Eau De Cologne

1.05.19  |  Article by Ingrid Sischy & Monika Sprüth  |  interview, Magazine  |  MM9 Click to buy

Excerpts of an interview with Ingrid Sischy, by Monika Sprüth. Conducted for Issue 1 of Eau De Cologne. September 1985, New York.

Eau De Cologne no. 2, 1987. Cover artwork by Barbara Kruger.

Monika Sprüth: What is the function of an art magazine today? Ingrid Sischy: The major function of our magazine is indeed still a kind of microscopic analysis of work of individual contemporary artists, relevant historic issues, theoretical issues — all the things that really affect in a critical way our perception of crucial artists, art works, art histories and what they mean in and to the world. Basically the feature and the review section are the additional body of our magazine, the body of the work. I would say that the magazine has a kind of mouth, which opens up the discussion in many ways, with many tongues. This is the feature section. In addition another radically important section is the ongoing record of critical response to shows all around the world, the reviews, and then there is our new front section, the columns, which is the expansion of the traditional boundaries of visual discourse. The new column section is trying to touch the same issues and the new issues in a different way, and our work is to show how it all fits together as one magazine. We try to work that way and to give each subject a form that it needs. MS: So the features are still the main part of ARTFORUM — how do you choose your main issues? IS: There is no system. We usually plan three months ahead, but sometimes it can take months, even years, for the work on certain pieces to be accomplished. Except for a few isolated moments where it has seemed to require a very different approach, we plan the magazine in terms of a theme subject. We put magazines together that have eight, ten or twelve separate features covering painting, sculpture, photography, film, architecture, performance etc. I’ve never believed that just because something is ‘happening’, it means that it matters. Tomorrow something else will happen. Just because everybody is talking about something doesn’t mean that it is a matter for the record. I might be talking compulsively about something, because in some way it represents a fleeting idea of something, but I don’t think that whoever everybody is always talking about is necessarily always important subject matter. Sometimes it is; sometimes it’s just a barometer. Sometimes by examining it, you learn a lot more. Sometimes it’s a matter of the ethics of journalism, which is that if it really is in the air, the ethic is to record what’s in the air. But that doesn’t mean that we have to do this under the terms of the prevailing discussion. For example people can be talking about it, number one. Everybody can be talking about an artist although he or she is incredible, and a critic whom we really respect could come in and say “Listen, I think there’s something wrong here,” and we could publish something very critical about someone that everyone is saying is the next genius. We pick the features in a variety of ways. Number one, first job, I’m going to say over and over again, I’m not the critic. I am the editor. The editor’s job is to isolate and find those serious, independent writers in the world who collectively don’t represent one group, or one position, but those people in America, Europe, Japan and elsewhere, who can contribute to the dialogue about contemporary art. From finding and having a relationship with these serious writers and serious artists, the magazine develops relationships, develops collaborations and listens to what the people say. Of course there are times when I will commission something, where I will think for five years about Giacometti, for example, and the computer age and why he was able to keep a kind of ethics and content in works that were basically repeats of each other. I will perhaps think about that, and then I will read a clue somewhere else and I will eventually pick up the phone and call the person, whether it’s an artist, a critic, or a historian, that I think should write this. But it works. In many ways, there’s no method for the features. It comes: I travel, I go to studios, I listen, I talk to people, people talk to me, people send letters, people send books, we read books. And eventually we get to put together a large, large, large list of ideas for commission. Some writers get two years to write a piece, and need two years; some writers get two weeks. You know, it always depends.

Eau De Cologne no. 3, 1989. Artwork by Penelope Georgiou and Barbara Kruger.

Eau De Cologne no. 2, 1987. Text by Mary Anne Staniszewski, artwork by Sherrie Levine;
Barbara Kruger in conversation with Monika Sprüth.

Eau De Cologne no. 1, 1985. Artwork by Jenny Holzer;
Jenny Holzer photographed by Peter Bellamy.

MS: ARTFORUM is, among the art magazines, the one which touches on the least ideas which represent [current and] ongoing fashions. It seems as if you don’t want to take part in creating new styles, at this time? IS: I think it is a very hard thing to differentiate between an authentic emergent style or issue, and the things that emerge afterwards on the bandwagon. It’s, say, along comes an extraordinary Italian artist that America never heard of five or six years ago, extraordinary, and people respond to that artist. Then the market, critics and museums have to go find more and they don’t always find the real thing. Along come authentic merging issues that are real and need investigation, such as new-Expressionism, or the wild painters [where] something in there seemed authentic to examine. Now, if after that, ten other neos happen, it seems to be up to critical consciousness to know whether they are the subject of individual articles, or whether really they are part of the Mannerist syndrome that I was talking about. So maybe the first one brings up certain critical issues; maybe the next ten that follow in a way are just part of a pattern, and we wouldn’t necessarily gain by a long examination of neo-Realism. So I think the real critical thing, that as you know is the really hard thing, is being awake enough with your eyes open enough and your ears open enough to know whether there’s an authentic thing and when there’s a bandwagon. We’re a critical magazine. If we are jumping on bandwagons, we are in a lot of trouble. We are moving but not going anywhere.

“I’ve never believed that just because something is ‘Happening’ it means that it matters.”

Eau De Cologne no. 1, 1985. Spotlight on New York galleries.

Eau De Cologne no. 1, 1985. Ingrid Sischy in conversation with Monika Sprüth. Artwork by Louise Bourgeois; photograph of Louise Bourgeois by Robert Mapplethorpe

MS: You mentioned before subject matters you’d like to discuss: are there any in your mind concerning the woman issue [of ARTFORUM]? IS: A great critical subject that I haven’t touched in five or six years, and I think it should be, because I think it brings out a great deal about art, and it brings out a great deal about what we want from art, is that subject that was thrown out very briefly in a very limited way called ‘Pattern and Decoration’. And probably one of the reasons that there has been a withdrawal of critical energy on the subject has to do with sexual politics, because much of it was associated with the development of the women’s movement and feminism. You know, much of what became known as American pattern and decoration was very much associated at the same time with the development of feminism. Most artists were women, and then you didn’t see them being written about any more. This happens a lot to many ‘movements’, but it is never a simple issue; why are certain times receptive and others no, for example? I’m interested in looking at what that withdrawal was about and what those people are doing now. Some of the work was very weak, like the most superficial kind of decoration, but some of it was very rigorous and very exploratory. One puts a picture together in very different combinations. Maybe the women’s movement wasn’t the issue behind the art — maybe the issue was generation.

Eau De Cologne no. 2, 1987. Artwork by Gretchen Bender.

“I would say that [a] magazine has a kind of mouth, which opens up the discussion in many ways, with many tongues.”

– Ingrid Sischy

MS: What do you think about a show like Eau De Cologne at the present moment? IS: What I would be interested in is the fact that it has been a certain number of years since the latest public episode of feminism took place. Today the issue of women has become very complicated — at the beginning it needed to have a certain kind of dogma, it needed to have a certain manifesto, and the issue after that is, how did it affect not only the women, but the women and the men, and the world. When new questions are opened up, how is the world affected — the women, the men, the children, the dogs and cats — the world, and the picture of the world. MS: And the art? IS: And the art, absolutely. That’s why I said the picture of the world. And that for me, I mean, again as I said, you could go and interview the exact same people, and the women would not necessarily be an issue. But I think those kinds of questions mean that we never get close to a certain kind of understanding of our world and who we are. And I think that since it is x years later, since we have a different generation of women, let’s say Jenny Holzer and Barbara Kruger, after the generation of Miriam Shapiro and Judy Chicago, several generations of women and careers, several generations of artists, several generations of dealers, I think — this is totally personal, not editorial — I think that it would be fascinating, where there are these connections, I think it could be just as interesting to ask these questions of men today. MS: Today if you curate a show under the issue of ‘woman’, the main criticism is that of quality. Because good quality cannot be divided by sex. IS: But you and I both know that the issue behind quality is totally insidious, because what is quality, and who informs what quality is, and which values make quality? There is no abstract thing called universal quality. Because behind such statements as ‘are there more important men than women?’ is the value system that has created such a situation. The only way one can get to the question is by examining the values system.

Eau De Cologne no. 3, 1989. Artwork by Louise Bourgeois

Read more on Modern Matter, Issue 9 – Everything Has Beauty