Purple Magazine
— S/S 2012 issue 17

David Salle

interview by GLENN O’BRIEN
portrait by ALEXIS DAHAN

All artworks images copyright of David Salle / licensed by Vaga, New York, and courtesy of Mary Boone Gallery, New York


David Salle was one of the biggest names of the 1980s New York art boom, along with Julian Schnabel, Robert Longo, Eric Fischl, and Jean-Michel Basquiat. But at the time, nobody talked much about the complexities of Salle’s art — mostly they talked about the fact that, following a decade of minimal and conceptual art, artists were again making paintings and money. Maybe now it’s time to talk a little more about his art.

Salle was born in Oklahoma in 1952. He grew up in Kansas and earned his bachelor and master’s degrees in fine arts at Cal Arts, where he was mentored by the conceptual painter, photographer, and image guru, John Baldessari. Salle moved to New York in the late ’70s. To support himself, he cooked in a restaurant and did paste-up for a porn magazine. He first exhibited at the non-commercial Artists’ Space and at The Kitchen. In 1980, he had his first one-man show at the Annina Nosei Gallery. The following year, he was showing with Mary Boone, who still represents him. Since then, he has exhibited in nearly every major museum in the world.

While many of his contemporaries have had turbulent or inconsistent careers, Salle has sailed his own course, confidently zigging and zagging through the decades, using the same bold if hermetic visual language that emerged fully formed in his earliest paintings.

In 1985, Salle designed the sets and costumes for Richard Foreman’s The Birth of a Poet, at the Brooklyn Academy of Music. The following year, he began a collaboration with the choreographer Karole Armitage, one that has continued to this day. In 1994, he directed the feature film Search and Destroy, which was produced by Martin Scorcese. It has one of the best openings of any film I’ve ever seen. It was billed as “a screwball tragedy,” which made the copywriter in me jealous. It’s a bizarre but underrated film, well acted and beautifully shot.

I’ve always liked Salle’s paintings and admired his imagination. But now I appreciate his work more than ever. He stuck to his guns and developed a vision — and painted bullet holes 30 years before Nate Lowman did. He conducted himself the way I think an artist should, avoiding the clichés of celebrity and following his instincts. I spoke with David in his studio in Brooklyn.


GLENN O’BRIEN — You’ve worked with a fairly consistent vocabulary for quite a long time now, combining images, attaching furniture to paintings. It’s like a record of the things that penetrated your consciousness — like a mental diary. How did you come up with your method of painting?
DAVID SALLE — A diary is a nice way of looking at it, but I don’t know if I have a methodology. I’m very restless. For the first 10 years or so, the work was pretty consistent. But what followed was series after series of different kinds of images, based on different starting points: tapestry paintings, torn poster paintings, ballet paintings, and early product paintings, to name a few. I don’t know what it all means.

GLENN O’BRIEN — From my perspective, it all has a wonderfully consistent visual language.
DAVID SALLE — There is a kind of consistent feeling in my work, which, to me, is both reassuring and daunting. No matter how much one changes, one is always oneself. The starting point, though, was my inability to see things in isolation. I always see the things behind, or next to, or with something. So, early on, I was inclusive and expansive in order to get as close as possible to the simultaneity of real life. That offered the possibility of a new kind of beauty, and it still does.

GLENN O’BRIEN — What else is consistent?
DAVID SALLE — The pictorial drama, the spatial conception, and an organizing impulse around a kind of theatrical/pictorial gesture, one that is always there, though it takes different forms. Temperamentally, I don’t think art is simply a way of reacting to the world, though it is impossible not to stand in some kind of relationship to the dominant culture. It sounds strident, but I feel like my whole career represents my stand against — or an alternative to — literal-mindedness. Art is different from other things in culture: it accesses different kinds of emotions and doesn’t rely on the same presumptions found in mainstream culture. In my paintings I try to stay open to free association, and to trust in it.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Rather than being literal, you mean?
DAVID SALLE — Culture generally moves toward greater literalness. My work is anti-literal. It’s more about metaphoric association. Standing in front of a great painting, I’m deflected away from the associative grooves of the old circuitry. I like feeling unmoored — I need to.

Childhood, 1998 oil and acrylic on canvas and linen 96 x 118 inches Childhood, 1998, oil and acrylic on canvas and linen, 96 x 118 inches, © David Salle, VAGA, NY Town Line, 2011, acrylic and silkscreen on steel with reinforced clay, acrylic, wood, formica, and oil on linen, 84 x 103 inches, © David Salle, VAGA, NY Town Line, 2011, acrylic and silkscreen on steel with reinforced clay, acrylic, wood, formica, and oil on linen, 84 x 103 inches, © David Salle, VAGA, NY

GLENN O’BRIEN — Do you follow your instinct?
DAVID SALLE — I get my pictures through a combination of intuition and luck. It’s analogous to how you know what to say on the telephone. You don’t plan out what you’re going to say ahead of time — the sentences come to you unbidden. This is one of the human miracles: every sentence has the potential to be new. We know how to guide the meaning of a conversation in all kinds of subtle ways, many of them nonverbal. You can say, “How are you?” a hundred different ways, and they all suggest different meanings, depending on inflection, a raised eyebrow, or whatever. Art is not that different from talking. You just have to pay attention. But many things reinforce literal-mindedness, and we don’t even realize that they do. I don’t watch television because it gives me a hopeless feeling — the assumption that X means X, that a picture must line up with its caption. Art is a place where you can experience another kind of associative process.

GLENN O’BRIEN — But maybe people misunderstand you. An abstract painting has no literal qualities, and when musicians improvise there are ground rules. But representational images like yours are complicated. What do they mean?
DAVID SALLE — Yes, images have to mean something, otherwise why are they there? But the literal meaning of a hat or a boat is just part of a story. It’s not necessarily a rebus. The how of its making is just as important as what it represents. If someone described a painting over the phone: “It’s a painting with a train, a nude, a hat, and a blouse,” that might all be true, but it wouldn’t go very far toward describing the feeling of the painting. But it might still sound like an interesting painting.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Do you think we live in a time when the usual venues for meaning are breaking down?
DAVID SALLE — Yes, I do.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Maybe you’re repelled by television for the same reason I’m horrified when politicians speak. They don’t speak in a literal sense. They use words as signs, which have another meaning, and sometimes they refer to a code that’s not understood by the listener.
DAVID SALLE — You can’t abuse language without there being consequences. There’s a wonderful scene in the movie, Carnal Knowledge. Jack Nicholson and Candice Bergen are college students at a mixer, and Nicholson’s trying to pick her up. He says to her, “I say ‘How are you?’ and it means something else. You say ‘Fine,’ and it means something else. And I say ‘Can I come over and help you study?’ and it means something else, and you say ‘My roommate’s there,’and that means something else, too.”

GLENN O’BRIEN — The way you put images together — did you ever think of them in terms of ideograms, like Chinese words? An image of man leaning against the image of tree means “rest.” Meaning is assembled pictorially, but, of course, it gets very complicated, very fast.
DAVID SALLE — I’m interested in the way things are imprinted during the course of a day — things that we might not even be aware of. Neuroscientists say, “Cells that fire together wire together.” It’s called the Hebbian Theory. Say you’re meeting people, and you hear a song lyric from a radio in the background. There’s no connection, but it becomes the soundtrack anyway. That happens with images. I’m comfortable with that kind of porosity. I saw a Merce Cunningham dance performance the other night — Rainforest, from ’68. The intensity was breathtaking. It was like trying to grasp quicksilver. That intensity is fundamental to other art forms, including working with images.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Like synchronicity?
DAVID SALLE — Exactly. Merce’s Rainforest has gorgeous, densely textured electronic music by David Tudor, along with those famous silver helium-filled pillows by Andy Warhol. The juxtaposition with the twitchy dancers was a perfect example of how unrelated things can operate in complete synchronicity. It’s unlike any other dance performance. I saw it in the ’70s, and I remember the sheer joy of it, feeling like the top of my head was coming off. I get a lot of ideas from designing sets for dance performances and for films — things in which the meaning unfolds and accumulates over time.

GLENN O’BRIEN — You told me that your paintings aren’t planned out.
DAVID SALLE — My work is made in the moment. I love the spontaneity. I don’t do many preparatory drawings or studies. They don’t help much. But I think you’re touching on a popular misconception. It’s generally assumed that artists have an intention, and then go about fulfilling it. That’s too simplistic. Intentionality is really overrated. But it’s something that’s easy to talk about or write about. For the most part, I don’t care about anyone’s intention.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Did the obsession with intention come from Conceptual Art?
DAVID SALLE — Part of it. I interviewed John Baldessari at the Metropolitan Museum during his retrospective there. I asked him, “John, do you ever feel like you’ve created a monster with Conceptual Art?” He laughed. But it’s true. Conceptual Art legitimized this line of thinking.

Photography by Alexis Dahan

GLENN O’BRIEN — I heard that you have a large horde of porn magazines from 20 years ago, which is a source for the nude women in your paintings.
DAVID SALLE — That’s another myth, although it may have been true 30 years ago. Now the images in my paintings come from my work with performers and models. I photograph them in a controlled environment, with specific lighting effects, etc. That doesn’t mean they’re better images, but they’re mine. I’m interested in painting the figure in the drama of light and shadow — that and the specifics of the body in space, under duress, resisting gravity, and so on. I have nothing against pornography. It kind of amuses me to be seen as a pornographer. Except that it’s not true. I’ve rarely used images from outside of my own studio.

GLENN O’BRIEN — One of the most compelling things is the way you put your models out of the ordinary positions.
DAVID SALLE — As I said, most of my models are performers, and it’s a kind of articulation we arrive at together. I’m interested in seeing the body in space in ways that you don’t normally see them. The point is to open up the expressive space of the painting.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Are you friends with any of your collectors?
DAVID SALLE — I hardly know most of them any more. But a few are close friends, and some have been for a long time. But it’s really not about that, is it? I don’t assume that my everyday interests correspond with theirs.

GLENN O’BRIEN — I had lunch with an artist friend yesterday, and he said he’s considering suing one of his biggest collectors. He said, “We had a deal, on a handshake, that he wasn’t going to sell this piece, and then he sold it. It was a contract! I’m going to sue him. I want five percent.”
DAVID SALLE — Well, that makes good copy. It’s an old story. When I came on the scene, collectors understood that no matter how much they went around and looked at work, there was always more to know. Si Newhouse is a good example. He spent every Saturday in the galleries looking, and having lunch with Leo Castelli. He was a student of art, always asking questions. He probably still is. Nowadays, when someone buys a few pictures and has profited from the market, they can claim to have an insight. Artists’ assistants cover their employers as they would a stock. They say, “This one, but not that one.” How would they know? I wouldn’t presume to know. I wouldn’t call myself a stock-picker just because I own stocks.

GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s gotten weirder since the investment houses imploded. Speculation in art has become more attractive.
DAVID SALLE — Philip Johnson used to say that the belief that you could buy art and get rich wasn’t true, but it kept the art market going. Later on it actually became true. I was on a plane to Japan a while back. A collector I knew was on the plane with me. We started talking. Then I realized I was behind the curve, and that he’d become a player, buying and selling. He realized he could make more money trading his own collection than with his primary business, and have more fun doing it — going to parties in Tokyo and all.

GLENN O’BRIEN — The big securities traders must think they’re on to something. But they’ll never be able to regulate the art market.
DAVID SALLE — The art market might be the last unregulated business. It should be a role model.

GLENN O’BRIEN — A year or so ago, another artist friend said to me, “I hope I tank in the auctions.” He meant it. And the day after a recent auction, yet another artist said to me that so-and-so, who had sold a drawing for a million the day before, was ruined by the sale.
DAVID SALLE — High price, low price — you just don’t want it in your head. What difference does it make, anyway?

GLENN O’BRIEN — How do you keep it out of your head? How did it affect you the first time you made really big sales?
DAVID SALLE — By today’s standards, I never made really big sales.

Mingus in Mexico, 1990, oil and acrylic on canvas, 84 x 114 inches, © David Salle, VAGA, NY

GLENN O’BRIEN — At the time, you were up there.
DAVID SALLE — I don’t know about that. But for me, it’s always been a way to keep working. That might sound Pollyannaish, but it’s true. I thought of myself as being on a path — part of a chain of connectedness to the New York School. That was the excitement and the reward. Back then, the market, even at its height, wasn’t so extravagant. But it did provide a means to do other things, like finance a ballet company, fool around with movies — stuff that interested me. But mostly it was a way to keep painting. I never thought it meant anything else. And it never did.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, some artists have been pissed off about aspects of the trade for a long time now. Rauschenberg yelled at Bob Scull for buying a painting for $900 and then selling it for $85,000.
DAVID SALLE — A legendary tale.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Rauschenberg was immune to money. He wasn’t motivated by it at all.
DAVID SALLE — So long as he was able to work. When he was trying to raise money to charter a plane — he needed a 747 for his Rauschenberg Overseas Culture Interchange, which was shown in 11 countries — he asked collectors to chip in and was taken aback when they didn’t see the necessity of it. See? He didn’t have that kind of money. To keep the tour rolling, he had to mortgage his houses on Captiva Island. Artists always make do with whatever they have, whether it’s a little or a lot.

GLENN O’BRIEN — It’s the American way. Thomas Jefferson died in debt. When Donald Judd died, they had to sell off his property to pay his taxes.
DAVID SALLE — I guess I’ll be in good company. The market creates perceptions of winners and losers, which is antithetical to artists in the first place. I don’t buy into that. The problem with success is the fact that history is written by the victors. The noble failures — those percolating under the surface — are often the most interesting.

GLENN O’BRIEN — You can underperform at the auctions and still be great.
DAVID SALLE — Yes, I think so.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Could there be another way — for example, a syndicalist art market? Damien Hirst went straight to auction. In the NBA, some of the owners won’t budge, and some players are saying, “We can start our own league.” The idea of an artist receiving royalties on resale has never really succeeded. But it might be a healthy thing to reform the market.
DAVID SALLE — Royalties on resale is a good idea. But I never felt like it would fundamentally change anything. What should the relationship between the artist and the public be? How do you monetize that? I don’t know. Aren’t we now rethinking ways of giving value to certain experiences, like work?

GLENN O’BRIEN — I think so. But art has become a kind of money.
DAVID SALLE — Well, it’s seen as alchemy — as being gold from dross.

GLENN O’BRIEN — What do you think about the Pictures Generation?
DAVID SALLE — The show or the pheno­menon?

Photography by Alexis Dahan

GLENN O’BRIEN — The generation.
DAVID SALLE — The way we use the word, it must mean something.

GLENN O’BRIEN — It was a new idea, though. But your work resonates more with Rauschenberg and Picabia than the other artists in the Pictures Generation show. It’s just that the concept, like Pop Art, is kind of corny, like a way of selling something. [Laughs]
DAVID SALLE — There were really two strains of the Pictures Generation. One had to do with the death of the author, and appropriation, and art’s so-called criticality. The other was a way to work with images, to try to get at the DNA of the image, which we understand without necessarily being able to put into words. Until then, it hadn’t been necessary — or maybe interesting — to do so. Jim Welling and I put a name to it: “Images that understand us.” It’s not exactly that there is progress in art, but some things do kind of get resolved, maybe out of exhaustion. When I was a kid, people talked about whether it was OK to use marketed imagery. Who would have that discussion now? Back in the day, you had to choose sides.

GLENN O’BRIEN — That’s true of the art world, but artists themselves don’t usually choose sides, as if styles were political parties. The art world doesn’t consist only of artists, but also of the mechanism that services and provides access to art, and sells and promotes art. But it also gets in the way.
DAVID SALLE — There’s the art world, and then there’s art. Relational aesthetics notwithstanding, they’re not the same thing. To paraphrase Barney Newman, there’s ornithology, and then there are birds.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Taking sides is for critics, dealers, curators, and academics. An artist can make an inflammatory statement, like Kosuth saying “Painting is dead” — but then you go to his house, and there’s a portrait of him by Basquiat or Warhol. For Judd, it was all about whom he liked to drink with.
DAVID SALLE — I think Judd’s fury was real. But does our generation get into fist fights over art? I remember people would get very hostile because someone was making a regressive move, something bad for painting. I know artists who were very upset when Paula Cooper first showed Jonathan Borofsky. They said she’d regret it. It’s like what Matisse said about Cubism: “Picasso will regret his little folly.”

GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, everybody’s nice now.
DAVID SALLE — It’s because a branch of art has become a branch of show business — and exists on the plane of celebrity, at any cost. It’s good that artists get out of the art ghetto and become part of mainstream culture, but you have be careful what you wish for. In show business, everything is equal — it’s always been true that even people like Milton Berle and Marie Osmond could be on a stage together because they were both successful entertainers. The only measure is the public eye. Once you’re in the realm of public approval, there’s nothing to fight about. I don’t think you’d want audience size to equate with quality — or worse, with significance. Before art became a branch of show business, what mattered was other artists. So you actually could get punched over a painting.

GLENN O’BRIEN — I was at a party with Ashley Bickerton years ago. We’d both had quite a lot to drink, and one thing led to another. I was talking to a girl, and he kept interrupting me to try and get me to sign a petition about Antarctica, and we wound up punching each other and rolling around on the floor. Sherrie Levine started screaming, “Stop! Stop! People in the art world don’t fight!” And I said, “What are you talking about?”
DAVID SALLE — Doesn’t seem like you were really talking at that point.

GLENN O’BRIEN — I thought that’s what we were supposed to do: defend our position.
DAVID SALLE — The first time I met Richard Serra, he said a very perceptive thing that at the time I rejected as generational hostility. Only later did I realize it was interesting. He was being deliberately confrontational. A bunch of us were recording a dialog for Artforum and he kind of sneeringly said to me, “I know all about you guys. You’re trying to combine Warhol and Pollock!” I said something like, “Fuck you, Richard” — meaning, “Don’t decide for me.” Everybody said, “Boo, Richard.” He said: “I’ll be the asshole. I don’t care.” He’s very defiant and incredibly smart. Years later, I thought he had a point. The idea that you can walk into a room and be the asshole — for a reason — is hard to imagine now.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Would you ever say to a young artist something like what Serra said to you?
DAVID SALLE — Maybe I’ll have to start doing that. It doesn’t have to be negative. I meant that I was wrong to be so resistant to what he had to say.

The Kelly Bag, 1987, © David Salle, VAGA NY, courtesy of Skarstedt, NY The Kelly Bag, 1987, © David Salle, VAGA NY, courtesy of Skarstedt, NY

GLENN O’BRIEN You were talking about killing off the author — and why that hasn’t happened. Some people are still fighting appropriation, almost desperately, with lawsuits, like those against Richard Prince. Maybe it’s accelerating because of the Internet, even though appropriation is the order of the day on the Internet. Kids don’t even think about it now. It’s part of their DNA. They’ll see an image, and they’ll just take it and use it.
DAVID SALLE — Well, does that mean generations have different wiring? Certain generations have a relationship to history, which marks them. We had the Vietnam War and the death of idealism, and some structural things happened. But I don’t think it’s easy to chart how those things impacted art. I’m more interested in the kernels of sensibility that skip generations, the way of being an artist, how the artistic DNA from a distant time can reappear in the 20th century, or in 2012. Though I find that kind of generational identification a little too self-congratulatory. I think modernism got started way back with the Cambridge Apostles, the discussion group that started back in 1820. They broke with their elders. In the US, our kind of art started in the 1920s.

GLENN O’BRIEN — You mean with Ortega y Gasset, around 1923?
DAVID SALLE — I was thinking more of Edmund Wilson and the writers of his time. Popular success was also an artistic triumph. That pretty much started the cult of celebrity and mass media.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Was that when the concept of planned obsolescence was introduced, to spur on production?
DAVID SALLE — It intensifies the fashion-effect in the art world and gives curators a way to think about things. For better or for worse, the disinterest in where things came from was one of our starting points for using them differently. If you really look at Watteau, you can see that he formally constructed the paintings. He reshuffled a little bit of this, a little bit of that — some of it his, some of it other people’s. You can’t even say appropriation was a new idea.

GLENN O’BRIEN — When Andy Warhol was just starting out, he showed some of his paintings to Emile de Antonio — Coke bottles and Marilyn and things. Some had Pollock-like paint splashes on them, and De Antonio said, “Get rid of these ones. The plain ones are better — they’re gutsy.” But if you look at Andy’s career, you can see that he kept trying to go back to abstraction. His silk-screen paintings became more over-painted and wild. And then, with his “Shadows” series, Andy was doing abstraction.
DAVID SALLE — One of the things I always liked about Andy’s work, something that’s obvious, was his idea that high art came out of Abstract Expressionism. That’s what he thought high art was, and it links him to the New York School. In my mind, there’s a clear line from Abstract Expressionism to Pop Art, and, despite the convoluted detours of it, this line leads to the painting made today. I know that sounds preposterous, but I believe it’s true, on the spiritual as well as on the material side. At any rate, that was part of my formation as an artist, and it remains a compass point for me. But it doesn’t mean I want to paint like someone who came before me.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Warhol was crushed when De Kooning told him he was killing art.
DAVID SALLE — De Kooning hated Warhol’s work, as did many people who were invested in the abstractionist ethos. I spent a long time trying to figure out a way to make a movie about Frank O’Hara. I’m still working on it. One of the scenes involves Andy. Initially, O’Hara didn’t care for Andy’s work. Andy gave him a drawing, and Frank said, “What’s this?” Andy said, “It’s a drawing of your penis, from memory.” Frank wasn’t charmed. He crumpled it up and threw it in the trash in front of other people. Imagine how Andy must have felt.

GLENN O’BRIEN — You should make the O’Hara movie.
DAVID SALLE — I’m working on another film now. But O’Hara would be a great subject for a film. The poet-flâneur [dandy] — lyrical, extravagant, and tough. Frank O’Hara was the guy everyone wanted to be. He had a celebratory attitude toward artists, art, and life. He was also a master of insult and invective. He’d get really drunk and call people just the worst names. The next morning, he’d call up and apologize.

GLENN O’BRIEN — One of the great vacuums in life now is the lack of poetry. It’s almost extinct, at least as a vital force.
DAVID SALLE — Some people would argue that it still is.

GLENN O’BRIEN— When I first came to New York, the New York School poets, like Ted Berrigan, were considered heroes.
DAVID SALLE — They were a touchstone for me as well. And think back to the ’20s, when poetry was so popular. Poets were publicly esteemed. They gave people a way to think about life in a meaningful way.

GLENN O’BRIEN — We’re in a time when the two hippest professions are those of the curator and the DJ, and the two are all about selecting things. And a lot of art now is really just about the artist being an exemplary looker, or a selector.
DAVID SALLE — Where does a stylist fit, in the fashion world?

GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, that’s the biggest insult in fashion design — to say that so-and-so’s not really a designer, but merely a stylist, like he or she is just a good thrift-shopper.
DAVID SALLE — The un-styled life is not worth living.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Is being a DJ, a stylist, or a curator highly creative? Was our generation complicit in creating the idea that it is, via appropriation?
DAVID SALLE — Maybe each generation’s advances are misused by the following one. I still think that originality, or invention, is what matters most. Maybe “originality” is too big a word, but invention still counts. [The Dutch art historian and museum director] Rudi Fuchs had a great idea for a three-person show, which, unfortunately, he never got to do — Clyfford Still, Frank Stella, and me. I asked him what the idea was, and he said, “Three crackpot American inventors.”

GLENN O’BRIEN — Your entry on Wikipedia has a disclaimer that says, “This page may not be objective.” It also says, “The neutrality of this article is disputed,” and “ham-fisted paint handling,” and “randomly juxtaposed images.” I don’t see how anybody could say that what you do is random. It’s not like you flip through the phone book and come up with three cars and a hat.
DAVID SALLE — I haven’t read it. But that’s one of the things about me repeated so often that it stuck. Who am I to argue with Wikipedia? But are their articles signed? The old Encyclopedia Britannica entries were actually signed. Einstein wrote the one on theoretical physics.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Well, it’s not WikiLeaks.
DAVID SALLE — There must be something hard-wired about half-truths, or even quarter-truths, being preferable to three-quarter or whole truths. That has all sorts of aesthetic implications. In the ’70s, I saw Norman Mailer give a reading at the 92nd Street Y. He was in the prime of his life, enjoying a mock — or real — battle with feminist theory. He was a fearless provocateur. He read an incendiary sexual passage from An American Dream, and as soon as he finished, half the women in the audience were on their feet shouting, “Macho pig!” Mailer was unbelievably cool. He said, “You’ve made a categorical error, that of confusing an author with his characters. In philosophy, that wouldn’t stand for a minute.” What I think is interesting — and what anyone who has read his work should understand — is that the aggression is mediated and even contradicted by the ornate, ultra-refined style of his prose. He’s not a macho creator of sentences.

GLENN O’BRIEN — He’s so un-Hemingway. He writes like Cicero.
DAVID SALLE — Exactly.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Artists seem to need to flout political correctness. They should try and recapture art from the collectors and sellers. I’d like to see an art magazine made by artists. Artists have become so mute.
DAVID SALLE — Everybody is, until they’re not.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Art Beat, the cable TV show, had its moments. It was best when Walter Robinson was on it, with him walking into galleries with a camera — and the gallerists getting all nervous, thinking, “Should we throw him out?” Then they’d all converse about art in a smart and funny way. But there’s no community of artists now. There’s no Cedar Tavern, no Max’s…
DAVID SALLE — Something is lost when there’s no place to go on any given night and reliably run into people who have a stake in the art being made. I miss that.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Max’s was an exciting place: rock-and-roll people, Ray Johnson in the back room with drag queens, John Chamberlain at the bar with Frosty Myers, Dan Christensen, Flavin, Judd, Poons, Zox, everyone talking…
DAVID SALLE — I met Ray when he was prowling around SoHo on Saturday afternoons with a cardboard toilet-paper tube up his nose. Have you ever read anything by the novelist David Markson? He died recently. He wrote beautiful, conventionally “avant-garde” novels early on, but in his last 20 years or so he wrote novels that were like compilations of his astonishing erudition. One book lists the ways artists died throughout history — mostly it was of neglect, and in poverty. He found what amounts to early art criticism. For example, Dante said that Cimabue had the field to himself until Giotto put him in the shade.

GLENN O’BRIEN — There are fragments of art criticism in Greek and Roman literature.
DAVID SALLE — It probably started then, as did art collecting.

GLENN O’BRIEN — Apelles painted Alexander’s portrait, and when Alexander’s horse whinnied at the horse in the painting Apelles said, “Your majesty, your horse has better taste in art than you do.”
DAVID SALLE — Artists can also be dead wrong, but I love the way they talk about other artists.


[Table of contents]

S/S 2012 issue 17

Table of contents

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purple NAKED

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