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THE INSIGNIFICANT OTHER

 

picture - Guest of Cindy ShermanDocumentary Interview with co-director and subject Paul H-O

by William Gooch

published March 26, 2009

 

Guest of Cindy Sherman

not rated

opens Friday, March 27 in New York City and Santa Fe

 

Paul H-O and his infectious verbosity could carry a film all by itself, and he almost does in the docu-gabfest Guest of Cindy Sherman.  This panoramic view of the insular and hyper-inflated art world of the 1980s and 90s details how the cult of the celebrity, art-addicted sycophants, and an art world turned upside down sours one of New York City’s most interesting artist couples. Never one to hide his faults and foibles, in Guest of Cindy Sherman, Paul H-O lets it all hang out, not caring if his profundities exalt or vilify. Still, his insightful rumblings come from a deep appreciation of art and the transformative power of self-expression.

 

William S. Gooch: When did you first come to NYC?

 

Paul H-O: I first come to NYC in 1984 from California. I helped produce a big traveling art show from San Francisco with a lot of artists from the Bay Area called San Francisco Science Fiction and we had a showing in NYC at PS 1. It was a kind of circus installation, lots of fun, crazy things. The show eventually traveled on to other cities, but I stayed in NYC. NYC was where I wanted to be because the biggest art scene in the world is here.

 

William S. Gooch: How did you come up with the moniker Paul H-O?

 

Well my real name is Paul Hasegawa-Overacker, which is hard for people to pronounce, so for expediency, I hyphenated my last name.

 

William S. Gooch: What type of art medium did you work in when you first came to NYC?

 

Paul H-O: I started as a painter and my work evolved into mixed media, and later it became strictly sculpture.

 

William S. Gooch: How did Gallery Beat come about?

 

Paul H-O:  Gallery Beat happened totally by accident. While I was still working as an artist, there were these guys who had a public access show called Art TV where they discussed music, literature and culture, and they asked me if they could do a segment on my work for Art TV. So, they came to my studio and I ended up directing my own segment. They later asked me to help them produce Art TV and eventually that evolved into Gallery Beat.

 

William S. Gooch: Were you still sculpting when you got involved with Gallery Beat?

 

Paul H-O: I had taken a break from sculpting because I was tired of working in the studio by myself. When I started producing Gallery Beat, I found that I liked producing a show about art and artists more than the solitary life of a studio artist. I liked the collaborative process that comes with producing a show. I had reduced my sculpting down to the simplest, most pure element and I felt I didn’t have any where else to go from there.

 

William S. Gooch: What was the art world’s initial reception to Gallery Beat?

 

Paul H-O: We got positive feedback right from the beginning.

 

William S. Gooch: Wait. In your documentary some folks didn’t seem thrilled that you went to exhibits and discussed their work.

 

Paul H-O: Of course there were pockets of resistance. You are not going to have a good story if there is no tension. When we got kicked out of galleries, that turned into entertainment.

 

William S. Gooch: What do you think about the hyper-inflated, celebrity-driven art world of the late 80s and early 1990s?

 

Paul H-O: The 1980’s were a troubling time for me in the art world. I had recently moved to NYC so I was an outsider looking in and it felt like an exclusive little country club. By the time I started Gallery Beat in the early 90s, the art world had imploded. We had had a recession in the late 80s and it hit the art world really hard. The art world was really open to Gallery Beat because a lot of the flash from the 80s was gone. Gallery Beat gave some artists much needed exposure.

 

Also, although a lot of art wasn’t being sold in the early 90s, a lot of interesting art was being made. There is very little empathy toward the art world when there are bad economic times because the art world is perceived as elitist and insular, and rightfully so. Gallery Beat was a lot more egalitarian in its approach to looking at art and being critical in a way that a layperson could understand.

 

picture - Guest of Cindy ShermanWilliam S. Gooch: You have a lot of celebrity cameos in Guest of Cindy Sherman.  How did you get movie stars like Carol Kane, Danny Devito and Molly Ringwald to appear in your documentary?

 

Paul H-O: I knew some of the celebrities from my time producing Gallery Beat. People always ask me why Danny DeVito is in the film and my reply is, "Who doesn’t like Danny DeVito?" It turns out he does know a lot about art, as does Molly Ringwald, Eric Bogosian and Carol Kane. All the celebrities in my film are very bright, cultured people. And most of them live in NYC. Most diehard New Yorkers know a little bit about everything because in New York so many cultures and creative disciplines intersect and cross paths.

 

William S. Gooch: Even though this film is about the art world and your relationship with the iconic Cindy Sherman, you manage to inject some feminist views about the art world into Guest of Cindy Sherman. Who made that decision, you or Tom Donahue?

 

Paul H-O: In the film you will see footage of me marching with WAC (Women Artists Coalition) to protest Pace Wildenstein’s lack of women artists. Pace Wildenstein only represented one woman’s work at that time, the deceased Louise Nevelson. In fact, I dressed up like Louise Nevelson for the protest and went out and marched with the girls.  Feminism aside, I am a strong proponent of artists who come from a different direction. For instance, take Cindy Sherman. Cindy Sherman was a woman doing feminist art but you can get different ideas from her work. Her work reaches out to a broader audience who got a wider range of interpretations from her art. You don’t have to know a darn thing about art to appreciate what she is doing and how there is tension in her work and some self-reference.

 

William S. Gooch: Cindy Sherman was and is a very private person who rarely gave interviews. Did Cindy become less private and more receptive to being interviewed after doing a series of interviews for Gallery Beat?

 

Paul H-O:  PBS was scheduled to interview Cindy around the same time I first interviewed her for Gallery Beat. After Gallery Beat, she actually cancelled the interview with PBS, even though the camera crew was already set up in her studio.  I didn’t discourage her for canceling on PBS because that gave Gallery Beat an exclusive. So in effect, she became more private after I interviewed her.

 

picture - Guest of Cindy ShermanWilliam S. Gooch: Well, why did she interview with you?

 

Paul H-O: She met me and kind of dug me. Some of the material I have of Cindy is probably the only footage that exists of her being interviewed and working in her studio.

 

William S. Gooch: Some people will look at this documentary and say that Guest of Cindy Sherman is a film about a man who cannot handle a woman’s artistic success. How will you respond to that criticism?

 

Paul H-O: Well, I can be a whiner, what can I say. Look, I have experienced out-and-out failure in my life. I was expressing what I was feeling at the time and if it comes out whiney, so be it. But, you know, I have gotten a lot of positive response for women because they identify with being the forgotten mate of a successful husband. In my case it was the other way around.

 

William S. Gooch: What is your position on art as big business?

 

Paul H-O: I don’t like the corporatization of anything. That model doesn’t serve the artists well and doesn’t make art better. It didn’t give us the greatest work of the 20th Century going into the 21st Century.  Certain things facilitate creativity, and being corporate is not one of them.

 

William S. Gooch: What is your perspective on how the current economic downturn will affect galleries in NYC?

 

Paul H-O: I think it will be very interesting ground for me to cover. I like it when things are upside down and topsy-turvy. This will be a test of who is really in it for the money or the art.  An artist will create what they create because they have to do it. I can’t wait to document what happens.

 

 

Directed by Paul H-O and Tom Donahue, Guest of Cindy Sherman features Paul H-O, Cindy Sherman, John Waters, Eric Bogosian, Danny DeVito, Jeanne Tripplehorn, Molly Ringwald, Carol Kane, Eric Frischl, Christine Vachon, Roberta Smith, Robert Longo, Eli Broad, Ingrid Sischy, Cecily Brown, and Christopher Trela.

 

Guest of Cindy Sherman opens in New York City and Santa Fe on March 27, 2009. For more information, go to guestofcindysherman.com.

 

williamgooch @ stageandcinema.com

 

 
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