PRINT February 1988


Thomas McEvilley, Lucas Samaras and Ingrid Sischy

Between December 20th and January 4th, Ingrid Sischy, Lucas Samaras, and I interviewed seventeen critics and the representatives of one critical organization, most of them centered in New York City. (Some of them are also artists.) The topic we proposed to them was age, understanding the word to include the idea of the periodization of history, especially as that idea appears at the present moment; the individual life span, with its stages and processes; and the durability of esthetic feelings and products. On 23 pages of this issue of Artforum will be found brief excerpts from these conversations. On each of these pages the left-hand column contains passages selected by me.

In selecting passages from the literally thousands of pages of transcripts, many fascinating moments and inviting themes had to be passed over. The resulting selections can give the reader the merest hint of the richness of the experience. As the series of conversations, sometimes two or three a day, unfolded, it came increasingly to seem to me that it was a privilege to experience the thoughtfulness, erudition, and integrity of our interlocutors, as well as their unfailing good humor.

Thomas McEvilley

I’m Lucas Samaras and this is my column on Artforum’s age issue. I’m here to help quiz the creatures of the deep. Age suspension. Doom, gloom, glory, and redemption. Those who spoke to us gave speeches, parried with us, or gently yielded to our ménage a trois. We did it at their houses, without their spouses, we probed them at the office. I was delighted to avoid the dreaded December merry cheer, gulp, and choke. Not that hard times totally eluded us: whom to choose, what politics, which drollery, where to place the plucked pearls, how to stamp the worthies’ names. Age relief. After the last interview with Glenn O’Brien I had a movie-house dream. Glenn Ford was sweet-patooting a volcanic voluptuary who declined on the sofa and unclenched her dress, only to reveal a tight monastic garb, the type Madonna sports. Declaring the movie’s end, a mass of unremembered words began descending, undulating over their intended kiss. I left. Outside, a coffin was carried past me. People had gathered on both sides of the street. Preceded by relatives and friends, more and more coffins came down the steps of some Saint Patrick’s. AlDS, I thought. “Why aren’t you affected by all this?,” a bully asked me. I quickly went behind the church and seeing more coffins went on to lesser dreams and then awoke. Coffins with morning coffee. Is that the going wage for my middle age?

—Lucas Samaras

Age is a three-letter word. It can bear the stigma of a four-letter word. It is buried in a five-letter word we use when we’re speaking about art — “image.” It is the tail of the six-letter word we use for illusion—“mirage.” It is a synonym for the seven-letter word that claims to contain the human story—“history.” It is the suffix of an eight-letter word that reflects the pain of exclusion — “suffrage.” This issue of Artforum engages these and other notions about age, and about its entrails, numbers.

The biggest question when we were planning this issue was how to reach our topic—how to get at this tiny word, which has such enormity and possibility and sits like a backdrop everywhere we look. So we agreed that the problem and challenge with age in the first place are all these constricting ruling ideas about it—the pigeonholing by age and era, the preconceptions about people’s natures as they relate to their years, and all the other barbed wire wrapped around the word. What we decided was that we’d throw age in the air like a ball and see where it bounced when it landed.

Who to throw it with became the next question. We decided to go to recorders—to critics, since they in effect write the age by writing about it. Why did we choose who we chose? Admiration, respect, curiosity, and one other, vaguer thing. Among all those ages we were taught in school—the Ice Age, the Stone Age, the Bronze Age, the Golden Age, the Supersonic Age, the Atomic Age, the Space Age, and I’ve skipped some, but among them all were the Middle Ages. And the Middle Ages, in their other incarnation as the middle ages, we thought might be the avenue away from that iron-bound view of history that divides time and lives into neat segments. Art today is melting those divisions and jumbling those sequences with a visual intensity as loud as a megaphone, and we felt that the middle ages might give it a voice, as if that middle span between youth and old age were a kind of crossing point between them, a place with permeable borders in both territories and so a view and a knowledge both forward and back. So the writers we spoke with were all in those middle years. The weight is in the center of the span, and there’s some pushing at the borders at either end.

My selections from our conversations with our guests appear in the right-hand column.

—Ingrid Sischy