Wet Paint in the Wild: Artist and Filmmaker Miranda July Launches Art21’s Latest Series in New York and Pals Around With Carrie Brownstein


Artist-filmmaker-writer Miranda July came to New York City earlier this month for the launch of beloved PBS series Art21’s new season, “Friends & Strangers,” which got the silver-screen treatment at the Metrograph Theater. The premiere coincided with New York Fashion Week, so I thought I’d try to see the chaotic week from the lens of one of my favorite multi-hyphenates. Let’s see what she got up to.

This was a few weeks ago in L.A. I was shooting a little secret something with my friends. I hadn’t worn this vintage YSL blouse in about 10 years but it really did a lot of work in this shot, which was slow-mo. We needed something that moved.

Our friends kindly loaned their incredible house for the shoot. It was formerly the home of the doctor who probably murdered the Black Dahlia in the ’40s. Or was that proven? In any case, my make-up artist said ghosts were haranguing her all day but that they wouldn’t bother the current occupants. She said she was going to have to clean them all off when she got home and I said, “Can you do me, too? Remotely?” Her text came later that night: “You’re all clear.”

Me and Carrie Brownstein. Carrie and I have been friends for a looong time so this one will likely go on the wall next to one from us at 18, little fat-faced babies. Eventually there will pictures on the wall of us as terrific old women.

I always prefer just nipples but we are in a very conservative era so pasties it is. Frankly, they look even more lewd to me. (I do really love the seam of the nylons though.) This was probably shot by Ashley Connor, the DP and director.

Water was spilled during the shot so after every take Carrie would wipe the floor. It was a very lean production but also Carrie is the kind of person who will just do whatever needs to be done to move things along.

Stretching out between takes. I was being a little rough and Carrie said, “Just be careful of my fingers, I have a show coming up.” I was stricken at the thought of fucking up one of these famous guitar fingers.

After the shoot, I just worked my ass off for a few weeks (no documentation) and then flew to NY for the Art21 premiere, which happened to be during NY Fashion Week so I took in one show: Puppets and Puppets. My pictures are shit but maybe you can see she’s holding her purse inside the dress? I like all the weird, impractical ways clothes are presented at these things. Some of the models held the long trains of their dresses between their teeth which made them look feral and gagged.

This one was supposed to be of the stage but all it caught was Tika the Iggy, a famous dog. To be honest, I hadn’t heard of this dog, I had to look him up. What a sweet little face, right? I’m going to trust that his caregiver loves him a lot and he does not need me to swoop in and rescue him. (But just say the word, Tika, and I’m there.)

Another Puppets look. This season was more glamorous and tailored, but I have a Puppets sweater and skirt that I wear all the time. The skirt has a dog pattern on it; last winter I wore it to an Eileen Myles reading knowing that lesbians love dogs so this skirt would draw them all to me. It completely worked.

Honestly, this show was a real scene and I was worried that the celebrities would think I was taking unauthorized photos of them so I just focused on the clothes.

Unauthorized photo! But accidental. This is Ella Emhoff’s very cute hair. Rumor has it she is starting a knitting club. Any time anyone starts a club, I want to assure them that they can stop at any time. Whenever they get sick of it. But if you’re starting a club, you probably don’t have anxiety about being trapped in a never-ending social situation; you’re the opposite kind of person from me. One of the great things about fashion shows is they are short.

Finally, the purpose of the trip, the big night. This is me and Tina Kukielski, the Chief Curator of Art 21. Before the crew arrived for the first shoot day, I called her and said I supposed I should “just be an artist for this doc, right?” I’m used to having to fit into whatever the medium is and downplay the other things I do. “No, we want you,” she said. “We invited you because of everything you do; that’s what the doc should be about.”

This is Linda Goode Bryant, the last segment of “Friends & Strangers” was about her. You probably know about the seminal gallery she ran in the ’70s and ’80s called Just Above Midtown (JAM). There was a big MoMA show about it last fall. I got pretty weepy watching her doc, just being in her company. We talked afterward about how faith in the collective effort was a sort of superpower. Now her art is Project EATS, an urban farming initiative. I loved how she said it so there could be no confusion: “This is my art now.” I’ve always been most excited by art that might be confused for social work or trash or something too ephemeral to exist squarely in the market. I also like when people fuck with value. What makes something expensive?

Esteban Cabeza de Baca, Tina Kukielski, Chiemi Karasawa, Linda Goode Bryant, Janet Olivia Henry, Miranda July, Cannupa Hanska Luger, Maren Hassinger. Chiemi, in green, directed all four of the docs in this segment. Since I am also a director, it was a wild experience of letting go, trusting her version of me. I tried, occasionally, to “help.” Sometimes she ran with my ideas and made them come alive (look for the scene in the gas station) and sometimes she politely ignored my offerings (the 14 unsolicited voice memo readings of the last line I texted her.) She was right about everything.


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