Madeline Gins with Arakawa. Photo: Dimitris Yeros.


“IT’S IMMORAL THAT PEOPLE HAVE TO DIE,” Madeline Gins told me when we met, in 2008. The setting was the “Lifespan Extending Villa,” a sprawling house on Long Island where floors were shaped like sand dunes; where walls were painted forty different colors; where switches and fixtures were set at odd angles and inconvenient heights. It was the latest in a series of buildings that Gins and her partner of fifty years, the Japanese-born artist Arakawa, believed would halt the aging process. “They ought to build hospitals like this,” she said during an interview. (“They should never, ever build hospitals like this,” I replied—perhaps a bit too hastily.) Gins’s efforts to explain how architecture could defeat death were tentative, and often tautological. That left plenty of gaps in the conversation, which Arakawa filled by explaining why the achievements of the world’s great scientists, artists, and explorers paled next to Arakawa’s. (He spoke about himself in the third person.) If his ego seemed monumental, Gins’s patience appeared inexhaustible. Seemingly as fragile as a butterfly, she was also the driver of a project that went on for half a century.

When Arakawa died in 2010, she lost not just her husband and partner, but her central belief: that death could be defeated. “This mortality thing is bad news,” Gins said in a moment of candor. The architecture thing could also be bad news. In 1997, Roberta Smith, reviewing a show of their work at the SoHo branch of the Guggenheim, discouraged them from building. “Theoretical follies,” she wrote, “one of the plagues of contemporary architecture, have their place, and it’s on paper.” A few years later, the owner of the Long Island house withdrew from the project. And then Bernie Madoff, whose high return on their investments made it possible for them to work full-time as poets, theoreticians, and the most conceptual of conceptual artists, turned out to be a fraud, leaving them financially hobbled. “He pulled the rug out from under us,” Gins said at the time. But they outlived Madoff, persisting in their fight to make death obsolete.

It was hard to know what they really believed. Some of their associates said their talk of killing dying was intended metaphorically; others insisted they were dead—or is it undead?—serious. Among their coterie of admirers was the architect Steven Holl, who found their writings on phenomenology persuasive. Lawrence Marek, a Manhattan architect who helped steer the Long Island house to completion, took the high road. “The house has a way of making people happy—it’s a feeling you don’t get from many buildings—and we should be studying how that happens.” He was right. The buildings the couple created induced joy, even giddiness. It’s also true that Gins and Arakawa (why not reverse the order, in her honor, just this once?) stood for something important: Architecture Against Death is a goal worth sacrificing for. Gins didn’t defeat mortality, but she had fun—and taught us a few things—by setting her sights high. “After this, Gehry, Rem Koolhaas—boring,” Gins remarked. And maybe she was right.

Fred A. Bernstein is a writer based in New York.


IF IT SEEMED like Pete Seeger, who died on January 27, 2014, at the age of ninety-four, was present and deeply involved in nearly every key cultural moment of the twentieth and early twenty-first century—a real-life Forest Gump—that is because he actually was. Yet Seeger, a lifelong progressive, and a dedicated small “c” communist, was always motivated more by the power of his beliefs than by a desire to be in step with history. He openly and early embraced radical social and political positions now considered simply liberal, held on to his principles long past their fashionable utility, recognized and apologized for the mistakes he made (primarily during his time as a capital “C” communist), and, always undeterred, kept fighting for peace, justice, and a sustainable environment till the day he died.

Throughout his life and his remarkable musical career, Pete insisted that his art serve the simple and direct purpose of communicating the joy of song and the social benefits of people singing out together to forge a better world. He sang, marched, and demonstrated in support of union workers, to protest racial and religious intolerance, to promote multiple antiwar movements, to fight for clean water and the renewed health of his beloved Hudson River, to inspire the development of sane energy policies, and to resist crony capitalism and allied forms of economic exploitation. At Occupy Wall Street, a ninety-two-year-old Pete Seeger was very much there. But mostly, he sang simple American songs. He sang because he believed it was the song, not the singer, which mattered.

Alternately celebrated and reviled, blacklisted and feted, Pete never took himself too seriously—never thought he was special or particularly deserving of privilege. He freely shared the wisdom acquired through his unwavering willingness to learn how the world was changing. When approached on the streets of Beacon—where he and his wife lived for over fifty years—or while standing on line in the hardware store or the post office, Pete always had a smile and most often found time to chat.

But for me, beyond his grandfatherly kindness was his insistence that the enduring and real value of folk music—and of all forms of art—should not be confused with its commercial value. In his gentle insistence that the song sung by a mother to her infant, or by an anonymous field worker lightening his load, is just as important as the folk music sung by professional entertainers, he fostered the recognition that art is not simply currency to be traded within the commercial marketplace, but rather a part of a conversation that links people together and forms community.

The first time I got to play with Pete Seeger, our band backed him as he sang and spoke, “Turn, Turn, Turn,” to attendees of a conference on the politics of sustainability. After he finished, my bandmates and I sang a song that Steve Earle had written in his honor—a spirited sing-a-long called “Steve’s Hammer (For Pete)” that Pete told us he had not yet heard. Even then, I knew that this would be the song I’d sing in his memory.

One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down
And I won’t have to drag this weight around
When there ain’t no hunger
And there ain’t no pain
Then I won’t have to swing this thing
One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down –
Yeah, one of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down.

One of these nights I’m gonna sing a different tune
All night long beneath the silvery moon
When the war is over and the union’s strong
Won’t sing no more angry songs
One of these nights I’m gonna sing a different tune

Someday when my struggle’s through
I won’t have to strike
Until then, all I can do
Is let my hammer fly

One of these days I’m gonna lay my hammer down
Leave my burden resting on the ground
When the air don’t choke you and the ocean’s clean
And kids don’t die for gasoline
One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down

John Henry was a might man
Worked his whole life long
When he made his hammer ring
He always sang this song

One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down
And I won’t have to drag this weight around
When there ain’t no hunger
And there ain’t no pain
Then I won’t have to swing this thing
One of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down –

Yeah, one of these days I’m gonna lay this hammer down.

David A. Ross is the former director of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Whitney Museum of American Art, New York, and the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston. He currently chairs the MFA in Art Practice at the School of Visual Arts, New York, and performs with the band RED.


IN AN ESSAY titled “Notes for the New Geology,” sci-fi novelist turned hippy philosopher Chester Anderson once wrote, “Rock is a tribal phenomenon, immune to definition and other typographical operations, and constitutes what might be called a twentieth-century magic.” But while rock indeed may have been an anti-typographical art form (in the McLuhanite sense), it certainly invented some memorable typographies all to itself. Some of rock’s most effervescent iconography was created by Gary Grimshaw, a native of Detroit whose poster art and political activism helped to define the indelible connections of both the Motor City and the Bay Area to 1960s and ’70s counterculture.

As a teenager in Detroit, Grimshaw’s closest friend was Rob Derminer, the free music freak who eventually changed his name to Rob Tyner, taking the surname of John Coltrane’s piano player McCoy in tribute, and transformed into the singer in MC5, a band whose revolutionary energy lay at the heart of the Motor City’s greatest musical output of that era. This was the world Grimshaw inhabited: a youth culture inflamed by the giant steps then being taken in out-there free jazz, offering a fiery, politically committed alternative to the more mellow, laidback psychedelia coming from the West Coast.

Before that took off, Grimshaw joined the Navy to avoid being drafted into the Vietnam-bound Army. In the mid-’60s he found himself docked in San Francisco, where he was exposed to the emerging West Coast rock music at venues like the Fillmore and Avalon Ballroom, whose poster art and liquid light shows were becoming part of the iconography of psychedelia. Returning to Detroit in 1966, he was invited to design posters and operate light shows for the newly opened Grande Ballroom. In that same year, he had a historic meeting with ex-convict John Sinclair, who would go on to manage MC5, and who founded the White Panther Party in 1968. Grimshaw was installed as the party’s Minister of Art.

Semi-formalizing the lysergically distorted lettering that artists like Rick Griffin and Victor Moscoso were developing in San Francisco, Grimshaw’s concert posters—for acts like The Doors, Jimi Hendrix, The Who, MC5 and others—were often framed in elaborate, symmetrical cartouches composed of decorative Art Nouveau elements, lotus flowers, and hash leaves. Often utilizing surreal collage and subverting nationalistic imagery such as the stars and stripes or the American eagle, Grimshaw harnessed the sprawling energies of alternative culture while also lending them a gravitas through the solidity of his designs, which were based in classical proportion, and his genius for typesetting. Undulating as if viewed through viscous liquid, his hand-drawn fonts were often so mannered as to be illegible, but the message could be decoded after the viewer had been drawn in by the initial spectacular impact of the overall image—a process not unlike the experience of listening to the most immersive psychedelic music.

Between the late ’60s and the early ’70s, he shuttled between Michigan and California, and when Sinclair was imprisoned on a drug charge in 1969, Grimshaw became one of the main agitators for his release. He held down a variety of jobs from the early ’70s onwards: creating a series of celebrated large-scale posters for the University of Michigan Activities Center, acting as art director for the Ann Arbor Blues and Jazz Festival, and working as associate art director of the influential Creem magazine until 1984. In later years he continued to design album sleeves, posters, and books, and the 2012 book of photographs he coedited with Leni Sinclair, Detroit Rocks!, is a key historical document of the city’s rock culture. And until his death at the age of sixty seven, he was still being sought out by artists such as The White Stripes, Beck, and The Raveonettes, a new generation who appreciated his incredible draftsmanship—including his ability to faithfully paint reflective chrome—and so was continuing to play a significant part in the rock underground’s magical exertions on the twentieth (and twenty-first) century.

Rob Young is a writer, editor, and music critic who currently lives in Oslo.

Amiri Baraka at SUNY Buffalo, New York, on March 10, 1988. (Photo: Allen Ginsberg Estate)


IN DEATH, Amiri Baraka is read through one of the two lenses under which Black American Culture is legible: realism and expressionism. Everything must figure, one way or another. This is significant, because it means that there is no commonly understood way of taking Baraka seriously without also taking him literally, more or less. He is denied the frame of abstraction and of the concept.

To the extent that Baraka’s writing coincides with an expression of Black Experience, or a depiction, a reflection, of Black Life, he can be praised or damned accordingly. And so he is.

What of Gertrude Stein or Tristan Tzara would have survived the harsh light of realism, of expression?

Tzara called his sounds Poemes Negres and said they were translations of poetry from Oceania and Africa. The opening of Baraka’s play Slave Ship reads like something similar: not an abstract sound but the sound of the body undergoing abstraction, the noise of it. The belly of the ship is a place of traumatic misrecognition, the stage on which humanity is continually and violently miscast as abstract objects of exchange, as commodities. The sound of the slave ship is the overture of this process, its initial, epic aggregate. For the African in America, abstraction is the orienting fact of her existence, something to be overcome, either by refusing it, or by deploying it herself.

The same year (1964) that Baraka delivered his poem “Black Dada Nihilismus” with the New York Art Quintet, he also premiered Dutchman, a play about how a young redheaded woman kills a middle-class black man on a subway train. It won an Obie. “Black Dada Nihilismus,” by contrast, has only ever been read as advocating the rape and murder of white people. Dutchman is difficult, “Black Dada” is bad. And in many ways “Black Dada” is bad. But it’s bad like poetry is bad, not like murder, or its advocacy, is. Or rather, it’s bad like Dada is bad. Bad Black Dada. Dada has limits, don’t you know?

If abstraction remains illegible in the work of the black artist, this is because black individuals remain abstract. Thus black artists stand out for their humanity not because they are inherently more human, visceral, emotive, or sexual than anyone else, but because the appearance of Black Humanity remains a revelation, an exception beyond which we seem unable to move. By reaching past expression, and past the real, to the concept, Baraka was insisting on his right as an artist to be otherwise than black, insisting, that is, on the right to see blackness from all sides at once, or not at all, as it suited him. Like the dynamite parting stone for the smooth driving highway, Baraka moved the earth that we might follow more easily and with less noise. His language was the architecture of my freedom.

Adam Pendleton is an artist based in New York.

José Esteban Muñoz. Photo courtesy the Department of Performance Studies, Tisch School of Arts, NYU.


THE WORK of José Esteban Muñoz—as a student, a teacher, a writer, and a friend—was electrified by his desire to tip the world toward something joyous in the face of intense opposition to that joy, toward a place that is more just and generous, but also more ferocious.

José’s lifelong passion was to express the utopian gesture that responds to the awfulness of things as they are. The work of balancing hope against despair ran through his writings from the earliest to the most recent, and it was a work he associated with the queer, the minoritarian, and the brown. Under his attention, those terms became not generic categories but critical passageways. Queerness, for José, named the possible but also the “not yet.” The “sense of brown” (both the title and the subject of one of his books still forthcoming from Duke University Press, and first theorized in a seminal essay on the playwright Ricardo Abreu Bracho) indicated a form of discontinuous commonality, “not knowable in advance” but actually existing as a world, in the here and now. He mined a Marxist tradition that included Althusser, Bloch, Adorno, Fredric Jameson, and Jean-Luc Nancy, and used this radical tradition to show how the affirmations in his work required negations of and deviations from the status quo.

“The challenge here,” José writes in an essay on the LA punk band The Germs, “is to look to queerness as a mode of ‘being-with’ that defies social conventions and conformism and is innately heretical yet still desirous for the world, actively attempting to enact a commons that is not a pulverizing, hierarchical one bequeathed through logics and practices of exploitation.”¹ There was something heretical about his own work in the academy, the art world, and everything betwixt and beyond them. In making a world for himself in which to flourish, he couldn’t help but build one for others too.

Born in Cuba in 1967, brought to Miami by his parents as an infant, José Muñoz was always on the move. Leaving the Cuban-America enclave of Hialeah, where his youth played out to the sound of bands like X and the Gun Club, he studied at Sarah Lawrence College, where he first read Cherríe Moraga’s Lo Que Nunca Paso por Sus Labios (Loving in the War Years, 1983), which became for him a touchstone (especially its chapter, “La Guera”). José then entered Duke University’s doctoral program in Literature, which at that time was at a high point of prestige and influence. Under the guiding love and friendship of his mentor Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, and among a precocious, brilliant cohort of fellow students, José, a rising star and only twenty-six years old, was hired to teach at NYU’s Tisch School of the Arts. He brought the “symposium of Eve” to “the broke-ass institute,” as his friend Fred Moten put it in a poem for José that appears in Moten’s 2010 collection, B Jenkins.

When he arrived in Greenwich Village in 1994, José planted himself at the center of a circle of influence that would expand over a short two decades. His home functioned as a true salon. The most ferocious personalities conspired amid stacks of comic books and philosophical treatises, surrounded by punk ephemera, the remnants of late-night sessions, toys belonging to one of his adored animal companions, piles of manuscripts, and friends’ artwork. “José had this endless stamina for socializing,” friend and dramatist Jorge Cortiñas remembers. “It was a wonderfully seamless way of engaging with art and with artists.”

José brought to the academy an archive of film, art, and performance that still astonishes readers of his first book, Disidentifications (1999). And he interpreted this archive using a sturdy theoretical apparatus that was never directed toward its own legitimation, but was instead devoted to the value of queer and minoritarian life, and to the mourning of queer and minoritarian loss. For José, experimental art, performance, and poetry were keys to “the practice of survival.” Prescient readings of the work of Félix González-Torres and Isaac Julien (attending to the forms of queer exile that shape the aesthetic practices of both) sit alongside groundbreaking writing on figures who, at the time, had received little or no critical attention. From the very beginning of his development as a thinker, he formed intense and collaborative relationships with artists. Vaginal Davis, Carmelita Tropicana, and Nao Bustamante figure heavily in his thought, and he figured heavily in their lives as an advocate, a friend, and as a critic. “José’s serious engagement with artists’ lives, practice, and work,” social theorist John Andrews observes, “has changed how many academics conceive the practice of theorizing. His work as a theorist countered the more rarefied modes of how academics and art critics use and produce theory.”

The list of other artists whose careers José supported through his advocacy, his intellect, and his friendship is vast: Wu Tsang, Justin Vivian Bond, Kenny Mellman, Marga Gomez, Tony Just, Miguel Gutierrez, Jorge Cortiñas, Michael Wang, Kevin Aviance, and Kalup Linzy to put names to some. José sought links among artists few had the capacity to imagine as part of the same world. His second book, Cruising Utopia (2009), an exciting antidote to both mainstream gay and lesbian politics as well as to the “anti-social” turn in queer theory, set LeRoi Jones’s play The Toilet in conversation with the philosophy of Ernst Bloch, the paintings of Luke Dowd alongside performances by Dynasty Handbag and My Barbarian or poetry by Frank O’Hara and Elizabeth Bishop. Some of the book’s most moving passages grow from his familiarity with a wide range of gay scenes in New York City and beyond, especially those off the white, homonormative map. Underground and experimental social spaces were as important to him as Marxist philosophy and queer theory. He encouraged people to follow him, as a thinker and happy participant, into those zones.

In José’s writing a performance, painting, photo, or literary text is not merely an “object of study” but a philosophical encounter, one that sits alongside other kinds of encounters, moments of collision and contact. For this reason, in his writing he did not lead with the information that facilitates the absorption of an artist’s work into the academy (a defense of the work’s relation to a canon, to art history narrowly imagined, to a disciplinarian articulation of “performance”). He offered instead a language that invites the artist’s work into the reader’s life, by way of his thinking. He drew other scholars into conversation about his muses, his Furies; his experiences of their work were not intended to be “his” but “shared out.”

José redefined the meaning of “academic superstar” in Warholian terms: He had a way of finding beauty in what others considered to be their own damage, recalls Jonathan Flatley, a friend and co-editor (with Jennifer Doyle) of Pop Out: Queer Warhol (1996). José quickly transformed the academy not only through his writing but through his mentorship of a generation of scholars, many of who now work at some of the country’s most dynamic and prestigious departments.

And so we met the news of José Esteban Muñoz’s death on December 3, 2013 with a collective howl. A constellation of artists, writers, curators, and scholars have spent the winter shaken by paroxysms of grief: José’s lifework as a philosopher/critic, which includes his practice of friendship, has been so integral to this community that we feel as if the very ground beneath us has disappeared.

On February 8, at a memorial gathering at NYU, Justin Vivian Bond and Kenny Mellman reprised Kiki & Herb’s rendition of “Total Eclipse of the Heart” in tribute to José. Later that afternoon, Carmelita Tropicana welcomed his friends to a Village basement bar, where filmmaker Guinevere Turner roused the crowd with a performance of her correspondence with José; the electronic duo Matmos staged a “Germ Burn for Darby Crash” in his memory; Miguel Gutierrez amplified a farewell “I love you” into a gorgeous sonic loop; Gus Stadler and Barbara Browning sang their cover of “Take Ecstasy With Me”; Kay Turner led a rousing reprise of Cruising Utopia as a punk anthem; and Nao Bustamante, wearing a nude body suit and veiled in the black cloud of a Vegas widow, planted herself face down on the stage and tore through “Lara’s Theme.” Nao peeled the skin off its lyrics (“Someday my love…”), marking out the distance between its sweet fantasy and the place we are in here and now. Then she rolled and crawled across the floor, from the front of the stage to the back of the bar.

Jennifer Doyle is a professor at the University of California, Riverside.

Tavia Nyong’o is an associate professor at New York University.

¹ José Esteban Muñoz, “ ‘Gimme Gimme This… Gimme Gimme That’: Annihilation and Innovation in the Punk Rock Commons, Social Text 31, no. 3 116 (Fall 2013), 95–110.


THERE WERE FOUR BROTHERS IN ALL, and the one later known as Run Run Shaw was the youngest. Large families were the rule in the China of the late Qing Dynasty, and the family patriarch, Shao Xingyin, undoubtedly expected his four surviving sons to follow him into the pigmentation/dyeing business he had established in Shanghai. And so most of them did, to start with, but when the eldest son, Runje (a qualified lawyer with an expanding business portfolio), bought a bankrupted theater in Shanghai in 1923, his ambitions changed direction. In 1925 Runje stopped staging plays and started producing films, and his brothers were very happy to join him in show business. They founded the film company Unique (in Chinese: Tianyi) and were soon turning out a film a month. And they’d already begun exploring the possibilities of expanding the business into Southeast Asia when six other Shanghai film companies formed a cartel in an attempt to block Unique productions from movie theaters in China. Unique managed to keep going regardless, but it was the scale of the company’s “empire” in Southeast Asia which won it pole position in the post–Pacific War market.

In the 1930s, around the time the Shao family westernized its name to Shaw, Run Run (then known as Renleng, though he soon changed his Chinese name to Shao Yifu) was busy helping his brother Runme with a burgeoning regional movie distribution and exhibition operation based in Singapore. Meanwhile, another brother, Runde, set up a similar base in Hong Kong. Long story short, Runde’s company Shaw and Sons was stagnating by the mid-1950s, and Run Run came from Singapore in 1957 with the mission of turning things around. In the event, he broke with Runde and started the new company Shaw Brothers. He built the huge studio Shaw Movie Town in Clearwater Bay, on land bought cheaply from the Hong Kong government, and launched production in 1958. Within two years, Run Run had only one rival as the leading film-biz mogul of the Chinese diaspora—and that rival (Loke Wan Tho of the Cathay Organisation) obligingly died in a plane crash, leaving Run Run a very large share of the pie for himself.

Shaw Movie Town was a dream factory on the model of a Hollywood studio of the ’30s, only more so. Everything possible was kept in-house, from set and costume storage to poster design and printing, and stars, directors, and other key contract personnel were expected to live in the staff dormitories adjacent to the shooting stages. Films were shot silent and post-synched in the studio’s dubbing suites, then released in Shaw-owned theaters in Hong Kong and across the region . . . except, of course, in communist China. Surmounting the complex was Run Run’s own villa, for a while his actual residence, containing the private screening room in which he watched (among other things) each new production. By the early-’70s, he was watching forty-plus Shaw Brothers features a year.

Leading directors in the studio had their own units (there were certain rivalries) and made pretty much whatever genre films they liked, but Run Run’s business model was inflexible: Everyone was on a fixed salary, there was no profit-sharing, and rewards for success came only in the form of celebratory banquets. Not surprisingly there were defections: Star directors Li Hanxiang and King Hu decamped to Taiwan in the mid-’60s and then, more damagingly, head of production Raymond Chow left in 1970, taking several directors and actors with him to found the rival company Golden Harvest, built on what was left of the old Cathay Organisation. Soon after, Run Run famously made a big mistake by failing to sign the former child star Bruce Lee; he offered him the standard Shaw contract (a long-term commitment for minimal wages) and so Lee went to the upstart Golden Harvest instead. Run Run responded by increasing production of kung-fu movies—and then by diverting his energies to commercial television. His station TVB was (and remains) the most successful broadcaster in Hong Kong.

I met Run Run face-to-face only once, in the early ’90s, when I nervously had to ask if he would let me screen some Shaw Brothers classics in a survey of Hong Kong cinema at London’s National Film Theatre. He was Sir Run Run by then, knighted for his charitable donations and perhaps also for endowing the British Academy of Film and Television Arts with the luxury auditorium which bears his name. He spoke nearly accentless English, but had a distinctly un-British directness about money. How much, he wanted to know, was the National Film Theatre proposing to pay for the screenings? My explanation that other producers were supplying films without charge didn’t impress him, but he did eventually let us have four titles for free. Most likely someone in the Hong Kong government had a word.

Run Run certainly wasn’t embarrassed about dirtying his hands with lucre, but even before he gave control of the film side of his business to his last wife—Mona Fong, a former nightclub chanteuse—he was a hands-off producer. Some directors complained that he vetoed their pet projects, but when he gave a film the green light he didn’t interfere. The evidence suggests that he never thought reshoots or reedits were worth the time or money, either. Maybe that’s why, despite the profits-first mentality, Shaw Brothers produced so many memorable films. Run Run himself will be remembered as a grand old man of Hong Kong cinema, attending social functions with a starlet on either arm. But Shaw Brothers—its logo brazenly copied from the Warner Brothers trademark—gave us as many indelible images as any Hollywood major, from Zhang Che’s crypto-gay martyrdoms in martial arts movies to the lilting songs of cross-dressed sweethearts in The Love Eterne (1963). Run Run’s empire laid the foundations for modern Chinese pop culture.

Tony Rayns is a London-based freelance filmmaker, critic, and festival programmer.


“Ontology is the study of what it means to be something. But knowing whether something is art belongs to epistemology—the theory of knowledge.”Arthur Danto

ARTHUR DANTO, who departed us on October 25, 2013, was the greatest philosopher of art of our time. Faced with the immense range of artistic practices that define our historical moment, it is all too easy to surrender to a pluralistic, “anything goes” approach. But Danto was able to apply his deep, encyclopedic knowledge of history and philosophy directly to the art world in unprecedented ways, and in doing so he illuminated multiple dimensions of our contemporary field.

In his final book, What Art Is (2013), Danto wrote, “The issue of what art is has become a very different matter than it has in any previous moment in history.” Today, we casually take the idea of the art world (which, it should be mentioned, Danto himself invented) for granted, but Danto reminded us that art has occupied radically different places in other cultures and epochs: Plato, for example, “drew a map of human knowledge placing art at the lowest level—with reflections, shadows, dreams, and illusions.” Plato put Greek art there because it was mimetic, as was Greek architecture, in a certain way. But Danto made this historical comparison not so much to explore Greek aesthetics as to illustrate his idea that “art is an open concept,” as he put it in his discussion of Morris Weitz’s classic 1956 essay “The Role of Theory in Aesthetics.”

The philosophical equivalent of this open-minded approach is embodied in the works of Ludwig Wittgenstein, a philosopher I have always been particularly fascinated by because of his famous excursion into architecture through his involvement in the design of his own house. When I was commissioned to design a new space for the New York University Department of Philosophy in 2004, I was inspired by Wittgenstein’s text Remarks on Colour (1977). And indeed, when Danto honored me with his critique of my project in Artforum—one of the greatest moments of my career—he closed his text with a reflection on Wittgenstein.

“Holl told me that he wanted to inscribe the two exterior door handles with some words by Merleau-Ponty and Wittgenstein, but that the NYU philosophers were unable to agree on which words. In the end the handles are eloquently, rather than merely, blank. As Wittgenstein famously said, ‘Whereof one cannot speak, thereof one must be silent.’ The central concerns of philosophy lie outside the realm of the sayable.”

Today, as the art of our time mirrors the state of our increasingly interconnected and complicated globe, Danto’s rigorous philosophical questioning is more important than ever. And so we must hope that his brilliant mind, his engaging voice, his contagious curiosity, and his profound joy in thought will continue to serve as an inspiration for future generations.

Steven Holl is an architect based in New York and Beijing.

Arthur Danto in New Mexico in June 1999.


AFTER READING Arthur’s “The Transfiguration of the Commonplace” (1974) on the recommendation of the poet, Ann Lauterbach, I went to a talk he gave in 1984 in the library of the New York Studio School on West Eighth Street. That night, hearing his thesis about “the end of art” for the first time, I initially mistook it for an extension of the death of painting arguments I had heard in my years in New York. I thought that I was again being told that what I wanted to do as a painter was impossible because of art history. I remember so clearly the wonderful moment when I realized that instead, this time, Arthur’s argument gave me freedom. He was focused on the human interaction with art. I could do what I wanted.

When looking at art with someone else, the way the work appears and what it means actually changes. It’s as if one sees the art through someone else’s eyes and mind as well as one’s own. This is why it is so much fun to go with a friend to see an exhibition or visit a museum. Arthur was my favorite companion on such trips.

He was fearless. Arthur followed his thinking wherever it led. And while looking at art with him, I was drawn along into this brave territory.

In 2003, I attended a conference about Arthur’s writing at Columbia University. The night before, during the celebratory dinner, I saw the genuine respect and warmth with which he was treated by his philosopher colleagues. Not knowing the etiquette of such events, I was shocked the next morning when these same colleagues viciously attacked Arthur’s ideas in their presentations from the podium. I didn’t know that for philosophers such attacks are a form of respect. Arthur, delighted and smiling, leaned over and whispered in my ear: “He’s really trying to eviscerate me!” Along with Arthur’s other artist friends, I sat in a protective circle around him, but he didn’t need us. After each paper he stood up and replied extemporaneously, unbloodied and unrepentant to what he called their “bouquets of jabs and slashes.”

One of our last trips together to view art was on a Monday in 2006 at the Metropolitan Museum, and was arranged by Faith Pleasanton, a friend who works there. We went to see the exhibition of the great French Romantic painter Anne-Louis Girodet. Arthur had written about a painting of Girodet’s, The Sleep of Endymion, 1791, in relation to my work, and we ended up talking about the strangeness of the light in Girodet’s paintings in relation to the light in my “bedroom paintings.” Speaking, as we often did, of various possibilities of “expanded painting,” I told Arthur about a special series of gates by Christo and Jeanne-Claude, which the previous year had run through Central Park to a locked door at the back of the Met. And we must have spoken of Warhol, because we always spoke about Andy.

As I prepared to write these paragraphs, reading over old emails to and from Arthur and notes from his talks and panels, I could barely stand to go on. It really hit me how much I have lost now that our dialogue is over. We have his writing and our memories. But there are a lot of exhibitions that I would like to see together with Arthur this weekend.

David Reed is an artist based in New York.