COLUMNS

  • Louise Fishman in her studio, New York, April 2016. Photo: Christian Hogstedt/Art Partner Licensing.

    UNSTRAIGHT LINES

    “It is unstraight lines, or many straight and curved lines together, that are eloquent to the touch. They appear and disappear, are now deep, now shallow, now broken off or lengthened or swelling. They rise and sink beneath my fingers, they are full of sudden starts and pauses, and their variety is inexhaustible and wonderful.” . . . The author is a blind woman, Helen Keller. Her sensitiveness shames us whose open eyes fail to grasp these qualities of form.

    —Meyer Schapiro, “On the Humanity of Abstract Painting,” 1960

    THERE WAS AN EMAIL in my inbox on July 26 from Louise Fishman’s wife, Ingrid

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  • Christian Boltanski, Grand Palais des Champs-Élysées, Paris, 2010. Photo: Didier Plowy.

    CHRISTIAN BOLTANSKI (1944–2021)

    IT WAS SNOWING SO HEAVILY that winter afternoon in Moscow that Christian Boltanski and I had trouble finding our way back to the Lenin Museum. This was in 2005. We were in town for the first installment of the Moscow Biennial, which took place in dusty old buildings near Red Square. Visibility was limited to a few feet. Dressed in black, as always, the artist looked like a dark shadow in front of me. Occasionally he disappeared into the white void.

    There he is. Now he’s gone. That image was the first thing that came to mind when I heard this past July that Boltanski had died at the age of

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  • Kaari Upson, San Bernardino, CA, 2016. Photo: Michael Benevento.

    KAARI UPSON (1970–2021)

    I DON’T KNOW if Kaari Upson believed in an afterlife—I never thought to ask—but I know she believed in doubled selves, twinned spaces, and the cosmic undersides they might promise, the profusion of near, almost realities. I know that for Kaari every house had its dream equivalent, a swimming reflection. Kaari loved tract houses, their audacious, abundant banality; I would go so far as to say that she operated under a tract-house theory of the universe. Our earthly realm might be a single house in a long line of houses, rows of identical building plans, identical rooms filled with nothing but

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  • Jemeel Moondoc at the Sons d'Hiver Festival in Arcueil, France, 2016. Photo: Paul Charbit/Gamma-Rapho via Getty Images.

    Jemeel Moondoc (1946–2021)

    “EVERYTHING ENTERS INTO THIS MUSIC,” the saxophonist Jemeel Moondoc once observed. “It could be anywhere or anything, everything enters into the music.” A self-proclaimed “melodic storyteller,” Moondoc, who died in August a few weeks after his seventy-sixth birthday, was a font of prodigious invention, his nearly fifty-year career in free jazz one of the music’s lasting, though little-known, achievements.

    Born in Chicago in 1946, Moondoc’s surname derived from his great-great-grandfather, the original “moondoctor” who sang, danced, and sold cures in “moonshine medicine shows” at the turn of the

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  • Janet Malcolm, New York, 1981. Photo: Nancy Crampton.

    JANET MALCOLM (1934–2021)

    ABOUT TWENTY-FIVE YEARS AGO Janet Malcolm published a profile of me in the New Yorker that became something of a touchstone of art journalism. It served as the title essay of one of her collections, and has been reprinted several times. I’m told it’s often assigned in classes on art writing, on the assumption that it sheds some light on that murky enterprise.

    It’s uncommon for the subject of a profile to warmly remember the profiler, and my friendship with Janet struck some people as odd. For some, it would be hard, or so they imagined, to get past the discomforts of so much self-exposure, and

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  • Peter Rehberg, 2020. Photo: Kali Malone.

    Peter Rehberg (1968–2021)

    IN 1995, I received a fax from Peter Rehberg stating that Mego, the label he co-ran, wanted to work with me. It was the start of a twenty-six-year relationship that ended with the album I released this year. To reflect on the late artist, who performed as Pita, one might start with his work there. Mego’s first release, General Magic and Pita’s 1995 “Fridge Trax,” is a twelve-inch record that features four pieces constructed using recordings of refrigerators. For decades of avant-gardists, utilizing found sounds evoked musique concrète, but in nonacademic electronic music, at the intersection of

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  • A candlelight vigil for Danish Siddiqui, who was killed in Afghanistan during clashes between Afghan and Taliban forces. Photo: Muzamil Mattoo/Getty Images.

    Danish Siddiqui (1983–2021)

    THIS APRIL, Danish Siddiqui flew a drone over New Delhi’s Seemapuri neighborhood. A second wave of Covid-19 was sweeping through India, and the capital had emerged as the epicenter. At first, the available information was sparse, the scale of devastation unknown. This was until Siddiqui’s drone footage flashed across social media, showing hundreds of makeshift pyres burning in an empty plot of land. Later, when the central government denied—in parliament and court—that the country was facing a lethal shortage of oxygen, Siddiqui’s photographs from hospital wings and parking lots demonstrated

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  • Denzil Hurley, 2013. Photo: Zhi Lin.

    Denzil Hurley (1949–2021)

    TWO YEARS AGO, at the Milton Resnick/ Pat Pasloff Foundation, I mounted a group show of work by abstract painters who were generally below the art world’s radar but who’d caught my eye and about whom I thought frequently. They had awakened something in me that wouldn’t let go. Borrowed from a Broadway musical about Annie Oakley, the title was “Doing What Comes Naturally.” It was intended to bait critics because I am of the firm conviction that art is by definition artificial and therefore unnatural, making me skeptical of the assertion that what seems compelling in a given artist’s work is that

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  • From left to right: Carl, Jennifer, Susan Shultz, Kathleen Stewart, and Lauren Berlant.

    Lauren Berlant (1957–2021)

    LAUREN SHOULDERED THE WORLD.

    All she ever wanted was company in that. 

    In the end, she said it was work that killed her. 

    Her truth, hard-won, was a searing empathy for all human fuck ups.

    She insisted on that with the bare ferocity of a seer. 

    She learned she had an inhabitable endurance. Fuck leiomyosarcoma. 

    She got realer and realer as a sentient mind, an infrastructure of imperatives and spinning potentials.

    She got wide open and ready for it.

    She was writing her “poison poems” with a new frankness honed to a point. “At the same time as my friends grow all emotions and abstractions, I sit in the

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  • Frederic Rzewski. Photo: Michael Wilson.

    Frederic Rzewski (1938–2021)

    “MUSIC PROBABLY CANNOT CHANGE THE WORLD,” wrote composer Frederic Rzewski. “But it is a good idea to act as if it could.” Born to parents of Polish descent in Westfield, Massachusetts, he studied music in a series of elite institutions, from the Phillips Academy to Harvard and Princeton. Attending the Darmstadt Summer School in 1956, Rzewski was exposed to serial composition, as well as the more anarchic work of composer-performers John Cage, David Tudor, and Christian Wolff. Studying with Luigi Dallapicolla in Italy (1960–61) and Elliott Carter in Berlin (1963–65), he established an early

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  • Judith Godwin at the opening of her solo exhibition “Judith Godwin: An Act of Freedom” at Berry Campbell, New York, 2019. Photo: George Sierzputowski.

    Judith Godwin (1930–2021)

    WHEN THE ARTIST Judith Godwin died on May 29 in her ninety-second year, the art world lost the last living member of a generation of women Abstract Expressionists, a group of artists largely overlooked in favor of their male peers. I lost a dear friend. 

    My connection with Judith came about through our mutual friend Julie Lawson, a London art-world personality and assistant to Sir Roland Penrose, one of the founders of the city’s Institute of Contemporary Arts. Years later, when I was living in New York, Julie introduced me to Judith, who struck me as a delightful and irreverent Southern lady.

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  • Barry Le Va, Minneapolis Institute of Art, 1968.

    Barry Le Va (1941–2021)

    BARRY LE VA came into my life in fall 2002, my first semester of grad school, when I chose a large drawing by him as the subject for my lengthy final paper in Bruce Hainley’s art-criticism seminar. The drawing in question had been recently acquired by the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, where it hung alongside works by On Kawara, Adrian Piper, Ree Morton, and Lecia Dole-Recio. I remember this because I had never spent so much time looking at a single work in a museum. Its title—Separates: Centers, Sections, and Segments: Joined and Overlaid, Separated and Exchanged in Place 1974—was

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