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You create counter-conditions, as though a documentary or anti-documentary were developing.

By documentary, do you mean a narrative or a freeze-frame out of a narrative?

A freeze-frame that gains its information or disinformation from real life in the way that Edward Hopper made it his business to show the frying of the eggs or the tragedies that happened in each of the cubicles he painted, whereas in your work that referencing is obscured or retracted, although its end result is more disturbing.

Yes. I had one of those gigs where you give a talk and a crit and do something with grad students. We gathered at a street corner, I picked one window of this building and drew everyone's attention to the things happening. I got some light-hearted fantasies about.



blp on power plant, New York

In Gursky's work, the documentary promise is compounded by detachment.

I would say that social criticism has no place.

Tell me more about that.

Everything counts. This was a real epiphany at 39. I was going to be 40 – what can I do? I don't waste anything. I'm in this shop, making furniture – I've got a couple of guys working there. I knew their language, which was Spanish, and I got closer to them. This was something that didn't just happen, it was very conscious. The only way I can get extra time is to be present for whatever's going on – to be present.

Is the detachment in Lefrak and the Apartment House and the Office Scene

You know, I don't think they're very detached.

They're brooding and unsettling –

That's coming around to something we spoke about earlier. If you see everything at once, a category becomes formed. Yes and no were a great invention. We invented that. Yes and no implies a sense of sets, breeding communication, saving time. Language is an abridgement of what happened, but I'd hate to be without it.

What is the shift from your earlier drawings to the current ones? There's a majestic quality in the newest ones.

Oh, thank you. I just finished a bunch. It was a pretty dead time for a while – that happens. I had a string of them in the past few days and they're really quite good. A bunch of them are small. At least half a dozen are just a loop of some kind. There's a contour drawing of a shoulder; the forearm, the elbow looks as if it's been cut off. Just that.

Like Ingres' drawings, where he excerpts the hands?

Something like that. Yeah. It's a generic gesture. An incision has been made.

That's unusual in your drawings. It reminds me more of the sculpture.

There have been stretches when I haven't been able to do any sculpture – In this bunch I did last week, there's substance, and it might be pizza dough in a ball that's thrown back and forth – that much integrity, which is not very much. Some of them tend to float, some are anchored. Unavoidably, there's gravity operating, and I don't like to say abstract, they're just monads with something in between.


Untitled (Vista Landscape), 1981
©VG Bild-Kunst, Bonn 2003
Deutsche Bank Collection

Sections?

Profiles! Renoir in his later years did linear drawings, a kind of purge of his former indulgence – they show that you have to distort. A contour has to suggest that things are predictable. I see things you see, and you see things I see. Art is social. It's a communication. You learn from drawings, like the da Vinci drawings, of course.

Did you see the da Vinci show at the Metropolitan Museum?

I saw it at an angle of 45 degrees, because you couldn't really get up close. But in reproduction they're really fine. I learned from those years ago. I learned from my mom too, she was really O.K.

She studied at the Corcoran School of Art in Washington and was an artist. Did you see the da Vinci drawings for the Battle of Anghieri

The horses?

Yes.

It's the greatest drawing of all time. That is something! It may be on that sheet, but there's also a smaller version or spin-off. I looked at this in despair. It's an amazing drawing. All that dying and all those killers. A depletion and an acceleration lashing out at each other. A backward and forward progression that reminds me of your work. Da Vinci's sensibility is similar to yours, though the manner of drawing isn't. How do your recent drawings and paintings jog or propel information?

That happens under your hand. You pick up things when you teach yourself, but you have to be looking for something, that's always the demand: you're not really doing a freeze-frame. You have a freeze-frame to work from, but a picture doesn't move.

In da Vinci's battle, the viewer is in the middle of the fight.

Oh, yeah. Because he gets you up close – and who used to do stuff like that? Braque.

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