Sura Wood: For 30 years you've studiously avoided having a museum show. How come, and why now?
Cary Leibowitz: I wish it was as glamorous as that. I hadn't really been invited, so it's not like I had the option to avoid it. I've been very jealous of other people having shows. I also think maybe I wasn't quite in synch with the times, but now my stuff has a bit of a nostalgic patina. I think being perpetually out-of-step has been a lucky thing.
What's it like putting together three decades of work?
It's a bit nerve-wracking. At one point I realized the packing tape on the storage boxes was older than the friend* helping me organize them. I have to say, after looking at some of the old stuff, I think I haven't really pushed myself enough.
You've said that early on, you were very focused on yourself. I'm thinking of that piece that says, "I'm torn between you, me and my ego." Do you look outward more?
It depends on whether it's a good day or a bad day. Sometimes the work is still pretty personal in the first-person sort of way. I've never liked pointing the finger at anyone or making anyone feel guilty or responsible. There's part of me that's always afraid to make a scene or be impolite.
Are you following in the footsteps of Woody Allen in making inadequacy an art-form?
Probably. I love all his movies, and I do come from that same sort of mindset. I don't think of myself as a loser in a slacker sort of way. It's a more Woody Allen kind of thing.
Do you ever feel marginalized by being labeled a gay artist?
I don't feel marginalized, but I do feel somewhat guilty because I don't feel like I've ever been a strong advocate of pushing political agendas. Even in my art, there's nothing earth-shattering.
When you were 11, what prompted you to write Liberace and request an autographed headshot?
I don't really know why, but around the same time I wrote to him, I also wrote to Liza Minnelli, these people who are now so associated with gay culture. When I got to college and had gay friends, the Liberace photo was my pedigree paper.
Has the Candyass persona provided you with insulation from criticism, like hiding behind a mask?
A little of that, and, in a good way, it's like wearing a favorite garment. It helps me stay strong. I use it as a crutch, not as a persona. Years ago, sitting around with friends, we shared what we were called as sissy kids growing up. One friend said he had been called a candyass. He made me a red-ink rubber candyass stamp, and I started using it as a signature, a Dada-ism. When I began showing my work, people really noticed it, and I went with it.
The country has just elected a president who campaigned against political correctness. Where are you in this debate?
Most political correctness is just moral correctness and should be there. That phrase is an excuse for people to not accept there are a lot of different types of people out there, or that certain things, which might seem funny, really aren't. I'm not a religious person, but I do feel that we should all be humanitarians.
Read the full article, here.
*Mark Ferkul, I'm guessing.