Tim Rollins and K.O.S., 1988. Photo: Studio K.O.S. and Lehmann Maupin, New York and Hong Kong.

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 resonance in comparing the relationship of Nan and her subjects with that of Tim and the kids of the workshop—I thought it was, simply, a show about connection.

In 1986, Tim + K.O.S. had their first solo show in my Tenth Street space, and our relationship truly began. It was, in many ways, extraordinary—over the years, we traveled together to exhibitions in Basel, London, Venice, Minneapolis, Los Angeles, and Chicago.

Tim + K.O.S. often painted on book pages laid down on canvas, which was at once a perfect formal and pedagogical device. The grid provided a satisfying initial framework, and the relationship of the imagery to the illuminated text was complex—Tim always led his young collaborators away from illustration toward something more deeply felt and abstract.

The printed text itself worked well with the painted imagery; words from Moby-Dick were delicately obscured and revealed, by turns, behind white paint. The lines from Kafka’s Amerika were offset by convoluted golden horns. And the text of The Scarlet Letter was reiterated by elaborate watercolor calligraphy.

Their political caricatures of Animal Farm told truth to power in a clear, emphatic way. A Jesse Helms painting was a cri de coeur that is, sadly, as relevant today as it was then.

Although the imagery of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. became increasingly abstract over the years, I can’t help but remember the more brutal, powerful tableaux made in their earliest days—the bricks painted to resemble burning buildings of the South Bronx, and the bold, cartoonlike drawing style characterizing Frankenstein and Dracula, both 1983. That work blew me away when I first met Tim and Nelson and George and Brenda and Richie—and so many other Workshop members. It still does.

Currently a director at Paula Cooper Gallery, Jay Gorney founded Jay Gorney Modern Art in 1985.

Shannon Michael Cane, 2017. Photo: Matt Connors

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), but I soon came to understand that what Shannon was most often so proud of were the accomplishments of his friends, the things he had discovered, the people he had connected, the art, the objects, the books, the relationships, and collaborations that he had delivered to the world. He was proud of the hand he so often had in manifesting situations that could make other people proud. To me, this is an amazing thing. It is so incredibly rare.

Another reason that we bonded so quickly was that Shannon and I both spent our youths working at suburban record stores, and it was there that I’m sure we would both locate our earliest and most important access to art and culture, rather than at galleries or museums. The record-store counter was a kind of model that Shannon maintained and the one that he so deftly reinvigorated for all of us. He had a dedicated belief in the joy that comes from emphatically sharing tastes and loves and discoveries with friends and strangers alike—often by virtue of Shannon’s excitement and generosity, these strangers instantly transformed into friends. It was this model that Shannon brought to his world, and it was another thing that he was proud to maintain and even to defend.

I’ve lived in New York City since 1994. I left town in 2004 (after working a few more record-store jobs), fleeing what felt like the evaporation of any accessible underground (or even fun, really) in the environment of the post-9/11 boom. I remember coming back after the crash in 2008, visiting Shannon at Printed Matter and going dancing with him downtown at Vandam’s. I felt a change in the air. Things felt messy again; things felt fun again. I quickly moved back. It was shortly thereafter that Shannon’s tenure as curator of the Art Book Fairs began, and this spark of energy seemed to actually ignite. I will never, ever forget the feeling at the first few New York and LA Art Book fairs under the leadership of Shannon and his partner in crime, Jordan Nassar. The exuberance and actual joy in the air felt distinctly new, it was almost palpable, almost sexual (well—actually sexual for Shannon). I sensed all of this most acutely in Los Angeles, a cultural landscape that had been so thirsty for exactly this kind of communion—I felt and heard the town actually physically rejoicing for this access to a real-life meeting place where people could meet and exchange ideas.

I feel strongly that this had a very real trickle-down effect, that it expanded the boundaries of what is celebrated in the art world and by culture at large. Models seem to have been nudged to the left of the traditional forms and structures—there are independent bookstores that turn into de facto galleries and then turn back into bookstores. There are new record stores opening. There are once again small, artist-run galleries popping up in unlikely places; there are book fairs literally everywhere. Networks of elective affinities are constantly materializing, offscreen, on the ground, in unlikely, but actual places. This is a city I would not want to leave, one that I want to stay tuned to. Miraculously, this particular iteration of New York and of the world that we are standing in today, despite so much that works against us, has much more room for the types of collaboration, expansion, connection, creation, and love that are not directly tied to big money or the market but that instead lead directly back to that record-store-counter ethos and that enthusiastic guy playing you his favorite new song. 

Another friend of ours died suddenly about a month ago. I remember calling Shannon to tell him the news; it was one of the first times I’d ever had to do such a thing. I remember asking him to sit down before I told him. As we were mourning our friend, I had such a clear visual image in my head, of a group of friends walking through the streets, as Shannon and I often did, and one of them suddenly being held back for some reason, like he was stuck at a turnstile while the other friends had to keep on walking.

When Shannon died, it felt more like time had stopped. What I will try to keep clear in my head is a different moment when time felt like it had stopped, one of my most beautiful memories of being with Shannon, a halting of time that was more about happiness, peace, and connection, and one that stands like a cipher for his whole way of being in the world. Many times over the past ten years, and as recently as the end of last summer, with the help of Shannon’s aforementioned prodding, I found myself alone in the middle of a crowd with him, inside a laser-filled cloud billowing out of a dance-floor smoke machine, tethered together by his brightest of smiles, and tangible love.

Matt Connors is an artist who lives and works in New York.

Holly Block. Photo: Peter Serling.

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 like, “OK, OK, here’s my card, call me.” I thought she wanted to hear about me, so I went back every day to look for her. Her assistant back then was Lauren Click. I hounded Lauren every day: “Is she there? Is she there?”

So, finally, I got to meet with Holly, and she said to me: “So you’ve been living next door all your life?” I said, “yes,” and she said, “I want you to bring the community in the museum.” I said, “OK.” And she said, “Bye-bye.”

I left, and then I started getting calls from Lynn Pono, who worked for the museum. I would get a box of fliers, and she would say to me, “Go give out these fliers.” And I would say to her, “It’s forty-seven degrees.” And then I thought of Holly, so I shivered in the subways, and I g-g-g-gave out those cards, and I did it in blizzards, in the snow, in the rain, in the heat, in the humidity, until one day an employee came up to me and said, “Our attendance has gone up 44 percent.” And then Holly said, “Now we’re going to create a community advisory council.” Which I can still say goes strong today. Holly began to send me places because she couldn’t make it, and I would get paid to go to Carnegie Hall, to a concert. I would get paid to go to the Apollo, to Lincoln Center, to Ballet Hispánico. I used to brag to all my friends—I wouldn’t be a teacher for anything in the world right now, because I was getting my experience.

Holly took me to Albany with her this one time, and I thought I would be nice and get a big hoagie sandwich for the two of us and split it, so I ripped the sandwich apart in Albany. I said, “Here’s your half.” She was like, “What is that?” I said, “It’s salami, turkey, provolone.” She said, “I am NOT eating that.” So she watched me just devour it, and she just said, “You cannot eat like that.”

There were some times at the museum I would come up with an idea, and I would be told, “It’s not in the mission of where we’re going.” And I would get upset, and I would go to Holly, and Holly would say, “Just do it—just do it.” And the person who told me no would come back to me and say, “You didn’t have to go to Holly.”

“Yes, I did, because you told me no.”

Because of Holly, I got to go to all of these different places.
So I said to her, “You need to film everything that’s happening at the museum.” You know what she told me? “Go get a television show.” So I did, I’m on my third show right now. And it’s called UPTOWN NYC, and I’m plugging it, because Holly always told me, “Do what you gotta do now, you know, plug yourself, do what you have to do.” I remember I said to Holly (and I’m fifty-one), “You’re right behind my mother in the women I admire.” And I don’t know if she understood, because when I told her that, she was like, “I’m only fifty-five.”

And you know, it’s just—thank you.

The founder and a member of the Bronx Museum of the Arts Community Advisory Council, Miriam D. Tabb is also the television host of UPTOWN NYC, which will be airing on public-access television in New York City in 2018.

David Tang. Photo: Victoria Birkinshaw.

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 Stars Group, and everyone eventually gave up the chase. Everyone, that is, except David and me.

Perseverance paid off, and we finally found our destination. Yang was waiting at the dimly lit entrance, the old wooden stairs leading up the city wall and into the centuries-old gate tower. History held its breath. We ascended under swaying light bulbs, emerging into a hall lined with freshly made paintings: purportedly illicit art. David was elated and inspected the show as if the works had been made for his eyes alone, then stepped out onto the old wall to contemplate the vastness of dark Beijing, lit only by the moon. “How magical. A pity the others didn’t get to see this.”

This was the first time David came with me to China. Eventually, he reinterpreted the magic of that evening’s discovery for his international friends—using his own inimitable creativity and sense of fun—when he designed the China Club, which opened in Hong Kong in September 1991. His translation of our wonder at witnessing the dawn of a new cultural era was perfect. The China Club of the 1990s was the epicenter of international diplomats and politicians, jet-setters and business tycoons, all converging in Hong Kong to experience, close-up, the incredible transformation of China that was taking the world by surprise. The years leading up to the Hong Kong handover in 1997 were particularly exhilarating, and David, being the larger-than-life figure that he was, built the ideal stage on which the country’s metamorphosis could be displayed.

He had impeccable taste, tinged with a twist of naughtiness. He picked a Zeng Fanzhi portrait for the similarity of its subject’s pose to that of one adopted by Prince Charles, and when Princess Diana eventually visited the club, David amused himself by nudging her to ask, “Guess who?” He tried to commission Yu Youhan, the pop painter of Chairman Mao images, to make one of nationalist Generalissimo Chiang Kai-shek, to complete his gallery of Chinese leaders. But Yu was intimidated by the political ramifications of making such an image and instead produced one of Dr. Sun Yat-sen, the father of the republic and a figure recognized by both the nationalists and the Communists.

David was a true connoisseur, not bound by any conventions. No other collector at the time would have lined the foyer and stairwell of his club with beaux-arts-style oil paintings by Chinese academic artists when it was the Pop- and Cynical Rogue–style paintings he installed upstairs that were in vogue. But he had the correct intuition: All these artists, despite their various approaches, were contemporaries at the academies, and by bringing together their opposed works, he gave a full picture of China’s art scene. Likewise prescient was his pioneering display at his Long March Bar of art from the Cultural Revolution. It was a bold visual proclamation of the era that created China’s most radical cultural change.

David was not only passionate about art; he personally engaged with artists he liked. Taiwanese sculptor Ju Ming’s first European exhibition, inaugurating the Queen’s Walk at South Bank Center in November 1991, was a show David made possible by bending the ears of Sir Ronnie Grierson, chairman of South Bank Center at the time, and charming financial backing out of our old friend T. T. Tsui.

But no feat was as memorable to me as his support for my curatorial engagement with the 1995 Venice Biennale, the year Gérard Régnier was artistic director. Artists Zhang Xiaogang and Liu Wei were included in the centenary exhibition, the first moment Chinese artists broke into such a significant historical event in the West, and David, with his natural generosity and schoolboy’s sense of fun, suggested we stage something dramatic. He managed to persuade Diana to come to Venice as our special guest, to honor the Chinese artists. Everything went as planned until Diana’s publicity manager previewed the show and was alarmed by the explicit sexuality in Liu’s work. He feared a photograph of her with the paintings might cause a scandal. So David, with his usual quick thinking, revised Diana’s path so that she narrowly avoided Liu’s paintings.

David’s generosity was legendary. It was a natural expression of his love of friends as well as his sense of noblesse oblige. The charities he supported were legion, many inspired by the pain he saw in people close to him. His dedication to fighting Down syndrome, for example, was motivated by the plight of the son of his driver. If there is anything David could be faulted for, it would be his excessive concern with his friends’ well-being. When Hazel and I got married and traveled to London and Venice for our honeymoon, David was so enthusiastic that he not only threw jolly parties for us but also insisted on joining for the Venice leg of our trip, showing a camaraderie that was much appreciated even though it made for an unusual nuptial celebration.

Remembering David is painful at this time, when one wishes he were still here. But he is still very much alive for those who were drawn into his universe, and each is comforted by memories of personal engagement and adventure. But surely no memories have been as well articulated as those David himself penned. A true cosmopolitan and classic literatus, David was never short of a well-turned phrase to give shape to an unorthodox insight. If he had lived to a ripe old age and composed a memoir, it would unquestionably have been a most delightful, enviable tome. Alas, perhaps this would have been too conventional a literary form to expect of David: He loved living in the moment, and his expression of these fleeting experiences through voluminous correspondences and regular published columns defy the classic form of a monograph, which presupposes closure. David was the genius of the open book.

Johnson Chang

Johnson Chang is the founder and director of Hanart TZ Gallery in Hong Kong.

Kate Millett with her sculpture Kitchen Lady, 1997, mixed media. Photo: Linda Wolf.

. . . 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 her after a screening of Three Lives (1971), her documentary, during which I remember being fascinated by the lesbian who somehow deconstructed the camera frame by rising into it from below. But I know I earned her respect as a friend by traveling by motorcycle with another lesbian filmmaker to Sacramento to attend the first Women’s Music Festival that Kate produced. There, on the lawn outside the university buildings and under a gigantic banner, women’s bands and solo acoustic performances went on all afternoon and into the night. We filmed and played on the banks of the Sacramento River, which borders the campus. Of course, there was a dance that followed, as happened after most early feminist/lesbian events “in the day.”

Kate and her lover at the time, Maria del Drago, had dinner with me one night at a Berkeley restaurant and then invited me to see Kate’s apartment on Derby Street off College Avenue. They offered it to me for a semester, as Maria had arranged a teaching job for Kate at Sacramento State.

It was the most luxurious apartment I had during my early Bay Area years, when I was a student at—and then graduate from—San Francisco State’s film department. I remember the light that came through double glass doors from the parlor to the living room.

Then, there was trouble. I heard there were ongoing arguments and tears that we called “dyke drama.” Maria told me Kate was manic with her new fame, with things like her Time magazine cover of August 31, 1970, and had signed a napkin at a restaurant, giving it to the waiter in place of paying her bill.

Kate went to Sacramento, where Maria was teaching; I lived in the leafy part of Berkeley. And then one day I was shocked to hear that Maria had committed suicide. Kate’s autobiographical novel, Sita (1977), is a rare inside account of a volatile lesbian relationship between two high-powered, deeply intelligent, and troubled, emotional women.

Kate moved to her Bowery loft, and I would see her in the city from time to time selling the Christmas trees from her Poughkeepsie farm, usually on the corner of Second Avenue and Houston, or at the well-attended holiday parties given by my friend the feminist architect Phyllis Birkby.

But it is a June night with fireflies and witches that I remember most. I was invited by the West Coast self-proclaimed witch Z Budapest, to attend a Sacred Circle, based on the four directions, that was to be held on Kate’s farm, which had by now become a collective living situation of sorts. Women travelers from all over the world would stop by to visit their icon and sometimes stay on in exchange for a half day of work. On that June night we gathered in a field. It must have been the solstice. Sue Kleckner, a documentary filmmaker and a friend of mine, had gathered a crew and was shooting the ceremony. The night was dark but for the moonlight, I was stationed at one of the four corners, and the ceremony began. It was so romantic in a mythological sort of way and filled with such verbose pomposity that I became bored quickly and abandoned my post to walk away into the night. I was forever ousted from witchdom after that rude behavior!

Barbara Hammer is a visual artist and experimental filmmaker whose retrospective at the Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in New York is on view through January 28, 2018.

Photo: Marta Kuzma.

THERE HAVE BEEN so many tributes in words, and I adore his work so much it is hard to produce something in a short time worthy of the greatest poet we have had among us. This picture sums up my mood.

Susan Howe is an American poet.