Spencer Finch

London 2014

Artist Spencer Finch, whose Moonlight window installation is currently on display at Winfield House, the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence London, was the fourth speaker in the American Artist Lecture Series, a partnership between Art in Embassies (AIE), Tate Modern and US Embassy London.

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Artist Spencer Finch, whose Moonlight window installation is currently on display at Winfield House, the U.S. Ambassador’s Residence London, was the fourth speaker in the American Artist Lecture Series, a partnership between Art in Embassies (AIE), Tate Modern and US Embassy London. This partnership welcomes audiences of young artists and scholars in a lecture hall format. For his lecture on May 29, 2014, Finch decided that he wanted to change the format. He invited curator and critic Sacha Craddock to join him at the Starr Auditorium for a conversation about inspiration in contemporary art, which resulted in a very lively and interesting discussion about the inspiration in contemporary art, with many students in attendance. Curator of International Art at Tate Modern Mark Godfrey made the introductions.

Over the last three decades, Spencer Finch has been working across various media, including painting, drawing and sculpture although he is best known for ethereal light installations that evoke his experience of natural phenomena. His investigations into the nature of light, color, memory and perception transpire in watercolors, drawings, video and photographs. Finch distills his observations of the world into glowing abstract color but also diverts them through cultural and historical filters: in homage to Emily Dickinson’s 1862 poem “Before I got my eye put out”, he measured the sunlight in her Massachusetts garden, then recreated the effect of a passing cloud by means of fluorescent tubes covered in gel and suspended theatre filters. Finch was born in New Haven, Connecticut in 1962, and lives and works in Brooklyn, New York. He has a Bachelor’s of Arts in comparative literature from Hamilton College, Clinton, New York (1985) and a Master’s of Fine Arts degree in sculpture from the Rhode Island School of Design (1989). Solo exhibitions include Indianapolis Museum of Art, Indiana (2013), the Art Institute of Chicago (2011), Massachusetts Museum of Contemporary Art, North Adams (2007) and Portikus, Frankfurt am Main, Germany (2003). He participated in the Folkestone Triennial, UK (2011) and the 53rd Venice Biennale (2009). More recently Finch finalized permanent installations at the Washington University in Saint Louis and on the facade of the Montclair Art Museum in New Jersey. In the United Kingdom, he is working on a commission for London’s Paddington Station and had a solo exhibition at Turner Contemporary in Margate, England, where he showed new sculptures that register the light of that seaside resort town. For the atrium of the Morgan Library & Museum in New York City, the artist created a colorful, reflective glass installation that references the library’s collection of medieval and Renaissance illuminated manuscripts called Books of Hours. The artist was selected to to create the only work of art commissioned for the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York City, for which he created a mosaic of individual watercolors painted in 2,973 different shades of blue and attached to a monumental concrete wall, titled Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning, the piece commemorates each of the victims of that American tragedy.


Video Transcript

MARK GODFREY: Good evening and welcome everybody to Tate Modern. My name’s Mark Godfrey. I’m one of the curators here. And I work particularly on our North American collections, so it’s a great pleasure to introduce this event. Tonight is the fourth in the American Artist Lecture Series. The previous speakers, some of you might have heard, have been Brice Marden, Maya Lin, and Richard Tuttle. And tonight, we’re very pleased to welcome Spencer Finch. I’ll be saying a few words about Spencer in a sec. But I also wanted to announce that on the 22nd of September, Julie Mehretu will be here and she will be the fifth speaker in this series.

So the American Artist Lecture Series is a partnership between Art in Embassies, Tate Modern, and the American Embassy in London. And it seeks to bring the greatest living modern and contemporary American artists to the UK in the name of cultural diplomacy. And this series would not be possible without the strong partnership between Art in Embassies and the Tate, and we’d like to thank in particular Ellen Susman, who’s going to be saying a couple of words in a minute, who’s the director of Art in Embassies, and all her team for their hard work and dedication. And particularly to Virginia Shore and Welmoed Laanstra. I would also like to thank the Ambassador of the United States of America, and his wife, Mrs. Barzun, for their continued support and interest in this partnership.

Now, Spencer is, as I’m sure many of you know, an amazing artist based in New York, but who luckily has had many opportunities to present his work in the UK. A couple of days ago, a show of his opened at – in Margate at Turner Contemporary. This show is called “The Skies Can’t Keep Their Secret,” and I’m very much looking forward to seeing that.

He shows in London with the Lisson Gallery, and has also shown his work at Bloomberg Space, at the Barbican, and in other places. I kind of fell in love with Spencer’s work years ago in New York at a show in Postmasters, and was very taken by his interest in starting off sometimes with kind of legendary color references and memories ‒ for instance, dawn at Troy ‒ and then his process of rigorously measuring, scientifically measuring, color and light, and then finding ways of replicating that in a gallery space with fluorescent lights and gels, watercolors, and in one case, I can remember a train set, I think – a train – on a train set. [LAUGHING]

So it’s a great pleasure to have Spencer with us tonight. And Spencer will be joined in conversation by Sacha Craddock. And Sacha was responsible for showing Spencer’s work in Bloomberg Space, where she was the director of exhibitions there and gave us wonderful shows in London, and has a very strong dialogue with Spencer, as I’m sure you’ll hear tonight. Sacha is the chair of the board of New Contemporaries and has been since 1996, and has been the chair of the selection committee for that for all these years. She has worked also at the Max Wigram Gallery and has been a critic for The Guardian and for The Times, and currently is writing a book for Reaktion on British contemporary arts, a publication that I’m sure we will look forward to. So thank you both. I look forward to the conversation and I now want to introduce Ellen Susman.


ELLEN SUSMAN: Thank you all for coming tonight. You are in for an incredible treat because instead of a talk or a lecture, we’re going to really hear a conversation. Thank you, Mark, for doing all the heavy lifting via the introductions and the thanks. I echo the thanks to the Tate, to the partnership, and of course, to our wonderful Ambassador and his wife to the UK, Matthew and Brooke Barzun. We are very lucky to have them here. They’re ardent collectors and they’re passionate about the arts. And in a world today where we look to have constructive conversations, art is an awfully good place to start.

So I’d like to tell you just one little bit about the Art in Embassies program and then turn it over. Art in Embassies was actually started 50 years ago in 1963 by President Kennedy. It was formalized then. And the idea at the time was to help ambassadors who were going to post with art for their residences, the idea being that you could have conversations in these public spaces that might be difficult and it would give you a place to start. Since then, and under the continuous leadership of our chief curator, Virginia Shore, we are doing a lot more now. Our second mission is to help the new embassies that are going up around the world, and we curate permanent collections. And in that space, we’re extremely excited to be watching the new American Embassy going up so close to the Tate here in London, as we will be moving from Grosvenor Square over to Nine Elms. It’s a very exciting project for us. It’s one in which we hope to have, you know, green and LEEDs architecture. It’s one in which we hope to meld into the exciting city that is London and be a very vibrant part of it.

So, with that little background and knowing that we’re very grateful, I think we have a lot to hear about the 9/11 Memorial, which I hope Spencer and Sacha will touch on. And I hope you enjoy the conversation and the evening. And thank you for coming.


SPENCER FINCH: So should I start?


MR. FINCH: Okay. Thank you, Ellen. Thank you, Mark. Thank you, everyone who worked so hard on organizing this.

It’s great to be here with Sacha. And I was a little surprised to be selected for this, but I’m – [LAUGHTER] I really want to sort of do a good job, and as I was thinking about that, I decided I really didn’t want to speak about my own work that much. I never thought the day would come, but I’m kind of tired of hearing myself talk about myself. And so Sacha and I are going to talk about some things that we’re both interested in, mostly light and color, through a series of about 30 slides. There will be a few of my own work, just to cover that base. And – because I’m not quite as severe as I’d like to think I am. And it’s a little bit of an experiment. I think we’re not exactly sure what we want to say, but I think it’s a way of really having it be about ideas, rather than just a sort of sequence of, “I made this, and then I did this, and then I did that,” which is not so much fun.

So if we could have – I guess we’re in control, right?

MS. CRADDOCK: Just, before we start, you were going to talk about experiences in the past.

MR. FINCH: Oh. Oh, yeah. I guess the sort of reasoning behind this was when I was in graduate school, a speaker, who I guess should – a sort of famous American artist came to speak [LAUGHTER] and I – whose work I admire very much, even to this day, and this was 25 years ago when I saw him speak. But he came and he did exactly that. He just said, “I did this, and then I made that, and then I made that,” and it’s nothing that we couldn’t have gotten through looking through then a monograph or now the internet. So hopefully what happens tonight is something that you could not experience in a different way.


MR. FINCH: And so that was sort of the impetus for this way of working. And hopefully there will be some surprises in terms of the images we’ve selected. And also, of course, there’ll be questions we’ll be happy to answer afterwards.

So this is a work that I just installed at the 9/11 Memorial Museum at Ground Zero, which I’m not going to speak about too much, except it’s something I worked incredibly hard on. It’s a very complex space. It’s sort of – probably one of the biggest things I’ve ever done. It’s 2,983 individual watercolors, which I made. It’s called Trying to Remember the Color of the Sky on That September Morning. And each of the pieces of paper has magnets on the back and it’s affixed to a grid on this wall, which is down at bedrock level between the two volumes of the North and the South Tower. And it took about two months to make all of the drawings, and that was actually the most fun part of it. I still love making things. And the less fun part of it was everything else. And so I did want to show that as one of the most recent things that I’ve done, and it’s certainly connected to some of the works we’ll talk about today.

This is a great – this is one of my favorite instruments in the world. It’s not really an artwork. It’s a cyanometer, which is used for measuring the color of the sky. It was developed by an 18th century alpinist and scientist named Saussure, who is Swiss. And he carried it up – he was not only the first person to invent a cyanometer. He was also the first person to ascend Mont Blanc, and so he took it with him to determine that the blueness of the sky is actually created by particles in the atmosphere. And it’s – I mean, it’s kind of a beautiful abstraction and a wonderful instrument at the same time. And it’s actually – I’ve never used a cyanometer, but I sort of create my own cyanometers for my own work in different cases of gradations of color. So it’s kind of an amazing instrument from a time when people could be like scientists and artists and alpinists at the same time. It would be sort of hard to do all three of those now, I think. It would be great, but not so many people do it. So it’s really a wonderful sort of 18th century thing.

All right. Can we lower the lights a little bit maybe?

MS. CRADDOCK: So, shock-horror. [LAUGHING] Here we have Joseph Wright of Derby’s, The Iron Forge, and the idea of this relationship we have in talking is that we’ve both suggested images to each other, and mainly they’re your list, but I, with some help of other people, shoved a couple more in. And what we want to do is really, really, with you as well, go from one place and sort of collectively, instead of us looking like we know something you don’t know, because we don’t, we’re going to talk about what we both see in this work. And it purely isn’t going to be only in terms of light and color, but obviously there’s some pretty straightforward things here in terms of, for instance, relationship to flame, and so on.

And this is a fantastic piece, and it belongs to Tate, and my kind of excitement about it really is that it is a nativity in a way, a nativity scene to the Industrial Revolution. So instead of religion, we have this idea of the family going into the forge completely unrealistically standing so close to something quite so absolutely boiling hot. And the family is sort of – the fantastic Wright of Derby habit of having somebody – you know, you’ve got the back of someone who’s working on something and then somebody’s looking out to you. And the idea is that this is a safe and great place. And it’s about the future or about the present and about a sort of wish. And so Wright of Derby really, really was the first person for us to represent in this way. So that’s not really about ‒

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I love Derby’s work, and it’s something – this was the first image that we talked about when I thought that maybe we could do something different. And I would love to – I mean, it would be great just to do a lecture on Joseph Wright of Derby, although I’d probably run out of things to say in about two minutes. But I was trying to – one of the reasons we’re doing this is it forces us to articulate what we like, which I think it’s a good exercise. And I was thinking about – what I really like about this is that the work illuminates what it portrays. There’s this sort of internal integrity to it. And it reminded me – you’re probably not going to agree with this – but, of Robert Morris’s The Box with the Sound of Its Own Making. So this is like the painting with [CROSSTALK] the light of its own illumination. And I love this idea of the light coming from inside, and there’s some other examples of work like that.

Should we move on? I mean, [CROSSTALK]

MS. CRADDOCK: There’s going to be a lot of works here where we talk about – oh God ‒ either the material itself creating the illusion or the light creating the illusion or the portrayal of light in some way. I mean, it sounds a bit obvious to say that with this here, but there is that kind of internalization, as you said, so it’s like The Box of Its Own Making. And also it is this idea of looking into a scene, which is – anyway, enough.

MR. FINCH: It’s so much more interesting to me than, say, a Caravaggio, where you don’t see the light source. And I think the light source and whether the light source is in there or not makes a huge difference to me because of this sort of illusionism of light coming out of nothing, which for me is totally fascinating.

MS. CRADDOCK: And we’re moving now happily.

MR. FINCH: This is my favorite Edward Hopper painting. And mostly I’m not a huge Hopper fan, but this I love. It’s called Sun in an Empty Room. It’s a title I’ve stolen for a lot of different works. And it is just what it is. And Hopper, as you probably know, could not paint figures very well, or they always looked kind of clunky. And this is just so – I don’t know, it’s like all you really need. And it’s – he talked about painting houses too and being like a house painter.


MR. FINCH: And how that was his sort of goal in some ways.

MS. CRADDOCK: I mean, it’s the sort of – it’s one of his most – his last – he died four years later – one of his last paintings. And so he’s in a way doing that thing that you’re meant to do in art, emptying out, sort of simplifying, distilling the way we look. But also, when he was asked by someone, you know, “What’s it about then?” and he said ‒ “What’s it after? What are you up to?” He said, “I’m after me.” So we’re thinking about who the subject is. Are we actually in that room? Are we at this strange angle? Is one – is there a narrative? He’s trying to take away a narrative. And, as you said, being a kind of a house builder, very functional. I think it looks a bit bright, don’t you? Like over-projected or something.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, well, maybe. Yeah.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah, anyway.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, it is. I mean, there’s a lot of sort of subtlety in the actual painting.

MS. CRADDOCK: But it’s full of sad ‒ I mean, if one wanted to get carried away, you know, you could say there’s sadness. It’s kind of sexual ‒ God knows what. But we’re standing on this side, looking into the room.

MR. FINCH: Right. Well I think there is more emotion in that than like Nighthawks at the Diner, which has all this – is sort of overladen with all this false emotion ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: That’s right.

MR. FINCH: Which is such – it just seems sort of dishonest in some ways, and this just seems sort of – I don’t know. It just seems totally complete.

MS. CRADDOCK: [CROSSTALK] I’ll just say quickly that what he does is he – when he paints, he actually paints light as an object, you see. It’s almost as if you’re making a jigsaw or a construction out of these elements of light. It’s incredibly interesting.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, and the shape.

MS. CRADDOCK: It is unusual.

MR. FINCH: And then, of course, all the paint on the walls presumably is the same color, and the way it’s illuminated, it’s always different. And that’s something that I find totally fascinating and could look at all day long.

Which brings us to this next piece, which is a work of mine. This is the other one. And this is a new work. It’s actually up at the show in Margate. And it was done first at SFMoMA last year, and it’s called Back to Kansas, and it’s based on The Wizard of Oz. There are about 60 colors taken from the film, The Wizard of Oz. And if you remember the movie, it starts out in black and white in Kansas. And then in Oz, it turns to technicolor. And then when Dorothy goes back to Kansas, it goes back to black and white. And so what happens is it’s really – I’ve made some very boring art works in my day, and this may take the cake. [LAUGHTER] So what people do – and these people, by the way, were paid to sit there. [LAUGHTER] You sit at dusk. The work always has to be shown in a space with natural light. And you sit at dusk and there’s a little score card and you keep track of when each of the colors turns to gray. And because our eyes perceive long wavelength reds and oranges longer in low light than they do short wavelength, the blues and the violets disappear first and then the oranges and reds disappear later. So it takes about 35 minutes from the time the first one disappears until the last one disappears. And there are grays. There are 12 or 13 grays that are in there as controls, so they’re sort of comparisons. So when people are comparing – and it’s kind of this fun thing, I mean, for me at least because you look and you say, “Do I still see blue in that or is it gone?” Or, “Do I still see the red?” And the grays are there as sort of a control to compare against. And it’s in the format – it’s the aspect ratio of the original film, of course, and it is, like cinema, about time and light. So it’s ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: I’m sorry I couldn’t go to see it last Friday, but tell me, how do people know what’s going on?

MR. FINCH: Well, they have to be told.

MS. CRADDOCK: They get it.

MR. FINCH: Well, no. I mean, most people just walk through.

MS. CRADDOCK: Is it written?

MR. FINCH: Yeah, yeah. And there’s a card – there’s a scorecard that sort of explains it. But it only works once a day, at dusk. I mean, it could work in reverse at dawn, I guess.

MS. CRADDOCK: So it’s really particularly performative for a short ‒ [CROSSTALK]

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I mean, otherwise it’s, you know, not a bad looking grid for the rest of the day. [LAUGHTER]

MS. CRADDOCK: A grid’s good. A grid is good.

MR. FINCH: But at dusk, it turns into a real action movie. [LAUGHTER]

MS. CRADDOCK: Oh, wow.

MR. FINCH: Oh, this is a great one. I didn’t know this one. No, I love this. It’s Magritte, who I normally hate, [LAUGHTER] and I was thinking about – I mean, I think Magritte is this sort of – I think of him as illustrating philosophical ideas in sort of the worst way as a kind of illustrator, in the way that I think Joseph Kosuth is also – both artists I loved at one point and, you know, you turn against people. [LAUGHTER] Or you begin – you love artists you used to hate. I think Picasso would be an example of that for me. But this is great because it’s got these internal contradictions. And I think it’s not just illustrating something. It has this incredible kind of contradiction in it and that’s what I think is so fantastic about it.

MS. CRADDOCK: It’s amazing. It was suggested that this might be useful by a clever painter, and what I love about it is the fact that when we deal with the architecture and the bottom, we feel strangely safe. Now, how incredible, as a security. It’s the opposite to creepy. It’s really like listening to “I’ve often walked down the street before,” or something like that. It’s very, very sweet. And then you have this contradiction. I suppose one could look at it forever, but it’s the idea of the manmade light, that kind of light, being of a sort of protective nature. Not that the stuff that is real nature, which is just him hacking up a sky, as per usual, is not protective either. But there is something else here going on.

MR. FINCH: I mean, look at that shadow.

MS. CRADDOCK: I know; it’s amazing.

MR. FINCH: From the lamp. It’s incredible.

MS. CRADDOCK: It’s very good. I think it’s sad that you don’t like ‒ I mean, I love early Magritte. Those early ones are just amazing. The set, the scenes, the stages, where you have the strange contrast of scale and wallpaper or architect – not later. Anyway, it’s nice to talk about.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I’m sure I’m basing my like blanket judgment on very little, as usual.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yes, on the fact there are lots of book covers and things like that.

Okay, and also one little theme that we’re going to constantly have is that there are two truths, or two sort of truths, happening in this painting. And then there will be more works which actually carry this strange contradiction within them. I mean, it’s a bit boring in art when you’re teaching and people say, “A: I don’t want to be too straightforward; I want to obfuscate,” except they don’t use that word. But also, “I want it to be awkward,” but this is much better than that notion of awkwardness.

MR. FINCH: It’s great.

MS. CRADDOCK: We’re going at rattling pace.

MR. FINCH: Are we going okay?

MS. CRADDOCK: Well, I think we’re going fine.

MR. FINCH: Okay. Next. That is next.

So now we’re going to talk a little bit about photography. And the one photograph I really wanted to show doesn’t exist. It’s a photograph of Crazy Horse and ‒ because no photographs of Crazy Horse exist because he was never photographed. And he said famously something like – when he was asked to be photographed or offered a lot of money to be photographed, he said, “Why would you wish to shorten my life by taking from me my shadow,” which I think is a beautiful indictment of photography, and also it sort of raises a lot of issues about truth in photography, which is, of course, a big topic which we will discuss at some later time.

But this is, in fact, Geronimo, and there’s a great story about Geronimo being photographed as well in that he was photographed. But he appears in photographs as at least three different people. And so there’s this idea of this sort of – the impossibility of capturing this image of this person, of this amazing person, this amazing face, and a person who sort of looms large in American history. He was an Apache warrior and was most famous actually for fighting in what is now Texas and fighting the Mexican army and then ended up like so many Native Americans, in Oklahoma under U.S. Army “protection.” But I love that it’s like he was fighting back against this idea of fixing the image by changing his identity. It’s a fantastic story.

The thing that I’m really interested in about photography is the sort of basics of photography. I’m sort of against the camera in many ways, but I love light – reducing it to light, chemistry, and time, and like this – which this Fox Talbot photograph does.

MS. CRADDOCK: I think that it’s terribly important when we’re talking about what we’re talking about to deal with very early photography and the actual literal representation of something that – so, and I just got a lovely – you know, he had this – I mean, for instance, a lot of people said – Fox Talbot, no artist. Basically, he was a businessperson. He had fantastic patents out. He was totally organized. So the idea of him being an artist, the fact that he represented things in a certain straightforward way – fantastic line-ups of plants, of china, a ladder, this fantastic relationship to representation. And then he had this fantastic book of photographs, which is called, The Pencil of Nature. And, “The plates of the present work impressed by the agency of light alone without any aid whatsoever from the artist’s pencil.” So, in other words, this is quite basic, and he invented many of these stances, but when you look at Fox Talbot photographs now, you just go mad for the joy of the complete, straightforward representation of something.

MR. FINCH: I’ve read so much about objectivity.

MS. CRADDOCK: Exactly.

MR. FINCH: I mean, that’s like me saying it’s objective, which I’m totally against.

MS. CRADDOCK: No, no. I’m not getting into all that. I just really like looking at it.

MR. FINCH: Well I guess I can’t really argue that ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: I like the fact that he’s not considered an artist really, in formal terms, and yet we have now very desirable imagery.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I guess we should have changed that out. But, no, I mean, I think there is this constant back and forth between subjectivity and objectivity in photography. And the photography I like most is that in which the work sort of admits its own failings and the limits of its aspirations and also probably its abilities.

And this is an example – this is Walead Beshty, who works in this way as an artist who I think is really interesting. So these are, of course, artists working today in that sort of area of photography. Christopher Williams is someone else I like a lot, who sort of calls into question a lot of the assumptions about it, because, of course, we all know that the – especially with Photoshop, everything can be changed. But still there’s a sort of acceptance of it as some sort of truth that drives me bananas.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah. And, I mean, what’s very interesting is that the very relationship to the material of film is highly political at times for him. So, for instance, going through mass amounts of security and finding that the film he’s using has kind of got interference or has got holes in it, very much interests me. And also a great quote, “Pictures made by my hand with the assistance of light,” which is a nice one after that last one, don’t you think?

MR. FINCH: Yeah, that’s perfect, yeah.


MR. FINCH: Now we’re on a roll, Sach.


MR. FINCH: That was sort of a formal connection. [LAUGHING] This I decided to put in – this is the Rogier van der Weyden painting that’s at the National Gallery in Washington, and I was at the National Gallery here the other day and saw what the, I guess ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: School of.

MR. FINCH: The School of van der Weyden. It’s impossible to see in a photograph, of course, because photographs always lie, but there is this incredible veil, this translucent veil in this painting that is one of the most beautiful things in all of art. And this idea of something being veiled and sort of hidden and slightly obfuscated and this idea of something being fogged in, I love that. And this idea of – I mean, it’s, of course, just a gorgeous, amazing painting on many levels, but I love the veil the most and I can’t really explain why.

MS. CRADDOCK: Can’t really get – the light is very much from above, isn’t it, so it’s strange that everything else is extended into this kind of darkness below.

MR. FINCH: Well, yeah, and there, of course, is that incredible clarity of northern European paintings.

MS. CRADDOCK: Exactly.

MR. FINCH: Which it’s really, it’s sort of an all over light.

MS. CRADDOCK: So stuck a bit lost for words really with this one, it’s so beautiful. Of course, I’ve got a rather boring point, but the one in London has a painting, The Christ’s Crown by Thorns on the Back.


MS. CRADDOCK: At the workshop.

MR. FINCH: It’s like a sign of devotion, right?


MR. FINCH: Okay.

MS. CRADDOCK: Aww. Beautiful.

MR. FINCH: And another example of veiling. This is a Berthe Morisot painting.

MS. CRADDOCK: And, you know, of course, fascinatingly, the minute you have a woman’s painting, you get a lot more anecdotal stuff in the books. “This is her sister, the sister looking at a baby.” But, it’s the most tender, and repeat of – so we’re just – I mean, one would be fatuous to overplay, but the fact that the veil is some kind of protection of the baby, and then also this look, the mother’s look, is incredibly protective. And the sort of echoing of the arm. And, of course, the curtain behind, which I think is pretty amazing.

MR. FINCH: Impressionism in general, is something that’s incredibly interesting to me, and I have a theory that is probably not based at all on fact – of it being something that was a reaction to photography in some way and this idea of – especially serial work. I’ve really been interested in a long time in Monet’s serial work and this idea that his sort of serial attempts to understand something, whether it’s a hay stack or a cathedral or a poplar tree, as a way of trying to understand something from all angles and trying to get at something, and also admitting that there’s this sort of failure to get it because the light is always changing, the view is always changing, your mood is always changing. And the sort of impossibility of that and yet this compulsion to do it, I think is something that’s such a part of Impressionism and also of working fast and trying to capture it, I think, is – because they all worked very quickly.


MR. FINCH: Of course, they went and reworked sometimes, but it was a very quick way of working, which I find, of course, very modern and very interesting.

And in case you didn’t get enough of folds and fabric – do you want to talk about this at all?

MS. CRADDOCK: No, you talk about this one.

MR. FINCH: So I love – I mean, I love the sort of folded fabric and painted fabric. I was trying to – and Sargent especially is such a – I guess it’s sort of a guilty pleasure in some ways. I mean, I think, don’t people think that his ‒ [CROSSTALK]

MS. CRADDOCK: Where is the guilt? Nothing in something like this.

MR. FINCH: Well, that his talent was wasted or somehow that he was this virtuoso, that he spent his incredible talent doing society portraits. I don’t know exactly. There is a sense that he is – that he’s not to be taken as seriously as even say like Whistler. But boy could he paint, and this – especially just painting folding fabric, which is something I love. It’s something that’s really interesting to me. I think it’s just a great, great subject. And I was thinking of Richter and those curtain paintings, the early curtain paintings of Richter, which I love. I’m not even sure why. It’s sort of basic [INAUDIBLE] but I think it – for me it has to do with his later move to abstraction and how it is between abstraction and representation. I think my favorite folds are in that Velasquez painting of Innocent X, and the famous Pope, that amazing red painting. And I don’t know what it is exactly about it. And there’s also – actually in the Veronese show that’s up here, I mean, there’s amazing ‒ like this patterned fabric. How do you paint that? I mean, I don’t know if it’s enough, but it’s so intriguing and it’s so – and people who do it well are really great.

I think there’s also – it connects to a contemporary artist, Tauba Auerbach, who’s someone who I like a lot who does these paintings of folds. I think it’s really interesting. I think her show at the ICA is really not so great, I must say, but I think this – but I think what she is doing with these folds shows that these subjects, these sort of age old tropes can be rediscovered and reinvented by people. And, of course, there – people like Dorothea Rockburne did those folds ‒ she’s sort of overlooked, I think ‒ but those amazing folds in the ‘60s or ‘70s. Sol LeWitt did those great folded things. And, I don’t know, it’s like enough for a whole show – I mean a whole museum. So you might want to work on that, Mark. Folds and fabric. [LAUGHTER] There you go. Folds and fabric.

It’s beautiful. I mean, it’s a beautiful – it’s really a wonderful painting. I mean, look at how he could move paint around.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yes. I mean, the only – I mean, I don’t – I don’t know what to say.

MR. FINCH: You don’t like ‒ [CROSSTALK]

MS. CRADDOCK: No, of course I do. I’m sorry. I do. But I can’t bear the fact that we get into a guilt thing about subject, the fact that these are society people or the swagger portrait. I mean, they’re brilliant because of that society. And the lightness of touch and the sort of relationship to the subject is totally different. But I think we should move on.

MR. FINCH: No, but if you compare it to something like a Manet painting that has a subject matter like the assassination of Maximillian or something like that.


MR. FINCH: In which there is ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: Subject.

MR. FINCH: Yeah. And then I think that there’s ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: But, well, you can think of other Manet paintings that are society ones as well.

MR. FINCH: Right. That’s true.

We’re both right. [LAUGHTER]

MS. CRADDOCK: Aww, look at this. Ah.

Okay, Annunciation. Fra Angelico painted a tremendous number of these. This one actually was done – it’s in the Prado and it was done for San Dominico, the convent in Fiesole. And the other ones that are super important are ones, Cell Three, which is in San Marco. But the important thing about this – we wanted to put this in because it’s really about conveying information through light, a different kind of a message. Obviously, there are plenty of fantastically important paintings that tell you how messages are delivered in very different ways. But we have this light. And the fantastic thing about Fra Angelico, I mean, it’s truly devotional. Now I’m terribly unreligious, but – irreligious, I mean, really. But I do get something particular from this painter that certain other early Renaissance ones don’t quite do the same thing. So, you know, he really is quite something And this particular version we’ve got here – we’ve got also on purpose, because there are these other people, Adam and Eve or whoever, out there [LAUGHTER] rushing off in a different direction.

MR. FINCH: [CROSSTALK] Also what’s great is then this sort of this idea of like the word of God. Like trying to make a picture of something invisible is so compelling to me. I assume that this is what this ray of light is, it’s the word of God.


MR. FINCH: How do you make a painting of the word of God? How do you make a painting of something invisible? And I think that that – or how do you break these sort of conventions of painting that just shows like one scene or one thing in one moment? Also, like simultaneous narrative paintings, I love, that show the same person doing three things.

MS. CRADDOCK: [CROSSTALK] Like Giovanni di Paolo, or some of that.

MR. FINCH: I think it’s a Botticelli painting at the Met that’s like three miracles. So it looks like it’s one landscape but there’s the same – it’s Saint Zenobius, I think, performing three miracles – he’s a very busy man – doing them what looks like at the same time, but it’s in different times. So I love this sort of break with the conventions of how we think pictures work. And this idea of making a picture of something invisible, to me, is – making the invisible visible is, of course, pretty interesting.

MS. CRADDOCK: And also, before we move on quickly, just want to say that obviously Fra Angelico is very much – you talk about breaking convention, but of course he’s carrying along an earlier convention with him, where you actually have this actual sort of gold leaf, the material itself, describing the situation. So, you know, it’s a two-way process here. And he’s caught. And also, he always puts a column right there in the middle. I mean, it’s fascinating. And one of them, the one in the cell two, cell block eight, cell two – or three, literally has a bare wall at the back, nothing. It’s absolutely brilliant.


MR. FINCH: Also, the use of gold leaf is really interesting.


MR. FINCH: And we’ll get to that maybe later, although we’re running out of – we should ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: Are we running out of time [INAUDIBLE]?

MR. FINCH: Yeah.

MS. CRADDOCK: No, no, we’re fine.

MR. FINCH: Okay.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah, yeah, that’s fine.

MR. FINCH: This is a ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: Oh yeah, we better be a bit quicker.

MR. FINCH: A Reinhardt painting obviously, which is, of course, impossible to photograph, but he’s – these paintings were incredibly important to me when I first moved to New York. I had a job right near MoMA and would go at lunchtime and just sat in front of them, and they’re so incredible. And I think what’s great about them is that they – there’s no tricks and they reveal themselves in time, and that they’re about time, and I’m sure there’s – I mean, there’s so much that’s been written about them, but they are – I think that they’re just sort of amazing, amazing works of art. And I think of sort of mid-century American painters. For me, Reinhardt is sort of the top.

MS. CRADDOCK: He’s the top because he did so many other things as well: lectured, wrote. Very, very clever. And there is this kind of completely different relationship – no sort of overdoing the role of the art object itself. It’s just through time that you pick up that surface, which is unbelievable. And the build-up of paint. And it’s so true, and it’s – I mean, and then he also did brilliant cartoons and all these wonderful things that I adored. [CROSSTALK] When I was on foundation, it was like discovering cleverness, what art is, and I think it’s still true.

MR. FINCH: Yeah. No, that’s actually an interesting point about artists who do things outside their work. I think that’s – well.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah. I mean, completely against what all the kind of hyperbole and mystification and the personalization and the individualization of artists at that time. He was really, really right on.

MR. FINCH: And also ‒ and artists as citizens, which I think is really interesting, like what an artist does – I mean, this is for another time perhaps, but artists who think work can do certain things and then artists who do work as citizens, and artists whose work as citizens is part of their work. And I think that’s really interesting. And it’s like – was it Barnett Newman who ran for mayor? One of them ran for mayor, which is kind of fantastic.

Here is a Turrell, which we will dispense with rather quickly.


MR. FINCH: There’s – someone once told me that they could tell ‒ a curator told me that they could tell immediately whether an artist loved or hated Turrell, and he immediately pegged me as someone who hates Turrell, which is true, and I think – I mean, let me count the ways. [LAUGHTER] No. That’s not fair. I mean, actually, some of the work I like alright, but I think it’s really the sort of smoke and mirrors thing about it and that there’s a sort of gestalt thing that happens that you sort of understand, especially with these sorts of works where you have this sort of ‒ this pseudo-spiritual experience.

MS. CRADDOCK: Experience. It’s about experience.

MR. FINCH: And then you go stick your head in this hole in the wall and you realize how it’s made, and then you never have that same experience again. And I think, for me, the great thing with great art is the sort of repeatability of it and that you go back and you have a great experience, and that you have a different experience, and you have a move powerful experience. And, I mean, if I go back to a Reinhardt now 20 years later, I still get something totally new out of it. I might even see like something totally new, and with Turrell, at least with these works, it doesn’t happen.

MS. CRADDOCK: Well I think it’s something – it’s a very different kind of work. It’s the notion of being led in, sometimes in kind of sensory deprivation, in order to have sensory opposite to deprivation apparently. So you’re led in and then the whole idea is that it’s very important, which I think we’re going to talk about a bit later, just that notion of total experience. It’s very odd, the relationship between your life out there and the experience in there, and it’s slightly over the top.

MR. FINCH: Right. Well, this is an example of someone who does it with great success. This is Bruce Nauman’s green corridor piece, which is one of my favorite works of art in the world. And why is it different? I guess, well, there’s no – it’s clear what he’s doing. There’s no trick to it. You know that it’s this very narrow corridor that you have to walk through that’s illuminated with these green lights. And you walk out the other side and the whole world looks magenta.

MS. CRADDOCK: That’s right.

MR. FINCH: But you want to do it again and again and again, like you can’t get enough of it. You just want to keep walking through that corridor. And it’s something so compelling. And it also tells you about yourself and it tells you about your body and about your perception and about the world. I mean, and it’s funny because Nauman is really not considered a light and space artist, but I think ultimately he is the best light and space artist we have. And this is really an awesome – it’s a fantastic work. I mean, it’s ‒


MR. FINCH: He’s great.


MR. FINCH: Yeah, okay. We’ll keep moving.

MS. CRADDOCK: Okay, lovely. Lovely, lovely, lovely.

MR. FINCH: Maybe we should have put the curtain ones in instead of this. Did you want to talk about the ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: No, it’s all – I mean, these are just – they lead us to some of the other people we’re going to talk about, to the next one – because, to de La Tour.

MR. FINCH: I think we both really like Richter a lot.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah, yeah.

MR. FINCH: I mean, especially, October 17, 1977 – what is the date?

MS. CRADDOCK: [CROSSTALK] They’re the most important historical history paintings around.

MR. FINCH: [CROSSTALK] which I think are fantastic, but.

MS. CRADDOCK: Blow your mind.

MR. FINCH: But it didn’t fit with our topic.


MR. FINCH: These fit with our topic, and I think also this sort of – again, this sort of hint of abstraction and that he has this whole other practice of abstraction is totally ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: I mean, he made 25 of these candle paintings. Blimey, he knows how to do it.

MR. FINCH: Yeah.

MS. CRADDOCK: The light – making the light and so on. Anyway, let’s move on.

Ah, this is really important. [CROSSTALK] Yeah, leading on nicely, segue, as they say. Yes, beautiful de La Tour.

Okay, so you have to think about whether he’d seen Caravaggio. He hadn’t, he’d just seen pictures by people who’d seen Caravaggio.

MR. FINCH: Oh really?

MS. CRADDOCK: Yes, and candlelit scenes, the fact that completely forgotten – he was totally lost and forgotten forever after he existed and then suddenly dragged out in the 20th century. You can see why. Totally straight up. You love this because of the light being obscured, don’t you?

MR. FINCH: Well, yeah, I mean, mostly obscured. I mean, it’s like – you know, it’s in the same way of liking that I like the Joseph Wright of Derby. I mean, I know that the subject matter is quite different, time is different or whatever, but I think this idea of the light coming from within is so great. And then also just the sort of – I mean, just how he shows the sort of reflection of the light, the intensity of the light dropping off. I mean, this reflection here on the table, the reflection on the clothes, the reflection on the faces. I mean, it’s really – and that it’s illumination and reflection. I mean, light is so incredibly complicated, and this idea of painting light. So you’re using a sort of additive technique to create something that’s actually subtractive in the way that light works. And so there’s this sort of contradiction in it that makes it really sort of difficult to do and counterintuitive. And so it’s kind of amazing because it looks very matter of fact, but it is sort of complex.

MS. CRADDOCK: And we’ve got another one, haven’t we?

MR. FINCH: Yeah. I think we do have two of them. There. Again, it’s just a little bit of the candle showing.

MS. CRADDOCK: My God. Cool.

MR. FINCH: And also then, how do you – I mean, what kind of black do you use for the dark? I mean, what is that?

MS. CRADDOCK: Well you don’t so much, do you, because you’ve got it all happening there.

MR. FINCH: No, but like on this side of the sleeve, I mean, that then becomes the sort of darkest area.

MS. CRADDOCK: That’s just discreet. That’s just the surface. That’s the screen.

MR. FINCH: Yeah. I mean, that’s actually really interesting, that sort of – I mean, that’s like looking at, you know, this like in the totally dark up there, so it’s like doing that, which is really kind of great.

MS. CRADDOCK: And it’s slightly blinding as well.

MR. FINCH: So there is some light coming from outside somewhere.


Okay, now this one, you didn’t really want, did you?

MR. FINCH: Well I’m not a huge El Greco fan.

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah, but you know, it’s a pretty – I mean, it’s a pretty amazing painting because it’s so – I mean, we haven’t really got time to find out why you don’t really go a bundle on El Greco. But I think this is an amazing painting in many ways because it – well it’s called Fable. It’s very odd. El Greco did do the youth blowing on an ember before, but then this idea of bringing that really rather funny-looking person on the right – he’s just interfering, you know, like in – a bit like in, you know, Velázquez, those drunks in Velázquez. You know, you feel like you’ve walked into a bar in Earl’s Court or something like that. There’s a sort of reality about it. And this guy’s coming in with his toothiness. And then this monkey is just – you know, probably the fable or the parable is, you know, the monkey has such wisdom, God knows what, all this stuff, but then the monkey is intelligent. But then there is this strange collection of heads. Quite exciting.

MR. FINCH: Yeah. I would have preferred a Zurbarán.


MR. FINCH: Saint Francis.

MS. CRADDOCK: Okay. Yes, I wanted this.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I like this.

MS. CRADDOCK: I’m mad about Ruscha and you are pretty much.

MR. FINCH: Yeah. I love him.

MS. CRADDOCK: Totally brilliant. And this is also in respect for the fact that these were put in the Venice Biennale years ago in the American Pavilion and it was a very nice show. And this is a very strange – these series of paintings, Los Angeles County Museum on Fire, ’65-’68, are important because you have this incredible sort of almost virtuoso architect’s model idea of this stuff going on here. And then this insane fire going on at the back. I mean, it’s so fabulous. The fire is really on fire, isn’t it? I mean, it’s really – and yet this is very, very calm. I mean, it reminds me of a lot of the other works we’ve seen where, you know, it’s a bit like the Magritte, where something’s happening and something else is happening and there’s incongruity, and we’re looking at this sort of – almost every angle, we’re getting in every angle. So it looks like what you call an architect’s impression – artist’s impression, architects use. And then yet we’ve got the sort of ‒

MR. FINCH: Yeah, it’s also very funny, I think.

MS. CRADDOCK: It’s very funny.

MR. FINCH: So I think that’s really great.

MS. CRADDOCK: [CROSSTALK] probably take it too seriously.

MR. FINCH: Yeah. And – but I think fire is a great subject, and that takes us to the next one, which is the Turner study of the Houses of Parliament on fire, which I love. They’re so beautiful. And, I mean, just the idea of using water to paint fire, I think, is such a weird idea.

MS. CRADDOCK: And the fact that he got in a boat to go and observe this.

MR. FINCH: Yeah.

MS. CRADDOCK: He got in a boat and he said, “Oh, it’s on fire,” and everyone’s going, “Ahh.” So he said, “Out the way.” He got a boat and went off down to look at it. [LAUGHTER] So there he was in the middle of the river sort of observing this fire.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, and I must say the studies I find much more compelling than the finished paintings. I mean, they feel so much more modern and so much ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: And the finished painting is overdone because you then look through to Westminster Abbey as if somehow that was still holding out.

MR. FINCH: But this idea of you have this fire, you have this smoke, you have water, all of this sort of stuff flowing, which then is rendered in water, of the watercolor, and the image still holds together. I mean, it’s sort of a – you know, he’s amazing so.

MS. CRADDOCK: Okay. Next one – oh yeah, lovely. Well, you know, a little bit of – what did I study – yes, of economic history.


MS. CRADDOCK: You know, [CROSSTALK] the city workers, seldom painted really, and the light in it is just unbelievable because it’s sort of bouncing back off. What do you like about it?

MR. FINCH: I think it’s amazing just showing the light coming off the floor, which is – you don’t usually think of that as being a subject for the reflection of light and this idea of using this floor and this sort of floor where this labor is going on with this reflection of ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: Hell of a job. You know, in a way, Caillebotte was very, very formal, quite a traditional painter. He really did square out the surface. And a brilliant quote from Zola about this painting. “A painting that is so accurate that it makes it bourgeois.” [LAUGHTER]

MR. FINCH: Well, high praise in deed.


MR. FINCH: Okay, we’re nearing the end. So this is – this brings up gold again. I love this painting. It’s in Amsterdam and it’s – Wittgenstein has this great line where he talks about Rembrandt’s gold paintings. I think it was actually The Man With the Golden Helmet, which is in the Met, where he says, “Rembrandt painted gold but he didn’t use gold paint,” which is so incredible. And this idea of light actually coming out of the painting, and the – I mean, it’s incredible. And this – I mean, this idea of using something, pigment, which absorbs light – and actually to create the illusion of light coming out of it and so few people have been able to do that and Rembrandt is one of the few. And something else about this – you’ll be glad to hear this – so I was reading this book, which you probably all know about [LAUGHING] which Sacha’s obsessed with, Karl Ove Knausgård.

MS. CRADDOCK: Oh, yes.

MR. FINCH: But he talks – I’m only on page 40. But he talks about Rembrandt, and he talks about that – do you remember?

MS. CRADDOCK: Yeah, yeah.

MR. FINCH: He talks about the self-portrait at the National Gallery, where he – you know, of course, they are amazing, these sort of studies of himself getting older, which are so intense and so incredible, but Karl Ove says – he talks about the eyes, and he says the one thing that doesn’t age is the eye, and it’s this sort of fascinating idea that I never really thought about, but the eyes in the Rembrandt self-portraits are the same.


MR. FINCH: And people’s eyes, you don’t see the aging.

MS. CRADDOCK: Everything else goes, and that stays.

MR. FINCH: So aren’t you glad I got [CROSSTALK]

MS. CRADDOCK: Thank you, yeah. I absolutely adore it. I’m not good at talking about Rembrandt at all. I was told you had to turn 40 to really get it. And I have turned 40.

MR. FINCH: I think – I also love the self-portraits. I think that there’s this sense of impermanence.

MS. CRADDOCK: Of course it’s brilliant. I just love it.

MR. FINCH: I mean, just the – I mean, those self-portraits and just this idea of, you know, the sort of end and the fragility of life and all of that, which brings me to that other topic that we’ve been talking about that Sacha’s sick of hearing me talk about, which I’ve been on a jag about is the Wabi-Sabi, the Japanese idea of impermanence and this idea of beauty in its sort of ugly way, and this idea of entropy and deterioration as beauty in a sort of Buddhist, Daoist way, which is really interesting, I think present in those self-portraits, less so here. [CROSSTALK]

MS. CRADDOCK: Every time you tell me that, I think it’s something I dip the sushi into. [LAUGHTER]

Ah yeah, this. The Weather Project, 2003. We want to bring, you know, to be very respectful to where we are. It was here. And also the idea which, you know, this idea of actually constructing a kind of nature – falsely constructing a nature so that people are mesmerized and act out in a way. So it’s the idea of using light and this thin mist of sugar and whatever and water. And yet people were just very, very into the experience. It’s truly experiential.

So anyway, it takes us slightly back to the Turell, but it also takes us somewhere else, so it’s very interesting because it’s just there and no longer. So it’s like – at the end, that’s all folks, except that was talked about last year because it was 10 years later. Yeah, yeah.

MR. FINCH: I didn’t see it, but it seems quite amazing. But it is connected to the next image, which is something I particularly interested in, which is stained glass windows. This is the rose window from the Cathedral of Saint Denis, where Abbot Suger sort of designed the first – well, one of the first gothic environments and developed the sort of idea of stained glass as a way of transmitting sacred light. So there’s – I don’t really understand it fully, but there’s this idea of lux being the light, profane light, which is outside, that then hits the stained glass window and it becoming lumen and it’s transformed into sacred light. And then once it enters the cathedral and enters the eye of the believer, it is illumination. And so this idea of light having different qualities, ranging from profane to sacred is something that’s really interesting to me, and this idea of it being – of that sort of difference, and of stained glass, in particular, having this sort of effect. And in ecclesiastical architecture, of course, it has to do with the imagery as well and the idea of the image of a religious scene changing the quality of the light and making it pure inside the cathedral. But it’s an idea that I really like and I also love looking at these windows.

There’s another piece. This is – you know, that window does everything and this does very little. This is a piece of light that I really like. Félix González-Torres sculpture. And this is sort of the opposite, very Wabi-Sabi.


MR. FINCH: And the sort of modesty of it and something that I really like in a lot of work is art that sort of admits its own poverty in some way, you know. I think – I can’t remember who it was, but someone said, “It’s hard to say anything in art as good as saying nothing.” And it’s something I really believe, and I think that’s always a struggle to try to say something worthwhile, and I think that work like this, which is modest and somehow incredibly moving is really powerful.

Do you want to say anything about that?

MS. CRADDOCK: No, I agree.

MR. FINCH: Okay. And this is our last slide.

MS. CRADDOCK: Ooh. I – you go. [LAUGHTER]

MR. FINCH: No, I mean, of course – the Matisse show, which I saw here, is incredible.

MS. CRADDOCK: Amazing.

MR. FINCH: This was not – I mean, what I was really amazed by, which doesn’t really have so much to do with light, although it does have to do with blue, is the cut-outs of the nudes. And it’s so sort of incredible the sort of complexity of those in something that appears to be so simple, the sort of movement of a body that’s portrayed with this very, very simple form. Anyway, it’s really such an exciting show, and I must say the Richard Hamilton show is also fantastic.

MS. CRADDOCK: It’s amazing.

MR. FINCH: It’s someone who we don’t know so well. He didn’t have such a presence in the States, but it’s so nice seeing an artist who was restless and changed and did lots of interesting, different work, did not have a sort of signature style and really was sort of committed and, I don’t know, it was really sort of gratifying to see the Hamilton show. And the Matisse show is just mind-blowing. So it’s really exciting to see both of those.

MS. CRADDOCK: So do you think we should open – thanks. Should we open up to the floor for some questions, please. And do wait for the microphone to be brought to you. Anyone want to go? I mean, ask any – not go, I mean leave. [LAUGHTER]


AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s a bit unfair, but if I could throw two imaginary extra slides up. One of them would be a glass piece by Roni Horn. And the other one would be one of Zoe Leonard’s recent camera obscuras. I’d just love to hear what you have to say about those.

MS. CRADDOCK: Roni, the Roni Horn. Which Roni Horn?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The one that has solid glass pieces where –

MS. CRADDOCK: Speak into the –

AUDIENCE MEMBER: The solid glass pieces. I know that Spencer probably knows them.


MR. FINCH: Yeah. Roni was my teacher, and so it’s – and she was someone who had a huge influence on me, and – I mean, I like the glass pieces, but I feel that she – I mean, I feel that they’ve gotten a little decorative, weirdly.

MS. CRADDOCK: A bit baroque.

MR. FINCH: Which is sort of a weird thing for Roni. I mean, I guess I also saw them at – it was at Hauser & Wirth in New York, and there were a lot of them and I think there were maybe too many of them, and so they didn’t have this sort of presence. And they also didn’t have this sort of complex, almost non-sight that some of her objects had had, with some of the machined steel pieces that she did where she did two arrangements in two different rooms and there’s this sort of complexity of experiencing those. And I didn’t find that. These feel more sort of singular, and of course, they’re beautiful, but they don’t have, for me, the sort of sense of relationship to the space and the viewer that some of the early work has or like something like the steel – the sort of flat steel pieces, like there’s a great one with a Simone Weil quote, “To see a landscape as it is when I am not there.” It’s just such a beautiful piece, where you sort of see the form of the letters on the top and then you get to the other side and you actually see the letters carved in. So, I mean, I think maybe they’re too beautiful is – the Zoe Leonard piece, I loved, and I also felt that that piece at the Whitney was a little bit of a love letter to the Breuer Building, which is such a beautiful building, to sort of turn it inside out and turn the project of the city into that building, which is such a great building, and I’m kind of sad that the Whitney is leaving.

MS. CRADDOCK: It’s sad. Any questions or even just observations? Do wait for the microphone please.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I don’t know if I’ve got this right, but when you were talking about the images, all of the images, it seemed to me that you were focusing on the physiological characteristics. Would that be a reasonable – were you describing the effect of light? And I just wondered – I was particularly struck by the Magritte, which is second or third slide, and I just wondered whether there was anything about a psychological resonance of light as a metaphor, whether that played – whether that was significant for you in any way.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I think it is. I mean, certainly in the stained glass window, that’s an example. I think that – I mean, the sort of psychology – certainly, there is a lot of psychology in the Nauman work, for example. I think it’s a deeply psychological work and very powerful on a psychological level. I think of the Magritte as being more sort of philosophical than psychological. And, of course, there’s overlap there, and of course, the stained glass window, of course, is I think pretty psychological in a way.

Do you want to ‒

MS. CRADDOCK: What do you think, Simon?


MS. CRADDOCK: I mean, why did you pick the Magritte one?

AUDIENCE MEMBER: Well, it was just the first time that – it was the first thing that came up.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: Because I suppose what you could say is, “Oh yes, there’s a thing here. It’s daylight at the top and it’s nighttime down at the bottom.” And you can describe the effect of a bright blue day with clouds at a sort of descriptive level, and then you can describe what it’s like at night. And you can see the juxtaposition of the two and that could be the content of the work. But I wondered if there was a step beyond that.

MS. CRADDOCK: I think there is.

MR. FINCH: I guess it is psychological in the way – the idea of holding two contradictory ideas in your head at one time, which for me is a fascinating idea. And I think great works of art do that, and I’m sort of surprised that a Magritte painting does that, but it does that for me.

MS. CRADDOCK: Could we take the microphone here please, down here. Oh, here. Oh, it’s coming.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It’s actually a question about your work at the 9/11 Memorial. I was wondering if you chose to do the light of the day because the museum is completely underground and there is very little natural light. And if the artwork is supposed to bring in light to a space that has an absence of natural light or if ‒ because it is supposed to be the blue sky of that day or is it almost your artifact of the thing that you remember about that day that you’re putting into the museum?

MR. FINCH: I mean, I think that they’re not mutually exclusive. I was trying to do both things. I mean, it was a – it’s obviously an incredibly loaded site. The pieces – I did a piece over 20 years ago that was a series of pink drawings and trying to remember the color of Jackie Kennedy’s pill box hat, and it was using that idea to talk about memory really and the idea of memory being so precise in some ways and also so amorphous in other ways. And the real challenge for me with that work was to try to do it in an honest way, and 3,000 shades of blue is a lot. I mean, of course, our eye can see over a million different colors, so it’s really not so many. But for each of those colors to be convincing to me so that each time I was starting fresh and really trying to make a blue that I could feel was convincing, and at the same time, have there be 3,000 different ones. That was really the challenge.

And also for the piece to be somewhat interactive. It is this sort of blank screen, which is something I’m sort of interested in in the work as being a sort of screen for a certain projections. And it also – the piece actually, the proposal started actually as a light projection of different shades of blue being projected on that wall. And I really felt that was too much of the format of everything else which is down there, and there’s a lot of video documentary stuff. And I also felt that it had to be something devotional for some reason, that it had to be – I really had to make this myself and do it in a sort of devotional way to, I mean, sort of honor – I mean, it sounds corny. I can’t even believe I’m saying it, but to honor the dead, to honor [CROSSTALK] and also – but it’s also a horrible, horrible place. To be honest, if I were not involved, I’m not sure I would go down there. And so, to bring some sort of light there and some sort of relief was also part of the goal.


AUDIENCE MEMBER: To take it in a more lighthearted direction, going back to Kansas, how did you face the challenge of putting it in Margate when sunrise is 4:30 and sunset is 9:30, and the gallery’s closed?

MS. CRADDOCK: [LAUGHING] I know. Yeah, it actually will only work I think four times during the exhibition when the gallery is open late. So, you know, you have to be – you take what you can get. It’s a piece that I’m really proud of and it is – I mean, it does, of course, exist during the day as this sort of work somehow about the Wizard of Oz and about this relationship between black and white and technicolor. But I really wanted to do it because that David Chipperfield space is so beautiful and all the work in the show is about changing light, and this is something about changing light sort of at the end of the day. And if only – if I had to install it only for it to be experienced once, that actually would have been enough for me, it’s something I feel so strongly about. And to actually – I don’t think I’ll be able to be back to experience it, but to sit in that beautiful space that Chipperfield designed and watch the sun go down and it get dark I think will just be fantastic. I mean, I think it could be – I mean, it would be equally fantastic without my work in it and maybe more fantastic, in fact. And just working in that space during the installation was a really wonderful experience, the changing light. And it’s nice to work in a space designed by an architect that is really pro-artist, and I think that I am sort of somewhat categorical in dividing contemporary architects between art lovers and art haters. I mean, there are architects who design museums that are really kind of against artists. I mean, they often think that they’re artists and do it better than we can. And then there are architects, many great architects, who are much more sort of generous and really think about art and how it will exist in their spaces. And I think it’s wonderful. And Chipperfield is one of them.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It is lovely where it is at the moment, even with just daylight on it, but it might amuse you to know that people are taking the cards, which are so generously provided and disappearing into shadowy corners and dark corners to try and simulate what you said will happen. And it does, even with just printed cards.

MR. FINCH: It’s one of those things – you know, you can do this at home. [LAUGHTER] You can take it and – I mean, if one person goes to that exhibition and then as a result, sits in their own living room and sort of watches the light change for half an hour, watches those colors disappear, I’ll feel that it’s a huge success.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: It is a success. Thank you.

MS. CRADDOCK: Any more observations or questions? Oh yes, back there.

AUDIENCE MEMBER: I’ve really enjoyed this kind of visual associative way that you’ve done the lecture, and I was wondering if you could have done an equivalent – maybe not in a museum – but an equivalent with literary associations. And I wondered if there’s something that we could take away that you’d share with us, maybe a passage we could read or something because I know there are various literary references which come up in your work, and I don’t feel that’s been touched upon so far. So maybe there’s something we could go home and read that would give us an insight into other influences into your work.

MR. FINCH: Yeah, I mean, there’s a lot. Well, I’m reading Karl Ove Knausgård right now, but that’s sort of a new thing. I mean, one poem that I was thinking about when sort of working on this is an Auden poem, the poem that he wrote about Henry James, which starts in a beautiful way, where he actually visits the grave of Henry James in – I think he ended up being buried in Boston. And he sees the reflection of the sky in the puddles from the snow, and then he goes on and sort of talks about the limits of what art can do, and – actually was – I had it – oh yeah, and he sort of talks about the artist being – he says, “To be deaf yet determined to sing, to be lame and blind yet burning for the great good place, to be radically corrupt but mournfully attracted to the real distinguished thing.” And I think that it’s – as an artist now working in this world, this – there is this sense of, you know, being radically corrupted in whatever ways, I mean, by the market, by whatever. I make a living from my work, so I am somehow corrupt, I’m sorry to say. But I still feel, for me, that what I’m most excited about is this sort of mournful attraction to the real, distinguished thing. I mean, for me, the most exciting time is still to be in the studio and still to be making work. And that really gives me hope. And also that was part of the reason we did the lecture this way is that I really think it’s important to really keep trying to do different work, trying to do different things. It’s something that I loved about the Hamilton show, just sort of when you see that – when you see that in a career, it’s really exciting. And the artists who’ve done that are really inspiring for me. And so I think looking at those artists and thinking about artists who really are truly committed still to the real, distinguished thing. And it’s hard to find it, but it’s there – you know, with all this clutter.

And, of course, there’s always Emily Dickinson, you know, if you can’t find anything else. She never fails. And I think what is so incredible about Emily Dickinson is that she has this thing that the greatest artworks have, that she is so difficult in a way, but so rewarding. I mean, I just get so much out of her. And also that she’s – I really think that probably after Shakespeare, she’s the greatest writer in the English language and that there is just so much to go back to and to get out of her. And I don’t claim to be a Dickinson scholar or anything, but I find it so – how she can talk about what it is to be human and to take something that is just so sort of prosaic and make it, you know, there’s a sort of magic that happens and she sort of can describe the world in a way that makes it sort of miraculous. And she is, I think – yeah, so I guess if there was one book, it would probably be her.

MS. CRADDOCK: I think that’s brilliant what you said. Thank you. Fantastic. I think we’re going to sort of – you said so many great things just now, it sort of seems a pity to have any more questions actually, to be quite honest. So thank you very much. And thank you all for coming.