The Art Assassin 2

a nonfiction novel by Albert Wang, or a portrait of the artist as a young failure…

ASSASSINATION: Justin Lieberman, Artist Represented by Zach Feuer Gallery and Sutton Lane

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Photograph of Justin Lieberman in a public space. Courtesy of Facebook.

Justin Lieberman: The Corrector (Nobusuke Tagomi), 2008, acrylic on wood, 54 by 23 by 19 inches. Courtesy of Zach Feuer Gallery.

Conceptual and installation artist Justin Lieberman challenges the everyday viewer with his incisive combination of high and low culture with strong literary overtones. Either invoking text or literary sources, this foremost artist has developed a profound and provocative body of work that ranges from vibrant large-scale installations to redacted appropriated photographs. His latest exhibition “The Corrector in the High Castle” re-examines a Philip Dick novel that explores an alternative history where the Axis defeated the Allies during World War II. Lieberman’s innovative use of replicas to study the cultural value of rare objects presents a challenging problem where the viewer has to confront his or her relationship to commonplace objects which has gained meaningful status through a consensus of society’s critics.

Lieberman’s gamut within his artwork ranges from the deceptively straightforward sculpture “Box of Money” to the early watercolor work “The Mystery of Snoopy’s Balancing act.” These varied and sometimes divisive styles presents the artist’s continual problem solving as each idea that is confronted becomes the springboard for further explorations. With his playful approach with serious overtones, Lieberman shows that art today does not have to be relegated to the status of eye candy but presents work that is a fertile playground for groundbreaking ideas that rarely get deconstructed in today’s throwaway culture.

If you have any questions about Lieberman’s artwork, feel free to contact his gallery Zach Feuer Gallery at (212) 989-7700 or at Another gallery that features his work includes Sutton Lane at

And now to the awaited show and THE ART ASSASSIN’s latest details of this “assassination”:

qi peng: To start off on a lighter note, what are some of your favorite artists, books, television shows, sports, art magazines, toys, movies, and other cultural artifacts (either from your childhood or adulthood) that you wish to share with your fans of your work here? How are these incorporated into the ideas for your work?

Justin Lieberman: Hmm. That is very broad. There are thousands of things. Some end up having a bearing on my work, or they will enter into the work. I read a lot of books. I don’t have TV. Not because I’m against it, I just don’t have it. I don’t like sports at all. Magazines I seek out if I know there is something in one that will interest me. Last night I watched a movie called Magic, starring a very young Anthony Hopkins. It was a standard psychotic ventriloquist story, but well done. I used to go on toy buying binges, but it has been a while. I found a Mech-a-neck at my friend Dan’s place. It was definitely one of the most absurd of the He-Man figures. His power was that he could extend his neck which was a telescopic metal column with circuitry all over it. On the cartoon Mech-a-neck had a son, who also had a mechanical neck. In one episode the kids at school were making fun of him for it. But Mech-A-Neck senior had a heart to heart talk with him, and told him that his mechanical neck was what made him special. That is burned into my mind for some reason. I haven’t seen that show in more than twenty years. Right now, I am reading a monograph on Paul Thek, which is inspiring. It details a lot of his struggles as an artist. Defining the parameters of his work, dealing with institutions and the market, collaborating with other artists. I can identify with a lot of the problems he faced. And his way of facing them was very human, very personal. He seems really emblematic to me of an artist who tried to develop a relevant, contemporary critique of the culture around him, yet he maintained an existential core as well. There were things he truly believed in. It is a real triumph in my opinion because these things are so difficult to reconcile. Also, I am reading Locus Solus, by Raymond Roussel. Amazing. Halfway through the book, I realized that the inventor‘s lectures on his inventions seemed to me as I must seem to people who I tour through my studio, or an exhibition. There is an incredibly bizarre use of logic in that book, on so many different levels . It is brilliant. I highly recommend it.

qi peng: Have you been recently during the past few months to any galleries or exhibitions that you have seen and would to recommend to us? What elements within those shows inspired your artistic eye and tastes?

Justin Lieberman: I saw Cheyney Thompson‘s exhibit and it made a big impression on me. Other things have affected me lately in ways I did not expect. Christopher Williams, Stephen Prina, Nora Schultz, Larry Johnson, Jacques Vidal, Kate Levant. There are a lot of great things to see. I don’t live in the city right now, but I get down there when I can. I loved the exhibition of Basil Wolverton‘s drawings. I have loved those drawings for as long as I can remember.

qi peng: Are there any restaurants or hangouts such as bookstores around Hudson, where you work at, or New York or anywhere else that you wish to recommend us? What are the qualities that you enjoy best about the places that you have chosen?

Justin Lieberman: Dan Seward from the Bunnybrains has a junk store in Hudson that I like very much. In the city, I like the bookstore Spoonbill in Brooklyn. I showed a sculpture there once. The owners, Miles and Jonas are great people. There is a record store in Boston called Twisted Village that I love. The people at those places all showed me things I hadn’t seen before, or showed me new ways of looking at things I had. I like places like those, where I can afford stuff, and the owners are happy to talk.

qi peng: In your assessment, how do you feel that the current economic recession impacted the contemporary art market and way that it functions in the larger national economy? Do you feel that artists will be pursuing more personal and intimate projects than the overly commercial work that was typically geared for the art fairs during the upcoming years? How do you think that galleries and non-profits will be coping with the dramatic shifts within the political and corporate culture, particularly in America? If so, how does your artwork deal with usurpation of our lives by corporate logos and corporate-owned cartoon characters and the artist’s attempt to seize personalization back into life through perversion?

Justin Lieberman: I think the recession has of course had an enormous effect on the art market. It is much more difficult for dealers to sell works of art now than it was before. Deep discounts are being given across the board. I am not really sure how the art market functions in the larger national economy. I guess that, symbolically, it could function as a gauge of surplus among the wealthy. But that is a bit cynical, because most artists are not wealthy. I’m really not sure. I can say this much : There has been much made of certain artists and artworks that was driven by market mentality and speculation. By everyone involved. Artworks that cost more money were assumed to be better or more important than artworks that cost less. Anyone with half a brain can see the absurdity that this results in. But the mainstream press ate it up. It was kind of like the YBA phenomenon. Totally boring.

I think that maybe a few artists were producing “commercial projects” but in general I think that kind of thing is pretty rare. I know very few artists who think about their own work in those terms. “How can I sell more? What is the best way to make more money?” Artists work becomes seen as commercial when it sells very well. Just as artists who shy away from the market are seen as possessing integrity. It is the market and the institutions that produce labels like those 99% of the time. Most artists are just not opportunistic in that way. At least not the ones I know, but then, neither the market nor the social art world is my field. I don’t study it, and I would certainly never make work about it.

My use of corporate logos in some works serves different purposes, depending on the work. I think the logos of Paul Rand are beautiful, and I made a collage of them from the standpoint of a fan of his work, rather than as a protest of corporations. My illustrations involving Bibendum and the Pillsbury Doughboy weren’t meant as rebukes to corporations either. They came out of a personal attachment I had to those characters. I’m not really interested in didactic culture jamming. Sometimes, my point of view on the material that I work with could be seen as perverse in relationship to that material’s intended use. But this is not always the case. It is not reducible to a tribute or a critique. It is a poetic relationship.

qi peng: Also, do you have any favorite hobbies which you enjoy in your spare time? How do these activities inform the studio work that you pursue? Based your personal interests, are your paintings, works on paper, sculptures, and installations reflective of those hobbies you pursue?

Justin Lieberman: I listen to music and read. Both those things inform my work in the studio.

qi peng: As a graduate of both the School of the Museum of Fine Arts and Yale University School of Art, what was life in the studio like back then? How does your studio practice differ today from studio time in those years? What were the ideas that you explored during your undergraduate and graduate years as a student? How has your themes and style evolved over the years?

Justin Lieberman: I loved art school. It was really a defining experience for me. I don’t think my studio is that different now than it was then. It was amazing to have a group of artists all in one place like that, sharing ideas. I haven’t really had that since. I would like to have it again. Teaching approximates the experience, it comes close, and teaching is super important to me. But as a teacher, you are in a position of authority, so it is a bit different. One can superficially divest oneself of this authority and treat students as peers. This can work to a certain extent, but it is a really self-serving way to teach. Better to accept the authority that you are given, and take responsibility for it.

In art school, I did a lot of performance. I tried to put on a one-man production of Krapp’s Last Tape, but it was terrible. I assumed since you could sit at a desk and read the lines rather than memorize them, it would be easy. Ha! It is extremely difficult, because without precise pacing, it is nonsense. In art school I tried to develop a philosophical core to work from. I tried to make some decisions about what I believed. I read a lot of books, tried on a lot of hats. At the same time though, I was very skeptical of anything I perceived as “looking like art”. I did not want my own work to come out of the assumption that what I was doing was art. I wanted to have to earn that title. I decided that I would do what I would do, and if others deemed it art, then fine. For some reason, at that time, I found it necessary to lie to myself in that way. To trick myself into being an artist.

qi peng: Your philosophy of art, in my assessment has a strong parallel, with neo-Marxism, particularly ideas from the Frankfurt School. For example, your 2006 piece “National Peanut Board” smashes together the painterly element of defacement with the clean-cut lines and curves of commercial advertising. For me, there is this inner conflict between a desire for the authentic experience yet the cynical realization that human lives cannot escape the encroachment of the capitalist dominance through the canning of ideology. Many of your pieces seem to be freethinking and celebrate a sense of humanity in defiance our pop art lifestyles. What is the political and sociological thrust behind the body of your work? What is the process from idea to finished piece of your techniques of subversion? Is the “painterly” an act of rebellion? Also with the use of recycled or commonplace materials, does your work have any parallels with the arte povera movement of the 1960’s?

Justin Lieberman: It is funny to me that you bring up that piece. I thought that piece was a big mistake. It gave too much away. A lot of people really clung on to that piece, as though it represented a gesture of defiance against corporate intrusion onto subjectivity. It was way more explicit than anything else in the show that way. Everything else was much more gentle. If you actually think about it though, The National Peanut Board, a consortium of peanut farmers, is not a very good representation of corporate hegemony. The NPB is not Blackwater. It is not Wal-Mart. I don’t think that a piece like that would be very effective as a protest. If you look at it in black and white terms like that, it is completely misguided. I think that people are desperate for signs of freedom and humanity that they can recognize, that are familiar to them. But the very fact that these signs seem familiar should tell us that there is something not quite right. True examples of freedom or humanity cannot be reduced to signs. When that happens, it is most likely the case that we are looking at something that has been recycled. I think that Marcuse and Adorno are fascinating. But I do not think that their writings can be used as an instruction manual in order to make art. Recently, a close friend said to me that every artist who has benefitted from the art market was in some way complicit in what Marcuse meant by “repressive desublimation”. He saw this as a paradox. But I am more inclined to look from example to example, and in certain cases I think we can see that society does indeed make progress. Of course, it also moves in the other direction. The popularity of Jeff Koons tells one story, the popularity of Felix Gonzalez-Torres tells another. There are endless stories. I am not in favor of dancing on the grave of ideology simply because some examples of it have been canned. Not all ideologies are the same. Nor are all institutions. The contemporary art museum is not the same as the army recruiter’s office. I am attracted to the aesthetics of protest culture, but I am wary of those who treat those aesthetics in a fetishistic way, either through diagramming its failures or by treating it as an “authentic” alternative to the dominant culture. I do think that alternatives exist, but searching for them is not simply a matter of positioning yourself in opposition to whoever happens to be in power. That is a simplistic view, and in cultural production, it can even be a kind of opportunism. For instance : An artist makes work against artists more well-known or more famous than themselves, and so seeks to replace those artists, to take their seat of power. I don’t like this kind oedipal relationship. I have great respect for artists whose work I find meaningful. The goal of an artist should not be simply to make those artists who came before seem irrelevant, in the service of creating a career for themselves. Or to become a part of a system that existed before their arrival. The point is to call something new into being. Not to destroy everything there is out of a sort of ressentiment. I am interested in building, not tearing down.

For me, painting cannot be an act of rebellion. I just can’t see it in that way. I don’t think it functions in that way. It can be a dialogue though, a conversation. Arte Povera as a movement never really spoke to me. Certain works though, by Manzoni, Pascali, and Boetti I have loved.

qi peng: Many titles of your exhibitions such as “A PLACE FOR EVERYTHING AND EVERYTHING IN ITS PLACE” have literary overtones, particularly sounding like the vocabulary of Tristram Shandy. How do you come up with these titles and how do they relate to the works within the show? Are these phrases an expression of a linguistic mind where you introduce plaisir and jouissance (cue to Barthes‘ essay “The Pleasure of the Text“) into the visual atmosphere? What tension exists between the title of an individual work and the actual piece itself?

Justin Lieberman: That quotation is from an early book on etiquette. But I chose it specifically because it related to the taxonomic aspirations of that particular show, which had more in common with Flaubert‘s Bouvard And Pécuchet than it did with Sterne’s book. Although both are works of parody. I try to title exhibitions in such a way that the title will have a poetic relationship to the work itself. Sometimes, there are processual elements that form part of a work’s meaning, but are not readily apparent. So a title can be helpful in reference to origins. The titles of the pieces themselves most often serve that function. But they are not captions. If it seemed to me that a work was complete without a title, I would leave it untitled. The information is there. The material is there. There is a certain way of working that begins with language. This language then finds its form in an object or an image. But even in those cases, the original language is poetic, not didactic. It is a mistake to look at it as though it were a teaching tool. But in a way, it is my own fault that this happens. When you compose an artwork out of materials that are familiar to a great number of people, that are very recognizable, you have to expect that people will have their own associations. It is extremely difficult to get people to see things they are familiar with in a new way. As for pleasure and jouissance, I can only hope that people might engage so thoroughly, that they would be inspired in that way. This is how Raymond Roussel’s work functions. You cannot read those books with passivity. They require active engagement. I am disturbed by passive readings, readings that go no further than what they suppose my intentions to be, or those which seek to interpret the work according to whatever theories are fashionable at the moment. You cannot get anywhere that way. But also I think it is very important here to distinguish exactly what we mean by jouissance. To return to the notion of repressive desublimation as I believe it relates, it would seem that this dynamic has become the total axiom of the culture. “All jouissance. All the time.” We now exist in a constant state of this surplus-jouissance, and anything we do as artists merely contributes to it. Because of this, I can understand the current injunction against the “image of labour” as it is now conflated with the hippocratic oath : “First, show no labour.” It makes sense under these conditions. It is a bind. Artists make things, and by necessity there will be labour involved. The upside is that, as an artist, it is up to you to define the nature of this labour. Do not merely react to society’s definition like a petulant child. This will not solve the problem. And just as it is possible for us the define the nature of the labor, so might we define the nature of the jouissance. This is very important. Not a McLuhan jouissance of information overload and pastiche but the other jouissance that occurs between texts. But if we are going to be realistic about the nature of jouissance, we have to ask ourselves if this is really possible. Because in the becoming of jouissance it would seem that what is occurring is the very erasure of difference. I do not know the answer to this question.

qi peng: Assume that you could create your own personal museum of artwork. Which artists or pieces would you include in the collection and why? What things do you like looking when you are at art museums or galleries anywhere? What types of artwork does your personal tastes gravitate towards?

Justin Lieberman: I like art that reveals itself to me slowly and over time. That I can return to again and again and continually discover new ways of seeing it or of seeing through it. Of course this is very difficult when you visit art galleries or museums and you see things for very brief periods of time. Often I find something striking, and then later I realize I have exhausted its possibilities. Other times I may gloss over something that I see, only to find that it returns to me again and again. It would be nice to be able to see certain works that I missed, but where the documentation and writing about them has affected me. Installations by Dieter Roth, Paul Thek, Kenneth Anger, Robert Smithson, Kurt Schwitters, Marcel Duchamp, La Monte Young, Jack Smith, Walter De Maria, Mike Kelley. Sun Ra could also create a room. Maybe Fort Thunder could have been preserved. I went to the HR Giger museum and I thought it was incredibly beautiful. This is, in my opinion, the apex of what a museum can be. A world. Donald Judd understood this, and so you have Marfa. HC Westermann‘s house is another example. It is unfortunate that the Guggenheim chose to purchase the house of Richard Prince, which at this point in Prince’s career seemed like a work of opportunism, rather than Westermann’s house, which was his final masterpiece. I think that there are many artists who think of their work primarily in terms of spatial expansion rather that temporal development. Not all of them create multi media installations (Piero Manzoni’s work was primarily discreet objects, but I believe he fits the category), but sometimes, if you see an artist working in this way, you have a clue that this might be what they are doing. There are those who would dismiss the category of installation art completely, as a product of the combination of ego and spectacle, a misguided capitulation to bourgeois taste. To them I would respond that it is precisely the fact that these works are NOT easily portable or conserved that constitutes their their resistance to the spectacle. They are not “undercover” works, seeking to infiltrate bourgeoise society. One should not confuse the work of a radical artist like Thek, whose use of the model of spatial expansion confounded current methods of distribution, with that of a conventional neo-conservative like Takashi Murakami, whose model exists comfortably within the status quo. But this is exactly what is being done right now by dogmatic forms of criticism. I would love to see an enormous museum devoted to preserving the work of these types of artists. The architecture could be dictated by the works to be housed. It would be like going from world to world. Of course, it is always a mistake to become involved in “recreations”. So this is purely a fantasy. But it could be done in the future. I guess if society values a work enough, society will see to its preservation.

qi peng: As both of us are text-based visual artists, your work is derived from the playfulness of language. What research do you do to find the ideas or phrases that will form the driving concept behind a particular work? Your 2009 piece “Architectural Digest Promotion” is an incredibly fascinating piece where the personal collides with the public on a magazine cover which is a beautiful admixture of word and photographic image. What are the rules of your design within such conceptual pieces?

Justin Lieberman: I would agree that my work tends to begin with language. Usually there will be an idea, something I read possibly. I tend to proceed in a way that is very rational, and so I will try to begin with something that is irrational. Architectural Digest Promotion was a piece that began with another piece, The Corrector’s Custom Pre-Fab House. This piece in turn came out of a lot of converging interests. Visionary and Outsider architecture, Tropical Modernism, Jean Prouve, Edutainment programs from children’s museums, taxonomic display, military bunkers, techno-fetishists and steam punk, and participation culture. It was a kind of dwelling, presented inside the gallery space. Like a giant steel igloo, covered in various objects, each of which was archived on a computer. The whole thing is a bit complex to go into here, but the proposal of the title of that piece and of “Architectural Digest Promotion” was that the dwelling could be purchased empty, without the objects, and then the owner could fill it in with objects of their own choosing, as well as writing the descriptions for the archive. It was that the piece was a program, a set of guidelines by which you could “create your own”. This is the operational method of participation culture. Each participant fulfills their participatory role. I do not want to propose that I am somehow outside of this though. My friend Mike Cloud wrote to me that these virtual worlds like facebook need “shills” more than the physical world because they have no zero point to which they can return. Minus participation, they would cease to exist.

qi peng: Barthes explains the difference between the texte lisible and texte scriptible (readerly and writerly). Readerly texts do not challenge the status quo whereas writerly texts does the opposite. What is the visual counterpoint to such an idea? How do your pieces, such as “The Corrector (Nobusuke Tagomi)” in your recent 2009 solo show “THE CORRECTOR IN THE HIGH CASTLE,” reflect an easy pleasure in the viewer laughing at the odd juxtapositions amongst Japanese stereotypes, papalism, and Nazism? How does “shock value” help or prevent the viewer from taking time to contemplate the complex meaning of such “problematic” work?

Justin Lieberman: What is the scriptable artwork? I guess that is what we are all struggling to find out! I do not believe that I have found it for myself yet. The artists I’ve mentioned here already, their work is scriptable for me. It opens new ways of seeing for me, by rendering the world legible on it’s own terms. Kate Levant’s work certainly affected me in that way. She is a close friend, and yet I was unable to really see her work for years. But this is because I was unwilling to see the work on its own terms. I was too conservative to see it. My mind was not open. The work eventually opened my mind. I would say the same thing about Cheyney’s work. Coming to terms with the work of these artists has been incredibly helpful to me. I think that this sort of experience with an artwork is a part of what we are looking for. On the other hand, it is my pleasure on occasion to see things that are familiar to me. I read the same books again sometimes. I believe that this is the case with most people. One of the things I have tried to do with my work is to take up subjects that are familiar, part of the culture, as a starting point. Often times, the images will be highly charged. They will be important to people with or without my intervention. This was a way to hold people’s attention. To get them to stay longer, to spend enough time that they might discover what else is going on. I never thought of my work as possessing shock value though. The Nazi flag was a part of a larger story, a fictional narrative. The Japanese stereotype was problematic though, even for me. After I finished that figure, I realized that I found it offensive. I had to ask myself why I would do such a thing. The figure was one of the only things in that show where my own authorship was completely unmitigated. That is to say that everything else involved some sort of collage or appropriation. And yet, very few people questioned it. This was even more surprising to me. I think that there is a deep-seated conservatism behind the desire to fashion oneself as “politically incorrect“. To simply accept stereotypes as an anachronism and laugh, and move on. People my age pride themselves on their political incorrectness, yet they see themselves as anti-autoritarian. Who is the authority then? It is almost inconceivable to people that in the liberal world of art, one might encounter an actual racist. And yet, this what these politically incorrect libertarians edge closer and closer to with their wholesale dismissals of ideology and institutions. The image of the artist as an “individualist” is now completely bound up with corporate and right-wing marketing of this very individualism. Maybe the point then was that sometimes, we assume too much.

qi peng: On another light note, do you have any favorite cuisine or dishes that you enjoy? Considering that food is essential for the artistic soul, what things do you enjoy about meals either prepared in a restaurant or home setting?

Justin Lieberman: I am not the type to pay very close attention to what I eat. But Lauren, my girlfriend, is trying to train this out of me. We have a garden and I love the dishes that come from there. Curries, pasta with fresh vegatables. We eat mostly local food. There are some great restaurants up here that also subscribe to this philosophy. Local 111 is a restaurant right by our house that serves only local food.

qi peng: You mentioned that you enjoy academic criticism better than journalistic criticism. What accounts for this? What are the difficulties of an art critic, such as Jerry Saltz or Holland Cotter, to digest a work rapidly artwork for the news outlet, such as The New York Times, under a deadline? What difference in focus and quality do you see in academic writing where artwork is analyzed ten to twenty years after the show versus journalistic writing where artwork is analyzed a few minutes after the opening?

Justin Lieberman: When I said that, I was not really thinking about Saltz or Cotter. They are both fine critics. And I think it is an important job to write about the new. What I mean by journalistic criticism is the tendency to focus on superficialities rather than conducting a real investigation. There is so much writing about art now that goes no further than its market and biographical details about the artist. It is like tabloid journalism. Critics who write in this way will often go no further in their analysis of the actual work than a token bit of pseudomorphism.

qi peng: Your most recent exhibition at Zach Feuer Gallery was based on “The Man In The High Castle” by Philip K. Dick, and it’s second half at Marc Jancou was based on “Learning From Las Vegas” by Robert Venturi and Denise Scott-Brown. Why did you select these two tomes for as the basis for a conceptual installation which is a deep investigation into the idea of replication and artificiality? For the lay reader, would you mind explaining the concept of the placeholder and how it plays a crucial role in “THE CORRECTOR IN THE HIGH CASTLE?” Economically and culturally, how is the reproduction of an object more valuable than the original object being depicted? Who is “The Corrector” and in what way is he a crucial character within this fictional universe that is created? What is the basis for the clear acrylic resin being poured on the items which are not placeholder elements?

Justin Lieberman: I began the work long before I selected the books. At a certain point though, I started looking for something to rally the works around. The idea of forcing all the work into the role of illustration seemed perverse and funny to me. That so many decisions could be crammed into the service of illustrations of these two texts. But it was not entirely that way. At a certain point I decided to commit to this idea, and allow it to drive the work. That is where the figure came from as well as certain aspects of TCCPFH. The PKD story ended up fitting very well. There is a way of looking in which the idea BEGINS with the book, and fragments off from there in other directions, becoming a kind of free-associative game. This probably allows the work to function in a way that is most logical. But there is another way too. The texts run along side the works, weaving in and out of them, informing them and vice-versa. This is probably closer to the truth. The idea of the place-holder is something I was introduced to from a magazine I found on the street, called ToyFare. It was a magazine for collectors of action figures. There were instructions for making replicas of action figures by a company called Mego. The purpose of making these replicas was to help a collector complete an incomplete set. They were not considered to be as good as the the “real” figures. This struck me as similar to the museum practice of displaying replicas of artworks while the real ones are locked away, or possibly on loan. My placeholders were made in this spirit. They were the inferior replicas of a fetishist. Someone visited my studio while I was working on these, and pointed out that my replicas were in some cases more valuable economically than the originals. But by that time, I was highly immersed in creating a fictional world where this fact didn’t figure. It hadn’t even occurred to me. I am not inclined to think of my own work in that way. Unfortunately, it is a reality. Culturally though, within the space of the illustration as a whole, I think the value was what I intended : far inferior to that of the original. In this way, I equated myself with the character. In my version of PKD’s story, Tagomi was more of a hoarder than he was in the book. In the book he was a dealer, not so much of a fetishist. I kind of combined his character with the classic example of the Collyer brothers to arrive at the character. The use of that resin was also fetishistic. It both preserves the collections and destroys whatever value they might have had. A kind of implosion of fetishism. I do think though that this sort of reverential treatment of throwaway commodities does contain the seeds of a secession. It is like the Coke bottle in the film The Gods Must Be Crazy. The commodities are meant to be discarded, not revered. If they are revered, this threatens their planned obsolescence. People like the Collyer brothers are a problem for a society that depicts itself as progressive and modern, because their behavior reveals the primitive foundation on which this depiction rests.

qi peng: How do you think that the new media, ranging from video art to Internet-based projects, will impact people’s appreciation of painting and photography and sculpture, more traditional and established media, which are interacting with each other in terms of visual motifs and archetypes? Do you feel that as people interact with new media, they will be able to critique the cliches of mainstream media and have a profound understanding of what it means to be human?

Justin Lieberman: I don’t think of art in terms of media, traditional or otherwise. I think we are past the point where people might still be infatuated with new technologies or new media. All media can be treated progressively or fetishistically. Art does not evolve in the same way as science. New art does not make old art obsolete. I think that this is part of the appeal of obsolete technologies. To examine a particular technology’s decent into obsolescence is to direct our attention towards our infatuation with novelty. But here, we run the risk of romanticizing the old. On the whole, I would say that the cliches present in mainstream media are equally present in the underground. They just take different forms.

qi peng: What is your take on postmodern iconography and processed commodification and how human experiences are converted into pre-packaged lifestyles and vicarious events (particularly through television and the social networking websites) that we prefer over the actual events? Can advertising be humanistic in intent and effect?

Justin Lieberman: Of course I think all these things are a problem. But they are a different problem now than they once were. One can no longer define oneself against the larger background of society. It becomes a problem of even defining oneself in relation to society. We do not want to take the easy route, and secret away our humanity by showing only a tough ironic shell to the world. But we live in constant fear of relinquishing our humanity, giving it up to the desublimation of the spectacle. Advertising seems to be a focal point, something we can constantly re-examine in order to see which routes have been closed down, and which might have been left unguarded and might thus be re-opened. But in defining oneself against the spectacle, we risk becoming the spectacle’s complimentary. Then we have no time for anything else in our lives! I think one thing to bear in mind though, is that the individuals are not the enemy. The advertisers are human. It is good to know this. To place oneself in their shoes. To play at being a copywriter was for me to take a break from playing at being an artist. I don’t say this in order to make light of either occupation. Only to confess their similarity. Let me paraphrase Art and Language here. “As artists we are faced with a choice : to be harmless tools of reactionary intrigue or to recognize that we are penny capitalists and ask ourselves what that means, becoming people in process.” Now I have butchered the quote here in the interest of brevity but one part that I am sure I have right is the term “people in process”. When I first read this I questioned it. I thought, “Shouldn’t it say “people in the process”? A misprint maybe? I don’t think so. Because what we arrive at is not a complete state. It is an acceptance of the very incompleteness of our project.

qi peng: What have been some of the joys and challenges of working in the context of the gallery system? What are some of your future projects or exhibitions that you will be pursuing soon? Will these new artworks be an extension of the themes and ideas that you are examining now or a different direction instead?

Justin Lieberman: The gallery system has been very good to me. I have been very lucky to have these galleries support me and my work. It has allowed me a lot of freedom. On the other hand, there is a lot of pressure to be constantly productive, but this is no different than anyone else who works. There is also the problem of the attention span. If a work can not be quickly summed up, or easily recognized and understood, then we are treading difficult ground. But this is the case with institutions as well. In the institution, it is not the work that must be apprehended, but the attention of the visitors. I have been spending more time writing lately. After TCITHC and TCCPFH I felt like I had taken a certain train of thought through to its conclusion. Those shows were a kind of apotheosis for me. So maybe now I am facing the fact that my work must develop in time as well as space. I have a show that opens in Paris at the end of the month that has some very different ideas from those I have been working with previously. There will also be two group shows there at the same time.

qi peng: Do you have anything else which you would like to share with your readers and fans of your paintings, works on paper, sculptures, installation work, and upcoming exhibitions here?

Justin Lieberman: I would say, “Try to keep an open mind.

For more gossip or dishing me the art scoop: E-mail me at

Written by qi peng

September 16, 2009 at 2:45 am

Posted in Uncategorized

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