An Interview with Walter Robinson in Advance of his Retrospective at Deitch

by Amy Fusselman

"Whopper," 2013 acrylic on canvas 24 x 24 inches
“Whopper,” 2013, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 24 inches

Pioneering art critic, editor, and artist Walter Robinson is having a retrospective at the new iteration of Deitch Projects in SoHo. The show, “Walter Robinson: Paintings and Other Indulgences” opens this Saturday September 17 and will be up through October 22 at 18 Wooster Street.

Curated by Barry Blinderman, “Paintings and Other Indulgences” offers 94 works from the years 1979 through 2014. It was first mounted at the University Galleries of Illinois State University and then moved to the Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design in Philadelphia earlier this year.

On his site, Jeffrey Deitch states: “I am very pleased to host this lively exhibition that documents Walter’s exceptional artistic achievements. Walter painted Nurse Paintings before Richard Prince and Spin Paintings before Damien Hirst. He has long been at the center of the art community but his modest manner and his disdain for aggressive careerism have left his work less recognized than it should be.”

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Walter, you have had your fingers in so many art-world pies–as a writer, editor, TV commentator, man-about-town, and, of course, artist. This week you’re having a retrospective at Deitch. What’s the difference for you in inhabiting the celebrated artist role vs. the critic one?

I can tell you that loafing in my studio is lots more fun than clocking into an office every day. Amy, you want a serious answer? It is interesting. Critics are the only honest people left in the art world, yet they’re immersed in ontological doubt — as my kid once said to me, “you get paid for looking at art?!” Artists labor under their own kind of contradiction, in that they embody creative freedom yet are all but required to produce the same kind of thing over and over.

 

"True," 2014 acrylic on canvas 24 x 18 inches
“True,” 2014, acrylic on canvas, 24 x 18 inches

In your 2013 essay, “The Hate Aesthetic,” you write with characteristic warmth and humor about the art world’s tendency to love to hate. Do you think we’ve made any progress on transforming hate to love in the three years since you wrote that? Why or why not?

Hate, in the sense of a negative judgment, a rejection, is an essential constitutive part of the art world — how do we define something as avant-garde if it’s not hated by the majority of people? We need hate; a Pollyanna art discourse would be no good at all.

 

"Society Nurse," 2012, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches
“Society Nurse,” 2012, acrylic on canvas, 48 x 36 inches

Among the images you mine in your paintings are photos from Land’s End and Victoria Secret catalogs. As an astute reader of these publications, do you have any advice for America’s largest clothing retailers?

You know I don’t often paint Victoria’s Secret models — they’re just too popular a subject. I’m told that Les Wexner isn’t selling sex, but female self-empowerment. How those two things overlap, now that’s interesting.

Jeffrey Deitch has noted your “modest manner and disdain for aggressive careerism.” These are hardly widely-used elements for getting ahead in this town–yet here you are. What pointers do you have for the kids coming up today?

Tell the kids not to worry about it, I’ll take care of everything. 

"Dad," or "Putting the Kids through College," or "Boss I Thought You Went to Florida," 1983, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Collection Niel Frankel, New York
“Dad,” or “Putting the Kids through College,” or “Boss I Thought You Went to Florida,” 1983, acrylic on canvas, 72 x 60 in. Collection Niel Frankel, New York

You are famous for painting objects of desire, including cheeseburgers, beer, and snack cakes. What is something you’re really wanting these days? 

Obv, I need to paint more salads.