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Alix Pearlstein in
her studio.

Still from Egg Yang.

Interior with Artist
and Ceramic Vase
in the Studio
1996, collage.

Video still,
Interiors, based
on Interior
with Artist...


Installation view,
"Interiors," 1996,
at Postmasters.

Pearlstein's studio.

Paradise Syndrome,
1989, chrome,
flocking, mirror,

Eggs, 1994,
string, plastic,
2 x 32 x 42 in.

Pearlstein as
a cat in
Interiors, 1996.

studio visit: 
alix pearlstein 

by Elisabeth Kley
Armed with a wacky list of topical 

questions supplied by my editor, I 

recently visited Alix Pearlstein at her new 

studio. Her solo exhibition at Postmasters, 

called "Interiors," had just closed, and 

she was getting ready for a vacation in 

Oregon. Intensely dark-eyed and extremely 

articulate, Pearlstein was working on a new 

set of collages that will be used as 

storyboards for her next video project, 

Still, which will have its premiere in 

"Video Viewpoints" at MOMA this January. 

For someone who likes to perform in crazy 

costumes, Pearlstein is surprisingly quiet 

and calm. She was a bit fazed by Walter's 

editorial questions (things like "Earliest 

art memory," "Pet peeve" and "Best time of 

the day"), but she had plenty of intelligent 

things to say about her work, and I was 

happy to listen and to ask a few questions 

of my own.

I became an instant Pearlstein fan last 

year, when I saw her video Egg Yang at 

Lauren Wittels Gallery. Brilliantly 

combining deadpan satire with intensely 

saturated color, the video has a palette 

that is limited to red, black and, most 

beautifully, yellow and white. Gorgeous as 

a painting, hilarious and sometimes creepy 

as a cartoon, the video features Pearlstein 

dressed all in white, her head covered with 

a plastic egglike helmet, twirling a hula 

hoop and squatting to lay eggs through a 

hole in her jeans. 

"Interiors," the installation at 

Postmasters, included 17 collages, 

combining tiny images of famous paintings, 

elegant modern furniture and animal and 

human characters, including Jackie O, Woody 

Allen and the Kissingers. Six of the 

collages were used as storyboards for a 

video shown in an elegant viewing area 

(also modeled on a collage). Pearlstein 

appears onscreen as a real kitten, a sex 

kitten and the Energizer Bunny, among other 

roles, in narratives exploring the bizarre 

ways modernist esthetics translate from art 

to interior decoration and advertising.

In our conversation, Pearlstein revealed a 

tenacious desire to reduce her art to 

essentials. She has, appropriately, moved 

her work into two narrow rooms, one 

furnished with filing cabinets and a few 

tables, and the other with monitor, tripod, 

camera and a few plastic chairs. Like an 

empty office, windowless and bare, the 

studio is a blank slate, ready for future 


If her plans don't change, the delicious 

colors in Egg Yang and the art in 

Interiors will be replaced in Still by 

pure black and white. In the collages, 

simply dressed figures, alone or in groups, 

move within boxlike spaces -- floors, 

ceilings and walls indicated in exaggerated 

perspective. Filmed as simply as possible, 

the new video will be concerned, Pearlstein 

says, "with actions in which there is an 

inherent stillness or wherein an action 

must abruptly come to a halt or pause, 

physically or psychologically." She is 

especially pleased that the new studio will 

allow her to film the ceiling and floor in 

one frame, just as was planned in the 

collages. A simple environment, easy to 

control, the studio is an ideal working 

space for the many takes and extensive 

editing Pearlstein requires to reach the 

intrinsically flat and artificial beauty of 

video space.

Pearlstein's mother is an interior 

decorator and her grandfather was an 

architect. As a sensible undergraduate, 

Pearlstein majored in design, although she 

had always wanted to be an artist. During 

childhood, she often visited the permanent 

collection at the Whitney Museum. Her 

earliest art memories are of a live bird in 

a sculpture by Edward Kienholz and of Pop 

art, especially the George Segal sculpture, 

apt recollections for the future video and 

performance artist. Combined with an MFA in 

sculpture from SUNY Purchase, N.Y., 

Pearlstein's design background may have 

helped her develop the analytic ability to 

discover and solve new problems in each 

successive body of work.

In one of her first solo exhibitions, at 

Laurie Rubin Gallery in 1990, Pearlstein 

transformed assorted toys, accessories and 

design items into eccentric sculptural 

objects. Very soon thereafter, she made a 

decision of obvious brilliance -- that 

making art should be fun, not boring. 

Moving in a more conceptual, less material 

direction, she decided to make her working 

techniques reflect the activities she 

enjoys. Out went the gluing and sawing, 

which gave no particular pleasure. Shopping 

remained. Shifting her emphasis from object 

to narrative, Pearlstein began to dissolve 

her previous methods. Untitled (Floor Crack 

Fuzz) (1991), flirting with invisibility, 

consisted only of cotton fluff placed in 

the cracks of the gallery floor. In 

Suspended Fly (1992), by stretching an 

invisible nylon thread between three bricks 

to hold up a plastic fly, she created the 

suspended image of an instant in time.

Video, the next logical step, is a 

delightfully straightforward medium. The 

natural impulse, for Hannah Wilke, Carolee 

Schneemann and other video pioneers, was to 

"set up the camera, strip and perform," she 

said. For Pearlstein, a lifelong dancer, 

moving her body has always been an 

instinctively satisfying form of 

communication, and video has brought dance 

into her work. Future plans for additional 

performers will make movement and 

choreography even more significant. 

Pearlstein enjoys giving orders, she 

claimed, and she is looking forward to 

directing, and even jokingly confessed to 

being a bit of a megalomaniac.

As she described her artistic development, 

Pearlstein spoke of "finding a rigorous 

formal means, by a process of exclusion, to 

achieve narrative and representation, and 

bring minimalism into a totally different 

psychological and cultural context." Using 

her design background and astute conceptual 

thinking, she has inverted minimal 

strategies to generate weirdly austere yet 

outrageous arenas for lucidly enigmatic 

events. Pearlstein's intention is, she 

reiterated, through "working with physical, 

visual, and perceptual issues, to create 

situations that will trigger the viewer's 


ELISABETH KLEY is a New York artist who 

writes on art.