Conversations with Artists Series

The Conversations with Artists series began in 1985 to highlight distinguished contemporary artists whose work is featured in exhibitions at the National Gallery of Art.

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 Panelists include Kerry James Marshall, artist; James Meyer, associate curator of modern art, National Gallery of Art; Mary Pattillo, Harold Washington Professor of Sociology and African American Studies, Northwestern University; Hortense J. Spillers, Gertrude Conaway Vanderbilt Professor, English department, Vanderbilt University; Dan S. Wang, artist and writer. The central theme of the exhibition In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall, on view through December 8, 2013, at the National Gallery of Art, is the Middle Passage—the violent journey of enslaved Africans across the Atlantic Ocean to the Americas during the colonial and antebellum periods—and its traumatic impact in the lives and memories of African Americans in particular. Marshall’s show begins with images of human beings and the open sea, of sailboats and an amusement-park water ride, evocative of the Middle Passage. Yet the exhibition also includes scenes of backyard pools, suburban lawns, and white picket fences, of children riding bikes and celebrating the Fourth of July. The memory of the slave ships seems remote from Marshall’s paintings of suburbs, part of the artist’s Housing series. In fact, all of these works examine the American Dream from an African American perspective: the middle-class children and adults depicted in these scenes are haunted by the memory of a trauma that they did not experience personally but which impacts them in ways that are not easily understood. In the art of Marshall, the past is never really past; history exerts a pressure, often unconscious, on the living. In this program recorded on October 27, 2013, Kerry James Marshall and exhibition curator James Meyer are joined by panelists Mary Pattillo, Hortense J. Spillers, and Dan S. Wang to discuss varying perspectives on race and class in contemporary America.   

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Kerry James Marshall in conversation with James Meyer, associate curator of modern art, National Gallery of Art. Kerry James Marshall has exhibited widely in both the United States and abroad and is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, among other honors. His work often explores the experiences of African Americans and narratives of American history that have historically excluded black people. Drawing upon the artist’s prodigious knowledge of art history and African diasporic culture, his paintings combine figurative and abstract styles and multiple allusions. In Marshall’s art, the past is never truly past: history exerts a constant, often unconscious pressure on the living. In this program recorded on June 26, 2013, Marshall discusses the works and themes of his exhibition In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall, on view at the Gallery from June 28 to December 7, 2013.

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Kerry James Marshall has exhibited widely in both the United States and abroad and is the recipient of a MacArthur Fellowship, among other honors. His work often explores the experiences of African Americans and narratives of American history that have historically excluded black people. Drawing upon the artist’s prodigious knowledge of art history and African diasporic culture, his paintings combine figurative and abstract styles and multiple allusions. In Marshall’s art, the past is never truly past: history exerts a constant, often unconscious pressure on the living. In this program recorded on June 26, 2013, exhibition curator James Meyer and Kerry James Marshall discuss the works and themes of his exhibition In the Tower: Kerry James Marshall, on view at the Gallery from June 28 to December 8, 2013.

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Mel Bochner, artist, in conversation with James Meyer, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery of Art. Mel Bochner is one of the leading figures of conceptual and post-conceptual art. Between 1966 and 1968, he developed a series of portrait drawings based on the thesaurus. These works enlist a private language of synonyms and shapes to depict such contemporaries as Eva Hesse, Robert Smithson, and Sol LeWitt. In 2001, after a hiatus of more than three decades, Bochner again turned to the thesaurus to develop a series of paintings and drawings derived from everyday speech. Boldly colored and impressive in scale, these works are among the most ambitious of the artist's career. To mark the opening of the exhibition In the Tower: Mel Bochner, Bochner appears in conversation with exhibition curator James Meyer in this podcast recorded on November 9, 2011.

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Sandra Ramos, artist, and Michelle Bird, curatorial assistant, department of French paintings, National Gallery of Art. In this conversation, which took place on June 21, 2011 as part of the Works in Progress series at the National Gallery of Art, Havana-based artist Sandra Ramos describes her use of various media to explore issues related to the recovery of both individual and collective memory. Blending memorabilia from past events—real and imagined, personal and historical—the artist creates a phantasmagorical new world from the "ruins of a utopia." In this world, forbidden topics such as migration, racism, and the political manipulation of history become the quotidian subjects of her art. The main protagonist is a character who fuses her own self-image with that of a print of a 19th-century Dutch princess. Evoking a postmodern Alice in Wonderland, she navigates through the complexities of life on the island. Floating somewhere between the foreground and background, her figure is not fully integrated with her surroundings but exists in the intervening space of her environment and circumstance. As a result, Ramos's art extends beyond the autobiographical to bear the weight and vulnerability of the island and its people.

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Leo Villareal, artist, in conversation with Molly Donovan, associate curator of modern and contemporary art, National Gallery of Art. In this podcast recorded on September 7, 2008, at the National Gallery of Art, American artist Leo Villareal and curator Molly Donovan discuss Villareal's Multiverse installation, which occupies the Concourse walkway between the East and West Buildings of the National Gallery of Art. Installed between September and December of 2008, Multiverse is one of the largest and most complex light sculptures created by the artist, featuring approximately 41,000 computer-programmed LED (light-emitting diode) nodes that run through channels along the 200-foot-long space.

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David C. Driskell, professor emeritus, University of Maryland at College Park; Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art; and Julie L. McGee, Rockefeller Humanities Fellow, Center for Folklife and Cultural Heritage, Smithsonian Institution and author of David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar. To celebrate the publication of David C. Driskell: Artist and Scholar, Ruth Fine and Julie L. McGee discuss the first biography and comprehensive monograph of his work with David C. Driskell. In this podcast recorded on April 14, 2007, at the National Gallery of Art, the participants share the collaborative process behind writing the book, which traces Driskell's personal, artistic, and scholarly journey. A pioneer in establishing the study of African American art within the canon of American art criticism and theory, Driskell is also an artist whose work approaches questions of nature and culture, African and African American heritage, spirituality, family, and other subjects.

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Ed Ruscha, artist. Ed Ruscha discusses his artistic processes and influences, and their relationship to photography, drawing, and pop culture in this podcast recorded on February 13, 2005, at the National Gallery of Art. This lecture marked the opening of Cotton Puffs, Q-Tips®, Smoke and Mirrors: The Drawings of Ed Ruscha, the first museum retrospective of the artist's drawings. The title of the exhibition refers to a quote from Ruscha about some of his drawing tools (cotton puffs and Q-tips®) and illusionary effects (smoke and mirrors). Featuring 89 works and 6 studio notebooks dated from 1959 to 2002, the retrospective traces Ruscha's career from early pop images of American commercial logos and gas stations to later images depicting words and phrases as subject matter.

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David C. Driskell, artist, collector, and emeritus professor of art history, University of Maryland at College Park; in conversation with Ruth Fine, consulting curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. Following The Art of Romare Bearden, on view at the National Gallery of Art from September 14, 2003, through January 4, 2004, exhibition curator Ruth Fine joined lenders David C. Driskell and Frank Stewart to discuss another collaboration- their visual biography of the artist. Bearden (1911-1988) worked closely with Stewart from 1975 until his death and allowed Stewart to photograph him in his studio, at art-related events, and during his personal time. The resulting book, Romare Bearden, contains introductory texts by Driskell and Fine as well as an interview Fine conducted with Stewart that serves as running commentary alongside the book's images. In this Conversations with Artists program recorded on December 11, 2004, the collaborators discuss their relationship with Bearden, the Gallery's Bearden exhibition, and the newly published visual biography.

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Jim Dine, artist, in conversation with Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. Marking the opening of the Drawings of Jim Dine exhibition on March 21, 2004, Dine discussed his career and work with exhibition curator Judith Brodie at the National Gallery of Art. The artist has embraced drawing since the 1970s and is considered one of America's greatest living draftsmen. His images of tools, self-portraits, and studies from nature and after antiquity are among the most accomplished and beautiful drawings of our time.

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Lou Stovall, artist, in conversation with Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. As part of the National Gallery of Art summer lecture series Five African American Artists: Johnson-Tanner-Johnson-Stovall-Thomas, Lou Stovall participated in a Conversations with Artists program with Ruth Fine on August 3, 2003. "Compositions and Collaborations: The Arts of Lou Stovall" is a rare opportunity to hear Stovall discuss his own work and his collaborations with other artists, and to listen as he responds to questions from the audience. Stovall has been a major figure in the Washington, DC, arts community since the early 1960s, when he arrived at Howard University for his BFA program. In 1968 Stovall founded Workshop, Inc., a professional printmaking studio, where he has collaborated with more than 70 artists over the years. In addition to his own drawings and silkprints, and his collaborative printmaking projects, Stovall is a published essayist and poet.

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Joel Shapiro, artist. Following the installation of Joel Shapiro's Untitled (1989) in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden with other major post-World War II sculptures, the artist received an invitation to curate an exhibition of his work alongside the 19th-century sculpture of Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux. In this podcast recorded on March 9, 2003, Shapiro explains that the upcoming exhibition gave him on opportunity to focus on the continuity of thought in sculpture. Although certain ideas for form in sculpture seem radical and contemporary, their ideas have already been discovered and worked with in earlier times. Shapiro finds that the development of form seems to repeat itself, although it is ever-changing, more or less focused, and contextualized by the era in which it was created.

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Christo and Jeanne-Claude, artists To celebrate the opening of the exhibition Christo and Jeanne-Claude in the Vogel Collection on February 3, 2002, at the National Gallery of Art, artists Christo and Jeanne-Claude discussed their realized and non-realized projects. Featuring 72 works representing four decades of the artists' careers, the exhibition included preparatory drawings, collages, scale models for proposed large-scale works, and photographs of completed projects. In this podcast, the artists share their thoughts on The Gates, Project for Central Park, New York City; Wrapped Reichstag, Berlin; and Valley Curtain, Grand Hogback, Rifle, Colorado.

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Richard Misrach, photographer To coincide with the exhibition Carleton Watkins: The Art of Perception, on view from February 20 to May 7, 2000, Richard Misrach discussed his photographs of desert cantos and other landscapes as following in Watkins' legacy. The lecture took place on March 26, 2000. Misrach distinguished himself in his 30-year career as one of the most accomplished photographers of our time. His passionate and intelligent records of the American West present the chilling details of assaults on the landscape by contemporary civilization, while also eloquently revealing its enduring beauty. Misrach explains that although he was not conscious of Watkins' photographs, which evidence the man-made in Pacific Northwest landscapes and were taken more than a hundred years ago, the profound influence of his work is unmistakable.

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Wayne Thiebaud, artist, in conversation with Kathan Brown, president, Crown Point Press, and Ruth Fine, curator of modern prints and drawings, National Gallery of Art. In this podcast recorded on June 8, 1997, to celebrate the opening of the Gallery's Thirty-Five Years at Crown Point Press exhibition, artist Wayne Thiebaud discusses his career with Kathan Brown, president of Crown Point Press, and curator Ruth Fine of the National Gallery of Art. The conversation focuses on Theibaud's prints, which feature themes that also appear in his paintings and drawings. These works depict a wide variety of sumptuous foodstuffs as well as the colorful California landscape.

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Claes Oldenburg and Coosje van Bruggen, artists, in conversation with Germano Celant, senior curator of contemporary art, Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum; introduction by Marla Prather, associate curator of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art. Claes Oldenberg (born 1929) and Coosje van Bruggen (1942-2009) transform familiar objects through their sculptures and give them a new reality filled with mystery, humor, and sensuality. Gemano Celant, organizing curator of the travelling exhibition Claes Oldenburg: An Anthology, on view at the Gallery from February 12 to May 7, 1995, joins the artists in this lecture. In this recording from March 5, 1995, the trio discuss the art in the exhibition—the first survey of their art since 1969—and how it offers a sense of interaction unlike anything else in a museum.

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Nancy Graves and Donald Saff, artists, in conversation with Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. Artists Nancy Graves and Donald Saff, artist and founding director of Graphicstudio, discuss the formation of the Graphicstudio archive at the National Gallery of Art with Ruth Fine in this podcast recorded on October 6, 1991. This program was held in honor of the exhibition Graphicstudio: Contemporary Art from the Collaborative Workshop at the University of South Florida, which was on view from September 15, 1991, to January 5, 1992, and for which Graves completed her most recent work, Canoptic Legerdemain. The archive consists of 140 paintings, photographs, sculptures, and works in other media created by 24 artists who worked in collaboration with Graphicstudio's printers and artisans.

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Jim Dine, artist, in conversation with Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. Shortly after the opening of the exhibition Graphicstudio: Contemporary Art from the Collaborative Workshop at the University of South Florida, Jim Dine discussed his works in the Graphicstudio archive at the National Gallery of Art with Ruth Fine on September 29, 1991. On view from September 15, 1991, to January 5, 1992, the exhibition featured 140 works by 24 artists, including two sculptures given by Dine from his own collection to complete the archive formed in 1986. Instead of looking back on his well-documented career, the conversation also focused on his recent work in printmaking and on a drawings series completed in the dead of night at a European museum.

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Pat Steir, artist, and Kathan Brown, founder and director of Crown Point Press, in conversation with Ruth Fine, curator of special projects in modern art, National Gallery of Art. In this podcast recorded on March 25, 1990, at the National Gallery of Art, Pat Steir appears in conversation with Kathan Brown to celebrate the exhibition The 1980s: Prints from the Collection of Joshua P. Smith. Moderated by exhibition curator Ruth Fine, the conversation explores the role that printmaking and the artist's involvement with Crown Point Press have played in her career. Also examined is Steir's use of paintings and drawings to address many of the important visual and conceptual issues of her generation.

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Scott Burton and George Segal, artists, in conversation with Nan Rosenthal, curator of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art. In honor of A Century of Modern Sculpture: The Patsy and Raymond Nasher Collection, an exhibition on view at the National Gallery of Art from June 28, 1987, to February 15, 1988, Scott Burton and George Segal discussed their work with Nan Rosenthal. The exhibition featured a selection of 70 works of 20th-century sculpture, collected for the Nashers' home in Dallas, Texas, and for installation at a Dallas shopping center and office complex. Held on December 6, 1987, this conversation was the one of the first programs at the Gallery to feature two living artists. Both artists focused on making sculpture for public spaces in the late 1980s—spaces whose users represent a heterogeneous group in respect to their knowledge of art and their taste.

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Roy Lichtenstein, artist, in conversation with Jack Cowart, curator of 20th-century art, National Gallery of Art; introduction by Ruth Fine, curator of the department of graphic arts, National Gallery of Art. American artist Roy Lichtenstein appears in conversation with curator Jack Cowart to celebrate the exhibition Gemini G.E.L.: Art and Collaboration, on view at the National Gallery of Art from November 18, 1984, to February 24, 1985. In this recording from January 27, 1985, Lichtenstein discusses some of his 134 prints in the Gemini G.E.L. collection. Gemini G.E.L. (Graphic Edition Limited) is an artists' workshop and publisher of hand-printed limited-edition lithographs. Gemini G.E.L. played a pivotal role in the formation of the Gallery's contemporary collection when Sidney B. Felsen and Stanley Grinstein, owners of Gemini, donated 256 prints and sculpture editions by 22 contemporary American artists working at Gemini G.E.L. of Los Angeles. The archive collection now has more than 1,200 works, establishing the Gallery as a primary research center in the field of contemporary graphic art and edition sculpture.