Lurie's Last Will
Interview with Jean Toche,
Co-Founder, Guerilla Art Action Group
at his home, Staten Island, NY | December 18, 2009
By Christina Linden,
Curatorial Fellow, Center for Curatorial Studies, Bard College
Preface: The following oral history transcript is the result of a tape-recorded interview with Jean Toche on December 18, 2009. The interview took place at the home of Jean Toche in Staten Island, New York, and was conducted by Christina Linden for the Oral Histories project of Art Spaces Archives Project (AS-AP). This interview was funded by the New York State Council on the Arts (NYSCA). Jean Toche has reviewed the transcript and has made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.
CHRISTINA LINDEN: Okay. So just to identify ourselves for the recording, I’m Christina Linden and I’m here with Jean Toche, at his home in Staten Island. Today is December…
JEAN TOCHE: 18th.
…18th, 2009, the end of the decade. [inaudible] about the Guerilla Art Action Group, for the ASAP archive. There’s two specific actions that I discussed with Poppy and Jon, both. And maybe we can start with something specific, as a way to enter the conversation. So if you can talk about your own memories, whatever you remember—it’s okay if there’s gaps; that’s not the point—about Blood Bath, the event that took place on November 18th, at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
Ah. Hm. Well, see, that’s the problem; I’m not very good, you know, at improvising. Rather, ask me a more direct question.
That will be easier than just having me to talk about.
Okay. Sounds good. So who do you remember taking part in the action on that day?
Well, there was Sylviana[?] [inaudible], which was a name which she chose to be— Sylvia Goldsmith is a filmmaker. There was Poppy Johnson, Jon Hendricks and myself.
And Sylviana didn’t take part in so many other actions, is that right? Was that the only one she took—
[over Linden] No, no, she only[?] took part in that particular action. And I don’t remember how she got in touch with us or how it happened. I think we did an event with her with Ralph Ortiz. Ralph Ortiz did an event in Philadelphia, a big destruction art event there. And she participated in it. And then maybe— But I’m not sure. Maybe that’s how she got in contact with us or we got in contact with her. I don’t really remember.
Jon or Poppy might be able—
No, they don’t, actually…
They don’t, either.
…so that’s one of the things I was curious about.
Ah. Ah. So that’s a possibility. I don’t guarantee that’s how it happened, but it’s so long ago.
But Sylviana did participate in that event in Philadelphia. Actually, I came back on a train with her, from there to New York. So maybe that’s how we got in contact with her. Maybe she was also part of the Art Workers’ Coalition. I don’t remember. It’s so long ago.
Yeah. And the planning for the event, do you remember generally whose idea the specific format of the event was?
Well, those[?] things happen between… It’s all a complicated process, you know. Jon and I talk about something, want to do something about it, how to go about it. [sighs] It’s a very often complex and sometimes painful process. Sometimes it goes, you know, very easily; sometimes it takes a lot of us sitting down and say, “What are we going[?] to do? Why don’t we try this?” “No. Well, I’m not so sure we want to do it that way,” you know. And so sometimes, those takes a long time to decide. And sometimes— I think in this case, it was rather[?] very quickly and very direct.
But I don’t really remember, that’s the thing; it’s so long ago.
Do you have any remembrance, during the event, of the reactions of the visitors who were in the lobby or the official museum staff?
No, because you see, when you do something like that, you concentrate on the action. You’re aware if there’s a danger. You know, like for instance a guard trying to approach you, stop you or something. That, you’re aware of. You’re not paying any really attention to people’s reactions, you know.
It’s alright[?]. This was a very fast action. We were in, did it, and went out. You know, the whole thing probably didn’t take more than five minutes. It was like an explosion suddenly [chuckles] happened, you know. And I suppose a lot of people were stunned by what happened, but I don’t know because I didn’t watch. I was concentrating on the actions, you know, how we were doing; and then how to quickly get out. Actually, Jon and I left together; Poppy and Sylviana went on their own, also. We tried quickly to get a taxi. But…
Yeah. And you got a taxi, covered in blood?
Well, the taxi— We were covered with blood, our clothes torn apart. [laughs] But we did get a taxi. The funny thing, the driver at first said— He asked me what we had done, so we explained briefly what we had done. And he asked, “Did you leave you name and address?” I said, “Yes, we left a statement, why we were doing it.” You know, with our signatures and everything, on the floor there.
I[?] said, “Ah, well, that’s okay.” It turned out that the driver was a cop, moonlighting as a taxi driver. [they laugh] So he drove us back to my house at the time, in Carmine Street in the village, and Jon and I washed the seat, you know, brought— You know, I think we gave a good tip; he was very happy about it. [they laugh] It was so funny, you know, it was a cop that took us away from the scene. [laughs]
And what do you remember now about the specific reason for that event?
[sighs] There was so much going on at the time. Why we decide something— Sometimes, you know, it’s like still, in a way, the same way I work today, you know. I read something in the newspaper and say, “I want to do something about that.” It might be something like that, something you know, that either Jon and I work[?][read] in the paper; or it might’ve been what the museum was doing. You know, at that time, you had the beginning of that word[?] coalitions[?][note from Christina: Art Workers’ Coalition]. Again, you know, it’s too far away for me to remember exactly why we did what we did.
Okay, so we only go for a few more specific events, and then we maybe have some more general questions…
…that are easier. The other event I talked about with both Poppy and Jon is the memorial service for dead babies that happened in front of Picasso’s Guernica, at MoMA. That one happened on January 3rd of 1970, so a couple of months later.
Do you have anything you’d like to say about that, in terms of your memories or how you feel about [inaudible]—
[over Linden] Well, [inaudible] [?], it’s about the— Oh, what do you call the— Not— It’s not the flowers[?]— Well, sort of the [inaudible].
The wreath, the memorial wreath.
Yeah. Yeah, yeah, memorial wreath. She put it under her clothes, you know, and so that’s why it’s so[?]— that’s why she came separately, you know, to hand it to us when we were upstairs[?]. The Guernica, the one thing which was, I think… There were people [inaudible] coalition[?] from the Art Workers’ Coalition who were present there. Ah. Again, you know, [laughs] it’s too far away, you know, to remember specifics.
Okay. So just generally, what do you feel— Maybe comparing those two events, which one did you like better personally, did you feel like were more effective, maybe?
Well, they’re all different. You know, we tried to do events which had a different form or gave[?] different subject, and treated differently. So… I’m not a good judge, you know, to tell you how efficient or not, you know. That, you should ask other people. Again, you know, when you’re involved in something, you have to be aware of your surroundings, but you’re not watching, you know, for a reaction or [inaudible] or something like that. You’re just watching to see if there’s any danger to the action that you’re doing, something which might stop it, change it. You know, that’s what you are watching. You’re not watching how people, in a way, react to it.
Let me— I think part of— One of the things I’m very interested in, the end of 1969, the beginning of 1970, there was a kind of series of events and moods going on in a greater scale: the Weather Underground splintering from the SDS and the bomb exploding there in Greenwich Village, the deaths at the free concert in Altamont. I think generally, there was a kind of draining of idealism out of a certain kind of a mood, and an increase in—
[over Linden] Right. And there was something very— it was a very fertile period of ideas, you know what I mean? Ideas were all around you. You know, it’s an extraordinary period in the history of this country, in terms of creativity. Even what Abbie Hoffman was doing, what [inaudible] [The Black Panthers] were doing, the [inaudible] were doing, a reaction between, for instance, you know, the silent moment[?] festival at [inaudible]. You know, the reaction of the people of the community, who got very angry about the art[?] festival there, because it was not dealing with— They had specific problems, and nobody was dealing with those particular problems.
What was the name of that festival again?
The Charlotte Moorman—
Oh, what is it called? Well, I think it was the Avant-Garde Festival, at the—
We can look it up. [note from Christina: the New York Avant Garde Festival, organized by Charlotte Moorman, took place on Wards Island and Mill Rock Island in the East River in the Fall of 1969. See: David Bourdon “A Letter to Charlotte Moorman” Art in America, June, 2000]
Yeah, yeah. [inaudible] [note from Christina: Wards Island]. And in a way, after that then, Ralph Ortiz and I went on WBAI to talk about it, because more or less[?], something very bad had happened there.
So you know, there were— It just didn’t come out of the blue. It was like a reaction to a reaction to a reaction.
You know, even as you say, what[?] happened very fast in those days, it was like every two or three days, something very important happened, something very tragic, something bad, you know, to which you had to, in a way, to react. And a lot of actions, I guess, were a reaction to what was going on.
So I think one question I have there is, can you name some of the influ— the major influences for you, in terms of other activities that were going on within the arts at that time? Other organizations, institutions, people
Well, me personally, or GAAG?
In relation to GAAG, in relation to what you were doing with GAAG.
Well, we formed GAAG because we were dissatisfied with the way artwork[?] coalition [note from Christina: Art Workers’ Coalition] was dealing with issues and demonstrations. So we thought, Jon and I and Poppy, that we would try to do something more efficient, more succinct, more directed to issues, and not done not on over— we’d go over there and see what we’ll do, you know. These were all planned. You know, Jon and I spent hours and hours and hours thinking, writing down, writing the text, writing what we’re going to do, how we’re going to do it, alternate plans, you know, in case something went wrong. It was a well-thought-out process. But those were in reaction to what was going on.
So the Art Workers’ Coalition and maybe a dissatisfaction would be one of the major sort of art world events, organizations you were looking at.
Well, the formation of GAAG came that way. Because we were dissatisfied, in a way. We got a couple[?] demonstrations with Art Workers’ Coalition and sort of fizzled[?]. For one example[?], the way it was formed is that there was a demonstration at the Guggenheim Museum. And so Jon and I, Poppy were oh, about— I don’t know, twenty-five, thirty people were there. And suddenly somebody said the police is arriving. And in a minute, everybody was gone. It was just [laughs] the three of us, you know? [inaudible] the police questioned [inaudible] politely and then they left, you know. But we were furious, you know [inaudible] that’s how we decided to form a group to do something a little better than what that just happened.
[laughs] We were dissatisfied at all— You know, somebody said the police are arriving, everybody was, “Oh, I have a hair appointment,” “I have my dentist, I have to see my dentist,” you know. And in two or three minutes[?], it was just the three of us [laughs] to talk to the police.
Yeah. Can you say something about the use of violence in your actions, in relationship maybe to a question of commensurability and hoping to bring about change?
Well, the violence was always directed toward ourselves, not toward others. That was a very important part of it. In other words, we did actions which looked, appeared to be very violent; but the violence was directed towards us, not towards other people. That, we were always very careful that nobody else suffered from what we were doing. I guess we used violence because that’s the[?] one way to express, you might say shock people, you know, watching it. We wanted to stop the routine of people. You know, like they watch something and continue their business. We wanted them to have a shock value so they stop and think about what they saw.
It is not that the element of violence— if it’s too nice, they all applaud and then they forget about it. They don’t think about what took place.
I think part of the reason that Poppy and I actually narrowed in on these two events to talk about, one was very violent and the other was, in fact, not, although it still drew a kind of crowd of attention.
The memorial service.
The memorial was very quiet, in a way. Well, as I said, you know, we didn’t do— we tried to do each time, something different. So we changed the climate[?], we changed the approach, we changed what we did. [inaudible] [For instance] you might think when we took the Malevich out of the wall[?] [inaudible], it was a very quiet action, you know. But it could have been turned very violent, depending on the reaction of the guards.
And in that case, they were actually quite polite to you.
They were quite polite, yeah. But there was a potential threat, you know, that we could’ve been arrested. You never know. When we did the Whitney, the cleaning of the floor…
The mopping of the floor.
…that, too could have turned very violent. Luckily, it didn’t.
That one, you were just using dye and water.
Yeah, that was a— I’ve used dyes in my paint, and I knew acrylic paint spread[?]— You add water, it spreads. You add more water, wash it out, spread again. And understand, there are far more[?] [inaudible] to clean it up.
Yeah. [they laugh]
Because the more you use water, you know, there’s more cleaning. It divides and spreads, you know. So that was an idea I had to use acrylic paint, you know, and soap and— [they laugh]
I think, you know, Jon identified some certain events that in his mind, sort of led up to the foundation of GAAG. So I might ask you about some of those events.
Ah. Okay. Alright.
If you have nothing to say, that’s fine. But he wasn’t at the DIAS symposium in London, for instance, and I believe you were. Is that correct?
I was. I was.
Can you say something about that event and how it affected your thinking or your practice after that point, and how maybe some of the ideas you picked up there tied into what happened with GAAG?
I went over there and I did a destroy[?] a whole seventy-five typewriters— When I went there, I was working at the time with Al Hansen. You know. When I came here, Lil Picard introduced me to Al Hansen. Al Hansen took me in his group of people for his happenings. And I said[?] [inaudible]. So what I did over there in [inaudible] was just destroy a whole bunch of typewriters.
What was that?
Destroyed, with a hammer, a whole bunch of typewriters, break them apart completely.
Typewriters, right, yeah.
But then I had— I didn’t stay very long. I didn’t stay the whole symposium. I had a big fight with Metzger[?]. What happened, I think it was [?]. They did a digging in the basement, with a jackhammer, of a bookshop there, an important bookshop, library. And the wall started to pull out. And like very often[?], everybody out. So Metzger asked me to help him move everything, you know, to another place. But I[?] had to find another place. [chuckles] It started at nine o’clock. And finally, about midnight, he said— He came by [inaudible]. He just put me and somebody else in a truck with everything in, then locked the truck and went in a pub to make a phone call. Or maybe have a beer, I don’t know. In the meantime, [chuckles] the two of us were in there in the truck, steaming. [they laugh] Furious. And I missed a party. You know, it was [inaudible] [a sort of welcoming] party, one of the artists. And I was too late, because everybody was leaving when I finally got there, you know. It was about two o’clock[?], morning. I said, “Okay, well, that’s it.” I had it. And I took the first board[?] train back to Belgium at the time. So I didn’t[?] really got very much involved with the DIAS symposium.
I just did that destruction of the typewriters and then moved everything [chuckles] to another place. That’s about it. That’s my participation. So I don’t think the DIAS was influencing me in any way. I was already doing the destroying typewriters before I went there. So I don’t think it was really any importance in my work, more an [note from Christina: rather “my own”] evolution.
You did then, though, along with Jon, try to stage a DIAS USA in 1968, is that correct?
Yeah, right, right.
But there was only the preview event, as I understood.
Well, only the preview— Well, there was two events. Martin Luther King was assassinated. And the symposium was cancelled at that time, because it was decided that we simply couldn’t do a symposium, in view of that catastrophe. So it was cancelled. There was a series, one series of exhibitions or events or whatever; one exhibition at the Finch[?] Museum, and a series of events at the Judson Gallery. And that’s about it. So again, you know, something sort of fizzled because something more important took place, which was for instance, the assassination of Martin Luther King.
Yeah. And the exhibition that you called Manipulations, and there was a series of publications. Can you say something about that, how you got involved or—
Well, it started— Let’s see how it was, how it happened. Al Hansen took me, one evening, to Judson Memorial Church, to help prepare the mailing for Charlotte Moorman’s festival on a ferry boat. It was on the ferry boat. So you know, what I did is really, you know, address envelopes. [laughs; inaudible] address, you know. Just spent the evening like that. That’s where I met Jon Hendricks. And I guess he saw what I did at the ferry festival. And one day, a few days after that, I was walking on Carmine Street, where I was living at the time, and he stopped me and started to talk. He explained he was doing a series of events called manipulations; would I like to participate? I said yes. [inaudible].
Okay. Do you see that as any kind of precursor to the activities that happened with GAAG?
Well, everything you do, you know, sort of forms you. That you know it or you don’t know it. [laughs] It’s sort of a— you develop sort of mentality, thinking, sensibility of what you do, what you don’t do, how you go about what you’re going to do, you know. But again, you know, it’s something you don’t— You’re not really aware of it, but it’s there.
Yeah. Okay. Then another question I have, it’s a kind of— I mean, I think one of the reasons that this is important for this archive is that the use of public space as a kind of an art space, as a venue for art practice, and the use of protest as a form for artistic practice had some precedence, but was relatively new at this period of time. Did it seem like a leap to you? Or if not, what kind of precedents would you say you were looking [inaudible]?
Well, I wasn’t looking for precedents, but there were things. For instance, you know, you had Mike Hunter[?] was doing, which was— And he was also using public space to bring attention. Louie[?], for instance, they used guns, you know. It was another[?] way— It’s not that they want to use guns, but the way to use guns was a theater form to express what they were doing, their ideas. So again, you know, that’s something which was floating all around at the time. The Young Lords[?] were doing something similar, you know, also using public space. Not demonstration, but using public space in a different type of protest that I’ve[?] been doing. You know, Jon and I felt that going to a demonstration is fine. You know, you show your body to be counted. That’s good. But we thought that demonstration had become very— no longer efficient, in terms of provoking a reaction from the government or the people, you know. We held[?] a lot of demonstrations, you know, and nobody paid attention to what they[?] said in a demonstration. So we both felt very strongly that we were looking for some new form of bring attention to the crisis, to the problems. A new creative way, which would— a short form[?] reaction in people. So that basically, I would say, was the foundation of why we started doing what we were doing
The Black Panthers, for instance, didn’t frame their activities as an artwork, clearly.
Whereas what you were doing was framed that way.
[over Linden; inaudible]
Is the distinction important to you?
We’re artists. So we decided, let’s use our tools for this art. To express ourselves. To express ideas. You know, we became… You know, it was like Jon said one time, you know, a plumber uses his or her tools to fix the toilet of the rich. [chuckles] We use our own tools with the art to fix the toilet of the art establishment.
And I think that’s my next question. You know, the majority—not quite all, but the majority—of the actions you staged took place at museums.
Well, yeah, because for a very good reason. A lot of those trustees were also people in power. Governments or banks or— You know, people who had— making policies for everybody. So it was important to concentrate on that particular fact. That’s why, for instance, you know, for one piece we did, I did the research on who was in the board of trustees of the museum. You know, and [inaudible] turned out that they were involved in manufacturing of bombs and what have you.
So that’s why we decided to concentrate our actions in museums. The other part, of course— there was another part, which was the way museums were treating female artists, black artists, as opposed to white male artists. That was another, separate issue. We got more— Art Workers Coalition was more involved in that. But again, you know, it was the fact that museums who were controlling the art were involved in various what we call crimes against people. Being racism, sexism, war, war machines, you know, hotel[?] injustice, you know. So that’s why we decided to concentrate our actions on museums. Because [of] who the trustees were.
I mean, people like the Rockefellers and so forth, you know. [inaudible]. Those people were symbols for what was wrong with society at the time.
I mean, outside of the practice that you had with GAAG, were you participating in non-art protests, as well, in parallel?
We did. I don’t if Jon did, but I became involved also at the time— Let’s see, in 1970, I became involved with NAACP. I became the chair of the housing committee of the Staten Island branch of the NAACP for six years
And [inaudible] for instance, I got involved in the prosecution of three people—a cop, a fireman, and a real estate head[?]—who had set fire to the house of a black family who were going to move in Concord, here in Staten Island. And the local D.A. were refusing to prosecuting them. And I used[?] the federal court, the federal government. At the time, I got friendly with the head of the civil rights division in Washington, D.C., of the government. And within a week, those three people were indicted and they were convicted at the trial. [inaudible] time, you know, the fire bombing of [inaudible].
Do you remember what year that happened?
’72, something like that. ’71?
So there was other activity that would take place outside of the museum world.
[over Linden] Oh, yeah, I was involved, yeah. Yeah.
But there was this distinction between your artistic practice and your personal kind of social justice engagement.Well, it was sort of all part of one thing. We didn’t separate. You know, that’s one of the things we were fighting against, that artists separate; they did their art and then they did their protests. And Jon and I said, “No. We’re artists that use our art form, or our art, to protest.” You know, to stop that separation between well, you go to a demonstration, but then you participate in a show which is repressive. You know, we’re saying, well, no longer are we going to do that.
So it became very important. It was a very important part of our thinking.
Did your participation in exhibitions or performances or happenings within alternative spaces where you’d been invited drop off at this point in time, where you started embedding your projects in these more uninvited protest situations?
I don’t remember particular instances, but yeah, we participated [in] all kinds of things. We even participated in a conference organized by the state, art conferences. So we were involved at various levels. In other words, you know, we didn’t separate [laughs] what we were doing.
Yeah. And what spaces, what alternative spaces in New York were important at that point in time? To you?
Well, see, again, you know, I think it’s [inaudible] question. We didn’t— in terms of the[?] question that we addressed ourselves, we saw— Usually, it came as a call. Somebody would call us to do something for this particular purpose, and contact us and [we] said, “Okay, we’ll do something.” I’ll give you one example. Jon and I were working at the Judson Memorial Church for the Flag Show. The Flag Show was organized because the Marc Morell [Christina note: Marc Morell exhibition at Steven Radich Gallery] gallery had [an] exhibition of artists using the flag. And Morell got arrested and the Flag Show was organized in support of his arrest. Not in support of the arrest, I mean to protest his arrest. So we were working preparing the show, and somebody— Well, we were friends of Gregory Battcock, who an art critic, but also involved as the editor of the gay liberation newspaper.
What was the name again? I’m sorry.
Gregory Battcock, okay.
He was an art critic, he was a friend of ours, and he was also involved in the gay liberation movement. And he was editor of a newspaper called Gay Liberation, I don’t remember. And he sent somebody to contact us. They were going to do a march [inaudible] [Christina note: it was one of the very first marches] well before, you know, what happened at the pub, you know, in Greenwich Village. Maybe a year before; I don’t remember exactly. There was a march which was organized by the gay liberation movement at the time. It would start from the Loeb Center and go all the way to the Bellevue Hospital, to protest the way gay people were being treated inside hospitals. The discrimination, you know, in hospitals, if you’re gay. So we said fine and we participated. Jon— Well, I have a poster. We made a poster and I have a poster for, you know, [inaudible] supports, you know, the gay liberation movement. And I had a poster saying the Belgian government in exile supports the Gay Liberation Movement, you know, with the[?]— So you see, that’s an example. Somebody came to us, “Would you participate in what we’re doing?” I said, “Sure. Fine.” So it was not [inaudible] it was art, you know. A lot of it was, in a way, a reaction to what was going on, rather than something we were inst— The action we did, that we instigated. But we also participated in other people’s actions.
Are there any other examples like that, of groups that approached you, that you can think of now, that would stand out in your memory?
Well, I don’t know if this is really involved in the idea—I got contacted— There was a doctor, Dr. Willy Peer, in Belgium. I don’t know if you heard about the case. He was a doctor, got arrested for practicing abortion in Belgium. And I was contacted by a reporter friend of mine in Brussels, asked me if I could organize something in support of him. So I formed a committee, international committee in support of Dr. Willy Peer. But at first I was invited— first I was at the Loeb Center, you know, NYU, the university— What is it? NYU?
Yeah, NYU. To speak for a variety of people for supporting abortion, in support of free choice for women. So I spoke there. And I spoke because I was a representative of that— from Dr. Willy Peer. And then there was a town hall meeting. Again, to know[?] various people in support of free choice. And Flo Kennedy[?], who was one of our lawyers, asked me— I got there, she says, “I want you to be— you know, sit at the table on the stage and speak.” [laughs] So I sat down with a notebook, you know, and quickly wrote something. I’m not good at improvising, you know. So I quickly wrote two or three pages, you know, talking about the case of Dr. Willy Peer. I was the very first speaker, [laughs] at that town hall. Another example, you know. I was asked to do something, so I did. Not a big deal. It’s just… It happened.
Sure. [laughs] So—
It’s not that— It just happened.
[laughs] The events mostly tapered off, the actions, after the mid-seventies, more or less.
Yeah. But you’ve continued to do actions that involved the distribution of texts or sort of co-opting other distribution systems…
…since that period of time, kind of off and on.
…yeah. In the early seventies, I moved to Staten Island. So then it became more difficult for me—
At the end of the seventies?
Yeah, around, oh, July, August of ’70, I moved here. What happened, the landlord in Manhattan had tripled the rent, so we could not pay that.
So I came to Staten Island, at first living, you know, in Stapleton. [inaudible] big difference, you know. Pay $300 or pay $90.
[laughs] But the thing, it was more difficult for me to go to Manhattan. And Jon got involved in other processes[?]. There was the John and Yoko trial that he became very much involved [in]. So we just met from time to time and wrote something, and we became just mostly writing about issues. We stopped doing things at that point
What do you think— you know, different strategies are appropriate at different moments in time. And clearly, it’s a very different time now. But what are your feelings now about the kind of actions that were taking place in the early seventies, how those would or wouldn’t be effective if they were to be staged today?
Well, for one thing, the form of government has changed. Number one, we had a big edge. It hadn’t been done[?], really, at the time. And the governments and the police, they didn’t know how to react. [laughs] They were so scared. And people, many of them were also scared. Today, you wouldn’t be able to get away with it; you’d be arrested [inaudible], immediately. You know, they now how to deal [laughs] with what we did. So it would not be effective anymore. They would be simply arrested. And I spent a lot of time on a trial[?] they said it was not[?] a way to go, you know, because the Metropolitan Museum, they sent the FBI, and there was a friend of mine being put on trial. They finally dropped the charge, after one year. But I spent, at that time, most of my time at my lawyer’s office. I couldn’t do anything else. Every day, I had to go and discuss, write down things and, you know— It paralyzes you, if you have to do that. And you have to do it because otherwise, you know, you wind up in jail. So it’s not a way to go.
Do you follow the practices of artists like Reverend Billy or The Yes Men today, who also sort of sabotage situations in a kind of a different way? I would say one of the main diff— I would say they draw heavily on some of the strategies you developed…
[over Linden; inaudible]…
…but they don’t actually target art institutions.
…people trying new strategies to bring attention to problems and to, in a way, sabotage the government, because the government sabotages us, continues to do so. And let me give you one example. You saw that show at Duke[?] University. I guess the opening was five to eight or something like that. And Kristine Stiles told me the next day, when I called her, that there was somebody there, one of the teachers, one of the faculty members, who is suspected to speak to the government, to be a spy for the government; he was asking all kinds of questions that had nothing to do with the work. Was I a legal or illegal immigrant? How long I’ve been[?] in this country? When did I become a resident? [inaudible] were not— absolutely nothing to do with the show. Then, around nine o’clock, a car pull— I had already, since July, I had received also threats, telephone threats. So I have now a camera, hidden cameras all around the house. And also people came in and destroyed some trees on the property, so I have now also barbed wire in the back of the— in the garden. Anyway, so I had the cameras there. So now I see the car pulling off there, right in front. And nobody goes out. I see four people, but— And then I see I one guy taking photos, you know, [inaudible]. You could see because, you know, the place I’ve wired so that I can very well— You know, you could see the guy [laughs] turning the page, you know, and then put down. And then they were talking and then they all look. You know. They stayed till two o’clock, morning. Then they came back a little later. They came back about a week later. And they took photos of the garbage. In the garbage, there was one of these boxes. You see, it says HP?
That’s why— You see, I have a printer. And I need HP because my printer is a professional, not [inaudible] [something] you get at a store. I bought it directly from HP. And I have special paper, which I absolutely need for it to work. And also the ink. There’s a rather special process that I have. About twice a week, I call them and have them send me, you know, material. Suddenly they want— after that, suddenly HP wouldn’t give me the material. They gave me phony excuses, such as, “Well, we don’t sell to private individuals, only to corporations,” things like that. Or they will sell me, get it sent[?]— that instead of coming to the state of New York, it would go to Illinois or Texas, or it would go to California. So it would be a week before I get the material and I cannot work. So you see, the government uses disruptive tactics all the time. So if they use disruptive tactics, we can use the disruptive tactics, too.
Just to return briefly to something that came up in the interviews with Poppy and Jon, both, can you say a word now about the gender-based power dynamics that took place? You know, maybe starting in ’69, and how that changed in the first years of the seventies?[over Linden] Well, it changed, too. It changed, too, because I guess we were not aware of sexism, for instance, when we first started. We became aware [through Art Workers Coalition, through] what was going on. So it was a learning process for us. I mean, I suppose yeah, we were guilty probably of sexist attitudes in the beginning maybe, too. And we tried to change, you know, to correct. We became aware of sexism as we were working on it.
How do you think that affected— Can you give any specific examples of ways you think that affected the events you planned or the conversations you had [inaudible]?
[over Linden] Well, one thing, you know, when we wrote something. Little details, you know. Instead of referring to artists in the masculine form, we started to use he or she, you know. And we started to become aware that artists are not just male, you know, white male. [laughs] You know? So it was like a [sort of hard] learning process. But yeah, it was a hard learning[?] process, so it didn’t come naturally. You know, it was— We became aware of it and we tried to deal with it. And maybe it wasn’t— it didn’t change overnight, you know; it was a slow process of changing.
That’s more or less the end of the specific questions I have. Is there anything else you’d like to add?
No. [laughs] I prefer you ask questions. I must say, I’m not good to improvise.
Okay. Well, I guess— Let’s see, what else do I have? Your favorite event that— your favorite action that Guerrilla Art Action Group staged?
I don’t really have. I think all our actions were important. They were all dealing with a different aspect of our society, and represent each, a different way of dealing with it. So I don’t think one— that I prefer one to the other. I think they were all important, all equally important.
Were there any individuals within the museums that you were staging actions that, who you felt were sympathetic to what you were trying to do or who you did feel like you worked successfully with at any level?
Well, there were some people who were so sympathetic, and then changed their mind. I don’t know. John Hightower, for instance. At one point, [inaudible], he says, “Look, I’m trying to change things here in the museum, and you’re not helping what we’re doing.” [laughs] You know. So I think maybe he was sympathetic, but he didn’t like what we were doing. I don’t know. Or, you know, one reaction is this. I’ll show you this. This was the, you know, the… These are people of [inaudible]. The one— we went— They were having— The Metropolitan Museum was having a banquet in one of the private—
[audio file stops and re-starts]
—the Metropolitan Museum were having a banquet. So you see, there I am distributing leaflets. That’s Lucy Lippard there. But you can tell the reaction, why I was later, much later, arrested on another charge. Look. Here I am. And that’s Tom Hoving. Look at his expression.
He’s laughing, no?
Well, no, he’s mad. He’s really— You know, he has this fist in his mouth and he’s very angry. And that explains why, in a way, then, they had to arrest me. It’s right there.
Just look at his expression. He’s not looking at anybody else, he’s looking at me there.
Do you want to talk a little bit about what happened when the charges were— Because charges were pressed against you, correct?
Later, I was charged for a letter which I’ve written to all the museums, not particularly to the Metropolitan Museum, where I suggested the trustees be arrested and put on trial for what they were doing. And I guess when the Metropolitan received that letter, they called the FBI. And I was arrested and charged with making threats. And for a year, it took about a year, they finally dropped the charge. Because they really didn’t have any case. It was just harassment. But you can see, you know, that’s the reason. You know, the expression there, you know. They were trying to get back at me, you know, in some way. So they used that letter to have me arrested
Let me see if I have— if I can find it in the book[?], the letter in question. So you see, [inaudible] pretty much, you know, in that book— Yeah. This… Yeah, this was another big question, on the basis of which I was arrested.
This one. If you don’t mind, I’ll just— I know these are Jan Van Raay’s photos. I’ll just take pictures as notes for what you’re talking about…
…so we can make note of it for the interview before you put them away.
From 1974, was this one, yeah. There aren’t page numbers in this book.
[over Linden] No, [inaudible].
I’m not sure how to make a note. Maybe I’ll just take a picture of that, as well…
Yeah, sure. Sure, sure, sure, sure.
…just so that when— we know what we were doing, so later… So you have quite a bit of material here. And you keep— do you keep everything related to GAAG in this case?
I have it, but it’s upstairs in…
You have some more things upstairs?
…boxes. Probably, Jon has more documents than I, Jon Hendricks.
He said most of his documents are in a barn in Vermont or something like that.
So yours might be in better condition, actually. [chuckles]
I don’t know.
[chuckles] Is there anything that you think that you have that’s unique, that there might not be a copy of somewhere else? I mean, Jan Van Raay has all of her original— you know, she [inaudible]…
[over Linden] Yeah, Jan Van Raay has all those photos[?].
…all of those are available. What was your relationship with her? How did you know her? Did she—
Well, actually, she sort of became our photographer, according to the— You know, she came— It was difficult. You know, Peter Moore would have nothing to do with what we’re doing, particularly art[?]. And she was willing to come with us. You know, and so we’re grateful that did that.
But she didn’t participate in planning the events at all?
You would just call her every time you had something planned?
You know, lawyers always told us, “Be sure to have witnesses to whatever you do. Be sure to write down, after you’ve done something, immediately you write down what you saw and what you did.”
Who told you that?
Were you working with any specific lawyers? I mean, did you have a lawyer, or [inaudible]?
[over Linden] Well, we got lawyers because we got arrested. [laughs]
Again, you know, those are photos of Jan Van Raay, so she would have—
She has the copyright. No, I know. I’ve been in touch with her, as well. This is just— I’ll make sure that they’re not used in any improper way. This is just for notes, so we can—
Ah. Right, right.
Because I think they’re numbered on her Flickr site.
So then I can just make a note on the transcript…
…of which ones you were talking about, which ones you showed me.
That was the one we did, that baby demonstration [inaudible].
You used this image for the memorial service protest, as well, is that right?
Yeah, right, right, right.
Why was that particular image—
Well, it was a very powerful image of the war. You know, what was wrong with the war.
I mean, you know, [inaudible]— You know, that when you start to kill, you know, innocent people, it was something— you know, it really had nothing to do with the war. And actually, you know, that was against the Geneva Convention, what took place there. The same way that in the war in Iraq and Afghanistan.
You don’t involve civilian population.
Well, I mean, I think if you’d like, we can stop the recording. Maybe I can go upstairs, make a list of the…
…list of books that you still have.
Yeah, right, right, right.
I would love to take a picture of your case, if you don’t mind.
Ah. Sure, sure, go ahead.
Yeah. Okay. That sounds good. So any closing comments, before I stop things?
Well, I think— I hope that other people take up where we left and continue the process, because it needs to be continued. I mean, I voted for President Obama in the primary, I voted in the general election. But in a way, he has sort of [reneged] on a lot of things he had said he was going to or not do. And one example is— I mean, I don’t know if you read what was upstairs. You know, one of the texts which I quoted from in the New York Times, for instance, you know, they continue the process of treating the prisoners the way as they were treated with the Bush administration. And they won’t— they capitulated[?] on doing that. So that we have to continue, you know, [to explore what’s going on].
I hope I’m not the only one. [laughs]
No. No, I know you’re not. You’re not. Thank you so much.
[END OF INTERVIEW.]
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial 3.0 Unported License.
skip to top ▲