Page 14 - Studio International - September 1966
P. 14

Frank 0' Hara, poet and museum official

      an interview with Edward Lucie-Smith

      Frank O'Hara, who has just died at the age   discuss the placement of an image, which would   think that Bill de Kooning is lying when he says
      of 40, was Assistant Curator of the Depart-  leave me enough room to write text, or I would say   that he loves Poussin or Ingres, or Motherwell if
                                               where I wanted the text and then he would   he says he loves Delacroix?
      ment of Painting and Sculpture Exhibitions
                                               decorate the rest of the stone. But that's the only
      at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
                                               time I think that I've really collaborated. I've done   What excites you most in modern American art? What
      He had held this post since 1960, and had in
                                               other things, too. Grace Hartigan has used some of  are the qualities you find yourself responding to?
      fact been associated with the Museum from a
                                               my poems in painting or I have made pages of   Well, they're all individual qualities. I would
      much earlier period—since 1951. Thanks to
                                               words for Michael Goldberg, which he then com-  really just have to name a lot of artists. . . . I
      this official connexion he had been responsible   pleted; but I delivered the work in those cases, and   don't find that one year I'm excited by Abstract
      for some important exhibitions, such as the   then they went on and did what they wanted. I   Expressionism, the next year by Pop Art, the
      Jackson Pollock show which toured Europe in   didn't have any say about what they would do   next year by Op Art, and this coming year by
      1958. But facts such as these give little  with them. I was very pleased with the result, but   spatial sculpture or something. It's all in the same
      notion of the extent of his influence in the   I think the Rivers thing is the only thing where I   environment to me.
      New York art-world, where he had perhaps   really did collaborate.
                                                                                          In Europe styles are apt to arise and then be packaged.
      the most creative impact of any non-painter.
                                                Isn't this kind of activity rather unusual in a museum   In New York it must be very different.
      His close friendship with Larry Rivers was
                                               official? Museum officials are usually thought of in   Yes, because you know the work before the style
      especially notable, and the memorial to it is
                                                Europe as members of the Court of Appeal but not as the   has even been established.
      the painting for which O'Hara posed—one of   actual participators.
      the best pictures of Rivers' early period. The   Well, it's a little more complicated than that   Do you think American Art has separate characteristics
      position which O'Hara occupied was im-    because, after all, Jean Cassou is a poet, isn't he ?   which make it American?
      portant but indefinable—he was poet, play-  And in America it's very hard to codify the art as   That's a horrible question. But does one think
      wright, critic, friend, and catalyst, and all of  it emerges anyway, so that your participation is   that Tapies does things that way because he's
      these at once. New York will be different   really your interest in a sort of emotional way,   Spanish ?
      without him.                             which leads you perhaps to understand a little bit
                                                better than the general public at the time the work   No, that's not quite it. Do you think of Tapies as a
        What I wanted to ask you about first of all was this link   is appearing. And then you're either right or  provincial artist in relationship to New York?
      in New York between poetry and painting?   wrong later.                             Not at all. No, I think the work of Tapies in New
       It's partly because of the French influence on                                    York, as in France or Spain or Italy, is an absolute
      American painting. You know—Apollinaire, Cub-  Which way do you think things are going in America?   fact of contemporary art. I mean that the general
      ism and all that sort of thing. People like John   For instance, you've been very much identified with Rivers,   mistake is in thinking of these things in terms of
      Ashbeny and I arrived in New York or emerged as   partly because you've collaborated with him, and partly   nationalities. There is modern art.
      poets in the mid-fifties or late fifties, and the   because you were painted by him.
      painters were then the only ones who were in-  You mean, do I think they're going towards   But you don't accept the specifically American flavour—or
      terested in any kind of experimental poetry. The   Rivers or away? I don't feel particularly identified   even an American tradition?
      general literary scene was not. We were published   with Rivers. I mean we're friends, but then I'm   I think Pollock was absolutely right when he said—
      in certain literary magazines and so on, but   very close friends with other painters whose work I   I don't remember exactly how he said it—there is
      nobody was really very enthusiastic except the   also admire. Larry is a very individual artist and   no such thing as American painting or any other
       painters.                                therefore it would be very difficult to say that any   kind of painting, there is good painting. But I do
                                                particular trend was exemplified in his work. One   think that's a very important point—there is good
        Why do you think that was? Because the painters were   thing that he did manage to do, which is quite   painting and there's bad painting and there's
       more committed to an idea of experiment than the literary   significant I think, was to admire and be in-  indifferent painting and there's superficial paint-
      people?                                   fluenced by Abstract Expressionism as a younger   ing, there's frivolous painting. This also goes for
       Yes. Exactly.                            person, a younger man than the heroes of the   sculpture, poetry or anything else we're all in-
                                                movement, and found a way to work with it—in a   volved with. It depends on the individual artist.
       How has this affected the way you write?   valid, interesting way.
       I think the example of certain of the Abstract   I think, for instance, that the influence of Gorky   What do you think about the idea of the New York
       Expressionists in particular and of other major   on Rivers is extremely strong, as is in some periods  `Underground'? 'Underground' movies, for example?
      artists in New York and in Europe gave me the   the influence of Leger, for example. Where the   I  think actually in many cases it's an acknow-
      feeling that one should work harder and should   public is concerned, the transition to Pop Art has   ledgement of the best work of a lot of other people.
       really try to do something other than just polish   been so fast that Rivers is usually labelled as a   If so much really marvellous work hadn't been
      whatever talent one had to be recognized for. But   forerunner of Pop. The really interesting thing is   done in the twentieth century by artists of a great
       that one should go further.              the way he used the influence of de Kooning, of   many nationalities there would be no necessity for
                                                Léger, of Gorky, and even in many cases of  Andy Warhol to decide to devote himself to films.
       Do you see yourself as a kind of collaborator of painters?   Kandinsky in his work, where it may be related   I'll put it more positively—he would not feel that
       Only in one specific instance, when Larry Rivers   to images of Camel packs, of lions walking through   it was O.K. to do this, and if he has turned to films
       and I actually did physically collaborate on some   the streets, of the language books where the parts   then it must mean that he, as an artist, assumes that
      lithographs; we both really did work on them. I   of the body are spelled out.     a great deal of pictorial and cultural imagery has
      learned how to write backwards, for instance. We                                   been dealt with adequately in painting and
      did not use any transfers. We worked on the stones   What I want to get hold of is simply your reaction to   sculpture, but not in films. I think most responsible
       together; he did not work on the stones if I wasn't   this idea of tradition. We've been talking, for example,   artists improve the medium they choose. In times
       there, and I didn't work on the stones if he wasn't   of Rivers building on a series of other artists.   of desuetude you find Rembrandt labouring over
       there to see what I was doing. Sometimes we would    Yes, like every artist does. I mean, you don't really   etchings because there are no great etchings after
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