BY Peter Schjeldahl in Interviews | 07 JUN 06
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Issue 100

Peter Schjeldahl Dreams of Being a Pyrotechnician

The New Yorker critic answers the frieze questionnaire 

BY Peter Schjeldahl in Interviews | 07 JUN 06

What was the first piece of art that really mattered to you?

'La Madonna del Parto' (1467) by Piero della Francesca in Monterchi, Italy.

If you could live with only one piece of art what would it be?

Rembrandt’s 'Flora' (1634), currently at the State Hermitage, St. Petersburg.

What images keep you company in the space where you work?

At the moment, posters and reproductions of works by Andy Warhol, James Ensor, Thomas Ruff, Candida Höfer, Luc Tuymans, Stephen Shore and William Eggleston.

What do you wish you knew?

Oh Jesus!

What should change?

The usual.

What film has most influenced you?

Alfred Hitchcock’s Psycho (1960) pops to mind and won’t budge.

What is your favourite title of an art work?

Arshile Gorky’s Water of the Flowery Mill (1944).

What could you imagine doing if you didn’t do what you do?

Pyrotechnician. No kidding. I’ve been doing fireworks each 4th of July for 20 years at our place in the Catskill Mountains. Although it started small, last year there were 500 people, a crew of 18, miles of electric wire; a van-load of stuff gone in 20 minutes – terror and delight.

What music are you listening to?

Whatever my wife puts on. Today it’s Sweeney Todd, the Demon Barber of Fleet Street by Stephen Sondheim (1979).

What are you reading?

Fyodor Dostoevsky’s The Idiot (1866).

What do you like the look of?

Anything specific that’s not just horrible.

What is art for?

Vacations from myself.

Who was the first artist you ever wrote about?

Joe Brainard.

Main image: Rembrandt, Flora, ca. 1654, oil on canvas, 100 × 92 cm. Courtesy: The Metropolitan Museum of Art

Peter Schjeldahl has been writing art criticism in New York for 41 years, the last eight at The New Yorker.