Anne Walsh’s piece, in particular, brought up some interesting issues about the use of the house as a community gallery, and some kind of arbitrary boundary about where art happens and doesn’t. When they converted the house to the gallery, they took the downstairs guest bathroom and assigned it as is the men’s room, and then they built a separate women’s room because they had to fulfill a set of building standards for a community center. When all of the interior walls came out, it was clear that the so-called men’s room was actually a nice little ungendered “powder” room. In facilitating the show, we were talking with the Muckenthaler people about whether we could we use all the original spaces of the house. At first, the answer was “No, no, no, those are off limits because they have to continue to function.” We did manage to convince them, and Anne installed her work in that old bathroom, which continued throughout the show to be used as the men’s room. She hung a fabulous long blonde wig in front of one of the mirrors.
BW: Was it on some kind of pulley so anyone could position it on their head?
EB: Absolutely, which was quite wonderful.
SB: I think the project after that was Program for Paradise, in 1995, at the Occidental College Amphitheater. It broadened the scope, in that it included a program of events.
EB: It had something like thirty people performing in the amphitheater.
SB: And we had a series of readings.
EB: Anita Pace with Mike Kelley organized all of the performance stuff, and David Bunn was very involved in the artist’s readings.
SB: And there was a very early performance by Marnie Weber, The Beasts of Transgression, with her singing “Cry for Happy.” We did the next project with the Armory Center in Pasadena, Pair-A-Sites, which happened over a three-month period in what they termed the “community room.” We were interested in the Armory Center because they basically divided their space in half; education on one half and exhibitions on the other half. This room was their only space that was public and used for both exhibition and educational uses. We were interested in that room. We organized three different exhibitions. One was—
EB: Charles Gaines and Cheryl Kershaw in December 1995.
SB: Which looked at the history of armories in America.
EB: The second was Diane Bromberg and Eve Luckring, in February 1996.
SB: Their exhibition was a problematic experience for me. Since it was a community room, it had to be used for functions other than just exhibitions. The Armory brought groups of children in there for orientations, among other things. Our projects had to be approved with these other events in mind. All of a sudden we were back to this point where we were losing a little bit of control. We go into an institution, we say we want to do this, and they say, “Oh, no, you can’t do that.”
EB: This was the threshold we were getting to with Anne’s piece in Suitably Appointed, but at the Muckenthaler we managed to finesse it.
SB: Originally, Eve and Diane’s plan was to put six inches of sand over the entire floor of this room so that when you left, a little bit of the room would travel with you, changing what is normally a mental activity into a physical one. Usually, you look at an exhibition and you take that experience home. In this instance you would actually take a little bit of the place itself home with you that would act as a reminder.
EB: I thought it was also a pointed reference to the fact that the community room is part of the educational function of the Armory, so this notion of a big sandbox in the middle of it made a reference to child’s play. Alternately the sand allowed the visitor to leave an indexical trace of their passage through the space, in my mind a poignant comment on how ephemeral most viewing experiences actually are in relation to the durable presence of the artwork, even if, as in this case, that artwork is both temporary and leaking. It was a nice conceptual address to what the community room aspires to do. But the Armory people were very concerned about dust from the sand and people having breathing issues.
SB: They were basically afraid of lawsuits.
EB: Nothing happened, except in their heads.
SB: We had to keep renegotiating. Originally the whole floor was going to be covered. Then they were going to have piles in the corner, but the piles were too big. They wanted to make a little sandbox in the center but that wasn’t approved. So in the end, there was a pile of sand three feet high and probably five feet in diameter, however it spread out.
SB: That’s it. That’s all they could do. It actually turned out to be quite beautiful. It’s this beautiful cone of sand. It’s sanitized. This is white-washed, flame-sanitized, and uniformly graded sand.
EB: About as sanitized as we could make the art be.
SB: The piece lasted, I think, two days.
EB: If that.
SB: I went with Eve the day afterwards and we did some photographs, and then Eve went back to photograph again the next day and as she arrived, they were sweeping it up. They said it was interfering in the space so they couldn’t allow it to stay. They were afraid that someone with asthma could still get sand in their face. As if a child couldn’t put dirt in their face outside of this room. In talking with people later it seems like what really drove the removal of the piece was that some of the people teaching there felt like it was too disruptive. Basically, the teachers were trying to talk to the children about the lessons, and the kids were much more interested in the pile of sand in front of them, so they couldn’t hold their attention.
BW: The sandbox is supposed to be outside for a reason.
SB: It was really a struggle to get these three exhibitions up. By 1995, the galleries were starting to reemerge. And as I said before, people coming out of graduate programs were not thinking about running a nonprofit space or even necessarily showing in one. The commercial gallery model was again becoming the preferred model, where somebody could sell something. With that, we started to see that the publications reached twenty times the number of people that the physical project did. They had a much longer life and a much bigger audience. That moment when people were willing to go anywhere to see something had passed. Los Angeles needed something other than another exhibition space, as exhibition spaces were opening every month. However, there still was no representative documentation of art being made and shown in Los Angeles, as most Los Angeles-based publications printed a few issues and folded.
EB: Coast, I remember getting one issue of Coast. Now Time was another. Both of these started out undercapitalized and with very high production values.
SB: The only one that was sustained to any degree at that time was Art Issues.
EB: Gary Kornblau’s Art Issues was an incredibly passionate embrace of abstraction, sensory pleasure, and visual pleasure in, to me, a primarily formalist historical sense, and very much against a conceptual agenda or a reading through of works. It had a celebratory aspect and a repressive aspect to it. Kornblau was training a cadre of writers who were then appearing in the Los Angeles Times, for example, or speaking about Los Angeles outside of Los Angeles in ways that were having significant impact. The writer for Artforum who was doing the 500-word reviews had apprenticed at Art Issues. I was seeing the power of criticism, the power of very convincing criticism, but occupying an extremely narrow bandwidth of what could be talked about. As the galleries began to reemerge, there was obviously more work being shown. The power of this critical digest of what goes on in Los Angeles coming only from one point of view seemed to be deadly and really scary to me.
BW: So in a way X-TRA was a corrective to a dominant voice that seemed limited and subjective.
EB: Yes. One of the things that goes forward from Project X is the sense of shared ownership of the content of the material. The plural editorial model of X-TRA is designed not to give any one seat at the table more control over what goes in. Now, it took us a couple of years to figure out how to make that work. We tried a bunch of different models.
SB: Actually, the first model we tried, and I am still disappointed it didn’t work, was trying to generate letters to the editor that would spark debate. Looking back at other art publications like The Burlington Magazine, founded in 1902, there are people in there arguing with what Roger Fry has written and he is responding. I’m thinking, “God, that’s so amazing!” They actually had real arguments about things. I have to say, Artforum occasionally gets that going. The most letters to the editor I think we ever had was in the first issue, which is interesting because we received them before the publication came out. We asked people to write and tell us what we should do. Peter Wollen wrote and told us what we should do. Lane Relyea told us what we should do, as did Leslie Dick, who’s now joined the editorial board—she’s obviously known what we should do for a long time. I thought there should be some way of generating that, where the audience could come in and inhabit the publication by writing things. We did have an artist that we talked into doing this for a while. He wrote a number of letters but nobody ever responded to them.
EB: Dave Bailey. I wrote him back once.
BW: “Extra! Extra!”
EB: Read all about it. You know, the reason why we called it X-TRA? As I recall, Stephen and I and Jan [Tumlir] and Jérôme [Saint-Loubert Bié] were all sitting around. One of the ideas that we were floating around for the magazine was that we would only put out an issue when we had a great piece of writing to run, that it would be an extra edition to a publication that didn’t otherwise exist.
SB: That was one idea. Another idea that never came to be was how we planned to fund the publication. We printed a lot of this first issue and said that we would only publish another issue when we got enough subscribers to pay for it. We had our publication party, and then a couple of months later we came up with a new business plan.
BW: As in, “I guess we’ll keep doing this, even though it didn’t go that way.”
SB: Originally our idea was to continue to do the exhibitions once or twice a year and print the magazine five times a year.
BW: So, sometimes the exhibition catalog approach would be folded into other content. But other times features and reviews would engage critically with exhibitions you hadn’t organized?
SB: That’s right: so we might have the catalog for a Project X exhibition wrapping around a section of reviews of other exhibitions. In the first issue of X-TRA, for example, there is a catalog essay for the exhibition Before Pierre Menard, written by Andrew Perchuk, which wraps around a series of reviews of other exhibitions happening at the time in Los Angeles.
BW: I was thinking about the artists’ projects and how they’ve changed throughout the life of X-TRA. Starting out as artist-run projects that included the exhibitions, how did that work once the focus was first and foremost the printed publication? It seems like the artist’s project wasn’t necessarily always there, but eventually became a standard feature of each issue.
EB: We have tried to continue the direct-to-print commissioning. Sometimes we ask people to invite people, but the core of the artists’ projects goes back, for me at least, to that early idea about site-specificity, both in terms of physical location but also in terms of print media. As an artist’s project for a magazine, it’s more self-consciously framed that way than many invitations for artists to show work in a printed context often are. It’s a pretty interesting library of stuff over the years that we’ve managed to do.
Micol Hebron started the 1 Image 1 Minute column, which was a different way that people got to contribute content to the magazine. What made me think of that in this context is that it strikes me as a way many artists, an extraordinary number of artists actually, have directly participated in providing content to the magazine. Sometimes the people who come to us as writers come from different formations than studio art backgrounds.
One thing that this fifteen-year mark represents is that core insight from those Project X days, which is if you give up some micro-managerial authority and instead share it collaboratively, you open yourself up to a much broader array of input and content. The editorial board still works on that model. Everybody on the editorial board sits down with an equal share of the discussion, an equal opportunity to generate content, either directly or through the agency of soliciting writings from someone else.
In our Saturday morning meetings, I often hear about stuff I don’t know about or that’s not necessarily in my area of particular interest. And often as I read a finished issue, I am interested in the way very different ideas about what’s important to talk about rub up against each other. The editorial board is an egalitarian and collaborative group. I think that makes us fundamentally different in terms of editorial structure from any other art magazine that I know of. That is one of the primary reasons why I think X-TRA has been able to sustain a lively vibrancy, flexibility, and nimbleness. That said, the population of the editorial board is constantly changing, so sometimes the interests around the table are more complementary than at other times. If you look through the history of the magazine, you’ll find times when there’s really diverse content. You’ll find other times when it’s really symbiotic.