The Year in Interviews: The Most Memorable Conversations on FrontRow in 2012

From comedian Will Ferrell to the Belgian filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne to legendary conceptual artist Lawrence Weiner, we have been fortunate to sit down with some pretty extraordinary individuals in 2012. We thought the end of the year offered as good an excuse as any to look back at some of these discussions. So here we go: my ten favorite FrontRow interviews of 2012.

Artist Shepard Fairey

“I’m 41 years old. I’ve been arrested 16 times. I don’t feel like I have anything to prove to anyone about street credibility.”

Art and commerce, appropriation and reuse, legality and street art: Shepard Fairey’s mural project in West Dallas, commissioned by the Dallas Contemporary, touched on a number of ideas and issues that make the artist’s practice so controversial. The conversation with Fairey revealed his nuanced understanding of how he conceives of his  role both as an artist and a businessman.

Artist Ernesto Neto

“But the reality is I feel like a child.  I feel like a f*cking child full of problems.”

I don’t think I could have quite grasped what artist Ernesto Neto was trying to do with his installation Nest at the Nasher until I spent an hour or so lounging with the affable Brazilian artist in the comfy confines of his net-and-bean sling-bridge. It was the environment created by the piece that seemed to elicit the deeply-felt reflections on the part of the artist.

Filmmaker Wim Wenders

“When I started to get acquainted with 3D and started to do tests, I realized . . . it was an actual new film language. Nobody really seemed to notice yet because it only came out in blockbusters and as an attraction. Nobody seemed to take it all that seriously. But I was convinced it was a whole new ballgame for filmmakers and would eventually be a huge revolution.”

When I was just out of college, German filmmaker Wim Wenders was a hero and an obsession. I tracked down everyone of his films and watched them repeatedly. When he was promoting his documentary Pina earlier this year, the 3D movie seemed the perfect opportunity to revisit some of the questions about the nature of cinema the filmmaker raised early in his career and find out how his thinking had changed through the decades.

Artist Lawrence Weiner

“That’s the whole point of making sculpture, to present a question in a physical form to people.”

I’ve never been as intimidated to interview someone as I was before meeting conceptual art giant Lawrence Weiner, who was in town for the Nasher’s Sculpture In So Many Words, Text Piece 1960-80. So I mostly just sat back and let him ruminated on art, culture, and the role of the artist.

Dallas Video Festival Founder Bart Weiss

“Back in 1988, we were talking about virtual reality. Now that sort of morphs into augmented reality. You don’t need goggles and glasses anymore, just get this iPhone app where you build materials and you are moving into virtual worlds.”

I’m hard-pressed to think of a single art or media event that happens every year in North Texas that is more inventive, stimulating, or vital to the area’s cultural cultural life than the Dallas Video Festival. To mark the festival’s 25th anniversary, I sat down with founder Bart Weiss for a in-depth exploration of the vision that keeps VideoFest ever-fresh.

Actor and comedian Will Ferrell

“If you think about it, we’ve never really had to grow up. If you want to get really philosophical about it, here we are, thirteen colonies, and whenever things started getting crazy, we could just migrate west and if you didn’t fit in, you just go west and be crazy. Well we can’t go anywhere anymore, and it is time to grow up and figure out how to be adults.”

I still think Casa de mi Padre was a tremendously underrated comedy. It represented a real career risk for Ferrell, who proved in this conversation that he is an artist whom we can continue to expect to take intelligent and calculated risks throughout his career.

Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth Curator Michael Auping

“Have you ever had sex with one of your models in this room?” Auping asked Freud.

After a pause, the artist answered: “What do you think?”

There was a curious meta-quality to my interview with Michael Auping, which was an interview about an interview the curator had with the late-painter Lucian Freud, itself one of the last the artist gave in his life. That self-consciousness seemed appropriate considering both conversations — mine with Auping, Auping’s with Freud — revolved around the idea of creating portraits, of eliciting real understanding of another person in a formal, unnatural setting.

Playwright Kim Rosenstock

“I slowly started to almost come out of the closet as a writer. I hadn’t talked about wanting to be a writer with anyone. It weirdly felt like I hadn’t earned the right.”

You can tell reading Liz Johnstone’s profile of playwright Kim Rosenstock, whose Tigers Be Still was produced by the Dallas Theater Center this year, that the two theater- and TV-obsessed women hit it off. As a result, there is a chemestry and candidness that comes through in their conversation about writing, theater, and the road to professional success.

Filmmakers Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne

“What we learned from our documentary work is that life exists and we film it. And we wanted to put that feeling in our films – to have a sense that life was happening before the camera was rolling.”

Jean-Pierre and Luc Dardenne may be my favorite living filmmakers, and The Kid With a Bike was one of my favorite films this year. So it was a thrill to dig into the Belgian brothers’ style, process, and themes during a long distance phone chat last April.

Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin

“It’d be like the Matrix and I’d be the old woman who bakes cookies. That’s who Kevin Griffin would be online in the virtual afterlife. And hanging out with Bono.”

Perhaps my favorite thing we did on FrontRow this year was to launch our new “questions with” series, in which we ask musicians and actors a random assortment of questions about a variety of topics — from politics to the after life — as a way to really get an idea of how they think about life, love, and the world. Sometimes our subjects ran with the questions, sometimes we got begrudging one line responses. But when Iris Zubair spoke with Better Than Ezra’s Kevin Griffin, the musician went all-in.