Left: “View of Rita McBride and Kim Schoenstadt,” 2009. Installation view, Alexander and Bonin Gallery, New York. (Photo: Jason Mandella). Right: Kim Schoenstadt, Tell Me Something Good: Rita's Instructions (detail), 2009, 356 color photographs, dimensions variable.


Tell Me Something Good, a collaboration between Rita McBride and Kim Schoenstadt, is loosely based on “Art by Telephone,” an exhibition the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago, organized in 1969. Departing from the conceptual premise of that show, McBride and Schoenstadt are making works from instructions they’ve exchanged over the phone. The project premiered at Alexander and Bonin Gallery last May; the latest installment, which Schoenstadt discusses here, opens at the Santa Monica Museum of Art on September 11.

THIS COLLABORATION BEGAN with a misunderstanding. Thankfully, there were more to come. In early 2008, I had a few curators from the Santa Monica Museum over to my studio to see a new project (just released from customs) that I had made for the Van Abbemuseum. At some point, the curators asked what else I’d been working on. At the time, I was still toying with the idea for Tell Me Something Good, so it was all pretty vague and based more on a telephone game. Whereas “Art by Telephone” had artists phone into an institution for installers to make their works via instructions, I wanted this collaboration to include artists calling in their directions directly to each other and asserting their own aesthetic choices. It was the sort of half-baked idea one brings up in idle chitchat, but the next thing I knew the museum was interested in doing that show.

After several meetings, it seemed that the scope was too large, and I decided to narrow it down it to a single collaboration. I suggested Rita because she is a sculptor based in Düsseldorf, and it seemed better to combine artists with geographic distance and different modes of working.

When I called to ask her about working together, she had just returned to Germany from LA to find that all the pictures she had taken for a publication due the following week had been inexplicably compromised. Since I was pitching this “phone-in” concept, she indeed felt like I was telling her something good, as I could retake her photographs (in this case, of all the service stations from Point Dome to LAX). However, with an extended deadline, she ended up retaking her own pictures the following month.

For our first show at Alexander and Bonin, I instructed Rita to execute a new piece in my ongoing “Fax Drawing” series. These works originated when I unintentionally loaded my fax machine with a recycled drawing while receiving floor plans from a gallery. The resultant combination of the drawing and floor plan created a hybrid, which I ultimately installed as a wall drawing in the gallery that had sent me the fax. So Rita made a piece that combined one of her drawings for a sculpture and the floor plan of the gallery. For our new exhibition, she’s using the same wall drawing, but she instructed the museum to create the work with black glossy lines on a prefabricated door that is painted hot pink. I installed her service-station photographs along the gallery walls, and she’s leaned the door against some of the photos, thereby obscuring the view.

We decided to make our works based on instructions given to each other during a single phone call––like the original MCA show––and to record the calls to vinyl as the museum did in 1969. Since our exhibition will be much smaller in scope, we thought it would be appropriate to create a 45-rpm single rather than a full twelve-inch album.

The logic of Tell Me Something Good relies heavily on chance, miscommunication, and phone lines, and so conceptually it fell together nicely. One part I like best about the collaboration is the question: Who made it? I’m still not sure whether either of us can claim to be the single creator for either piece. Perhaps the project gains strength by putting itself in that area between misunderstandings.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler