Unreal Nature

May 30, 2017

It Was a Great Period, the Sixties

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… We were feral children, we ran everywhere …

This is from the 2000 interview with Carl Andre found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

David Sylvester: You once said to me that if anything is worth doing it’s worth doing again and again and again.

Carl Andre: I have the same attitude towards restaurants; there are about half a dozen restaurants in New York that I will go to. Everyone accuses me of having a very narrow range as an artist and I do indeed, and I feel my range becoming narrower. I feel the years have honed me to a sharper and sharper edge with my work and I find that this narrowing, this sharpening, this honing, is a gratifying experience.

[line break added] There are foxes and there are hedgehogs, as you know from Archilochus, the Greek poet, who told us about how the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one thing very well. When I met Frank Stella in 1958, he was very much a fox pretending to be a hedgehog, and I was very much a hedgehog with a delusion that I was a fox. It took me quite a while to realize that I was a hedgehog and no fox at all.

[ … ]

DS: … These pieces of yours are so modest they almost disappear into the floor, and I am left totally mystified why they can take me over as they do.

CA: Well, for one thing I do employ a dimension or a position that had not commonly been used in this century for art — that is, the horizontal plane. When I first showed work in New York, people would come into the gallery, look around, see there was nothing on the walls and say, ‘I’ll come back after it’s installed.’ Of course, when you told them, ‘You’re standing in the middle of the work,’ they would look down and leap up and run out even faster. I was just lucky.

DS: It was a great period, the sixties. The amount of originality which you on the one hand and Oldenburg on the other brought to sculpture was fabulous.

CA: But there were a lot of people doing that. Smithson and Judd and Morris and Flavin. A diagonal Flavin in a room is about as powerful as a work of art can get. I think there is a plain, obvious, simple reason that no one seems to be willing to admit. Everybody says, what is it about the sixties that made this possible? It wasn’t anything about the sixties, it was about the thirties, forties and the fifties. We are the sum of our pasts, not the sum of our presents. And all of us were raised before television. I think that’s such a key point.

[line break added] Because we were raised before television, before organized games for children. … [W]e always went out and organized our own games and we learned our games from the slightly older children. You learned how to be responsible and kids learned about justice from playing games which they were inventing and composing and making the rules for. I don’t know if Britain is oppressed with it, but in the US adults now want to organize all their children’s activities, allegedly to protect them, and I suppose that’s right.

[line break added] We were feral children, we ran everywhere over our neighborhood and in the swamps and so-called islands and mounds that were around it. Melissa Kretschmer, my wonderful friend and brilliant artist, had the same kind of childhood in Pacific Palisades. They used to run through the Will Rogers State Park all day long, and nobody worried about paedophiles or such things at that time. Occasionally there would be a great tragedy and some little child would be destroyed by some deranged person, but it was very very rare and nobody went into riots about it.

[line break added] It was a different era, a much freer era in many many ways, certainly free of television. And there was not nearly so much conformity. We live in an age of much greater conformity now than even the derided fifties. I always felt in the fifties, if you paid your dues, your tuppence to appearances, you could do anything you wanted to. William Burroughs said that, of course. He was very proud of his banker’s drag. He could dress up in a three-piece suit and go to a club with anyone and outclub them all.

[line break added] Now you must be sincere, you must show your inner self to everyone, and your appearance must be absolutely consistent with your inner reality, and that’s an impossibility. You lose your internal reality if your external appearance is the same. We were a product of our time including the Second World War. In the United States we didn’t have any bombings, we didn’t have any of that domestic hardship that Britain had with death, destruction, shortage. But we did have a great sense of uniting for a national purpose. That’s an enormous experience to go through as a young child.

DS: You know what Oldenburg said about everything he did having been made up when he was a little kid.

CA: That’s his great line, I love that. You ask, ‘Claes, where did all those great ideas come from?’ and he says, ‘I made it all up when I was a kid.’ And of course Henry Moore said the work of art is to recover the vividness of our earliest experiences. I feel I haven’t learned anything since the age of five. My work was nothing to do with language, but the most important work a human child does is acquire language. That is one of our most complex accomplishments.

[line break added] Calculus is nothing as compared to acquiring a language. And almost every human being does it, and at certain ages when the wiring is fresh and still malleable in the brain they do it quite well and they love doing it. A three-year-old child can make up a sentence that nobody has ever heard before. It’s good to keep that in mind, I think.

My most recent previous post from Sylvester’s book is here.

-Julie

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