Wednesday, July 18, 2012


Vision #1, 1975 (California)
Vision #2, 1976 (Eastern Europe)
Vision #3, 1976 (New York)

Vision #4, 1980 (Word of Mouth)

Vision #4, 1980 (attendees)
Vision #4, 1980 (names of attendees)
Vision #4, 1980 (Record & insert)

Vision #5, 1982 (Artists' photographs)

Vision #5, 1982 (inside box)


This interview between Stephen Perkins and Tom Marioni took place in San Francisco on July 5, 2006. Vision was published in 5 issues between 1975-1982. For an interesting article by Marioni about Vision titled "Vision Magazine: Idea-Oriented Art in Print (1975–1981)" see:  Vision Magazine: Idea-Oriented Art in Print (1975–1981) (East of Borneo)  This article also provides a link to a pdf of issue #1. 

Stephen Perkins: One of the things that’s a subtext to Vision is that it’s a collaboration with Kathan Brown (wife & publisher of Crown Point Press).

Tom Marioni: Yes, she was the publisher and I was the editor and designer. In the first issue she wrote an article on this Italian immigrant, Baldasare Forestiere (1879-1946), who built these underground tunnels. Otherwise the decisions and the design were mine. Except issue #4 (1980) where we went on the island, that was a collaboration. There were only five issues, and the fourth one was the artists’ talks on Ponape in the Pacific Ocean, and that was a collaboration…

SP: ...and collaboratively funded, because you got an NEA for one part of it and Crown Point...and I assume Crown Point was connected to some of those artists?

TM: Yeah, a lot of them.

SP: Why Vision, the title?

TM: Well, it sounds a little corny today, but at the time it seemed like artists have visions, or a vision and it was designed to present an artist’s work that they designed themselves. They designed the pages, so it was really like the artist’s own vision, it wasn’t like I’m interpreting it, or changing it, or anything, so that’s all it was.

SP: But, in a 1986 interview, you talk about the point that you reached where you realized you could only do conceptual work, and you weren’t attached to the object, and you talk about that as almost like a “vision”, and after that point you can’t do anything else, because you just know what you want to do, and there is no kind of argument, there’s no question, and you’re certainly showcasing similar artists in this series and so this was the only linkage I could make to that rather normative word in a way, for presenting really pretty radical stuff. It’s not ‘vision’ in the traditional sense, it’s almost an undoing of the idea of ‘vision’.

TM:  Well, we were still in that conceptual era when I started that publication. And, so they were mostly conceptual artists, with a few exceptions. The last issue “artists’ photographs”, I think that they were all conceptual artists in that issue. There were 50 artists from 16 different countries. The original idea I had was to do one on different cultures, I was planning on doing one on Italy, but that turned out to be too difficult, that was going to be #4. So 4 years went by when we didn’t do one and then we went to that island to do #4. So then it had a format, it had that kind of golden rectangle proportion size to it, so that when it was open it would be more like a square format. So, in the first one each artist was given two pages to design themselves and then in the second issue the artists didn’t design their works because I had to collect it, and traveling in Eastern Europe and everything. And then the next issue I gave each artist six pages to do and they designed their works for 6 pages, except for De Maria, it turned out it had to be eight pages because of the colored paper.

SP: Was that something that just developed, the idea of having an original artists’ piece or was it something that you really felt you wanted to have there, in which case why didn’t you have more?

TM: More artists?

SP: Yes, more pieces. Why just one piece per periodical?

TM:  Well, it sort of had the character of an exhibition catalogue, where I was illustrating the work in the show, in this case the show was in the book. And even in the case of the artists’ photographs, I printed everything just on one side of a loose piece of paper, and a couple of people at universities actually made exhibitions with the catalogue, or with the book, which was really a catalogue in that case.

SP: I like the way that the publications cross over into these different realms and concerns, and it also seems like an extension of your activities at Richmond Art Center, and after you had left that you were kind of curating with publications in a way, they’re like exhibits.

TM: I had started the Museum of Conceptual Art in 1970 and by 1975 I considered this as part of my MOCA program, so these were exhibitions were in a way too.

SP: So that would be printed matter exhibitions—you consciously saw them as functioning like that?


SP: I think that’s one of the interesting things about all of them, and more literally with the photo one is that it really can be used as an exhibition. What happened to the original photos, the original show?

TM: The artists sent the photographs, and in some cases they were installations, like Vito Acconci’s was 20 8x10” photographs and they were all put up on the wall in the shape of an airplane and then that was photographed and reproduced. Robert Barry’s was a projection from a slide so...they were all different kinds of photographic mediums....some were Polaroids and so on....and so they sent the photographs and we made an exhibition in the Crown Point Press gallery and then this was literally the catalogue for this show.

SP: It's a fascinating show and great people! How was the show received?

TM: We bought an ad for it in Artforum magazine at the time and it didn’t get reviewed anywhere and even in the local art newspaper for some reason, and then, this was weird, somebody locally who used to review photography and art both, he was reviewing for Artforum, and he came over and he saw the show, and he read the catalogue, and in my catalogue introduction I refer to photography like another craft, like other craft mediums, something like that, and that disturbed him so much because this was a show of people who were not normally photographers, none of them were photographers they were all conceptual artists. And I asked them to do photographs as artworks and not photographs as documentation. Christo sent me a picture of his "Running Fence" and I mailed it back to him....

SP: I think that’s a very interesting project and a very interesting result, and another thing is that many of those artists were also sculptors and that’s seems like another thread—these sculptors working with the printed page in an idea-oriented way, that seems to be another current that runs through all issues of Vision.

TM: Well, when I started MOCA I sort of based the idea of it on being a sculpture action museum, which comes a lot from the influence of Joseph Beuys, where the idea of sculpture being made out of what he called “curious materials”, which could include political activities, or sound, or any material, light, or whatever. So, I always considered that my point of view, and it’s more a California point of view, like the art being experiential in California, we’re in a body culture and so on like that. So it just seemed to me that most conceptual artists come from sculpture rather than painting, and the happenings came more from painting. The happeners were all painters, except Oldenburg, whereas the action artists, the performance artists, and the conceptual artists—the different kinds of conceptual artists mostly came out of sculpture, and not out of painting.

SP: I had never thought of them as sculptors or their backgrounds, you kind of foreground that and its interesting...I’d have to go back and look.

TM: In my “Beer, Art and Philosophy” (2003) book I pretty much talk about that a lot...

SP: I love the book, I love the clear, matter of fact way that complex things are described. Do you think you encapsulated what you experienced, what you found in Eastern Europe in the second issue, did that feel complete, did that feel like a full statement of the people you had met and the different ways people were working in the different Eastern European countries?

TM:  I was in touch with a lot of those artists because of having my MOCA space. I was getting stuff in the mail, and discovering artists in those countries, and so then I made some connections, and I had been invited to make a show in Warsaw, Belgrade (twice in Belgrade) and then in Prague too. So I traveled through those countries... show your own work?

TM: ...yeah. And then met artists and they introduced me to other artists, and so it’s the best way to find out who the best artists are, is from artists and not from curators. So I learned about the whole underground art scene, which it was at that time in 1975...but later something interesting that Carl Andre said to me when I was doing the New York issue (#3, 1976) he said to me about the Eastern European issue, he said “I bet if I had gone to Eastern Europe I would have found a lot of minimal artists,” because I went there and found a lot of conceptual artists. He sort of thought I should have found some different artists, cause the artists I was finding were conceptual artists, but that was the most interesting art being done there because it was political, it was underground...the other art was not interesting...

SP:  Do you keep in contact with any of those Eastern European artists?  Knizak, have you kept in contact with him, Minister of Culture, or whatever?

TM: Well, he’s the director of the State Museum know, and he was head of the Art Academy before that. I actually met him in Berlin, and not in Prague when I was in Prague, and anyway I’m not really in touch...Rasa Todosijevic, from Belgrade, I got him a gig at the Art Institute here last spring, and he came and stayed with me, and the same with Petr Stembera from Prague....

SP: Is he still active?

TM: No, not as far as I know...but I got the Art Institute to bring him back in the 1980s. Those two artists are the ones I’m still in contact with, I guess.

SP:  The first three issues of Vision come out in a very concentrated space of time, within 2 years, a lot of activity and then sort of eased off until #4 and #5, and that’s a lot of work in a year and a half to put out 2 really substantial....

TM: Yeah, well it was expensive to do and we sold them for what seemed a lot at that time, $10 an issue, but they were like a signed, numbered, limited edition, we only printed a 1000 of each one. In New York we would send them to, not Printed Matter, but there was another artists’ bookstore in New York, and it was the best one at the time, and they never paid us. They would order them and then sell them, and not ever pay us.

SP: Printed Matter? You’re sure it wasn’t Printed Matter because they never pay!

TM: No, it wasn’t Printed Matter, but Printed Matter sold a few but they paid for them. I can’t remember now, Jaap Reitman that’s what it was, he had a bookstore in Soho. Originally the idea was that we were going to do 3 a year, well that was real ambitious, so we did 1 one year and 2 the next year. And then it turned out that after the third one we had a lot of trouble getting the Italian issue done. I was going to do a Japanese issue too, I was planning to do that and then it was just getting too expensive, we couldn’t make anything back from it. It wasn’t like a magazine where we had ads in it either, it was an art journal we called it. So by 1980, when we did the artists’ conference, I got an NEA grant to do a conference, and then Kathan got some money, it was the first year she made a profit with the press, so we combined that to produce it and go on the trip. And then people went on that trip, the artists were paid for, but then if they wanted to bring their spouses they had to pay their own way. And there were other people that went...

SP: Robin White (editor of View, Crown Point Press) and some curators and the critic (John Perreault)....

TM: We brought the critic....

SP: And then he wrote a piece in February (Artforum) about it, I haven’t come across it, was it positive?

TM: Oh, yeah. And then they paid extra the people (who came on their own), so it ended up not costing us anything to do that, well I guess it cost Crown Point something, but they had made a profit that year.

SP: Interesting project, did you feel that it hit the mark?  Did it do what you wanted it to do, the texts?

TM: The word of mouth...

SP: Was it pretty open in terms of what they could talk about?  They just had 12 minutes.

TM: 12 minutes, because of the restrictions of time on an LP record, so 2 on one side, 3 records, 12 people. And I had invited Joan Jonas, and she said that she couldn’t go because she was planning on doing a performance in the Guggenheim Museum in 1980. So I invited Laurie Anderson in her place, and Laurie Anderson wasn’t so big then, she was up and coming. The same with Marina Abramovic, she was unknown really at that time. Anyway, so then Laurie Anderson accepted right away and then Joan Jonas called back, and said that she had changed the date on the Guggenheim so that she could go. So there was like maybe too many performance artists on that thing, because it was Brice Marden and a few painters, but there were maybe too many performance artists, because of Joan Jonas coming back again.

SP: And Cage, he was in from the start?

TM: Yeah, oh yeah. I had invited two or three others, Nam June Paik and Joseph Beuys, and they couldn’t do it.

SP: Very interesting project, must have been a very fascinating time just hanging out and seeing how the people worked together, or didn’t.

TM: It was 3 camps: there were the Europeans, the New Yorkers and the Californians. At first we were all equal, but then it kind of started to break down into those groups, that was interesting.

SP:  Did that sell well, that issue?

TM: Yeah, but the thing is there’s still some left. We did a 1000 of each issue and there’s still some left, actually the Californian one’s probably sold out but all the others there’s a few left.

SP: I was kind of surprised to see them on the Crown Point Press website and at quite reasonable prices.  But I had also read in a 1975 report of a San Francisco artists’ meeting which Kathan attended instead of you, because you were out of town, and she was accused of being elitist because the price of the magazine was $10 and it gave me a whole new slant on it, because it’s a very reasonable price now. [ed. Note: Floating Seminar #2, “A Survey of Alternative Art Spaces in San Francisco,” October, 2, 1975]. And also there was another comment you made in terms of your experience in Eastern Europe and looking at the idea of ‘art for the people’ etc., and there was a quote that you said that I thought was rather interesting “people’s art is the official position of Eastern Europe and an examination of the work of artists there has convinced me that now, not only in Eastern Europe, but here as well, the elitist position is the radical one.” And that whole notion kind of surfaces in different places. I was wondering if it was something that you were concerned with at that time, or being accused of?

TM: A funny thing happened, I went to New York and I visited the artists when I was doing the New York issue, and I went to visit Carl Andre and he was living with Angela Westwater in her penthouse apartment, and I went to the door and he came to the door in his overalls in this very posh apartment, and he’s a Marxist and all that stuff, and I thought that was really funny position has always been that art is the most excellent of the culture’s products, the most excellent examples of the products of the culture. And that can be seen as an elitist thing, it’s not like everybody can do it, or its for everybody, so that’s elitist!

SP: Well, she gets criticized about the magazine particularly for that (the price), and now when I look back at it, obviously it’s not art for the people, it was very serious about what serious artists are doing, and now I look at it now and not only is it a kind of exhibition, but it’s a very unique resource for a lot of those artists’ work at that particular period of time, and particularly work put together for the printed page, so there’s an integrity to about how its presented, or at least the thinking about how it’s presented in a printed matter environment. So, now I think they very much work like mini-exhibits, or definitely there’s a curatorial model that replaces the typical editorial one.

Looking back, I assume the project is finished?

TM: Yeah.

SP: Do you think it was a success, did it do what you wanted it to do, has it changed over time when you look back on it now?

TM: Well, it goes through different eras, where the politics of the world or the country change. Like one time John Cage said to me that he was popular every other 10 years, because if you do the same kind of work, then it goes in and out of fashion, or in and out of the way people think, because we live in conservative times or liberal times or whatever. So, the magazine is going to look different in different decades, I guess.

SP: Were there other magazines at that time that were models for you, Avalanche, I think that was around that time?

TM: Yes, Avalanche was important and Der Lowe, which was the Swiss magazine, that was a little small one and done by Gerhard Lischka, he’s a friend of mine, he’s in Bern, Switzerland and that was a really interesting magazine, and he told me that in the late ‘70s, or around 1980, Kunst magazine the German magazine, had said that Der Lowe and Vision were the two most interesting publications published in the 1970’s.

SP: Well, it certainly seems to have slipped below the radar of the very little critical writing, or survey writings on this period, and as a conceptual art periodical in the States, aside from The Fox and Red Herring which showcased the texts and the debate, Vision sticks out as the only one I can think of that is really presenting, and allowing conceptually based artists to present their work in their own way, in their own words, rather than having their work reproduced, it’s sort of producing it within the pages.

TM: In London there was a show of art publications, a big one, and they had the Visions in that at the Victoria and Albert museum and we went to that. Well, one of the reasons is that it was published in San Francisco, and San Francisco does not have much of a literary tradition and it’s hard for the center in the arts to take anything from California seriously.

SP: That has its good points and bad points, I guess. But you’ve just had a pretty big show just round the corner at the Yerba Buena Center for the Arts, they’re finally waking up to what you’ve been doing.

TM: Well yeah...but I’m having a show at the contemporary art center in Cincinnati, and it opens in August, and the De Young or the SF Museum of Modern Art here would not take it.

SP: They were offered it?

TM: Yes, but they were offered it really late, I’ve got to say that, that’s the fault of the Contemporary Art Center in Cincinnati, they were very slow in getting moving. But both museums own several of my works and they are loaning some of them to my show in Cincinnati. I’m respected here as an innovator and all that stuff, but the people don’t buy my art or collect my art. It’s strange here, the bigger art collectors here they go to New York, even if they’re buying art by San Francisco artists, they buy it in New York.

SP: So do you sell your art in New York, to San Franciscans?

TM: No, I actually don’t sell much art anywhere, in any case, but that’s because of the kind of art I do, you know I do art that’s not so accessible.

SP: When you have shows where you have a large amount of work do you include Vision in that?

TM: That’s going to be in a case with a lot of cards, emphera and stuff, and some of my catalogues that I designed will be part of the Cincinnati show, so the Visions will be in that show.

SP: …’cause it’s a very distinct printed matter activity that you have been involved with at different points in time.

TM: Yes, it won a design prize, the first three Visions. In New York they had the ADI, the designer or something or rather, I don’t remember now, it was a long time ago, but they gave it an award for best design.

SP: Yes, it’s nice and clean and lets the work....

TM: No, I interrupted you because when I get an idea, and if I don’t say it right there and then I can’t remember it a minute later.

SP: I know the feeling!  So you see Vision as a discrete project?  Have you picked up work in that printed matter vein again, have you done any other projects in that way, have you thought of resurrecting it, or thought of doing different types of periodicals?

TM: I thought on a couple of occasions to do it in other mediums, and last year I organized a show for the De Young museum of artists’ videos and I invited 18 Bay Area artists to do 5 minute videos and I called it a motion picture because, 18 artists at 5 minutes, it came to 90 minutes, it’s like the record (Vision #4) deciding the number you know, and the standard length for a motion picture is 90 minutes, so I put them all together and I put titles on the beginning, and we had a weekend showing of it, and it occurred to me at first that if this really came out good, I could do a DVD and it could be another Vision, it could be an extension, could start if up again. But there have been a couple of times like that, where I have thought about making another Vision journal, in a medium like that but I haven’t. That was just then, like when I closed my Museum of Conceptual Art in 1984 and it was the end of an era and painting was back, conceptual art was over with you know, it came, and it went. and it came back again, but not in the 1980s.

SP: On the cover of Vision #5, you have the photo of Duchamp, I assume that’s sort of homage to Duchamp or a reference to his boxed works or play with that.

TM: Oh, that’s a photograph by Man Ray of Duchamp as Rrose Selavy....

SP: That was something that wasn’t sent to you, that was something that you selected?

TM: Yeah, I took it, I just used it. And in the beginning there’s other examples, like there’s Picasso and Dali, that’s part of the introduction to the journal, and I used Duchamp on the cover to emphasize the idea that here’s an artists’ photograph, but it was not photographed by Duchamp, it was photographed by Man Ray, because there’s always this issue about who’s the artist, who’s the photographer and who pushes the shutter—is that the photographer, or the person who designs it? Which was always an issue about conceptual art, whether the artist made it or not, with their own hands.

SP: ...or did it matter?  But it does also reference Duchamp and how he presented some of his work in boxes as well.

TM: Oh, right yeah, that was inspired by his box. I have the White Box (1967).

SP: And then it also references your identity play with your alterego for a certain period of time.

TM: Yes, Alan Fish. Also the idea of the artists’ photographs was I chose to make—when you buy photographic paper it comes in a box that size and its yellow, like Kodak, so I made it to be like a box of photographic paper and made it that size.

SP: I like the care with each publication, the care with each presentation, the final form, and that’s part of the piece. Do keep your eyes on contemporary periodicals, are there any contemporary ones that you have noticed, or is that not on your horizon?

TM: Well, I mean I read, well I don’t say that I read them, I look at them, the New York magazines and two or three from Europe. I’m not aware of any like more underground ones, except there’s one in Paris called Trouble that a French art critic just interviewed me for by email, it took 6 months, all about my beer art, it’s a very long article and it’s going to be in Trouble magazine, it’s the next issue, it’s finally finished I guess. They’ve had artists write for it too, Lawrence Weiner’s written for it, and a few other people, you should look for that.

SP: The critical reception of Vision, did anybody else write about it, were there any reviews of the periodical?

TM: I don’t remember.

SP: I haven’t come across any, I find it extraordinary really. I mean here’s a periodical from a very distinct part of the geography of the art world and....

TM: Around here anyway. San Francisco is kind of provincial in a lot of ways, and the style here was, I mean the reason I started the Museum of Conceptual Art—it was still funk art, it was still funny art with angst, you know, expressive figurative art and stuff like that, and that was the style. So I was an outsider, the work I was doing wasn’t accepted. I basically started it and then invited artists, who were other outsiders like me, they didn’t go to school here or they came from outside, they were from other parts of the country, or they were from Europe, a lot of people were Europeans, and they would come to my thing here to, my Wednesday parties.

SP: I see similarities with that sort of social activity, and that gathering activity, and sort of community in a way, or offering that, as the same way you used the periodicals, you brought people together in a kind of, not necessarily in dialogue, but there’s a certain amount of dialogue, and I think....there’s a sort of curatorial model that you apply to different situations, and I definitely see that working with the periodicals.

TM: My wife tells me it’s an Italian thing.

SP: Curating, bringing people together?

TM: Yeah, yeah...

SP: But it’s a leitmotif for a lot of the areas that your working with. So that’s one of the interesting things I find about the periodical because they can function as initiators of community or networking, or hubs at different times....

TM: Well, it was just an extension of my work as a curator.

SP: Absolutely, and as a sculptor.

TM: Yeah, sculpture and being a curator.

SP: I think those are two key things. So aside from Kunst and Der Lowe those were the only periodicals that you remember knowing about or might be influenced by when you started Vision?

TM: Oh no, Kunst magazine was just a regular magazine that wrote an article saying that Vision was along with Der Lowe was the most interesting publication done in ‘70s.

SP: But Der Lowe was quite an interesting publication.

TM: Oh yes, that was more like Vision.

SP: Did you see Vision as a kind of alternative space like MOCA, which you talk about as an alternative space, do you think the periodical functioned in the same way?

TM: I saw it as like an activity of my museum, and so that the kind of cafe society, is what I called it at first, the beer with friends kind of thing which was in the downstairs bar, and the publication, and then I had concerts sometimes, very kind of avant-garde music people, and sculptors doing performances and some temporary installations, and some things that were left permanently as part of the permanent collection, so it was all part of running a museum to me. So, by having the museum, museum’s have publications, they do restoration, they do conservation, they did all those kinds of things.

SP:  If offered you a frame of reference.

TM: I did it all straight, even though people thought it was a joke, I was being very serious about it, and fun too. I didn’t do it if it wasn’t any fun for me.

SP: Yes, I got that feeling!  Did you have a lot of documentation from those activities, you never thought of bringing some of that together as....

TM: Well, I sold the archives to the University of California, Berkeley Museum in 1992, and so that sort of wrapped that up. They have all the Vision archives too, like the artists’ plans, and designs, and notes and stuff, for the Vision magazines that they sent me, all went to the archive too, so they have all that stuff.

SP: The final work, the photographs for that show, where are they now, could that be remounted?

TM: Those photographs were returned to the artists after the show, like any show.

SP: I was thinking maybe the show was sitting somewhere...

TM: Oh yeah, in a big box somewhere!  Yeah, it was a terrific show.

SP: Absolutely. Tom, I think that’s basically about it.

TM: I’ve probably got other stuff to tell you about it but I just, you know its been out of my mind for so many years.

SP: Well if anything comes up you’ve got my email. I think it’s a very interesting project, coming from a very particular part of the art world that’s been totally forgotten, and I think there’s a number of different things working across it, particularly your role as a curator, and a sculptor, and applying those models to a printed matter environment, for me that’s very interesting.

TM: There’s a lot describing about the different Visions in my beer book, that you can refer to for some things that we might have forgot about.

SP: In where?

TM: In my beer book.

SP: Yes, there’s a fairly hefty section on Vision, yes and there’s reference to artists and people. Well, thanks a lot.

TM: So, and your going to come by this evening?

SP: Yeah, and that’s here? I’ll definitely, I think maybe I’ll check out the museum and....