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For the show, you’ve put together works from the last 500 years, from the Renaissance artist Perugino up to the present day. How did you select the artists and their works?

Do you know the story of Perugino?

Pietro Perugino (Pietro Vanucci), Hl. Sebastian, 1493-94, Staatliche Eremitage, St. Petersburg

Well yes, it’s said to be a disguised self-portrait of the painter.

That’s one story, but there’s a new story: it’s a fake. If you look at the image in the exhibition, it’s the mirrored image of the real thing. That’s the key: the original Perugino, which is not even here, is the main work in the show. At first it was a problem not to have the original in the show, and we had to find a solution. Then I was happy the problem arose, because the solution, I think, is even more poetic than the real thing. Now, when people look in the mirror of the cinema at Deutsche Guggenheim, they can see it somewhere in the distance like a mirage of a fake. With a mirage of a fake, you know: when you take two negatives, it makes up something like a positive, you could almost believe that the real thing is somewhere in the ether. So that was the keystone work. And then, in a practical sense, I was very near Nancy Spector’s office, so I would pop up and we would chat and she would make some suggestions and I would make some suggestions. And so, slowly but surely we pulled the exhibition together.

Matthew Barney: ENVELOPA: Drawing Restraint 7 (KID), 1993

After the Perugino, one work I really needed to have was the Lawrence Weiner. His work, I think, is normally very stark, very clear, while this one is quite ambiguous; Lawrence’s use of metaphor is always ambiguous, so it fits in with the allegory thing. The placement in the show is also very important: the first time you see it is in reflection, and it’s kind of broken up by the mirror. Then came the Jeff Koons piece. And then I have some friends who all came up with more. It was very informal. Because of my rampant ego, I’m constantly talking to people, and they all gave me their suggestions.

Jeff Koons, Louis XIV, 1986
Photo: © und Courtesy The Dakis Joannou Collection, Athens

A Renaissance painting next to a Jeff Koons sculpture: How will the audience bring this together?

I don’t think it’s a problem. You know, the works represent themselves as well as they represent the time they were made. And we were very careful which Koons to use, we wanted that one and not, for example, Michael Jackson or the Pink Panther. Next to the Perugino, that could be tricky. I think we made a careful choice.

Self-portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol
Photo: David Heald, © Courtesy Gagosian Gallery

In the exhibition at the Deutsche Guggenheim, there’s also a work called "Self-Portrait as Kurt Cobain, as Andy Warhol, as Myra Hindley, as Marilyn Monroe" (1996). A rock star, a pop artist, a child murderer, a movie icon – what made these personalities especially interesting for you?

I don’t think they’re so different. You know, Myra Hindley was one of the images that entered pop-culture in the UK at the time I was growing up. At the time, everyone had blond hair, my mother had blond hair. Everyone wanted to be Marilyn Monroe, so when I look at a picture of Myra Hindley, I see a little bit of Marilyn Monroe in there somehow. Andy Warhol wanted to be Marilyn Monroe. Kurt Cobain, I think, wanted to be Marilyn Monroe [laughs], at least he had his hair dyed, and he wore makeup. But talking about self-synthesis, I’m only a small player in this. And the truth is: I made the photograph, and that’s what I saw. I saw Myra Hindley, Andy Warhol, Curt Cobain, Marilyn Monroe. It wasn’t staged to be that way. Someone took that photograph of me and I looked at it and thought: this isn’t me. You know, if I was Andy Warhol and you asked me that question, I say they’re all blond. It’s as simple as that. But I’m not as good as Andy Warhol...

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