Art and Commerce: loud paper interviews Jorge Pardo

Los Angeles artist Jorge Pardo creates spaces and the objects that go in them—a renovation of the Dia Foundation’s bookstore in New York, a set of hanging lamps for Sotheby’s headquarters, restaurant furnishings for a trade show in Leipzig, a modernist bungalow (his own) in the Los Angeles hills. Just don’t call him an architect.

LP: So how do you view this weird crossover thing that is going on between artists and architects?

JP: I don’t see it as a crossover at all. I mean, I think of myself as somebody who is strictly making sculpture. I am involved with a lot of different aesthetic problematics. I certainly don’t think that there is anything idealistic in joining these things. I don’t believe that these things lack anything. I think that’s ridiculous.

If art’s going to be about a complicated cultural discursive, you’re going to deal with space in a way that it really hasn’t at this point. In order to do that it has to engage in the world. Not necessarily the world of architecture, because I think the world of architecture is even more deficient. Art has to enter cities and places. You do that by negotiating buildings. I have no interest in architecture as an artisan. I think what I am interested in are buildings, structure and civic space, and people’s of images of themselves.

LP: Do people approach you and say, "What are you now, an architect?"

JP: People do that all the time.

LP: What do you say to that?

JP: I don’t know, I think that you have to look at the projects that have architectural components in the same way that you look at other images. At the end of the day it’s a convoluted mimetic operation.

LP: How would you explain what you do as an artist?

JP: Art is kind of boring and esoteric. Having a career as an artist, showing in galleries and things like that doesn’t interest me. I have a gallery, so I don’t mean to say I am outside the system. Projects that make problems in the world are interesting. Case in point being the house up in Sea View, where there are very strange forms of mediation that happen, and I actually can observe the work and there is a certain kind of behavior that is discursive.

LP: Can you program that?

JP: I don’t think you can program that. You can sort of set up a frame and a vantage point to look at things.

LP: What is an example of that?

JP: Well there is a consciousness with which a project is made. A museum comes up to an artist and says, do you want to do a show, and you say, well I want to make a house. And I don’t want to make a house that goes in a museum, and I don’t want to make a house that something weird is going to happen, I want to just make a house and see what happens. It’s a very blunt quotidian exercise. I mean, obviously if one follows a more interesting logic you realize the strangeness of the project is about observation and how people behave in relation to something.

LP: So what is part of the artwork then? How people came to the house as an artwork?

JP: That is the artwork.

LP: So [the house] is just a frame.

JP: It’s discursive product. That’s all it is. The artwork is as many contingencies as come from the experience. I don’t think as a structure it is anything anyone can manage. You can’t think about it formally unless you’re an idiot. Like thinking that by making something green something is going to happen. That is not the way it works. You can think about it in terms of, what would be an interesting sort of gesture to make, what would be a way to sort of address a museum exhibition, or what would be an interesting way for an artist to make a house, or for a painting to be made after this house. Not of the house but as within the same line of sight. You know, you make a house, you make a painting, you make a pair of shoes, you make a drawing. It’s like what happens when you try to discern these as anything other than sculpture and painting. It’s not making ready-mades. It’s something else.

LP: There is this blurring between artwork and product. I mean, you could talk about Andrea Zittel, and her work is a lot about making product, making artwork that comments on product. You’re actually making artwork that becomes a product.

JP: I think that I am involved in a practice that highly problematizes those kinds of notions. And makes it impossible for me to say things like what she says. For many different reasons. I don’t think that art gets made with your hands, as a primary mode.

I don’t have any faith in the idea that an object can transform at the rate that a discursive can. Many things are set up that can ask questions from different points of view, that is what I am interested in. Objects are things that I read as very conventional things in that their essence is very problematic to begin with. I don’t think that things have essences. Or any of these kinds of properties. That is not a model for an artwork for me.

LP: So how do you deal with then, someone coming to you and saying, I want a lamp.

JP: I give them a lamp. They want a lamp, I want to make a lamp. I like making lamps.

LP: So when you make a lamp, it’s a lamp.

JP: It’s a lamp and it’s an artwork. Because they only come through me because of other projects that I have done. They don’t want a lamp. They want a Jorge Pardo. They get a lamp and I get to make a lamp. I get to design a lamp. Maybe I get to use the lamp in some other installation. Maybe it’s research for something else.

LP: I’ve been reading a little about your work and it seems that everyone tries to couch it within the formal elements.

JP: Because I think that’s the dominant mode of discourse for art criticism. And that’s not going to change any time soon. There is a whole industry that supports it. It’s a matter of legacy. People who spend a lot of money on works of art, people who spend millions of dollars on a painting, they want a Marxist discourse. It goes way back. Like they want to buy a Mercedes Benz. It is really that simple. I think art criticism is—and I don’t know any artist who would disagree with me—is one of the most impoverished cultural fields that is out there right now.

LP: Except maybe architecture criticism.

JP: Except maybe architecture criticism. It really doesn’t say anything, doesn’t do anything. What it does is it does this, you know, flat kind of celebratory … It’s not describing what’s happening when you are in front of a work of art. It’s not describing what isn’t happening.

LP: It’s not describing the artwork.

JP: It can do that but only in the way you describe a shoe. …

It is what architecture is, though. I am not saying that to be facetious. I am saying that the kind of things that seem ancillary are actually what it is.

LP: It’s not the work itself, it’s the profession?

JP: Yeah. You end up having discussions about professionalism.

And then there are these few people who kind of … you know, I like Rem Koolhaas, because he is such a freak and he is at least saying things like “C’mon guys, architecture isn’t about space anymore. Let’s go work with Prada. Let’s look at trends or something like that.”

I don’t think that the architectural community has really processed what it might mean for a whole set of new agendas to be what drives it, you know, like the progressive wing or something like that. You know, I like what Koolhaas is doing, or not doing.

LP: Otherwise it becomes a sort of formalist “you like or you don’t” sort of thing?

JP: Yeah. And generally architects are people who have always by necessity needed a parasitic relationship to art. It’s like a lot of kids become architects because their father says they have to make money. In their head they are thinking they are making art where they can make money. It is not a coincidence that a large number of architects, once they are far enough in their career and they get bored, they start painting. It’s retarded but it happens.

LP: What about someone like Frank Gehry?

JP: I like Frank Gehry’s early work a lot. I am not interested in another building that looks like a whale or anything like that. But I think he’s a serious architect. He did some really interesting things at certain times.

LP: And what about when he talks about himself as an artist?

JP: I don’t know why he would want to do that. It doesn’t make any sense to me, he seems like a fine architect. Why he needs to feel like he is an artist? I don’t know where that impulse comes from. For me, I studied art after I studied biology. It seemed to me what kept my desire to learn, within an art department or with artists around, is that I didn’t really have a sense of how I would be formed. And that was just really interesting to me, that being an artist is by nature stepping into what could be a very productive and ambiguous field. And when people like Frank Gehry use the term, it seems like it’s for a completely opposite reason.

LP: It’s like he looks up to you guys.

JP: I don’t know why architects would look up to artists. They’re different things. There’s a sense of impoverishment making architecture versus making art, that they’re not really real. If they would engage the problems of practice in a serious way you wouldn’t have these problems, you know? You’d be working. You would try to improve your situation. You’d try to make it more complicated. And actually deal with the world.

LP: What kind of means do you use to engage the outside world?

JP: Well, I make a lot of public art projects. I do things, get asked to do things, and people don’t even go through a gallery. And they are asking me to sort of fix [a space]—nobody likes to be here, nothing happens here, maybe you could do something interesting and make something happen here. And that is really interesting to me ‘cause it is so fucking open. What would make somebody engage with this space?

LP: And what is your process for that?

JP: I have my assistant visit the place, then I go and I start to talk to people and then I think about culture and I look at my lamps and I look at my drawings and think, well, it would be neat to do that. What would happen if this was here? What happens if you make people look at this? And what happens if the light is like this? What happens to the rest of the area?

It’s always a question of a speculative kind of problem solving. Maybe I go somewhere and there’s a bunch of beautiful trees, and I wonder, why are they here? And I start to understand maybe why they were planted and how they were planted and how they affect their relationship to the building becomes clear. And that for me is the ideal way to sort of unravel what I do. Proposing a kind of potential for that. And that is very different than decoding, because that implies that there is a key that is a priori

LP: That is something I found in reading about your work—no one gets that. There is something missing, I guess, without actually occupying the artwork.

JP: Well, the artwork is never the actual experience of being in the work. Or being adjacent to the work is never really addressed. Art criticism treats art objects as though people don’t really exist. All the walls are painted white, the dealer is five miles away, the guy watching the building, all the things that are really significant to consuming that kind of experience of the artwork are things that are not really made present when somebody criticizes a work of art. And those are the things that I am interested in. When I go somewhere, I have an experience of some sort, I feel like I have engaged in a kind of a multiplicitous kind of sense of being lost.

LP: I like that idea about being lost. I don’t quite know where to take it, tell me a little more about that.

JP: Well, I think interesting situations make space for you to wander. When you see an interesting movie you start to leave the film, you start to think about scenarios in your life, places that you have been. You start to think about literature, stories that you’ve read. You go off. An interesting art work can hopefully make the space where a similar poetic can happen. It happens by there being things that happen all at the same time, where you can’t really discern where the work starts and where the work ends.

I mean, where does the work start? At the theater? It is completely transient. It is like being stuck in a tunnel. Like a piece of glass. The history of that space, what Gluckman did before me. There are so many things that constitute what the experience is.

LP: And you are grabbing at every one of those.

JP: And I think you can do that. I think you can work with things like that. That is a more ambitious way to think about art.

LP: I think it is a really ambitious way.

JP: And it is not something you can take away with you. It is not something you can have a punch line for. It’s not something you can paraphrase.

LP: It’s not something you can sell.

JP: You can sell anything. But you are selling it in terms of fractions. It is not a question of selling or not selling. It is a question of living.