Claire Wolf Krantz, Cave Temples, India, acrylic, oil, and photograph on mylar, 42x31 in., 2001. All works courtesy Perimeter Gallery, Chicago, and photographed by James Prinz.
Susan Sensemann, Rise, lambda print, 39x26 in., 2003. All works courtesy the artist.
Claire Wolf Krantz, Java, in Time and Memory (detail, panel 1), acrylic and photographs on canvas, 84x60 in., 2002.
Being female, when I was growing up, meant that I was the bad guy--and the same thing was true with being Jewish. I didn't fit into Christian mainstream assumptions regarding basic beliefs about family, women's relationships to men, to work, or to religion. The phrase "Judeo-Christian tradition" seemed to apply to Christian definitions of Jews, but not to me. ...So, I was not a blond guy. My reaction was to figure out who I was, and to somehow handle that sense of difference and dislocation in a way that meant I ignored, to some degree, what was outside while I developed what was inside.
--claire wolf krantz
Susan Sensemann, Act, lambda print, 23x15 in., 2003.
Susan Sensemann, Faun II, cibachrome, 39x26 in., 2002.
Claire Wolf Krantz, Impact (detail), acrylic, photographs, and marker on pellon, 59x30 in., 1996.
I've learned to express feelings in my work that are so deep within me they frighten me. Some of my photographs depict it. I merge my face and head with a variety of images I've photographed, to form something that extends me into an imaginary place. This strategy has allowed me to become a range of characters--from temptress to saint, princess to king, bunny to Bacchus, Buddha to a pathetic garden gnome. I can experiment with decay, disease, beauty, and even glamour without actually living it....I've been drawn to the idea of the monster, because the monster eludes capture--it's not a fixed entity.
|I've known Susan Sensemann's work since I first saw it at Roy Boyd Gallery in the mid-1980s. She was dealing with ideas and structures in her art that seemed similar to what I was thinking about, particularly in the way she used expressive brushstrokes in relationship to architectural structures, which evoked ideas about the body in space. Later, after we got to know each other personally, and I had a chance to see both the range and depth of her ideas, I wanted to know her better--because I liked her and had fun with her, and because she was a stimulus to my own thinking. Intellectually, she's not only smart, but subtle and deep.|
During the past eight or 10 years, Susan and I have had many long conversations about our artwork and our professional and personal lives. When the opportunity to extend our conversations via mouthtomouth came up, it seemed like an interesting challenge. This interview took place August 5-11, 2003.--claire wolf krantz
Let's start with how we came to be artists, because our backgrounds are quite different. I've always made art, but when I broached it to my parents as a career, it was out of the question. My folks were immigrants--they were just getting started here in Chicago when I was born--and their ambition for me was to become a doctor, because I was good at math and science in school. At the very least, I was supposed to get married, have kids, and be a schoolteacher on the side. I found science labs easy, but boring; I really cared about looking at art and making things. My mom had a lifetime membership to the Art Institute of Chicago, and I started going to the galleries on the bus, by myself, every Saturday; eventually I was quite familiar with the collection. At some point a compromise was born, and I became an occupational therapist. Then, in my early 30s, I went back to school at the School of the Art Institute for a degree in studio art. Later, I studied at Stanford University, and then returned to SAIC for graduate work in art history, theory, and criticism. As it turned out, my earlier science courses--particularly anatomy, physiology, kinesiology, neurology, and psychology--became significant resources for my art. They also helped me develop cognitive skills that are useful as both an artist and as an art critic. OK, Susan: your turn.
Compared to your varied life, I've had a simple one. I grew up outside Manhattan, in Long Island, New York, and I knew I wanted to be an artist when I was 4 years old. My mother often took me to the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art--and best of all, to see the Rockettes' Christmas show at Rockefeller Center. Then my sixth-grade art teacher and his wife took me to New York City to see a nine-part Picasso show in 1960, and I became a Cubist overnight! So I was the high school "artist," and I went on to Syracuse University for my BFA. But my life really changed during my junior year in Rome. Everything changed. I knew that Italy, painting, mysticism, beauty, and romance would guide my work, and those magical qualities continue to do so.
So let's talk about how we met, and what continues to draw us together.
Although we'd met before, our first substantive conversation was in the women's room of a hotel in Boston! We were attending the College Art Association conference, and you asked me if I'd be interested in joining an artists' group you were organizing with Irene Siegel and Edith Altman, to talk about art, work, and issues of being an artist. I had great respect for these artists, so we formed the group, which later also included Frank Piatek, Joyce Neimanas, Patty Carrol, and Barbara Kasden. I was intrigued by the idea of expanding my network of artists who have become friends. And you are a very good friend. You're an extraordinarily good listener, you measure responses carefully, and you have a surprising sense of humor that's been fun to discover. You're a true intellectual. By that I mean you process information through an extensive literary tradition, along with knowledge of history, psychology, art theory, and a love for theater and ballet. Your references are always interesting to me, and I'm amazed by your curiosity and capacity to learn. I seem to gravitate toward women with complicated lives, because they dig into issues from several angles that stem from their experiences.
One of the things I enjoy about our friendship is that you're very real, and you reinforce my own impatience with bullshit!
Thanks; I like being a bullshit barometer! You know, one of the reasons we like looking at art together is that we usually agree on questions of substance, but we often--respectfully--disagree about visual strategies. I think our ability to verbalize our different opinions opens up the art for both of us. As a teacher, I tend to want to be supportive of an artist's early attempts to clarify ideas and establish a unique voice. As a very smart critic, you have the ability to divorce yourself from trends, and talk and write about what you see in art that has meaning. You've been supportive of a number of artists who might not have been in the hot spot. You're also a very good editor. You read some of my poetry a few months ago and pointed out that I used too many words. You were right, I edited, and the work has more of the rhythm of speech.
Because we occupy different roles, I as teacher and you as critic, what can you add about your process of looking, thinking, and writing?
It's a challenge to take the multiplicity of things I know about the artist and the work, and translate that into something else--namely, language--that enlarges my thinking, learning, and writing. So, I don't see my role as a nurturer of the person of the artist, but as one of transforming what the artist does into a form that extends the art itself. In a sense, I'm helping artists indirectly by clarifying and analyzing what I see through the medium of words. As a critic, I avoid allowing personal relationships with artists to influence my initial appraisal of their work, so I can reflect on what I think they actually do rather than what they say. I do take into account what the artists say about their intentions, but I also have to ask whether they're actually doing what they say they're doing, or whether they're doing something more interesting than they might realize. Too often they're doing neither. So my job is to look at the art first, and then begin to contextualize it with artists' statements, plus relevant art history, theory, and current art.
One of the things I find valuable about you, Susan, is that you're in touch with very young artists. You said you're sympathetic to helping students find their voices. What do you mean by that?
Thirty years of teaching have flown by. It has been such a privilege to work with students who are vulnerable as they learn to go within to find responses to issues of the heart, the body, the mind, and the spirit. I recently taught a writing class that was a delight, because I had my students focus on the idea of the alter ego. For a semester, they became an astronaut, spy, hairdresser, mute, rodeo-rider, advice columnist, and Amish girl. They were tentative at first, because as students, they'd been so busy establishing who they think they are that they hadn't taken time to think about who they might be, and how developing those personae might affect their work--even more importantly, their lives. I will say that I have no patience for ennui or art about boredom, because life's too rich for that.
I agree. Freud's ideas about the relationship of Eros and Thanatos, as a continuum that underpins our psyches, still seem relevant to me. All my work embodies the part of the continuum that affirms life--as opposed to the living death of cynicism and boredom--and I'm drawn to work, like yours, which is life-enhancing.
In terms of art in general, I vacillate between wanting to see work that's buoyant or flamboyant, and feeling an urgency to read or see work that grapples with the demise of personal freedom in our society. Being a hippie in the 1960s most definitely helped to shape assumptions I had about self-expression. But as you've said, our personal histories were quite different. Let's talk about our artwork in relationship to the experiences that shaped our thinking. Why not take on the issue of being women and artists? You first.
I think being a woman is also connected to my being Jewish. Both factors have shaped my life and are an important undercurrent in my art. They're pluses and minuses. Being female, when I was growing up, meant that I was the bad guy--and the same thing was true with being Jewish. I didn't fit into Christian mainstream assumptions regarding basic beliefs about family, women's relationships to men, to work, or to religion. The phrase "Judeo-Christian tradition" seemed to apply to Christian definitions of Jews, but not to me. I find the stories in most western art to be meaningless, a source of amusement, or utterly offensive. Christmas was a dead day in our family, and the Jewish holidays remain outside the national calendar in this country. I remember being angry at the Peace Museum for opening a major exhibition on Yom Kippur and having my objections shrugged off. This situation has diminished in the art world now, but it's still true out there in the "real world." So, I was not a blond guy. My reaction was to figure out who I was, and to somehow handle that sense of difference and dislocation in a way that meant I ignored, to some degree, what was outside while I developed what was inside.
How did that affect your work?
My work has always been about the interior process of understanding how I relate to my surroundings, and the dislocation that I feel from the larger society around me. I realize now, in retrospect, that I was also trying to make a connection between what I was feeling and experiencing, and some sort of larger philosophical structure. My first so-called "mature" work came out of my experience spending periods of time in Santa Fe. I started making drawings of the hills that seemed to me very luscious, very female. It had to do with the earth and my body, but also with the inside of the human body. I started developing structures, like books and gridded pieces--architectonic structures that seemed like a framework for the inside of me. It also had a psychological dimension, because I had gone through the death of my first husband, and I was dealing with that pain, and with questions like: "What does it mean to live a life? What does it mean to have a life cut short?" The paintings and drawings were also about the context of a larger world against the reality of an individual life. What does it mean to be alive and breathing--and also, what is a tragedy? Is it cutting a life too short? How do I think about a sense of time as relating to the life cycle of a flower, or the long life cycle of a rock--which I also see as a living entity?
Anyway, after a while, I started making a little joke to myself about time and displacement; I did a series of paintings about sitting in a cold, wintry Chicago loft making paintings about sunny Santa Fe. Historically, painters have gone out into the field, taken notes and made sketches--or in my case, photographs--and come back to the studio, pretending that they're in the place they're painting. So I started putting the actual photographs, which were supposedly a literal depiction of the place I'd been, into my paintings. Or I combined them with photos of my studio or my surroundings in Chicago. I used colors that either related to where the photos were taken or to the studio. I did a whole bunch of paintings combining home and faraway places.
Let me interrupt and go back to the issue of dislocation, as a subject of your experience as a woman and your work. I've always had an affinity for your visual strategies--your conflation of images that are not fixed in a single space. I think of your fields of color, collaged photographic images--and in some earlier works, linear structures or frameworks--as alternative ways of seeing and thinking that are presented as a juxtaposition of information. That, for me, is an essential component of my notion of feminism. I know you don't refer to your work as feminist, but I've seen elements in it that are similar to some in my earlier paintings that had to do with fragmentation, agitation, shifting spatial planes, and extreme plays of light and darkness. For me, those formal decisions represented, and portrayed, the psychological experiences of being a woman in a masculinist society.
Yes: it's a strategy for exploring self in a world that is not self. Although I identify myself personally as a feminist--and probably couldn't have gotten through certain life experiences if I weren't one--feminism itself has never been a subject for my art. I've just been interested in exploring other things that are more compelling for me. But I think your identifying my abstract working process as a feminist one makes sense. It seems to me that we both operate on a very abstract level of thinking.
In the 1980s, my work was included in discussions and exhibitions of Chicago "Abstractionists" that were devised to construct a dialogue about how these works and ideas differed from the work of the Imagists. Although my work certainly appeared to be about structure and system, the system I was referring to was a larger social construct. I titled the paintings for women I knew and for legendary characters. A well-known critic suggested I could be more direct with the representation of women, but I wasn't ready to give up the possibility that abstraction could carry my feminist views. I admired Eva Hesse, because her work challenged prevailing ideas of mainstream, large-scale sculpture in the 1970s, and because it depicted an internal reality that was both human and feminist.
Eventually, you did begin to use images, which continues today. But the works still refer to abstract conceptual processes.
Yes. In 1992, I took what was supposed to be a three-week break from painting, and it became a three-year obsession with cutting and pasting. I cut up images in books, from 19th-century Bibles to 1950s' manuals on childbirth and parenting. I was interested in misinformation and being politically incorrect, and I was really beginning to portray the issue of the bad girl--my bad girl. Printed material gave me concrete images to use. Collage, as you know, is based on the premise that an interrupted surface requires a complicated response from a viewer who has too much information before her--images compete, contradict, and vie for attention. And what women are taught is contradictory at best. But I'm also interested in the visual and conceptual paradox of collage: contradictory elements shift, collide, merge, and separate, as images seem to inhabit more than one space. The strange or unexpected linkages that result defy a singular narrative structure, and I'm drawn to the idea of uncertainty and reconciliation--balance that's established in the midst of rupture. Assumptions about abstraction had to be challenged. More importantly for me, that visual encounter with a sense of "restless becoming" signifies a process of making art that willfully includes the good, the bad, and the ugly.
I think the modernist idea of abstraction is misleading, because it narrows the focus of our understanding to formal concerns. I prefer to think of all work as being abstracted from conceptual, visual, or emotional material. For me, a more interesting dimension is to question how literal the work is, versus how open it is to multiple interpretations--sometimes at the expense of being easily understood. What I understand from your description of feminism is that, in art, it leans toward embracing that indeterminacy or unwillingness to pin things down. What other aspects of the women's movement have affected you?
I joined the University of Illinois in Champaign in 1973 as one of three minority hires. I was so glad to have a full-time teaching position that I quickly decided to run with the opportunity and not look back. I was lucky, because the men who hired me treated me with great respect, and my presence and attitudes made a difference. Also, good new art at that time by women like Eleanor Antin and Miriam Schapiro helped me to think about how our society is a construction. I was making small egg-tempera paintings of Salome and Mary Magdalene--bad girls who worked their way through provocative situations. Bad girls seem to be a theme of mine, probably because I'm a respectable professor and suburban mother of two. My earlier collages and prints were imaginary scenarios that women had performed in the past. Some of them were about roles that women are still taught to play, like being the perfect mother. For me, those roles constrain women to places--persistent expectations--that I want to be free from. That picks up on what you said earlier about a sense of place, because your longing for a sense of place is very different from my wishing to be free of a specific place.
That's interesting. "Place" is not the literal place I'm in, but how I think about place--how I place myself in a place. Before the Santa Fe work, I had started making artist's books, particularly accordion-folded ones, and I've sporadically continued to make them all along. For me, a book is not only a structure, but it's also a source of information, which, of course, is true of paintings, too. You can make a narrative out of the feelings, or experiences, or visual memories of being in a place, or being a person experiencing things in a place. But what interests me about the books is that you can put sections together, and that determines how you read them. In the early 1990s, my artist's books evolved into some paintings that were three-dimensional and hinged, like an open book. Other paintings were composed on wooden frameworks that were then cut and rearranged into various shapes, like a sheet of paper that was cut up and reconfigured. These structures contributed to the ideas I was exploring with paint, photographs, and sometimes texts. Later, I began organizing my compositions in the form of hanging scrolls that referred to Chinese books and painting. I was interested in the Chinese conception of space and place in relationship to the person, because it's totally different from ours. The person in the Chinese view of nature is tiny, compared to the whole. He or she lives in nature, journeys in it, and enjoys it, rather than shaping or controlling it. Moreover, Chinese paintings are regarded as books--they're hanging scrolls or hand scrolls. Poetry and calligraphy can be part of the painting, and they are all "read" as a whole. I'm still working on those ideas. I was also drawing lines and curves on the surfaces of the pieces to draw attention to postmodern ideas about the self-consciousness of painting, and to add a technological dimension to the expressive brushwork. You've commented on that.
The lines are elegant, and they delineate another layer of information. But I'm also interested in your newest methods for processing internal and visual data.
Well, I've abandoned the lines, but I've retained some of my other approaches. My newest piece is Java, in Time and Memory, which I showed at I Space last year. It was constructed like a giant Chinese hand scroll or screen; I made five painted hanging scrolls that I hung together to create a 23-foot piece. They're 7 feet high and hang 8 feet from the ground, forming an environment. I used some of the strategies I developed in my books and collages, in which the sections, as they're put together, create a whole that is only tangentially related to the parts. But instead of holding a book and encountering it with your eyes and your hands, this book had to be experienced by walking around, by moving your head up and down, and by moving your body. I continued my method of painting a big field that was dotted with smaller photographs, vignettes. This assembly represents how you focus in on an idea or a thought, how you pull back from that focus, go on to the next thing, and then connect them in your head. So "place" is both an internal and external condition. That feeling of being in a place, that sense of space, and how you move through space has always been an important part of my work. It deals with disjunction and dislocation, again, but also with the process of putting fragmented elements together to form something provisionally new, and how this experience changes in time--as represented by the ensuing sections of the painting.
Fragmentation and resolution are important parts of your work, too. I've always been attracted to how you deal with these issues in your work and your life. Could you talk about the use of montage in the photographic self-portraits you've been making for the past five years or so?
Because self-portraiture is inherently autobiographical, the work is a clear depiction of my view of my own body as it shifts with time. Also, I can layer other substances--such as seaweed--to portray decay, or strands of beads that swallow me in loveliness. I'm still a painter, but like Gerhard Richter, I'm free to use whatever medium suits my needs.
What women artists have been important to your development?
Three artists come to mind as influences. Hannah Hoch was the visionary of the 20th century who used collage to deal with the male gaze, the ethnographic museum, transgressive sexuality, and the notion of women multi-tasking--decades before our contemporary artists and critics began to analyze these issues. Critics still haven't come to grips with Hoch's late work about female eroticism--apparently it's too touchy visually, and too scary, to write about. A second is Meret Oppenheim, for extending herself as a painter, poet, and designer. And if I'd known the work of Artemisia Gentileschi when I was a student, I would have understood artistic "mastery" and the portrayal of rage. I've learned to express feelings in my work that are so deep within me they frighten me. Some of my photographs depict it. I merge my face and head with a variety of images I've photographed, to form something that extends me into an imaginary place. This strategy has allowed me to become a range of characters--from temptress to saint, princess to king, bunny to Bacchus, Buddha to a pathetic garden gnome. I can experiment with decay, disease, beauty, and even glamour without actually living it. You mentioned "bad" as a woman and a Jew, and I've been drawn to the idea of the monster, because the monster eludes capture--it's not a fixed entity.
Yes, the monster showed up in some of my collages that I haven't talked about. I used elements from my Gray's Anatomy and a book on medical terminology I had when I got my first degree in science. I was attracted to the section on "monsters"--what we now call birth defects. I was interested in how a woman's or a child's body is translated into normative terms, with the non-normative entity being labeled pejoratively as a monster.
In my case, I became drawn to the technology of the monster in film and literature, which led me to Gothicism, which then took me back to the gorgeous hyperbole and feminism of Nathaniel Hawthorne. You've edited my poetry, so you know that I've been very swept away by Hawthorne's seductive language and intent. I have a strict code of rules I use to transform his words for my context and purposes. I choose certain words out of his text, in the order of their appearance, to make new phrases of my own, linking Hawthorne's reality to mine. Of course, he was an early feminist who wrote about sensuality and anti-intellectualism. In a previous conversation, you made the point that I can't refer to a "collaboration" with Hawthorne, because he's long dead! It certainly feels like collaboration to me, though, because Nathaniel and I are on the same wavelength.
Lately, I've been thinking about the way you write poetry. It seems to me that it relates all the way back to the first work I'd seen of yours, in which structure was butting heads with feeling. An abstract structure, which included brushstrokes and color, allowed you to get to the feelings. And now you have an abstract structure in order for your unconscious to let go of what it is you're really thinking. It seems that's a comfortable way of working for you, and it just keeps going.
This year, I did my first performance in an installation consisting of my photographs, selected phrases from the poems hung on the wall, and a comfortable, lush setting of ottomans to sit on. I dressed in black lace, velvet, and rhinestones, and read erotic poetry to a rather perplexed group of passersby at the opening. My attempt suggested lots of problems and possibilities that are as intriguing to me as the feasibility of wearing a push-up bra and lace in public. I took the risk to move toward performance because the photographs and paintings were getting closer and closer to revealing my unconscious states. I wanted to carry the impulse further, so I chose to expose myself through my alter ego, "Silvie." She scared me--but I like her. She is scary and gorgeous, just like life.
"Life," again. I'd like to insert the idea that the woman--your "Silvie"--and the Jew continue to resonate with the monster in our society.
But you see, I wasn't called the "wrong" one within my middle-class, Long Island childhood. I was, in some ways, the "right" one. For me, playing a role is an extension of possibility or potential that I have not been able to live out in my day-to-day life.
So you and I have been attracted to the idea of the monster for different reasons. I've made art about what it feels like to be a monster, whereas your take is what it might feel like as a kind of adventure. You act out the role of the monster as an alter ego, and I interpret it by depicting feelings of dislocation and alienation from the larger society--the monster is the one that's not normative, the wrong one. So, what are you doing in your newest photographs?
I'm extending the idea of vanitas from Flemish still-life painters; I'm using artificial flowers from Mexican funerary arrangements and merging them onto my face--beauty and decay inexplicably woven together. Actually, the work is so new that it's hard to talk about. Questions about mortality and immortality now drive my thinking. A painter named Rachel Ruysch made heart-wrenching still-life paintings in the 1700s. Clearly she was grappling with big questions about what it's like to try to hang on to life, as it inevitably grows shorter. Photographing funeral arrangements has put me in touch with the extent to which human beings go to bring beauty to tragedy and loss. Thankfully, the miracles of technology allow me to imagine death without going there yet! But let's talk about your new work; I'm curious about your recent forays into digital technology.
My digital work, of course, doesn't have the hand-worked painted surface I've been exploring for a long time. But the computer allows me to work as fast as I think. Painting is much slower. Also, I have tons of photographs that I've taken throughout my career--records of particular times and places--which are really documents of where I've been and what I'm thinking about. Working digitally lets me use these pictures of my history. By altering the photos in the computer, and then layering and juxtaposing them with other photos of places and of paintings, I play with them as elements of memory. The memories of the past become fused with the present, which will then become the memory of the future. Also, my art has always had social and political agendas, which are more or less apparent in different bodies of work. Right now, I'm depicting ruins in different settings. These works deal with the relationship of the visitor, or the tourist, to an exotic place, but also with ruminations about how societies rise, become powerful and culturally sophisticated, and then fall into dissolution and ruin, to become picturesque documents of the past. I fear for our country.
We've talked about our multiple roles as critics, teachers, and artists. What effect does being a critic have on your being an artist?
Looking at all kinds of work helps me keep my own options open as an artist. And I find that writing about ideas releases me from trying to be too intellectual in my artwork--there, I can let my imagination run free.
On top of that, you've also curated exhibitions--
Well, we both have!
That's true! I remember you curated a show on beauty--when was that?
In 1983; it was called Beautiful!
That was long before Dave Hickey got the drift! What were some of the others?
I've organized a number of shows with other artists: Ordinary/Extraordinary: The Artists' Use of Home in 1997 with Nancy Azara, and the traveling exhibit Ten Artists View Place, in 1993, with Claire Prussian. That show explored the relationship between a physical place and the one that artists create.
I'm really curious to know more about the show you curated at the Spertus Museum in 1994, Bridges and Boundaries: Chicago Crossings. How did that show come about, and what was the response, particularly from the artists you included?
Maury Fred, the director of the Spertus, invited Otello Anderson and me to co-organize and participate in a Chicago companion show for the exhibition Bridges and Boundaries: African-Americans and American Jews, which traveled from the Jewish Museum in New York to the Chicago Historical Society. We each chose five artists in addition to ourselves--Otello chose black artists and I chose Jewish ones--to create new works that explored the relationships of these two communities in Chicago.
As part of this yearlong interactive project, Maury hosted several Kosher dinners at the museum, during which the artists talked to each other about what it means to be Jewish or black in our society. Some of the talks became heated, but I think what contributed to the show's success was that the talks were real. Nothing was papered over. We all emerged from those confrontations a little more accepting and understanding of each other's positions, and I think much of the exhibition--which included painting, ceramic sculpture, photography, installation, and video--was strengthened by the tensions and provisional resolutions of the artists' encounters with each other. Kartemquin Films also taped sections of the conversations and interviewed the artists in their studios, compiling a 15-minute video that was shown continuously as part of the exhibit. The show drew media attention and a large audience from a varied population--much larger than the art world--many of whom had never heard of the Spertus Museum before.
How did you, as an artist, choose to respond to the show's premise?
I made an installation--a huge, three-dimensional, two-piece painting that looked like an open book on a stand, with three additional paintings hung on the wall. The "book" and wall pieces were painted to evoke the idea of fire and water, elements symbolizing forces of creation and destruction. The "book" painting was lettered with a prayer that is read during the Jewish High Holidays, dealing with individual and community sin and redemption. There were also phrases under each painting on the wall: Who makes whom "The Other"?; Is the question Black and White?; and Tolerance vs. Respect. This piece, along with several others in the show, was subsequently chosen to travel in another exhibition organized by the Jewish Museum in New York.
Some of the shows you've curated, Susan, seem to have a particular bias toward pleasure and eroticism--maybe as some notion of feminism.
I've curated or organized Pleasure Beyond Guilt, More Is More, Touch, and Libidinal. A forthcoming show, Tangential Pleasures, will include some new mysterious and erotic pieces of yours, which you haven't shown yet. You and I are also exploring a new idea for a show we're organizing, which will include work from our artists' group. For me, curating involves hunting for a concept and then gathering unlikely work to offer a range of ideas elucidating that premise. I want experiencing art to involve an involuntary physical response on the part of the viewer. I'm not interested at all in pornography; my choices are more subtle and, I think, more powerful. A lot of this work is about sex from the inside out, and beauty as a common denominator. I have to admit that my preoccupation has been, in part, an antidote to cool conceptualism. Nothing bores me more than art based on "artworld" jokes. I want my viewers to feel as well as think. You mentioned Eros. I've thought about the theater in which Psyche's lamp illuminated Eros' desire as something vulnerable. Desire matters, and I'm convinced that desire, as it provokes a greater sense of knowledge and understanding, is essential
Susan Sensemann is a professor and Director of Graduate Studies at the University of Illinois at Chicago. She has been an arts activist and independent curator. Two upcoming curatorial projects include Fabulous and Brain/Body. Her work has appeared in many national and international exhibitions in Finland, Italy, Brazil, China, Germany, Poland, South Korea, and Iceland, among others, and is held in numerous private and public collections. Claire Wolf Krantz is a free-lance art critic for Art in America and other national art publications, as well as an independent curator and lecturer. Her artwork has been shown in the United States, Europe, and Indonesia. She is represented by Perimeter Gallery and FLATFILEgalleries, Chicago; Toomey-Tourell Gallery, San Francisco; and is an affiliate of AIR Gallery, New York. Her work was recently included in the exhibition Drawing Conclusions: Works by Artist-Critics in New York. Upcoming shows include a group exhibition at AIR Gallery in February 2004, and a two-person digital show at FLATFILEgalleries in March 2004.