In the early 1980s Kim, Gordon was one of the key up-and-coming artists in the New York downtown scene. She had her first show with White Columns in 1981, had worked as an assistant to dealer Larry Gagosian, and was friendly with artists Richard Prince, Mike Kelley, and Dan Graham. Then she got sidetracked by performing in one of the most lauded experimental bands in music history: Sonic Youth. She never stopped creating art, though, and the Andy Warhol Museum in Pittsburgh now has on view her first major museum show in North America, “Lo-Fi Glamour,” which includes paintings, drawings, sound installations, and sculptures. With the show running through September 1, ARTnews spoke to Gordon about how it feels to be back in the art world full-time.
This interview has been edited and condensed.
ARTnews: Jessica Beck, one of the curators of the Warhol Museum show, mentioned that you met Warhol at one point. How did that happen?
Kim Gordon: Yeah, I went to a signing. I think I was in my early 20s and probably still in art school.
What was he signing?
Well, I was wearing these white lace-up boots that I found at a vintage store. I thought it’d be cool to have him sign them, ’cause they were canvas, and they reminded me of some of his early commercial shoe drawings.
Do you still have them?
I do. They’re actually in the Warhol Museum show, in a vitrine.
Around that time, during the 1980’s, you had your first show with White Columns, the alternative space in New York. Then there was a long gap before you returned to the art world.
Well, that’s not really true. I didn’t have a gallery, but I had developed this thing called Design Office with a friend of mine, and our idea was to do exhibitions in people’s apartments as interventions. Then we’d write about them and publish that.
And you were working as an art writer for a period. [An anthology of her texts, Is It My Body?, was published by Sternberg Press in 2014.]
I was writing, but I didn’t really think of myself as an art writer. I felt more like an anti-art writer. It was almost like, “OK, here’s a ridiculous premise, let’s see if I can prove this.” Dan Graham, who’s a friend of mine, was writing about feminism, so I thought I’d write about men, just to be perverse.
The first thing I wrote was an essay for something called Real Life magazine. I went to a performance by Rhys Chatham, who at the time was doing a guitar trio piece which was him with two other guitar players. I think Robert Longo was playing with him, and maybe Jules Baptiste. The performance seemed very ritualistic and almost homoerotic. What they would do is take a hit of amyl nitrate, which was called “locker room” at the time and very popular in the West Village, particularly among gay men, and then proceed to downstroke each other’s guitars. I thought it was really funny, so that was the first thing I wrote about it.
What was your perception of the New York art world like in the ’80s?
Well, in the early days, I was working for [New York dealer] Annina Nosei, and I experienced this rush of greed that’s synonymous with Wall Street. Suddenly, people were fighting over young artists. I saw this boom happen in the art world. The ’80s were a really weird time.
What was it like to work for Nosei?
I was a receptionist there, even though I didn’t know how to type. Larry Gagosian was involved at the time, but he was transitioning from Los Angeles, and he hadn’t really fully come into the art world. He didn’t even have his own his own gallery yet. But I’d known him from L.A. because I’d worked for him, framing these really schlocky prints. Like, hundreds of them in metal frames.
Anyway, I was a lousy receptionist, but I met a lot of artists then. When [Nosei] moved her gallery to Prince Street, I curated a show there. That’s how I met Richard Prince early on, because he brought in these early watch [pictures] in those metal frames. I gave him a hard time. Like, “Oh my god, those.”
Who are some of your greatest inspirations?
I was always influenced by John Knight. He was a visiting artist when I was a student at Otis College of Art and Design [in L.A.], and we became close. Yves Klein was a huge one, and also the Art Povera artists and [Piero] Manzoni.
What about Arte Povera is appealing to you?
I like the way the artists just look around and use materials. I’ve always been interested in how design and art have a symbiotic relationship, and how you can read ad copy that sounds like fragmented poetry.
I was particularly taken with a sculpture of yours that’s made of black glitter. Can you tell me about making that one?
I really like using junky materials. I don’t know how I came up with that, but it does come from being onstage. Some of my art shows the body without showing a body.
I’ve read you felt, as a musician, that you were frustrated that you couldn’t be making art, too. I was wondering if you have memories of feeling annoyed at the thought of: “I could be painting right now.”
Yes. [Laughs.] I was never in my comfort zone, as a musician. Not that making art puts me in my comfort zone, but at least I was trained to do it. I was so into music, but I feel like it was a bit of an escape from the art world. I saw music as less commercial and more free.
In my head, I was making art. I would come up with ideas from the point of view of an artist, often through lyrics. It’s so different when you’re in a situation with three other [band members], and you have to decide everything together. But I knew I had art for myself.