Uniquely cool. Shop our new patterned styles.

Episode 56
Artist Sarah Morris: Story Time

  • 38 min read

Episode Description

Another hour in conversation with artist Sarah Morris. Sarah was first on the program for Episode 51. In that conversation, we spent the hour trying to get inside the head of the noted painter and filmmaker. In contrast, this episode's conversation is more story time. Sarah shares a number of stories from the span of her career, including her entry into the New York art scene in the late 80s, her time in London during the reign of the YBAs, trying to shoot a sleep-deprived Kate Moss for Vogue and combating a museum’s power play.


Craig: [00:00:08] This is Art Sense, a podcast focused on educating and informing listeners about the past, present and future of art. I'm Craig Gould. On today's episode, I spend another hour in conversation with artist Sarah Morris. Sarah was first on the program for Episode 51. In that conversation, we spent the hour trying to get inside the head of the noted painter and filmmaker. In contrast, today's conversation is more story time. Sarah shares a number of stories from the span of her career, including her entry into the New York art scene in the late 80s, her time in London during the reign of the YBAs, trying to shoot a sleep deprived Kate Moss for Vogue, and combating a museum's powerplay. And now, an art world story time with artist Sarah Morris.

Craig: [00:01:06] Sarah, I appreciate you being willing to get together and talk some more because I think the last time we talked, it was all trying to, like, get inside the mind of Sarah Morris. I think we really didn't have an opportunity to really talk about some of your experiences in the art world. And so I thought it would be neat to have you share some of that. And so maybe we should like start back at the beginning. What was the New York art scene like in 1989?

Sarah: [00:01:39] So when I moved to New York, I moved to New York right out of school. And I was immediately...I moved to New York to be in the Whitney Studio program, which was down on Broadway below Canal. What was New York art world like? It was very exciting for me. It seemed very glamorous because, you know, I was arriving from Providence, Rhode Island. It was it seemed very far off. Like I mean, it was close by, I mean, in the sense that I was in the Whitney program. There were lots of really interesting people who I met really within the first week, a couple of weeks of being in New York. And also, I had lined up before I moved to New York, I was already had lined up a job assisting Jeff Koons, who didn't have a studio then, who was just sort of running his work out of his apartment and from a car in Germany. And so I was sort of working for him and working, you know, and in the studio, in the Whitney Studio program, back and forth, which were sort of two...like the way I see it now and the way I saw it then was pretty much the same thing.

Sarah: [00:03:12] It was two polarities in the art world, one being sort of what I'd call like in the thick of the art world, which was sort of working for Jeff and helping him plan and make his "Made in Heaven" series, which was quite amusing and definitely eye opening.

Craig: [00:03:38] Right.

Sarah: [00:03:38] And then the other polarity was the Whitney program, which was being directed by Hal Foster and Ron Clark and Mary Kelly. So, you know, it was like two extreme versions of the art world in one day. You know, like, I literally would be like, between the two spots, because I had duties to do at Jeff's (listening to his answering machine was one of them) and I remember Iza Genzken was leaving a lot of messages. I didn't know who Iza Genzken was at the time, but I quickly put it together. I had already met Gerhard Richter when I was a student. I sat next to him at a dinner party in Cologne. He was a professor in Dusseldorf at the time.

Craig: [00:04:34] Right, the Kunstakademie.

Sarah: [00:04:36] Exactly. So, you know, it was in terms of what New York was like, it was it was not that dissimilar to what it's like now. There's many different fractions in the art world. In New York. They don't always meet. They definitely don't listen to each other. They don't have a lot to do with each other. You know, there's there...in a way why I really liked being in London when I was in London, because in London you had different fractions and people heading in very different directions. But everybody was at the same table, at the same pub, at the same restaurant, and talking to each other. In New York, it was much more fractional and cliquish. But I had an interesting vantage point of being in these two different sort of situations, if you will.

Craig: [00:05:41] Well, let me ask you this. We talked the first time we spoke about how you went to Brown and you got a major there was a philosophy major is a lot like poli sci. When you tell the story, you wind up in the Whitney program, you wind up working with Jeff. How do those opportunities arise for someone who wasn't exactly an art major? Like, how did you get from where you were on the outside to your foot in that door?

Sarah: [00:06:10] Yeah, that's a good question. Looking back, how did I do that? Well, you know, Brown was an interesting place to be when I was there, because there were a lot of people who were much older than me who I didn't really know, but I knew by reputation people like Todd Haynes and Christine Vachon. There was a lot of emphasis on filmmaking. Most of my friends made films. I didn't make films at that time. They were way too expensive. It was totally analog, of course, and I was in other people's films, but I definitely didn't make my own films. What I did do, which was more interesting to me, is I made a manifesto and I made a manifesto my senior year at Brown, and it was called "Defunct". And it was a one shot sort of publication and we distributed it all over. Like many universities, we distributed it.

Craig: [00:07:23] Is that like what they would call a zine or...

Sarah: [00:07:27] It was like it was slicker than a zine. It was very nicely printed. In Providence by some I guess printer that we found and it was funded by the semiotics department and The Doyle Center. And that was printed, I guess, I don't know, March or April of 1989. And because of that, for instance, we reviewed one of Foster's books. I'm not sure if I did that or somebody else did that, but I met Hal Foster. In that process. And he asked what I was doing the following year, and I actually didn't know. I knew I was moving to New York. And he's the one who sort of told me about the Whitney program and that I should apply. I didn't really know about it till then because as you pointed out. The sort of school I went to and the things I was studying. There wasn't anybody who I knew who had been in the Whitney program. When I when I got to New York, it turns out everybody went to the Whitney program. You know, it was like I didn't realize that people like Jenny Holzer, Julian Schnabel and all types of various people had gone through that program. It was very small. It was only like 20 people in total, and I was pretty young to get into that. I mean, most people had. Probably more under their belt in terms of making work. But basically, I had done this manifesto, which I guess they thought was interesting. So that was how I got into the Whitney program. Jeff...both things were actually through the manifesto because I met Hal through the manifesto, and I also met Jeff through the manifesto, and Jeff had just done his "Banality" show.

Speaker2: [00:09:34] I think the "Banality" show was in November of '88, maybe. And so we asked Jeff to do a project in the manifesto. And I met him and I said to him, not initially, but after. After a while I said, You know, what are you working on and do you need? I think it was like as I was graduating, I said, you know, do you need an assistant? And, you know, he actually sort of didn't need an assistant at the time because he was really working in Europe at that time producing stuff there. But he told me about his idea for "Made in Heaven" and said he would need help organizing everything and coordinating everything and editing everything. So so I sort of started basically at the same time as I started the Whitney program, I did that. So how did I organize it? I guess I was pretty, you know, I mean, I read everything I could read. When I say that, I mean magazines, journals. I went to a lot of shows. You have to remember, I studied while I was at Brown, I studied at Cambridge, and I did a program there called SPS, which is Social and Political Sciences. And I was sort of studying Frankfurt School Theory with a guy named Graham McCann there. So I mean, I saw shows in London while I was in I was in that program and I met a number of people, but definitely it seemed like London at the time.

Sarah: [00:11:17] Ironically, it seemed like, you know, because all of my sort of future friends were were still at art school. So London seemed really quiet at the time. I couldn't possibly imagine working there or living there. The Saatchi space was open. I definitely went to go see New York. Now I remember seeing that show. I remember meeting Alan Jones at a party. I remember meeting the Pentagram people. Same party. I was lucky that I had a friend who was German, who introduced me to a few people and introduced me to a lot of art that I didn't actually already know. Of course. But in terms of my arrival in New York, it was sort of all through the vehicle of the manifesto, really. You know, because I had read so much at school, I really wanted to stop reading. You know, I really just wanted to have a sort of position to figure out how I was going to move forward. That was quite difficult at the Whitney program because they were really emphasizing reading and it was a little bit complicated their relationship to sort of making things. You know, so you had these two extremes of like making things versus not making things and how you were going to position yourself in relation to. You know, let's call it just everything going on. How do you deal with the complicity that we are in?

Craig: [00:13:11] So it was almost thinking versus action. I mean, do you feel like you're still working from the script, from the manifesto? I mean, have has your...

Sarah: [00:13:21] No, I don't feel like that. But I do feel like the problem with Frankfurt school theory as interesting and as completely topical as it still is. Like even more so with the threat of fascism everywhere

Craig: [00:13:41] Right.

Sarah: [00:13:41] And the industrial sort of production of culture and what is all around us. I mean, this idea of complicity is something I didn't think was really...I don't think it was really sort of...there wasn't many options as you would read sort of esthetic theory or read any anything that had been written. It was really hard to sort of figure out where to go from reading these texts. And I suppose as I looked at the work of. Everybody from like, I don't know, Richard Prince to Louise Lawler to Barbara Kruger to Sheri Levine, to Jeff, to, you know, like I looked at all of these people's work and it seemed like there was some way to navigate it. That was really fascinating to me, and it became clear that that was like how I was going to I was gravitating towards, you know, going to New York and and I was already seeing lots of shows whenever I could. And if I couldn't see them, I just saw them in magazines.

Craig: [00:14:58] Mm hmm.

Sarah: [00:14:59] You know, a really good friend of mine, a curator in France, Eric Chauncey, who I met later in the nineties. I mean, he was curating shows through slides. He was curating shows through like not necessarily traveling to New York. I don't think he traveled. I think he had a phobia and wasn't wasn't even traveling. He was curating shows through basically sort of dialog between different dealers and France, you know, and putting together really big shows and having an extremely good eye. I mean, you know, you can do quite a lot with the reproduction. You don't necessarily have to be somewhere you can if you read enough and you read enough interviews and whatever, you can figure out quite a lot without necessarily being somewhere or meeting somebody. Of course, that takes it to a whole nother level when you do.

Craig: [00:15:55] I can't even imagine trying to do that in 1990, though. I mean, like today I can imagine. Here's my Dropbox. Here's an email. Email back and forth. You can see. But in a world where it's like, mail me your slides and I'll fax you. It just seems like it would have been a lot more challenging, right?

Sarah: [00:16:14] Yeah. I don't know how he did it. I think he had like a dialog with Feature Gallery. He had a dialog with 303 Gallery, he told me, because I saw him recently in April and I was like, "How did you do that?" I remember being really jealous of friends of mine who were in this show that he curated called "No Man's Land".

Craig: [00:16:31] Mm hmm.

Sarah: [00:16:32] In the early 90s. And they had never met him. They had never met him. They'd never had a studio visit with him. It was all done through correspondence between the galleries that would send him slides. It wasn't even through the artists, you know. It was. And I'm not putting that down in any way. I think it's completely valid to do that. You know, it's interesting. Later on, when I think I did my first show in Paris, I guess I had met him before that I had visited because the consortium and John was doing like and still is doing like extremely interesting and topical shows and they've been doing it for like 25 years straight. It's sort of unbelievable how they've operated and they really haven't. Put a privilege on the idea of traveling either.

Sarah: [00:17:26] They're extremely local, but somehow managed to be right in the center. That sort of fascinated me. But in terms of do I still think I'm going between different polarities? Definitely. And I don't think, you know. I mean, the art world was much smaller the, of course, it seems much more quaint than it does now. It's sort of expanded and splintered and it's much larger. And the art fair, you know, like all of all of these things have sort of expanded the sort of width and breadth of the art worlds. But, you know, it was much smaller then but there was still great shows. I mean, you know, the new museum I remember the new museum when it was on Broadway. I remember all the shows that Lisa Phillips curated at the Whitney, which were great uptown. It was really you know, it was it was extremely sort of it seemed really large at the time to me, even though now, of course, I look back and it was like...looks like a fraction of the way the art world looks now.

Craig: [00:18:48] You become part of the the art world. You have an entry point, you start making relationships. And so where did you start making relationships? Was it in the Whitney program or was it just a matter of whose studio was in the same building or showing up at shows? Who did you run into, Sarah?

Sarah: [00:19:07] Well, I remember meeting like I mean, it was sort of all of the above. You know, there were a lot of people who I met through Jeff. I remember meeting Rob Pruitt, who worked at Sonnabend Gallery. I remember meeting Ashley Bickerton. I remember meeting Rick Britt and Gavin Brown. They had been in the Whitney program the year or two before me. I mean, it was a pretty small scene. Like, you know, you'd go to an opening and you would you'd meet everybody. And there was a lot, you know, everybody worked for somebody else pretty much, and that there was sort of an economy that was sort of traceable. I remember the first proper studio I had was on 42nd Street between seventh and eighth Avenues. It was in a building that was featured in "Slaves of New York". It was supposedly Andy Warhol's favorite building. Hard to believe. But anyway, I was told that. I had a studio there at 233 West 42nd. That was my first studio. And, you know, Jack Pearson was in the building. Rita Ackerman came into the building because of me. There was Christian Markley, I think was on the top floor and we started curating shows and doing a series of group shows that I curated called "Close Up", which were...one was a group show of a number of British artists that we had met.

Sarah: [00:20:50] And then we did these sort of small solo shows. I mean, it was a tiny space. I mean, it was like we got the space...I think for free from the landlord, you have to remember that that whole block was slotted to be cleaned up by Giuliani. So the rents were tiny and it was possible to do something like that in midtown Manhattan. And so because of that, you know, several of us were in the Venice Biennale. Some people got show offers and then also the British artists that we put into the show. That was curated. They invited us to be in a show called "Lucky Kunst" on Silver Place in London. And that was that was like, I guess '93. So that was like the first time I went to London to be in a show. And that was organized by Gregor Muir, who's now at the Tate and Gary Hume, Jane Louise Wilson, Sam Taylor Wood a number of other people and it was extremely fun. You know, that was the first sort of taste of London from a very different perspective.

Craig: [00:22:16] Sure.

Sarah: [00:22:16] And I had seen it before.

Craig: [00:22:19] So I guess you had visibility to the whole YBA young British artist movement that was going on at Goldsmiths then. Right. I mean, a lot of those names are kind of the names that we think of as making that scene happen. Did you make it by Goldsmiths and, you know, get that local to the scene or was it always at...

Sarah: [00:22:39] Oh, absolutely. No, no, definitely. When I did my first show at White Cube was, which was 1996, I definitely was asked to do like a talk at Goldsmiths. I definitely had met Michael Craig Martin already. And it's interesting to me that all those kids were taught by an American

Craig: [00:23:02] Right

Sarah: [00:23:03] I'm not being nationalistic. It was just like a different...Michael was like very important but he was teaching, you know, he was still teaching then, even though they had all left years before. But he was still teaching. And it was interesting to me that he was that they were all taught by an American. You know, there was a sort of rationalism to the way they approached, you know, why not? Why can't you do this? You know, like, why can't you organize a show and sell it to Charles Saatchi? Why can't you? You know? A lot of Damien's thinking came from this sort of Americanism of Michael's. That was very obvious to me. But yeah, of course. Yeah. I mean, I even probably visited the studios of Goldsmiths a couple of times to to meet some of the graduate students there. So, yeah, I was very aware of it.

Craig: [00:24:07] Let me ask you this. Let's imagine Julian Schnabel is making a Hollywood feature about Sarah Morris. What are some of the most fascinating scenes that have to be in the movie? Because, you know, we think of Schnabel's like depiction of Basquiat. You know, he had to include that scene of Basquiat, you know, trying to sell postcards to Andy Warhol. Right. Like what are some of those iconic scenes in your movie?

Sarah: [00:24:34] Wow. Oh, my God. I mean, I don't even know where to start. There's so many scenes, right? Oh, boy. Okay. Well, I mean, some of the some of the things I don't even know if it's like okay to say. One scene for sure would be when I was asked by British Vogue to come up with an idea for Kate Moss to do something with her for the magazine. That was definitely a situation, a scene

Craig: [00:25:13] Right

Sarah: [00:25:15] I had a studio in Berlin by that point because I was in the American Academy in Berlin, which was the first year that they had invited two artists to be there. And it was me and Jenny Holzer. And Jenny Holzer didn't have a studio, though. I had a studio at the Künstlerhaus Bethanien. Anyway, British Vogue asked me to do a project with Kate Moss. By this point, you know, they were treating me as if I was a YBA. That was also quite strange because I'm you know, because I'm British and American. I have two passports. Right. So this was sort of useful. Of course, everybody thought of me as completely American, but not Vogue, which thought of me as British, not the Tate, which thinks of me as British.

Sarah: [00:26:06] And a lot of people think of me as British. I am I am technically British because I was born there, but I was raised here. But I think of myself as American. But anyway, I really loved the work of Richard Hamilton, so I was really interested in really what he did with the White Album and the whole idea of packaging and industrial design. So what I proposed to do with Kate Moss is what anybody would propose to do with her, which is just like shoot the cover and shoot the May issue of the cover. So they arranged it. You know, I said what I wanted to have, you know, the backdrop. And interestingly enough, I didn't specify any clothes, know it's a fashion magazine. I didn't I didn't ask for any clothes to be delivered. Nothing. Right. Because I was just going to bring it myself. I was going to put her in a bathing suit of mine and they flew me back from Berlin to do this cover shoot. And that morning, I think I heard that the shoot was really delayed. By like two or three hours, and it even sounded like it might not even happen. And I was like, "Oh", I was in the middle of working on a show for Zurich, for Künstlerhaus Zurich.

Sarah: [00:27:34] And I remember thinking this is ridiculous. Like, I've flown all the way back to London and it sounds like it might not even happen. It sounded like they couldn't reach her. Anyway, I immediately say that I've flown back just to do this. We've got to do it. Like this is my only opportunity to do it is this day. And I was really excited to get it over with and nervous and excited to get it over with. So I go to the studio somewhere in the East End. And Kate shows up had been out all night the night before. Her eyes were like incredibly bloodshot, like an albino rabbit. And I'm thinking, "wow, this is going to be a great photo".

Craig: [00:28:23] Right.

Sarah: [00:28:24] And as we're getting her prepared and I'm like doing her makeup or I'm directing the makeup artist what to do. With her and she's getting into this bathing suit that it was like a vintage bathing suit that I had bought in the East Village that had been made into like a shirt. It had been made into, like, a tube top type thing.

Craig: [00:28:52] I see.

Sarah: [00:28:52] And and I brought the bathing suit. I brought a Coke cup, and I asked for this pink backdrop. And I was sort of thinking of like spring summer, as if she's driving in a car and she'll be sipping this Coca Cola and. Nick Knight comes upstairs to the studio, pops his head in. I had met him already through Peter Saville and he said, What are you doing? And I said, I'm shooting. I think I'm shooting the May cover for British Vogue. And he said, "Well, that's really funny because they told me I was shooting the cover for the May issue". And I was like, "Oh". And I remember feeling like I had made some faux pas. Or maybe he had made a faux pas. I didn't really know what was going on. Anyway,he was just starting a platform at the time, like a digital platform, which actually I had titled and it was called Show Studio. He didn't know what to title it, and I said, you should call it "Show". And he was. He and Peter Saville used to work together a lot. So and Peter, I had asked to do a catalog of mine, my first catalog, which was for a show I did at Museum of Modern Art, Oxford. And Peter had designed it. So I had met Nick a number of times anyway. So Nick leaves the studio and then we have Kate and she had been out all night with I don't know. Oasis or whoever she was out and it's like I was hearing the stories, but I didn't really know the first names so well, but I was trying to follow what was going on. And we did the shot. And let me just say this, that the pink in the background, which was like a really bright, intense pink like I use in my paintings, pretty much matched the whites of her eyes, like the amount of touch up we had to do, or I had to go to a special place in London to handle the touch up on the photo. But the photos came out great and I ended up.

Craig: [00:31:16] I'm looking at an image of it right now.

Sarah: [00:31:18] Yeah, I ended up getting the cover, which, by the way, that day I had no idea because Nick Knight popping his head in like Stellar Street, which was this comedy show in England at the time, where like every single pop star lived on the same block and they all went into this like deli and hung out in this like little delicatessen and sort of gossiped and whatever it was, a little...London was a little bit like that. So anyway, I shot, shot the cover and it all worked out. But like the original photos are really extreme, much more extreme than the actual photo that ran. And of course they placed a bar. You can see a computer barcode over the bit of the bikini, the bit of the bathing suit, rather, that made it clear that it was very vintage, like I think they said it was Dolce Gabbana and the art director of Vogue told me afterwards, you know, you had very little chances of getting on the cover without shooting any fashion. He said, you know, like actually, you know, but but but it was a great cover because it really was like it looked really edgy. It was very edgy. And definitely the scenario in which we shot, you know, at any moment, it felt like the whole shoot was going to fall apart just because the talent had been up all night.

Craig: [00:32:51] And, you know, she always she always appeared so young and for a good part of her career, she was really young. Right? But when I look at the picture, you know, it's giving off these Lolita vibes, right? And so in her eyes are the whites of her eyes are very white.

Sarah: [00:33:09] Yeah, well, because it's like there's somebody who just who who is who only did touch up on her like by British Vogue and that guy knew how to do everything. But I was present at all the retouch I was there for. But that was a really great scene. That then morphed into a scene at the Groucho Club with Marianne Faithful. One night we were all there. This is this is maybe after I finished the year in Berlin, and I had been to a play that night, and actually Marianne Faithfull was at the play. And then we went afterwards to the Groucho Club. And you have to remember, like everybody was in the Groucho Club, it was like artists, media, people, musicians. I mean, it was very common to run into. You know, Blur.

Speaker1: [00:34:09] Right.

Speaker2: [00:34:11] Jarvis Cocker, David Bowie, all in the same night. You know, it was like and I remember being at the bar with Marianne Faithfull. Who I realized. Something about her, which I can't I can't say definitely publicly, but she was definitely an enabler for those...for some of those people. Anyway, I was talking to her. That's not what was interesting to me about her. What was interesting to me about her is I had read a biography about a dealer in London in the 60s who was sort of the hub of London who showed Richard Hamilton, and he's the one who got the Beatles involved. And he was sort of the original reason why I believe Richard Hamilton and the Beatles worked together. His name was Bob. I forget his last name. Oh, yeah. Robert Frazier. So there's a book about Swinging London. So ironically, like, I'm in a club talking to Marianne Faithfull at the bar. We're trying to get served. And I was able to ask her about him and about...she was also very involved in this, this like this interface between music, art, graphic design. Peter Blake. You know, I mean, all, all of those people sort of converged around Robert Frazier's gallery in the late sixties. And anyway, she, her voice and her interview is throughout that entire book. And that night I remember asking her about about that portrait of of Robert Frazier. And she said to me that I was the only person who had ever asked her about that book and it had had had read it. Wow. And but it's a great book. Really great book, if you want to understand really the beginnings of London art world, because, you know, there was a beginning, then it stopped, then it started again around the time a little bit before the time I got to London.

Craig: [00:36:24] Yeah. I mean, I found an article here on Sotheby's site that is talking about how Richard Hamilton, Robert Fraser, you know, Peter Blake, how those those iconic Beatles albums there at the end of the sixties were all kind of connected to the art world.

Sarah: [00:36:41] And so and London was like that then, like in the sense of I'm just mentioning the cover of British Vogue, just because that would be unheard of in America. At the same time, you know, the the the merging of these different fields, which seem to be far apart, which are actually socially not far apart, but theoretically they're not far apart at all. They're actually they're all the same. They're all like, you know, it doesn't really matter. If you're a musician versus an artist versus a writer versus some form of talent, like, you know, you still have a way of navigating and a way of presenting yourself and a way of seeing the world. And somehow that had already been synthesized in London, it was normal to be at a party and have all of those elements in one room. Whereas New York, it was still quite disparate, even though you would think that that would already have happened in New York, especially in the 80s. But it wasn't it didn't seem didn't seem didn't seem like that was more it was more rarefied in New York.

Craig: [00:37:58] Had there been some of that during Studio 54 or was it just...

Sarah: [00:38:03] Yeah, maybe there maybe there was some of that at one point. Maybe there was. But I'm talking about the connection of like somebody I mean, obviously, I'm sure people did album covers.

Craig: [00:38:16] And so maybe the concept of like Madison Avenue wanting to be in collaboration with the art world, that just.

Sarah: [00:38:23] Was yeah, now it's now it's now it's sort of standard. Now it's normal to have all of these elements mixing around and it's almost too professionalized, right? I mean, it's not you're not necessarily being asked by there's people who are you know, the art fairs have blown this out to some extent, you know, in terms of like, you know, every single vodka is now trying to be like Absolut Vodka, you know? I mean, if you look back, Absolut Vodka did that campaign that was probably that had to have been early 80s, you know, that campaign of using artists.

Craig: [00:39:10] Oh, yeah.

Sarah: [00:39:11] But anyway, London seemed bizarrely, London seemed ahead of New York, even though the ideas seem to come from New York.

Craig: [00:39:20] I wonder I wonder what what that's about. Is it just the close proximity, you know, of?

Sarah: [00:39:27] I mean, I think it's the drinking. I think it's the drinking, it's the fraternization. Let's use that word between people and what goes on. I mean, I remember there was a guy in London in the mid nineties who had worked for John Lennon. He had been John Lennon's personal secretary. And that guy, I forget his name. I do know. I remember his name. His name is Anthony Fawcett. He used to sponsor all of the openings with Becks beer. And the Becks beer was the lubricant literally for having long, long evenings, you know, where people would really tell you what they thought.

Craig: [00:40:12] Right.

Sarah: [00:40:14] But that wasn't necessarily going on in New York. It was more staid for a while in New York, and it was more professional, more professionalized than this sort of raucous party. Everybody's on the same bus thing that was going on in London, which was a lot of fun. I mean, it was like, you know, there was an opening every single night. There was a party going on all the time. It's it's pretty hard to think of like one scene. The Marianne Faithful night was a fun night. You know, there's so many sort of instances of, you know, where you realize how things transpired. I mean, I did end up going and visiting Richard Hamilton's studio at one point because I curated a show for Max Hessler in, I guess it was '98, something like that. It was called "Hospital". And I asked Richard Hamilton to put his computer because he had designed a computer not just like aestheticised a computer, he had designed a mainframe. He designed the software for this computer called the Diobess 100 or 101 or something like that. And I went out to convince him to put this in the show. He really wanted to use like a new monitor on the computer system. But the original one was this. He had painted it with this poor gray paint, you know, paint from Porsche. And he didn't see why I wanted the original. He wasn't really interested in the original, you see.

Craig: [00:41:57] Right.

Sarah: [00:41:59] And I remember he was in a fight at the time with the Tate because he wanted to remake a work and they didn't want it remade. He sort of thought like that, but that was super interesting to see his studio. That was like a really important moment for me.

Craig: [00:42:15] So in the other scenes that we need to make sure in the movie.

Sarah: [00:42:21] Oh, yeah. The other scene. The other scene. See, a lot of the really good scenes involve some level of conflict with others.

Craig: [00:42:33] Oh,

Sarah: [00:42:35] So, I mean, there would be a scene where I'm leaving the LVMH museum and shouting. And telling them that. Uh. I wanted to cancel. They had commissioned me to make a film and the film I told them right from the beginning, the film was going to be a portrait of Bernard Arnault. The film was going to be the series of corporations that he bought that somehow signified the national, you know, like France, right? Whether it's champagne or perfume or, you know, that basically I was going to get into all the factories and I was going to make a chain that was the chain becomes the man. Right? Right. It was going to be like my version of like. Orson Welles.

Craig: [00:43:34] Citizen Kane.

Sarah: [00:43:34] Right. And the curator at the time had said, "that's a fantastic idea, but I can't help you". And I was like, "Well, I don't understand. What do you mean? You can't help me? You work with these people", you know, like, I was puzzled, and she said, "Yeah, but politically, you know, it's, like, too complicated. Like, you're going to be on your own". And I was like, "Okay, you know, that's very strange. You've told me I could do whatever I want. I'm doing this idea like it could be.

Sarah: [00:44:09] It could be much easier if you help me". Anyway, it turns out I had to go about it all on my own. And like so if I wanted to get into the Dior perfume factory, I had to, like, meet the president of Dior perfume and convince them that I should be in the factory, which has never been filmed before. That produces 30 million little bottles. The bottles are produced in France. The perfume is produced in France. The flowers come from France. I mean, every every single element of that product, except probably the cellophane is made in France. Anyway, I had finished the film and I was we were just about the museum was just about to open and it was like a Frank Gehry museum. It was he had he had designed the museum. And, you know, I had gone over I'd been flown over for the opening of the show. And there was a lot of tension about my film because it went not because of any of the images. The images are beautiful. It was more like the film went very close to the identity of the brand. Right. And they were a little concerned that maybe I maybe it would confuse what is art and what is brand. That was the whole point of my film was to confuse it. Right.

Sarah: [00:45:37] But they were a little concerned about this, so I got there. There have been a lot of tension before I flew over. While I was editing it. There was a lot of tension, legal tension. Is all I can say. And then I got there and one of the junior curators said, Don't get really upset. They brought me down to this huge room where we were going to install the film. The film is called "Strange Magic". And the room was amazing. And I and I was almost like, is this a trick? Because, like, everything had worked out perfectly and I was like very, very happy. And then this junior curator said to me on the escalators as we were leaving, Don't get angry, but they're going to ask you to have a meeting. And that's all I can say. And I knew that this was, like, a really bad sign, and they took me to a room. The room had no windows and they opened up. What I'm just going to...looked like a Dell laptop. And they were like, "Could you sit down? And we want to we want you to see your film". And I said, "What is that over there? That door?". They said, "Oh, that's an elevator. That's like a special elevator that Frank Gehry designed that's in the central core of the building". And I said, I just sort of walked out.

Sarah: [00:47:08] I said, "there's no way I'm going to watch my I mean, I've just been editing for like seven weeks. There's no way I'm going to watch it again". I said,"What? What do you need clarification on at this stage? What do you need? You know, like it speaks for itself. But what you know, out of curiosity, what do you need to see? What do you need to hear from me?" And they said, "Well, we don't understand. There was a whole scene leading up to the Dior factory shots with flowers". And they were like, and it's in it's in Provence. It's where they. It's where they make this stuff called concrete. But it's the concrete of perfume. And it's sold for like, you know, it's sold for thousands and thousands of euros per kg. And it's the stuff that they make, you know, it's the stuff that they make the perfume from. Anyway, they said, "we don't understand the flower scenes". And I said, "I'm done, I'm finished". But but my voice was not the way I'm speaking now. I think I really raised my voice. And anyway, I marched out of the museum and they marched. They, you know, they were running sort of with me. And ironically, we're passing and he's against and he's going back to Geoff's answering machine. And there was this big these against him piece, which was a rose.

Sarah: [00:48:32] And I said, Why don't you ask his again skin what her piece means? Why don't you do that? And I just said, you know, I'm really I'm I was really exhausted to I was absolutely completely exhausted and jetlagged. And I said, you know, that's it. Like, I'm not I'm not going to change anything because they were suggesting that I edit continue editing in France. They wanted something out. They didn't get to the part where they said what they wanted to have out. Because I didn't let them. I just, like, left the museum and disappeared for, like, about three days. And what was really strange is they didn't know which hotel I was in in Paris because another group was paying for me. But that night they've managed to figure out which hotel I was staying in, and that night there was a knock. I told the hotel, Don't let any calls come through or anything. I don't want to I don't I don't want to hear from anybody. Anyway, that night there was a knock on my door and they brought up a little bag. From the curator. And she had sent me some of the Dior perfume. So it was almost like an ironic, like Winky Winky. Tic tac of like I mean, she understood what it was. I mean, they completely understood it.

Sarah: [00:49:59] It was it was all like a ruse to make me explain the film. And what was funny is I had a I had an assistant who actually used to manage the whole studio who had gone to work for Grand Theft Auto. And I loved this assistant. I was really sad to lose her. And she went to go work for Grand Theft Auto and she said, "It's exactly like working for you, Sarah. We go into a place, we check it all out. We see exactly how it works, we move through it, we navigate through it, we basically make it ours". Anyway, I called her when I had this problem and I said, "What do I do? Because I need some legal help?" And she put me in touch with this guy who was a lawyer who I've never met to this day. I never got a bill from him to this day, but he's the lawyer for Grand Theft Auto, and he told me exactly what to say, which is under no circumstances am I going to explain the meaning of this work to you. But I'll be happy to come back and install the work. Anyway. I did. They did invite me to come install the work and finish it. And there was never anything more said about roses and the meaning of flowers in relation to LVMH.

Craig: [00:51:26] Wow.

Sarah: [00:51:27] But it was a pretty tense few days.

Craig: [00:51:29] That's really interesting. I mean, it reminds me, like in the used car business, they have something called the silent walk around where you want to trade in your car. It's okay. Let's go look at your car. And they just walk around and let you volunteer everything you're self-conscious about with the car you're trading in. Oh, well, that's where my kid banged at soccer ball. And every time you say something, it devalues the asset that you're trading in. Right? And so it's like they were inviting you to give them some opening to say, well, you yourself said this is what it is and that's we don't agree with that. Right.

Sarah: [00:52:10] And so their their whole thing was like, "what are these brands have to do with the museum?" And my whole thing was like, "well, they're literally the concrete of the museum. They are the capital of the museum. So why are you shaming? Why is there any shame about it? It's actually really fascinating. These are all almost you know, these are sort of alchemical processes, capitalized. You know, they're not even you can't really have a patent on how to make champagne. It's like an extremely old process. And the same with making. A perfume from a flower. You know, these these processes have existed for centuries, but there was almost this slight farcical. Like stoidic, farcical sort of conversation about what is the meaning of this, you know, and I just wasn't going to get sucked into it. And I was really exhausted. And I knew through the junior curator, I knew that they said what they did say at one point, you know, why don't you just do a little bit more editing or why don't you just take out this one scene? Or We don't we don't understand. It is what they what the ruse was is we don't understand it.

Speaker2: [00:53:37] They understood it perfectly. And what's funny is when I reentered the museum three days later, bizarrely, I reentered I don't know if this was staged or scripted or controlled, but I reentered the museum and the Minister of Culture was in the room. Who I believe was Chinese. Not making this up. Okay. And Pharrell was in the room. And Arnault is in the room.

Craig: [00:54:11] Wow.

Sarah: [00:54:11] And they love all three of them. Loved the piece and asked me how I shot this and how I shot that. And of course, I wasn't going to tell them how I shot champagne, you know, like it's actually really, you know, it's actually like very, very simple how we were shooting, you know, it was just we shot the scene they wanted to know about. I shot on my hotel terrace in the sunlight. But it looks like it looks like we're in the glass. You know, it looks like we're sort of intoxicated and and we're actually in the glass of the champagne, you know, as it's sort of bubbling after it just got opened.

Craig: [00:54:56] But so maybe so it's what's interesting in the story is that maybe the curators were more concerned about how Arnaud was going to respond than.

Sarah: [00:55:10] Yes, it was projected. It was like a projected. And this isn't the first time I've had this with curators. It can happen. It happened with the Robert Towne. I'll tell you a great story about Robert Towne. It if I haven't already told you this. When I did the Robert Towne painting at Lever House. The curator. Ben was super concerned about the name Robert Towne. I think I did tell you this in the last episode. Now.

Craig: [00:55:44] Tell me again, even if you.

Sarah: [00:55:46] Don't if you did. All right, well, you'll have to check it out, because this could be. I do repeat myself, and I've always done this. It's not a sign of old age. It's actually like Anton Kern calls me Johnny Two-times because I've always repeated myself. But anyhow, so they said, I titled the piece Robert Towne, and they were like, You have to get this cleared by Robert Towne himself. And I said, You must be kidding me. This is a fake name, you know? And I had to call Robert Towne and get it cleared. And that's, you know, it was sort of this litigious fantasy of the curator that made me do this act, which then I have to be thankful for because. Calling him led to a friendship and led to a film that I made several months later, because while I was on the phone with him, I said, you know, I was sad that he wasn't in the Los Angeles film and I'd like to make a film with him and would he be up for that? And he said, yes. So but you know, you often get this with curators is that they get anxious, they get nervous, understandably, but not to take any of this. You know, your job as an artist is to push through and get what you need to get done and, you know, take no prisoners.

Craig: [00:57:13] Right.

Sarah: [00:57:14] And you really have to like I guess that's one thing about being an artist that people don't fully understand. They they have this idea that it's maybe easy or that it's fun or that it's glamorous or I don't know, they sort of had this good times image. And of course, there are many of those moments where it is a lot of fun and you can't believe you're actually doing this as a paid way of living. You know, it's like absolute a dream. But on the other side of that is the fact that you're really in it alone. And you have to have quite a lot. Of you have to have a lot of willpower and you have to have a lot of direction and you have to be able to answer back. When people give you a hard time, whether it's a curator or dealer or anybody, really, you have to be able to sort of hold your own in a lot of situations. And, and, and that's like that vision that you have in your mind. Of how you want something to be, to actually get that to be realized and to get other you need other people's help to get that realized. It's not just a slapstick act. You need a number of people to get it realized, to get your vision realized. In the studio and outside the studio, institutionally professional. You need a lot of people to have to help you and you have to be able to sort of communicate that. And sometimes people want to weigh in and and stop you or say you're wrong or they see it a different way. And and it's it's quite complicated. You know, the process that dance of of getting something. Actually, the final stretch is. Is difficult.

Craig: [00:59:26] Sure.

Sarah: [00:59:26] Not always, but it can be.

Craig: [00:59:29] I was talking to somebody recently about what determines success in the art world and what's most important and doing good work. Kind of goes without saying, but push back was that, you know, being talented in doing good work a lot of times isn't enough in the art world and that there are other things at play. You know, I think your work kind of stands out as being exceptional. But what is it beyond just the good work you've done that's afforded you the success?

Sarah: [01:00:04] Hmm. That's very nice of you to say. Well, I never really feel like anything is finished or anything is, like, accomplished. I mean, of course, I. I mean, that might be partly fiction because obviously when I'm putting together a big show like the one for the Deichtorhallen, which is this retrospective coming up next year, obviously I do see a huge amount of activity that I can call sort of done, but I don't really view it as like a finished thing. There's still lots more to do. So I don't really view it as you know, I don't really I guess I, I've never really felt. Like, I know it must look like a different thing from the outside, but I don't really feel like I'm on the inside. I feel like I'm you know, I've always straddled this this and it might be because of, you know, the way I was educated. Maybe it could be because I'm dual national. It could be because of gender. I'm not really sure what it's because of. But I've never I don't really view that I'm like on the inside. I don't I don't view it like that. I view it like you're you're constantly trying to get your work done. It's always a struggle. It's always difficult. There's always things in your way. There's always obstacles. There's always, you know, there's always problems. It could be viewed as the definition of making art. There's always problems going on. So I don't really I don't really view it as a. I guess. I guess I just maybe it's my viewpoint is I just don't see it as, you know, I still feel the same way as I. Feltz When my studio was on 42nd Street, you know, I try to maybe I try to hold on to that on purpose. But the way I you know, even the the way I'm reading the news or the way I'm, you know, watching what's going on in the art world, I try to keep a critical distance. I try, not saying I'm always successful doing that, but I try to.

Craig: [01:02:47] Well, one last question. I was speaking with somebody recently who's a collector, and I mentioned you and they said, oh, yeah, Sarah Morris, the painter. Do you feel like you struggle to earn the same sort of respect for your films that people have for paintings? I mean, do you feel like there's different levels of appreciation in the art world based on the different types of media?

Sarah: [01:03:14] I think that's an interesting question. You know, there's there's many different audiences in the art world or in the world in general. And I...I don't have a problem with most of them. There's some people who look at the work. They just see the paintings. There's some people who look at the work who just see the titles. There's some people who look at the work who only see the films. So I'm never I'm never really struggling between these two things. I think I said before that like. It's almost like having a right hand and a left hand. To me, it's all part of me. You know, if somebody complimenting one thing, I'm not like wondering about the other thing. It's like all it's all me. However, there's a lot of work and. I think I said before, it could be the work of two or three people, but it's not. It's the work of one person. And that's fine. And people will always see privilege. Certain parts of it, depending on who they are, they'll always privilege one thing over another. I don't feel in any way like one thing is stronger than the other or more seen.

Speaker2: [01:04:48] I think that I've been very lucky that right from the beginning I've had my gallery support and also the curators who I have been involved with. Even if it's been tricky, I've had their support to show both. So, you know, and also to do these like quite unusual projects, which I love, you know, like shooting the cover of a magazine or designing, you know, I was asked last week, the last couple of days, I've been designing a box for a very famous cake. I mean, no, I think that you didn't expect that sentence. So there's a special cake in Austria from a very special hotel called the Hotel Soccer. Right. And they make this cake and it comes in a little wooden box. And my gallery in Vienna always sent me one of these cakes at Christmastime, so I'm quite familiar with these cakes. Anyway, the Hotel Sacher asked. They do every couple of years. They ask an artist to design and do a special edition of the box for charity, and I was just doing that.

Craig: [01:06:07] So it's almost like a BMW art car, but it's it's a cake box.

Sarah: [01:06:11] But it's a chocolate cake. Yeah, I saved those boxes. I'm the type of person who saves the boxes of the cakes and then puts brownies in them. I love projects like that. I like when art like it's I mean, it's obviously a pretty simple idea. You can see it. In relation to the 80s, but you can also see it in relation to Bowhouse that art should be useful. Art should be everywhere. Why not? Because it's better, right? I mean, it's just like. It's it's it's. You know, if you can improve something, why not? Why not? Why not do that?

Craig: [01:06:51] Well, Sarah, I really appreciate you being willing to sit down for a second our to have story time. You're a fascinating listen. And I really appreciate your your generosity of of your time. And thanks for being open.

Sarah: [01:07:06] Yeah, well, my pleasure.

Speaker1: [01:07:15] That's all the time we have for this week. You've been listening to Art Sense. You can find the show on Apple Podcasts, iTunes, Google Play, Stitcher, Radio, Spotify or your favorite podcast app. If you've enjoyed this podcast, be sure to subscribe. And while you're there, please rate the show and leave a quick review. Your feedback is the key to other folks finding us. And if you'd like to see images related to the conversation, read the transcript and find other bonus features, you can go to canvia.art and click on the podcast tab. If you'd like to reach out to me, you can email me at craig@Canvia.art. Thanks for listening.

Show More >