Kit Schwartz

Marianne Deson Gallery

Kit Schwartz makes installations based on the 150 or so interviews she has conducted in the last five years with artists and “art-related people” as a part of an ongoing Semiotic Representation of Art During the Seventies. Her current work is based on Personality Profile Question number six, “Describe yourself as a person,” which is prepared for in her interview by preliminary questions about the highlights in one’s life, and one’s happiest and saddest moments. In the gallery, her transcript books are on four music stands, chairs are provided in which the “observer” can sit and read, and stereo speakers broadcast a soft audiotape of the responses on a continuous loop—a sort of background music. A schedule is posted telling in what time segment each interview will be played, so it’s possible simultaneously to read and hear response.

I was amazed at how personal the responses were, particularly since everyone knew the questions before the interview and therefore could have prepared an answer, eliminating spontaneity. There were a few exceptions: a number of artists, in long chaotic commentaries, seemed to be demonstrating their idea of how “art” should sound, if one takes “artist” to mean some fervent person whose mind continuously goes off in disconnected channels. But the critics, curators, collectors, art dealers and museum administrators quite openly and directly discussed the effect of one’s physical size on personality, the fate of youthful ambition, how other people see us, how well they listen when associates talk, points of disappointment with themselves, even sexual prowess and lack thereof. In fact, at this point, one imagines Schwartz to be the “mother confessor” of the art world.

A recurring theme here is role versus people. A number of soul-searching answers tended to defy stereotypes; for example, critics were very often humble and insecure. Imagining how so-and-so might have responded, I was generally totally surprised, in some cases hardly believing that the response before me belonged to the person whose name was on the label. It may be pure romance, but if individuals perennially let themselves hang out in such fashion they could hardly uphold their roles, and the issue then is raised whether roles turn a person into a thing and whether acquaintances respond to roles rather than to people.

And yet any observer here was more or less a peeping Tom. While I was warmly and pleasantly engrossed with all the things really going on inside so-and-so’s head, and oh yes that must be why she acts that way, and isn’t it too bad he feels he has to do that—in the end I’m not sure that the overall effect isn’t one of sheer frustration. Because the next time I see so-and-so, he or she’ll be behind that usual cover. What’s gained? It seems to show a curious detachment and lack of courage to let oneself be known only by Schwartz’s intermediation. And is this the ’70s-style self-revelation? Observing these interviews is but a sham of closeness, an imitation of having gotten to know some person better, whereas neither person nor observer has really been in contact, neither person nor observer has taken any risks, and the status quo is left entirely intact.

What, then, about Schwartz’s motivations? Indeed she makes herself a curious figure in terms of having so many individual people’s portraits in her paint box. She claims to be making a “portrait of the ’70s,” but aside from scholarly documentation, why must so many of her constituents have such famous names and hold such influential positions? Why must so many of the artists be from New York? The outward look of her installation could be taken as metaphor for the issue of self-revelation, or could also be taken as Schwartz merely showing off all the people she knows. Observers interested in remaining “on the surface” could be content to read all the blown-up “celebrity” quotes spotlit on the wall, while observers interested in getting “under the surface” could delve into the transcript books. However, even the spotlit notation that casual, ordinary passersby could use a nearby red telephone plugged into a tape recorder to add themselves to the list of stars couldn’t take away the impression that this project might be an elaborate sort of name-dropping, or more specifically, people-dropping.

C. L. Morrison