A CONVERSATION BETWEEN MARY BOONE AND PETER SAUL

Through her illustrious career, revolutionary gallerist Mary Boone has represented some of the most influential artists of our time. In a rare opportunity, we get to sit in on the conversation between one of America’s best known fine-art painters, artist Peter Saul, and Mary Boone at her gallery located on 5th Avenue in New York City.

Portrait Photography by Dustin Mansyur

From the beginning of her career, Mary Boone made a name for herself as a brash, subversive, enfant terrible of the New York art scene. David Salle, Julian Schnabel, Jean-Michel Basquiat, Barbara Kruger, Francesco Clemente, Jeff Koons, and Ai WeiWei all have been represented by Boone. Early in her career, Boone revitalized the New York art scene by creating exhibitions for young, unorthodox, avant-garde downtown artists and giving them a new platform made up of influential international collectors. Boone’s keen instinct and bold moves revolutionized the art of dealing, making her the first to have waiting lists of collectors vying to purchase works yet to be created. New York magazine once dubbed Boone “The Queen of the Art Scene”, and now over forty years later and with two New York galleries that remain internationally respected, her crown remains firmly in place.

Of the many controversial artists in Mary Boone’s kingdom, Peter Saul, known for his cartoonish lampoon of American political figures and anti-war commentaries, is perhaps one of the leading contenders. Saul’s fantastic representations of American politics painted in his signature psychedelic, hyper-saturated palette, paired with historical influences and intellectual irreverence, have opened the interpretive, and at times controversial, dialogue between politics and pop culture. Educated in Europe in the 1950’s and keeping his art career under theradar through most of his life, Peter Saul found a champion in Mary Boone, who helped him claim his rightful title as one of the top contemporary artists in the US.

In the library of her uptown gallery in New York City, Iris Covet Book captured a conversation between the notoriously pressshy Mary Boone and Peter Saul as they discuss the history of the gallery, the politics of fine art, and painting Donald Trump.

So, Peter, to start from the beginning, you began your career in Europe in ‘56, correct?

Yes, and I started showing here in New York in 1962; it was my first show in New York City. I’ve been showing all these years but it hadn’t been appreciated until recently. I’ve had some success in Europe over the years, which is great. That’s really kept me going a lot of the time. In the ‘90s I sold a lot of work in Europe, very inexpensively, but for a college professor it seemed like a miracle of finances. Like, “Wow, 20,000 bucks!” You buy a new car and it’s just wonderful. I didn’t look any further than that. I suffered from modesty somewhat, and now I’m much less modest. Now I grumble at small amounts of money. (laughing)

My early days as a gallerist…I mean it was really a hard struggle too. People kind of think it must have been really glamorous. I worked as a secretary at Bykert for Klaus [Kertess], then the gallery closed and I went off on my own in ‘77. And when I was at Bykert, I met an artist named Ross Bleckner. I put him in a group show in Bykert, and he was showing with me and with Paula Cooper. In those days artists would try different galleries and find which one sells, which one fits. So when I opened my own gallery, he introduced me to a lot of his friends from CalArts, and that included David Salle, Eric Fischl, Barbara Kruger, Julian Schnabel and Jeff Koons and a lot of other artists. So, I met artists through word of mouth from other artists.

But you have to remember that at the time no one believed in any of the artists I was showing, no one believed in them. No one wanted to see them or hear about them. They were either unknown or too hyped. People didn’t believe in Schnabel or Basquiat or Sally or Fischl, or even Brice Marden. Jean-Michel [Basquiat] and I met when he was 19; he decided he wanted to show in my gallery because he wanted to show with all these other artists who he thought were really good artists. And I was really very, reticent, like, “Is this right?” but he was really a wonderful person, so sweet to me and really a good artist. I showed Francis Picabia in 1983 and got a scathing review from The Times about it.

They’re so dumb!

They said it was a terrible show and that I was just trying to trick the art world. There was this conspiracy theory that I was making fun of art or artists, but eventually they started to believe in them.

It is easy to kind of glamorize things in retrospect, but mostly I like artists that are challenging. I mean, you are challenging. Even though you were not young chronologically, you were really young as an artist. The paintings weren’t just flying off the wall like they are now. It was hard to sell them, but to me you are such a master and such a forward thinker; everybody should want to be grabbing them up. But it takes a long time to make an artist. How were you exposed to the art world in your early career?

Well, I met [art collector] Allan Frumkin, he was very important to me. I accepted a certain amount of money every month for my work. He would show up one day of the year and pick which pieces of mine he wanted and then leave again, and I could do whatever with the ones that were left. This lasted for about 30 years; it was a long relationship. From 1960 through 1990. The last time he arranged a show of my work was ‘97 I believe, so this is 37 years of activity. During this time I took the opportunity to not mess with business. I just enjoyed my life. Unfortunately, I was looking backwards when I decided to be an artist in 1950. I was looking to the 19th century: you have a lot of cigarettes to smoke, wake up late in the morning,  work on your picture, there is a beautiful woman in your life, there is a room you call a studio, you look at the painting, and that’s it. That’s your life, you know. You don’t worry about any business or anything, and I was encouraged in this attitude by my art teachers.

My life was very simple, and not lived fully up until the decision to move to New York City in ‘97, and I thought “Why not normalize my career?” I realized at that point it depends a lot on the artist. You have to present yourself to the buyers, and I hadn’t done this before. I simply hadn’t shown up. I did everything I could to make my paintings attractive and interesting, but I personally didn’t show up, hardly ever. This was weird, and I suddenly realized this was weird, so I said [to myself ], “Hey, from now on, be normal.” So, we showed up. By then I was with Sally, we were in Austin, and I retired from my job at age 66 and came here to proceed with you.

Peter Saul, Nightwatch, 88” by 128”, acrylic/canvas, 1974-1975 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York.

Peter Saul, QuackQuack, Trump, 78” by 120”, acrylic/canvas, 2017 ©Peter Saul. Courtesy Mary Boone Gallery, New York

We were meant to be.

A lot of it is just showing up and being a nice person. Sally and I show up, we’re nice people, we get along, and that is very attractive because most of the time artists who are married don’t get along. I didn’t know this, but this is the way it is. This has helped us to be liked by important people in the art world who think we are attractive to work with because we get along with each other. It’s crazy, but it’s the truth. You have to be a nice person.

That’s true!

It’s not enough to make an interesting picture or whatever.

Do you think the newfound appreciation you’ve been experiencing has to do with the times?

I guess so.

I remember remarking at your first show that the average age of the audience was like 22. There was us and then all these 20 year-olds. You have become a mentor to a lot of young artists.

It’s true. It’s a blessing; it’s a good sign.

In speaking of mentorships, influencing and teaching, are there any important mentorships or up-and-coming young artists that you are working with, Peter?

Well for example, Erik Parker is an artist that was in my art class, he showed up at some point in the ‘90s and is now in the art world. He has shown some flexibility, he’s stuck around, and he is now going to have a show at this gallery. So I have him and others from Texas. I don’t know… people introduce themselves to me and say, “I remember your art class!” and then say something I never would have said, but that’s okay, I just let it pass. I don’t concentrate on what has already happened, I try to keep my mind open for the painting I’m working on and that’s pretty much it; I’m not a historian.

Well that’s good, because then you’re not looking in the past, you’re always looking forward.

Yeah it’s important not to get hung up. If you’ve been around for 40 or 50 years, it’s easy to begin getting interested in research into those years, and what did you do and all of that stuff, but that’s deadening. Likewise, I like to show at a gallery where there is one person in charge and it’s not a corporate thing. What I don’t like is when a gallery has a selection of people that is based on age and gender and stuff. When they’re like, “Well, we have four male artists in their 70’s, so we got enough of them. Let’s get three women between the ages of 30 and 40.” That kind of thing is nonsense. I like the individuality of this gallery, that’s why I’m here really.

Oh, I love that you said that! I do think of artists in terms of their individuality, I’m not trying to make a movement. So many of the galleries now are going towards assigning different staff members to artists, and I think it is impersonal. I always thought the greatest thing was becoming friends with the artist and having a relationship.

Yes, we want to, sort of, “skip” the corporate scene, don’t we?

I think that it’s ruining the art world. What are your thoughts on the art world today?

Well, I’m seeing a lot more shows than I want because my wife, Sally Saul, who makes ceramic sculpture, is extremely interested in art and what’s going on. She insists that I see a lot of shows. Today we’re going to the Outsider Art Fair, I think, and then to the Tom Laskowski opening, and then a group show where a painting of mine that belongs to Joe Bradley is being shown. Sally insists on a certain number of days a month we go see art. So, I see more art.

And you live in Germantown, so you have to travel a couple of hours to get here.

Yeah, but it’s relaxing to be on the train. You want to take a pause often from the painting so you can rethink certain areas that you’re working on. Painting for me is a slow thing, it gets done in various stages, it develops. And the next development came clear to me this morning so it can happen tomorrow.

We had a chance to show your recent Trump pieces a few months ago. What has the response been to them and have you experienced any backlash?

No, I don’t think so. I’ve treated Trump tenderly compared to the other Presidents I have painted. The most psychotic looking one was actually one of the first, Nixon. I tore the guy apart like he was in the hands of a serial killer or something: bad news. I hope for no particular response, but Trump is a good subject. I didn’t vote for him anymore than anyone else I know. 83% of New York voted for Hillary. I don’t know why she isn’t President. She won the election, but because of the electoral college she isn’t sitting in the Oval Office. As far as I know, Trump is not aware of me. He probably thinks of me as some loser artist. He looks at my prices and goes “This is cheap! He’s a loser, he’s a loser!”

“It’s fake! It’s fake art!” (both laughing)

No, but I’m not looking for trouble. I’m looking for subject.

For more information visit maryboonegallery.com

STUDIO VISITS – CHLOE WISE

Chloe Wise is the New York artist capturing a 21st century zeitgeist through dark humor and fake food, dripping alfredo sauce over gluten-free ideas, the artist’s work offers an at-times scathing critique on capitalism that challenges our obsession with health, beauty, and luxury in modern America.


Portrait Photography by Tiffany Nicholson Interview by Ashleigh Kane
Dress (worn as a blouse) by Marc Jacobs, trousers, hat, and shoes artist’s own

“I can’t remember a time where art wasn’t the focus of my life. Even as I’m speaking to you now, I’m drawing. It’s just what my hand is always doing.” Chloe Wise is speaking over the phone from her studio in Alphabet City, New York, reminiscing about growing up in an energetically creative household. The 26-year-old artist recalls being a child and sitting in restaurants with her mom and drawing portraits of one-another on the paper table cloths. Born in Montreal, Canada, Wise says that she’s been making art since she was six or seven-years-old. She laughs when she realizes her style is essentially the same, two decades on. Always encouraged to pursue what she “obviously showed an interest in”, Wise moved to New York in the midst of graduating high school in 2013 and completed the remainder of her classes online. Once there, she began to work as an assistant to Brad Troemel, one of the artists behind the Jogging, a tumblr blog which tapped into the viral possibilities of art on the internet.

In late 2014, friend and fellow artist India Salvör Menuez wore one of Wise’s sculptures to an event – a life-like cream cheese bagel bag adorned with a Chanel logo. The internet went into meltdown. It didn’t take fashion sleuths long to realize that the bag wasn’t from the French fashion house but was instead created by a then-little-known artist named, Chloe Wise. It was her moment, but it’s also a milestone in her career that she doesn’t want to talk about, explaining, “If you want to copy and paste everything I have said before, you have my permission to do that.” But it’s for no reason other than she’d rather tell you about her latest work. Her most recent exhibition was hosted by Paris’s Almine Rech Gallery. Titled Of false beaches and butter money, it was a witty takedown of wellness culture that included oil paintings and sculpture, and contained the elements that have thus far been key to Wise’s success: great aesthetics and even better humour, the latter which she says she uses as an “access point” to draw people in. Come a little closer and you’ll quickly realize that Wise’s work is about more than a punchline, and below she let’s us in on the joke.

Lactose Tolerance, 2017

Inceste de Citron, 2017

Can you talk about your first experiences making art?

I was making video art when I was six or seven-years-old. One time I made a fake brand which was a combination of Sprite and some other found liquid in the fridge and I made a commercial for it.

When I was 13, 14, I had a webcam and I would take it off of the computer and bring it with me to school or to Florida. I made this film about lettuce being the essence of beauty which was a parody of Zoolander where water was the essence of wetness. Everyone is just holding pieces of lettuce and it has a Sigur Rós song in the background, but it’s pretty funny. It makes me think I have the same sense of humour now that I had when I was 14.

At the time did you realize that what you were making was art?

It wasn’t so thought out but growing up all my notebooks were always covered in drawings. I was always creating something. I guess I was making work with the tools that were available to me. There was no awareness of what that meant or what it would come to signify. I think it was mostly just a reflex to the muscles that were growing as the internet started to gain popularity.

When do you think you really began to embark on your career as an artist?

I don’t think I knew I was doing that, I was just making stuff. After I started assisting Brad, I began to be in group shows with friends, and that felt like a very natural thing. We were all supporting each other, putting on shows, and working together in whatever capacity. I got offered a solo show, and that’s when I stopped working for other artists and started taking my art seriously as a full-time job. The show was in Montreal and it was called Pissing, shmoozing and looking away (2015). I was also offered another solo show which would exhibit later that year called, That’s something else, my sweet (2015). During the process of making those, the bread bag thing happened. It was like this whirlwind, and from then on it was very clear to me that there would be nothing else except for the continual creation of the things that I felt like I had to make.

Was that sudden glare of a spotlight scary?

No. I’ve never been someone who has been shy, self-conscious, or freaked out about an overwhelming amount of involvement. I am best under pressure, and I’m always under pressure. It was funny, exciting, overwhelming – but in a nice way.

Food has always been present in your work. Why are you drawn to food?

It’s not that I’m drawn to food. Food has always been apart of this conversation with art history, or with us just communicating our Zeitgeist, or our moment in time. Aside from the landscape, it’s one of the most obvious subjects in traditional painting, and I think my work is traditional in that way. Regarding food now, we have such abundance and availability in terms of variation. Walking into a store decades ago would’ve looked a lot different than it does now. There’s this idea around the way that things are marketed to individuals, and how the more that we seek to be individuals, the less we assimilate.

My use of food also talks about other parts of humanity and human experience, such as desire and mortality. The human body comes into this beautiful full form and then it decays and dies, and that’s reality – and that’s the same conversation we can have about food.

Your titles are always brilliant. Tell us about the meaning behind the title of your last show, Of false beaches and butter money?

The ‘false beaches’ part is from Picasso, who, in three different poems he wrote ‘false as a beach’. It kept running through my head, and I realized that this false beach is like a Corona ad; an idyllic paradise image with a blue sky and a yellow umbrella. I was thinking about that falseness and the contrived nature of some utopian ideas and to me, that was a really interesting segue into how my work is about real versus fake. I

t’s a real sculpture, but it also looks like the real thing it’s based on so there is this line between how you even define what real is and what fake is. At what point would the real thing become less valuable? Because the real thing would be a piece of lettuce or something.

The other half, ‘butter money’, is a french idiom that goes, ‘Vouloir le beurre, l’argent du beurre et le cul de la crémière’, which means, ‘you want the butter, the butter money and the milk maid’s ass’. It has the same meaning as ‘you want to have your cake and eat it too.’ It’s about this human desire to be doing the right thing, even though we are just truly ruining the entire planet.

For example, you think that choosing quinoa is the healthy choice, but quinoa completely deforests South America, and is making it completely unsustainable for anybody living there to even come close to meeting their needs. They can’t even eat their own quinoa because they can’t even afford their own quinoa because you’ve priced them out. There’s no real right thing to do, so we’re constantly settling for what we think is an okay decision in a vast array of bad decisions.

There’s no real moral thing and if we spiral too deep into that then we realize everything sucks. It’s hard to not partake in a Capitalist society because we all have a part in it. As humans, we are flawed and we are critical of our decision making processes, and that’s what my show is really about. The ‘want to have your cake and eat it too’ idea is a very distilled version of this desire that we have to be congratulated, or at least to be excused from the conversation because we did our part and now we can stop trying.

 
Dress (worn as a blouse) by Marc Jacobs, trousers and shoes artist’s own

You would have been a castle for a moment, 2016

 

You’ll Go Blind Looking For It, 2017

Your works over the years have explored different issues and politics, have the issues you explore over the years changed?

I think everyone has become a lot more politicized in the sense that it’s become urgent, and it’s not a luxury anymore. Politics is something that we have to speak about. The difference between my politics then and now is my sense of responsibility, because I have a bigger platform. I’m not perfect; I don’t understand exactly what needs to be done or how I will go forward. I’m inconsistent like every human is, but I think that’s what all my art is about; human inconsistency. But I’m figuring it out and learning to share. It’s very natural for me to share what I’m thinking about.

The content of my work is the same, I’m just thinking of other ways of being critical of consumerism and capitalism. As well as trying to exist within it, and benefit from it. Then realising at the same time, that benefiting from it is a problem. So it’s this weird place that we’re in as consumers. As Americans, every single thing that we do is utilised for the benefit of the big brands. Every single thing we do is “Big-Brothered”, in a sense.

There’s something cynical about thinking about this and there is also something very important in acknowledging it. I was acknowledging that on a smaller scale at different times in my life; when I was vegetarian, or when I was making the tampons (Irregular Tampons, 2014). It’s always been the same voice, it’s just a matter of how and what is coming to the table.

You’ve worked widely across various mediums, do you find yourself gravitating towards one in particular now?

It’s just based on what I have to do at a certain time. I like to construct because I’m so all over the place and multifaceted that I need something to give me direction. The mediums are all interconnected and they all inform each other, but painting seems to have a lot of commercial demand, so that’s something I’m focusing on.

Can you talk about the way you use humor? On first glance, people might think of your works as ‘funny’ but looking deeper and hearing you speak about them, it’s clear that they are not just ‘funny’.

I think you can say that they’re funny because when it comes down to the obviously dark and depressing aspects of the works, I don’t think that is what you read when you first see them. It would be cool if it was but then maybe the work wouldn’t have the same impact. I think that satire and comedy have long been the way that we can negotiate, unpack, and work through life’s most unfunny cruelties. That’s how we handle getting through this conversation without dying of a broken heart. That’s part of the human need to create art in general – or create anything – by re-negotiating it, or re-representing it in a way that could be funny, beautiful, moving or sad. Being ‘too real’ doesn’t necessarily get the job done, so I think calling it funny is not a disservice. Humour is my cheap trick and I use it as an access point, but it would not be the final destination.

What advice would you give to someone who needed it?

Don’t question yourself.

 

Hair by Austin Burns using Oribe, Makeup by Tonya Riner using NARS cosmetics, Art Direction by Louis Liu, Editor Marc Sifuentes, Production by Benjamin Price.

All Artwork © Chloe Wise / Photo Rebecca Fanuele / Courtesy Chloe Wise and Almine Rech Gallery

For more information visit chloewise.com