State of the Arts/VISUAL ARTS

Nordell: Somehow this conversation got going on an unexpected tack. Is what you said true -- that people who look at a lot of art and architecture, and write about it, find fewer and fewer things that interest them? Wolff: Well, on the one hand, yes, it's true. If I'm looking for significant art, if I'm looking for work that follows a particular dogma or theory, then I find that the older I become, the more experienced I become, there are fewer and fewer works which really do fall into that category. However, it's also true that I increasingly discover that there are more and more components, that art is infinitely richer than I had thought it was 5, 10, 15, or 20 years ago. There is much more work which I would say is of fine quality, much more than I would have accepted as art before.

Nordell: Does that mean junk art and ``non-art''?

Wolff: Well, in certain instances, because I am then intrigued, essentially, to find out why this work was made. That has added a whole new dimension for me: the issue of getting to know the artists, of discussing the work with them, and finding exactly what it was that motivated them to create what we would call junk art. I'm thinking mostly, though, of work that is highly intuitive and that doesn't seem to have any precedents -- and that today is very often produced by young women who do not have the father role that most men seem to have to follow. They are freer to sort of explode with these images.

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Nordell: In this day and age we're finding sex roles in art]

Andreae: It's very interesting what Ted said, because I have very much been thinking along similar kinds of lines. But it seems to me that I've divided my criteria into top art and a kind of ``lower'' rung - which has avoided the issue of ``great'' art - which comes to people's tongues so easily and so trippingly. I cannot stand the phrase ``great art.'' It should be expunged once and for all!

Nordell: There'll be the usual pistols at dawn after the taping here.

Andreae: No, just good argument.... But what's so interesting about women's art is not the explosive aspect of it, to me, but the fact that it has a different level of expectation. It isn't a question of great art or pretentious art, and it deflates that kind of criterion. It's really a question of coming closer to something to do with humanity. It stops you asking the questions ``Is this good? Is this great?'' Or even ``Is this qualified in some sort of way?'' It simply says, ``Look, this is what I've done.''

Nordell: Can we put any names or faces to what we're talking about?

Andreae: I can think of some British examples. You know Elizabeth Blackadder. She's a Scottish painter who works roughly within a modern kind of phase but has also become immensely interested in painting flowers. And she paints very fine and surprising ``still lifes'' - not at all conventional - Japanese in sensibility, as rich in color as Indian miniatures. Now, this sounds incredibly little - and it is, in a funny sort of way. But her painting is extremely sensitive, with marvelous life and directness. It's not at all small-minded.

Another Scottish artist called Liz Ogilvie does drawings of the sea. They're big-scale drawings. But they are done minutely, with pencil. They have a large ambition, but tempered with a moving sort of tenderness.

Wolff: May I interject here? It seems that younger American artists would not agree with you on this. I mean that Susan Rothenberg, Melissa Miller, quite a few of the other ones, speak with the same kind of language that the men do. I mean, they also see themselves within the historical tradition and their work as a part of the dialogue. But I'd also like to say that I increasingly do not go out into the art world with any sort of a notion about looking at great art.

It's only when I see a work such as the current Sargent show [John Singer Sargent at the Whitney Museum in New York] when that whole issue arises. Most of the time I'm simply going out to find out whether or not these are artists. Are these people who are speaking through their medium? Are they painters, etchers, sculptors, or whatever?

Knight: You all are talking about art, and it's different from architecture. But, going back to your first question about critics and whether they're finding it harder to write about things: I don't think of myself as a critic. I think of myself as a reporter. And from my point of view, I'm just fascinated with architecture -- anything that's architectural. And I go out and just -- I mean, I've got more than I could possibly write about because I suppose it's because my interest is just so broad.

I do think, at least in the case of a lot of people in New York who are writing about architecture, they don't like what they're writing about. And it comes off in their writing.

Andreae: The artist is king at the end of the day, not the critic. And the artist should, if he's good enough, be able to determine for the critic which approach to take to that art.

Knight: That might be the case, but I think too many of the critics think they're king.

Andreae: If the critic has a role at all, it's to bring art closer to human beings. And if he's going to do that, he has to become a human being himself.

Nordell: Is there a difference between looking at a work of art as a critic and as a human being?

Andreae: Well, it's the difference between what I call ``museum knee'' and bouncing into a museum. Museum knee is the result of having been to far too many museums.

Nordell: Like what used to be called housemaid's knee, is that it?

Andreae: Exactly. But it affects the responses rather than the knees.

Wolff: I would say that my first response is always personal, it's always human.

Knight: The initial response is you like it, you don't like it, or....

Andreae: The question is why do you have that initial response? Is it an informed, professionalized, long-built thing?

Wolff: Don't forget love. A good critic loves it, too, which is the other part.

Nordell: You're all immersed in the things that you're writing about. During the past months, or a year, what has given you particular pleasure or fun or enjoyment in what you've been seeing?

Wolff: Well, I think, just simply looking back over the last six months, the show that intrigued me the most, stimulated me the most, challenged me the most, and made me really wonder where art is going the most, was an exhibition of some West German computer art that I've seen recently at Goethe House in New York. They are all based on mathematical formulas. I spent three days trying to understand and couldn't fully. But it has something to do with fractal geometry, which is one aspect of mathematics and geometry.

These works were photographed in color from the screen. The works themselves last for anywhere from three to five or six minutes. And the static images were suggestive of movement. They were extraordinary. The color was exquisite. The detail was phenomenal. It was an exhibition that I've seen seven or eight times. I keep going back to it simply because it keeps asking so many questions of me. The work is beautiful in and of itself and it keeps knocking on my mind and saying, ``What else is there here that you should look at?''

Knight: I think of two buildings, probably 50 miles from each other, in southern California. They're both libraries. One is the San Juan Capistrano Library, designed by Michael Graves, who's gotten badly rapped on some of his buildings. It's a most beautiful sort of Spanish colonial -- but done in a post-modern kind of way. It's a thrilling place for people -- children want to go into it to read.

The other is a library that Frank Gehry designed. Right in the middle of downtown Hollywood you have these huge boxes with light, and you walk in under a tunnel and come up in this - it must be a three- or four-story - light well with sun pouring in and water all around you. And [you] see all the Hollywood hills. It's a wonderful space. I think we need places like that to encourage people to read.

I think it's interesting these two buildings are in southern California, and couldn't be more different architecturally. They're both wonderful aesthetic experiences.

Nordell: Well, that's interesting. I guess nothing delighted you, Chris.

Andreae: I can't stand art! No, there are a number of different things. I should name an English painter called John Walker....

Wolff: Yes, Australian-English.

Andreae: No, he's very definitely English. Maybe he lives in Australia. He's doing something which tunes in to some degree with post-modernism, but doesn't totally. He was an Abstract Expressionist, post-Abstract Expressionist painter. He now has been involving his vision with Oceanian aboriginal art. He also is interested in Goya and in Japanese Kabuki actors. He has done a strange and extraordinarily productive thing of bringing these totally alien cultures together into his paintings and prints.

Now, I've also found this happening with a British sculptor called Stephen Cox. He probably isn't heard about over here yet at all. But he's done it with Italian sculpture of the early Renaissance and Indian sculpture, of all things. He's actually lived in both Italy and in India and has used sculptors to help him in India who are trained in traditional modes. It seems to me that, in a sense, this is eclecticism again, but it also goes back to an old tradition of the traveling artist, the artist who would gather from here and gather from there and bring it all together.

It opens up this whole question of what originality actually is. Originality is never snuffed out by imitation or eclecticism or gathering or collecting or looking at history or being involved with the past as such. It's only when it's swamped by the past in some sort of way that the artist is doing nothing at all.

If you take a really tough originality, like Walker's particularly, and you then bring in other cultural and historical things, then an extraordinary kind of chemistry takes place and things begin to happen.

Wolff: Walker, as a matter of fact, is one painter whom I really got to understand through his painting quality. I read him intellectually but I looked at the paint quality - I stood within a foot of it and responded.

Knight: That's like the architect who did the library in Hollywood. Frank Gehry is to me the most original - his vision is very art/sculpture-related. Most architects look to architectural history for ideas. He looks to art. All his friends are artists in California. And in a simplistic sort of way, his buildings are sort of like giant sculptures. They're the most original kind of vision as far as I'm concerned, for any architect today. There's an exhibition at the Walker Art Gallery in Minneapolis right now that's just fantastic.

Wolff: This is an exciting time in the field of painting - and sculpture to a certain extent, and certainly printmaking. It hasn't been this exciting since the late '40s and early '50s.

Knight: I think it's a most exciting time for architecture. There's so much going on. Hugh Stubbins, a Cambridge [Mass.] architect, is doing the Ronald Reagan library out at Stanford University in California. That's bound to be fascinating.

Last in a series. For a further discussion on the visual arts, see today's Arts & Leisure section.

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