whitehot | May 2008, Interview with Lee Plested from The Apartment
Lawrence Weiner, As Long As It Lasts, 1992/2008, [photo, Lee Plested 2008]
Courtesy The Apartment
Amarie Bergman interviews Lee Plested
“There are no firm rules. If you find any, break them as soon as possible.”
Advertisement in April 2008 Plaza magazine: Rolex Mentor and Protégé Art Initiative
Two sentences perfectly befit The Apartment and, by association, an exhibition of work by Matthew Higgs, John Baldessari and Lawrence Weiner. I met up with Lee Plested, the gallery’s director and curator, to see the exhibition and later had the following email exchange with him.
Amarie Bergman: “The Apartment is a vehicle to exercise our belief that critical art should be placed and enjoyed in domestic spaces thereby becoming an integral part of the residents’ - and their guests’ - lifeworld.”
How do you feel your own “lifeworld” has been affected since you’ve been curating and presenting art in your apartment for the last five months?
Lee Plested: I am familiar with living surrounded by art as Erik von Muller (my husband and partner in the gallery) and I have our collection installed through our home in San Francisco. We made decisions to put some of the most visceral images in poignant places, for example an Adrian Piper silkscreen imaging starvation from war atrocities beside our refrigerator. In this same spirit we installed the Lawrence Weiner text work "As Long As It Lasts," which we will have on exhibition until the end of the foreign occupation of Iraq, in our kitchen at The Apartment where we will look at it everyday; an occupying force in our world. However, most of my experience living with art evolves over time. You come home from a long day and have a glass of wine and enjoy a painting’s surface at night, or catch a new perspective on a piece as you happen by it or see it across the room. Essentially our belief is that having art in an interior isn't simply decorative but can infuse your life with value.
John Baldessari, Teaching a Plant the Alphabet, Video 1972, [photo, Lee Plested 2008]
Courtesy The Apartment
AB: I get a sense of quintessential distillation in this exhibition that is made even purer by its rarified ideas than by its spartan volume. From a hummingbird’s eye view, the 12 components are: 6 small framed works on paper by Higgs on the walls of the intimate, bare bedroom; five TV / computer monitors packed in the dining / living room - some on black painted beverage crates (as you put it, ‘Berkeley student style’) - showing three iconic 1970s video works by Baldessari and two by Weiner; and, yes, Weiner’s vinyl-lettered phrase, ‘As long as it lasts’ above the kitchen sink.
With the quantity of available work made by these titanesque creators of 20th and 21st century art, factored by the gallery’s sheer premium of space, tell me what your curatorial role was like. Did you notice a distinct shift in your intellectual and creative awareness in the process?
LP: The organization of the exhibition was very simple. My friend and mentor Matthew Higgs (I studied with Matthew at California College of the Arts in SF) was coming from NY for the opening of his wife Anne Collier's exhibition at Presentation House Gallery, so I invited him to show a collection of work. Erik and I wanted to do another exhibition at the same time that would provide context for Matthew's project. We chose these video works partly from our own interest in seeing them and because we recognized a similar formal use of everyday objects. I had worked with both Baldessari and Weiner before and they were very generous and cooperative in organizing the exhibition.
AB: “The less there is, the more important all of it becomes.” Marlena de Biasi.
Tell me, what’s it been like living with this exhibition, these works?
LP: The Baldessaris really have a sculptural feeling. We often have them playing while having dinner. Teaching a Plant the Alphabet is a simple houseplant which Baldessari teaches each letter in secession with cue cards. A plant on video is much easier to keep when you live in two cities and the work is very elegantly composed. It is the same with I will not make anymore boring art. We loop the video and there is John continuously writing out his citation. These videos are highly formal and as such lend themselves to looped presentation. Likewise Lawrence's Beached is a series of proposals, which he enacts on a rugged beach. The artist’s intention is integrated with his action, contextualized as art but non-material. Video opened up possibilities for these conceptual explorations, similar to Naumann’s early works where he performs compositions with his body.
Matthew's work opens up poetic combinations of signs that I felt evolved for me over the duration of the exhibition. I have followed the work for a while so was already immersed in his project but our friend Noam Gonick stayed at the Apartment when we were away and said it was nice to sleep in a room of them. I think it speaks volumes for Matthew's sensibility that a collection of framed, found book pages can be so visually rich.
John Baldessari, I will not make anymore boring art, Video 1971, [photo, Lee Plested 2008]
Courtesy The Apartment
AB: “Nothing remains the same.” “Are you happy?” Matthew Higgs.
You have the distinct privilege of exposing work by Higgs for the first time to the Vancouver scene. What things did you take into account with your selection of these serene, minimal images of his?
LP: Matthew chose the work to respond to the context of the project. Parkview Towers is an iconic three-point apartment tower just south of the Burrard Street Bridge in Vancouver. It is a standout example of Vancouver modernism well known to people who usually respond to it aesthetically as we did, or find it hideous. Likewise, people either like the work or they don't. Many people I told we were doing the show didn't know that Matthew made artwork. Some people look at them and just see framed book pages. Some know the books that they came from. Higgs' framing of these pages brings attention to their graphic qualities. People have their own range of cultural associations they bring to the table. This is where the forms of the work move freely between various aspects of cultural production and meaning. I especially like the recent abstract works.
AB: “The work of art is completed in the act of ‘receivership,’ or reception.”- Lawrence Weiner
By experiencing the immediacy of easy access to the video works – from one vantage – I discovered I could watch all of them simultaneously, intermittently or experimentally. (The latter involved me half listening to Weiner’s Beached while looking out of a gallery window at the aquacity of the swimming pool, five stories below.) I had only seen Baldessari’s I Will Not Make Any More Boring Art up until then but I was struck that all of these landmark videos were in a time capsule mode, and yet 32 to 38 years later, they are as compelling and relevant today. To what do you attribute their effervescent ‘classicism’?
LP: The works really deal with very basic ideas of art making. Their radicality came from the seemingly none material form of their pictures, however, they are drenched in the vocabulary of painting and sculpture. In terms of a type of "Classicism" maybe you were responding to the reduction that is active in the projects, a reduced gesture with a singular motivation. They are often symmetrical, always highly structured images that may be said to have a classical organization. It is this very constraint that enables the radical and philosophical content of the works to speak directly to our understanding of image making and perception.
Matthew Higgs, Rockburne, 2007, [photo, Lee Plested 2008], courtesy The Apartment
AB: Thank you, Lee.
I'm reminded of the closing line in one of Billy Wilder's films The Apartment when Fran (Shirley MacLaine) says to Bud (Jack Lemmon), "Shut up and deal." Except, at The Apartment in Vancouver, art is presented with resounding liberty in a real life setting that deals out both an aesthetic experience and a critical perspective
Noah Becker: Editor-in-Chief