Emma Amos: I don’t want to be segregated into a Black community of artists. I don’t think it’s important the color of the artist. I think the color of his work is important. And I think his work is the important thing. But this doesn’t seem to work. It really doesn’t. Everyone sees your color. The artist unfortunately is a social part of what he does. He has to sell it. And it’s killing that he actually has to sell it on the marketplace. But he does.
Carolyn Lazard: He was able to do that because he was like a San Francisco artist. This was like a time when like white people and that includes white artists were, in some ways differentiating themselves like through the critique of like media, which is like what generated basically what our understandings of like whiteness are. Right?
[Theme music plays]
Michelle Herman: Hi and welcome to ARTiculated. I'm Michelle Herman, I work as the Head of Digital Experience here at the Archives of American Art. This podcast receives support from the Alice L. Walton Foundation.
Since 1958, the Archives of American Art has been building the largest collection of oral histories related to the visual arts in the world. These more than 2500 long-form interviews give witness to history as it unfolded through the voices of the figures who shaped and reimagined it.
This episode is the fifth in a series of six, each curated by a contemporary artist in response to and in conversation with past speakers from the Archives' oral history program.
Our guest is Carolyn Lazard.
[Music fades out]
Carolyn Lazard: Hi, my name is Carolyn Lazard. I'm an artist based in New York and Philadelphia, and I work across many mediums and forms, but I spend most of my time in video sculpture and installation. In my practice, I'm interested in the relationship between debility care and dependency, and how our collective indebtedness, or our need for each other, has a generative and capacious impact on the world.
I think a lot about accessibility as a practice, A way of being in doing that can really reshape our relationship to aesthetics, institutions, and even the very way we experience and understand art spectatorship.
Michelle Herman: In this episode, Lazard delves into the oral histories of Emma Amos and Bruce Conner.
Carolyn Lazard: Emma Amos was an artist based in New York City. She was born in 1937, worked from the 1950s through till her death in 2020. She worked primarily in painting and her practice expanded to include printmaking, textiles, and photography. Amos was interested in the representation of Blackness, Black womanhood, also inclusive of self-portraiture, domesticity, and the question of subjectivity In Western art history, she was also a member of a few critically art, historically significant collectives, Spiral, Heresies, and the Guerilla Girls.
Michelle Herman: Amos’s oral history was conducted by Al Murray, a former naval combat artist, and their conversation took place in October 1968, mere months after the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr and the passage of the Fair Housing Act. The tapes from that interview were returned to Amos after transcription, as was the practice at the time, so the transcript has been read by Deloris Perry, the Archives’ administrative officer.
Carolyn Lazard: Bruce Conner was an interdisciplinary artist based in San Francisco. He was born in 1933. Worked in the post-war era and died in 2008. He worked quite broadly in collage, assemblage drawing, photography, and experimental film. He was heavily focused on and interested in media and popular culture, so television, movies, cartoons, broadcast journalism. He was also very interested in gender and how our understandings of gender are really shaped through the media.
Michelle Herman: Conner’s oral history was divided into parts across 1973 and 1974 as he spoke with Paul Cummings and Paul Karlstrom from the Archives’ staff as well as Serge Guilbaut, an art historian who was then in graduate school at UCLA.
Carolyn Lazard: Emma Amos and Bruce Connor share a lot even through their materials They both were very much engaged with textiles Emma Amos even worked as a textile designer for a long time alongside her art practice She designed rugs She related deeply to the canvas as a textile She chose to work with linen canvases over cotton because she preferred their weight and movement Bruce Conner worked a lot with women's lingerie and nylon in particular In Bruce Conner's time I think nylon held a particular significance because during World War ii nylon stockings were really under produced because most nylon manufacturing was redirected towards the war effort for parachutes and other materials used by the military. Later in her practice
Amos began to use African fabrics like Kente cloth and boutique prints as borders around her canvases
Michelle Herman: Listen to history through Carolyn Lazard’s headphones:
Carolyn Lazard: So my first encounter, somewhat embarrassingly with Emma Amos's work was in the exhibition. We wanted a revolution, Black radical women. I believe the show traveled, but I saw it in Brooklyn, in, at the Brooklyn Museum in 2017. And yeah, it was my first time seeing her work.
And I think I was just really struck by it. She's super invested in the relationship of like skin and reds and these complimentary colors. I was just really struck with her use of color, but not only her use of color, but getting back to her ability to represent a Black feminine interiority in some way. A lot of her works depict mundane domestic interiors, usually with Black women figures. And what's fascinating is that sometimes those figures are gazing back at us, but it's interesting, the one painting where she's gazing back at us, but it's actually, cuz she's looking at herself through a mirror.
So there are these like really ways in which like perspective or the gaze are refracted in terms of how like she's looking at herself and, and we're looking at her look at herself, that create these like beautiful and simultaneously like kind of unsettling, relationships between her as the painter, her as the figure and then us as like, you know, consumers or spectators of like the artwork that she produces.
I tend to like lowercase a art, which means I like things that have a kind of intimate scale and while her paintings are quite large, I think the scope of the works are quite intimate in terms of like what they're trying to access.
Carolyn Lazard: I'm really struck by in Amos's interview by her positions on integration and how they change over time. she talks a lot about working up until this period and integration seems like this kind of through line, in, you know, through her discussion of her practice and her life.
Emma Amos: I finished high school when I was sixteen so I was very young. I had skipped a lot of grades and took a lot of tests and got out at sixteen. So did my brother - he finished when he was sixteen, too. But I decided I never wanted to set foot in Spelman or any of the colleges in Atlanta. I never applied to them.
Instead, I applied to Antioch which is a school in Ohio. My father went to Wilberforce back in nineteen-something. And he was always crazy about Antioch. It was a good school then and they had a very progressive policy with their students and they were interested in the Wilberforce kids. I don’t know whether they had Negroes then. But he had the impression that they did. He thought it was a very forward-looking school. In Atlanta, nobody had ever even heard of Antioch. But we decided to apply anyway. And of course, they were thrilled to get a broad mix of students. First being a Negro and second being from the South they were pleased to have me.
I was there from 1953-1958. I was an art major at Antioch. And of course, it was wonderful. It’s a beautiful school, a lovely campus. You work half the year and go to school half the year. I got to work in Chicago and Washington and in New York and really expand. That’s where I got to go to galleries and museums, that’s when I really got to see the art world.
All my friends all went away to school. And when we would get together, even to this day when I go home I don’t see anybody because there’s nobody left I grew up with the only people I’d see would be other kids who’d come home from Radcliffe or Vassar–most of the kids went away to really shiny Ivy League school –and they all had pretty much the same experience I had.
And they were all experimenting in being really white, to get as white as they can get and still be Black. And you wouldn’t even discuss what it was like to be Black in a white school because you admit that there were any problems with it. You know, you might be grinding your teeth at night but you would never say that you were having great troubles because you were integrating and you figured maybe it would be hard because you came from the South and it wasn’t all that easy. So it wasn’t just me. Everybody I knew
went away to school.
Carolyn Lazard: And I think it also has to do with her, like desire to break into like the mainstream art world. But there actually isn't like an alternative one either. As far as her experience, she didn't really know about any Black painters or any Black artists. She like, in her home had seen like a Henry Tanner or like, knew about Augusta Savage in some way. But she doesn't know about Romare Bearden or Jacob Lawrence until she gets into Spiral.
So there's this way in which the even idea of like, Black artistry feels like a total abstraction for her until like much, much later in life. she even kind of like characterizes herself as brainwashed at some point. And like there's a point at which the interviewer asks her like, you know like some of her influences and she talks about Picasso and Matisse, and then he wonders how she felt about African art and like looking at masks and like different kinds of CraftWorks.
And she was like, yeah, I kind of studied them technically, but I wasn't really interested in them. I was sort of like seeing them refracted through like Matisse and Picasso. and that in this way, that like, the concept that like Black is beautiful is this thing that comes through Matisse and Picasso is like so strange.
and yeah, I don't know. It's kind of interesting that she spends so much time in a way, trying to like enter into a kind of like accepted white art world economy. And then simultaneously modernism is like drawing all of its points of, you know, I would say like conflict, how do I characterize this or, resistance critique, even as a position is something that's like deeply indebted to Blackness basically.
It feels kind of absurd that white artists have to like go to like Black aesthetic traditions as a way to critique Western art history. And she's just trying to like break into the thing and then at some point she talks about the studio museum, where she's just kind of like, I don't understand.
I think she sees it as kind of like, ghettoizing in a way like, I don't understand why there has to be this, this like Black museum in Harlem. She's actually really critical of a lot of New York institutions.
Emma Amos: It’s a very touchy problem. I gather from the Times this week that they’re having the same problem at the Brooklyn Museum with this new director they have there in the new gallery. It’s called the Community Gallery and it held a show of people who feel that they are not just schleps from the community. They feel that they are real artists and that they do it seriously. And though they’re showing there this month they pointed out that they don’t like to be shunted into a community gallery. They want the same standards of the Museum to be applied to them. And they want to feel that they have been selected as a group to show because they’re good; not just because they’re creeps who happen to live in the community.
I don’t want to be segregated into a Black community of artists. I don’t think it’s important the color of the artist. I think the color of his work is important. And I think his work is the important thing. But this doesn’t seem to work. It really doesn’t. Everyone sees your color. The artist unfortunately is a social part of what he does.
He has to sell it. And it’s killing that he actually has to sell it on the marketplace. But he does. If he’s not able to join that central marketing area he’ll never get anywhere. I think one of these years instead of going around to galleries I’m just going to go out and buy myself a whole lot of new clothes and I’m going to all the Monday and Tuesday night openings and see if there is a way into that social thing.
There must be. There must be a way to get into the real world. But even so, it’s foolish to think about it. Because once you got in you be the token. It’s rough.
Carolyn Lazard: A lot of what was so interesting about spending time with her interview is just how little things have changed and how so many of her critiques are incredibly valid now. Even just like a week ago, I remember like talking to somebody and being like, you know, education departments or like the backbones of museums. And also like, why is it that all of the most interesting, art happening by marginalized artists are mostly being funneled through educational programs and institutions.
They're not getting huge solo shows. They're not getting retrospectives, you know? So even like 50 years later, not much has changed. She's not really engaged in like larger politics, know, she's just like, I just am trying to make Black art. I'm just like interested in this, especially beacuse we're in this like really ripe moment of Black figuration and that is like really contentious and is like really exciting and beautiful also has become incredibly monetized.
So it's interesting that at this moment she's like very concerned with like the kind of idea that an idea, like the idea that like Black aesthetics
could be codified in any way and in that way be like reproduced. And so in this moment she's like really contending with what it’s like to be Black and an artist.
That maybe she feels, some hesitation or actually outright rejects the idea of being a Black artist, but is interested in being Black and an artist, but not together.
She's like describing this thing and you can kind of hear just the frustration in her voice as she's like also throughout the interview, sort of discussing how difficult it's been for people to take her seriously. I really like her characterization of it. I know people still do this today, but, it seems like it was a lot more common back then. She talks about like the pavement, which is basically her going around with like slides of her artwork to like galleries and trying to sell her work and trying to get people to represent her.
And she talks about like how demoralizing of an experience it is. And, yeah, it's it. I think what she's contending with is like the incredible effort that she's like put into trying to, you know, establish her life as an artist, as an artist who can make art sustainably, who can live off of making art.
And then just being surrounded by people who are like completely oblivious to the fact that there are Black artists who are like, who are that? There are Black artists who are innovating and for "whatever reason," nobody's interested.
At some point, Al Murray her to kind of elaborate on her position around integration and segregation. I personally wouldn't call it segregation. I think I would call it self-organizing in the face of white supremacy, but I I think from the time that she was, you know, that she was born in and existed, like finds a hard time adapting to these changes, but he brings up an interesting point, which is that, you know, in connection to this idea of Black galleries and to, you know, the very question of like whether Black galleries should even exist.
He says, this question of segregation is essentially political, but then sort of differentiates it from the question of like a Black, like, okay, the idea that there needs to be a Black, Black gallery to deal with, you know, the fact that Black artists are kept. Out of the general art economy, and to deal with the kind of and pragmatics of making art in the world.
But then he says, basically that that might be political, and that might be distinct from an actual art artistic or aesthetic point of view. And that, like, we do need to think about this of like what he calls a “Negro sensibility,” which is fundamentally another dimension of an American sensibility.
Emma Amos: She works her way around his claimWell, I have managed to get around that question by doing a lot of self-portraits and in this way I can rationalize doing somebody Black. Because I’m not Black but I can make myself look a lot Blacker. And it really has a lot to do with economics too. I can’t afford a model and I’m doing figures and things now.
So I’m always handy and I just look in the mirror. I’ve been doing this I guess for about four or five years now. And it’s fun. It’s fun because I can do lots of variations on me. And I think when I first started I was just using me as a shape sort of like the little wood dolls that you get in art stores, you know, you can see that the arm goes this way and that way to check the shape.
Now I’ve stopped blotting out the things that are Black about me, you know, the bone structure, the thickness through the nose, and this and that. You know let’s face the fact that this is me so go ahead and draw me. And then when I started color – now I make me brown or whatever happens to be what I’m looking for.
This is really begging the question I’m sure. But I don’t think I could have done it ten years ago. I don’t think I would have been interested in doing the figure. The colors would have been wrong. Everything would have been wrong. I don’t know.
Even though it seems like she's kind of resistant to saying this throughout the whole interview.
Carolyn Lazard: I mean, she does describe this transformation that happens with her, which is that like, she goes, she even self describes as being brainwashed and that at some point she becomes aware of the fact that Black people are beautiful that there's nothing wrong with it. And that it's like something to be remarked upon and to be recorded.
which gets back to this of like her original, you know, heroes like Picasso and Matisse, and. Al Murray asks her, like, you know, did you see that in Picasso and Matisse? And she's just like, no, just saw cubism, which you know, is interesting. I mean that's because of course, Picasso and Matisse were taking what they wanted from Black art forms and then kind of like them to their own you know, and ends basically.
Emma Amos: Well, I said that I started doing the figure. At first it was just kind of an
amorphous shape. It got to the point where I wanted the color, I wanted the brown skin against red backgrounds and I really wanted the texture and the look and the whole thing. And I think it’s definitely that I’ve become aware of Black people and that Black is beautiful and there’s nothing wrong with it; and that it’s something to remark upon and to make a record of.
I think I would have to qualify as the prime case of a brainwashed person. You know, completely brainwashed. Not able to see anything beautiful in anything to do with being Black other than the people who I was proud of Duke Ellington and people like that. But I swallowed all the other meannesses you know, all the other things – “you’re not as beautiful, your features are not as good, you have nothing to offer, you came from nothing and you are nothing.”
And it’s the kind of insult that we live with every single day.
Carolyn Lazard: Bruce Connor made many incredibly iconic, experimental film works. Most of his works were made through appropriation and I think that's what was radical about them. Just this idea that like, you know, as assemblage functioned in sculpture, that you could bring the same methodology into filmmaking just like pull from like the myriad forms of media that were available to produce new artworks.
A work of his that's also just been really transformative for me is Report, which takes this like,you know, short, I mean, it must be like, you know, 15 you know, 10 or 15 minute news reel of assassination.
And it is like you know, I mean, he, I think he takes even less from the report. It actually might just be a few minutes or a few seconds, and it's like a complete and total remix kind of like, I don't know how, what I would call it. It's just like taking this like really particular piece of media then cutting it, slashing it using repetition as the primary mode of engagement with the material, which becomes hypnotic and mesmerizing.
And it's a news reel that includes the footage of when JFK was assassinated. And so you're watching over and over assassination, you're watching, you know, Jackie Kennedy reach over and all of these kinds of images that are so huge in American visual lexicon, right?
Like we all know if you're from here, you kind of know what this news reel is; it's somehow embedded in our psyche. and he attacks this piece of media and remakes it. And it's a controversial work because of the fact that it uses such sensitive imagery.
Before I read Bruce Connor's interviews, I would've thought of him very much as a kind of political artist, but reading them now, I'm kind of like, I don't know. It seems like, this was all kind of like undifferentiated for him in a way.
He doesn't talk much about the films but in some ways like the films feel a lot more political because they're kind of, yeah. They're responding to this very thing, which is just like the way in which like media, Particularly television and maybe even just like Hollywood as its own mythology, had such a huge, influence over how the culture was seeing itself.
Paul Cummings: Well, you know, that's interesting because I was going to ask you if you see an interrelationship between music, collage, films, drawings?
Bruce Conner: They're all tools. They're different forms to use.
Paul Cummings: Do you see them, you know, as different aspects of the same ideas expressed through, say, music in this instance, or films or are they kind of equal but parallel patterns that you follow, and move from one to the other. Or do they blend together at certain points?
Bruce Conner: I'm sure that's all true. What you said is all part of it. The same things appear in different places. Parallel. Merging one into another. Opportune things.
It’s also like the time that it happens and where the situation is. Producing something at a certain moment in time has a lot to do with what it means. At the time it's made it has that time and subsequently it's going to continue to change. Things that I've worked on I expected or even pushed them to make them change. Layers of paint that I know are going to crack. I know in a period of time, sometime in the distant future, the paint will come loose revealing what is underneath it. My collages are things built on top of other things. A lot of different surfaces that aren't just patterns and such.
Paul Cummings: You mean underneath.
Bruce Conner: Underneath. There is also the potentiality of how somebody is going to relate to it. I never put frames around the collages. That's one reason why they didn't sell so well. Potential buyers thought something was wrong with them because they weren't framed and "finished." If they're a part of your environment they should be able to sit there in the middle of it.
Carolyn Lazard: I think Bruce Conner kind of saw himself as making work about social issues, but he was really interested actually just like, I think not to differentiate between politics and media, especially, mean for now, but also from that era. But it's like, he, you know, makes this work about the Black Dahlia murder. What he's interested in is not necessarily like mm. Like embedded structural he's more interested in the way that like media picks up certain things and then broadcasts them.
He's interested in spectacularization of narrative in a way. So it's like, it is It is a critical social commentary because the work like a lot of, you know, these sculptures, and these pieces, these like the Black Dahlia collages, like they sort of come out of, you know, Kind of criticality towards like media and like sensationalization then, but at the same time, he kind of like on that sensationalization himself.
Paul Cummings: Well, there are a lot of things I don't know about you.
Bruce Conner: I have a lot of stories to tell.
Paul Cummings: About the world. You mean people.
Bruce Conner: No, it's another art form. I might project or assume the character of a personality. Like the person that's producing this is the Black Dahlia, and it's also the person that killed the Black Dahlia. Instead of there being individual actors before me, I'm using objects and characters that aren't defined as separate performing characters. Mental attitudes. The relationship of victim to assassin. Positive to negative. But they're both lovers. I mean, the Black Dahlia is loose within the structure of the attack of the man who had destroyed her. It's all basically love or passion that's been distorted and altered. Changed because of social or cultural imposition. But :hat I would get back from the culture of this society would be hate. Which, you know, isn't it at all. Or, you know, things which might be critical of the falsity of—
Paul Cummings: What did they say because of the nylon stockings and all—
Bruce Conner: Yeah, yeah. I mean all that sort of thing that might be attacked as male chauvinism now. It's a cliché. And it's something somebody doesn't want to get into. Very superficial, but that's more or less what the attitude was. Such an identification with all this sort of
high heel shoes, long fingernails, costume jewelry, and all the disguises of women. Which are like some kind of theatrics that may disguise really a horrible creature.
Paul Cummings: They are theatrics, not a kind of, they are.
Bruce Conner: Well sometimes they can grow right out of a person's own personal theater, right, I mean, whatever you wear--whatever I wear I always relate to as a costume in any case. Whether it's a suit and tie, or whether it's Levi jackets or whatever, and I, and I find people changing their attitude towards me on the role that I take.
Paul Cummings: Sure, because it's a key, you know, it's a visual key.
Bruce Conner: And that kind of process that people are going in, of recognition or rejection or how they relate to an object or to people is, you know, one of the things that I've gotten involved in.
Carolyn Lazard: He was able to do that because he was like a San Francisco artist. He really hates being characterized as like a hippie or like a beatnik, but obviously was so beatnik culture. Yeah, this was like a time when like white people and that includes white artists were, in some ways differentiating themselves like through the critique of like media, which is like what generated basically what our understandings of like whiteness are.
Right? Like that, like the image of whiteness is something like that's developed in television that's developed in moving images. So there actually is a lot of criticality there, but I don't know if he would say it as explicitly, as I'm saying it.
Bruce Conner: Well, it was such an exploitation on so many levels, of social groups. Apparently, it was so close; like the person who really invented the name "beatnik" was not "Baghdad by the Bay." Mrs. [Sonia] Gechtoff, who ran the East-West Gallery—
Paul Karlstrom: Oh, really?
Bruce Conner: –invented that. And about four months later –
Paul Karlstrom: Sonia Gechtoff, is that it?
Bruce Conner: Huh?
Paul Karlstrom: Sonia?
Bruce Conner: Sonia's mother. And then – I got a real mental block against "Baghdad by the Bay," Herb Caen. About four months later, Herb Caen used the word.
Paul Karlstrom: Oh, that guy, yeah. And he gets the credit for –
Bruce Conner: And by the time he used it, then, you'd say, you'd say, "Hey, did you notice that Herb Caen used that word that Mrs. Gechtoff has been calling people?" "Oh, yeah?"
Paul Karlstrom: I can't stand Herb Caen but—
Bruce Conner: Yes. We love each other. [They laugh.]
So, anyway, my first show here in San Francisco, it was at Mrs. Gechtoff's gallery.
Paul Karlstrom: Mm-hm.
Bruce Conner: And I think at one time she took issue. The way I first heard that word was, I think because of a collage that I had – was putting into the show. The show had drawings, watercolors, painting, collages, sculptures. A pretty small gallery, it was floor to ceiling. And most of the work I had produced before I came to San Francisco, and I'd shipped it out. And she – I think it was one of the collages that she said something about, "You aren't some kind of a beatnik, are you?" At that time, Sputnik was in the news.
Paul Karlstrom: And so everything was—
Bruce Conner: And everything was with a "nik" at the ending. [They laugh.]
And I guess Kerouac had called people the "Beat Generation," and she just put a "nik" on the end of it. She died about six months later, and the gallery closed. And I had no place else to show after that.
Serge Guilbaut: And the beatnik stuff, when they call it "beatnik," okay, was it with the idea of some kind of a spiritual importance?
Bruce Conner: Oh, "beatnik" was a put-down.
Serge Guilbaut: Was it? Oh, yeah.
Bruce Conner: It was a put-down. Anybody who would use the name "beatnik" was exploiting it, you know. And there were people who would move out here from New York and do a bunch of beatnik readings at the coffeehouse or have a beatnik painting show.
Yeah. And then they would do a lot of interviews and get written up in national magazines. They would exploit that.
Carolyn Lazard: The other thing that's interesting is that like a lot of Bruce Conner films, the experimental works were like immediately collected by the library of Congress almost like right after they were made, which is kind of interesting. which of course I'm so grateful for.
But then I like put that in contrast to an artist like Emma Amos, who basically like, I have like so much storage, just full of paintings and paintings and like, I don't know what to do with them. They're just gonna like sit there until somebody decides to be interested.
So it's interesting to see these two radically different experiences of being an artist in the world where like Bruce is kind of immediately validated and taken seriously. And, you know, Amos is like sitting on artworks, like waiting for somebody to come by and say, you know, this is important. This is worthy of, conservation, exhibition.
Whereas, you know, he's showing, you know, pretty regularly and not just regularly is seen as a kind of like national treasure, you know, like two years after making a movie.
Bruce Conner: I got a call from a guy named Kipper, Library of Congress – archives–
Paul Karlstrom: No. I don't know him. That's separate from us.
Bruce Conner: Whatever they are. They want to get negatives of my films for preservation.
Paul Karlstrom: Oh, great. I hope you're going to do it.
Bruce Conner: I told them I would. They said they hadn't got the money for it yet. But it's a project they're going to try to raise the money for.
Emma Amos: I’ve never shown my paintings anywhere. I got brave about three summers ago and I took slides of everything and I marched around after all the galleries had closed. It was the dumbest thing I could do. And I got discouraged going to these places. Everybody looked at my things, which I thought were very good, and they said, well, you know, we can’t use it.
And I can remember Bertha Schaefer, before she even looked – she never even saw what I had – she just looked at me and said, “I don’t care who you are or what you are I’m booked up for the year.” I slunk out, having waited for about forty-five minutes to see her. It was altogether all the bad things you hear about trying to find a gallery.
I’ll never do it again. I will never take my things around. Because it’s too crushing and it’s too hard on you and you don’t paint after that. You just stop. No matter where you were, if you were in the middle of a painting you just can go on because you wonder what you're doing it for. You know, you can’t sell if you don’t have a gallery and it just stops you cold.
It’s terrible. All the paintings I have are in storage in my own studio, which I sublet. There’s a prospect now that I’ll be going into another studio with some other artists. And there I’ll get loaded down with more paintings again and I won’t know what to do with them.
Carolyn Lazard: I think for Emma Amos, feels consistent with honestly, what I would expect from experience as an artist at the time. I think now I'm just doing like character assessments. I think Bruce Connor seems like a kind of like, you know, resentful bitter entitled artist though.
I love his work so much. I mean, I can understand them in like more situated ways. So like, Emma Amos moving from, you know, the context of a desire for assimilation, for integration, into a historical period of Black power, essentially seeing Black institutions, Black galleries be built and how that kind of, also, know, was happening alongside, you know, kind of transformation in herself and in her own work.
And then, you know, maybe having a little bit more historical context for Bruce Connor's work, who, was making critical, you know, in some ways subversive political work, but in large ways to kind of separate himself from like the context of, of, of the production of the work, like a kind of separation from beatnik it culture, even though he was like, totally ensconced in it and then also like a total separation from all of the political activity around the Vietnam war.
The relationship between politics and aesthetics are really complicated. And I don't think that there's like a good way to articulate that relationship or a bad way to articulate that relationship.
What I am really interested in with both of these artists is the way that they navigate the art system in their time, which I think is equally prevalent for this moment. even, you know, I was really thinking a lot about how later on a lot of Bruce con's work becomes like responsive to the institution.
Like, I don't think anybody would call it institutional critique, but it is kind of like a proto institutional you know, like making paintings that say touch on them, you know, Playing with the context of exhibition playing with questions of spectatorship. So yeah, I do in some ways relate to some of that.
Some of those questions are still really, really urgent though. Maybe we explore them under different terms. but yeah, the conditions of art making production, art economy haven't shifted so much. I mean, they've just been kind of magnified, you know, in terms of like who funds these structures, how art gets chosen, what kinds of art end up in institutions?
Carolyn Lazard: I was drawn to Emma Amos because I think she an incredible artist. Who's been chronically underappreciated. so I was interested in getting access to like understanding, yeah, just more about her experience and her time. trying to get a little bit more insight into the development of her .
And even though Bruce Connor had
a lot of acknowledgement and success in his time, I also think he's an underappreciated artist. who really revolutionized our relationship to the moving image.
[Outro music plays to end]
Michelle Herman: This podcast is produced by Ben Gillespie and Michelle Herman at the Archives of American Art. It was edited by the team at Better Lemon Creative Audio
Our music comes from Sound and Smoke composed by Viet Cuong and performed by the Peabody Wind Ensemble with Harlan Parker conducting.
For show notes, work cited, and additional resources, visit aaa.si.edu/articulated.
The Archives is grateful to Carolyn Lazard for their insight, energy, and capaciousness.
We'd also like to thank Deloris Perry for her re-reading of Emma Amos's interview.
This guest-curated episode received support from the Smithsonian American Women’s History Initiative.
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The Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution is a nonprofit organization that relies on donations from individuals like you to sustain our ongoing operations and special programs like ARTiculated. To support our work, please visit aaa.si.edu/support. Thank you.