Magazine article Artforum International

Jonathan Borofsky Talks to Mark Rosenthal. ('80S Then)

Magazine article Artforum International

Jonathan Borofsky Talks to Mark Rosenthal. ('80S Then)

Article excerpt

MARK ROSENTHAL: It has always seemed to me that one of your great innovations was the imagistic wall drawing. How did that come about?

JONATHAN BOROFSKY: It was born in the early to mid-'70s. By then, I had locked in to an idea about counting, and the continuous activity of the mind. From there, I started developing all sorts of images, mostly inspired by dreams. In 1974, Sol LeWitt, who was a kind of father figure, suggested I paint these directly on the wall. Drawing on the wall has such immediacy, like the impact of the cave paintings. Every time I take a piece of charcoal--which originally came from fire in a cave--and put a mark on a nice white museum wall, I feel great--direct, and primal.

MR: After the wall drawings, the installations came quickly. What were your inspirations?

JB: I had a picture of Kurt Schwitters's Merzbau room in my head from long ago. I also recalled a reproduction of an Allan Kaprow installation. I had seen an Oldenburg gallery show in the '60s, which seemed like an installation to me too.

MR: Did installation work represent a kind of repudiation of object making?

JB: Lucy Lippard's book Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object was important to me. Also, people like Sol LeWitt, as well as Hanne Darboven in Europe, were working with their minds. I had come from making imagery my whole life, so to say it was all right to just sit and record your thoughts with diagrams and numbers was very exciting.

MR: You left New York for Los Angeles in the late '70s.

JB: Yes, in 1977. I had been teaching at the School of Visual Arts in New York since about 1969 and had my first show at Paula Cooper Gallery in 1975. So I felt plugged in to New York enough that I could leave the city and try teaching somewhere else, at CalArts, for a year.

I didn't make a deliberate decision to stay, but one year seemed to lead to another. I was enjoying the atmosphere, the palm trees and ocean, and the space and light; also, I was getting paid twice as much to teach. Los Angeles was a little like a giant hardware store. There's a lot more access to unusual materials, and more opportunities to get things fabricated.

MR: Had you ever felt as if you were a "New York artist"?

JB: I didn't feel I was a "New York artist," but I didn't come to feel I was an "LA artist" either. I just feel like I'm who lam. I left in 1991 for Maine when I began to realize that the palm trees and the ocean were great but the pollution, traffic, and sun in my eyes all the time were too much.

MR: Back to the '70s: Was the art world becoming more international then?

JB: Yes. Kasper Konig, the German curator, came to me in 1976, while I was still in New York, to invite me to exhibit at the 1977 Venice Biennale. Later, I participated in a number of exhibitions in Europe, including "Westkunst," in Cologne in 1981, Documenta, in Kassel in 1982, and "Zeitgeist," in Berlin in 1982.

MR: What was it like to work in Berlin at that time?

JB: It allowed me to get in touch with an intense political situation. Also, there was the context of the Nazi torture chambers next to the Gropius-Bau, where the exhibition was held. I can remember jogging around the Berlin Wall and having the idea to blow a hole in it. But I learned it was too thick. So I thought that just the symbolic act of somebody trying would be important because the more who try, the more it gets into people's minds that this would be possible. However, nobody could assure me that we could do this without blowing out windows in buildings and somebody being hurt. So the idea evolved into painting the figure of a running man on the Wall and placing a ruby on the hill where the torture chambers had been.

MR: What's been important to you about doing your installations?

JB: Those were great moments for me: to be given a giant space to work with--four walls, ceiling, and floor. …

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