David Salle Interview: On Marsden Hartley


“One of the truisms of art, that Hartley illustrates so beautifully, is that part of being an artist is turning your liabilities into assets.” In this video, the praised artist David Salle shares his thoughts on fellow American painter Marsden Hartley (1877-1943), who he admires for his ability to confront all the things that bedevilled him unflinchingly.

“How was he able to make paintings with so much over-emotionality using fairly mundane and in no way unique subjects?” Salle wonders. He feels that Hartley in some ways was a genre-painter, but that his paintings of trees, rivers, coastlines, a vase of flowers etc., are always very distinctly different from other paintings with the same motif. When Salle thinks of Hartley, he thinks of him as a painter of nature: “A painter of a kind of constructed nature that is very much tied to the spirit of New England … it’s a Yankee sensibility.” On the subject of Hartley’s figurative paintings, Salle feels that they are his most symbolic. The male body – big-chested men whose eyes are often missing – is highly idealised, even fetishised: “There’s a heroic core to the build-up of these male bodies” Finally, Salle points out that Hartley is part of the “broadly speaking humanist project of the 20th century,” and that his work now will help “reclaim some kind of humanism, which has been so thoroughly discredited as the source of evil.”

David Salle (b. 1952) is an American painter, printmaker and photographer. A prominent Neo-Expressionist artist, he is particularly known for his vivid collage-like paintings, which feature overlapping imagery from a variety of sources – from advertisements to his own photography. Solo shows of Salle’s art have been organised by museums worldwide including Stedelijk Museum in Amsterdam, and Waddington Galleries in London. He has participated in major international expositions such as Documenta 7 (1982), Venice Biennale (1982, 1993), and Whitney Biennial (1983, 1985, and 1991). Salle’s paintings can be found in the collections of the Whitney Museum of American Art and the Guggenheim Museum in New York, Tate Gallery in London, Art Institute of Chicago, and the National Gallery of Art in Washington D.C., among others. Salle has also contributed writing to publications including The Paris Review and Art News. For more see: http://www.davidsallestudio.net/

Marsden Hartley (1877-1943) was an American painter, poet and essayist, who has been hailed as “America’s first great modern painter of the 20th century.” The work of Hartley, who lived most of his life nomadically between Europe and the USA, can be regarded as a bridge between European and American modernism. His first critical success came with an exhibition at the photographer and gallerist Alfred Stieglitz’ 291 Gallery in New York in 1909. Financed by Stieglitz, he went to Europe in 1912, spending much of his time in Germany, where he met Franz Mark, Wassily Kandinsky and other members of the innovative group of painters Der Blaue Reiter group with whom he exhibited at the famous Erster Deutscher Herbstsalon in Berlin in 1913. Despite his central position on the art scene of the time, Hartley has largely remained a neglected name in the USA and an unknown figure in Europe, perhaps because of the many-faceted character of his oeuvre, which has made it difficult to place him in the history of art.

David Salle was interviewed by Marc-Christoph Wagner and Mathias Ussing Seeberg at his studio in Brooklyn, New York in spring 2019 in connection with the retrospective exhibition ‘Marsden Hartley – The Earth is All I Know of Wonder’ at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art in Humlebæk, Denmark. The retrospective is the first major exhibition of his work in Europe since 1960.

Camera: Jakob Solbakken

Produced by Marc-Christoph Wagner and Mathias Ussing Seeberg

Edited by Roxanne Bagheshirin Lærkesen

A complete list of works shown in the film can be found in the end credits

Copyright: Louisiana Channel, Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, 2019

Supported by Nordea-fonden

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