Looking through Hannah's Eyes: Interview with Donald Goddard

Article excerpt

Hannah Wilke is renowned for her witty and unapologetic presentations of self in performance, sculpture, painting, and photography, including S.O.S. Starification Object Series (1975), So Help Me Hannah (1978), and the Intra-Venus Series (1991-92). In 1975, Donald Goddard met Wilke while he was the managing editor of ArtNews, and they lived together as a couple until she died of cancer in 1993. Goddard recently completed the Intra-Venus Tapes (1990-93), an installation consisting of sixteen monitors and more than thirty hours of video footage from the last twoand-a-half years of Wilke's life. In this interview, Tina Takemoto speaks with Goddard about his life and work with Wilke as well as the emotional dimensions of grief and mourning involved in completing this project according to her wishes.

Tina Takemoto: Can you begin by describing how and when you met Hannah Wilke?

Donald Goddard: I met Hannah at the opening for her show at the Ronald Feldman Gallery in September 1975.1 It was a show of her latex-rubber wall pieces and the large series of ceramic floor pieces called 176 One-Fold Gestural Sculptures. The exhibition also included her S.O.S. Starification Object Series and some other works.2 A week or two after I met Hannah at the gallery, Ron [Feldman] called. He had tickets to the City Center Opera. It was storming that night, and his wife couldn't make it, so Ron asked if I wanted to go in her place. I didn't know that Hannah was going to be there, but she was. The opera was Puccini's La Bohème. Hannah loved opera. She loved Puccini, and she especially loved women's voices. So that was the beginning of our relationship.

Takemoto: At the time, you were a managing editor at ArtNews.3 Did your interest in writing about art and Hannah's involvement as a practicing artist overlap?

Goddard: Yes, well, I had studied art history. I never received a higher degree, but I did go to graduate school for a few years at New York University's Institute of Fine Arts.4 I was deeply interested in art, but I had put it aside for some years. I was just coming back to the arts when I got the job at ArtNews in 1974. Then I met Hannah, and it just seemed like what I should be doing, and it was.

Takemoto: After working for ArtNews, I understand that you spent many years working as the senior editor for the Wildlife Conservation Society at the Bronx Zoo.5 Was this a move away from the arts, or have you maintained interests in both areas throughout the years?

Goddard: Oh, I absolutely stayed interested in art. I was with Hannah. We were seeing a lot of art, and I was watching her work. Also, she loved the zoo. She loved animals. Every once in a while we would walk around the zoo, and she would make drawings of the animals. It was a challenge to her-anything in nature, but animals in particular, because she felt it was so difficult and wonderful to capture their form and movement at the same time. She was extraordinarily good at it. She loved the zoo so much. It was wonderful being there with her.

Takemoto: Hannah is famous for her refreshingly direct presentation of her body as well as her great sense of humor. Can you talk about her sense of humor and how that influenced her approach to art and life in general?

Goddard: She wasn't a joke teller, but she was extremely funny and clever. I think you can see it in the titles of her work. The word play is extraordinary at times. She just saw things that way.

Takemoto: Was humor an aspect of your interaction with each other?

Goddard: Yes, Hannah was extremely playful in conversation and in writing. I would help her sometimes with her writing. A couple of times I tried to help her name some pieces, but my names were always lame compared to hers.

Takemoto: Maybe they were the point of departure for her titles?

Goddard: I don't think so. She would think of titles immediately, and they would be exacdy right, very intellectually complicated, funny, and also often very touching. …