Search View Archive
Art In Conversation

Irving Sandler with Phong Bui and John Yau

On the occasion of Irving Sandler’s new publication, From Avant-Garde to Pluralism: An On-The-Spot History, a selection of seminal writings from half a century ago to the present, Rail publisher Phong Bui and Art Editor John Yau paid a visit one sunny Saturday to the author’s home/office which he shares with his wife Lucy Freeman Sandler, scholar of Medieval art, to talk about his life and work.

Portrait of Irving Sandler. By Phong Bui 8” x 10”, pencil. 2006.

Phong Bui: So far we know about your career as an art historian/critic, as you began in your memoir, Sweeper-Up after Artists, from the time you were a graduate student in American History at Columbia University in the early 1950s, which proceeded right after having gone to school in the same field of study at Temple University and the University of Pennsylvania. Could you tell us a bit about your background prior to all of that?

Irving Sandler: Well, my family were Jewish immigrants from the Ukraine.. At one point, my parents, like many Jews, found themselves in the middle of the civil war, after the Russian Revolution. So they started walking westward and ended up in Warsaw. Eventually a few of their relatives in the U.S. sponsored them to come over and they ended up in a Jewish ghetto in Philadelphia, where I grew up, although during the Great Depression, we moved around a bit. At the age of 17, during the Second World War, I enlisted in the Marine Corps. I served for three and a half years, and got to be a second lieutenant. The Corps introduced me to the wider world. When I was discharged, I began to go to Temple University on the GI Bill and stretched my education out for six years. First I studied American Civilization and then American History at Columbia, but I knew that I was in the wrong field. I would use words, like democracy and the 14th amendment and they would fall flat. Then I would read Charles and Mary Beard or Vernon Parrington and somehow the same words, democracy and the 14th amendment would just reverberate! [Laughter.] So I quit Columbia and began to search for the kind of career that really engaged me. And I discovered art or, more specifically, Abstract Expressionism. It was love at first sight, to coin a cliche. Wanting to learn as much as I could, I found out where the artists met and began to hang out with them—at the Cedar Street Tavern, the Club they founded, and the Tenth Street galleries. I got a job managing the Tanager Gallery, the leading artists’ cooperative on Tenth Street and then I began to run the Club and arrange the panels. Then I really got to know the artists. Alex Katz and Philip Pearlstein were members of the Tanager Gallery . Across the street, the Brata Gallery had as members Al Held, Ronnie Bladen, and George Sugarman, and the March Gallery showed Mark di Suvero. Next door to the Tanager were the lofts of Willem de Kooning on the top floor and Milton Resnick on the floor below. Esteban Vicente, Philip Guston, Phillip Pavia, and James Rosati also had lofts on the block. For most of us, de Kooning was the painter of the ’50s.

Bui: So when in fact did writing art criticism begin?

Sandler: One day in November 1956, Tom Hess, the editor of ARTnews, whom I had never met, called me up and said, “You know the Boys (by which he meant the downtown Abstract Expressionists) have been talking about you being some kind of writer-historian; would you like to write for ARTnews?” I told him “No,” and he said, “Why not?” and I said, “You’re the Establishment.” He laughed and said, “Well, let’s have lunch.” He took me to Larre’s (the Surrealists hung out there earlier), a French restaurant, inexpensive but way above what I could afford. At one point, he said, “Why don’t you give it a try, do some reviews?” I couldn’t turn down a dare. So I said “Sure.” Later in the week I got, in the mail, twenty galleries to review, which was the full complement for an ARTnews critic, and I said to myself, if that’s what he means by a few reviews, I’ll do them. So I wrote them up; it was hard to do! It still is. I picked up the next issue of ARTnews and he’d just published them all. So I called him up and I said, “Tom, I don’t think that was our agreement” and he said, “Oh, your reviews won’t go down in history, but they’re okay, would you like more?” And I said, “You bet,” and I discovered my calling.

Yau: That’s what a good editor would do to recruit his writers. It sounds like you had a good working relationship with Tom Hess right from the start. And what was the art world like then?

Sandler: Tom had great charm, wit and intelligence. He was a fine editor, and he himself wrote wonderfully well. The art world then was very small. In 1959, I counted every artist who could conceivably be considered in the New York School and came up under 250. The Club itself, at its height, never had more than 200 members and a lot of them weren’t abstract or avant-garde, they were just friends of artists who were. And if you add, oh, a half-dozen or a dozen critics, a few museum directors, curators, historians, dealers, and collectors—that was our whole art world, the kit and caboodle. You could know most everyone. I think I did.

Bui: There are several kinds of art critics; those who have a background in art history, and philosophy, and those who are poets and artists who write about art. Did your previous training in American History in any way contribute to your style of writing per se?

Sandler: Yes, in providing a social background for the art. I was working for a Ph.D. in American history but I didn’t get to learn art history in a systematic way until after I began to write criticism, actually not until I was asked to teach a course in modern art at Pratt Institute at 1958. I had to piece together art history in a hurry, staying a week ahead of my class. When you think about the different functions of art criticism, they can be formalist, judgmental, philosophical, poetic, sociological, psychological, historical, feminist, deconstructive, and so on. Back in the 50s, I thought that my mission (and I was not alone in this) was to educate the public about avant-garde art. That was what we really tried to do. I think we succeeded; think of the crowds of people in our museums and galleries today. In my criticism, I also tried to deal with what artists say about their art, what they intend.

Yau: That’s also the reason why you don’t write from a vantage point from above, but rather in the situation. I think that’s something that you and Frank O’Hara actually share —though stylistically you couldn’t be more different. You are in the situation, you acknowledge your relationship with the artist, you always talk about how you’re complicit with them, but also at the same time, which I think is different from O’Hara, you maintain a distance. Do you think that distance may have something to do with your own temperament?

Sandler: That may be. Writing history distances one. But I have also tried to get close to artists, to write with their point of view in mind. I have found that the most interesting and lively ideas about art were and are generated within artist circles, within artists’ talk. And I used our conversation as the basis of my art criticism and later of my art historical writing. In the middle ’50s, it occurred to me that no one had written the history of Abstract Expressionism. In France there must have been beaucoup art historians, all of them were proclaiming that x, y, and z artists are jewels in the diadem of French culture. That kind of writing embarrasses Americans. But since I had been schooled in American history, I decided to write the history of Abstract Expressionism, and, yes. to celebrate it. What I really wanted to do is to write the history of my own generation, which was the second generation, but there was no art history on the first generation, so I did that first, in the Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism. I did deal with the younger artists in the next book, The New York School:The Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties. In the Abstract Expressionist survey I had to keep a certain distance because I had to limit the number of painters. I ended up choosing fifteen. I interviewed dozens of artists, art critics, art historians, art editors, critics, museum directors, curators, dealers, and collectors in order to come up with some kind of consensus as to who the most significant artists were. This provided me with a kind of objective base. I just said “kind of,” because I got so many conflicting reports and interpretations. I began to search for “the truth” until it occurred to me that all of them were more or less true.

Bui: The Rashomon syndrome. [Laughter.]

Sandler: Right, it all depended on your own perspective of the art world. If you were downtown and things were happening uptown, you would have an entirely different picture as to what went on from someone uptown, and vice versa. In the end, my own interpretation counted heavily since I was the one who decided which of these stories to feature.

Yau: Was being part of the second generation the reason why you identified and wrote more extensively on the work of, for instance, Al Held, Alex Katz, and Philip Pearlstein? All three started out as Tenth Street painters but eventually broke with the syntax of gestural painting. They really reevaluated and reconsidered the language that they inherited and did something new and fresh. What Held did for abstraction, Katz and Pearlstein did for figurative painting, and you were there every step of the way as a first-hand witness!

Sandler: Yes, I was. By 1958, gesture or action or painterly painting had become outworn. I just wrote an essay for a large show that will be in Monaco this summer on American art, called, New York, NY. My essay was exactly about this issue. We tend to think of the 1940s and 1950s as the decades of Abstract Expressionism and the 1960s as the decade of Pop Art and Minimalism. But there was a lot of terrific art made in the 1950s that wasn’t Abstract Expressionist or that was signaling new directions, think of Katz and Pearlstein emerging with a new perceptual realism; Ellsworth Kelly, Al Held, and Leon Polk Smith, with hard-edge abstraction; Morris Louis, Ken Noland and Jules Olitski, with stained color-field abstraction; and Frank Stella, who by ’58 had begun to paint his black-stripe paintings. The one thing that they had in common was their rejection of painterly, gestural or action painting. At the same time, Johns and Rauschenberg, by introducing common objects into their painting, deflected the inward-looking of Abstract Expressionism outward, at the environment. This would lead to Pop Art. However, there were many second-generation Abstract Expressionists making terrific paintings, such as Joan Mitchell, Grace Hartigan, Michael Goldberg, Helen Frankenthaler, Alfred Leslie, and others, but by 1958 most of the other painterly painters had become academic. They couldn’t make space within painterly painting to create fresh images. My friends Katz, Pearlstein and, Held considered this academization as a crisis and they moved against it, brilliantly, I should add. As Held said simply to me, “There’s got to be another way to make art.”

Yau: It’s a similar issue with the already established New York School poets of the first generation, with John Ashbery, James Schuyler, Robert Guest and Frank O’Hara, the second generation, like Ted Berrigan, Ron Padgett really had to find their own way and they did. There were a number of poets who were brilliant but they eventually dropped out because they couldn’t find or make the space for themselves.

Sandler: There were certainly interesting relationships between the painters and poets at that time, say between O’Hara’s poems and New York School painting. Besides, the poets were writing criticism about the painters and the artists made up the primary audience for the poets when they did their readings. [Laughter.] They were also there at Merce Cunningham’s dance concerts and John Cage’s musical performances as well. Cage once said to me: “You know, the painters don’t really like my music, they like Varese.” So I said, “But John, they are pretty much your entire audience.” He thought for a moment and said, “Yeah, if they weren’t there, there’d be nobody there.”

Yau: What do you make of Allan Kaprow’s 1964 essay, “The Artist as a Man of the World” where he said that artists should make art for the middle class. Everybody gets all upset about this, because Kaprow himself was hardly making art for the middle class.

Sandler: Kaprow was the first to write about a radical change in the art world. He recognized that the new American painting had achieved international recognition and that big money had followed in its wake. At the time, we preferred to ignore the art market and its influence on art, and Allan’s article really upset us. But he was on the mark. The art market only opened up in 1958. People tend to forget that. The first sign of it was the year before, when Jackson Pollock’s Autumn Rhythm was sold to the Met for $30,000. We couldn’t believe the price. Johns then had a successful show in ’58, de Kooning, in ’59. There was also The New American Painting that in 1958 MoMA traveled to Europe to great acclaim. It was shown at the Modern when it returned. The next show at the museum was Sixteen Americans, in which Frank Stella emerged, and that ushered in the art of the 1960s, that is, the art that was of the 1960s.

Bui: I was wondering about the intense clash of allegiances in the art world in the 1950s. Tom Hess together with Harold Rosenberg in one corner who were for de Kooning, while Clement Greenberg was an advocate for Pollock in the other corner! Would you recall that as a distinct separation at the time?

Sandler: Yes. You know, when the New York School was attacked by outsiders like Emily Genauer in the Herald Tribune or John Canaday in the New York Times, we all closed ranks. But within our community, much as the artists respected each other’s work, they and the critics were often at each others throats. It was Rosenberg versus Greenberg, de Kooning versus Pollock. It was not personal but aesthetic. Clyfford Still, and younger artists who had studied with him, like Ed Dugmore and Ernest Briggs were very anti-de Kooning. These internal polemics were rarely published but they were very much discussed, and we took sides. I found these art wars fascinating. I don’t think that they take place today as much as they did then, because our world in the 1950s was so much smaller. I remember in 1967, talking to Barbara Rose, and we both agreed that the art world had become so large that we couldn’t know everyone in it anymore, so we sent out a questionnaire to a hundred artists, asking ‘what’s the situation today?’ We got back about 35 replies and then ran them all in Art in America. Today, the art world has become so big that it is harder than ever before to follow it all. But I still try.

Yau: I remember, in your memoir [A Sweeper-Up After Artists], you were talking with Philip Guston, Mercedes Matter and a few other artists at the Cedar Bar, about the show of 1930s art at the Poindexter Gallery—who was included and who wasn’t—and at some point, Aristedemos Kaldis showed up with a catalog that had a reproduction of a 1930s Gorky painting and the whole conversation got shifted to how closely Gorky had copied Picasso with different kind of thick and thin paint. But what I really love, when you’re telling us about that, is that you were in the same room with artists like Kaldis, who I had the fortune to meet late in his life, but most of us from the younger generation tend to forget that he was a very interesting figure.

Sandler: Ah, Kaldis. He was the bohemian. With his flowing red scarf, long black coat, the clump of hair on his nose, his big belly, and his bellow in a Greek accent, he was bigger than life. Even though his work is occasionally shown in New York galleries, he’s been more or less forgotten. It’s a shame. I thought his paintings of Greece with that clear Aegean light were marvelous. But art history tends to downgrade most artists and upgrade only a few. Of the two hundred or so artists who showed in the Tenth Street galleries, only three or four are still in the art world’s eye, but most of the rest keep on making art, fighting the good fight in the cause of art, as they should. .
Yau: Besides the artists that you championed, are there artists that you didn’t, and wish you had?

Sandler: A great many, but I couldn’t find the time to write essays about all of them. But I did deal with them in my art histories since my primary purpose was to piece things together. Still, a few artists got away. Cy Twombly, for instance. He had a few shows at the Stable gallery in the mid 1950s and one at the Castelli Gallery in the mid sixties that I remember. But he mostly lived in Italy. Besides, little was written about him, and he was hardly mentioned in articles and books, even those on Rauschenberg and Johns, who were his close friends and associates. His show at the Whitney Museum in 1979 really impressed me, but unfortunately my book on the fifties had been published the year before.

Yau: How about Bradley Walker Tomlin? There’s hardly any monograph written about his work.

Sandler: True. One of the sad things in my career was that Frank O’Hara asked me if I would collaborate with him on a Bradley Walker Tomlin retrospective at the Modern. I said ‘oh, wow, I would love it,’ but shortly after that Frank was killed. The show never took place. Four other wonderful artists of that generation were Esteban Vicente, William Baziotes, James Brooks and Jack Tworkov, and they too have been neglected.

Bui: In your memoir you devoted quite a few pages to Meyer Schapiro. What was your relationship with him?

Sandler: Even though I had never studied with him, I, like many others, felt like I had. We, especially the artists, took over the front rows of his public lectures. Meyer had a powerful and wide-ranging mind and was an inspired speaker. Two or three minutes into any of his lectures, he would seem to levitate six inches off the floor. Although Meyer was a distinguished professor of art history, he was part of our world. He was very sympathetic and admiring of both old and young artists.

Bui: His widow, Lillian, told me recently that Meyer had always considered the artists as his other half brothers.

Sandler: That’s right. Meyer, like Diderot, about whom he wrote, believed that artists are the ideal examples of self-fulfilling and free individuals in search of the truth. And because they are they ought to be role models for the rest of humanity. That was why Meyer was often to be found in artist studios. You know he saved de Kooning’s landmark painting Woman I after Bill threw it out. Meyer saw it in the hall outside the loft when he visited Bill and talked him into finishing it. Meyer was always generous with his time. I remember how useful he was to me when I was working on a book of the collected essays of Alfred Barr. But I never knew him intimately, not in the way I knew Robert Goldwater, another distinguished art historian.

Bui: So where do you fit politically between Greenberg and Rosenberg, and what’s your reassessment of their positions?

Sandler: I was in the downtown group, with de Kooning , Kline, Rosenberg, and Hess and younger painters, like Mitchell and Goldberg. You knew, at one time Clem had been Harold’s protégé and close friend, they were both Jews whose families emigrated from Eastern Europe. They were Marxists and steadfast modernist, but eventually they became the greatest of rivals. Clem won out because his formalist thinking was simple, clear, seemingly verifiable, and primarily art historical, which was why it appealed to younger critics trained as art historians like Michael Fried, Rosalind Krauss, Barbara Rose, and Bill Rubin. Harold’s thinking was more wide ranging and complex and harder to pin down; His ideas were very important to me. Harold’s popularity declined because he was a champion of Action Painting of the late 1940s and 1950s and never really moved on. When that style went out of fashion, so did Harold. Deborah Balkin is working on a book on Harold as we speak. I hope she rehabilitates him. Clem’s writing was important. I know it made me look harder at the formal aspects of art than I had.

Yau: I remember T.J. Clark saying that what people forget is that as a critic Greenberg did a lot of looking and a lot of writing—you can’t take that away from him.

Yau: What about Leo Steinberg, who seems to be neglected in all this?

Sandler: Leo actually wrote criticism for only a short time before devoting himself to art history. He did publish his essays in Other Criteria, a brilliant book, and wrote important works on Johns and Rauschenberg. But aside from that, he didn’t write much on contemporary art.

Yau: Leo’s “flat bed picture plane” was significant to the pictorial reading because it subordinates the orientation of the work of art corresponding to the erect human posture.

Sandler: Which was very important to Ros Krauss, but not at all to me.

Yau: It seems to me that one of the issues that comes out of Greenberg filtered through Marxism, psychoanalysis, structuralism, post-structuralism and so on, is that there are certain critics who try to develop a paradigm, to fit everything in because they don’t want to admit what you’re admitting; that you can’t know everything. That you’re only going to have a partial view, at best.

Sandler: Particularly today, because we are in a situation of total pluralism. Everyone is free and every style can get a more or less fair share of art world attention in a way that many styles in the 1950s and ’60s couldn’t. That’s the upside of pluralism. The downside is that if everything goes, it’s hard to know what counts, what really counts? This may be why certain critics have given up on today’s new artists and put them down. I won’t accept that, not one bit. There is great art being made today. It’s tough for young artists, because so many positions in art are known and it’s hard for them to make-it-new and be original. In this respect, avant-garde artists in the past may have had it easier. But many young artists do have fresh insights and are individual and terrific.

Yau: That’s true. There’re painters I know who’re trying to figure out how to make paintings that aren’t nostalgic, still authentic and abstract. I mean, that’s a pretty big challenge in and of itself. When I first came to New York, I did meet critics who said ‘it’s all over.’ Here you are, a young critic trying to figure out what you’re looking at, understand what that means, and these people are saying ‘ah! Painting’s dead! Why are you even writing about painting?’ But you were and are still someone writing about what’s in front of you and not looking back, and that was very important for me.

Sandler: When I lecture on contemporary art, I’m generally asked if painting is dead. So I bring a list of twenty-odd young painters working today that I think are excellent and who have received considerable art-world acclaim, not only here in New York or elsewhere in the U.S., but also internationally. My list makes the idea that painting is dead seem silly.

Yau: Maria Luisa Borras, a Picabia scholar, told me that Picabia knew painting was dead, that was why he painted so much. She found that to be very interesting, and then looked at me and smiled and said ‘you Americans are so literal sometimes.’ And we just had a great laugh about this.

Bui: I thought it’d be important for young artists and writers, as it was for me twenty years ago, to read (however different her personal style and approach are from yours) Dore Ashton’s book, New York School: A Cultural Reckoning, and yours, Triumph of American Painting: A History of Abstract Expressionism, simply because both books give a comprehensive description of American art that established New York replacing Paris as the center of the art world. Both paint the texture and atmosphere of the political, social, and artistic struggle among the first generation of Abstract Expressionists who, having emerged from the Great Depression, coincide with the advent of Surrealism, gave rise to the international recognition and prominence in the ’50s. Abstract Expressionism, however according to Dore, had had its run for about a decade or less. By 1960, it was over. So it was useful that your second book, New York School: Painters and Sculptors of the Fifties, continues onward with insightful observations about the rapid changes that took place during the ’50s, from gestural painting, gestural realism, assemblage, and happenings, to hard-edge and color-field abstraction. In the last chapter, you dealt inclusively with Fluxus, avant-garde dance, the Living Theatre and so on, which all in all, anticipates the increased complexities of everything that was to open up the art world in the decades to come, as seen in Art of the Postmodern Era: From the Late 1960s to the Early 1990s. So after 26 books, some written with other scholars, and 9 artist monographs to your credit, is there another book in the making?

Sandler: Yes. I’ve almost finished a new book which will be titled Rethinking Abstract Expressionism. It’s a new interpretation. I initially had in mind a rather small work, but it’s now stretched into some 400 pages. One of the things I want to do is go back to the original ideas that the artist had, and see what still makes sense, what’s still viable. Due to the popularity of post-modern theory that dominated the art discourse for the past two-and-a-half decades, and because American life has so changed in the past half-century, many aspects of Abstract Expressionism have been swept aside, neglected, or haven’t been dealt with adequately. Aside from almost finishing this book, this year has been a very productive one for me. A new book of mine, From Avant-Garde to Pluralism: An On-The-Spot History, was published. So was an essay on John Chamberlain and another one on the friendship of Mark di Suvero and Richard Bellamy, who are having a joint show of sculptures and photographs at Storm King, and a monograph on a youngish painter, Beverly McIver. An essay on Socrates Sculpture Park is about to appear. And I’m working on volume two of my memoirs. Chuck Close and Jim Long, independently of one another, pointed out to me that my first memoir, A Sweeper-Up After Artists, more or less cuts off around 1970. Chuck said ‘look, you have 35 more years in the art world and, you were there.’ He was right. So I’m giving it a go. But in writing it, I’m also looking further back to the early 1960s. One topic that fascinates me is the graduate classes of 1963 and 1964 at the Yale School of Art. They were the most extraordinary classes imaginable. They had Chuck Close, Nancy Graves, Richard Serra, Janet Fish, and Rackstraw Downes. These students singled themselves out as a group and were all working in the same building a few blocks away from the art school. Also at Yale at the time were their friends Brice Marden, Robert and Sylvia Mangold, and Jennifer Bartlett. And these artists went on to significant careers, to say the least, beginning in the late 1960s. In 1981, I wrote a major catalogue essay for a show of twenty distinguished alumni, including these artists, at the Yale Art Gallery, but there is much more to say. It’ll also enable me to reconsider how artists should be trained.

Yau: It’s amazing that each of them were able to negotiate and define a very specific position for themselves. In an interview with Brice Marden, for instance, I talked about his relationship with Kline, which he never denied, he always loved Kline’s work, and one of the things he said about putting the two panels together or letting the paint show was that he wanted something that wasn’t static, and suddenly, it became more overtly apparent to me that he had set himself in a kind of opposition to a certain kind of static painting that was going on, and he saw that a dynamic tension was one key to Abstract Expressionism. When I teach, I always try to tell my students that the decisions are always made consciously, that they are not at all accidental.

Sandler: Yes, Chuck said to me about himself and his fellow students at Yale: ‘What we tried to do was create problems, not solutions, and ultimately, that would lead us to what we wanted to do as artists.’ You know, its harder for art students today to experiment in the way that Chuck did then. Collectors have invaded the studios of our graduate schools and are buying the works of our students. There is a great temptation to hone what students believe will be salable styles. Students who don’t sell can think that their careers have peaked before they’ve even received their MFA degrees. The power of some hotshot collectors today and their art market mentality gets more and more pernicious.

Yau: And by creating problems, you find a way to get beyond yourself, because you’re doing things that exceed what you know, and you have to figure out how to do it.

Sandler: Exactly, that was exactly Chuck’s point.

Bui: I think it’s also interesting to point out, on the one hand, artists who had studied with Hofmann, like Larry Rivers, Jan Müller, Helen Frankenthaler, Lee Krasner, Wolf Kahn, Robert Goodnough and even Myron Stout, who went on to do different things, on the other hand, artists of a decade or more younger like the class of 1963, who had studied with Albers, which tend to be more theoretically-minded and reductive in principle.

Sandler: That’s true. They also came into the New York art world later, in the late ’60s, when Minimalism had already become established, after the “Primary Structures” show at the Jewish Museum in 1966, and the situation was ripe for a change. The Yale artists were there with the right ideas at the right moment.

Bui: How do you feel about the younger art historians or critics who came up with the slogan “the death of the artist and the birth of the spectator,” by which they really meant placing themselves, their intelligence, in the form of their interpretations, above a work of art?

Sandler: I find it objectionable. They are guilty of the deadly sin of envy. It’s artists who create, not art critics or theorists. I try to stay as close to artists as I can, and I see as many shows and attend as many lectures and panel discussions as I can.

Bui: Yeah. Every time I see you, you’re either at some gallery, museum, lecture, panel discussion or simply having a conversation with artists and other personalities in the art world with a pen and paper ready to take notes at any given second.

Sandler: I began to do that in the 1950s, sitting at the bar at the Cedar Tavern or at the Club or artists’ lofts and I would jot down whatever was being said. That’s why Frank O’Hara called me “the balayeur des artistes,” the sweeper-up after artists, in one of his poems. The most important part of my early art education was what I learned from artists. I didn’t have any degree in art history. It was only later, after I began to teach it and decided that I was going to keep on teaching in order to support my art writing, that I thought I’d better get a Ph.D. in art history, which I did rather late in life. As you both know, it’s hard to survive in academia without that Ph.D.

Yau: Oh, believe me, people do come up and say to me, ‘Well you’re just a poet, you don’t have an art history degree, therefore you’re not qualified to say what you say!’ [Laughter]

Bui: I’d better get an M.F.A, Ph.D., or B.M.W! [Laughter.]


The Brooklyn Rail

JUL-AUG 2006

All Issues