Pace Live

On Robert Mangold

A Conversation with Dan Graham & Matthew L. Levy

Conversation recorded on September 30, 2020

This online conversation between Dan Graham and Matthew L. Levy coincides with the presentation of Robert Mangold's solo exhibition Paintings: 2017–2019 in New York.

Learn more about Robert Mangold

Matthew L. Levy (ML): Let’s get started if that’s okay with you, Dan?

Dan Graham (DG): It’s kind of fun to meet you, because I’m also a fan of painting. I collect painting because and it’s the only thing that goes on my wall. Jo Baer actually gave me two paintings and Mangold gave me work also for free and in the case of both of these artists, Jo Baer helped me with Green Gallery. It went out of business. She had no money. And I found Irv Vogel’s wife, whose cousin was a psychiatrist in Los Angeles, he wanted to buy art. So, I recommended Robert Mangold and Jo Baer. He said his wife didn’t like the work, so he put it in his office. And with Jo, she got the money and bought a castle in Ireland. I think we both realized, it was a period when painters weren’t taken very seriously by the minimal artist crowd. Yet Bob Mangold and Sol [LeWitt] were actually best friends and they shared their ideas.

ML: Let's jump into that in just a second, if you don't mind. Let me just do a quick introduction to the folks that are tuning in. My name is Matt Levy and I'm here with Dan Graham on the occasion of (opens in a new window) Robert Mangold's exhibition at Pace Gallery, which is currently on view at Pace by appointment through their website through October 24th. And like I said, my name is (opens in a new window) Matt Levy, I'm an associate professor of art history at Penn State, Behrend, here in Erie, Pennsylvania, where I'm broadcasting from, in my kitchen, in these pandemic times. And the gentlemen sharing the screen with me likely needs no introduction, but this is (opens in a new window) Dan Graham, a distinguished artist who lives and works in New York City. He is a friend of Robert Mangold as well as a collector of his works. Dan is known for his early conceptual works of art, as well as his groundbreaking work in video and his site-specific architectural (opens in a new window) pavilions, which can be found in art institutions and public spaces around the world. In addition to his artistic practice, Dan is also an accomplished writer and an art critic. So, Dan, thanks again for doing this conversation with me.

I'd love to talk about what you were just leaving off on—this relationship between painters and sculptors—but I thought maybe an interesting place to start would be... I was reading about your work and your career recently and I was looking at an article about your (opens in a new window) 2009 retrospective at the Whitney Museum, and you had this wall text that I gather that you wrote where you mentioned artists that had been important to you throughout your career, and Robert Mangold was one of them.

DG: Well artists often don't talk about their influences, so I had a section called “Influences.” I mentioned not just friends, but many of the artists were actually LA artists. I think I learned more from LA artists even than from New York artists. In fact, I conceived the show and I organized it myself originally for MOCA in LA as an homage to LA artists. I also included architects who were quite important to me: Venturi, Itsuko Hasegawa. These are the things artists are taught not to give away.

ML: Right. Look at you giving away secrets.

DG: I remember Flavin, who was not particularly a nice guy, a lot of his work was homages to other artists at the time. And Flavin had a big influence on me that way. So, I think this is quite important. These kind of inspiration situations. Plus, just for the conversation, I didn't go to art school. I knew nothing about art. So, I learned about art. My gallery failed. I was just meeting artists occasionally. One thing I learned was that Sol LeWitt and even Mangold’s work had a lot to do with humor, and the important thing was a kind of deadpan humor that we like. I think Lichtenstein had that idea and was involved with that. In text I read, you actually saw that Mangold’s work was very playful and there’s some humor.

ML: Yeah. And I think that sometimes people don't pick up on that humor or perhaps it gets lost in some of the commentary about Bob's work. I wonder if you have any thoughts as to why that is, is it just because art critics aren't maybe known for their sense of humor or why do you think that people are perhaps not so quick to grasp that quality of the work?

DG: To be blunt, to succeed artists have to have a trademark. My work is hybrid. From my own experience, I had no success because I go between different things. When I first got into art, Sol LeWitt and Flavin were guards at the Russian Constructivist show and what I picked up from (opens in a new window) Russian Constructivism is the work was somewhere between design, art, and architecture, and also photography, and I would add, in my case, literature was equally important. So, this kind of hybrid of art… I think both galleries and critics try to categorize everything in terms of a fixed identity, and Bob is always kind of defeating that. In other words, you see the square paintings he does, but then he combines that with trapezoid paintings.

ML: Right. So that kind of difficulty of trying to pin things down or pigeonhole things. Before we move on, I need to address one other logistical thing for our conversation before I move on to another topic. For the folks that are viewing, this is conducted through a Zoom webinar and we have a Q&A feature, and we will be saving the last fifteen minutes of our discussion for Q&A so at any point during this conversation, you are welcome to submit a question and I’ll be seeing them and can bring them up towards the end. And you also have the ability to upvote questions that you think are particularly good so I can see that factored into the list of questions as well. So, getting back to the sense of humor you see in Bob’s work. It’s a kind of deadpan humor, right?

DG: I noticed the same thing, yeah, it’s deadpan and somehow, I think it also has very common references. Bob was using Masonite, which is usually used in do-it-yourself projects by suburban husbands in the garage or maybe to make modifications to the house. And of course, I wrote this article Homes for America, which is really, I listed all the different colors that women liked and men liked in terms of us looking at colors for their house. Also that time period, I remember rock music, that there were songs like “Mr. Pleasant ” by The Kinks, “Nowhere Man.” So, there was a cliché of suburbia.

ML: The classic one is what, “Little Boxes” by Malvina Reynolds, right? We were talking about some of his earlier works. I brought in some images. Let me share my screen here so folks can see some of these early paintings that we're talking about that might have these references to the suburbs that Dan is referencing.

DG: The colors are used on houses, you had a limit on the different color possibilities. I think Bob also modulates between different colors.

ML: Like this one here that kind of shades to gray towards the bottom.

DG: But he mentioned to me before, this could be the sky.

ML: Yeah, and with the work like this one, these area paintings, he said he got these shapes by looking out at the skyline from the top of his loft building, and these are like the negative spaces that he observed between buildings. I want to pick up on your observation about how this work relates to the suburbs. That was actually something that came up a lot in critics’ reviews of these early shows of Bob's. They liken the works to segments of prefabricated architecture. Of course, this is kind of the heyday of these planned communities like Levittown and things of that nature. And of course, that's what your Homes for America piece was picking up on, too. Do you see these colors as common living room colors? Because you also talked about these paintings as having almost like a ready-made type of color. Where he was drawing color from the things that were around him like a manila folder in the case of this one, or like he said he got a green from a stapler that he had. Almost kind of like Duchampian use of color too. Is that something that you have picked up on in his work?

DG: Maybe that's actually how artists view his work, but to me, the content really is clichés. I think Lichtenstein was more important than people thought he was. He often did sunsets, right? And some of the paintings of Mangold that I have are curved at the bottom and then the colors kind of modulate between red and brown, which is like a sunset in a certain way. But at the same time, he’s alluding to materials they use maybe to modify houses when you make changes.

ML: Yeah, there is certainly a hardware store aesthetic to these things, especially in a work like, like this [Yellow Wall (Section I + II), 1964] or like this [Gray Window Wall, 1965]—this is a work that's now destroyed.

DG: It’s almost not a painting.

ML: Yeah. So, the connection to the suburbs is something that people certainly picked up on when these works were first shown. I wonder, though, do you think that they also relate just to the nature of loft living? Bob was living in a loft at the time and when you're living in these big open spaces, I’d imagine that building walls, building partitions is sort of part of a kind of common household renovation in those types of spaces, too. Do you think that’s going on here, too?

DG: I think that all those things generate doing things in a very unorthodox way. Mainly, he was not using a canvas.

ML: Right. And so, they’re reacting against like fine art materials.

DG: I remember going to galleries when he was not very well known, and I was not known at all. The main thing there was the shaped canvas. So, the artists were trying to use very flamboyant colors and very zany shapes. I remember Chuck Hinman, who used to be a baseball player, also did the shaped canvases. So, he was going against that was the kind of in-your-face blandness. On the other hand, he studied color theory. His teacher was Albers and I kind of disregarded the Bauhaus aspect of his teaching, Bauhaus teaching. Now whenever I look at Albers’ paintings, they use color in such an incredible, subtle way. In a way, Mangold is a colorist.

ML: Yeah, certainly. I think that Albers is often thought of as being this very…having this very theoretical approach to color. But the approach to color really was based on observation, right? And really kind of empowering the artist’s observational faculties. I think that Bob’s color draws on that, too, in these paintings, these early paintings especially that we're seeing where he's drawing on these often-overlooked colors that are around us all the time.

DG: Also he would undermine the last kind of series he did with these kind of arabesque lines, and the idea of painting, using I think, is it pencil?

ML: For his drawn lines? Yeah that’s graphite.

DG: Because that seems almost to be drawing. Also, some of the paintings I have, he actually makes different sections. There's a gap between one section and another section. And what he’s also doing, particularly in his last show I saw at Pace Gallery, the wall itself is in the center, and I think it might be he's making fun of Robert Ryman, who I know Sol LeWitt didn’t like very much. I remember Ryman said something, he said he’s a hillbilly guy from Tennessee, he said I want my paintings to be nothing but my way.

ML: You see the white of the wall in some Mangold paintings as maybe touching on Ryman?

DG: I think there may be, just because I know Sol’s nasty humor. Maybe I shouldn’t actually repeat it right now. Ryman had a barber’s chair in his studio and Sol said he would masturbate in front of the canvas. Let’s just say, maybe Ryman had a simplistic formula that was working. Artists secretly were competing with each other. Sometimes they do it with humor. But on the other hand, I just think it’s a brilliant idea to have the center of a series of paintings to have the wall in the center rather than on the sides.

ML: And you see things like this. These works certainly bring in a lot of negative space and kind of create an awareness of the architecture in a way that perhaps maybe more classically modernist paintings didn’t intend to do.

DG: You brought up this early work of Sol LeWitt.

ML: Yeah, I wanted to come back to that. So, you mentioned Sol and maybe this would be a good opportunity to talk about the relationship between Sol and Bob, who were lifelong friends. For instance, they met in New York in the ‘60s and this, I’m showing here this installation view of an exhibition at the (opens in a new window) John Daniels gallery, which you directed at the time. You showed this work and these sculptures, these early sculptures of Sol’s, which are very different from the work that he would later become better known for, but Sol was showing these kinds of things that are around the same time that Bob was showing work like this. And to my view, these things really kind of are speaking to one another and the artists were very close this time and were certainly aware of what the other was making. What do you make of the kinds of exchanges that were happening between the artists?

DG: With art, between things is not one thing or the other. You know, Sol originally was very interested in Happenings. His best friend was Michael Kirby, who wrote (opens in a new window) Happenings. Actually, that very early work, it was almost like a stage set. He also used a very strange material. Kind of like a shellac lacquer. You couldn’t relate that to art in any way.

ML: Yeah, and Bob also was not really working with artist paints. I think they both were kind of were avoiding those fine art materials and they're both making these things that kind of blur the line between painting and sculpture, right? I mean, with these large two-dimensional planes in a work like this, he's kind of projecting planes. There is a kind of relationship to painting here, even though these things are ostensibly sculptures. Yeah, I think they're both interested in blurring the lines between mediums. I want to come back to this work here [1/3 Gray-Green Curved Area, 1966], which you said is similar to something that you own, correct?

DG: Yes.

ML: This was shown in Bob's next exhibition at the (opens in a new window) Fischbach Gallery where these were all works that were portions of a circle. Various subdivisions of a circle. And so, there was a kind of overarching conceptual schema to this show. This show actually came before Sol’s first conceptual pieces. Do you see a kind of…I don't know how much stock you put in that that term, “conceptual art.” Sometimes artists who get that label stuck to them don't like it very much. But you see the kind of conceptual side to Bob?

DG: First, just about conceptual artists, which I don't think I am. My best work was about magazine pages, and influenced by people who misunderstood the work and made it into something that was called “conceptual art.”

I want to bring in one thing about the shapes. I know that Sol LeWitt and Bob Ryman in the summer used to wear a baseball cap and they loved baseball. I often think, when I’m in a plane coming into JFK, looking down at Long Island, I see the baseball diamond. Sometimes I see that in Mangold’s paintings as well.

ML: Yeah. I mean, it's hard not to see one in this one right now!

DG: In some ways, these are the kind of things that sometimes unconsciously can happen when you’re making an artwork. Both had a great love for baseball. Sol said baseball is a game of inches. He’s a Virgo, so he meant numbers. But he also meant penis size. Because Sol’s humor was sexual. But, in other words, I think both Sol and Bob Mangold were into logic and un-logic at the same time. And I think with Mangold, the work is balance and also unbalance. It’s a play between them. Also, there’s a logic to the painting and also mix illogical at the same time.

ML: Yeah, absolutely. I mean I think you can see that even in these early works here, something like this [Manila-Neutral Area, 1965–67], where you have this symmetrical sectioning off of the work with that middle seam, but then various elements that disrupt that symmetry. Or you see something like that here [Red Wall, 1965]. And then once he starts to introduce the drawing into the painting, there is often that kind of—and I wish I had more image to share—but there is often that kind of… things that are off-kilter or off-balance that are a result of the tensions between the shape of the canvas and the drawing. I want to ask you about something else that you mentioned, you touched on it a little bit today and you mentioned it also in our last chat before this event, this idea of blandness. You see that as being an important concept. Could you elaborate on that for us?

DG: Yes, I knew the idea of nothing was very important. Emptiness and nothing. I mean you have existentialism. But in fact, blandness is something different. It’s about something that’s very ordinary. I remember there was an article by Roland Barthes, which was published in a magazine that Tibor de Nagy did. The article was called “The World as Object” and it was about the Dutch painter, [Pieter Jansz.] Saenredam, who painted empty church interiors. They’re in kind of bland pastels. Also, the artist who I’ve kind of forgotten about, (opens in a new window) Walter Darby Bannard, who also used these kinds of pastels.

ML: So, what's the appeal...maybe for those of us who haven't read the essay, the Barthes essay that you're talking about, we often look to art to escape blandness, right? I mean, it's not often that it's something that we find that we're looking for in art. So, what do you think is the power of art that embraces blandness as a characteristic?

DG: We try to reject what’s there anyway.

ML: What was that?

DG: I think it's also... people say my Homes for America article was a sociological critique of suburbia. What I was doing was actually making fun of a typical Esquire magazine feature where there would be people like Stephen Shore photographing the banality of suburbs and sociologists critiquing it. In fact, it was just there. So, I think the idea of what is just there in front of you, which can be very bland, maybe it was very important at that moment. When I think about Lichtenstein paintings, I think of the Ramones in a way.

ML: Oh yeah, how so?

DG: Kind of very simple stereotypes that people accept. Maybe the stereotype that I was interested in was painting the kind of colors that people selected for their house. I made a chart, which I made myself, likes by women and likes by men, which of course are not exactly the same.

ML: Yeah, and there were, speaking of the suburbs, there were all these periodicals that kind of catered to, you know, especially women whose taste in colors as home interior decorating became a major preoccupation for [them].

DG: Well, I think Bob Mangold was not unaware of that. In other words, it’s of equal importance as Albers.

ML: Yeah, well, it’s interesting you mentioned Walter Darby Bannard because he actually (opens in a new window) wrote an article in Artforum around the time we're talking about, and I'm blanking on the name of the article, but it was all about this idea of readymade color. How when he went to the hardware store, there was this world of color available to him that in comparison to the kind of colors that he found in a fine art shop seemed pretty restricted. So, this idea of found color is, again, kind of in the air at this time.

DG: It’s also this idea of the ordinary rather than the sublime. Wasn't Abstract Expressionism trying to go supposedly to some kind of sublime? This is the opposite of that. Remember, every movement tries to undermine the last one.

ML: Yeah, that reminds me of something I read. You said this in an interview, you were talking about the almost kind of quasi-functional nature of some of the art of this generation. Like you mentioned that LeWitt, with those wooden sculptures that I was showing earlier, he felt like, okay, well, they're made of wood, after the show's over, these things can be used for firewood or a Dan Flavin sculpture can go back to the hardware store.

DG: And also, that’s Sol’s kind of humor, right?

ML: Yeah, but I think it might be Bob's sense of humor too, because there was a kind of quasi-functional quality to some of these early works, or at least the ones that weren't successful. I remember that he commented that the wall paintings...

DG: I think that comes from Russian Constructivism. That book, The Great Russian Experiment at MoMA. As I said, Sol LeWitt and Dan Flavin were guards there.

ML: And Bob was too.

DG: When I look at Sol’s paintings, striped paintings, it’s identical to (opens in a new window) Rodenchko. I like the work he’s doing now better, because it has more humor. You have to realize how important Russian Constructivism was for a generation of artists living in New York.

ML: Yeah, sure. It reminds me of some of these early wall paintings that that Bob considered not successful actually ended up being used around the house, like there was one that ended up as a partition in his in his loft, and he gave... He was experimenting with one, with pegboard actually, in one of these works and he ended up not liking that. I think he gave that one to Eva Hesse and that became a kind of divider in her kitchen. So, there's this kind of quasi-functional aspect in these works and then also a lot of artistic exchange, right? A lot of artists giving artists different things like Eva and Sol LeWitt exchanged coffee tables. Did you observe that almost, like barter economy going on when you were coming up?

DG: Well, I didn't have the loft… but I'll give you an example of Sol’s humor. He says his first (opens in a new window) Open Cube frame works, he said they were jungle gyms for his cat.

ML: They were for his cat?

DG: Yeah, for his cat. Of course, the work was always, for Sol, everything, the idea was to be against humanism, that’s by means of liberal humanism. Jewish people, like Sol and I, we were taught that the important thing is liberal humanism. But I think underneath the liberal humanism in the ‘50s, there was also a hidden fascism and fear. I see that most in Walter De Maria’s work, and with Jack Goldstein. But I guess Sol always tried to undermine the way work will be interpreted. Another very big influence on Sol, because we changed the subject, is after a handsome success, because they got him in Dwan gallery, he went to Istanbul, he said it changed his life.

ML: He went to where?

DG: Istanbul. He said that changed his life.

ML: Oh, is that right?

DG: I think that's where a lot of the wall drawing came from.

ML: Ok, interesting. Yeah. To change gears and bring it back to Bob a little bit more, you told me earlier that you were perhaps most familiar with Bob's works from the ‘60s and some of the works that I was showing. What did you make of the transition when he started introducing drawing to the work? I mean, did you see that as a significant departure from the stuff that you had been familiar with to that point, or did you see it as an extension of it?

DG: Well, first of all, I knew a lot of his work because he had Pace Gallery send me catalogues. And I will have to admit I took a lot of ideas for my two-way mirror glass structures from his drawings. I really like the fact that he was totally undermining assumption about the first work, the early work he did. The arabesques with a line. I think his mind conceptually is trying a lot of new ideas, but he did that actually with drawings on paintings.

ML: Yeah, right and that really is just the facility with his drawing and the way that he can create those kind of beautiful arabesques or these circles first see them as circles and then you realize that they are sort of off-kilter. It's kind of startling when you compare it to some of those deliberately clunky shaped canvases. Right. I mean, it must have caught some by surprise.

DG: But I think that, what I also like, I saw some great…you mention you’re from the Boston area, in the Museum of Fine Arts, he was able to do very large pieces that worked in the museum, the huge museum walls. So, he was able to work in small sizes and very large sizes. And for most painters, they do the same thing over and over again. Even though they were geniuses, like Pollock, he was very similar. I think he was always thinking about where the piece would be possibly hung.

ML: You see Bob doing that?

DG: Well, I like the way he was able to do very large pieces that would work in a museum context.

ML: Yeah, and there's often a kind of a two-step process to the work, right. He'll usually make kind of smaller studies and then make a larger version. That often seems to be how he sort of works through his ideas. I'd love to ask your thoughts about… what did you make of the current exhibition? I gather that you got to see it today.

DG: No, I got to see it last week.

ML: Oh, okay, last week.

DG: We made a sneak visit. I also got to go to other galleries because they're reopening. I haven’t been to Chelsea in a long time. I think they’re made for maybe corporate lobbies, in a way. Maybe because the building Pace is in is a very corporate building, so it fit that situation. But also, they were very logical. Instead of making new work, he put together work that functioned together to make almost a system. But then then I realized, everything was in square, he had some trapezoids as part of the square, and I loved the way his colors evolved. I told people I was with that I preferred this color to that color. Like I love the green, it’s almost like khaki, like people wearing camouflage things. Also, I've noticed, because I never seen this before, the kind of modulation of color, which I hadn't seen in his work before. So, I think there's always…even though the work is structurally similar, there's always something slightly new in every show he does.

ML: Yeah, well, and this body of work really caught me by surprise in a couple of ways, in that it's the first work that he's made really since the '60s that didn't have drawing. Most of the paintings in this show do contain drawings and some version of these drawn squares or double squares, but there are two, three paintings in the show that have no drawing. And in that way, I mean, it is an extension of the work that's elsewhere in the exhibition. It kind of continues that kind of theme of various configurations of squares. But to abandon the drawing, which really had become something that he was so well known for over the years. What did you make of that of that of that move?

DG: Well, I don't see things as exactly moves. I know when that I make a gallery show, I think very much of the gallery space. I also know the way art is going now. A lot of work is done for corporate lobbies. And at first, I thought the work was a little bit too aimed at corporate lobby, then I realized there are some aspects that are actually asymmetrical. I know one artist whose work I like enormously for corporate lobbies, Frank Stella, because he's trying to combine graffiti and baroque at the same time. At first I was a little put off by the show because it just seemed to be too regular, like the architecture of this gallery, but then I realized it wasn't exactly what I thought first. In other words, I think the work first is symmetrical and then it’s not symmetrical.

ML: Yeah. Every work I think has something that's a little askew about it. Right.

DG: Yeah something about balance. I keep thinking that he is a Libra. Libra is about balance but also unbalance at the same time.

ML: That's interesting. I know nothing about astrology, but I know that it's come up a couple of times already. And in this case, it certainly is an interesting thing to think about. There is that tension between balance and imbalance, and that's really true.

DG: Is the same thing, right?

ML: What's that?

DG: It’s also called symmetry and asymmetry. And he is using some of the same elements that Sol used. In other words, common, simple, geometrical forms. Sometimes the color offsets that first impression.

ML: Right. And the drawing complicates it too, where the shape of a canvas will sort of... Your perception of it is altered by the drawing. So, for example, there's one work where there might be a kind of rectangular kind of extension of the canvas, but then that extension has drawing in it that that kind of extends it into a square. So, your mind knows that you what you're looking at, is there a kind of rectangular extension, but it's impossible not to see it as a square. Right. So, the shape of the canvas and the drawing kind of rub against one another and kind of mess with your perception of the thing.

DG: How I would rate the show? Well, to me, it’s only a three. The last Pace show was very unexpected, because that was where I first saw the center, they showed the wall itself.

ML: Well and this work does that, but it's different too from the last body of work, right. Where the last body of work at Pace had a lot of these square apertures cut into the painting. But then there were these kind of arabesques that brought them together and enlivened them. Here, there is there is almost a more conceptual use of the square, right, where you kind of three different iterations of the square. You have the square-shaped canvas, you have these square apertures, and then you have the square drawing. So, it's almost like three different representations of the idea of a square kind of come back, perhaps to that conceptual side in Bob's work.

DG: Maybe I don’t like the idea of conceptual things. I like when he got into the arabesque, which was very unexpected, but I think that given this particular space here, it made a lot of sense what he did.

ML: And there's one other kind of unexpected element, and there was just one painting where he did this. But there's one work, if you recall, where there's almost a relief element to it. There is a square that projects forward. I was curious, what did you make of that painting? Because that's very atypical. He hasn't really done anything that kind of ventured into a relief mode, again, since a lot of this early work that we started with.

DG: I think it made for a better show than I thought this would be.

ML: Okay, great.

DG: But I think he had one dilemma. He has not been making art for a long time for health reasons, but he was able to put together work that was from different periods and put together a very logical appeal for the show.

ML: Yeah, I agree.

DG: For every artist when they begin, they think they can't do it. I assume though, he has his assistants and he probably plotted everything out very carefully. It's a very carefully done show.

ML: It is. It is. And making each of these canvases, I mean, it's a project, right. You kind of have a sense that you know it's going to work, I'd imagine, before you charge ahead. We have about fifteen, a little less than fifteen minutes left, and we have a few questions that have popped up here. Would you like to turn our attention to those?

DG: [Nods]

ML: Okay, so we have one question saying, “Can you talk more about material experimentation in Mangold's work. He was using Plexiglas within the paintings much before other artists to sort of think of using materials like that as a component of painting? How uncommon was this? What was the reaction at the time?” And I'm not aware of any use of Plexiglas in Bob's work, but he was being experimental with his choice of materials for certain things. And as we've discussed, not using fine art materials. Dan, could you talk a bit about what was the reaction to those choices of materials at the time?

DG: I think my thing was that I loved the fact that he was using Masonite, because I was very familiar with it. It's very banal, but it's the opposite of using canvas, which is high art. And also, I was always thinking of the idea of do-it-yourself. I know one thing about Bob. I think he must’ve loved cooking because I remember he was always cooking. He lived near the Bowery. He kept talking about wanting to find the best butcher block slab he could.

ML: Is that right?

DG: So, I think in a way, he maybe had a great interest in a utilitarian use of wood. Remember the Bowery used to have a lot of butcher block slabs?

ML: Sure, and I know all those restaurants supply shops, right?

DG: Yes, exactly. Of course, that was where he was living.

ML: Right. Yeah. And he also talked about...he made a point of mentioning in one interview that he was doing his shopping for materials, perhaps on the Bowery, but also on Canal Street. What was the kind of the cachet of Canal Street at the time in New York?

DG: Everybody loves industrial plastics. When artists first came to New York they had bought different plastics and put them together. Murray was fascinated because he had a studio on Canal Street. But I think I realized, Bob and his wife are very domestic people. So, there's a kind of domesticity in the choice of materials. He wasn't trying to do epic things in a huge studio. I think where he lived first was a kind of apartment building.

ML: Yeah, that's true. I think he had a job as the super, I think in that first building.

DG: Oh yes, really?

ML: Yeah, yeah. And again, you know, supers are like…the hardware store is their place. So, it's interesting the way these lived experiences kind of inform the work. Here's another question that perhaps draws on some of the things we were just discussing. This writer says, “I see deadpan humor in Sylvia Mangold's paintings as well. The piles of clothes and trompe l’oeil paintings. Could you talk about their influence on one another's work? Does the humor come from a response or observation of the quotidian or mundanity of life in the country of upstate New York?” So, I mean, there are two parts to the question there. Maybe if you talk a bit about your sense of the relationship between Bob and Sylvia and how, what kinds of artistic exchanges happen there. And then maybe we could talk about their move to upstate New York, where they've lived for some time now.

DG: Well, when I saw Sylvia’s work first, I thought it was literal, about being very literal. Everything looked as if it were literal, which is slightly different from Bob being interested in banality. I also think they are very close couple. I know they cooked and had small dinner parties, and this is not what artists in the past used to do, right? In other words, they were a very solo couple. Up until the move, which was after Eva Hesse died, it was just too tragic for him. He wanted to move away from the city. Actually, I never saw him after that. He said they only come into New York now to see doctors for their health conditions, although of course there’s tradition of artists moving, buying barns—Ellsworth Kelly bought a barn—and then settling in upstate New York, whether being in the midst, surrounded by nature, had anything to do with his work, painting, I don’t think it did.

ML: Yeah, and you know that curved section of a circle that we talked about that you likened to a baseball diamond, and I'll never unsee that now, but he started making those sections of a circle after spending a summer again up in upstate New York at the summer house of Al Held. Al Held had a farm up there and he was observing, rather than observing those negative spaces between buildings in the skyline, he was seeing these kind of swooping curves on the horizon line in the valley so that's where he's attributed the shapes to. You can see the way that the change of environment also influences his work.

DG: And also Bob still watches baseball games on TV.

ML: Oh, yeah, great. Baseball is still a force in his life, huh? It's still a factor?

DG: But I also think people have recreational things that sustain them and also things that they get their ideas from. I know that Ed Ruscha’s very small books...with friends. And there’s always a kind of humor there. Like the Royal Road Test. I think Ed Ruscha came from Oklahoma and the road was very important. And also the artists were always destroying things, right, to make art.

ML: Another way of life informing art, perhaps. Maybe one last question from our list here and then a nice comment that I want to close with. There’s another question about influences, you know, we've talked a lot about Bob and Sol, and Bob and Josef Albers, any other artists from the circle that you all were in that you think are worth mentioning here and in this context?

DG: Well, first of all, I was I was not in the circle.

ML: Okay.

DG: It’s just that I saw Sol often because I lived next door, and I’d come by, and I never saw Bob. But over the years I realized Bob was a great artist. And for some reason, I think he was the first person actually to understand the very early Magazine Page pieces. And out of that appreciation, he would just give me paintings.

Sylvia and he had a very successful son.

ML: Sure. Yeah. The film director.

DG: The first film that Mangold made, (opens in a new window) James Mangold, was Heavy. It’s about a man who was overweight, probably an ordinary person from the neighborhood where he grew up in so-called upstate New York. And then Cop Land I found very interesting because I thought it was like Kathryn Bigelow's film, Blue Steel. It was about cops, policemen who lived in New Jersey then commuted to New York City. So, I think maybe Bob liked the ordinary, like van Gogh also, he liked the fact that there were ordinary people where they were living, not just art world types. I think people feel safe—artists—for that reason.

I know Sylvia is, when I talk to her, she's just so happy that her son became a great filmmaker. I know that Sol put up a lot of money for that.

ML: That's very sweet. Let me actually bring in one more question before we close. This person writes, “Mangold talks a lot about fragments ‘being very much a part of the content of the work, some of it extended to a different series in different ways, the sense of completeness or incompleteness or perhaps the impossibility of completeness.’” What do what do you make of that, Dan, the role of fragments in Bob's work? And we saw that in that circle painting, especially, the segments of a circle. Bob also said that when you see the fragment of the circle you can’t help but wonder where it comes from.

DG: I think that applies more to the earlier works.

ML: Yeah.

DG: But in the end, he’s not like Albers at all. He’s not systematic. Also, the color sometimes is very surprising. In other words, there are surprises that are kind of deliberate in what he's doing.

ML: You mentioned that he's not a systematic artist, but there was a period of time when he was, those (opens in a new window) WVX paintings, if you recall those. There is a moment there where he was creating every possible iteration of a certain kind of system, but then he moved away from that. Right. And I think it's because he found it kind of, perhaps, too restrictive, but I think he kind of retained some of that, as in the exhibitions that he has made over the years, where when you go to one of Bob's gallery shows, you see certain kinds of parameters present. Right. He's working through the various possibilities of those parameters, not in a kind of exhaustive way, but they still set certain conditions in place that he's working through. Do you agree with that?

DG: I think we have to put this out, Sol LeWitt’s work seems to be logical but it’s not logical. And I think Bob Mangold had a logical mind, but his work is not exactly logical.

ML: Yeah, well, there's a difference between coming from a system and being logical, he often talked about how his work had a certain kind of premise to it that was launching point into the illogical, no? But that's just a possibility and, perhaps, this is a nice way to close, because we have a comment from Carol LeWitt, who thanks us both for this discussion and says, “Please tell Dan how much I enjoyed his remembrances and remind him how much we respect his wisdom and how much we treasure our long friendship.” So, I think that's a very sweet note to perhaps close on.

DG: What's interesting is Sol chose to live in very suburban Connecticut where he came from. I'm inspired when I go back to New Jersey. I guess traditionally artists often, like Courbet, are very inspired by going back to this farm-like area.

ML: Yeah, we always kind of take that with us, don't we?

DG: I think it’s a miracle that Mangold’s still making art. He has extremely big health problems, as I do. I always invite him to come to New York to some of my shows, but he says it’s not possible.

ML: Well, then I think we should really appreciate this current show all the more then.

DG: I think he is one of the great artists, and he’s also very unexpected because he said he's not heroic. I mean, in terms of the work being show-bizzy.

ML: Yeah, I totally agree. Totally agree. Well, listen, Dan, thank you so much for this conversation. I thoroughly enjoyed it and I hope others do as well or did as well. This work will be archived at Pace and it will be available online for later viewings. So please look for it there. But thanks again to Dan and to the folks at Pace for hosting this. Just as a reminder, Robert Mangold's exhibition Paintings, 2017–2019 is currently on view at Pace and will be through October 24th by appointment only, so please make those appointments on the Pace website. Thanks again Dan.

DG: And also, I hope that you’re not too jealous that I have some early Mangold’s.

ML: Are you kidding? I'm very jealous!

DG: In other words, there's a collector in everybody, including artists. Of course, I trade so I don't have to buy any paintings. You know we trade, we artists. It’s actually a token of our love for each other. I don’t have much space, I have a very small space now.

ML: Got to look for the small works then! All right. Well listen, I think we have to wrap this up. Thank you again, Dan, this has been a real pleasure.

  • Pace Live — On Robert Mangold: A Conversation with Dan Graham & Matthew L. Levy, Oct 8, 2020