the art literature of textiles, the political and economic literature of textiles, there is a literature about beautiful patterns, and all of these are very disparate and have not been brought together. The literature history is composed of many strands; you have books about linen, about tapestries, rugs, clothing, silk textile, quilts, embroidery, printed textiles, tents, etc, but there is no unified field of historic textiles. My working on a bibliography is an attempt to unify this literature and it is a political project as well, because textiles are an art, handicraft and a business too, the first big capitalist industry, in fact. There is also the idea of a craft in a certain type of society, and the historical and social development from an "applied art" into a "fine art" in another form of society. The reason why I ask so many questions about the subject, is because I try to approach the subject with a critical, fresh eye.
In the art world, Harold Szeemann is a good example of someone who is conscious of the problem of not trying to repeat himself.
HUO: The excitement of the first time.
SS: Yes, even if it is only every ten or fifteen years in my work, as it takes several years just to get to understand a project and its particular history and problems. If one is involved with the art world and you are not an artist, such as organizer like yourself (or even a dealer), it basically means finding young artists whom you work with successfully, and then either continuing your successful project with them, or trying to do it again with another group of young artists, based on your experiences and especially, the contacts you made the first time. Having done that once, for me, it didn't seem interesting to do it again then, in 1972, and certainly not today. What one is left with is doing "conceptual art" shows or appearing on discussion panels talking about the good old days, becoming a sort of professional "art personality" or something, etc., and that is not something I care to do for my daily bread. Occasionally, O.K.
HUO: Is that why you refuse to repeat these exhibitions?
SS: Yes, it's really silly, it is becoming a parody as we spoke about before.
HUO: Gilles Deleuze says that if there is such a thing as art, it is always a critique of clichés.
SS: Exactly, or even I once said I think: art is a change from what you expect from it. But speaking historically, one should also never forget that today's critique is tomorrow's cliché.
HUO: Let's talk about the social-economic side of art. Getting away from the object as a fetish would also mean putting an end to the economics involved with the fetish which would have to be replaced by another economy. This is a whole complex set of questions concerning the new economics and also this transition to a service economy that you mentioned before, which is implicit in the 1960's exhibitions, and very relevant to many artists of the nineties. Raising the question of art as a service or non service, in 1971 you worked with Bob Projansky on the Artists' Contract ["The Artists' Reserved Rights Transfer and Sale Agreement"]. How did you conceive the "Artists' Contract"?
SS: The ''Artists' Contract" is a much more modest project than you suggest by your question. Its intention was just to first, articulate the kind of interests existing in a work of art, and then, to shift the relative power relationships concerning these interests more in favor of the artist. In no way was it intended to be a radical act; it was intended to be a practical real-life, hands-on, easy to-use, no-bullshit solution to a series of problems concerning artist's control over their work; it wasn't proposing to do away with the art object, it was just proposing a simple way that the artist could have more control over his or her artwork once it left their studio. Period. But the broader social-economic questions of the changing role and function of art in society, the possibility of alter native ways of art making or the support of the existence of the artist; all these important questions are not addressed here. As a practical solution, the contract did not question the limits of capitalism and its private property; it just shifted the balance of power in favor of the artist over some aspects of a work of art once it was sold.
HUO: It would be about protecting the artist within the existing system.
SS: Right. The problem of art as private (capitalist) property, of the uniqueness of objects, this was certainly a problem in the air during the 1960s and behind certain art making projects. But it wasn't just a theoretical-political problem, in the context of art making at the time it was also a practical problem, in that the selling of ideas or projects was something that the art world had never come up against before on any generalized scale. This has to do more with questions of how to transfer property ownership of an art work, and these questions were " more-or-less" resolved by treating them in a way similar to the rights and interests given to authors or composers.
HUO: Or musicians? Whenever a piece of music is played in public the author gets a royalty on it. We could apply this to publications and exhibition. But, of course, there is the problem that it will never be popular enough for the royalties to be significant.
SS: Yes; and that was precisely the problem at the beginning, because the catalogues were barely sold, or sold for $2 or something. The idea of royalties of 20 cents for four people on a book, added to the fact that there were not that many people interested to begin with, makes for very little real money. But the idea or pos-sibility is still very important. This may change of Course if there is more interest or if the prices become expensive enough to make royalties. For myself, it was only with the "Photocopy book" the possibility of royalties was really there, because it was sold for $20.00, but even here, with a 1,000-copy edition you are talking about $20,000 - a lot of money at the time - with royalties normally around 6-7%, this still only means $1,400.00 for seven artists, over say, five years, that is, $200.00 per artist (or $40.00 per artist per year). This was the intention, but it was never realized.
HUO: But it also depends on how it is organized. Whenever a pop star's song is played on television it goes into a fund. To me, it seems the traditional art world is focused on objects. It's never been organized.
SS: But it is not quite true for traditional art images, because there are number of artists' societies in Europe, within UNESCO, for example, and SPADEM, who do look after these types of interest, especially the reproduction of images. Occasionally there are even some very heavy lawsuits that come up. The heart of the problem is that concerning new art making practices, there is usually not enough money generated by the sale of these projects to amount to a hill of beans. For example, if I organized or published ten books a year and took all of the profits for myself, I would make, say, $200.00 a year per book, which would make a maximum of $2,000.00, if all the books were selling, if I was getting paid; etc. Perhaps for the late 1960s, this is O.K., I personally could get by with that; but if you divide it by 25 artists in a catalogue, it just doesn't work. I don't know if the numbers - i.e. the public interest - has changed that dramatically to make it any different today.
HUO: Did the number of people really increase?
SS: I don't know. But it seems to me that many of the people who walk around on a Saturday afternoon looking at art, could also possibly spend ten dollars for a "avant garde'' book. Maybe there isn't any relationship between those people and these books, yet nevertheless there are places like Printed Matter that sell a certain amount of books. I am told that the amount of people who collect artists' books has increased substantially. In the 1960s when I was active there were virtually none whatsoever, and I did my own distribution for my own publications, as well as some for Ed Ruscha and some others.
HUO: That leads to the book space. You said you really believe in the text and in the book space.
SS: Yes, especially as a possibility in the context of artmaking in the 1960s. But this doesn't preclude selling a book.
HUO: Have you ever been interested in exhibitions in printed mass media such as the "Museum in progress" in Vienna that organizes exhibitions in newspapers?
SS: It is certainly another possibility; why not? It is probably closer to a mass-market type of activity, inasmuch at it is directed to a far greater audience than is really interested, perhaps reaching out to people who would never come to an artwork otherwise. It is like jumping into the middle of the main train station and doing your theater piece, or putting a poster up on a very public wall as they did in China during the cultural revolution. These are all perfectly valid means to reach out into the world, and I am sure there are many others. Now the Internet is hot; why not?
HUO: As Broodthaers said, "Every exhibition is one possibility surrounded by many other possibilities which are worth being explored".
SS: True enough. That is the one way I look upon my own organizing and exhibition projects; as so many different ways, different possibilities, different aspects, of investigating the production of exhibitions. For the exhibition I did in Simon Fraser University in Canada in May-June 1969, at the instigation of N.E. Thing Co, we only published a catalogue after the exhibition was over. The exhibition took place all around the University, but unless you were aware that it was going on you just wouldn't know it existed; it was only afterward - if you saw the catalogue - that you realized you were in the middle of an exhibition during that period. But there was no formal indication that the exhibition was taking place at the time.
HUO: Just the very opposite of the phenomenon of people buying the catalogue beforehand.
SS: Exactly; just another possibility. I am sure there are thousands of other possibilities I haven't even dreamt about. I am sure you doing things with your "Do It" project here that never even entered my mind, which are perfectly valid in the context of the present moment, as well as perhaps opening on to other interesting possibilities in the future.
HUO: Can you talk about the show you co-organized with Michel Claura, the "18.PARISVI.70" exhibition that took place in Paris in April 1970?
SS: One should view the exhibitions I did as series which moved from a specific limited interest in a few artists to a more general interest in art and its processes. The exhibition with Michel Claura was one in which he in fact was the brains and organizer of the exhibition, and I was just the back-up support; the practical, money, publishing and organizational side. In this sense it was similar to the "July/August Exhibition" project I did with Studio International slightly later in 1970, when I asked six art critics (David Antin, Charles Harrison, Lucy Lippard, Michel Claura, Germano Celant and Hans Strelow) to each edit an 8-page section, which took me still further away from the selection and promotion of specific artists.
HUO: The curator disappears in a sense?
SS: In a way, yes, but it is a false disappearance. I think in retrospect perhaps what I was doing had to do with making the role of the curator less hidden, less transparent, more clear, more open and more aware of his or her responsibility in the art process. Although since then, I have heard curators have become very important, and are even spoken of as being "painters" using the artists they show as form of "paint".
HUO: What was the role of the curator in your projects?
SS: One aspect of our project had to do with clarifying and changing the role of the curator, and perhaps also that of the critic and even, the collector. Before, the curator was someone, somehow, who determined and rewarded artistic genius. He (or she) may have been a great writer, catalogue maker or builder of great col-lections, but this role was never asserted as a clear force. They were certainly powerful - but only within the context of some greater institutional power - and their job was to select "great artists" and be the voice of the gods, or of "quality" and correct art values. I think our problem in the area of curatorship was to become aware that this person - in this case me - was an actor in this process, and that he or she had an effect on what was shown; and being aware of this was part of looking at art and understanding how art choices were made. This is also the case for role of the collector, and the effect he has on what art is made by encouraging this and not that. How to make these hidden private decisions more visible, how to make this dimension behind the public art exhibition and selection process more visible, was in part what I and others were thinking about.
HUO: A de-mythologization?
SS: Exactly; but the key word at the time was "de-mystification". A process in which we attempted to understand and be conscious of our actions; to make clear what we and others were doing, so you have to deal with it consciously as part of the art exhibiting process, for good or bad. You have to understand what the curator does to understand in part what you are looking at in an exhibition. Why does this artist has three rooms and the other has one room; why this one is on the cover of the catalogue and the other is not? You have to try to understand all of these decisions that create the context of the art experience, both for looking at it, but also making it, as the "consumers" are also the "producers".
HUO: And question of feedback?
SS: Yes, people who are looking at art are also the very same people who are producing art; i.e. other artists. These questions are even more important for them than for the general public. This is especially the case between different generations of artists.
HUO: Are there any young artists of the 1990s that you are interested in?
SS: No. But to be honest, I do not follow the contemporary art world very closely; I could maybe cite a name or two, but it would just be pure chance, because I don't look that seriously. Looking at art is a full-time job; one really can't look at one isolated work without knowing about many other works. Even more so today because there is far more work to be seen. To be able to understand and evaluate what you're looking at, you really have to be around, and that takes lots of time, not to speak of interest, and mine is elsewhere, at least for the moment...