Interview with Ursula Meyer – Lucy Lippard
UM: Do you think visual art may eventually function in a different context altogether?
LL: Yes, but there’s going to have to be an immense educational process to get people to even begin to look at things, to say nothing of look at things the way artists look at things. [. . .]
UM: Do you believe the impact of what is happening now – with conceptual art and what I call the other culture – that impact is going to hit the so-called art world, the galleries, the museums? What changes do you envisage?
LL: Unfortunately I don’t think there are going to be many changes taking place immediately. I think the art world is probably going to be able to absorb conceptual art as another ‘movement’ and not pay too much attention to it. The art establishment depends so greatly on objects which can be bought and sold that I don’t expect it to do much about an art that is opposed to the prevailing systems. Whenever I lecture and start talking about the possibility of no art or non-art in the future, I have to admit I think I’m going to be able to tell who the artists are anyway. Maybe another culture, a new network will arise. It’s already clear that there are very different ways of seeing things and thinking about things within the art world even as it stands now, not as clear as the traditional New York ‘uptown’ and ‘downtown’ dichotomy, but it has something to do with that.
One of the important things about the new dematerialized art is that it provides a way of getting the power structure out of New York and spreading it around to wherever an artist feels like being at the time. Much art now is transported by the artist, or in the artist himself, rather than by watered-down, belated circulating exhibitions or by existing information networks such as mail, books, telex, video, radio, etc. The artist is traveling a lot more, not to sightsee, but to get his work out. New York is the center because of the stimulus here, the bar and studio dialogue. Even if we get the art works out of New York, even if the objects do travel, they alone don’t often provide the stimulus that they do combined with the milieu. But when the artists travel, whether they’re liked or disliked, people are exposed directly to the art and to the ideas behind it in a more realistic, informal situation. Another idea that has come up often recently that interests me very much is that of the artist working as an interruptive device, a jolt, in present societal systems. Art has always been that, in a way, but John Latham and his APG group in London, among others, are trying to deal with it more directly.
UM: There’s a strange reawakening in Europe now.
LL: It may be more fertile for new ideas and new ways of disseminating art than the United States. Certainly Canada is. Charles Harrison has pointed out that Paris and the various European cities are in the position that New York was in around 1939. There is a gallery and museum structure, but it is so dull and irrelevant to new art that there’s a feeling that it can be bypassed, that new things can be done, voids filled. Whereas in New York, the present gallery-money-power structure is so strong that it’s going to be very difficult to find a viable alternative to it. The artists who are trying to do non-object art are introducing a drastic solution to the problem of artists being bought and sold so easily, along with their art. Not, God knows, that the artists making conventional objects want that any more than anyone else, but their work unfortunately lends itself more easily to capitalist marketing devices. The people who buy a work of art they can’t hang up or have in their garden are less interested in possession. They are patrons rather than collectors. That’s why all this seems so inapplicable to museums, because museums are basically acquisitive.
UM: That one word ‘idea’ contradicts any sort of central establishment. You might have many idea centers that are made by living artists rather than one chauvinistic art enterprise.
LL: Yes. I was politicized by a trip to Argentina in the fall of 1968, when I talked to artists who felt that it was immoral to make their art in the society that existed there. It becomes clear that today everything, even art, exists in a political situation. I don’t mean that art itself has to be seen in political terms or look political, but the way artists handle their art, where they make it, the chances they get to make it, how they are going to let it out, and to whom – it’s all part of a life style and a political situation. It becomes a matter of artists’ power, of artists achieving enough solidarity so they aren’t at the mercy of a society that doesn’t understand what they are doing. I guess that’s where the other culture, or alternative information network, comes in – so we can have a choice of ways to live without dropping out.