The blog of author Dennis Cooper

Galerie Dennis Cooper presents … Julia Wachtel


‘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
Tellus #5/#6
Neo-Geo – The Art Story
Absolut Wachtel



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

Watch here: JULIE AULT Show & Tell: A Chronicle of Group Material

I, YOU, WE: Art & AIDS


from BOMB

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


Platform, 1997


Thrill, 2011


Circles and Door, 2014


The Execution of Abstraction, 2015


Position, 2015


Proof, 2015


Stripe, 2014


Time and Again, 2015


The Deconstruction of the Spectacle, 2015


Spirit, 2015


Girl, 2014


Witness, 2014


Endangered Species, 2014


Glare, 2015




Soul No. 1 (Pinochio), 2016


Soul No. 3 (Subject), 2016


Picnic, 2017


Making History, 2017


Ascending and Descending, 2017


Target, 2017


Mapping, 2017


The Disappearance of the Sign, 2017


Investigation, 2017


Communication, 2017


Depth of Field, 2018


Iteration, 2018


Helpp, 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.


  1. Thank you, Dennis, for this post. Watchel’s work looks brilliant. “Jarring juxtaposition of low brow illustration and dramatic photojournalism” — wow, I like that the juxtaposition in her work induces a very fine, calibrated game or narrative of infinite thinking (including smart humor) instead of direct critique of these imageries. And I love the way Watchel uses the panels. Precisely intriguing. Very intelligent work. (Your posts have been continuously great, so I feel I should slow down my learning, haha.)

    I’m sorry you are dealing with the heatwave in Paris. But I see you have a museum to visit right now! I’m happy for you! I don’t think any of big museums here will reopen until the next spring (or summer). But we are savoring another nice (rainy, cool, dreamy) day, so I’m quietly grateful. Please have a fine weekend. Hopefully, not too warm…

  2. Watchel’s baroque nostalgia is her most appealing quality, though he imagery occasionally brushes close to the abdominal Jeff Koons.

    “The Gold Cup” was still fully operational when we arrived in L.A. I trust you recall there was (briefly) a gay punk band called “ArthurJ and The Gold Cups”

    Found the picture I took of Raul Gimenez and it has alas disintegrated. Seek out his film performances. He’s high on my list of Great Male Beauties which includes Peter Beard, Alain Delon, Alan Scott and Tony Bill.

  3. ‘JoeM, Eek. Moving right along …’

    Not quite sure what was all about. Hopefully you can enlighten me.

    ‘Being entrusted to read someone’s novel while it’s in process is a pretty big compliment’.

    Well I couldn’t send anything to anybody unless I thought it was ‘finished’.

    Hey there Georgie Boy – 15 years! No way. Do you know the exact date me and you started communicating here? We first met at DC’s Kindertot in Glasgow, I remember that. Not the exact date. Yeah it’s great we still communicate – despite ups and downs – and the downs are few. I don’t count squabbles about Trump or Kovic. We know what they are.

    Dennis I think it would be good if you could re-show some of the ‘Days’ The Collective produced, including the comments. I’d love to see all those old names again. I remember the ultimate day when we all disguised ourselves in online identities. There were 500 comments…

  4. Joe, <3

    Dennis, I'm liking Wachtel's art here. It's really good.

    Yeah, I normally wouldn't send stuff to someone before it's finished, but this novel is something I wrote in a totally different way and thought it might be a good idea. Usually, I'll use a very strict, detailed outline, but this time, I wrote it kind of on the fly. I knew going in how it'd begin and end and kind of what would happen in the middle. I knew what I wanted to do stylistically, as well as what my themes were. But that was it. Also, it was a good way to have another backup. Worse comes to worse -a computer crash, a house fire, death, whatever- Joe has a copy, but that was an advantage I didn't realize until about halfway through.

    It helped. He actually influenced me in a certain direction that I hadn't planned to take (or at least was iffy about) and I think it made it better.

    Yeah, I started commenting on the blog in 2006. Went to Glasgow in 2007 for Kinder and met all you guys and gals. The rest is history.

    Oh, let me tell you, we're making it through this and things will be normal again and we're all gonna meet up somewhere and have a blast.

    Thanks! I'm hoping the workday today goes fast and the 3-day weekend is fun. I'm picking up my already-ordered cake on Sunday (they're closed on Mondays, wtf?). It'll all be low key and everything the way we Wineses do birthdays, and I expect to come out on the other side cheery.

    I'll be 49. 4 + 9 = 13…the death number. Damn you, James Joyce! That's where I got that from and it's always stuck with me, though I don't believe in numerology at all. Thing is, a bunch of people on my mom's father's side died at 49, including her father/my grandfather. I just gotta make it through this year, hahaha. 😉

  5. Some of Wachtel’s images resemble freeze-frames of a GIF novel!

  6. My eyes are continuing to mend, and my mood’s been much better today. But my right arm is very sore – probably from leaning on it during several days of resting in bed – and it hurts to type.

  7. Hey Dennis, it’s Josh/”postitbreakup” from eons ago. I listened to your episode of Bret Easton Ellis’s podcast today and it made me really nostalgic for you and the blog. Obviously I haven’t been a regular in a long time but I still think of you and it often. I can’t believe that I came here from like 17-27, I really “grew up” on here (although I think I stayed a child the whole time). When I think back at some of my asinine, embarrassing and downright psychotic comments/emails, I can only cringe. In a lot of ways I feel like I didn’t become an adult until the last year or so. There are a million things I wish I could take back and it’s hard not to be overwhelmed by regret. I think last time I was on here I mentioned that I’d joined AA, and although I’m not part of that anymore, I’ve still been thinking a lot about amends, and I’m sure I owe you several. (I could be more specific but probably that’d be better over email, I didn’t know if that would be good to do or just annoying though–a lot of people don’t want to hear amends) Anyway despite all my bullshit, I’ll always look back on this place fondly. “Look back fondly” is such a cliche, but I can’t think of a better way to put it. But for a long while, this really was a huge vital part of my daily routine. And it was always a huge privilege to get to talk to you, and I’m still grateful for my days that you posted and for all your patience with me over the years.

    I hope that you’re doing well, as well as possible with all this covid bullshit. I actually had covid last month, just a mild case thankfully. I’m still not used to wearing masks. I don’t know if they’re even doing that in France, I kind of imagine France as this utopia where that’s not even necessary. I guess I should read back the old PSes because you’ve probably answered all this, but for what it’s worth (very little I’m sure haha) I’m adding my voice to the probable chorus of people who hope you and your loved ones are safe and well.

    I think I read somewhere that your novel was finished and coming out soon, I can’t wait to read it. I haven’t written a lot this year, although I did finally finish putting together my collection a few months ago, and I hope to have some good news about it to announce before the year is over. I seem to only be able to take myself seriously as a writer about once a year. I think real writers like you have a lot less doubt about themselves–I think I’m more of an imitation writer, the way I’ve been kind of an imitation person so long, a really bad horrific imitation I guess, like a horror novel caricature or something. But I think, hope, that I’m finally getting a little better, at least as a person if not as a writer. It took me an extremely long time to realize that even though my mental issues / BPD might compel me to do something (like send a crazy message), that doesn’t justify it or mean that anyone should have to put up with it. To some extent I think I’ve finally learned that lesson, to some extent I have to re-learn it every day. It’s frustrating still, because I do genuinely think that if people understood what it’s like to live with these horrible feelings/thoughts/compulsions, they’d see it’s like having a gun to my head, like that’s how dire it feels when I send too many texts or a jealous email or whatever bullshit–like I’ll actually die if I don’t do it; and I do wish that I could make people understand how that feels, and if I ever manage to finish a novel, that’s what I want it to be about. But the thing I couldn’t see for so long is that even people with a gun to their head still have a choice about how they react. And it turns out it was a fake gun all along, at least in the sense that my emotions always feel like a real threat but actually are just electrical impulses or whatever and will pass. Jesus christ I’m rambling again, but I guess that’s nothing new from me, ha. Anyway, I guess I’m trying to express I’ve gotten maybe 5% more mature and accountable and whatnot since the last time I was here, and I’m still working on it, if that’s any consolation or reparation, probably not. I think being sober helped with that, and I made it 6 months, the longest I’ve ever made it since I first started drinking/using drugs, although ultimately I ended up quitting AA when covid ended the in-person meetings. The main thing I was getting out of it was the social interaction / accountability, but (at least at the meetings I went to) it was so heavily wrapped up in all the pseudochristian higher power bullshit that it was really hard to tolerate. Plus they view everything so simplistically, and I’m trying to get AWAY from black and white thinking, not embrace another form of it. A lot of people in the group even suggested that all my mental problems would go away if I just stayed sober, and they definitely didn’t, although being sober of course helps with impulse control. But I think I had problems and went to alcohol/drugs to shut them out, rather than the other way around. The impulse control is really important though. I guess that’s what all this rambling boils down to–I’ve learned that I’m probably always going to have the impulse to be crazy, but it’s up to me to control it, so that’s what I’ve been working on, and I’m sorry for the times I didn’t control it, and I hope you’re doing well and stuff, and sorry this was so long.

  8. forgot to mention in all my dopey maudlin rambling that I really liked Zac’s Drug Binge, the waves hitting the feet especially, and “do i give a fuck? no” and #29 with the speech bubble, i feel like that a lot haha. “i drugged you sorry” with the face made me lol. It was really cool and different, like a novel compressed into a meme or something. (the dicks were also nice as well, i’m not gonna lie, haha) take care <3

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