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A Conversation with New York-Based Artist Elisa Lendvay, Formerly of Dallas

by Lanie Delay 21 Jan 2010 2:56 PM

Guest blogger Lanie DeLay is a Dallas-based artist and has recently been living and working in New York. She met up with artist Elisa Lendvay, who was raised in Dallas, to speak with her about her practice, New York and her move there. Lanie DeLay: So how long have you been here now? Since 2003? […]


Guest blogger Lanie DeLay is a Dallas-based artist and has recently been living and working in New York. She met up with artist Elisa Lendvay, who was raised in Dallas, to speak with her about her practice, New York and her move there.

"Transit (urban particulates)"; photo courtesy of Elisa Lendvay

Lanie DeLay: So how long have you been here now? Since 2003?

Elisa Lendvay: Yes, March of 2003.

L.D.: How do you feel like being in New York has changed your work?

E.L.: Well, it’s definitely made me more aware of circumstance.  In a way, I feel like it’s compromised my work.

L.D.: Really?

E.L.: Well, sometimes I feel that way, as far as not being able to carry out an idea fully because of funding or space.  I’ve had to make decisions to kind of make something more feasible, and so I’ve made things that are smaller, or I’ve dealt with material that I’ve found that I’ve responded to.  But I don’t know that that’s necessarily a compromise …  but I have felt that.

L.D.: Do you feel like you’re more of an assembler – like you sort of aid the combination of objects than a maker?  I remember when you were living in Austin, the sculptures were almost entirely fabricated by you.

E.L.: I go back and forth.  I think even since like high school I’ve had this fascination with found metal and found objects and responding to things [as artifacts]… but I think that definitely there’s the landscape of New York, and some of these items I find – these objects that have been discarded seem like such a narrative of the everyday. It’s always been about physicality, materiality, and the re-working and transforming of things I do find.

L.D.: The set-up of the city and the circumstances of the city in some ways are very friendly to artists, but in some ways are not.  For instance, I notice that there are many more people who do 2D work here than almost anywhere else, and I think that’s the result of the way that things are difficult here.

E.L.: Yes, definitely, and I have made just piles and piles of drawings, you know.  I think I would maybe do that anyways.  It’s funny – I don’t know how much New York has changed the way I work or not.  I mean, I know I’m informed by my life here and what I see …  It’s just a good question.

L.D.:  Well, one project that comes to mind is the one that’s over there on the right: it’s the cab piece, the bent yellow piece.  You think of the cabs of New York, it’s almost one of those iconic New York images.  And then there’s the piece with the subway paint, and so in some ways it seems like maybe it’s the things that you’re surrounded by, they’re being incorporated into your process.

E.L.: Yes, definitely.  I was talking to you earlier about having a rule for picking up things, like if I passed it twice [and it was still there],  then I would be allowed to officially pick it up and use it. But yeah, I feel like these things I find are kind of a part of a narrative.  In my old studio, you know, I was near McGuinness, and it’s a very busy intersection, lots of wrecks, and I would find cab parts – and there’s something about that “cab yellow” too that’s so recognizable – and then also broken car lights that would end up being transformed into geodes, things like that.  But yeah, that one I think kind of came together nicely.  There’s this other taxi cab piece here too, but something about juxtaposing that with the subway paint forms, it became solid, and having it kind of extend out, it almost seems like – well, and that’s also an umbrella part holding it up …

L.D.: They’re [in the sidewalks] everywhere.

E.L.: Yeah, they are.

L.D.: Well what are you working on now?

E.L.: I’m working on this grouping of drawings that have the punctured patterns throughout, and I’m calling them fans.  That’s one thing that I’m working on that I’m kind of excited about.  They interest me because of the idea of negative space, this gestural form that also kind of looks like a fan, but the punctured holes almost make it seem like air would be coming through.  There’s some kind of notion about air and motion.

“Fan II,” one of Lendvay’s works in "Crotalus Atrox (or fat over lean)” exhibit at Mike Rollins Fine Art Project Space, curated by Liam Everett; photo courtesy of Elisa Lendvay

L.D.: You know, speaking about them in this way, and having just talked a moment ago about the cars and the streets of New York, I’m suddenly thinking about the way that the subway grates on the sidewalks have these bursts of air that come through these sort of punctures in the ground that are perpendicular to the plane that they’re coming out of or passing through.  I heard about an artist actually a while back that actually made these sort of plastic artworks that used the grates. He would make things out of material that was a lot like trash bags, and it would look like just trash on the ground. He would attach it to those grates, and then a subway would pass by underneath, and the air would inflate it.

E.L.: Oh wow.

L.D.: And it would suddenly stand up and come to life for a moment, and then when the air passed, it would just deflate again.

E.L.: Was it just a regular trash bag?

L.D.: Similar. He would make shapes, like animal forms and all kinds of fantastical forms and crazy stuff.  It was kind of charming, magical.

E.L.: There’s another artist I know named Lizzie Scott, who did these rubbings of subway grates, and as a whole, they look really interesting next to each other and seeing the different patterns. And she has images of herself, you know, in the act of …

L.D.: Oh, like photographing herself doing it?

E.L.: Yeah.

L.D.: I could imagine people walking all around.  That’d be kind of awkward.

E.L.: Everyone was really inquisitive, real excited.

L.D.: Really?

E.L.: Yeah.  She had a good experience doing it.

L.D.: When you came to New York, you enrolled in the MFA program at Bard [in upstate New York], which is in the summers.  Did you see at that time your move to New York as being what you wanted to do regardless of your graduate program?  Because some people might live elsewhere, and then just go there in the summers.

E.L.: Yeah, I had actually applied before I moved up here, and so I had no idea if I was going to get in or not, but I had a residency at the Vermont Studio Center that February, and that was a great time.  There were a lot of really great artists, and an old friend of mine happened to be there as well, and I kind of thought to myself, well, without officially calling it a move, you know, I packed stuff up, and I planned to just kind of “be” in New York a little bit after that.  But it just so happened that my old friend, Matt Connors, offered me a job, you know, just basically some work there editing personals. And I had some other friends who were there that I’d met at the Vermont Studio Center who had all been applying to grad school, so it was such a transitional time for a lot of us.  They ended up kind of moving to New York, so there was this caravan of some who already lived in New York and a couple of others who hadn’t.  So I lived in Williamsburg; I sublet a space for about a month and started working and then found out I got accepted into Bard, so it all just kind of gelled together.

L.D.: So they were really separate endeavors in a way, but they dovetailed.

E.L.: Yeah.  I, as you know, went to Bennington College, and when I was there, I did a fieldwork term in the winter of ’93.  I worked for this artist named Nina Yankowitz in SoHo and had this really good experience being in New York in the early ’90s.  I would also kind of commute during the school years and work for other artists, and a lot of my friends were older than me and moved to New York after they finished Bennington, but I transferred.  That was when the school kind of fired a lot of professors, and it was a really transitional period, so I ended up at UT [Austin].  A lot of my professors recommended the program, and that was kind of an amazing time to be in Austin; but throughout that, I kept wanting to come back to New York.  I’d always felt there was unfinished business.  You know, I lived in Puerto Rico and then back to Dallas for a short period of time where I was with 500X.  It just had been this kind of plan to get back, and I kept realizing that I had more connections in New York than anywhere else, kind of more of a community.

L.D.: That’s an interesting thing to find out since it’s kind of far away from your home base.

E.L.: That’s true.  Well, I have had so many good friends in Texas, and it was actually hard to leave after I was there that second time.  I was surprised, and Dallas was great, but I somehow realized I was like …  I just didn’t see my art flourishing there yet at that time.  You know, I had more peers in New York who seemed to understand where I was coming from art-wise.  Also, just as far as job-related opportunities, there seemed to be more things here.

"Manifold" Installation photo from curator Jon Lutz's diorama-themed "I WANNA BE SOMEWHERE' exhibit at Daily Operation; photo: Lanie DeLay

L.D.: Well, you’ve had two solo shows here in New York, but you’ve also done a number of unusual group shows. Tell me about how you got involved with those.

E.L.: Well …  I think especially with the recession here …  I think artists in New York have always been pretty creative as far as having open studios and curating their own shows, but there’s even been more of a kind of do-it-yourself movement, and they really have come about through just community and different people seeing my work and you know, friends-of-friends and having studio visits.  The most recent show that you saw was just kind of a weeklong show [“Crotalus Atrox (or fat over lean)”].  The curator, Liam Everett, saw my work through an old friend, Noam Rappaport, and asked to see more of my work and invited me to be in the show.

L.D.: You had another one earlier in the fall, too, that had all the pieces that were all put together with a diorama theme. How did you get involved with that?

E.L.: That curator is Jon Lutz, and he has this group called, well, it’s like a gallery called Daily Operation.  Yeah, he invited everyone (all the artists) to make a diorama.  He had seen my work, I think through …  I had had a show up in the summer he saw at V&A, and he knows some of the artists that I’m friends with, so he invited me to be in the show [“I WANNA BE SOMEWHERE” at Mike Rollins Fine Art Project Space].

L.D.: Was it fun?

E.L.: It was really fun.  It was an interesting space, and it was kind of exciting that this group made these pieces kind of specifically with that theme in mind.

L.D.: It was definitely a fun show to see as an observer. It seemed to have a sort of joviality about it – almost like when you go to a costume party or something. Like there’s all these fun efforts done for this particular event, a night, and I can see that it kind of makes people be creative, but in a specific way that tweaks what they might normally be working on.

Lendvay (center) at the opening for "I WANNA BE SOMEWHERE" in Tribeca; photo: Lanie DeLay

E.L.: Exactly.

L.D.: And so it was kind of a nice constraint on creativity … that oftentimes makes people tap into extra resources they may not have used. It was a lot of fun.

E.L.: Yeah.

L.D.: What do you see as the most interesting thing going on here in the city? Art-wise?

E.L.: Well, probably that kind of thing.  I think just tapping into artists, and seeing other artists’ studios.  I tend to really respond to people who work in somewhat of a similar vein or vocabulary, but also people who are working totally outside of what I do.  But I think just being part of that discourse, rather than just going to the galleries and museums.  And it’s fun sometimes when people open new spaces, and you see it happen from the beginning and kind of evolve.  I think the lower east side galleries like [some of the ones on] Orchard Street: Rachel Uffner, On Stellar Rays, Miguel Abreu Gallery, that whole scene is exciting to me.  It makes me think of how Deep Ellum felt in 1989, that just walking around – I know that the neighborhood’s changed a lot, you know, possibly gotten a little gentrified, but there’s an energy to it, and the gallery scene is pretty interesting. The work that’s coming out of those spaces, like at Art Since the Summer of ’69.

L.D.:  There’s a lot of fun stuff down there.

E.L.: Uh-huh.

L.D.: Do you have any particular artists you’re excited about that are local people?

E.L.: Oh, handfuls.

L.D.: Probably too many to say.

E.L.: Probably.  Um, I think, as far as bigger shows that are up right now, the Urs Fischer show seems pretty exciting, but I think that a lot of the shows going on at Rachel Uffner are really interesting.  My friend Josh Blackwell shows there.  I think he’s doing some really rich work.  And my friend Noam Rappaport is doing painting that I’m really into.  There’s a lot of work about process and materiality that’s kind of exciting right now, and he’s part of that. But as far as specific galleries, I feel like it’s kind of dispersed, but I could go on and on with different friends that I think are doing exciting work.

L.D.:  Some people complain about the Chelsea scene – it’s easy to complain about.  Do you feel like in some ways that the sort of march of gallery areas is in some ways going away, that it is just becoming scattered to all over the city, as opposed to being in really specific neighborhoods, where everything sort of follows into one geographical area, and then everything goes to another area?

E.L.: Well, I think to some degree they will always be sort of concentrated in certain areas.

L.D.: It just seems like there’s so many more concentrated areas now that it almost becomes meaningless.

E.L.: Yeah.  I mean, I think it’s always changing.  I got to witness, being here in the [early] ’90s, when a lot of the galleries were in SoHo, but then there was still the whole grouping of uptown galleries – that was a whole other thing. And then, yeah, the Chelsea thing I think is evolving, but I think a lot of the higher-end galleries will stay there.  But I think it just does help for galleries to kind of be grouped together; there’s a kind of support that goes on-

Lendvay with artists Ryan Franklin (left) and JD Walsh (right); photo: Lanie DeLay

L.D.: Community?

E.L.: Yeah, and larger audiences.

L.D.: It probably also makes sense in terms of foot traffic.

E.L.: Exactly.

L.D.: There was an essay that was part of the press release for your show at V&A. At the very, very end, they mentioned you, and I thought this was kind of interesting, as being part of a group of people with Texas roots with New England and New York training who are largely based here now. Who would you group or lump into that category?

E.L.: I think that was a romanticizing.  I have quite a few friends from Texas here, but they didn’t necessarily have New England educations, you know?  I think she was thinking of some other artists, who, a lot of them had gone to UT and are here now.

L.D.: So do you think it’s more the case that artists from everywhere are always going here, rather than like a particular type of movement?

E.L.: There are always a lot of Texans who end up in New York, and right now there’s quite a few, and a big community of people who know each other.

L.D.: They know each other from their similar backgrounds, rather than meeting up-

E.L.: Well they also meet here. I mean, I’ve met a whole network of Texans or people who’ve passed through Texas through other Texans, but it is kind of …  it’s an interesting connection.

L.D.: Yeah, my interest was kind of raised when I saw that.

E.L.: That blurb, well, there was a little bit of correction…

L.D.: Well what’s next for you?

E.L.: Well, I have these drawings going on, and then I also am doing a larger metal sculpture that has some found material, some umbrella parts mixed with other things.  It’s a show coming up in the winter, and other than that, I just moved into this studio recently, and I’m really excited to be working here.  The sunlight is great, there’s an outdoor work area, so I just want to make some good work and, you know, share it with others.

L.D.: Tell me a little bit about how you found this studio.

E.L.: It was kind of a Bard connection. This woman, Adriana Farmiga, had a studio here, and she passed the information on, and there was just an opening here.  The woman who started the space and who kind of cleared a lot of this area out was moving to I think Park Slope, and so I went in with my friend Sue Havens, and we thought this was a perfect size to split, and a really reasonable price.

L.D.: This neighborhood, does it tend to be-

E.L.: It seems to be expensive everywhere right now.

L.D.: When I’ve looked through the ads, I see that what I could afford… might be a shoebox.

E.L.: Yeah, it’s absurd.

L.D.: It’s really crazy, like when I hear the square footage versus the price…

E.L.: Yeah, and it’s just been getting worse.  That’s why I spent a year working at home, which was really interesting.  But yeah, there are deals to be found.

L.D.: Well that’s good. You mentioned you had a show coming up. Where’s it going to be?

E.L.: At a gallery called Christopher Henry Gallery, and these two artists are organizing the show. They don’t really want to call it “curating,” per se, because they’re also both in it.  But it’s Adrian Ting and Zach Needler.

L.D.: Do know what you’re putting in there?

E.L.: They really responded to my umbrella pieces, and so that’s one of

Lendvay in her Greenpoint Brooklyn studio; photo: Lanie DeLay

the pieces that’s coming up, the larger metal piece that will have components of that, and kind of a fractured sense of space and lines and color. We’ll see.

L.D.: Well I look forward to hearing how the show goes.  I wish you all the best of luck with the upcoming show and getting your welding facilities and everything.

E.L.: Yeah, thanks.

L.D.: Well it’s nice talking with you.

E.L.: Nice having you here in New York.

L.D.: Good to be here.

  • This is why there is a growing group of artists against what modern art has become, and the gallery system. Note that Dallas is also the home of the art revolution where conceptual art is used to attack conceptual art.
    I would encourage this forum to cover both sides of the arts.
    For instance cover the worldwide Stuckists Art Movement, as well as the homegrown Art Revolution.
    Modern art has become the salon art of our day, and the media needs to find art critics open enough to recognize that.