Magazine article Artforum International

Ross Bleckner Talks to Dan Cameron. ('80S Then)

Magazine article Artforum International

Ross Bleckner Talks to Dan Cameron. ('80S Then)

Article excerpt

ROSS BLECKNER: You've got your work cut out for you. I'm sure it's going to be very difficult to extract the kind of memory trace you're after from all of these artists because everybody will have the same thing to say. They'll all rail on about decade-ism. They'll naturally protest the idea that any artist--least of all an artist as interesting as themselves!--could be categorized in such a fake historical way, considering of course that all of these artists are still actually alive and hopefully still productive.

DC: And doing the best work of their careers!

RB: Naturally. [Laughter.]

DC: When I saw the recent "Transavanguardia" show at Castello di Rivoli, what struck me was how retrograde certain approaches to painting now seem. Twenty years later, that stuff, with the exception of Francesco Clemente, is really like a bad memory. When you started out in the early '80s, your work got lumped in with that work. How did you react to that?

RB: Well, my feeling was that expressionist figuration had developed enough of a critical density by 1981 and that the only way I would be able to function was in an adversarial way. I remember Francesco coming to New York, and I certainly remember Julian [Schnabel]'s first and second shows, David [Salle], Eric [Fischl], among others. While they were having their big shows with figurative work, I had the show of what I thought of as Op art--those big paintings with stripes and spiraling things. And what can I say? I remember being disappointed by the response to my work, and that the elation of other artists at the response to their work obviously created a sort of gap.

DC: So were you going against the grain?

RB: Well, I wouldn't put it that way. I was just going with my grain while this kind of figurative expressionism seemed to blossom very quickly--very quickly. It was like generic German photography is now. Suddenly you see so much of it that you become dizzy.

DC: It seems like your first exhibition at Nature Morte, In 1984, was a pivotal moment. You finally had your context.

RB: That's exactly what I would say. If '81 was somewhat disappointing, then in '84 suddenly there was the possibility that the changing context could reenergize me. I saw it as a kind of release from the dominant style, which my painting didn't work with.

DC: You might not exactly be seen as an antidote for the expressionism overdose when your work was seen in that context. But if seen in another context, like Nature Morte, which was a very unusual gallery...

RB: In what had become a kind of extremely overheated situation, from '81 to '84, the gallery provided a more casual way to present work to an audience I thought would be largely younger artists. Little did I know that I was still a younger artist, only ever so slightly less young than the rest.

DC: I think this whole Cash/ Newhouse, International With Monument, Nature Morte phenomenon allowed a generation of younger artists to pick their heroes, to say, "All right, SoHo can have whatever it's having, and we'll show Ross Bleckner, Sherrie Levine, Louise Lawler, and Allan McCollum." I remember '84 to '86 as years of enormous upheaval in the art world, which set up a different context for the work. AIDS was also contributing to that, because by '83 everyone, at least in the gay community, understood what was happening. And the way in which the crisis in the art world was happening against this background of a much larger social crisis made them not such separate issues. There was something about the excess of that early-'80s style that suddenly seemed galling.

RB: That's true.

DC: Throwing out the old and dragging in something really disturbingly different isn't something that happened in every decade. But '85, to me, was one of the big years in terms of everyone realizing, "We can't go on this way. We have to change it. We have to make it different. …

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