I recall prior to finishing graduate school, in preparation for our thesis show, we had the option to photograph ourselves which the surprising majority of the group seemed ambivalent and the two decided people saying no swayed the voting. “The last thing we want to look like is a bunch of goddamned abstract expressionists,” voiced one of my colleagues.
Sadly, I admit, I wanted us to. Not that we were anywhere as near as collegial as they might have been. As a group we were fairly disengaged from one another’s work. There were pseudo intellectual discussions about what some writer meant in regard to discussions about class or taste – a misguided approach into something theoretical – which only intrigued a couple of the group. There were formal issues about space and form that interested a couple of others in the group. Never a consensus was reached, nor a heated argument. The only thing that was lamely agreed upon was that we would not look like a bunch of abstract expressionists with our black-and-white-suited-image on the cover of some postcard.
Some months later I was helping Barbara Rose move out of her DC apartment for her return to the Big Apple, and she was remiss about her time in DC, somewhat regretful and somewhat proud of the few things she may have accomplished. One of the accomplishments had in part to do with the success of a group of students whom she helped educate. She told them “get a show together at a gallery in town, put a catalogue together and I’ll write the intro.” They paid attention - so she wrote for them. One of the things that tickled her was the photo: “like the Irascibles,” as she put it.
For some reason I felt a little more certain about our decision not to do that photo. Granted, when I think of black and white photos of groups of artists gathered together in suits, I think of the guys at the Bauhaus, I think of the Dadaists. I think of guys (rarely is there a woman pictured with them unless it’s Duchamp in drag), in a time when wearing the suit was expected, gathered together with common interests. The suit is like a uniform, not of art, but of intellect.
Thumbing through the Guggenheim’s retrospective of James Rosenquist a while back I looked at the pictures of those Leo Castelli represented. All the heavyweights of the 1960s and 1970s are there: Rauschenberg, Johns, Warhol, Rusha, Lichtenstein, Kelly. No suit. No uniform. A haphazard collection of men (except when Ms. Rose might be amongst them). It is as likely to be a reuniting track team from the Waukesha High School class of ’58 photo as it is to be a collection of the most successful artists since the end of the Truman administration. And everyone is all smiles.
The ideas have not evolved greatly since the Bauhaus or Dada. Those artists were doing whacked out installations, collages, decollages, assemblages and paintings that for what was to follow forty and now ninety years later can just as easily be misconstrued as farcical repetition as it can be acknowledged as serious art. Part of it has to do with not being aware of our history. Part of it might have to do with the photos.
As for the graduate photo that never happened, I think I am rather glad. Our ideas never gelled in those two years together into something that could be confused as a movement or a manifesto. Largely I think the ideas are still swelling and relaxing, each going their separate way. I am in search of colleagues.