New Museum Presents Llyn Foulkes: In Conversation with Assistant Curator Margot Norton

Christine Kuan
Aug 19, 2013 4:12PM

“To fully experience their visceral nature, one needs to view them in person,” Assistant Curator Margot Norton said of the Llyn Foulkes works that currently fill five of the seven floors of New York City’s New Museum. In a chat with Artsy’s Christine Kuan on the occasion of the 50-year career retrospective of the artist, Norton reflects on the legacy of Foulkes, an influential yet under-recognized artist whose trajectory—always something of an enigma—is organized chronologically throughout the museum.

Christine Kuan: This is Foulkes’ first museum exhibition in New York in his 50-year career. Why did the New Museum choose to do this show now?

Margot Norton: When we heard that Ali Subotnick at the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles was organizing the exhibition, we felt that it was very important to bring the show to New York. Llyn Foulkes is an influential yet under-recognized artist, and a retrospective of his work was long overdue, especially on the East Coast where his work is less known than it is in L.A. He brings a unique perspective and an original vision that resists categorization, which makes it perfect for the New Museum’s program, and his work is especially significant for a group of younger artists emerging today.

CK: Llyn Foulkes says, “My process is: make and destroy. And make again.” How is Foulkes’ art-making process manifested in his works?

MN: When you look at one of Llyn Foulkes’ paintings, you cannot see all that went into his process. The surface of the painting has a seamless quality and an illusion of depth. However, when you look at the back of one of his paintings you realize how much went into them, as most of his later works are composed of multiple panels and parts chopped out and fastened together. To provide an example of Foulkes’ singular working process, we have a clip of him working on a painting excerpted from the recent short film, Llyn Foulkes’s Lost Frontier, up on our website [see video at right].

CK: How closely involved was Foulkes in the mounting of this exhibition?

MN: Llyn Foulkes was here during the whole time we were installing the show. It was important for him to be here, particularly for getting his guidance on lighting the pieces, which require lights to be placed at specific angles in order for shadows to appear.

CK: Foulkes is also deeply involved in music with his band “The Rubber Band.” How much has music influenced his artwork?

MN: For Foulkes, music and visual art have always existed simultaneously. He is quoted as saying “Music is my joy; painting is my angst.” When he was young, he was influenced by the music of Spike Jones, and would lip-synch Jones’s big band songs when he was a kid and even referred to himself as “Spike Foulkes.” In the 1960s and ’70s, he played with various rock bands, and in 1973 he formed his own band, “Llyn Foulkes and the Rubber Band,” which performed on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson in 1974. In 1979 the group disbanded and he began building his epic music Machine, a magnificent multipart instrument featuring horns, cowbells, a bass, organ pipes, and percussion. Foulkes continues to play on the Machine, and practices on it regularly. Many of the themes he deals with in his paintings, such as Los Angeles and Disney, are also explored in the music he writes for the Machine. One of his tableau paintings, Pop (1985-90), includes a recorded sound component with Foulkes playing the machine; his children also accompany him on one of the songs.  

CK: The works are shockingly raw, powerful, and moving—in a way I think that can only be understood by seeing the exhibition in person. What are the reasons behind this viewing experience?

MN: Foulkes’ works have a rawness and an immediacy to them. To fully experience their visceral nature, one needs to view them in person, and I believe that visitors to the show will attest to this. Also, as the exhibition is organized chronologically, it provides a rare opportunity for viewers to see certain themes and methods of art-making emerge in his early work and reappear and expand in a progression throughout the show as his works become more complex.

“LLYN FOULKES” is on view at the New Museum through September 1st, 2013.

Explore the exhibition on Artsy.

Margot Norton is Assistant Curator at the New Museum of Contemporary Art in New York. At the New Museum she has curated solo exhibitions by Judith Bernstein, Tacita Dean, and Erika Vogt, organized the retrospective exhibition “LLYN FOULKES,” which traveled from the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and worked on group exhibitions “NYC 1993: Experimental Jet Set, Trash and No Star” and “Ghosts in the Machine.” Before Norton joined the New Museum, she worked as Curatorial Assistant on the 2010 Whitney Biennial and in the Drawings Department at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Norton holds a Masters Degree in Curatorial Studies from Columbia University and is currently working on future programming at the New Museum. Photo: Alexander Perrelli

Video clip from Llyn Foulkes’s Lost Frontier, directed by Tamar Halpern and Chris Quilty. More at LLYNFOULKESFILM.COM. DVD available at the NEW MUSEUM STORE.].

Christine Kuan