Brigid Berlin is an artist, actress, and one of the most memorable personalities to emerge from Andy Warhol’s coterie. In 2000, she was the subject of a documentary, Pie in the Sky: the Brigid Berlin Story, which was directed by Vincent Fremont. Berlin’s diaristic recordings of her life and milieu during the 1960s and ’70s—her Polaroids, audiotapes, and journals—recall much of early Conceptualism’s documentarian impulses, but include an acidity and dark wit that is entirely her own.
I GOT INTO POLAROIDS even before Andy got into them because of some pictures I saw in Vogue in the early ‘60s by Marie Cosindas. She was one of the first photographers to use Polaroids seriously. I wanted to take pictures like hers.
I used a Polaroid Electronic 360 camera with a diffuser and different lenses. The double-exposure works happened when I would take pictures of the Empire State Building from a plane at night leaving New York, on my way to Paris. I’d take just one shot, and I’d frame it in the right, and then when I got to Paris, I’d photograph the Eiffel Tower, but frame it in the left, and I’d leave the picture in the camera for both shots. I just loved that camera. And I was so hooked on buying the film!
A lot of the trip books I made in the 1960s were sold when I had a show with John McWhinnie in 2006. Very few people had actually seen the Cock Book—a book filled with pictures of cocks made by a wide range of artists, celebrities, and personalities, like Taylor Mead, Jane Fonda, Peter Fonda, Leonard Cohen, Larry Rivers, and Peter Beard. For the longest time it was this mythical object that most people had really only heard of. When I used to go out late at night, I’d carry it around with me, and once in a while I would give it to somebody to do a drawing in. But I never really liked that, because most of the time I’d be absolutely stoned and doing things in it myself. It became so full I couldn’t even hold it anymore—it was huge. When I showed it at the Gramercy Hotel International Art Fair in 1995 it was in a vitrine, and Lou Reed came to see it, and then Brice Marden came to spend some time with it too. Richard Prince ended up buying the Cock Book, along with the Cock Book for Poets, and the one for Germans. They’re all in his collection, but the Cock Book is the centerpiece.
I’ve also been working for a couple of years now with somebody in my apartment building to digitize all of my audiotapes—and frankly, I don’t even really know what “digitizing” means. I have a lot of them, and when I made them, they were all catalogued, so I know what’s on every single tape. They’re in perfect condition, too! But I get into terrible bad moods when I listen to them, they’re so incredibly intense. At one point I just wanted to throw them all out, put them on the sidewalk. I just can’t listen to them anymore.
They capture an era of New York art culture from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. Of course, there are lots of recorded conversations with Andy, but there are also conversations with Larry Poons, John Chamberlain, Robert Rauschenberg, and so many other people and characters from that time. And I had access to all these people because I was a peer, I was considered one of them. I was never a groupie.
Here’s something really funny: My very close friend Robert Vaczy, the audio engineer who’s working on digitizing my tapes, was waiting for me when I got out of my recent back surgery, which lasted about six and a half hours. He was right there when I came out of the operation, and I must’ve been stoned on morphine, but he said the first thing I started talking about, lying on the stretcher, was my filing system. Filing is an art. And cleaning is the best kind of art. But to call me an artist is ridiculous.
Holly Woodlawn during a photo shoot by the artists BillyBoy and Lala, Lausanne, Switzerland, 2008. (Photo: Robert Coddington)
Holly Woodlawn gained initial fame as one of the Warhol Superstars in the 1960s, and by the ’70s she had also earned a reputation as a gifted actress, singer, and cabaret performer. Now the subject of an in-process documentary, Woodlawn brings her latest work, The Holly Woodlawn Show, to the Laurie Beechman Theater in New York on Friday, May 17, and Monday, May 20. On Thursday, May 16, she will also appear at New York’s Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, and Transgender Community Center to read from her 1992 memoir A Low Life in High Heels and screen her 1973 film, Broken Goddess.
I FELL INTO DOING CABARET. It was quite accidental. I fell into all of this accidentally—believe it or not. As the song goes: “Holly came from Miami FLA, hitchhiked her way across the USA.” When I first came to New York, a truck driver drove me in from Delaware or somewhere, dropped me on Forty-Second Street and Tenth Avenue and said, “This is it, honey.” At that time, in the 1950s, being a transgendered, transvestite, trans-this or trans-that was completely illegal. If you wore a mohair sweater and tight pants, and if you put on mascara and Vaseline—we didn’t have lip gloss—the police could arrest you for female impersonation. We had it really rough, but I was lucky because people never figured out that I was passing.
I wanted to be a movie star, but I got no money for doing Paul Morrissey’s Trash and all those other movies. A good friend of mine, Elda Gentile, was dating one of the New York Dolls at the time and she wanted to start her own band. She asked me if I would be a backup girl. I had always wanted to be a backup girl! I idolized the Ronettes, the Supremes, and all those girl groups from the ’60s. Elda called us the Stilettos, and Debbie Harry joined. We auditioned for Reno Sweeney’s, which was the big cabaret club at the time, and the owner, Louis Friedman, said, “I have good news and bad news. The bad news is I can’t take the band because this is not that kind of club.” The Stilettos were doing punk rock, but I was into singing songs from the ’30s and ’40s. “We’re more a supper club,” he said, “so I’ll take Holly.” So he took me under his wing, and I started rehearsing with him and that’s when I started doing cabaret.
At that time in New York we could get a loft, even if it was in a seedy part of town, and three or four artists could live there. We could all pool our resources to get by. Now it costs a fortune for a dump in this town. These young artists now, they can’t afford it. They have to get jobs, waiting on tables. No big deal—I’ve done everything—but when do they have time to create? That’s the sad part. You know the song from Cabaret, “Money Makes the World Go Round?” Well, no, just two things make the world go round—art and music. Without that, we’re dead. Civilization cannot live. New York City, the center of creativity, and now everything is so expensive.
I moved to Los Angeles in the late ’80s. Studio 54 was raided, Andy died, and New York just crumbled. All our friends, because of HIV . . . I haven’t been back to New York in eight years. I’ve seen many cities and many countries in the interim, just in case you thought I was lying around doing nothing. My new cabaret show is going to play in a space on Forty-Second Street and Ninth Avenuejust a block from where I first got dropped off all those years ago. I’ve come full circle, but my second entrance at Times Square will definitely surpass my first. Both shows are sold out. The club called to tell me that it’s the first time in history that’s ever happened—and Joan Rivers works there! I’ll be singing and telling stories. I’m working with a piano player and two girls as my backup singers. There’s a set, but the audience always requests their favorite songs, like my version of “You’re the Top,” which I rewrote to make the last verse filthy. Of course, I’ll be wearing sequins and I’ll be resplendent. (I love that word).
I’m so happy—well we don’t know about happiness, do we?—but I’m so content that I’ve not only survived, but that I’m going to go on because of the love that I’ve gotten from everyone. I have no intention of filling a plot in a cemetery in the near future, and I’m looking forward to coming to New York because I feel like this city is really my home.
Nancy Rubins, Monochrome for Paris, 2013, stainless steel and aluminum, 40 x 50 x 40’. Photo: Erich Koyama.
Just steps from the Seine, a tangled mass of aluminum rowboats, kayaks, and canoes arches across a typically busy courtyard on l’Université Paris Diderot’s campus. Echoing the steely gray Parisian skies under which it was unveiled this spring, Nancy Rubins’s largest public project in France is also her first permanent commission for the capital. While directing the crane-maneuvered installation, Rubins spoke about how Monochrome for Paris, 2013, came to be.
ALMOST FOUR YEARS AGO, I was approached by the city of Paris through curators tasked with commissioning public sculptures to honor the city’s new tramline. With these kinds of projects, there are always many ideas about how the art should be approached. It was important for me not to let the work get diluted by all the different cooks in the kitchen; this piece in particular can be built in umpteen million configurations to yield to the situation. But, ultimately, it needs to relate to the environment it will live in.
It was a fortunate accident that I ended up at Paris Diderot University and not along the tram route; it’s far more beautiful and I like the university atmosphere. Physically, the location is better because the boats can cantilever over the outdoor walkways, which are really the corridors to and from the classrooms. Students, professors, and other people involved in the university walk through there every day. When I first saw the site, I knew immediately that I wanted to make a cascading form over the plaza, but when we started to install, it became a bit more improvisational. We had to situate it against markers like a tree or a door and think about how the shape would be viewed from a particular angle.
Initially, the city of Paris wanted me to use French boats for the sculpture, but I realized that there were no aluminum boats produced in France. In the end, the boats came from Northern California and some from Canada. They are so beautifully worn, the surface and its resulting patina. Though the sculpture is close to the Seine, that’s not really what’s important in terms of the work and the site. It’s much more about the architecture of the plaza than the river environment. One could even put this sculpture in the middle of the desert because it’s not really about boats; it’s only about using them.
I often get asked how many boats make up the sculptures. From my point of view, asking this is like trying to embrace and perceive a Cézanne landscape by analyzing how many strokes of paint are in the painting, providing some finite yet no real understanding of the actual work of art. I’m always thinking about macro things, how something micro like molecules can make up crystals in the way they grow. I’m a person who handles large things comfortably, and that quality can lend itself well to these public commissions. Still, I don’t really think of myself as a “public art artist.” These are more just my giant sculptures.
View of “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative.” (Photo: Eric Swanson)
Linda Mary Montano is perhaps best known for her endurance-based performances. She sang for seven hours in a scissor lift; wore monochromatic garments for fourteen years; was blindfolded for a week; and spent a year bound by a length of rope to the artist Tehching Hsieh during his ART/LIFE: ONE YEAR PERFORMANCE, 1983–84. Montano’s art, which borrows from her life, has been dedicated to living with patience and empathy. Her current retrospective of videos, installations, drawings, and performances, titled “Linda Mary Montano: Always Creative,” is on view at SITE Santa Fe until May 19, 2013.
IT WOULD TAKE pages to remember and unravel my past traumas: near death from anorexia, PTSD, the Catholic Church’s failings . . . but needless to say, my art cured and continues to heal my life.
Janet Dees of SITE Santa Fe perused my personal archives in Kingston and Saugerties, New York, and then sat for hours at the Video Data Bank in Chicago, viewing their archive of my work and later choosing ten videos that articulate themes of persona, endurance, death, spiritual seeking, collaboration, and humorous impersonation.
For the SITE show, I also made a new version of a past video titled Hi!, which was installed, years ago, in the Broadway-facing window of the old New Museum building. There it was: my face, hanging from the ceiling at eye level. Across from my face was a chair for the visitor to sit in and watch this tableau. They came in, sat down at the table, and had a faux conversation with me. I repeated greetings such as, “Hi, you look so good!,” and “Your hair is fab!” I waited for their answers that were to match my happy greetings and the communicated “care” for and about them—a comment on both the need for happiness and the inanities of small talk.
In the Santa Fe version, the monitor is fitted with a glamorous wig. My face and voice are inviting, welcoming the visitor to what I call the “art/life counseling room.” The piece is a parody of social graces and a comment on my own inability to consistently smile, be open, and respond with generosity. To take this idea a step further, I held four live sessions during the exhibition, offering one-on-one counseling in the room, twice face-to-face and twice by Skype, resurrecting my seven-year-long practice, from 1984 to 1991, where I came to the New Museum once a month and counseled people in another window installation.
To make the gallery even more accessible at SITE, I hung my 100 Chicken Paintings banner-like around the edges of the room. All four walls are painted in chalkboard paint. There’s colored chalk for visitors to draw their dreams, write manifestos, leave messages, and erase whatever was in the way of their creative vision. Play Art.
I’m in my seventies. I’ve been there, done that, garnered years and years of good attention from viewers who have given me energy, breathed life back into me, and woken me up. So this show is a chance for me to encourage, teach, inspire, and give back. I’ve made sure that the viewer might feel empowered to interact and play creator on the sacred walls of the museum. There aren’t any “do not touch” signs here. SITE also published an interactive workbook, You Too Are a Performance Artist. It chronicles forty-five performances and offers suggestions for the reader to reinvent my journey to fit their needs. This is my message: Creation is our human right and we all are exactly that, creators!
Gratitude to all of my inspirational and encouraging teachers and may our life always be art.
Theater pathfinder and MacArthur “genius” Richard Foreman has played many roles over the past five decades, diligently writing, directing, and designing his numerous plays, operas, films, and videos. This year his Ontological-Hysteric Theater, a touchstone for several generations of artists, celebrates its forty-fifth anniversary.
Foreman was born in 1937 in New York City. He received a BA from Brown University and an MFA in playwriting from the Yale School of Drama. In 1993, Brown presented him with an honorary doctorate. Foreman’s latest work, the chamber play Old Fashioned Prostitutes (A True Romance), marks his return to theater after a brief retirement during which he focused on filmmaking. The play continues his interest in building an abstract and minimal “web of language” and, characteristically, features a small cast (Alenka Kraigher, Stephanie Hayes, Nicolas Norena, Rocco Sisto, and David Skeist). The work begins preview performances at the Public Theater in New York on April 30 and will run through June 2, 2013.
Interview with Richard Foreman.
Michelangelo Frammartino, Alberi (Trees), 2013, HD video, color, sound, 28 minutes.
Michelangelo Frammartino’s Alberi (Trees) is a twenty-eight-minute rumination on ancient rituals performed by villagers in Italy’s Basilicata region. The piece builds from his 2010 film Le quattro volte, which meditates on the eternally cyclical, transformative nature of experience—in both a physical and spiritual sense. Alberi is on view at MoMA PS1 until April 27, 2013.
MY IDEA OF FREEDOM is connected to the television shows and films I watched when I was young. I grew up in Italy in the 1970s, when commercial TV began to invade everyone’s home. It was made to seduce people, to guide them in a specific ideological way, which was all intimately connected to power and maintaining control over the greater public consciousness. Much of my practice emerges as a reaction to this enforced passivity of viewership. When the audience can actively participate in constructing their visual experience, the connection between the image and the viewer becomes stronger. For this, one needs the freedom to interpret and enter the image at will, and so when I started working on Alberi, I began looking for ways to make images interactive—attempts to create participatory experience that result in freedom of viewership.
I have found that one of the ways to do this is through the loop—Alberi is a never-ending installation, meaning that you can enter and exit when you want. It is the viewer that drives and controls the beginning and decides what is the final cut. In this sense, this work is also a tribute to cinema. In Italy it was normal for us to go to the movies and enter a showing anytime we wanted. So the first time I saw a movie, I saw it from the middle, watching first the second half of it, and coming to the film’s beginning only after having seen its end . . . and when I reached my own starting point in the middle of the film again, the pleasure was so great that I couldn’t help making another round. So my first experience with a film was like a loop.
Alberi is inspired by an ancient ritual of the Basilicata region based on the myth of a treelike man called Romito, who rejected the idea of migration and planted roots in his own land. When I discovered the character of Romito, I understood it was still very connected to the cultural identity of this region, even though the ritual was no longer enacted. The Romito myth now exists only in the memory of the people, but it is deeply part of their mentality. It symbolizes a land surrounded by woods (the ancient name of the region, Lucania, is thought to come from a word for sacred wood) and refers to a fusion between humans and vegetation.
I knew, therefore, that I was shooting something that was inside the people. However, filming the ritual ended up changing it. Making fiction gave life to a new reality, and so there is a strange connection between our work and that ancient tradition. I dressed nearly one hundred people like trees to perform the ritual; they enacted a procession through the surrounding forest, culminating at the village square, which was literally turned into a forest.
For the construction of this installation, I focused heavily on sound, which here is connected to the idea of freedom I mentioned earlier. Also, the sound is interactive: It comes from many different sources, and it invites the viewer to move, to walk around, to discover something maybe unexpected.