PRINT October 2007


To chart the expanding parameters of fabrication today, Artforum invited curator Lynne Cooke, artists Angela Bulloch and Charles Ray, and art dealer Jeffrey Deitch to enter into a conversation with three leaders in the field of art production—Peter Carlson, Mike Smith, and Ed Suman—who between them have helped realize some of the most technologically ambitious artworks of our time. Michelle Kuo, whose brief history of fabrication and postwar art appears in this issue, moderated the discussion.

Fabricator at Carlson & Co. at work on Ellsworth Kelly’s Untitled, 2005. Photo: John H. Baker.

MICHELLE KUO Fabrication is currently everywhere and the range of its manifestations is dizzying: from calling a local company to order metalwork, a 3-D printout, or an audio mix; to employing a design and fabrication firm that connects artists to different services and skills; to becoming part of a dispersed network of production that also includes dealers, curators, and collectors. “The piece may be fabricated,” as Lawrence Weiner famously proposed in 1968, and artists seem to be taking up this suggestion now more than ever. But to what ends? I wonder how we might begin to define fabrication in our moment: How can we understand its relationship to prior models—Minimalism and Conceptual art, for example—and its practical and theoretical hold on the production of art today?

LYNNE COOKE I would like to begin by picking up on the suggestion that some artists might simply order their artworks from various industries over the phone. While this idea may have had a certain provocative currency in the 1960s—or ’30s?—in my experience no artist works like this today. Everyone seems so highly particular and exacting that any order made by phone has been preceded by vast amounts of research into materials, processes, etc. Moreover, artists tend to forge links with companies and producers of various kinds so that they return to them again and again as different bodies of related works evolve.

ED SUMAN We also find that the “telephone order” is more of a theoretical ideal than a reality, although it could be feasible in certain cases. I would tend to see fabrication as specifically having to do with making objects, although contemporary art production encompasses many complex technologies and processes that may result in an artwork in which “objectness” is secondary, such as Anya Gallaccio’s production of four hundred cases of Sonoma Valley zinfandel.

JEFFREY DEITCH All the serious artists with whom I’ve worked treat fabrication as an extension of their studio practices. None of them would order a work on the telephone, unless that was part of the concept. One of the reasons this discussion is timely, however, is that there are now many artists who do order work over the phone. It’s common for artists to make a small sculptural maquette and send it out to a fabricator who can blow it up to gallery size. There are artists who compose a painting on the computer and then e-mail the file to a lab that can print it on a large canvas. I’ve found that the sophisticated viewer can usually tell the difference between fabrication that is an extension of the hand and mind of the artist and fabrication that has simply been contracted out.

CHARLES RAY Just as artists work in many different ways, they also work with fabricators in many different ways. Some artists have an idea or a vision and go to the fabricator to see that vision realized. Perhaps they see this, in the best case, as a one-to-one relationship between what they want to have made and the finished product, but other noise inevitably bubbles up in the process of making things. Other artists might think of a fabrication company as a very complicated hand tool. Collaboration is a word that often comes up, but the initial vision is usually not a collaboration. One can have a collaboration with a fabricator as much as one can have a collaboration with a hammer—though a hammer only tells you what it can’t do the hard way, and a fabricator usually tells you this by talking about the budget. Does fabrication begin with the materials an artist selects? Is an artist who uses plywood alone in his studio working with unseen fabricators?

MIKE SMITH I don’t think a fabrication studio is just another hand tool. Many artists are disconnected from materials to the point that they need to work with people who have that connection. Invariably, this condition dictates that people can’t just order things over the phone unless it is a case of reproducing something that has already been made or discussed, such as an edition.

CHARLES RAY I agree with you that the fabrication studio is not literally a hand tool, but I think making art is not at all like making a ship. When we discuss the various techniques, materials, processes, and outside expertise, we tend to see artistic production as a product, and I believe something much messier is actually going on. When I refer to the fabrication studio as a hand tool, I’m trying to say that an artist does not necessarily lose the confusion, mistakes, and problems that come about while trying to give birth to a work.

ANGELA BULLOCH The means of production is a question that any artist has to address when thinking of making a work. This does not have to be limited to the manufacturing of materials or objects but could result in a text or an idea that still needs to be “produced.” I prefer to speak about the means of production because that phrase describes the questions in mind, rather than focusing only on a physical manifestation, as the word fabrication implies.

LYNNE COOKE By fabrication we seem to be speaking of industrial or light-industrial processes, but today many artists combine these with material produced through IT services. That mix is very familiar in a lot of work we see that stages projections in various forms and phases, such as Pierre Huyghe’s installations. Is it meaningful to draw lines between those types of collaborations and, say, Robert Irwin’s work with horticulturalists as well as steel fabricators for the Getty garden? Aren’t we really talking about recourse to outside expertise of any kind, whether materially based production or consultation, in the case of plant material?

MICHELLE KUO That’s an excellent point, though I would perhaps press the issue in that the networked and the digital have pervaded all types of even heavy-industrial manufacturing—computer-controlled carving, for instance, or the use of CAD and CAM across the board. How does this convergence affect fabrication? Is the fabricator a kind of translator, then?

ED SUMAN Translation is part of it, but fabrication involves more than translating one language into another. The translator also needs to know and understand the material being translated. The challenge is often first to understand the artist’s intent, as clearly and precisely as possible, and then to visualize in reverse the steps needed to arrive at the final destination.

JEFFREY DEITCH It’s fascinating to watch some of the most ambitious artists in the studio using computer modeling, scanning, etc. I recently visited Urs Fischer’s studio, and he uses the computer and other high-tech processes interchangeably with traditional arts-and-craft techniques. Manipulating the cursor on the computer is not very different for him from drawing with a pencil.

CHARLES RAY The computer does not necessarily remove the artist’s hand from the process. By hand, I am referring to an artist’s intentionality, which is not born complete at the beginning of a project but develops just as when one is working with his own hands and sees what is possible or impossible to do. I think we tend to be amazed by our own technology. As artists, we can work with carbon fiber or engineers; we have a lot of financial backing; we have companies like Carlson at our disposal; and it just seems amazing when you go to a place like that and see so much space and high technology dedicated to making art. But this isn’t exactly new. It’s easy to forget how amazing and full of sophisticated special effects and technology ancient sculpture was. The ancient viewer looking at the first full-scale Assyrian reliefs may have experienced a sense of technical achievement that is lost on the modern viewer at the Met. That’s not to say that the beauty of their form is lost on us. Once the patina wears off a Jeff Koons Balloon Dog [1994–2000] and it perhaps loses a leg, future viewers may find themselves involved in the beauty of its form, while its production value and wow factor will have drifted into oblivion.

MICHELLE KUO Speaking of this “wow factor,” can we discuss the recent escalation of production value and the emulation of high-end commodity production—and perhaps some of the problems those developments pose for artists who lack the resources to pursue this type of practice?

JEFFREY DEITCH As Peter and Ed know, I helped finance and develop Jeff Koons’s “Celebration” project and endured the challenges of high-production-value fabrication that broke new technological ground. At the early stages, the work cost more to fabricate than it could be sold for. Now the selling prices are well beyond the fabrication costs. The buoyant art market has made possible many ambitious fabrication projects that would not have been economically viable ten years ago. Koons’s “Celebration” works can only be realized using expensive materials and processes. This is inherent to the aesthetic meaning of the work. But I sense there is now a post-Koons cult of extreme production values developing, in which the expense of the production overshadows the content of the work. This was done, perhaps deliberately, in the case of Damien Hirst’s $100 million diamond skull. It became the most talked-about art object of the year, not because of its quality or its power as an image, but because of how much it cost to make and its price. These issues also lead to the question of overfabrication. I’ve had the experience of looking at a body of work that I helped finance and feeling that I gave the artist too much money. The work would have been better if the artist had had to stretch the use of inexpensive materials and had edited out the directions that were not worth pursuing. Fabrication sometimes overwhelms the content of the work.

ANGELA BULLOCH This is an interesting point, Jeffrey. It can be easy to see this after the work is done but more complicated for both artist and fabricator at the time of production. With film production in particular, it can be hard for the director to keep the team focused on the film she or he wants to make, especially when there are so many different people and elements that need to conform to the director’s idea. That’s not so different from making a costly large-scale installation within a limited amount of time and with many people involved in the production.

Urs Fischer, A Novel and Its Novelist, 2005, aluminum, Aludibond, gesso, acrylic paint, UV hardening ink-jet, marker, varnish, and latex paint, 83 x 109".

CHARLES RAY As we see more and more money available for young artists, we see the emulation of a certain production value that becomes stylistic. Many years ago a serious work got its currency from being produced in bronze, and a few years ago fiberglass really seemed like the contemporary bronze. One can find these problems in all ages, as we often mistake production value and style for good quality in the art itself. The issue of overproduction in younger artists’ work is a temporal problem as well. Using other people’s money—the patronage of collectors and art centers—removes the sense of completion from the artists’ into the funders’ deadlines. These deadlines lie outside the nature and problems one might encounter in bringing forth a work from idea to object. Older artists perhaps have enough authority to miss a deadline, to pull out of a show, to keep working at their own pace, while younger artists might be swept into these other production cycles.

LYNNE COOKE I think Angela’s distinction between the “means of production” and “fabrication” is a useful one, given the miscellany of procedures and collaborations involved in some of the more complex or large-scale works made by midcareer artists today. Fabrication seems to me to allude to a single material being worked, perhaps through various stages or processes, as in the case of Richard Serra’s torqued sheet steel or Koons’s forming and finishing of metal surfaces. In these examples, the questions of how it was done—its “wow factor,” in Charles’s words—points to a single specific production site for the answers. By contrast, in the more hybrid cases, like a Huyghe, those questions seem subsumed in the overriding impact or effect generated by the “spectacular” mise-en-scène, and as in theater productions, the how and why rarely occupy our close attention.

MICHELLE KUO But is there not also a connection between these kinds of spectacular, theatrical effects and the specific processes that might more easily be classified under a term like fabrication?

JEFFREY DEITCH Some of the most influential works of the past decade have been expensively fabricated large-scale installations like Olafur Eliasson’s Weather Project [2003] at Tate Modern. It is a model for the kind of experiential work that can reach and inspire a large new audience. A work of this type can only be made by professional fabricators or by a studio set up for large-scale fabrication. There will only be more demand from museums, public authorities, and real estate developers for this kind of fabricated public work, whether at events like the Olympics or in a new generation of public buildings. The effort to reproduce the “Bilbao Effect” will spread to ambitious cities and development projects all over the world, so that places like Qatar and Dubai may try to surpass each other in creating art spectacles that will enhance their images. These megaprojects can require that artists assemble large studios with teams of architects, engineers, computer graphics experts, etc. Artists arrive with their teams to sell their projects, and then have their studios work out the designs. This approach opens up many exciting new possibilities, but it also has the potential to dilute the role of the artist.

MICHELLE KUO So would it be fair to say that the current widespread adoption of fabrication is in part a way of meeting the hunger for spectacular effects and the demand for more and bigger artworks that are the result of institutional expansion from the ’60s to today?

CHARLES RAY Not necessarily. There are many works that were produced by very sophisticated fabricators for a great deal of money that simply cannot hold up to the crowds or the poorly guarded and maintained spaces of many contemporary art centers or biennials. Video projections, along with installations produced from fairly cheap materials, are good examples of work that fits these spaces pretty well.

MIKE SMITH But I think it is important to understand the demands being made on artists to produce work and to exhibit in larger and more numerous museums, galleries, etc. With this explosion of possibilities, artists have not been able to cope with the demand for their work.

CHARLES RAY Well, perhaps some artists see the fabricator as a production line and are able to produce vast amounts of work in a kind of serial order, but other artists run into new technical and engineering questions for each project and don’t work in a serial manner. This is probably a bit more exciting for the fabricator.

MIKE SMITH Our studio has worked with people in a serial manner, and yes, it can be dull. The projects that are more interesting and challenging to me personally are those that involve a marriage of new and old technologies or processes that we didn’t imagine could coexist. I think that artists now work without boundaries and ultimately this means that they work with a wider range of people with different skills, because it is not possible for one person to harbor all this knowledge and to be able to produce the work.

MICHELLE KUO I’m glad you brought up the notion of skill, because one reading of the postwar rise of fabrication was as a way of extending modernism’s preoccupation with dismantling traditional artistic competencies. If in the ’60s the turn to fabrication was a reaction to the privileging of manual skill in, say, painting, do we now ironically risk making a fetish of other kinds of technical expertise? Does the artist absorb skills that he or she needs to understand production, even if aspects of it are executed by someone else? Is this necessary?

CHARLES RAY Michelle, you’re right about dismantling manual skill. But how important is that? I could never draw, and I remember sitting on a bus when I was a senior in high school and being incredibly depressed that I didn’t have the skill to draw a figure realistically. I could never be an artist. When I discovered Constructivism, I learned I could express my ideas through the relationship of pipes and beams. Even as a kid, I always got older guys to weld my projects together, as my welding was—and still is—a disaster. To me the more important question is, Do we lose our eye?

ANGELA BULLOCH For me it is important to understand how a work is to be made, even if someone else makes that work at my request. It seems almost quaint now, but as a student in the mid-’80s I learned how to make my own electronic boards by adding the appropriate silicon chips to achieve a simple but effective controlling device to turn lights on and off. Making the boards myself really did help me develop my work. I understood something about the material qualities of silicon, which defines the language of computers on a very basic level. Other people help me produce works these days, but it was—and still is—important for me to gain an understanding of the possibilities first. Being able to communicate is paramount for the pooling of information and different expertises. Artists need to be able to communicate their wishes in order to achieve the results they want.

PETER CARLSON Angela, your point is well taken. It is just as important for the fabricator to understand the artist’s intent as it is to be able to communicate what is technologically possible when dealing with materials and processes.

CHARLES RAY I think it’s easy for people to link the factory production process to the artistic process, but artists have to find ways to bring their own processes to the fabricator rather than the fabricator bringing its processes to the artist.

JEFFREY DEITCH This is an important point to emphasize. I’ve seen a lot of bad work resulting from a fabricator’s selling artists on a new technique and getting them to adapt their work to it. An example of this bad work would be some of the large-scale prints-as-paintings that came out of the Saff and Tyler workshops in the ’80s and early ’90s.

PETER CARLSON While it is important for fabricators not to force artists into a particular material or process, it’s also true that by nature these works are prototypical, often requiring the fabricator to conduct extensive research to find a process or material that will allow the work to be realized. I would consider making the artist aware of what is possible to be a very important role of the fabricator.

CHARLES RAY Peter, I find the word prototype always comes up in art fabrication—and, by the way, in boatbuilding—after we’ve spent a lot of money and are on the verge of failure. In a certain sense, all art is by its nature a prototype.

MIKE SMITH I agree that there has to be deferment to what is possible. Just because somebody can think “it” doesn’t mean that “it” can be made. At some point the logistics of production can eclipse the intent, which can become lost.

CHARLES RAY It’s always interesting talking to young art students who have impossible ideas. Someone wants to build a ten-foot Plexiglas bubble that will hold his grandma’s deathbed suspended in a red fluorescent liquid. Of course, the grandma is levitating a few inches above the bed. Usually these impossible ideas are bad not because they are impossible to make but because they lack a connection to the social fabric they are being created in.

PETER CARLSON That’s an interesting example. We have experienced this very situation when artists assume there is a technological solution for their concept but in fact there is none.

MICHELLE KUO Charles, I’m interested in the connection you’re suggesting between a work’s fabrication and the social fabric. How can we understand fabrication as a link to a broader social context, as one might ordinarily understand certain subject matter? Does the use of a particular technology automatically invest a work with a certain historical specificity and, therefore, obsolescence? Will fabrication technologies like laser cutting be as iconically tied to our era as Plexiglas or vacuum forming are to the ’60s?

CHARLES RAY Well, without sounding superficial, I remember leaving a Los Angeles restaurant late one night years ago and on the street was a wonderful late-model Mercedes-Benz with a perfect midnight blue paint job. I thought about how that object had a quality that ran from the surface of its paint to the interior precision of its cylinders. It seemed really complete, and also seemed to reflect an aspect of our present social values. I thought about that car’s spatial embedment on the street for a very long time. Years later that vision informed my work on both Firetruck [1993] and Unpainted Sculpture [1997]. Connection to the social fabric is really important, if not everything, for many artists. However, I think we often mistake an object’s inherent relationship to technology as a production value. I think there are many handmade objects that sit in the world in an amazingly modern way.

Damien Hirst, For the Love of God, 2007, platinum, diamonds, human skull, and teeth, 6 3?4 x 5 x 7 1?2". Photo: Prudence Cuming Associates.

ANGELA BULLOCH Different methods of art production speak volumes about their times. When Michelle mentioned vacuum forming in the ’60s, I was also thinking and laughing about special effects in video production from the ’80s, when those editing technologies first appeared. There are many examples in sound production where changes in technology have allowed new possibilities that have become very specific to the time in which they were made.

MICHELLE KUO It’s crucial, then, to consider how an artist begins to harness these disparate and constantly evolving technologies. On the one hand, there is the concentration of production in one multipurpose site; on the other hand, there is the simultaneous and global dispersal of production in all types of practices: building new relationships across fields, outsourcing a service to Asia, employing a programmer in Silicon Valley, a master craftsman in Italy, etc.

CHARLES RAY I think this is a complicated issue, ripe for misunderstanding. The term outsourcing, while appropriate for so many of our industries, doesn’t always apply to artists producing work and using craftsmen from around the world. I worked on the plaster pattern for Aluminum Girl [2003] for a number of years, always with the idea in mind that it would eventually be carved in wood and painted. I went to Germany and spent time finding a wood-carver who could duplicate my plaster pattern. I visited him several times while the work was under way. When it was complete and sent back to Los Angeles, I found that the particularity of the wood carving didn’t work for me. This was something I felt, but it would have been extremely difficult to express in a written statement or contract. I struggled with the work for another year, eventually revisited the pattern, and made a decision to cast the work in aluminum. Aluminum is a very soft metal and does not hold detail the way stainless steel or bronze does, so once painted, its softness gave the figure a strange lifelike quality. Here’s an example of a work that I began in my studio with an assistant, which was sent to Germany to be carved by a craftsman, only to return to my studio, before being rethought, reworked, and sent off to a fabricator and cast in aluminum, with the finish and paint job completed by Carlson. So the idea of outsourcing can be very misleading.

ED SUMAN I think the site of production is becoming increasingly dispersed and will continue to do so. The role of “fabricator” is of necessity being broadened to include fairly complex types of contracting, subcontracting, and sourcing, sometimes on an international basis. This inevitably includes significant management of consultants and other vendors. The discipline and methodology of project management are becoming more and more of a factor in most projects.

MICHELLE KUO And as projects come to involve greater numbers of people from a wider array of fields, does it become increasingly complicated or difficult for the artist to maintain his or her authorship of the work? One thing that’s particularly fascinating in this regard is that—ninety years after Duchamp’s first readymades and four decades after Judd went to Bernstein Brothers—collectors, dealers, artists, curators, and historians are now more than ever invested in the cult of authorship around fabricated works. The question of artistic control still dogs us, generating acute anxiety in relation to terms like collaboration, intent, or the artist’s hand. If fabrication processes may have once challenged or questioned the author function, in many cases they now seem to have been completely enveloped by it. How is this guaranteed?

LYNNE COOKE The various comments made today constantly reinforce the fact that whatever the level or degree of input from either the artist or the fabricator, in the end it’s the artist’s approval of the work that is crucial. The artist takes responsibility. In the famous case where Count Panza and Ace Gallery realized Judd’s sculptures from drawings without seeking his approval, the work was rejected as not authored by the artist, and I think this is still the dominant paradigm. The artist’s approval rather than the details of the interaction is what finally matters. Questions of authorship seem to subsume the dichotomy between manual skill and fabrication, since the manual skills could just as easily be those of a studio assistant in many instances. Legal contracts sorting out the input of fabricators, studio assistants, and other collaborators are increasingly part of the process not only of realizing an artwork but of ensuring appropriate credit when the work enters the public realm. Is this inevitable given the complexities involved in making work today and our changing notions of authorship?

JEFFREY DEITCH Lynne, as a gallery owner and art producer, I have to pay a lot of attention to issues of authorship in fabricated work. I’ve had numerous problems with photographers, models, sculpture fabricators, computer programmers, and even painters’ studio assistants who sometimes years afterward have brought claims against the artist and the gallery. We now try to cover ourselves by using work-for-hire legal contracts with fabricators and artists’ assistants, but problems slip through the cracks. Who would have thought that a programmer working on translating an artist’s drawings into computer graphics files would hire Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and bring a lawsuit claiming artistic authorship just before a large public project was to be unveiled? Even though the artist I represented probably would have won, since I was up against volunteer lawyers and the chance of an embarrassing public dispute in the press, I had no choice but to pay this person a substantial sum to settle. There is a firm understanding in the contemporary art world that the artist who conceives of and directs a large produced or fabricated work is the author and the one who should be recognized as the creator of the work. But with all the people involved in these projects, the legal issues are more complicated.

MIKE SMITH It seems apparent that in an increasingly litigious culture the relationship between authorship and responsibility needs to be redefined in regard to all artworks of whatever scale. It always seems that the artist is unable to take this on, and these responsibilities and indemnities then have to be assumed by others—the museum, gallery, commissioning body, fabrication company, etc. With State Britain [2007] by Mark Wallinger at Tate Britain, the contract between our studio and Tate included an indemnity clause. This was because Brian Haw’s original protest, on which Wallinger’s work was modeled, is evidence in an ongoing court case, and the installation might have been construed as being in contempt of court. The Tate had to protect both Mark and the studio from prosecution. In this case it did not compromise the work, but unfortunately the contractual element of a project and the risk management are becoming larger factors, and will compromise some projects. Funding further complicates such projects, because they could be undermined by a more conservative cultural attitude toward a museum’s use of public moneys.

PETER CARLSON Mike makes a very good point that projects have risks to their realization that are not related to technical or manufacturing issues. These involve codes dictated by various government agencies, insurability, and financial risks. We have found that this has become an ever-increasing factor in projects we’re involved in.

MIKE SMITH I think Mark did court those risks but in the wider realm of a political discourse. And behind his challenge to the boundaries between art and political protest lie reams of paper that facilitated the project. This is an unfortunate by-product of our cultural situation.

ED SUMAN In addition to these legal risks, the reality is that fabrication of large-scale prototype objects—or other types of unique, one-of-a-kind projects—is inherently risky from a business or financial standpoint. This is sometimes not fully understood by entities that commission artworks, or, in some cases, even by artists or fabricators themselves. It is often assumed that art fabrication is similar in nature to either manufacturing or construction. While it borrows from both, in reality it is quite different. In comparison with art fabrication, both manufacturing and construction are relatively high-volume business models.

CHARLES RAY Not to pick a point, Michelle, but why do you call it the “cult of authorship”? Certainly it’s a privileged position in our culture, and other cultures may not be as concerned with authorship, but even though I am, I don’t feel cultish about it. I think nonartists have a tendency to look at produced or fabricated art and see or understand its mode of production—that many hands, individual skills, and points of collaboration went into a project. Perhaps it’s more difficult to see that a finished work is not simply an idea that gets “produced.” The idea as an armature to build a sculpture around makes clear that there is someone building something; decisions and choices are continually being made. The process can be long and go through many stages. At the end, the work belongs to someone. Someone made it regardless of how many hands worked on it. The author not only is responsible but drives the project in a much different way than, say, a boat maker builds a boat.

ANGELA BULLOCH I don’t feel cultish about authorship either, but I think the people who collect art often do. The artist retains control of the production of the work by making the terms of the work being done as clear as possible. Charles’s comment about the student’s proposal not having a relationship to the “social fabric” was an important point with regard to authorship, because the artist is usually thinking about how the work will be received, understood, or seen as part of a continuum. Art does not appear in a vacuum; it comes from and emerges within a public discourse.

View of Robert Longo, “Men in Cities,” 1981, Metro Pictures, New York.

ED SUMAN Some years ago I saw a Robert Longo exhibition in which he listed the names of all the people who had participated in its realization on the front wall of the exhibition space. In my experience this is fairly unique. Is anyone aware of other artists using a similar approach?

MICHELLE KUO Eliasson makes a point of listing all the people he works with, but sometimes they are not so prominently displayed. Takashi Murakami also specifically identifies all the assistants involved in a particular painting on the back of the canvas. Earlier examples include Robert Rauschenberg; Hans Haacke; Sol LeWitt, who has listed the makers of his wall drawings near the finished work; or Lynda Benglis and Robert Irwin crediting their work with fabricator Jack Brogan in the ’70s.

JEFFREY DEITCH Ed, I also remember Longo’s exhibition in the early ’80s where he listed all the participants in the creation of the work. It was a radical statement at the time, suggesting that the artist could be seen as directing a team like the director of a film. The actual drawing could be done by assistants, but the concept and direction of the work belonged to the artist. I think the credit list at the entrance to the exhibition had a very strong impact that helped redefine what an artist could be.

MICHELLE KUO Angela, is this something you do?

ANGELA BULLOCH Yes, all the people involved in the production of a publication are usually credited in the colophon—authors, photographers, translators, etc.—so I feel it is also appropriate to mention the people who contributed to the making of the work and I also credit them in a printed context.

MIKE SMITH Perhaps artists should wear overalls similar to those worn by Formula 1 drivers at their private views. These could carry the logos and badges of all their sponsors and team members. I don’t think it’s necessary to credit everyone involved in a production in order to dispel the cult of authorship. I accept the authorship of the artist’s intention. If I didn’t, I don’t think the studio would be very busy. The legal issues are complicated, but it is also surprising how many artists don’t acknowledge that they work with a production team in the realization of their works.

PETER CARLSON The artist, as Jeffrey has said, has many rights to the intellectual property of a piece. However, if a company or person develops a process or technique that is fundamentally unique and instrumental in the realization, who has ownership of that technology?

CHARLES RAY Peter, I don’t think many artists would have a problem if you developed a new welding technology or mold-making process to create a work of art. The technology in my mind is a tool that gives an artist the ability to move a project forward. The project belongs to the artist. Perhaps the technology you develop can belong to you. I love using your paint booth, but it’s yours, not mine.

PETER CARLSON Charles, I’m thinking of something like a surface texture that transforms just any metal cube from a common object to a particular artist’s work.

MIKE SMITH The idea of patenting a process or technique is quite alluring, but in reality these things are developed in order to realize a project, and they become part of the process. As they are developed in this way, then they are automatically within the public realm and are therefore difficult to patent. Ultimately, patenting is a very expensive process and may actually not be worth the effort.

PETER CARLSON I agree that patenting is an expensive process, but what would you think of using the particular process developed for one artist in another artist’s work? Do you think there is an ethical or moral issue to limit its use?

MIKE SMITH I don’t think the author always drives the project. On more than one occasion we have resuscitated projects with artists when they were very close to throwing in the towel.

CHARLES RAY Are you talking about an artist being stuck on how to direct a project or on what technology to use to build the project?

MIKE SMITH It’s more to do with artists’ expectations and their ability to communicate—and possibly my own misunderstanding. This can lead to a minor or major crisis within a project. Many artists make work for exhibitions rather than simply making work. In this scenario, with short lead times, when things don’t work out in the way everyone envisaged, it can lead to disappointment. This is not an issue of mismanagement but rather a case of the unexpected or, in some cases, naïveté. The main problem is that artists seem to spend less time “living” with their work before it reaches the public realm, and this raises various questions that challenge their control of the process.

LYNNE COOKE Mike, in many cases artists don’t preview their work before showing it not only because they run out of time but also because they don’t have the space or technical equipment that would allow them to review a work. This seems to me an increasingly problematic situation. Occasionally artists reedit a work after its first showing, but this is rare and seems to reflect negatively on them or on the work.

MIKE SMITH I think that’s an important point, but the gallery is potentially an unsuitable place in which to edit work. Although I understand that artists do not have the physical space in which to preview shows, for me it seems problematic that the first time they see something in its entirety may be shortly before it is to be viewed by a wider audience. It seems like a very high-risk strategy.

MICHELLE KUO Just to mention a historical counterpart, large-scale sculpture fabricators such as Lippincott arose in the ’60s in part so artists could “preview” their work in situ, as it was being made. This had to do with anxieties about phenomenological issues of relative scale and a preoccupation with “finish” that seems to have long-range implications for today’s installation practices. Lynne, could you perhaps speak directly to your role as a curator in this regard, since you’ve worked with artists in complex fabrication situations and premiered a number of projects that involve this kind of risk? Do you see your role as one of helping to provide financial resources, or professional expertise, or something else entirely?

LYNNE COOKE There’s no set rule; artists approach the idea of a commission very differently. Usually, however, when Dia is producing the new piece there’s a strong three-way relationship among the artist, the curator, and the project manager. The project manager tends to work out the practicalities, offering options, solutions, and interpretations of how to realize the ideas. The formal and conceptual issues tend to get played out between the artist and curator. This description is nonetheless too schematic; the reality is more fluid. In addition, certain artists, such as Robert Irwin, rely on a specific individual for oversight as an actual or de facto project manager for almost all their works. The institution may then end up hiring that person as part of the project team. In some cases at Dia, such as the Dan Graham pavilion, the Jorge Pardo renovation, and the Ann Hamilton installation, Dia took on the role of project manager. Ed, in your experience does it matter who assumes this responsibility, the artist or the institution?

ED SUMAN I think both the institution and the artist should assume some project-management responsibilities, which are hopefully clearly defined at the outset of the project.

MIKE SMITH With larger-scale projects, it’s very difficult for the artist to become the project manager, as this may not be within the realm of his or her experience. It also doesn’t allow the artist to focus on the bigger picture, since he or she will get bogged down in details that other people may be better suited to resolve.

LYNNE COOKE Only very rarely, Ed, have our projects been fully conceived or fully conceptualized from the beginning. Usually the project goes through many incarnations and refinements before it assumes its final form, which is only possible because there is a long lead time and schedules are flexible. It would be hard therefore to work out responsibilities with an outside contractor as project manager from the inception of the piece. Typically, these projects need in-house managers for practical reasons but also to monitor the potential budget of the evolving work.

CHARLES RAY Lynne, my experience at Carlson and other fabrication houses is really rewarding. At a certain point the project manager, Mark Rossi, will show me a problem and ask me how to proceed. I usually don’t know and ask him what he thinks. And then I ask the machinist or welder what they think. Then I turn to Mark and say, “When do you have to know?” He gives me an answer, and I go home and ask my wife what she thinks. If my art dealer happens to call that day, I might even ask him. I try to juggle the problem—keep it at bay—and all my options become a way of life. I really feel happy when I’m lost in time trying to figure out how to create a sculpture. At a certain point, the original idea becomes the least interesting place to go to find an answer to Mark’s question. The real answer lies in the sculpture itself. Sometimes it takes a lot of looking, a lot of eyes, and a long time to find the answer.

MICHELLE KUO We’ve been discussing fabrication as it relates to large-scale, fiscally and technically ambitious projects. But as Jeffrey has mentioned, one of the things that make this topic so relevant is the growing preponderance of fabricated parts in the practices of so many young artists—think of Sam Durant, Kelley Walker, Carol Bove, and Jonathan Monk, among many others. These artists all involve fabrication in their work, though not in the way that Carlson might provide, whether it’s a matter of ordering a laser-cut sign, or jury-rigging a printer, or custom designing wallpaper. Is this way of working related to the much more ambitious species of fabrication?

MIKE SMITH We have worked with a lot of artists at a smaller scale than what has been discussed so far. For some, we have merely provided a part of a larger configuration of components. With small-scale projects, the same parameters, risks, and concerns develop, but they are all relative to the project and the budget. These projects still need the same care, attention, and communication as large-scale projects.

JEFFREY DEITCH We are managing fabrication for almost all the artists with whom we work at Deitch Projects, including the painters. It is fascinating to see how even artists involved in the most traditional forms of art are encompassing elements of the expanded studio model. A painter like Kristin Baker does not paint on conventional canvas. She has designed high-tech PVC-and-aluminum painting surfaces and sometimes creates complex metal structures to support them. All of these elements require the participation of a team of fabricators. Kehinde Wiley casts models for his paintings the way a modeling agency would street cast, and he manages a large studio of assistants who help paint the backgrounds. Then there is the management of the expansion of his imagery onto clothing and the development of sculpture projects. Our gallery directors are more like line producers than traditional gallery sales agents. Most of the work of the gallery is now about helping administer the fabrication process to support the artist. One of our gallery directors specializes in producing live events, such as our Art Parade, which involves more than seventy projects with five hundred participants.

CHARLES RAY When you are young and you move into your first apartment, it may be small and dingy, but it’s home sweet home. As you get older, your houses get nicer in an appropriate manner. I think something very similar happens with art. When you are young, you can make great work within your means, but it wouldn’t feel right for a fifty-year-old to make the art of a thirty-year-old. I mention this because artists are often criticized for the ability to create very complicated, expensive, and production-heavy projects. I believe good artists will not collapse if funding dries up or an economic or cultural upheaval occurs. Good art still comes from the artist, not the fabricator.