Information About The Artist

Résumé / Sculpture Magazine Article / Carnegie-Mellon Magazine Interview

Born: 1942, Boston, Massachusetts
BFA: Carnegie-Mellon University, 1964
CT : Ecole de Fontainbleau, 1964
MFA: Yale University, 1966

Public Collections (Indoors)
Neue Galerie, Ludwig Collection Aachen, Germany
Museum for Gegenwartskunst Basel, Switzerland
Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland
University Art Museum Berkeley, California
Australian National Gallery Canberra, Australia
The Patsy and Raymond Nasher Collection Dallas, Texas
Dallas Museum of Art Dallas, Texas
Museum fur Moderne Kunst Frankfurt, Germany
Fonds Regional d’art Contemporain Provence-Alpes-Cote d’Alure,France
Wadsworth Atheneum Hartford, Connecticut
Norfolk Southern Corporation Houston, Texas
City of Kassel Kassel, Germany
Little Rock Art Museum Little Rock, Arkansas
Tate Gallery London, England
Los Angeles County Museum of Art Los Angeles, California
Lannan Foundation Los Angeles, California
Los Angeles Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, California
Fundacion Cultural Televisa Mexico City, Mexico
Middlebury College Museum of Art Middlebury, Vermont
Milwaukee Art Museum Milwaukee, Wisconsin
Minneapolis Institute of Art Minneapolis, Minnesota
Walker Art Center Minneapolis, Minnesota
Musee Des Beaux-Arts de Montreal Montreal, Canada
Nagoya City Art Museum Nagoya, Japan
The Museum of Modern Art New York, New York
The Whitney Museum of Art New York, New York
Allen Memorial Art Museum Oberlin, Ohio
Naoshima Contemporary Art Museum Okayama, Japan
National Museum Osaka, Japan
Johnson County Community College Overland Park, Kansas
Centre Georges Pompidou Paris, France
Philadelphia Museum of Art Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Carnegie Institute Museum of Art Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania
Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam, Holland
San Diego Museum of Art San Diego, California
Eli Broad Family Foundation Santa Monica, California
Russian Museum, Marble Palace St. Petersburg, Russia
Shiga Prefecture Museum Tokushima, Japan
Hara Museum of Contemporary Art Tokyo, Japan
Toledo Museum of Art Toledo, Ohio
Kunsthaus Zurich, Switzerland

Large Permanent Public Sculpture Commissions
Messeturm Frankfurt, Germany
Swiss Bank Corporation Basel, Switzerland
Seattle Art Museum Seattle, Washington
General Mills Corporation Minneapolis, Minnesota
The Nasher Collection Dallas, Texas
Munich Re Corporation Munich, Germany
Faret Tachikawa Redevelopment Project Tokyo, Japan
Johnson Community College Overland Park, Kansas
U.S. Federal Building Los Angeles, California
Suter & Suter Architectural Firm Zurich, Switzerland
California Mart Los Angeles, California
City of Kassel Kassel, Germany
Hakone Open Air Museum Hakone, Japan
Ice Palace Arena Tampa, Florida
Tokyo Opera City Tokyo, Japan
Civic Center Metro-Rail Station Los Angeles, California
Newport Harbor Art Museum Newport Harbor, California
Atlantic City Convention Center Atlantic City, New Jersey
National Museum of Korea Seoul, Korea
Gund Collection Nantucket, Massachusetts
Harlan Lee and Associates Venice, California
City of Strasbourg Strasbourg, France
Remba Building West Hollywood, California
Allianz Gmbh Berlin, Germany
Kirishima Sculpture Forest Kagoshima, Japan
City of Bielefeld Bielefeld, Germany
Qfront Tokyo, Japan
City Of Offenburg Offenburg, Germany
Boston Museum Of Fine Arts Boston, Massachusetts
Heungkook Life Insurance Co., Ltd. Seoul, Korea
Burnett Park Foundation Fort Worth, Texas
Mayor’s Committee, City of Denver Denver, Colorado
Greater Toronto Airport Authority (GTAA) Toronto, Canada
City of Baltimore Baltimore, Maryland

Public Sculptures Under Contract Or In Progress (2002-2004)
Meijer Botanical & Sculpture Gardens Grand Rapids, Michigan
Garden Of God Vienna, Austria
Kreissparkasse Verden Verden, Germany
Rockefeller Center (Temporary Installation, September / October, 2004)

Selected One-Person Museum Exhibitions (1980 - 2000)
Philadelphia Museum of Art Philadelphia, PA
Walker Art Center Minneapolis, MN
Whitney Museum of American Art New York, NY
Tokyo Metropolitan Museum of Art Tokyo, Japan
The Israel Museum Jerusalem, Israel
Moderna Museet Stockholm, Sweden
Museum of Modern Art New York, NY
Museum van Hedendaagse Kunst Ghent, Belgium
The Museum of Contemporary Art Los Angeles, CA
Harvard University Art Museum Cambridge, MA
Kunstmuseum Basel, Switzerland
University Art Museum Berkeley, CA
The Corcoran Gallery of Art Washington, D.C.
The University Art Museum Berkeley, CA
Shiga Museum of Modern Art Shiga, Japan
Rose Art Museum (Brandeis University.) Waltham, MA
Boston Museum of Fine Arts Boston, MA
Museum Boymans-van Beuningen Rotterdam, Netherlands

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Jonathan Borofsky On a Grand Scale
by Michael Klein for Sculpture Magazine

Walking to the Sky, 2004. Stainless steel and fiberglass, 100 ft. high. Work presented by TishmanSpeyer Properties and organized by Photo: Public Art Fund. tom powel imaging

Those familiar with the work of Jonathan Borofsky might be surprised to know that he has not had a solo exhibition in a museum or gallery since 1991. They might be equally surprised to learn that during the last decade or so his efforts have almost exclusively been devoted to large-scale outdoor public commissions.

The impetus for this radical change is manifold: artists grow, change, adjust and molt old styles, shed old ideas and embrace new ones. The vagaries of the art world also shift and, combined with an artist’s personal life (in Borofsky’s case a move from California to Maine), everything is subject to significant reappraisals and re-evaluations. For Borofsky, this paradigm shift presented him with a shift of scale, from the intimate spaces (gallery walls or museum corridors—“the cave” as he calls them) where he had won great critical success to the public arena. Looking back on his career over the past 30 years, this change seems rather natural.

Borofsky was known in the ’70s and ’80s for installations that combined a plethora of materials and subjects, energetically and cleverly jammed into spaces. These stunning, visually abundant, and thought-provoking exhibitions were presented around the world, from New York, Los Angeles, and Minneapolis to Tokyo, Rotterdam, and Stockholm. The inventory of works and ideas included lively self-portrait paintings culled from a particular dream the artist recalled; series of small black and white doodled drawings of stick figures, faces, or animals; framed works spinning with the aid of an electric motor; lithographs and screen prints using words and texts; and video or light projections on the walls and ceiling. Mechanical beings such as his lively Chattering Man intermingled with the audience so that the viewer was as much a part of the assembled event as was the art. Borofsky became renowned for his multi-faceted style and razor-sharp inventiveness. Much of his work derived from dreams, dreams about movie stars like Elizabeth Taylor, historical figures like Hitler, or other artists, such as Dalí and Picasso. He was also the number guy, an artist who supplanted his signature with a number drawn or painted on the work like an inventory tag of his own thoughts and musings. Counting had been and continues to be the conceptual link in the work. The combination of dreaming and counting seemed to be the way in which Borofsky could blend the past with the present, feelings with observations, the here and now with memories. But the real key to understanding the work in general comes from a statement made by the artist in 1980, “I think everything in art is a self-portrait.”

Walking Man, 1994–95. Fiberglass over steel, 56 x 57.5 x 19.75 ft. Work installed
in Munich, Germany.

Borofsky grew his sculptures large in early commissions for such companies as General Mills in Minneapolis (1987) and works for private collectors such as Head in Trees at 3,013,641 (1985), now part of the Nasher Sculpture Center collection in Dallas. Add to this list of public works the world-famous Hammering Man, the largest of which, a black steel silhouette some 72 feet high, looms above the crowds in downtown Seoul, Korea, while another in the series stands adjacent to the Messeturm in Frankfurt, Germany. The man hammers while we work, play, and live out our lives. The image holds universal appeal and evokes layers of meaning: the artist as worker, the myriad of laborers who work with their hands, the model citizen. For Borofsky, it is part of himself: “The worker in myself…if I can get myself moving and start doing something physical, I usually feel good.” This mysterious hammering man stands as a constant reminder, banging out a silent tempo, measuring time with each strike of the hammer. Through it, both the public at work and Borofsky at work stand dignified.

Similarly, Borofsky has adapted his persona and its manifold incarnations (running men, dancers, molecule men, stick men, and men with briefcases) to the outdoors. In this world, art is no longer protected by a small supportive audience of well-wishers, collectors, and dealers: it has now entered the world of CEOs and board rooms, selection committees and juries, politicians, art councils, cultural and municipal agencies, public art administrators, engineers, fabricators, designers, and architects, all of whom are engaged with and part of the dialogue by which the work is proposed, conceptualized, and accomplished. This is a far cry from the studio, with its solitude and self-editing. Faced with this world, Borofsky has condensed his ideas, moving from the pluralistic zeal of his multi-part installations into more specific and determined single statements. “Minimal with content” is how he likes to describe it.

Hammering Man, 1990–91. Steel, 70 ft. high. Work installed in Frankfurt, Photo: robert stolarik/polaris

Few sculptors can manage the scale shift from human to superhuman, to take a work that is meant to stand on the floor of a gallery or sit neatly on a pedestal and enlarge that same idea to meet the challenges of architectural space. Calder did, Picasso did not. Giacometti’s figures reached toward this scale, but in the end he, too, limited his ambition. Tony Smith and Ronald Bladen achieved monumental scale, but they adhered to architectural paradigms and Modernist abstract principles. Unlike others of his generation, Robert Smithson or Michael Heizer, for example, Borofsky in this phase of his career did not leave the gallery system in order to work on a large scale in nature. He simply stepped out of the gallery into the urban environment and embraced the setting to make it his own in sculpture that he has called “easily digestible.” Borofsky makes these statues of the common man (and woman) as another kind of self-portrait, gigantic in proportion and scale, taking his message into the traffic and congestion of the city and more directly to the people. The international appeal of these monumental and dynamic constructions continues, as works are proposed and built in Canada, Germany, Switzerland, Japan, Korea, and the U.S. Native language, cultural differences, and political allegiances present neither barriers nor impediments to the understanding of what Borofsky is expressing through these enormous works. Those who choose a Borofsky piece for their site do so with a knowledge that the nature of the work will be mostly understood and accepted by their varied audiences: sightseers, city dwellers, travelers, the curious, art lovers, even dubious politicians and cynical critics.

I Dreamed I Could Fly, 2004. Aluminum, steel, and Lexan, 5 figures, 6 meters long. Work installed in the Toronto International Airport, Canada.

The context of these works strongly suggests and influences their ultimate meaning, so that the individual locale and historic character of a place will be entwined within the meaning of the work for those who confront it. Politics aside, the spiritual message is clear and the idiom is not abstract: it is definitely and defiantly representational. Freedom in Offenburg, Germany, is a case in point. Borofsky states that “the sculpture is meant to commemorate the role Offenburg played in the democratic development of Germany. Offenburg was the starting point of the democratic revolution, which took place in Baden. On September 12, 1847, the Demands of the People of Baden were made public in Salmen Hall at the assembly of the Confirmed Friends of the Constitution. Two further publicized meetings were held in 1848 and 1849, both ending in an appeal for revolution. After the defeat of the revolution, many sympathizers had to flee or were ruined economically. Nevertheless, the 1847 demands still hold a significance today. Many of them were used in later German constitutions, and are an important part of the present constitution of the German republic.”

CAD sketch for 30-foot-tall Walking Man to be installed in May 2005 in Verden, Germany.

The spiritual nature of Borofsky’s work is tied to social and political views, to a deep regard for the individual and a respect for character—this no doubt instilled in him by his musician father and architecture-trained artist mother who opened the world to him, made it a place to explore and to be actively engaged as an artist. Among his most recent installations is Walking to the Sky, commissioned by Rockefeller Center, facilitated through the Public Art Fund. It is a work placed in the heart of the world, so to speak, Rockefeller Center’s 11-acre site in the middle of Manhattan. With this piece, Borofsky has re-engaged an earlier idea, Male Walking to the Sky, presented at Documenta IX in 1990, a work that comes from an even earlier drawing (1977). In the Kassel work, a solitary man walks skyward. The new version of the tableau is more complex, there are more figures of particular types and characters, different in age, race, and gender—“all kinds of human beings,” Borofsky says. The three figures on the ground appear to act as both observers and observed, as if in a Greek drama: they watch the figures walking toward the sky, perhaps knowing their fate. For many, the image will undoubtedly evoke memories of 9/11, souls rising, people moving on; yet the beings portrayed are marching in an orderly fashion, striving toward goals or destinies, seemingly moving to the future. Borofsky again speaks to his audience through these figures, reminding us that our shared commonality, our humanity, is the knowledge that we are here to achieve. At the same time, his sculpture ensemble serves also as a respite—a place to go and reflect, separate from the teeming crowds and the din that surrounds and fills the site.

Male/Female, 2004. Welded aluminum with internal digital lighting, 50 ft. high. Work installed at Penn Station, Baltimore.

Last winter in Toronto’s new international airport, Borofsky completed and installed another group of figures, only this time they hang some 30 to 50 feet above the floor. Like an acrobatic formation, they are sheathed in brightly colored, translucent skins and appear both weightless and buoyant. I Dreamed I Could Fly comes from both a drawing and a painting, but it is also akin to numerous installations in which Borofsky or a surrogate appears to fly. With this installation the act of flying is given over to five figures, suspended below a 40-foot-wide skylight in the ceiling of the terminal. The figures are schematized, simple outlines or streamlined forms. The distinction between figures is more in shape than details, avoiding the issue of nudity altogether. In fact, these symbolic figures have no identifying characteristic or feature that would make their narrative more explicit. They are images of the mind, and, because they are imagined rather than real, they represent the idea of the human, the character or the presenter of a political or social ideal. In Germany, a word for it is “freedom,” in Baltimore, it is “humanity.” But the figures are always some aspect of Borofsky himself, bigger than life, standing, acting, and finally guiding us through his personal thoughts and visualized actions. Art, as Borofsky proclaimed in a 1989 lithographic print, is for the spirit; it is no less true today than it was 15 years ago.

This past spring for the city of Baltimore, Borofsky prepared another vertical piece, a somewhat Jungian archetype of a male/female figure commissioned by the Municipal Art Society and placed in front of Pennsylvania Station. The brushed aluminum sculpture stands 51 feet tall. A pulsating LED sits where the two figures intersect; the light emitted over a 60-second cycle ranges from cobalt blue to fuchsia, denoting spiritual energy. “The whole idea of this piece is two energies becoming one,” Borofsky says, “two energies coming together to create a greater force.” Or, as one passerby shouted with delight as he walked by the piece on the day of its unveiling, “It’s humanity!”

In late 2004, in the town of Verden, southeast of Bremen in Lower Saxony, a bank, Kreissparkasse, is placing another aluminum walking figure in front of its headquarters. Conceived as a single continuous, drawn line, it includes the outline of a figure astride, drawing both into space and around space. The sculpture is industrial in appearance, a grand Léger-like walking machine. The sculpture’s contours are articulated in the shoulders and hips to underscore its motion and mechanized appearance. This piece echoes the determined pace of an earlier six-story Walking Man, completed in 1995 and on view on the fashionable Leopoldstrasse in Munich.

With this growing and highly observable oeuvre, Borofsky continues on a path that articulates his public spirit. Working in the world, outside the confines of the contempoary gallery scene, he is broadening the sense of what his art can be and what mission it can achieve.

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The following text and interview was produced by Ann Curran, editor of Carnegie Mellon Magazine (CMM), and was printed in the Spring, 2002, issue of the magazine. Jonathan Borofsky attended the fine arts department of Carnegie Mellon University from 1960 to 1964.

When Andy Warhol graduated from Carnegie Tech in 1949, he set off immediately for New York City and started sketching women’s shoes for Glamour magazine. He gradually advanced to colorful and dazzling high-heels for I. Miller.

When Jonathan Borofsky (A’64) graduated from what he calls “a nice four-year protection,” he flew off to the Ecole de Fontainebleau in France for summer study and on to New Haven for a master’s from the Yale School of Art and Architecture.

Then he went to New York City after spending three-quarters of his life studying art. He became, he says, “more cerebral than I had ever been before.” He hung around his studio writing down his ideas that he later gathered in the unpublished but exhibited “Thought Books.” And he started to count—on paper—for several hours each day. Heading from one to infinity, his counting took a not unexpected turn. He’d think of something that he wanted to draw and put it right down there with the numbers.

After literally several years of counting, one day he thought he’d like to paint one of his sketches. Instead of signing it, he used the number he had reached that day as his signature. Borofsky’s 34-inch stack of 8 1/2-by-11 pages, titled “Counting,” with numbers from 1 to 2,346,502, became the center of his first one-person show in 1975 in New York City at the Paula Cooper Gallery. He signed the other paintings and sculptures in the gallery with the number he had arrived at when they were completed.

Around this same time and through the mid-1970s, Borofsky began to make hay of his dreams. He deliberately got up and wrote them down in a combination of words and spontaneous drawings. Some of the things he saw in those dreams still appear in his work today, now dominated largely by monumental outdoor sculptures from Venice, Calif., and Seattle, Wash., to Berlin and Munich, Germany, Seoul, Korea, and Toyko, Japan. Not to mention a clandestinely painted picture of his “Running Man at 2,541,898” on the Berlin Wall, carried out in 1982 under cover of night. He makes his models for his giant sculptures in Maine and manufactures them at La Paloma, a fabrication factory, in Los Angeles.

In the interim, Borofsky did his time, about 15 years, as a gallery artist, as a museum artist—often creating installation art that lives only for the length of the show and is dismantled and painted over. He has, he estimates, “about 200 wall drawings in galleries and museums around the world…but they’re under a coat of paint.”

A complex person bent on simplifying his life, Borofsky didn’t strive for commercial appeal. He left New York City in 1977 and says he’s only been back four or five times since. He sees New York as the media focal point for art. Instead, Borofsky and his wife, Francine Bisson, a retired professional dancer from Montreal, who now teaches French, live in Ogunquit, Maine, not far from his parents. His mother, Frances, is an architect turned artist. She operates the Left Bank Gallery there and shows her own work. His father, Sydney, a pianist/organist, taught and played the restaurants in the Boston and Maine area. Jonathan Borofsky borrows his abilities from both parents. He is at least a 20th century conceptual artist of note. And at most, a major player in the expansion of site-specific art. He’s less known for his musical compositions and his brief stint as “Jonnie Hitler.” Following are edited excerpts from phone conversations and fax exchanges with Borofsky.

CMM: Are you still counting?

JB: I’m not obsessively counting on a daily basis like when I began in 1968-69. That became my daily obsession of three hours of writing numbers in succession linearly on paper every day and picking up where I left off the next. The obsessive ordering, the structuring that the numbers provided and the conceptual side of my brain that it reflected, isn’t quite so obsessive anymore. 

CMM: You’ve kicked the habit then?

JB: For me, numbers are like God. They connect us all together in a way nothing else does. Like magic. You and I are now speaking from different parts of the country about ideas, and we’re doing it through the use of numbers. Each of our pockets or purses carries all sorts of numbers, printed on plastic cards, which allow us to buy things, call people and do something. That led me to an obsession in the last few years with binary numbers that run every computer in the world. Talk about connecting us all together! We’re not talking about numbers zero through 10 or 100. We’re just talking about a zero and a one. You put it in a sequence of eight like 01000001. It gives you a letter “A.”

CMM: When you stopped working and started counting, what prompted that?

JB: I had just left graduate school and moved to New York City [in 1966]. I was digesting the New York scene. There was Pop Art and Minimal Art. Both seemed very beautiful to me. Yet each had a weakness or flaw. I was a young artist, searching for his own uniqueness. I ended up in my studio a lot, thinking a lot, writing thoughts down. Less making of things and more thinking about things. I looked for a way to simplify the thought processes. I began to do little 1, 2, 3; 1, 2, 3, 4; 1, 2, 3, 4, 5—writing of number sequences on paper almost as a way to pass the time and not have to think so deeply. Later, I made a decision to count from one to infinity and did write those numbers on paper. After about a year or two of doing that solely with nothing else, counting for a few hours a day as my art activity, I began to go to painting and sculpture again. I made this connection…instead of signing this painting I made today with my name, I’m going to sign it with the number I was on on this particular day when I stopped counting.

CMM: Was the counting the only break you took from art?

JB: I didn’t see it as a break from art as much an innovation. I saw myself as an innovator, stretching the boundaries of art. Art critic Lucy Lippard [in New York], who almost single-handedly...helped to develop the Conceptual Art movement in the U.S., put me in touch with artist Sol LeWitt when I was very young [and] people who were doing similar conceptual work. My work slowly fell into a movement. Both Lippard and LeWitt were very helpful and supportive of my work. My father said, “I sent you to graduate school to learn how to count?” He said that as a joke; he’s accepting of everything.

CMM: When did you start putting your name on your art?

JB: There’s no real reason in this day and age to do it. It might have made sense in the 17th century to put your name on a painting, but everything today gets recorded by photograph and on computer. Anybody can forge your name. I’m not too concerned with my own name being on a work of art. Quite often I do these big public sculptures, and they say, “Now we have to have a name plaque somewhere to say who did it.” It’s not that I’m so humble; I just don’t find it too important. In 50 years it is not going to be important that I made that particular “Hammering Man” in Frankfurt. It’s not even important now. Most people don’t know it. And it’s fine. Maybe I need it [to get] more work. I actually like to play down the individualism or the ego that goes with the work of art.

CMM: You’re still dreaming, right?

JB: There was a period right after the counting kicked in when I began to focus in a strong way on my dreams. I would say that period started around ’71, ’72, ’73. During that period, ’70 to ’80, I pretty well did write down my dreams every day, especially the ’72 to ’76 period. [I] used them, too, as my subject matter for my work. It became almost a balance to the counting. There were these dreams that there was no rhyme or reason why they were happening. They were fascinating to me and very personal. Many of them giving me clues to my own life. I began to see them as my personal contribution to the art world at that time. We had Pop Art, which seemed a little too tongue-in-cheek for me, and Minimal Art, which I could relate my counting to, but I was looking for something more personal, more honest and open and direct. Hey! This is what I dreamt last night; it’s kind of embarrassing about my mother and my father, some sexual thing or whatever. It’s not necessarily something you normally tell in public or even care about in public.

CMM: You’re lucky you dream so much.

JB: I am a student of the mind, how the mind works, why we hurt each other, why we help each other, why we do what we do. Certainly, the dreams were in the tradition of mind study from Freud to Jung. What can I learn from this subconscious area that can maybe help me? It has given me some major symbols. One project I’m involved with now in Grand Rapids, Mich., does use a symbol, a ruby, in a rather grand fashion outdoors. Lit from within as part of a sculpture that’s 75 feet high. This is a ruby that came to me in a dream early on, maybe ’75. I remember it feeling and being like my heart—a beautiful stone the size of my heart. That symbol was quite often used in my installations and even now, [26] years later. That symbol was so positive, so spiritually tuned and so beautiful. It helped to balance out a lot of the fearful dreams that I was having—being chased through a city street or whatever. [The ruby] and the flying dream were the two most positive and uplifting dreams that I had at that time. I just finished an installation of flying people at Boston Museum of Fine Arts this past summer [2001], and I’m doing an installation, a permanent commission, at the new Toronto airport of giant 20-foot translucent flying figures in the skylight in the next two years. These are examples of images from dreams that continue on into the present. I rarely write my dreams down these days, but I’m still open to them. I try to make my public works more on the positive side.

CMM: Do you feel that the counting and the dreaming helped you discover things about yourself?

JB: They give me food for understanding who I am. If I can understand who I am, then I understand who you are, and I can understand who everybody else is, including our so-called enemies on the other side of the world.

CMM: Are the Boston Museum of Fine Arts pieces, “Walking Man” and “I Dreamed I Could Fly,” temporary?

JB: No, they bought them after the exhibition. I haven’t worked with museums or galleries in the last 10 or 12 years. I have found myself much more involved with outdoor projects. People who go to museums and galleries are a very limited number. But the people who walk around and through my [outdoor] sculptures every day could give less of a hoot about art. Here they are being forced to interact with a piece. This is a nice challenge for me to come up with things that work for people. Each [sculpture] takes anywhere from one and a half to three and a half years from the first inception of people approaching me. But [the Boston Museum] approached me…and said, “The challenge will be for you to invent places to put art that aren’t normally used for art. We don’t want you to use the galleries.” I set up a piece outdoors that the cars drive under, and then in the big barrel vault of the new wing, I have these figures flying through the space.

CMM: When you do these large pieces, you do the model, and does somebody then manufacture the piece?

JB: The ideas flow from my mind and my heart. This is probably what I get paid for. When I was younger and working smaller, I could make my own projects myself—sculpturally or painting-wise. When you get into 20-, 30-, 50-, 100-foot sculptures, naturally, you need 14 to 20 people working at a time with you for you to complete these—especially when you’re into material like welding aluminum or steel on a big scale, using cranes, using lifts. I’m not a great welder of aluminum. I weld steel all right, but aluminum is very tricky. The Berlin piece [“Molecule Man”] that we completed a couple of years ago stands 100 feet tall in the Spree River in Berlin. It’s not something that I could accomplish alone in my lifetime or four lifetimes. We had many people working for a two-year period to fabricate that piece. “Molecule Man” was commissioned by Allianz GmbH, the biggest insurance company in Europe, for in front of their new building. We decided we would put it in the river, so that boats can go by it on either side. The figures appear to be standing on the water. That isn’t something I do up here in my two-car garage in Maine. These pieces start with me. The sketches, the models often come through me, and then I talk with my head fabricator, Ron McPherson, in Los Angeles. This Berlin piece was built in Los Angeles and shipped in sections. “Walking Man” in Munich was built in Los Angeles and then flown over in a giant Israeli transport plane in sections. Each project has contracts, lawyers. The contract I’m working on with Denver is 24 pages and a lot of legalese. I have to digest it and get a lawyer to work with me. When you’re building big sculptures that are the size of five- or six-story buildings, you have to be involved with all kinds of insurance for the workers, for performance bonds. If Denver is putting up $1.5 million for a giant project, they have to protect themselves. How do they know this artist is going to follow through? How do they know the work isn’t going to be destroyed in an earthquake in Los Angeles? They have to protect themselves. I have to protect myself on such big projects; hence it gets fairly complex.


CMM: You are doing something for Korea.

JB: “Hammering Man” [for] an insurance company in Seoul. It’s a symbol for the worker in all of us. I used a very traditional hammer image. We still have people who use hammers, of course, to build, but it can be anybody who works with their hands. My vision was to have as many of these hammering around the world at the same time as possible to tie us in as one installation, one people working.


CMM: How big is it?

JB: It’s 72 feet. The biggest one up to now is in Frankfurt, which is 70 feet.


CMM: Are you going to make “Hammering Man” bigger?

JB: Yeah, it could be bigger. But bigger isn’t always better. It depends where it’s going. If the location needs a bigger one because of the site, then you build it bigger. There’s a 48-foot one in front of the Seattle Art Museum. That’s the right size. There’s a 44-foot one in front of the Swiss Bank Corporation in Basel, Switzerland. That’s the correct size for that building. If I’m lucky enough to place one or two more around the world in my lifetime, that’s great.


CMM: Are they made of steel?

JB: Yes. Steel and then painted black. As opposed to say the “Molecule Man” in Berlin. It’s shiny natural aluminum color. Each has its own material. 


CMM: Is “Hammering Man” always mechanized?

JB: Yep. Goes up and down.


CMM: What are you doing in Denver?

JB: “Dancers.” It’s going in front of the new Denver Center for the Performing Arts—two figures that are sort of interacting in a dance fashion. I’m still working on the contract. This started two and half years ago, going down and making a proposal in Denver, bringing a model with me. Them having to find funds, having to go back and forth. City Hall, whatever. They finally came up with the first payment of $60,000 that goes right through my bank account to my engineer out in Los Angeles. It’s a very complicated piece engineering-wise. Out of that came a very complicated set of drawings that I don’t understand, but engineers understand. That set of drawings has to go to the engineers in Denver. They have to approve everything according to Denver code. And engineers naturally have to go back and forth. Slowly, four or five more months pass. We’re getting closer. It looks like the plans are approved. If we start [fabrication] within the next two months, we should be finished in the spring of 2003. Some we can finish in seven months, and others like this, it’s going to take over a year to build. The project in Berlin had to be approved by the Berlin Senate. It had to get approved by local authorities in the section of Berlin where it was going.


CMM: In Udo Kittelmann’s book,

“Jonathan Borofsky,” you say, “I want life to be better both for myself and for other human beings.” Do
you feel that you’ve made life better
for others?

JB: We all do. Everybody in their own way—whether you’re raising a child or whatever. I just do it through my talent. I have my specific abilities; a lawyer has his or her abilities. Each of us tries to make the best of our world. Some of us become damaged goods a little early, and I think being damaged goods sometimes you spread that damage around to others. That’s the downside of the human condition. We try to lift each other up, so there are not too many damaged people who go on to damage other people.


CMM: Tell me about the role of fear in your work.

JB: I’m trying to understand what fear is, where it comes from, how natural it is or is not. How can we have less of it? I did a project relating to Hitler, trying to understand the ultimate fear-maker of the 20th century. We’ve already crowned the first fear-maker of the 21st century on Sept. 11. Why do these events happen? Why do these people feel the way they do and create fear in all of us? I’ve learned from my studies up to now that it’s important to feel good about yourself. If you feel good about yourself, there’s a certain confidence that comes to you and comes to your life. If you have that, then I think there’s less fear. I’ve simplified it. That’s my goal. I want one or two words to answer all the problems of the world.


CMM: Some have noted that you are the subject of all your work.

JB: I can’t really study somebody else’s dream. Every artist’s work is their self-portrait. That’s true whether it’s Mondrian [putting] one box of red, next to a box of white next to a box of blue and balancing those boxes. It’s still a self-portrait of the inner working and the inner soul and the inner feelings of the artist. Some of those self-portraits are more abstract than others. Because I’m an ongoing work myself, my artwork becomes kind of a record, an ongoing portrait of my life.


CMM: Are you still teaching?

JB: No. It has a certain exhaustion factor to it. There’s just too much going on in other areas. (Borofsky taught at the School of Visual Arts in New York, 1969-1977, and at California Institute of the Arts in Los Angeles, 1977-1980.)


CMM: Curator Michael Auping at the Fort Worth Museum identified you with New Image painting and Neo-Expressionism. Where do you fit—conceptual artist or all of the above?

JB: It’s been my goal not to become a Pop artist or this artist or a Minimal artist. I have some spiritual goals, some ways that I like to be able to be helpful. There’s no label out there [for that]. I look for a feeling of oneness, and I look for a feeling of just being happy to be alive. My work serves that search.


CMM: You told Auping in “Drawing Rooms: Jonathan Borofsky, Sol LeWitt, Richard Serra” that “I realized I could make these personal drawings public without being overtly commercial.” What’s the problem with being overtly commercial?

JB: There is not a problem for other people. There has always been an underlying problem for myself. It’s just a question of how much you need to please someone else and how much you need to please yourself. Every artist struggles with this. When I was doing very personal installations—an entire room—and creating these walk-in environments, I was not emphasizing the salable object. At the time, some galleries would have eight paintings by Joe Schmoe, the famous painter of the moment. There would be red dots next to each one, and they were going for $120,000. They’d say, “I’m sorry, Joe Schmoe only paints eight paintings a year, but you can be on the waiting list for next year.” I was interested in a walk-in oneness, created [with] 100 objects—painting, sculpture, drawings, drawings on the wall, whatever. That tended to deemphasize the commercial side. I had to find what worked for me, what I needed to create to feel good, what I had to create to teach other people what I thought was important. It doesn’t mean that those people who were focusing just on beautiful paintings were incorrect. Right now, I make very big objects and sell them for $500,000 to $2 million, so I can’t say I’m against selling my art and being commercial and giving in to the public when I just want to do what I want to do. I do just the opposite. I choose images and symbols that I think are going to work very well with as many people as possible. I’m as commercial as anybody.


CMM: Is humor important in your work?

JB: The dreams definitely had some funny [stuff].


CMM: There were a couple of “molecule” type people in a dance in the middle of a gallery. That was kind of funny or fun.

JB: That was the two black figures coming together. That was an early molecule indoor sculpture that got translated to a big outdoor piece—a 30-foot one in Los Angeles, a 100-foot one in Berlin. Two figures were coming at each other, and their arms connected in the middle. Many people saw that as sort of a violent image.


CMM: That’s surprising.

JB: Everybody comes from a different tradition. For me, the 30-foot “Molecule Man” that I placed in Los Angeles was three aluminum figures coming together connecting in the center with their arms. For me, it was people—all of us made up of molecules coming together to create the world in a sense. But a newspaper wrote, well, only in Los Angeles do we make a monument to drive-by shootings. The actual original drawing of the “Molecule Man” was really traced off of a magazine photograph. [It] came from two college basketball players that were rushing to congratulate each other for having just won the NIT [National Invitation Tournament]. They were on the cover of Sports Illustrated.


CMM: You told zingmagazine that “I had a dream….that I’d done everything that I set out to do.” Is it over?

JB: If I have to leave this world tomorrow, I’m quite happy with [my achievements]. It’s much more than I expected. But I have in my brain now at least five or six or eight large pieces that aren’t even close to being made yet because I haven’t been given the right sites to make them. I don’t think my career is over. But if it is, that’s all right, too. I’m not driven to be any more famous than I am.


CMM: What’s your reaction to art critics?

JB: I haven’t felt too comfortable with them. There’s been one or two or three that have been very supportive and helpful in my career, or in helping a city to understand a piece that otherwise, the city might say, “Why the hell do we have this thing here?” The problem, of course, is the word “critic.” It’s got a built-in negativity to it that’s unfortunate. It could be an “art explainer” or “art helper” or “artists’ helper.” People work too long and hard in their lives, and somebody comes along—which has happened to me, and I’m sure has happened to others—[and says] this is positively crap. I know it isn’t crap. Second of all, it’s embarrassing. It’s being read by 2 million people in The New York Times and, thirdly, this person has totally not got a clue as to what I’m doing. I mean I barely have a clue. So they’re hurting me, they’re hurting art; that’s the worst thing. People care so little about art these days anyhow. If you can’t write something nice, don’t write anything at all. People walk away with an angry attitude toward art because they don’t get it. But very few people deal with my work today. I’m just not written about. I managed to get outside of it. It’s too late once my sculpture is up in the public arena. You can say all you want. It’s staying. They’re always successful. They always work out. You find a way around obstacles in your life.


CMM: What about your documentary video, “Prisoners”?  (Borofsky’s documentary toured with his 1980s traveling show to major U.S. museums, was shown in Germany and Japan with subtitles and resides in the collections of the Museum of Modern Art in New York and the Centre Pompidou in Paris.)

JB: In 1985 I co-produced and directed a documentary on prisoners in the United States with Gary Glassman. We interviewed 15 men in San Quentin Prison and 15 women in Chino Prison, in Southern California. From those interviews, we edited 48 hours of tape down to a one hour long documentary. Gary shot the video on Beta-Cam and did most of the editing. I financed the project and did the interviews on camera. We talked to prisoners about their lives – very personal questions - “How does someone like yourself end up in a cement box like this?” This project aimed at understanding why people hurt other people. You can jump back and forth between that and what’s going on now in Afghanistan.

CMM: Explain Jonnie Hitler.

JB:  After the prisoner project, I found myself heading into this Jonnie Hitler phase, which lasted about seven or eight months. I record a lot of music and have a recording studio. During that period, I started taking my existing music, both my singing and my instrumentals, and re-recording it backwards - listening to it and enjoying it very much. It sounded Middle-Eastern or African to me. For that particular CD, I took the stage name “Jonnie Hitler”, and the CD itself, composed completely of my backwards recordings, was also titled “Jonnie Hitler”. “Jonnie” was the name I was called as a child. Jonnie Borofsky. And I was born into the world in 1942—at the moment of Hitler’s prime. Hitler was an early model for me to study. Even as a child, I tried to understand why somebody like this existed. [I] was fascinated by the concept of concentration camps and why this happened. I did take on this Jonnie Hitler role and produced a fair amount of music and photographs, including a small exhibition of drawings. I would take a drawing of my own framed and take a drawing of Hitler’s framed—these were reproductions of Hitler’s work—and put them next to each other. He tried to get into art school, but I think he got bounced. He made OK drawings of landscapes. It was really a study of the dark side. It was a logical jump from doing interviews in prison to going out into the world and studying folks that had done damage to people, picking the ultimate damage-doer of the 20th century, looking for issues within myself that might be parallel. Anger that I might be feeling, fear that I might be feeling, the need to control (and that’s the big one) that I might be feeling in my own life, that each person feels in their life. When do you feel powerless? When do you need to lash out? When do you need to control another human being? When do men need to control women? It was just a period of study, trying to get into his mind and trying to understand. Studying his childhood: How was he raised, what possibly made him what he was, what led to it? If you confront the causes, then you can possibly find the solution to keep it from happening the next time.


CMM: Tell me about the “Ballerina Clown” in Venice, Calif.

JB: That image is a lot tougher than most of the images that I put out in the world. I thought it was acceptable [because] it was right along the beach there, a block away, where people are dressed in all kinds of costumes and outfits. There’s a lot of street performers. It seemed like a very appropriate place to put an image that deals with the duality within all of us. It’s a male and a female mixed together—the male clown and the female ballerina, and the duality of performance: the street performer and the ballerina, the traditional, classical performer. A mixing of opposites [in a] splashy, showy kind of way. Now it’s accepted pretty much as an icon in the city. But for the first few years, it had its detractors. There’s an example of where the
art critics in the city came to its defense.


CMM: Did “Running Man” go down with the Berlin Wall?

JB: That “Running Man” took me about two hours to make. I
had a ladder so I could paint the image all the way up to the top of the wall. Three quarters of the way through the image, the patrol truck came. We all scattered and hid behind some rubble. We left our ladder leaning up against the wall. The British [patrol was] trying to figure out what the heck is this ladder doing here. They were about to take it away, and we came out from hiding. I said I was an artist working in an exhibition in this space next door called the Martin-Gropius Bau, an international exhibition space, doing this project on the outside. They said, “Well, have you gotten permission to do this?” And I said, “Not really. But I’m almost finished.” They
gave in. “Don’t tell anybody that we said you could do it.” I think
the painting went down with the wall [in 1990]. Somebody sent
me a chip from it.


CMM: How did “Man with Briefcase” develop?

JB: “Man with Briefcase” came together after the “Hammering Man.” It was another worker—more of a white-collar worker as opposed to the blue-collar “Hammering Man.” At that time, I was carrying a briefcase to my exhibitions because I had all my transparencies of wall drawings in it. I would pull them out, put them on the projector and start [aiming] them around the room. It was my own personal self-portrait, but it also translated to an archetypal image of the worker with briefcase.


CMM: Are you still using the opaque projector?

JB: Unlike Sol LeWitt who has many people working for him to do his wall drawings, mine had to be done by me. They usually were taken from small drawings that I did. I used the projector as a way to get the drawing up there on the wall, 10, 20, 30 feet [tall], and make it within an eight-hour period. This was my way of filling a room with wall drawings within a short period. Bring in my sculptures, bring in my sound, bring in everything and help create these walk-in environments.


CMM: You seem interested in victims. Is that part of an interest in the dark side?

JB: The idea of oppression is everybody’s fear, and it’s been restimulated and in a totally new way with Sept. 11. Can they walk into your home and  kill your daughter or son? Can they fly into your
home and kill 5,000 people? These are our classic
archetypal fears as hunters from millions of years ago when you’re protecting your fire and your little piece of land. You have neighboring tribes coming in; you either fight for your people or you lose it. This is very archetypal, very traditional. We put locks on our doors for just that reason, and now we have to put a lock on our country.


CMM: Do you think the nation reacted correctly to Sept. 11?

JB: In an ideal world, it’s probably not the right response. For me, it’s very understandable given the world and the human beings in it. It’s quite traditional. [If] somebody comes into your house and kills your mother, you go out and get them. You don’t want those killers roaming the streets killing other mothers or other people. In a perfect, ideal world, I’d like to grab those people, isolate them and study them as prisoners. Find out what made them go wrong. But how to do that so clinically and cleanly without going in and bombing the hell out of a country [where] most of the people are 18th-century peasants. Unfortunately this is what’s happening. It doesn’t feel right. It feels stupid to me to be dropping a $2 million bomb on a tank in the middle of some desert. Is that really going to solve the issue? It goes back to people feeling disenfranchised like a Columbine student who might be picked on enough to feel bad about himself, feel hated enough that he wants to get back at those people that he feels weaker than, and finally goes out and gets the gun and shoots it all up. Do you call up bin Laden and say, “You just killed 5,000 of our people. You can’t do that again. Let’s have a meeting because I want to hear your gripes.” It’s just not going to work. It probably would have been better because there’s going to be a lot more people killed on both sides because we can’t do that. The natural instinct of the human being is [to think] they killed 5,000 people; well, there’s no way I’m going to sit down with that guy and talk to him. I’m going to sit down with him and cut his head off. It’s understandable what we’re doing. I wish there was another way.

CMM: Could you comment on alumnus Andy Warhol (A’49)?

JB: [Sigh.] He had quite a major influence on art and society at the end of the 20th century. When I came to New York, he was the symbol of success within the art world that I found both intriguing and a little depressing. He represented just a bit too much concern for money and splash, and parties and drugs. Just a little too much for my own taste. But that doesn’t mean it’s bad. Artists notoriously lean in that direction. Let me say: beautiful work that he’s done, to a point. I looked for something a little less flashy, a little more honest. There’s definitely a genius there of sorts that I don’t quite understand or relate to. Warhol really was the focal point of the whole vision for New York. In retrospect, it was a little excessive. I just think everybody finds his way. And if that was the way that related to the public at the moment, so be it. It wasn’t my way.


CMM: Philip Pearlstein (A’49)?

JB: Beautiful work but totally different energy and a totally different spectrum that he’s working.


CMM: How do you progress spiritually?

JB: Minute by minute. [Laughter.] I’m looking for ways to bring peace to myself, and I think I can do that if I can bring peace to others. That’s a religious goal. If you don’t call it religion, call it a spiritual goal, call it just common sense. I like the word “God,” and I’m aware that it’s a word that we’ve invented to describe something that we don’t fully understand or can’t quite picture. I would have to say that God is a feeling – a feeling of everything being connected, all human beings, everything. It’s just all one organic interacting whole. You can say that word “God,” but to feel it is something else. The more you feel it, the closer you come to God.

CMM: How was your experience at Carnegie?

JB: Great. I liked walking across campus and hearing trumpet practice coming out of the Fine Arts building, walking into a building where there were architects working, and drama students walking around campus with their egos out there in the wind. I liked being thrown in with a bunch of engineers as well. I ended up joining a fraternity [Tau Delta Phi]. Not only were the living conditions better than the dormitories, but I also played a lot of sports. Fraternities were much better for that. I did end up on the track team. I liked the fact that there was a whole building devoted to the arts. You had the real world there, a full spectrum of different minds running together. My fraternity had a lot of architects, artists; yet it had a lot of engineers. It was good to learn from each other, different ways of seeing the world. 

CMM: What do you do when you’re not doing your art or making contracts for outdoor public sculpture projects?

JB: I’m going to try to get my walk in at 11. I’m going up the
beach and back; that takes me an hour and 20 minutes. Then
[I’ll] sit down, watch CNN and see what the news of the day is and eat my lunch. And then meet with my computer person who can run the damn thing, which I can’t. We’ll continue working on my Web site ( and doing some other stuff that I have to do. Or I’ll work on work.

Ann Curran is editor of Carnegie Mellon Magazine.



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