COLUMNS

  • Tang Song in his studio, 2021. Photo: Min Cheng.

    Tang Song (1960–2022)

    MY FIRST GLIMPSE of Tang Song was through the windshield of a car. He was perched on a rooftop high above the bamboo-covered mountains as I drove up to his lair. With his newly-shaved brown head shining in the sun and his pointed ears cutting the sky behind him, he looked like Lucifer, the fallen angel, peering down over his subjects as they finished their long journey. First impressions go a long way and Tang’s. . .well, his keeps on going. The scene seemed straight out of a James Bond film: a secret, remote headquarters where a mad villain paced the rooftop conspiring to decimate the world.

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  • Sam Gilliam in his Washington, D.C., studio, 1980. Photo: Anthony Barboza/Getty Images.

    Sam Gilliam (1933–2022)

    ALTHOUGH the more-than-a-half-century career of abstract painter Sam Gilliam was universally recognized and expansive in its reach, his studio and home were in Washington, D.C., which the art world was late to recognize as a place for innovative art and shape-shifting artists. Despite the history surrounding the genesis and development of the Washington Color School—chronicles that include such luminaries as critic Clement Greenberg and painters Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland—the reputation of the nation’s capital for nurturing leading-edge visual artists pales in comparison to cities like New

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  • An undated animation by Tom Moody.

    Tom Moody

    THERE WERE ONLY A HANDFUL OF PEOPLE who were in New York’s Net art scene of the early ’00s. It was a scene of square pegs, as everyone had come from different fields. There were dystopian cyberlibertarians, Lower East Side performance artists, West Coast cowboy hat–wearing BBS hippies, trad contemporary artists who decided to “drop out,” and, of course, Tom Moody. Tom—who looked like he stepped right out of a middle management I.M.B. office in 1976—was a polymath. Once on a studio visit to his tidy, sunny, and quite pleasant New Jersey flat in 2005, we discussed his prints, writing, music, art,

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  • Dan Graham, Performer/Audience/Mirror, 1977. Performance view, De Appel, Amsterdam, 1977. Dan Graham.

    DAN GRAHAM (1942–2022)

    I DIDN'T KNOW Dan Graham well. I met him a handful of times in the mid-2000s when I was a graduate student at Princeton University. I wanted to write my dissertation on Dan, but I was too young and too terrified to do it. Once, when I met him in his loft on New York’s Spring Street, he threw a fit because I didn’t know the work of the Japanese architect Itsuko Hasegawa. I was wet behind the ears and couldn’t find my angle—I was too sympathetic to his position, which was at once ardent, skeptical, and laced with wry humor. With Beatriz Colomina and Mark Wigley, we took an architectural tour of

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  • R. H. Quaytman, iamb, Chapter 12 (Dan Graham), 2008, silk screen and gesso on wood, 20 × 32 3⁄8".

    Dan Graham (1942–2022)

    Thinking back on my thirty-year friendship with Dan Graham, I realize, only now, that entering his orbit was a lot like stepping into one of his glass pavilions. There was an outside and an inside, with a threshold between them that was optically but not physically permeable. As anyone who knew Dan will attest, he could deploy an intense focus toward his interlocutor that made it feel like he really saw you. He was a soothsayer, a reader of the signs and markers of our common life story. He had a way of getting at your deepest fears, laying them out like a cheap country-and-western song and

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  • Lynn Umlauf with her twin sister, Madelon Umlauf, in Austin, Texas, April 1, 2016. Photo: Gwenolee Zürcher.

    Lynn Umlauf (1942–2022)

    IT TOOK A FRACTION of a second for the smile of happiness on my face to freeze and an icy chill to seize me when, beginning of February, I opened an email from the Zürcher Gallery announcing an exhibition by Lynn Umlauf. Under her name were the dates 1942–2022. Lynn had passed on February 2 in her New York home/studio on the Bowery, and I had not seen her since the damned pandemic began. Almost two years! The pang of regret is acute, still.

    Rendered all the more poignant by her absence, the exhibition brings together paintings from the ’70s and a number of small, incredibly intense, at once tender

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  • Alvin Lucier, 1986. Photo: Jack Mitchell/Getty Images.

    Alvin Lucier (1931–2021)

    ALVIN LUCIER DID THINGS QUIETLY, without fanfare. He made a piece for cello and wind, which I played outdoors at the Mimm’s Ranch amphitheater in Marfa in 2016. I sat maybe a hundred yards off from the listeners, almost out of sight, and the soft sweeping tones of the cello were to be borne back to the listeners by the soft west Texas wind. In place of any explanation or score, Alvin sent me in advance a photocopy, by mail, of the first page of Hermann Broch’s The Death of Virgil. Sounds from the shore of Brundisium, “a sound of life, a hammering or a summons,” are blown by a “soft, scarcely

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  • Etel Adnan, Turkey, ca. 1973–74. Photo: Simone Fattal.

    ETEL ADNAN (1925–2021)

    IN SHIFTING THE SILENCE (2020), her last book of poetry published in her lifetime, Etel Adnan begins with the word yes and ends, just seventy-four pages later, with an image of night falling like snow, erasing a landscape she has conjured from memory or imagination. In between, Adnan assembles a delicate inventory of the places and ideas she loved over nearly a century. Her colorful and unabashedly cosmopolitan life crisscrossed a world of upheaval—the aftermath of the Ottoman Empire’s collapse; the cruelties of French colonization; the breakdown of the state in Lebanon; wars in Algeria, Vietnam,

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  • Robert Cumming in Corona del Mar, California, c. 1975. Photo: The Robert Cumming Archive.

    Robert Cumming (1943–2021)

    YOU MIGHT THINK it would be difficult to photocopy your own obituary from a major US newspaper and mail it off to somebody. Yet Robert Cumming did just that in 2011. He sent me his 1995 obit from the Boston Globe—a quarter-page of real estate headlined “Robert Cumming, 67; Painter, Sculptor, and Art School Teacher,” with a photo of the artist giving a lecture in front of the chalk-drawn walls of his installation Blackboard Brain, a de facto three-dimensional portrait of his mind that was commissioned by the MIT List Center in 1993.

    I quickly sent him an e-mail: “Dear Robert, I was dismayed to

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  • Billy Apple (1935–2021)

    THOUGH HE WAS much else besides, Billy Apple had a convincing claim to have been the consummate artist of Pop, the one who pursued its implications so thoroughly as to have achieved escape velocity from the category altogether. His career stands as a corrective to recent attempts to internationalize Pop by multiplying local scenes across the globe. Like his peers Öyvind Fahlström, Richard Smith, Mario Schifano, and Hélio Oiticica, Apple defied parochialism by moving from his place of origin to and from London or New York, those magnets of maximum stimulus and information. At twenty-four, still

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  • Margo Leavin (1936–2021)

    IT IS A FORMIDABLE TASK to write of Margo Leavin in the past tense, as she was always a grand presence when she was still among us. Whether ensconced—along with her partner, Wendy Brandow—at the Margo Leavin Gallery at the end of Robertson Boulevard in West Hollywood or moving in art circles around the world, she was always that same Margo we all knew. A rare figure who was feared and loved, courted and consulted, competitive and generous, she was not, whether friend or foe, one to be ignored.

    So I find it difficult to believe that I can’t call her to check in on things, as friends do, to make

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  • 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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