30 October 2010: Bert Rodriguez, Selected Works and Interviews


Bert Rodriguez, The True Artist Makes Useless Shit For Rich People To Buy (Window or Wall Sign), 2008, neon with transformers 59" x 56" x 3" (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, 22/25 The Universe Is Still Expanding, 2010 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, A Wall I Built With My Father (Western Bridge), 2009 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, A Meal I Made With My Mother, 2009 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, 1/25 While U Wait, 2010 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, Ebony And Ivory, 2009, rice pudding, chocolate fudge in toilets 42" x 63" x 30" (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, Is Right In Front Of You, 2007, white neon mounted in plexiglass 13" x 60" x 3" (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)




Bert Rodriguez, 19/25 Drawing Restraint In The Face Of Hostility, 2010 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)




Bert Rodriguez, Its All Because Of You, 2010, paint on wall dimensions variable (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, 18/25 Proposal For Driving My Name Across The USA, 2010 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)




Bert Rodriguez, 3/25 Every Red Car For 300 Miles, 2010 (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)



Bert Rodriguez, You Were Always Alone, 2010, neon mounted on wall 21" x 196" (photo courtesy of: http://www.minegro.com)




Bert Rodriguez, Where You End And I Begin (London), 2008, performance and installation


Two Selected Interviews: Bert Rodriguez

Number 1: Q&A: Bert Rodriguez Talks About Rubbing Art Patron Feet At Frieze

C-M: How were the feet?

BR: Some were incredibly fucking disgusting. There were times where I honestly felt like I was going to vomit.

C-M: How bad was it?

BR: Some of the feet I rubbed were swollen and bruised and there was black shit under toe nails. I was like, “Can’t you take a sponge or a toothbrush and scrub underneath that nail? I don’t think those colors exist in nature.” There was one man, his skin was falling off in my hands. His feet were fossilized. And then there were the odors. In some of the photographs, you can see that I’m turned away from the person.

C-M:Who had the best feet?

BR: Mostly Asian women. They were perfectly smooth and well-kept. They were the most hygienic when it came to their feet. The Italian women also had very nice feet.

C-M:And the worst?

BR: I don’t want to be an asshole, but the British really don’t take care of themselves. That’s always been a stereotype. Just like the teeth.

C-M: How does this experience lead you to regard the women who work at nail salons?

BR: I was thinking about that while I was doing it. This is hard work. You deal with some nasty stuff. I found that a lot of people also use this as a way of airing their grievances. I became the hairdresser or the bartender.

C-M:What did you learn about feet by doing this?

BR:  I thought a lot about the metaphors. There was the relationship between artist and patron. Then there’s the idea of Jesus rubbing the feet of his disciples. That was something that a lot of people brought up. What’s interesting to me is that I appeared to be in this subservient position, but I was really in control. The people were a tool for me to create my work.

C-M:Did you rub any well-known feet?

BR:  No. But I did rub [my gallerist’s] Fred [Snitzer’s] feet. It wasn’t supposed to happen. But there was this Italian television crew and they wanted to do an interview and needed an image of me massaging feet. So I rubbed Fred’s feet.

C-M:So what kind of feet does Fred Snitzer have?

BR:  They were old people feet. [Laughs.] They were wrinkly and the nails were a little longer than they should have been.

Number 2: An Interview with Bert Rodriguez: by Suzan Sherman

Suzan Sherman: Your work has such a fresh quality; a good part of it contains a kind of selfless, almost child-like generosity, and I’m wondering how you preserve this aspect of yourself. I read an interview with you in ARTLURKER, in which Tom [Hollingworth] asked where your ideas come from, and you said simply, “from being out in the world.” I wonder if it might even have something to do with your decision to stay here, in Miami.

Bert Rodriguez: Maybe. I’ve sheltered myself here in a certain way. I never went to grad school¯I could see where that could probably do a whole lot of damage. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that, I’m making an unnecessary judgment on grad school.

SS: People start taking themselves very seriously in grad school, for better or for worse. So tell me, how is the Bert Rodriguez Foundation doing?

BR: I’ve done that piece twice now. The first time was in El Salvador; it was pretty successful there, but at the same time the concept of a foundation has never quite worked out. It came up again because of Convention, this group show I was in this past summer at MOCA. It seemed appropriate in this shrinking economy to create a foundation designed to give me money to make art. But it’s so hard, because I’m dealing with a public that may or may not be engaged in a dialogue regarding art creation in the first place, and then to bring in an element that they’re used to seeing on the street—I stole the logo from IBM, which is very generic and corporate looking but also sort of beautiful.

It cost me more to do that project for MOCA, to get it all together and organize the foundation, than what I actually made on the project itself. My intention was to do this project over the length of the entire exhibition, but the way things turned out, in the middle of it I couldn’t afford to keep it going. I had to postpone it, which will perhaps be an interesting story later on¯a foundation designed to collect money for me to make art went bankrupt. The failure of the project works with the nature of the piece itself. I’m going to put the foundation away for a little while and see what else I can do. Because it’s a funny idea, it’s a little tongue in cheek, like a jab at the market system. I’d eventually like to have it turn into something more substantial, along the lines of the David Lynch Foundation, which collects a boatload of money to teach transcendental meditation to students in low-income areas, but also have my art be a part of it. But this whole tongue-in-cheek thing that I was doing, it’s just not there yet

SS: What are you working on now?

BR: Not much. Summer is always slow in Miami. It’s like the world just disappears.

SS: So the fairs that come here every year really energize you.

BR: Not necessarily. Summers are always my recharging time. I’m loading up with information and experience so that when I have the urge to sit down and make something, I’ll have all this stuff that I’ve been filing away. I’m still working on little projects, I’m doing some DJ performance for a show in a couple weeks, and I’ll probably be going to Berlin to do some projects there, and I think I have a solo show sometime next year… but for the most part I’m just hanging out right now.

SS: You were born in Miami?

BR: Born and raised.

SS: So you saw the first art fairs come to the city; you’ve witnessed how Miami’s changed.

BR: I think the art fairs are great, and to a certain extent I’ve made a lot of money because of them over the years. But in another respect, the thing that bugs me is that the younger artists here don’t know the world without the fairs. I see them hungry to sell their work and getting pissed when it doesn’t, and they’ve only been out of school for a year. It’s like, come on, find some warehouse and do a great fucking show, beat yourself up for a couple of years, have a good time, so when you’re in your fifties you’ll have something interesting to say to somebody.

Just a few days ago I saw the documentary The Cool School. It’s about L.A. in the ’50s, when the first few artists decided to stay there instead of moving to New York. There was one gallery, Ferus, that represented them all—Ed Kienholz, Ed Ruscha, Craig Kauffman, Wallace Berman, Ed Moses, Robert Irwin. It blew up through them, and those artists became international where there had been nothing in L.A. before. There are so many parallels to what’s been happening in Miami in the past 10 years.

For a long time there was nothing here. That’s not to say there weren’t artists working, but there wasn’t attention paid, there was always that stigma which I’m sure existed in the early ’50s in L.A. that whatever you do won’t mean anything here, you have to go somewhere else. And it took those few artists to say, I don’t feel like going anywhere else, I want to stay here, and they did what they could with what they had. The other parallel is Frederic Snitzer, which is still the premier gallery in Miami. There were other galleries at that time, but none had the reputation Snitzer had. Interestingly enough, all of us who chose to stay in Miami ended up being represented by him. And we have the benefit of this huge art fair coming and dropping its load on us every year. Miami now seems like not only a viable place to make work, but a lucrative place to make work too. Maybe not with the economy the way it is right now, but two years ago, or a year ago, there were artists moving from New York and other major cities to Miami. And it’s been cool to see that shift, from nothing to the outside world wanting to come here.

SS: It sounds like you don’t have an inclination to go anywhere else—at least right now.

BR: Yeah, but I travel a lot. I used to go to New York at least once a month for at least a week. Just to see my friends and see shows. I had a girlfriend who was living there. I love L.A., but it’s too far away. The way I see it, it’s all an economy of gesture, which is something that’s always in my mind when I’m making work, when I’m cooking, when I’m eating. I want to do the least possible with the most effect. I have no reason to leave because everything that I require exists in the world that I have here. I can make my work, I can make a living, I can live reasonably stress-free. Unless something changes, I see no reason to leave.

SS: I’ve been struck by the sense of community in Miami. The collectors really seem to nurture the local artists here.

BR: They’re really involved, yeah. Almost dangerously, sometimes. I saw a lot of that happen too. I saw them coming in—I don’t remember when the shift happened and collectors became public members of the arts community, but for me personally, I was running the Rubell Collection for the first five years it was open to the public. I developed their public programming, and it was just me in this giant warehouse with a bunch of really incredible art. It’s always struck me that I have these personal relationships that artists in other parts of the world would kill for, and would take decades for them to develop. It’s strange to have that kind of access.

When it opened {in 1994] the Rubell Collection was a really interesting model for the future of how the art world was going to function, because museums at that time didn’t have the public profile that they have now. You had these collectors who were popping up, who were opening their own private museums with all of this work that local museums would never even touch, like “Oh Charlie Charlie,” this giant orgy by Charles Ray. A museum would never buy that piece, but here it is in Miami. For a minute it seemed like private collectors opening up their own spaces was going to be the new model of the museum, private collectors opening up their own spaces, because it was affordable here, and it would start branching out and the traditional museum model would just die. It seemed really cool that that was happening.

SS: Why?

BR: Number one, it’s a much more effective system to have a person who has the money, and the balls, to just buy whatever the hell they want. It’s a very clear vision of collecting. But it still has all of the benefits of an institution because they bring in artists to do lectures, which from an educational standpoint still functions the same way as a museum. It’s still sharing information with the public. And I think it’s actually nicer to have a concise, personalized vision¯it’s more unique, whereas a museum ends up having to please so many people that a lot of the shows aren’t all that interesting.

Just recently the Brooklyn Museum showed Hernan Bas, which was a Rubell collection exhibition. That’s brilliant to me, a museum buying a show from a private museum. And it’s traveling now. So instead of asking the Rubells to donate this work, and then maybe show it someday when they’re dead, they can borrow a really interesting show now and set up a little traveling schedule for it. I don’t know if this is a sign of things to come, if those relationships between private and public institutions are forming, but that would be awesome.

SS: I wanted to ask you about being a first-generation-born American. I’m wondering if that immigrant attitude of picking yourself up by your bootstraps has rubbed off on you in some way.

BR: I think so. I used to go to work with my dad when I was a boy. And his job sucks. He’s in carpentry and works on roofs for eight hours a day. It must have instilled like some kind of work ethic in me.

SS: But wanting to find a different path too.

BR: I was a nerdy little kid; I was pretty good at sports, but I was so much more interested in observing and writing notes. I mean all those books there [pointing to a shelf] are sketchbooks from my growing up. I would go to the mall and watch people and write about what they were doing. I was like a social anthropologist, that’s what it felt like. And a lot of my work comes out of that—

SS: Like your Whitney Biennial piece.

BR: Yeah, that was totally one. My parents came here looking for betterment, but they really knew nothing about this culture. When you look at it historically, you have the initial immigrants that arrive in a country, they put down their roots, they usually have hard-working, menial jobs, and then they have their kids, and the kids are the ones that go to school and end up in white-collar jobs. They make a decent living, raise a family, and then those kids that are already three generations removed are the ones that become doctors or lawyers, and it’s their kids that become the artists. The kids of well-to-do doctors and lawyers are the ones that have the leisure time, the natural curiosity because they’re surrounded by that level of cultural dialogue. So for somebody like me to circumvent all those generations and just go straight into art—it’s stupid to say that I didn’t have a choice, because that sounds fatalistic, but it’s who I am. When I first started, it was hard to convince my family that this is a reasonable pursuit. Fortunately I’ve had some success that balances it out for them; they’ll see an article about me in the paper.

When I was younger I always felt that there was something wrong with wanting to be an artist, that I’m being lazy and not paying my dues, this weird sense of not earning a living by being an artist. Because things come a little easier for me. There’s this tremendous chasm between what I do, and what my family has done, which has made me guilty, but that’s changed in my mind and heart because the truth is the only way to really honor the sacrifice they made by leaving Cuba and shooting the craps and going for broke in this completely foreign country is to do exactly what my heart desires, to follow my nature to its conclusion, to do exactly what I’m supposed to be doing. I’m honoring their gesture of sacrificing everything so that I could have a better life. That’s awesome to me.

SS: There’s that photograph of a performance that you did, cooking with your mom¯

BR: Yeah, that was the full circle moment. And it’s funny because those two projects happened after I had that realization. I was awarded a grant to go to Paris and do a project there. I was in this foreign place and didn’t understand the language, and I wasn’t sure what to do with myself, but I thought it would be interesting to bring my parents to Paris. They’ve never been out of the country; they’ve never traveled to Europe. So the fact that their son, this person they’ve sacrificed for and has chosen to go straight to being an artist who probably won’t make any money in his life, and do all this crazy stuff that may mean something when he dies, maybe not, doesn’t matter, to bring the circle completely around he’s bringing them across another ocean to have this experience that’s completely different from the one they did before. Now I’m the one that’s sort of caring for them in this foreign country, and the thing that they’re doing in this country to earn a living is to make art with me, which is something completely foreign and abstract for them. I could see them sort of changing; I could see my father’s pride … what’s the other word I’m looking for? In Spanish, it’s orgullo. Excitement, I guess.

My father and I built this wall together. I did two separate pieces for the Paris show. One was a meal I made with my mother and the other was a wall I built with my father. Because he’s a carpenter, and she’s a cook. I wanted to bring in these two aspects of what they normally do, but add this sort of art variable that changes the experience for them. Like what they’re doing is no longer just making food for somebody, it’s an elevated experience because it’s now a part of an art conversation. The people coming to see them work are aware of that and are engaging with them at that level of conversation; it’s not just ‘oh you’re making me food, thanks.’

My father doesn’t know about minimalism, but here’s this giant minimalist object he made out of the same materials as the rest of the walls in the gallery, but the walls in the gallery aren’t art, and this object is. It is an object of art, it has to be revered differently, and seen with metaphor and injected with all this mythology, because the title suggests that I built it with my father, and it’s a wall, and like all the metaphors of walls, emotional walls, embedded in this thing that’s nothing. And my dad’s connecting all those dots, he’s sensing there’s something more going on, and you could see the pride. He was showing people the inconsistencies in the wall, where we fucked up because we didn’t have time. And that was beautiful to me.

SS: It’s interesting that it was a blank wall, too, because of the expectation that you would put something on top of it.

BR: Right¯the wall itself isn’t the art; it’s what you put on the wall that’s art. So it was sticking it a little bit to the institution…and then making the meal with my mother was exactly the same. She was doing what she normally does, but here it is at this heightened level of discourse. It opens itself up to a completely different conversation. My hope would be that when she makes food again, that every once in a while that experience will sort of filter itself back in, and it’ll change her awareness of who she is and what she does and how she fits into everything. Which is, in the most ideal situation, what art should be doing for as many people as possible.

SS: One final question, which relates to the piece we were just talking about as well as your piece at the Whitney. Do you have a videotape of your mom cooking, or of your Biennial “therapy” sessions? How do you feel about documentation?

BR: I’m such a stickler for things being appropriate. There are certain circumstances where documentation is naturally a part of the art experience. Like the meal with my mom, I did take photos of it, and the photos are proof that I did it, but that isn’t the artwork. It’s not like I could turn around and sell a photo of that—I could, conceivably, and probably make a decent amount of money. But I really beat myself up a lot about making sure that I see an idea from every possibly angle, and see all of its potential, and that’s why I spend so much time thinking through everything that I do. And that’s something my dad said to me a long time ago, when I used to go to work with him. He would say, ‘measure twice, cut once.’ Because otherwise you’re just wasting your time. So I’m constantly measuring twice, and then just going out into the world and cutting wood. I don’t want to waste time. I want the gesture to be as effective as possible. And as far as documentation, I’ll document it for historical reasons, but a lot of times the idea is the thing itself, and unless documentation is naturally a part of that idea, it’ll just seem like I’m making art, which I don’t want to do. I don’t want to make something that’s 40” x 50” that looks like artwork you hang in a gallery. I’m not against making art, because that’s what I’m doing, I’m just making my kind of art. But I don’t want to do this second step. That’s just not economic, it’s ineffective, and it’s also a little self-conscious. Which so many artists suffer from. I want to stay away from that as much as possible. Or at least fight it as long as I can. Because one day I’m sure I’m going to sell out, just like everybody else. But at least for the time being I can say that I haven’t.




Image Source:



























About fARTiculate

Transmissions from an island somewhere in the Philippines. Integrating daily art practice & other initiatives from the physical world down to virtual space. To see my daily artworks, you can visit my site at: http://dailypractice.tumblr.com http://brownskinartist.multiply.com
This entry was posted in Uncategorized and tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s