Newsletter Fall 2014

Interview with Mildred (Milly) Glimcher, IDSVA Board Member

Conducted by Taliesin Thomas, Cohort ’13, IDSVA Newsletter Editor

Mildred (Milly) Glimcher, with her husband, Arne Glimcher, founded the Pace Gallery on Newbury Street in Boston in 1960. They were both still in college. Since then, Ms. Glimcher has curated exhibitions and written books and articles about “Happenings,” Jean Dubuffet, Willem de Kooning, Alexander Calder, Lucas Samaras, and art in post-war Paris, among other subjects. Ms. Glimcher has a BA in art history from Wellesley College and an MA/ABD from the Institute of Fine Arts, NYU, and received an honorary degree from IDSVA in 2013. She was the editor of Adventures in Art: 40 Years at Pace, a monumental work documenting all the exhibitions at the Pace Gallery from 1960 to 2000. Milly is one of IDSVA’s current board members. 

TT: Your book on the performance art “happenings” of the late 1950s both documents and celebrates a movement that remains the antithesis of the market-driven commercial gallery system. Can you speak about how performance art transformed the whole of art?

MG: It began with Allan Kaprow, and he was certainly the driving force, although I think Claes Oldenburg probably would not agree with that, but he was. Kaprow had a vision in 1956 and he thought that art should no longer be saleable; he had the idea that art should be an experience. He began by making installations and then he noticed that when people came through the installations, the installation was changed—the presence of the people completely altered the installation. He wrote a lot about how once an artwork was made, it was dead, and also that an artist was bound to be compromised by the market. Now, at that time there hardly was a market, but he was very forward thinking. He extrapolated from a time when abstract expressionism was king and artists were making these paintings that were selling for a thousand dollars, fifteen hundred dollars, maybe that was a lot then. But he did understand how artists would be compromised by money. The photographs that Hans Namuth took of Jackson Pollock were the catalyst for a lot of his thought, and its always interesting to me that the photographs, the still photographs (there was a film too), created this movement about movement and time. Only the futurists and some of the people at the Bauhaus and the Dadaists had thought about time in art. Time was theatre, time was dance. But that was his contribution as well as his writings, and I think that that’s how he changed art, by first of all introducing collaboration into art. Installation had already been done a little bit, but he introduced into art installation, movement, and time. He changed what art could be, and he changed what an artist could be. So I think that, in that moment in ’56, ’57, ’58, even before his most important performances, as he was thinking about art and writing about it, Allan Kaprow was a lynchpin for twentieth-century art just as Duchamp was. 

TT: What is your latest research or interest in art? Are you working on any kind of follow-up since the Happenings publication?

MG: The Grey Art Gallery [at NYU] is going to be doing an exhibition in January 2016 called “Inventing Downtown” and a colleague of mine, Melissa Rachleff-Burtt, has been obsessed with the downtown scene from which the happenings really grew, starting with the 9th Street show (Leo Castelli made that show in 1956 or ’57 of the generation behind the Abstract Expressionists). Then there were the 10th Street galleries that were all on 10th Street and they were showing the same artists, Alex Katz was one, they were all pretty figurative artists, but they were painting figures in an abstract expressionist style, so they had a had a lot of discussions about figuration, and it’s hard to imagine but after abstract expressionism that was the avant-garde discussion, figuration. These were all artist cooperative galleries, based on the idea that artists could begin to run a gallery rather than waiting for a dealer to come and find them. After the 10th Street galleries there was Judson Gallery, the Reuben Gallery and the City Gallery that was run by Red Grooms. He ran another gallery that he called the Delancey Street Museum. So Melissa is doing an exhibition about all these galleries at the Grey Art Gallery. NYU owns the Judson archives, so it makes a lot of sense. I am helping make sure that Oldenburg, Dine, Grooms are well represented—this is a continuation of the work I have done. When I talked to Oldenburg about this he said this is just a repetition of your show, and I said ‘no it really isn’t’ because it’s coming at it from another viewpoint. So I have been helping them a little bit with that in addition to working on our art collection, it’s been an ongoing project for about ten years. I have been working on getting our collection more organized and going to our two warehouses and looking at each thing and looking at its condition. But Arne (my husband) has been saying that we really need to work on Agnes Martin’s writings, which is something that has been in my mind for ten years. But I have not thought of another thing that I was so passionate about and really wanted to do for so long as the happenings.

TT: Pace Gallery is a veritable empire within the global art world. Can you discuss your perspective on the art market and how it relates to the study of art?

MG: I am going to begin back when we began fifty years ago, fifty-five almost. At that time there was not really an art market, there was an art world, but there was not an art market. You did not become a dealer fifty-five years ago thinking that you were going to make money. And certainly that has evolved through the years. It’s been nice for us, of course, we certainly have more money than we ever expected we would have when we started, for sure. It has evolved over the years, becoming much more of a market. The 80s was the first time that it became such a market driven by prices, and the quality or the importance of art got lost in the prices. That began in the 80s. But still there were people interested in art. Now you are talking about the study of art, and I am not going to forget about that. But now art has become entertainment, which in a way, the happenings show, that’s where it began I guess, art as entertainment. But this is a different kind of entertainment. Arne and I are extremely depressed about the way art has become entertainment. When you go out onto 25th Street on a Thursday night it's frightful! They are just there for a party. And even the art fairs have become … well, we don’t even go to them anymore because they have become so depressing because again it’s one stop shopping, it’s socializing, it’s only secondarily about the art. I have not been to an art fair in so many years that I don't even know how it is now! But your question about the study of art, that is really an interesting question and requires some thought. How does the scholar deal with this? I think they have to be careful not to be compromised by all of this hype. How do you stay serious? And another question perhaps, how do you study some of the things that are made as art today that are not art? And do you the scholar become the judge of what is art? That is hard, and I think the scholars were never doing that. They were already just studying what they believed to be art. But now when you come upon something in the market do you ignore it? Do you become a critic? The critic’s job, is that the scholar’s job? These are all important questions. 

TT: These are all wonderful questions. The cornerstone of IDSVA is “formulate the question,” so these ideas really relate. 

MG: Well I have thought about it, and I have thought about it with disdain, because so much of what you see … well, I guess first you have to formulate the question of what is art.

TT: That’s the biggest question. 

MG: Yes, and I remember reading a book by Arthur Danto years and years ago, asking what was the difference between a Warhol and a regular Brillo box, and his answer was wonderful. That particular answer is probably not enough today in that it’s the context and it’s the people who decide the difference, those who are the experts, what they decide is what makes the difference. 

TT: Yes, that Brillo box for Danto became the marker for when art became philosophy. 

MG: Yes, and of course with Duchamp, too. So I guess IDSVA needs to make that next leap, how you decide whether a painting made out of bubble gum is a painting or not. But I don’t think there is anything wrong with using bubble gum if it’s a good painting (laughs). 

TT: There is always this curiosity about this extraordinary entertainment of the art world as you just said. 

MG: I hope that most of the time Pace does not have art that is entertainment. That is both Arne and my son Marc’s highest goal, what they try hardest to do. 

TT: In 2011 it was reported by the Wall Street Journal that Pace represents the estates and careers of 54 of the world's leading artists, including some of the most significant names in American art history Rothko, de Kooning, Martin, Dubuffet, and Close. Those artists are certainly not “entertainment.” 

MG: Yes, but as you take on younger artists, you want to be careful. We don’t have that many young artists, and I think that’s the problem. 

TT: Your husband is quoted as saying “In some ways, I think the American narrative is dead, whereas the Chinese narrative is just beginning.” Do you have any comment about this?

MG: When he said that Marc was there and he said to Arne ‘you can’t do that, what are you doing!’ And Arne has repeated that several times in print, but I think the first time he said it was at the party for Li Songsong, I’m not sure. Well, I think Arne speaks for himself. He has repeated it, so I think what he means is that he is so excited about Chinese art because he feels that the artists, and I shouldn’t quote him but I have heard him say this: the artists are telling a completely new story, a new narrative for themselves and for the world. And he feels in most cases Western artists are repeating the same narrative—they have not found something new. He feels the most avant-garde American artist today is eighty-six year old Robert Irwin. He says that all the time (now that is a different narrative), the idea of art being in the mind. It’s not even philosophy, it’s in the mind, it’s the rods and cones within the architecture of the eye itself, the experiential quality of art that cannot be reproduced as far as he is concerned. And that is a different narrative from most of the other American narratives, at least Arne thinks so. I think so, too. But the Chinese narrative is something they are forming out of their history, which has been so difficult over the last one hundred years, and so Arne sees it as something completely different and he finds that extremely exciting. 

TT: When someone asks you about your involvement with IDSVA how do you describe the program?

MG: I think I do it very incompletely and I need to study up on it, because I talk about it only in practical terms, which is—as far as I understood it from George when he talked to me—about artists historically have not had a parity with their colleagues in universities because it has been so hard for them to get a PhD, so this is a flexible program where artists can have a PhD on their own schedule and therefore have parity with their colleagues in academia. 

TT: You gave me a great piece of advice concerning the dissertation process: to focus on something that is feasible within the timeframe. What additional suggestions do you have for students who are still formulating their ideas about a dissertation topic? If you had to write your dissertation again today, what would you focus on?

MG: I would certainly write it on something before 1980, but that’s just me. I think maybe examining Agnes [Martin’s] writing is a pretty good idea. Most of her writings are published, actually, but they are not exactly perfect. One could study her. But to get back to what I might do now, I have always wanted to do a dissertation or a big paper on Jean Dubuffet’s “Coucou Bazar,” it was his performance piece. When my first dissertation failed because it was much too big, I went back to my advisor at the Institute who had really gone to bat for me for this dissertation, because at that time they did not want you to do anything after 1940 (I don’t think they do that anymore). I really wanted to do post-war Paris, but a topic like post-war Paris was really crazy. I wanted to work on Michel Tapié who was the Clement Greenberg of post-war Paris, and he did get me permission. But in the end I could not get access to his papers, so I had to give it up. So I wanted to do this dissertation about Jean Dubuffet’s performance piece which was called “Coucou Bazar” and it was performed at the Guggenheim, at the Grand Palais and in Turin, the first two in the early ’70s, at his retrospective and in Turin it was mid ’80s. I have films of it, and costumes. I was there while he was making it. I thought it had been influenced by Leger’s “La création du monde,” which was a ballet done by the Ballet Suèdois in the 1920s in Paris and Dubuffet knew Leger at that time, and I wanted to see if there were some sources from the “La création du monde,” and also to document this incredible performance that he did. My advisor felt he could not go back to the board with yet another crazy idea, and so he wanted me to study the relation between écriture and Dubuffet’s hourloupe period, and I wasn’t really interested in doing that. He was interested in pre-structuralism and structuralism, and so I abandoned it. I suppose I could try again to do that one, but it is very personal. I bring to it some very contemporary knowledge. I still would like to let people know about this performance piece, which was so amazing! I think you probably need to be passionate about your dissertation. It should not be too big a topic; that was my problem. It should be feasible, you don’t want to get caught up in permissions and in terms of language, you really have to be an expert in the language. Do not make it too hard for yourself. 

TT: What’s next for the art world?

MG: I know the dealers hate the art fairs, they really hate them. This is what Marc tells me, I don’t go to the art fairs anymore. It’s bad for art, it’s bad for the artists. If there would be some way to get rid of the art fairs I think that would help art but I don’t see how it’s possible. It’s so hard for the dealers, and they can’t do what they should be doing, which is encouraging artists. Instead they are beating the artists up for work! I am proud to say that we do not do that. We do not tell artists ‘we need six works for the art fair.’ Art is now so globalized, so how do you get rid of the art fairs? You don’t. It’s become really big, the art fairs, and it does offer an international platform for some artists. But I don’t know what’s next for the art world, and I am discouraged about it. Art is just going to become more and more about bankable investments, commercial. I don’t know what’s going to happen to artists.

TT: The philosophy of art has to stay alive. 

MG: Yes, right. I think if you can have a group of people seriously speaking about art and that all of you will then go out into the world then maybe you can help the art world. I guess it is up to the PhDs of IDSVA to try and change the art world.