Arts Desk

The Corporation of Chuck: An Interview with Curator Terrie Sultan


Terrie Sultan is the organizing curator of the Corcoran's current exhibit "Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration," and author of the eponymous catalog. Currently a director of the Parish Art Museum on Eastern Long Island, Sultan originally organized the exhibition while she was director of the Blaffer Gallery, the art museum of the University of Houston. Before that, Terrie Sultan worked at the Corcoran Gallery of Art. Shortly after our interview with Chuck Close, Janet Anderson (for the Washington Print Club Quarterly) and I spoke with Sultan about the formation and evolution of the exhibition.

Washington City Paper: Who originated the concept [of the show]?

Terrie Sultan: Well, I'd say that we did it together

WCP: So it was a collaborative thing? It was always part of the idea to show the process, to open that up for the viewer?

TS: The way the show happened was that I went to visit him in the studio and that "Alex" reduction linoleum cut was on the wall, just exactly as it is here with the state proofs on the top and the progressive proofs on the bottom. [Close] was talking away about what he had been doing and blah, blah, blah, and I was staring at that print. I said to him, "Chuck, I don't understand what I am looking at. How did you make this print?" So, he explained the whole thing to me, and I said to him, "I can't understand why somebody hasn't done a show that talks about the process of making these prints, because it is fascinating!” And he looked at me and said, "Let's do it! I have everything for all the prints." That is how it got started… It's been on tour since 2003 and been to 16 different venues. This is the end. It has been all over the United States, and to Korea and back.

WCP: And you think this is the best installation in terms of how it looks.

TS: Well, of course I loved the way it looked in my own institution. It was built for the Blaffer Art Museum, where I was working at the time. But, I used to work here. I worked here for 12 years. I mounted almost 30 exhibitions in these spaces. And, both Chuck and I wanted the show to come here because we know how gorgeous these rooms are and how wonderful art looks here.

WCP: Were you aware of how prolific Chuck's prints and multiples were?

TS: I became aware. He was working on five separate prints when we started this project, at the same time.

WCP: How does he manage it?

TS: He works. Constantly. And with the prints he has various master printers that work on different kinds of prints. So, at the time that he was working on these five separate prints that were in various stages of completion, we were working on this [exhibition]. There were certain teams that worked on each [print].

WCP: Would they come into his studio in New York?

TS: No. A lot of them work for Pace Editions, and he has a lot of master printers that do various kinds of prints. So, they would come to talk with Chuck in the studio; sometimes they would bring proofs there, or sometimes he would go to them. But the physical work of the master printers takes place in the print studios.

WCP: The demands of many of many of these prints have far exceeded where they traditionally were before Chuck Close got his hands in them, and it appears from the text that there have been a lot of inventions and innovations made within these printmaking processes. Could he be characterized as someone who is difficult to work with?

TS: Absolutely not! Chuck is one of the most generous artists I have ever met. He is very open to suggestions, especially when you are working out problems and solutions. I mean, it is demanding, and you want something to be right. As you know from my book, I interviewed all of those master printers, and the learning, energy, and creativity that goes into the solving of the problems that Chuck has put in front of us is so stimulating that it is really a wonderful experience. And, watching five people work on a spit-bite etching together… There is laughter. There is experimentation. And there is really rigorous work going on. So, contrary to any idea that he might be difficult, I'd say that he is generous in the sense that he allows everyone's creativity to come to the surface, including mine! Y'know, we worked together on this show very, very closely. He always asked me what I thought. We did the book together… I mean, that is why this show is called "Process and Collaboration," because that's really what it is. He has often said that this is the "Corporation of Chuck," and that he couldn't produce this work without the corporation. He doesn't mean that in a negative way. All of the members of the corporation are stakeholders, and everyone is invested.

WCP: Since there has been a lot of experimentation and reinvigoration of some of these printing processes, would that have been enough to persuade the printmakers and the collaborators to push the boundaries of the medium?

TS: A lot of that comes from them, and a lot of it comes from Chuck. For instance, Ruth Lingen, who worked with him on a lot of the etchings and the pulp paper. For example, he and Ruth had worked on this little reduction linoleum cut self-portrait. Every time they do a reduction linoleum–every time they make a cut on the plate–they trace it on Mylar to make a record. So, after they finished making that tiny self-portrait, she said to Chuck, "There has got to be a way to make this as a pulp paper piece." And it was her idea to try that. She used the Mylar as a way to figure out how to translate it to a bigger thing. That's her skill as a master printer.

JA: Who had the idea of the cookie cutter? [the irregular grid for the paper-pulp multiple of "Georgia."]

TS: The first grill is that plastic grill–that's the "Phil" [Glass]. That's how he [Joe Wilfer] convinced Chuck to make the pulp paper piece. [Joe] invented that grill, or found that plastic grill, which is the kind of thing you put over a fluorescent light in an elevator. And, he explained to Chuck that he could organize that grill using the seven shades of gray, and that he could translate the "Phil" piece. As they were making that print, little blobs of grays fell onto the floor in little circles. Chuck collected all the little circles because he collects everything. He was working on a painting of "Georgia" at the time and he thought, "Hmm, I wonder if I can use these little circles as a way to make a collage." So, if it hadn't been for the grill there wouldn't be any circles. So, from the circles he made that unique collage. Then he said to Joe Wilfer, “how can we translate that collage into a pulp paper multiple?” So, Joe Wilfer traced the collage and invented that irregular grid.

WCP: I noticed throughout the exhibition there seems to be an absence of photography, although there is one painting. Since Chuck Close's work is so heavily reliant on photography I was curious why had it been excluded?

TS: Well, the reason there are no photographs in the show is because it is a print show… The underlying theme of all of this is that you know, or should know, that everything he does is based on a photograph. No matter what it is it starts with a photo. What we really wanted to focus on in this show very expressly was the process and collaborative nature of printmaking.

Photo by Darrow Montgomery. "Chuck Close Prints: Process and Collaboration" opened Saturday and runs through Sept. 12 at the Corcoran Gallery of Art, 500 17 Street NW. (202) 639-1700. Gallery hours are Wednesday, Friday-Sunday 10 a.m. -  5 p.m., Thursday 10 a.m. to 9 p.m. $10 Adults, $8 Seniors (62+) & Students (with valid ID), Free: Children under 12. Free on Saturdays through Sept. 4.

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