what will happen next year. I was talking to Kinsee about this last weekend, if you remember . . . ?
Actually, I meant to tell you – there is one woman who was at Cranbrook the same time Chris was there. Her work is dazzling to me in a feminine way – wonderful work, on a lot of levels – formally and aesthetically beautiful and very delicate but layered.
She did almost an entire quilt out of cookie tins – I think they were vintage cookie tins – so they were enameled with these beautiful colors and patterns. She would cut out these filigreed flower shapes and then stack them and pin them together with this stainless steel pin through the middle. She would make these flower units and then aggregate them – and link them across and over – so they would make this field.
In graduate school, I studied with a professor who was very much into the idea of “the one and the many” – having a sense that the most profoundly satisfying kind of art was that which was made up of many aggregate units – where relationships between single units and the overall piece was always in tension – so, your eye went back and forth between one unit and the many, the one and the many. Her work absolutely was in that vein – just gorgeous! I’ve kind of been enamored of her work for several years.
What is her name?
Amy Haskins. I think she is still in Detroit. I’ve lost touch with her. I would die of happiness to have an Amy Haskins exhibit. You can tell by how happy I am talking about it. It’s very hard, because all of the people we showed in the last year were men – every single exhibit. There were no women to show that crossed our path. I’m sure they are out there – we just have to find them. We had all these guys, and the guys have other guy friends. I am hoping to stumble upon someone that will lead me to other women artists. Maybe in 2008 we’ll have some luck. I certainly am putting the word out.
What kind of feelers?
The Women in Architecture group is a good starting point, because architects always know artists. People at work know that we have a gallery, so they sometimes recommend that friends get in touch with us. My parents have been here since 1969, and they have a few friends who are working artists who are also in their sixties – women who have been steadily painting in their garages for thirty years. I think it would be fascinating to show them, and they’re not part of the celebrity scene. So, we’ll see. That might happen.
I suppose we could start looking at the graduating classes at the art schools, since we want to support emerging artists – but we want to make sure the artists are really committed to developing their craft. If we can bring work to an audience that is interested, that’s great. We’ve got a nice group of people that come every month to the gallery to see what we consider art each month. It’s profoundly satisfying.
Did you always know that you wanted to have a gallery?
No. It was haphazard in a way – after we got done with our house.
Our little compound is comprised of a house, a little separate kind of laundry room, and a separate free standing building that had been grandfathered in with a commercial use since the 1950s. When we bought the property, we knew that we could use that space commercially – although it made everything about buying the property more difficult, because getting insurance and a home loan on a mixed-use property was just horrible – so much so, we almost abandoned it.
But now we’re so glad we went through with it. Originally, we were hoping to have a small architectural practice together. As it turned out, after completing the house and moving in we were completely broke – big surprise – so I had to continue working to bring in a salary. Since then, we thought – we have all this space and don’t need all of it, so why don’t we have an art gallery for a little while. We have all of these friends who are working artists, and admire and support what they do, so we gave it a try. Ultimately, the gallery was this amazing byproduct of realizing we had this incredible space available – and, that’s really all you need.
It’s also been a good way to have people come by and see the house.
Has it attracted any clients?
Well, we have a lot people who would like us to be their designers or builders – but don’t have that kind of money. We tell them that we’re not going anywhere – to save their pennies and come back in ten years and we’ll build them a house. It’s very modest – we are not going after the La Jolla, or Del Mar crowd. There is some crossover, since I grew up in La Jolla – so people do come by who have money, or know people with money – but still, not many people want to custom build their own homes. It’s very unusual, and we respect that. In the meantime, we just have to figure out how to survive financially. As long as I’m working for the man, we are fine – I just don’t know how much longer I can bear it. [laughs]
As far as your haircut goes – you can see that you’ve got a little lift going on here. And I put some more layers in the back, so you won’t have to work so hard to get a poof back here, and some fullness.
Wonderful! How long have you been dong hair?
About a year now.
That’s it? I can’t believe it – you are so good! What sign are you?
I’m a Leo. What sign are you?
I thought so.
It’s the hair, right? The Lion’s mane. Could you give me some advice about what to do with how frizzy it is?
What I’m putting on your hair right now is really good. It’s lightweight and will be great on your hair. It also helps make it softer, which will make it look less frizzy.
Do you think I should do a leave-in hot oil treatment of some sort? Are you an olive oil fan?
Olive oil is great. If you have the time, you could use mayonnaise and avocado on your head.
Oh my God! Are you serious? Just blend it, and paste it on?
Definitely. Also, the less you touch curly hair, the less frizzy it will be. While styling curly hair, I rope it, which is sort of like giving you dreadlocks while it’s wet – it might look a little funny and tight, but as soon as it dries, you gently pull them apart into nicely formed curls
I tend to sleep on my hair when it’s wet. You have great hair. Do you always wear bangs?
It’s a recent thing for me. Besides being a style in and of itself, you don’t have to do much with your hair if you have bangs.
Is your gallery open today?
It’s open when we’re there, or when someone calls. Typically we only have it open during Ray at Night, which is when we have receptions. We don’t have people to keep it open all the time – which would be the next level.
One of the ideas of this piece was to see what people thought of the scene here, and whether they had any suggestions on how to improve it.
I have very little knowledge of how financially successful galleries function, but I suspect that they are probably structured completely differently than ours.
We’ve talked with all of our exhibiting artists, before, during, and after their shows – about what it means for them to exhibit at Spacecraft. I understand things very differently than when we first started. Initially, I thought that I would need to be some sort of Madame, and would really have to go and promote and sell the work.
Needless to say, the first few gallery openings were exhausting – they were exhilarating, but completely exhausting. I spoke to every single person who came through the door, to make them feel comfortable. We would make the sales, I would run and do the sales tax, and package the work for them – it was a really huge effort. Anyway, sales slowed down after the first couple of shows for whatever reason.
At that point, my husband suggested that I start talking to the artists to see what they expected from the shows. I learned that they were not expecting to sell their shows out, but instead they were coming to get their work together in once place – to see what it looked like, and have people look at it as a body of work. It’s became the opportunity that we were providing – to literally bring their work together – which, is often enough.
We also have the shows professionally photographed by Gary Conaughton, who has a studio right around the corner and does fantastic work. He shoots the shows and we are able to give the artists professional photos of their works after the show. Based on those images, some of the artists have gone on to get shows in Tokyo and London. They can send their work out as a body, and have it picked up by other galleries. This has been the empowering part. Even if I don’t sell work, showing it – in one way or another – moves it forward, and every artist we’ve shown has said so. The confidence, or the feedback they’ve received from people who saw their show, allowed them to continue or do another series or move their work in a different direction.
It’s very garage, our gallery – we’re not able to be open with regular hours, it’s not drop in, it’s not retail, people are not stopping in and making these impulse buys – but it’s a place where the artist can always bring friends and colleagues anytime. We give them a key for the month of their show. That’s just how we rock it right now. It’s the best we can do. If it was a retail store – and that’s the big difference – then we would need to be in the store trying to sell things everyday.
The gallery also has a very large sliding glass door in the front, which makes it a huge vitrine – where you can actually see a lot of the exhibit. The phone number and the artist’s name are there, and you can always look to see what’s in there.
It has a life of its own, especially at night. We’ve probably caused many near accidents on the corner of North Park Way and Grenada, because people slow down to look, thinking – what the hell?
For instance, we showed some ceramic pieces by Matt Wedel, a young artist who had just graduated from Cal State Long Beach. His sculptures were gigantic – single castings of babies, as toddler-aged boys – I can’t tell you how dramatic and strange they were as life-sized, big, chubby bambinos. People would stop abruptly to look through the window. It was great to be able to hear the skidding tires out on the street.
If you could talk with anyone in the art scene and pick their brain, who would it be?
I’d have to say someone it would be someone we already have access to – David Zapf. Dave ran his gallery in San Diego for over twenty years. He was probably the most successful gallerist and placed the most work. He has been tremendously generous to us – through affection and probably the belief that friendly competition is a good thing. Without him, we wouldn’t be anywhere near where we are now; he taught us how to do a press release, he told us who to send them to. He has brought people to the gallery and helped us establish some of our long term friends and monthly regulars. He comes to our shows and talks with us about them. He’s such a love. He’s just been amazing. We’ve had this nice friendship develop, since he’s a landscape architect as well – where we’ve just hung out, and looked and talked about plants, and given each other cuttings.
I’ll come home from work and he’ll be outside with my husband and they’ll be staring at a succulent and looking at the leaves or flowers together and just be enjoying the beauty of that thing growing on the side of the house, or the studio. He’s just been amazing, so I already have my hero.
We’re really fortunate and enjoy what we have. I feel like we are teenagers on the scene. We don’t know what we don’t know – we are just doing things by instinct and seeing what feels right. Next year it will be different, since we are planning on having a benefit, where all of the artists we’ve shown will bring work that will sell for some nominal amount – for people who have been coming to our exhibitions wanting to buy, but unable to afford larger pieces so far.
I don’t want to dry your hair too much or it will get frizzy.
It’s great, totally great. I usually neglect my hair.
Anyway, I’m kind of excited about doing a benefit, because it will be a group show.
When will it be?
In the Spring – we’ll try to recoup some of our losses from last year and set up an operating budget. We are willing to take a loss for a couple of years – but beyond that, we can’t. It will be fun to do a group show, because then we’ll have twelve or fifteen artists, with their work all together. We’ll try to structure it so there are works on paper or something – so there’s some commonality within a wildly divergent show. It will also be great – because all the people who come every month that haven’t been able to afford work – will be able to go home with a piece.
Do you know who you’ll include?
Well, we will have Andy Ralph, who just showed; and Dave Adey – a tremendous artist, who is very much going places; Jeremy Gerke, who is a local ceramic artist; Matt Weidel with the large ceramic babies; and Christian Tedeschi, who exhibited with us fairly early on and had a very good review in the San Diego Union Tribune of his work. He takes urban cast offs – like shopping carts – and makes art of them. He did a whole series on crushed shopping carts that read as two-dimensional works – almost like line drawings from the baskets when they were crushed. He also took the plastic ones and blow-torched them – which, on the one hand, seem post-apocalyptic in its emptiness and destruction – but, on the other hand, are so animated because of the process, that they ended up looking very animal-like. It was an incredible exhibit. We actually own one of his pieces. It’s in our living room and I look at it every day and just smile. People walk in the house and ask – what the hell is that? We say that it is a piece of art.
The show will be pretty rock and rock, as my five-year-old likes to say.
What do you think of your haircut?
Great! You are absolutely fabulous! What happens after today? Do you have more appointments? Have you done haircuts or mostly styles – anything radical?
I cut a woman’s hair off during Ray at Night for Locks of Love. I don’t think she expected the event to turn into such an enormous production. The place was packed, and everyone started clapping and chanting – she was shaking in the chair after I made the first and only cut and had to leave the gallery. I really wanted to clean it up, but she needed to stop. She ended up cropping the rest of it off the next day, I think.
Sounds eerily like a Britney moment.
It was quite dramatic – although not so much on my account. It also felt poetic too.
Well, rock on. Thank you so much!
LEA CAUGHLAN, Co-owner of The Rubber Rose
DECEMBER 29, 2007, 4:00 P.M.
[EMILY FIERER, Co-owner of Spacecraft Studio, remains in the gallery after her haircut and talks with Lea Caughlan while she has her hair done.]
ANDREA MILLER, Stylist: Are you ready to get started Lea?
LEA CAUGHLAN: Yes. After this I will play the stylist and cut Carly’s hair when we through, if you watch the store so she can come over here to get her hair done.
Emily Fierer: I have a question for you Lea – now that you have the gallery, do you educate yourselves about the contemporary art scene in order to be able to talk about work with people who come to see the shows? Do you read “Art in America” and all that?
Lea: We have a curator for the gallery.
Oh! I didn’t know that.
We just don’t have the time. We thought we would. Carly has her Masters of Arts in photography and I studied art history. So, to some extent, we each have a background in the arts, but it is limited.
Are your backgrounds related to the kind of work that you’re showing?
Andrea: Yes, how does that work?
Yes and no. Essentially what we did when we brought Shar Ray in, our previous curator who has been in the arts scene for a long time putting together and all kinds of things, was let her run with it – but asked that the gallery somehow relate to the sensibility of the store, and push the envelope in terms of fairly radical and feminist and politics. We basically said – if you can find that kind of work, then we are down with it. She wanted to build a gallery for us to bring people to, and then go wherever we wanted with it. Shar brought key artists into the gallery and presented really great shows, and built from that.
Being the curator allowed her to make the time to have connections with people. However, since Shar recently moved to L.A., we just brought in a new curator, Rebeca Rodriquez. Her mother has run Centro Cultural de la Raza and organized shows there for fifteen years or so. Rebeca grew up archiving art. She’s been in the art scene forever, and is also an artist. We know her through our shared activism and she totally understands our politics.
For example, I think 2008 is already booked. I am excited by what Shar did for us, which was to create a name within a fairly hip culture, and what Rebeca will do, which will be taking that name and adding our politics to push it in the direction that we wish to take it.
Andrea: Do either of you think that the only way to survive financially is to have another part of your businesses linked to or supporting the gallery?
I don’t know that much about galleries, but from what I understand, there don’t seem to be that many buyers.
Andrea: Since you have an other means of income Emily, is the gallery more of a hobby?
Well, I don’t call it a hobby – that doesn’t sound serious enough – but it is a side project. Chris and I both give our central time and energy to our day jobs. But it is a passion – the gallery is.
Andrea: Do you use the gallery for things other than art?
Yes. We have a small office for our own architecture and construction projects that is located in a tiny room within the gallery. We are just about breaking even on the gallery, financially, nothing more than that. I guess in that way our gallery is like yours [the Rubber Rose’s gallery] – an extension of the bigger package for us, not a way to make money. It is our way to be involved with the arts, to keep our brains active, to meet really great people, and support those who are working as full-time artists. We don’t really trade in art as a commodity. We’re not playing that game, and it seems, neither are you.
Do you mean in the sense that you can’t purchase a lot of your installation exhibitions?
Actually, they are all for sale, all the art we show is for sale – but a lot of the stuff is priced in the thousands of dollars, so not many people are buying work. It depends on who the artists are. But generally, people don’t seem to spend money on art here. Just on status cars and surgery. [laughs] Art is not part of the San Diego culture.
– which is so confusing to me!
Andrea: Don’t you think that some people are buying – I mean, what kind of art are they buying? Are they going downtown where work easily goes for five thousand dollars? How are those galleries staying open?
I don’t know what they are buying. Neither Chris nor I are very sales-savvy or “connected,” plus we both work full-time outside of the gallery. So, we haven’t been able to figure out the selling aspect of the thing. Our focus is on finding young artists, supporting them and giving them a place to show. We become critically involved with their work. We meet, develop these long-term relationships, have these conversations about the show, and beyond. That’s what we are doing now. We can’t really do anything more than that.
That is amazing though! To take away the financial aspect – you are simply nurturing the artist for the sake of the art itself – I think if we worked together as galleries we could do that more often! I want to do so much more with the street as a whole. We have this Ray at Night committee for the art walk here where everyone meets – but it has been really painful and time consuming and . . . you know how meetings can be.
Really? Sounds brutal. [laughs]
You should attend though! Don’t let me scare you, because I really want to do things with the group! It would be nice to develop something, like TNT that the Museum of Contemporary Art does – which is amazing. It’s a huge event. Ray at Night has been happening for so many years according to a particular formula. I realize that we are new, and your gallery is new – but we have the biggest gallery on the block and people still don’t see us as a gallery – so, I want to do something about it.
When do you meet? Wasn’t Larry Stein from Ray Street Print and Frame heading that up, and isn’t he leaving?
We had a little voting session to see who was going to run the committee, and everyone was like – Lea should run it, and I was like – how about if I am somewhat in charge, but Larry is really in charge? Larry was the President and I was the Vice President – but now he is leaving.
Yes. He’s leaving and it upsets me. Although I realize that his space isn’t really a full-blown gallery, what he does has been an important part of what galleries need in order to function, because whether your are buying or selling art, it often needs to be framed – as a part of the entire process. Larry brought a level head to the group, which has been really nice. I would really like you to come to the meetings. If the galleries work collectively then we can tackle larger projects collectively.
Many of us, obviously, have second businesses. This space, Four Walls is a gallery with architects working in the back. We are a gallery with a storefront. Gustav is a gallery with a wood working workshop in back. Most of us are working two separate gigs. Seeing the area as a place to buy important work rather than just decoration, the fact that it’s good value in terms of the cost, and significant because it’s new – I think the crowd at Ray at Night already does a lot of that.
Yet, none of us can afford a full-page ad in San Diego Magazine during the Arts & Culture Issue, because of the four thousand dollar expense. What if we had an advertising budget? What if we could do all these amazing things together as a group – and promote each other? The other issue is that art is not purely a commodity. As a result, sometimes we share artists. For example, I am showing an artist who just showed a couple of months ago around the corner. Because I have a different gallery, and the work is being presented in a different setting, I might be able to sell the work differently.
Well, that’s the other thing – regarding your feminism – I definitely want in on that and have been decrying the fact that we have only shown men so far. I don’t know many women artists, but I’m looking for them. After all, I went to a women’s college! Where are all my creative women friends? What are they doing now? – they’re not trying to support themselves as artists anymore. I somehow need to find the women that are.
I don’t believe that the art community, if you could call it that, supports women artists.
Absolutely. I agree.
So often when women are artists, their work is interpreted as a hobby that the woman does – whereas when men are artists, it seen as their passion or their true work. Perhaps this has to do with the fact that less women are represented as artists in serious galleries and, therefore, need to keep their day job to support their art work. So, it is then interpreted as a hobby, while men are given prime gallery spots where work sells for a high amount and they are able to dedicate themselves to their art wholly. God it’s a depressing cycle.
Yes! It’s fascinating to me. I was telling Kinsee Morlan from City Beat the other day that I know a lot of women who support husbands and boyfriends who are full-time artists – and I am certainly in that club. She agreed and noted that you’d think it would be the other way around, since men with their fatter paychecks are able to keep wives busy in their studios. But it’s not that way.
I wonder if that situation, in-itself, is what strong women with a feminist perspective are rebelling against anyway – which makes me wonder if this is something that is self-imposed?
Andrea: I agree. I could never sit back and have someone take care of me.
I wonder then if this isn’t a double-edged sword because we wouldn’t let that happen – we wouldn’t “let ourselves be taken care of” – yet this is exactly what we do for others.
There is something in that dynamic too that could enter into the way we present work. For instance, Chris and I went to Boston recently where he was invited by his alma matter to give a talk about the work he’s done as an architect since leaving undergraduate school. I really had to take a deep breath before sitting down to watch the presentation – because it’s HIS work, although I’ve supported it in every way, and collaborated on almost all of it. Anyway, instead of insisting that women never get credit for the work, I acknowledged – to myself – that I’ve chosen to be the pragmatist, earn the money, and take care of the family – so he could do this – and, that his work has legitimacy as HIS work. I’ve contributed to it – but that’s a personal interaction – so, it’s no longer political in a big feminist moment kind of way.
I had sort of been beating myself against the wall on this issue for the last twenty years – saying that women need to be heard and acknowledged. So, here I was saying that I am going to let my husband stand up and show people all of the amazing things he’s done, and enjoy their appreciation of his talent.
However, I did ask him to let these students know somehow that he doesn’t earn a living doing this work – because it is a really useful and honest thing to share with them. He was able to say so in a very quiet way – I mean, he didn’t come out and announce it, because he was basking in the glory of how fabulous all of his slides looked – although that must have been uncomfortable for him at a certain level. No one, especially not men, like to admit that they can’t support themselves doing the thing they are most talented at. I just think people need to know that art is not a primary profession, unless you are a star, or live with someone who earns the bread.
Andrea: You probably have to promote yourself like a rock star too to get to the level we’re talking about. But, a lot of artists are not egotistical at all.
Oh dear. I think my “five minutes” with you guys has run over, so I’d better split. But I really want to do stuff together. I’m on board now. I’ve been hanging back – but no longer. When is the group meeting next?
It’s on the calendar. Do you have my email? Go to my website.
Yes, I know your website. Just yesterday I made myself laugh out loud at work. I wanted to show somebody the Plastic God exhibition at your gallery – so, I pulled up your website and I thought – this is great, I will finally get busted at work because I’m looking at the Rubber Rose’s website during work hours – especially because the guys in construction are always looking at porn at work. So, I’m imagining hearing – you were looking at an erotic, feminist sexuality boutique website – you’re fired!
I actually had someone the other day say that it’s nice that I get to redecorate all of the time. My response was that it’s an art gallery – what do you mean, redecorate – because it’s connected physically to part of the store, it’s really not an art gallery?
Your gallery is pretty distinct from the store and it’s been very inspiring to me. I’ve really loved every show so far. Chris and I bought a few artworks the other day, which we are excited about.
You did? – Oh, that’s right! I saw that . . . one of the Plastic God pieces?
Yes, we bought the Beatles series from Yellow Submarine, for our daughter’s room. The series is super colorful – a perfect kind of delicious little morsel. Well, rock on. See you soon.
[Emily leaves the gallery.]
Andrea: Do you know about Shepard Fairey’s work? He’s a good example of someone who made it through his art.
Lea: The whole “Obey” thing seems like an incredibly successful marketing ploy – it’s phenomenal.
Isn’t that what he wanted – to be a phenomenon? The funny part is that every time he comes down here he’s getting arrested. I don’t find graffiti offensive if it’s done right – meaning, except when people are writing their names on small mom and pop businesses. I don’t mind if people put up posters and say something interesting.
I totally believe in public art.
Tagging, however, is in a different category.
Our first show featured work by Nico and Adam Hawthorne, and all the graffiti kids.
After that show, didn’t you get all that crap on your neighbors businesses? . . . Although I guess it could happen any time – look around the neighborhood.
Coming from the activism that we used to do, we’d put posters up all the time.
Posters are different, because you can take them down. Not like when somebody spray paints or scratches into your window.
In San Diego, the painting of the electrical boxes around town is an interesting sanctioned form of public art. My point is, that it’s important to see public art. I would love to do an all-girl graffiti show.
I think the piece recently shown at Disconnected was done by Nico and Adam, and they worked on it together. Although I like Nico’s work, I was conflicted about having a show with a title like “Sluts.” I would really like to understand his rationale, but he won’t talk to me about it. He was supposed to have a solo show at our gallery, but I couldn’t tell if the artist’s use of the term was supposed to be offensive.
I remember seeing the work all over town and remember thinking that I kind of liked it initially. Since the Rubber Rose combines lots of strands of different politics, I personally like the re-appropriation of words. Because I am totally a self-identified slut, for example, when I met Nico I wanted to know more. I think he said that it is about certain types of girls, but the conceptual aspect of his explanation seemed too broad. I remember thinking – certain types of girls – isn’t this stereotyping? Since we are so invested in making political statements and creating change, dialogue is absolutely crucial. I believe that you have to be able to stand up and say why you are doing something and saying what you do.
Are you saying that the artist could not adequately describe their actions or artwork?
Right. As a result, we didn’t have the show.
No. I didn’t want to show it.
Was he upset by that?
I have no idea – there was absolutely no communication from him about it to me.
Did he come to Adam Hawthorne’s show?
Yes. He came to the VIP night. Which is another thing – we have the VIP nights solely for the artists, so their family, friends, and other people can hang out in a private party. Having the event be a party, that goes from gallery to gallery without the pressure of deciding whether or not you like each artist’s work, or want to take it home with you – along the lines of TNT, where the museum becomes a party and a big event – makes sense.
What is that?
TNT, or “Thursday Night Thing” at Museum of Contemporary Art downtown, is essentially an event when the museum remains open during the evening, and there are DJs, drinks and food. Events like these are important, because if you don’t have a culture that supports the arts, then it’s purely financially based. But is it really all about money? In other words – do we only get to appreciate art if we can afford it?
For instance, I may not be able to afford to buy five thousand dollar pieces of art, but I’m sure as hell going to go to an art show where it may be featured – and, it better be fun. And, I better not feel that if I’m not buying something, that I’m not welcome. Sometimes I think the feeling on this street is – if they’re not ready to buy something, what are the crowds doing here? Aren’t they are hanging out, looking at work, and enjoying it – since that’s one of the things art is meant for.
Maybe that’s why people do prints, because if you can’t afford the original, maybe you can buy a print. You get to enjoy it, even if it’s not “the original.”
Well, a lot of people buy stuff for their walls at IKEA – which I don’t understand, since you can sometimes buy prints in a gallery for nearly the same price. Is it because that way of shopping is easier and more accessible?
Even though you have curators, don’t you kind of filter through proposals and artwork?
In this case, when I saw the list of the upcoming shows I said that I was not having a show called “Sluts” unless the artist can tell me that the exhibition is about empowering women to be sexually promiscuous, and freeing ourselves. But, that’s not what the artist said, and, the work wasn’t about that. Anyway, since the store pays the gallery’s rent, we want to focus more on the store at this point.
Have you noticed that with every show things get a little better?
It is different for every artist.
Do you think it matters how work is promoted?
It totally matters how a show is promoted. Right now all we do is flyers and sometimes a press release that makes it into magazines. Rebeca, the new curator really wants to do group advertisements and have all of the participants at Ray at Night act as a collective to produce a book together or something.
Throughout the year there are arts and culture issues of different magazines. In collaboration, especially here for example, it seems that the architects might know about new developments coming up, or know of clients who will be looking for specific kinds of work – so we could match them to the specific galleries that carry that work. We could also sell each other’s stuff as a collective.
It doesn’t seem that competitive here. It seems like all of you are friends and that the work in each gallery is pretty different.
Most of the time, we are so busy doing things trying to make money to survive that we end up not doing those things that could collectively help us prosper while working for the betterment of the entire block, neighborhood, city, and the community. There happens to be a large collection of galleries, all in this one little spot. If we worked together, we could really succeed and accomplish something new. Specifically, with the store, we are so much about community, building things, and surviving without using the capitalist model all the time. Maybe people grasp this, but don’t want to take the time to do it – I’m not sure.
Do you think San Diego has a weird art scene because so many people aren’t really from here – and those that do move here are more transient, or come to live near the beach?
I remember reading an article about San Diego being a city in limbo, where people are coming and going – which has always seemed that way to me – due to the military presence, and now because of how expensive it is to live here.
When I first moved here, I felt like I was on vacation for a while.
Take a look at your bangs. They go both ways now. What time are you open until tonight?
Valentine’s Day is coming up. That should be a big draw for the store.
We are going to do some sort of workshop in the gallery – a Blow Job Workshop, or something. No – I think we are going to do Self-Loving 101. I think I’m going to make a flyer that says – Fuck Valentine’s Day – and in between “fuck” and “valentine’s,” it will say, “On” – annoucing a workshop to work out all of the kinks, with something like – “Getting to all of the O’s without the X’s.” [chuckles]
That’s so good. [laughing]
I think it’s really interesting that we have so many events in the gallery – even though that one guy said – oh, you get to redecorate every month. A large group of people who would never come to art openings, nor participate in the arts community, actually gets involved because the event that they are going to has art on the walls. I kind of try to point out every single time – here’s this artist, and their bio, which I think makes it more accessible. Some people don’t walk into galleries because they feel they are inaccessible. Obviously, in a big room that is solely dedicated to showing art, the overhead is probably incredibly expensive.
On the other hand, I think the general public doesn’t understand that many of the galleries in this neighborhood have back offices where people are doing architecture, or maybe the exhibition space is attached to a store that supports it.
I am going across the street now to watch your store, so you can cut your business partner, Carly’s hair – so, I’ll send her over. What do you think of your haircut? Do you like it? Is it big enough for you?
Awesome. I love it.
CARLY DELSO-SAAVEDRA, Co-owner of The Rubber Rose
DECEMBER 29, 2007, 5:00 P.M.
[LEA CAUGHLAN, Co-owner of the Rubber Rose, cuts Carly’s hair.]
Lea Caughlan: I actually get to cut your hair somewhere other than our store for a change!
Carly Delso-Saavedra: And yet, in another equally appropriate place. We just need a masseuse in here and we’ll be good! Can you make my bangs fuller this time?
I was going to give you bangs all the way across.
Oh! Super interesting – Emily from Spacecraft was in here and got her hair cut and styled, and it was all in place and curled. I was like – it looks so good, and she was like – uh huh, uh huh. I said, you are going to go home and mess it up and pile it on top of your head again, aren’t you? – which is ok – it’s your signature, your style. She said – thanks for making me feel ok about that. It’s like this giant mop on top of her head, which is awesome. It was actually really cool to have her in here. I was being woeful about Larry leaving and people leaving the street and that the Ray at Night meetings are going to be me and you sitting in the gallery asking – So, Carly, what do you want to do next month?
Well – it will be you, me, and Marjorie . . . we need more folks involved . . . I can’t remember his name – from Spacecraft too – he said after attending one meeting that he wasn’t coming back.
That’s right. They were at that meeting at Marjorie’s when Elliott was trying to explain that if we all had interns, things could work better . . . and I said – yeah, that’s an amazing idea. That meeting was really long and tedious and everyone was very frustrated by the end of it.
People were just spinning their wheels the entire meeting.
Totally! I told Emily that – although it’s really painful, please just come, because I feel we can really accomplish something. Hopefully she’ll be more involved. She specifically asked if you and I educate ourselves about contemporary art, since we have an art gallery – and I’m, like um . . .
Not so much. We’re more like – oh that’s pretty!
I think that we do know what we’re doing. I think expanding the association will be good. Even though I was adamantly against it at first, because I liked the idea of it being small – right now it’s so small now that I don’t know what to do.
I think it has gone beyond Ray Street and the galleries too. Our particular strengths are our ability to bring in cultural events, and organizing in order to make sure people know where we are.
Nonetheless, I feel like we have these meetings where I voice my opinion and ask – why can’t Ray at Night just be a party. Everyone seems freaked out that people may not buy stuff during the event. But if everyone has their own openings, couldn’t they essentially sell art at their private receptions anyway?
Like reserving the openings for serious buyers and collectors?
It seems that the people who are coming to Ray at Night, and drinking all the wine, are probably not buying anything anyway. What if you’re not going to buy, or can’t afford to – can’t you still look at and appreciate the work anyway? It’s frustrating.
I feel that, beyond the purchase of artwork, people are talking about these galleries and spaces and coming back more often, outside of the once-a-month event that happens on the street – which is important.
We can’t really have a meeting until Rebeca, our curator, is back in town. But I’d like to talk to her about interns.
Interns for the art gallery?
Interns for the whole street – for everybody – all of us.
Hmm . . . to see if she’s interested?
Interested in finding somebody, or in working together as a group. For instance, how do we all do this together and figure out how to handle interns – how do we actually get people? I would like to see what she thinks about it.
I think she’d be amazing – as someone to work with Ray Street.
Do you think she has the time for that?
I don’t know. If it’s a paid position, then maybe she could step back on whatever else she is doing.
The intern positions wouldn’t be paid, and they would be filled by art students. I think it would just bring in a different element . . . but yes, she would be great.
So, my mom called the other day to tell me that she had just watched a documentary called “Red without Blue,” about two twin boys growing up. One of them was more gay-ish and gets made fun of at school, but the other brother gets a lot of anti-gay aggression too. As they get older something happens. It turns out, that the brother who was gay, later identifies as transgender, and the brother that wasn’t gay-identified ends up coming out. One of the brothers becomes an amazing artist. It’s the story of what they went through, as well as an examination of different arguments – that sexuality is either determined at birth – or the result of socialization. It sounded interesting. The artist’s work deals with some of things they would do as children, like jumping rope together, which they would go to competitions for. For example, in some of the art pieces, the artist put paint on the rope and actually jumps rope to paint the canvas.
I was going to write Rebeca and see whether November might work to show this work.
Where are they located?
Somewhere in the Mid-west I think, but I’m not sure.
I’d like to bring “Holding Our Own” back for a full month, because, by November, they will probably have all new photographs. We could also just keep the artwork local and really highlight our local transgender community.
Ok. I was just thinking – since this documentary is coming out right now – it might garner more than just local attention, and it might be interesting to take a hold of that somehow. So, is that a no?
I think it’s definitely worth checking it out.
Because his artwork doesn’t immediately deal with gender – since it’s not that obvious, until you look at several pieces – you start to see how everything is intertwined. There are a lot of self-portraits, and images of his now sister, which is also his twin. The title, “Red without Blue” refers to one of the brothers having always been dressed in red, while the other was always dressed in blue.
I’d like for something like for November – to reflect the local faces within the community – because I think it’s a time to be much more confrontational about this issue. If the work can stand alone as great art without any gender-specific content, then this kind of show could happen any month throughout the year.
That way, too, we are not pigeon-holing the artist’s work, or saying that trans-gendered folk can only show at The Rubber Rose in November. It’s equally about representation in our space for the transgender community, but it’s also that we have an opportunity in our space to get people thinking, and rethinking gender and gender identity. If it’s really subtle, you can potentially walk in and out without the work affecting you if it makes no impression on you. I want it to have an affect.
The show would also be held in honor of Transgender Day of Remembrance – since people die over this issue. For example, people freaked out over Kael’s work – thinking what is “IT”? I really hope that work lingers and that people are rethinking things as a result of showing that work.
For March this year, I was thinking of mixing tee shirts from the Clothesline Project, in with local artists who are doing something about survival and doing a cross-cultural and cross-border, women against violence piece.
That would be great – although the Clothesline Project, in itself, is so amazing.
Yes, but again I don’t want people to expect that we do a certain thing every March. It’s a lot to take in, with the four tiers of tee shirts – you come in, are totally overwhelmed, and then walk out. Even last year, I wanted to mix it up with pieces that sit on the wall as well.
Really? Mixing it up would be interesting . . .
For this year, I’d like to mix in what’s going on locally, or try contacting the artists from last year that are doing work around healing, survival, and recovery. We can have the impact of the tee shirts – which are about the moment – but also have work by people who have survived, grown stronger, and are now creating from the experience. Since the tee shirts are kind of like a punch in the stomach – it would be nice to have something to counterbalance the devastation.
It is a punch in the stomach. I like the way you said that. I like the idea of having survivors, who are also creating – because I think a lot of the time the art that people do is the only thing that saves them in many ways. I mean, the whole basis of this body of work is being able to create a culture of safety in order to explore other avenues that make you feel empowered – so you can continue your life and not be stuck in that space.
Oh! Speaking of March – I really wanted the involvement and participation of Shakti Rising. I got all the way up to almost the level of the board, regarding a reception. Everybody was willing to work with us up until that point. However, at the board and management level there are people who drag their feet because we are what we are – since it raises the question of whether donors might be happy with that. Although there was never an actual conversation on that level, we were never formally turned down. But, as soon as I met some of the higher ups – and was introduced as an owner of a sexuality boutique – I could just see in their faces that they were shutting down.
Really – when you were doing the project last March?
I was trying to get them in for Mother and Daughter Tea Time. I still really want that to happen. If they can come in and do two hours of the workshop, that would be amazing. Then we could provide people with another resource in the community – in addition to what The Rubber Rose provides. Anyway, I felt they were dragging their feet and didn’t want to directly say – we love you, but we just can’t work with you.
When we were talking to them, we were still only about five or six months old. But, I think we are going to get that kind of reception from every non-profit we ever talk to, since they are at the beck and call of their donors. On top of that, when state and federal money is attached, organizations aren’t that friendly to anything that has to do with sex.
This is certainly why The Center doesn’t work with us. Organizations see us as the equivalent to The Crypt and F Street – and maybe on a personal level everyone supports each other on this issue, especially those in the Hillcrest area. Although people are very friendly for the most part – starting a formal relationship with a porn shack is really risky for non-profits.
By the way – do you remember the first piece of art you ever bought?
Umm . . . I can’t remember – and you?
With friends who are artists, we just kind of give each other work. Oh – there are these two hand-carved tables that I bought in El Salvador, when I was sixteen or seventeen.
Really? What were you doing there?
I went with a human rights organization, did some translation for them, as well as a lot of documentary photography. The picture of the gorilla fighter – the little boy with a gun – is from that trip. I bought two tables there, which are beautiful. So long as the cats aren’t jumping on them, they’ll remain intact.
Do you still have them?
Yes. Right now they are packed away in the garage. I haven’t been able to set them up in the house for the last ten years because of my cats, which seem obsessed with them, and have to jump all over them until they collapse. They have hinges which can be undone so you can take them apart, and little wedges that match up with the top of the legs to the underside of the table – so, they tip pretty easily. Between the cats and Janet, nice things get destroyed in the house – which is why we haven’t set them up. I would definitely qualify them as my first pieces of art.
I’m trying to think about what I’ve bought, or the pieces that I’ve been given. I usually can’t afford too much.
But you are surrounded by it – that’s amazing!
I’ve always been surrounded by amazing artists that just give me things. This is going to drive me insane, because I don’t know what the first piece I actually paid for was . . .
Maybe it only happened this year – like buying Spencer Little’s work?
Yes, maybe. I bought Jennifer Jackman’s pieces that we had in our gallery, and I’ve bought work from Spencer.
That’s been cool – collecting work of the people that have been shown. I’ve been thinking – maybe for our tenth anniversary, we could commission a couple of the artists to do portraits of the two of us in all of the different mediums that have come through the space.
That would be fun . . . Our tenth anniversary?
I was also thinking about going to New York for the tenth anniversary. We’ve talked about it for years.
Oh! Your and Janet’s ten-year anniversary! I was like – that’s awesome . . . in nine years The Rubber Rose will be . . .
Oh, my god – we’ll have so much artwork in forty years that we’ll be fighting over it! We’ll have to get a rotating system going to be able to look at it. The toughest part will be deciding who will show the work next.
I like the relationships that we’ve had with all the different artists who have come through our space. Because we are not the people they have to deal with directly, we get this special treatment, like coming to a VIP night and getting to meet them while they are showing in our gallery.
I really love just hanging out with them while they set up the work. I want to do that for every artist – to sit and pick their brain when I meet them. Since it’s usually the first contact either one of us has with the artists, it helps us in representing the work when Rebeca’s not there. It’s important to be able to sit around and blab. So, that’s been really cool!
It is great.
I was thinking – which pieces from this last year-and-a-half do we regret not buying – because someday some of these people are going to be crazy famous. Pieces that were sold for fifty dollars in our store will someday be going for much much more.
Have we had anything for fifty dollars?
The first show had work that started at fifty dollars.
I can see that my hair seems to be doing this Pippy Longstocking thing now. Thank you for not messing with the part. Every time I go to a new hairdresser, they are like – let’s put the part here. And I have to say – No. This is the part. Never changes.
It’s so nice to not be cutting your hair in the gallery! Since we are in another gallery, I find this somewhat amusing. At least this time we’re not like – Oh, Hello. Let me show you how to turn on that vibrator real quick. Oh, and if you want to see the prices for the artwork, the list is at the door – we’re so professional here folks.
It seems that we’ve had a steady flow of new faces today.
Once this conversation gets transcribed, I’ll finally have confirmation that I really do speak. After the last interview – which was awful – I just needed to never open my mouth again.
There were certain parts that didn’t even make sense. When you tried reading the piece, you couldn’t tell what we were saying.
I know that I let my sentences trail . . . but really! What is journalistic integrity if you can’t turn the text into a readable conversation?
That’s right – make people look good. Are you trying to ruin us?
That interviewer had it in for us.
Do you think people like us on the street?
Do you mean, actually being on the street?
After the recent police report, I’m not so sure.
We have so many different events that I know we definitely have our fans.
Most of our events happen after the hours when everybody else is done here. So, there is little cross-over between what we do and everything else. I feel that people are very friendly.
I always feel during meetings that I’m repeating the same thing over and over – what we do is important, the art we show is important, and we’re here because we’re important! Sometimes I wonder whether we infuse so much of our politics into everything, that it’s difficult for people to take it all in.
Do you know if the business that was in the space that we now occupy was involved in Ray at Night, or did the event always just happen without too much participation?
Good question. I’m not sure.
The second Saturday evening of the month comes around regardless of what people plan. For businesses, I guess it’s easy to just kind of kick back and know that another one is coming soon. But the neighborhood is really changing, and a lot of the new businesses are going to want a piece of the action. It’s also not the case that just a small handful of galleries on Ray Street are bringing people to North Park anymore. The more quickly our street association acknowledges them, the easier it will be really to do things together.
What we do in our gallery space is so radically different than anything else going on here. We are always organizing, always trying to figure out what goes on in the neighborhood, and learning new ways to market what we do. Some of the businesses have grown to rely on that like clockwork.
If you’d like, we can go shorter in the back – but let me blow dry some of the hair off of you first.
BETTI-SUE HERTZ, Curator of Contemporary Art, San Diego Museum of Art
JANUARY 4, 2008, 1:00 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: Do you usually have your hair cut wet or dry?
Betti-Sue Hertz: Usually wet because it’s easier to see, since it’s so curly.
Maybe we can take a little extra off the back.
It grows faster back there. It tends to flatten, so if there’s some way to keep some volume at the top . . .
What I usually do with really curly hair is cut it so you have two separate layers, which are not obvious. Because of the curls, it appears to blend in. By cutting the hair at your crown an inch shorter, it falls shorter and increases the height. Do you like your curls?
My hair has basically looked like this my whole life. I ran into someone in New York recently, who came up to me and asked if we went to the same college – because I still looked the same. You could say that I haven’t changed my hair style, because there’s not that much I can do with it, truthfully. [laughs]
You do have some choice, however. For instance, you could go for the very short afro if you were so inclined – but the haircut you have looks fantastic on you.
Are you the Curator for the Museum of Contemporary Art?
No. I’m the Contemporary Curator at the Museum of Art in Balboa Park.
Sorry – I had that backwards. [laughs]
Most people do because the museum where I work is not necessarily known for contemporary art – but I’ve been doing lots of interesting shows there for a long time.
I apologize if this water that I’m spraying on your head is cold.
How long have you worked there?
About seven-and-a-half years.
How did you end up there?
I was living in New York and decided that it might be a good idea to go somewhere else.
Are you from there?
Yes. I applied for this position, was hired, and have been here since.
Do you mind if I ask you to take off your glasses? How do you find San Diego?
It’s a very pleasant place to live, but I’m used to more art-related activity. You feel like you’re in a smaller town here. Are you from here?
Yes. For the amount of people here, it’s interesting that you can’t even see a movie after a certain hour. What made you want to work at the Museum of Art?
I was thinking that it might be nice to live in California, but didn’t really know anything about the museum. I’ve always worked in contemporary art museums and art gallery situations.
Did you go to school to become a curator?
Although now you can, people my age didn’t, because such a program didn’t exist at the time. You studied art history, and went from there.
What attracted you to art history?
I had an MFA, was working as an artist, and running a small gallery. Then I decided to get an art history degree.
What medium did you work in?
Mostly, I was doing paintings. After doing curatorial work, I decided that, in order to be able to work in a museum rather than a gallery I would need to go back to school. So, I went back and did a graduate program in art history. I’ve studied art history ever since I was young. I grew up in New York, and spent a lot of time going to museums my whole life.
Is anyone else in your family in the arts?
Not really. But my mother was always interested in the arts and took us to lots of things.
My hair looks so much longer now that it’s wet.
It’s amazing how much spring is in the curls.
So . . . when did you start cutting hair?
About two years ago.
Yes. It’s been a career switch for me. I was teaching English to different age groups – and decided that was not for me.
What is the favorite part of your job?
I like to travel and have studio visits with artists, and to conceptualize exhibitions and work collaboratively with artists in order to present their artwork to the public. It’s a very multi-dimensional job.
What does this entail?
The two major things that I do are acquire lots of art for the museum, and organize exhibitions there.
Do you use a sense of aesthetics in organizing shows, or is it more administrative?
I organize the whole project. First I come up with the concept. Then I do research and see where the concept will go, and spend time thinking about the idea.
What does research involve?
For example, right now I have an exhibition of artists who work in various strategies of animation. So, research involved learning more about animation, figuring out what I want to say about what artists are doing with animation, and identifying artists who I think will fit into the idea. But it’s also a kind of a give and take when you find artists you like who are doing certain kinds of work – because the process of finding them also puts pressure on your original idea.
For example, if you come up with an idea to have all blue things, and you find a really cool green one, then you think – well, maybe I can include a green one. [laughs]
Who is in the current show?
Right now, we have fourteen artists from about ten countries. All the works are of moving images. There are no drawings or paintings, and all of the moving images are based on the idea of animation and how animation is different than live action.
For example, at first, people made moving images using drawings, painting and film. But now, with digital technology a lot of artists are working on a computer to generate their images. As it turns out, computer technology has very good mechanisms for creating animation. There’s a good relationship between the tools and the finished work. Whereas, it would be harder for a computer to make an oil painting, it’s easy to use the computer to make an animation.
Basically, you build an exhibition by learning more about the topic and the artists you were originally attracted to, and eventually build these things into an argument about what is interesting or relevant.
About why certain work is art?
Not so much that as building an argument, visually, about why people might be doing this kind of art right now. That digital technology has a very good interface with the ideas and strategies of animation, is an argument. While I think this is true – in the exhibition you get to see the outcome of these relationships.
What will your next project be?
I’m doing an exhibition that begins March 8th, featuring works by artists from San Diego and Tijuana.
I’ve heard there is a lot happening in Tijuana.
I think there is a lot going on there. I also think that there are some things going on here, but people who go to the museum may not necessarily know about it.
There are some artists that show all over the world, but don’t show in San Diego very often. So, it’s a chance to see what they’re doing, and to think about San Diego as a source for the work. An interesting question is – if you’re living here, is San Diego relevant to what you’re doing in your artwork?
That’s one of the arguments or questions you’re asking?
Yes. I also work with artists who are working very theoretically and conceptually and doing work based on their research. For example, one group of artists has been researching nanotechnology, so their artwork is about what they have found out about that industry. [laughs] It can get complicated.
What’s your sense about the effect of living in San Diego on artists’ work?
It has something to do with how the artists are working, but it’s not that literal – it seems to have more to do with different industries, or psychological states, and aspects about living in San Diego that are not talked about very much. You won’t see photographs of surfing, or things like that, therefore. [laughs] Instead you’ll see very subjective points of view, since all of these artists are somehow engaged with the idea of bringing audiences into a world that they create.
Do you traditionally part your hair on the side?
Could you describe more about how an exhibition comes about?
Right. After I work with the artists and determine what works will be in the exhibition, then I work with the exhibition designer to determine how we are going to display the works.
Is the work collaborative?
Yes, in that museums have many people involved. There are people who arrange for shipment of the works, do advertising and marketing, install the work, and many other things.
Are there exhibitions that you would like to do, that probably wouldn’t get to be shown in your museum?
There are definitely shows that I would do if I were in a less conventional institution.
Shows that don’t necessarily have objects, where people could come to interact – probably like what you are doing right now.
You mean more performance art?
I also might do things that are more overtly political, although I sometimes show that kind of work. I would probably show works by artists who are less famous. I would look at a lot of opportunities and types of work that are difficult to have in the museum – where you’re not allowed to have food . . . because of ants. [laughs]
If you could reinvent yourself outside of your current job, what might you be doing?
Someone posed that question to me the other day . . . and I’m not sure. I’ve always been in the arts. I don’t know that I would go back to being an artist. Maybe I would start a non-profit art commissioning group, or some kind of smaller more flexible organization with a supportive community of creative people that work together on projects.
Do you think San Diego has an art community?
I think so . . . Do you think so?
I’m not so hip about the art scene here.
Actually, one of the reasons that I’m participating in this piece is to learn about what is here, and figure out how to have more of a community around that. From what I’ve picked up from people that I’ve talked with so far – a larger sense of an arts community seems lacking here. Do you think something like that could be accomplished here?
I think it could be accomplished if someone wants to do it. Although there are a lot of new artists, there is also a kind of resistance, in a way. It doesn’t seem like that the artists who live here necessarily want to be here for the social aspects of the art scene. For example, perhaps they prefer to be in Los Angeles if they want that.
Do you think the artists are more introverted here?
[Laughs] I think that most of the artists who live here either teach, or they have a spouse who has a job, or . . .
So, it’s a matter of circumstance rather than a source of proliferation in their work?
Maybe. Of course, people are also here because they love being in San Diego. But it doesn’t seem like San Diego is the place they are going to develop their careers in terms of reputation, or even selling their work.
Artists don’t concentrate on these things here?
I think that they are concentrating on it – but not necessarily in San Diego. Some artists work at the university and do more research-based work – so, they are not that interested in selling work.
Does your job allow you to travel?
Yes. I did an exhibition of work by East-Asian artists – so I went there looking specifically for it.
[Cell phone rings.]
Do you need to get that?
Do you travel with a team of people?
Not really. Sometimes I go with one other person, especially if there is a language issue. For example, the person that I went to China with spoke Chinese.
I’m sure you know, that with curly hair, the less you touch it the less frizzy it gets.
Did you go to New York for the holidays?
I went for Thanksgiving.
Where did you go to school?
I went to NYU for a short time then transferred to Bard College, which is in Upstate New York. For graduate school I went to CUNY, which is the City University of New York, for a Ph.D. program.
You really enjoy school?
[Laughs] When I went back in my early forties, I realized that I missed the academic side of things.
Regarding the development of the art scene here, people have talked about the lack art collectors here.
There are a lot of art collectors in this city, actually, but they’re not necessarily interested in collecting work by the artists who live here.
I think a wide variety of things are needed, such as artists, art critics, curators, and collectors – because collectors alone are not going to create a community or intellectual life. [laughs] This is not to say that collectors aren’t interested in the social aspects of this – I just don’t see collectors as being central to building an art community, at all.
Are you talking about a deeper involvement with art?
Yes. In creating a community, it takes people who want to talk about art, are engaged and excited about it, and also demand not to settle for work that is second rate, by saying – come on, let’s do better. It also involves questioning whether what is being done is relevant, for example, by asking – are these old or fresh ideas?
Just a few finishing touches . . . There. I hope this haircut works out for you.
I’m sure it will. How many people are you interviewing?
Probably about nine so far. We’ve been doing this for about a month, mostly on weekends, which has bee interesting, because we never know what to expect – we just show up.
Now let’s unveil you!
LARRY CAVENEY, Artist and Instructor at the Art Institute – San Diego
JANUARY 4, 2008, 2:00 P.M.
Sarah Gail Gardener: Do you work in the arts?
Larry Caveney: I teach the history of modern art at the Art Institute in Mission Valley, as well as practical art, and art theory.
Don’t worry about the flying bits of hair – we’ll shower you after the haircut.
Does that mean I’ll be receiving gifts after this.
It’s more like – we’ll rinse you off with a hose when we’re done.
Do you teach drawing?
The school where I teach is primarily design-driven, so the students don’t get that much art history.
What do you think of that?
What I teach ends up being a lot of catch-up after students have already made lots of images. There’s almost a reverse process – where I try to provide a context and to instill awareness upon work which is already made. For example, students come in with skills, and part of the class asks them to simulate various techniques from different historical movements as we go through them. They then incorporate what they’ve done, and I try to contextualize different approaches with them.
How did you become a teacher?
I’m an artist and do performance art. For example, I’ve been working with a yoga specialist who is an art therapist – and we’re staging some breathing exercises in Denver for those going into war. Depending on your perspective, what you do as a hair stylist could be taken at face value as a form of living sculpture.
I’ve never been told that before. Please go on! [laughs]
Was that a performance moment we just shared – or something else?
I actually just did a performance in this gallery last month with Tim McGraw, another performance artist. However, generally, I like working with people who have never been involved in the art making process.
Is that because you’re a teacher?
There’s that – but it’s also a general interest. Before I can comfortably incorporate someone into a performance piece, there’s usually some level of education involved, so participants have a sound understanding about what they might be committing themselves to, and it lessens the opportunity for exploitation.
Do you have an example?
Last month in this gallery we did Formalities and Casualties, which was a portfolio review as a performance art piece, with the aftermath as an exhibition. The judges in the panel evaluating each artist’s body of work weren’t artists themselves – they were from different walks of life, and had jobs which involved brief working encounters with the public. For example, one person worked at Starbucks, another worked at a bank, one worked at the tech counter at school. All of the panelists had jobs which involved fleeting moments of experience within specific communities.
When you get up in the morning, do you have a routine with places where you stop off on the way to work?
It varies for me every day.
Interesting. I selected the panelists in the performance from pit stops where people make small talk – like when you get gas for your car, or interact with the woman driving the bus. Within the context of these kinds of interactions, I was looking for people who could make very brief yet informed decisions about people based on first impressions in the interactions.
Are you good at forming first impressions?
I like to think so – both in making them and reading them – as a way to connect with people.
Kind of like a bartender, who needs to be a good communicator within a set situation . . .
Well, you need to draw people out, and make them feel comfortable – but it’s definitely a skill.
Like a gift for gab.
Right. There are certainly people who don’t make small talk in my industry – so, it’s not a requirement. Are you primarily a teacher or an artist?
It’s interwoven. As a teacher, I have to show up on time and do a good job – as an artist, I structure my ideas around when I have time and the funds to do that work. These activities used to be very separate, back in the day when I worked in a factory in North Carolina for ten years. Being an artist then provided refuge from a job I hated. Ultimately, I ended up getting my degree and teaching. I’ve found, however, that students can be a hard audience as well.
The idea of what we’re doing here can be taken on it own terms – but the actual practice also offer a service at the same time. For instance, we could stage you in a place where people need grooming – say, in order to get a job.
I’m working on something like that right now, actually.
Not so much as an art piece . . . I would like to volunteer at a battered women’s rehabilitation center where people are trying to support themselves after coming out of a bad situation, and offer to do their hair before their job interviews. Working on this project, for example, has given me a new perspective on that.
I used to teach drawing at a homeless shelter, after arriving at a point where making something about the homeless seemed too general, stereotyping, and potentially exploitative. I figured out, that by going inside and teaching drawing, I could do something different. Through that experience, I started to see how every person’s personalities and conditions are highly situational.
For me, the idea of utilizing different kinds of forms came from that.
One person I met had a make-shift saxophone which was assembled from rubber bands. Although it didn’t sound like a sax, it sounded like music, and resonated beautifully when he played it. We put together a tour, where people could follow him around – because he liked to go to various parts of San Diego and play one note for each different space. He ended up with a following to underpasses and laundry mats, and got twenty dollars from each person who signed up for the tour.
Very cool. When did this happen?
A few years ago. The idea that anything could manifest itself into a relational aesthetics really opens the possibility of everyone contributing and bringing poetry to their contribution.
What kind of work do your students end up doing?
They are predominantly technicians and designers who learn game, graphic, advertising, fashion, and culinary design. Teaching the history of modern art in a commercial context, therefore, is interesting – because it allows me to suggest that these things they are arriving at are tools, which could be used to make art – and that each practice has the capacity to cross over into another realm. It’s my responsibility to draw some of these kinds of realizations out when I’m with them, and to provide different forms and conceptual models.
Do you look at art in San Diego very much?
Is it hard to find?
Sometimes it’s pretty tough. When I first moved here in 2000, there were collectives of people doing and making things that were pretty extraordinary and very inventive. There were also more galleries then, but slowly this has dissipated.
Do you have any theories about why this has happened?
I think economic factors, like high mortgages and low wages are things that people are willing to put up with to live in this climate – but only for set amount of time, unless they can establish themselves firmly here. San Diego also seems to be in a constant state of flux in attempting to maintain a vanilla façade to attract tourists – who also cycle through the city for brief periods of time. Ultimately, there’s a more transient population here, which comes and goes.
This seems particularly so for artists – if you add to the mix the issue that the environment might not be intellectually satisfying for them, once they realize that the arts community is not that well developed here. Under these conditions, it is pretty difficult to generate a community where you can buy a home, have a family, establish a gallery, or have forms of development which are sustainable over time.
Sustainability also comes in many different forms. For instance, there’s this identity vacuum that happens when you cross the border. The identity of Tijuana might, arguably, be more organic in a way, since it seems developmentally linked to economics and survival – whereas, sustainability in San Diego seems very much attached to maintaining a specific persona or identity constructed for others.
On the other hand, one of the great things about doing performance in San Diego is that there is this constant flux of new people and tourists, to whom nothing is absolutely familiar, territorially. Since they don’t know who you are, it’s easy to rupture their personal organization of time and space through these surreal actions. That’s the advantage of being a performance artist in this environment.
Being a painter is much more difficult here, I think – because an audience of sponsors is limited to a specific income bracket, perhaps. For example, where I lived in North Carolina, people spent more time indoors and had more relative disposable income, which supported painters – without it being a privileged activity. In that environment, I could work part-time and sustain a painting career. Here, the economics of that activity don’t seem to work that way.
[Sarah applies gel to Larry’s hair.]
My god – I look like Caesar!
Just wrap a few laurel leaves through it and you’ll notice that people pay more attention to you . . . then you’ll think – why haven’t I tried this before? I’m not done yet. [laughs]
Should I try to go with something more seasonal? Probably not, or I’ll end up looking like a walking poinsettia. [laughs]
Looks good. Wow!
It was nice to meet you. Let me give you my card in case you ever need to play the part of a gladiator in the future.
Maybe you could visit my class as part of the course finale?
Totally. I’d love that.
DOUG SIMAY, Owner of Simayspace
[Left: Portrait of Doug Simay, by Marjorie Nadelman]
JANUARY 9, 2008, 4:00 P.M.
Four Walls Volunteer: This will be a virtual salon experience, since we are not in the gallery where the performance has generally been taking place. We’ll also have to swap some “before” and “after” heads hots if that’s ok.
Doug Simay: That’s fine.
Since this piece plays with the notion of rumor, I wonder if there are any that you would like to either spread or clear up.
What do you mean?
For example, are there any about you that would like to clarify?
Gosh. I have no idea if there are any rumors circulating about me. Because they are often re-manufactured anyway, I try not to pay attention to those sorts of things. I think I have a pretty good reputation in the arts community. I’m very opinionated, and am sometimes sharp with those opinions. This occasionally has not garnered positive alignments, yet. One of the things I feel in growing older is that I seem to form fewer enemies, and am willing to heal animosities that may have formally existed – since it’s not worth carrying around negative energy. There were certainly battles we all had as young art Turks that we all seem to have had – like turf wars and all that other kind of stuff.
Can you talk about that?
I’ve always had a real problem with our cultural institutions – in that I think they’ve been incredibly distant from the town that they live in. I think there could be some healing, if there were some ways in which they could be enfranchised.
However, I might take this kind of discussion and try directing it in a positive realm – which I see happening at the Oceanside Museum of Art (“OMA”). I can share some of the things that that institution seems to want and is planning offer, that are healthy things for the environment. Even though it is a young institution, it may provide a model worthy of lots of attention.
I believe in art as part of our daily lives – and it seems the kind of vertical integration required to honor the best in ourselves, is something that OMA really wants to accomplish – in terms of reflecting its community while attempting to be intelligent about the way it curates.
What is your specific history here?
My history in San Diego has been one of the longest-lived arts exhibition spaces in town. Almost uninterruptedly since 1982, I have been putting on exhibitions at Ninth and G Streets, on one side of the street or the other.
Isn’t that the mark of an unintelligent person – that they should just keep hitting their head against the wall for so many decades? [laughs]
Are you referring to the definition of insanity?
Exactly. Maybe that’s why my hair is thinning – from all that traumatizing.
Has running an exhibition space met your goals?
My goal has only become evident to me over time – which is, that I really love being directly involved in the arts. I like the creative process and artists, and seeing what they do and why they do it. I like getting involved in their lives, which they are often very willing to share.
My payback is having an exhibition space, which allows me to say to the artist – what I think you do is interesting, and I’d like to show you what I’ve learned from spending time with you. When I put their work in a show, they get a chance to see some of my perceptions of the work. Since every show is curated, they reveal forms of interpretation – through selection, syncopation, and pacing – which are all the things that go into putting up a show.
Where did you get the idea to have an art gallery?
It started because Mark Quint and I had a space downtown. I wanted the space because I had some large paintings in my collection, which became bigger than the house. For example, I had this painting . . . but had no way to show it, until I remodeled the house years later.
[Doug points to a very large work by Manny Farber on the wall behind him.]
You are known for buying work near to when it is produced – was that the case with this work?
Yes. I got this piece almost after is came off the easel in the studio. That’s what is so remarkable, is that I bought all of the Farber’s from Manny himself.
I was also one of Mark Quint’s collectors when he first started dealing. As a matter of fact, the very first piece I bought from Mark was a Reesey Shaw encaustic. I bought Gary Langs, from him. I bought a bunch of stuff. When Mark moved downtown to get more space, he leased a large place, and I took a third of the space as a storage and show place.
More recently, I’ve joined the Board at OMA, and will likely be on the newly forming collection committee there.
What does that entail?
I have a set of principles that inform the process. For example, I believe that there are, absolutely, masterpieces of artwork created each and every single day, which hopefully will survive beyond our lives and carry with them an enormous amount of enjoyment, significance, and intellect into the future. There are also museums that just seem to deliver “the package,” which includes an appreciation of art – through scholarship and stewardship – that bring positive things to their world.
For example, I don’t know of any major museum that doesn’t have a very strong connection to its locale. I’ve been in many of these kinds of institutions, and they continue to thrill me. However, there don’t seem to institutions quite like that in San Diego at this point in time.
I’m also interested in discovering what a new museum collection might ultimately mean – particularly since the process of collecting art began for me as such a personal process, and occurred over a span of thirty years. For instance, I’m not sure it’s possible to have an overview of a collection at its inception. The possibility of gaining a cumulative perspective – which is built up over time, and added upon, piece by piece by piece – intrigues me.
I’m not sure, for instance, that museums should be collecting work produced by artists who are under twenty-five, since those kinds of judgments seem constrained by support and acquisition systems that impact the regional markets intensely. And, shouldn’t museums think of connoisseurship and stewardship in new ways – and actively distinguish between fashion and history, while finding ways of linking things together and showing how things are culturally valuable in broader and more relevant ways?
Personally, I find these issues interesting, since I’m such an incredible contemporary art junkie and enjoy experiencing it in institutions. It’s just difficult to digest when the institutional focus seems so slanted, or at odds with what is being produced in the larger community.
I’m looking forward to OMA’s first show, which will include the art of San Diego for the first fifty years, since it seems like fertile grounds upon which to begin a regional collection – and it offers a perspective that is beyond my expertise. It also seems that really good collections seem to have a strong focus, or personality, if you like.
Will collecting the work of L.A. artists be part of the mix?
I suspect that institutions in L.A. may find a great deal of interest in this project. It is a dense environment and a more active playground there, which I think I understand.
People complain about being so close to L.A. that collectors prefer to shop there rather than support local activity.
Aren’t there lots of different reasons for collecting – as a form of sponsorship within one’s community, as merely a wonderful thing to do, as an investment, or many other perfectly legitimate values? For example, I find that having direct relationships with artists expands my horizons, and makes the world a vastly richer experience.
There are also differences between building a personal and a public collection. It is more likely that the collectors’ heirs will realize appreciation in values, if any, after the one who collected is gone. Therefore, if you think about it, unless you are actively buying and selling art like a dealer, it may be a positive thing to concentrate your energies into understanding the market where you actually live.
How about a diversified portfolio approach, where you structure learning into the process incrementally?
I guess I would say that if expenditures on art may not be so easily converted back into money during one’s lifetime, then different forms of collecting activity may fulfill many coexisting bundles of interests.
These are some of the reasons I really enjoyed what Reesey Shaw did when she was at the California Center for the Arts. I liked the way she brought in national and international names and hung them next to regional and local artists – because integrating work in this way seemed to elevate everyone in the process.
It seemed like such a wonderful approach – and I think it’s how artists and audiences actually function in relationship to each other. When I go out to look at art, I’m always excited when all these connected levels of activity are represented as a cohesive continuum.
If you could reinvent yourself, what would that look like?
I don’t think I’ve ever been happier, so this is difficult to imagine. [pause] Actually, I would probably be happier if I weren’t running an art school.
How did that happen?
The way I think about it is that a bunch of us just got together and drank beers and it happened – like an unwanted pregnancy, almost – we were drunk and then this happened.
Can it walk, vote, or leave home yet?
No. It still needs its parents to keep it all together. The art school has been good for me – to actually see how people can learn to make art. There is a democratizing effect that I have also noticed, of people taking joy in each others’ development, while engendering a wider appreciation and better understanding of what else is produced, in the broader scheme of things. An art school is a great gateway to these things.
What is the relationship of Simayspace to the Art Academy?
The gallery is the result of both my perseverance to always have an exhibition space, and the need of the school to have a way to demonstrate work. Everyone in the school continues to feel strongly about making that commitment.
I’ve been doing this so long that I am a one-man show. Thank god for computers and the Internet, because I no longer have to stick stamps onto envelopes. I’ve pared the process of running the gallery down so well, that I can afford to do it and still have a life.
If I wanted to be a successful dealer, then I could probably easily talk to people about what I believe to be wonderful – but that would probably mean residing in the gallery. In every gallery that I respect, you will always find the dealer there – because that’s what it takes to be successful at anything. But that’s not me. I’d much rather be looking at work than selling it.
What do you think of all the openings and closings of galleries around town?
I find the situation quite depressing, because we are supposed to be in an art boom cycle right now – yet what we see in San Diego is that there is not a lot of boom, but instead a net contraction – even though there are some wonderful new spaces coming onto the scene.
For example, David Zapf is such a gentleman and honorable guy, who showed such wonderful work in his gallery – and did it for so long, so selflessly . . . If a guy like that can not be supported, then there is something wrong with the environment.
Do you think this is an education issue, our attractive beaches, or what?
There probably need to be guideposts as well as guides. Our cultural institutions could probably take some of this on. I’m curious whether the curatorial staff at our local institutions actually frequent the local arena, because they seem secretive about it. They have so much power and authority in this environment that it makes me wonder why. Their visible participation would be helpful, since two things support artists – money and attention. Garnering at least the latter would go a long long way here.
It also seems that the institutions would be a wonderful place to foster an understanding of the locale. For instance, more media might be generated by that activity and more opportunities for writing, criticism, and developing voices would occur. For example, the arts writers at the main newspaper in this town talk about their responses to specific exhibitions or artworks – but to my mind, they have never spoken about the arts community or reflected upon any sense of the connectivity that may or may not actually exist here.
That’s why the work of people like Kevin Freitas, who writes for ArtAsAuthority.com is such a good thing – because it shows that an increased readership and broader interest really exists. We don’t have that many raw conduits.
What do you think of the quality of work being produced here?
I think the caliber is actually pretty high.
Does it get shown or highlighted?
No – not very consistently.
How does this relate to the public’s expectations?
What seems to have happened is that the city lost its middle class. In other words, we’ve got the high end dealers, like Mark Quint, Joseph Bellows, and Scott White. We also recently have younger dealers like Luis de Jesus and Limbo, which represent the sensibilities and interests of their age cohort.
So, when you talk about talent – there are a lot of artists that have been doing their thing in this town for thirty years without very many places to show their work, because its champions couldn’t survive.
We do have tremendous talent, but it’s one of those unspoken things – this lost generation of artists here. You only have to look at the example of Richard Allen Morris, who was catapulted by a New York artist, who suggested to a German museum that they consider his work. Richard has been as good a painter for thirty years as he is now, while his career has only recently had a sonic boom.
Does it seem that artists have to leave this place to become successful?
I don’t know the answer to that. However, there are ways of supporting and representing their efforts here, since there is so much activity – like building a collection of their best work. One of my quandaries about what OMA is proposing, is exploring how fast or slow the process of acquisition should to be. At this point in my life, I am very interested in the prospect of working within the context of a team, to learn what the power of collective effort may accomplish.
Best of luck.
LUIS DE JESUS, Owner of Luis De Jesus Seminal Projects
JANUARY 25, 2008, 4:00 P.M.
Four Walls Volunteer: Since you keep your hair cropped and we aren’t meeting on Ray Street – you are not really getting a haircut today.
Luis De Jesus: No, I am not – but I would have considered a manicure instead.
The gallery thought there might be some zoning issue or health code attached to that which is different that cutting hair. Let’s see if I can get this audio recorder to work, and maybe take some snapshots at the end?
Sure. Would you like something to drink – water, beer, wine?
No, thanks. I just got up.
It’s 2:30 in the afternoon!
I go to bed late – or early – depending on how you look at it.
It’s Friday afternoon – I think I’ll have a beer. Sure you won’t have one?
I have a splitting headache, but otherwise I’m fine.
It seems to be going away – but thanks. How long have you had the gallery?
I opened last September.
What did you do before that?
I worked for Susan Street in Solana Beach. Susan’s great, but after a year-and-a-half I began to seriously consider doing my own thing.
Have you always worked in galleries?
Pretty much. It’s been kind of a natural progression that began while I was in art school, which is when I started working in galleries. For example, back in the early 1980s, while I was in school, I worked weekends at Hal Bromm Gallery, when he was showing lots graffiti art, including work by Keith, Kenny and all those people. The East Village gallery scene was going full blast. This is when I met Jack Shainman and Claude Simard too. They were living next door in the rear of their tiny storefront gallery on East 13th Street and sleeping above their storage rack.
It was a wonderful time to be in the city. After graduating, I went to work full-time at Baskerville & Watson, which was Simon Watson’s first gallery; and later at Cable Gallery, another partnership run by Nicole Klagsbrun and Clarissa Dalrymple. Both of those galleries were amazing breeding grounds and springboards of talent, such as Sherrie Levine, Carroll Dunham, Chris Wool, Ashley Bickerton. For me, the exciting thing about working in galleries was being around first-rate art and artists.
Where did you go to school?
I got my Bachelor’s at Parsons in New York and also did Yale’s Summer School of Music and Art.
What medium did you work in?
Do you consider your practice of running the gallery a form of art?
Yes, I do. It’s been a way to be directly involved with artists, think about what they do, and to curate shows. Curating has always been a big part of my work in galleries.
During the period that I worked in galleries, I also organized several independent exhibitions that received critical acclaim in The New York Times. A few years later, when the market crashed, I applied for and received an NEA-funded curatorial internship at The New Museum of Contemporary Art, which was still under Marcia Tucker’s direction. She was amazing – such a pistol.
Was the National Endowment for the Arts still awarding individual grants then?
Well, they were at that point. This was back in the late 1980s – early 1990s, around the time that the shit hit the fan with Andres Serrano’s Piss Christ and . . .
Right . . . and Mapplethorpe, and others. After the fallout from the culture wars of the 1990s, federal sponsorship to individual artists had to flow through institutions, as a kind of screening process.
Yes, I think that all came a little later. Actually, it was the New Museum that got the NEA, so the internship was made possible by the grant that was awarded to them. This was when – quote – multiculturalism was all the rage in museums, and everyone was scrambling to create or fill positions with minority candidates. I was selected from a number of minority candidates doing curatorial work. But it was a great opportunity. Even though it lasted less than a year, the position gave me the chance to curate an exhibition that became the first museum showcase for several artists, like Glen Ligon, Gary Simmons, and Maura Davey. The show also received a favorable review in the now defunct Arts Magazine.
How long did you live in New York?
I lived there from 1983 to 2003 – twenty years.
Where did you move from?
My family moved from Puerto Rico to Washington, D.C. in 1967. I basically grew up inside the Beltway and got my early education by taking solo trips on the Metro down to the Phillips, Corcoran and the National Gallery.
Do you still have contact with galleries on the east coast?
Loosely. I still see people like Jack Shainman, Simon Watson and Andrea Rosen at art fairs, and in L.A. I’ve run into transplants like James Elaine of the Hammer. With everyone subsequently having their own businesses and families, obviously these relationships change over time.
Did you attend Art Basel Miami this year?
Yes. It seemed to outdo itself and was bigger than ever. All the different satellites, with new clusters, and subsets, and all the various activities and parties – it was entertaining for a lot of people . . .
Sounds like a lot of spinning. It makes me want to hold onto something. Do you mind if we close the front door to muffle some of the street noise?
Sure. Let me do it – it has a bar that you have to fix a certain way.
Do you think the art fair in Miami has any connection to San Diego, or an impact on what happens here?
No. Not really . . .
How do you find San Diego?
What do you mean?
What is it like running a gallery here?
Since I’ve only been here a short time – less than four years – I’m not sure what I think yet. It’s certainly different than running a gallery in New York.
Well, Saturday’s are so different in New York – people go shopping, they do brunch, and they pretty much have a list of shows they want to see, or new exhibition spaces that they’ve heard about that they want to check out – and it’s all part of their weekend routine. There isn’t that kind of traffic, or that kind of cultural consciousness here.
Do you think it’s an educational issue – if people were taught to appreciate art or consider it an integrated form of entertainment, that they would then make the rounds?
There’s probably a lot more to it than that. The museums here appear to be well organized, for instance. They function well and have a consistent flow of visitors – the commercial galleries, much less so.
There needs to be more public support for galleries and what they do. I mean – they’re free. Anyone can walk through the door and have an incredible experience and see contemporary art on an ongoing basis. On the other hand, you have to pay to get into a museum, which involves a formal setting with an institutional framework, which have endowments and other forms of sponsorship and support. The bottom line, however, is that people themselves have to be interested.
Many venues in San Diego have closed this past year – several within the last few weeks. Others have opened – like yours. Do you have any thoughts about what’s happening here at this particular moment?
Again – since I’m new here – I don’t have much to compare things to. I’ve heard plenty of stories and many people have freely offered their opinions about what these kinds of changes mean. Nonetheless, there are galleries that have successfully managed to survive here for a long time. Running a gallery is a little like running a restaurant – you need people who want what you serve, or you don’t stay in business.
What kind of work do you show?
I primarily show emerging artists who are producing consistently strong and ground-breaking work.
What draws you to emerging versus established artists?
Emerging artists seem to be the ones who are really digging for the very reasons to be making art right now. In other words, they don’t just make work – they question the act on a fundamental level.
On the other hand, there are artists who have been practicing for a long time that I would be honored to show. I’m not closed to those possibilities. I’ve just been more drawn to working with younger artists so far.
How do you think the arts community manifests itself in San Diego?
The more interesting question is – does it exist? For me, I guess the question is – what does community mean in this kind of conversation? What does it look like? Is there only one or are there, in fact, multiple communities? Who does it, or should it include?
There is an awful lot of bad art produced in this town by artists who don’t seem to know any better. Conversely, there are also some extremely talented artists here. There isn’t a shortage of good artists, but there is a shortage of venues and opportunities to support them. There are also collectors who like having plenty of contact with everyone – from the board of directors to the emerging artists – and, those that don’t – for personal, historical, or any number of reasons.
There isn’t very much art criticism or press here either. The Reader, for instance, seems like such a missed opportunity – because their coverage of local events is virtually non-existent. Kinsee at City Beat, covers more than it seems humanly possible. I don’t know how she does it. I understand that Kevin Freitas is contributing reviews to City Beat as well, in addition to his blog Art as Authority.
Robert Pincus at the Union Tribune performs an amazing service – but he is only one person. For example, he came by the day of the opening of our inaugural show and promised to return to spend time with the work – which he did. Then several museums had big shows that all opened at the same time. Even if Pincus was able to review our show, the story probably got bumped when all the other shows opened. But since those shows were going to stay up for several months or more, you’d think the newspaper would consider spacing its commitments, so there would be coverage for how much art activity actually occurs here.
Something that I floated past Mike Crowell, the arts editor at the Tribune, was the idea of having a half-page of short reviews. I’m only talking about one or two paragraphs per venue, not an entire page – which would appear on a weekly basis, like they do in some other cities. That little coverage would make a world of difference for everyone involved.
Although I know it’s a big music town, it’s not the only thing that happens here – yet it gets the lion’s share of coverage in weekly entertainment section of the newspaper.
I’ve heard that there are over a hundred arts organizations in San Diego, yet you can practically count the number of galleries here on one hand. It seems that neither the artists nor others have built the infrastructure that could develop the arts or artists’ careers in San Diego.
Some of this may have to do with self-taught versus formally trained artists. Those without formal training, such a fine arts degree, often have the impression that the galleries owe them the right to exhibit their work.
Are the galleries perceived, therefore, as a form of public transportation?
I would say that those with formal training know better. Unfortunately, those who want to advance their careers may need to consider leaving town, or bringing their work to other places in order to do so – at least so far. I believe there are enough talented artists right here, however, to develop something that is sustainable locally.
For example, SOIL, an artist’s cooperative in Seattle, provides a pretty good model of what might be possible. This group has maintained a consistent number of members over time, and each artist pays dues to participate in the collective. Since the group is self-selecting, rather than open to everyone, the caliber of everyone’s work is pretty high. They also help each other in developing their work and careers, and influence each other in constructive ways. They have had a very positive effect not only on the local scene where they practice, but also in how what they do is perceived from the outside. It’s one of the reasons why Seattle is a destination for curators.
That’s practically non-existent here. In fact, I had one curator at the fair in Miami bluntly tell me this in so many words – there needs to be a reason and a certain level of activity for curators to want to travel to a specific place.
After ten years in existence, SOIL secured a permanent exhibition space a few years ago – funded partially through a state grant, an annual auction and fundraiser, and through other means of support. In no way is it an extravagant organization. They functioned successfully for years without an established venue by having shows at different spaces throughout Seattle simply through the will and perseverance of the local artist community. I imagine that something like that could happen here as well.
What would the relationship of your gallery be to such a group, if it existed in San Diego? For example, would you show work by members of the collective?
If the work fit within the gallery’s program, and, on its own terms made me think – why not? But this is really about artists doing something for themselves, being proactive, and not waiting for things to happen.
Within the context of a relatively small pool of people directly involved in the arts here, it seems that even a light touch can generate a ripple effect. In other words, building affiliations in this environment is a very direct process.
I wish finding an audience and public support were so. Maybe this is due to the fact that – unlike dance or theater, which may be consumed perhaps more passively – art makes you think on your own two feet. It provokes. Not everyone likes to be provoked and put in a position where their ideas, beliefs and values are questioned. I am positive that if people had a choice between pissing in their pants and being confronted one-on-one with a challenging work of art – I suspect that a lot of people would probably choose the former.
Depends on the context, I guess. This might be a good place to finish – at least for now . . . Is that drink still available?
Thanks for talking with me.
SPECIAL THANKS TO
SARAH GAIL GARDENER, Main Stylist
CHRISTINE McGRUDER, Stylist & PATRICIA FRISCHER, Coordinator of the San DiegoVisual Arts Network
ARCHIE CAJULAO, Sound
Four Walls, an art gallery located at 3813 Ray Street, San Diego, California 92104, staged a performance work from December 8, 2007 through January 25, 2008. During this period the gallery was converted into a hair salon, where participants had their hair cut or styled during appointments that were scheduled while the gallery was open to the public.
People within the San Diego arts community, such as museum board members, museum directors, curators, art critics, gallery owners, artists, art framers, etc. were invited to participate in the performance. An invitation was emailed from the gallery to prospective participants, which read:
Collecting Dust and Other Things: Ephemera and Documentation, the next exhibition at Four Walls, which runs from December 8, 2007 through January 9, 2008, will attempt to tease out some of the meanings, issues and values involved in the process of collecting art.
Bill Dane’s Mail Art in the format of photographic postcard ephemera will also be featured throughout the gallery as Four Walls launches a new Art Collectors Collective.
A Performance and Text Work will unfold as a month-long performance which will be held in the gallery as it is converted into a hair salon where art scene gossip and pearls of wisdom will be collected from a variety of San Diego insiders. These conversations will be transcribed into a limited edition publication with “before” and “after” head shots of each participant, who will receive an artist’s proof of the collected texts.
The finished work needs people like you. Would you like to quaffed and cooed over while letting your hair down for the sake of art? It should be fun.
Selection criteria based on bodily or physical characteristics were called into question by a few of the prospective participants who responded that, since they had little or no hair to style, they would not partake of the service. Others participated anyway, however, those interviews were conducted at times and locations of the subjects’ choosing. Several participants selected conceptual rather than literal representations for their “before” and “after” head shots.
Some participants arrived late to their appointment and had short interactions, others remained in the gallery to chat with people who had appointments after theirs, and a few subjects were able to converse at length when theirs was the only appointment scheduled that day.
Although the gallery was converted into another kind of environment identified as providing a commercial service, the service was provided free of charge. Many participants provided a gratuity to their stylist, nevertheless. Although the stylists were paid by the gallery similar or better than their usual rate, they volunteered their services without asking for remuneration.
Fourteen respondents scheduled appointments in the following order:
Patricia Frischer, Coordinator of the San Diego Visual Arts Network
Kevin Freitas, Editor and writer for artasauthority.com an art blog
Michelle Robinson, Owner of Ray Street Frame
Monica Hoover, Director of Voice
Hugh Davies, Director of the San Diego Museum of Contemporary Art
David White, Owner of Agitprop
Kinsee Morlan, Arts Editor of San Diego City Beat
Emily Fierer, Co-owner of Spacecraft Studio
Lea Caughlan, Co-owner of the Rubber Rose
Carly Delso-Saavedra, Co-owner of the Rubber Rose
Betti-Sue Hertz, Curator of Contemporary Art at the San Diego Museum of Art
Larry Caveney, Artist and Instructor at the Art Institute – San Diego
Doug Simay, Owner of Simayspace
Luis De Jesus, Owner of Luis De Jesus, Seminal Projects
Other participants and technical assistants included:
Sarah Gail Gardener, Stylist from Shayna the Salon in San Diego
Christine McCruder Stylist from Shayna the Salon in San Diego
Andrea Miller, Stylist
Archie Cajulao, Sound Technician
Roberto Gallardo, Photographer
Barbra DesLauriers, Assistant Director at Four Walls
Four Walls would like to thank everyone at Shayna the Salon, especially Sarah Gail Gardener, the main stylist in this performance, for her unflagging commitment, playful engagement, and skillful and guiding hands maintaining the tone and balance of the piece. Locks of Love, a non-profit organization that provides hairpieces to children suffering from long-term medical hair loss from any diagnosis (www.LocksofLove.org), received a donation from one of the participants of this performance.
Since appointments were ultimately scheduled over a two-month period, it was not possible for individual subjects or audience members to participate in or witness the piece in its entirety. Sarah Gail Gardener, the main stylist, came closest to experiencing a kind of totality, since she either performed the service or was present when most of the appointments occurred. Sarah had never attended the monthly art walk in the district, not previously visited the gallery, nor been briefed in any detail about what to expect during the opening reception. The few general prompts suggested by the gallery for the stylists to pose as questions to each participant were casually collected by gallery staff shortly before the performance began.
Each subject occupied a one-on-one relationship with the stylist and occasionally engaged with other participants, while subjecting themselves to public display. Each participant occupied the work as its subject, actor and co-author. The relationship between actors and observers was similarly reconfigured, in that the participants were simultaneously active, passive, observing, and observed – via their reflection in mirrors, through social mirroring and question and answer interaction with the stylist, and through other behavior related to ambient factors involving audience members and other activity going on around them.
The situational aspects of the process jettisoned ephemeral characteristics of the work, which resulted in documentation rather than an art object as typically defined. Although the gallery maintained an editorial default function in bringing the work into its printed form, the piece had no single creator. The overall work also took the form of serialized, personal and casual conversations, rather than a single, formal, group discussion. At the commencement of each appointment, each participant agreed to have their conversation recorded. Those who received haircuts went through a physical transformation entailing the diminution of living tissue, whereas those receiving styling had fixatives added to their hair. Except when equipment malfunctioned once, all conversations were recorded. All conversations were also transcribed.
Each participant was encouraged to speak freely, and to share some gossip about themselves, others, or situations within the local scene. Only at the conclusion of each appointment, were subjects offered the option of reviewing and editing transcripts of their comments. Most participants made little or no changes to the texts, however. The texts reflect each speaker’s individual perspective, as well as some of their idiomatic patterns of speech. While it took a relatively short amount of time for each person to speak their thoughts and converse in “real time,” it took several months to transcribe as precisely as possible what was actually said.
Adjacent to the Main Gallery where the hair salon was set up, video documentation in the format of You-Tube loops played continuously in the Project Room featuring highlights from Formalities and Casualties: Portfolio Review as Performance Art, a November performance by Larry Caveney and Tim McGraw, which deployed tactical media strategies which attempted to call into question various forms of protocol by having the gallery turn itself inside out and convert its coded internal review practices into something more transparent and publicly accessible. In this piece the gallery’s front windows were lined with a reflective mylar material which functioned as a two-way mirror that allowed the audience to look into the gallery from the street as it conducted a theatrically staged portfolio review, while preventing the occupants of the gallery from seeing out or viewing those that scrutinized them.
Also in December, for the duration of the exhibition, Collecting Dust and Other Things: Ephemera and Documentation, a solo exhibition of Bill Dane’s work was featured in the Main Gallery. The encyclopedic scope and vision of Bill Dane’s Mail Art functioned as a preview to his second solo March 2008 exhibition, Bill Dane: An Avalanche of Circumstance, Photographs Since the 1970s, featuring the artist’s recent large-scale color and vintage black-and-white photographs. Internationally renowned photographer, Bill Dane first emerged on the art scene in the early 1970s when he began an ambitious mail art campaign of sending his photographic work in 4” x 6” postcard format directly to John Szarkowski, then the curator of photography at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, thus bypassing the multi-tiered gallery and art criticism system. Dane received Guggenheim Fellowships in 1973 and 1982, and National Endowment for the Arts Fellowships in 1976 and 1977 for his photographic work.
Four Walls extends its deepest thanks to each of the participants for their willingness to engage in this work. Without them no process, documentation, shared wisdom – not even dust – would have gathered at all.
Bill Dane’s Mail Art (Excerpts from Volumes 1 – 6)
EXHIBITION: DECEMBER 8, 2007 – JANUARY 9, 2008
Collecting Dust & Other Things: Performance Art & Documentation
PERFORMANCE: DECEMBER 8, 2007 – JANUARY 29, 2008
FOUR WALLS, 3813 Ray Street, San Diego, California 92104, 4wallsgallery.com
Four Wall © 2008, All rights reserved.