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Audrey Flack Marilyn Vanitas 1977 Essay Help

Having written on the paintings and sculptures of Audrey Flack on previous occasions, I am often compelled to ask the question: Where is Photo-Realist painting today? Has it gone the way of other trends in marketing? Or has it simply been bypassed in the art historical chain of events? I would suggest that it has gone the way of both. Before giving  further analysis, I want to state at the outset that Flack’s paintings from the late 1960s and 1970s are remarkable for several reasons, and yet have only rarely received the full credit and the appreciation they deserve. As a unique figure in this important history, Audrey Flack has broken through numerous barriers—personal, political, technical, and aesthetic—ranging from feminism in art to heightening our awareness of intimate objects in relation to history and the present. She has taken the signs of indulgence, beauty, and excess and transformed them into deeply moving symbols of desire, futility, and emancipation. The hidden affirmations of life in “Wheel of Fortune”(1977-78), the attribution of individualized beauty and assertiveness in “Marilyn: Golden Girl”(1978), and the whimsical Pop-angst of“Invocation”(1982)—all included in the current exhibition curated by Garth Greenan at Gary Snyder Project Space—carry an exactitude, bravura, immanence, and eccentricity unlike anything painted in the history of Modernism.

Audrey Flack, “Marilyn: Elegy” (1980). Cibachrome. 17 × 16 3/4 inches.

Along with Flack’s paintings, the exhibition includes color Cibachrome prints that were originally processed as 35mm slides to be used as studies projected beside the paintings in progress. Taken in collaboration with the photographer Jeanne Hamilton, these studies have never before been shown in relation to an exhibition of finished paintings. Their heraldic design and pulsating color reveals a narrative of trial and error, stops and starts, hesitations and ecstasy, coy concealments and bold fascinations within those intimate aspects of painting largely associated with women—specifically in relation to her Marilyn paintings, in which the artist portrays photographs of the actress in a context bereft of seduction, voyeurism, or sensation. Upon experiencing the profound allure generated by these works, it was only natural that some mode of demystification would begin to occur. The Photo-Realist paintings by Flack, once critically exalted for a brief period of time, have now reemerged as secular icons within the continuing course of a feminist history.

In the early 1980s, Flack decided to put aside painting in pursuit of molding and casting large figurative sculptures of women. To grasp the evolution and accomplishment of an artist like Audrey Flack, some form of critical validation is required that would privilege well-considered aesthetic decisions over the artifice and instant thrills of sensational techniques. Such arguments could only happen if serious criticism played a dialogical role in relation to art. Unfortunately, this tendency has diminished in American art ever since the global market began to take control nearly three decades ago.

Audrey Flack, “Wheel of Fortune (Vanitas)” (1977-1978). Oil over acrylic on canvas. 96 × 96 inches.

Given the extreme commercial pressures on today’s art scene, it is no wonder that cause and effect relationships have been supplanted by a type of mediated jargon out of touch with the substratum of historical or aesthetic influences that carry over from one generation to another. This happens less in terms of obvious stylistic affinities than on the level of painting’s formal construction. In Flack’s case, the reinvention of still life painting became a phenomenon that involved the viewer both aesthetically and ethically, and carried far-reaching social and political implications.

Flack’s paintings from the 1970s constitute a slow process in which she developed her surfaces through concentrated perception on an equal footing with the modulation of the paint. In retrospect, one might say that the best Photo-Realist painting of that era was as much about this conjugation of visual grammar and layered substrata as it was about opticality or the trompe l’oeil effect. In this context, Flack was able to extend a complex material reference throughout the surface of her paintings into a form of Baroque excess, as if she were absorbing the glittering abundance of visual stimuli without exempting herself from the call toward a social or political message (often symbolically concealed, as was the case with the Flemish Vanitas paintings of the 17th century). The content of excess in paintings such as “Jolie Madame” (1972) suggests a reference to Madame de Pompadour or to the previously French-occupied Indochina—what most Americans, at the time, knew as South Vietnam. Flack has always understood the importance of instilling the representation of objects with emotive power in order to infuse them with topical meaning and symbolic references, often in relation to political issues. Her views on the political ramifications of art were made clear in an unpublished statement written in early 2009, in which she criticized works that appeared in the 2008 Whitney Biennial in terms of “apathy, cynicism, and sense of failure,” and predicted that they would soon be replaced by “art that makes sense, is intelligent and embodies skill, learning, and training” as the political climate was—at the time—changing for the better. She courageously went on to say: “Hopefully with the dissolution of corrupt hedge funds, stock insider trading, and government corruption, will come the dissolution of art world nonsense and corruption. Meaning, beauty and intelligence, be it abstract or representational, will return to art.”

Flack’s sense of an integral verisimilitude is manifested in her enormous prowess in the study and execution of detail. Take any painting, whether it includes a string of pearls, a pewter mug, a bowl of fruit, a newspaper photo, a tube of lipstick, a snapshot portrait, or any combination of the above, and one soon discovers the near impossibility of suspending the whole in relation to the parts. For Flack, the parts become the whole. She is less interested in confusing truth with illusion than in capturing the integral truth of seeing. The surface of a painting is a place of hyper-visual indulgence for the viewer to penetrate and optically swim through. The miraculous truth of seeing exists not apart from painterliness but within the very depths of its structure. As suggested by “Macarena Esperanza” (1971), which introduces the catalog accompanied by the poem, “Invictus,” by William Ernest Henley, Flack has always sought the emotional truth within an image, no matter what the subject matter or its connotations, whether aesthetic or political. She is an artist who saw feminism early on not simply as overt content, but in terms of style and formal inventiveness. She is a pioneering artist whose works from the ’70s are a testament to understanding—as did the writer Anaïs Nin in literature—that to advance a feminist idea in art is less about the imposition of an ideological message than about the reinvention of an implicit form. As a painter, Audrey Flack’s reinterpretation of the still life genre in Western art reasserts form as integral to the presence of time. In this way, she constructs a narrative microcosm that not only challenges our perceptions of the world but also facilitates our ability to acculturate meaning. 

Audrey Flack Paints a Picture continues at Gary Snyder Project Space through November 6.


Robert C. Morgan

Robert C. Morgan is a writer, international art critic, curator, poet, lecturer, and artist. His most recent book is Clement Greenberg: Late Writings (2003). He holds both an MFA in Sculpture and a Ph.D. in Art History. He is currently Adjunct Professor of Fine Art at Pratt Institute.


Highlights from the Life of Raymond Roussel:
a moral fable with a punchline.

by T. Motley

MAR 2018 | Fiction

T. Motley is serializing "Highlights from the Life of Raymond Roussel" in the Brooklyn Rail, helped by a grant from the Spillway Fund, spillwayfund.org Text translated from the French by Mark Ford and John Harmon.

Anthony DeCurtis's
Lou Reed: A Life

by Ben Tripp

DEC 17-JAN 18 | Books

A teenage Lou Reed wrote under his High School yearbook photo that he had “no plans, but will take life as it comes.” It sounds like a Lou Reed song already. Young Lewis also wrote that he liked basketball, music, and “naturally, girls.”

Highlights from the Life of Raymond Roussel:
a moral fable with a punchline.

by T. Motley

FEB 2018 | Fiction

T. Motley is serializing “Highlights from the Life of Raymond Roussel” in the Brooklyn Rail, helped by a grant from the Spillway Fund, spillwayfund.org

A Generosity of Spirit: Bay Area Art Today

by Janet Bishop

NOV 2017 | Critics Page

As Connie Lewallen rightly suggests, there are widely varying sensibilities and modes of production in contemporary Bay Area art. One distinctive aspect of the visual art scene here—as I have experienced it over the last couple of decades—has less to do with a predominant aesthetic than with an ethos, specifically a generosity of spirit that runs through the way many artists approach their lives and practices today.



The following oral history transcript is the result of a digitally recorded interview with Audrey Flack on February 16, 2009. The interview took place at the offices of the Archives of American Art in New York, New York, and was conducted by Robert C. Morgan for the Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution. Funding for this interview was provided by a grant from the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Audrey Flack and Robert C. Morgan have reviewed the transcript and have made corrections and emendations. The reader should bear in mind that he or she is reading a transcript of spoken, rather than written, prose.


ROBERT C. MORGAN: I'm going to ask you if we can begin from the beginning. And I'd like to know how you discovered yourself as an artist. And let me just qualify that by saying that, you know, it's sort of like [Christopher] Columbus discovering America. There were other people who came to America before Columbus. But the argument is that Columbus was the first one to effectively discover America; in other words, so it had political consequences. It suggests that there was a turning point. It was not just a discovery but something where you really knew it. And I'm wondering if you could talk about that moment where you really knew that this is what you were.

AUDREY FLACK: Well, there was a very defining moment, but I was so young. It's not like being an adult, having another career, and then you start painting. Is it recording?

Is it recording?


MS. FLACK: And you say, "No, I'm not a bookkeeper, I'm an artist." This happened to me in kindergarten. Is it okay?

MR. MORGAN: Yes, everything's fine. Let me take care of this. You just speak.

MS. FLACK: Well, they would've had me on Ritalin because I was hyperactive, and always getting in trouble in school, I couldn't sit still. The teacher taught us how to make a diorama using a cardboard shoebox. I went around the corner, got a cardboard shoebox. And filled it with cutouts. I remember it really clearly - I made Hawaiian dancers with hula skirts. Because I loved Esther Williams.

MR. MORGAN: Hah! The great mermaid.

[They laugh.]

MS. FLACK: The great mermaid. She was in these great Cecil B. de Mille extravaganzas.

MR. MORGAN: Wasn't she also in Busby Berkeley? Or was that - ?

MS. FLACK: No, that's too early.

MR. MORGAN: I see.

MS. FLACK: She had a magnificent body. I didn't know why I loved her so much. I think part of it was because she was a really strong woman. She wasn't one of these little soppy, victims - She was a feminist in a way. She had a powerfully muscled body. I remember seeing her standing on her toes on top of a diving board, 50 feet in the air. And then the camera would zoom in, and you'd see this body with a bathing suit glued to her. And she'd dive off into the water. And I remember worrying, oh, when is she going to come up? Is she going to drown? And she always came up with an orchid behind her ear. Smiling! Doing the backstroke.

[They laugh.]

MR. MORGAN: Fabulous!

MS. FLACK: So she was my hero. So anyhow, I did a cutout of Esther Williams in a hula skirt and dancers and palm trees. I took my mother's blue-tinted compact mirror. You know, Art Deco style -

MR. MORGAN: Yes, I do.

MS. FLACK: I glued it to the bottom of the box, and that was the lake. Sand from the playground became the beach. I loved this diorama. I came out of school at three o'clock and waited for my mother.


MS. FLACK: Little girls then had to wear panties and short skirts. The boys wore pants. Now, I was a real athlete, and my knees were always getting bruised. And I was very angry because I couldn't wear pants. Can you imagine, I played hockey, ice skated, and I ran. So I always had scabby knees. I wore a little short skirt, little socks and shoes and panties. And I came out of school carrying my diorama, which was so precious to me. I loved it. When I created, I became very calm. This hyperactivity left. I just was in another world. Transported. So I'm holding my diorama. We lived in Washington Heights [New York, New York] one block from the Hudson River. There was a park across the street. There were no buildings to break the violent winds in the winter. They could blow a child down the street. A storm was brewing, and all the mothers came to pick up their little kids except my mother who was probably at a high-stakes poker game. My mother was a big gambler.

MR. MORGAN: Oh, you mentioned this.

MS. FLACK: So I'm looking around. And in the meantime the sky is turning a mean shade of yellow. The winds are blowing up. And one by one all the other kids are going home, and I'm there clutching this diorama. And a gust of wind comes and dislodges one of the dancers. Oh, and it started to rain. I remember there were little pools of water around. Ester Williams got dislodged and floated up in the air, and it landed in a puddle of water. I bent over to try to pick her up, and the elastic on my panties broke. So I'm standing there, holding my diorama with both hands and my panties were falling down. So now I've got to clutch my panties because I'm going to be exposed. My little tushy is going to be out there. I will be humiliated. I'm holding the diorama with the one hand, my panties with the other. The box starts getting crushed because the wind is getting worse. And then another dancer got dislodged. The question was: Do I save my panties or my art?

MR. MORGAN: [Laughs] That's a great existential question, Audrey.

MS. FLACK: And I could not let go of either one of them. And I stood there holding both. If I let go of my panties they would've fallen around my knees. The wind would have blown my skirt up around my head and that would've been the end of my life, you know, as a five-year-old - God! But I couldn't let go of my diorama. And then I looked down the block. My mother was running towards me, panting, out of breath, after everybody else had gone home. It was a very major question. My panties or my art? So the thing is, I never dropped my panties for my art.

MR. MORGAN: That's a wonderful paradigm! Wonderful paradigm! I love this really.

MS. FLACK: But it continued for the rest of my life, because I never dropped my panties for my art.

MR. MORGAN: Good for you, good for you. This is important. So what year were you in school at that time?

MS. FLACK: Let's see. I was born in '31. So how old are you in kindergarten, four, five years old?

MR. MORGAN: Well, yes, so it would've been - Kindergarten is very young to have this realization. This is extraordinary.


MR. MORGAN: Yes. Now so how did it go in terms of getting support for what you were doing as a very, very young artist? I mean it seems to me that a child in this society, which is a very Puritan society, needs support to do that kind of thing because it's not automatic. In other words, you don't find it easily. And who is the one who encouraged you along the way when you were in school?

MS. FLACK: No one. What actually happened was I was - different artists' brains are different. I think we absorb information differently. I think we're more global. We're not linear. And I was always in trouble. I was giggling; I was a big giggler. If somebody said let's put ink on the teacher's desk, Audrey, you do it, I did it. I tried very hard to be good. I wanted to be good. I just physically couldn't sit still, I couldn't do it. So they were always throwing me out of class. I also felt like I was pretty stupid. Because I would ask questions. Nobody would ask them, and I asked them. So I thought everybody else knew, and I didn't. And then also there were the A-, B-answers. I never could do that because I always thought C, D, and E. So I do not have a good image of myself. Anyhow, they put me out in the hallway, and I was always happy out in the hallway.

MR. MORGAN: You mean you would be isolated by yourself?

MS. FLACK: Isolated. They would give me a piece of oak tag, which was a kind of heavy drawing paper.

MR. MORGAN: I do know, yes.

MS. FLACK: And a pencil. And I began to draw, chickens, ducks, turkeys and whatever. Within a couple of months I was the class artist. I made the calendar for the class. I made the snowmen and the turkeys and Christmas trees and I was happy outside. I could breathe. So I think it happened so early. Did I know I was an artist? I knew I couldn't live without art. I could not live well without it.

MR. MORGAN: I think that there's a kind of impulse that you feel prior to expression. I'm leaning heavily on John Dewey here because he talks about this in his wonderful book, Art As Experience [New York, Penguin Group: 1934]. An impulse is you sense this, you sense art, you sense that you are an artist even though the language has not been formulated for you to conceptualize that or accommodate that even. I mean it's just something that you do and you need to do and you're driven to.

MS. FLACK: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. MORGAN: And, you know, I think that the more intellectual reasons happen much later, and sometimes that can be incredibly destructive. Because I think that if you can ride that impulse until you arrive at this awakening of expression, then I think that's a great thing in terms of maturation and development as an artist. But let's talk about high school. Now, in high school - [Coughs.] I guess I should get some water.

MS. FLACK: Want me to get you some?


MS. FLACK: I've got purified water. Do you want ice cubes?

MR. MORGAN: No ice cubes, please.


MS. FLACK: [Inaudible] I always forget how to do this. You know what, Robert?

MR. MORGAN: This is a wonderful artist, in my opinion. I did a big piece on him in The Brooklyn Rail. Zhang Xiaogang.


MR. MORGAN: Zhang Xiaogang, yes.

So we need somebody to do a film of us recording.

MS. FLACK: Yes. Wouldn't that be nice?

MR. MORGAN: Sure. Absolutely.

MS. FLACK: Hey, Bob! Can you do us a favor?

MR. MORGAN: Alright. Actually this thing is rolling very well. And I even know how to put it on hold now. So we can pause.

BOB: What's that?

MS. FLACK: Well, Robert Morgan, Robert C. Morgan, for Coolidge?

MR. MORGAN: That's right.

MS. FLACK: He's related to Coolidge, did you know that? Calvin Coolidge.

BOB: Certainly not.

MS. FLACK: He's doing an oral history for the Archives of American Art. [Coughs] I have a frog in my throat. And I thought we would just record. Do you want to say something, Robert?

MR. MORGAN: Well, the second part of what Audrey told you is true. My father grew up in a town in New Hampshire called Pittsford; this is right on the border of Vermont. And at the time he grew up there in the early 20th century, half the town was Morgans, which is a Welsh name. And half the town was Coolidges. And so I became Robert Coolidge Morgan. Okay? However, in all due respect, I am the first in my family line, that I'm aware of, to vote consistently Democrat. I'm very proud of that.


BOB: And rightfully so.

MS. FLACK: They were all Republicans? How did that happen?

MR. MORGAN: How did it happen? You know it's certainly how does it happen in art? And we're going to wind this back to your years at high school. But you know you were talking about how artists think differently, their brain waves function differently in relation to information. And you mentioned the word global, which I agree with. Filippo Tommaso Marinetti used to call it the "theater of simultaneity," which I love. I think that, you know, artists have that kind of theater of simultaneity constantly going on in their brains. But the point is this: That you can't make a decision like that independent of life experience. It's not an intellectual decision. It's not like I studied manuals to figure out that maybe I should vote Democrat. Okay? This is something that you awaken to. And this is what I'm trying to move toward in terms of your career, Audrey. Where this kind of shift from the impulse to the expression begins to take hold.

MS. FLACK: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. MORGAN: And I'm wondering if we can go back to that period in which you're talking about your high school years. Obviously by high school you probably weren't isolated in the hallway. Or were you?

MS. FLACK: No, no.

MR. MORGAN: What was happening? High school. You're no longer isolated in the hallway. Hopefully.

MS. FLACK: Oh, no. That was kindergarten.


MS. FLACK: Then there was junior high, which was terrible. No help there. And then I heard about Music and Art High School [New York, New York], which is a funny story, from a little girl who lived in the building, who was very spoiled. She said, "There's a school called Music and Art High School, but you have to take a test to get in, and you have to have a portfolio of drawings." So I prayed. Whether I believed in God or not, I prayed every night. "Oh, I want to go to Music and Art High School. I want to go to Music and Art." I knew I needed a portfolio. And I asked my mother where I could get one. Nobody ever heard of a portfolio, didn't know what it looked like. Nobody had been to an art supply store. So my mom says, "Go to the five & ten. They have everything." Woolworth's. So I walked to the five & ten with my allowance, and I say -

MR. MORGAN: I remember that term. It's so interesting to hear it again, the five & ten. I remember that.

MS. FLACK: Well, don't people say that anymore?

MR. MORGAN: I don't think so.

MS. FLACK: The five & ten was a Woolworth's.

MR. MORGAN: Yes, that's right. That's right. But there was another one. Anyway, go ahead with that.

MS. FLACK: Alright. Oh, I made my drawings first. But what did I know? I got typewriter paper from my mother's desk.

MS. FLACK: I had Mongol pencils, you know, those pencils?

MR. MORGAN: Sure. Absolutely.

MS. FLACK: And I had the typewriter paper. What am I going to draw? I looked all over the house, and found a bottle of Four Roses whiskey. So I drew the Four Roses. And then Old Granddad. I mean you'd think we were alcoholics, which we weren't.

MR. MORGAN: Yes, but it's an interesting choice. Not for that reason but because it really suggests sharp perception and detail and light and the kind of concerns that later would become important in your work.

MS. FLACK: You know it's true. Because the painting that's going into the Deutsche Guggenheim [Berlin, Germany] is Queen [1975-76] has a big rose in the middle.

MR. MORGAN: Right.

MS. FLACK: Oh, I wanted detail. And Old Granddad, I loved it because his face was craggy, and there were a lot of lines. And I sharpened my pencil with my father's razorblade to get it very sharp. And I never heard of chiaroscuro, but I would smear and blend the graphite. I thought that was really cool.

MR. MORGAN: Modulation.

MS. FLACK: Modulation. [Michelangelo Merisi] Caravaggio. I was Caravaggio.

MR. MORGAN: Yes. Now how did you discover Caravaggio?

MS. FLACK: I didn't. I didn't. No. I'm just making these drawings. I didn't know anything.

MR. MORGAN: So later you made that connection, but not then.

MS. FLACK: Yes. Well, I knew that I wanted to have the blending.

MR. MORGAN: Sure. You wanted the illusion.

MS. FLACK: I knew I wanted to have the hair on his beard, I wanted the illusion. I was already a photorealist, never having thought of it. And then I copied a drawing from the Kotex box of two girls walking, a kind of linear drawing. And I drew Mrs. Miniver [1942] from a movie about World War II, but this was around World War II. When did I go to high school, Bobby?

BOB: Hmmm. You graduated from high school in -

MS. FLACK: Forty-eight.

BOB: - Forty-eight. So you would've gone, four years -

MS. FLACK: From Forty-four to '48 during World War II.

BOB: Forty-four.

MS. FLACK: World War II.

MR. MORGAN: That's right.

MS. FLACK: Greer Garson was in the newspaper advertising a movie call Mrs Miniver. But that image, I remember was blurry. It was a cheap image in the Daily News, I drew her. Anyhow -

MR. MORGAN: Greer Garson.

MS. FLACK: Yes. When I had all my drawings ready, and I needed a portfolio.

MR. MORGAN: So you preceded [Andy] Warhol in terms of drawings from the newspaper, because that's what he used to do.

MS. FLACK: That's very interesting.

MR. MORGAN: You know when he was working at that ad agency in New York, to relax at night he would come home and, you know, he didn't want to get up from his chair because he was tired from working. So he'd draw pictures from the newspaper. Later that became, you know, his oeuvre, so to speak, you know.

MS. FLACK: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.] Yes. Later I used images from magazines and newspapers. Yes. I never thought of that, but I was drawing from the newspaper.

MR. MORGAN: Hmmm. Okay.

MS. FLACK: And ads. I mean obviously Four Roses and Old Granddad.

MR. MORGAN: That is so interesting, so interesting.

MS. FLACK: I never thought of it, Robert.

MR. MORGAN: It suggests two things to me: Not only the sharp perception and the proto photorealism, but also the kind of pop environment that you were involved in during the time of Abstract Expressionism. Obviously. I mean you were sensitive to the pop environment.

MS. FLACK: Yes, yes.

MR. MORGAN: Is that correct, or not?


MR. MORGAN: Yes, okay.

MS. FLACK: Had to be. Sure. I mean you're picking it up. I never thought of it.

Abstract Expressionism, of course, in 19 - when do I go to Cooper Union [New York, New York]? Forty-eight. I'm in Cooper Union already. And Abstract Expressionism was hot. But let's get back to the test for Music and Art High school. I needed a portfolio to submit my drawings. I go to the five & ten, and I say, "Do you know where I could get a portfolio?" Nobody never heard of portfolio, you know. So I finally get pointed over to the stationery department. And there were all these little paperclips and staples and staple guns and everything you found there. And I see something that says portfolio in gold letters, embossed on faux leather, diagonally. It's eight-by-ten. They've got a portfolio! And I pay for it, and I couldn't understand why when I opened it up there were envelopes and paper inside. It was a writing tablet.

MR. MORGAN: Oh, I see. Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MS. FLACK: It was a brown leatherette, gold embossed writing pad that said "Portfolio." Boy, am I lucky. My drawings fit and I put them in. And then I go to take the test. And my father drives me, and we get to the corner of 135th and Convent where the school is. And there are hundreds of kids walking with real black, big portfolios. I wanted to die. Suddenly everything became clear. I want to go home! My father pushed me out and said, "You're here. You're a Flack. Take the test." Honestly, I wanted to die. Music and art was the thing I wanted most. And there was the little girl from my house with a big portfolio. And she hadn't let on she had been taking lessons at the Art Students League [New York, New York]. She had pastels, watercolors, oil paintings. I had my little Mongol pencil. So I went into the room, and I hid my little portfolio in between the big professional ones - [phone rings] I think we should probably get it. [Phone conversation] It's Jerry, Jerry Flack.

BOB: Oh. Okay. It says five minutes, and then that came on.

MS. FLACK: No more film. Oh, 90 seconds, no more film. See you have to just put in more film. Well, we're not going to do the whole thing. Here, you just put it in, if we can remember how to do this.

MR. MORGAN: Audrey, you have a very interesting point. Okay. Continue, please.

MS. FLACK: You want to just use the five minutes then?

BOB: Okay.

MS. FLACK: Just use the five minutes, and then we won't do it.

BOB: Okay.

MS. FLACK: You know I'm always sorry when we don't - when I don't do it, no records.

MR. MORGAN: Okay. So you were intimidated because you didn't have the right kind of portfolio.

MS. FLACK: It was clear. You know mine was a pathetic thing.

MR. MORGAN: So how'd you deal with that?

MS. FLACK: Well, how I dealt with that was I sort of remember walking along the side of the room. Because by now I was late.


MS. FLACK: My father had pushed me out, and he drove away. And I was like what am I going to do? And I walked along the sidewalk and tried to squeeze my portfolio in between the big ones so nobody would see it.

MR. MORGAN: Your father was Morris, right?

MS. FLACK: Morris.

MR. MORGAN: Yes. I remember the portrait. I was looking at it last night actually.

MS. FLACK: Morris the Lion. And anyhow, they had life drawing. They had - one senior student with leotards posed on a stool, and they put the chairs in a circle, and gave us newsprint paper and charcoal, both of which I had never seen. And we had to draw. And I remember sitting up straight. I remember being very exhilarated at the idea of this. And I sketched the model. And as I sketched, I looked at the other people's work. You know I was looking around.

MR. MORGAN: Sure. Normal.

MS. FLACK: And I was good, I knew I was good. I just - I knew it. I knew it. I mean I could see so well. All I did was see. And I got in. I'm sure I got in on my drawings, not on my pathetic portfolio.

MR. MORGAN: Magnificent!

MS. FLACK: So I got in. It was great. It was my life.

MR. MORGAN: This is a kind of creative experience. You know I borrowed this wonderful Freudian term "sublimation." Because what you did is you took conflict. Audrey, my interpretation of what you just described is you took something that was conflicted, that suggested negativity, and transformed it into something utterly positive, and you had success. This is a great example of sublimation.

MS. FLACK: Sublimation. Freudian sublimation.

MR. MORGAN: Well, remember that old song, "It was inspiration, I know." You could say, "It was sublimation." Okay. Anyway, so you get in.

MS. FLACK: Is inspiration sublimation?

MR. MORGAN: It may be. Maybe it's - very possible. But let's talk about what happens when you get in.

MS. FLACK: Oh, what happens when I got in - because I had always felt different from the other kids in the neighborhood, you know, little girls with their little spoofy dresses, and I always wore jeans. And I was different. You know what was interesting in my neighborhood? There was a park across the street, J. Hood Wright Park. And there was one little girl that also didn't fit in. I spotted her and she spotted me. Now, mind you, we're five, six, seven, eight years old. And we played jacks together. We never talked about this, you know, but we giggled, and we played games. And we exchanged looks. I remember that very clearly. And I liked her, and she liked me. Margie Ponce [Margaret Ponce Israel], who became Margie Israel, who married Marvin Israel, who had the affair with Diane Arbus, who killed herself because Marvin wouldn't leave Margie.

MR. MORGAN: Oh, okay.

MS. FLACK: And Margie was a wonderful artist. She was a superb artist. But, see, we were already artists.


MS. FLACK: Six, seven, eight. We already spotted. We were both - we thought we were crazy, you know.

MR. MORGAN: When did you meet, the two of you?

MS. FLACK: Five, six, seven years old.

MR. MORGAN: Oh. You were very young.

MS. FLACK: We were very young.

MR. MORGAN: So you grew up together.


MR. MORGAN: That's interesting. And you still have a connection?

MS. FLACK: She died.


MS. FLACK: She died.

MR. MORGAN: Sorry to hear it.

MS. FLACK: But it was interesting that I read in Arbus's book, that big book on her, that, you know, Marvin would never leave Margie. And she showed at Cordier Ekstrom [New York, New York]; she was a wonderful artist.

MR. MORGAN: That's a good gallery.


MR. MORGAN: Very good gallery.

MS. FLACK: Is that it, honey? See if you can figure out how to put this in. Thank you. And maybe we'll just do a little more.

MR. MORGAN: Okay. So go ahead with your experience.

MS. FLACK: Well, Music and Art was great. You know I came into my own.

MR. MORGAN: Who did you meet there in terms of instructors or colleagues that had a major impact on you at that time? Because that's a very impressionable age.

MS. FLACK: Well, the feeling was one of professionality. I mean everybody was - there were artists, and there were musicians. That was it. And in my class - oh, Milton Glaser. Was he in my class? Harold Bruder. He went on to become an artist. Oh, Consuelo Reyes, who had an affair with the sculptor whom I'm sure you know. Ronnie Bladen, Abstract, big pieces of wood. He's dead.

MR. MORGAN: Uh! Bladen - yes, Ron [Ronald] Bladen. That's right.

MS. FLACK: Ron Bladen.

MR. MORGAN: Yes. Yes, yes. A good artist, by the way.


MR. MORGAN: A painter as well as sculptor. Slowly his work is being revived, but it's taking time. His prices just haven't gotten up yet. But that whole thing is going to change. Anyway, let's go back. So who else?

BOB: One second. [Inaudible] [brief discussion with Audrey re video camera] Oh, now it is. There it is. Look at that. Look at that.

MR. MORGAN: Audrey, we're still on tape. Keep this in mind.

MS. FLACK: It goes like this?

BOB: Yes.

MS. FLACK: Okay.

MR. MORGAN: Let Bob do that. We need information from you. The Smithsonian -

MS. FLACK: Alright.

MR. MORGAN: - desperately needs information from you. Not only information -

MS. FLACK: Oh, yes [laughs].

MR. MORGAN: Not only information, Audrey, but knowledge. Okay?

MS. FLACK: Knowledge! I know.

MR. MORGAN: You know something? If I can just intervene here. I think that, you know, this project is really an amazing, wonderful project because in the age of information, knowledge still counts. Okay?

MS. FLACK: Uh-huh. [Affirmative.] That is so - that's great.

MR. MORGAN: Now it -

MS. FLACK: Knowledge as opposed to information.

MR. MORGAN: That's right. Now in the old days, you know, Alfred, Lord Tennyson used to say: "Knowledge comes, wisdom lingers." I remember giving a talk at the House of Commons [London, England] a number of years ago for this Irish art thing when David Hume was given the Nobel Prize. And so I took that idea of Tennyson's, and I said, okay, knowledge comes, wisdom lingers. But today, information comes, knowledge lingers, and wisdom, heaven help us.

MS. FLACK: What do you mean by that?

MR. MORGAN: Well, I don't think wisdom is so available today, let's put it this way. But here the opportunity for you to shine because wisdom is something that shines. It's brilliant.

MS. FLACK: Say the Tennyson thing again.

MR. MORGAN: Knowledge comes, wisdom lingers.

MS. FLACK: And then what came after that?

MR. MORGAN: In my transcription of that - or I changed it, I altered it: Information comes, knowledge lingers, and wisdom, heaven help us.

MS. FLACK: Why do you mean heaven help us?

MR. MORGAN: Well, in a sense that we can no longer assume wisdom to be the case. Not like it perhaps was assumed in the days of Tennyson.

MS. FLACK: Oh. Mm-hmm. Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. MORGAN: Because information is taking control.

MS. FLACK: Very interesting. Very interesting. You know I love that you're saying this. Because I'm old enough now, you know, and I do have wisdom. I see things. I know so much.

MR. MORGAN: This is what we're moving toward.

MS. FLACK: You think so?

MR. MORGAN: Right now, yes.

MS. FLACK: I know so much. I just get the whole picture pretty quickly, you know. And I think about it all the time. Now I think about [Barack] Obama, and I think about this world, and I think about the art world. I've been through so many phases of it. And, you know, I keep thinking - you didn't get to see the [Gian Lorenzo] Bernini show at the Getty [J. Paul Getty Museum, Los Angeles, California], did you?


MS. FLACK: It was magnificent.

MR. MORGAN: I'm sure.

MS. FLACK: And I think Bernini was - one of the greatest - artists that's ever lived. And, you know, in high school I probably would have laughed at him because I was -

MR. MORGAN: What were you looking at in high school?

MS. FLACK: [Pablo] Picasso, Juan Gris, and [Georges] Braque.

MR. MORGAN: Cubism.

MS. FLACK: Cubism and Picasso abstraction. I was also looking at - Baroness [sic] Hilla Rebay still had the Museum of Non-Objective Art [New York, New York].

MR. MORGAN: Baroness.

MS. FLACK: Still there.

MR. MORGAN: Baroness.

MS. FLACK: Yes, baroness.

MR. MORGAN: Yes. Hilla Rebay. Yes. And that eventually became the Guggenheim Museum [New York, New York].

MS. FLACK: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. MORGAN: She had a connection with Solomon [R. Guggenheim], as I recall.


MS. FLACK: But I have to tell you something that's very interesting that happened in high school, during high school. And I don't know if I ever told you this. My brother, who's six years older than I was, was drafted into the Army. He was in the ROTC [Reserve Officers' Training Corps], and they needed bodies, and the double-crossed him. He was a brilliant guy. Big gambler, handsome, ladies' man, but really smart. Reading [Friedrich] Nietzsche when he was 15, you know. So he gets pulled out of school. He gets two weeks of basic training. He gets sent to Germany to fight in the Battle of the Bulge, where they knew - I mean it was a slaughter. They knew it before they sent these boys. And he was one of two left alive.


MS. FLACK: And he became a killer. You know he'd tell stories [inaudible]. I mean I'll shorten it. But he had to kill a lot of people to survive.

MR. MORGAN: I'm sure.

MS. FLACK: And he came back with posttraumatic stress. They didn't know what it was. He couldn't go back to school, but he always had his gun with him. If you came into a room at night while he was sleeping, Oh! Out came the gun.

MR. MORGAN: In those days they didn't know about this kind of stuff.

MS. FLACK: No, they didn't know. Then they sent him to Japan. They sent him to the Philippines. He got malaria. Anyway, he came home.

MR. MORGAN: In other words he was still in the service.

MS. FLACK: Yes, he was in the service 'til the end of the war.

MR. MORGAN: Oh, okay.

MS. FLACK: Until we dropped the bomb. I mean they were using these boys. And he came home - was it '45, Bobby?

BOB: Yes.

MS. FLACK: Nineteen forty-five. We had a homecoming party. You know you open the door to the apartment, my mother had cold cuts and Dr. Pepper, Dr. Brown's cream soda and Schlitz beer. Everybody. We were playing the Lindy Hop and, you know, all those songs of the fifties, Tommy Dorsey. And Milton came home. He was like thin, and he had these haunted eyes. But he's home. All his girlfriends came. And after the party - we had shared a bedroom because we were two bedrooms. Your mother and father slept in one, and the two kids shared another one. So he dumps on my bed his loot from the war. Now there's helmets with swastikas. And there's a -

MR. MORGAN: When you say loot, do you mean - ?

MS. FLACK: His war booty.

MR. MORGAN: I see. Okay.

MS. FLACK: Alright. Oh, back up. Milton was one of the first foot soldiers to enter Berchtesgaden [sic] [Berghof, Berchtesgaden, Germany], [Adolf] Hitler's summer home. He liberated. They knocked down the door. They were in. And everybody, all the soldiers, went crazy. And they were ripping up pillows and stuffing their pockets with whatever they could. And my brother, having the kind of mind that he had, looked around in other rooms. He felt the walls for secret panels. I mean this is my brother.


MS. FLACK: You know I guess he studied gambling cheats, and he had - And he found - one windowsill was a little different than the others. And he pressed it, and there was a secret compartment in which - was a book of Hitler's watercolors, Hitler's personal copy of Mein Kampf [Marburg-Lahn : Blindenstudienanstalt, 1933] and his personal photograph album.

MR. MORGAN: A manuscript or a published edition?

MS. FLACK: A published edition, but it was Hitler's own. I hate to say it, but it was leather-bound, which might be the skin of a Jew. The photograph album had black paper with the white tips, you know, the little white corners that you slide photographs into.


MS. FLACK: And a gold and ruby necklace. He dumped all of this on my bed. And a hand grenade. He throws me the hand grenade. He says, "Catch!" Then he said, "Now don't let go of that pin! It's going to blow!" After an hour. I said, "Milt, when can I let go of the pin?" Of course he was teasing me.

MR. MORGAN: Was it a live grenade?

MS. FLACK: He made believe it was a live grenade.

MR. MORGAN: I see.

MS. FLACK: I was his kid sister, you know. Terrified.


MS. FLACK: So he had his Luger pistol and his - he was in the Black Hawk 69th, was it, Bob? I don't remember. The Black Hawk Division. He had insignias. He had Nazi things. You know all that. And he had the other stuff. He gave me this gold and ruby necklace. And he took his war booty, and he left the watercolor book. Did he take the Mein Kampf? I don't remember. But he left the watercolor book of Hitler's watercolors and the photograph album, and I had my necklace. And he goes away. I'm in high school. I'm studying Picasso. Forging Picasso actually. And I'm looking at Hitler's watercolors, and I like them.

MR. MORGAN: Go ahead. Go ahead.

MS. FLACK: So I like Hitler's watercolors. Now what am I going to do? I like it. So I come home from school after being an Abstract artist, and I'm looking at these [in German] street scenes that he did with charming buildings and little roads, that almost looked like Thomas Kinkade.

MR. MORGAN: Yeah! That's interesting.

MS. FLACK: It is, isn't it?

MR. MORGAN: Yes, yes.

MS. FLACK: So I tell nobody what I have. It's a shame, you know. In Yiddish you would say it's a shanda. My parents don't mention it. I don't mention it.

MR. MORGAN: The fact that you like the watercolors?

MS. FLACK: The fact that I'm in possession of Hitler's own stuff.

MR. MORGAN: Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

MS. FLACK: And also the fact that I like them. I mean I stood up in class in Music and Art, and I said Rembrandt [van Rijn] is old hat, he's old-fashioned. I mean I was a rebel there. And here I am liking these watercolors a year later. And how could you like this fiend's watercolors? So this was my secret. I told no one - no one. And then I would look through this photograph album every night. I took the pictures out, and I'd look at the back, and there were hand inscriptions. "Hitler mitt blah blah blah." "Me unt Adolf." I found out later that it was Eva Braun who was the photographer. And she had obviously given him this. So there was Albert Speer with [Hermann] Goering. There were a lot of dogs - I had lived with this stuff. It was really crazy. And every night I remember looking at the photograph album and thinking, how could a man, petting these children and his dogs, how could he do these horrible things? How could he make these watercolors and be so evil? And then one day my brother comes with an empty valise - years later - and he packs up, and he takes his things. Milton takes everything. And then I saw on television a few months later the photograph album had gone up for auction, a couple of million dollars. And I ran to the phone. I said -

MR. MORGAN: What year was that again?

MS. FLACK: I don't remember.

MR. MORGAN: Late forties?

MS. FLACK: Late forties, yes.

MR. MORGAN: A couple of million at that time, huh?

MS. FLACK: Or whatever. Whatever - that seemed like an enormous amount of money.

MR. MORGAN: That was a lot of money at that time for sure.

MS. FLACK: Maybe it wasn't a couple of million. But it seemed like a couple of million to me. I mean it was a big flashing thing: Hitler's photograph album uncovered. Sold for blah blah blah.


MS. FLACK: And I ran to the phone. I called Milton. And I said, "Is that ours?" And he said, "Yeah." You know. Here today, gone tomorrow. He was a gambler. He had to pay off a big gambling debt.

MR. MORGAN: Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

MS. FLACK: I went to look for my necklace, and that was gone.

MR. MORGAN: Oh, my God!

MS. FLACK: I'm going to have to sketch that necklace.

MR. MORGAN: What about the watercolors?

MS. FLACK: Oh, it was all gone.

MR. MORGAN: So that also ended up at auction.

MS. FLACK: Oh, everything was gone.

MR. MORGAN: Oh. Do you know where they are today?


MR. MORGAN: Okay. So where did you go from here?

MS. FLACK: So that was Music and Art. Then I heard about Cooper Union.

MR. MORGAN: That's an extraordinary story, by the way.


MR. MORGAN: Yes. How do you feel about that today, I mean in retrospect. Of course you're not seeing these watercolors, but -

MS. FLACK: I think it's kind of mystical almost, that - I mean I'm a Jew. I wind up with Hitler's work. And I'm very interested in academic art. And we think - Did you ever see the movie Max [2002]?


MS. FLACK: You should try to see it because Hitler failed the Vienna Academy twice.

MR. MORGAN: That was a film within the last ten years, isn't it?

MS. FLACK: Yes. A marvelous film.

MR. MORGAN: Yes, I hear it was interesting.

MS. FLACK: It's about a Jewish art dealer who was going to exhibit Hitler's work.

MR. MORGAN: I see.

MS. FLACK: What is it, make art not war? - we might not have had a Holocaust.

MR. MORGAN: That's very possible.

MS. FLACK: He was rejected. You know he used to sell his work on the street. He used to make these little [in German] little landscapes, street scenes, and sell them. So he was pretty good. He wasn't great. But a lot of those 19th-century academics were good.

MR. MORGAN: Some of them. Anyway, so you finished Music and Art High School. And you went to Cooper Union.

MS. FLACK: I took the test for Cooper Union, got into Cooper Union.

MR. MORGAN: Now I recall in our conversations earlier, last year, Audrey, that there was a point - you said you were studying the Cubists. And you were looking at Picasso, not only the Cubist period, but Picasso I guess in the thirties also, for example?

MS. FLACK: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. MORGAN: That great period of the women, Weeping Woman [1937] and the Guernica [1937], of course. And then Gris, of course. Did you read that famous book of [Daniel-Henry] Kahnweiler on Juan Gris?

MS. FLACK: No, I haven't.

MR. MORGAN: That had come out about that time. That was published in the fifties. And, of course, [Fernand] Leger, was that somebody who interested you or not?

MS. FLACK: I never liked Leger. I was interested in Leger, but I always found it so cold and mechanistic.

MR. MORGAN: Well, that was kind of his point. You know the reason I mention that is he was in New York, you know, for a period of time.

MS. FLACK: I didn't know that.

MR. MORGAN: In the forties, yes. Yes, yes. I mean not so long, but he was here. One of the ex-patriots during the occupation. But you also mentioned that you were close enough to 88 Tenth Street, which is where [Willem] de Kooning had his studio.

MS. FLACK: Mm-hmm. [Affirmative.]

MR. MORGAN: And that you would make treks up there on occasion -


MR. MORGAN: - while you were a student at Cooper Union.

MS. FLACK: I had a studio on Eighth Street and Third Avenue when the El was still running.


MS. FLACK: So everything was around there.

MR. MORGAN: And so obviously you had this desire, this draw to see what this was about.

MS. FLACK: Oh, it was - it took over. It was instant. And my teacher Nick Marsicano, who just had a show - he's dead. He's another one, they will revive him. He was a founding member of The Artists' Club.

MR. MORGAN: I see. With [Philip]Pavia?


MR. MORGAN: Uh-huh. [Affirmative.]

MS. FLACK: But he was more important than Pavia. I mean Pavia ran it.

MR. MORGAN: This is where I know this name because I read that collection that just came out a few months ago, you know, the documents from The Club. I read the entire thing on a plane to Nice [France] actually.

MS. FLACK: Oh, I'd love to see that. Is it Pavia's then? Did Natalie [Edgar] do it?

MR. MORGAN: He - well, I think somebody else edited it. But Pavia - it's really his notes that he's taken during the meetings of The Club.

MS. FLACK: Pavia, he talked like that - [in a hoarse, low voice]

MR. MORGAN: I know. I met him once. Yes, he was quite old. But anyway, so tell me -

MS. FLACK: I'd like to see that. Is it a book?

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