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The not-for-profit organization was founded in 1963 by Jasper Johns and John Cage. Whitewall spoke McEwen about choosing a work by Johns and Glenn Ligon as the starting point for the show.
WHITEWALL: The exhibition is organized around Jasper Johns’ Montez Singing (1989) and Glenn Ligon’s One Black Day (2012). Can you tell me about choosing these two works as the starting point?
ADAM MCEWEN: As much for myself as for the artists, I wanted a way to think about the whole thing, since I knew you’d need a lot of work to fill that space. I wanted to anchor the show in this time and I knew it would also be helpful in hanging. So I thought Jasper Johns was a good place to start, and I remembered the painting Montez Singing, which I’d seen in Dallas a while back—just this declarative face: eyes, nose, mouth. You could use it as a face, anyone’s face. Once Johns said he had a sketch for the painting, I wanted a counterpoint to it, and Glenn Ligon’s neon election piece came to mind. A face, being people; and what people can do.
WW: Can you highlight some of the ways the over 100 participating artists then chose work for the show in response to those pieces?
AM: I think Anne-Lise Coste’s excellent head might have been chosen with Johns’s Montez face in mind; Robert Morris emailed me to say (quite rightly) that the idea of attempting to curate a benefit show was pointless, but he did subsequently offer an amazing drawing titled Scarred Head, which seemed very appropriate. Monica Bonvicini’s drawing of a collapsing house seemed offered in response, as did Korakrit Arunanondchai’s cracked United Nations sculpture.
WW: How do you think your role as an artist affected your approach to curating this benefit show?
AM: Total disorganization?
WW: Can you tell us about your involvement with the Foundation for Contemporary Arts over the years?
AM: I’ve donated works to three FCA benefit shows over the years, and a poster to a show of artists’ posters. I’ve known FCA pretty much since I came to New York.
WW: Can you tell us about your own work that is up for sale?
AM: It’s an oil painting based on a photo of bomb craters that I printed at the Imperial War Museum in London a few years ago. It’s the first oil painting I’ve made in a very long time.
WW: Are there any pieces in the exhibition you’d personally like to bring home?
AM: If you gave me the Jasper Johns drawing I wouldn’t complain too much. There are many things I like: Megan Marrin’s bird cage painting; Sarah Lucas’s beer can penis and concrete high heel; Robert Bittenbender’s bale of trash makes me smile; Nayland Blake’s drawing I think is great; Heji Shin and Bernadette van Huy’s photo; and I was always impressed by that series of Robert Gober photos.