Untitled, 2012, direct to substrate print on 3 acrylic panels, 44 x 228 in.
Ethan Greenbaum is an artist that I’ve really enjoyed working with in the past. He did an amazing edition for Daily Operation and also participated in my faux private collection show. Wherever they’re installed, there is something unique about the way his works address subject matter and the space they’re in.
See my interview with him below:
JL: What is the most surprising thing that someone has said to you about your work?
EG: Maybe useful more than surprising: Carroll Dunham was in my studio a couple of times in grad school. I had some really bad paintings up and these weird models and constructions I made as preparatory studies. He would walk around and look at all these bad paintings and sigh or say ‘meh.’ Then he would point to the models. ‘I’m interested in your shitty carpentry.’
JL: Do you think that you’d make the same kind of work if you lived in a different city?
EG: Yes, but only in the sense that it would still be made in response to the landscape and architecture of the place where I was.
Untitled, 2012 (detail)
JL: What role does walking play?
EG: I get a lot of ideas when I’m walking. Walking is basically the slowest and least structured way to move your body around. The slowness and physicality of it always reminds me of how my perceptions are grounded in my body. It gives a tactile sense of the landscape that I can’t find when looking at something onscreen or through a vehicle window.
JL: It seems that you’re always seeking out new ways to tweak things through using very specific material combinations. Why not just photograph these walls, tiles, sidewalks etc. and exhibit them in large format?
EG: It’s a good question and there’s probably a way to do this that I would like, but at the moment it’s not so appealing. My background is in painting, and although I was never much of a painter in the media specific sense, I am really interested in the idea of a materially grounded image. This image/object dualism is a paradox at the core of painting that accounts for much of its continuing power over time. From that perspective, to make something that downplayed surface or material the way traditional photography does would be to lose out on one half of a dialectic that animates the whole thing.
JL: How do you feel about accidents? Where do they come into play?
EG: Accidents are what happen when you’re busy making small talk with the fabricator. They are an inevitable and often tragic source of self-reproach for me, but on the balance they’re a good thing. Because they go beyond my control, I get surprises.
JL: How does the exhibition environment change or inform the work?
EG: I always liked the idea of a site sensitive rather than a site specific object. Site specific feels like a fussy plant that can only live in one isolated region. In contrast, site sensitive resonates as a very human way of being in the world: You move from NY to Miami and start wearing pastels. Another way to put it: A materially based image can’t take for granted the materials (like the wall, the floors or the institutions) that support it. It inevitably engages all these things and it’s just a question of how successfully it does so. When I did the install of Paneling at Socrates, I used the billboard out front with an eye on the industrial supply stores in the surrounding neighborhood. I liked the way they would display marble or other materials as a form of signage and I wanted to play with that convention by using the space of the billboard in a similar way. When the piece was reinstalled at the Aldrich, which is deep in the heart of wealthy, rural Connecticut, I wanted to see how it could be reconfigured in response to that landscape. Everything out there is militantly and elegantly New England clapboard and so I decided to install the piece in the spirit of that architecture. The panels are interspersed between windows of The Aldrich and are framed to echo the white clapboard they sit on, so that it really does become a part of the building in a new way.
Paneling, 2011, (Installation at The Aldrich Museum of Contemporary Art) direct to substrate print on seven vacuum formed plastic panels, 10’ x 4’ each panel
JL: Can you tell me a little about your curatorial ventures and your views on the relationship between curating and making art?
EG: I did a residency in a rural area shortly after grad school and although I developed some sweet co-dependencies with the local squirrels, it didn’t help much with making art. I’ve found that being an artist makes the most sense for me in a social context.
The curating I’ve done comes from a similar urge-a need to connect with people, to find meaning through relationships and juxtaposition. When I’ve curated it’s often been in response to specific artists and locations like a residential home or a converted grain mill. Like art, it’s a way to try something I haven’t seen before, but would like to.
JL: Why do you think this line between artist and curator is drawn sometimes? For instance, it is perfectly reasonable for an artist to curate but if the other way around, a curator might be regarded with suspicion. Maybe you don’t agree…
EG: Artists are given the space to be dilettantes because that is essentially their job description. Everyone else is expected to conform to more conservative ideas of specialization. I don’t know that I have a strong opinion on the divide between curator and artist, but I do know that there are already too many artists.
JL: What is the state of press releases today?
EG: People are uncomfortable about it. Everyone is trying to game the press release.
JL: I hear you like cookies, but are you on board with the cupcake craze?
EG: In New York, cupcakes are the fruit of gentrifying overlords. I eat them only occasionally.