PRINT November 1971



I am one of the ten people showing in the Theodoron Awards exhibition this fall at the Guggenheim. As the result of the artists’ strike against the Guggenheim in support of Hans Haacke, I and the other people in the show have received a lot of flak.

To call oneself an artist and to feel a part of a community of artists, working for a common good, is a good feeling to have, but it doesn’t alter the fact that my work is my statement. It is all that I have that is really mine, out of me. No one, for any reason, has the right to ask me, or any other artist, not to show when I have the opportunity to do so.

So long as artists sell their work, people with money and power will buy it and build museums, and because the artist is in some way dependent on a space that is not his own, run by people who have different, or even opposing, aims, he can expect trouble if his work is referential and in any way threatens those people. If such work were tolerated, shown, and absorbed, it would only be testimony to its impotence.

It has been said that the museums see nonreferential work as safe—not likely to give offense to those in positions of power, and in this respect it is safe. To stand before a work, wanting to see and actually being made to see, will do absolutely nothing to change the political and social climate of the world, but to me the word “revolution” has had more meaning then than at any other time, because those have been the most focused and liberated moments, at last free of explanations, references, history, and words.

I deny the assertion that showing one’s work in a given space in any way implies support of the policies or actions of the administrators of that space. I have never supported, and certainly, never would support, the Guggenheim’s action in regard to Hans Haacke. If showing in a space meant an approval of its administrators, I would never have been able to show in 26 Contemporary Women Artists this spring at the Aldrich Museum and could never show in any museum that I can think of.

Artists will have control over museum spaces only when they own those spaces, and I am not convinced that even then the fundamental difference between making art and everything else will not result in the museum-artist division ad infinitum.

The choices for an artist, at least for one who is an object maker, are clear; either he simply makes his art as an Ohio mound builder made his pipe, for his own eyes and for those of his friends, without motives of money or reputation, or he acknowledges and lives with the division between making and looking at art on the one hand and the buying, selling, and managing of it on the other, trying all the while to stay as close to making and looking as possible.

In spite of the people who run the museums, there is still a lot of art out there to be seen. To be able to see it, I will pay a fee, wear a button, go through a picket line. If I can stand in front of the thing and look at it, I don’t give a damn who owns the space or the work. Likewise, I’ll show my own work when I can.

It is one thing to protest a museum’s treatment of another artist by letters, words, or whatever is available, but closeting my paintings in a rush to proclaim myself an artist among other artists would only be a denial of the one thing, for better or worse, that is really mine, my work.

—Dona Nelson
New York City

An unfortunate typographical error caused the last paragraph of my article “Quality in Louis,” Artforum, Oct. 1971, to begin “Unlike Johns’ targets and Pollock’s webs . . . ” The sentence should correctly read: “Like Johns’ targets and Pollock’s webs, Louis’ veils belong to a special category of images representing singular and unrepeatable solutions to a number of formal and technical elements within a new synthesis.”

—Barbara Rose
New York City