College Art Association

CAA News Today

The weekly CAA Conversations Podcast continues the vibrant discussions initiated at our Annual Conference. Listen in each week as educators explore arts and pedagogy, tackling everything from the day-to-day grind to the big, universal questions of the field.

This week, Valerie Powell, Assistant Professor of Art & the Foundations Coordinator at Sam Houston State University, and Jeffie Brewer, Assistant Professor of Sculpture at Stephen F. Austin State University, discuss collaborative student learning using public art projects.

Filed under: CAA Conversations

Artist Mimi Gross is the daughter of sculptor Chaim Gross and serves as the president of the Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation, based in Greenwich Village in New York City. Mimi Gross’s work has been part of many international exhibitions, including work at the Salander O’ Reilly Galleries, and the Ruth Siegel Gallery, New York City, the Inax Gallery, in Ginza, Tokyo, and Galerie Lara Vincey, in Paris. She has also shown work at the Municipal Art Society and at the Port Authority Bus Terminal. Her anatomically-themed art-work is on permanent display, courtesy the New York City Parks Department, at the Robert Venable Park in East New York.

The Renee & Chaim Gross Foundation houses an extensive collection of over 10,000 objects that includes Gross’s sculptures, drawings, and prints; a photographic archive; and Gross’s large personal collection of African, Oceanic, Pre-Columbian, American, and European art that remains installed in the townhouse as Gross had it during his lifetime. The Foundation is open to the public and tours are available through the website. 

When you think about it, there is an amazing consortium now of artists’ foundations, artist/family foundations. That is a source of continuity.
—Mimi Gross
Hunter O’Hanian: Hi. I’m Hunter O’Hanian. I’m the director of the College Art Association, and I’m very fortunate to be here today with Mimi Gross. Hello, Mimi.
Mimi Gross: Hi.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you.
Mimi Gross: Glad to be together.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you, yes. And it’s been nice to catch up about our time in Provincetown together.
Mimi Gross: Yeah.
Hunter O’Hanian: We have spent a lot of time there.
Mimi Gross: We do.
Hunter O’Hanian: But thank you very much for inviting us into the home of the Foundation, the foundation that was set up by your parents. And it’s really amazing, and we’re going to get to talk about lots of that stuff.
Mimi Gross: Right.
Hunter O’Hanian: But so our viewers actually see what’s going on, can we talk a little bit about the pieces of artwork over my head here?
Mimi Gross: Oh, of course. Very happily.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yep.
Mimi Gross: So we start, this is by Mane-Katz.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yep.
Mimi Gross: Who was a great, shall we say, French-Israeli-American painter, and it’s a Purim Boy. It’s a Milton Avery above it, Woman in Blue. Next to it, this is by Orozco, Mexican master. This is by Louise Nevelson when she was very young, and she was my father’s student. This is by Marsden Hartley.
Hunter O’Hanian: You said I could take this one home, right?
Mimi Gross: Well, you might try. We might catch you at the door.
Hunter O’Hanian: I saw you had good security here, so …
Mimi Gross: Yeah, we do.

Above it is Francis Crisp. He was a great painter. The two dark men, that surreal painting is by Federico Castellón, a Spanish American painter. Below it is by John Metzinger, a great friend of Leger and strangely, post-modern today. Above is by Raphael Sawyer. I don’t know how far you go, but next to it is Louis Guglielmi. He was a Great Depression painter.

Hunter O’Hanian: Where in the house did your parents … Your dad worked, right?
Mimi Gross: Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: Tell us a little bit about your father’s career.
Mimi Gross: His career?
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah.
Mimi Gross: He was a carver. That was his prime interest in his artwork. He came to America as a teenager at age 17 and went to the Education Alliance and studied there and then taught there. He studied with Elie Nadelman. He studied with Robert Laurent. Before that, he started as a painter and John Sloan was his teacher and saw his drawings were very dimensional and said, “Why don’t you try studying sculpture?” He took to it immediately, and that was his love …
Mimi Gross: Which continued throughout his life.
Hunter O’Hanian: The building that we’re in now on La Guardia Place, how long did your parents have this building?
Mimi Gross: They got it in ‘62, ‘63 when they moved in, and they were looking for a place that would be a permanent home for his work and for his collection. I grew up in Harlem at my home had all these things in it, but not this building. He always had a studio in the village. That was his territory.
Hunter O’Hanian: Was your mom a maker as well, too?
Mimi Gross: She took care of everyone.
Hunter O’Hanian: Did she? Good for her. She was probably one of the busiest people in the household.
Mimi Gross: She was very busy.
Hunter O’Hanian: You said you grew up in Harlem. Tell us a little bit about your education.
Mimi Gross: School of hard knocks. I went to high school music and art and then to Bard College. After two years I went to Europe and spent several years there. That was a major part of my education.
Hunter O’Hanian: What was that like growing up with an artist family? Who was coming around the house in those days? Who were your parents chumming around with?
Mimi Gross: My other father was Raphael Sawyer, and I posed for him a lot and got to know him very close. Milton Avery who also came to Provincetown and knew him in the summertime.
Hunter O’Hanian: Right. You spent summers in Provincetown?
Mimi Gross: Since I was a little girl.
Mimi Gross: And still do.
Hunter O’Hanian: One of the reasons why we’re here is to talk about this Spring/Summer issue of the Art Journal, which really talks about artist legacies. You have a great piece in here on page 129, which really talks about the legacy of your parents and the Gross Foundation here, and so we’ll get into some of that, but what brought your family to Provincetown?
Mimi Gross: That’s actually a sensitive subject.
Hunter O’Hanian: Oh.
Mimi Gross: First of all, it’s a artist colony as it’s known, they had spent several summers in Rockport on Cape Ann, which also is an artist colony.
Hunter O’Hanian: In Massachusetts?
Mimi Gross: In Massachusetts came that period before World War II started. World War II started and anti-Semitism was very wide-spread in New England. They heard that Provincetown was liberal, which it still is, or it’s maybe not as liberal as it once was. It was a Portuguese fishing village. It was unlike general New England, so they migrated there and loved it, stayed.
Hunter O’Hanian: Your family ended up having a house there, and that’s how you ended up being able to go every summer?
Mimi Gross: Yep.
Hunter O’Hanian: You were trained as an artist yourself. There’s the lovely picture of you at the beach making a painting. Tell us a little bit about your artistic career.
Mimi Gross: My career itself?
Hunter O’Hanian: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Mimi Gross: It’s what we’d call the bumpy road to somewhere. I’ve had several, you could call it emerging moments, where there was a notoriety of a sort, but I’ve been working since I’m a teenager very seriously as a painter. I’ve worked with many materials, mainly to paint them. That’s been my quest in life. I’m a figurative painter, but I’ve tried many different things. I’ve done a lot of costumes and sets for dance, in particular, Douglas Dunn. When I was married, we did a lot of movies with animation. That was a lot of artwork as well.
Hunter O’Hanian: You were married-
Mimi Gross: My career in terms of gallery life, I showed with several different galleries which closed, so right now I don’t have any gallery, though I had two shows very recently, this spring.
Hunter O’Hanian: Right, and you were married to Red Grooms, as you said?
Mimi Gross: Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yes, and you had several children with Red?
Mimi Gross: One daughter, Saskia.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah, wonderful. Great.
Mimi Gross: And two granddaughters.
Hunter O’Hanian: You and Red made films together?
Mimi Gross: We did. Many films.
Hunter O’Hanian: You collaborated on other projects, too?
Mimi Gross: Yes, we collaborated on very large, walk-through installations that he called pictosculptoramas. They were gigantically room-sized.
Hunter O’Hanian: Right. Your parents over the year…. Certainly your father was incredibly prolific, and you have been very prolific as an artist. Through your relationships you’ve gathered a lot of work, traded it with other artists. I read that there was possibly 10,000 objects that you have at this point.
Mimi Gross: In this house.
Hunter O’Hanian: In this house.
Mimi Gross: I don’t have that many objects.
Hunter O’Hanian: No, no, but I mean in-
Mimi Gross: But my parents were, they were serious collectors. The African art collection is, in itself, multiple objects.
Hunter O’Hanian: The question always comes up then about, for people who are art makers or collectors, what happens to that work? And what is-
Mimi Gross: Good luck.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Good luck, right, an artist’s legacy going forward. What do you say about that?
Mimi Gross: When I was asked to write this article, at first I said, “Oh, sure,” thinking that it was not a difficult answer, knowing that we made this foundation, but when I really thought about it, I realized that my own life and work was something that I had not particularly addressed, as well as the works I did with Red when we collaborated and we both own. It was complicated and difficult to actually freely write it.

I would say that in terms of how an artist who has objects, how they deal with it, it has a lot to do with their own reputation, their own finances and their own ambitions, and their support. All of these things make it work or not work.

My father would say things like, “Oh, I have a daughter that will take care of it,” so I think my granddaughters, maybe they’ll help. There’s no way of knowing, but the finances are gigantic issue, and even here where we have all of this work and a fantastic building, it still is the main issue is fundraising.

Hunter O’Hanian: Right. Again, we’re here at La Guardia Place in The Village in New York. People can actually come and see the work.
Mimi Gross: Oh, yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: They can contact the foundation to make an appointment and have a docent led tour.
Mimi Gross: It’s open to the public.
Hunter O’Hanian: Which is great.

When I was asked to write this article, at first I said, “Oh, sure,” thinking that it was not a difficult answer, knowing that we made this foundation, but when I really thought about it, I realized that my own life and work was something that I had not particularly addressed…. It was complicated and difficult to actually freely write it.
—Mimi Gross
Mimi Gross: We were well-situated here. I say “we” because I helped my parents get this together. Well-situated when Soho was extremely active as an art center, so people were visiting galleries, and then they knew my father or they heard about him and they would drop by and visit. That evolved that way, but today it’s not an art center, though there are several pockets of places here. There is a consortium with the various places that are still in the neighborhood, but because it’s still easily located near Washington Square and near the subways, people come by.

We have about 5,000 people come here a year. Then we’ve been part of Open House New York and in one weekend have over 1,000 people come. We’re part of the Greenwich Village Society for Historic Preservation, so all of that’s part of this particular foundation.

Hunter O’Hanian: The foundation was set up by your father.
Mimi Gross: No, by his friends.
Hunter O’Hanian: By his friends? So-
Mimi Gross: They did it as a birthday present at one point.
Hunter O’Hanian: While he was still alive they set up the foundation?
Mimi Gross: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Hunter O’Hanian: Did he set the original mission for the foundation when they set it up or …
Mimi Gross: No, he actually … He was modest. It was done around him.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Yeah, so it was done around, it was his friends, basically, who got together who decided that …
Mimi Gross: Yeah.
Hunter O’Hanian: I think I read that he thought, oh, maybe it might last 10 years or so, or 20 years.
Mimi Gross: He went like this. Yeah.

We tried to make a gift to, of course, NYU, since they’re neighbors. They own the building next door, for example. We went to City College and Pace College, to the new school, to Yale University. There was quite a few genuine almosts, but he offered the building with everything in it, but without the millions of dollars that are needed to keep it going, and so in the end a friend said, “Why don’t you just make your own place?”

In Europe, it’s very, very common for a home and a studio to be that artist’s resting place for people to visit, so it was based on that.

Hunter O’Hanian: We don’t see so much of that in the United States.
Mimi Gross: Famously, the Delacriox home and studio that people come to visit in Paris.
Hunter O’Hanian: Sure, sure. Some of the conversations that your family had with the institutions in the area, they were hopeful in the beginning, but then it didn’t resolve?
Mimi Gross: Exactly. It took a lot of time.
Hunter O’Hanian: What do you envision will happen to all this work 50 years or 100 years from now?
Mimi Gross: I don’t. It’s way beyond my envisioning.
Hunter O’Hanian: Really? Yeah.
Mimi Gross: I do believe some of it will remain. It’s just there’s no way of knowing what will happen to any of us in 50 or 100 years.
Hunter O’Hanian: Of course, of course.
Mimi Gross: It’s a very big question mark. First of all, we might be underwater.
Hunter O’Hanian: In this part of New York.
Mimi Gross: I hope not. Our future director, hopefully, will be a fundraising person. Hopefully, that will … He does believe in the sustainability. He does believe that we will continue, and with that in mind, hopefully, we’ll have classes, more visitation, and more of a educational outreach. I think that will help sustain here.
Hunter O’Hanian: If you were to give advice, now that you’ve spent so much time doing this, but if you were to give advice to artists in their 40’s, 50’s, or 60’s who are thinking about their legacy and what will happen to all that work, what kind of advice would you give them?
Mimi Gross: I think again it has a lot to do with their reputation in public, their finances, their affiliation with a professional gallery or whatever that way. When you think about it, there is an amazing consortium now of artists’ foundations, artist/family foundations. That is a source of continuity. It’s great. Charles Duncan from the Archives of American Art is the head of it. There has been several meetings. The Aspen Papers have been published on bylaws for a foundation. It’s not a totally easy thing to do, but it’s also not impossible. If you have the work and you want to preserve it, it’s one way to do that. Another is to make gifts to the many, many university museums, small museums all over the country that are eager to increase their collections.
Hunter O’Hanian: Do you work to try to place some of your father’s work in those museums and] collections?
Mimi Gross: I’ve started to. Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Do you find that to be valuable?
Mimi Gross: Beyond valuable. There’s now a sculpture that I gave to the Metropolitan Museum that’s on display …
Hunter O’Hanian: Fabulous.
Mimi Gross: Between the Edward Hopper and Charles Demieux.
Hunter O’Hanian: Oh, my god. How wonderful is that?
Mimi Gross: Yeah, it was thrilling.
Hunter O’Hanian: Also, we were talking earlier, you have three staff people.
Mimi Gross: Correct.
Hunter O’Hanian: Or you will with your new director here, but just the idea of keeping track of all of this work and where it is, particularly with a prolific artist like your father, it must be a mind-boggling task.
Mimi Gross: Fortunately, we’ve had really great interns, really great work. Then we’re also, we’re pioneers if you compare us to other foundations that are much younger. Basically, everything here has been inventoried, although new things are always being found. Last week my granddaughter found a whole bunch of new things that were not discovered before.
Hunter O’Hanian: Wow. You would have thought by this time you would have opened up all the drawers in the …
Mimi Gross: Yeah, you’d think.
Hunter O’Hanian: That’s great. I hope we get to see you at a college art association conference. Maybe we can even bring some people who come to the conference here.
Mimi Gross: I would really urge you to bring guests here and be part of your organization.
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I love it because all the blue-chip galleries are right next door. If I want, I can go in my pajamas to the Gagosian or Pace.
—Lev Manovich on living in Chelsea
Hunter O’Hanian: Hello everyone, I’m Hunter O’Hanian and I’m the Director of the College Art Association, and I’m here today to chat with Lev Manovich. Hello Lev. How are you?
Lev Manovich: Great.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah. Nice to see you. Thank you for welcoming us to your home here in Chelsea, in New York.
Lev Manovich: I’m honored.
Hunter O’Hanian: Well, it’s great to be here. It’s great to be out on the roof of your house and how long have you lived in this neighborhood in New York?
Lev Manovich: Before I was a professor in the art department of University of California, San Diego, between 1996-2013 when I was offered the job as a professor for the Graduate Center CUNY, I rented this place and I love it because all the blue-chip galleries are right next door. If I want, I can go in my pajamas to the Gagosian or Pace.
Hunter O’Hanian: How great that you just get to go out in your pajamas and go to Pace, or Gagosian or wherever. Okay, so you got your PhD from the University of Rochester. You got your MA from NYU, you got your BA from there as well, too. What I think is really interesting is that you have degree from the Moscow Institute of Architecture that you got in 1977 and ‘79. In addition, you’ve won many awards including the Mellon Fellowship in Art Criticism, you won a Guggenheim in 2003.
Let’s circle back to your time in Moscow. What was that like? When you were there, Leonid Brezhnev was the head of the Soviet Union. What was that like as a young scholar?
Lev Manovich: When I left in the early ‘80s, I was 21. I wasn’t a scholar yet. So, I didn’t get to finish with the Institute. I would have spent two more years. I grew up in the ‘70s, which was the final phase of the Soviet Union and the whole Communist system, and looking back I am so, so glad that I grew up out of this crazy different planet. Because here, when you come to the States, especially at that time, everything was so different.

I think this experience of growing up there is completely responsible for my whole career. Because I think when I look at contemporary, let’s say culture, since that time, because of … and capitalism, and that really became dominant worldwide, I have my alien perspective. I think it helps me to see things in very strange ways.

Another thing, which, of course, I miss a lot … during the time everything was forbidden, people published things in Samizdat, you couldn’t buy foreign books in bookstores, but people were still able to do independent culture. People would have exhibitions of art in their apartment. Somebody would call you and say, “Go to this apartment,” and the exhibition would last five hours. Because everything was forbidden, when people were able to do something like this, you knew when to go to them, everybody just felt so excited.

Hunter O’Hanian: Sure.
Lev Manovich: Whereas today, I think we have abundance of information, opportunities, exhibitions…. There are so many galleries in New York. There are hundreds of art being noticed. You can follow any artist online and I am always surprised with my students who don’t take advantage of it. Because, for me, growing up in a country where there was information hunger. I love internet. I love Instagram. Basically, what I do before I go to sleep, I read Wikipedia.
With abundance of information, the fact that I can find out about so many things and I can also see what artists are creating in tens of thousands of cities around the world, from my computer, it’s absolutely amazing.
Today, people are sharing over two billion images per day
Hunter O’Hanian: That’s wonderful. You’re now a professor to Graduate Center CUNY and you’re the Director of the Cultural Analytics Lab, which was founded in 2008. From what I’ve read, you developed the concept of cultural analytics in 2005. Tell us, what is cultural analytics?
Lev Manovich: In the middle of 2000s, this new term “digital humanities” started to become more and more popular, and in this decade it has really been very widely discussed in my Academy. Just as today, at the time, people were starting to use computational tools to analyze, let’s say culture. Not looking at certain novels, but ten thousand novels, and there is a cultural scale…. The focus of this work has largely been literature.
When I saw it I said, “Well, we kind of need a different term to indicate, but we also want to apply these methods to study the history of culture, the history of art, history of visual media, and also contemporary media, whether it is web design, Instagram, photography.” I come up with a term and today there are hundreds of others’ papers, where people analyze, for example, social media or visual social media with papers done by people in Computer Science, Computational Social Science, Visual Anthropology, Visual History, and also recently merging to field of paradigm of visual history.
I think what I started was, really, just a few papers and now I can use this term more like an umbrella to describe this research, which includes not only publications in academic journals, but also art projects, exhibitions, software people share online. Today research, the research outputs or research tools, also includes software data sets. Let’s say Google has this amazing cultural institute and curate these beautiful exhibitions of images. It’s also very cultural analytics.
I would say its use of computation, not always to analyze. It’s a visual media or artistic media, but also to teach it and also to create new interfaces for interactive media.
Hunter O’Hanian: One of the research questions that you pose in the lab is, “How can we observe giant cultural universes of both user-generated and professional media content created today without reducing them to averages, outliers, or preexisting categories?” How has your research developed in that area?
Lev Manovich: I think when I started, I was so fascinated with within a couple of years, the number of cultural producers and visual artifacts re-created, exploded a universe that grew after The Big Bang, so to speak. Let’s say, before, people were writing about Italian Renaissance or 1940s Hollywood cinema. Basically, we have a limited number of artifacts, limited number of artists, and you can kind of observe it, in a way, with your own eyes. In 2005, when people started sharing things on Flickr and on YouTube, and Instagram and Twitter and so on. Today, people are sharing over two billion images per day.
Hunter O’Hanian: That’s amazing. Two billion a day.
Lev Manovich: Yeah. It’s growing.
Hunter O’Hanian: Wow, amazing.
Lev Manovich: There is no way for you to observe it with your own eyes. I find this a great challenge but also find it was fascinating. The only way for me to see, for example, what was the different content people create, what are different styles? In the case of photography, what are photographic techniques? In a way, it’s like this invisible world because it’s too big. If I use something like telescope, microscope, I can only see so much. I said, “Well, it’s not like I like computers so much, I do; but I have to turn to computers, the techniques of computer science, just to be able to see what is out there.”
It’s particularly important if you don’t start with some preexisting categories. Because, let’s say you say, “Okay, I want to look at contemporary Instagram, using categories like Selfie, Portrait, Still Life,” but we don’t know what other genres are out there. We don’t know what kind of hybrid genres. I said, “As opposed to starting with particular categories and training the computer to find images in these categories, if I do it, I am only going to confirm what I already know.”
For me, Cultural Analytics is basically about questioning everything we know, so using that challenge of big data to question what we know. I said, “What I actually want to do is not necessarily statistics but visualization, I want to sample this universe. I want to bring thousands or millions of images before my eyes.” Even I, myself, am going to see all kinds of interesting patterns, which perhaps don’t fit in these categories. It is really about observing in a very precise way.
You can also connect it to workings of our history, Heinrich Wölfflin… created this new method, which our historians use throughout the century in comparing images on two slides. How you can compare billions of images? I see Cultural Analytics, in a way as an extension of comparative methods in humanities.
Hunter O’Hanian: You also look in the lab about how you use data to measure diversity, variability, differences in temporal changes in these cultural data sets. What are some conclusions you’ve drawn from that as well?
Lev Manovich: We look at everything from cartoons, films, TV series, posters, book pages, Time magazine covers, one million Manga pages, one million artworks from DeviantArt, 50 million Instagram photos. I said, “So these are all very different types of visual culture.” If I’m to develop some methodology, which I can teach to students, in general, right, what we should look at? For example, if we look at visual art, we talk about topics, style, et cetera. If we’re looking at literature, we can look into other things.
Abstract from these media-specific categories, what else? I said, “Well, we could talk about how certain point of culture developed over time and we use computers that allow us to see, keep track of these changes. We can take different data sets and compare them.” For example, I want to compare a million paintings done in Brooklyn versus a million paintings done, I don’t know, in 798 in Beijing, but how do you compare those on a scale?
When we can think about our ability … so you say, “Okay, there is a particular genre of selfie.” There are millions of selfies, which are very close or very far from the genre, so you think of a particular genre or a particular idiom. All right? Let’s say 19th century still life. When you consider it all works in terms of how close to the center it all is and finally because of diversity. We talk about the ability, it’s like statistics, right? How far a particular data point from average. With the ability, it’s more like ecology: how many different species of animals have you observed in this forest?
Today if we observe, for example, something on Instagram, we’re not going to find a billion different species of images. We’ll maybe find 350, or maybe 1,000, or maybe 500. The same thing if you look at 19th Century painting or 16th Century art in China. Typically, our historians have been describing it in a very reductive way, saying, “Well, there’s four styles, there is four types.” What if I start saying, “Well, maybe it’s not four styles, maybe it’s 400 styles, or 40.”
It’s not about throwing away categories, it’s gaining more categories. The way people do it in science, so biologists describe life on the earth, same with a hundred million species and be able to deal with it. What if I start dealing with 10,000 species of images? Why not, right? Basically, we’re bringing our reflection about using visual culture, a bit up to date to what is used. Actually, I will tell you, people able to look at things the more precise way, uniquely with distinctions.
For me, cultural analytics is about questioning everything we already know.
Hunter O’Hanian: Of course, using social media and a lot of the stuff that you do today, it’s great that you’re able to mix fine art and popular culture at the same time and the culture around everybody and bringing that in as to what their lives are about and you’re mixing those two things when you look at it.
Lev Manovich: Well, I think it connects to another point, which we talked about right before we started. Today we have four billion mobile subscriptions. Not all of them are smartphones but there’s at least one billion people which have smartphones and they come with all this free software. Not only with, let’s say, again, but over 200 apps to aid images. Let’s say when I started doing digital art 30 years ago, you can put all the people who did digital art in one room. Then, let’s say, 20 years ago you could put them all … maybe 300 people.
Now, we have a billion people. The way we have one billion artists and one billion photographers and if you look closely you can find all kinds of things. You find things which are maybe very, let’s say, something or something will give a copy for somebody else, but you also find lots of diversity. What I want to do is I want to expose this diversity because I think, ultimately, if you’re to collect enough of a sample of contemporary art, perhaps you may find more diversity on social media because contemporary art you also have certain fashions, certain waves.
Today we’ll have this in fashion, tomorrow … so we have this idea which comes from that … with art as something special, it’s a romantic, it’s the best of humanity, but today you don’t need to go to art school or design school to be artist and you can basically have viewers of your work on social media.
Hunter O’Hanian: Sure, and it creates an audience.
Lev Manovich: Yeah, so I think intellectuals tend to dismiss it as something trivial, something banal, well, that’s not being intellectual. We want to take it seriously.
Hunter O’Hanian: Yeah, no, that’s good. You brought Instagram up a few times. How many followers do you have on Instagram?
Lev Manovich: Basically, last year I was writing this book about Instagram. I would observe something, write a chapter, I have those chapters on my website. When I do this research over about three years, I basically figure out some principles, whether it has to do with how many followers, but there are also thousands of articles about it.
My case, I didn’t follow those rules, so I only have a couple thousand followers. On Twitter, I also read about … I read, for example, research that says if you want to be retweeted, you have be between 110, 140 characters. I follow statistics even … to Tweet, so Twitter I follow all the rules so I have over 20,000.
Hunter O’Hanian: Wow.
Lev Manovich: I follow the rules, but then of course, limited to what you can say.
Hunter O’Hanian: Sure. Obviously you’re coming into contact with a lot of students these days and a lot of people who are either art makers or scholars or thinking about digital media. What kind of advice do you have for people entering the art world, whether they’re creative or whether they’re writing, what would you tell them?
Lev Manovich: Well, I hope people are not entering the art world, I hope they’re entering the cultural world.
Hunter O’Hanian: Interesting.
Lev Manovich: The art world is just a very small part of it. To be honest, I don’t know a single person which takes the contemporary art world seriously.
Hunter O’Hanian: Okay.
Lev Manovich: Yeah, because again, in my view, fields like design, science and food are more interesting, but that’s my opinion. To be an artist in the art world, it’s not the only choice anymore. I think with people who are young, I would say there are two reasons why I would recommend people to learn computer programming and a bit about data. First of all, this is a world believer. Production analysis, algorithms based on data are central to the contemporary world, as electricity was central to the … century, as steam engines were central to industrial world of 1820.
If you simply want to understand the world in which you live, but why will Facebook … how does the navigation system in my car work? You should basically have some computer literacy, data literacy, and should learn something about algorithms, basic programming, how to make a webpage, analyze data, give statistics. Otherwise, I don’t know if you can say very relevant things about the world today.
Maybe artists’ or historians’ culture. The second thing, I think, for professional advancement, so the digital humanities started in early 2000s, in the last five or six years you see many, many jobs where people want somebody who does 19th-Century novel or 18th-Century theater plus, plus, plus, plus digital humanities. In this decade and for the next decade, this is something which actually would help you to get a job because the new thing—everybody wants it and most people don’t do it.
Simply from this very practical point of view, our digital art history is something that should exist or something that’s probably started to around 2012. It’s very new. It will get bigger the way it happened in English or in literature, so I think if you’re entering the history, (1) it’s too young. Take some online class, learn a bit of programming, and also learn about things which are specific to art history, how the computer looks at images. Learn about computer vision.
Because regardless of whether you’re using it in your work, in five years when you’re interviewing people will be asking, Do you know that?” You still will be doing it. Again, it’s not about giving up the mind, it’s not about giving up theory. It’s not about giving up analytical thinking, but it’s simply adding contemporary methods to the methods inherited over the last 300 years.
Hunter O’Hanian: You’ve been to many CAA conferences and it’s been great that you’ve spoken. I hope you get to come to another one. Our next one will be in Los Angeles in February 2018, so I hope you can come to that one as well.
Lev Manovich: I appreciate it very much. The first time I was at CAA, I was still a student. It was in 1990, it was in Seattle. I actually met a couple people who became my best friends.
Hunter O’Hanian: Fabulous, I love that.
Lev Manovich: I’m very lucky that now I’m in New York. It stays in New York every other year, so I always come. I’m on the panels. People have to realize, it’s amazing that CAA exists because in most countries you don’t have anything like this. You maybe only have 200 art historians in Switzerland or we don’t have this organization. The fact that this is organization, you bring us together, we’re at conferences, job placement, there are all kinds of things you can develop.
Yeah, maybe we always complain that every organization is bureaucratic but it’s fantastic that CAA exists. I wish you guys all the luck, and I think we all should support it and it’s up to us if we don’t say something, it’s up to us to put it there. This interview, it’s fantastic, an interesting project, it also makes it more visual and more interactive.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you.
Lev Manovich: Thank you so much.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you for this great view and for inviting us to your roof here. It’s really great.
Lev Manovich: Come anytime. We’ll drink some beers.
Hunter O’Hanian: Okay, thank you. I appreciate it.
Filed under: CAA Conversations

An Interview with Linda Nochlin

posted by June 08, 2017

CAA is proud to launch CAA Conversations, our newest initiative for fostering academic discussions about art and its purpose through conversations with diverse scholars and practitioners from our community. Every month, executive director Hunter O’Hanian will interview a notable scholar or artist who is making or has made progressive change in his or her field, with the goal to not only learn more about their craft, but to understand the artist or scholar behind it.

Our first interview in this series is with renowned feminist art historian Linda Nochlin, a long time CAA member and author of the pioneering essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” We caught up with Linda at her home on the Upper West Side, where art and inspiring works lined every wall of her apartment. Read the full conversation below (or click the video!) to hear Linda recount the early beginnings of her career, her thoughts on feminism then and now, her advice to young scholars, and a sneak preview of her upcoming book, Misère.

A friend…left me Off Our Backs… I stayed up all night reading and I was a feminist the next day.
Hunter O’Hanian: Hello, my name is Hunter O’Hanian, and I’m the Director of the College Art Association. I’m here today with Linda Nochlin. Hello Linda.
Linda Nochlin: Hello.
Hunter O’Hanian: How are you?
Linda Nochlin: I’m okay.
Hunter O’Hanian: You’ve been a member of CAA for a long time. It’s great to have this opportunity to chat with you. Let’s talk a little bit about your background. I know you grew up here in New York, in Brooklyn. You earned degrees from Vassar, Colombia, and NYU. You taught at Colombia, Vassar, Yale. You’ve won many awards from CAA. Most recently you won the 2006 Distinguished Lifetime Achievement Award for writing in art. I know you’ve won a Guggenheim Fellowship. I know you’re a fellow at the American Academy of Arts and Sciences. You’ve got an honorary doctorate from Harvard. A lot of it’s really been about what you’ve been doing as far as thinking about, writing about, teaching about art. What brought you to art?
Linda Nochlin: I was always interested. When I was a little kid, I liked to paint and draw. I was very much encouraged to paint and draw both by mother and by my school. Being in New York, I had all these museums. There were a lot of other people who were interested in art that were around me, that were my friends. It seemed sort of natural to go to museums. I enrolled myself when I was 12 in the class for talented children at the Brooklyn Museum. A very interesting place.
Hunter O’Hanian: You enrolled yourself you said?
Linda Nochlin: I went with a portfolio and they said, “Come on.”
Hunter O’Hanian: Great.
Linda Nochlin: I was always interested in art, music, dance. I loved to dance. The arts.
Hunter O’Hanian: Apart from your writing, have you been drawing and making work through your adult life as well?
Linda Nochlin: No, I quit.
Hunter O’Hanian: How come you quit?
Linda Nochlin: Well, I don’t know. I just got interested in writing about it rather than making it.
Hunter O’Hanian: You have a very long history of publishing. There’s certainly a lot of work that you’ve done with Realism and Courbet. What attracted you to that particular period and that particular genre?
Linda Nochlin: Probably it was political I think. It was during the McCarthy period that I came to maturity. I went to the Institute. I really wanted to work on something that was anti-McCarthy. That was left. I was a person of the left and Courbet was the ideal subject in that.
Hunter O’Hanian: Tell me about what you remember of the McCarthy era and what was going on at the time and how artists and writers were dealt with.
Linda Nochlin: It really was a very oppressive period for people in intellectual and artistic pursuits. Even if they didn’t come and get you, that was always a threat lying over. I remember I began my Frick talk with a long quotation from Karl Marx. People were dumbfounded. I remember my teacher said, “Linda, you’re so brazen.” It was scary times.
Hunter O’Hanian: Watching the news today, do you see any similarities?
Linda Nochlin: No. I think it’s a different thing now. It’s scary in a different way, but you can say what you want. Unless you’re in government. I think it is a different take. It’s not good and it’s not pleasant, but I think it’s different.
Hunter O’Hanian: I noticed…. I’ve read that you said you were introduced to feminism in the late 1960s. You were probably in your 30s at that time. You wrote that you became a feminist virtually overnight. Tell me about that.
Linda Nochlin: I had been in Italy in ‘68, ‘69. I came home and a friend came with all these publications and said, “Do you know about feminism”? It was called the women’s movement. I said, “No.” She said, “Read this.” She left me Off Our Backs and rather the somewhat crude broadsheets of the early feminist movement. I stayed up all night reading and I was a feminist the next day. Certainly I always had been to some degree, but I could see now I could become formally as part of an organization, as part of a movement. Yes, I was a feminist.
Hunter O’Hanian: Do you see the movement alive today?
Linda Nochlin: Mm-hmm [affirmative] yes. But, of course, a lot of people I know happen to be feminists. I don’t know how alive it is otherwise. I think it still is.
Hunter O’Hanian: It’s interesting. I meet a lot of male feminists, too, which back in the beginning of the movement….
Linda Nochlin: It would be unheard of.
Hunter O’Hanian: It would be unheard of for a man to say he was a feminist. Now there’s many of us who are actually happy to say that.
Linda Nochlin: You think of the Women’s March after the inauguration this year. It was enormous. Enormous. Not every one of those people might be a self-pronounced feminist, but they’re all feminists in the sense that they gathered together to show that they believed in something and were against other things.
Hunter O’Hanian: Of course there’s the essay “Why Have There Been No Great Women Artists?” that you wrote in 1971. I think ARTnews published that?
Linda Nochlin: Yes.
Hunter O’Hanian: First of all, tell me about the title. How did you end up with that title? Why have there been no great women artists?
Linda Nochlin: I was at a Vassar graduation the year before and I think … I can’t remember who it was. He had a gallery. He was a well known gallerist. He said, “Linda, I would love to show women in my gallery, but why are there no great women artists?” I started really thinking about it and one thought followed another. It almost wrote itself. It seemed all so hitched together, so logical.
Hunter O’Hanian: You address the question in the beginning of the essay about how many great artists there are regardless of their gender, the fact of what actually makes a great artist. Talk a little bit about that.
Linda Nochlin: I refuse to say it’s something inborn, a golden nugget I would say, but artistic greatness, artistic production depends so much on time, place, situation, etc. It was no accident that up through the Renaissance, even the 18th century that artists came in families. Father artists, mother artists. You think of the Bach, Johann Sebastian Bach family, family practice.
What advice would I have for [young scholars]? Be very, very smart. Write a lot. Have a strong opinion. Just don’t be a little library worm.
Hunter O’Hanian: You write in here “The problem lies not so much with some feminist concept of what femininity is, but rather with their misconception shared with the public at large of what art is with the naïve idea that art is the direct personally expression of individual, emotional experience, a translation of personal life into visual terms. Art is almost never that. Great art never is.”
Linda Nochlin: Well that says what I mean. It always takes place within a context, within a setting, certain training, certain standards. What might be considered great art in one period might not be in others. It’s interesting. There’s a certain agreement in the Renaissance. They knew it was Raphael Michelangelo, etc., very little question.
Hunter O’Hanian: You also write here, “the fact of the matter is that there have been no supremely great women artists as far as we know.” I’m happy you added that in, “as far as we know,” although there have been many interesting and very good ones who remain insufficiently investigated or appreciated.
Linda Nochlin: I think that’s been corrected to a certain extent today.
Hunter O’Hanian: Tell me about the ones who have been discovered or investigated.
Linda Nochlin: I suppose Artemisia Gentileschi would be a primary one. Who else?
Hunter O’Hanian: What about women artists in the latter part of the 20th century or beginning part of the 21st century?
Linda Nochlin: I think women artists have definitely caught up as leaders, as being the interesting ones making art and so on. I’m thinking of somebody like Joan Jonas, for example. I’m thinking of somebody like Louise Bourgeois.
Hunter O’Hanian: I was just going to ask you about Louise.
Linda Nochlin: Obviously.
Hunter O’Hanian: Judy Pfaff
Linda Nochlin: The list itself is so long. I’m not saying they’re all Michelangelo, but I’m personally not a Michelangelo person. They’re really interesting and dynamic and have changed the way we look at art, which I think is important.
Hunter O’Hanian: I guess it’s in part because society has allowed them to some degree to be able to do that.
Linda Nochlin: Yes, of course. They had to fight for it, too.
Hunter O’Hanian: Of course. One last quote that I thought was interesting. There’s so much of this essay. I hadn’t read it for years. It’s just so dense. It so wonderful.
Linda Nochlin: It is. I tried to squeeze a lot in.
Hunter O’Hanian: You say “most men despite lip service to equality are reluctant to give up the natural order of things in which their advantages are so great. For women, the case is further complicated by the fact that unlike other oppressed groups or castes, men demand of them not only submission, but unqualified affection as well.”
Linda Nochlin: It’s sort of hard. Say in terms of color, nobody demands that black people love and adore and cater to white people. It’s only gender that does that. It’s very confusing if on the one hand there is somebody you love, live with, etc., yet who is part of a group or caste that is really denying you equality and denying you self-expression. It’s confusing to put it mildly.
Hunter O’Hanian: As we said, we have made progress….
Linda Nochlin: I think so.
Hunter O’Hanian: But how much progress to do you think that we’ve made? How tough do you think it is for a young woman, 30 years old, starting out today?
Linda Nochlin: I think it’s undeniably better. The conditions are better for a woman succeeding, and a lot of the major artists now certainly are women, but there’s still a boys’ club feeling about certain types of art and certain types of artists. I think you know equality has gone so far and no further maybe.
Hunter O’Hanian: It’s interesting when you think about it in the sense that we think women have had the right to vote for 100 years, but still they don’t get paid the same wage. It’s been 135 years since the Emancipation Proclamation has been signed.
Linda Nochlin: No, it isn’t just done by words or by the progress of a few superstars either.
Hunter O’Hanian: Switching gears, but also on this one a little bit, obviously you’ve been involved in the academy and artistry for many, many years. What is your sense about the future for people graduating out of a master’s programs or PhD programs and getting jobs in higher education today? What do you think about that?
Linda Nochlin: I think it’s a difficult market as far as I can see. Although there are now galleries and museums throughout the country. It’s not just a question of the east coast and the west coast and Chicago. I think there is a sort of spreading, or a spread of art which allows for some jobs, but being an artist is tough no matter how you take it. I think it’s getting ahead, finding a gallery, getting a proper amount of publicity, making sure you show. It’s hard.
Hunter O’Hanian: What about for scholars, for those getting their PhD about being able to move their careers along? What advice would you have for them?
Linda Nochlin: What advice would I have for them? Be very, very smart. Write a lot. Have strong opinions. Just don’t be a little library worm.
Hunter O’Hanian: It seems your strong opinions have done you well for your career.
Linda Nochlin: I wouldn’t know how to not have them if you know what I mean. That’s what I’m about is my opinions. You have to know something. Frankly I know a great deal. There are very good…. I was a very good student, very good. I worked very hard. I really took pains and energy with my research, not just opinions. They have to be based on something.
Hunter O’Hanian: Can you think of an opinion that you had out there in some of your writing that you looked at it years later and thought, “I wouldn’t have come to the same conclusion?”
Linda Nochlin: I’m sure there are.
Hunter O’Hanian: It’s so interesting how we develop those opinions based upon what we believe at a given time.
Linda Nochlin: Oddly enough I’ve remained more or less consistent. I’ve added some artists in, subtracted some, but the ones that I like are still the ones that I’m interested in. At least many of the issues that I was committed to, I’m still committed to.
Hunter O’Hanian: What are you working on now?
Linda Nochlin: I’ve just finished a large book called Misère about the representation about misery in the second half of the 19th century in France and England.
Hunter O’Hanian: Wonderful.
Linda Nochlin: That’s at the publisher right now.
Hunter O’Hanian: When should we expect to see it?
Linda Nochlin: In the fall I should think. Thames & Hudson as usual.*
*Update: Misère is slated for release after Spring 2018. 
Hunter O’Hanian: Are you excited about it?
Linda Nochlin: Yeah, I am. I laughingly said to my editor, “Are you going to be able to sell a book called Misère?” He said, “Misère by Linda Nochlin, yes.” It was fascinating, really interesting. It pulls together a lot of things I’ve been interested in all along. It’s both new territory, but based on elements that I’ve been interested in for a long time.
Hunter O’Hanian: Any nuggets that you want to give away from that that come to mind?
Linda Nochlin: Let me think. There’s been relatively little in investigation of the representation of the poor and oppressed. Middle class Impressionism, etc., upper class before that, religious high-minded themes, battles, just the everyday lives of the poor and “uninteresting,” so to speak, not much setting.
Hunter O’Hanian: It’s interesting because that seems like a very timely topic for us.
Linda Nochlin: Exactly I thought of that too.
Hunter O’Hanian: As we think of how elections change and how government change and how the education system changes about access, I think it seems.…
Linda Nochlin: Absolutely. It was certainly true in the 19th century, early 20th. I think it’s an interesting book. I hope other people find it interesting.
Hunter O’Hanian: I look forward to seeing it. Thank you so much for allowing us here in your home. It was great to chat with you about these things.
Linda Nochlin: Good.
Hunter O’Hanian: I look forward to seeing you at another CAA event soon I hope.
Linda Nochlin: I hope so.
Hunter O’Hanian: Thank you.
Linda Nochlin: I would love to. Thank you.