Charlotte Burns: Hello and welcome to In Other Words, where we cover everything you’ve ever wanted to know about the art world, but didn’t know who to ask.
I’m your host, Charlotte Burns, and we are coming to you live from the Kramlich Residence in Napa Valley, California—the home of Pamela Kramlich and Dick Kramlich. This unique property designed by Herzog & de Meuron to showcase the collection, which is one of the world’s most extensive holdings of video, new media, and time-based works of art. The Kramlichs are also the founders of the New Art Trust for the advancement of media arts, scholarship and preservation. Thank you so much for hosting us today.
Before we get onto today’s episode, here is your regular reminder to subscribe to our In Other Words newsletter at artagencypartners.com. And now on to today’s show.
I’m not entirely sure how to begin this podcast after touring a collection that’s so specific and thought-provoking. It’s very tough work, and it’s installed like I’ve never seen video and time-based work.
With MoMA, the new opening display of the permanent collection really points to new ways of thinking of art history—and the heroism of painting and sculpture is slightly shoved to one side to make way for lots of different media.
Stuart Comer: I think when the Kramlichs began collecting video, at that stage very few museums had committed to it in an important, rigorous or serious way. And, if they did have spaces at all, they tended to be a single black box gallery. In general, it was not a deep commitment.
At the Museum of Modern Art, we were very much on the vanguard of embracing video—not least due to the curator Barbara London—from roughly 1970 on. But you can’t really even compare now the range of possibilities, both through technology and architecturally, to really become more playful and experimental.
Charlotte Burns: Pam and Dick, you picked me up this morning and we drove from San Francisco here to Napa. You really live with the art you have. The Kramlich Collection holds more than 150 media works by more than 130 artists who come from over 20 different countries, from the mid-1960s through the present. And the thing you really understand walking around this property in Napa is that you’re capsuling the history of this art as well. You can really see the lo-fi beginnings of that kind of crazy experimentation of the 1960s and 1970s, through to some cinematic productions now.
The work you live with, it’s not easy work to live with. This is sort the opposite of trophy collecting. This is really meaty stuff. One of the works in your home is Dara Birnbaum’s Tiananmen Square: Break in Transmission (1990) work. There is work here covering a gamut of emotions. There’s the high anxiety of Nauman through to Richard Mosse‘s works about immigration [“Heat Maps” (2016)]. These are artists really tackling what it means to be alive in this society.
It’s not your typical collection. What is it that drew you to these artists?
Dick Kramlich: Well first of all, you ought to know that Pam and I love art at all levels.
I want to say, also, that we greatly respect our relationship with all three institutions that we formed the New Art Trust with—namely the Tate Modern in London, New York MoMA and SFMOMA. The fact that the directors of each of these organizations took an active role in the evolution and oversight of what we’re doing is a remarkable contribution. It’s led us to evolve the taste and standards that we have in going forward, where we could make a contribution that wouldn’t be something that necessarily an institution would leap to do in the beginning because it has to go through various acceptable barriers.
Charlotte Burns: Iterations.
Dick Kramlich: We did this because I was spending my life in Silicon Valley and Pam was in the art world, and when we got together, we thought there was more than a passing interest in having us collaborate. And it really turned out to be a very useful combination where we’re always testing ourselves and testing each other. It’s not exactly smoking your pipe and putting your feet in the chair and looking at a painting.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Dick Kramlich: This is a very dynamic situation: Pam brought an undeniable level of standards. Particularly when you have a new art form, you have to have somebody who’s actually willing to look down the line and make judgements. Not easy to do.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Pamela Kramlich: Years ago when I was at Berkeley, we had a course by Alfred Frankenstein, who was the critic for the papers here. He led us through the development of each one of these periods in Modern contemporary art, and I wondered what was going to come next. At that point we were in Conceptualism.
I just felt that it had to be something with technology because that was becoming the primary focus of the Bay Area and what Dick was doing. That’s why I thought it’d be really fun to explore it.
In many ways, we’ve sponsored these young people who were really pushing the envelope and trying to use the capacity for what Walter Benjamin said: this is art in the age of mechanical reproduction, and what is the possibility of that going forward? And Nam June Paik talked about it too, the telecommunications highways. I mean, here were the artists talking about things that we’re doing now.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Pamela Kramlich: We started this in 1987—which actually is quite a distance back. In fact, I can’t even believe that many years have gone by that we’ve been attempting to put this collection together.
It was important to have the quality that would be taken care of and collected for the long-term. If we would buy things that didn’t resonate with people, people wouldn’t take care of them.
Charlotte Burns: Right. That’s interesting.
Pamela Kramlich: I said to myself, “Well, we’ve got to buy masterpieces, or what I think will be the masterpieces of the future, and take care of them.” And of course, Tiananmen Square [Break in Transmission] (1990) was one of the first ones—and it also was one of the ones that led me to wanting to do the conservation aspect. The New Art Trust was stimulated in many ways by the problems of taking care of Tiananmen Square, because the little monitors within the piece were dying and we couldn’t find replacements.
Charlotte Burns: For listeners who aren’t clear, the New Art Trust is a consortium founded in 1997 between MoMA, Tate, SFMOMA and the Bay Area Video Coalition. It’s essentially a resource for institutions and curators and collectors to think about time-based media art. And I wanted to ask you, what are the most common misunderstandings about this kind of art?
Pamela Kramlich: We created a platform which was actually under the Tate Modern heading called Matters in Media, because we realized there were a lot of questions around this field and it became a resource for people taking care of media arts.
Stuart Comer: That’s true. All three institutions—and both of you, Pam and Dick—there were a number of workshops held in London and New York and San Francisco that really led to drafting a set of guidelines both for institutions and for private collectors effectively to decrease the intimidation factor. Technology just seems so scary to some people, and they just think, “How am I ever going to preserve this work for posterity?” Everything is so variable and volatile, it can be a little bit unnerving. And so, we tried to develop a set of very clear guidelines that would really help encourage people to commit to acquiring this kind of work for their collections.
To this day, all three institutions are still actively discussing the highest standards for how to preserve and conserve and champion media work.
Charlotte Burns: It’s really fascinating to think about how to stay ahead or even current with showing this work and the way that you have to imagine a future you can’t yet think of. How do you think about that architecturally?
Stuart Comer: The Kramlich’s new complex really did begin in part as means of thinking about how does one live with this kind of work, as you mentioned earlier, Charlotte. On the one hand, I always think it’s slightly ironic that people frequently will say, “Well, how do you live this with work?”, when for generations we have lived with television and increasingly we live with our iPhones glued to our hands.
And so, we are all directly tied to electronic images 24/7 now.
So, to suggest that we’re not living with this kind of imagery already, is a little bizarre.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Stuart Comer: But I mean, obviously, to live with a video work is a very different kind of challenge than to live with a painting.
Especially, Herzog & de Meuron have been one of the architectural firms most committed to really thinking about this problem. They themselves were very inspired by the artist Dan Graham, who really was an early theorist of both video and television and its impact on society. They’ve been really thinking about these kinds of questions on a very deep, philosophical level as well as the practical level. And I think that led to the complexity and the sense of wonder that I think a lot of people have when they visit the Kramlich home.
Dick Kramlich: Those are good comments, Stuart, and I also am thinking back to the comments, Charlotte, that you made at the outset here. My two cents on this is that the thing that’s more difficult than the mode of the art being shown is the content of it—
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Dick Kramlich: —and I think that one thing that we have not shied away from is taking very confrontational issues in humanity around the globe and putting them face to face with the viewer, and without our trying to bias the viewer in any way, just raise the questions because these are all confrontational issues. I think that art plays a really big role in allowing people to get outside of their own catacombs and really range across the world and see—in a very direct way, as a consequence of the technology— what it’s like here or there, under certain circumstances and being tested by other psychological issues.
Charlotte Burns: I think you’re totally right. The thing we’re talking about is new media and time-based art. But actually, when you’re walking around the collection, you are just thinking about the work that you’re seeing and what that specific thing is saying. And what the Napa residence has done so well is to give each work that space, spotlight, time and the acoustics that it needs.
It’s really about these confrontational works that are asking you quite difficult questions about, “What does a human life mean?”
Dick Kramlich: Right.
Charlotte Burns: What is the cost of one person, whether it’s looking at the Jane and Louise Wilson work in—
Dick Kramlich: Stasi City (1997).
Charlotte Burns: —Stasi City, or works about massacres.
Pamela Kramlich: Taryn Simon.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah, the Taryn Simon work. Even just the specific angst of the individual, with that Nauman when you walk in. We could get stuck on media, but in a way, that’s limiting because it’s really about the scope of the collection, which is tough. Why are you drawn to those works? Have you always been? Did it progress?
Dick Kramlich: I’m going to turn that one over to my wife and my partner and my friend and my critic.
Pamela Kramlich: Really?
Dick Kramlich: All of the above. But one fundamental issue that we faced with that Aebhric and Pam and I all discussed was how to show these works. Should we show them simultaneously? We concluded that the only fair way to do this is one after the other so people’s concentration wasn’t disturbed by intrusions of other pieces.
Pamela Kramlich: Well, if you go back to the works of art that mean something to you in the course of studying art history—I mean, I go back to the Bound Slave (c. 1516-19) of Michelangelo, and the reason I go back to that work is because there’s so much energy tied into a piece of marble that’s trying to burst out. It’s dynamic. It lives. I guess that’s what I was looking for in choosing these pieces: you don’t forget them. They keep ringing in your head. And I would use that as a standard for choosing these pieces. If it didn’t do that for me, I didn’t want to own it. It had to say something to me.
Then you start to look for masterpieces—or what I learned were masterpieces through studying the field—and then tried to figure out in this particular capacity, where you can have sound and movement and light. But you needed it to be something that was more poetry, more an experience really.
Charlotte Burns: How has collecting changed from when you began the collection to now?
Pamela Kramlich: Well, we’re more ambitious because we have a place to put the bigger pieces. We have some works that are nine screens. We’ve been working on purchasing this for four years—but it has to do with the components that go with it, which of course the artist is very particular about—a three screen work with sculpture. I’m really excited about it. Stuart, you probably know the work, it’s Sisters, Saints, and Sibyls (2004) of Nan Goldin.
Stuart Comer: Oh, it’s wonderful. Yep.
Pamela Kramlich: But that’s another really powerful work. I almost worry about people coming in and seeing that because when I think about that work, it makes me emotional just thinking about it.
Stuart Comer: We’re going to have to change the final gallery to a therapy room.
Dick Kramlich: Well that brings up this issue of the word masterpieces. When you really think back, and over the ages of what constitutes a masterpiece, it really usually is dealing with some fundamental human problem and how the artist has dealt with that. When Pam says she was only waiting for masterpieces, that means it’s going to be something that really tugged at you emotionally and intellectually.
Stuart Comer: We actually opened the second floor gallery [at MoMA], which is art from roughly 1979 to the present in part with Dara Birnbaum’s Technology/Transformation: Wonder Woman (1978-79)—
Charlotte Burns: Oh, it’s so great.
Stuart Comer: —and we wanted to make the point that that is really one of the great works of the last 50 years—
Dick Kramlich: Totally.
Stuart Comer: —even though it exists in open distribution: it’s not editioned, it’s not a rare object that only exists as a unique entity. And I think to Pam’s point earlier about Walter Benjamin and The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction, that is the reality that we face, and I think we’re still adjusting to understanding the ramifications of that.
Pamela Kramlich: In the beginning, the artists were so worried about their material being put online and therefore it not having the value of, say, a painting and traditional ownership. But I’ve always thought that it’s the other way around. Even if you see it online, that’s its own form of letting people know and become aware of things. I don’t want to use the word advertising in a negative way; I want to use it in a positive way—
Charlotte Burns: Yeah, dissemination.
Pamela Kramlich: —but it really lets the information get out there so that people are familiar enough with it that they want to go see it installed correctly in an institution. And that’s what we’re trying to establish, too: what are those parameters? What are those standards that make it the real artwork?
Stuart Comer: You just reminded me of something Pam. I think it was probably in late 2004. It was one of the New Art Trust workshops that took place here at MoMA in New York, and Dick came into the room and I remember, Dick, you asking something like, “Have you heard about this new platform that’s going to be launching in a few months? It’s called YouTube.”
YouTube obviously has changed our field dramatically and, I think, the extent to which also major museums or a collection like the Kramlichs are in a position to show the work as it was intended to be shown.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Stuart Comer: But we can raise awareness about that work and in a way we could not previously, and any art students can now access certain works of art through YouTube. We need to also educate them that that isn’t necessarily the conditions in which the artist intended the work to be seen—but it’s certainly a lot better than a black and white photograph in a textbook or a postcard, you know?
Pamela Kramlich: That’s exactly right.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Stuart Comer: It’s really helped, I think, radically grow the appetite for this kind of work or for performance documentation as well.
Charlotte Burns: I think as well that brings us to this idea of value. What we’re talking about is this idea of the uniqueness of the object, the ownability. The idea that, “It’s mine, I can have it on my wall. I acquired it, and it’s now my possession”. What we’re talking about here is a different kind of thing, and I think that’s quite interesting
We talk a lot about museums and we talk a lot about the market, and we see the influence of the market on museums. It’s often more negative, the way that the market can shape institutional thinking. You are collectors who have shaped institutional thinking, but it’s a different kind of approach to value and sharing of information, and a way of thinking about it rather than creating markets and monetary value.
Dick Kramlich: Well, we didn’t go into this to make money, however we’re alert to values and all that. I think the pathway on this was forged by Andy Warhol, because he is the first media artist, really, because he created iterations of pieces.
You know, life is changing all the time and it’s hard to look ahead and imagine. So, I’d say that there’s been a lot of value created in terms of the artistic value, without respect to the monetary value. And if that happens, so be it. And if it doesn’t happen, so be it.
Pamela Kramlich: I’ve always worried about that from the standpoint of the artists, because the artist does have to make a living. And the other thing that we’ve found through being supporters of Matthew Barney‘s “Cremaster Cycle” (1994-2002), for instance—from the beginning to the end, because we have all five of the films—was that in the beginning, his ambitions were lower because he didn’t have the budget to make longer and longer films. By the time he got to the end, he was making three-hour films or more, and the budget was significantly higher. So, that was actually a wonderful journey to go on with him. But we believed in this artist and his work gained more and more attention and—
Charlotte Burns: Scale.
Pamela Kramlich: —scale and import, actually. And he was able to tell his whole story, which I think is one of the really amazing works of art that tracks a ten-year period.
Dick Kramlich: This raises another issue, though. When we started out to build this particular building by Herzog & de Meuron, it took us 18 years to do.
Charlotte Burns: It’s a commitment.
Dick Kramlich: A huge commitment through these ups and downs. There wasn’t anything standardized, so it cost a ton of money to do all this.
If you really think about the idiosyncratic contrast between having art that has questionable value—you don’t know whether it’s a lot, a little, or something in between—setting up a spot that is by design and by dedication devoted to optimizing the medium itself, it’s pretty exciting to do that.
I’m here to try to help make a difference, and I support Pam in what she’s doing in a big way—and I add my own two cents on some of it.
Charlotte Burns: When you say to make a difference, what do you mean by that? How would you define that?
Dick Kramlich: I am a great believer that the medium has the obligation—and maybe that’s too strong a word—but almost obligation to present to the audience something that’s meaningful in the game of human life.
After all, the United States is a country of immigrants. And so, everybody had to go through some kind of a struggle to get here: some more than others.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah, absolutely.
Dick Kramlich: But I mean, that is why I like this sort of thing. I think there’s a message there. What people come up with as resolution, it’s up to them.
Pamela Kramlich: You’ve been doing this all your life, anyway. I mean your business is about looking for people who are going to change the way we do things or the way we think about things.
Dick Kramlich: Right. I’m into this for that.
Pamela Kramlich: I think the artists are just as much entrepreneurs in their own way. They’re entrepreneurs about thinking and understanding.
Dick Kramlich: So, when I was going to Harvard Business School there wasn’t almost anything having to do with entrepreneurialism. There’s only one course that had anything to do with entrepreneurialism. It was called manufacturing, and it had nothing to do with manufacturing. It was taught by General Doriot, who was a French general in World War II in charge of logistics for all the Allied troops. And all he does is he gets in there and he has a spirit of entrepreneurialism.
I’ve always been into that. I like adventure and I’ll play the game. I’m just in for living.
Pamela Kramlich: What I like is the possibility going forward that we can use Dick’s knowledge of the things that are going on in the Valley to actually support this field and hopefully come up with some contributions to keep this field alive, and keep the works alive in the very best way that we can.
We’ve had artists come to Dick and ask to be taken to certain companies that are providing certain kinds of technology—
Dick Kramlich: New forms.
Pamela Kramlich: —to see if they can even push their artwork forward.
Dick Kramlich: And that’s a two-way street, by the way.
Pamela Kramlich: So that’s the part that I think is what we’re looking for going forward, is to try and forge—
Charlotte Burns: Forge more of those relationships.
Pamela Kramlich: Yes.
Dick Kramlich: Let me add one thing on that Harvard Business School—you know, I liked the school and all that. They should have become much more entrepreneurial much faster, and they didn’t pick it up quickly enough. I mean I am critical of that. That’s why Stanford did such a good job of ingraining Silicon Valley into their core study.
Charlotte Burns: Well, on the way up, we were talking in the car journey you were asking which platforms we distribute the podcast through and I mentioned Apple and Spotify—which you were an investor in, and you were one of the first-round investors in Apple and you said, “There were two other companies that actually were a little bit better—
Dick Kramlich: Technically.
Charlotte Burns: —Yeah, technically had better proposals. But you liked the moxie of Apple. So, I think there is something about following risk.
I would just like to say we’ve just been joined by the artist, Richard Mosse. I think that’s probably indicative of the way that things roll around here, that artists come and go.
Pamela Kramlich: We’re really excited because “Incoming” is opening; it’s a really exciting time for us to be able to offer this work to SFMOMA to be shown, and for us to really have a celebration tomorrow for you.
Richard Mosse: I’m here with my collaborators—Ben Frost and Trevor Tweeten—who I made this immersive video artwork with over the last four years, five years in Europe, the Middle East and North Africa and with the great generosity and blessing of Pam and Dick Kramlich. They’ve not only acquired the piece, but they’ve allowed it to be shown in SFMOMA for the general public in the Kramlich Room.
I think you guys have been progenitors: not only collectors, but you’ve helped many video artists find a way to produce these works and bring them into the world, and guided them not just in that way but also in terms of a more pastoral way. You’ve sort of welcomed them into your family on some level, into your home.
Pamela Kramlich: It’s been really fun because so many of our really good friends are video artists. Maybe because we love the way they’re thinking, so we have a lot to talk about. So, it’s a natural kind of friendship that develops.
Charlotte Burns: Do you want to talk a little bit about the work itself?
Richard Mosse: Yes. So, Incoming (2017) is a three-screen video artwork, with 7.3 surround sounds: a deeply immersive spatial experience for a black-box video chamber environment. It deals with the refugee crisis, as it’s known in Europe. So, the journeys of refugees from Syria, Afghanistan, Iraq, but also Sub-Saharan and Sahel—“Horn of Africa” nations—across the sea onto European shores. And that’s just when their journey sort of begins, actually, and the struggle they have thereafter to integrate. And it’s shot with a thermographic military grade thermal camera, which is not really for general use. It’s designed for militaries and for police forces and it’s semi-classified technology. It’s a weapons-grade camera that can image human body heat from a distance of 18 miles away, day or night. So, it’s extremely powerful to the point of being slightly sinister.
This is a tool of government control and surveillance, and I read it as an aspect of the military humanitarian complex that constitutes Europe’s response to the refugee crisis. Instead of welcoming these people in and processing their asylum cases one by one, we’ve chosen to enforce “Fortress Europe” borders using these technologies and to put them into very inadequate refugee camps, in many cases.
So, the piece is really intended to act like a mirror of our failure towards the refugees who’ve landed on European shores. And that’s an ongoing problem, we just don’t see it. It’s not as visible anymore in Europe because we’ve outsourced it to authoritarian regimes such as Turkey, Sudan, Niger, Libya. And that’s even more problematic, in a way. It’s a total violation of International Refugee Law. Out of sight, out of mind, we don’t see it because it’s being externalized from the shores of Europe. So really, what I suppose we’re trying to do in making the piece is to make this more visible, of course. And to turn the camera against itself.
Pamela Kramlich: That’s what I really admire in what you’re doing. If we can’t come face-to-face with these issues and get close to them, we’ll never be able to solve them because we won’t understand. And I think you’ve done a beautiful job of making these images that you can get into, and that you can try and empathize with these human issues that are going on.
Dick Kramlich: The sound is a big part of the presentation, too. It’s very powerful when you get these huge sounds that go along with what you’re seeing on the screen.
Richard Mosse: The sound was by Ben Frost.
Charlotte Burns: One of the points that this brings us back round to is this idea, here, that the artists have central to the construction of space. The works went before the building.
And Stuart, that’s one thing I really found moving walking around MoMA: the idea of art as a living thing, of not forgetting the artist in the art world.
Stuart Comer: Every museum engaging with contemporary art would like to think it is that artist’s museum, to some extent. In terms of Pam and Dick’s collection, I think they were having very intimate, direct conversations with the artists because we were all figuring this out as it went along. There was no rule book and so others—conservators, collectors and institutions, especially through the platform like the New Art Trust—have had to come to grips to get with this together.
I mean there’s no question that the internet has changed how we think about how history connects up: that there’s more than one history; that the way you might combine images is very, very different than it used to be. And also, of course, a more global outlook comes out of the kind of hyper-connectivity of the current moment.
To be able to step back and encounter histories of genocide or immigration in a work like Richard’s—which is a more immersive, experiential work rather than just a constant news feed on Twitter—is one of the achievements, I think, of the spatialization of this kind of material beyond just the single-screen, single-channel monitor work.
At MoMA, there’s no question that now we’re thinking of images in which the context in which they’re presented is constantly changing, constantly shifting, so that you can take something as iconic as Picasso’s Les Demoiselles d’Avignon (1907) and find multiple ways to frame it. It’s not a fixed history anymore.
Without our experience and encounter of electronic media—all of that, consciously or not—I think has fed into this model. Certainly, we’re not the only museum moving in that direction. But how we construct history now, I think, is a very different enterprise than it was when we were just dealing with books.
Dick Kramlich: Totally. Just knowing a little bit about the boundaries of the institution that you’re involved with—there are very few boundaries. I take my hat off to you and also to Neil Benezra at SFMOMA.
It’s not a simple thing to impose this whole new art form. The cameras that Richard is using, they’re called weapons until they are declassified. Then they’re called cameras.
I think both these institutions and I know others—Tate’s been always ahead of the pack—I can’t imagine having partnerships with anybody other than the three of you, who’ve done such a great job. So, we’re very lucky to have spent this much time and learned so much collectively.
Stuart Comer: But I would just quickly go back to the entry foyer of your house. It continues to host Dara Birnbaum’s Tiananmen Square piece. With everything happening in Hong Kong at the moment, not to mention Beirut and Chile and pretty much all worldwide—the way in which she addressed the events at Tiananmen Square through that work is so powerful. You want to talk about violence and its relationship to the war machine and to the media. I mean, that work really brings it together in a nutshell in a pretty incredibly precise way. But like we’ve said, it’s not necessarily the kind of work one would live with in a home. Normally it’s intended for an institution.
Charlotte Burns: Is that something you think about, Stuart, the idea of censorship with these kinds of works?
Stuart Comer: Absolutely. Well, look—I mean, there is almost no coverage in United States media about what’s going on in Beirut at the moment. And yet, my Instagram feed is all Lebanese artists and curators posting footage from the streets of Beirut. So, in a way that’s what Dara was dealing with: that the state media was shut down, but the people took it to the street.
So, the ways in which artists equipping themselves with cameras can produce an alternative to an official media take on situation is still a really radical and powerful possibility, I think, but one that’s always at risk too.
What we saw in the Arab Spring I found incredibly inspiring and I think you will continue to see people use technology, use cameras, as weapons, to try to get their voices heard.
Dick Kramlich: You know that makes me think of other things. But you know… I’ve been fortunate enough to been involved in 12 companies that have gone from zero to over a billion. And as I reflected on either the founders or the CEOs of these companies, I concluded there wasn’t one that didn’t have an artist as either the founder or the CEO. Now, he or she didn’t say that they were artists, but I know how to question people now.
I tell you, it’s incredible how much I’ve learned as a business guy, watching and being a part of this game. It’s fantastic. Yeah.
Stuart Comer: As a sort of shout out to San Francisco and to the Bay Area, too: if you look at some of the work being made in New York, especially Joan Jonas and Vito Acconci, it tended to be very much about their bodies and their studio. It was much more of a private discourse.
But then if you think about A.N.T. Farm and some of the work that was taking place on the West coast—and there were certainly projects similar to that, not least radical software and other things happening here—but I think the way they were kind of tackling major environmental crises and other kinds of political issues is extremely exciting.
In a way I see it totally connected to Silicon Valley and the kinds of creative entrepreneurial models that took technology in completely different directions. I think we need to look more closely, too, at some of the art that was happening in the Bay Area, primarily in video and how video is connected to architecture and a kind of ecological, environmental conversation.
I think it is act of absolute bravery and vision to try to find ways not only to support the work being shown, but the preservation of the work, which has been the big question mark all along. The degree to which Pam and Dick, and the New Art Trust helped identify some of the really exciting conservators—like Pip Laurenson at Tate and others worldwide—has been essential for the progress and the evolution of the conversation around this work.
Richard Mosse: Yeah. We also must credit Aebhric Coleman—who’s recently departed from the Kramlichs for London—but he’s been instrumental in working, setting up the New Art Trust—
Dick Kramlich: Seven years. He’s been fantastic.
Richard Mosse: —and he’s deeply passionate about the archiving of these media forms. Some of them are really difficult to archive, for example, early VHS tapes: these seminal video artworks, which are quite transient, really. It’s wonderful that you guys have come in so early and seen that this is a problem for the future and got there before.
Pamela Kramlich: We’ve been collecting since 1987 so it was ten years into it when we finally realized we had a problem.
I have to say I’m proud of the architects who are just geniuses in many ways. They looked at this site and saw immediately that given the restrictions of the Valley in terms of getting a permit for a building like this, that’s all glass—
Dick Kramlich: Above the ground, it’s all glass—
Pamela Kramlich: —that we had to have underground space to support the amount of glass to solve this Title 24 requirement for energy in California.
Stuart Comer: I also want to acknowledge Aebhric’s contribution to the technical infrastructure and how visionary it was in terms of allowing you all to be very flexible in how you install those spaces. I remember one colleague of mine who ran a small museum, the first time they did a video show they were completely shocked when they got the electricity bill for the first month of the exhibition.
There are some basic challenges that people don’t often think about, and I think Aebhric literally thought through every square inch of your space and how he could maximize it to ensure flexibility, and the greatest possible conditions for the work.
Pamela Kramlich: And also, that we could maintain it for the long-term. That’s the thing we’re all thinking about at this point. I hope there are other people that don’t worry about how much it’s going to cost to take care of it for the long-term because it’s not a nail on the wall.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Dick Kramlich: To the credit of Nicholas Serota, he said he always saw this place as a study center, and he couldn’t have been more spot on, because the environment does provide for that.
Stuart Comer: This goes back to Herzog & de Meuron, of course, as well, but I think a little bit about what they already had done with the Schaulager in Basel, Switzerland—
Dick Kramlich: Exactly. Right.
Stuart Comer: —and that really was conceived as not just an exhibition venue, but a place of deep research in the collection and just sort of highlighting, I think, the degree to which that is essential to any institution. But it’s exciting to be able to go to Napa or to Basel and really spend time because sometimes in major institutions, the pace is a bit more hectic and it’s harder to commit. And, of course, you’re constantly dealing with members of the public who still have some level of discomfort with the idea that they need to commit to watching something for 20 minutes. But in a sense, your expectations are already set when you go to the complex in Napa or the Schaulager and I think people go excited to really make that commitment and spend some time focusing on the work.
Charlotte Burns: It’s that idea of pilgrimage, too. It’s the same with Dia:Beacon in New York. You’re taking the time to go somewhere, so you’ve already carved out a different mental commitment to that.
If you were going to start collecting today, how would you go about it differently?
Pamela Kramlich: I think the hardest thing about collecting is finding a focus. And so, I think that would be my first step and then, if I got really passionate about it, I would go fast and furiously doing as much as I possibly could, given what was available in that particular area at that time.
Charlotte Burns: Right.
Dick Kramlich: It’s a lot easier to do it today than it was 30 years ago, 40 years ago. Because—
Pamela Kramlich: No!
Dick Kramlich: Yes, I would—
I’m taking an issue! Because I think there are so many artists who have been able to conquer the medium and have a broader artistic capability really than was the case then. And so as in many technologies that move forward, I think this is a good time to be getting into this field and I think it’s going to be a challenge for the institutions to be able to find a way of collectively showing this without disrupting the quietude of the museums. I mean, I don’t think this is a simple thing.
Charlotte Burns: No.
Richard, as an artist, do you think there are many institutions that get it right when it comes to showing your work?
Richard Mosse: It’s more than a year of emails for each show. I think they are a bit shocked by the level of audio-visual equipment that I demand. So, I have less and less chances of showing work as I evolve into this very high-tech video in recent years. But no, I’m pretty pleased. Museums really want to show it because these works are accessible to larger audiences. They’re talked about. They get people in the door.
Charlotte Burns: You both sit on several museum boards. There’s a lot of conversations around museum boards these days with philanthropy and protesters talking about sources of funding or who should be governing museums. Do you have insights to how the museums are thinking about that? How do you personally—
Dick Kramlich: It has to start with the leadership of the museum.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Dick Kramlich: That’s the key, and the museum leadership says we need people who look beyond the social structure of being on the board or the rewards of that, or whatever, and we’re looking for a mission of taking us forward rather than retrospectively.
I think those are all challenges.
The audience has changed a lot. Just recently, Neal Benezra said that now the majority of the members now are under 35. I mean, that’s a pretty radical change. I don’t know how much time you spend with the millennials—you’re a millennial ex-pat, aren’t you?
Charlotte Burns: I sort of don’t belong to any group, I don’t think.
Dick Kramlich: But anyway, my point is, they’re tough. And, so I think it’s totally demanding.
Pamela Kramlich: They’re questioning everybody’s activities for the value that they see as the important values today, and they’re very critical about people’s ways of making money. It’s understandable in a lot of ways, and yet being critical of people who take that money and give it for a good cause, I have a hard time with it a little bit.
Charlotte Burns: Do you think it will discourage philanthropy?
Pamela Kramlich: Well, it might.
Dick Kramlich: The right kind of philanthropy.
Pamela Kramlich: People who feel like they’ve made money and they want to do something good with it, it might keep them from doing that if they feel like they made the money from something that people are going to criticize. So, that’s going to be interesting to see how these boards do handle that. The investigation of what people are involved in before they become a board member will probably become more rigid.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Pamela Kramlich: I would think
Dick Kramlich: I’m the only non-millennial in the firm I’m with and I can tell you,
I sort of like it. And it’s good.
Richard Mosse: Every time I meet Dick—he surrounds himself with geniuses in their late 20s and early 30s and he speaks their language, more importantly. I think they very much communicate, you guys, about tech. I’m constantly learning about the future of the world just by absorption.
Dick Kramlich: Yeah. Well, this last camera that he has is really cool because it allows you to see 20 kilometers out. It’s an amazing thing to be able to do that and catch the sounds at the same time. You have a very talented crew here with you. I think it’s so much more dynamic than what we have traditionally had in the media.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah. So, before we round up, I wanted to ask you both two questions. Is there a work of art that keeps you up at night? One that you can’t stop thinking about, for good or bad, that you would define as the kernel of the collection?
Pamela Kramlich: Maybe the Bruce Nauman, [Raw Material-OK, OK, OK] (1990).
Dick Kramlich: Oh, it’s one of the worst! All I can take is one second of it.
Pamela Kramlich: That’s the whole point. He’s getting the point across.
Dick Kramlich: I don’t know, I have to think about it. Well, one of the pieces that doesn’t keep me up at night, but that I really don’t like, is the first piece that Matthew Barney did when he was still at Yale.
Charlotte Burns: The scab piece? [Scab Action, (1988)]
Dick Kramlich: Yeah.
Charlotte Burns: Yeah.
Dick Kramlich: I don’t care for that piece. Pam likes it.
Pamela Kramlich: It keeps you up at night?
Dick Kramlich: No. I said it didn’t keep me up at night, but I’m just reacting to it. But I really like these contemporary pieces that Richard’s doing. I think we have come a long way.
Pamela Kramlich: That has kept you up at night. I have to say, Incoming (2017) has really been at the core of what Dick talks about as far as what we’ve collected recently.
Charlotte Burns: So to close out: advice for collectors or advice for artists? What would your advice be?
Pamela Kramlich: Be adventuresome. Look for what’s really new and that has meaning in today’s world.
Dick Kramlich: I’d say don’t be afraid of change.
Charlotte Burns: Take risk. That seems to be the motto here.
Thank you both so much for hosting this. We really appreciate it. Thank you to Stuart.
Stuart Comer: Thank you for including me in this.
Charlotte Burns: And thank you also to Richard.
Richard Mosse: It’s been great.