Maria Cruz: 12 Questions


Photograph by MM Yu

1. Hi Maria, how are you these days? How's Berlin?

Good. Busy, you know I have a routine that I try to follow - yoga and answering email in the mornings ('office work'), studio mid-morning til about 4 pm before it gets dark. Long walks - is how I get to know Berlin.

Berlin, I find, is a great city to live in. Relaxed, casual, lots of things happening and not only in the arts, beautiful, green. Interesting. There are many cliches promoted by the city about Berlin, one is "poor but sexy!"

2.  When did you move to Berlin?  You seem to have a long-term relationship with Germany (from Dusseldorf to Berlin)?

I moved here in October 2007 though I've been coming here since early 80's, before the wall came down. In 2005, I had a six-month sabbatical in Berlin and that was when I considered and made careful plans to move.

3. Can you tell us about your studies in Dusseldorf? I understand that you were in the same school with some prominent artists? What was the program like and how was the mentorship relationship like?

Duesseldorf was over 20 years ago so it is a bit vague in my memory! It is an academy - one of the oldest and most influential in Germany - which had no degrees and no PhD kind of study. (I received my Bachelors and Masters from the University of Sydney, Sydney College of the Arts, not from Duesseldorf Academy.) I was a student in the class of Professor Klaus Rinke. It was an interesting class that produced many conceptual and installation artists. Most students worked in sculpture and I was one of the two painters. One can say the class was interdisciplinary. We worked  hard and openly talked critically and analytically about ideas, materials, form and processes as I am sure it is in other schools. We also read and went to the movies a lot. Professors were entitled to ask a student to leave the class if they thought a student did not fit a class. This was not based on class attendance, rather on the students' engagement. Class meetings with professors happen once a month but informal discussions took place all the time. I lived the life of a student totally immersed in art in a place where it was happening.

Some of the artists in my network of friends here in Berlin were from the academy so you can see the strong professional relationship formed from that period! What was also good was that I kind of saw the 'industry' aspect of art in the form of jobs, sales, museums, collectors, art bookstores. Everything was there. Compared to now, curators were not that present in developing an exhibition.The first big curated exhibition I saw was Von Hier Aus put together by Kaspar Koenig (I think). Conceptual and installation work deeply impressed me! I also saw my first art fair then in Cologne. When I was there the students were Andreas Gursky, Thomas Ruff and many other success stories but I just want to mention those two household names . Not far from our studio were the classes of Professor Becher and Gerhardt Richter so I did get to see the 'legend' many times.

Maria's solo exhibition inspired by Yoko Ono: No, No, No Lewers House, Penrith Regional Gallery, NSW Australia, 2004.

4. We know you have an established career in Australia. Was it hard to move on from that? What was it like working with Sarah Cottier and Kaliman?  What do you miss about Australia?  How is the art community similar or different in Australia, Berlin and Manila?

No. I see my world as one big house and I am just in a different room at the moment. I have not moved on from Australia, I am working on the same timeline. That is how I see it. I've chosen to work in Australia, in Manila and here [Berlin]. It takes a lot of energy. Remember, it is a big house!

Sarah Cottier is a beautifully and intelligently considered space for contemporary art. It has the very clear goal of presenting artists and their work well. Being in such a gallery is definitely optimal to the career of an artist. It shows good artists, some of whom are in my favorites list. I moved from Mori Gallery (basically after its then co-director Jo Holder left Mori) to Sarah Cottier Gallery in 1997. I don't work with Kaliman anymore.

There are many things I miss about Australia: my son who has his own family now, my friends, open spaces, some streets especially from Camperdown, Redfern, King Street down to Dulwich Hill. If I were to think of openings, for example, as one of the meeting point of art communities, superficial as they are, Manila is most positive in that artists travel through the most amazing traffic to go to openings. I love that desire to be part of the art world. Another interesting thing in Manila is that the financial support for the arts comes from collectors and private people. I think this is commendable. Berlin is big. There are so many communities which in many cases are transient with so many spaces and galleries having their own interest and audience. Support for the arts by the local city council is exemplary. It is interesting that this city is identified with the production of contemporary arts and I think it is because studios and art spaces are affordable.

In Sydney, rent is too expensive to afford studios and artspaces so that an artist even has to pay to exhibit in non-commercial galleries. This makes it really difficult for artists. This is addressed by the Australia arts council by providing grants to artists of all kind at all levels. Hard task. It could need more support from private citizens.

One Million Dollars (installation view). Artspace, Sydney, 2006.

5. You have created an important work- "One Million Dollars" at Artspace Sydney. Was this the first time you have shown this kind of process - or have you been doing this before then? How was it received in 2006?

No. But yes, the clear goal of creating one million spheres symbolically translated to dollars was first shown in Artspace. I first showed 'pallete with coins' at Sarah Cottier Gallery in 2002 and at Kaliman Gallery I showed 'coins' in 2005 before it became One Million Dollars. It was an installation piece. A wall painting. The idea was to create a space that feels like a beer garden. Dreamlike in an artspace. I made beer garden lights as well from paper mache to accompany this installation. It was well received I think. The project is ongoing as you know because I have not painted the one millionth sphere/coin /dollar.

6. The Shangri-la Collective is your video work but seems to have emerged from your same process in painting. How did this collective unfold and what was it about?

I wanted to have a document of video work based on a song (the song is the space here) chosen by a female artist and have it shown as one work. Like a documentation and archive at the same time. In this way, it is similar to some of my paintings in terms of recording and documenting activities/processes and, to a certain extent, performances in my studio.

"X (Blue)", 2011.

7. You have spent quite a lot of time teaching. What do you like about it?  Is teaching still involve your future plans?

Like? Salary, contact with interested intelligent students. If ever I'd teach again? This is unplanned. But I could do it again. No problem.

Maria Cruz, Lizzy Newman and Gerry Tan at Galleria Duemila, Manila, 2011.

8. You've had a succesful show at Galleria Duemila with Lizzy Newman and Gerry Tan. What can you say about these two painters?

Two opposite processes. Lizzy makes unfiltered decisions, whereas Gerry layers images and thoughts until they are reduced to a composition. I like both works.

9. Back in 2000/01 You had a studio program at PS1. How was that experience?  Did any significant work result from that period in New York?  What was going on in New York  then?

I loved that year and I made long lasting friendships. Yes, I continued working on painting Yoko Ono's discography which to this day I am still working on like the spheres/dollars.

The biggest thing in the lives of New Yorker happened while I was there - the "attack" on the twin towers.

Maria at LOSTprojects, 2011.

10. In your recent residency in Manila - at LOSTprojects and in an exhibit in Pablo Galleries - in July, you seem to have used chalk as a material, and the work was very interesting. How did you come to use chalk as a medium and why?

My materials are usually dictated by my idea. Memories of writing and making a choice very quickly is expressed as X. We are all familiar with this gesture.

(L-R) Simon Barney, Maria Cruz for Pablo Gallery, 2011.

11. In the current Rogue Magazine Art Issue (Nov. 2011), Manuel Ocampo mentions that your works from your last residency in Manila was his favorite work of the year.  He elaborates, "She favors the slightly wobbly over the straight and true, and has an unflashy way of handling paint. As an abstract painter she displays remarkably little sense of program or agenda. Because each painting is self-contained and unassuming, it doesn’t seem to invite any transcendent reading. Where so many other painters seek to convey their artistic ambitions through signs of intensive labor, grand scale, daunting complexity or serious themes. Maria's X seems to be saying that this is a painting but let’s not get sentimental about it or waste unnecessary time or materials; this is all you’re getting for your money -  which I think is the true attitude of a great work of art". Can you comment on this?  Have you always painted this way?  Can you give us a run through on how you have developed this?

Well, I think Manuel recognized the clarity of the idea in the simplicity of its rendition. With regards to agenda? There is not one agenda if you can call it that. I have parallel projects and I decide when to work on this. There is no timeline as to when I should finish something. It is a minimalist approach to count, to document, to have a system. My labor here has to do with a goal of completing a system or a concept rather than the sentiments of what a 'good painting' is. That is why I think I don't stick to a style. I am not bothered by that because you'd recognize my work even if they don't appear consistent or they don't have the same style. It's decent for artists to think about money. I would like to sell my work for what they are. I define my standards. I made a painting a long time ago in 1986 titled 'Standards of Good and Bad' with that in mind. Even though we have not discussed this interview, I can get what Manuel wrote and I find it a good endorsement of my practice. When I look back at my more mature work, I could say I work with the forms 'X', 'O' and color. All of them have symbolic values depending on how I want to present them. I love painting landscapes too.

Hollywood Hotel: exhibition of Simon Barney, Lisa Andrew and Maria Cruz at Pablo Gallery, 2011.

12. When did you know that you wanted to be a painter?  It seems like with whatever you do - video, installation, sculpture - you are still identified as a painter. How so, you think?

When I was 6. I knew that's all I wanted to do. I can draw a perfect shrimp with my eyes closed. Some artists can still do this now. However, I grew out of it. I asked the nuns at St. Rita in Mendiola as a kindy student 'What was that picture on the wall?' They told me it is a picture of a husband and a wife praying. Their answer was correct to a degree, but I knew it was not a picture, it was something else. No one was able to give me a satisfactory answer. That was my quest for a long time as a child. Later on, I found out it was a framed print of Angelus by the french painter Millet.

"Coins (Box)", Oo Selected paintings and projects 1996 – 2009 Survey Exhibition, UTS Gallery, University of Technology, Sydney, 2008.


About Maria Cruz

Maria Cruz received a BA in Visual Arts at the Sydney College of Arts and pursued her postgraduate studies at The Kunstakademie Düsseldorf Germany. She has been exhibiting internationally since 1986 and has worked in Sydney, Australia, as a Lecturer in Fine Arts at the Canberra Institute Arts ANU and Sydney College of Arts, Univ. of Sydney (1989-1999) and at the School of Contemporary Arts, University of Western Sydney (2000-2008).  A recipient of numerous arts prizes and artists grants (Asialink, PS1 New York, Australia Art Council, to name a few), her works  are in public and private collections here and abroad. She lives and works in Berlin and Manila.


Planting Rice