lari pittman

Terry Myers: Your show at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art didn't feel like a retrospective . . .

Lari Pittman: Thank you, thank you!

Myers: . . . It barely even felt like a survey.

Pittman: I hope it was an introduction.

Myers: Well, for me, the first paintings of yours that I saw were in the 1987 Whitney Biennial.

Pittman: Essentially you saw those again, because some of those were included at LACMA.

Myers: Right. But to see some things from earlier, they could just be from 1996 — there didn't seem to be anything passé about them, I guess, not just in terms of your own work, but even in relation to the bigger issues right now, the way people are making work right now. I can't even think of a motif in the show with which I felt, "oh, well, we know we're not going to see that again" — either in your work or in someone else's. It felt like a very "small" fifteen years.

Pittman: It was, and I hope — and what I've gotten from a lot of people —that instead of a retrospective usually being accompanied by the yawns of "we're seeing this again and again" — maybe this came at a moment where there is an interest in the work that wasn't there before, twenty years ago, so in a funny way, instead of it looking back, it ends up being an introduction of the work for a vast majority of people. So it hopefully isn't accompanied by as many "oh, do we have to see this again." That kind of fatigue that . . .

Myers: I haven't heard that at all . . .

Pittman: That's good.

Myers: . . . even from people who I know aren't necessarily that interested in your work.

Pittman: But at least it didn't come at a period of time at looking at the work where people are fed up with it, that actually hopefully we're looking at it when there seems to be more interest than ever in the work. So it's a good moment to have done it.

Myers: How do you feel about the interest of the moment?

Pittman: I don't really . . . I do think about it, but I live absolutely in the present and since I'm working — I'm a workaholic, and I'm working constantly — my focus is really on the work I'm making at the moment. After it's all said and done, the work is either really liked or just not liked at all. This reveals many things — especially on institutional levels, which I'm dealing with more and more in America — even the whole issue associated with color, and how something colorful is perceived as suspect and perhaps not as serious as something that is tan and black and white.

Myers: Right.

Pittman: I think since the paintings are becoming more and more public — of course they've always revealed something about me — they're revealing very, very much about people who look at them, and revealing a lot about institutions that are interested in showing them, and institutions that are allergic to them.

Myers: I think when you say that you work in the present, that to me is absolutely true, but what's interesting here is that the way you've talked about the work — like when you once said to David Pagel, "the work is mildly indifferent to the viewer" — it's as if the work has always been there creating a space for itself to be as public or as private, as accepted or as rejected as possible, and in the end it almost doesn't matter.

Pittman: It's important that the work be. . . it goes between those two poles of private and public, but I always want the physical comportment of the paintings to remain as available, and as popular and populist as possible. Although they can inhabit other — tonier — areas of discussion. I get tremendous pleasure that the paintings can go out into the world, and given the way that they are physically put together, they're actually very accessible. That brings me a lot of pleasure.

Myers: I think people do like things that look good . . .

Pittman: The message of the work is "come near me," as opposed to a lot of work which might actually say "stay away."

Myers: "Look at me from afar." True. You have to almost literally plug yourself into these. This brings me to my idea about how people are always talking about how the work is so hyperactive, but to me it's so calm.

Pittman: I agree with that, Terry. I agree. I don't know what that means. I feel that what I'm presenting is a world that is very escalated and decorated and saturated, but why would that be a discussion about hyperactivity? I think they're very organized worlds that are being presented, and actually very ordered and very mannerly. They're not . . . that's a strange one.

Myers: One idea I have about that is that people are putting a lot onto the work, because it has so much in it, these days it's automatically assumed that that means it's all in motion, whether it's because of MTV . . .

Pittman: They're actually not in motion . . .

Myers: Right. They're being taken in a direction that they're not really going, because many viewers feel so comfortable doing that with television. That's why painting for me right now is so interesting. The painters who I'm most interested in right now are artists who were born in the early to mid-1950s, who grew up in a world where all of a sudden there was this whole new idea of simultaneity. In a text I've written recently on Juan Uslé, I talk about how in the 1950s there were kitchens where it was conceivable that you could turn on the dishwasher as you were watching the television as you were talking on the telephone — that all of that simultaneity in life which came out of the idea of everything once being "modern," and now being "contemporary," has resulted in a lot of painters — you, Philip Taaffe, Mary Heilmann — where there is a lot of simultaneity in the work, but it's all kept formally rigorous and ultimately calm.

Pittman: Even though the work appears to quote from a certain type of animation and so forth, or has the look of being animated, I've always liked the word "tableau," which is about presentation, proscenium, stillness, pause — a tableau as opposed to deep space that is constantly shifting and biomorphic. It's not that. Also these are very frontal, they tell the viewer "ok, stand here right in front and look at it." They're functioning more like tableaux, and frozen at that.

Myers: Do you think people are reading the hyperactivity into them, because the work is "strident" — a word which Paul Schimmel uses in your LACMA catalogue interview — maybe what they're sensing in terms of a message is that which actually "activates" it in their heads, and that message is the thing that maybe is very difficult to deal with.

Pittman: I guess "strident" comes out of an effect of urgency. And by "urgency" I don't mean panic. It's just that the urgency of the work, it has a level of insistence that it's happening right now!, right, right, right now!! Look at it right, right, right now! I don't think that that's necessarily strident, it's about saying look at this very moment as it's happening, and this is what it looks like.

Myers: That attitude, I think, has reinvigorated painting.

Pittman: It's not about nostalgia, it's not about projection into the future, it's not a sentimental view of the world, it's not overtly cynical, but it's not overtly celebratory. It's like . . . right now!

Myers: Right. It seems to me that paintings — good paintings, the paintings that are interesting today — are being made in such a way that they do assert that "presentness." Paintings are these things that you know are always there to be looked at, but it's always in that next looking that you really are hoping you're going to . . . Whatever you're looking for in the painting, it's always in that next look where you think maybe it's going to happen. Not that you're disappointed if it doesn't, or maybe you don't even know that. I'm not so sure what else right now has an ability to be "present" like painting.

Pittman: I guess what the painting calls upon is an immediate one-on-one relationship of acceptance or refusal, but it's still immediate, at the moment, one-on-one, and in a way maybe as an object, as a preoccupation painting mimics what human interaction is even more closely. We're here now, we're speaking. . .

Myers: Your paintings — let's say starting in the mid-1980s — have lead that discussion because of their bodily references. Giving them eyes, giving them a body in a way that you feel that "oh, this is something that really is presenting itself to me in a way very similar to the way that a person would present him or herself," so even a discussion of nostalgia could take place with the work — it could be there — but what the work demonstrates is that such a discussion would be so incidental to the presentness of them. What is so amazing is that while we are using a word that had all of these Greenbergian associations — "presentness" — I'm intrigued by your thoughts about modernism, and critiques of it . . . and, I don't know, I feel a little ambivalent. Maybe modernism was just misused sometimes, maybe now people like you are trying to use some of it in a better way.

Pittman: Well certainly it became a moment to react against. I always want to be elastic enough to be able to revisit and rethink things, and just not to throw them out categorically. I guess what still remains very, very important is the physical presentation of the work, its physical properties, the issue of how it's physically made, that it signals craft, that they are physically crafted, that they organize themselves visually, and that organization aids and heightens meaning. As opposed to merely being a collection of signifiers being presented, it's also about their physical organization. Like, for example, the orange painting there [Once Awkward, Now Spacious and Elastic, 1996] is a big house, with the top of the house and so forth, and you're looking inside, outside.

Myers: All of these new paintings have transportation systems of information in them — electric lines, satellite dishes, cameras — they talk about other ways of receiving information.

Pittman: Yes.

Myers: But they are displayed visually in a manner that is more than that conversation.

Pittman: I think there is humor in them, but I don't necessarily want the humor to become cynical or icy, either.

Myers: I think the color has ensured that in some regards. I don't know, they almost feel representational in a way. I'm seeing people in the work that I hadn't necessarily. . . even someone like Charles Sheeler, you know, that they have these views of cities, bridges over water . . .

Pittman: That's interesting, I love that. Or actually, I love the kind of Futurist architectural drawings of Sant'Elia. I think architecture is a really big part of the work.

Myers: Well, the paintings are sort of built like buildings.

Pittman: Yes, very much so. They make clear divisions, like for example in the green one [Once Left For Dead, Now Madly Kissed, 1996] there's this bottom half and a top half, and these clear rifts in organization that take place are not denied by me. But again, also, they're very proscenium, there's a fakery involved. Fake brick, fake everything.

Myers: How do you perceive the movement back and forth between the framed work on paper hung in the upper right-hand corner and the remainder of the painting?

Pittman: In a way, the framed drawing alters the physical behavior of the viewer. Because it's there, you actually are forced to look at it, and then look at the rest of the painting, and then perhaps recombine them as a totality. There's a framed component on top of the painting, and it forces . . . not forces, but it orchestrates or asks for three different stages. The drawings are not only in some cases an encapsulation of the totality of the painting — a smaller version, a miniaturized world — but also hopefully they are about looking inside of the physical painting. Maybe these paintings are not just three inches deep in reality, but a world deep.

Myers: I like that idea. Just because of the nature of the supports —something on paper as opposed to hard wood — the drawings look as if they are a little fuzzy underneath the surface of the painting, and at some point they sort of come up to the surface, the wood surface, to turn razor-sharp.

Pittman: Yes. I think it was very much about if you could open up a painting and see what it would look like inside. Although it's asking a lot, because the paintings are so always and have been relentlessly fake and artificial. So, you would say, "well, why is Lari asking me to open up this painting to look inside of it?" But that's precisely it, that I guess it's being more didactic that there is always substance even in the superficial and artificial.

Myers: Yes. That is why I've linked you with Annie Lennox in the past.

Pittman: That's true.

Myers: Just the idea of what Timothy White called her "curious combination of visual artifice and complete emotional authenticity." That even with all of the construction, the so-called "gender-bending," all the movement, even the words, the lyrics — everything she does is about artifice, fakery, propping things up. And then the voice — the medium, the formal thing about her, the vehicle of communication — is completely authentic. It's the same thing here: the formal structure, the movement, the color . . .

Pittman: It's genuinely artificial. And that's something. I think that at this point in time because of perhaps the specifics that make up a human being, that's a type of negotiation that a lot of people either are not interested in or are not prone to because of who they are. What makes a person look for the genuine within the artificial? Who is that type of person who would do that in this culture? And why are they doing it? I guess that's why I wanted to take away a lot of the camp language — which I love doing —that had been in the previous work. I totally forgot one the other day which I really liked . . . when I saw the film Stonewall I was reminded that people used to call each other "Mary." Like, "Hey, Mary!" In my digging up of all that language, I totally forgot about that one! Maybe in a little quieter way the work still points out . . . in other words, there aren't those immediate directives in the paintings that are telling you "I AM USING THIS VERY ARTIFICIAL LANGUAGE." The artificiality of the work is actually more natural by not even giving those clues that it is unnatural. That was a concern in this new work. Just be very quietly unnaturally natural.

Myers: That brings out one big question that I had reading Schimmel's interview and a question he asked you.

Pittman: Was I too snippy in that thing?

Myers: I'm glad it exists, because it sort of brought me to a conclusion that I'm getting to here, where he asks you about how you and Roy Dowell collect folk art — "nonmainstream, more personalized forms of art," he calls it —and then you run with that and say "Yes. It's still fairly new, sadly so, to be openly gay and demand a centrality within the art world as opposed to a marginal position, in which I've never been interested." You go on — and I think rightly so — to talk about the idea of the public and the private, and you say "I'm interested in what I can do in my public life." A lot of the theoretical work that I've been interested in politically leads me to this idea of how "queer" studies is constructed, and it seems to me that the trajectory of the work and what is happening right now — it's not that the work is gay, it's that it's not heterosexual.

Myers: It is a revelation to me in relation to some of the work I've done— why do I write these pieces that tend to use "queer" theory on the work of straight, white men? Is it that it's the constructed thing here that can have a theoretical consistency ascribed to it? It makes sense here in your work to see the camp language disappear because part of the problem with camp is that it supports heterosexuality in that it still maintains a space for misogyny. So for me to see the language disappear — not that I don't love it . . .

Pittman: . . . and I was tempted!

Myers: . . . within the world constructed by people who aren't heterosexual it can have tremendous power, importance, and value. . .

Pittman: I don't believe that there is that signal that "oh, this is constructed in a particular way." Maybe this is an outgrowth of the painting Like You [1995] where it's even more "like you" without such overt delineations that the camp language provided and that were important there, but I guess in this new work . . . and I was tempted to put it on the frames, but then I really studied it, and I said "don't do it." Let the work be maybe even more . . . naked without having that type of accessory. That language was important at one time, but for right now not as much.

Myers: One possible reason for this is that the work now is being assimilated in a new way. Even reading Schimmel's interview it just struck me how much of the work. . . there are things in the work that he just doesn't get — not him so much individually, but there are things in the work that are not available to a majority of the population. Not that they're going to miss not getting them. . .

Pittman: A private conversation that Roy and I always have, a question I always ask Roy is . . . on one hand, I hate the word "eccentric" being applied to the work. I just think it's about pushing the work away, and not dealing with it, and I'm not interested. I'm interested in being pedestrian if anything, and daily, and quotidian, so when I hear "eccentric," it's at every turn trying not to make me part of this world, and I resent that. I want to be part of the world.

Myers: Right. You're a productive person, you contribute . . .

Pittman: Exactly. But I always ask Roy — it's almost like this play we've acted out now for years — the question is rehearsed and the answer is rehearsed and it never has changed, I say "Roy, does the work seem interesting, or in any way available and just very normal?, " and Roy says "who are you kidding?! " Roy always reminds me on one hand that yes, it is an absolutely, completely natural and normal object for me to make, but that maybe what you're saying is that it's still behaves and looks a particular way, so that maybe it isn't as accessible on those levels, those fine levels you're discussing when you're talking about Paul . . .

Myers: I'm saying more directly that no, the work is completely natural and that's all it is, and what it shows is how unnatural heterosexuality is . . . I think what your work is doing, and what I'm trying to do in my own work, is to point at the big monster in the corner and suggest "you're the freak, you're the one misrepresenting; we're over here being authentic, we're being real."

Pittman: I agree with you . . . maybe I'm instinctively not using camp language in the new work because it actually sets up and reinforces that . . . even though what I'm embarking on is natural, it might not be totally real. Maybe at a later point that's a type of negotiation that would make sense, and part of even the possibility of entertaining this idea is that the career is privileged, and maybe not so buffeted right now, so it allows for a different type of rumination. The camp language at this point still facilitates a separation from a heterosexual point of view that I don't want to get involved in right now.

Myers: As we're "camping it up" and getting things done . . . we have to be careful.

Pittman: I don't want to inadvertently facilitate anything that can empower me within the tiny little world I live in, but dis-empower a much greater definition. I'm not totally clear on this, but the discussion of the work's queerness, its gayness propelled it in this tiny little thing called the art world and gave it a window. But then I wonder in a bigger world, or in a big world that accommodates the art world, is it the thing that can strangle it, and actually keep it from taking its place as something that could mean something and have ramifications? I guess it's just a dilemma that we can't get out of — the thing that can propel and also hold back.

Myers: Yes. This being in place, while we're functioning in that art world, and thinking about what it means to be a gay person in this society, we have to keep in mind as we're accentuating the positive and those things we want people to accept, that we also need to be directly working against the negative.

Pittman: I completely agree. It isn't just about a positivist construction, but while you're propping and building yourself up and trying to have some dignity in the world, that you're also attacking what's destabilizing it. I think that you should be able to do both. This just happened recently: some people from out-of-town were here, and they went to a party at the home of a well-known Hollywood attorney, and it was a party — the gay Hollywood glitterati were there — primarily a queer party, gay, male, white, and affluent. Someone from this group says to me "we found this so weird, we don't come across this in Europe so much, we just found it so separatist, so focused, in a way that we're not used to" — and I said, "well, you know, it's different." But then I thought more about it, and I called this person back and I said, "you know, I go to straight restaurants 99% of the time, I'm at straight parties 99% of the time, and then I walk out on the sidewalk. . . And then I thought, "you can't accommodate one night?" C'mon. It's not about our separatism at all, it's your separatism.

Myers: Which brings us back to that idea that your work isn't gay, instead it's not heterosexual.

Pittman: Maybe that's the rub. Since the work is not heterosexual, that's exactly why at certain points it's an irritant to both straight and gay viewers. It isn't overtly, polemically gay with all its signifiers — let's say there's a certain gay intelligentsia that has had problems with the work, like "Why can't it just be. . .?" Not to mention certainly the more obvious conundrum of some of the heterosexual reviews of the work and its structures and values and tastes and so forth.

Myers: That's what I call that "please-beat-me-up-so-I-can-entertain-you-later" mode in which people want gay artists and gay work to be, that whole abject . . .

Pittman: I absolutely . . . and this is a funny word, but sometimes I'll see a young child, especially a boy child, that's a sissy, and I just love to see it. I love that moment — and I was that type of child also — I love seeing them at around seven or eight being totally oblivious to the world. I think that is the territory where maybe the work comes from — it's a distant, distant relative now that I'm 45 — but I love seeing that sissy boy, and I guess they're still being made! So totally casual, just oblivious, oblivious to just how wrong it is!

Myers: What's so amazing about this discussion is how much it directly translates back into painting, this idea of accommodation versus a separatist position being played out in painting.

Pittman: Do you think people really know that, though? On one hand I can see that painting is commercially privileged in America. . . that painting can actually sell. But I'm wondering if the problem is that there is a part of the art intelligentsia that is so rigid, that doesn't allow . . . I guess I'm thinking of my upcoming meeting with Catherine David, and I'm wondering if this isn't just the stupidest work that she'll ever see — and on top of that it's painting! That I even think that way — and I do cultivate my insecurities to a certain degree. It keeps me on my toes — I'm wondering, why should that even exist? That sense of "oh my God, I have to formulate the viability of it!" On top of it being about meaning, I fear the question that Catherine David will say "and why is it painting?"

Myers: That's her problem!

Pittman: I don't even know her, but that exists in art intelligentsia — how can it be smart, if it's a painting? The questions are still asked.

Myers: But where else today in terms of art activity are you capable of making something . . . painting is something that you know you can look at it, go away, come back and look at it again — it's not like television, it's not even like photography on that level — that it's a place where you can have a way of organizing, a way of structuring, a way of using formal issues to make this thing that is a complete world, that does present itself as your equal. I just don't know what else right now is doing that — I'm not saying this makes it superior to other things . . .

Pittman: But the evidence still points to and favors other discussions surrounding very specific types of objects. The more and more I deal with institutions, and the differences between the United States and Europe, the profound differences at times between how New York views what a painting should be and levels of expectation of a painting, and that there's a painting practice that is being "sassy" out West. I'm wondering if maybe Europe can be more receptive towards painting coming from the Western U.S. than even New York can be at this moment?

Myers: That's been my experience recently. Why is it right now that the most interesting painting being done is by people not in the dominant power structure . . .

Pittman: Let's be honest: dominant and privileged — they're not mutually exclusive.

Myers: Yes. Thinking of you, Mary Heilmann, Kay Rosen, and someone like Chris Ofili making these really interesting decorative paintings dealing with African diaspora popular culture . . .

Pittman: When you go to the art schools, the straight, white male is not interested in painting anymore. They used to be.

Myers: But I think it's more than that. When you talk about centrality, to have it in painting, which is becoming more and more marginalized — marginalization may be the main thing which has insured its survival — painting seemingly has become less relevant to larger numbers of people. Now that we have people occupying central positions in painting who are not in the center in the bigger world, I think that reflects the ambivalence yet opportunity of the situation.

Pittman: Think of the painters you just mentioned: they're all incredibly available, the objects they make are so available. There are no barriers in any of that work. Ironically, those paintings can be appreciated by anyone, anyone.

Myers: We may be witnessing the next truly dynamic group of painters after Abstract Expressionism, more so than pop, minimalism, pattern &decoration, new image, because what we have now is a complete role reversal. With Abstract Expressionism, we have centralized activity in the culture, painting was thought to be important, even if the larger public didn't like it, while all of the participants are completely marginalized, all those old guys feeling completely detached from the society they were in, thinking they were avant-garde. Well now we have the activity marginalized, and the most interesting painters demanding availability, centrality; the work is accessible, the work is still rigorous, still formal, all those things that Abstract Expressionism was — and are still meaningful — but the self-perception has changed. Jackson Pollock didn't think of himself as a centralized figure. But you're saying, "look, I'm a productive person, what I do is valuable, I'm in the center.

Pittman: It's a big shift generationally. Even though you've mentioned different generations of painters, they all intersect at a contemporary moment. It's really about keeping one's practice contemporary. I think it is something that is unusual, although one of the things about doing the show at LACMA is that it exposed the work to a huge audience. I did a book signing, there was a tremendous reception, and I kept hearing over and over again "I didn't know your work." Actually I got the feeling that they were not necessarily art followers, but they would say "I like your work" or even venture to buy the catalogue. And I thought "Oh my God" — in a way it was destabilizing, because a large part of my identity is based on the theater of refusal. That's the process of the work being institutionalized — a good side of it is that a lot of people were able to see it, and it wasn't a rarified population, it was really a pedestrian public.

Myers: That goes back to this idea of accommodation. You can make work that's psychologically intense, theoretically sound, formally significant, yet utterly accommodating. And not that it's done in a promiscuous way, but in an open, non-separatist way.

Pittman: All of the previous criteria are valid and given high positions, but when you say "accommodating" that is still the rub within a particular segment of the art world, because then for them it nullifies all of the previous criteria — "well, if it's all of that, why should it be accommodating?" The accommodation is absolutely suspect: why?

Myers: If Greenberg could have formulated his theories around accommodation, he possibly could have figured out what it means to say "quality." That list of criteria needs something like "accommodation." Of course, this naturally leads to a discussion of decoration and the decorative.

Pittman: Going back to someone like Mary Heilmann, when she spoke on her work at UCLA, one of the things that I really envied in her, and I think she could misinterpret this — I absolutely envy the throwaway nature of her work.

Myers: Oh no. I think she would love that.

Pittman: It is so throwaway, it's so chic that way, I know that's a shallow way of looking at it. I can't do that, and that's why I insist on its physical crafting in a different way — I know her work is physically crafted, but there's this throwaway that I'm scared to death of. I have to show labor which is a way of ensuring that "well, I might not agree with what Lari is talking about, but it's sure made well." And that actually becomes a destabilizing element, that it is so well made.

Myers: The Weimar Republic theorist Siegfried Kracauer, in his 1927 essay "The Mass Ornament" begins with a discussion of the Tiller Girls . . .

Pittman: What a great picture . . . Oh my . . .

Myers: . . . these troupes of American women who were sent to Germany between the two World Wars, and they performed on stadium fields. Here is Kracauer's main point: "The position that an epoch occupies in the historical process can be determined more strikingly from an analysis of its inconspicuous surface-level expressions than from that epoch's judgments about itself." This idea that you look to the patterns that these Tiller Girls made on the fields . . .

Pittman: Or the fact that all of the sudden the type of reaction that is elicited when someone writes about a woman who is still alive from China who has bound feet. That's a decorative moment, but it speaks of that epoch — like, what is that about? It's an ornament of a culture.

Myers: Kracauer continues: "Educated people — who are never entirely absent — have taken offense at the emergence of the Tiller Girls and the stadium images. They judge anything that entertains the crowd to be a distraction of that crowd. But despite what they think, the aesthetic pleasure gained from ornamental mass movements is legitimate. Such movements are in fact among the rare creations of the age that bestow form upon a given material. The masses organized in these movements come from offices and factories; the formal principle according to which they are molded determines them in reality as well. When significant components of reality become invisible in our world, art must make do with what is left, for an aesthetic presentation is all the more real the less it dispenses with the reality outside the aesthetic sphere. No matter how low one gauges the value of the mass ornament, its degree of reality is still higher than that of artistic productions which cultivate outdated noble sentiments in obsolete forms . . ."

So who is it who has a problem with the decorative now?

Pittman: Well, certainly a large part of the population doesn't. The decorative is a problem for a very particular part of the population. And we happen to be involved professionally with that part. There's a higher concentration in the art world, than if we were to step out on the street.

Myers: Do you think they find it to be a problem because its decorative, or because its accommodating?

Pittman: I think it's because it is accommodating, because if it's accommodating, it's no longer elite. The educated population is heavily invested in that separation. That's the rub of my paintings in New York: they're too accommodating.

Myers: Then there is no problem with the decorative ultimately; you made the point with Schimmel: even minimalism is decorative, but the reason it's okay is because . . .

Pittman: . . . it's not accommodating. Absolutely. It's the accommodation that doesn't allow for the separation that's essential for the identity of educated people. If you're educated, you're not quotidian, not pedestrian I say you still are, it's just that you have access to other things that maybe a lot of other people don't, but that's all. It doesn't elevate in any way. Education doesn't elevate, I think it just alters. It's a little bit more neutral. So when something then comes out of this "elite" culture known as the art world that is so accommodating, it's a slap in the face — "my God, this is the art world, we don't need to make those accommodations. Why are you doing that in this world we're inhabiting called the art world? Don't do that!"

Myers: Do you think that I s just a market thing? Do you think ultimately that's really in place only because the market needs the elitism? It needs it more than the artists do.

Pittman: Market is very dependent upon rarification. I'm not so sure about that. We also are talking about painting, where maybe the possibility of even discussing market is more magnified than let's say in installation. When an uneducated or an educated person looks at my work, or let's be more specific — if an educated person looks at this work, the work does not vicariously confirm their education. And I think part of the thrill that can happen sometimes — I'm not saying it's right or wrong — is that you feel damn smart. You know, it's thrilling: "this is dense, and I'm smart." And there's a vanity associated with de-puzzling something. Well in reality, there's nothing here in the work that actually facilitates that kind of vicariousness to the educated viewer that they're educated and privy to something that maybe a large part of the population isn't. It takes that away, and that's the accommodation. I think painting still occupies the world of commerce because the receivership is limited, and it conforms to one-of-a-kind production.

Myers: Kracauer's point is that it's not merely that the surface manifestations themselves exist which make them important. You need more than that: in fact they need to be considered completely insignificant.

Pittman: In archaeological digs, you're trying to decode a culture through its jewelry.

Myers: Walter Benjamin called Kracauer a "ragpicker."

Pittman: Oh really? Very interesting. That's a very icy one. I think this conversation really has brought out this idea of accommodation — the barrier of it, as well as the freedom.

Myers: It's not about surrender, it's not about . . .

Pittman: . . . simplification.

Myers: Right. The most interesting accommodation even beyond painting is about complication in a way as well, because it's a risk, and it has a real confidence to it, an attitude that it can still be smart. When I look at your work, for me it just shows up the fear in so many other people's work. The same thing with Mary Heilmann.

Pittman: Absolutely. Her work does. She may or may not personally.

Myers: Exactly. I'm talking about the work.

Pittman: In many cases there are big differences between the work and the maker. With Mary, for me it's this kind of "Oh my God!" As an artist, I'm just frightened by how did she do this? My neurosis would never allow it. Although I would think psychologically and emotionally as private citizens we're probably not that dissimilar in that we're interested in pleasing, being loved and all that stuff.

This interview took place in the artist's studio on August 20, 1996.

Text: © Copyright, Journal of Contemporary Art, Inc. and the authors.