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"Read by Famous," Donated by Another

Connect the dots from Michelle Tea's Valencia to Eileen Myles' Chelsea Girls to Gilles Deleuze's Masochism: Coldness and Cruelty & Venus in Furs, and you'll find artist Josh Greene. Greene's project Read by Famous seeks donated books
"the actual books that these people owned and read"from famous or well-established individuals such as Gavin Newsom and Philip Seymour Hoffman. A selection of books from Read by Famous is currently on view at The CJM in Greene's exhibition Bound to Be Held: A Book Show.

A particular trio of book donors in the collectionaward-winning writers Michelle Tea (Valencia, Mermaid in Chelsea Creek), Eileen Myles (Chelsea Girls, Cool for You), and Emmy-nominated Jill Soloway (Six-Feet Under, Transparent)gave one another's books to the project, and in the process, recommended one another for it. Jill contributed Michelle's book, Michelle gave Eileen's book, and Eileen donated a book an author that is no longer living, thereby completing the chain.

In a talk on Thursday, May 7, the three writers came full circle to discuss literature, feminism, making it in Hollywood, and more. In this segment, the speakers converse about the difficulty of letting go of a well-loved book, on books as art, and how their selections show their influence on one another's writing.

Want more? Listen to the full podcast here

Installation view of Bound to Be Held: A Book Show
with the Read by Famous submissions by Jill Soloway, Michelle
Tea, and Eileen Myles.

Matt Sussman (MS): I wanted to start just by asking you about your selections for Read by Famous, just because I think it's both serendipitous that you wound up selecting each other in a way. But also, I think the selection points the ways in which you've influenced each other's work and gotten to know each other as well. 

Michelle Tea (MT): So I was asked to donate a book that I'd read that meant something to me and write a little inscription in it. And, it's really hard to let go of books, like I find it really really hard, so I was trying to cheat a little bit, maybe donate a book I didn't love that much or something I was going to sell or something I had doubles of, you know. And I saw Eileen Myles'the copy of her book Chelsea Girlsand it's easily the book that has influenced me more than any book in the world. And, it felt like this dare, like do I go all in this or do I not? Am I just fucking wimp out and send like, I don't know. So, I did sort of cheat a little bit because I donated my copy but I have Ali Liebegott's copy at my house. And I don't think she realizes that... So I felt like I can always keep Ali's copy because I bought it for her a long time ago. So I feel like I could pretend like it's mine. So I did cheat a little bit. It just felt like it would be a beautiful thing to give, because it looks like it's my favorite book. I mean there's no cover, it's like all beat up, it's dog eared, there's coffee spilled on it, I've read it and reread it a trillion times. So I just decided to go all the way. 

Eileen Myles (EM): Didn't you feel likeI felt like being asked to give away a book that I love, that I had written all over, was like so painful in a certain way. And I felt like, I always think of painters and what's so weird, even though they get all this money when they sell their art, they always have to let go of their work. And I've talked to painters about it and they say it's really, you've lived in the studio with it for so long and you've put so much of yourself in it and then it leaves and it's gonethough in exchange you get all this dough, you know. And I felt like there was something like that about giving up a book that I really... like I gave upmy book was Masochism by Deleuze. And I'm not like a big theory head but every year, every few years, I find a theory book that is so exciting and brings up thing's I've thought about but never in that wayand it just like got me so going and influenced the next book and everything. And Masochism was like thatit's like exactly like what you were saying about something you really care about, can you give it away? Like that's sort of Masochism, in a way. But, it's also like a plot's like if you give up something really valuable, then what happens? You know, it creates this hole, and then something else happens. And part of what I learned from this book was to make stories out of things, like shit that happens basically, like the stuff that comes along, like what do you do with this. And I'm the kind of writer, and I don't want to sayI think we're the kind of writers that do that. You know, it's like following the breadcrumbs and making that into the art. And I felt like that was the masochistic road, and I'm very excited about it. So I just covered that book.

So the way I cheated was that I got my assistant to copy every fucking note. I thought, "This is double fetish! I'm giving it up and then I'm keeping it!" And it's in this other handwriting and stuff, and it was just so funny, like I paid her to painstakingly like write every little underline.

MT: She did a reproduction. (Laughs).

EM: Yeah! And then I thought it was another piece of art.

MS: So wait, the version in the show, is that the facsimile? 

EM: No, I was honest, I gave the real thing. Yeah.

JS: Yeah, I felt similarly kind of angry about the request. 

MT: Like, how dare you!

JS: Well now I feel like I get why I did it, because we're here. Like this has been a great week and trip. I got to meet Eileen, I already knew you. So like, it all adds up to something good, but at the time I was upset. And I have a bunch of Valencias actually. 

MT: Oh good, I was going to give you one.

JS: I have so many of them, I probably bought twenty over the course of my life. 

MT: Oh, thanks!

JS: Well because I was working on that film, on the chapter in the film, so everybody who worked on it, I wanted them to read itand I always give it as a gift. And yeah, it's one of those books know, both of you guys really inspired me to just sort of beto have a voice. And that the sort of just like bold brash grabbing on to the protagonism and just kind of like throwing shit all over the place with your voice and not giving a fuck. That was what Valencia did to me when I read it. I feel like sometimes you write books imagining certain people are going to read themor like trying to be like Michelle Tea. That's kind of how I found my writer's voice, by trying to be like you. So that's why the book mattered.

MT: Thank you. That's really sweet.

Artist Cybele Lyle Talks Tzedakah

Cybele Lyle, (de)(re)construct(ion)(ing), 2015. 
Acrylic, paint, screen print, 5 x 10 3/4 x 7 3/4 in. 
Photo by Johnna Arnold.

In conjunction with The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational: Tzedakah Box, The CJM invites participating artists to give insightful chats in the gallery. Artists will discuss their work in the larger context of craft, design, and how the invitation to create work on the theme of tzedakah affected their process. Get to know artist Cybele Lyle, who will be speaking at The CJM on Friday, May 8 from 12:30–1pm.

1. What inspired you about taking this traditional Jewish object and creating a new work of art?
It was a totally new way of working for me, which allowed me to approach my own practice from a new perspective. I'm not used to making functional objects or sculpture and so I was forced to shift my approach from the beginning. That's always inspiring as well as challenging.

2. What approach did you take to creating a work of art inspired by a tzedakah box (ie: conceptual, functional)?
My approach was both functional and conceptual. For some reason I really wanted my tzedakah box to be usable
perhaps that became a structure for me to hold onto for an object I otherwise knew very little about. But I also needed it to connect to my practice and expand my own thinking about my work and that part was primarily conceptual.

3. In six words, describe your creative practice.
explorative, personal, emotional, architectural, queer, nature

4. In your own words, what is a tzedakah box.
I see the box as a point of action that begins before it and ends after it. It's really a moment that concretizes something much bigger about exchange and opening up to the world around us.

5. How did your involvement in The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational come about?
That's a mystery to me - I received an invitation in the mail which I was happy to accept.

6. What are you working on now?
I have a few shows coming up - next week at Adjunct Positions in Los Angeles and later in the year in Kansas City and San Francisco. I'm working towards those shows and I'm also just working in a more general, everyday way on expanding my work.

Installation view of The 2015 Dorothy Saxe Invitational: 
Tzedakah Box. Photo by Stephanie Smith.

About the Author

Cybele holds an MFA from Hunter College in New York City, where she received the Tony Smith Award upon graduating. She received a BFA in printmaking in 2001 from California College of the Arts. Cybele has been an artist in residence at the Bemis Center, Atlantic Center for the Arts, Ox-Bow, and Project 387. She was selected as a finalist for the 2012 SECA award and was recently a Kala Fellow in Berkeley. Cybele has shown throughout the bay area, including, among others, shows at Queen's Nails, the Lab, the San Francisco Arts Commission, Royal Nonesuch Gallery and Et al. She has also shown throughout the country, most recently as part of a decade MFA exhibition with Hunter College in New York. Cybele has a studio at Real Time & Space in Oakland and is represented by Et al. Gallery in San Francisco.

Great minds (don’t) think alike

Installation view of In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art
Lindsey White and Ron Lynch. Photo by Johnna Arnold.

Creativity comes in pairs in The CJM’s exhibition series In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art. Following exhibitions with Lindsey White and Ron Lynch, and Helena Keefe and Jessica Prentice, Anthony Discenza and Peter Straub are the third duo to showcase their collaboration. Each duo had, and will have, different roles in the creative process; for instance, photographer Lindsey White took pictures of the subject—Ron Lynch—while Lynch employed his comedic skills, creating an audio ‘tour’ of the exhibition that was available to visitors.

Researching for the exhibition series, I read Sarah Lewis’ NYT review on Joshua Wolf Shenk’s Powers of Two: Finding the Essence of Innovation in Creative Pairs. I thought about the implications of a collaborative practice—not only on the pair’s creativity, but also on their individual practices. As much as a partnership allows for growth, it also requires some negotiations, and sometimes, a redefinition of power ratios. This is precisely what Lewis concludes in her review: “Just when we think an innovation came from an individual, we see that it was, in fact, created for and with someone else—the other half of an often hidden pair.” This called me to reflect on one artists’ pair, painters Sonia and Robert Delaunay, whose collaboration flourished in the early twentieth century—but at a cost to one.

Sonia and Robert Delaunay, 1923. 
Accessed on:

French Jewish artist Sonia Delaunay-Terk is best known for her colorful abstract paintings and textiles, though her work encompassed many genres and mediums. While her husband’s work, French painter Robert Delaunay, has been extensively shown and written about during his lifetime and after his death in 1941, Sonia has remained for many decades an ignored figure in art history.[1] The couple married in 1910 and  Sonia Terk adopted her husband’s last name. Together they participated in the Orphism movement derived from Cubism and Fauvism: creating abstract paintings for the sake of aesthetic pleasure rather than representation or symbols.

Both Sonia and Robert started their art practice with painting, but while Robert still painted figurative works—such as his series of Eiffel Tower—, Sonia experimented with abstraction early on. She had no hesitation to bring her art closer to life, most notably through applied arts and design. Throughout the 1910s and the interwar period, the Delaunays created multiple paintings, works on paper, murals—and entire rooms—with the vivid colors of abstraction. It is fascinating to see the influence and inspiration that went both ways: Sonia’s geometric shapes influencing Robert’s paintings (Homage to Bleriot, 1913), and Robert’s figurative style on her own paintings (Flamenco Singers, 1916), and perhaps inspiring Sonia to design clothes—dressing figures in abstraction. Even, Ballets Russes’ founder Serge Diaghilev asked her to design the costumes for his production of Cléôpatre in 1918. The title-role costume, today in LACMA’s collection, is like Sonia’s most eye-catching paintings: a bright multi-colored (with a dominant yellow) simple dress made of silk and wool, with lines of gold and rainbows, sequins and mirrors. The costume’s patterns are abstract, yet it gives the character of Cleopatra her majesty and mother-goddess warmth.

Robert Delaunay, Homage to Bleriot, 1914.                Sonia Delaunay, Flamenco Singers, 1916.
     Accessed on                     Accessed on

In a 1978 interview with BOMB magazine, Sonia, then 90 years old, spoke about her creative relationship with Robert in these terms: “No [there was no rivalry between us]. Not from the point of view of painting. We asked each other for advice;” but also sharing that: “He talked, but I realized.” Her very honest words conjure a period where women’s rights were very limited; Sonia actually said in the same interview “I despise the word [feminism]!”

Despite the generational gap, I would hope that Sonia herself had not qualified her practice as a “realization” of what her husband “talked” about. Even if they did both contribute to each other’s process, they were two distinct minds that came together in life and in art. Recent exhibitions have explored Sonia’s oeuvre as one of the greatest contributions to modern art as well as to the applied and decorative arts. I am hoping to see more work done on the pair’s collaborative practice, and its implications. Comparison can only do well to Sonia—who definitely seems to be “the other half”: the hidden and probably the greatest mind.

[1] Though recently, her work has been the focus of several exhibitions such as Color Moves: Art & Fashion by Sonia Delaunay (2011) at the Cooper-Hewitt, Smithsonian Design Museum, New York and Sonia Delaunay: Les couleurs de l’abstraction [The Colors of Abstraction] (2014) at Musée d’Art Moderne, Paris, and which opens this month at Tate Modern, London.


About the Author

Pierre-François Galpin is Assistant Curator at The CJM, currently working on upcoming In That Case: Havruta in Contemporary Art exhibitions. Prior, he worked at the Centre Pompidou (Paris) and Independent Curators International (New York), among other institutions. His writing has been published on different media, including The Exhibitionist, Art Practical, and exhibitions catalogues.