Passages

  • Josip Vaništa (1924–2018)

    IN 1959, a group of artists, critics, curators, and historians founded the group Gorgona, a clandestine association of like-minded creators who began sending transmissions into the world—most famously in the form of an antimagazine of the same name—until 1966, when the group formally disbanded. The driving force and intellectual motor of Gorgona was the artist Josip Vaništa, who had studied and taught architectural drawing since the early 1950s, though he never practiced the discipline himself.

    If Gorgona was, in essence, an attitude, a rumor, and an invocation, Vaništa was the keeper of the

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  • Helen Mayer Harrison (1927–2018)

    HELEN MAYER AND NEWTON HARRISON, often referred to simply as “the Harrisons,” became known for their ecological systems art, which first emerged in the early ’70s. Helen is no more on this earth she loved, but we can imagine her serenity at contributing to its energies on another level. In her own words in a recent catalogue, she relates how her art career began: “I, Helen, began to invest myself in the earth that Newton had made.” But we are not obliged to take such a modest statement literally; we can leverage it by listening to the sharp wit and lively voice in scores of online interviews

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  • Mark E. Smith

    YOU CAN TELL how a trombone sounds by looking at its shape—just as you could see, in the scowl and bitter rictus of Mark E. Smith, the slashing vocal intensity that came pouring out of that face. Years of listening have nailed his words into my head: brittle consonants and yowled vowels, a spray of polysyllabic elocution cut abruptly short by something funny, something wounding, and thus moving, bristling, ragged with need.

    THERE IS NO CULTURE IS MY BRAG.
    MANACLED TO THE CITY! MANACLED TO THE CITY!
    LEAVE THE CAPITOL. EXIT THIS ROMAN SHELL!
    PARALLAX! ONE OF THE MILLENNIUM OF CONSPIRACY.
    TOO
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  • James Luna (1950–2018)

    I FIRST MET JAMES LUNA in 2005, when he was selected as the first sponsored artist for the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian at the Venice Biennale’s Fifty-First International Art Exhibition. Luna performed and installed Emendatio (a Latin word meaning “correction”) and dedicated it to Pablo Tac, a member of the Luiseño tribal community who in 1834 was brought from Mission San Luis Rey, located in Southern California, to Rome to study for the priesthood. For the performance, Luna constructed a circle of stones, sugar packets, Spam, and medical syringes and vials. He then danced

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  • Judy Blame (1960–2018)

    SHIT.

    Judy Blame is dead.

    Blame was the best jeweler of the punk era.

    Some of his jewelry was shit.

    There’s a photo I love: Blame in a Blame, a necklace made of shit, a bib necklace featuring fake turds cascading down his chest.

    This is what fashion calls a statement piece. What was the statement? That fashion is shit? That shit is fashion?

    Who would say such a thing?

    Le Shit?

    The Shit?

    What was that necklace called?

    Fake shit is funny. It doesn’t look like shit. It looks like something that’s trying to look like shit.

    Judy Blame’s necklace wasn’t jewelry. It was something that looked like joke jewelry.

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  • Robert Pincus-Witten (1935–2018)

    October 12, 1981, New York, East Village.

    ROBERT PINCUS-WITTEN ARRIVED LATE in the afternoon. We had tea. On the phone, I'd briefly explained my new portrait series, “Art Critics.” Robert said that he would “be honored, depending on who else was included.” In the kitchen we reviewed my list. “Edit deAk was yesterday, and Rosalind Krauss and Dore Ashton are scheduled for tomorrow,” I said. “She has a mean mouth,” said Robert. “Dore or Rosalind?” I asked. “You'll see,” he said, with a smile.

    We discussed Andy Warhol and then young artists I'd been photographing: Schnabel, Sherman, Simmons, Hammons.

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  • Tim Rollins (1955–2017)

    AFTER TIM DIED, I incessantly watched videos of him conducting workshops and giving his remarkable preaching-and-teaching talks. Quick to coin a potent phrase, Tim’s audacity was intelligent and strategic. “Do you want to make history?” he’d yell at a group of students. Locking eyes with a possible Kids of Survival—or K.O.S.—recruit, he’d solemnly ask, “Do you believe in love at first sight?” The room came alive when Tim spoke. Don’t take my word for it. See for yourself. He was on fire his entire life.

    Tim was uncannily self-possessed—purposeful from an early age. He delivered

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  • 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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