Professor Jean Wainwright delivers paper at the Art Historians Annual Conference

Art Historians Annual Conference
4-6 April 2019

Small lies? The ethics of the authentic artist’s interview

In 2007, Matt Wrbican revealed in ‘The True Story of “My True Story”’ that Andy Warhol never uttered his famous quote, ‘If you want to know all about Andy Warhol just look at the surface…’. Rather, the interviewer Gretchen Berg published in 1966 a carefully edited conversation transposing her questions into Warhol’s statement, which became ‘fact’.

This paper examines the ethical and art historical questions that are raised when conversations with artists are edited for sound clips or transcribed for books and catalogues. In the artist’s interview, intentionality between the original interviewer and interviewee and the psychological, sociological and egotistical implications of what they ‘say’ raises questions for the legacy of an artist’s practice. Should the reader of an interview be aware of how much has been ‘tidied up’ or redacted? Does it matter that what one is reading is a version of the authentic truth of the original?

Using four case studies drawn from my archive, I trace and demonstrate the significance of the editing process from the voice to the page: Warhol’s a, A Novel, testing the lies of a literal transcription; Morten Viskum, re-scribing his psychological desire; Nathalia Edenmont, from controversy to confessional; and Alexis Hunter, reviving the voice.

With a personal archive of over 1,500 recordings with artists since 1996, I can revisit and reconfigure with the responsibility this incurs. The archive is at the mercy of the gate keeper, archivist or editor. Even a literal artist transcription can contain ‘lies’. Does this matter?