December 2, 2004 2:00 pm
An introduction to Golub: Late Works are the Catastrophes delivered at a memorial service for Leon Golub at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, November 23, 2004 by Judy Hoffman:
We first met Leon and Nancy in 1985. We had been making films about labor, racism and sexism, and were exhausted. We were looking for a new project that could more closely articulate the issues we were personally dealing with as filmmakers. How could we, as artists, live in the United States and hope that our work might make a difference? We admired Leon's work, how it reported on the world, and thought the issues he grappled with were similar to our own. So we went to New York to talk with him. As those of you who knew Leon will recognize, he was the one who interviewed us. We discussed some hard questions about how to make the film. Should Nancy be included, or in a film about Leon, would that portray her as a secondary character? Could we create a film about art that revealed interior processes? Could we make a film that was not dry, but had energy and life, and did justice to the people in front of the lens. Leon challenged us about our idea of art. He was insistent in his questioning. Luckily for us, he decided that we were the right group to make the film, and he gave us his permission.
We began filming over the next three years, following the creation of his canvas, White Squad X, from inception to exhibition. We would shoot footage, run out of money, raise more, and go back to New York to shoot again. Each time, Leon would roll out the canvas, start painting, and we would pick up where we left off. And so this ongoing relationship began.
We learned so much in making this film. Leon gave voice to ideas that we were only just beginning to consider. We filmed him. He taught us. If the film Golub is successful in creating a discourse about the artist, art, and politics, it is because Leon was so intelligent. If the film has humor, it is because Leon was so damn witty. That we made this film was due to Leon and Nancy's patience, commitment and generosity.
After many lunches in their kitchen, of Grand Union chicken and sunflower seeds, many heated discussions, and much laughter, we completed the film in 1988. We continued to stay in touch with Leon and Nancy. We'd visit them in New York, or see them when they would come to Chicago. Jerry Blumenthal would call Leon weekly to talk about films, books, and exchange jokes. It was clear that we were not done with them yet. A film might conclude, but the people continue and change. That's what distinguishes documentary film. The audience wants to know what happened to the people in the film. We wanted to know more about Leon.
So 13 years later, we began the follow up film The Late Works are the Catastrophes. Once again, we picked up where we left off. Leon had new work to present, that spoke to things unspeakable.
And we had a new medium in which to work, that allowed us to include topics we couldn't address in the first film. The DVD Golub: The Late Works are the Catastrophes, presents the first film as well as our update. It includes two pieces about Nancy Spero by New York filmmaker Irene Sosa, and contains a gallery of Leon's and Nancy's work.
These later paintings of Leon's, that you will see in the piece I am presenting, continue to "report" on the world, but with the dissonances and discontinuities that led Theodor Adorno, in his essay on Beethoven to proclaim, "In the history of art, late works are the catastrophes." What is meant by catastrophe will be revealed in the film.