The Process

In Which an Artist Discusses Making a Particular Work

Peter Schjeldahl’s annual Fourth of July fireworks display

This Fourth of July, on a ridgeline in remote Upstate New York, Peter Schjeldahl is going to blow stuff up. Schjeldahl is the New Yorker’s erudite longtime art critic. Never a pontificator, he’s the sort of writer who brings you in close enough to see art as he sees it. He’s also a serious pyromaniac. So every year, along with his wife, antiques dealer Brooke Alderson, he throws a party in his backyard in the town of Bovina, New York. Backyard might be too tame a word for the setting, which features a meadow, forest, stream, and mountain, all of which Schjeldahl takes into consideration as he plans his yearly display. The crowd is equal parts art-world folks and good old boys, locals from the volunteer fire department and downstaters. In contrast to the spectacle, Peter himself is shy, nebbishy, and tweedy—a poet and a stickler. And he’s great at blowing shit up. We talked just after he’d had dental surgery, and when he describes the process of wiring trees with explosives, his voice rises.

—Jennifer Kabat

THE BELIEVER: Your fireworks are majestic and terrifying. It’s like you bring them back to something essential, something I’ve never seen before in a fireworks display.

PETER SCHJELDAHL: My if-in-doubt first principle has always been to set off everything as fast as I can. One second of dead time between fireworks is an eternity. It’s evolved over twenty-five years, and the show’s coauthor is the landscape. Brooke and I are blessed with this perfect piece of land that has a natural proscenium and great depth and different zones.

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Jennifer Kabat is a cofounder of The Weeklings. She lives and writes in rural Upstate New York. Recently she received a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for her criticism. You can find her at

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