Unedited version of interview with Hudson, Index, November/December 2006, 34 -41
HUDSON with STEVE LAFRENIERE
STEVE LAFRENIERE: So many galleries nowadays use art school undergraduate and graduate
exhibitions as a kind of star search.
HUDSON: I stopped attending them about five years ago. It's become production, it's become professionalized. What's being produced there is too guided toward the marketplace, and within the parameters of what's popular right now. Hand in hand with that is the problem that so many of the art schools use faculty that are almost the same generation as the students. It makes for a very inbred stepping of predictable ideas. That shouldn't be supported. Generally speaking, I don't believe that people interested in becoming artists should go to art schools anymore. It's a deterrent.
Really? What would you suggest?
Don't go to art school, or go to college for something else, maybe take a few art classes, and make the work on your own. If you have some kind of technical need to take a class, yes, but certainly not to get a Masters of Fine Art.
The art school/art gallery culture is sort of eating itself?
It's shitting itself. I mean, where can it go?
You're known for having an idiosyncratic eye. Does that account for the formidable range of work
that you show?
I don't have a specific aesthetic criteria. I wait for something to stop or slow down my line of thinking, to re-shuffle the deck. That tends to cause a tingly feeling in my stomach and light headedness. Most always art that does that is imbedded within the maker, not over-intellectualized, and hints at room to grow or change or deteriorate in interesting ways. Something that's not shut down, but that can open up.
All of that within one piece?
Rarely. More so from a body of work. Generally I want to see a selection of work from over a number of years. I'm looking at it much like I scan a person, for how alive they are, are they moving with openness and uncertainty.
The possibility of having some kind of actual adventure?
Well, that's one of the benefits of living with a work of art, that the ideas behind it start coming into your life. That's its power to change you. It's not something that necessarily happens right away. It can sometimes take a number of years. Not even paying direct attention, but letting it eke its way underneath. It's like having seen the same person every day for years, and just one day realizing that there is something about them. (laughs)
Having known you for some time, I would also say that you particularly like work that makes you
laugh out loud.
Of course. Humor has to go hand in hand with serious, philosophical or sociological considerations. Rigidity
creates set patterns of response.
Let's take three very different painters that you've worked with: Daniel Hesidence, Lily van der
Stokker, and Jason Fox. Can you tell me briefly how you became attracted to each?
My god. Well, my initial experience with all three was really a physical one, almost like a giddy gnawing in my
stomach. My brain stops. I have to look at what it is and organize my thoughts, and that's not so simple. They
get scattered because the references in the work come from so many places. So many levels of appreciation
and information. Those three artists struck a physical experience. That was the first thing I noticed when I
looked at their work.
When did you first see Jason Fox's work?
In the late '80s or the very beginning of the '90s. I thought he was black at the time.
And I was tickled by the thought that this person had ingested both white and black culture, he had criss-crossed. When I found out he was white, it was like oh my gosh, white artists aren't supposed to represent black people in their work. At that time straight people weren't supposed to represent gays, and men weren't supposed to represent women. And here was this person doing just that, with this incredible violence, with socio-sexual and socio-political overtones. He was playing with comic books and graphic illustration, and also referencing art historical painting. And then he also had such a weird material sense.
What about Lily?
It was all this pretty girl doodle stuff that undermined these very strong feminist concepts about pattern, decoration, and useless work--the young, absent, naive little girl. With Daniel Hesidence, at the time there wasn't much violence-against-women subject matter--or what appeared to be at first--in painting that was also so expressionistic and manipulated. They each felt fairly singular to me in the way that they addressed both their subject matter and the application of materials.
Your shows can seem ruthlessly edited and completely subjective at the same time.
I plan things very intuitively, and there are exhibitions I've planned that I'm almost certain are going to slop. But then, at least so far, there has always been something going on in the installation that's enough to keep it interesting. There have been times I get very worried. There are those wonderful serendipitous things that happen between pieces that I don't plan. It gives me faith that you pick interesting good things and you can find ways to put them together. That you don't have to deal with the curatorial aspect of chronology or similarity or difference in ways that academic understanding encourages.
You have said that you think curatorial positions in museums should be created for people from
outside of academia. Who would those persons be?
Robert Storr is the perfect example. He was not trained as a curator. He entered MOMA as an artist and a writer, and clearly his exhibitions show a sensitivity beyond what one usually sees, both in the actual installation and the choices of the artworks and artists. Of course there were limitations--he was working with MOMA. But he really did stretch the experience for the viewer in a way most academically trained people would never be able to accomplish. They understand work conceptually--in the head--and not through the eyes. Therein lies the difference.
There are the politics too.
Well, now you go to school for that. (laughs) Look at how so many curators are mostly in their museum, looking at books and not out looking at art. They learn what they read about or what people recommend to them, instead of through the experience of viewing. That's why I think it would be good to think outside of using academically trained curators. Granted there are problems, but I think those are interesting problems. Those people may not be so interested in the same type of historicizing of artworks, or even look at them within the parameters by which academia qualifies "good," "bad," "interesting," "not interesting." That would be a welcome relief.
Do privately-owned galleries suffer the same malady?
It's different. I think the problem with galleries is the impulse to be in the business because of the business. Especially with the proliferation that's occurred in both the number of galleries and the number of buyers. It's a business, and art suffers as a result.
You run Feature with a relatively small staff.
Yes and no. I don't want it to get larger. I don't like to delegate so much, and I'm not interested just to sell art. Also I don't want to just do one thing. Or three things. I need seven things.
Have you ever thought of running Feature somewhere other than New York?
Yes. I initially resisted coming to New York. But it became clear that I needed to be here. Most of my clients were not in Chicago, where Feature began in 1984. The artists I was working with were not appreciated by Chicago collectors, and very few of them purchased art from Feature. It was supported elsewhere. So it just seemed pointless to be there. Also, the artists I was working with were beginning to be represented by galleries in New York.
A number of them left Feature.
Yes, and that's okay. It just takes a lot of strength at that point in one's life to believe that that can be good. Another thing: there have been artists who have been of great economic benefit to the gallery. When they left, I found that other things flourished. Once you've had a few of those experiences you become more confident that you can let it go its own way. That you don't have to control it.
You've collected quite a bit of art yourself over the years. Yet you almost always donate it after owning
it for some time.
When you're ready to let go of a piece of art, you should donate it to an institution (who can distribute it to a wider audience). I think that reselling is generally disgusting.
Well, let's talk about that audience. Does the artist bring the artwork to life, or does the audience?
To think that the artist's idea around which artwork is made, or the critic's idea around which artwork is described and analyzed, is the experience of the work, is completely false. It's so nice when I hear someone express a totally different experience around an artwork. You start to realize, oh, lots of people are having experiences that are different than what the artist or the critic or the gallerist anticipates. It's the problem with the audio tours of museums. People learn to experience through words, rather than looking at something. It's like that Borges story of the travellers with the map that covers the actual territory. I think about that all the time the last couple of years!
You don't show much photography, and even less video. Are they just not to your taste?
Right now, yeah. But I used to show a lot of photography, and a fair amount of video. In the early '80s I showed Sarah Charlesworth and Richard Prince, Robert Flack and John Glascock. And I used to have video nights at Feature.
The video nights were very narrative things, as I recall.
At that time there was very little video installation. That's really something of the early-to-mid '90s. But by that point, most video had moved more towards entertainment or formal technical stuff. That wasn't so interesting to me.
Pretty much the only photographer you show now is Judy Linn.
And she comes more from the history of photography. She's thankfully not a painter, sculptor, installation artist using photography. That's so exasperating.
It's generally so dull and predictable. Admittedly there are a lot of different modes there. There's the diaristic, the technical, the sociological, (and so on). But they become codified so quickly that when you look at the work, you merely identify the genre or subject matter and then you don't need to engage it. It's also been killed by the quantity. One of the biggest problems with early 21st-century life (in general) is how the quantity of something diminishes its ability to have power and meaning. It's really hard to fight that.
By avoiding so many of the givens of contemporary art dealing, how do you survive?
You can't be greedy. If you stay interested in art and not in product, a lot of those people who are only interested in art as product and investment won't be visiting your gallery so often. They'll come when the most popular, investible artists are on exhibition, but they won't be around for the rest. You can then defer more to people who are genuinely interested. It's difficult. It creates a situation where you always feel like you're falling behind, or outside. The fact of the matter is that I am more outside. I don't know if I want it to be that way, but it is.
You told me once that you'd rather people buy art for mere decoration than buy it for investment.
There's great possibility there! I would venture to say that most home decorating with art isn't so interesting, but certainly neither is decorating with investment. Investment encourages artists to produce products, and for people to look at art as a product.
Would you ever refuse to place work if you felt like it was being bought solely as an investment?
I don't like the word "place." I try to avoid that notion. Basically anyone can come in the gallery and talk to me about buying anything.
The work at Feature is rather oblivious to trends.
Most of the art that I show I think addresses the trends, but it comes from a personal, peripheral point of view. For me, that makes for more interesting art.
It makes for more interesting people.
You have a number of collectors who come to Feature for that reason, and a lot of goodwill from artists and art audiences in New York. Those compliments are heartwarming and meaningful to me, but businesses don't stay open on congratulatory remarks. (laughs) I still can't understand why.
(Ella--the following stories can be interjected wherever needed. I think all three are important to the piece.)
You began as a dancer in the '70s.
I did modern dance. I studied Cunningham, Graham, and Horton techniques.
When I met you in 1981 you were known as a performance artist.
My college major was art education and painting, so early on I was using ideas from contemporary aesthetics as ways to construct dances. (Over time) they were moved to the fringe of what could be considered dance, until it became clear that, oh, this is performance. With a bad injury that made continuing to dance physically and professionally worrisome, I moved eventually completely into performance.
David Sedaris told me that Feature once threw a pot party for an opening reception. He of course loved that.
It happened very spontaneously. I knew these two women who were strippers. They mostly fucked men, but they had performed publically as lesbians. We were showing these corner paintings by Lily van der Stokker. One of them was based on her experiences in Greece where she had spent time picking grapes and being under the tendrils of the leaves. It was a very vegetative-curlicue-pink thing that spanned about ten or so feet on either side of a corner of the gallery. It defied the corner, made it disappear, so that you had the sense of roundness of space. The maleness of architecture was undermined by the femininity of decoration. So, I invited these two women to come strip, and intimate lesbian behavior, and for the audience to come and bring marijuana to smoke.
Did a lot of people show up?
Maybe about forty. This is when Feature was on a second floor, and I remember that the neighbors, who had to take the stairs up several floors above us, came in fairly late that night. (As they passed our open door,) there were billows of pot smoke pouring out into the hallway and these women undulating on top of a platform we'd built out of skids that we'd pulled off of the street. (laughs) It was just a wonderful little moment.
Over the years you've done a number of things that would not normally have been done in a "fine art"
context. One of those things is showing the work of Bastille, the gay porn fantasist. You must have
gotten strong reactions from that.
Feature was then on Broome Street. Two lovely little rooms that just had nice proportions to them. We had a show in which one room was Tom of Finland drawings, and then in the further-away room, which was dark and had one spotlight, were five painting by Bastille clustered together. Bastille was an artist who made Tom of Finland look like a kindergartener. Both superb technicians, yet able to make their marks live and sing. In Bastille's paintings there is a lot of shit, a lot of torture and orgies. They were quite small, rarely more than 12" in either direction, and I put them close together so if there was more than one person in the room they would have to stand close to each other to look at them. One day this man came in with a woman. I knew him by sight, a bookseller on the street. They went into the Bastille room, which was out of my sight, and were in there for a long time. All of a sudden I heard this thrashing going on and a person moaning. My assistant and I realized someone was being whipped. (laughs) This was confirmed when they finally walked out of the gallery. She had a cat-o-nine-tails hanging out of her backpack. It was a really great response, that these people were willing enough to do that there in this public setting.
Which just goes to show you ...