TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT Summer 2003

LETTERS

LETTERS

CRIMP MY STYLE

To the Editor:

I have no illusions about being able to control how the “Pictures” show I organized at Artists Space in 1977 will be understood historically, but for the record I did not, as Richard Prince claims in “Richard Prince talks to Steve Lafreniere” [March 2003], ask him to be in the exhibition or show him the essay for the catalogue. I didn’t know Prince or his work at the time. Prince himself has written, in 5000 Artists Return to Artists Space: 25 Years [New York: Artists Space, 1998], “I wasn’t aware of the Pictures show or what other people were doing. I’d been living in the West Village completely isolated and working at Time-Life. . . . I had a very punk attitude, a chip on my shoulder. I thought I was doing something no one else was doing, and therefore it couldn’t possibly be incorporated into anything that was going on.”

—Douglas Crimp
New York

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To the Editor:

The April issue of Artforum has an interview with Ashley Bickerton in which he says, “I remember Sherrie Levine later telling me, ‘Whatever Douglas Crimp was saying, I couldn’t understand a word of it. But it seemed to work!’ ”

I was mortified when I read this. I can’t imagine ever saying this to anyone. Douglas Crimp writes extremely lucid prose. And I am neither that cynical nor that stupid.

—Sherrie Levine
New York

Ashley Bickerton responds:

The Artforum interview was conducted by telephone from halfway around the world, and a full twenty years have passed since the event discussed. At that time, Sherrie was my teacher, and although I am sure the exact wording has been lost to the years, I loved her for having said that. The conversational manner of the interview and the humor of looking so far back at events that had seemed so frighteningly all-important probably led to a somewhat glib and throwaway tone.

The point, the only point, I was trying to make was that Sherrie had been doing what she was doing as an artist for her own reasons and that Crimp was analyzing after the fact. This was an extremely liberating concept for me as a young student at CalArts, where there was a general assumption that one read theory and then somehow transformed it into a working model or an illustration . . . or art.

Sherrie, in essence, showed me how to make art, and her thinking has been a crucial foundation for all my efforts since. It was wonky, it was driven by forces that were still turgid and lurking below the littoral of fathomability. One must go back to the particular climate of this moment to be able to feel the emancipating power of the sentiment I recalled in the interview. She never described any skepticism toward or disagreement with the analysis of Crimp—in fact, quite the opposite. What she said to me merely placed artists back at the edge, driven by our own sublime curiosities, and reconfirmed that we weren’t followers at all.

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COLLECTORS’ CALL

To the Editor:

Peter Plagens’s article [“Cents and Sensibility: Collecting the ’80s,” April 2003] oversimplified a complex decade. Though he wound up at almost the right endpoint in describing the current situation, he could have gone further in his analysis to include the misguided role that emerged for museums toward the end of the ’80s and accelerated into the new millennium.

As obsessive collectors since the late ’60s, we experienced much of what Plagens discusses, and we have a somewhat different take. While the Scull sale did indeed show that collecting new (i.e., Pop) art could be profitable, it was an isolated incident and did not in our opinion cause collectors to go off on a greedy speculative binge. For example, the market for AbEx painting was very thin, and we were informed in the early ’70s that unless a painting was “A-quality,” it basically could not be resold; if we did get an “A” painting, then maybe in five years we could resell it at the price we had paid—if there was still demand. Motherwell had his first show of large-scale collages at Knoedler in 1974 and sold only two even though the New York Times gave the show an outstanding review, putting the work on the same level as Braque’s collages; de Kooning’s paintings of the mid-’70s were poorly reviewed, the street opinion concurred, and very few works sold at the time. The market for Philip Guston’s work was essentially nonexistent (due to his shift to cartoon works and the fact that a great abstraction owned by Rockefeller had brought maybe $15,000 at auction). Castelli was quoted as saying that Warhol was an important artist but that his output was so immense that he would never have an auction market. In essence, new art was not handled by the auction houses, and there were few outlets for it. It was by no means certain that collecting it was either profitable or prestigious, since history had shown that most artists rarely stand the test of time. The dealer and collector Eugene Thaw is said to have observed that contemporary art was the most expensive option.

The collectors shown in the group picture on page 210, all of whom we knew well, were not motivated by greed as is implied by the juxtaposition with Plagens’s article. Instead, they were deeply committed and possessed a genuine appreciation for art and artists. They were mostly self-educated and knew their art history (which is often not the case today). Most of them didn’t use advisers. They gathered, formally and informally, with artists, curators, and writers and knew it was essential to see an artist’s mind at work in order to discern quality. Initially at least, it was not clear that collecting was a moneymaking endeavor; it was, rather, a desire to live with great works of art. Most of us could not afford to buy Cubist Picassos, etc., so if we wanted to live with (hopefully great) works of art, we had to buy new art. There were no young collectors’ clubs at the museums (excepting one at the New Museum, but it disbanded after a few short years). To be fair, there were some people who did buy new art on a speculative basis, but they were few and far between, since there was little profit in it.

The start of the greedy collecting craze began with the rush for Susan Rothenberg’s horse paintings at Willard Gallery in the late ’70s; these soon became unobtainable, and we learned the lesson to buy early. Sometime in the early ’80s (if I recall correctly), the name Charles Saatchi appeared as a buyer of many works by Donald Sultan. In our opinion it was Saatchi who had the greatest influence on the new style of collecting. Still, collectors in the early ’80s remained driven by the desire to possess; it was not until the mid- or late ’80s that rampant speculation appeared. By then one could quickly resell works that had been owned for only a short time. The auction houses also entered the very contemporary-art market—partly because of a paucity of AbEx and Pop works. Many of the paintings in the Whitney’s 1993 Basquiat show were no longer owned by their original purchasers. (For the record, our family still owns every Basquiat painting we ever bought.)

So the group depicted on page 210 entered the ’80s with much more art appreciation than implied by your article. While Eugene Schwartz may have said, “Art collecting is the only socially commendable form of greed,” he was also a very sensitive individual who loved art and loved collecting. Also, we didn’t buy Basquiats “for the price of a haircut”; we paid top dollar and in some cases more than the nominal gallery price. We were driven by our love of the work and respect for achievement, regardless of the artist’s mixed reviews. All of us, in fact, bought work from many and various artists; one only has to look at the Whitney Biennial catalogues of the ’80s to see how many of them have fallen by the wayside (at least in monetary terms).

Today, museums themselves have become avid collectors of new art. Curators don’t want to wait for gifts, and they know that they won’t be able to afford it later; as such, they are no longer impartial sifters of the good from the bad, since their own careers are involved in making sure their purchases stand up. It will take future generations of curators to sort out the wheat from the chaff. As one curator has admitted to us, it is much more fun to participate in the market than to perform traditional museum functions. (Some street opinion: The last Whitney Biennial was an attempt to bypass the gallery system altogether.) But history shows that most curators buying new art don’t fare too well. There is no substitute for gallerists and knowledgeable, passionate collectors spending their own money.

—Lenore and Herbert Schorr
Los Angeles

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HUNGER STRIKE

To the Editor:

Congratulations on the fortieth-anniversary issue of Artforum. It’s great to see all this information in one place.

I would like to address factual inaccuracies that appear in the time line [“Time Capsules,” March 2003]. Although David Wojnarowicz and I were both members of 3 Teens Kill 4, the Castelli action was not a 3 Teens project. The other band members did not participate. Furthermore, this piece, Hunger, was literally about just that, as well as about other local consequences of the widening gap between the upper and underclasses, not about US policy in Central America.

Nevertheless, thank you for your interest in 3 Teens Kill 4 and the Castelli action. I appreciate (as do other band members, I’m sure) being included in this issue.

—J. Hair
New York

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CARRIED TREASURE

To the Editor:

I implore you to offer in-depth coverage of the implications of the looting at the National Museum in Baghdad. The loss of the treasures there impacts the art history of the whole world and indeed the history of humankind. If September 11 warranted a spread in Artforum, this certainly should also. Whether or not Artforum chooses to enmesh itself in the politics of the situation, a eulogy is in order.

It is infuriating to realize that if the treasures of any Western culture—even Hitler’s Germany—were endangered, the Western world would not have sat back to watch their destruction. The fact that this was allowed to happen in Muslim Iraq is testament to pervasive ignorance and racism. The world was up in arms over the destruction of the ancient Buddhist statues in Afghanistan, and rightfully so. Why is it less vocal on the loss of the history of the cradle of civilization? I am incredibly saddened as an artist and human being.

Samina Akbari
Pittsburgh