Interviews With Contemporary Artists About the Exhibit
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: What interested you most about our present installation?
Claudia Schmacke: It was a very interesting and inspiring experience for me to see artworks from a historically different period in this contemporary environment. My favorite space was the Cube Gallery with the Renaissance gold-ground paintings, because I think it's difficult to see them with natural light in museum collections, and it creates such a different impression to see them in natural light. For me, that was marvelous.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: Do Old Master paintings inform your own work? Does architecture?
Claudia Schmacke: It has always been very important for me to look at art from earlier periods. To wander through Venice, for example, and to see where things were painted, especially when they were painted for certain spaces. When I see paintings that were done for a particular church, and view them in a particular setting, especially with the particular light of that space, these experiences are often much more rewarding than when I see them in a museum context. Regarding the influence of architecture, I think about Renaissance structures like Palladian villas as well as contemporary architecture. I like Tadao Ando a lot. But the most direct influence of Old Masters on my work, I would say, comes from Leonardo.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: What particularly fascinates you about Leonardo's work and ideas?
Claudia Schmacke: One of the things that interests me most is Leonardo's study of water. He described a river. With a river you really become aware of the passing of time. In each moment that you look at the river it will never be the same as the next moment. The water flows by as the time flows by. The uniqueness of this experience was something which really struck me when I first started investigating Leonardo's work. I went to Italy in 1990 and my original plan was to study the development of the philosophy of space and I wanted to read Leonardo's writings about perspective. This led me to his reprinted manuscripts in Florence, but in the process I became much more hit by his studies on water. With Leonardo's manuscripts, this mixture of drawing and text in Renaissance Italian — together they triggered something within me.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: I'd like to ask you a few questions about light too. Your sculpture is often comprised of water and air pumped through plastic tubing. Your work is so centered around water as a moving, changing medium. This concept of the inconstancy of water that you mention could also be applied to daylight, and to the ephemerality of specific lighting conditions in a given place throughout the course of the day. At the Pulitzer, our present installation is about viewing works of art in natural light. I'm wondering how you think about natural light in your own work.
Claudia Schmacke: I personally think natural light it is the most beautiful light. I have also shown in dark spaces. In my present installation at the Saint Louis Art Museum, the sculpture is artificially lit and that, of course, has an impact on the work. I need to consider the space and lighting conditions for each installation. One of my installations using natural light was the one at the Chinati Foundation in Marfa. This was a special work because of the changing light over the day. You never get the richness and complexity of natural light with any other light. And then I work with green light, and people think that I always work with green tubing or light; but it is not a given that I always work with this color. I have had just as many installations using clear tubing and water.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: Like your installation in Kyoto ("NAGARE Claudia Schmake," Galerie Aube, Kyoto University of Art and Design, 2005).
Claudia Schmacke: Right. I've made many where it was just water and air moving through clear tubing, which has a slight bluish color. There was a time when I didn't think that I would ever use color.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: So, when you work in spaces with artificial light, you conceive of the tubing and the liquid, and even the speed at which the water moves through the tubing in a different way than if the installation were lit naturally. Is this right?
Claudia Schmacke: I wouldn't say that the speed is different. But when I work with green it gives the work another connotation; its reading becomes more ambivalent than when I use transparent materials. Transparency is a more about the pure experience of water. The green, on the other hand, adds something else. On one hand it is a reference to a natural color but on the other it is a toxic color. So the choice of green allows you to oscillate between these two extremes.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: Had you been given a room with natural light at the Saint Louis Art Museum would it have looked the same, or not?
Claudia Schmacke: It would have looked different. Maybe in a natural-light environment, I would have even decided to use transparent tubing and clear water. I follow my intuition for each installation, each special space.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: Since your work often incorporates water and light what are your perceptions of the water court here at the Pulitzer? How do you think it enhances this exhibition and how do you think it augments the experience of the building itself?
Claudia Schmacke: I think it offers a very nice feel to your spaces. The outside is reflected interestingly into the building. Together with the Old Masters, you get a combination of real paintings and reflected light patterns. I think the inside and outside get really connected in this building. And I love that way the water in the pool meets up with the epidermis of the building.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: Would you ever be interested in making a work that interacted with the installation that is presently here? Where would you start? How would you interact with the Old Masters?
Claudia Schmacke: That's an interesting question. My spontaneous answer would probably be to respond to the works with the gold ground, but maybe that's because I'm working on some pieces where I paint platinum on ceramics and they are like old mirrors. They have this strange surface. I'm also doing an installation in Russia this May where I will use silver acrylic paint to turn a pool into a faded old mirror. The work is for the Center for Contemporary Art in Nizhny Novgorodand where they have a medieval tower. In the tower I have an installation.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: And you'll have natural light or not?
Claudia Schmacke: It's dark. It's really dark. It was a military fortress.
Francesca Herndon-Consagra: Maybe that's why you reacted to the gold-ground paintings in the Cube Gallery! Your imagination may have been sparked there because of the gallery's height and its placement at the end of the building, and its darkness, where the gold can reflect so nicely. I had never thought of the Cube Gallery as a type of tower before; that's a nice thought. Thank you for your time. I really appreciate it.
Claudia Schmacke: You're welcome.