Ryan Gander


Scale model of Fairfield International, Suffolk. Photo: Fizzy Dawson Mayer.

Ryan Gander is an artist based in London and Suffolk, UK. Over the past decade, he has gained international acclaim for his works that question the limits of language and knowledge. He speaks here about an artist residency he has founded with Simon Turnbull named Fairfield International, which is set to open in 2014.

AFTER I GRADUATED ART SCHOOL IN 1999, I worked at a carpet shop in Chester for some time. It was only by going to the Jan Van Eyck Academy later that year that I was prevented from the possibility of working at that shop the rest of my life. It really saved me. But there aren’t many funded programs like that in Britain, programs where students from all over the world receive a significant grant and a surplus of facilities (studio, library, workshops, etc.) to build their practice. I now feel incredibly lucky to be able to produce work without having another job to fund it, even though I guess I still have what you could call working-class guilt.

Obviously, there already are art schools where one gets “proper” qualifications, where students do coursework, are marked for them, are placed in a situation of competition, and put on final shows. But when one works toward qualification, qualification becomes the objective and making great art becomes secondary. I think there are artists who come from situations that hold no other prerogative than to practice art. That sort of freedom is rare. My idea for an art school is something between an art academy and a residency, entirely free to the students who are also provided with a living stipend. I think that when one is in a situation in which they don’t have to worry about time and space—two of the greatest denominators in an artist’s ability to practice—that’s when someone starts acting like a real artist.

I live in the small town of Saxmundham, which is by the sea and two hours from London. One day, walking around with my wife Rebecca, we saw an old Victorian school that had been derelict for sixteen years. She asked me—sort of jokingly—why I didn’t do that art school I always wanted to do here. When I went up to go see it, I thought I actually could, not all at once, but in stages like when someone buys a house; instead of buying all the furniture at the same time, one should live in it a bit and buy things as one needs them.

The academy will be called Fairfield International and the plan is simple: When you give young brilliant artists some time and space, everything else becomes contributing factors to their work. At Fairfield International, there will be a sense of retreat because it’s by the sea; all the art world distractions that don’t help an artist work—an opening one night, a party the other, applications for money from the arts council, random teaching jobs, going into a share or living in their parents’ spare room, then having only a week in a studio—won’t be available. All of those have the potential to turn an artist into an idiot, rather than a savant of their own practice who learns by making mistakes.

Looking at photographs of the Bauhaus or of Black Mountain, I always think they should have taken more documentation. The teachers and students probably wish they had some better way to commemorate their time there; perhaps they should have had everyone make a drawing at the beginning and keep an archive. For Fairfield, I thought it would be essential to have an ongoing collection of art, one representative work done by each participant. But it would be logistically difficult and costly to care for over 120 works. So instead we will establish the Fairfield Legacy, an exchange program between the school’s initial investor and its students. In return for what it takes to start a new history, the patron will receive a composed collection of what is in fact a self-built history.

— As told to Huib Haye van der Werf

Jennifer Bartlett, Rhapsody (detail), 1975–76, enamel on steel, 987 plates, each plate 12 x 12”.

Over the past forty years, Jennifer Bartlett has explored the results that applied rules can yield in abstract and figurative painting. “History of the Universe,” a current survey of her work at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts, consists of paintings and sculptures from 1970 to 2011 that are presented as key examples of her oeuvre. Here, she discusses the show, which is on view until October 13, 2013.

IT WAS KIND OF A JOKE when I titled my 1985 novel History of the Universe. I was being ironic, since it would be very hard and perhaps nearly impossible to describe the history of the universe. But it’s not that I think my work is too ambitious. I feel very lucky to have such a long career, and I hope it goes on longer and longer. I feel okay about the novel now, but it was really an idea from Klaus Ottmann, the curator of the show, to use it as the title here. I haven’t made new work for this: It includes about thirty works. I view it as an offering of a variety of possibilities.

My working methods haven’t changed. Usually I begin a piece by making notes on scraps of paper and using what I have. The notes determine the rules I apply to before beginning a painting. Sometimes the rules change, but I prefer to follow through with them until the end. My work is finished when it’s finished: when I finish solving the problem. For example, squaring. For Squaring 2; 4; 16; 256; 65,536, I squared two, and then I squared the square root of two and so on. Solving it eventually took multiple plates for one set of numbers––a problem that became apparent immediately after beginning. People often tell me a painting is finished when I’m still not sure.

I’ve always been interested in color. There are a lot of different blues, reds, yellows, greens that can all be called by the same name. With color, I try to surprise myself. Primary colors always remain red, yellow, and blue, and secondary means orange, green, and purple, but what surprises me most is that when I postulate something, the result ends up being something entirely different than when I see it in reality.

I’m not sure what exactly was the right point in my career to start making freehand works. Unlike my previous work, the “Blob” series is not ruled and measured. This method hasn’t surprised me as much as my others, but I really like the word blob. The paintings in these series have neither stated problems nor solutions.

I first showed Rhapsody in 1976 at Paula Cooper Gallery. I made it one plate at a time at my loft in Greene Street and in the Hamptons. Part of my novel was written there too, but that’s pure coincidence. The first time anyone saw the entire piece, including me, it was at the opening. It sold that night. There were all these kinds of romances during the 1970s, but I don’t remember when they all took place. At this point in my career, Rhapsody is just something that I have done. I feel we all only have one Rhapsody in us.

I intentionally gave both Rhapsody and Song titles that are musical terms. Rhapsody seems to me like an energetic, romantic piece of music, and Song seems like a solo. Yet I don’t think music relates directly to my work. I am more interested in indeterminacy than music. I prefer rules.

— As told to Julian Elias Bronner

Mel Bochner


Mel Bochner, Meditation on the Theorem of Pythagoras, 1972/2013, stone and chalk. Installation view.

Though the recent work of Mel Bochner has primarily explored relationships between color and language, a group of his early work in the 1970s utilized small stones to destabilize the monumentality and traditions of sculpture. Here, Bochner speaks about his use of humble materials in creating new systems of value. His current exhibition, “Proposition and Process: A Theory of Sculpture (1968-1973),” the largest survey of his sculpture to date, is on view at Peter Freeman, Inc. in New York until July 12, 2013.

BEFORE ANYTHING ELSE, a sculpture is an object-in-the-world, something in our shared space. I use pebbles because they exist at the edge of the continuum between a fully three-dimensional object and dust. Intrinsically valueless and easily replaced, they qualify as an unmediated material.

A second condition must be met for something to count as a sculpture. Some human intervention must occur—an intention, a decision, or an imposed order. One of the earliest ways human beings devised of creating order was through counting. In Latin, the word for counting is calculus, which translates literally as “stone,” so as an idea it is already deeply embedded in our language. For my purposes the most important thing about counting is that it changes nothing.

A third aspect of sculpture that needs to be accounted for is the hand. Although nothing in these works has been carved, cast, nailed, welded, glued, or otherwise assembled, the use of the numbers five and ten signify the presence of the hand. (The Latin word for “finger” is digit.)

The organizing principle behind this installation is a spiral; the works have been laid out to wind counterclockwise through the space. This leads the viewer through a range of conceptual and phenomenological relationships to the sculptures, as well as to their relationship to the architecture. The strangeness of having to look down and walk around these small configurations of pebbles and chalk in order to “read” them further heightens the viewer’s awareness of his or her own body as another object-in-the-world.

Works of art are more than material entities or luxury goods. These sculptures represent my desire to get as close as possible to an intimate, unmediated, nonideological experience of the world. Implicit in this is a critique of the overblown scale and fetishism of so much contemporary sculpture.

At the end of this exhibition, all of my sculptures will be dismantled and their components will disappear back into their own ordinariness. All that’s left will be an idea, a scratch on the surface of memory. Of course, the irony is that without the object there would be no idea, but without the idea there would be no object.

— As told to Frank Expósito

B. Wurtz


Left: B. Wurtz, Untitled (Autobiographical Sculpture), 1972, wood, acrylic, 44 x 26 x 15”. Right: B. Wurtz, Untitled (Know Thyself), 1992, canvas, thread, string, socks, 17 1/2 x 18 x 5”.

B. Wurtz’s first solo exhibition in London is on view at Kate MacGarry from June 7 to July 13, 2013. The show will include a range of his work, most of it made with found objects and raw materials—such as wood, metal, and marble—from the 1970s to the present. Here, Wurtz reflects on his long career and his recent exhibitions.

WHEN I WAS VERY YOUNG I had the Eames Giant House of Cards, which unfortunately I destroyed because I played with it so much. Those cards and the images on them were some of my earliest tools (and inspirations!) for making sculptures. I would often make tall towers out of the cards and then proceed to dump our cat on them from above. If I’d known I was harming the cards I would have stopped, but since I was the kind of kid that was constantly building things, I didn’t think anything of it! I’d give anything to still have that set today. In the 1980s there was a widespread resurgence of interest in midcentury modern design, and many books came out on the Eameses. I remember coming to a page with the images of the cards and having a flood of memories rush back.

As I got older and began to consciously make art, I started signing my work with the initial “B.” (B. Wurtz)—partly because it’s shorter to write than “Bill Wurtz.” I decided I liked it because it held back some information. I didn’t go so far as to give myself a new name (“R. Mutt,” for example), but I was (and still am) more interested in having someone look at the work and draw whatever they can from it, rather than regard the person who made it. For example, there’s a piece that’s going to be in my London show, an older work from 1972 that I nicknamed the “autobiographical sculpture.” While it is, technically, autobiographical—in that it represents my age at its making (twenty-four)—it is more a formal statement than an emotional evocation of my life. The media I used in this piece are in keeping with what I consider my “palette” of common, universal materials—in this case pieces of found wood.

My work wasn’t particularly well received in the 1980s. I was (then, as now) presenting people with “lowly” objects from their ordinary lives—putting the mundane up to their faces to look at. Where I saw beauty, others saw insignificance. Many viewers wanted to escape and be given some fantasy instead of being presented with the ordinary. Despite my frustration during that time, I see that I had a sort of freedom—I was incapable of doing anything I wasn’t interested in.

These days a lot of artists working with found objects make art I can’t relate to. It feels to me like they’ve taken stuff from a pile of junk and made another pile of junk. Most of my works are fairly simple arrangements. It often takes a long time to get them where I want, but sometimes it’s just a matter of a minor tweak that clinches it all. I don’t want to obscure what the objects are. I like that there is inherent meaning attached to them in terms of their use-value, but ultimately I want the work to be formal, nearly classical.

Before my Metro Pictures survey in 2011, I had started thinking about showing older work along with newer work. I thought, “Why not? Who says I couldn’t do that?” There has always been a weird consistency in my output. One of the things that was really interesting to me about that show was that since it included over forty years of work, I somehow felt objective in seeing it all together for the first time. Much of it had been packed away for so long. I hadn’t seen many of those pieces in what seemed like forever! It was almost like looking at somebody else’s art entirely.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler

Left: Jonathan Horowitz, Free Store, 2010, mixed media, dimensions variable. Yvon Lambert Gallery, New York, 2010. Right: Jonathan Horowitz, Free Store, 2009, mixed media, dimensions variable. Sadie Coles HQ, London, 2009.

Jonathan Horowitz is a New York–based artist known for his often-sardonic examination of value systems in media, culture, and politics. Here, he discusses his Free Store, which he first presented in 2009 at Sadie Coles and has since recreated several times. The latest iteration of the store will be on view as part of Art Unlimited at Art Basel from on June 10 to 16, 2013. Horowitz will open an exhibition of new work at Barbara Weiss in Berlin on June 21, which will be on view until August 3, 2013.

I ALWAYS HAD MISGIVINGS about hosting a Free Store at an art fair. I originally conceived of Free Store in relation to the pristine, highly controlled environment of an art gallery—I wanted to open the doors and invite anyone in to contaminate the space with junk. For this first incarnation, I made a series of modular pedestals from recycled plastic. When turned upside down, they acted as bins and put the earth on a pedestal, like Manzoni’s Base of the World. I was thinking of the earth as being like a free store—historically, people have thought that they can take whatever they want from it without consequence. Now we know a social contract is necessary for it to survive.

Free stores have existed at least since the late 1960s, when San Francisco–based art and activist collective The Diggers started one in Haight-Ashbury. They conceived of it as both a form of social service and as a happening. My versions have been more about infiltrating spaces that don’t feel free. In theory, art fairs, which exist to sell things to very rich people, would seem ripe for infiltration. So when asked to present Free Store at the 2012 Art Basel Miami Beach, I decided to just go with the flow—it seemed in keeping with the project. With sponsorship by an online luxury retailer, however, there were inevitable conceptual clashes, including barriers to entry. At the end of the day, it wasn’t clear who had infiltrated who.

Perhaps though, it just came down to an inflection of tone. It’s impossible to ignore the fact that art is a luxury good—hopefully amongst other things. And the sort of contradictions that the Miami Basel store elicited are in many ways the standard fare of this industry. So when asked to present the store again at an art fair, I thought twice and decided to go a little less with the flow. My condition for presenting the store was that it must be open to the public free of charge. For me, it’s important that the project engage the local community who wouldn’t necessarily come to the fair otherwise, as well as the art fair tourists who would never come to Basel otherwise.

People say that art fairs have killed art exhibitions, but exhibitions are just another construct. It’s a relief sometimes not to have to fit artworks into “shows” like so many puzzle pieces. For my exhibition at Barbara Weiss, my starting point was just making work. A number of the pieces will be Coke/Pepsi themed, which I see as a broad metaphor for capitalism and personal choice. In many ways, the works are about absolute control, which is opposite to Free Store, which is about endless possibility. Coke and Pepsi present an illusion of choice but you’re more or less choosing between the same thing. I have to say though, I prefer Coke to Pepsi—I imagine there actually is a difference, even if I can’t articulate what it is.

— As told to Allese Thomson

Left: Announcement for “The Cat Show,” 2013. (Photo: Dana Byerly) Right: Sam Roeck, Contemporary Art Sculpture for Cats #2, 2013, oak, plexiglas, carpet, linoleum, 52 x 30 x 30".

CATS AND ART TOGETHER AT LAST AT WHITE COLUMNS proclaims the press release for “The Cat Show,” an exhibition curated by writer and artist Rhonda Lieberman and developed in partnership with New York’s Social Tees Animal Rescue. Here Lieberman discusses the origins of the project and the “Cats-in-Residence Program,” where cats will be offered for adoption in the gallery on June 14 and 15, and July 19 and 20. The show is on view at White Columns from June 14 to July 27, 2013.

BACK IN THE MID-’90S, I lived in a loft in Long Island City and started tending an outdoor cat colony in an empty lot on my street. I wasn’t even a cat person when I moved in, but L.I.C. had tons of street cats and they pulled me in. The cat party started at dusk when we arrived with the cans. It was my favorite art installation at the time! The cats evaded discourse. They didn’t buy some discursive, blathering response! Going to this Zen kitty garden cleared a lot of the mishigas in my head.

High-rises were about to go up on the lot, displacing the cats my neighbors and I had grown fond of. We placed some and approached some rescue groups—all overflowing with adoptable pets—and that’s when I got a crash course on the overextended rescue situation in NYC. These groups go to animal control to take the animals from death row. Bringing them more from the street was just adding to the overflow.

I thought it would be amazing to help the rescue groups by creating an un-depressing space where the public could meet the cats, a place where strays would be appreciated as the gorgeous creatures they are and not wretches in a cage-lined facility! For animal lovers, it’s very depressing to encounter the broken system that treats strays as throwaways. I thought the cat area itself was a great installation and this project would use the art context to actually facilitate adoption—as well as being an aesthetic, meditative space.

Around that time, at MoMA PS1, I went to James Turrell’s Meeting, a bench-lined room whose ceiling opens up to the sky. Nothing but presence—like the cat area. “This piece could only be improved by cats,” I said to myself. My original idea for the show was for it to be like Meeting—a place for pussies to meet the public—with stuff for the cats to use, because they like to climb, to scratch. No tableaux or tchotchkes—just interactive pieces where cats and people would hang out. In the show’s current form at White Columns, the cats do their “purrformance piece” in a kitty playground set within a salon-style kitty kunsthalle of cat-inspired—and sometimes cat-assisted—art and objets. Work by more than fifty artists and a zine with lots of personal pieces express our mysterious and intimate bond with cats through an array of sensibilities: the pieces are moving, sad, beautiful, comic.

Back in 1999(!), the artists and designers I approached got the project instantly. But finding a space that would host rescue kitties—and the funding—was a challenge. This project integrates art and animal rescue, so it kind of fell between the cracks, grant-wise. A space whose name I won’t mention agreed in 2003 to do it but kept dropping the ball when it came to development. That was an arduous and disappointing saga—so the project took a catnap there for a few years. But it was always a dream project of mine—one that had nearly happened. People would say, “What about that cat project?” Rather mortifying.

To my relief and gratitude, White Columns, the purrfect partner, stepped up and ended this purgatory. This is the right time for the project. There’s so much relational art—it was there in the ’90s, too, and part of my mental framework for the project. And the Internet Cat Video Film Fest at the Walker Art Center last summer was a big hit. I’ve always been passionate about animal rescue, and this was one way I thought I could use my “skills” to help more cats than I could on a one-by-one basis. Plus there’s something magical about hanging out with cats anywhere. They’re aesthetic and fun, so an art space is a perfect fit.

The point of this show is to use art as a lever to transvalue how we see and treat strays. I propose this as a prototype to show that this kind of thing is possible, hopefully on a sustainable basis at some point. The centerpiece is the cat habitat/kitty playground: an enclosure with a tubular cat tree designed by architects Freecell (John Hartmann and Lauren Crahan) and Gia Wolff. It will swerve around seven other interactive sculptures for the cats to use, and seating so people can visit. Michelle Handelman is doing on-site video documentation and installing a multichannel video of the cats in the space for when they are not “in residence.” Social Tees Animal Rescue, a partner for the project, is providing our ten cats-in-residence: Meowrina Abramovic, Bruce Meowman, Jeff Maine Coons, Claws Oldenburg, Alex Katz, and Frida Kahlico, among others. The purr-formers will have artist bios in the zine we are producing for the show, and most of all, we hope they’ll all gain purrmanent homes during the two two-day adoption events that open and close the show.

— As told to Lauren O’Neill-Butler