Siegelaub Chapter 1

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S.S. I'm probably one of those people who do not ... I'm not in favor of the term, but I'm also basically not in favor of any terms, all the movement terms, ...Expressionism, Cubism [...] There is much they hide, in my mind, as much as they reveal. In other words they tell you at the expense of hiding other things. So I'm against the -isms, whether it's Conceptualism or conceptual art or something like this as much as for Conceptual art as for Minimal art as for ... I mean, you name it. [...] And it's particularly the case with conceptual art, because there it was a very broaden(?) way, if you look at 1969, ... the grab bag, the cacophony., the times of the artistic types of artistic expression, what you call now Land art, Oppenheim, Beuys was around, the Bechers were around, photography was just becoming a ... understood not as a ... well, I wouldn't say formal expression, but as the connection to fine art thanks to the Bechers.

Beginning of interview

S.R. We are happy to be invited here. So I have some questions and I'm sure that you will suggest some sideways and some answers which are going in different directions. Let me start with a quotation from Robert Barry; because he described your position, your function, for your multi-function as the most interesting one in that time, more interesting than the artistic, because you did the whole conception of the gallery and you brought the communication out. So he said: »He was not a gallerist, he was not a P.R. manager, but he was much more ...«

S.S. Yeah, I've heard that. First, before we get into the heart of the matter here, a little side track. One: The activities your are talking about took place, 30, 35 years ago. My life has been involved with other kinds of projects. I left the art world in 1972, specifically leaving New York, moving to France, for personal reasons. My day-to-day contact with the art world is relatively minimal – to use a pun, as opposed to conceptual maybe – But is relatively minimal insofar that I am involved with other kinds of projects, and so I don't have the day-to-day relationship to the art world that Bob, Barry or Lawrence worked through for 30, 35 years doing their work ... In the past number of years there has been a re-awakening of interest in the period for a number of reasons which are probably to discussing in the afternoon ... and so I'm called into play in function of this interest of one of the players, one of the active players for the period. So, in a certain way, my recollections of the period, or at least my stories -let's call them little stories-... about the period do not have the same continuity, even of repetition, because a lot of the myths that grow up in the art world are things that the artists or other individuals who are active in the art world carry forward for years and years and years and just keep saying them until they become part of art history or something. I don't have that history, in a way, which takes me to this moment in time. Which means a certain forgetfulness, holes, even reading Alex Alberro's book, there's lots of things I didn't absolutely remember ... The hole is there because it's not something I really think about 24 hours a day, the way I'm sure Bob or Lawrence or Hans or anybody [...] was really thinking about all this. Okay, I'm saying [...] There is sort of a little distance from the period.

S.R. But that is fine. You have quite a distance in personal matters, and the other people who are still in the art context, in the art world, are much more involved in a personal way, in a sense of an economic way ... an ego way. For me, one of the most interesting approaches is how you see that time. Because, for example, Alexander Alberro puts in his book »Conceptual Art« in the context of publicity, he was describing your function as a kind of avant-garde art dealer or avant-garde gallerist who was becoming something like a role model for art gallerists in the 80s, maybe.

S.S. Well, it was probably not so much for art gallerists, but more for curating. I think what I did was not a role model for dealers or gallerists, because I was a lousy dealer. I mean I was anywhere near as good as the ... even the modern successful galleries. I didn't like the business of art, frankly, I never thought of it as a business. I mean I knew you had to make money and pay your rent and eat.and have a good time.. [...], buy art cheap and sell it expensive and things like that. But that was not what I was about. My project in connection ... in very close, intimate connection, that's one of the aspects of my work at the time, my work in very close connection... in symbiosis, in a way, with the artists I was involved with, was basically to find an environmental situation which allowed them to show their work to the best advantage, but also the situation which corresponded to the nature of their work, because it was no longer a question, or it became clear after a very short period, that it wasn't particularly involved with a specific space, it wasn't involved with a traditional space, where people went to [...] on Saturday afternoon to have a drink and [...] to look what's art today or this week or this month or something. It was to find other channels of communication to be able to show their work. And this was a much more dynamic problematic and particularly posed by the nature of the work they were doing. Imagine Bob or any of the other artists ... that I was involved with ... and many others too, who I was not involved with, who shared similar exhibition problematics to be able to have their work shown. And even one of the problems in certain cases was: How do you even make someone aware that there is a work of art there? Those kinds of questions. My job – if you like - was to try to find those environments. Trying to find... money and [...] to be able to produce the environments to do this. During this period when I was active, which was basically between 68 and 71, that's what I was doing, I organized I think 21 exhibitions by myself and my own energy, with a few collector friends who put in 500 Dollars here, 1000 Dollars there which allowed me to do the exhibition ... to be able to do it. So that was what I did. One of the background aspects to this ... personal history aspects to this is that I'm not a rich person. So I didn't come to the art world with the idea of making a fancy gallery or something like that. I was constantly looking – as I am now, to be honest with you – ways to do things that were not particularly expensive, I didn't involve complicated wheelings and dealings and grants, and foundations and funds and hustlings and things like this ... to be able to do the projects I did or was doing. In that respect, the work that the artist was doing was like a dream come true in a certain way. I didn't see it that clearly at the time but it lent itself to the kind of way I lived my life. And so the question of that [...] kind of working relationship, that was a very new relationship. [...] Because in the past you could say, a dealer – and again, I've never thought of myself as a dealer. I only had a physical gallery for about 18 months, and it was really a bummer for me ... no one comes, there all the time. I was there from the fall of 64 to the spring of 66. What I showed, of my consciousness if you like, what I was doing was like a total crap shoot. Yes; I showed Lawrence twice, I did one or two interesting things, but I really ... my head ... couldn't figure out what I was even doing, and frankly, I don't even know why I did it entirely. But it was a very bad experience, not just economically, because galleries in 1965 were not going businesses, only if you were very, very successful or really came from a rich family connection or things like this. But it just wasn't for me, that shopkeeper kind of thing was not for me. Maybe if I'd sold lots of work and was living high on the hard(?) I would have said: oh, galleries, great that's really where it's at.... but that was never the case for me. And then there was a period afterwards, after 66 going to 67, when my relationship to these other writers which included Carl Andre, which was like a transitional person, [...] very much involved in sculpture in a very untraditional way, still today, in fact – then leading to Lwarence, Joseph, Bob and Doug and the exhibition programme, the exhibition history that existed. But at the beginning it included things even like the Window show, like one of the first outdoor exhibitions of Carl, Lawrence and Bob, matter of fact a triple show for Lawrence, he did these string and staples and things. (short discussion) There were two shows in '68, in January and another one in May, I think. The May show was outdoors in which Carl Andre did a very long piece in bales of hay; Robert Barry did strings across two buildings, and Lawrence did strings and staples, which was a shape cut out on a very big lawn or something like that. One of the first, if not the first show that actually artists went to make something in situ as opposed to having a spot in a city hall or a something like this....

Seth Siegelaub »