COLUMNS

  • Jack Burnham (1931–2019)

    AS THE CLOUDS of Hurricane Sandy gathered, I sped north from Virginia to Maryland en route to interview Jack Burnham, the elusive curator of the digital art exhibition “Software” (1970) and the author of the influential Artforum essay “Systems Esthetics” (1968). We had begun our correspondence months earlier, when I tracked him down to request permission to reproduce one of his alchemical diagrams for a piece I was publishing on mysticism, systems theory, and ecological art. When he returned the signed permission form, he included a diagram, a Kabbalistic tree of life mapping the circulations

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  • Bisi Silva (1962–2019)

    I FIRST MET BISI SILVA in 1995, when she joined me to organize the 1996 conference for the British chapter of the AICA and the accompanying book, Art Criticism and Africa (Saffron Books, 1997). By then, Bisi had graduated with her master’s in curating from the Royal College of Art. Throughout the 1990s, in London, she established herself as a freelance curator and critic, which was no easy task.

    We frequently discussed the many misconceptions of contemporary art from Africa as well as how people are positioned as being “from” a place when speaking “to” a rapidly internationalizing art world. Our

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  • Susan Hiller in 2006. Photo: Nanda Lanfranco.

    Susan Hiller (1940–2019)

    IN SUSAN HILLER’S EARLY VIDEO INSTALLATION An Entertainment, 1990, scaled-up images and the amplified sound of Punch and Judy performances transform popular children’s entertainment into a terrifying spectacle. Aspects of our collective culture considered unworthy of serious attention—in this case, puppet shows she watched with her young son—repeatedly formed the starting point for a wide range of innovative artworks produced over the artist’s remarkably productive five-decade career.

    Susan’s art often focused on the subconscious and the paranormal. Early experiments with automatic writing and

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  • JONAS MEKAS

    JONAS MEKAS described himself as a diarist, using this term to encompass his films and his videos, his prose and his poetry. He once told me that he was a long-distance runner; he was a sickly child and had taken up exercise to build stamina. Ninety-six years is a long run, but Jonas was so alive, so present during his last public appearances in the summer and autumn of 2018, that although his body was noticeably frail I refused to believe he would stop anytime soon. He told the writer John Leland, who had followed Jonas since 2015 for a New York Times series on New York City residents who are

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  • JONAS MEKAS

    WHEN I ARRIVED in New York City in the early 1990s, it seemed as though the most adventurous elements of film culture had either disappeared or were on their way out. The grindhouses of Times Square were undergoing Disneyfication. The Millennium Film Workshop had grown moribund, and the Collective for Living Cinema had vanished into memory. Even the punk-ass Cinema of Transgression crowd was settling down to have kids.

    Bucking all those trends was Jonas Mekas, then in his seventies, ensconced in the brick fortress of Anthology Film Archives on the corner of Second Avenue and Second Street, running

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  • David Beitzel. Photo: Patrick McMullan.

    David Beitzel (1958–2019)

    I NEARLY ALWAYS SAW David Beitzel in a dark-blue suit and tie, as if he came from the world of banking or investments. But David was no stuffed shirt. A painter turned art dealer, he had just set up his first gallery in a storefront on Greene Street when I first met him, around 1989. Only three years later he moved to the second floor of 102 Prince Street and was showing a full roster of promising and established artists. His vision for the gallery clearly developed out of his early experiences as a painter at Bennington College, where he had lived and worked largely in solitude during his MFA

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  • Joseph Jarman. Photo: Roberto Masotti / ECM Records.

    Joseph Jarman (1937–2019)

    I FIRST MET JOSEPH JARMAN in 1961 after returning to Chicago from a tour of duty with the United States Army Band in Heidelberg, Germany. The two of us became acquainted while we were both under the tutelage of Richard Wang, Lela Hanmer, and Otto Jelinek at Wilson Junior College. Our peers at Wilson at that time included Malachi Favors, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, and Jack DeJohnette.

    It made a profound impression on me to all of a sudden be surrounded by these daring musical minds, and I drew inspiration from Joseph from the moment we met. I was able to experience his revelations firsthand

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  • ROBERT MORRIS

    ROBERT MORRIS has said that his work is a form of “investigation.” During the 1960s and ’70s, the period of Minimal, post-Minimal, and Conceptual art, he devoted attention to processes of mind and body—to making, perceiving, and knowing. He sometimes turned to models from science and technology, although he explained that his efforts were born of a desire to disprove rather than prove: to push systems in ways that exposed their lies. In his critical writing, he examined new developments in sculpture with clinical precision. Later, drawing from his early work even as he appeared to reject it,

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  • ROBERT MORRIS

    OH DEAR BOB . . . your death is unacceptable. Your absence joins the current stampede of death, diminishing the continued conversations among my generation. Missing in action. I am so grateful for our wonderfully enriching history and for the configuration of friends and work that surrounds the years we shared. We were neighbors here in the Hudson Valley, and it’s wrenching to consider that we cannot anticipate more good times together.

    #pullquote The fact is that Site remains a visionary, transformative event that forever reshaped references to historic imagery.#

    I wanted you to know that taking

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  • ROBERT MORRIS

    DEAR BOB,

    I’m writing at my desk where, leaned against the wall, is one of your large “Blind Time” drawings on white paper. Left hand, then right hand with time gap, the application of graphite-covered hands very much alive. This is the same desk from which I’ve received and responded to your emails for the past five years, ever since you were asked to write something about me for the Thinking with the Body catalogue. Our emails, at first related to your task, eventually evolved into a correspondence. Now I’ve been asked to write something in remembrance of you. 

    You once told me that you felt

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  • Nicola L. in Penetrable at the Chelsea Hotel, New York, 1991. Photo: Estate of the artist.

    Nicola L. (1937–2018)

    WHEN THE POLICE INTERRUPTED her 1969 performance, The Red Coat Same Skin for Everyone, on the streets of Franco-era Barcelona, Nicola L. followed up by taking it to the stage in 1970. Gilberto Gil and Caetano Veloso had just left Brazil, fleeing political persecution, and invited her to perform with them at one of the more historic Isle of Wight festivals, where Jimi Hendrix, Joni Mitchell, and the Doors performed in front of thousands of attendees. In footage of the event, the Tropicália musicians play while a group of young people dance naked inside the coat. Nicola’s methodology was anchored

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  • Excerpt from the manuscript for November, by Dennis Johnson, 1959.

    Dennis Johnson (1938–2018)

    I WAS WALKING DOWN THE HALL on the second floor of the music building at UCLA when I heard someone playing the Webern Variations for Piano. I was surprised that anyone in the UCLA music department knew who Webern was, so I opened the door and there was this young man sitting at the piano. He turned out to be Dennis Johnson, a new transfer to UCLA from Caltech. I had learned about Webern from Leonard Stein, Schoenberg’s disciple, with whom I was studying counterpoint and composition at that time, and I encouraged Dennis to take private lessons with him as well.

    This was the beginning of a long-term

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