Interview with Jon Hendricks, Co-Founder, Guerilla Art Action Group
The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Jon Hendricks on March 23, 2010. The interview took place in New York, NY and was conducted by Christina Linden. This interview was funded by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA).
The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
CHRISTINA LINDEN: This is an interview with Jon Hendricks being conducted by Christina Linden on March 24, 2010 in New York City. The following interview is made on behalf of Art Spaces Archives Project, for the CCS Bard archives
Thanks so much for taking the time to meet with me again.
JON HENDRICKS: Lovely to see you again.
LINDEN: You, too.
HENDRICKS: When was it, a year ago, that we met?
LINDEN: Something like that. Maybe even a tiny bit more. So you know, I re-read our conversation from last time, since it had been a year, which was interesting to do. And I wanted to maybe pick up some threads from what we talked about then and, you know, build—
HENDRICKS: Sure. I forgot everything from last time.
LINDEN: Okay. (Laughs)
HENDRICKS: So you just ask me.
LINDEN: Well, it was really rich. But there was one particular kind of— sets of questions that we had, I thought we might start with. You were talking, when you were describing the way you came up with the title for the group, the name for the group, Guerrilla Art Action Group, about the importance to you of the idea of art action being a form of direct action. And we talked a bit more later about this kind of tension between the real and the staged. You mentioned specifically a conversation you had with Ralph Ortiz about his idea about the potential for a kind of cathartic theater, and how you felt it was really something different than that. So I thought maybe we could just start there.
HENDRICKS: Well, you just said it all, so there is nothing—
LINDEN: [laughs] Well, but in—
HENDRICKS: No, it’s true.
LINDEN: In respect to a couple of specific actions, the two we talked about last time were Blood Bath and the Guernica one with the Kozloff’s baby. But then we also, at the end, kind of briefly touched on the action in front of the Museum of Modern Art that took place on May 2nd of 1970, in conjunction with the demonstration Program for Change: Black and Puerto Rican Culture.
HENDRICKS: That was theater. That was theater. And we weren’t all that happy with it as theater, but we had been asked to do something by the black and Puerto Rican coalition artists. And so we came up with something— We felt that it called for theater, a kind of parody of what went on inside the walls. And it was really harking back to a kind of street theater type action. There was an art action element to it. That is, we were blocking the sidewalk and blocking the museum, to a certain extent. And the museum people perhaps looked a little askance at us. But it was really play acting, in a very sort of cabaret kind of, Bertolt Brechtian way.
LINDEN: It might be useful, just because I think we probably operate on some set of assumptions and understandings, but for the use of future researchers looking at this, to flesh out a little bit more what you feel the function of these kinds of actions are, the less theatrical ones, let’s say. Why it’s important to you that it’s real and not staged; how you feel like that functions, in terms of maybe a possibility for commensurability, you know; what sort of changes that might have brought about, on a real concrete level, with institutions, on a maybe more personal level, for viewers; or in terms of a kind of ripple effect for other artists looking at those actions.
HENDRICKS: We didn’t know how the institutions functioned. We knew that there was a power structure; we knew that there were walls within walls; there were barriers, there were façades, there were mirrors. And we wanted somehow to reach behind, reach inside; to do something that the institution had to respond, in some way. Not necessarily positively, maybe even negatively, but somehow to respond. Because for the most part, institutions just ignored it. They ignored the street demonstrations where people were marching, they ignored petitions and letters and the normal kind of communication that groups would do. And we felt that a different kind of action or a different kind of approach maybe could elicit some kind of response. So it was setting up a situation where either they did nothing, they had us arrested, or they started talking. Any of the three were a response. And at the same time, that somehow the issues that we were raising would be clearer in some way—either to them or to the public or whatever. Now, we were not playing for the press. We really weren’t designing actions to get press attention. Sometimes inevitably, we did. Sometimes, for instance, the one we just spoke about, the play acting one, the press was around, I think. Or at least it showed up in the press later. And in fact, we had a disagreement with Jan van Raay, the woman who did many of the photographs of our actions, where she had taken photos to the press. We said, “Look, this wasn’t the reason we’re doing it. You know, we aren’t—” And we were rather annoyed and we didn’t tell her about the next action we did, so she wasn’t there. Fortunately, Ka Kwong Hui was, and that was the Blood Bath, where photographs were taken. But I don’t know that the approach that we used would work now. That was something that worked then, to a certain extent. At least maybe more than we realized, and probably less than we had hoped for. But it did rile things up. They were concerned, the institution. And in fact, a meeting was called between us and them; and then later, a larger group of artists and art workers, and the museum trustees, curators, and some of their invited artists[?].
LINDEN: This is specifically in response to Blood Bath, you’re mentioning right now?
HENDRICKS: I’m not sure which action; that would be hard to say at this point.
HENDRICKS: Perhaps. But the result of it was the And Babies? poster was that meeting; I don’t know if we discussed that.
LINDEN: We didn’t. You know, we got cut off. And there were two things you mentioned specifically wanting to discuss a little bit more at the end, the And Babies? Poster, and— And I’ll just paraphrase you here: Those actions did, in fact, lead to a large meeting that the museum organized, of those artists that were protesting against the museum and those that they felt were on the museum’s side, such as Dan Flavin and people like that. So those were the two events. Maybe you could talk a little bit more about—
HENDRICKS: Well, that was one event with those artists. There was a—
LINDEN: And then the And Babies?. Or were those tied together?
HENDRICKS: No, that was the same meeting. There was another meeting where Toche and I went and met with a couple people from the museum; I’m not sure whether it was John Hightower, Liz Shaw or who, but anyway, that was a meeting. And we actually came with concrete proposals. We said, “Look, you know, this is what we do,” and so on[?]. The larger meeting was one of the responses. There were other responses, evidently, that we learned about later. One of the responses, and it was up in the trustees room. And I don’t recall everyone who was there, but certainly, Irving Petlin and Frazer Dougherty. Poppy Johnson might’ve been there. I believe Toche was there, but I’m not sure. I was there, and probably Lucy Lippard and others. There must be records of that at the museum, of who came from art workers and who they had invited. I do remember Dan Flavin. Maybe he wasn’t there, but I remember that he was there. And maybe even Robert Motherwell, somebody like that. I mean, they were kind of heavy hitters. And at that meeting, there was discussion about some of the issues. And there must’ve been twenty or thirty people, maybe more, so it’d be fifteen or so from each group. There didn’t seem to be too much agreement or listening or whatever. But in any case, at one moment, someone said, perhaps Liz Shaw, “Maybe there’s some area where we can find something that we could work on together, that—” I guess maybe Irving Petlin said that and the museum said, “Yes, yes. Let’s find a common ground, something we can work on together.” And Irving said, “Well, there’s this terrible, most horrendous massacre in Vietnam, the Song My massacre.” “Yes, yes, yes. That’s the kind of thing we— That’s terrible. We all agree that’s not right, not good.” And Irving said, “Well, maybe we could make a poster about that somehow.” “Yes, yes, that’s an area that we can do.” So it was agreed. And the museum chose Liz Shaw and Emilio Ambasz to represent the museum; and Irving Petlin, Frazer Dougherty, Elaine[?] Dougherty and I were from the artist’s art group, or artists’ coalition group. And we agreed to start working together on a poster on the Song My massacre. And which of course, later became known as the My Lei massacre. And out of that, this was no longer a Guerrilla Art Action Group action, this was an Artists’ Poster Committee action, a joint project of Art Workers Coalition and Museum of Modern Art. So we met, the artists met, and we decided to use the particular image that was in Life magazine, of the terrible massacre in this little village in the fields, and there’re women and children murdered and lying in the road.
And then there had been an interview by Mike Wallace on television, who interviewed one of the participants in the massacre. And he said, “And you killed men.” I think commander, corporal, whatever he was, Meadlo said, “Yes.” “And women?” “And women,” he responded. “And babies?” And he said, “And babies.” And so we felt, Yes, that incredulous thing, “And babies?,” and babies, the response, and to use the type from the Times with this image, was the poster. And we then contacted the photographer, and he gave us permission to use the image. And we found a very generous person, Peter Brandt[?], who gave us the paper, I believe, and asked that his name be on the poster. And we found a printer who was willing to print the poster for free and do the color separation. I mean, it was all a free project; nobody was getting paid. And so the museum, that was great. And John Hightower, who was the director— was acting director or director, but anyway, he was the director. And he said, “Well, I better just take it up to the board.” And at this point, I don’t remember whether it was Bill Paley, who was then head of CBS television, a very powerful media person, or Rockefeller—not Nelson, but John D. Rockefeller, I believe, who was maybe chairman of the board— It was Paley or— And they hit the ceiling. They said, “If you do this—” They took a mock-up of the poster, not the finished print. “If you do this, you’re out and never—” So here they were reneging. Here was a situation where they had agreed to work on something, the museum. There was no question but what this was not what war was about. This was a humanitarian thing. But word came back they absolutely couldn’t use the name Museum of Modern Art on the poster. And we thought, My God, what are we going to do? Because here everything had been set up. The person was giving the paper, had a printer with color separations, and we had a group of artists who were really pretty pissed at the museum. And we felt, the three of us, that the poster and the issue of the poster was more important than the issues that the artists were concerned about with the museum. And we knew that if they were told that the museum was reneging, there wouldn’t be a poster. And also we had serious doubts that everybody else would fall into line. So we made the decision to go ahead and print the poster and then present it to the artists group.
LINDEN: To the Art Workers Coalition?
HENDRICKS: Art Workers Coalition. Yeah, the museum was out. They said, “You can’t do that poster with our name.” So—
LINDEN: And the three of you, you mean Toche, you and Poppy?
HENDRICKS: No, Toche— No, no, no, no. I told you it wasn’t a GAAG action. This was the Artists’ Poster Committee. It was Irving Petlin, Frazer Dougherty and myself.
LINDEN: That’s fine. No, just…
HENDRICKS: Just the three of us.
LINDEN: So, I just wanted to clarify.
HENDRICKS: [inaudible], yeah, that was it. And Toche worked on the project more after it was printed, but anyway. And so we made the decision to go ahead and print it, I believe 50,000 copies. We took the museum’s name off it and just said the Artists’ Poster Committee, and photograph, Earl[sic?] [Ron?] Haeberle and Peter Brandt. It didn’t say what Peter had done, so he sometimes gets credited for the poster, but his was just giving the paper. And we printed it and had it delivered to a place called Museum[?], which was where the Art Workers Coalition met, on Broadway. And the group was just— couldn’t believe that the museum had reneged on this agreement, and were, in a way, angry at us for printing it; but I think understood fairly quickly the impact that the poster was going to have. And so there was a lot of discussion, a lot of heated discussion, and it was agreed that a rubber stamp would be made giving the history of the museum’s reneging on their agreement with the artists. Unfortunately, I had one copy of that poster, and I loaned it to somebody and don’t have it, so I can’t tell you exactly what it says. But it basically was what I told you, that this was a joint project and that Paley or Rockefeller refused to have it, they reneged, and so on.
And then that led to a series of demonstrations against the museum for reneging. And we distributed the poster free, all over the country, all over the world. And it became a kind of image, this horrendousness of what America was doing against Vietnam. And I think had an effect. In terms of the museum, we did, as I say, a number of demonstrations, either outside or GAAG then did an action inside with the— It wasn’t GAAG, it was Art Workers Coalition. But Toche was very much part of it. In front of Guernica. We went in and had a sit-in in front of Guernica. So there’s quite a well-known photograph that Jan van Raay took of that. So you see Toche and several of the artists from Art Workers Coalition standing in front of the Picasso’s Guernica. And that photograph was used on the cover of Studio International or one of the large European magazines. And at one moment— We had the idea of trying to get all the art magazines, of using the poster for the cover of their magazine all at the same time, so on the newsstand, you’d see the arts, and all of it would have the poster. All but one agreed, and the others would only do it if the others did it, so we didn’t do that. Although it was on the cover of several magazines; it was used in different ways[?].
LINDEN: And that occasion, just to be clear, is different from the memorial service for dead babies, that also took place in front of that painting, is that correct?
HENDRICKS: Yeah. In front of Guernica, that’s right. That was early. That was a different time. That was a concrete result of some of the actions—back to the initial question—although again, the result was the museum’s kind of rigidity and refusal to— I don’t want to use the word bend, but to open up to something more than their kind of closed-minded idea of what a museum should be. And that’s a problem with institutions and for the museums, they don’t have that flexibility and they don’t have that vision to see how important a statement it could have been, and how in keeping with art that would have been. Here they were showing Guernica, which was, after all, about a massacre. And proud to have it and almost held it hostage for years. In fact, one group—I wasn’t involved with it, but Irving Petlin—I think it was Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam—did indeed write to Picasso asking that he withdraw the painting from the Museum of Modern Art while the Vietnam War, or the war against Vietnam was going on. We don’t know
whether it got to Picasso, the letter, because there again, certain blockades to getting to people. But that was a separate action, again about Guernica and about the war.
LINDEN: Okay. So there’s one aspect, this question of trying to work against the rigidity of institutions and, you know, the specificity of where some changes, however small or stifled, eventually did take place. You already mentioned that playing to the press was really not your interest. I think I’m curious, as well, about how you felt about the people not involved in the actions themselves and not affiliated with the institution, the museum goers, the passers-by, and their experience of the piece. You know, that seems like a place where people are a little less rigid as individuals. And I guess I’m curious, because just that sentence about your feeling that you really didn’t agree with Ralph’s evaluation of what was possible in those kinds of actions, especially maybe if they were seen as a sort of representation. So I’m just wondering if you have a few more words to say about how you did see these functioning for people immediately, if not as a catharsis.
HENDRICKS: I don’t know. In terms of people who happened upon it, I don’t know. It’s like seeing a car crash on a street, you know. I mean, it affects us, obviously. I still see a person under a cement truck who was probably killed, I don’t know. But I mean, it affects you deeply. Whether the person who casually saw it understood the connection with what was going on in a larger scene, I don’t know. Whether it hurt someone in some deep kind of way, I don’t know. Pretty much anything we do is going to affect someone, and some casual remark that we might make could affect them deeply, either in a positive or negative way. But you have to do things and take that risk. You can’t not do anything. And so we were, for instance, careful not to hurt art, because we aren’t about hurting art. And we certainly wanted to hurt the sensitivities of the power structure. But the casual— the audience? That I can’t say. People can always turn away. If a parent feels a child who sees it is going to be terribly affected in a negative way, they can take the person away. But that wasn’t really something we addressed and—
LINDEN: Not as much a concern.
HENDRICKS: It wasn’t a concern, I don’t think. With Ralph’s work, actually, it was in a way, more brutal. And I remember it was a concern. This is really going off the track, but it’s worth mentioning. We did a large action. We created a group called the Blood and Flesh Guerrilla Theater. And that was a coalition of Ralph Ortiz—Rafael Ortiz—and GAAG, maybe, in the context of theater, as I recall that particular one, a theater group groupings, groupings of theater groups, that Richard Schechner and others were involved in putting together, where we went down to Washington. We were going to do a big action. And we were going to do one, other groups were going to do other actions. And working with blood, which we did with Ralph— We didn’t do it so much with GAAG, just the one Blood Bath. And of course, Nitsch worked with blood with the Viennese Actionists before Ralph did. There is something that happens to some people, with blood. And it’s hard to explain what it is, what causes it, but it creates a kind of catatonic state. Or it triggers something in them. And you don’t know exactly when it’s going to happen or who it’ll affect. And it certainly didn’t bother Ralph and Toche and me, but does some people. And in Washington, there were two, I believe two women— We went down as a whole enormous operation of bringing all this stuff down to Washington, getting it there; buying it here, getting it down there. And we had, I think, maybe beef hearts or sheep hearts or something around our necks, and blood all over our bodies, and meat [inaudible]. And the idea was to wander through this mass demonstration, you know, [moans], kind of moaning and groaning and walking through. And a couple of the women were affected. Suddenly they went into this sort of state. And of course, I stopped immediately and tried to help them. And Ralph Ortiz’s reaction was not especially sympathetic to that. And again, when we did an action at Temple University, again it was Ralph’s piece, but Toche and I—I think Toche was there—had agreed to take part in it. And there again, there were mice or rats that were stepped on and blood and [inaudible]. — I’m not sure how it worked. But anyway, a young man friend of mine went into this state. And of course, I stopped and tried to comfort him and get him out of it because here we were talking about, you know, abstract violence—I mean, something that was away from us—and here was somebody within our group who was being affected and really hurt by it. So it is a concern. And we were aware of it. But I don’t think it was such, either what we were doing— There was certainly nothing within our actions that would physically hurt somebody. And psychologically, emotionally, I don’t know, but probably not so greatly. That’s part of the answer. I don’t know what the rest of the question was.
LINDEN: I think that was a good answer.
HENDRICKS: Close enough?
LINDEN: It’s just a matter of spurring further conversation and—
HENDRICKS: Yeah, Ask anything. No, no, [Linden laughs] I’m jumping around a little bit, but those were— And I don’t know what it is. I’m sure that Nitsch must, in his work, encounter something about blood. And it’s like an almost euphoric, but catatonic euphoria. I don’t know. Something weird. Something snaps. And I don’t think it’s so good. I don’t think it’s a good reaction. I don’t think it’s a warm, fuzzy kind of thing. It’s something that’s deep down that comes out and triggers something.
LINDEN: So you know, that’s one aspect of the work. I guess I had another question, in terms of— Well, let’s just jump ship for a minute. You’ve written a lot of manifestoes. And that’s something that we didn’t really talk about last time. And I think that’s a form that you stuck with a little longer. You know, the actions were mostly taking place very late sixties, maybe through ’76 or so. But you continued to deliver manifestoes, written statements, letters, for some time afterward. So maybe we can switch to thinking about those a bit, why those were interesting to you from the beginning—because you know, you started with a manifesto—why those continued to be interesting to you. And again, maybe touching back, just to keep the same framework on those questions about what kind of effect you hoped for. I mean, you know, I don’t imagine that you can map every effect that this would have on an individual or an institution, but just in terms of revisiting intention and thinking about what your hopes were for those projects, how you feel like those functioned in those terms.
HENDRICKS: Some of the later actions— First, the physical actions are very strenuous. They’re very hard. Preparing for— Emotionally hard. You don’t know what’s going to happen. You don’t know if you’re going to get hit over the head by a guard or arrested and thrown away for a year or something like that. You don’t know. So it took a certain amount of kind of preparation and determination— But we stumbled on a type of, say manifesto, but we called them letter actions. And so the Eat What You Kill, we would say is a letter action, not a manifesto. And there were several of those. Just different forms of— One of the things we were concerned with was trying to find strategies or ways of doing things that might be effective, not to have a style. And we weren’t interested in style at all. And I think maybe I told you in the beginning, if we could’ve painted paintings of trees, we would’ve painted paintings of trees, if they would’ve had an effect on things; but we knew it wouldn’t. And we weren’t especially good tree painters, anyway, [Linden laughs] so it wouldn’t have mattered.
A manifesto is a way of discussing something and putting your ideas down in a way that you can see it and understand it, and then communicate it to other people. And it also can act as a kind of provocation or catalyst to something. A manifesto can be a little bit provocative. There’s also a kind of romantic notion of the Dada manifesto or Surrealist or Futurist manifesto, Constructivist manifestoes that— in art. And I’m sure, you know, [chuckles] Ad Reinhardt must’ve written manifestoes, and maybe even landscape painters wrote manifestoes. There’s a Fluxus manifesto. There’re manifestoes all over the place. And so we thought, well, we’re going to write manifestoes. If you’re going to be activist artists, you should have a manifesto. And so we wrote some of those in that vein of putting our ideas forward, what we believed in and what we were aiming to do. And they can be kind of helpful in looking at and saying, are we, going along on that path? Or are we kind of losing it, or losing track of things? You know, everybody says you’ve got to be consistent or you have to have a style. We said no, you don’t have to. That’s not the point of it. And I don’t remember all the points. One was be available when needed. A lot of times I’m so busy with my work and I can’t get away. And I was going to take a holiday to the seashore this weekend, and so on. So if you’re serious about it and working as an artist who wants to change things, and you’re needed, you have to be available, one way or another. And of course, we have other needs, but it’s imperative that you’re there, that you can do that. And it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to go on every peace march or whatever; it might mean that you find another form to participate in that issue. But too often, people avoid participation, avoid taking part in making a statement and things.
LINDEN: In a way, I think it’s interesting that you bring up the peace march again because reading back through this, it seems that some of the premise for the entire project for you was dissatisfaction. You know, that was part of maybe a larger feeling in the culture at the moment, you know, post-1968 especially, that certain kinds of hopes for change coming about as a result of the kind of direct action that takes the form of petitions or marches wasn’t having the effect that people had hoped for, you know?
HENDRICKS: We weren’t the first— Look, I mean, [chuckles] there were sit-ins and there were all sorts of direct actions by all sorts of groups, you know. I mean, we were not trail blazers in that regard at all. But as artists, we felt that we could do a particular kind of work, artwork, that could directly affect the status quo in a situation [inaudible]. And we saw the art institutions, cultural institutions, as part of that power structure that was bringing us the war, that was bringing the inequality of genders, of race and so on in this country, of rich against poor. And again, back to how’re you going to do it? And I love theater. And I worked at the Judson and there was theater and there were a lot of, you know, political things within the theater. But in that time period—maybe at the time of Bertolt Brecht, maybe at certain times in history—a theater action—maybe now, I don’t know—can affect people. Maybe some kinds of make believe can have an extraordinary effect on people’s minds. So we aren’t rejecting that possibility; we didn’t see it. We didn’t see how that could do it. But we did feel that by making set-ups, setting up a situation that something had to happen, might affect people. Maybe they would listen. Maybe they would consider what was being said, rather than just dismiss us as a bunch of kooks. And as artists, we felt we had a certain ability to do that. We, both of us— Toche was part of the Destruction In Art Symposium and had done performance things with Al Hansen and Lil Picard and so on, and I was very aware of theater things and taking part in Claes Oldenburg’s Washes in Paris and—. So we had that kind of background of performance and understood that and knew that. But we used the analogy of if everyday, people are seeing the most incredible atrocities being done by American troops in Vietnam, and by police and so on, brutality here in the United States, and they see it on television and they just keep eating their dinner, eating their popcorn, why will a play affect them any more? I mean, here is a real thing, they’re seeing real time, practically, of a Vietcong having his brains blown out, or a suspected Vietcong being hung out of a helicopter and dropped. I mean, the most disgusting kinds of things. They kind of cleaned up the images for the recent wars, so you couldn’t see those things. You can’t see— You just sort of see some of the aftermath, but they won’t let you see the brutality, the inhumanity.
LINDEN: Right. They made sure they had control of all the satellite dishes as one of their first [priorities].
HENDRICKS: All the images. That’s right.
So if people don’t respond to that, [inaudible]. So we had to figure something else. And that’s what we came up with at that time. Now, today you have— there’re very different things, tools that you can use, you know? Communication’s much faster, much easier. For some. I mean, not for me, because I don’t know how to do it. But for some people, it is. And as artists, this is what we could do as artists. If we were physicists or pharmacists or psychologists or farmers, we could’ve done something else. We could’ve, you know, refused to plant food or deliver it to the army. There’re all sorts of things you can do [to] take direct action. But we were artists and this was our artwork. And as art workers, this was something that we came up with. But again, it’s not a blueprint. And maybe the most important thing is that there are many ways to approach a problem. Not just one way, many ways. And some that work once don’t work later. And maybe those would work again. Maybe a mass demonstration against the injustice of cultural institutions would work, I don’t know. But at that time, it didn’t seem to. So that’s why we tried something—
LINDEN: One of the reasons that we’re particularly interested in including these interviews as a part of the Artists Space Archives Project is that another aspect of what did seem quite innovative about what you were doing at that time— and innovative is always a relative term—was this claiming of public space and institutional space as an artists space. By doing these actions in the museum, you were really opening up the possibility again that it could be considered an artists space. Because although artwork was shown, that whole process of how it was chosen was so distasteful to you at that time. So I guess I’m curious, as an action that was happening parallel for you at some point to what you were doing in the Judson Gallery, at what point did you stop running the Judson Gallery? How long did these things happen in parallel?
HENDRICKS: Well, they weren’t in parallel. The Judson Gallery preceded, really. I was a conscientious objector against the war. And it was permitted to do my alternative service at Judson Church. So in ’65, whatever it was, I was hired by the church to work there and to fulfill the military, the draft. And so I was there and they didn’t quite know what to do with me. But I helped in the office and set up chairs for the church and stage managed some of the plays and took tickets and so on. And they had this very great history of the gallery, the Judson Gallery, where in 1959-60, Claes Oldenburg and Jim Dine and Allan Kaprow and Dick Higgins and others were part of a group called the Judson Group. And they did happenings, Ray Gun Specs; and they did shows there in this little tiny gallery and in the church. And then as they left, there was, of course— the Judson Dance Theater came in, which has a whole history of itself and marvelous dance; the Judson Poets’ Theater, which was part of what’s called off off Broadway; some experimental music; and some happenings. So for instance, Carolee Schneemann’s Meat Joy was done there for the second time; it had been done in Paris originally. And so I said, “Gee, can I run the gallery?” You know? [inaudible] sure.” So that was one of the many responsibilities I had at Judson. And I didn’t want to just start up doing happenings again. But I was very interested in installations and environments, stuff like that. And also felt that as a free space, kind of alternative space—it was a tiny little space, downstairs in the cellar of the student house[?] section—that when an artist would come along, [and ]say, I’d like to have a show, and they seemed to be serious about it, I did a show. So there were shows of a variety of artists, and not just radical artists, but people who seemed to be good in one way or another. A group of kind of Neo-Constructivist artists—Postman[sp?], Nicholson[sp?], Hurdman[sp?]. There was somebody who made Cornell-like boxes. And Kate Millett did a show, furniture show, which was wonderful. And I think the second season— Oh, first season— There was also— It’s a little involved story, but I can tell it.
The Church, they were interested in drugs and they were interested in decriminalization of drugs, but also finding alternatives to heroin or hard drugs that were killing people. And so the hallucinogens were just coming out then, and they wondered about LS— [background noise]
HENDRICKS: .LSD. And so, there was a drug that they used for a while instead of heroin. But anyway, so they asked me to look into LSD, what that was and so on. And I did some research about hallucinogens and LSD and spoke to friends who had taken it and so on. And out of that discussion, there was one friend, Mike Mason[sp?], who had this idea that repeated images or strobe lights and so on could bring you to a certain other level, a certain hallucinatory level, and it did for him. And so that was very interesting, this repetitiveness. And then I spoke with Yoko Ono and Tony Cox. And they were interested in this and had this idea of The Stone. And so a group of us—Mike, and Yoko and Tony, and their friend Jeff Perkins[sp?], and a technician, Ludlanko[?] and I created this kind of environment called The Stone, which was built into the little space down at the Judson Gallery. And it had repeated projected images, repeated sound loops in the four corners, lights that went from dark to light. And Yoko had these wonderful eye bags and a questionnaire, and Tony had made some markings on the floor. And it was this wonderful environment, a participatory environment. So the next year, I had very much wanted Carolee Schneemann to start the season, so-called, to do the first show, because I admired her work enormously. And just a short time before the show was to open, she said, “I just— I don’t have the money. I can’t get the things together to really do what I want to do.” I said, “Gosh, what am I going to do?” Because you know, here is the— the season’s going to open and— so then the idea of doing something about destruction came to mind.
Now, it came to mind, but it actually had already happened in London, ’66, because this was ’67. And Yoko had gone over to that. And I guess Ralph Ortiz had gone over. Al Hansen was there. With all the destruction going on in Watts and in Vietnam and on the streets here, I felt somehow artists could address destruction, which when you think of art as creation and so I contacted as many people as I could about the idea of destruction, and we ended up doing a series of destruction-oriented events. Each artist would have one night; one day, one night. Toche gave the name for it, Manipulations, because he said destruction’s really kind of manipulations. And so it was a wonderful series. And there’s a publication that we did called Manipulations, and you should have it somewhere in your papers. And that then set off a series of events. Manipulations was in September and October and so on. All through that winter, we did a variety of destruction-oriented events or works. And there was one, I think a series of Takemura’s[sp?] films. So I can’t offhand remember all the things, but it was a really exciting year of activities. And it was to have ended up with a symposium. So it was DIAS or DIAS USA ’60. And so the preview was to have been samplings of destruction. And Hermann Nitsch was there, and he did a thing with a sheet, a little kind of chamber piece. And Bici Hendricks, who’s now Nye Ffarrabas, did a piece with ice and a frozen flag. And Ralph [Ortiz] and I were going to do a piece, where— It was called Henny Penny. And there were two chickens suspended from trees in the church garden, and we were going to climb up the tree and yell kind of racist insults at each other, throw the— whack the chickens against each other, pour blood off the tree and so on. And two of the Motherfuckers stole the chickens. But anyway, the Motherfuckers, who were a group from the Lower East Side, a Provo group. And Mike Kirby[sp?], I believe. And so here we didn’t have the chickens to do our Henny Penny. And Ralph said, “Well, do you have saws?” “Yeah.” So we got a couple saws and we climbed the trees and cut off branches and poured blood over the cut branches, and then climbed down and put little American flags on the— And it was effective. And then we went inside and the symposium was to start, and Charlotte Moorman showed up. She was a little late. And she said, “Wait, wait. I have to do my piece.” We said, “Charlotte, the pieces are finished and we’re going to do the talking.” “Nope, got to do the piece.” And so we said, “Alright.” So she started to do Nam June Paik’s One For Violin. And you raise the violin very slowly overhead and it comes smashing down very fast. And so I’m not sure whether there was a solo first, but anyway, Sol Gottleib[sp?] said, “No, stop, stop.A kid on the lower east side could use that violin to play music with.” [And then] Charlotte said, “What are you talking about? It’s my violin.” [Sol said], “No, no, it’s not right. You mustn’t destroy a violin.” “I’m making my art and you make your art.” And so there was this kind of standoff. And Sol sat down on the table in front of Charlotte, and Charlotte then started raising the violin and somebody said, “Sol, look out!” And he turned around and she brought the violin and kind of whacked his head. Well, all pandemonium broke out, and that was kind of the end of the symposium.
Then later that year, Martin Luther King was murdered. And so we stopped. We said it was not time for destruction. And we cancelled the DIAS. But then I felt, well, that was Ralph and me speaking, but it wasn’t necessarily all the artists that had been invited to come and take part. This was similar to Manipulations, where this series would’ve had several days and everybody would’ve had a chance to do their thing, [to] do a sample of what they were working on. And so I then invited each artist to come for one day, [to] do whatever they wanted in the gallery. And so Ralph closed the gallery for the day. Toche did a piece where he sat in the gallery, in front of these very big speakers that just were blaring out siren, and bright lights flashing, and he had a text that said, “Today, the galleries or whatever, tomorrow the universities,” and so on. And that sort of anticipated the Columbia University events and so on[?]. So that was the— GAAG started after that.
LINDEN: Was that the last thing you did at Judson?
HENDRICKS: Not really, because I had commitments for two or three other artists. One was this artist who’s very famous now, Ben Arvinay[sp?], who did his first show in New York there, or sponsored by the gallery. And a couple [of] others. But yes, it was basically the end, and I was finished with my work.
LINDEN: So I guess two things, just to clarify. At the beginning of that set of stories you said they at the Judson Church were interested in drugs in particular, and that kind of inspired The Stone.
HENDRICKS: That was the minister and the—
LINDEN: Who was the they?
HENDRICKS: The minister, Howard Moody, and the church board. The church board. And Al Carmines, who was Howard’s associate.
LINDEN: Did you approach them about doing your service time there?
HENDRICKS: Yes, you have to. That’s how it’s set up. I was from Vermont. You can’t— at that time, if you were accepted to do alternate service—it was just men who were drafted; women weren’t drafted—and if you were accepted, there were a few grounds at that point, ’64, ’65, that you could have conscientious objector status; basically on religious grounds. So I was a Quaker. And there were Quakers, Seventh Day Adventists and Mennonites or whatever, who generally, at that time, would be accepted. If you could convince your draft board— Even if you were an atheist and said that just on moral grounds, you couldn’t kill anybody, they might grant you alternative. But most people had to flee to Canada or Sweden or something like that. So I had a little privileged opportunity.
LINDEN: And jumping back to the other end of the story, after your work at Judson ended, were there other artist-run spaces in the city that you participated in in any way or that you visited frequently? You know, around the time that you were starting the activity with GAAG?
HENDRICKS: I don’t think so, no. I don’t believe so. There weren’t all that many alternative spaces then. This was before, long before Printed Matter or Franklin Furnace or Artists Space or any of those groups. They didn’t exist. There were a few co-op galleries. The Park Place Gallery was a kind of Neo-Constructivist space. There were other theater spaces—St. Mark’s in the Bowery church had a poetry and dance program. Their, I think, Caffe Cino had closed then, but La Mama existed; Theater For a New City hadn’t started yet. So there were some theater and dance spaces, but no, they didn’t exist, the alternative, that I remember. And so I kind of got by doing odd jobs, and help from the family and so on, during that year, year and a half, two years. And we continued to work, first in anti-war demonstrations, and then it progressed to the specific action type thing with GAAG. And then this very complex thing of the Flag Show. And so—
LINDEN: So GAAG was really your primary occupier of time, your primary activity for several years. What other activities did that give way to towards the end of the period when you were very active?
HENDRICKS: There were different identities that we worked with. Toche had the God and Belgium Government in Exile, which I don’t think he did actions, but he did— Yeah, he did. They were actions. We did some actions. There was, as I mentioned before, the Blood and Flesh Guerrilla Theater. There was the For Artistic Freedom [?]. Then this poster committee, Artists’ Poster Committee, the People’s Flag Show. Then when we were arrested, the Judson Three, Art Workers Coalition itself, which we took part in, and maybe some others. But those were basically the groups. And frequently, it would just be a couple people, or sometimes five, [or] six people. The Art Strike or Art Workers Coalition were large. Art Strike was quite large, more hierarchical. Art Workers Coalition, there would be maybe thirty to fifty people on a regular basis. And some things took much longer than others. So the People’s Flag Show, that was really two [or] three years work. The posters were really a good year, [for] each poster project. So it’s not just— You know, the idea can come pretty quickly, but then getting it printed, the logistics of finding printers or if you had to raise money, raising money for it. The distribution was the most important. So we worked that out. There were, from the Artists’ Poster Committee, there were the And Babies? Poster; and then another version at the time of the election, which was the same image, but it said, “Four More Years?” The war was still going on. Then there was the US intervention in Central America, a group against that, which I was active with. That was later. That poster that we did, a group of us. There was a group— I think the Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam initiated it, which was Collage of Indignation, where there were great panels and artists were each asked to do a one-foot square panel against the war. That had been an outgrowth of the Peace Tower in L.A. that Irving Petlin, Mark di Suvero and others were involved with. And so that was that action. And then Lucy Lippard picked up on that and there was Collage of Indignation II. And the idea of that one was to— She and the people she was working with invited artists to make a design for a poster, and then the design could be sold and money from the selling of the design could go to making the poster. Well, I think one poster design was sold, which was Rauschenberg’s. And I don’t know that the poster was ever made of that. But this Artists’ Poster Committee did do a design, Frazer, Irving and I, and a good one. It was pictures of all of [the] Nixon team, the words Arbeit Macht Frei. And it was kind of like a wanted poster. By the time we were [chuckles] ready to try and produce it, most of them were indicted, like Mitchell and, I don’t know, other people. I mean, it was like a gang of seven. That was never made into a poster; the design exists. That’s up at the International Center of Photography. We gave that whole collection of posters, designs, to them. And there were certainly other groups and other activities that we were— Some more and some less involved with, for one reason or another.
LINDEN: How about humor? It seems to me there’s more kind of humor apparent in a lot of the written pieces than maybe in the actions. But what do you think?
HENDRICKS: They were pretty…
LINDEN: The actions were really funny to you?
LINDEN: [laughs] What was the funniest thing for you, if you look back on everything you’ve done?
HENDRICKS: Well, the funniest probably was this lack of planning when we did the Blood Bath. That we went in, you know, blood hidden under our clothes, and we ripped into each others clothes and were all bloody. So we were finished. You know, here we were covered with blood, our clothes were all ripped, and we walked out of the museum very proudly. But then how do you get home? [they laugh] So there’s a wonderful photograph of Poppy and me, that Jan took, of our proudly walking out of the museum. [laughs] But amazingly, a taxi stopped and picked us up [they laugh] and took us home. So that was funny. I think probably the funniest thing was at the time of The Machine Show. This wasn’t a GAAG action, it was something else. And we decided to criticize, parody the elevation of Dada into the hierarchy of culture and museums. So they had this grand opening, and Marcel Duchamp was supposed to be there and so on. And Gene Swenson had been protesting at the museum quite emphatically. And so the police were anticipating trouble and they had blocked off 53rd. This is the Museum of Modern Art, and they had blocked of 53rd Street, and had guards and police all up and down. But somehow, I had gotten a ticket. I think I called up and said, “I’m from the Judson Gallery and I didn’t get my ticket.” And they said, “Oh, dear.” And so they sent me a ticket. So I had a ticket for two of us. And Lil Picard had a ticket, because she was an art critic. And I’m not sure whether Joanne took part in that. It was another piece I think she— Anyway. So we got in. We just walked past all of these demonstrators, down the street, you know, as though, mm-mm-mm, you know, we were going— And we had our coats over our arms, and we had a live chicken down in the sleeve of the coats. So we went right in, presented our tickets and got into the museum for the opening.
HENDRICKS: And Duchamp wasn’t there yet. He was upstairs having dinner or something. So we wandered around and waited, and here was the Duchamp. And I mean, a chicken gets pretty heavy. [they laugh] So we were finally just— I mean, we couldn’t do it any longer, and we just sort of said, “Alright, let’s just— you know, he’s not going to show.” So we let go of the chickens. And the poor chickens had been upside-down for a couple of hours, I suppose. And immediately, going down through our sleeves, they sat down and squatted and shit right on the floor, in the middle of the show. [Linden laughs] So that was good.
LINDEN: That worked out well.
HENDRICKS: That was fine. However— And then the police arrested the chickens and threw them in the paddy wagon, and somebody took a photograph. And we just kind of walked on like nothing happened. So we got away with it. But that was kind of funny. Yeah. I suppose there is humor in some of it. But it was kind of serious stuff that we were talking about. And so if humor could be a vehicle, we certainly would use it. Maybe some other artists were— Maciunas was probably better at humor than we were. Although we certainly laughed a lot when we were preparing things and thinking about them. But you couldn’t laugh about the My Lei massacre…
LINDEN: Well, we have a lot of material. Maybe I can just finish up by asking you, if there’s anything else you’d like to add, and what you think generally about the legacy of Guerrilla Art Action Group.
HENDRICKS: We’re trying to get the book reprinted. And it looks now like it might get reprinted, because people are interested in it and in having a copy. I think it would be wrong to try and say, Oh, look, we did this and this happened. I don’t think it works that way. I think change has to happen or the institution’s going to die, whether we do something or not. And that if the change can be positive and beneficial, that’s good. And if we can shift the discussion a little bit, or if we shifted the discussion a little bit towards one thing or another that might’ve been positive, then that’s good. But if you go into this and say, I’m going to bring down the system or, I’m going to change it all or, I know the way, I think it’s a recipe for just failure. First of all, they’re mighty powerful. But I was talking to somebody the other day, and you know how quickly empires collapse? It’s unbelievable. Just like the flash of an eye. And so they’re very vulnerable. Very ephemeral and fragile. Empires and institutions, power structures. I mean, look at how quickly that big financial institution just—pfft. And the next day it was closed. It was the weekend, they said, “How can we get our fifty-billion to keep ourselves going?” And—poof—it was gone. Or the sun’ll never set on the British Empire, and ten years later it was, you know, hardly shining on any part of it, you know? And so the American empire will collapse, inevitably. Whether right away or sometime down the road, we don’t know, but it certainly will collapse. And what replaces it, I don’t know. But one can affect certain things. One can, either in the way in which you approach a problem or raising some of the issues in a different way— I mean, that’s kind of the job of an artist, you know? If you paint a sunset and say, “Wow, look at how beautiful the sun—” People say, “Oh, I didn’t know a sunset was beautiful. That’s really beautiful. Look at that.” And if you can say that museums are denying women artists and people of color from having anything to do with the institution and are just excluded, and their interests are not— “Oh, I didn’t know that. Wow, look at that. There were a lot of nudes in the museum, I would’ve—” You know. And that’s something that artists can do. You can. And it’s continuous. Our job’s not done, it’s just we’re old and tired. And so there’s so much that can be done, [and] continues to be done. And the problems change, evolve. So yes, maybe there’re more women being shown in museums now, but probably a disproportionate number of white women are being shown than women of color, or whatever it might be. The issues are always there. There’s never a perfect state. And if GAAG has a legacy, had some hand in opening up the way to question some of these issues, then it was useful.
LINDEN: Do you think your feelings have changed, or maybe just become more complicated, in regard to the relationship between corporate sponsorship and museum institutions?
HENDRICKS: I’m basically against corporate—
LINDEN: Or artistic production?
HENDRICKS: I’m basically against corporate sponsorship. I think it’s a big mistake. I think that the institution almost always loses. The amount of money that’s given is so minuscule, compared to what they demand of the institution. If you can take the money and run, that’s fine. But usually, the corporation wants to have its name all over the place. And there was—what was it?—this Beck’s] Futures, the Beck Beer company. And they give you, you know, ₤300 or ₤500, and maybe some free beer, and it says, Beck. Beck, Beck, Beck, you know. So they got a lot out of it; the artists didn’t get much—although since they didn’t have anything, a little bit was helpful. But I don’t think it’s worth the contract, the contract with the devil. I just don’t think it’s worth it. And I think institutions— It’s like energy. You just do with less. If institutions weren’t so big and weren’t so— You know, they have these enormous structures that they have to maintain. For what? It’s always building. Building more and more, rather than doing with what they have. So they then require more money, and which requires more sponsorship, which requires this, and so on.
LINDEN: So you’d advocate for doing with less and doing with public funds?
HENDRICKS: Not just public funds. The Museum of Modern Art charges twenty dollars a head to get in the door. That’s quite a lot of money.
HENDRICKS: You know, movies, that’s how they make their money. Some should be public. There’re problems with public funding, because the funders always want to control what’s going on, whether it’s corporate or state, city government. They say, “Oh, you can’t do that. What are you talking about? You can’t show naked people. Or you can’t criticize the government. Or you can’t advocate change. We aren’t going to give you money for that.” And we know that. The NEA, you know, the National Endowment for the Arts, got slapped around and Congress withheld funds for artists for years. Maybe[?] still. But that’s not to say that they shouldn’t give money to the cultural institutions. They should. They should give money to them. But the problem is they want to say what the institution can do. There should be no strings attached. The institution, they’re grownups. They know how— They know what art is and they know how to spend the money. And it should be their decision, not the government’s. The government shouldn’t tell a doctor how to treat a patient. They should give the money to treat the patient and say, “You’re the doctor, you know what to do. Do what’s best for the patient.” And so with corporate funding— I mean, I think that was a very important decision that GAAG made, that we wanted no outside funding, corporate or public. And we just did with what we had. If we had fifty dollars, we used fifty dollars. If we had 500, that was rare, but we would use $500. And a lot of things, like the posters, the And Babies? Poster, as I say, all of that was given, including our time and everything. No money. There was never any money. It was all free. And we insisted on its being free. And yet the poster was very effective. I think probably the most expensive was that theater action, where we rented the limousine and all of that stuff. And that got a little pricey. I don’t know what it cost in the end, but it seemed necessary for the piece that we were doing. There’s unfortunately, now a tendency—
On the wall, you can see a little poster that Irving Petlin and I were trying to do before the last election. And it’s— I’ll bring it over. Let me[?] describe it. It has to do with what we were talking about earlier, of never seeing a dead body in the Iraq and Afghanistan wars, or wars against Iraq and Afghanistan. And so we wanted to show a dead body. And then— But we didn’t want to have, you know, somebody with their face blown away or something like that, like Otto Dix; we just wanted to show death. Because war’s, in large part, about death. And then what words to go with it? And Sarah Petlin came up with this wonderful quote from a poem she hadn’t written, but a friend had written. And it says— So it’s a photograph of two hands coming out of the earth and the sleeves of a jacket; that’s all you see are the hands and the sleeves of the jacket, and no body. But you see the hands, and they’re obviously dead. And the quote is, “Of this hand, we forget is ours.” And we felt that this was a very powerful image and juxtaposition of a kind of awkward poetic sentence. And so we had wanted to produce it last year, last summer, before the election, and distribute, as we had done other posters. But Irving lives in Paris and neither of us are very well physically. And so we felt, Well, you know, we have the design and if we can find people who could do the work of production, which takes a while, and distribution, we would then use our contacts and resources, try and find people who could print it and get the paper and some of those things. And we talked to some people in the movement, and they knew some people. And they all came back, “Well, how much are you paying? What are we getting out of this?” Not, Oh, great. How can we get this? So it didn’t happen. And we did want to have a print, an actual physical poster. We didn’t— You know, you can put them up on the internet, people can download them. But it’s not— we felt wasn’t effective that way. We wanted something that people could hold in their hand and put it up on the wall and pass out, and it was much more confrontational, on the street. And it didn’t happen. But this is the same group, basically, that had done these other pos— I mean, we did a number of them.
HENDRICKS: And so that’s sad, that people now can’t be motivated by the need to do something, rather than, you know— Of course, people have to make a living. We all do, somehow. But that got in the way of doing it. And it’s unfortunate.
LINDEN: Thank you so much, Jon.
HENDRICKS: Oh, it’s lovely to see you. Thank you.
LINDEN: Any closing comments.
HENDRICKS: No, I think…
HENDRICKS: …my voice is going. [END]