AS-AP

Interview with David Katzive, Artpark Visual Arts Director, 1974-1976; Visual Arts Consultant, 1979; Visual Arts Curator, 1990-1992

Posted June 10, 2011 by Anonymous
Interviewer: 
Sandra Q. Firmin, Curator, UB Art Gallery
Interview Date: 
Wednesday, November 11, 2009
Person Interviewed: 
David Katzive, Artpark Visual Arts Director, 1974-1976; Visual Arts Consultant, 1979; Visual Arts Curator, 1990-1992
Place of Interview: 
Offices of Rudder Finn, New York City

 

Preface

The following oral history transcript is the result of a recorded interview with David Katzive on November 11, 2009. This interview was donated by the UB Art Galleries to be presented online by AS-AP in June 2011.

 

 

 

 

David Katzive and Sandra Q. Firmin have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.

Creative Commons License This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.

 

Interview

 

SANDRA FIRMIN:  This is an interview with David Katzive conducted on November 11th,  2009.

 

DAVID KATZIVE:  Okay.

 

FIRMIN:  So if you can just start out—

 

KATZIVE:  Just go right down the list.

 

FIRMIN:  How did your work prior to Artpark, at the Museum of Contemporary Art and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, prepare you for Artpark?

 

KATZIVE:  Extremely well, and I’ll tell you why. It has a lot to do with my own approach and background, which is theater. If you get into visual arts museums from a theater career, in your heart, in your activities you know that nothing is permanent. It’s a show and it comes down. Nothing lasts. That’s the essence of theater work. And I had been working in theater. That was my first career. And it’s led to what I do now and Artpark, and art museums are in the middle. Impermanence mattered a great deal. And my undergraduate major was physics. It may seem strange, but the way physicists see the world now has a lot to do with impermanence. And you’ll see this threaded through many of the things that I brought to the Museum of Contemporary Art. What I experienced there was very formative for me. And working with Jan [van der Marck], who had these brilliant ideas, he took all the heat.  I was his curator, so I got to work with the artists and he— Whenever there were problems, he was the director, and he had to face them.  

 

FIRMIN:  Can you— sorry a side note.

 

KATZIVE:  Yes.

 

FIRMIN:  You said something about Dan Flavin and that was—

 

KATZIVE:  Sure. Let me come back to that.

 

FIRMIN:  I just— There’s an exhibition in Chelsea where— I think it has a lot of original work that was at the MCA [Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago].

 

KATZIVE:  The Flavin show was called Pink and Gold, and it consisted of eight-foot long fluorescent tubes that were literally pink and gold. Beautifully arranged in the entire gallery, all 10,000 square feet; there was nothing but the Dan Flavin show.

 

FIRMIN:  It was—

 

KATZIVE:  Vertical pink and gold. I have some stuff.

 

FIRMIN:  It’s been put up, re-installed in Chelsea right now.

 

KATZIVE:  Interesting.

 

FIRMIN:  The entire show.

 

KATZIVE:  Oh, cool.

 

FIRMIN:  Just FYI.

 

KATZIVE:  Is it called Pink and Gold?

 

FIRMIN:  I think it’s called Pink and Gold.

 

KATZIVE:  Well, then it’s the real deal.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  For however authentic it can be. You know, I actually happen to have some of the fluorescent fixtures, because like Artpark, The Museum of Contemporary Art had no collection. At that time—this is 1967 to 1970, when I was there we did all these amazing things, but—the notion of impermanence is really important. The problem with that show, for the public, was they walked in and they just saw fluorescent lights like they were familiar with from McDonald’s. And they said, “I’m paying admission for this? I’m not gonna pay for this show. I want my money back.” Plus we’d brought in a computer printer. The catalogue was printed out on demand. And it was a really old-fashioned printer, a clackety-clackety thing, with paper with the dotted holes on the sides. And the catalogue was printed in that way, which was quite remarkable. Flavin himself wasn’t that happy about it. We put it out of sight, but it made a fair amount of noise. So he didn’t like that part. But that was only one aspect of it. So Jan got tremendous heat for that. And in fact, if I remember right, the board decided to form an exhibition committee, so that they would have more oversight on the exhibitions, so that there wouldn’t be that much of a brouhaha from the public. And I’m— This is my first art museum job. I mean, I’m fresh out of University of Chicago, you know. I had done art coordination there, working with artists for the campus; I did campus art, which was kind of how I got involved at the museum. But I’ve seen this really difficult situation that was created for Jan. But he was a tough guy, great vision. And what was important to Jan was always that the artist’s vision was paramount. You do as much as you can to support that. I absorbed that, and it certainly applied to Artpark and even now, everything that I continue to do. When I was at the museum— this is very interesting. I’m going to give you a copy of this, if I can find it here. In 1970, I wrote an article for Art Gallery. I’ve got a pretty good copy of it here. It was about how—and this is 1970—that museums ought to have a big empty space and let the public come in and watch the artist at work. That there’d be a little more interaction; it would be a good thing; it would make them more relevant. I mean, this is 1970, a very interesting time in the art museum world. And you find things in this magazine saying that museums suffocate art; scholasticize the last flicker of life from it. And it makes reference to how if you visit artists in their studio, even Picasso painting Guernica. There are wonderful pictures that Dora Maar took while he was working on it. Visiting artists in their studio is a great time to see a piece, visit the artist. So that was the idea. Well, why not have museums do that, too? But you can see why Artpark made sense to me, with what Dale [McConathy] and Rita [Reinhardt] had started up, because I was already thinking that it was a way to get art off the walls and to have the vitality of it more accessible or relevant, as this is. So here, you can have that.

 

FIRMIN:  Great. Thank you.

 

KATZIVE: The other part of it, when I mentioned physics, I didn’t quite explain what I meant by that, but it’s important because it used to be that when you studied atomic structure and matter, you were told about the model of the solar system as this nucleus, with electrons zooming around. It looked a little bit like the solar system. And that is not what contemporary physics—and it goes back to the seventies—thought of as matter. It doesn’t work that way at all. An atom—you, me, this table, this room—is one big disturbance in space, surrounded by a whole bunch of little disturbances. That’s the universe. That’s everything, and that almost sounds like something out of Hinduism, you know, the spiritual thing; a very powerful idea that makes a great deal of sense to me now, and then, as well. So that the material thing doesn’t matter so much; it’s the energy and the process that counts. And that was something that [Artpark] was set up to do. And I didn’t set that up. I mean, Dale and Rita had this idea. And their notion came from the mandate they got from the park, which was, let’s make it an art park; let’s show sculpture; let’s use this big open space. Well, what the State meant by that— they didn’t have the same kind of understanding that Dale and Rita did. I mean, they were thinking sculpture on the plaza, like this Calder here, you know? Or in Albany. Okay, Dale and Rita were tuned into earth art. They dedicated the first season to [Robert] Smithson. And I’d worked with all these same artists—with [Michael] Heizer and Smithson and Walter De Maria, at the Museum of Contemporary Art. So the first season was dedicated with that in mind. And it was a really small part of the program and budget, because Albany’s focus and the public’s focus were on the theater. So the artists had a lot of flexibility. They were able to do a lot. There were problems the first year, because the park wasn’t finished, things were under construction. Everything was new. The workforce, the townspeople, everything that the visual artists were doing, wasn’t what they expected either. I mean, this is a strong region for crafts. And they had a sense of arts in that arena, or even things that you might see at Albright-Knox, but this stuff was really pushing the envelope. And Gordon Matta-Clark chopping up a house and bringing it there. I made some notes. I thought that was a wonderful piece to have done there. It made so much sense. So that and— You know, this whole notion of dematerialization is really extremely important.

 

FIRMIN:  Do you think you’re— You mentioned, Dale’s vision. Do you think your vision— I know you sort of furthered what he initially started, but do you think it differed in any significant way?

 

KATZIVE:  No. Well, I don’t know. I never met Dale and I’ve never known Rita. You know, they cleaned house at the end of the ’74 season, for reasons that really didn’t have much to do with the art, but with administrative issues and budget issues and style issues. It was too much for— I don’t really know the full details on that. But soon after that, in September or October, David Midland came to see me in Philly. And we talked about things that I had actually talked to Linda Adams about, even before the season began in ’74, because I had been involved on NEA panels, I’d been at the Museum of Contemporary Art, just doing all this stuff. I was one of maybe thirty or forty resource people that she and others talked to before the park even opened, about what could happen. Which was cool. You know, it was all very tidy. Especially tidy was that one of the things that we talked about was doing something with an artist like Gene Davis, because we had just done the street painting in Philly, but that's getting to the second part of your question.

 

I talked about Chicago; but Philly also was really important, and here’s why. The reason the Philadelphia Museum of Art hired me to leave the Contemporary Museum in Chicago was that this very significant and austere and fairly conservative museum wanted to be more relevant. And here I’m writing articles about approaches to relevancy, I’m part of a protest movement at the AAM meetings, here in New York, and they thought it would be a way to, you know, add an element of outreach. We started something called the Department of Urban Outreach at the Philadelphia Museum. It was a tough decision. They asked me to be the director in Chicago, and I was also offered this job with a much larger and established museum in Philly. And for better or for worse, I took it. And one of the projects was to use the whole city as a kind of a palette for artists to do work. And there was a lot of variety to it. We instituted a wall mural program there, which ultimately, most spectacularly, became the Gene Davis street painting, although the wall murals were meant to sort of eke out community talent and give them a canvas, which was a wall. We also ran the house that Thomas Eakins lived in as a community center. And that picture I showed you yesterday of me with the video camera—I mean, this is the same kind of thing. The city approved a budget to run the Thomas Eakins House, about ten blocks from the museum, as a community arts center. And they thought they’d be teaching arts and crafts there. But what we did was we listened to the community and what they wanted. And they wanted to learn video. So the reason I’m there with that camera in this picture on the cover of Museum News is that with a student from Penn [State], Peter Cuozzo, we taught the neighborhood how to cable their block and how to produce shows as it was a local community TV station. And we provided equipment and training on that. And we also— the other thing they wanted was music. This was no surprise, you know. And rather than cram some city official’s, or even the art museum’s idea of what the Thomas Eakins House should be, we held music classes. Eakins, I think, would have loved this, that we weren’t teaching formal art, we were reacting to the immediate community, which was largely a minority community, and finding really good talent, helping kids use these tools, learn video production; and then shepherding them, getting them into college, helping them go to work. We were, in one sense, doing what the city wanted, because the reason they funded the Eakins House as a community center was that somebody sold them on the idea that, listen, if we can keep five kids from getting into a life of crime each year, we’ll save the city money in arrests and prosecution and jail time. I mean, it made perfect sense, in that very hard-nosed municipal system.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah, it’s a legitimate argument.

 

KATZIVE:  And I think we probably did, because we were right in the middle of it. No, not me, I mean, I hired people that were much [more] conversant with the neighborhood. Peter is unbelievable. They loved that guy. The other part of that, when it comes down to other questions you have there, is [that] I have a very broad net on what constitutes art. But what matters to me is that it be the best of a genre. I mean, there are all kinds of yodeling. So I don’t consider it high art. But if you are a great yodeler, I mean, I think that’s exciting. And I would push something like that for the museum or the park, or fireworks. Somewhere in all this, the idea is to try to be the best in class, no matter what the genre is, you know, it’s something worth pushing forward. Saying, “Look at this.” We had done a show at the art museum called The Invisible Artist, where we went out on the street and asked people, “Do you know an artist is? What do you think an artist is?”. “Can you name an artist, living or dead?” You know, “What’s it mean to be an artist? What do artists do? What’s it like to live with an artist?” It was fascinating. We went to five parts of the city. We went to the Main Line, the very blueblood Main Line of Philly; we went into the Italian neighborhoods of Philly, up in the black neighborhoods, and we asked people the same questions. We thought we would get different answers, but we didn’t. It was a fascinating show. People would say, “Well, you know, an artist is just like you and me, but they get involved in things more. Or they’d be upstairs painting all the time, they wouldn’t have any time for me. ‘I’m busy painting right now.’ Or they’d be like a preacher, they’d be so involved.” Or a butcher told us, “Hey, when I fix a platter of meat, I feel like I’m an artist.” And they were all right, you know. And this is important stuff. So the exhibit began with these video interviews, all from different parts of the city. And then there were five profiles we did of artists. And the five artists were a painter, a sculptor, a printmaker, and architects. It was Bob Venturi and his wife, Denise Scott Brown; Rafael Ferrer, from Philly—they’re all Philadelphia artists—a wonderful weaver named Louise Todd; a printmaker, Edna Andrade; and a painter. And they talked about being an artist and said the same thing. One of the artists said to us—I love this one— “An artist is just like you and me, but it’s somebody who initiates their own problems.” [interviewer laughs] That was great. 

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  An artist is somebody who initiates their own problems.  This is so true. It is totally true, whether you’re a musician or a cook or you’re a weaver or you make clothes. That’s what I mean about the broad, very accepting net. And being conscious that it has a certain humanistic dimension to it is a good thing. So that’s what brings me to Artpark, okay?

 

FIRMIN:  So what was your initial impression?

 

KATZIVE:  It was bleak. [interviewer laughs] I went there in the Fall, and it was cold and windswept and damp. That place was not welcoming to look at and walk around. It never has been. Still not, I imagine. But I could see that it has these districts, these pockets that were so different and so fascinating. At the heart of the park, was this massive theater, with its engineering aesthetic. I mean, it looked [like] the dams you could see off, like the Robert Moses Power Plant, with the red steel. I guess Voorhees and Associates, I think, were the designers. And next to that is this bizarre wooden structure that Malcolm Holzman, Hardy Holzman Pfeiffer was particularly involved in. Very beautiful use of wood, this ArtEl which is kind of fun to walk on, with the— And they did the brick paths and these goofy parking lots, with these concrete molded things. I don’t know if those are still there, because you would drive over them and they were— It was like egg-crate concrete. It was really odd. And it was meant that grass could grow inside, and it would be both grass and concrete. Fascinating use of materials. This was all right next to this very standard theater, which was undistinguished, but a kind of harsh engineering thing with big plazas, next to this other architecture, which was off the wall and creative and meant to be temporary. The ArtEl was supposed to be temporary, to support the crafts.

 

FIRMIN:  It doesn’t exist anymore, so—

 

KATZIVE:  I know, but it lasted a long time.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  Much longer than they thought. But that was one thing. And then you’ve got this wooded area, where there’s an Indian mound, an authentic Indian mound that was more or less sanctified and preserved. And even up above that, which is probably the part of the park nobody ever sees, is the foundations of a burned down mansion that used to be an important house [inaudible]. It was very hard to get to that; a little water running through there. Then there’s this huge spoils pile. I mean, a thousand feet of nothing, created from when they made the dam. When they made the dam reservoir, they dumped it all there. And then there’s these chemical dumps, which were sort of vaguely talked about in the park, these capped things from Hooker and the people who brought you Love Canal. So there’s a sort of dark undercurrent there. And then the gorge trail, which was just magnificent. And it still is just nature at its finest. There are no rails, no fence; a little scary. Those huge rocks were always falling off. And Rae talked about finding deer there, because they would get scared and they would just leap off the cliff, to their death.  You’d find a dead deer on the trail.

 

FIRMIN:  Wow.

 

KATZIVE:   And then there’s also the portage site, the area below the theater. So look, there’s history, there’s engineering, there’s nature, there’s the whole chemical stuff. And most important, it’s where the glaciers stopped 12,000 years ago, and you can just see it, and this moraine goes 600 miles both ways. Terminal moraine. And this amazing river, which flows upstream and downstream, full of currents and seagulls, and is phenomenally deep, more than most rivers, maybe the deepest river anywhere, I don’t know. And then there’s Canada. So all these elements work together.  And The Falls are probably one of the top three tourist attractions in this country. So it didn’t take too long to realize how much nifty stuff there was there. And for me, there’s a spirit. There’s a magic on so many levels, whether it’s the Native American history, the frontier history, this cute little town. And then later, where the radioactive material from the Manhattan Project is not too far away from there. Not in Lewiston, but there’s a deposit site north of there. 

 

FIRMIN:  I don’t think I know about that.

 

KATZIVE:  You do or don’t?

 

FIRMIN:  I don’t think I know about that. I’ll have to look it up.

 

KATZIVE:  And then there’s the Ransomville Raceway and all these other things that could help bring artists up there. You don’t have to explain an awful lot. And I’ll give you a letter here that we— It’s a typical letter. We sent this one to Robert Morris, at one point, hoping to get him interested. He never did. But it talks about the kind of things I’m describing right now. And you can see in the catalogs and the stuff that was printed; there’s this excitement about nature, and nature recycling itself. So it was very exciting. There was a budget and a director, a new director, David Midland, who knew the problems, because he had been there in the theater around that season, and was really supportive. And I had known David for a long time. We had done equally crazy things in Chicago. And my role with him was to make sure that he never got surprised. You know, if there was anything that could get tricky, to let him know ahead of time on that.

 

FIRMIN:  So I guess you’ve talked about it a little bit, but maybe just to elaborate. You’ve talked about the Artpark environment, but what about the institutional structure and what was unique about that?

 

KATZIVE:  Well, it was pretty cool and here’s why. And it’s a little bit what I learned from Newton and Helen Harrison. And it’s what I think helped it to flourish these first couple years. Because the whole budget and administrative effort and staffing had a lot to do with the theater. The theater was the big— What’s the the Hawaiian— Kahuna. Is that right? Yeah. That’s the big monster. The season, that’s what drew huge crowds and the parking lots would fill up for the shows. And the theater had this three dollar ticket and you had top-of-the-line talent—which was exciting, too. And one of the things we tried to do was integrate the theater—not successfully—with the visual arts program. It was always a battle. That’s why we did something like this as a backdrop for the theater. Or the Alley Friends actually performed in one of the operas. And we tried to make things like that happen. But it was a union house and there were issues and it was not easy to make that happen. At one point, we did get sculpture out on the theatre plazas there.

 

FIRMIN:  The Rosemarie Castoro.

 

KATZIVE:  The Rosemarie Castoro. But that took a long time. So the structure was very friendly, because there wasn’t that much attention paid to what the artists were going to do. And David brought in program heads. There was a new music director, Christopher Keene; there was me as an arts director. We lived in the same house in Lewiston that summer. He had a children’s event programming person, Becky Hannum there were a couple [of] public relations people— different specialties going there. There was Rae Tyson and his talent pool to help the artists do the thing.

 

FIRMIN:  Can you tell me about how you interacted with the other staff?  Was there much collaboration or discussion between—

 

KATZIVE:  Well, you mean with the other program staff?

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah, right.

 

KATZIVE:  Christopher?

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  I know this was one of the things that excited David Midland. But there wasn’t much opportunity to do it. Yeah, we interacted. He would have a party with the opera singers and I’d go downstairs. My family and his family were close. But not in terms of executing projects. I mean, I would’ve loved— The closest I ever got to getting anybody to design something for the theater was this, which is this Artpark voiceprint. This is the actual rendering, which was overlaid on the thing that we had made. And this was done for some kind of dance performance. I’ve forgotten which. [laughs] I’ve got that picture of it. It was just too structured. These groups came in with their packaged shows. There were performances out in the park, you know, and there was music, dance and some interesting stuff that went on. But in the big house, that was not easy to crack.

 

FIRMIN:  Well, the video or the film you sent me, I was really interested in. Oh, gosh. The Alley Friends logs were being used as a slide. And it seemed like there— It did seem like there was maybe more room for Becky and you, maybe, to program together, as far as, the performance.

 

KATZIVE:  Well, there were things like that. But, I mean— So a lot of that went on. And we found one of the nice things was that there was interaction between crafts artists who were there and the project artists. There were the tools or materials, or just staging an impromptu event; that kind of stuff went on. But often impromptu and not scheduled. And if you looked at this. Do you have this snake, they called it. This was the thing that was given out the first season. And it lists all of the projects. I mean, everything is all together. You see there are children’s events, and then the artists in residence.

 

FIRMIN:  I’m not sure if I have that one.

 

KATZIVE:  This is the first one.  I’ll give this to you. Phil Yenawine was a very interesting person to bring in there because he had been in charge of education at the MoMA, among other things.  Some of the artists did things as workshops with the public. Like Phil Simkin, for example.  Alley Friends were clearly going to go in the same way, just because the nature of what they were doing. Also they’re a very community oriented outfit; others not so. And that was part of the idea in setting up the season, that you get these ranges of activity from artists, some who would be really involved hands-on with people, and others who are just way out on the corners doing something, and if you happen to have the energy and daring to go out there, you’ll see it happening. So we would spread projects all over the park, and try to have different media, different disciplines, different personalities, and different geography. I tried to make it national and bring in Canadian artists, too; and also to bring in a small number of artists who had become famous, let’s say, or well known or established, to see what they might come up with; but also just to— A lot of the other artists were happy to meet Stan Vanderbeek or Bob Grosvenor or people like that, or Dennis Oppenheim, and so forth. It’s a good thing to do. And to find the artists—and it’s one of your questions—was a very complicated thing. And serving the panels for NEA helped, for example. NEA, at one point, commissioned me to do a whole massive study on art in public places. This book was, I think, done before then. But all these people, we’re all on these panels choosing art and seeing entries and learning from other individuals about what’s going on. So you just see work all the time. I went out to Seattle to see what Michael Heizer had done there.

 

FIRMIN:  Michelle Stuart, when I just talked to her, she said that she thinks that Charles Simonds recommended her.

 

KATZIVE:  It could be.

 

FIRMIN:  Did you ask artists?

 

KATZIVE:  Yes. Artist recommendations were important— One of these letters is from Grosvenor, suggesting an artist who ultimately did not work out, for example. So sure, we would ask them. And that was an important way to find somebody you might not come across. And we’d go to the Whitney Biennials and see what was there. A lot of these artists—Connie Zehr, I saw her work there. I thought it was great. And we did get her up to the Park. But it’s just seeing things and hearing things and talking to artists, talking to other curators and museum directors all the time, you know? And sometimes they’d respond to direct inquiries from me. Sometimes they would just come out of the blue and say, “Here’s an artist—” I think Stephen Prokopoff turned me on to Margaret Wharton and Tom Kovachevich, who I would not have known about. But he knew their work in Chicago, and their stuff is amazing. And very, very different. [laughs] Kovachevich, he sat himself in the silo and let paper perform. He showed people how if you make paper moist, it’ll curl up and dance— It was kind of like a dance piece. It was really, really unique. It was special and low key. And then at the end of the season—and I’ll give you these, too—we would have these roundups, where everybody would get together and just talk off the top of our heads. And what does this say? “Here’s some curly thinking”—this is a note I sent to David, Ray, Craig, who was the PR manager, and Jane. Jane was the theater person. And I’ve forgotten her last name. Jane—

 

FIRMIN:  Ward.

 

KATZIVE:  Ward. Oh, good. [they laugh]

 

FIRMIN:  I’ve done my research.

 

KATZIVE:  Jane was wonderful. She was a—

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  I liked Jane a lot. She was really real.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  And it was a good group. So this letter covers everything, from artists’ housing—[someone enters room; brief comments between them]

 

KATZIVE:  Even artists’ housing came under consideration. I had this idea that we’d do the world’s biggest lean-to right at the lip of this area that looked down into the ArtEl—which eventually is where they built the cabins. Too bad, I would’ve loved to see a big lean-to with—

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah, that would be—

 

KATZIVE: I worked as a consultant with Malcolm at some point, to develop that. But this is 1975, at the end of the season. There’s a lot of stuff here; it will give you some sense of the crazy thinking that was going on.  I was working on every dimension, on how to make the place work better.  I was telling him that the fireworks—at Artpark, if they do fireworks, it should be fireworks like nobody’s ever seen before. Why don’t you set them all off at once, instead of the standard forty-five minute show? Just nuclear. Boom! [interviewer laughs] I’d like to see that [inaudible]. So there’s a lot of my own personal craziness in here.

 

FIRMIN:  Oh fabulous.

 

KATZIVE:  It’s really off the wall in some places, and a little reckless. You know, just throw everything out there and see what happens.

 

FIRMIN:  Well, can you— I guess that kind of leads— makes me think of two questions. Could you just talk about the cultural climate during the mid-seventies?

 

KATZIVE:  Yeah. Mid-seventies. Cultural climate. Not just the arts?

 

FIRMIN:  Well, primarily in the arts. I’ll just sort of give you—The one thing I’m interested in is this transition from 1970, the mid-seventies to—I think it occurred in 1979—George Trakas could never do what he did then, now.

 

KATZIVE:  And why not?

 

FIRMIN:  Liability. It would have to have a railing. And projects in the eighties had to start having railings. Maybe the state got more involved at some point. I’m just wondering about the difference between the seventies and what could be produced in the seventies, and the eighties, and what role or impact that had on Artpark and its programming.

 

KATZIVE:  Well, a couple things. Certainly, the national climate, in terms of the arts, shifted a bit, where there was much of a more critical eye being paid to public funding of the arts. Not a particularly positive public eye. The endowment was always getting threatened with cuts. And the NEA did a lot of good things, supported a lot of terrific stuff; but they certainly had Congress looking over their shoulder, making ugly signs and making ugly sounds and, you know, what was acceptable and what was not. They still have issues. I guess Karen Finley was the flashpoint for that. So that was one issue. Then I think more locally for the park it was an accumulation of things. Starting to pay more attention to the liability issues or the hazards or the risks. And it applied just as much to the gorge trail, which is really dangerous. I don’t know, have they put a railing up there by now? I don’t know.

 

FIRMIN:  I think so.

 

KATZIVE:  That’s really unfortunate. You shouldn’t— It’s a nature trail! You don’t put railings there. In the video, you see a fisherman and a kid walking down that trail. That’s the beginning of the day. And there’s also another really wonderful moment in the video—I don’t know if you picked that up; but it shows Susanne Benton talking to a little kid about her bronze sculpture, explaining why it had turned black.

 

FIRMIN:  No, I didn’t.

 

KATZIVE:  Yeah, it’s in there.

 

FIRMIN:  Okay.

 

KATZIVE:  She says it turned black because there’s sulfur on the ground.

 

FIRMIN:  Ah.

 

KATZIVE:  It was there. That first season—

 

FIRMIN:  It’s true.

 

KATZIVE:  There were little chunks of sulfur there and nobody ever—It didn’t dawn on anybody that there was a problem. You know? And that kind of thing, just every year, more and more issues. Ant Farm was able to cut into the ground and bury a car. So there’s just lots of things, not just the public safety, the hazard of these pieces, but the chemical history of that place sort of reared its head in a nasty way.

 

FIRMIN:  Especially after Love Canal.

 

KATZIVE:  Which was before this.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  Substantially before this, but it still hadn’t— I mean, literally, it was one of those same chemical plants that dumped stuff there. I have a copy of one of the contracts from 1990. And you can see it’s laced with stuff about safety concerns. I’ll give you that.

 

FIRMIN:  Oh, that would be interesting to compare it.  That’s why I want to look at contracts.

 

KATZIVE: Cameron McNall did this wooden piece that closed off the gorge. But he was required to make sure there was an opening big enough so a fire truck could go through. Down a gorge? [interview laughs] Really, with a fire truck and maybe a rescue vehicle, and other things—that the facing for the first eight feet had to be smooth, so nobody could climb on it. So my thinking is that nobody paid attention in the 70’s and 80’s so I was able to do a lot more. And I came back twice, the ’79 season wasn’t that restricted, but the nineties, had all these other things that leaked in that we had to deal with.

 

And the other part of the way the shift happened—and this goes back to the very first thing I was saying—is how matter moves. The life of forms or art is like a river, and it goes through a delta and then spreads out and dissolves. So that’s where it was going, as we were trying to do in the nineties, to just reach out even more, in terms of time, media, location, budget, even concepts on the pieces, so that we were less bound by— There were no boundaries at all. One of these things I’ll give you is a flyer about an exhibition at the DeCordova Museum called Beyond Measurement. There were three basic concepts underlying this exhibition. There are always artists who are visionaries. Artists react to the stuff in our life as portent of things to come. And that there are many indications in our contemporary world that in the future, objects will be less important; lifestyles will be more scattered and multipart; mankind’s vision will be extended towards infinitely small, large or complex systems; and that our existence will more and more be dependent upon invisible forces. Actually, Siah Armajani, Barry LeVa, and Paul Sharits were in this show. Here’s the same idea in a different form.  It’s our internal publication called “Move”— Our designers took these ideas and printed it this way. [he laughs].

 

FIRMIN:  Oh, wow.

 

KATZIVE:  But quantum physics tells us the mere act of observing something changes it. Educators are toying with an idea called asynchronous learning. Well, anyway. I’ll give you this, too if you’d like.

 

FIRMIN:  Great.

 

KATZIVE:  So if there’s a philosophy or an attitude, it’s here.

 

FIRMIN:  So how did you approach the siting of work? Just—

 

KATZIVE:  Well, I would walk around with the artist— Here’s this letter to Bob Morris.

 

FIRMIN:  Okay.

 

KATZIVE:  We can also provide a place for extraordinary wintertime installations—this is 1990—cooperative efforts with performing art companies—I’m now talking about the theater—collaborative projects with local industry—Bethlehem Steel, Carborundum, Nabisco. And then it talks about— When we first started talking, I talked about districts. So we’d tell artists about the geological history, the Native American history, the frontier history. It’s all there, you know. But I might have an idea on where an artist could do something; but I’d bring them to the site, walk around with them. They couldn’t really do a proposal without physically feeling it, walking around. So that’s how we would site the artists. It would be first come first served. If Cameron McNall wants to put something across the gorge trail, and has a good idea and it sort of looks like it’s really going to happen, that site gets locked out. And if somebody comes back to me that we had talked to two weeks later, I’ll tell them, “Well, you’ll have to wait a year.”

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  You’ll see some of these letters say, “Sorry you couldn’t do it this year.” Sam Gilliam, for example. But in his case, we just ran out of money, apparently. I don’t remember the details, but that’s what the letter suggests. But that’s how the siting would work. It’s kind of easier to do it artist by artist. Charlie Simonds, the first year, did these small things; but the next year he wanted to do something on the spoils pile. There’s a lot of room there for things. Dennis Oppenheim could do his huge thumbprint and it didn’t really affect any other artwork.

 

FIRMIN:  At the same time that—

 

KATZIVE:  Right where Charlie was. It’s just such a huge space. I liked it if artists did something that really connected to something that was inherently there. Rockne Krebs said he wanted to have his lasers come from the power plant. I thought, Oh, wow, great, even though it was on the Canadian side.  They wouldn’t let him across the border because his lasers were seen as weapons. We had all kinds of issues there. [interviewer  laughs]

Finally he got over there. [laughs] Or Both Jerry Noe and Reeva Potoff seeing that ravine, the portage trail, as this big soft beautiful female shape and using lights—over ten years apart—in very different ways. Owen Morrell did something with those bridge pylons. And I was always looking for a way to use things, see what else could be done. But I didn’t tell them they had to do it. And Owen was recommended by Christo. We had an idea for Christo, too, that— but you can’t— especially with Christo, you can’t tell him that you’re welcome to do this. He’d rather fight for it. But I didn’t know where Owen was gonna go, but he saw those bridge pylons, knew they used to hold up a bridge, and thought, accurately, that he could put some remarkable structure on there, which he did. Peter Richards wanted to deal with this very gentle spring that was there, which I thought was great. The Rosemarie Castoro piece was an opportunity to do something in the theater area itself, which we rarely had a chance to do.

 

FIRMIN:  I think it was very successful.

 

KATZIVE:  It looked like the patrons that come out.  We pictured the patrons coming out there during the intermissions. It was a nice thing to do. A little less site-specific but given the location and what was going on there, it made sense. Gene Davis doing a parking lot. Max Neuhaus had done those parking lots with sound pieces. To do something with these goofy parking lots, that was great. To be able to drive, to make the piece something that you could drive around and hear was brilliant. So those things, I thought they resonated; they took advantage of the human population, like the Phil Simkin things or Judy Shea or even Tom Kovachevich or Lynda Benglis, with these performances in closed environments, putting on little shows. It was great stuff.

 

FIRMIN:  Well, I think one of the things that was really radical about Artpark—and the more I think about it, I think this is where your vision comes in, versus Dale McConathy— And maybe we can go back, to talk about this transition from 1974 to ’75. I’m very struck about how much multimedia and public performance was considered public art. You had the Electron Movers come in. I mean, Max Neuhaus.

 

KATZIVE:  Architects.

 

FIRMIN:  And so I’m very impressed with, public art as performance and public art as multimedia, and your experience with television— Or your experience with film and video, I think that that might have allowed you—

 

KATZIVE:  Well—

 

FIRMIN:  I think more of a diversified understanding.

 

KATZIVE:  Look at this picture from the Museum of Contemporary Art. Here we are building pieces for Art by Telephone; forty-five pieces. For Bob Morris, I made a movie for him. Smithson, same thing. For Jan Dibbets, we went out with a camera and photographed. Dennis Oppenheim used the phone. We changed these piles of materials here.  These piles are set up as his body weight. And he would call in every day and tell us his weight, and we would add or subtract from it.

 

FIRMIN:  Nice.

 

KATZIVE:  Over here is a little blackboard. Claes Oldenburg just called in something from his diary, and we’d write it on the board. This was a very multimedia exhibition.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  We had a piece by Bill Wegman—it’s out of the picture—called Third Day, which is a biblical reference. It was like tanbark or something. But as it got wet, letters would form and it spelled out the phrase “third day.” We had computers, neon, Glowing Hot Wires by Francois Dallegret. Video projectors from Richard Serra, which I could tell you about, but not with that thing on. It’s quite a story. We’ll come back to Serra.

 

FIRMIN:  Okay [laughs].

 

KATZIVE:  It was a really colorful thing. I kept him out of jail, too.

 

FIRMIN:  Oh I get—

 

KATZIVE:  [inaudible] Here, you can take that [inaudible].

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah, I don’t have this.

 

KATZIVE: Let’s see. This is from Jan van der Marck. I sent him the catalogue. I was asking Jan for ideas. And he recommends Richard Nonas and says, “You should talk to Nancy Rosen,” who I already knew.

 

FIRMIN:  You were mentioning how you were hired at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and you were going out into the community. And so— I know the connections to the Lewiston community and how they became very committed to the park. Could you talk about that a little bit?

 

KATZIVE:  Sure. Picture this. You have all these very— pretty much gregarious and colorful characters living in the park for a summer, and a theater, too. And they go to the local restaurants and they’ll sit there for hours and they’ll drink and they’ll spend money and they’ll talk to the townspeople. Mooradians was the key restaurant, right smack in the middle of Lewiston on the main street. It was a wonderful place to hang out.  They had wonderful food. It was like a pub. It was like the way they used to talk about the Cedar Tavern, where Jackson Pollock hung out.

 

FIRMIN:  Oh yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  The artists would go in there. So the townspeople start to talk to the artists, the police, the bartenders, the waitresses. And they’re pretty likable people, you know, the ones that would spend their time to do that. And volunteers started to filter in to help with the pieces. It didn’t happen so much in ’74, I don’t think; I wasn’t there, but it certainly happened in ’75. And the park was a more welcoming place, and there were things they could do with either the crafts or some of the artists. Charlie, I think he had the Girl Scouts or the Boy Scouts help with his Growth House. And eventually, people started getting hired to work at the park. Not only with the artists, but in all aspects of it. It’s a big theater. You get to see the shows for free, you’re working on them. Ushers. Older residents got to work as ushers or in the parking lot. So it became a fixture fairly quickly. And people stopped complaining about the traffic on 4th Street. It would get pretty bad in the evening. And this was a great thing.  It created a lot of excitement and affection, I think. That was always my experience with it. And you could see the change happening, particularly in ’75, ’76.

 

FIRMIN:  Was there a connection to Buffalo?

 

KATZIVE:  Connection? You know, I don’t think so. There was institutional interaction, and with Niagara Falls Community College and things like that. People would come from Buffalo. There are all these studies about where people came from. We had tried to do things with the Albright-Knox, which was the obvious major visual arts organization, but we were never quite able to do that. It was very friendly. There was a lot of mutual respect there, between the staff and the curators, but I don’t think anything ever really materialized. The closest was: they were doing a show on Jenny Holzer, and we asked if we could contact her about doing a piece at the park.  It would have been wonderful to have the two institutions doing this — the Albright Knox doing a big retrospective show with all these beautiful things, and then some crazy wild outdoor thing at the park that they couldn’t do at Albright-Knox.  And if we’d had the opportunity to do that, I would have spent half of our budget on that one thing and then we’d continue to have other smaller pieces. The idea never materialized.

 

FIRMIN:  As a consultant, you were having your tentacles out everywhere, so did you hear a lot about Artpark?

 

KATZIVE:  It was the artists that put out the good word and also curators and museum people and public arts administrators. So even after the first season, problematic as it was, the vibe started to get out there and people knew about it. There was good press on the park in national publications like Artforum and the New Yorker and the Times. And so by ’75, when I’m starting to call people they kind of knew or they’d heard of the Park or they had ideas, they had some sense of it. And they would have a chance to go visit. Some, like Nancy Rosen, came and stayed for a good part of the summer. So it definitely began functioning as a laboratory, which was the idea. It was recognized and marveled at. Artists said things like, they couldn’t do this at the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts.

 

FIRMIN:  That leads into another question. Like how successful certain things were, or how successful was Artpark at capitalizing on the populist aura of the parks to bring a new, broader audience to the world of the arts? Do you think that was the intention? Do you think it was successful?  

 

KATZIVE:  Well, I saw that phrase on your [list of] questions and I wondered what it meant. Populist aura of the parks. Which parks?

 

FIRMIN:  Artpark. And this is specifically— taken from something Mark Lawton said, [and] that he was very excited about. People come to parks for boating, they get— There’s this very populist sense, like you can go to this museum, but that has a sense of elitism and so—  

 

KATZIVE:  Okay, now I see what you mean.  Yes, that’s a really good thing, because people would come without preconceptions. Well, they did have preconceptions about what art was; difficult ones. But we were able to challenge those.  Between the crafts and then the more unusual pieces that sort of spiraled out from the ArtEl, there was this opportunity to catch people off guard, to get them to see things, to say what a crazy thing, but not in a negative way.  To ask artists, “Why are you doing that?” “Why are you bringing Cyprus trees from Florida? Why are you putting sprinklers in the middle of this amphitheater? Why are you taking pictures in the woods and blowing them up?” So I think it was effective that way, to make people wonder and question. Not necessarily like or approve, but if you can make people think, that’s great. It wasn’t done to capitalize on the populist aura. The reason the artists were there was less to be populist, to serve a populist need, and more that here’s this neat place where you could do things with all these resources. And one of the resources was the fact that people would come who were not your typical— not necessarily the typical museum crowd. You’d get a mix. Certainly, some of them are, but it would be more diversified.

 

FIRMIN:  [Could you discuss] the Story Mann incident, do you think that—is one of the reasons why you had to change, sort of switch gears?

 

KATZIVE:  Let’s see. What year was he?

 

FIRMIN:  He was ’78, I believe, or—

 

KATZIVE: I wasn’t there then.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  Although he was my choice.

 

FIRMIN:  Did you get flak?

 

KATZIVE:  No, not really. I think I told you that Marcia Tucker and I had been on a jury at the Art Institute. And we had seen his work, which just stood out among all the students. And that’s the kind of thing I meant before, seeing shows and being aware.  You’d make a note. So I told Rae about him and somehow that connection happened. I had no idea what he was going to do and I wasn’t there, and I only heard stories about it.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  So it’s hard for me to know the details.

 

FIRMIN:  Okay.

 

KATZIVE:  What I’ve heard—you’ve probably even heard more than I have—something about rattlesnakes and the police and stuff. I think it was an accumulation of things that eventually made the park get less courageous. That might have been one, but I certainly don’t think it was the tipping point.

 

FIRMIN:  What other things?

 

KATZIVE:  [laughs] In the late seventies? I don’t know, really. I think— there may have been a feeling that the crafts were more popular. And they certainly would be a more popular, less challenging route to emphasize than these pieces. This is the safer way to go. And there were staff changes.  Then something happened there that they brought me back in ’79.  I really don’t remember why that happened, but it was to try to push the park back into the way it had been before.

 

FIRMIN:  So why did you leave for good?  Was that when David Midland—

 

KATZIVE:  I don’t think I’ve left now, frankly. [interviewer laughs] Because I can still conceptualize pieces.

 

FIRMIN:  That’s great.

 

KATZIVE:  I mean, there are still things I’d love to see happen. That’s an interesting question. What would I love to see happen now, if I could? Well, the Jenny Holzer would be great. Well, they didn’t ask me back. After the first couple of years this thing was up and running; the staff thought that they could do it themselves, and they didn’t really need me to do it. As it happened, they did ask me back in ’79. And then I think the money dried up for the administrative support and David Midland left. And then he came back in 1990 and we did it again. And in 1990, it was a very good season. ’91 had this kind of reaching out into the community. In ’92 and ’93, you can see us trying to do even more, with people like Merle  Ukeles working with trash and disposable material; and Suzanne Lacy; and trying to get artists like Bob Morris or Richard Serra to work with steel. But at that point, the money situation was getting so tight that that was my last formal involvement with the park. But it’s one of these things that gets under your skin. And it has a lot to do with the site. I think that there could be other Artparks, frankly. Even though the climate has changed and funding has changed, if you have a good location— And there are parts of this country and parts of the world where the atmosphere is so charged that artists could do great things and be very excited to be there, as long as there’d be support for what they wanted to do and a certain amount of freedom.

 

FIRMIN:  I’m going to end the interview on just— two things. I want to hear that story, so I want to turn off the tape recorder.

 

KATZIVE:  Which story?

 

FIRMIN:  Richards Artschwager

 

KATZIVE:  Oh, okay.

 

FIRMIN:  And then, also if you could position the role of Artpark in the history of contemporary art, how would you—

 

KATZIVE:  That’s a tough one.

 

FIRMIN:  Contextually—

 

KATZIVE:  Because there were so many different artists there that it’s not a style thing, but a kind of anti-museum thing, you know? This article from 1970, which is about relevancy, sort of touches on that. The unusual thing is that it was public funding. I mean, that’s an anomaly. It doesn’t have to be public funding. The Dia Foundation, in a way, does this kind of stuff. And they’ve done remarkable things. Other foundations also do it. But the public funding was the most unusual part about it, I think.

 

FIRMIN:  Is there anything you’d like to add that you wrote notes about?

 

KATZIVE:  Let me look here. 

 

FIRMIN:  Or that we didn’t address?

 

KATZIVE:  No, I’m still thinking about what we just talked on a minute ago. If I could do anything at the park now, what would it be? But I think it would be something very expansive, that somehow tied everything together. That would make sense to me.

 

FIRMIN:  Great.

 

KATZIVE:  Christo should wrap the whole park.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE:  You know, he did that in Chicago, at the museum.

 

FIRMIN:  Yeah.

 

KATZIVE: The fire department made us shut it down. This an interesting story that probably— Well, maybe it’s relevant. We wrapped up the whole building, and we very soon after that, were told by the City of Chicago Fire Department that we couldn’t do that, that we had blocked all the windows. Now, they couldn’t see the building, because it was all wrapped. And there were no windows. [interviewer laughs] The building had no windows at all. And in fact, the doors were accessible. So we told them that and they went back to thinking about it and stalled a bit, and by the time they made up their minds that we had to take it down, the show was over. I think it was up for six to eight weeks, and it was done.

 

FIRMIN:  Well, thank you very much.

[END]