When you see The Garden of Earthly Delights, you say, “It’s not possible this is from the 1500s!” The work has been an inspiration to numerous people, from Tim Burton to Salvador Dalí, and it seems very ancient and at the same time very modern. I discovered it after I closed, but now it serves as inspiration for everything we do. I had the good fortune of seeing it during a private tour at night in preparation for a program I did at the Prado explaining cooking through artworks. It was one of the works I chose, and I consider it one of the works that everyone should know. The Garden of Earthly Delights is the avant-garde.
If you have ever been to a steak joint or a somewhat exclusive hallway of Madison Square Garden or anywhere in Miami, you’ve seen the work of LeRoy Neiman. But it’s hiding in plain sight because it is largely considered disposable, in a strange subset of “sports art.” But it’s art nonetheless, and he is after the emotive experience of watching sports and what a seminal moment means to all the people invested in that moment.
There’s an expression that he captured on Namath’s face that really comes through the style in which he paints—the broad strokes, he is using what have you. He captures the kind of block emotional nature of being a sports hero but somebody who is feeling defeated. When we were choosing the art that appears in Uncut Gems, this was a big piece for us to put above Howard’s desk, as an expressionistic portrait among all the other sports memorabilia. In the life of a sports fanatic, there is a lot of hurt and a lot of pain—and it’s all in that painting.
I really liked the idea of Kevin Beasley taking the sounds of a cotton gin and modulating them through microphones. I had never heard of anyone doing that: turning a cotton gin into a sort of musical component. To me, the genius of it was to take what was such a negative in black picking cotton and turn it into a positive.
I saw the plans for it when they were in the baby stages. Then, when I first walked into the Whitney and actually saw it. I was so proud. As a black person, I felt a lot of things. And the sounds themselves they were very rugged. I used to work in a mill, and it reminded me of the monotone sound back when I was working at U.S. Steel. But all the different pitches and tones from the different parts of the machine were very clear. Some parts were high-pitched other parts were almost like screeches—and then a lot of deep hums. Hearing them altogether in one shot was very intense.
I like I Like America and America Likes Me. I like its weird conceptual rules and especially its sense of wild risk. Joseph Beuys came to America from Germany to make the piece but insisted on never touching American soil. He arrived and was collected by two men who swathed his body in felt and carried him. At the René Block Gallery, he was lifted out and deposited in an enclosure furnished with straw, a blanket, a shepherd’s crook, a stack of copies of the Wall Street Journal, and a coyote. They spent the next three days together, sleeping and playing, observed by visitors from behind wire mesh.