5 Questions with Thomas Crow, Author of The Artist in the Counterculture: Bruce Conner to Mike Kelley and Other Tales from the Edge

Jan 25, 2023

Thomas Crow is the Rosalie Solow Professor of Modern Art at the Institute of Fine Arts, New York University. His many books include The Long March of Pop: Art, Music, and Design, 1930–1995 and The Hidden Mod in Modern Art: London, 1957–1969.

City Lights is celebrating the release of The Artist in the Counterculture: Bruce Conner to Mike Kelley and Other Tales from the Edge with a virtual conversation between Thomas Crow and Carrie Lambert-Beatty on Tuesday, January 31 at 6 PM PST.

Where are you writing to us from?

From a Victorian clapboard house in Saybrook Point, CT, looking toward the wide estuary of the Connecticut River.

What is bringing you joy right now, personally/artistically/habitually?

Incandescent sunrises over said estuary, with lingering luminous glows over Long Island Sound at the end of the day, somehow best in winter; the Manets in the Met; tracking the musical legacy of Bert Berns; my students; the expanding family just now all under our roof.

Which writers, artists, and others influence your work in general, and this book, specifically?

For style, the parsimony of Elmore Leonard. For exposition, the rhizomic plotting of Jennifer Egan. For this book, the literary outpouring of the long, alternative 1960s (the last great decade of common reading): Ginsberg, Snyder, McClure, Baraka, Vonnegut, Kesey, Plath, Laing, Brautigan, Greer, Roszak, Castañeda, Youngblood, Sinclair, Scott- Heron, etc., whom everybody then read or heard. Encounters with visual-arts actors in the story: George Herms, Chris Burden, Dennis Parks, Bas-Jan Ader, Helene Winer, Paul McMahon, Hiro Kosaka, Al Ruppersberg, Martha Rosler, Alexis Smith, and Mike Kelley among them. Coltrane’s A Love Supreme and Pharoah Sanders’s Karma.

If you opened a bookstore, where would it be located, what would it be called, and what would your bestseller be?

On Malibu Pier, where the old Alice’s Restaurant used to be, Bengston Books, selling only titles on surfing and heirloom longboards. Best seller: David Rensin’s All for a Few Perfect Waves: The Audacious Life and Legend of Rebel Surfer Miki Dora (the Edie of sporting literature).

What books are you reading right now and would you recommend any to others?

Quitting Your Day Job: Chauncey Hare’s Photographic Work, a startling departure in the history of photography by my colleague Rob Slifkin. Examining the life and photographs of Hare—chronic misfit once called “a perfect storm of oddities”— peels back the fractal complexity of the Bay Area post-1960s, legacies of rebellion awkwardly internalized, lonely defiance and career suicide starkly externalized in the darkroom. Highly recommended.

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