Dr. von Meier's 24-hour Seminar

In 1967, Professor Kurt von Meier was on his way to celebrity at UCLA

In 1967, Professor Kurt von Meier was on his way to celebrity at UCLA

NOTE: Terri, one of the participating students, kept a record of the seminar's timetable, locations and participant reactions, and her record is shown below; it is followed by the transcript she made of a tape recording of a discussion between Kurt and his students at the end of the seminar.

April 26,1967:

Students met with Dr. von Meier at his home, (25 Anchorage, Venice), at 8:00 P.M., for the purpose of planning a 24-hour seminar to take place on May 6, 1967 at 8:00 A.M. until May 7, 1967 at 8:00 A.M. Students were requested to bring cameras, tape recorders, blue chip stamps and money. The following plan was proposed:

1. Meet at the UCLA student union and go to Malibu Pier for breakfast
2. Orbach's and the Los Angeles County Museum
3. Moskatel's
4. Los Angeles Times office to research a topic - Watts Towers, soul food for lunch
5. MacArthur Park boat race in order to vent hostilities
6. A blue chip stamp paste-in
7. Blue chip redemption center
8. T.V. station ( #9 or #28)
9. P.O.P.  
10. Airport about 6:00 P.M.
11. Downtown: Chinese food for dinner
12. A walk on Main St. or Hollywood Blvd.
13. Visit a radio station
14. Flash records on Adams at 11:00 P.M.
15. Colidescope
16. Walk on Sunset Strip or Fairfax; coffee at Canter's about 3:00 A.M
17. Walk in Beverly Hills (See Homes of the Stars)
18. Venice Pier at 5:00 A.M. (Bring $1.00)
19. Discussion at Von Meier's home from 5:30 to 6:00 A.
20. Return to UCLA at 8:00 A.M. May 7, 1967.

May 6, 1967:

8:00 A.M.  Approximately 20 students met with von Meier at the west entrance of the UCLA student union. An open pick-up truck had been borrowed by von Meier from the University for the purpose of transporting the students around Los Angeles. The truck was not ­large enough to accommodate the entire group, so the remaining students used two additional cars. At 8:00 A.M. we departed for Malibu Pier.
--Those students in the truck spoke of little else than their resentment for those who got to ride in the cars, due to their own discomfort in the cold windy truck.

8:45 A.M.  We arrived in Malibu and walked to the end of the pier in order to have breakfast at the restaurant there. By 9:00 the entire group was seated at 5 separate tables.

9:02 A.M.  Waitress: "May I have your attentions How many want coffee? Does everyone want coffee?" A few voices: "No!" "Tea," "Milk:"

10:05 A.M. Everyone was eating and talking. By this time those people at my table had learned the basic information about each other: major, birth place, name (first name only), and opinion of the idea of a 24-hour seminar.

10:30 A.M. We left the restaurant after making several adjustments relating to who would now ride in the cars and who would try the truck. During this ride we found out very little more about each other. Two of the five passengers in my car discussed one of the other participants; his name was Adam. They objected to his presence in the seminar because they felt that, as a psychiatrist, he was using us to experiment. They decided to give him a hard time during the day.

11:10  A.M. We arrived at Orbach's and sat in the car for 20 minutes waiting for the truck to arrive. This caused irritation to increase; irritation blamed on the "lack of structure in the event." After 20 minutes, we all went our own ways into Orbach's. Several of us with cameras were confronted by the store manager who asked that we not take pictures in the store for the protection of their merchandise and their customers.

12:15 P.M. Everyone had arrived at Orbach's by this time. Very little group structure was maintained in the store. The crowds compelled us to separate. About this time, small groups of 2 or 1 began to wander over to the Tar Pits and to the Museum where "Sculpture of the '60's" photographed. By 1:00 everyone had returned to the vehicles, and we drove downtown to Moskatel's. The same 2 people became very upset by the fact that Adam was in the group. They find him "offensive" and obnoxious. Everyone in the car begins to express the desire to go home and go to sleep.

1:15 P.M.   We arrived at Moskatel's. Most everyone is so delighted with the store, they wished to return. Various items were purchased: peacock feathers were a favorite. At 2:00 P.M. we left.

3:35 P.M.   After having driven through south-central L.A. and gaping at this area like it was a foreign country, we arrived at Watts Towers. 
--Comments: "I can't stand Orbach's...I wanted to stop at Saks and get my mother a Mother's Day present." Being in Watts Towers was like being a part of a good piece of art, in contrast to Orbach's where all I could think of was escaping.

3:55 P.M.  We arrived at Mac Arthur Park. By this time most of us were hungry and tired. I ordered a hamburger in the lunch room and it was extraordinary: 5 inches height with 1/4 inches of meat. The majority of the group then gathered on the lawn in front of the lunch room and relaxed for a few minutes before going boating.
--We began boating with the idea of having a race, but this was soon forgotten due to the fact that the boats travel at set speeds, and boating without a destination was simply more agreeable at the moment. Also, not everyone had brought their blue chip stamps, the redemntion center was going to close soon, so there was "no prize to race for."

4:55 P.M. In the middle of this man-made lake, in our automatic boats, we began to play bump boats (as in bump cars), when this voice speaks to us through the great microphone: "Keep those boats 30 feet apart"..."that's the shortest 30 feet I've ever seen!"

5:20 P.M. We gathered on the dock to discuss what to do next. We decided to go to the airport.

6:30 P.M. We arrived at the airport and went to the International Arrival Gate. Here, we greeted and photographed people on two flights.

7:20 P.M. We left the airport and went to Aviation Blvd where we parked and watched planes descend over our heads. At this time, those riding in our car began to evaluate and comment on the day thus far. Some of the feelings expressed were:
--1.  A dislike of having been "herded" from one place to another without having enough time to become involved with any one thing.
--2. Surprised that the people in the group made very little effort to get to know the others, and in fact, made a point of not being too interested in the others.
--3. Disappointment because we were not all able to travel in one vehicle.
--4. The feeling that the day had been nothing more than a "Cook's Tour."
--5. The feeling that it was an excellent opportunity to study people..

8:00 P.M. Left plane watching. 

8:45 P.M. Arrived at Yee Nee Loo's, a Chinese restaurant, downtown. Here the manager told us that he could not seat so many people. About ten minutes later he managed to seat all of us at three different tables.

10:12 P.M. After having finished dinner, we left for Flash Records, on Adams. During this trip, there was a rather violent-argument be­tween two of the passengers. One felt von Meier was crazy, the other worshiped him. Neither convinced the other of anything, and the rest of us began to feel extremely uncomfortable.

10: 45 P.M. We arrived at Flash Records. I was not only impressed with the stock of records, but also with the stock of candy, cigarettes, soap, kites, and toilet paper.

11:25 P.M. We left Flash Records.

12:00 A.M. Arrived at UCLA. Owing to nausea and fatigue, I copped out. Illness diagnosed the next day as "Type B Influenza."

(Transcription of a tape recording)

Kurt von Meier (KvM): To begin, there are a few questions. Who were the people who made it to the end of the pier, and who were the people who did not quite make it?

(Names are called from a list)

KvM: Terri, what happened to Terri ? Does anyone know?

I think Terri left on the way to the party.

KvM: Why? Where did she go?

I left her off at UCLA.

KvM: Why?

She insisted.

KvM: She insisted: Without asking me? For her sake, does anybody think they should tell me something I do not know?

She was tired.

KvM: She was tired. Well, I am afraid I am going to have to have a few words with Terri. Where is Jeff?

Same story.

KvM: How many people did you let off?


KvM: Who are they?

Terri, Jeff and Marilyn. What could I do?

KvM: Yes, what could you do? I think that if somebody had asked me the same thing in the truck, I probably would have done the same. However, this still does not change the problem.

(More names are called from the list): John? What happened to John?

John had a problem with his car.

There is no problem, it just took us a long time to get there (to the party). We got lost on the way.

KvM: Well, what did you see on the way?

Freeway. We were talking about interaction in the car. Fantastic signs.

KvM: You see, this is one of the problems we are working with; keeping the group together. I am not interested in a cop out.

Then why are we getting involved in super-precision movement in a given period of time?

KvM: Because it is a key period. Timing was very important because we were out on the pier at dawn, some were there, and some were not, and timing was very important. I want to know if something came up.

Actually it is very trivial.

KvM: Don t tell me it is trivial. We held to the general scheme of things very well, and everyone was going in correct directions. Well, I left that issue, and now I am talking about the problem.

We were in a group and we got involved in ourselves, so our timing got off. As we got more and more involved, we could not hit all the places at the same time.

The implication you are making is that those people who did not make it to the pier are in some way going to be punished, with grades or some­thing?

KvM: No, I would just like to know what happened. There seems to be a whole range of attitudes coming from people who dropped out of the seminar the day before it began.

Perhaps your attitude is a little too heated.

KvM: Yes, and this is why I am interested because of reactions in the begin­ning, such as: "Well, there wasn't enough room in the truck."

This whole thing was so lose in the beginning and now all of a sudden you are concerned with precision.

KvM: Have you ever watched a basket ball game?

Yes, the last two minutes.

KvM: Then you know what I mean. Because we knew this was going to be the end, and exactly when it was going to begin. We started the truck at 8:00 A.M. exactly. Attribute this situation to the game structure, or to the art structure. With too much rigidity you lose sight of your original purpose. On the other hand, there are some things which are important to retain, and here, it is the beginning and the end. That pervades the idea of this being a complete 24-hour cycle. We decided to have a recap, and it is the focus of our final event.
          I want to go back to this problem and consider it in the physical sense. When I am involved in this, I wonder where the hell you are, and the people with me also wonder. Although I am going to withhold my judgement here, what do we do with the people who did not play this game according to the rules? Whatever I do, I accept the responsibility for it. My first suggestion is that they did not fulfill the agreement of the Seminar, and in the strictest terms, they must fail the seminar.

Marilyn had a good reason for leaving. She had a thesis to write. I do not know about the others.

KvM: How do you know that?

She told me.

KvM: She did not tell me.

I think she was afraid.

KvM: That was foolish. She should not have been.

I think the others expected to be entertained and they were not, so they left.

KvM: I do not know whether this applies in this particular case, but it could. Many students get mean when they expect to be entertained, and they are not. What should I do with them? Fail them?

Give them an incomplete or something for them to do to make it up.

KvM: All right let's forget about the grades because they do not matter anyway. How do you feel about these people?

I think they should be allowed to give an explanation, and then you should determine how they could make it up.

KvM: My response to that is that they all had a chance before they split, to come to me.

That will come up in their explanations.

KvM: I think they had a chance already, so maybe that is the reason to say they are guilty until proven innocent. If you are going to say "you are a terrible or terrifying person and I can not talk to you" then you are just playing the odds by spliting, and you have played them wrong. I don't think I have ever put anyone down who has come to talk to me. Do you think they have completed the seminar?

This should not be our concern because this has been your thing. It is not fair to ask us. It is conceivable that those who left the seminar felt it was unsuccess­ful, and that they could successfully complete it on their own. Perhaps they did not just walk off.

KvM: That is possible, but people did meet us at breakfast in the beginning, and it was arranged with me that they could be late.

Maybe something should be done to the people who were late for breakfast.

KvM: These rules were made for efficiency and we talked about it before so we would not have to get involved in this now. What is the last thing we all did together?

(Different responses all at once).

KvM: Let me suggest to you that sitting in Canter's and not getting any service is in itself quite different from going in at any other time if you do not get service. It is a question of knowing and controlling  your own actions, and being aware of what you are doing. It is difficult to be self aware for 24 hours. It is a different level from normal activity. But in this situation, I would think that getting up and leaving is in a sense wrong.

It was ridiculous, you were served and she kept coming over but did nothing.

KvM: I think that was part of the piece. Why didn't you bang on the table? All right, that would have led to other complications.

There were a lot of reasons for the group to split up. One of them was cause we were not travelling together. Now, that need not have caused the problem that it did, but nevertheless, the problem existed. Separate groups formed, and they would come together at each particular place. The first time was in the boats, not even at lunch.

KvM: When was it decided who was going to ride in the cars, and who was going to ride in the truck?

There was alternation, but about the time of Watts Towers.

KvM: You think this fragmentation in transport was a factor in the fragmen­tation of the group?


KvM: What does this tell you about the way the automobile effects human relationships?

That is where the action takes place. It is very important. The way 20 people might respond in one big truck would be very different, but it was not that way.

I think we spent more time going from one place to another than we spent in any one place. This meant more time for something to take place in the car than anywhere else.

KvM: Then the seminar was about travel? In which case, it was not what we did but the way we got there which was the important thing. I think this is true. The seminar was about the problem of travelling around a city over an extended period of time, and the things that happened were per­tinent to this.
          The things we did do resolve themselves in certain types of confrontation with art. There was the possibility of things that are art, things which might be art, the art scene...many of them we did not cover. In Malibu take the problem of two sportsmen, a Surfer, and a fisherman; you could have predicted they would be there, but we were there for breakfast, not to verify this fact. Now, you can also speak about the art of surfing or fishing and you know this is something very different from what you usually speak of as art.
          Food can be a basic form of creativity. At Orbach's you have problems of commercialization especially in the last few years simply because of the increased relationship between the fine arts, fashion design and marketing. The latter have had a great influence on the world of fine arts.
          How many went to the museum? Almost everyone. There were enough pieces of sculpture outside so that this would have made a conventional field trip in itself; and it would have been a good way to conduct a seminar. So, we did have contact with the real world of art. Also, in the park, you have popular art there: the fiber glass mammoth, nature as art, people in the park, a sense of history and archeology with the Tar Pits.
          What did you think of Moskatel's?

I thought it was great: ribbons, tapes, our own scene with the band, different colors... it was totally unexpected. This was all plain ordinary stuff.

KvM: Not at all. Just the point. All of these things were made in L.A. Also, what you can do with all the stuff.

It meant a great deal to me.

KvM: They had all sorts of floral stuff, but when you see so much of it the context changes, and you realize you could use it for something else. They had all sorts of styrofoam crosses in a line, like the Veteran's Administration or something.

Kirby was around the corner banging a toy piano and pretty soon every­one was singing and making wild sounds. It was so spontaneous, no one was really ready for it; then someone said, "Get a slide of this" and he said, "No need too, it has already happened." Then everyone kind of split up. And someone came around the corner with a shopping cart with an American flag in it.

KvM: What kind of art is this? Instant theatre, environments, happenings. We are dealing with occasions which can be related to artistic statements which are now pretty conventional; it is not wild and avant garde. It is alive in the fields of the arts today and is relevant to the seminar. The people who are involved in this are not painters, sculptors, and architects, there are some who pick up on this, but most are pretty square. Now, going back to Orbach's, what happened?

Before we arrived the security guard was warned that 20 people were coming to give their clothes away and things like that. When we arrived, there was a security guard standing at the door. This is what caused the initial complication. I was told not to take pictures, and then I was told to leave. But this gave me a feeling of power because they would follow me through the store. Then later, the manager came up to me and said he did not mind if I took pictures as long as the security guard did not see me. They were afraid we would steal ideas for merchandise or that the customers might object.

KvM: Why in a free country would a citizen object to having his picture taken?

It depends on who you are with...privacy...the law of privacy...and a recording of your voice can make you public.

KvM: Do you think this is a pertinent reason?

They were not interested in anything but getting us out of there, they did not want to lose customers.

KvM: I am suggesting that this is something that involves the establishment and authoritarianism as it exists in our own country.

A funny thing happened to me. I went up to the second floor and asked several sales ladies if they knew where I could find a floor detective. And they said they had no idea there even was such a thing. You can work in a place like that for 18 years and not know who works there. Everyone there is working against the other guy, not with them.

I caught two girls trying on hats and when they saw me taking pictures, they stopped. Then a few minutes later when I asked if I could take their pictures they let me. They really wanted me to take pictures of them. No one told me I could not take pictures.

We went up to some people and told them we were employed by the store to advise them to purchase the best merchandise possible. We advised them not to buy whatever they were purchasing. There was no reaction, they just remained neutral. We also went around finishing sentences for people.

We took. some socks and threw them at the cashier, then a little old lady came up to us and told us it was not funny, and we might have hurt someone. At this point, we denied the whole thing.

I was passing out credit applications to people before they paid cash for anything. They asked me to leave...they did not like it.

KvM: Did anything interesting happen at Moskatel's?

I heard one woman comment as we were walking in. She said those are people demonstrating against Vietnam, and she told two little girls to stay away from us.

KvM: Did anyone feel we were being looked upon as demonstrators against Vietnam anywhere else?

Yes, some negro kids commenting while we were in the truck. At the airport when we were walking single file.

KvM: This shows you how the public mentality understands protest, and it shows you how effective that protest is. That line had some social meaning.

The flag on the truck made some think we were Birchers.

KvM: I consider the stuff in Moskatel's great examples of commercial art. I am always knocked out by the cauliflower. A great article has yet to be written on Moskatel's sculpture, who makes them and who designs them.
          Now, at Watts Towers we were confronted by folk art on a very monumental scale. It is interesting in contrast to the sculpture at Moskatel's. The drive there was also important in that you do not see a white face in this area. What did this part of town look like?

South side of Chicago.

It was much better than Harlem, and it did not seem so bad after Mexico.


KvM: What kind of stores did you see there?

Churches, mortuaries, necessity stores, auto shops, radio and televisions. They were all small stores. There was something about the way people were interacting on the streets. It was quite different from downtown. There were many people on the streets talking and dancing.

The colors of the buildings--greens, purples, you do not find that in other areas of the city....only in Mexico.

KvM: And driving back from Watts, on the other side of the freeway, what did you notice?

More residential areas than commercial.

KvM: As for MacArthur Park, here you have a park right in the city, developed and commercialized while Hancock Park has been institutionalized.

Julie had a hot dog, it was not very good. Come to think of it, maybe Julie just had a bad day all the way around.

KvM: With the boat ride we have the problem of absurdity.

Everyone was crapped out on the lawn, but I was glad you wanted to go ahead with the boat ride.

The people here were much more talkative.

I saw some policemen taking some old men to the police car. Then later I saw them escort 2 teen-agers to their car. Thirty feet away! That doesn't look like thirty feet! Do you want to forfeit your deposit?

And that car decorated for a wedding. Imagine going to the park on your wedding day'

KvM: When you set up a situation of art, you create, as McLuhan suggests, "anti-environments" which you are very conscious of doing. It is very difficult to do consistently, but when we do it we can see in perspective, an entirely different series of institutions composing the establishment. These institutions react in very consistent ways. Ziedler and Ziedler is the perfect example. They were afraid.
          What happened was the manager of the store came over to me and told me to get my people out of there. They did not want a disturbance. They thought we were part of the Birch Society because of the American flag on the truck. They should have filmed the whole thing. It would have been a great scene.
          Another thing I thought about today was the whole thing has been our group versus the establishment. Theatre pieces seem to be saying the same thing. Comments were hostile towards everyone else. If the people at the airport thought it was a protest, we should not have confirmed it. Because then, it destroys the reason for the piece, that is communicating something other than politics. That is a hard thing to do; they state their hostility and we state ours right back, only our cause is good! You just have to say no.
          There is a problem here, and that is understanding all action as being hostile. There are elements of hostility even in my attitudes but it does not necessarily have to be hostile. You react to these things that exist, but there is something beyond this. How do you get to it?
          The chicks at the end loved to have their pictures taken. It was a benevolent theatre piece. The guy who was fishing...I saw him gather all of his equipment for 5 min­utes...a big deep sea fisherman. After talking with us, he met his son and told him he was just interviewed by the press, and his picture would be in the paper or something. He really took it all seriously. I told him I was from "Fishing World" and I offered him a free subscrip­tion to it.

End of Tape

Below are preliminary notes Kurt jotted down while planning the 24-hour seminar. His plan included documenting the seminar for the upcoming Festival of Experimental Arts to take place at UCLA.