Passages

  • William Scharf (1927–2018)

    I HAVE AN IMAGE OF WILLIAM SCHARF forever etched in my memory. An image or, more accurately, a short film. Bill, his wife Sally, his son Aaron, and I are at Tybee beach outside Savannah, Georgia. It is a hot day in the summer of 1971. We’ve been romping in the waves and actively enjoying all the pleasures of the beach. Then, without saying a word, Bill plunges through a cresting wave and starts swimming directly out to sea in a line perpendicular to the shore. And he keeps swimming, with perfect strokes; regular, muscular, impressively relaxed. After a few minutes, I voice my concern to Sally,

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  • Enrico Castellani (1930–2017)

    FOR MANY YEARS the painter Enrico Castellani lived in Celleno, an isolated and extremely beautiful village north of Rome, where cell-phone service is only intermittent and the trattorias await groups from outside the city walls or the occasional wedding celebration to see new faces. Almost a hermitage, it precisely reflected his character, so secure was he about his own work that he had no need to speak about it. He might perhaps have preferred to say something about a centuries-old rose garden growing on the terraces of the half-ruined castle he inhabited, or about the fate of small bookshops

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  • Kynaston McShine (1935–2018)

    KYNASTON COULD BE A TENDER MAN of infinite jest or a fierce and intimidating personality, depending on the circumstances and the parties involved. He was ninety percent angel, ten percent devil.

    Well born in the West Indies, in Trinidad, Kynaston spoke with a distinct, posh British accent, and had the curious and occasional habit of using the royal “we.” He relished in the play of pomp and ceremony, addressing me, for example, with drawling emphasis on the first syllable of my surname: “Mister Awwwhl-den.” Sphinxlike and practiced in the arts of discretion, Kynaston cultivated airs of mystery

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  • Geng Jianyi (1962–2017)

    MELANCHOLIC WORDS ARE NOT FOR THIS OCCASION, as they seem too affected for his taste. Having started his artistic career in the mid ’80s with a series of unemotional, grave-looking oil paintings featuring faceless characters, Geng Jianyi, then a fresh graduate of Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts, produced works considered cynically humorous, reflecting scenes from daily life in an eerie yet ceremonial fashion that, to a certain extent, echoes his most notorious quadriptych painting of hysterical laughing faces, The Second State, 1987. Although he was an artist known for his insatiable curiosity in

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  • Tim Rollins (1955–2017)

    I ALWAYS THOUGHT that the work of Tim Rollins and the Kids of Survival represented a remarkable integration of artmaking, activism, education, and collaboration. Tim originally came to know those “kids” when he was a public-school teacher in the South Bronx, and his after-school program at IS 52 eventually became the Art and Knowledge Workshop, located very close to the original public school.

    I met Tim and these students in 1985, when I organized a show of their work alongside Nan Goldin’s photos from “The Ballad of Sexual Dependency” for my East Village space. It struck me that there was

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  • Linda Nochlin

    FOR THOSE OF US who knew her, there is no summing up Linda Nochlin. Where to start? With “Matisse Swan Self” (the title of the poem she wrote about a drawing of a swan Matisse made the year she was born)? With the Royal Portal of Chartres (the subject of a lecture that Adolf Katzenellenbogen gave one day to the students at Vassar, where Linda went to college, and where the Portal and the doors of art history opened for her)? Or with her recipe for meat loaf? The pink lemonade promised by the Utopian Charles Fourier? All these things mattered to her, but many other things did as well—her

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  • Linda Nochlin

    THE DEATH OF LINDA NOCHLIN, a living legend of art history and a model of intellectual courage and critical thinking across disciplines, is hard to accept, especially for those of us who knew and loved her. To come to terms with her loss, I have sketched a portrait of sorts. I do not need to visualize her—the many Lindas I have known over time are still vivid in my mind, including the version in Philip Pearlstein’s early double portrait of her (posing pensively, with a tinge of late-1960s ennui) and her late husband Dick Pommer, a painting that, hanging as it does in Linda’s living room,

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  • John Ashbery

    DECADES AGO, Harold Bloom declared that after the death of Wallace Stevens, in 1955, we entered the “age of Ashbery.” That may be one of the bolder pronouncements made by a famously bold literary critic, but there remains an undeniable truth to it, as one can encounter John Ashbery’s poems seemingly anywhere in the world—from Winnipeg to Berlin to Beijing.

    Born in 1927 in Rochester, New York, Ashbery became the most influential poet of his generation. Like his New York School confrere Frank O’Hara, Ashbery possessed a deep affinity for music, art, and film, and indeed he was arguably one of

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  • Shannon Michael Cane (1974–2017)

    THE IRONIC THING about me talking about Shannon is that one of the things that made him one of my best and most cherished friends was that, while I’m almost constantly shy and embarrassed, he absolutely was never either of those things. I depended on him to prod me, to bring me out, to take me out. I depended on him to be proud of me.

    One of my most vivid and enduring images of Shannon will be of that crazy proud look on his face, an expression that I think can only really be described as CHUFFED. I remember initially being very annoyed at this face (my Catholic upbringing, pride averse, bristled),

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  • Holly Block (1958–2017)

    I MET HOLLY IN 2009 OR 2010. I was leaving the museum with a cup of wine from a public program that I was attending, and she was coming down the steps, saying, “Excuse me, excuse me.” I thought, “Oh my gosh”: I knew who she was, and I was like, “I’m going to get in trouble. I better drink this wine really quickly.” I didn’t want to seem alcohol-ish—that happened later. So I thought, Let me just play it cool.

    She came down and said, “Who are you? You’re always here.”

    I said, “Oh, I’ve lived right next door all my life. I just quit my job, nineteen years working with a New York City agency.”

    She was

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  • David Tang (1954–2017)

    THE LANDLINE TELEPHONE was still a rare commodity and the mobile a mythological status symbol in 1991 Beijing. After a banquet dinner at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse (Beijing’s social citadel of high-level power brokers), David Tang wanted to surprise his English friends—come to see the mysteries of China shortly after the political brinksmanship of 1989—with a late-night art show. In the dark, our bevy of limousines circled the old city, trying to find the ancient gate tower where an unofficial exhibition was kept open for us. We lost contact with our guide, artist Yang Yiping of the pioneering

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  • Kate Millett (1934–2017)

    . . . and then came Kate!

    FROM MY INITIAL READING OF SEXUAL POLITICS (1970), I was a fan. I had earned my first master’s degree in literature in 1963, and no one was talking about the inherent sexism in plots, points of view, or authors’ personalities. And then came this explosive academic book, written as a Ph.D. thesis but serving as a clarion call for feminist action inside and out of the literary world.

    How did I meet Kate Millett, Renaissance artist of literature, drawing and painting, sculpture and film? When did we become friends? The answer to the first question is fuzzy. Perhaps I met

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