STUDIO VISIT: REED ANDERSON
I met with the artist Reed Anderson in his sunny Bushwick studio to discuss object versus art making, catalog culture, and his new project Papa Object. Known for his intricate cut paper paintings, Anderson shows at Pierogi Gallery in New York, with Gregory Lind in San Francisco, and will be showing new work concurrently this summer in both galleries.
Olivia Murphy: Can you tell me about these two present bodies of work, and how they relate or are in conversation with one another?
Reed Anderson: I think the simplest way to talk about their relationship is through speaking about objects in general. Early on when I was making work, I made a trade with a writer, and when he gave me his essay and I gave him my artwork, he remarked that I made “very beautiful objects” and I went, “Hmm, thanks…I think.” Because the idea of making objects is really something I associate more with cobblers or clockmakers. So this comment put my brain in motion—probably more subconsciously than consciously—into how art functions. This latest body of work, which is a departure from my cut paper paintings, really addresses it more head on.
Murphy: These are…
Anderson: Right now, what I’m calling “Object Posters.” These are all for an exhibition I’m calling Papa Object. It is a decentralized exhibition in which 40 works are sent to 40 destinations around the world, and are simultaneously on view in people’s houses. Right now I just finished mailing them out. I send them with four tacks and I ask the people to put them up in their house or office wherever they think it should hang.
Murphy: So that’s engaging with the idea of the “poster.”
Anderson: It does, in a way. All of these images are taken from out of date auction catalogs…Christie’s, Sotheby’s, this kind of thing. What I love about these images is that the way they are photographed is really beautiful, each thing idealized and singled out. It’s as good as any art photograph, yet it’s all there to just represent this object, a kind of high-end advertising.
Murphy: So all of the content comes from the catalogs?
Anderson: Yes, the initial content does. I take an image, scan it, sometimes Photoshop it, sometimes layer things on top of one another, and then print it out. I’ve done some in color, but for this current project I’m printing them out at Kinko’s, making large-format photocopies, so they begin as black and white. Afterwards they are painted and printed onto.
Catalog culture is something I grew up with. My mother was famous for handing us catalogs and saying, “Christmas is coming up, you should figure out what you want Santa to bring you.” And you know, you’d circle the things you wanted, and sometimes you’d put one heart, or two hearts if that was the thing you really wanted. It didn’t mean you were getting it, cause you’d pore over the catalog, and the whole thing would be dog-eared and drawn in to illustrate varying degrees of desire. You’d hand it to your mother with these hopeful puppy dog eyes. So recently this desire for things, for objects has become really interesting to me. It can make you very miserable, and in a way, working on this project has been very therapeutic, like an exorcism of desires and objects. Of course it’s a bottomless pit.
So when we talk about posters, these posters re-represent the object. And posters in general are sort of a cheap beautification for a place. I don’t mean to say that these are cheap, in any way, but there is some playfulness there. I think that the re-representation of the object here is that it is placed in someone’s house. And that an art work itself, when placed in someone’s house, often (we don’t speak about this when we’re in the gallery context, in the cathedral) but when you take art from there and put it into a house, one doesn’t know where it goes, and it often takes on this domesticated role of an object—it becomes something that has to be dusted off. That doesn’t mean it’s not appreciated, or that it doesn’t have a spiritual aura or any of the energy that art has, but I think that it’s curious that it becomes yet another object in the house. If that person dies, then somebody has to deal with it…How do we deal with it?
Murphy: I think that is really pertinent to the way artists are working right now, as we are in a state of awareness about our excess. There’s so much waste, and refuse in the world to deal with, yet here we are making beautiful things that have to have a place in the world.
Anderson: Not only that, but you need it! You, society, needs this cultural object that is important. It’s very funny. It’s cruel in a way, but you just have to laugh.
Murphy: So these things are separate from “objects” in a way.
Anderson: Well, yes and no. These things are taken from a catalog, turned into a poster, then they’re worked on, they’re painted. And in some cases, you can see these blocks of color—those are wood block prints (which is something that comes from my other bodies of work). I see these elements as blocks of text—the information, the advertisement—so that it really has this poster feel.
The content also comes from another detail of my upbringing. My grandmother and my father were both art dealers in New York City. My grandmother ran a gallery from 1953 until she died in 1969 (I never met her, I was born in ’69), then my father took over and ran the gallery and eventually moved up to Buffalo, where he was from, and built a small private museum, which he then donated to the University of Buffalo Anderson Gallery. So I grew up around a lot of art and objects…a lot of furniture and things. For me, art was never something that was beyond touching, beyond life. It wasn’t the way I was brought up. Now there’s this idea that you shouldn’t go beyond a certain point—you know the white cube with the force field. But the way I grew up, I could almost rearrange it, not quite build forts out of it.
Murphy: But it was something you lived with.
Anderson: Absolutely. I like to tell people how my mother used to hide Easter candy in the Louise Nevelson. You could create (or curate) your own totem in your bedroom from various things in the house, and that was seen as O.K. These thoughts about organization and objects, I think, is innate in all human beings, I just happened to have had a lot to work with in my youth. I’m sure it shaped a great deal of my aesthetic. I was very lucky to have such nice things to work with.
I think as humans we have a totemic urge that is very primitive, to arrange things to our liking. It goes beyond class, and goes back to the very first tribal societies. We have this arrangement of objects as totems or talisman or shrines. And when artwork is in a house, it has this same possibility. We create these power areas in our house. For me, because of my history, I have some emotional response to a lot of these objects in the posters.
When I’m making these I think, “O.K., I’m going to take that image, organize it, or curate it into this piece [the Object Poster], alter it, then send it into someone else’s house and then they can arrange it.” It starts with the catalog, it goes to a photocopy, which is a poster, then it’s a painting which is “art” then as it hangs in someone’s house and it takes on this kind of object quality again. And finally, it gets sent back to me and becomes “art” again by being framed.
Murphy: So the notion of being framed transforms them into “art” rather than an object poster?
Anderson: Not necessarily, if it’s finished it’s always the same animal, framed or unframed, but I have always framed my work. When I was in undergrad on the West Coast (San Francisco), I was often criticized for framing everything because it wasn’t alternative and the frame transformed the work into an object [laughs]. I was a printmaker, and I always worked with paper, so I framed my work, I just thought that’s what you should do to protect it.
Murphy: Did that notion of the frame come from always seeing finished works framed, or was there another reason for why you felt these works needed to be encased?
Anderson: Well, yes, probably, a lot of this has to do with the way I grew up with objects and artworks. So when I say work on paper should be framed, I’m also thinking about the object of the frame. I like it when frames are a part of the work, when they are painted colors or altered. For years I had fluorescent red spacers in my frames, so that there was a soft glow of orange around the drawing.
Murphy: So it’s more about incorporating the frame into the work, rather than fighting against it, or having it be a separate entity.
Anderson: Yes. And that’s not to say that I don’t like things hanging out in the open. It may be that framing is an insecurity. On the other hand, most people are much more likely to hang something if it is framed.
Murphy: I do like the practicality of using the frame for its functionality or protection but then also taking it more into account by considering its aesthetic elements with that of the work.
Anderson: There are times where I don’t want the frame seen at all, and there are times I think, well you’re framing it, so you might as well engage with the frame as part of the artwork, so you paint it pink or an ugly green.
Murphy: So all the Object Posters, are they all roughly the same size?
Anderson: They are all 36” wide—that’s as wide as the photocopier will do. There are new ones that I’m just printing now, I scanned them from a carpet auction, and I’m figuring out how I can tile four pieces together to make a much larger piece to work on. In general, I like to work large.
The cut paper work I’ve been doing is very meticulous, very time consuming, so with these new pieces I was looking for something more visceral, more direct. I was also looking for something playful. I love painting, so I began painting on these photocopies as a kind of exercise. My friend Graham Parks once was talking about some new paintings he was working on, and he told me that he was trying to reduce the actions down to only the things that he enjoyed doing. Sound advice.
After finishing one (of the Object Posters) my initial instinct was, what should I do with this thing? —Oh, maybe I should send it to someone and get rid of it! This goes back to the idea of a kind of exorcism of the object. So then I thought it wouldd be funny to send it to someone and have them put it up in their house– but wait, it occurred to me, I should do that all over the world! And these things I made would be hanging in houses all of over the world. A kind of exhibition! And the idea continued to snowball, and I thought I should have them send me a photograph of it in their house, so that it even takes on this look of these photographs in the catalogs—and returns it to a photograph of an object.
Murphy: So you are documenting the posters in their natural environment.
Anderson: Yeah, except that it is also an unnatural environment because I sent it there, And maybe they don’t like it. They don’t know what they’re getting.
But, yes, if you were photographing a bird in it’s natural environment—same thing—some of the trees and sky get in the picture too. But then how interesting to have all these different environments all over the world. So I started contacting people and seeing if they would be interested in being part of the project.
Murphy: So the entire act has become sort of a collaboration?
Anderson: It’s has definitely taken on a performative aspect that I had not anticipated. The collaborative element is something I’ve considered, as I’ve collaborated with people before, and I’ve always been a sender of things through the mail, but the performative aspect is something that was a surprise. I’ve been emailing with this one friend of a friend in Tel Aviv, for instance, who keeps telling me: “I don’t know how to hang the piece, the tacks don’t go into the plaster.” And he’s having this dilemma, and I’m problem solving with him, and that’s all part of the project. The politics of objects. Or people saying, oh we got the thing today, and we hung it up, but we’re moving it into the other room, we think it will look better there. So all of a sudden there are these un-choreographed movements going on in peoples houses, which somehow I’m responsible for because I’ve sent them this thing that set them in motion. And that’s nice. In a way, I get to be a visitor in people’s homes.
Murphy: And presumably other people will get to be visitors as well?
Anderson: Yes. It’s a kind of public, formal, decentralized, solo exhibition. Almost simultaneously, 40 pieces, all 36 x 40” are hung in 40 different places. They are lived with for 30 days in people’s homes. I ask people to take photos. I ask them to do it towards the end, because if it’s, let’s say, over a dresser then things may accumulate on the dresser, and I want to see that. With the guy in Tel Aviv, I ended up just saying, “Hang it the way you would hang something if you had to hang it!” knowing that he might use masking tape, but again that sincerity and honesty must be there for the project.
Murphy: And will these works then be sold?
Anderson: The works will be sent back to me, the photograph of the work installed emailed to me, and then to continue the project I want to make a book—a catalog for the exhibition. On the left, is the photograph of somebody’s house, on the right, a professional photo of the piece by itself. So you have these two ways this art exists for us. And then yes, they are for sale.
Murphy: I’m also interested in the idea of the collector buying this used piece, that’s already been lived with.
Anderson: Well, yes, but isn’t that like the auctions anyway? It is funny that it’s used— it might have masking tape from Tel Aviv on it. I’m sure some of the pieces will suffer some damage.
And finally, in conjunction with the catalog, I would like to have a central exhibition of them. In essence I’m reversing the way things happen. These things have been lived with, like you said, and then we’re going to bring them back and hang them in the white cube. And then I’ll display the photographs as well. So you’ll have the catalog, and this display of 40 things. Ideally I would like to frame them all. I think that would in a way finish off the project, because everything would become its own object.
What I am also interested in is the social network of people that are all connected by the project. Some of them know my artwork, but very few are people that would go to galleries or museums on a regular basis. But, there is one in an office cubical in MoMA.
Murphy: So the collection is already in MoMA!
Anderson: Right—so how does this work exist in MoMA? It doesn’t only exists on white gallery walls. Maybe it’s just cubicle decor for a month.
And this social network that’s created will eventually be able to see the exhibition online. And the photos they send, similar to that of social networks, reveal something about their lives, it reveals something private about their lives. That is very interesting—that art asks someone to reveal something about themselves that they wouldn’t normally reveal. Maybe there’s some truth to that—in revealing the art you want to make.
Murphy: Well yes, I think that is something most artists are very comfortable with—the fact that their work reveals a personal thing about them, whether it’s through the process, or content. But to have those aspects of a work also ask the viewer to reveal those intimate parts of their life is an interesting turn around.
Anderson: A friend from Toronto sent a text photo of an object poster with their kid in it, and their daughter was kind of holding her hands up, and I couldn’t tell whether it was a positive thing, or she hated it! But it was great to see.
I was thinking about ways to speak about this project while a visiting artist and lecturer at the University of Georgia, in Athens, Georgia, and I found this [pulls out magazine] New England Home, celebrating fine design and architecture.
Murphy: That is your work on the cover!
Anderson: This is my piece on the cover—in someone’s home! This artwork, Broken Home Chewy, was from 2003, and the magazine was from 2009. So this work is in some collector’s house that just happened to be photographed for this magazine!
Murphy: Wow, it’s amazing that with your fixation on catalog culture, this work, which doesn’t even really directly relate to the object posters, ended up in the same context.
Anderson: Yes, it was quite interesting. Things feed back to us.
What’s strange and somewhat unexpected is that I really feel that working on this new work has been very emotional for me. Working on the posters has engaged with a lot of things that are very personal to me. To my history with art and objects. It can also be very humorous.
Murphy: And how does that differ from your relationship to the cut paper pieces?
Anderson: The cut paper pieces are much more mapped out, there is a process to them. This familiarity with them leads me to search for unfamiliar strategies…to discover that unknown zone, to break it, to mess it up. You don’t want things to be too planned, but with these there are certain steps that seem unavoidable.
The object/posters are much more intuitive. It’s really exercising the two parts of my brains. The cut piece is much more meditative for me and I like that methodical practice, it slows me down. It is necessary. I’ve always been a hyperactive person and when I first started doing this cut thing it forced me to slow down. This allowed me to connect to the work more, to each action within the piece.
They function very well together because they inform one another. The work that is more intuitive and bold allows me to be more irreverent and playful. When I’m working on the things that are very meticulous, and meticulous allows me to hit the mark more then when I’m working more directly. I don’t want to know too far ahead what is going to happen. With the cut pieces, it’s a series of steps, where I continuously find myself and subsequently lose myself. With the posters, I have an appetite for where I am in the present and where it can go.
I like this analogy for the new work. I think I mentioned it before, to describe my process is like how a kid builds a fort, rearranging the objects. Adding his own toys.
There is also this magazine I found recently.
Murphy: Wow is this an entire magazine devoted to decorative dollies?
Anderson: Yes, but this is exactly it! I wish I could have one of my posters in this, you know? Here they are in the frame and then but look—it’s not in the frame, it’s stuck to the couch! Only in Canada. Doilies in Canada, 15 cents. What an amazing collection of aesthetic objects there behind the couch. Is that any better or worse than a De Kooning painting? Everything needs to be dusted off. I have nothing more to say.
Interview by Olivia Murphy