The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2012

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JUL-AUG 2012 Issue
Art In Conversation

JOAN SIMON with Anne Sherwood Pundyk

Portrait of the artist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.
Portrait of the artist. Pencil on paper by Phong Bui.

Joan Simon has worked as a writer, editor, and curator over the past 30 years. Of her approach to researching subjects, Simon observes, “I take a bath in it. Get immersed in it. And then see, feel, sense, think about, what’s there, the details as well as emerging patterns, and follow-up with further research.” Anne Sherwood Pundyk spoke with Simon this March in Paris. Their far-ranging conversation came as she was completing her monograph on performance art and video pioneer Joan Jonas, In The Shadow A Shadow: The Work of Joan Jonas (Gregory R. Miller & Co, 2012).

Simon traced her own girlhood focus on books and biographies, along with dance and theater, to an early embrace of conceptual, performance, installation, and video art in New York City in the 1970s. Starting at age 25, Simon was managing editor for 10 years at Art in America, where she worked with Betsy Baker, the guest editor of this month’s issue of the Brooklyn Rail. Her work in magazine and independent publishing led to endeavors as editor and author of monographs and exhibition catalogues devoted to such artists as Bruce Nauman, Ann Hamilton, Susan Rothenberg, Alexander Calder, Gordon Matta-Clark, Jenny Holzer, Rosemarie Trockel, and Sheila Hicks. Among her exhibitions are Jenny Holzer: Signs (1987); Alexander Calder: The Paris Years 1926-1933 (2008), with Brigitte Leal; Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer (2009); Sheila Hicks: Fifty Years (2010) with Susan Faxon; and the forthcoming Lorna Simpson (2013) and Robert Arneson: Artists, Heroes and Other Strange Types (2015).

Anne Sherwood Pundyk (Rail): I am intrigued by the breadth of your work and that the touchstone throughout is putting your experiences and responses into written form.

Joan Simon: The thread that goes through is research, and making the research public in different ways, in print and later in film, and exhibitions—with their intimately related catalogues, brochures, labels, text panels, press releases, not to mention initial project and grant proposals. The process of publication, that is, making something public in any of many forms, begins with trying to figure out something for myself, sorting out questions that other viewers likely share. I identify more with being a member of the audience than with being a writer. So writing, including doing in-depth interviews, became a tool for exploring subjects that I thought were important and that I wanted to know more about. This led to travel to see things, to work with artists and in archives, and to search primary documents and to develop them through interviews.

Rail: I’m curious about the research.

Simon: The research, if you could call it that, began when I was living in New York, going to galleries, living downtown, being in studios, seeing performances in alternate and artists’ spaces, and attending many poetry readings. That’s one, living it. Two, working at Art in America. I can’t think of a more perfect working situation. I went to work there just when Betsy Baker was hired as the editor. She hired me as the managing editor when there was a very small staff. Everything—from the way ideas were approached to how assignments were given to writers, to how the manuscripts moved through the editing process and into layout—was done with a real care, a sense of tending, questioning, respect, attention, and pleasure. Conversations between the editors and the writers, and among the editors, had this same sense. There was a rigor, along with an openness to many different voices.

Rail: You were managing editor at Art in America from ’74 through ’83. What were you watching for?

Simon: The contributors had many different perspectives, as did the editors. There was a balancing out, or actually an acceptance of differences in the debate among the staff. You couldn’t have people more different than Scott Burton, an artist and formerly a critic who could be tremendously intimidating and fierce in his likes and his dislikes, and in the way he would edit a manuscript and curl it up in his hands and almost wear it out. Or poet and critic Peter Schjeldahl, who could put a piece of paper into his typewriter, look at the manuscript submitted, and then type it out from beginning to end and do his editing that way, copy editing and often rewriting as he went along. Or later Roberta Smith and Craig Owens, one who focused on the experience of looking and the form of an essay, the other a theoretician and historian, each very different from the other, and both terrific writers and editors. Sarah McFadden, who has had a long career as writer and editor, was at the outset the assistant to Betsy.

Rail: Were the pieces assigned, or would you select topics?

Simon: It worked both ways. A writer could propose a subject, or Betsy might offer a selection to choose from. Periodically, Betsy would conceive special issues, some of them thematic, some on different regions. For example, one was focused on Washington, D.C. (July/August 1976), and Betsy asked me to go there to interview two curators who had recently moved from California: Brenda Richardson and Jane Livingston. Oddly, given the work I was later to do, the title of it was “Tending to Art in Washington and Baltimore: The Itinerant Curator and the Museum.” It was the first interview I ever did. I learned that it’s not the questions that are so important, it’s more listening to see where the conversation is going, and being prepared well enough to be light on your feet to follow whatever turns up, and keep going. Then it’s important to follow-up on questions that become apparent to you only after you’ve read the first rough draft of an interview and have some distance.

Rail: During the decade you worked at Art in America, the art world was in the early stages of its current plurality. The magazine covered this, but also followed the relation between European and American Modernism.

Joan Jonas, Mirage, 1976/2005. Six videos (black and white, sound and silent), props, stages, photographs, Duration variable. Collection the Museum of Modern Art; Gift of Richard J. Massey, Clarissa Alcock Bronfman, Agnes Gund, and Committee on Media Funds. 62.2009.a-hh

Simon: A key issue in magazine publishing is covering what is exhibited publicly and in a timely way. So, in one sense, Art in America responded to what was in the galleries and the museums. It didn’t review from studios, so that’s already a defining criterion. The other thing to keep in mind is that in the early ’70s especially, there were many different alternatives developing—later sometimes called artists’ spaces or alternative spaces, as well as a whole genre of diverse artists’ books. There was not only a resistance by artists to authorities determining who would show and where, or a reaction to what was not being shown, but also a valuing of the temporal, rather than the “art object” itself. All of this is also related to the fact that there was a recession. There was no art market to speak of for young artists, and many of the works were in any case deliberately ephemeral. Some artists exhibited their work in galleries; others were working for each other and showing in other downtown spaces, often artist-run, whether sculptors or painters, process or conceptual artists, musicians, dancers, performers, or video-makers, and they also often worked collaboratively or took part in pieces by friends. Video was just beginning to be used. Artists were also working outdoors, in sites claimed in cities, and not only in faraway places for monumental earthworks. Important exhibitions were taking place in Europe, and artists traveled there to install works or build them on site, and the magazine followed. I wrote about Zeitgeist at the Martin-Gropius-Bau in Berlin.

At the same time there were artists’ books—alternative small publications that were inexpensive to produce by offset printing, and that were distributed widely, often for free. Given that I knew how to set type and print things, and had published small press poetry editions, and prior to Art in America had been working at a trade art book publisher, I continued to publish poetry and artists’ books on my own. One of them wasn’t initially a book per se, or even a pamphlet; it was the newsprint sheets of Walls Paper by Gordon Matta-Clark, which was exhibited in bundles, or tacked to walls, and then with the sheets sliced published as an artist’s book. On a personal note, an important part of this other literary track is that I lived in New York with a poet, Ted Greenwald; we had been together since 1968 and married in 1971. With him, throughout the ’70s, I was part of the poetry world centered around St. Mark’s Church. There was a circulation of ideas and crossing of media that goes back to your question about the beginnings of a kind of pluralism. The whole idea of being a professional or having a career wasn’t in the air. You did what you did and one thing led to another. Having worked in magazine publishing, small press publishing, and pamphlet publishing, I started a publishing company with two poets.

Rail: What was it called?

Simon: Full Court Press. It began with a conversation with Anne Waldman about the gap between the small press publishers and the trade book houses, so Ron Padgett, Anne, and I started Full Court Press in 1974, and ran it until 1989.

Rail: Was there mutuality between the art world and the world of poetry?

Simon: There was tremendous crossover. Many of the poets I knew were critics, and had worked with Betsy earlier at ARTnews—Bill Berkson, John Ashbery, Peter Schjeldahl. Edwin Denby was a dance critic, and of course there is a very long tradition in Europe and the U.S. of poet-critics. There were also artists who were or had been writers or critics—Donald Judd, Mel Bochner, Scott Burton, Adrian Piper, Rackstraw Downes. And there were poets who became artists, among them Vito Acconci and Laurie Anderson. Early on, Laurie also wrote for art magazines. Artists were also founders of and writers for Avalanche, Art-Rite, Heresies, The Fox.
Rail: Could you tell me about specific works you published?

Simon: In some cases, we put together larger collections of a poet’s work that had been published in parts in small press editions with additional works by the writer—such as Joe Brainard’s I Remember, which had been published in parts by Anne’s Angel Hair editions—or works that hadn’t been collected at all, such as Allen Ginsberg’s First Blues: Rags, Ballads, and Harmonium Songs (1975), or the Collected Poems (1975) of Edwin Denby, whose dance writing we all loved, and whose poetry hadn’t been published in a substantial book. We published William Burroughs’s Letters to Allen Ginsberg, 1953 – 1957 (1982), Philippe Soupault, and others. Later we also took on the distribution of some books that were going to be put out of print, and called these Rebound editions.

Making books is a great pleasure. When I look back at different projects, I see they have given me a way to combine doing good and doing well. You’re doing something that you try to do well, but at the same time, you are offering something into the world that wouldn’t be there if you didn’t do it.

Rail: You have a particular sensitivity to the process that goes into becoming an artist. An artist’s biography can become a context for looking at the physical, material reality of their work.

Simon: Something that’s very apparent in the catalogue raisonné I did of Nauman’s work is that I love details; I love knowing the process of how something moves from being a concept to whatever form it is going to take—and the changes in thinking along the way, the contexts, contradictions, circumstances within which the artist was working. Some of those details let you know how a piece should be installed; others may confirm a sense of underlying content. Given that Nauman has worked with permutations of his own hands in different media for decades, early on studied music, and had played Bartók’s pieces for children with his son when he was learning to play piano, it’s fascinating to know that Nauman based his gestures for the video For Children (2010) on Bartók’s piano exercises for small hands with limited reach—and also repeated only the title words for a related audio work—and that For Beginners (2010) relates to Nauman thinking about Bartók’s Mikrokosmos, a set of more complex exercises for adults learning to play the piano.

Gordon Matta-Clark installing Walls paper (1972) in 112 Greene Street, New York Photography by Cosmos Andrew Sarchiapone, 19 of 66.

You don’t need to know that Nauman derived his title Learned Helplessness in Rats (1988) from a Scientific American article he read the year before, “Stressed Out: Learned Helplessness in Rats Sheds Light on Human Depression,” to recognize this as one of his many pieces that despair the human condition. He had already made the neon Hanged Man and the multi-monitor video sculpture Violent Incident. Nor did you need to know that Nauman was going through a divorce when he was writing the grueling “Consummate Mask of Rock” text that he exhibited in an informal way with the configuration of multiple disjunctive pairs of abstract sculptures,  but it gives another sense to these seemingly different expressions, especially later when one component itself was separated for a time from the other. All of these works embody how Nauman can,  as he’s said, reveal and conceal at the same time.

Artists are articulate and range widely when they talk about how or why they do a particular thing, and it’s important to include the artist’s voice—as one of the many different entries to or addresses to the work. It’s why I’ve continued to do interviews. In doing this, one also locates the relation of this work to that of other artists and within the climate of the times. It helped me to ask many of the same process questions to artists who work very differently and in different mediums. This kind of approach begins with open-ended questions and not the categories of “art” or “craft” or “conceptual art,” because thinking and making are not really separate: You can craft an idea, you can craft a phrase, an object, you can craft a dance—the many choices in taking an idea into form, and not necessarily a fixed, or even material one. For me, it wasn’t an issue of which material someone worked with—and by “with” I include choosing an already existing object.

Rail: Or why be in a room, for instance, for a performance of Ann Hamilton in her “toothpick suit”? Her performance standing for several hours is a good example of a non-objective artwork.

Simon: One answer is found in the work’s title: “suitably positioned,”that is, both the artist’s body within the hide within the space and our own bodies suitably positioned there.That project is a good example of the many ways artists work and the ways an artist may present different iterations of an idea. That piece is many things: an installation tableau called “suitably positioned,” a related performance of the same title, and also an independent object, “(suitably positioned)”.The parentheses indicated for Hamilton that the object was developed within and lives on beyond a performance or installation.

Neither I nor many people who are interested in her work and its development ever saw her perform it, but the performance is part of the piece. How she constructed the suit—with its thousands of hand-glued and spray-painted wood toothpicks, some as long as skewers—tells much about her incremental ways of constructing the environments for which she is well known, and is related to her earlier studies of textiles, which is often not noted in writing about her work; her ideas about inside and outside, nature/culture, the body and the object, the notion of a surrounding architecture, whether that be skin, coat, room. That her breathing caused the “porcupine-like” hide to move is lost, of course, in documentation photographs of the tableau and also in the photographs she staged for two of her “body object” photographs.

It also brings up questions about documenting temporal work, which has been a consistent ambition through many of the books, interviews, articles, and catalogues I’ve done, whether that work is Jenny Holzer’s vanishing, ephemeral, monumental film projections, Jonas’s performances, Rosemarie Trockel’s installations/exhibitions, in which different works take up different relations at different times.

Rail: You look carefully at both the documentation of the artworks and the biography of the artist in interpreting their body of work.

Simon: Yes, for a number of reasons. To give a sense of how a work was first conceived by the artist and framed in print, and to add to the cumulative accounts over time. You get a sense of what ideas were important at different times as contemporary art history is written. From the earlier writings about Joan Jonas’s performances, you would not know that for a few minutes she spoke phrases from David Antin’s poem “a list of the delusions of the insane: what they are afraid of”—what she refers to as “ways to know fear”—in “Mirror Piece II,”1970. So when you’re looking at the photographs of the performance, or reading the earlier descriptions, the piece appears more formal, more minimal not just in actions but atmosphere, compared to what I imagine the nuanced experience would have been had you heard the words spoken. It added another kind of tension—psychological dangers as well as the literal ones, the potential for the manipulated mirrors to break, which they didn’t. Also knowing she drew on literary sources from the outset informs the turn to using fairy tales later.

Another example is that it seems important to know that when Rothenberg had a baby she changed from using oil to a non-toxic acrylic. The new medium changed how she painted, the fluidity of the surfaces, and changed also the imagery that came out of using this material. The change in medium profoundly changed how she did what she did and defined the extraordinary paintings she made with it—and at a time when conceptual work and sculpture were paramount.

It seems evident: people have lives and it affects their work. I admire the work of raising a child as much as I do someone’s other work. In thinking about Rothenberg, or Holzer, who was a new mother when she wrote her  Laments for sarcophagi that were shown at Dia in 1989 and that are texts of death and dying, whether from AIDS or the family violence that claimed children and mothers, I might say, you, Anne, are a mother, you’re a painter, and you’re a writer. I’m a mother, I’m a writer, I’m a curator, an arts administrator, and a publisher. They are all related parts of a life. I don’t think you can really separate them. You can, but why would you?

Rail: You don’t make a distinction between someone making a painting, a performance, or writing when you are evaluating the artist’s creative processes. This openness to different ways of making art is distinctive. How did you integrate this into book publishing?

Simon: I am a reader as much as a museum or gallery-goer, and it seemed in the early ’80s that book publishing wasn’t keeping pace with art; that trade houses publishing books on contemporary art for the most part stopped with Pop Art and artists immediately following, in particular there were many volumes on Frank Stella. There were very few books on Minimalist sculpture or Process art, or performance or video, or the painting by artists of my generation, and those immediately prior. There also seemed to be the beginning of a shift from publishers originating art books independent of an exhibition to co-publishing exhibition catalogues with museums, which, while good in many ways, was also problematic. I wanted to know why and explored this in an article on the state of art book publishing, which I wrote for Art in America, “The Art Book Industry: Problems and Prospects” (Summer 1983). I had gone to the Frankfurt Book Fair and interviewed a lot of publishers both before and while I was there.

Rail: Were you able to act on your observations about the publishing industry?

Simon: Before joining Art in America, when I worked for an art book publisher, I also was the freelance editor of Lucy Lippard’s Eva Hesse monograph. When I left Art in America I went to work at the Broida Museum, which was going to be a new museum of contemporary art in New York City, founded by the collector Edward R. Broida. In the course of doing that, I was invited to the re-opening of MoMA after its renovation in the ’80s. I was seated next to Paul Gottlieb from Abrams. He said something like, “I know who you are!” and I said, “I know who you are!” He said, “You wrote that piece [on the Frankfurt Book Fair and art book publishing] and I disagree with you.” I said, “Well, tell me. How do you disagree?” And he said, “Well, we’d like to publish other books,” and I said, “Really? It’s not showing.” He said, “Will you tell me some names?” I said I’ll give you all the names of artists I think might be interesting, “I’ll give you the writers who haven’t published books yet that might be interesting, and the names of curators at museums that are doing interesting shows.” And I did.

Bruce Nauman, Learned Helplessness in Rats (Rock and Roll Drummer). 1988. Plexiglass maze, closed-circuit video camera, scanner and mount, switcher, two videotape players, 13-inch color monitor, 9-inch back-and-white monitor, video projector, and two videotapes (color, sound), Dimensions variable. Acquisition from the Werner Dannheisser Testamentary Trust. 471.1996. �© 2012 Bruce Nauman/Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York. Courtesy the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Rail: And?

Simon: One of the first books he published after that was the Elizabeth Murray catalogue in 1987, for a show organized by Kathy Halbreich and Sue Graze for M.I.T.’s List Visual Arts Center and the Dallas Museum of Art. And he was thrilled. He told me, “Well I’d like to publish some other books. What do you want to write about?” And I published the Susan Rothenberg book and the first Ann Hamilton book with him.

Rail: You mentioned your transition from magazine publishing to curating, writing, and editing. You just described your early involvement in publishing; how did you make these other transitions?

Simon: When I was at Art in America I was already writing for museum catalogues and then I left to become the director of the Broida Museum. At the same time, I was still being asked by other museums to contribute to their catalogues. While I was developing the many aspects of the new museum, the structure, the mission, the program, the staff, I also did a good part of the Gordon Matta-Clark catalogue for the Museum of Contemporary Art, Chicago. When the museum didn’t open, the exhibitions I was planning went to other museums—the Whitney and the Brooklyn Museum among them; one of the shows took the form of a film, and, 20 years later, a substantial part of the collection that I helped to build was given to the Museum of Modern Art, New York.

Rail: This was in ’86?

Simon: Yes, that’s when I started to work independently. After a story in the New York Times about the changed prospects for this museum in the making and my resignation, I got calls from other museums, from an auction house, a company that did films about artists, and from publishers. So I began to work in all these domains, except the auction house. They all sounded interesting and I wasn’t sure that I was ready to commit to one place so intensely, or I should say for the long-term, right away. I remember in particular a call from Peggy Patrick at the Des Moines Art Center, who said we read you have a program and no museum, and we have a museum with no program. I worked with them in an unusual arrangement as Interim Director, commuting from New York. And in doing this, I saw that I could work for museums and also do other kinds of independent projects that would complement but not conflict with that work. I had never expected to work independently, but I had the encouragement from and the example of Alan Kennedy, with whom I was living and later married, who had always worked that way.

Rail: By not being involved exclusively in one institution you were free to make the connections between institutions and artists, applying resources, either your own or others’, to these projects available to you.

Simon: I think that’s so. Very often I have worked with people in start-up situations, whether on magazines, in museums, or with publishers. People are really open to a lot of things when they’re first starting.

Rail: This notion of the start-up is interesting in relation to artists you have worked with, like Bruce Nauman, or artists you’ve written about, like Hicks, Hamilton, Rothenberg, Jonas, and even Calder. There’s this moment, the birth of—let’s call it—the conceptual realm, with the use of media like video and photography, and installation and performance art. Recognizing this moment seems to be in keeping with your sensibility.

Simon: I think so. When I first began to work with Bruce Nauman in the ’80s, he had begun to do figurative neon works that were very different from what had come before, so it was a time of change. And I am interested as much in artists’ questions as I am in the answers they themselves find. Jenny Holzer is among these artists as well. I did the first museum touring exhibition of Jenny Holzer’s work in the U.S., when I was working as the Interim Director of the Des Moines Art Center, but I had been following her work since I first saw her “Truisms” pasted to the walls in SoHo, and most recently have written about her paintings.

Ann Hamilton, body object series #17 toothpick suit, 1984/2006, black and white photograph. Edition of 15, with 4 APs.

Rosemarie Trockel is another, whose work I saw at Gladstone and MoMA, and who, as her dealer Monica Spruth told me, had seen and liked a film I had done when it played on German television and was curious to meet me. I first saw Rothenberg’s work in the ’70s when she began to show at 112 Greene Street and Willard Gallery, and later at Sperone Westwater, and I have been moved by and learned much from her ways of pushing from what she already knows. All of these artists have been daring in the changes they’ve made in their work, and I have continued to work with them in different ways on the occasions of exhibition catalogues, or articles, or books, as they figure out—to borrow Nauman’s words—how to proceed.

If there is something more difficult than making art in the first place, it’s continuing over the course of many years. Having seen Robert Gober’s Slides of a Changing Painting, when he first presented it at Paula Cooper’s SoHo gallery, I could bring something perhaps others couldn’t to writing about his work when I was asked to contribute to the catalogue for his Jeu de Paume show in the early ’90s. I remember seeing Lorna Simpson’s work in the mid-’80s, and got to know her then, when she worked at the Broida Museum, and only now have the opportunity to work with her again, this time doing an exhibition that will tour first in Europe, her first big museum show in Paris.

Rail: Which projects have you done where you feel your research approach was especially fruitful?

Simon: In looking at Calder as a young artist, I approached the research the way I would begin researching the work of any young contemporary artist, and I think that’s one of the reasons I was asked to curate the show, along with the fact that I live in Paris, where his formative years were spent, and because the show was a partnership between the Whitney and the Centre Pompidou. There were things I recognized in his letters that someone else perhaps overlooked or didn’t think important. I saw some materials in the Calder Foundation archives that were made public for the first time. I don’t go in looking for a particular thing. When I read, I very often see patterns, or details that may speak to something that I later come upon; it’s the same when I look at artist’s works made at different periods of time. But I’m not starting with a conclusion that I want to back up or a fixed starting framework. I don’t even usually start with a hypothesis. The difference is I take a bath in it and then see, feel, sense, and think about what’s there.

That’s also what happened when I went into the Whitney’s storage facility and looked at various bits and pieces that had been carefully catalogued and that were related somehow to Calder’s Circus but remained in their boxes because how they functioned, how they fit together, and what roles they had played in the performance of the Circus hadn’t been identified. I brought to the project my experience of seeing artists performing—and having come of age with the whole genre of performance art becoming a “medium” as readily available as painting or sculpture—and researching early film, which gave us important clues in the detective work.

So the Circus had never before been shown the way we presented it—the figures reunited by acts, and with the mechanisms, now identified that he engineered to mobilize them, together with a variety of films and vintage stills—which in many different ways returned life to these now inanimate figures, and gave a sense of Calder’s thinking, his relationship with other artists, his process of making and means of transporting all this. The Circus was the conceptual hub of the show, and one could imagine not only how much of his life the Circus was, but also how much he was its life. Perhaps most critically, through the totality presented—the Circus re-installed with moving pictures and the actual devices he created and manipulated for the precise timing of his figures as he launched them into space—visitors could see how he discovered the idea that motion itself could be a material as much as any other, which of course led to his signature mobiles. The show—Alexander Calder: The Paris Years, 1926-1933—ended with the birth of the mobile.

Another exhibition that brought new discoveries to the general public and scholars alike was Alice Guy Blaché: Cinema Pioneer. She had two 10-year careers, the first in Paris at Gaumont, from 1896 to 1907, and the second in the U.S. between 1910 and 1920, where she also owned and administered her own studio, Solax, in Fort Lee, New Jersey. Over the course of three months we screened 90 of her 130 extant films—of the 1,000 she wrote and directed or produced, including synchronized sound films in 1905 and films tinted by hand, ranging from under a minute to multi-reel features. She made her first film at the age of 23, in 1896, within months of the Lumières’ first public screening of their motion pictures. We restored a number of films as well as commissioned scores by young women composers.

On the occasion of the show and at its opening, the Directors Guild of America announced its decision to honor Alice Guy Blaché with a posthumous Lifetime Achievement Award. In his tribute at the DGA ceremony, Martin Scorsese said: “She was filmmaker of rare sensitivity with a remarkably poetic eye.”

The show was recognized as important by film historians, who could see in one place for the first time an innovative and pioneering body of work, films gathered from archives throughout the world, from both her French and American careers, by cinema’s first woman director and studio owner. And the films were enjoyed by a wide public, inside the museum and outside. We had two large-screen monitors in the shop windows, right by the bus-stop, one for the French and one for the American films, which had been transfered to video. It was very gratifying to watch people laughing at the comedies, intensely following the dramas, seeing and hearing the synchronized sound films, and talking to each other about what they were seeing.

Susan Rothenberg, "United States," 1975. Acrylic and tempera on canvas, 114 x 189�. Tate, Promised gift from Judge Mariana R. Pfaelzer in memory of Frank Rothman 2007. Courtesy Sperone Westwater, New York. This painting was first exhibited at 112 Greene Street, New York, 1975.

Rail: Where have your interests taken you most recently?

Simon: The most immediate one for me is the book on Joan Jonas, In the Shadow a Shadow: The Work of Joan Jonas, which is being published by Gregory R. Miller early next year, and that documents 40 years of her films, videos, performances, and installations. Initially, I was asked to do a book of her collected writings, but her multi-columned scripts wouldn’t fit in a small format paperback. Over time, it seemed important to write about each piece, to document each piece, whether performance or video or installation, and the fluid relation of all three. I wanted the reader to really see the performances, to have many, many images of the videos, to see the scripts, to put it in context of how she started, how her work changed.

Rail: So it grew.

Simon: It really grew and changed over time. Again, there’s the question of the right circumstance. I had worked with Gregory Miller, who published the second Hamilton book, An Inventory of Objects, and who had founded his company not long before. I asked Greg if he wanted to publish the Jonas book, and he said yes. He saw the importance of the artist and a book devoted to her work, integrating her different forms of expression. And he was open to allowing the book to grow further, when we decided to include new writing by Jonas and to invite contributions by other scholars of different generations. The book tells a complicated story from multiple perspectives. It captures Jonas’s way of working and thinking, whether using historical texts intercut with contemporary narratives, or drawing images, ideas, symbols, and props from her earliest pieces for her newest. The way Hans Cogne has designed it is so responsive to Jonas’s work, and so beautiful.

Rail: I look forward to its publication and I’d like to know what else you are working on.

Simon: There are plans for a complementary digital edition of the Jonas book. We will be able to include sound and also moving pictures, and much material that we couldn’t include, even in a 500-page book.

While the Jonas book was closing down, I heard that a Robert Arneson show I had long wanted to do is going to happen in 2015; it will be organized by the Addison Gallery of American Art and will travel. I am completing a book on the commissions that are intimately related to the landscape at Sonoma’s Oliver Ranch, and am finishing the exhibition planning and catalogue preparation for a show of work by Lorna Simpson that I curated for the Foundation for the Exhibition of Photography (FEP), and the Jeu de Paume, which will open in Paris Spring 2013, and will also travel. And I have been speaking about projects with the new owner of Cahiers d’Art, which hasn’t been published since the ’60s, and promises to be really interesting as he and his staff figure out ways to continue a tradition while also reimagining it. I think one of the best things about working independently—and also one of the difficulties—is that you have different projects on different burners. And you have to pay close attention to each at each stage along the way, even though most of the conceptual work is finished by the time you have drafted the proposal.


Anne Sherwood Pundyk

Anne Sherwood Pundyk, is a painter and writer based in Manhattan and Mattituck, NY. Embedded in her painting, art books, video, installation, and performance are her own essential stories. These overlap with older tales such as myths and fables; in so doing, her narratives begin to communicate to others an inaudible truth of the inner self.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2012

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