Why Not Spend the Morning Listening to Thomas Houseago Talk?

thomas houseago Why Not Spend the Morning Listening to Thomas Houseago Talk?

Mr. Houseago at work. (Courtest Ujazdowksi Castle/YouTube)

Thomas Houseago is on a tear at the moment.

First of all, his huge sculptures are on view at locations around the world: the Sainsbury Centre for Visual Arts in Norwich, England, Hauser & Wirth’s outdoor sculpture space in London, Miami’s Rubell Family Collection, Venice’s Palazzo Grassi, and New York’s High Line. And now one more venue: the Centre for Contemporary Art Ujazdowksi Castle in Warsaw, Poland.

Second, Mr. Houseago continues to give entertaining and illuminating interviews and talks that end up on YouTube. The latest comes from the Warsaw show, an eight-minute video that offers an invigorating, inspiring start to any art fan’s day. As those who have seen him speak can attest, he has a tendency to get pumped up about art.

“I’m a bad craftsperson,” Mr. Houseago claims in the video. Craft, he argues, is about perfection, removing the trace of the artist’s hand. Here’s a lengthy quote:

I’m somebody who struggles with the craft and that’s what you see—the struggle I have or the impatience or the clumsiness sometimes or the kind of inability to make a perfect thing. I try to make perfect things. I want them to look like Jeff Koons’s sculptures or something like that, but I fail in that endeavor.

Which is a great line, but given the wild variety of surfaces and textures that Mr. Houseago has been able to engineer in his sculptures over the years, it’s pretty clear that he’s not actually going for the sleek, smooth perfection of Mr. Koons. The magic of his work is in the rough-hewn qualities he’s mastered, the renegade incompleteness of some parts of his work.

It is interesting that he has Mr. Koons on his mind, though, since that artist just opened a two-venue show in Frankfurt. Incidentally, Lebanon’s Daily Star recently quoted one of that show’s curators on Mr. Koons’s interest in perfection:

But, the Liebieghaus’ curator, Vinzenz Brinkmann, said that “from a certain point of view, Koons is the last artist of the antiquity,” because he, like the ancient sculptors, “shared an interest in the quest for perfection, for craftsmanship and a love of flamboyant colors.”

But back to Mr. Houseago. In this wide-ranging chat he also argues that, compared to the Aztecs, “We do a very bad job of manipulating materials. We do a terrible job of moving things, generally speaking.” (Agreed, but the Los Angeles County Museum of Art at least handled that 340-ton Heizer boulder pretty nicely, and NPR has a new report about it, also worth eight minutes of your time.)

Why not take the day off and give some other Mr. Houseago’s video interviews a whirl. Here’s one he did for the Nasher Sculpture Center last year.

And finally, here’s the king of them all, his 2010 Public Art Fund talk—an absolute barnburner. (Thank you to Greg.org for alerting us to this one.)