ArticlesBlog

Lawrence Weschler Lecture

Lawrence Weschler Lecture


SPEAKER 1: Thank you. Thank you all for coming. I hope everyone
has a place to sit. Good. Welcome. This is the second
series of lectures this year called The Great
Nonfiction Writers Lecture Series. So it’s a biannual
series of lectures of what we consider to be
work from exceptionally good writers of nonfiction. And it’s organized by the
nonfiction writing program in the English department. We will be having two other
speakers next semester. One is human rights
journalist Jimmie Briggs in March and in April, the
documentary film director, Rory Kennedy in April. So and– come on in. So my name is Carol [INAUDIBLE]. And I have the privilege of
teaching in the nonfiction writing program. But before we go
any further, I need to thank all the–
all the people [INAUDIBLE] that have helped
bring these series together. And we’re really grateful to
Hillel tonight for hosting this and also to the Molly B.
[? Mandivon ?] lectureship and the Zucker Family Endowment,
the Goldway [? Cherie ?] family, the department
of art and architecture, department of
comparitive literature, department of modern
culture and media, and the [INAUDIBLE] Center
for [INAUDIBLE],, [INAUDIBLE],, the Colgate Institute
for the Humanities, Pembroke Center for Teaching
and Research on Women and Gender and Sexuality Studies, the
Center for the Study of Race and Ethnicity in America, and
Sarah Doyle Women’s Center. Just a little background about
the nonfiction writing program, if you haven’t heard of us. It was organized in 1997 by
lecturist Beth Taylor and Larry Stanley who were co-directors. And over the last 20 years– where’s my second
page, it’s here– –the program has
expanded to encompass traditional composition courses,
journalism, both digital and print, and a host of
creative intermediate and advanced writing courses
in such nonfiction fields as writing about travel and
food, memoir, testimony, historical narrative,
personal essays, and literary and cultural
journalism, science writing, biography, and other
forms of creative nonfiction. So the program is
one of the tracks within the English
department that leads to an undergraduate
degree in English. But we teach students from
a host of other disciplines. And our graduates
we are so proud of have gone on to write
for such institutions as the New Yorker, New York
Times, major magazines, various newspapers,
online news outlets, and to pursue MFAs in writing
at major institutions. A Number number also go to
law school or medical school, do graduate work in
English or writing, and teach in secondary school. To paraphrase Walt
Whitman, we are legions. And our speaker tonight
is Lawrence Weschler, who is the adjunct
professor of English in the nonfiction writing
program this year. And he’ll be [INAUDIBLE]
titled, The Fraught Crossroads. It’s a nice long one where race,
class, sex, and violence keep intersecting across
America’s history and who gets to address it. So I’m hoping that you will
please welcome Professor Lawrence Weschler. [APPLAUSE] LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Thank you. Thank you so much. I’m really pleased
there’s so many of you. I’m kind of honored. Is this a microphone that
makes it louder or otherwise– OK, so, if I start to lose
my voice, just yell at me and I’ll talk louder or
slower or whatever you want. I may talk a little bit
fast because actually what’s happened in this
lecture is that I’ve folded two lectures into one. So it’s got a lot
of things going on. Anyway, I always start– people that are taking
my class this year know that I always start with
an evening or afternoon prayer. In this case, especially
here at Hillel, although this is not a
Jewish poem actually, I want to start with
the great, great poem by Wallace Stevens that
many of you already know, The Anecdote of the Jar. “I placed a jar in Tennessee,
and round it was, upon a hill. It made the slovenly
wilderness surround that hill. The wilderness rose up to
it, and sprawled around, no longer wild. The jar was round upon
the ground and tall and of a port in air. It took dominion everywhere. The jar was gray and bare. It did not give a bird
or bush like nothing else in Tennessee,” So I’m going to start– eventually I’m going to get
to the subject of the– one of the next books I’m writing. But I’m going to start with
a relatively recent event at the Whitney. Do we want turned down the
lights I guess at this point or, yeah. What’s causing that, I wonder? [INTERPOSING VOICES] LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Is
that the door that’s– [INTERPOSING VOICES] LAWRENCE WESCHLER:
Oh, that’s funny. It is the windows. That’s really funny. Oh well. Anyway, some of you may recall
that about four or five months ago at the Whitney Biennial,
there was a bit of a fracas. There were two paintings. This one on the left
was much larger. In any case for the sake of– I wrote a piece
about it, which I wasn’t able to even get
published in the United States, oddly enough. But I published it in Europe. And I explained to
people that these were two paintings that were in
the current Whitney Biennial. And they’d caused a great– one of them had caused
a great controversy. The one on the left
is by a white person. The one on the Black is, the
artist is a Black person. And there was
suddenly great protest about the right of the white
person to do the painting. There was a woman named Hannah
Black who identified herself, identified herself
as an artist writer. She’d been the
critical studies fellow at the Whitney’s own independent
study program the year before. And she wrote a petition
which quickly got all kinds of signatures from
all sorts of people, white and Black, and said that
quote, “Although the artist’s intention may be to
present white shame, this shame is not
correctly represented as a painting of a dead
black boy by a white artist. Those non-black
artists who sincerely wish to highlight the shameful
nature of white violence should first of all start
stop treating black pain as raw material. The subject matter
is not theirs. White free speech and
white creative freedom have been founded on the
constraints of others and are not natural rights. The painting must go.” Elsewhere, she went on to note
how the painting in question depicts the dead body of a
14-year-old, Emmett Till– oh, wait, wait, wait wait. That’s the white one
on the other side. And this is the black one. AUDIENCE: Yes. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Did
anything change for you just now, by the way? This is, of course,
Philando Castile, the guy who was killed,
remember, with the– his girlfriend videotaping
it as it was happening. And the other is Emmett Till. And this is by the
artist Henry Taylor. He’s a Los Angeles artist. This one there is by
Dana Schutz, a white, indeed, a white artist. And that is a picture of Emmett
Till that Dana Schutz did. It’s, by the way,
very unfortunate that it was allowed
to be photographed. I don’t know whether it was– the demand was that it
not only be taken down, but it be destroyed. It was so, so, so much violated
what kind of Black felt and what many,
many people signed onto that no white artist
had a right to portray this. Whether or not it
should be destroyed, it probably shouldn’t
have been photographed. Because you really can’t
get a sense of the way the painting works. It’s really built up. And the face is really,
really built up. It comes out, you know,
quite far from the canvas. And then it’s slashed
across the middle. It’s very violent. And it recalls a particular
historical incident that in 1955– this is before
Montgomery bus boycott. It’s before a whole
series of things, but it’s one of things
that got them going. A Chicago boy is
down in Mississippi, in the town of
Money, Mississippi. And he’s 14 years old. He’s kind of, perhaps, somewhat
brasher than the local kids. In any case, the allegation
is that he whistled or he made comments about
a shopkeeper, the cashier at a store. a woman. And he was subsequently taken
out and so viciously beaten, so horribly, horribly beaten
and then left for dead. And that when he– when he
was returned to Chicago, his mother, rather than allow
the usual practice of a closed casket, insisted that
the casket be left open and that everybody see that her
son’s face was twice the size it had been. He was almost, you
know, huge melon. That’s Hannah Black there. And, anyway, she
wanted, quote, “Let the people see what I
have seen,” she said. And that vision
and that photograph really is one of the
major things that starts the civil rights movement
in the year that follows, in the years that follow. Black, however, says,
quote, “that even the disfigured corpse
of a child was not sufficient to move the
white gaze from the habitual cold calculations
is evident daily in a myriad of ways,
not least the fact that this painting
exists at all. In brief, the
painting should not be acceptable to anyone
who cares or pretends to care about Black
people because it is not acceptable
for a white person to transmute black suffering
into profit and fun, though practice has been
normalized for far too long.” And so forth and
she, anyway, she goes on to make various things. And there were people
standing in demonstration, as you can see, in front of
the painting, saying, you know, that this was for profit. Dana Schutz said,
first of all, she wasn’t selling the
painting, secondly, that she had done it precisely
as it was something that had been her response to Black
Lives Matter and her claim that she was responding as
the recent mother of a baby and as one mother to
a mother that this was her response, what it would
be like as fellow mothers to have to deal with this. In any case– there’s
Dana Schutz, by the way– this threw into relief
for me a project that I’ve been
working on and had been intending to work
on for many, many years. And it is the work by an artist
named Ed Kienholz some of you may know. Ed Kienholz is a white artist. He grew up during the depression
in rural Washington state on a wheat farm that
was in very, very, very perilous circumstances. He learned how to do a little
bit of everything– mechanic, a plumber, all sorts of things. When he eventually
shows up in Los Angeles, he puts on the side of
his truck the word expert. And, indeed, that’s how he
makes his living for his time. He would just drive around. And People would say,
can you fix this car? Can you fix this,
you know, this fence? And he could fix anything. He was a very kind
of man of the West. He loved hunting. He was kind of a– he
was no simple liberal. He was a libertarian. His politics were very much
independent of the West. He was very proud of
not being a city wussie, that he had those incredible
battery of talents. He was one of the founders,
along with Walter Hopps, of, arguably, the most important
gallery on the west coast in the 20th century,
the Ferus Gallery, which is where you get
people like, it began showing Jay DeFeo, Richard
Diebenkorn, Robert Irwin, Ed Moses, Billy Al Bengston,
a whole slew of people. It’s the place where the
very first show of Morandi ever took place in the United
States, the Italian artist. It was this very, very vibrant
thing in the late 50s in LA. And Kienholz himself kept
in the back of his gallery that they were doing
this little tiny closet where he made his own work. Again, as I say, he was– he was a rascal. He was a trickster. He was constantly bartering
and trading and so forth. He tells the story that
when he first arrived in LA, he came with wisdom– an
inflamed wisdom tooth. And he heard about a dentist who
would trade dentistry for art. And he thought he’d
landed in heaven. And initially, he
would make things out of wood, just clapboard
with using brooms as his paint brushes. This is his version
of Leda and the Swan. Presently, he began making
more three dimensional objects, things he would find at junk
shops or at flea markets, in this case, a response to
the Little Rock desegregation decision and also a thing
that references, basically, the Holocaust in a way. He began collecting all
sorts of odd things. There he is. Making, in this case,
it was called John Doe. And it’s a kind of Mad Men,
kind of a business man, an empty businessman
on a stroller. That’s Irving Blum next to
him, one of the other dealers. Irving Blum once said to me
about Ed’s politics, which were kind of rancorous, he
said, just a quarter turn of the screw, just
a quarter turn and we could have had Adolf
Hitler all over again. But he then, at a
certain point, began going from these little
objects, these little statues to making entire tableaus. His mother had
been very Christian and had done the nativity
scenes every Christmas. He had helped her with it. And so he did two–
his first two tableaus. One of them was
called the nativity. And you can see that Mary
is made out of a heater vent and baby Jesus has
a clock in his– no, this is actually
an alarm, like a alarm kind of beeping thing. Joseph has the little,
he’s been [INAUDIBLE] and so he has a little horse
coming out of his waist there. So anyway, this was
called the nativity. This was his sacred thing. And then, at the same time,
he made an astonishing piece called Roxy’s which
was a recreation, a surrealistic recreation of
a brothel of the sort that was very popular in Las Vegas. You can go around there. There’s seats over there. But anyway, and you can see
that was the madam whose head was made out of a cow’s head. The girls were, in this
case, part of a mannequin with a clock in her belly. And here was a girl who
was on a treadle machine. And you could go up
to it and go like that and her legs would
fly in the air. I mean, very, very brutal,
but at the same time, with incredible
attention to detail. And from there, he began doing
a whole series of pieces. I grew up in Los
Angeles in the 60s. And these were scandalous
pieces all the time. One of the most
famous was called Back Seat Dodge where he
took an actual dodge and he collapsed it. And if you opened the door,
which you were encouraged to do, you suddenly
found this couple in the back seat
of teenagers who were groping for each other. But the thing that
was very powerful was that when you opened the
door and you looked inside and you saw this,
back there, there was a mirror on the
window that showed your own abashed
scandalized face. And he was very often
played off of that. What’s interesting
is that in 19– just very quickly– in 1966,
when the new LA County Museum had just been opened
in its current place on Wilshire
Boulevard in Midtown, the very first
contemporary art show was a show of his tableaus. And this created a huge uproar. The history of art in LA
is a history of politicians once every 5 years, 10
years get completely outraged by some scandalous
piece of pornography or obscenity or political
incorrectness which they have to protect the population from. In this case, the head of
the board of supervisors riled up all of his– he
wanted to run for governor. His name was Dorn, Warren Dorn. He was the head of the LA
county board of supervisors. He was odds on favorite to win
the Republican gubernatorial nomination. And he demanded that this
whole show be shut down. And Kienholz, who
was very savvy, said well, no, no, you
should come and least see it. So he invited to Warren Dorn and
Kenny Hahn, another supervisor, to walk through the
show by themselves after it had been put up,
but before it was opened. And when they walked
into the beanery– excuse me, not
the beanery– when they walked into Roxy’s,
they both started talking to each other. This is incredible. Do you remember these places? It was exactly like this in
Las Vegas after we came back. Those are like amazing. And they were just by
themselves talking about this. And, you know, look,
he’s even got that right. And this is just like at
the end of the Korean War, there was this. You remember that
place out on Route– they were having this
whole conversation. There was, by the way,
all kinds of cartoons. It’s horrible! Close the door! It’s the board of
supervisors in there. Anyway, so at the end of
their tour, they showed up and Kienholz was waiting for
them with a tape recorder upon which he had taped them
having their conversation. And suddenly, they
had– they surrendered. And basically, they
allowed the show to open as long as there was
a guard standing in front of the Back Seat Dodge
that would control who came and got to open the door. The fascinating
thing– watch out for what you wish for
in stories like this because Warren Dorn
was odds-on going to be the governor in 1966. And after the scandal and
the complete collapse, the farce of this whole
thing, a completely unknown B-movie actor named
Ronald Reagan instead got the Republican
nomination, became governor. So be careful what you wish for. Anyway, some of
his other pieces, just to give you a sense,
this is just a piece called The Illegal Operation. This is at a time before
abortion had been legalized. This is a back seat abortion,
a backyard abortion. He did a recreation
of a beanery where the artists used to hang out,
a bar called Barney’s Beanery. And you could walk into it. And as you can see, all
the denizens of the bar have clocks for faces. And they’re just
killing time, basically. Outside, as you entered, there
was a headline, “Children Kill Children in Vietnam Riots.” But none of that is
being reflected in here. They’re just kind of
wasting their time. And in any case, that’s
Ed’s self-portrait there in the corner. Another piece that
you might know if you’ve been to the
Whitney is called The Wait. And it’s the portrait of
a widow, an old widow, her memories jugged around
her like a necklace of jars with different
memories of her life. She’s waiting to die. She’s made out of cow bones. And in the corner, whenever
the show is up at the Whitney, you kind of hear
this bird chirping through all the other
stuff you’re looking at it. And it turns out, there’s
a parakeet in the show. Another piece he did,
by the way, which is– let me just actually
go back here– called The State Mental
Hospital or The State Hospital based on his own
work when he had been younger in a state hospital. And you would go up. And you would look inside. You could only look
inside that grill. And what you would see would
be two mental patients. And it’s interesting
because one of them– both of them have
goldfish bowls for heads. This one’s empty. And that one has
a goldfish in it. The point is, he did some– he was doing some pretty
powerful stuff at. A certain point, he began
doing conceptual pieces where you could by–
he would have a plaque. And you could– in one
case, for x amount of money, you could buy, in this
case, the world, which was a thing that he was going to
put a cement, a bunch of cement in the ground and
then he was going to sign the world as the biggest
found object anybody had ever found. And if you paid him,
he would do that. You could own it. A rather extraordinary
piece he proposed was the non-war memorial. And this was really something. Because it was– he had
come up with an idea. This is before Maya Lin’s
Vietnam memorial in the time after as the war
was winding down. And he proposed
that there be a– he had a place that he
would go to in the summer up in Hope, Idaho where
the Clark Fork River enters Lake Pend Oreille,
north of Couer d’Alene, east of Sandpoint, if you
know that part of the world. And so it’s very marshland. And he proposed buying 58,000
army surplus pants and 58,000 army surplus shirts and
having a small factory where people would sew the hands
of the– the arms of the shirts and the legs of the pants. And then they were sew
them into each other. And then they would fill
them with slurried mud from the marsh and just
throw them into the marsh. He wanted to see
how long it would take to create that
much death, 58,000 being the number of American troops. And he would invite people
to come and identify their own children. And so this is all
before– this was at a time when nobody was talking
about memorializing the war. Anyway, the point is, he could
do some really powerful things. There are some seats over
here if you’re looking, just go there. Anyway, the point of all this
is to lead up to the point that in 1968 when Martin
Luther King was assassinated– and shortly after that, Robert
Kennedy, and before that Malcolm X, and before that the
three people who were killed, Schwerner and
Goodman and Chaney. They were Freedom
Summer workers. Anyway, after Martin Luther
King’s assassination, he decided that he was going
to take on the subject of race in America in a big piece. In those days, he lived on top
of a hill above Laurel Canyon. You had to walk up 58
steps to get to his home. And he was building this piece. It was eventually going to be
a piece called Five Car Stud. It was going to include
five cars, which he had to carry up piece
by piece up the thing to do it up there. And then he was
doing all these– as he often did, he made plaster
of Paris mold of actual people and turned them and used them
and dressed them and so forth. Here he is. Let’s see if I can get– this is a scene from a
television documentary at the time. Let’s see. AUDIENCE: Oh yeah, that
sound doesn’t work. Oh, the sound doesn’t work. OK, sorry. Anyway, he’s just describing. He’s up there in his house. He’s describing the different
pieces, parts that he’s made– I suppose it’s not that
interesting without the sound– and how he does it and how he’s
thinking about adding things. He’s got these cars up
there that he literally has brought up fender
by fender and so forth. He’s working on the piece. And and they’re
talking about it. So since the sound
is not there, we’ll just go to the next thing. The point is that it took him
two years to do this piece. It was finished in 1970. It was supposed to be
shown in Los Angeles. But it was way, way,
way too horrible, too harrowing to be seen in LA. So they shipped it to
New York where it was going to be seen in New York. And it was way, way,
way too harrowing to be shown in New York. And then it was– the Tate was
going to show it in London. And when it got to London,
it was way, way, way too horrible to be seen in London. So this is now 1972. Eventually, it is
shown at Documenta, which is an art fair in the
town of Kassel in Germany. They built this whole, a tent
pavilion, like, you know, where they have tennis
courts and so forth. It’s a huge black pavilion. And, indeed, it was just
this horrendous thing. And oddly enough, it was bought
there by a Japanese museum. It was put on the
Trans-Siberian railroad to go to Japan where
parts of it were stolen. It arrived in Japan. And the Japanese
were convinced– the customs people
were convinced that they were trying to
bring drugs into the country. And they stripped all the cars. And by the time it arrived
in Japan at the museum, it was pretty much demolished. And the Japanese did the
classically Japanese thing at that moment, which is they
put it in storage for 40 years until everybody was dead
and just disappeared. And it existed throughout
those 40 years as a rumor. People, some people had
seen it and described it to their friends and so forth. But then, you might remember
that the Getty a few years back did Pacific Standard Time,
which was this whole celebration of LA art. And one of the things
they did is they, the museum founder,
the museum curator, Ed himself had all
died in the meantime. But they shipped
it to Hope, Idaho where his widow supervised
the reconstruction based on detailed photographs. And it was shown in
LA for two months. It was then– it went
to Louisiana museum in Denmark, which is
a great, great museum. And it was supposed to
then tour Louisiana– tour Europe for a year, come
back to the United States, tour the United
States for a year. And then it was
going to be sold. And it looked like the
Museum of Modern Art was going to buy it and
put it permanently at PS1. But art capitalism
being what it is, before it even began its
first stop on the tour after the museum
in Denmark, it was bought by the Prada
Foundation in Milan. And so this piece,
which is arguably one of the most important
pieces on race relations in
American history, has been seen in the United
States for two months in Los Angeles and no more. Having said that,
there are people who have questions about whether
it should be seen at all. Let me give you a sense of
what it’s like to go to see it. You walk in. It’s a space three or four
times as big as this room here. And it’s very fine, powdery
dirt, a thick layer of it on the ground. So that as you walk in, your
steps suddenly are much more muffled and so forth. And your shoes kind of
fall into the powder. Way, way up in the distance,
something is going on. You see a bunch of cars, but
you can’t quite see what it is. I made a little film
on my iPhone, actually. Let’s see here. And I won’t– it’s fairly
long, but so you’re walking up. And as you come
up toward it, you can see there’s a crowd
over in the corner. At first, whoops, I’m sorry,
I didn’t mean to do that. I keep doing this. I’m trying to stop it. So let’s go back. So let me just
stop for a second. So at first, you just see
these car lights and so forth. You see basically
four cars that are kind of star-like formation. And then there’s a
truck off to the side. And as you’re walking
toward it, you can see that there’s
a man standing with his arm on the truck,
a big guy with a fat belly with his arm on the open door
of the truck, a pickup truck. And then there’s something
going on over here. And you just keep walking. And you’re often by yourself
or just a few people. And so let’s continue this. So you walk up. And I’m going to go a
little faster just to– again, you’re kind
of– at first, you’d– it’s rather the first thing
you look at is this guy here. So here he is. And you see that these guys– he, like the other guys,
has a Halloween mask on his face, a ghoolish
Halloween mask. And he’s standing with a gun. And he’s looking at whatever
is going on over here, which you can’t really
see yet because you have to go around to the other
side to see what it is exactly. So now you continue walk–
and there’s something– and by the way, there’s
a very, very faint tinny music of a blue station. It gives you the sense that
you’re somewhere in the South, that it’s, you know? And the songs are, you
know, why did I do that, why did I do that? And there’s this sort of thing. And you can see
that behind him– and we’ll see whether we
can get that right now– oh, darn it. This keeps happening to me. Now, let me go– [INAUDIBLE] you can see– don’t do that. Go back here. And do this. OK. You can see that
behind him in the car, you can hardly see it there,
but there a woman, a white woman who’s in the passenger seat. And she is basically
throwing up. You can see– it’s fairly dark,
you can’t really see there. But you can go around
the front of the car. You can see her in there. He’s basically just arrived. It’s unclear, is that it’s
that her father, is that the local Klan thug? She’s right over there. But anyway, at that
point, you begin, you decide you’re going to– you turn around. And now you begin to
try and figure out what the hell is going on there. And, in fact, the way it’s set
up, as you come around the side here, you are almost
pulled into the scene like– it’s like he’s
tugging on something and you’re right behind him. And you’re kind of tugging too. And then you begin to
see that from here, you can now see what’s
going on, that there is a figure on
the ground who has been wrestled to the ground. There’s five guys, all
have Halloween costumes on. They are– held
him to the ground. And the body is basically–
the legs, the arms– the body is made up of
a automotive container, you know, like when
you go, like when they put the oil in when they’re
emptying a car with the oil. It’s just like a bath tub. It’s black water on top. There are six children’s toy
letters floating in the water, which spell out N-I-G-G-E-R,
but usually not that. They usually just have the
letters floating around. And the horrifying–
now you’re thinking, what the hell is going on here? And to your horror, he’s
being castrated by this guy. And the others are
holding him out. And there’s his screaming face. And you kind of look at
this completely stunned, this is this horrible secret
history of America in some way. And you want to deny it. You say no, no, I didn’t know. I couldn’t have
possibly have known. But you see all the
way around the figure are the footprints
of all the people who have come before you. It’s this cyclone of
footprints in the ground. And, in fact, everybody
knew this was going on. And as you begin to leave
you kind of stunned. Again, these faces
with Halloween masks. You start to leave,
and it turns out that one of the cars
that you walked right by when you came in,
there’s a little boy who’s been brought along to learn– and this is the technical
term– to learn lynchcraft. This is what it was called, the
proper way of doing lynching. He’s looking on stunned. And you eventually leave. The thing that’s strange is that
about a couple hours later, you leave. You’re kind of stunned. You walk around
kind of in a daze. And about two or
three hours later, you might look
down at your shoes and see that they’re
covered with this powder. And he’s somehow has
inserted oil or something in the powder that makes
it cling to your feet. And you can’t get it off. You just try to
get off and it’s– a typical Kienholz gesture. Anyway, so the question, one
of the questions that arises is, what business does Ed have
doing a tableau of such horror, making art out of it? One thing that can be
said is that lynchings themselves were– during the 1880s and 1890s. By the the way, they
basically start in earnest about 20 years after 1865. And the reason they
start is that you’re having your first
generation of people who were never slaves who are
growing up and are uppity. And this, they have
to be, you know, have theatrical presentations to
be told you can’t be like this. And so it’s, these are all,
it’s very public events. And indeed, I mean,
part of the horror is that they were often staged. After somebody had been killed,
they would be staged, you know, in the forest, and
things like this. I didn’t want to spend
too much time on it. Another thing that’s
interesting, by the way, is that at exactly the
same time, 1968, responding to exactly the same things,
a black artist in Oakland made exactly the same image. This was an artist
named Mike Hernandez. And, again, it’s an
image of a castration more so than just a hanging. It’s also worth noting that
much more recently, Kara Walker, in the show she’s just had, had
all sorts of amazing drawings, quite an astonishing show. But she’s referencing
all kinds of things. She’s referencing Delacroix. She’s referencing all sorts of
things in the history of art, including Kienholz himself. And in her case, she
has a slave rebellion in which the slaves
are doing exactly to the white guy,
the white owner. You know, they’re pulling
out its guts, actually. But, anyway, the question
remains, you know, whose property are these images? As I say, a very
strong argument was made that white artists
have no business doing this, that making theater,
making art, so forth. I think that’s wrong. And I want to try
to explain why. But I also respect it. I mean, there is– there is a looseness
sometimes to how this is done. I guess what I’d
say for starters is I’d reference a great English
lay theologian named Donald [? Nickel ?] who used to talk– he was a teacher of
mine at Santa Cruz. And he talked about heresies
in the early Christian church. Bear with me. And he said that the
thing about heresies in like the third and the fourth
and the fifth century when Christianity was
first taking shape wasn’t that they were wrong. Rather, they were taking a long
suppressed aspect of the truth and raising it to the
level the whole truth. They were idolatrizing
it as the whole truth. That was the trouble
with the heresy. And I think in that sense,
we’re, to some degree, in that sort of terrain here. In a few minutes, I’m going
to make an argument, which I think is an essential argument
I have about Kienholz that– and I would make– I think, frankly,
Emmett Till’s mother was making the same argument
in some profound way– that this is not
portraits of Black people, especially in the
Kienholz’s case. The subject of that
piece is white people, that this country doesn’t
have a black problem, it has a white problem. And the question
that is overwhelming in that piece of
Kienholz’s in particular is, what the hell are those
guys doing to that guy? Why are they doing that? But the person that I really
use as my key person here is James Baldwin who, in his
extraordinary, extraordinary writing– and if you haven’t
read James Baldwin lately, get thee to a bookstore. It’s interesting, of that
generation of writers, and I include William Styron,
Norman Mailer, John Updike, basically that group– maybe bracket Philip
Roth for the time being– he is without a doubt the most
salient, the most pertinent, the most powerful
of those writers. He is just incredible, the
pertinence of what he writes. And the thing that is
so amazing about him, those of you who know
his story may remember that he grows up in Harlem. By 1947, he is so furious at
the race dynamics of New York City at that point
that he literally flees to Paris
because he knows, he says if he stays in
New York one more day, he’s going to kill somebody. He’s so angry. And he goes to Paris. And he wants to be
done with America. And he, in fact,
initially throws his lot in with that French Africans
and with the Algerians and so forth. But the thing that’s
amazing is that he realizes at a certain
point that he really has nothing to do with them. And that what he is, more than
anything else, is an American. He realizes that in Paris. And he starts adopting
a we, a wondering we in his essays that keeps
on– we Blacks, we Americans. It keeps on shifting
in amazing ways. I’ll just read you the kind
of thing that he wrote. So this is from a 1964 essay
called Words of a Native Son. He says, “The story that I hope
to live long enough to tell, to get it out somehow,
whole and entire, has to do with the
terrible, terrible damage we are doing to all our children. Because what is happening
on the streets of Harlem to Black boys and
girls is also happening on all American
streets to everybody. It’s a terrible
delusion to think that any part of
this republic can be safe as long as 20
million members of it are as menaced as they are. The reality I’m
trying to get at is that the humanity of
the submerged population is equal to the
humanity of anyone else, equal to yours, equal
to that of your child. I know when I walk into
a Harlem funeral parlor and see a dead boy
lying there, I know, no matter what the
social scientists say or the liberals say, that it
is extremely unlikely that he would be in his grave soon,
this soon if he were not black. This is a terrible
thing to have to say. But if it so, then the people
who are responsible for this are in terrible condition. Please take note. I’m not interested
in anybody’s guilt. Guilt is a luxury that
we can no longer afford. I know you didn’t do it. And I didn’t do it either. But I am responsible
for it because I’m a man and a citizen
of this country. And you’re responsible for it
too for the very same reason. We must make the great
effort to realize that there is no such
thing as a Negro problem, but simply this menaced boy. If we could do this, we
could save this country. We could save the world. Anyway, that dead boy is my
subject and my responsibility. And he’s yours too.” It seems to me that
in a profound sense that kind of taking ownership
of the white problem in this country is
everybody’s business. And it happened, for example,
that just upstairs when the Biennial was taking place,
there was this great painting of Eric Fischl called A Visit
To/ A Visit From/ The Island. And it was precisely
that juxtaposition. It happened to be during
the Haitian refugee crisis. But people who would go to Haiti
to vacation on the one hand and people who were washing
up on, you know, boat people basically washing up. I mean, is the argument being
made that he has a right to paint the white people
but not the black people, when in fact, it
seems to me, that’s one of the more
important juxtapositions. I’m reminded, by the
way, of something that Eliot Weinberger, who was
a wonderful essayist and poet, wrote. This is– it’s fascinating
how things come around again. This is back in 1984. He was speaking to
a group of poets. And he said, “That
I–” he was talking– he said– he said
that he wanted– that he took the word politics
in a very narrow sense. That is, how
governments are run. “And I take the word
government to mean the organized infliction
or alleviation of suffering among one’s own people and
among other people,” which I think is, by the way,
a fantastic definition of the word government. He then continued,
“One of the things that happened after the
Vietnam War was that in the US on the
intellectual left, politics metamorphosed
into something entirely different, identity politics
and its nerd brother, theory, who thought he was a
Marxist, but never allowed any actual government to
interrupt his train of thought. The right, however, stuck to
politics in the narrow sense and grew powerful in the
absence of any genuine political opposition or even criticism. For the left had
its mind elsewhere. It was preoccupied with finding
examples of sexism, classism, racism, colonialism,
homophobia, et cetera, usually among its own members
or the long dead while ignoring the genuine and active
racist, sexist homophobes of the right. And it tended to express
itself in an incomprehensible academic jargon or tangentially
referential academic poetry under the delusion
that such language was some form of resistance
to the prevailing power structure, power,
of course, only being imagined in the abstract. Nevermind that truly
political revolutionary works, Tom Paine or the
Communist Manifesto, or Brecht or Hikmet,
or a thousand others are written in simple
direct speech.” Meanwhile, Ronald
Reagan was completely dismantling the social programs
of the New Deal and the Great Society, and so forth. I think we’re at another moment
not unlike that right now. I’ll tell you that, I want to
just round the corner here, talk for a few minutes about
the book I am trying to write, which comes back to this
piece of his, Five Car Stud. So it’s not five
card, it’s five cars. And, you know, the
stud is obviously a reference to what’s going on. But it’s also a wager. You know, there’s a– he
is laying down a wager. And how do we respond
to this wager of his? I want to do a book that’s
partly stories about Kienholz, who I knew pretty well. But it turns out
that the four cars that are aimed at the center
have eight rear view mirrors. So I want to interweave
stories about Kienholz, which tend to be pretty
funny and crazy, and then stories about American
history, about what those guys are doing. And I just thought I’d give
you a very quick sense of what some of those might be. So for example, in
the first mirror, I want to look at
colonial times. How many of you know
about Nathaniel Bacon? Hands up high. I’m just curious, yeah. Some of you do. Thank Howard Zinn. But it’s worth knowing
that for the first 50, 60 years of Virginia,
there were no slaves. There were no Black slaves. There were lots of
indentured servants. Many of them were Black
indentured servants. Many of them were white
indentured servants, which is to say that they
put up their labor as bond. It’s that sort of
thing where they would arrive in the United States. And they would have to pay off
the trip that they had taken. Some of them were freed
slaves from the Caribbean. Some of them were poor
people from London or from England who came over. And they had to work, basically,
until to pay off their debt. It could be for
a very long time. One of things that happened
is that in Virginia, all the good land was
taken right away by– the rich land on the coast
was taken by, basically, the families of what would
become our founding fathers. And the poor people were
forced, after they got rid of their indentured
servitude, they were forced farther
and farther inland. You want this story to be a
great story of great heroism and so forth. It seldom is. In this case, the thing
they’re upset about is that the people on the
coast are not defending them against the Native Americans
whose land they’re stealing and who they want
have cleared out. And it’s not happening,
so they get upset. Eventually, they
rise up in anger against the aristocracy,
the founding fathers gentility and so forth. And in 1680, Blacks and whites
together march on Jamestown and burn it to the ground. And this completely freaks
out the big plantation owners. And there’s a whole
paper trail of this. They eventually knock the
thing down, but they decide, we have to solve this problem. And the solution is,
we have to have slaves. We have to have Black slaves. And they can’t be
from the Caribbean. They have to be from Africa. It’s all written down. And they have to be so that
they don’t speak English. They have to be from
different tribes in Africa. So they can’t speak
to each other. And the major
advantage of this is that the white
indentured servants will identify with our whiteness. And this will
separate the classes that have an actual
class interest together. And this is exactly
what happens. And this is the
history of America, is continually people who should
be, for example, in backseat– in Five Car Stud,
those people should be allies with each other, these
poor whites and poor blacks. But precisely because
the plantation owners are able to play slaves
off against poor whites and use the poor
whites as a buffer, that is the history that
happens over and over again. There’s a remarkable
book, another one of the rear view mirrors would
be about the Revolutionary War. There’s a remarkable
book called– by a guy named Gerald Horne
relatively recently published called The
Counterrevolution of 1776. It turns out that if you go
back and look at 1760 to 1776, what’s happening is
that in England, there are a series of
decisions by the justices there that go against slavery. In particular, there’s
a very important case where a guy from Virginia brings
his slave to London with him. The slave escapes. And he’s captured. And the slave insists
on habeas corpus, that he doesn’t shouldn’t
be given back to the guy, to the person. And it goes all the way
to the highest justice in the landlord’s Mansfield
who in 1770 says, you’re right. There’s no grounds for
giving the slave back to the– to the guy. Slavery is absolutely horrible. And the only way you
could possibly do it is if there was
positive law, there were laws that allowed for this. And there aren’t any. And so he is free. This completely freaked out
people like Patrick Henry, Samuel Adams. All these people are
completely freaked by this. This is their whole plantation
system, in the South anyway, is based– and, by
the way, at that time, there are slaves all
over, all over America. And when you hear back in high
school about the committees of correspondence, you
know, the early things that are going to lead
to the revolution, those are formed by people that
are freaking out about what’s going on in London,
about, that it’s clear, the writing is on the
wall that slavery is going to be outlawed in London. And we had better
do a revolution to be allowed to
keep our property. And the speeches you hear, for
example, the famous Patrick Henry speech, “give
me liberty or give me death,” what’s
absolutely astonishing is that they all
use the language, “we refuse to be enslaved.” Patrick Henry says literally,
the words before he says, can’t you hear them
forging the manacles they’re going to put on us? They’re about to
enslave us, you know? And Samuel Johnson
is famous for saying, what is it with these Americans? They keep using the
word slaving them. They’re the ones
who are the slavers. But basically, in a
very important way, that’s what the revolution is
about, is the right to keep– so it’s not only the Civil
War was about slavery, but the revolution
itself was about slavery. After the revolution, there was
the Articles of Confederation. And then you get a
remarkable thing. I’m just going to do two
or three of these examples and then being to wrap
it up quickly here. But you’ve got Shay’s Rebellion. I imagine the people
who know about Bacon know about Shay too. How many know Shay? So Shay’s Rebellion,
this is really amazing. So you had, in
the north now, you had a situation where the
people, the yeoman farmers who had gone and actually
fought the war as opposed to people like Samuel
Adams, the great firebrand was a banker and a lawyer
and stayed in Boston and profiteered. The people who stayed
in town profiteered. The people who
actually fought the war were paid what was called
continental script. It wasn’t real
money yet, but when the country came into existence,
this would be an IOU of money. And so these farmers
come back into the north. And they try to pay the
landlords, people like Samuel Adams, with continental script. And they said, no,
no, no, no, no, no. We want– you know, you have
to pay us with real money. At which point, this
leads to rebellion. And the horror, it’s
the northern version of what had happened when
the Bacon’s rebellion. The army is– these farmers
are marching on Boston. They’re furious. And the Boston people– they aren’t confederation,
it’s just Massachusetts, it’s by itself– send their militia to stop them. And when the militia sees
them, they all turn around. And they join them
because they’re all part of the same thing. And this completely
freaks out the bankers and so forth in Boston. And they get together. And there’s a
meeting that is held. It’s, by the way, in
no way democratic. it’s self-appointed. A group people make a
Constitutional Convention. It’s basically northern bankers
and southern plantation owners. And the Constitution
that emerges from that is absolutely riddled
with these contradictions about equality and so forth. But the result– if I
can just find this here– is that a constitution
is written. Two things that are
worth noting right now– first of all, do
you know the origins of the Second Amendment,
about the right to bear arms? That is, militias
being necessary. That is because
there’s so much fear of slave rebellions in the
South that they have militias. And this is guaranteed
in the Constitution that they will be able to keep
arms to use against slaves. That is what that is about. That’s what it comes out of. It gets turned into something
completely different. But all the trouble we have
with guns in this country start as a slavery issue
and whites afraid of blacks. The second thing is the
famous three-fifths clause. I used to always be
completely shocked that a Black in the
Constitution, in the founding document of our country was
only three-fifths of a person. It’s actually the
other way around. The point was that the
plantation owners demanded that they have
the right to vote, but in terms of
apportionment, if they have 100 slaves,
that they be counted in that state as having. In effect, he has 101 votes,
that he, as one person gets to vote. And then others are saying,
no, you can’t do that. And so they have a
three-fifths clause. So the result is that southern
plantation owners, for example, would have 61 votes against
the one vote of the Northerner, which is why despite the
fact that there were many, many more people–
it’s like 25%, 30% of the population is
in the south and much more in the north– the first six of the first seven
presidents are slaveholders. All the Supreme Court
justices are slaveholders. Everything in the country is
skewed toward the slave power. And you’ve got incredible
skewings of American history because of that sort of thing. All of them were slave owners. One last very quick
one to bring up is what happened
in 1876, which is– I don’t know if you had the
same experience I had, you know, how you were supposed to
have American History 1, American History
2 in high school. And US History 1 was
supposed to go to 1898. And US History 2 starts in 1898. But they get bogged down in all
the battles of the Civil War. You get tested on
every single battle. Like, the function of getting
bogged down in all the battles of the civil war is so
that they don’t have time to teach you about what
happened between 1865 at 1898. And then the same teacher
starts up in the US History 2 and says, well, we
don’t have time. It was boring. Nothing happened. No, actually, the most important
stuff in American history happens between 1865 and
1898, among other things, the crushing of labor
and the breaking down of what had been the
beginnings of emancipation. And the key event
there is that you had this period of reconstruction. And in 1876– it’s
only 11 years later– there is a vote– you’ll recognize this situation
from our recent history– where one guy gets
the popular vote. But he only has– he has one vote less than the
electoral college victory. The other guy
doesn’t have it yet. The one guy Samuel Tilden,
governor of New York. The other one is
Rutherford B. Hayes. Rutherford B. Hayes
is the Republican. And he goes to the
southern people. He had less votes. And he goes to the southern
people says, you know what? If you vote for me, I’ll take
the army out of the South and we’ll end reconstruction. And we’ll not protect
blacks anymore. And we’ll get rid of all that. And they vote for him. It’s the dirty deal. And the thing– that’s
often talked about, but what’s not talked about
is what happens to the army. The army leaves the south. And in every city–
do you have one here? Do you have an
armory in Providence? You certainly have them in
New York and so and so on. What do you need an
armory for in Providence? Why was there an army station– and the reason is that in
1876, the army leaves the south and is stationed in
every northern city. And whenever there’s
labor uprisings, the army is used on labor. And WEB Dubois, in his amazing
the history of this period, talks about just
the catastrophe. What would it have been
like if labor in the North had risen up to protect the
blacks in the South in 1876? But they didn’t. And then the blacks were
unable to be in concert with the north. History would have been
completely different. But it didn’t happen because
of exactly what you keep seeing in that horrible, horrible
work of Kienholz’s. Another passage
from James Baldwin and then one last thing. This is James Baldwin talking
about the other people in that picture, not the
guy who’s being castrated. Not in so many words, but
he says, “It is, of course, in the very nature of a myth
that those who are its victims and at the same time
its perpetrators should, by virtue
of these two facts, be rendered unable
to examine the myth or even to suspect,
much less recognize that it is a myth,
which controls and blasts their lives. One sees this, it seems to
me, in great and grim relief in the situation of poor white
people in the deep south. The poor white was
enslaved almost from the instant he
arrived on these shores. And he is still enslaved by a
brutal and cynical oligarchy. The utility of
the poor white was to make slavery both
profitable and safe. And therefore, the
germ of white supremacy which he brought
with him from Europe was made hideously to
flourish in the American air. Two world wars and a
worldwide depression have failed to reveal
to this poor man that he has far more in common
with ex-slaves, whom he fears, than he has with the masters who
oppress them both for profit. It is no accident that the
ancient Scottish ballads and Elizabethan chants are
still heard in those dark hills. Talk about people being
locked in the past. To be locked in the
past means, in effect, that one has no past, since one
can never access it or use it. And if one cannot use the
past, one cannot function in the present. And so one can never be free. I take this to be as I say, the
African situation in relief– excuse me, the American
situation in relief, the root of our
unadmitted sorrow and the very key to our crisis.” I give you Roy Moore. Anyway, so that is the project. I hope to pursue. That is the rationale
for why I think that a white artist not only
has the right to consider this, but the duty to be doing that. And I close, though, with
something which I do throw up. And I don’t really know
what to say about it. But it’s Aime Cesaire, the great
francophone poet in Martinique once said, “Most
of all, beware even in thought of
assuming the sterile attitude of the spectator. For life is not a spectacle. A sea of grief is
not a proscenium. A man who wails is
not a dancing bear.” And I think that is
actually a question to ask of the Five Car Stud,
on the other hand recognizing that it just keeps happening
over and over again. That’s a photograph
from Charlottesville a few months ago, a
Black man being assaulted by all sorts of white Nazis,
you know, the good people, as Trump called them. Anyway, thank you. [APPLAUSE] Do we have enough
time for questions? SPEAKER 1: Thank you very much. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Mhm. SPEAKER 1: I’m sure
we all can see now exactly why as a writer, former
writer for The New Yorker, he’s become a major
cultural critic. So thank you very much. I’m sure there are questions. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Maybe we can
turn on the lights now I guess. SPEAKER 1: Right, OK. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Yeah. AUDIENCE: So you’re writing
about how economic power is designed [INAUDIBLE] Are you aware of any
[INAUDIBLE] going on right now? LAWRENCE WESCHLER: I’m not, but
stand up and talk about it loud so everybody can hear about it. AUDIENCE: Simmons Chicken is
the second-largest, you know, producer of chickens,
poultry, and so and so forth. And they’re in cahoots with
a lot of people in midwestern Arkansas and Missouri,
southwest [INAUDIBLE],, they need a [INAUDIBLE]
problems or [INAUDIBLE] they get sent to what’s called
the Christian Alcoholics and Addicts in Recovery Program. And what they do
is they get sent to be slaves working in these
chicken processing farms. And it’s meant to
give them work ethic. They get paid nothing. They have to be
there for many years. If they get injured, the
company gets the– they get the insurance money. And it’s an incredible– LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Yeah, now,
well, that’s one version. And private prisons does
exactly the same thing. AUDIENCE: It’s
going on right now. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: I mean,
this is all, you know, that wonderful, wonderful
book, The New Jim Crow, which is basically the way in which,
quite profoundly, I mean, we are basically dealing
with another, yet another generation of slavery. And, again, it was the drug– and, by the way,
essentially, by the way, if you think about that–
your example, it’s exactly– the whole drug crusade
ended up with this, you know, entire generation. Also extremely important there
is that people were accused of felonies, Blacks, basically,
or Latinos with drugs were accused of felonies, which
meant that they couldn’t vote. There are millions and
millions and millions of Blacks, for
example, in Florida who are not allowed
to vote because they have felonies of
marijuana possession and things like that. That was the idea. I think it’s one sixth of the
black men in Florida cannot vote. Think about all the
elections we keep on having where
it’s just a really, really [INAUDIBLE] thing. But now, indeed, some
whites are beginning to have the same medicine. Other thoughts or comments or– yeah. AUDIENCE: I tend to agree– LAWRENCE WESCHLER:
I don’t if I’m loud. AUDIENCE: I tend to
agree with you that there is a moral obligation
for white people to use their art to, you
know, investigate their place in America’s racial history. But I think, specifically,
the Emmett Till painting where [INAUDIBLE] Black suffering. I think that [INAUDIBLE]
tragedy of a murdered child, which is, in turn, distinct
the tragedy of a child murdered for his race. And I think that
even saying there is an important place
for white people to be making art
about race, you can– there’s still a strong
[INAUDIBLE] particular piece that’s appropriate. LAWRENCE WESCHLER:
Do you think that– what do you make of the fact
that Emmett Till’s mother had the open casket so that
everybody could see? That’s what she said. It wasn’t so– and
by the way, one of things that was
mischaracterized was that only Black people
were supposed to see. But that wasn’t the case at all. AUDIENCE: But I think that
is also her representation. She wanted everyone to see that,
not someone else’s portrayal of that. Or I think there’s an
argument to be made there. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: I’m sure
some of you agree with that. By the way, stand up
and say, say some more. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Yeah. [INAUDIBLE] why
you agree with that because [INAUDIBLE]
The way that I feel is Emmett
Till’s open casket was noteworthy for its
time because at that time, these images of Black
suffering, of the brutality that was happening, they
weren’t portrayed. Or they weren’t
portrayed widely. for the mother to actually
to go and to show off– to show the brutality that her
son suffered, it was shocking. And it was noteworthy. And it got the attention
and through sort of the seriousness of actually
seeing that brutality, that drew a lot of
people’s attention to the racial politics
and environment, to the things that
they were ignoring. And I feel like I see a
difference between something like the tableau that you showed
us, which draws us directly into the center of the
violence, into the people who are performing the violence,
versus a painting which just very sort of plainly
shows the suffering. And i especially think that
that’s something that’s– that has to be contextualized today. Because today, anytime there’s
a shooting, anytime something like this happens,
I go on Facebook and I see videos
of the shooting. It’s no longer shocking
to me to see these bodies. But to be brought
directly into a scene and to be [INAUDIBLE]
violence, I think, is a very different
experience than just seeing a white artist’s sort
of disembodied portrait of Black suffering. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Others? Yeah. AUDIENCE: I just– LAWRENCE WESCHLER:
Stand up and be loud. That’s the only requirement. AUDIENCE: I’m not an
expert in this field. LAWRENCE WESCHLER: But you can
still be louder than you are. AUDIENCE: But compared to some
other issues in the United States like our
freedom or something, do you still think that
the recent shootings are most fundamental issue
in the United States? LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Do I
think that the race issue is the most, what would you say,
the most voluble, the most– AUDIENCE: Do you think it’s
the most fundamental issue for the– LAWRENCE WESCHLER: The most
fundamental issue in the US? Actually, I mean, I think
that the biggest issue facing America is inequality,
rampant, raging inequality, but that race is
continually used to upend– whenever you try– I mean, one of the
things to think about is that precisely you just had– you will see this every
time in American history. So you had a black
president for eight years. And you are continually– and
part of what I’m talking about is the way that there is
dog whistling about sex that gets turned into
violence and that separates people who should
be united fundamentally, I mean, in what’s going on. So I do think that the issue
facing us is that, but the way it is perpetuated in America,
especially in the South, but in the rural
America too is they keep on using race to
prevent any kind of progress. So after you have the
civil rights movement, you get Reagan. You know, and
Reagan, by the way, very consciously
starts his campaign, when he starts
running for president, in the town where the three
freedom workers were killed. That is totally dog–
he could have started it anywhere in America. But he goes to that
particular town. And talks about how wonderful
those people in that town are where that murder
had taken place. He very consciously– Nixon
before him is consciously using the southern strategy
and is using basically race dog whistling, as it’s called. Now we don’t do dog whistling
anymore, we’re just out– Trump is out and out about it. But the point is that whenever
you begin to have what– keep in mind that when
was Martin Luther King assassinated? He was assassinated not because
he was doing a race thing. He was doing a poverty thing. He was on behalf of the
garbage workers, the sanitation workers in Memphis. And that was very consciously
on his part not a race thing. It was a thing for a
Poor People’s Campaign. He was trying to
unite poor people– Memphis, Tennessee, where there
were white garbage workers and blacks garbage workers. They were together on strike. And that freaks out, you
know, and he gets shot. And then you get Reagan. You go from that relatively
quickly to Reagan. You have a little bit
of movement together. Obama and then you get Trump. And it’s always based
on this race thing. And until all of
us confront that, it’ll continue to
get worse and worse. By the way, I mean,
it’s not only– I’m a little bit
bothered– here, I’ll be really
controversial– by what just happened in the last two weeks. You had the biggest dump
of incredible documentation on how money works
in this country and how over and over
again, rich people don’t pay any taxes at all. This whole business about
what this tax bill is going to be about doesn’t matter. Because rich people
don’t keep their money in the United States. They send them all– you
know, and the whole notion of income tax reform. It doesn’t matter. It’s not income
tax is the problem. It’s wealth is the problem. And you have this
incredible stuff. It should have just
been an amazing thing. But instead, we are stuck on
what I think is very important, but in some sense, heretical is
the whole sex thing right now. So you have endless
headlines about that. And you’re not seeing– once again, we’re failing to
see the really important thing. But as I say, I think the
really important thing is based, is maintained in
America by race. That’s how it keeps
on playing out. Yeah. AUDIENCE: Can I ask a question? LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Sure. AUDIENCE: You mentioned
“Kine-holz’s” politics were– LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Kienholz. AUDIENCE: Kienholz, thank
you, were just a little twist from– you know, if it
were– does that change the way you view his art? LAWRENCE WESCHLER:
In other words, he– the reason– he’s
very, very interesting. I mean, by the way, he
is not at all a racist. He’s You know, he
wants his guns. He wants, you know,
get off my back. He’s very libertarian. He is kind of the Western
cowboy libertarian in some profound way. And interestingly,
he would always say, this isn’t about race. He said, about that. He said, this is just not fair. What happens to 20 million
people is just not fair. And that would be a
category that he would have, whether something
is fair or not. But he could be a real
scary guy just in terms of– but– and I have all kinds
of stories about that too. He would constantly do things– I’ll just tell you
one story to give you a sense of what the
kind of person he was and what he’s doing
aesthetically with that piece. Walter Hopps and he
founded the Ferus Gallery. Walter Hopps is considered
to be the greatest curator in 20th century America– great, great, great, great,
great, wonderful guy. Anyway, they founded it. The thing that Walter
Hopps included in Ferus was his family’s oak table. That’s what he contributed. And then what Kienholz
contributed was he would stand, be there at the
gallery working in his little shed over in the
quarter and just be guarding it while Walter
was trying to find collectors. There were no collectors
in LA in those days. And he was out the entire
time trying to do that. So one day he comes back and
Ed is angry about something with Walter. And he goes into his studio
for three or four hours and eventually comes
out with a wooden cube with an electric cord
coming out of it, the plug. And he puts it on Walter’s desk. And Walter says,
oh, that’s nice, Ed. Does it plug in? And Ed, by the way, who– let me see. I wonder if– that’s me
interviewing Ed Kienholz. [LAUGHTER] I first
met Ed when he– when I was sent to interview
him by the h history program at UCLA where I
was working at the time. And he would come to
each of the interviews– that’s in his studio in
Hope, Idaho, by that time, he was quite wealthy– either naked or
just in his boxer shorts just to freak me out. But so that’s Ed. And so Ed sat there. He used his– he would
plant his arms like there was a desk [INAUDIBLE] So anyway, he was sitting
there in front of him. Does this plug in? He says, yep. So Walter plugs
it in and it just starts [BANGING] shaking for,
you know, a minute or so. And Walter goes, that’s
a good piece, Ed. And Ed said, I
thought you’d like it. He takes it out, walks away. And there are four holes
drilled into Walter’s desk. That’s the way, what he’s done
with you too in that piece. You know, he draws you in. That’s why, by the way, why I
read you the jar in Tennessee. That piece just takes dominion. He draws you in. You can’t figure it out. You’re curious. And by the time
you figure out what it is, you’re trapped in there. And then you go home and
it’s all over your feet. I mean, he’s that kind of– he was a bastard. You know, but he was a
remarkable artist too. Yeah. AUDIENCE: I guess I’m
curious about your strategies for accountability. So I’m obviously still
working on this, but something that I think that people can
do when they’re representing like a problem that affects
a community that they’re not necessarily part of is
actively involving members of that community
in their process and like asking for feedback
and if it’s accurate. And I guess I don’t know
Dana Schutz’s process, but, you know, it doesn’t seem
as though she did that, maybe, based on the response. So I guess, in
your own work, when you’re kind of looking back at
these episodes in US history where there’s kind of a
structural propagation of, like, power in some
people’s hands and [INAUDIBLE].. How do you strive
to keep yourself accountable in your own work? LAWRENCE WESCHLER: Well,
I, first of all, I mean, I have a whole social
practice which is independent of my writing. And so I’m in the
world doing politics in regular sorts of ways. I don’t necessarily
think that my writing is done by committee. I think artists
work by themselves. And I think especially what
I would say to many people, some of the comments you’ve
made is, what are you doing going after Dana Schutz? Trump is destroying America. Excuse me, this is like
an eight alarm emergency. And you guys are
going after artists who, you know, by
the way, I don’t think that painting of hers
is particularly successful. It’s a misfire. But the rage that was directed
against it at a moment, at exactly the moment when
Trump was literally taking over, when Sessions was taking over. There’s things to be done. The amount of time spent
on that, I think, is just, it’s just, it
couldn’t be coming– and I think that’s entirely
coming out of academia. It’s entirely– I really believe
in what Elliot Weinberger wrote of that thing, but that while
we are eating ourselves alive on these distinctions
and so forth– Dana Schutz was not the problem. The Whitney, by the
way, had all kinds of– there were all
sorts of black artists and people of color. You know, if a person makes– I completely want to have a
discussion about whether it misfires or not, but her
right to do a picture and whether she’s had the
committee meetings and so forth, that’s not
how artists work. By the way, I have
nothing against– I mean, I’m not
in any way angry. I’m just saying– and I
understand where you’re coming from and so forth. But I just think that this is
at a time of extreme emergency right now. And we don’t have
time to be doing these kind of fine
distinctions and using big words like, you
know, appropriation and so forth and so on. There’s something that– there
is a united front and everybody has to kind of be– and that was what she was doing. So maybe it wasn’t great. You could have a
conversation with her. But by the way,
the petition, which unbelievable numbers
of artists signed, was that the work not
only should be removed, but had to be destroyed. Sessions is destroying
voting rights in this country right now. And that seems to me to be
something to be worried about. And whether or not
an artist does, you know, in the history of
the world, this painting, the only reason it’s going even
be in every textbook in America is because of this controversy. It was just going to die anyway. It wasn’t that
great of a painting. But it seems to be that we
shouldn’t be eating our own. Even if you don’t think
that Dana Schutz deserves to be listed as one
of us, quote, unquote, the us being the
James Baldwin us, you know, you’ve got
more important things to worry about right
now than Dana Schutz. And there’s a kind
of self-importance that seems to be in going after
her at a time of emergency. And I guess that’s part of what
I’m trying to talk about also. Anyway, people are
beginning to leave. I think this has gone on. But I will continue
to stand here. I’m very happy to continue
to talk to people. But I just think that people
should be allowed to go. AUDIENCE: OK, well
thank you [INAUDIBLE].. [APPLAUSE]

Comment here