Artists consumer reports

Consumer Reports: Michael Williams

Michael Williams with his daugther, Lettie. Photo by Kik Williams.

Michael Williams with his daugther, Lettie.


“Consumer Reports” is a recurring feature that profiles an artist’s consumption of any and all media throughout one work week.

Over the past decade, Michael Williams has amassed a singular and idiosyncratic body of paintings, some of which are currently on view in the exhibition “The Forever Now,” which was curated by Laura Hoptman at MoMA. His most recent works—drawings made in Photoshop, printed onto canvas, and then sometimes airbrushed or painted over—deftly explore new techniques with a painterly expertise steeped in art history.

A week in the media life of Williams includes a diverse selection of children’s books (read to his young son and daughter), art catalogues, and contemporary American pop music as programmed by Germans. Also: a good amount of Zappa. Williams’ latest show, “Tribal Frog Tattoo,” opens next week at the Arnold & Marie Schwartz Gallery Met at the Metropolitan Opera House in Lincoln Center. —John Chiaverina


Get up at 7:30. Go into kitchen. There is Sesame Street music playing on the Squeezebox. Shortly thereafter I turn it off for a few moments.

Erika asks for some “ancient” music. We can’t think of a good search word for that so I type in “KLEZ” and find a klezmer album that seems ok…

A little later Lettie complains about the music and I switch to a different klezmer album called Klez-Mez which seems to be some sort of fusion of klezmer and traditional Mexican music. Somehow this satisfies Lettie.

With Klez-Mez in the background, I read Lettie Maurice Sendak’s Bumble-Ardy, which came in the mail the day before. Sendak is the Kubrick of children’s books and Bumble-Ardy is his Eyes Wide Shut.

Around 9 I switch the radio to 105.5 Spreeradio, a Berlin station I like. They only play American Pop music but it somehow sounds different knowing it’s being selected by Germans.

Read Lettie Sylvester and the Magic Pebble by William Steig, Bumble-Ardy again, and Brown Bear Brown Bear.

9:30 a.m.

Radio off.

9:45 a.m.

On my way out the door, Erika puts on an audio file her father just sent her. It’s him singing “The Loser” by The Grateful Dead.

9:50 a.m.

Pick up salad and juice @ Juicepress and am subjected to something appalling on the radio.

10:00 a.m.

Driving to studio, listen to CarTalk.

10:20-10:50 a.m.

Finish Champs podcast with Hanibal Buress which I’d begun the day before. Simultaneously reviewed old miniDV tapes I shot in the early 2000s

11:30 a.m.

Checked, looked at a house from 1955 in Rhinebeck, N.Y., that just came on the market. Not interested…

12:08 p.m.

Bo Jackson KC Highlights on YouTube.

12:17 p.m.

Bo Jackson NFL Highlights YouTube.

2:11 p.m.

Put on Frank Zappa “Broadway the Hardway.”

5:45 p.m.

At home. Put on side 1 of Savoy Brown “Hellbound Train” while I feed Lorne a bottle in bed and read some of an essay in Paul Thek: Artist’s Artist.

6:10 p.m.

Read Lorne 1st 100 words and Numbers, Colors, and Shapes in living room.

6:30 p.m.

Back in bed reading Lorne 1st 100 Animals and some of Brown Bear Brown Bear… He keeps reaching for the Thek so I show him some of that, he’s 8 months.

7 p.m.

Lorne’s sleeping. I’m reading an interview in the Thek from ’66. “It delighted me that (dead) bodies could be used to decorate a room, like flowers.”

7:15 p.m.

1/2 a page of Mark Bittman’s Food Matters made me think I should eat less meat.

7:45 p.m.

Read a part of Kenny’s Window, usually have to read several books before Lettie falls asleep but she didn’t have a nap today so…

9:00 p.m.

Read some Netflix member reviews of Nazi Hunters.


7:40 a.m.

Sang to Lettie from a book called Rise Up Singing. Sang “Moonshadow” and “Sittin’ on the Dock on the Bay.”

8:00 a.m.

Listened to “Nigeria Special” sides 3 and 4.

9:25 a.m.

Uber driver turns on 93.3. MJ is on, “Billy Jean.” It’s a “goofy countdown” of songs with girls names in them. Next is “Betty Davis Eyes.” All the while I’m reading him WAZE directions to avoid marathon traffic and road closures. “Ride Captain Ride upon your Mystery Ship.”

9:35 a.m.

In studio, restart Zappa “Broadway the Hardway.”

Internet’s not working so have to switch from Spotify to iTunes. Listen to Aphex Twin “Syro.”

12:30 p.m.

Valentin Carron came by. Looked at googled images of Ferris Bueller’s Day Off to explain the Seraut painting in MCA Chicago. Also showed him googled pics of Harry Crews who I think he looks a bit like.

12:45 p.m.

Flipped through How to Look: Ad Reinhardt Art Comics.

1:40 p.m.

Listened to AFX “Analord” EPs 1, 2, 3, 4, and 6.

4:00 p.m.

Come home. Fela Kuti Pandora is on…

4:15 p.m.

Google “how long to walk to Chicago.” Lettie thinks 18 mins, I told her more like 50 days, then she says “11 days.” G maps says 10 days, 23 hrs. Smart kid.

4:33 p.m.

Goog Simon Hantai.

4:40 p.m.

Er changes music to “The Nutcracker” so Lettie can ballet dance. Lettie says this isn’t ballet. I type ballet into Pandora and it brings up some Emo music that’s really not ballet, put “Nutcracker” into Pandora… Off at 5:45.

7:10-7:45 p.m.

Read Lettie Horton Hears A Who pop up book. Never really dug Seuss but he’s good for hypnotizing the kid into falling asleep. Read Spinky Sulks by Williams Steig. If Sendak is Kubrick, Steig is Woody Allen. Spinky Sulks is a great story about being mad about something and being embarrassed about being mad and how that embarrassment can make you even madder. It reminds me of a Sterling Ruby sculpture I really love that has these words scrawled across it: “the secret of violent men is that they feel ashamed… Deeply ashamed over matters that are so trivial that their very triviality makes it even more shameful to feel ashamed about them.”

8:00-8:15 p.m.

Looking at Sterling Ruby sculptures online.

8:30-9:00 p.m.

Watch a Werner Herzog short film on Netflix, From One Second To The Next, about victims of texting drivers and the drivers.

9:30 p.m.

Stared at a candle for 5 mins before bed.

Couldn’t sleep.

10:30 p.m.

Watched SNL on Hulu. Chris Rock/Prince and read during the ads.

Afterwards, Googled “Wanda Gag house.”


6:45 a.m.

Erika has a Rolling Stones album box set (1976-2002) playing on Spotify. “Only rock ‘n’ roll but I like it.” I never liked The Stones. I guess I was a Beatles person but I haven’t listened to them in years. It seems to me that Stones people are somehow able to keep listening to The Stones into adulthood while Beatles people move on to other things. This is playing until I leave home at 7:45, but at some point while it’s playing Lettie asked me to read I Like Fruit to her doll Albert. According to Lettie she is Albert’s mother and I’m his father.

8:30 a.m.

In the studio, put on Frank Zappa “Mystery Disc” on Spotify while drawing and importing videos.

9:20 a.m.

Google Simon Hantai again. Check out images from a show at Kálmán Makláry Fine Art in Budapest from 2010.

Around 9:45 I go back to look more at one painting called No Title from 1956, 105 x 147 cm. Looks like contemporary graffiti.

10:00 a.m.

Photographer puts on Hall and Oates mix. Some Dead in there. I keep asking what the songs are and tell them that I’m keeping track of my media intake. One of her assistants says, “Well we could really fuck with your media intake… We’ve got some shit man…” But they don’t really and this mix keeps playing until around 11:15, when she puts on Bruce Springsteen’s Nebraska for the remainder of the shoot. “Everything Dies Baby and that’s a fact…” All this time I’m importing and reviewing videos from 2004 I shot in China in small rivers on chartered motorboats… They leave and turn off “Nebraska” around 11:45.

1:10 p.m.

Listen to Frank Zappa Studio Tan (1978).

2:00 p.m.

Zappa In New York (1978).

“Well I want my Chrissy / And I want my beer / So you just barf it back up now devil / Do you hear?” Lyrics from “Titties & Beer.”

3:43 p.m.

Solo Monk (1965) til’ 5-ish.

6:00 p.m.

Samurai Mama with Erika and the kids. Japanese music and old blues and soul music playing throughout dinner.

7:30–8:00 p.m.

Read to Lettie: A is for Aligator, 1 for Johnny, Chicken Soup w/ Rice (All by M. Sendak), and Millions of Cats by Wanda Gág. Wanda Gág was living in Minnesota and writing and drawing in the ’20s, ’30s, & ’40s. She has a very strange way of telling a story. It’s very stream of conscious and asks you to take for granted several absurd premises stacked on top of each other. All of her stories seem like first drafts to me. I love them. And her drawings, especially in ABC Bunny, are amazing. She draws a unified world where subject and environment meld, similar somehow to Charles Burchfield, Picabia, and JF Willumsen who were all working contemporaneously to her.

8:30 p.m.

Watched Homeland S04, E06 with Erika. It’s really a terrible show but we watch it. I realized tonight that one of the new actors who I had recognized in previous weeks but couldn’t place was NOONAN from Caddyshack. Checked out his website,, turns out he’s into Zen. “My fellow Zen practitioner, Paul Wear, is the webmaster.” I liked his website a lot.


Walk into the kitchen around 8 and Erika had NPR on. They’re talking midterms.

8:20 a.m.

In bed, flipped through Mat Brinkman Head Collider with Lettie. She thought the ghoulish morbid figures looked like “Mommy & Daddy.” Also flipped through Wilhelm Lehmbruck catalog from Michael Werner London 2013. It’s the first time this stuff looked interesting to me. There is something about his figurative sculptures made in the 1910s that looks as if they were produced from crude 3-D scans of the models. Everything is a little smushed and the detail is all kind of rounded off like they’ve spent a week or two in a giant rock tumbler.

9:00 a.m.

In the car waiting for Er to come out and the babysitter to show up. Check out new listing in Red Hook, New York (upstate), on app. And then ordered a Wanda Gág book we didn’t have yet on

10:40 a.m.

In Studio. Read article on about how a German woman actually made Fountain and later Duchamp took credit. Then checked out Elsa Von Freytag-Loringhoven’s Wiki page. Then google “One of my female friends under a masculine pseudonym, Richard Mutt, sent in a porcelain urinal as a sculpture,” trying to find an image of Duchamp’s letter from April 11, 1917 but cannot.

Around noon the printers next door started loudly playing some Farsi language music. I’ve never heard them do that before, maybe the boss is out…

12:40 p.m.

Episode of Chappelle’s Show during lunch.

1:11 p.m.

Put on Earl Sweatshirt Doris (2013) —“You see how his day going by the state of his wrist.”

1:55 p.m.

Segue into Earl Sweatshirt Earl (2010)—“You’ve got a guy who’s not me so my wrists are looking sloppy.”

2:50 p.m.

Listen to WTF podcast with Steven Wright.

Around 4 listen to WTF podcast with Dave Foley pausing at around 18 mins to wiki Dave. Listened ’til 54:40, pausing occasionally to take calls, until I left the studio around 5:15.

6:50 p.m.

Read Lettie a new Maurice Sendak book.

7:50 p.m.

Read Lettie a Curious George book that has a puppet built into the middle of it. Lettie loves it, had to read it twice. Then read A Tree the Grows Through the Roof, and then The Funny Thing, by Wanda Gág. It’s a bizarre story about a dinosaur who likes to eat dolls and is tricked by a bald man into eating “jumjills” as an alternative. The man appeals to the dino’s vanity by saying that the jumjills (which are something he invents on the spot and are made out of bird seed and lettuce) will make his tail longer and more beautiful. The irony is that the jumjills do make his tail longer and so effectively so that he has to go live on top of a mountain and wrap his tail around it as it lengthens. This irony is never addressed.

Read Poems for the Very Young, till 8:45-ish…


7:00 a.m.

Sang Lettie some songs from “Rise Up Singing.”

7:30 a.m.

Read Daddy Cuddles.

7:45 a.m.

Went in the kitchen, NPR is on.

8:20 a.m.

Turn on Spreeradio 105.5.

8:21 a.m.

Turn on Muppet music.

Get in car around 8:40. Erika had left 105.9 on. Classical music.

Drop Lettie off 5 mins later. Back in car at 8:50, radio still on. Drive to work, flip around, Jamaican radio ad, this guy is offering some insane deal on something called BioPlus. I think it’s part of a cleanse. Flipped to “Don’t Stop Believing,” then the BBC talking about how the Republicans won the senate. Time to move to Europe…

9:00–9:50 a.m.

Flip through some catalogues.

David Salle (Waddington Galleries 1989).

Great painting called Tiny in the Air.

Lucas Samaras (“xyz,” Pace 2012).

Recent Samaras stuff always manages to make me actually nauseous and I can’t help but admire it for that.

Ernst Wilhelm Nay (Mary Boone/Michael Werner 2012).

The paintings from ’65 are great, one called Verschlossene Gedanken. For me ’64 and ’66 aren’t as good. I think Paschke is like that too, there are a few years in the early ’80s that are really good but I have trouble getting onboard with much before or after that…

Joe Zucker (Hirschl & Adler Modern March 7-28 1987).

These are some of my favorite paintings. 5+7 story wok-up junk vs. d’how is a masterpiece.

Ad Reinhardt (Museum of Contemporary Art L.A., and MoMA NY 1991 and 1992).

Ad always wrote that his paintings were unphotographable… Great book.

1:00 p.m.

Look through Richard Artschwager catalogue from 2004 exhibit at MOCA North Miami.

Then a catalogue for a show of Schnabel Picabia and JF Willumsen from 2013 at the Willumsens Museum in Frederikssund, Denmark.

I look at these Schnabel self-portraits from 2004 and can’t really figure out what the fuck he was thinking. But then I see Picabia’s Self Portrait with a puppy dog from 1940 and it looks great to me. I realize there isn’t anything that different about this painting and the Schnabels except that I’m thinking that Picabia saw some irony in his painting and that Schnabel did not. But now I don’t know that any of that is true and I wonder what the Schnabels will look like in 60 years and what the Picabia’s looked like 60 years ago.

1:30 p.m.

Flip through another Zucker catalogue from 1985 show at Queens Museum.

2:30 p.m.

Finished Dave Foley WTF.

Someone in the comments says it’s one of the top 10 WTF‘s of all time. A lot of divorce talk…

3:00 p.m.

WTF Pauly Shore.

4:00 p.m.

WTF Bill Hader… I think I’m painting while listening to all of this stuff.

Around 4:30 as a footnote to the Hader, checked out on YouTube. Gary Busey doing sketch comedy in the 70s, then returned to the Hader until I paused at 51 mins at 5-ish and split.

Back at home around 6:15 flipped through Uwe Lausen/Daniel Richter book and Enrico David at Michael Werner London 2013…

Go to Takeshi Murata opening around 7 and watch his video Om Rider from about midway through where the wolf is vomiting to the end and then from the beginning until the wolf vomits.

Erika and I go to a Japanese restaurant from 9–10:45ish all the while listening to soothing anonymous Japanese music.

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