‘In the 1980s, Julia Wachtel sought to examine pre-linguistic thinking and forms of non-narrative communication to great admiration of her peers with whom she often collaborated. Using larger culture contexts, she has continued to politically challenge status quo assumptions of our cultural symbolic order for over three decades. Her paintings and silkscreens weave disparate images from popular culture into a subversive brand of social commentary. Her work is particularly notable for its jarring juxtaposition of low brow illustration and dramatic photojournalism.
‘Wachtel’s paintings emerged in overlapping American generations of artists active in New York and Los Angeles in the 1980s whose contributions have increasingly become admired by new generations of artists and curators. The conversation in the American art world of the 1980s was demarcated by venue associations, schools and generations, informing a new popular culture beyond the formerly quotidian school of thought. This was the decade that yielded the first wave of the newly professionalized gallery system and a commercial market, limited to few artists who were symbols of the various representative trends. Politically independent, directly critical or experimental activity by artists, (often by women) were arguably of even greater historical significance. Wachtel’s concepts continue to be referenced in a number of artist’s work of successive generations. Pertinent now, as we investigate another round of market dominance that is potentially more interconnected but equally blind to the integrity of creative influences, it is interesting to refer to works of the period that are extraordinarily relevant in today’s context.
‘Julia Wachtel’s work remains prescient to political and social media evolutions that began forming in the 1980s and continue now, embracing the conflict that these digital forms often represent. Wachtel has actively pioneered works that address the impact of “society of the spectacle” in the complicit media saturated age of the 1980s. Incorporating political images and discomforting cartoon figures, she pre-figured “reality” and celebrity culture’s impact on representation as a potential form of critical and emotional dissent. Wachtel’s work has often been credited as a notable precursor to similar artistic strategies by Jeff Koons and Richard Prince. Her work early on incorporated collaborations with artists and agitprop groups. A notable early public installation with Haim Steinbach and several projects with Group Material were fundamental to Wachtel’s development in this decade.’ — Elizabeth Dee
Julia Wachtel Site
Julia Wachtel @ Elizabeth Dee Gallery
Julia Wachtel @ Mary Boone Gallery
Alternative Art, New York, 1965-1985
Mapping the Art World
Gallery Nature Morte
JW @ Hallmark Art Collection
Move Bombing In Philly, Eric Mitchell, Julie Wachtel
Neo-Geo – The Art Story
TRENDIEST IS, ER, WHATCHAMACALLIT
James Kalm visits Julia Wachtel’s “Helpp” at MARY BOONE GALLERY
10.02.2018 Julia Wachtel @ Art Center
Group Material & the 1980s
This Will Have Been: Art, Love & Politics in the 1980s
I, YOU, WE: Art & AIDS
EMILY MCDERMOTT: I know you originally were only painting, and then adopted screen printing. What initiated that change?
JULIA WACHTEL: I actually started screen printing like a month after Warhol died in 1987. The work was always about pop culture, but I never really thought to make screen prints. It didn’t even occur to me. Warhol was probably the most important influence on me, but as I said, I wasn’t thinking, “That’s a process I want to use.” Then, after he died, I thought, “Oh, this process is available to me.” I don’t think I would’ve ever made silkscreen prints while he was making work, because you would just be in the shadow of him. Once he died, it was like, “This is a tool I can use,” and it seemed very adaptable to what I was doing. The first image I did was actually Janis Joplin, a very pop image.
MCDERMOTT: Growing up, what was the first piece of art you saw that made you realize you could take pop culture imagery and turn it into something else?
WACHTEL: I remember it very clearly. It was Roy Lichtenstein. I was in high school, and I had always made art—as a kid I always liked to paint and draw—but my senior project was an art project. I didn’t live in a [bubble]—I traveled around with my parents, had been to Europe, lived in the suburbs of New York—but I had never been to MoMA. So [I finally went in high school] and saw the Roy Lichtenstein painting Girl with a Beach Ball. It was a revelation. It was like separation at birth, a kindred spirit. I just couldn’t believe the painting. Seeing it…it’s so painterly. That was the first painting I saw that made me think, “I can be an artist.”
MCDERMOTT: Where did you go from there?
WACHTEL: I started making, in my first year of college at Middlebury, Rauschenberg-y assemblage things and then I became aware of minimalism. I was looking at Donald Judd and making minimalist, cube structures that were built and wrapped in black plastic. Then I went to SVA and studied with Joseph Kosuth, Vito Acconci, and Joan Jonas. I became much more conceptual-minded, but it was always connected to a pop vernacular. That’s been consistent from when I was 10 until now. Not much has changed.
MCDERMOTT: I like what you’ve said in interviews before, that you consider your work to act like a speed bump.
WACHTEL: I could make photographs, but I very purposefully make paintings because paintings, ideally, should slow you down. I put benches in the gallery to encourage people to sit down and spend more time. Everyone’s always in a rush and speeding around, but a painting should be an object of contemplation, something you can sit with. You should keep looking at it over time and things will reveal themselves.
When I started making appropriation work and entered into the gallery system, no one was painting appropriations. There was painting going on, like Julian Schnabel and neo-abstract painting and graffiti art, but no one was doing critical theory and appropriation paintings. It was considered a bad thing to do, because painting was associated with the market and institutional authority and other ideas that critically minded people were trying to deconstruct. It was a real act of perversity on my part to decide that painting was going to be the platform I would engage in these ideas.
MCDERMOTT: So did you receive a lot of criticism when you first emerged?
WACHTEL: The work was well received, but it wasn’t really well received in the market. It was a little rough for collectors to want to have these really goofy, pathetic, cartoon characters. They were the kind of images people wanted to disassociate, not associate, themselves with. I intentionally used them because I was trying to undercut the un-critical identification with glamour. You can be Richard Prince and take reproduced serial images and deconstruct the power of those images, but if you do it with the same glossiness, you retain the patina and the aura of the glamour. I was trying to say, “I’m not going that route. I’m not going to reinvest in the thing you guys are trying to criticize.” I think that made it hard for collectors to get behind.
MCDERMOTT: How do you feel personally about popular culture and its proliferation?
WACHTEL: You know, if you’re a fireman, I think you love fire, even if you’re trying to put the fire out. That would be a very good analogy to my relationship with pop culture. I love it, but it’s obviously extremely powerful, in a lot of negative ways, in terms of identity and self, particularly for women. Not exclusively women, but young girls, with the internet—YouTube and videos about image and concerns, there’s pro-bulimia websites. It’s not just pop culture now; it’s social media. A lot of it is user-generated, but it’s reproducing like a virus. The term viral is apt. But I love pop culture, too. I love the Gangnam video.
MCDERMOTT: With the increased number and relative importance of fairs, what’s it like knowing that you have to create work, rather than making it from your own will?
WACHTEL: It’s not good. I mean, thank god it’s an opportunity to sell my work, so I can’t complain, but it’s like, I hate having to buy a dress because I’m going to a wedding. Do I like buying dresses? Yes, but under the right circumstances.
MCDERMOTT: You also worked at Vanity Fair as the production manager for the U.K. edition and on the U.S. side of things as well. How did that impact your personal work or vice versa?
WACHTEL: The funny thing about working at Vanity Fair is that I have some kind of facial dyslexia. I can’t distinguish one white actress from another. [laughs] Kate Hudson could be on the cover and I would have no idea who it was. It’s hilarious that I’m working with celebrities, I’m working with images, and I can’t even tell one from the other. But I have to say, I miss the camaraderie of an office environment. It’s nice to work with other people in a collaborative way.
‘At the beginning of this quarantine with Covid19 I was approached to participate in an online website project, “Passing Time”, organized by Alex Perweiler and Neville Wakefield, asking artists to submit short videos. Thinking to my “research” videos I thought to expand upon this, this time taking it another step further and actually editing footage and including sound. I started editing in iMovie but quickly realized Premier, part of the Adobe Suite, was a more powerful program. I guess I fell into the rabbit hole of learning how to edit, and capturing footage from live t.v. and the internet.’ (more)
what, what, what, 1988
Landscape No. 3 (history), 1989
The History of Animals, 1997
Circles and Door, 2014
The Execution of Abstraction, 2015
Time and Again, 2015
The Deconstruction of the Spectacle, 2015
Endangered Species, 2014
Soul No. 1 (Pinochio), 2016
Soul No. 3 (Subject), 2016
Making History, 2017
Ascending and Descending, 2017
The Disappearance of the Sign, 2017
Depth of Field, 2018
Modern Landscape, 2019
p.s. Hey. ** JoeM, Eek. Moving right along … Being entrusted to read someone’s novel while it’s in process is a pretty big compliment, I think. I’ve never done that, but George is tougher skinned than I am. Well, in certain ways. Agree about ‘HS’. ** David Ehrenstein, Thanks. I was honestly surprised there was enough online to make it. I only very vaguely knew his name until a few months ago. So his work or rather the fact that there was such a thing as his work was Greek to me. Ah, I remember Arthur Js, of course. I was more of a Gold Cup (Hlwd Blvd @ Las Palmas) kinda kid. I’m pretty sure the Gold Cup predated your LA move. ** _Black_Acrylic, Hi, Ben. Glad the DCA has a reopening plan. I hope it sticks. ** Jeff J, Hi. Well, I’m sure happy you liked it since were definitely its impetus. I think ‘Do Everything in the Dark’ is easily one of Gary’s best novels. Okay, interesting. I’m happy to have your ‘ZC’ report/review because I feel like I know how to approach it when I inevitably see it. Bonello is such an uneven director. It’s curious. Huh, I don’t think I’ve seen any of Chris Petit and Iain Sinclair’s films. I’ll rectify that as best I can. And I’ll find ‘London Orbital’ as soon as today. It sounds amazing. Thanks for the share, man. If you see this before you split for Georgia, break every leg or I guess every fingertip, and if the internet comes calling, check in. ** h (now j), Hi. Thanks. I’m actually quite new to Schmid’s work, and I haven’t seen very much yet, but I think so far ‘Violanta’ is my favorite. It’s nice that ‘Memory’ is having a such moment. I’ve been reading/seeing a lot about it. Pretty seminal work. I love Ray Johnson, so the new book is great news. Uh, yes, I believe I wrote about a few artist books back when I was a regular at Artforum. I hope your day was as nice as predicted. It did sound lovely. We’re blasted with high heat here. I’m going to try to escape into some cold museum, I think. ** Steve Erickson, Yes, you seem fully yourself here again. Excellent. I Zoom with LA friends pretty regularly, and everyone just seems emotionally and psychologically decimated, even the normally brightest and bushiest tailed of them. Jeff Jackson got ‘Beeswax’ somewhere, so I guess it’s possible. Yes, I too am looking forward to those two releases, of course. ** cal, Cool, glad it fed you. Listening to? Hm, … still some of the things in the gig post I did here last week, the new KTL, talking here with Jeff J about XTC got me listening to their early albums again, the two new Aki Onda albums, … Blanking. I like the Arrival by Fire! I’ll hunt down the Mamaleek. And the others. Contemporary folk bands … not off the top of my head, but it’s a billion degrees here, so my head is sludgy. I do really like that GIF post! I’m going to dwell within it once I exit here. Awesome! Everyone, cal, who works wonders with GIFs in combination, has a new piece/stack up on his joint/site The Uvular Trill, and I highly recommend that you indulge in it post haste. Here. Very impressive work, man. Kudos! Thanks! And thanks especially for those cold winds. And from every citizen of Paris, it is safe to say. ** Misanthrope, Yeah, my hosting site (GoDaddy) has been having timeout/firewall issues every fucking day lately, and I’ve just about had it with them. Looking into switching homes. I’m glad Rigby is up and almost running. Yes, Amy always was the first to read my novels, but, even there, never before I thought they were completely finished. Showing anyone things before I feel like they’re set completes fucks my brain up. 15 years, whoa, I think you’re right. Nuts. This place in its present and past incarnations has been quite the boon on the payback front, I must say. I’m down for that post-COVID party assuming I’m still sentient at that infinite seeming point. It’s almost your birthday! Cakes galore starting … now! ** Okay. Today my little galerie houses a kind of informal survey show by the iconic 80s and beyond artist Julia Wachtel. Fun, etc. should ensue should you choose to wander about. So do. See you tomorrow.