Bohumila Grögerová with the 2009 Magnesia Litera Prize at the Prague Estates Theater, 2009. Photo by René Volfík.


1967 WAS A YEAR that poetry as a visual art briefly saw recognition in book publishing on a scale that reflected its long influence on writers and artists, with one major anthology of Concrete poetry released in North America and another in Europe. Bohumila Grögerová, the poet responsible for the latter, Czech publication (and with it, European access to the decade in graphic writing), died this August in Prague, leaving behind a body of poems, memoirs, children’s stories, radio plays, and nearly two hundred books collaboratively translated with her companion, Josef Hiršal. Though she continued to write and publish until the end of her life, winning the foremost Czech literary prize, Magnesia Litera, in 2009, it is Grögerová and Hiršal’s 1960s-spanning experiment with Concrete techniques, Job-Boj (Job-Fight), 1968, that remains her work best remembered by English-speaking audiences. (This, due to its excerpting in An Anthology of Concrete Poetry (1967), edited by Emmett Williams and published by Dick Higgins at Something Else Press, long out of print and crucially reanimated last year by Primary Information.) She is almost completely unavailable in the US, although her visual poetry is often approachable by nonreaders of Czech—a quality that challenges our habit of conceiving ex post facto translation as the sole vehicle of international literary exchange.

Is this the reason that the tradition Grögerová advocated, which mostly originated outside the English language (in Latin America and Europe), has always gotten so much less than its due? Although many insiders know it well, for most it falls in a hole somewhere between the more familiar poetry we think of in terms of sound and meaning (which can thus find its way around the world through sonic and semantic analogues in other languages) and the Conceptual, whose language is abandoned the instant it is created, to be replaced by the language of summary and reputation (a readily portable form that makes translating the work itself inherently pointless). Grögerová’s compositions offer a welcome antidote to this dichotomous way of thinking.

Bohumila Grögerová and Josef Hiršal, excerpt from Job-Boj (Job-Fight), 2013, Primary Information.


One untitled interlingual piece from Job-Boj, pictured above, particularly demonstrates the playfulness that Grögerová’s stripe of Concrete austerity often conceals. A Czech word, “SVOBODA,” appears to translate itself incrementally into its English counterpart, “FREEDOM.” But the procedure is somewhat more intricate: With each successive line, “SVOBODA” shifts to the left by a letter, such that the first replaces the last; after the word experiences spelling orders beginning with each of its letters (SVOBODA / VOBODAS / OBODASV . . .), the initial S is replaced by freedom’s F, and the rotation repeats until the change to English is complete. Evoking a kind of mechanically formal dance—a “freedom” consisting of generative constraint—the piece could easily lead a reader to miss that the last two lines of the transition are omitted completely. It skips from the point the first four letters have been replaced (“FREEODA”) to the end, composing an image of freedom that relies not only on rules but their spontaneous transgression. The omission appears at a juncture in the work at which a reader might expect to have gotten the concept; it is an affirmation of material’s sovereignty that speaks to the heart of Concrete poetry in general.

Grögerová was among the artists whose visual work was displayed on building facades in Hünfeld, Germany, in a 1998 iteration of Gerhard Jürgen Blum-Kwiatkowski’s Das offene Buch (The Open Book), a project that brought the spatial desires of graphic writing to the literal and conceptual vanishing point as well as honored the expansion of the Concrete to other disciplines that took place throughout the twentieth century. Grögerová’s influence as a mover of the graphic word was instrumental for the visibility of a tradition to which the presence of words in contemporary art is profoundly indebted—in the work of Glenn Ligon, Jenny Holzer, Bruce Nauman, and any number of others. Grögerová’s passing is an occasion to consider the reasons this debt has been effaced as well as to revisit more seriously the friendliness of the Concrete. Her exemplary oeuvre is open.

Abraham Adams is a poet and artist based in Brooklyn. He is one of the editors of Ugly Duckling Presse.

Walter Keller in a still from a film by Sigmar Polke in 1984. © The Estate of Sigmar Polke.


WALTER KELLER was a publisher, editor, curator of exhibitions on cultural history, inspired bookseller, gallery owner, consultant, catalyst, and loyal friend who, above all, made an international name for himself in the world of photography. Walter was torn away from his manifold activities so abruptly that his death is difficult for us to grasp.

The art world will remember books he published from the late 1980s to the early 2000s with Robert Frank, Nan Goldin, Richard Prince, Boris Mikhailov, Larry Clark, Dayanita Singh, and others, but more on that later.

Without him, there would have been no Parkett, the publication that celebrates its thirtieth anniversary this year, whose cofounder Walter was as well as its publisher for its first nine years, during which we experienced together wonderful times of new departures and first successes. In 1993, he left Parkett to dedicate himself wholly to his photography press, Scalo, as well as the bookstore and gallery of the same name (now known as Christopher Guye Galerie). In the same year, he was once again a founder, this time with George Reinhart and Urs Stahel, of the Fotomuseum Winterthur, which has since become a major point of reference in the world of photography and whose foundation president Walter was for ten years.

He had a striking presence. I made his acquaintance in the 1970s when he was a student, thin, lanky, always in motion, with a head of curly hair and an alert gaze behind the small spectacle lenses. His eyes seemed to squint, as is often the case with the nearsighted. It gave him a somewhat scrutinizing and, from time to time, amused air. Humor was manifest the first time I met him, as his watch caught my eye, the smallest I had ever seen on a man’s wrist, the kind of watch that little girls used to wear. At the same time, Walter was a great seducer of women—as well as a defender of them.

His ethnological gaze was penetrating and inspiring. His views were surprising, because they were never ideological—something that seemed especially extraordinary in Europe in the ’70s, particularly because he had studied as a Swiss for a couple of semesters in Berlin. “Don’t judge, first look,” seemed to be his motto, no matter whether it was a question of art or of the everyday. He was hands-on—his founding, building, and producing accompanied intellectual reflection in order to think of things in context and to see them up close at the same time.

As a student, he started with talk shows—they were just becoming fashionable on television. Together with Nikolaus Wyss in a basement theater, he organized talk shows of another kind: Instead of important personalities, he invited completely normal people and probed them in a surprising way. On one evening, he spoke with a hairdresser; on another, with ticket inspectors on a streetcar. The whole thing was subsequently published, inexpensively, as The Everyday (Der Alltag), a magazine with the subtitle The Sensations of the Ordinary. On offer was an only slightly ironic gaze at the grayzones of reality.

It was not camp that always lead him back to low culture as an important point of departure for his ventures in high culture. His comportment was consistent with a genuine desire to look at that which a certain cultural arrogance seeks to dismiss prematurely as redundant.

The founding of Parkett came about in this way: On a hot summer’s day, the three of us—Walter, Jacqueline Burckhardt, and I—were sitting in a garden restaurant on a lake. At the time, I was writing art criticism for a daily paper while Jacqueline was doing art restoration for Kunsthaus Zürich, where she was also overseeing a performance program. We were both complaining about the provincial situation, which did not really take into account the great mood of new departures in art at the time. And here Walter went into action: “Why don’t you start a magazine? I’ll help you; I know how one does such a thing.” Then Peter Blum came in, and a little later Dieter Graffenried, our current publisher. The rest is legend, as they say.

The Everyday and Parkett shared offices. New York was important. Karen Marta was there, our first editor, because Parkett was bilingual from the start, and the publication wanted to represent a bridge between the two continents. Walter was an independent curator for Museum für Gestaltung, Zürich, where he was organizing an exhibition on advertising and hobby culture with Martin Heller.

Then the mythic figure Robert Frank showed up. Quite literally, he was suddenly standing in our Zurich offices. George Reinhart, with whom Walter was closely collaborating at the time and subsequently, was in the process of producing Frank’s film Candy Mountain with Ruth Waldburger and Philippe Diaz, among others. And so it came to be that in 1989, Walter, with Frank, published the expanded reprint of his 1972 book The lines of my hand. Through it, Frank made peace with the Switzerland he had abandoned, enraged by the narrow-mindedness and smugness of the time, for New York.

Then Scalo Verlag came into being. And with it the impressive number of books—milestones of the 1990s and early 2000s—in close collaboration with the defining personalities in photography that were then attaining new shores and recognition: Nan Goldin, The Other Side (1993); Larry Clark, The Perfect Childhood (1993); Frank’s 1993 reprint of The Americans; Gilles Peress, Farewell to Bosnia (1993); Richard Prince, Adult Comedy Action Drama (1995). Further publications followed with Roni Horn, Seydou Keïta, Paul Graham, Balthasar Burkhard, Francesca Woodman, William Eggleston, Annelies Strba, Juergen Teller, Paul Bowles, and others.

Scalo was also a fantastically large bookshop with a gallery in a former hat factory in a back courtyard in Zurich. In New York, Walter was also present at the founding, in 1990, of DAP with Sharon Gallagher, Daniel Power, and Dieter von Graffenried. In 1998, he opened a gallery on Broadway and ran it for a couple of years.

He has also left us a book with the title Here Is New York, which brings together almost one thousand photographic documents of 9/11. The subtitle, A Democracy of Photographs, refers to the changed role of photography. It seems a curious irony that, in 2006, Walter received the Wölfflin Medal of the City of Zurich for services to the arts—just as Scalo had to declare bankruptcy. Recovering from this blow, he changed activities in the years that followed. He curated several important cultural-historical exhibitions at the Schweizerisches Landesmuseum, including “Capital: Merchants in Venice and Amsterdam.” Recently, he presented an exhibition there on the image of Switzerland in film as a continuation of his earlier exhibition on “Wit.” We will miss his own completely distinct, laconic wit, his acumen, and much more.

Bice Curiger is artistic director of the Fondation Vincent Van Gogh Arles and the cofounder and editor in chief of Parkett.

Deborah Sussman in “Deborah Sussman Loves Los Angeles” at WUHO Gallery, Woodbury University, Los Angeles, 2013. Photo courtesy Laure Joliet.


RECOLLECT, IF YOU WILL, the opening shot of the 1972 BBC documentary Reyner Banham Loves Los Angeles: a wondrous, fluffy, vibrant confection of a billboard that spells out the title of the film in cloud-like letters. The brilliance of this design is that it captures perfectly the giddy, celebratory effervescence of the city that spreads out in the billboard’s shadow, flying in the face of the clichéd image of Los Angeles as a polluted wasteland. It also perfectly expresses the joie de vivre, humor, and vibrancy of the designer herself, Deborah Sussman.

Magenta. Vermilion. Aqua. Chrome yellow. These are the colors that Sussman, trailblazing environmental graphic designer, used to describe the essence of her adopted city, Los Angeles. Those of us who came of age in the city in the 1970s and 1980s cannot fail to remember her larger-than-human-size neon letters spanning the exterior of the J. Magnin department stores or the mirrored, glitzy, zigzag edges of the interiors of Standard Shoes—both collaborations with Frank Gehry. These projects, too, perfectly express the exuberance and energy of their designer and of a city that embraced its billboards and wanted its architecture to be read in fast motion from the car window.

Sussman began her career in the office of Charles and Ray Eames, where she absorbed their genius for multidisciplinary practice, product design, and collaborative partnerships. This fierce woman moved beyond the strictures of high modernism with courage, forging an office that began in the 1960s to redefine graphic design. She crossed multiple boundaries, not only those of gender but also of discipline, with eye-catching work that was a mixture of graphic design, urban planning, architecture, interior architecture, and landscape design. In 1980, she and her husband, architect and planner Paul Prejza, incorporated Sussman/Prejza & Company. Together, in their numerous collaborations, they architecturalized graphic design, graphicized interiors, and colorized urban landscapes.

Sussman/Prejza’s design for the “look” of the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics introduced to the world’s attention the bold style now known as supergraphics. The lively implementation of ad hoc, graphically festooned scaffolding, brilliant cardboard sonotubes, and (affordable!) visually alphabetic bits were the parts of the Olympic ephemera that we Angelenos loved.

Architects are notoriously chromophobic, and Deborah’s work was all about color. When I was a young architect working at Barton Myers on the New Jersey Performing Arts Center, I remember seeing my (male) colleague’s eyes pop as Deborah brought her design proposals to the table. And oh, how her colors sang: loudly, resonantly, dazzlingly. With breathtaking verve, she married vivid African patterns with elegant, classic shapes and a multiplicity of fonts, textures, and materials. Unapologetically colorful, the work of Sussman/Prejza was always, always a refreshing antidote to the stodgy seriousness of modern architecture. Now, as the animated optimism and historically maligned maximalism of the postmodern is finding renewed appreciation, Deborah’s work is once again crossing boundaries, this time temporal.

In 2013, architect Barbara Bestor approached me as director of WUHO to host an exhibition of Deborah’s work. Fittingly titled “Deborah Sussman Loves Los Angeles,” the exhibition was co-curated by Barbara Bestor, Catherine Gudis, Thomas Kracauer, and Shannon Starkey. The show focused on Deborah’s work from 1953 to 1984 and celebrated the radiance of her style and her ability to appropriate the energy and luminosity of her adopted city.

Can words alone describe the electric vitality of Deborah’s life and work? Banham’s come close. Picture in your mind “that great moment of plastic, fluorescent spectacle, the sun going down in man-made splendor, that really is to all us lovers of Los Angeles the greatest exit line any city could ever have.” That full, loving Technicolor splendor is Deborah.

Ingalill Wahlroos-Ritter is an architect, associate dean of the Woodbury School of Architecture, and director of the WUHO gallery, which hosted a 2013 retrospective of Deborah Sussman’s work.

Sam Hunter at an opening at the Rose Art Museum, Brandeis University, 1965. Photo courtesy The Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University.


SAM HUNTER, HISTORIAN, CURATOR, AND CRITIC of modern and contemporary art, made a swift ascent in the art world. Born in Springfield, Massachusetts in 1923, Sam graduated from Williams College in 1943, served in the navy until 1946, and took up a post as art critic at the New York Times in 1947 at age twenty-four.

The trajectory of Sam’s career reflected his virtually elemental lust for life and unabashed ambition not only to chronicle art but also to play a potent role in its unfolding. In 1952, Hunter embarked on what would become a decades-long association with the publisher Harry N. Abrams. In 1956, Sam became associate curator of painting and sculpture at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, where he organized the first major museum exhibitions of Jackson Pollock and David Smith. He was tapped by the Minneapolis Institute of Arts to become chief curator and acting director in 1958.

Sam’s intertwined roles as professor and protagonist of contemporary art aligned in his remarkable achievements as associate professor and founding director of the Rose Art Museum at Brandeis University from 1960 to 1965. The collection he put together there is legendary. Lured back to New York to direct the Jewish Museum in 1965, Sam oversaw that museum’s blossoming as a serious context for cutting-edge art with such exhibitions as “Primary Structures,” curated by Kynaston McShine.

In 1969, Sam joined the faculty at Princeton and became curator of modern art at the university’s art museum. Over the next decades he authored dozens of books and scores of exhibition catalogues, essays, and articles, including definitive survey texts and crucial monographs on Isamu Noguchi, Larry Rivers, Alex Katz, Tom Wesselmann. In many instances he was the first chronicler of artists who have proved over time to be the pivotal figures in art of the past half century.

Sam was shrewd and incisive but decidedly not doctrinaire. Students regularly joined Sam in New York and further afield for studio visits with artists—Larry Rivers, Robert Indiana, George Segal, Tony Smith, Josef Albers, Alexander Liberman, Christo, and Jeanne-Claude. These exhilarating forays usually concluded with a good meal and a lot of laughter.

Sam stayed close to the object and the artist. It seems no surprise that both of us, as Sam’s students in the 1970s, wrote dissertations on then-living artists (Francis Bacon, Willem de Kooning). Here, Sam’s links throughout the art world were matched by his even more crucial knowledge and uncanny insight. A letter to Bacon opened the door. And it was Sam’s early research, published in a 1952 article, which set the course for subsequent Bacon scholarship. Alert to the importance of second-hand imagery in Bacon’s paintings, Sam assembled the disparate photos and visual sources strewn about the studio, documenting this raw material in a series of revelatory photographs. As for de Kooning, Sam advised an unannounced knock on the door in Springs, East Hampton, which, startlingly, opened the way for a series of interviews across many years. The mention of Sam’s name unlocked troves of de Kooning material—from the recollections of Annalee Newman and Thomas B. Hess to the files and back rooms of Allan Stone and Xavier Fourcade.

It would not be unusual, after an arduous afternoon of Sam’s probing—and unquestionably improving—one’s dissertation, to follow up with a vigorous, hard-fought game of tennis—where Sam’s tenacity, competitiveness, and sheer enthusiasm came to the fore—leading at last to a gin and tonic and a raucous dinner with conversation ranging all over the art world. Sam made work fun.

Determined to play a powerful part in the dynamics of emerging as well as established art, Sam was pragmatic and dauntless. As a scholar, curator, collections adviser, and editor, he anticipated the ways that universities, museums, collectors, and publications would intertwine.

Sally Yard is a professor of art history at the University of San Diego.

Hugh M. Davies is the director of the Museum of Contemporary Art San Diego.

Maria Lassnig, Kantate or The Ballad of Maria Lassnig, 1992, video, color, sound, 7 minutes 35 seconds.


IN 1974, A SMALL GROUP OF ARTISTS CAME TOGETHER. We named ourselves Women Artist Filmmakers. We were each painters dedicated to various materials, images. Our paintings had been consistently marginalized in the New York City world of heroic male traditions. Would presenting ourselves as both artists and filmmakers lead to a double marginalization? 

Martie Edelheit’s shaping energy organized our film programs, helped us find printing labs, and brought to focus our shared editing processes. Within the feminist energies of the 1970s, Women Artist Filmmakers carried determination, distinction, and pleasurable associations of our work and daily life. Unexpectedly our collaborations entered a transformative history in which women’s rigorous visual work would become influential among generations.

Maria, in New York City from Vienna by way of Paris, joined our group. Uniquely cheerful, she had a goofy smile that was always encouraging. Her films were charming, ironic, shifting between static images and density in motion—always colorful with a subtle, brutal gender appetite towards erotic happiness.

It was with her death that the powerful dark undertow of her self-portrait paintings became celebrated, shifting away from any interpretation of self-deprecation or essentialism!

Carolee Schneemann is an artist based in New York.

More reflections on Maria Lassnig can be found in the October print issue of Artforum.