Decoder Ring is Slate's show about cracking cultural mysteries. In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit, examines its history, and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.
This episode introduces you to Ilona Granet, who was a New York art-scene fixture who won the praise of the art world when she put up anti-harassment street signs in lower Manhattan in the mid- 1980s. Her career seemed like a sure thing, but three decades on, and so much more art later, it still hasn’t materialized, even as her contemporaries are now hanging in museums. This episode is not about the familiar myth of making it, but the mystery of not making it. What happens, to an artist—to anyone—when they’re good enough, but that’s not enough?
If you like the show, subscribe to Decoder Ring on Apple, Spotify, or wherever you listen.
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This is an unofficial transcript meant for reference. Accuracy is not guaranteed.
Hey, slow burn listeners, Troll Anderson here, we're working hard on our next season of slobber about the Ellie rights which will be preparing in November. But in the
in time we wanted to share with you in episode from one slates other documentary, Podcast Dakota Ring
Dakota ring is like slow burn, but for culture. Each of us
Dakota Ring tackles a different cultural mystery like what the left
becomes so uncool? Where did the care and come from
and why tabloid so obsessed with Jennifer Afghanistan right now,
there in the middle of a brand new season, a shows, including the episode we ve got for you today. This is
Personal investigation for Dakota rings House will pass beyond it
story of an artist who was once that,
to the New York ART World in
take it in an almost cosmic mystery. What happened?
when you're good enough, but that's not good enough
funny it's emotional and it's good
things. I'm not sharp ever heard in a podcast before, if you like,
episode. We hope you'll go, subscribed,
Dakota Decoder ring in its own feed.
Dozens more episodes there'd been joint after this one. So without further ado, this is the sign
sorry, I won't let you know. This episode contains multiple descriptions of sexual assault and a reference to suicide.
Area, you do wrong doing. Ok, I very words hurry. I'm sorry are you nuts?
artist alone, a granite she's greeting
and then to Quarterings producer, as we arrive
that her studio in New York, EAST Village, back in two thousand and nineteen
Are you taking your idea, apparently a rule of recording as you're supposed to tape
Laurie Way had the whole thing alone is lived and worked here since nineteen. Eighty two would you
moved in. She was in her thirties, a performance, artist, assign painter and a part of whatever one called.
The downtown clean,
by moisten singer back is there and the chocolate lays long cigars and, like you gotta, I wasn't. I think if you saw
her today, a very petite
when strolling down Second avenue in blue?
swayed booties, her white hair, piled atop, our heads
walking her very slight italian, greyhound you'd. Think
New York, character and you'd be right.
No, no. My whole life
she's one of my mother's oldest friends, so yeah
I thought I'd go like an order of the signs that her studio is jammed with decades of work in stacks and piles.
Milk crates. There's a bank of windows on one wall and a huge pale blue painting, with small ghostly figures on it on another.
Of alone, as work is not paintings on canvas, it signs graphic
It is painted onto metal. But this one is from Syria
men who were acting poorly towards women, so they were actually about sexual her.
That's right. Now she showing us a light paying their square street crime with black tram and black letters, and three figures on our first on the left is in
credibly, strong silhouette of a very powerful man, and he is pulling back as hard as he can. Arnold on a leash believe
is restraining a humanoid, wild animal and he's got,
like wild hair coming out he's got the enormous like Dracula Hands Tom.
And his tongue is sort of like drawing out. He is grabbing for advice,
very happy. Sexy beautiful woman, though
ethically he's like the id and the man.
And the man holding back is the super ill and she's the prey above and below these three figures in english and Spanish. Is the text curb your animal instinct?
design, is made of baked enamel aluminum, exactly the material and thickness of a New York City Street sign, and that's because
Nineteen. Eighty eight, it was a New York City Street time there
signs everywhere in New York City, most of them warning you not to do things like parking littering and horn blowing, and so on. Now
as the loans granted is going to answer new signs warning men not to be wolves, who are various other species of animal and in general to stop bothering
man on the street, the curb your animal instincts sign and another darker pink sign. Reading no catcalls were hung by the Department of Transportation all over lower Manhattan by the
Cambridge and Staten Island fairy, the World Trade Center and City Hall morning. Why
to do this it was it was time
for a man to start thing you themselves as part of the human race?
and then finally, animal raising,
Treating women with a sense of dignity decide
there are highly visible public art about the street harassment of women and that made them provocative, especially
thirty five years ago, as you just
they made the local news, but they also
CNN and the International NEWS there
up in mainstream publications in our world journals in York magazine and the AP in Australia in ITALY, Germany and Japan ahead this moment of unbelievable
success, in getting an image out into the world image. Up to that,
alone I had been a performance artist, a feminist artist and a part of various artist drawn collectives and bands she
formed and shown her work. I galleries squats artist, run spaces in art centres like PS, won her career,
crude and organic momentum. One
piece of work have led to another and another, and now the signs had really struck a nerve
it seemed like a loner was on her way, not necessarily to fame and fortune, but to a kind of our world stability involving recognition, public engagement, the ability to show her work to make a living, but that kind
upward trajectory. That's not what this episode is about
Sometimes you have a moment and then there are all the moments. After
I think the only thing we could talk about the elephant in my horror room is like
if the elephant Hiram is,
I have a lot to do and I'm gettin up there in the years I have all this
of that, I want to show its or so what's the elephant in the room, while the other,
and even death or six has its success.
This is decoding a show about cracking cultural mysteries. I will pass in today's.
So it is about an artist that most people have never heard of and what happened to her as such is a little
for an than usual it's not about a cold,
mystery that you or anyone else has been wondering about just me
but I've been wondering about Ilona four years so back into
thousand nineteen. I interviewed her a number of times for an episode and then I chickened out of making it not because I didn't
There was anything there,
because I was worried about talking about what was there and what there is the flip
of a story, we all know the story of making it of struggling
following your muse, finding
her voice and then success. That's
story that miss it's the primary one. We hear about artists because
hearing about them chances
Are these succeeded even
after years of trying, even if it's after
they died, so that
we're looking at today, not
the familiar mess of making it whether MR
of not making it one
to an artist to anyone
when their good enough? But that's not enough.
They under quartering that question, and in
reduction of sorts
Don't you know the artist alone, a granite.
So I said I ve been wondering about alone for years, specifically
I've been wondering about her. Since I was nine before
She was just one of my mom's friends. Sometimes
we'd visit, her downtown or she'd visit us uptown away.
With her long, haired miniature docks and whose name dainty my sister
play with dainty what alone I talk to my mom and sometimes drew for us should make Us Delhi
it little pictures of people uncloud riding horses. That was pretty much the extent of
thought about alone, up the dog and the drawings and then
do you remember when I made you cry when
little. Oh yeah. What happened comes? It comes close to them. Like all of us
you and your sister. Where leg I made, I made this issue and we were on the porch. It turns out.
In quite remember what had happened, but I did like
said. I was about nine, maybe ten. She was sleeping over with dainty alone. Oh, oh
ways has a dog, but dainty was the first and what happened,
her beloved Dainty sat on my beloved blanqui. Ah, yes, vaguely and you are mad at her for do our lad and use said dot
oh yeah eyes. She was like my daughter, tat time right out of a bigger, Lovelady diluted in detail, and I
due to get a life. Ah, ah yes,
told me to get a life that, with the most horrible things,
say to somebody me without a family.
So. I am mortified by this story now, because I cannot believe how rude I was
scruciatingly road blocks
was being extremely obnoxious. I was not being pointed.
I was mad at her and I reached for an insult, though probably got from some
tv character, but it
no something when I said get a life alone. I thought that I did, though, that somehow I could
see, some lack in her and I was going straight for her weak spot
and she ran into the bathroom and sat on the drier and cried here
get a life. What a horrible thing
is that really the terrible when it is like it's funny, because I just really I didn't mean I gotta know ends, but you took it in a like
he thought I knew secret things always always just this thing:
As I said, and I thought you certainly must know that were, however-
into view that my life was with an eye to
enough life at the time
felt really bad, but I also felt unconscious
I hadn't wanted her dog on my blanket and it had somehow spiraled into this highly fraud.
Interaction with an adult one who was so vulnerable. She had. Let me hurt her like. I was a grown up when I was just us not, and this is
marked her for me a meter
stand out from the other adults in my life initially not in such a good way,
alone up might not have remembered, but I did, and through middle school in high school in college, just made me feel away about her like too much I got in this peak into the
laxity of adulthood. Three did not want
but as an adult myself, I've come to see her differently.
When did you start doing our? When I was born? I was
always in love with letters. I liked the shape of letters and I liked the there
different variations that they get a curve.
Rounded they were jag if they were complicated. The M
Are they why? Why do you love something? You know? Where do you love something I loved it? It was weird
alone, who was born in sheep's, had bay in Brooklyn and moved out along island when she was sex,
Father was a design engineer for nuclear projects and her mother was a bookkeeper. She was an energetic kid performer. She danced she sang
she design clothes for her dolls. She loved horses and forced back riding. She wanted to be an artist. An actress ballerina occur
girl. There was no sadness in my house, we were jolly family, so I mean you
they have been intensely depressed, but nobody would have had words for it or talked about it or acknowledged it. I thought
happy child underwent its fabulous summer camp. I headed gazillion boyfriend. I went through them all Yoda gazillion, boyfriends yeah.
It sent a well. I think, with my early childhood in development
Became very interested in boys alone,
referring to something that happened her soon after
Family moved out to Long Island where I was
little girl they somewhere between six and eight, an extra, nay
the EU is like fourteen. He was that of a tough guy. He decided to play strip poker, which credit card game
he put himself on the bed and then he had me
top of him said of air,
you know like
masturbating him. I had.
Idea what was going on. It happened a couple
times and alone. I never told anybody about it. She try.
To put it out of her own mind as she said,
She thought she had a happy childhood and she thinks of herself or wants to think of herself as a happy person.
One of the ways that manifest isn't how she talks about even really horrible things with lightness, silliness laughter
like the time she was in seventh grade and went back to her neighbours room when she thought he wasn't there to borrow the encyclopedia that was kept over his bed and then he came in there and he attacked mainstream, ripping my clothes off. I started like punt.
King and kicking, and he finally, he stopped, and then he took my closet
depart and what went downstairs any so them back
gather in his sewing machine. I stood there behind away it's up,
Then they went back home, never to be
ever to say a word to anybody about that is kind of funny. You deny me, obviously it took a lot to get through his head that I really was an interested, and I accept that
he's, gonna go down there and so them, which is cute that he knew how to so. You know this big bully,
I never thought it was a big deal and you know it was a sort of my neighbour. It happened. It was over. I didn't think it had anything to do with my life. You know about that
I think, had enormous amount to do with my life
she didn't know that, and now she box upward.
Happened and thought it worked. She liked Highschool. She was popular. Yet a lot of friends. Kitticut
by the time she was ready for college. She knew she wanted to be an artist Jean role,
Tyler School of ART a part of
ample university, those outside of Philadelphia. I remember
Thinking I have
become much more than I am because I have just been a plague.
I thought now amounts guy, I'm paying attention. She arrived
It's cool with a lot of skill and talent for someone her age, she could read
we draw up, she understood shading and perspective. She had a b
the full line she was also
intense about her work and a perfectionist and tie
or in the late nineteenth sixties,
demanding and intends to, but also cold and quiet
alone with brimming with theoretical and technical questions, she didn't feel
you could ask
For her junior year, she studied abroad in ITALY, where, among
her things she met my mom PAMELA heart? She
sitting cross from me
at the table, I really didn't know anyone they really found of my friend or the person who isn't. She
across the way, and she was hilarious and charming
and I just thought
she's, the one, I'm gonna be friends with a founder
and even as alone I was having adventurers and a love affair. Listening to the news about Vietnam in the studio and dancing around in her room to the doors she
increasingly anxious consumed by formal questions about some of her first adult paintings
She was so worked up than in her words. She started disintegrating.
Even more so after she returned to the states but
I am actually had spent half of my junior year thing about how to kill myself.
State of mind boggling. You know it's really sad, though. I've never really express this like this.
I couldn't tell anybody, because I was
to isolated. In my mind, I just took me
pills. I can find my mother was
Actually visiting the weekend right before this happened, I thought
delightful weekend emits when she made her Suzette attempt right after I left, which freaked me after they had no idea
Did she was suicidal? It was,
scary and I was very
I mean it. I'm getting career was really paying flow that I didn't know really exciting.
I wasn't reading or despair correctly
I mean I just saw as this power is charming. Appealing
talented. It was terrible.
Ilona was hospitalized briefly and then went home for the rest of the school year. She went to therapy, she joined a group. She took them art, classes or people
shouted. She started singing to herself on the street late at night like she had when she was a kid and all
These things helped her depression.
Abated she slipped back into a
beer version of herself after underground
school and stuff. I became sort of like a cheerful person and- and you know I was having fun and played with played with the the artwork
It was now the nineteen seventy years and, as alone is twenties unfolded. Three events in particular would set the course of her life and work. The first is that she became assignment or road after college. She went up to Boston where my mom was to live for a bed. She got her own studio, space, any very unstable boyfriend and to make money she got a gig ETA, Marina Hand, lettering the name on the back and sides of boats. Often yachts should go onto do some. America's cup boats
could be exhausting hanging off both every day, sunrise to sunset in all whether it in
a lot of technique and skill like drawing
intricate letters, free hand on open water
By doing it, she told herself a trade sign painting that she liked
She was her own boss and it turned her love of letters into a living
good thing. That happened is that she found her voice as a performance artist after Boston. She enrolled in graduate school at the prestigious school of the ART Institute of Chicago her time in ITALY, had made her wary of painting, so she started doing installation are, which is when you create an environment, Villa room with objects made or found, and people walk in an experience for one of her
projects. You put together a five story: installation peace at a graduate school building.
Friends of hers had been supposed to perform in it, but they bail,
at the last minute, and you decide
to do it yourself.
Kay Ilona we're going to either of a nervous breakdown or we're gonna, be we're
to be an artist, then we're gonna be really for real we're gonna be in our body. I started.
Through the hall five floors like reading,
seeing making things up whenever it was like. I was free
You know where you hear of artists where they do not. They spend their their adult life, imagining their Picasso whenever there and then, if they're, very
fortunate they break into their own. But this happened when I was like twenty one. It was such a miracle to me.
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the time Jerry Salts who is now the art critic at New York magazine was a young artist in Chicago himself. He was all
alone as boyfriend. She was way out in front
so many artists in the early nineteenth seventies, who would like
you go on to get pretty famous he's Eddie
of her before they even met. She was a star.
And art school her reputation, her work proceeded,
she would incorporate a lot of made sculpture
entering cartooning politics pop culture, s,
the thing was integrated in these little apparatus really weird
one of the most careers matic performers I have ever seen- picks related audiences, just sort of through fairy dust on people and suddenly the
let's serve chasm, would open and you'd be with,
think very magical, but something very post, something
had a chaos. True it most of her performance is warrant recorded
is a clip from one of the rare ones that was
I just wish you would have thought it was even worth of a lowlife
more time, Warner
That's my peace alone. Oh calls her rate performance, which brings us to the third thing, the determined the course of alone as life and
work in a few short years after graduate school when alone
moved to New York, part of a cohort of artists and musicians settling in the rough old industrial neighbourhoods of so how tried back up and the lower side alone,
was raped for separate times
It was at night it winter.
There is on the subway. I walked a couple. A few blocks to my house, so I was up,
the gate and there was this voice. From being
mind and we he's real gun on me in my back. My first, when I thought well being
things happen to people all the time. This is my first bad thing, so grow up,
Ilona remembers each of these experiences and she talks about them all in her way. She laughed sometimes would not
down. What happened to her and the second time,
am I had with lettering boats by this time in the Edison, Marina in Boston and this one person had not paid me, I had to hit
their cause. I didn't have any money into.
From New York to Boston to get the money, so there was
of course nobody was stopping and, finally, a truck. Stop. Stop too. I thought. Well, ok, he raped me. He took out a knife and I thought oh
with the knife it's finally arrived. This is intolerable, so I pretended that I had an epileptic fit of each
he really by it and it was really rough to like you know service.
Pretend you're having seizure. You know, while you're sort of terrified you know the third time somebody came in through my window, I went to sleep and I woke up screaming
Now I know I do. I was screaming with this hearing this man say: if you don't stop screaming, I'm gonna kill you that he had a mask on and steal pipe,
when, in the finale than minded due to date, me what he asked me. If
we'd go out with him,
I think I started laughing Venice.
The last one was them. It was during the day on Sunday I was wearing a raincoat. I was
four apartments or loves her something in Brooklyn, and I and I went to the park to think about it and her
there were very there. Aren't there many people in the park and this young so cute,
boy man came over, he was wearing a tendency, is carrying a tennis racket and he was wearing like a green and white stripe. T shirt near the perfectly here
for directions and m. Then
pulled out a gun, and he told me to keep working set, something like.
I don't know. Is there like a group?
where are you all meat and find out like where you gonna go next, because this is was like two weeks later?
With totally freakish yeah, I was totally
I mean it was surreal. You know that twenty with surreal in a really this is this is
In the years immediately after this Ilona was needless to say, totally destabilized. She was full of fear, but also of a strange kind of fearlessness scared to
down the street petrified. It would happen again, but also, in her words, a little wild full of the perverse invincibility that comes when the worst things have already happened to you. Her experience is immediately entered her work by my manager was lucky, I'm not the rapists, because how
How terrible to be that person? Who is that disturbed in that
ugly inside you know that angrier just twisted. I had been through my own horrors already. I thought that I know in certain ways by might be the childhood experiences I was a fighter. I will. I wasn't gonna be turned into a puddle now psych, so awful. I thought that it was actually kind of like my responsibility to do a performance about it. Although
My performance is booth before worm were kind of fun and entertaining
and when they were had some depth to them, but they weren't terrifying so that this would became a terrifying one
also part of her re performance
talking about one of the nurses who treated her
he then went into my air and
cries in and that's what happened to time before it's like you're in is white
empty room with his personal doesn't even talking about what they hear. You
judge when you start crying told me to shut up
told Ilona. There would have
up into alone. I would never have happened to her
alone. Remember thinking yeah, you have the money,
to take cabs everywhere. We have a totally different life. Will you now?
Ilona began performing this piece in the nineteen seventies and kept doing so into the early nineteen eighties, at which point our exports.
He began to make their way into her signs, but in order
for that to happen alone had to come to see her signs as art,
for a long time she didn't
they were a job a craft, but that
started to change with a number of collaboration, basically spontaneous outgrowth.
For being fully enmeshed in downtown art, seen one were ever
one was doing everything making movies, making art starting bands
alone a joint disband, a no wave feminist outfit. A female artists who could play instruments started
the artist Martha Wilson. You know we were political, we were doing songs about
nuclear power nuclear radiation poisoning and about
being accosted on the street ass, a woman,
but she was this guy
fly, who brought relief. Somehow they heaviness
one of the other members of Disband was angry decision was then the wonder, kinda editor of art you go.
To edit Andy Warhol Interview magazine for twenty years. She
alone. To do some signs for show she was putting together means
alone was also loosely connected to co, lab downtown activist artist. Collective
She participated informed in their group exhibitions, some of which
staged in squats
no matter what they told me no matter there was. Nobody told me nothing out there in the in the land of nothingness. What could I think I put my love and the hopes of the future? We are
Jenny. Holter was also affiliated with coal lab and she asked alone to collaborate with her on some pieces
time, she would go from lettering yachts of one of our other occupations and then come to me to work on these paintings. Halters work in
of slogans and aphorisms and in one collaboration alone, a letter to halters text under images by the graffiti artist. Lady pink phrases:
like I M not free, because I can be exploded any time and don't shoot
Moments we would choose sand. Sarah very matter of fact, letters other time. She would do her patented wonderful, fluid script. Things started
Snowball alone is
work with a number of gallery shows, including one it p s one. She was getting more requests to make signs for other artists, including a set of signs for an avant garde feeder. There were so large there's more to think about than just the letters I thought this is like paintings so interesting, this fund for the first time
since college. She really wanted to make aesthetic decisions about what she calls her flat are again
so she began making signs to go in her own performance pieces spirit
quickly one called is at work or is it war or are we all just waiting for the good fairy about global
stability, nuclear war, economic injustice in this version made specific,
Luckily, for video she's wearing a black shirt and skinny tie and sitting at a desk when she pulls out erect, hang
Miller, sign it's all black with three
lucky white figures on it: one adult and two children, all folding up,
missiles from minors. To keep these little sign that I make that's, not gonna pay dollar, so I can get upon me in a pay about dollar surviving. Had a car, it's not gonna pay for anything. It's mechanism paper more missiles. It's not gonna pay for more big business neck. It could pay for more signs. That's true! She would
The signs out at the end of her shows as well as handing them out in midtown, so people could display them in public on buses and subways
and then alone and noticed a sign on the subway herself in
what for the nineteen anyone James Bond movie for your eyes. Only all you see
these long legs with nothing on them and may be high heels and die
and maybe devil of, seven is somewhere. I don't know I just remember that in thinking it was so we so provocative and it was so set in a bunch of legs.
The vagina she found it so disturbing. She brought it up at the end of one of the re performances essence,
If anybody was a designer out there with they, please make some signs that addressed rape
to design something like that with it just seemed way above my
my ability and then I saw then I finally realise that I really wanted to figure this out, that it was
the challenge to me and it was healing- and it felt really important so nice
Maybe too she started. Try
to make signs that addressed. Rape herself
it totally hostile Vienna things stay away with men flying in the air and attacking and then the next one will stay, eight feet away and the third one was basically like fuck, you
I thought I should take a vacation who still point was
wanted to be out in the street for alone up the signs being out in the street, where everyone could see them where they could change. Things was fundamental. They were activism, Eve
before they were art, but that
They needed to be polite enough for public officials to agree to hang them
so over the next six years. She honed that making them clearer and funnier the phrase Kirby Animal instinct in particular was a rift on then mayor, add catches, pooper scooper signs which asked people to curb their dog.
Alone was asking meant to curb their verbal excrement, a cheeky way of giving the signs authority making them look
Strategy worked better than she could have hoped. The department of TAT
to hang alone assigns in neighborhoods where the local community boards, ok, that not all of them did one board member in Greenwich Village told the newspaper there was a few,
that it was reversed sexism showing men as animals
But the lower Manhattan Community Board, though divided on the signs, ultimately approved them. Not everyone was thrilled when we
put them up in Wall Street. It was lunchtime
traffic jam on Wall Street. They slip my tyres and my beautiful old mercury. My clear some like man in his suit his screws
screaming out there. We should just go
to the kitchen, if young, why, right and tat he was like all these caricatures and then
This little guy rip sit down steel society,
then runs into the walls, rebuilding that their building and hold it up like you
one he's holding the sign up, be so proud and every
is cheering. You know it is demanded, Wendy
us off a co founder,
of the gallery. P p, o W remembers the hostility to there was anger from the man on the street scene
signs going up where all scary ex scary, threatening anger, Pv O W, which was then located in the EAST village, had just begun
represent alone around the time. The signs were going up. What she was doing for
in his arm was way
of her time and it means
and it really resounded. She gently had an arab and there was a success
since she got class and we saw them, they went inexpensive like seven
under fifty dollars about still she had so she had tress. She was making
political actions and meaning she had something to
held on four shore and over them,
couple of years she did
Ilona was in group, chose at the Museum of Modern ART and the Whitney she got commissions to make a set of signs and a series of billboards
in nineteen eighty nine, these worked or featured at alone as first solo shout and p p, o W, which at the time was a
grab a newcomer that represented a number of political artists.
The show was well reviewed in places like art forum and the village voice.
Wasn't making much money at this time. In fact, she was still painting boats to make a living
things, were going well. She was known in the our world. She even at a PAMELA Cooper Union, about what it's like to be a famous artist and moral
Her work was out there alone
Priorities are right there in her medium. She makes signs, they are for people to see, and people were see
them for alone. At getting to this point had happened. Naturally, she'd
really hard, but without thinking about having a gallery based career, but now she
slipped into one
It seems reasonable to imagine that going forward
her. Professional life would continue to ascend that there would be growing interest in her work that you'd show in more places get more ground.
Have more collectors, more name, recognition, more money, maybe even enough to make a living just from her art. But that's not what happened,
If this would have ended earlier, I would have been happy with my life. I would have been.
Abby where would have been proud, but I dine I would have enjoyed. I would have thought I did you know
good enough job. You know
and I should count my lucky stars that I was fortunate.
And now I don't feel that way this
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The more I spoke with alone. On the more details. I learned about the chronology of her life, the more ice
to wonder. If I hadn't miss something about the time I made her cry,
all these years. I've always thought that when I said that, to her hand meant anything by it, you heard me talking about it with her
really thought. I'd, just as easily could have said, eat my short sort
me with a spoon but working on this piece
I started to wonder if that can really be true. I definitely
didn't know. I knew something but kids pick up, unlocked,
things I don't understand.
And I was a little picture with big ears. When I was a kid there was nothing.
Liked more than sitting under the kitchen table and being quiet,
and seeing what my mom and her friends would get into a half regard that I was there
Maybe I heard something a conversation, a tone of voice.
The reason I wonder about this is because
too much of a coincidence. Otherwise one
told alone to get a life. Was the early ninety nineties right around a transitional moment in her career when things started to get harder? That's why what I said provoked such a reaction, why she couldn't just brush off as the bad behaviour of a mouth. He kid
me for the first time the life she was starting to see stretching out ahead of her work
going in the direction she wanted.
After her first p, p, O W Show Ilona worked on a number of other sign projects, one about
Stick and child abuse one for an imagined all female park, another inspired by the first Iraq WAR of gas mask figures.
Dancing, eating lounging, underneath falling missiles, and you could have kept going in this vein.
Other artist might have the signs
After all, we're what she was known for battle
found she didn't want to hop from hot, but an issue hot button issue making signs all the while they wanted me to
continued to make these political signs base
Really, I think in some ways I got
of my track jerry Salts again, she could
go into production and just pay an endless series of each one of these came from a deeply rob.
Third place in her. A lot of them dealt with a grin
male aggression, hostility, abuse,
nuclear war than a real fear so
wonderful things exacted a lot from her
and that generally from
a big sir he's like
I'll. Do another show of men yelling at women. It just doesn't work that way for an art like that, plus she had a craft level
it was extremely unusual that she was
a king, her own work, painting around signs doing every their self, and this took time, and I thought it was like being applied.
The just like making energy is doing it at coming up with that. Like the next subject, you know for the moment you know so. Instead,
just making more signs alone, I decided to do something totally different. She started making Wedgwood.
Wedgwood is a neoclassical style of ceramics, inspired,
by ancient antiques there was created in the MID seventeen hundreds, it's the first.
Modern mass produce, tableware and you'd probably recognize it. The most
Miss examples of our cups and plates in a soft periwinkle blue called Wedgwood blew. It has why
figurative ceramic freezes along the edges.
And they have a visual clarity. That's almost sign, like alone
it was always been interested in the accessories of the rich and the habits of the regular became fascinated by Wedgwood, and so she said,
out to make Wedgwood, earns and visas from scratch. These two foot tall,
race or ceramic sculptures.
Tailed with her own iconography fighter.
And realistic, looking muscular women, lifting bar bells and soldiers with their arms and legs blown off,
There's some of my favorite of her pieces, but they were time. Consuming
even more so because she had to take time away from them to paint both and signs to make a living
I say financially, it's never felt really good assigned to a really hard to make, and I worked really hard for it. So with
ways really hard in Ireland.
A few months to do anything in
so here she is she's been,
working hard on good work. But it's been over a decade since her big splash in that
I'm New York has gotten more expensive and the art world has gotten more professional. She seen peers, get fate,
ass. Our relationship has fallen apart and she's
a woman of middle age whose worried about money. All of this
The context of her next gallery show at PPM w in late ninety. Ninety eight of her wedgwood earned a number of related ambitious paintings
is the culmination of almost a decade of work and she needed it to go well and instead nothing much happens.
It doesn't get a lot of attention. Theirs
Alone is getting frantic feeling frustrated
contact with her gallery and she starts. Try
to drum up, oppressed herself
He calls one of her galleries. Wendy we heard from earlier today
talk about why in image, hadn't been sent the listing section of the New Yorker an escalates from there, so I called Apple Wendy upset
and then she got very angry at me and
So now you know you, don't you can't tell us anything, we know our business in and she said I M going to put with my children. She hung up the phone. I asked
The four her perspective on what happened. There were eight. We had a fight. I remember there is a fight which is not typical. I have to say
if our artists, but with a longer there was a lot of anger- and I would say
in alone is case and she had experienced psychological trauma in her life.
I am delighted triggers the capping of trauma
and I think, moving from the signs to the bosses to bigger pieces.
There was a struggle she couldn't
the help she needed, maybe for financial reasons, and maybe we were too young
time to provide and didn't have the money ourselves worldwide that umbrella and
you have someone,
very, very angry, no matter why and we have no
support at that point. For that artists speak less. The same thing was five years ago by ten years ago, and really no one knows who you are now and there's not a lot for us to do hate to say it seems so cruel. But you know there's a queerest art thing going on the art world and it's not the family,
We are saying we think you can be crazy and you can be Vincent Van Gogh, so to speak,
so. He beheld w dumped her and I sat on the bench but with the phone thinking. Well, that's the end of it that send me. I guess
that certainly ended his career
they die. You know it was. I was felt disgraced getting dumped by your gallery. It's getting dumped either
no it's business, it feels personal and especially for an artist who's, not so young anymore. If
gossip. If people
say, you're a handful. Maybe no one gives you another chance
there are so many factors that they got a loner to displace timing money, the market, our world trends, psychology, sexism, bad luck, the end
Annabelle, but once she was in this position, it was like
a bamboo finger trap the harder
he tried to get out the more so
she was alone.
It's not some smooth operator and she couldn't suddenly effectively become a strategic
fifteen men who could sell themselves, but it didn't work for her. Our world
keep her seemed put off by her and that only made her more off, putting more desperate, more
the thing about Ilona. She can't always help
Reveal her vulnerability, the people she
to a nine year old
and people don't always like that. Jerry Salts again
believe and radical vulnerability and alone are granted, is the embodiment of radical vulnerability, and that is a great plus that I think it
hasn't side, unfortunately,
the working day. Our world.
There have been a lot of very hard things about the last two decades for alone up many of them financial. She never had
health insurance until she qualified for Medicare, she has to room
a changing cast of twenty and thirty something's off Craigslist
she sells who work for less than its worth, both art
the sign painting, because she knew
income, and that was before
the sign painting itself started to dry up in the two thousands as technology,
she made it easier to use less skilful replacements alone.
Calls her financial circumstances a nightmare, but as difficult as they are as an
is about money, as she is all the time. The more painful part is her work not being seen.
A lot of artists say? Well, it's done week. If I like it, it's done. You know that it's,
We, mostly it's the artists, engagement with the work. Will you don't feel that way?
no, I don't and people would say them say these. He should be
they should be everywhere, like they would say all the time you know, as I give it their nowhere there in my house, I can't
you're not being able to to get through the,
nor to get things going to fix things. You know to move it along, you feel so like not being a human being it dislike of failures.
Human being that you can't you can't get. What you need is like being a doctor like with your you're, a great doctor, but you sick, somehow Cancun a patients.
Compounding this is that she seen friends. Colleagues, pier
from the seventies and eighties thrive have the kind of career.
That once seemed possible for her Jerry SALT
it's a surprise for art criticism, Jenny,
there is one of the rare artist whose almost a household name since the two
intends Martha. Wilson has been represented by people represented w alone as former gallery, and that's just the people
you mentioned in this episode. There are plenty more PAMELA heart. My mom again, I think ass. She aged
As far as your career didn't happen, it's one
to be struggling artist. Thirty eight is another thing to be struggling artist. Fifty eight,
friends who she knew made it
She was alone, you know, I think
God harder as she aged in as her career did happen and in its its people, its painful for Ilona
Is there anything that's a good about getting older? Not that I know of.
I know a lot of people seem to like it alot they feel like they ve they made. There is their comfortable, they feel proud of themselves. No, I
start weeping now. I can feel with tears right behind it, but I don't really cry much anymore.
I had started on this episode, knowing that alone, as life hadn't turned out, how she hoped and also know.
That she was brave, but I hadn't full
He considered how exploring the first two
show the second might
actually make her feel you ve been thinking.
But there's a lot plague too much but like what. So? What do you think about your life is depressed me?
I have never used, though, as I told PAMELA I
I've never used the word depressed with me. I
raise to be this happy girl.
My mother was, and they sent me down when I was three years old to entertain the lady down the hallway and that's that's me
personality, but at this point
It's like. I guess I've you know knocked against Walt for so long with that. You know. Without getting being able to get through that, it just seems like say
And I really sad
this is about. When I chickened out of doing this peace back in two thousand nineteen, not because the story, a sad
but because it seemed like he was making her sad thirty years?
I've tried done it the first time I was making her cry again.
Do you really didn't want to do that? So I backed out shoots gracious about it and then I just kept thinking about it.
About her about how being an artist is like a more high stakes, version of being a person where what it's all for and what you have to
and what you leave behind our front and centre.
Was how completely out of your control at all. Is artists don't get to decide if there were,
valuable. If it's a meaningful, if it moves people all they get to
Do is make it in the face of so many material and psychological constraints and hardships. Most of us do everything we can to get whatever scrap of control we can make
age we give up our dreams and callings. We change jobs, careers. We find other things partners, children interests can matter too
Ass Barcelona hasn't done that she said
with her lack of control for decades and that's been painful and disappointing, but that's not all it's been as hard as it is to make it,
as rare, it seems to me just as hard just as rare to keep trying
so single mindedly when you don't, because Ilona is still
crying. I mean I'm not stuck in, though in this world, where I dont know what to do
You know like I'm, not I'm embarrassed. I don't want to do later. I'm trying to hide- and I can't do it- might mean. Oh my studios and clean. I don't have enough money, whatever kind of excuse. I live a you know like I'm, not there.
I have work. You know I have more than enough for the last twenty years, despite everything, she's been working
Among other things. She made a piece inspired by Donald Trump and she's all
no finishing up the series of five beautiful signs ripping on little
in writing HU in a different way
approaching the theme of danger and safety for women and girls. The text on one of
science has wander and giggle at the fantasy of freedom and discovery
and meanwhile her work is out there. The Whitney bought the two original street signs for its permanent collection in two thousand feet.
Team on official Non, sanctioned anti cat. Calling signs went up in New York City in Philadelphia
they weren't alone us, but once fall,
ring in her footsteps.
Showing how ahead of her time she was- and this is
thing about alone. Oh that's always been there all along, not just the difficulties, but the perseverance she's struggling
She is also in a struggle ever
each day to get her work into the world.
And we don't really know how to value that, how to think about that had a look at that
we prefer to avoid it altogether by talking about people like Vincent Van Gogh, mango came up so much when I was talking about
people usually meant it in a kind way he wasn't famous,
Lifetime and look, we all know his work now, if you look at it,
closely at the weird thing to say he was a miserable. He killed himself heat and enjoy any of his success.
But does not really meant to be looked at closely is just our culture,
way of thinking about people who don't make it
really, our way of not thinking about them. It's
To imagine that alone, as work might be discovered before or after her death, but the
The person who gets to be Van Gogh is Van Gogh for the rest of us
there has to be meaning in something less eternal and how
actually live our lives. My art dealer
basically said you're dead. I'm supposed to be.
But I'm not here. I am talking to you and I don't
I still wish to be alive because I still have wake ideas, energy and it has a it hasn't
work and I'm not finished, I'm still my finished.
I'm going to finish whether anybody wants to know whether unfinished unit- and it's like this childish, hope there,
till I will be. You know one of these hundred
twelve year old Ladys it they say here. She is look at this great work. I don't like it better there with his money, because the rules you gonna go to a prom now with a delightful money and buyers elbow, maybe a monopoly on, because what else am I gonna be able to buy? You know, because.
I'm still hoping that this will
go down a garbage. Can I also really hope it doesn't go down.
The garbage can, but
have to insist, that's not all
matters because almost
everything goes down. The garbage can eventually art fame money. None of it is forever.
The myth of success is really powerful.
Failing in little ways and big ones. That's the fact.
Figuring out how to sit without figuring out how to try in the face of that, that's, not nothing, but the life I'm still trying here now.
Hey, I'm still alive,
Edward being alive. This is Dakota Rank and, while a task- and if you'd like to see alone is, are you can find it add, Ilona hyphen, granite dot com? That's I l, oh and a hyphen g are a an e t. Dot com. You can also find me on twitter at will pass skin and you have any cultural mysteries. You want us to decode, you can email,
I sat decoder ring at sleet got com if you haven't yet subscribe and re our feet and apple podcast or wherever you get your podcast even better
Tell your friends this podcast was written by will pass skin. It was edited by Benjamin, fresh and Gabriel Roth decoding ring is produced by will have Hoskin and Benjamin fresh Cleo Levin is our research assistant
Special thanks through Jared Hold Alisha Montgomery June, Thomas Lucy Le Part Marian manicure.
Everyone else to give us help feedback on the way. If you are already a slate plus member. Thank you. You can listen to the entire season of decoder ring right now. You are not a slate plus member. We would love your support. Please sign up for slate plus at slate dot com, decoder plus, it means a lot, and I will give you access to this whole season of decoder ring otherwise, we'll see you next week.
Transcript generated on 2021-08-04.