Robert Rauschenberg and Deborah Hay at a loft party in New York, 1966. © Bob Adelman/Corbis © Corbis.
Deborah Hay is a pioneering choreographer in the field of experimental dance and one of the founding members of the Judson Dance Theater. As part of artforum.com’s commemoration of Judson’s fiftieth anniversary, here Hay describes her work in the 1960s with the Cunningham Dance Company as well as with Judson—a moment that signaled for her both a departure from her formal training and a movement toward what would later become her signature practice. Hay’s new work, Blues, will be performed November 2–4 at MoMA as part of Ralph Lemon’s series Some Sweet Day.
WHEN I WAS EIGHTEEN, I went to the American Dance Festival in New London, Connecticut. Merce Cunningham was there that year and I used to sneak into his rehearsals at night. I would lie on the balcony of the theater where he worked with his company, watching them in silence. I was reconfigured on the floor of that balcony. I didn’t know exactly what was happening but it felt cataclysmic. After that summer I devoted myself to studying with Merce.
I studied with him from the age of eighteen to twenty-two. In 1964, I danced with the Cunningham Dance Company during a six-month tour through Europe and Asia. My husband at the time, Alex Hay, was the artistic assistant to Bob Rauschenberg, helping him with the company’s set production and design. Bob, Steve Paxton, myself, and Alex were very close then—we hung out a lot together. Before that tour it was proposed that I join the company as an understudy so I could travel with them. Fortunately or unfortunately, one of the company members left very early on, so I got to perform with the company during those six months, specifically in two pieces. After that tour ended in Japan, I never stepped into a dance studio again. I knew very clearly that I did not want to live that way—under the pressures that being in the company demanded. Merce was not an easy choreographer to work with and I think I agonized the whole time working with them—mainly because I couldn’t even get close to being as great as Carolyn Brown or Viola Farber, and I think wanting to be like them almost undid me. I was also working with Judson then. I knew that I wanted to do my own work—not necessarily that I had a strong aesthetic developed at that time, but I knew that my preference was to make my own pieces outside of the company structure.
Seeing the work of the artists who were involved with Judson really made me see dance in another way, especially in terms of working with untrained dancers. I think the artists were the ones who were bringing them in—Alex Hay and Bob Rauschenberg—and that was very attractive to me. It really shaped the beginning of my aesthetic in the second half of the ’60s. When I was at Judson, I feel like I was in the right place at the right time in a very democratic situation. I got to be in a lot of people’s work and present my own work and it was always accepted. I was very fortunate to be there.
I hadn’t really developed an artistic point of view yet. At Judson, I just did what I was told. I followed Robert Dunn’s weekly assignments like a dog. I mean I followed them, I did them, but I never really understood their aesthetic implications. My own aesthetic didn’t come to light until I left New York in 1970. It began to develop actually in the second half of the ’60s. I was making large group pieces, and I loved that if you put twenty people in front of an audience there’s so much to look at—you don’t have to even think about choreography much—you’ve got humanity before your eyes. It was so fascinating to me to see large groups of untrained dancers performing fairly complex arrangements of simple movement. There was nothing to hide behind—it was humanity unfolding before your eyes. I continued working primarily with large groups until 1996, figuring out what language I needed to develop and cultivate in order to “teach” dance without telling anybody what to do. That was sort of my goal during those years: How do you get a group of people dancing without telling them what to do?
Loris Gréaud, The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures, 2012, 35 mm, color, 28 minutes.
The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures is a new twenty-eight-minute film by French artist Loris Gréaud, starring David Lynch and Charlotte Rampling. The film is currently playing on several screens in Paris and will be shown as part of an international concert tour with Anti-Pop Consortium (who created the film’s subaquatic sound track) this fall and winter. Here Gréaud discusses how he came to make a movie about deep sea creatures’ glowing reaction to an underwater hip-hop concert.
MAKING A HIP-HOP CONCERT FOR SEA CREATURES was an incredible challenge—not least of all I had to explain to my parents that this is what I wanted to do! But it really became an obsession for me. My fascination with deep seas and the organisms living in them began when I saw a report on TV, which likened bioluminescent activity to “underwater fireworks.” The images of these creatures lighting up the dark water, creating so-called blooms, was so fascinatingly beautiful and also raised many questions for me. Without having a specific project in mind, I began to do a lot research. I found out, for instance, that bioluminescence is the most common form of communication on our planet and that we know more about the surface of the moon (where there is no life) than we do about the bottom of the ocean. My inquiries eventually led to meetings and collaborations with various experts—scientists, pyrotechnicians, and musicians. I met with researchers at MIT’s Sea Grant College whose experiments using certain frequencies to stimulate unicellular organisms had triggered bioluminescent blooms. They showed me grainy, low-res images and I was inspired. My quest became to find a way to diffuse music deep underwater. But it wasn’t until later that I decided to make a movie about the process and the results.
When I was considering what music to play to for the creatures, I immediately thought of Anti-Pop Consortium. I first heard the band as an art student and I remember feeling like I was listening to music from the future. Their arrhythmic beats and unique lyrics—a combination of philosophy, poetry, and hip-hop—was initially described as “Abstract Hip Hop.” So I met the band and explained my project, and they signed on to write all new music. I gave them carte blanche as long as they imagined that they were making music specifically for the underwater creatures.
Trailer for The Snorks: A Concert for Creatures, 2012
To make the concert, last March we launched a hydrophone from a submarine research station called Antares, which is one and a half miles below the Mediterranean Sea off the coast of Toulon in France. This was the most difficult moment, but also the most beautiful. The underwater microphone was so powerful that we could actually hear the music from the boat. We didn’t have any live-feed images from below, but then suddenly all of the computers started blinking. This meant the creatures were blooming and we knew the experiment was working. The scenes you see at the end of the movie—the underwater fireworks!—represent the actual bioluminescent response to the broadcast of APC’s music.
I’m really excited by how this project—the film and the concert tour—can reach many different audiences. People interested in music, science, cinema, and art will all get something different out of it. The Antares researchers, for example, were game to do the experiment with me, but they didn’t necessarily think we would get a reaction. Now they are working on a scientific publication based on what happened during the “Concert for Creatures.”
New York–based artist Ross Bleckner is known for painting a spectrum of subjects—from pulsating lines in his resurrection of Op art in the 1980s to the magnified cellular structures of autoimmune diseases in the 1990s. In his new exhibition, “Birds & Brains & Flowers,” which is on view until December 15 at Jablonka Galerie in Cologne, natural memes dissipate in auratic light from deep within their figurative skins. Bleckner speaks here about homosexuality as a conceptual model for the correlative conditions of exterior familiarity and interior determinacy.
OBVIOUSLY, THERE ARE A LOT OF GAY ARTISTS, especially the younger ones from my generation, like Felix González-Torres, who addressed this feeling of being marginalized romantically and sexually, through longing and despair, joy, and generosity. There was a whole conceptual element to it. But when you look at his work, there’s something that’s really heartbreaking. The way those candy piles twinkle, it’s incredibly beautiful—the awe of something that’s distant.
I was thirty-two when it happened. I was scared that I would be dead within ten years. There were no tests back then so I had just assumed. AIDS brought a total paradigm shift in consciousness, a rupture. I was lucky. I was going through my needlessly monogamous phase, not because I believed in it but because it just happened. I’m glad I had a boyfriend.
For a long time, I was falling in love with straight male artists and it was a nightmare. It was so much about yearning. What became logical for me in the ’80s was this sense of loss and its commemoration in a rupture between representation and abstraction, between my stripe and figurative paintings. How do you keep yourself engaged when everything that passes, from experience to memory, always constitutes a loss? It’s like a photograph. This thinking led to paintings that have a distant, near, real, and literal light—a landscape light. I made them and then I would ask myself what they were about. Were they stripes? Were they optical?
The experience of making a painting is very important to me—its physicality and its visceral connection to an engaged truth, which is determined by the reference to how an idea accords. I became an artist at a time when painting was “dead”; this was really the predominant ideological discourse in art back then. So much of postmodernism has to do with what is skill-less. Naturally, that was good for me because I already felt a little marginal to begin with. I didn’t feel like I was part of the neo-expressionists that came right before me, even though they were my friends. Julian Schnabel was kind of a big father-bear type. I always used to kid around and say we were like the two sides of a coin. He was the security and I was the insecurity; he was the self-assurance and I was the self-doubt. I found his ability to project inspiring. But much of the neo-expressionist work is heterosexual; there’s a bravura ethos about its masculinity. It got to be too much because it was repetitive. They were trying to subvert representation from within but couldn’t.
My work is more elliptical. I think it’s more sensitive to being open to different kinds of relationships, all the various routes that are possible to find a solution. Admittedly, there’s a hardness in some of the work too, and if I were heterosexual, that would be it. But then a softness arises that even repulses me sometimes because I think it might be too decorative. I know that’s kind of a pejorative term in the art world, but the idea of beauty has always been fascinating to me, because it can be like skin with its different levels of decor—a jewel, a piercing, a tattoo. But once I do something on the outside, I must investigate the image from the inside. Sometimes that can be frightening, like the overexpression of cells that mutate and become something they’re not supposed to be. It’s necessary to have X-rays done to see if everything is working internally.
So I did paintings of blood cells and the AIDS virus and cancer cells. I never said they were realist, but they totally were. I wouldn’t have done it if my paintings, which I make in a contemplative arena, didn’t point out to me that the world of our parents and of progress was broken. The can-do ethos of industrial optimism had been replaced by fears of early mortality.
Since then, I’ve really internalized that sense of mortality. I don’t want my paintings to be alike. Even in this show, there are flowers, brains, and birds. I begrudgingly call some of these my “flower paintings” even though they’re not really flower paintings. They were flower paintings. I first paint them really carefully, like a still life. Then I scrape off all that paint with a palette knife. A flower has such a short life span; it blooms and it is so majestic at its height but then it just falls away. I find pleasure in painting them and then seeing what happens when they become just a trace of something left. I’ve always been amazed by what’s not there anymore.
I’ve also always been obsessed with obituaries. Everybody worships something, but you can choose what it is you worship. Actually, David Foster Wallace said that, not I. Your artwork looks like your personality in the end. I’ve always said that. I’ve tried to develop a signature style. Perhaps some of the paintings have been more about real life than anything else.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2011, oil on linen, 18 x 18”.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2011, oil on linen, 18 x 12”.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2012, oil on linen, 84 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, My Sister’s Brain, 2012, oil on linen, 84 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, Overhead and Below, 2012, oil on linen, 72 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, untitled, 2012, oil on linen, 72 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, Handful after Handful, 2012, oil on linen, 72 x 72”.
Ross Bleckner, Created Things Have Ways, 2012, oil on linen, 84 x 72”.
Steve Paxton, Satisfyin’ Lover, 1967. Performance view, Museum of Modern Art, New York, October 17, 2012.
Ralph Lemon has never been about just one thing. A celebrated dancer, choreographer, writer, and visual artist, Lemon turns toward the curatorial in his latest endeavor, “Some sweet day,” which stands to be a significant touchstone in developing conversations on the role of dance in the museum. Here he talks about the project, a three-week series of dance performances featuring six choreographers at the Museum of Modern Art that he coorganized with Jenny Schlenzka, associate curator at MoMA PS1, and Jill A. Samuels, producer in the department of media and performance art at MoMA. The program runs through November 4.
“SOME SWEET DAY” grew out of a project that didn’t happen. In 2007, I was offered the chance to curate a dance series at the ICA in Boston as part of a visual art show they were putting together on American blues music—blues as an American aesthetic. And I thought, well, I don’t want to racialize it, but they’re calling me because I’m a black artist, probably thinking I might have some relationship to the idea of the blues, which I do. But that part didn’t interest me as much as just curating a series of dances. I thought about creating a framework where the performing artist would work with a visual artist from the show on something that would inhabit their theater. Then I thought of pairing performing artists. I was really interested in this idea of having two artists in the same place at the same time, giving the series some generational or historical or aesthetic point of view, a generative collision of my choosing. I thought of artists like Deborah Hay and Sarah Michelson, these two very iconic, very different women makers.
Long story short, it never happened. But it remained a kind of a bee in my bonnet. And then a couple years later, Connie Butler invited me to be a part of the exhibition “On Line” at MoMA. There was an untitled duet I had made with Okwui Okpokwasili in 2008 for a private, invited audience at Dancespace. I thought it would be interesting to remap that work for the very unprivate MoMA atrium. The performance at MoMA changed the work, of course, but also my idea of how to be in my body in front of that particular kind of audience, sharing the work. Because the audience is so at odds with itself and the space. There were at least three different kinds of audiences we were dealing with—people from dance who dutifully came to see Okwui and myself, people from the visual art world who came for “an event,” and the incidental audience, passing through. All of that happening simultaneously was extraordinary. From performance to performance, it continued to surprise me. It felt like something I wasn’t going to conquer as a performer or performance maker for that kind of environment.
When the performances were over I thought this was wonderful and I wanted other people in my perceived “tribe” to have the opportunity. I wrote Kathy Halbreich and said, “I’ve got this idea. This blues project never happened at ICA, and would you be interested in some reconstituted form of that project?” Kathy loves dance, and she was thrilled about all the artists I brought up. She opened that door to the museum. And then it was a matter of refining what the original idea was to something that was appropriate to MoMA and the atrium space. The most important curatorial question or problem would be how does a dancer or choreographer deal with that space, which is not a theater. It can’t be. An artist has to go into the atrium on its terms.
There were four artists from the original blues project that stayed in the lineup: Deborah and Sarah and Dean Moss and Faustin Linkyekula. And for many years I’d been thinking about Steve Paxton and Jérôme Bel—their generational, historic, and aesthetic kinship, same and different points of view on the ordinary body. When I contacted Jérôme he immediately mentioned he had been thinking about doing The Show Must Go On in the atrium. I thought that fit my curatorial terms fine, and I said, “I’d also like you to share that week with Steve Paxton just because I see both of your work fitting in time.” And he was like “Yeah, let’s do this. Let’s see what happens.” And I thought, that’s what this whole thing is about. “Let’s see what happens.”
Jérôme arrived just today, coming off the great success of Disabled Theater. It opened in Paris last night and he gets on a plane and a few hours later walks into the atrium and he’s like, “What do I do in this space?” He doesn’t know. It’s brilliant, right? And Sarah, who controls everything, it’s been incredible to watch her for months try to figure out how to control a monumental mise-en-scène she can’t really control.
In some respects, the most profound part is the things that MoMA can’t predict and control, and the things that we can’t predict and control. MoMA, to its credit, from the top down, has been really open to this. But we’re opening up a can of worms. Some people will point to the surface layer and say it doesn’t work. And my point is, of course it doesn’t work. Now let’s see, within that, what are the opportunities, what do we discover about it not working? From my point of view, if it’s not working that means it works. We know the old model.
Some sweet day is an old gospel song. The title just felt . . . appropriate. Dance in museums. We’ve been getting such short shrift, and some sweet day we’ll be a part of all of this. Maybe.
Meredith Monk is one of the most prolific artists of her generation. Her body of work extends across numerous media, and she has performed many roles throughout her career––including composer, singer, director, choreographer, and visual artist. She has also pioneered fields such as interdisciplinary art and extended vocal technique.
Born in New York City in 1942, Monk graduated from Sarah Lawrence College in 1964. It was at this time that she began to execute her works at Judson Memorial Church in the more theatrical “second wave” of performers. Soon Monk opened up her SoHo loft for workshops and performances, and founded her own company, the House. Monk is the recipient of a MacArthur Award, two Guggenheim Fellowships, a Grammy, two Villager Awards, three Obies, and two Bessie awards. Recently she received Musical America’s 2012 Composer of the Year award. Her breakthrough dance 16 Millimeter Earrings, 1966, and other pieces will be surveyed in “Meredith Monk: Pioneer Days” at Danspace in New York on November 19, 2012. In March 2013, she will premiere a new work, Realm Variations, which was commissioned by the San Francisco Symphony. Monk is also developing a new music-theater piece, On Behalf of Nature, due to premiere in 2013.
Interview with Meredith Monk
LIVE ART IS HERE TO STAY. On July 18, 2012, Tate Modern launched the Tanks, a subterranean group of cylindrical chambers and other spaces that constitute the first phase in a dramatic expansion of the museum’s building by Herzog & de Meuron. Formerly the repository of a million gallons of oil, the Tanks are touted as the first museum galleries in the world permanently dedicated to live art, film, and installation.
The Tanks’ current stage of programming—an elastic, fifteen-week series of exhibitions and events titled “Art in Action”—runs through October 28, at which time the galleries will temporarily close while construction resumes on the next phase of the museum’s expansion. Over the past twelve weeks, curators Stuart Comer, Catherine Wood, and Kathy Noble have invited dozens of artists to present new and old performances, installations, and film and multimedia works in the Tanks. As the first round of programming comes to a head, artforum.com spoke with Comer and Wood about how the Tanks are challenging old protocols and asserting new roles for the museum.
I DIDN’T FULLY REALIZE until Anne Teresa de Keersmaeker got into the Tate Tanks and started dancing how curious it had been to plan a whole festival of live art without being able to be in the spaces. Even up until a few weeks before they opened, it was a building site, and we were going down with hard hats and boots. We’d been entering via a temporary set of scaffolding steps too, which was disorientating scale-wise. I’d been worried that the spaces were too brutal. I just didn’t know how it would feel with bodies in there, in their vulnerable state, not armored in construction gear. But seeing Anne Teresa’s solo in the first week was a defining moment, because just one person doing something extraordinary totally held the space, and it suddenly felt like there really were great possibilities here.
The Tanks so far have been everything we hoped they would be. We called our “art in action” program an open manifesto: a way of testing things, and setting the template for what these spaces could be, seeing them through artists’ eyes. And it’s been really great because we invited in a range of work that would challenge and articulate the space in different ways. I guess this often happens with curating, but outside of what we had planned or imagined would happen, other stuff had started to happen that we didn’t anticipate and we weren’t necessarily in control of. We invited Boris Charmatz to do Flip Book, an existing piece. The dancers needed rehearsal time in situ in the Tanks. We said to him, “You can have the doors shut, and rehearse behind closed doors if you want to, or you could open them so that people can come in and see.” And he said, “Well, you can open them, even though that’s kind of weird for me. But let’s try it.”
At first I think the dancers were a bit in shock, because the visitor flow here is quite intense. They had loads of people coming in and watching them warm up. It was less an attempt to make a feature of the process and more a question of what was being hidden: “Do we close the spaces off or not?” But the dancers started to relax and get into it, and then it became fascinating to watch, often funny, and more performative. Boris and Musée de la Danse had also invited Valda Setterfield, one of the most senior original Cunningham dancers, to come and speak to the audience while they rehearsed, which created an incredible parallel situation between their movements and her narrative description. On Saturday afternoon, he invited members of the audience to do the piece themselves, spontaneously, and ended up getting twenty-five people onstage, doing it beautifully. And so this energy developed around the structure that we’d set in place and what we’d invited to happen. And that’s been characteristic of quite a few of the projects, notably those of Ei Arakawa, which generated amazing participatory situations, and Tania Bruguera, who, in collaboration with our gallery attendants, darkly manipulated the power dynamics of the space.
The Tanks: Boris Charmatz.
It feels great to have a space, having programmed this kind of work in a somewhat parasitical manner around the core exhibitions and displays for ten years, and having to reinvent the format and situation each time. What we’ve seen in the Tanks hasn’t been allowed to happen at Tate before, because we could only program discrete events, or we had to specify the duration or the exact nature much more clearly in advance. Having a dedicated space means you can let things happen. It’s not so prescribed. So on one level it’s a status thing and it’s to do with designation of spaces in the museum, but it’s also giving a space to germinate this kind of practice that is central to how artists are working now, and connect back with such work in previous generations.
I feel more and more that acknowledging this kind of work as a part of the museum feeds back the other way and makes me look at all the other objects in the collection through a performative lens. It has this viral energy. Having Tino Sehgal’s work in parallel in the Turbine Hall only puts added pressure on the conversation. Now that performance, if you want to call it that, is in, it’s changing things at the molecular structure of the institution. It’s challenging every level of how the museum operates. And that’s going to continue to be the case I think, especially now that we’ve got the Tanks. But also because of what we’re acquiring. We just had a research seminar about collecting performance. With any object you acquire in a museum collection—if you’re still defining a museum in terms of collecting—things aren’t completely stable, and they have to be maintained and preserved and treated. But performance has not been “tamed” by being accessioned and invited into the institution. It retains all these other “live” characteristics, whether it’s programmed or collected, which persist once they’re inside, pushing against how things work and how systems have settled into habit.
I’m not saying this in a moral way or actually a judgmental way, it’s just a fact: Museums evolved around the culture of objects. The things artists have done since they’ve been here in the Tanks, they’ve just blown my mind in terms of the possibilities. You invite artists to do a project you have in mind, and then they do something a bit different. And there’s the excitement of it, though it’s often a bit alarming at the time!
Aldo Tambellini, Black Zero, 1965. Performance view, Tate Modern Tanks, October 13 2012. Photo: Tate Photography/Gabrielle Fonseca Johnson.
IT’S INTERESTING FOR ME to witness the actual reality of the audience experience in the Tate Tanks, how people are encountering the work. I remember seeing Trisha Brown at Documenta 12 five years ago and being intrigued by the questions raised by presenting live art in the gallery as an ongoing situation rather than a brief, ticketed performance. Tino Sehgal and others have also been broaching this question for several years, and it’s an important moment to consider how institutions are responding.
The Tanks come down to a broad set of concerns that deal with process and not just the finished object. A lot of the works that we are presenting are essentially fugitive. How do you position such projects in a collecting, archival institution, which somehow is responsible for suggesting and questioning a canon? I think it’s a really interesting contrast given that Catherine Wood, Kathy Noble, and I were interested in not only this kind of work but in the histories of smaller, often artist-run spaces that originally presented it, places like the Kitchen or the ICA or the London Filmmakers’ Co-op. For us, it’s been interesting to contemplate how you might bring that model into a large institution, which ultimately has a very different agenda.
This week we’re presenting the work of Aldo Tambellini. He’s one of the first artists to experiment with video, television, and multimedia performance, and he also helped conceive situations and spaces to present not only his own work but that of his peers. He started the Gate Theatre with his wife Elsa on Second Avenue and Tenth Street in 1966. It was one of the first cinemas in New York to have a devoted program of experimental films every night of the week, and Charles Ludlum’s Theatre of the Ridiculous occupied the space on weekends. It predates Anthology Film Archives and the Kitchen. Shortly after the Gate Theatre opened, he collaborated with Otto Piene to open a space upstairs called the Black Gate. The Black Gate became a crucible for performances by artists like Nam June Paik, Yayoi Kusama, and Jack Smith as well as Tambellini’s own “Electromedia” events. Aldo was experimenting early on with connections between cinema and performance as well as political activism, and he frequently collaborated with black poets from the magazine UMBRA, including Calvin Hernton and Ishmael Reed. He and Piene subsequently presented Black Gate Cologne in 1968, arguably the first work of art for broadcast television. Aldo helped to create a blueprint for many multidisciplinary institutions that came along later.
The relationship to time and to architecture and to one’s expectation of duration has definitely changed with the Tanks spaces and projects. Much of my portion of the program is very historical. We’re revisiting work primarily from the 1960s and ’70s. Many of those works, in their initial iteration, were done for audiences of maybe twenty people and were rarely written about outside of specialist publications. Now, we’re getting four hundred people for a Jeff Keen performance. What are the implications now that we’re opening this work up to a much larger audience? What are our responsibilities to that history and to the people experiencing it now? Obviously, it’s not the same work now as it was in 1973.
Live art and experimental film practices are becoming of greater interest to emerging art historians. It seems to me there is a rise in the number of PhDs in these fields. These works traditionally have been recorded through a more anecdotal history. That’s interesting in the context of the Internet, and the fact that history is beginning to mean something else. I think everyone is now more critically aware of how histories are constructed, maybe a bit skeptical about canons in general. The role of a museum is changing, worldwide. It’s a moment when we’re expanding our collection along international lines—our ambitions have shifted to collecting work from non-Western parts of the world—but we also need to represent historical experiments and experiences that have not been properly valued or analyzed. We can’t rely exclusively on the usual stories anymore.
The parallel history that this work offers prompts questions about these stories. That’s why we wanted to start with Suzanne Lacy and Lis Rhodes, to open the experience of the Tanks with recent acquisitions to Tate’s collection by women rooted in a feminist agenda in the ’70s and ’80s, who were asking tough questions about our history and its politics. I hope that their work continues to put pressure on curators, on artists, on audiences, and on historians to think more carefully about what the role of the museum should be and what sets of experiences the museum should be offering.
Henry Flynt’s long career spans many roles: mathematician, musician, artist, and anti-art activist, as well as philosopher. In 1961, he coined the term “concept art” (not to be confused with Conceptual art), ushering in a new form of work that exploits and undermines the tautological structures of perceptual logic. “ ‘Concept art,’ ” he wrote in 1961, “is first of all an art of which the material is ‘concepts’. . . . Since ‘concepts’ are closely bound up with language, concept art is a kind of art of which the material is language.”
Born in Greensboro, North Carolina, in 1940, Flynt began studying mathematics at Harvard University at the age of seventeen but later withdrew to pursue artmaking. He moved to New York in 1960, where he was introduced to the local avant-garde, and performed before such luminaries as John Cage and Marcel Duchamp. Flynt was also featured extensively in La Monte Young’s An Anthology of Chance Operations (1963). Flynt subsequently denounced the art world and demonstrated against “Serious Culture” at institutions including Lincoln Center and the Museum of Modern Art in 1963–64. In the 1970s he produced experiments in music composition with fellow artist-mathematician and close collaborator Catherine Christer Hennix. It was not until the late 1980s that Flynt resumed his role as a visual artist, consistently exhibiting his works at Emily Harvey Gallery in New York and subsequently at the 1990 Venice Biennale. Flynt’s retrospective, “Activities 1959–,” is his first museum exhibition. It is on view at the Kunstverein Düsseldorf from October 6, 2012 to January 20, 2013, and then travels to the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnolgie in Karlsruhe, Germany. Curated by Hans-Jürgen Hafner, the show tracks Flynt’s exhaustive development of concept art as a critical genre. Here he speaks about the exhibition, his new works, and the evolution of the genre over the past fifty years.
Henry Flynt interviewed at the Artforum offices in September 2012.