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Edit deAk (1950–2017)

Art critic Edit deAk has died. Doyenne of a downtown New York art world that was the playground for many a nascent movement and ideology—punk, Pictures, New Wave, No Wave, and postmodernism—DeAk wrote for Artforum, Interview, ZG, and Art Random, among other publications. She was also, perhaps most famously, the cofounder—with artist-critic Walter Robinson and writer Joshua Cohn—of Art-Rite, an art periodical published from 1973 to 1978. Artists such as Alan Vega (of the band Suicide), Dorothea Rockburne, Vito Acconci, Joseph Beuys, Pat Steir, and Rosemary Mayer designed covers for the paper.

David Frankel had a conversation with deAk and Robinson about their journal for the January 2003 issue of Artforum. What made Art-Rite so unique, said deAk, was its “whole new tone and attitude. It was unheard of to have a sense of humor at the time, or not to be talking about ‘the problem’ of art—the problem of this, the problem of that. A few years later the punk magazines came along, and I realized that’s what I’d wanted—I loved those fanzines. That’s not what we were, we were much more formalist, but we were a very different sound than what was around us.”

Though deAk’s intellectual and aesthetic tastes were catholic (she wrote on everyone from Dennis Oppenheim to Hanne Darboven, John Ahearn to Rammellzee) she was suspicious of academic jargon and obscurantism. She once referred to theory as “terminological pollution” and its proponents as “semiotician types” who “intimidate through applying more expensive designer labels” to art. Scott Rothkopf cited these comments in a piece on her and the poet-critic Rene Ricard for the March 2003 issue of Artforum. In his text, Rothkopf said that the influence of a writer like deAk “fit[s] squarely in a freewheeling critical lineage that extends backward toward critics like Gene Swenson and Gregory Battcock and forward toward authors as diverse as Bruce Hainley, Charlie Finch, and Dave Hickey.”