THE INSIGNIFICANT OTHER
Documentary Interview with co-director and subject Paul H-O
by William Gooch
published March 26, 2009
Guest of Cindy Sherman
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
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.
William 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
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.
William 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
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