JOURNAL OF CONTEMPORARY ART
Constance Lewallen: What were you showing at Jablonka Gallery in Cologne?
Sherrie Levine: I was showing, for the first time, sculptures based on 1934 furniture designs by Gerrit Rietveld. He called them “Krate” furniture and designed them as inexpensive country furniture that could be easily mass produced.
Lewallen: The Frank Gehry of his time.
Levine: Exactly. The earliest futon furniture, or crate furniture, of the type we had in college. The word “Krate” comes from the fact that they not only look like crates but they knock down.
Lewallen: You mean you could easily disassemble them?
Levine: Yes. The tables are in three pieces and put together with screws. Rietveld designed them to be seventeen inches high, which is quite low. To function as sculpture I thought they needed to be larger, so mine are tea table height, thirty inches high.
Lewallen: You didn’t make them.
Levine: No, I had them fabricated.
Lewallen: What inspired you to do them?
Levine: I’ve gotten very interested in Modernist architecture, in part from the year and a half I spent in Los Angeles about a-year-and-a-half ago. While I was there, I bought a book on Rietveld and I was struck by how beautiful his furniture is, particularly this body of work, which is not that well known, especially in the States. I am also interested in the ambiguity between the relationship of the object to both sculpture and furniture.
Lewallen: How many designs have you done?
Levine: So far only these two crate tables. The ones you see in my studio are prototypes. The larger one has already been fabricated in a suite of six.
Lewallen: You are doing them in editions the way you did the billiard tables in “After Man Ray (La Fortune)”?
Levine: No, these will be suites, so that they stay together. In other words, an institution or a collector would buy all six tables.
Lewallen: The entire suite.
Levine: A series might be a better word. A series that stays together, with references to Donald Judd. I imagine that he was also interested in this furniture because his own furniture designs seem to be influenced by Rietveld.
Lewallen: You have created “furniture” sculpture before, like the billiard tables in “After Man Ray,” which I saw exhibited at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art.
Lewallen: I saw the show subsequently at Mary Boone’s where you showed four rather than six billiard tables. What is the minimum number necessary for the installation?
Levine: I never had a number specifically in mind. ObviouLeviney six was ideal. I was happy to have a situation where that was possible.
Lewallen: Are you planning to do more photographic works?
Levine: Yes. My project has never been specific to any media. I’m still making paintings and working on ideas for new photo projects. I’ve also been drawing lately. I like the way the different media inform each other. I really welcome opportunities to show works I’ve made in various media together.
Lewallen: Did the cast-glass wine bottles that I saw reproduced in Parkett just precede these tables?
Lewallen: Tell me about them.
Levine: I thought a wine bottle was the perfect generic Modernist icon, having been so frequently used as a subject by the Cubists and Surrealists.
Lewallen: Are the black bottle and the white bottle identical? The black looks smaller—is that an illusion?
Levine: It’s an optical illusion. They are identical in every respect, although the black one is solid glass and the “white” one is solid crystal, and they are a pair.
Lewallen: How many pairs are there?
Levine: An edition of twelve.
Lewallen: Where did you have them made?
Levine: The Rhode ILevineand School of Design has a sophisticated glass department. A lot of students stay in the area after they graduate and open their own shops. I’ve been working with people there.
Lewallen: They are very elegant. The beautiful object has always been an aspect of your work. It’s what separates you from a lot of other artists with similar concerns. The beauty of the object draws you in, on an aesthetic level, which is, I imagine, your intent.
Levine: I am interested in making a work that has as much aura as its reference. For me the tension between the reference and the new work doesn’t really exist unless the new work has an auratic presence of its own. Otherwise, it just becomes a copy, which is not that interesting.
Lewallen: “Aura” in the sense that Walter Benjamin used the term.
Lewallen: Paradoxically, he said that work loses its aura because of duplication . . .
Levine: Right (laughter).
Lewallen: And what you’re doing is duplicating objects in a way that they will have an aura, not the same one as the referent, but their own, Sherrie Levine aura?
Lewallen: You’re turning Benjamin’s theory in on itself. A lot of your work has the effect of taking ideas one step further than one would expect.
Levine: To create a conundrum.
Lewallen: The bottles, like your stripe paintings, are a generic type, rather than references to a particular work of art as, say, your rephotographs are. As you say, the bottles are a generic icon of Cubist still life.
Levine: Or sculpture. Several of the Surrealists actually painted on wine bottles.
Lewallen: The wine bottles allude to two movements. Similarly, the stripe paintings refer back to both Suprematist painting and more recently to Minimal painting.
Lewallen: To talk more about elegance and beauty, your works are often referred to as “objects of desire.” Jeff Koons, whose work was exhibited recently at the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, professes to give viewers desirable objects, objects people want. There are obvious relationships as well as differences between your work and that of Koons. How do you feel about his work in relationship to yours?
Levine: I am not sure . . . actually, there are a lot of similarities and I have always thought Koons was an extremely interesting artist. He’s one of the first artists of my generation whose work I knew in New York. But the biggest different between our work is our subject matter. My subject matter is high art and his is popular culture.
Lewallen: And he’s interested in shock value now, blurring the line between art and pornography (though he wouldn’t admit to this), and you are not.
Levine: A lot of people still find a photograph of a photograph appalling. I’m always glad to hear that.
Lewallen: One of the things I’ve remarked upon is that when one first sees a new body of your work, at least this is true for myself, one can’t quite . . . get the link. And then one realizes it makes perfect sense. Rather than giving you an immediate hit, it works the opposite way, Levineowly.
Levine: I think it’s the auratic quality that’s built into it. There’s a level of seduction in the work that keeps you . . . It’s a visceral, sensual seduction that always draws you back. That’s where the hook is. Otherwise it would be an idea as opposed to . . . I want it to be an experience.
Lewallen: A work of art.
Levine: A work of art. Something you experience in a visceral sense, because I believe that intellectual experiences are stronger when related to sensual experiences, a sense of the world. I sometimes paraphrase Lawrence Weiner on this; he said that he wanted to make art that throws you back on the physical world, that makes you think about your relationship to the physical world. I think that’s a wonderful way to think about artmaking.
Lewallen: So much contemporary idea-based art is one-dimensional—once you get it, you get it, and you never really have to see it again. There is no pleasure in looking.
Levine: Yes, sometimes having a work described is pretty much the same experience as seeing it. I always feel I have failed if that is true of something I’ve done. The way I try to prevent that is by making things I want to look at, that I feel a need to see realized. Generally that’s a safeguard against something having . . .
Lewallen: Only an idea value. I saw a work you made in collaboration with Bob Gober at the Jack Hanley Gallery in San Francisco— the light bulb hanging from a cord.
Levine: It’s a wax cast.
Lewallen: I wondered about the nature of the collaboration.
Levine: Bob and I were invited by Kathy Halbreich, who was doing a group show in 1990 at the Hirshhorn, to collaborate on a room. We had previouLeviney done a table with a chess board on it so I thought it would be funny to make a light bulb, sort of like a Guston light bulb, a cartoon light bulb. So I called Bob up and I said, “What if we do a light bulb hanging from a cord?” And he said, “That’s a good idea; I’ll have my assistant make it.” And in twenty-four hours we had this piece (laughter). And it’s beautiful, it’s a really nice piece.
Lewallen: You’ve done other collaborations. I remember reading about a piece you did with Louise Lawler where you invited people to the studio of an artist who had died, a Russian artist, but then, as someone wrote, and I agree, in a sense you are always collaborating.
Levine: I never thought about it that way, but that’s true. That’s great. I like that a lot.
Lewallen: The ultimate collaborator. But it’s likely with someone who’s not around any more.
Levine: It sounds like something John Baldessari would have said; did he say that?
Lewallen: It might have been him. I saw some pieces of yours, watercolors after Matisse, reproduced in an old issue of File magazine. They were dated 1968. That must be wrong.
Levine: It’s wrong; maybe it was a typo. I made them in 1985.
Lewallen: Were these the first drawings or paintings after modern masters?
Levine: No, the first ones were in 1983.
Lewallen: After Egon Schiele?
Levine: The first ones?
Levine: Well, the very first ones were charcoal drawings I made in 1981 after Willem de Kooning. But I was so insecure about them I didn’t show them for a very long time. (Laughter)
Lewallen: There’s a history of artists doing self-conscious works after De Kooning, like Rauschenberg erasing a De Kooning drawing.
Levine: Also, that particular series I worked from De Kooning had made with his eyes closed and with the paper upside down. So, I thought it was particularly amusing to do work referring to that series in such a self-conscious way.
Lewallen: This must have been in the interview you did with Jeanne Siegel recently. Siegel said, “Appropriationist work has been criticized for its lack of conviction.” And then you went on to say that you saw this as a virtue.
Lewallen: But I didn’t know if that was tongue-in-cheek or . . . ?
Levine: No, no. I mean that from the bottom of my heart.
Lewallen: Tell me about your watercolors after Mondrian.
Levine: All the watercolors, those included, were after book reproductions of paintings. They were about book plates in the sense that I tried to recreate the flavor of the book plate.
Lewallen: If there were imperfections, you reproduced them.
Levine: My “Mondrians” had a lot of green, because the reproductions had a green cast, which everyone found very amusing because the color green was an anathema to Mondrian.
Lewallen: Right. The after Egon Schiele works were done around the same time?
Levine: About a year later; 1984 to 1985.
Lewallen: You once said they were surrogate portraits of yourself.
Levine: Well they seemed like the ultimate artist self-portrait to me; they were kind of wonderful in that way.
Lewallen: And then Mondrian and Schiele represent two different strains of Modernism.
Levine: In fact, I showed the Schieles with the Malevichs. As I was doing them, I realized that they were contemporaneous. Both groups of works that I referred to were made around 1917. I am interested in the idea of parallel realities—it was incredible to me that these two projects could be happening at the same time.
Lewallen: The materials you use always have a sensual quality; I’m thinking about mahogany panels . . .
Levine: I think about materials the way a sculptor does. It goes back to that idea that my work has to have an interesting physical presence for me, or I lose interest.
Lewallen: The checkerboard paintings were done on mahogany.
Levine: I often paint on mahogany planks.
Lewallen: And lead—the chevron paintings. What made you choose lead?
Levine: It’s the same thing; it’s a sensual surface. The casein paint I was using at the time sat on the lead in a beautiful way. Lewallen: Casein is similar to tempera . . .
Levine: It’s like tempera but is milk rather than egg-based. It is very easy to get a painterly, lush surface using oil, but people rarely go after a very dry, beautiful surface, and that was something I was interested in discovering for myself. Casein on lead is perfect for that.
Lewallen: Casein on lead. One doesn’t generally think of those two materials in the same breath.
Levine: They don’t have a natural affinity for each other; it’s a bit of a problem technically.
Lewallen: A lot has been made of the fact that many of the artists you appropriate, in fact all, are men. I guess this is for a number of reasons. One is you choose well-known, iconic figures from the history of modern art, most of whom happen to be men, and secondly, you are commenting on that very condition. Donald Kuspit accused you of choosing famous artists to increase your own fame. That was a more mean-spirited way of looking at it.
Levine: It’s definitely mean-spirited, but it is something artists do all the time unconsciouLeviney, working in the style of someone they consider a great master. I just wanted to make that relationship literal.
Lewallen: At the same time that your work is a critique of the referent-artists, they are artists I feel you admire—a kind of homage is involved, in every case.
Levine: Definitely. When I was in school in the mid-Sixties, I was doing a lot of Minimal paintings, and they always looked so derivative to me that I decided to move to photographic imagery as a way to break what I thought of as a cul-de-sac. I remember doing a grid drawing that my teachers all loved and a couple of weeks later, I think it was in Artforum, I saw an article on Brice Marden. I was heartbroken. I had the feeling I was reinventing the wheel. There was no way to do it better than the New York Minimalists were doing it. Eventually, I decided to make that a virtue, as opposed to a problem, in my work.
Lewallen: Hopeless. (Laughter) It does raise the question, and it’s obviouLeviney a question you began asking yourself when you started working: is there a way to continue painting, if you are working in the tradition of Modernist abstraction? I happen to love Modernist abstraction.
Levine: Me, too.
Lewallen: I find it extremely seductive. I love Marden’s early work, too, for instance. I don’t know quite what to think when I see a Gunther Förg work which is à la Brice Marden. I don’t know how ironic Förg intends his work to be.
Levine: Well, I think Förg is an interesting case. Our work looked similar at a certain point in our careers; there was a convergence. We were both very enamored with Blinky Palermo’s work. Because Förg saw himself, as a German and a man, he saw himself in the tradition of Palermo, whereas I saw myself as an outsider looking in. I was thinking about how similar the work looks, but in fact there’s a very different relationship, as an American woman than as a German man, to Palermo.
Lewallen: Förg’s black and white etchings are beautiful.
Levine: He also has an appreciation of materials. There are a lot of parallels in our work.
Lewallen: You think Förg sees himself working in and extending a tradition?
Levine: I would think so. I doubt that he would find that something he would disagree with. I don’t think it’s an ironic relationship to that work at all on his part.
Lewallen: You did some woodblock prints recently, I noticed, that had to do with the “Meltdown” paintings. Where did you do them?
Levine: I worked with a wonderful printer, Maurice Sanchez. I had wanted to do prints based on a geometric grid with computer averages of colors of modern master paintings.
Lewallen: Which paintings did you use as a starting point?
Levine: For example, we used a Monet “Cathedral.” We put a Levineide of the picture into a computer with graphic capabilities and the computer created a grid in which each section corresponded to an average of the color in that section of the painting. The “Meltdown” paintings are based on the same principle but rather than being gridded off, they represent one uniform average for the whole surface. In fact, it’s funny, I had been wanting to make work after Marden’s early work, because some of his monochromes are some of my favorite paintings. For me they are the ultimate late-Modern paintings. I am also a big fan of Olivier Mosset’s monochrome paintings, and Yves Klein is another favorite of mine. For years I have been trying to think of a way to make monochromes that were interesting but not the same as those I admired, but I never came up with a solution. Then, when I was working on the print project, almost as a mistake, the computer also gave me the color average of the entire . . .
Lewallen: So, the print project preceded the paintings?
Levine: Yes, the average of the entire painting, all the colors in the painting, like when you mix your whole palette together you get these beautiful, Mardenesque greys and greens and mauves. And I realized I had finally found a method.
Lewallen: What were the colors like in the prints, working with color mixes from grid to grid?
Levine: They were much less greyed down than the paintings.
Lewallen: Depending on the section.
Levine: I originally thought they should be lithographs or silkscreens, and Maurice came up with the wonderful idea of woodcuts on Japanese rice paper. He used a high-tech method; he made a grid of the twelve tongue-and-groove blocks using a laser saw that he inked up separately and printed all at once. I liked the combination of high-tech and low-tech techniques.
Lewallen: What is the next series of work going to be? It’s always unpredictable.
Levine: I orchestrate each series so that each series re-informs everything that came before.
Lewallen: Right, because the crate furniture refers to the same period as Mondrian, Malevich, Schiele, all of whom you have made paintings after, but it is three-dimensional like much of your most recent work—after Duchamp, Man Ray, and so on. How would you feel if someone used the crate pieces as furniture?
Levine: I don’t think I’d be very comfortable. I’ve been wanting a tea table for years, and I am tempted, but somehow I think that would be a mistake. That’s why I made them as suites. I think what’s important is the ambiguity about whether they are furniture or sculpture. You know that beautiful Artschwager table in the shape of the cube?
Lewallen: Yes, of course.
Levine: It’s really nonfunctional. Artschwager has been a big influence on me. Bob Gober’s work has some of that same quality. I find the beds really moving in that way. There was this incredible ambiguity about whether they were really furniture. There wasn’t really any ambiguity . . .
Lewallen: . . . because you knew they weren’t functional.
Levine: But visually . . .
Lewallen: Which is different from Scott Burton’s work . . .
Levine: It’s really very different from Burton or from Holzer’s benches.
Lewallen: One time Artschwager did a piece in Berkeley that I commissioned. He made a door. It was Levineightly squat; the proportions were wrong. He painted a wood-grain pattern on it and added a beautiful blown-glass, larger-than-life, knob on it.
Levine: I know that piece. I like it very much.
Lewallen: Although everything about it was Levineightly off, there were people who tried to open the door. I also find humor in Artschwager’s work that I don’t find in yours.
Levine: Well, I like to think of myself as funny, although I know very few people see it that way. (Laughter)
Lewallen: Well, Artschwager’s pieces are often humorous because of their awkwardness, and yours are never that.
Levine: No. Uncanny is the word I like to think about in relationship to his work.
Lewallen: I can see what you mean.
Levine: There’s a quote I like of Richard’s in which he talks about the uncanny in his work. Here, I have it. I don’t know where this was printed. It might be from an unpublished interview. “I like to think of my art as things for the home that are, well, not at home. That’s my definition of Conceptual Art—an art of weak relations. The thing has got to seem unstable in a stable setting if it’s going to make you stop, reconsider, look.”
Lewallen: Let’s go back to the “Meltdown” paintings, I saw those for the first time at the San Francisco Museum with “After Man Ray.” Was that the first time you showed them?
Levine: Yes. There were two after Monet, two after Mondrian and two after Kirchner. They were all necessarily greyed down color, which is what I was after at the time, but I realized that if I did more, they were all going to look the same, because of the process. So, I thought, “How can I get a saturated color?”
Lewallen: So you did the Yves Kleins, which don’t really look like the real thing. Are yours very thinly painted?
Levine: Yes and the wood grain is present.
Lewallen: Are there any gold ones?
Levine: Yes, gold, copper, blue, and red.
Lewallen: Did you also do a Meltdown after Duchamp’s “L.H.O.O.Q.”?
Levine: Yes, that was one of the prints.
Lewallen: After a photograph?
Levine: After a book plate.
Lewallen: Prints are generally made in editions. Is that what interests you in making prints or is it just the challenge of using a different process?
Levine: I think I am interested in the way . . . I like the way some artists feel demeaned by printmaking media, because they think in paint or sculpture and then they try to tranLevineate, but because I was trained as a printmaker, I can think in print media. So for me it’s a different way to think about things, because you can do things differently.
Lewallen: And you get a different result?
Levine: Right. The woodgrain print was photogravure and the gold was aquatinted. An aquatint was laid underneath, too, as a ground. There were three layers—the ground, the woodgrain and then the gold knots.
Lewallen: The Walker Evans was photogravure . . .
Levine: With an aquatint ground also.
Lewallen: The Malevich and the Lincoln silhouette are aquatints as is the striped image.
Lewallen: Did you make new editions of your own images from the seventies for your first show at Mary Boone—Rodchenkos and others?
Lewallen: What was in that show?
Levine: There were photographs after Rodchenko; they were new photographs of mine. I redid some Walker Evans photographs but they weren’t in that show.
Lewallen: You’re not against doing that?
Levine: That’s the nature of photography—you can reprint.
Lewallen: So you reprinted from your original negatives.
Levine: Yes, but I changed the scale.
Lewallen: You made them bigger?
Levine: Well, there’s a set from 1981 that is four by five inches, which I own. And then at some point I started making them eight by ten. There was absolutely no market for my work at that time so I gave them away to friends, or as presents to people who had written about the work, and I was Levineoppy about numbering them. When I started to work with Mary [Boone], she said, “This is really a mess.” I suggested we change the size, start over and be very careful about the numbering.
Lewallen: That’s what you did?
Levine: Yes. I made them eleven by fourteen, and they were unique, not in editions.
Lewallen: I saw in Parkett that you made an edition of children’s shoes, which refer to an early installation from 1977, I think.
Levine: Yes, I have them here, I’ll bring them over.
Lewallen: God, I love them. They’re like miniatures.
Levine: Well, they are children’s shoes.
Lewallen: Brown and black children’s shoes in the style of adult shoes. These are done in editions?
Levine: Well, in the early seventies, when I first got out of school, I lived in Berkeley and taught in the area. One of the jobs I had was at San Jose State. I used to stop at a thrift shop on my way home. One day I went in and saw a carton of seventy-five pairs of little black shoes for fifty cents a piece. It was an offer I couldn’t refuse. I bought them. And when I moved to New York in 1975, I had nothing but a suitcase and this carton of shoes. (Laughter) Then I just kept them around, I never knew what to do with them. In 1977 Barbara Ess introduced me to Stefan Eins who was running the Three Mercer Street Store. He was looking for artists who wanted to show things . . . that weren’t the kind of thing you find in a gallery, but which made reference to the store. Barbara told him about the shoes, and we did a show that took place on two weekends. Two shoes sold for two dollars, and they sold out immediately. It’s very funny, because it turns out . . . I didn’t know who anybody was then—I had just moved to New York—that they went into some interesting collections. Roberta Smith has a pair, Paul Schimmel has a pair. I keep meeting people who have them, even people in Europe. I, in fact, only kept one pair for myself. Subsequently, I received a lot of requests for a pair of the shoes, and so when Parkett wanted to do an edition with me, I asked them if they would be interested in reproducing these shoes, and they loved the idea. Louise Neri, the American editor of Parkett, was wonderful. She knew an editor of Vogue Bambini who hooked us up with an Italian manufacturer.
Lewallen: How many are there?
Levine: About a hundred.
Lewallen: Brown ones?
Levine: The black ones are the readymades. The brown ones of course are much more beautifully made than the cheap ones.
Lewallen: They are irresistible; I can see why everybody wants them. This reminded me of Oldenburg’s store but actually it was quite different, because you sold things you bought and he sold things he made.
Levine: Right. It was a Duchampian gesture.
Lewallen: Speaking of Duchamp, I think that when you first showed the Malic Molds, people were pretty surprised.
Levine: Is that true?
Lewallen: First of all, they were among your first sculptures.
Levine: They were my first sculptures I showed—other than the shoes.
Lewallen: They were elegantly displayed in wood vitrines that you designed.
Levine: Actually, I didn’t design them. They are based on the vitrines in the library at Mönchengladbach. Beuys and Byars had used the same vitrines. There were lots of references. It was Mary’s idea, through Byars, and I thought it was a great one.
Lewallen: Broodthaers used similar vitrines.
Levine: I don’t know if they were the same, but in Europe these vitrines are common.
Lewallen: But they were fabricated?
Lewallen: And there were nine Malic Molds in “The Large Glass.”
Levine: Yes and I produced only six.
Lewallen: Were they made in editions?
Levine: No, they were unique but each one had an artist’s proof.
Lewallen: Were they made in a similar fashion to the wine bottles?
Levine: Yes, they are cast, solid glass. It’s a lost wax process, very similar to casting metal.
Lewallen: Like the wine bottles?
Levine: The wine bottles, also.
Lewallen: You chose Duchamp to work after because he is an artist you have thought about a lot and who means a lot to you.
Lewallen: And number two, there’s a feminine quality to the forms themselves which refers to Duchamp’s interest in androgyny and recognition of his feminine alter ego, Rrose Selavy. Is that all part of it?
Levine: Well the forms are biomorphic and it’s kind of a High-Modernist aesthetic that I’m interested in.
Levine: Yes, and Brancusi-like.
Lewallen: The same could be said of the urinals, “Fountains After Duchamp,” too.
Levine: Industrial design and visual art were very closely related during that period—I am thinking of that great designer Raymond Lowey—and they informed each other. In fact when I first cast the urinal in high polished bronze, I really didn’t know what to expect. When I got the first one back, I was totally amazed at the reference to Brancusi and Arp. As I said, I wasn’t expecting that at all, but once I actually saw it, the similarity was unmistakable. In looking at this dirty old urinal that I found in the second hand shop, the Modernist similarity wasn’t obvious at all.
Lewallen: Your urinals are not cast from the same model Duchamp used.
Levine: No, the same year and the same manufacturer, but a different model.
Lewallen: Your urinal is more curvilinear?
Levine: No, the wing attachments are Levineightly differently placed, that’s all.
Lewallen: So it’s not more feminine?
Levine: No, it just happens to be the one I was able to find.
Lewallen: And, did you do your sculptures around the same time as Gober did his urinal pieces?
Levine: Mine came afterwards. Whereas I was not directly thinking about his work, I was spending time with Bob at the time and I loved his sinks. I always thought of the sinks as being very feminine. They always seemed like nuns to me (laughter). So I think my urinals had more to do with Gober’s sinks than his urinals.
Lewallen: Also, since yours are cast in bronze they have a very different feeling from his, anyway.
Lewallen: I’m sure Duchamp would have liked yours.
Levine: I wonder (laughter).
Lewallen: You said somewhere you think of “The Large Glass” in terms of “Susanna and the Elders.”
Levine: It’s so obvious to me. Duchamp had a sister Suzanne . . . he was very close to.
Lewallen: Also, the idea of fetish was brought up in terms of these works.
Levine: Well, my work has always been very self consciouLeviney about fetishism. One could make the same argument about the shoes. The sculptures after Duchamp were the most literally phallic of my work because they referred to “bachelors.”
Lewallen: Forever down there, grinding their chocolate.
Lewallen: You also said in reference to the Man Ray-derived work and the Duchamp that they promoted a brand of infantilism that was charming and that you liked. Is that true?
Levine: That was from the Jeanne Siegel interview in the catalogue. I was talking about a kind of “bad boy” attitude to which I have a certain attraction.
Lewallen: I imagine you knew Man Ray’s “La Fortune” from the Whitney. Did you just see it one day and then get the idea for your installation?
Levine: I had seen it a million times at the Whitney, but it was in the Man Ray show that was traveling around the country and was in Los Angeles when I was there and then I happened to see it in Philadelphia as well. That’s the wonderful thing about moving art around, that you can see it new, as if for the first time. And when I saw the painting again, I thought, “Wouldn’t it be incredible to build this table?”
Lewallen: But your billiard tables are not really billiard tables.
Levine: No, they’re sculptures.
Lewallen: In fact, they are not exactly the right size.
Levine: They are actually to scale but the tops aren’t Levineate and there are no works underneath. The painting has very exaggerated proportions, the legs are more delicate and more unstable than they would be in reality; they would never be able to sustain the weight of a game.
Lewallen: In other words, the same principle as Charles Ray’s fire engine parked in front of the Whitney as part of the Biennial.
Levine: He’s also interested in the idea of the uncanny. It’s an aspect of his work that I am attracted to the reference to the every day and making the familiar strange.
Lewallen: Uncanny. Jeanne Siegel used this word in reference to “After Man Ray (La Fortune).” You two discuss the fact that your new work, like your former work, explores ideas, but is now more confrontational.
Levine: Sometimes when things are almost original they can be as disturbing . . . It’s a different relationship to identity, and I am interested in the tension between the original and my work. When it is close, but not the same, as the original, in my mind, there’s a different kind of tension.
Lewallen: Like the tables as opposed to the photos after Walker Evans?
Levine: Yes, what does it mean that they are one third bigger?
Lewallen: In other words, what does that difference mean?
Levine: Yes. I’m interested in what the work makes you think about.
Lewallen: But it’s important to know . . . Some seeing these tables will know the referent; others won’t. Most people will know Rietveld but not necessarily that these are his designs. Does it matter to you? I mean, with your work, getting the whole story requires art historical knowledge.
Levine: I suppose so. In some ways it doesn’t matter to me in what order they get the information. I’m interested in as many layers of meaning as possible. The more you know, the more meaning and the more history can be brought to bear on it
Lewallen: It enriches it. But isn’t that true of everything?
Levine: Right. These are beautiful objects, no matter what else they are.
Lewallen: So on that level, alone, someone could appreciate them.
Levine: Yes, and a lot of people do appreciate my work just on that level. Here’s a funny story. When I moved to Los Angeles I moved into a beautiful Sixties’ Inter-national Style house in the Palisades overlooking the water. My landlords, who were sunday painters, were really excited. They gave me the house because I was an artist. The first thing I moved in were my Bill Leavitt paintings and they got so depressed. They said, “Is that your work?” And I said, No, they are by a friend of mine.” And then I pointed to the photographs after Walker Evans, and I said, “That’s my work.” And they said, “Oh, those are beautiful.”
Lewallen: That’s funny (Laughter). You said once that you like gameboard paintings because you think of artmaking as a game. You can control it in a way that you can’t control your daily life.
Levine: That’s one of the great attractions to artmaking for the people who make it.