COLUMNS

  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti in 2010. Photo: Stacey Lewis.

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919–2021)

    I FIRST GOT NEWS of Lawrence Ferlinghetti’s passing in a message from Tara Marlowe, a daughter of the late Diane di Prima. Along with poet Sara Larsen, I had been deep into helping out on two books by Diane for City Lights for the past several years: a new edition of the classic Revolutionary Letters (1968) and the extraordinary 1964 prose work, Spring and Autumn Annals. While Lawrence’s death was not, in any sense, “unexpected,” given that he was about to turn 102, it still felt acute and abrupt since he had been such an immovable fixture in the life of poetry, publishing, and civic cultural

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  • Chen Cheng Mei in her Singapore studio, circa 1965. Image courtesy of the family of the artist.

    Chen Cheng Mei (1927–2020)

    CHEN CHENG MEI, who died last December at the age of ninety-three, will be most remembered as the woman behind the Ten Men Art Group. This loose collective of Singapore-based artists made work inspired by their travels around Southeast Asia in the 1960s, and China and India during the 1970s, marking a decisive turn toward a distinctly regional sensibility in Southeast Asian artistic practice and exploring affinities shared across diverse cultures and geographies. This attitude and approach remain crucial in defining the region’s art and curating today. In 1960, Chen initiated a trip to peninsular

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  • Marion von Osten. Photo: Wolfgang Stahr.

    Marion von Osten (1963–2020)

    MARION VON OSTEN was a warmhearted punk who took punk’s contrarian and collaborative ethos to unexplored domains. She made it impossible to identify her role in any production process. If you wanted an artist, you might get a curator, and if you wanted a curator, you might get a researcher. If you wanted a professional, you might end up with an amateur equestrian. Dealing with Marion, one could not help but feel their own limited epistemology and imagination put to the test. If you wanted to have a serious discussion, she would drive you to tears of laughter. If you wanted to make a joke, she

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  • Milford Graves plays at the 9th annual Vision Festival Avant Jazz for Peace at the Center at St Patrick's Youth Center, New York, New York, May 29, 2004. Photo: Jack Vartoogian/Getty Images.

    Milford Graves (1941–2021)

    AS A CHILD IN JAMAICA, Queens, Milford Graves played on tin cans in the woods, “sending signals, trying to get everybody’s attention.” This spirit of adventure, showmanship, and defiance of convention never left him. Beginning on conga drums, he learned about Afro-Cuban music through a distant cousin, viewing it as the missing link between bebop and the African diaspora, and studied with tabla player Wasantha Singh. Forming a Latin group with pianist Chick Corea, who predeceased him by a matter of days, he gravitated toward jazz for its greater harmonic openness, switching from conga and timbales

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  • Guy Brett mailing Signals Newsbulletin in London, 1964. Photo: © Clay Perry/England & Co.

    Guy Brett (1942–2021)

    AT A 2008 TATE MUSEUM TALK on Chilean artist Eugenio Dittborn, Guy Brett recalled a studio visit during which Dittborn kept fussing with unwieldy canvases, growing frustrated. “Fucking rigidity,” Dittborn had exclaimed, bashing the canvases to the wall. This aversion to the static, a trait endemic to the artists he championed, is just as applicable to Brett himself. The critic and curator had an abhorrence for the rigid, contempt for anything that refused to bend to the shape of the world. He was attracted to vitality, to art that marked, as he put it, “a new relationship with life.”

    The British-born

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  • Joachim Olender, La collection qui n’existait pas (The Collection That Doesn’t Exist), 2014, HD video, color, sound, 93 minutes. Herman Daled.

    Herman Daled (1930–2020)

    TO CHALLENGE THE CONVENTIONS and criteria of the collectible object (painterly pretenses, skills, singularity, rarity, commodity status, and exchange value, among others) was one of Conceptualism’s most radical aims, enacted by linguistic, discursive, institutional, and political critiques formulated between 1968 and 1978. To financially support and collect those practices was one of the sublimely paradoxical achievements of Herman Daled and his wife, Nicole Daled-Verstraeten. Only Gertrude and Leo Stein and Walter and Louise Arensberg could be considered as predecessors in a lineage of

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  • Suh Se-ok in his studio. Photo: Joe Yeun Lee. Courtesy Lehmann Maupin.

    Suh Se-ok (1929–2020)

    “YOU CANNOT FORGET that ink painting is a living thing.” Born in 1929 in the modern art stronghold of Daegu in Japan-occupied Korea, Suh Se-ok belonged to the first postcolonial generation of Korean artists grappling with both the aftermath of a bitter colonial history and a war so devastating that “postwar” meant something entirely different in Korea than in other parts of the world. Beginning his career in the turmoil that followed Korean liberation from Japanese colonial rule in 1945, Suh hoped to purge from Korean art the compositional strategies and color schemes used in nihonga, the term

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  • Aileen Passloff and dancers at the 92nd Street Y, 2019. Photo: Arthur Avilés.

    Aileen Passloff (1931–2020)

    I MET AILEEN PASSLOFF IN 1981, when I took her barefoot ballet class at Bard College. As a freshman, I wanted to major in theater, but the Drama/Dance department required students to also study dance. I thought since I had an athletic background, it couldn’t hurt. When I stepped into her studio, I didn’t know I was being taught by a legendary member of Judson Dance Theater.

    Aileen had come through the School of American Ballet, but that wasn’t how she brought her students into the world of dance. She’d say things like, listen to the earth as you brush your foot along the floor, as if the floor

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  • Electromedia portrait of Aldo Tambellini at The Black Gate Theater, New York, 1967. Photo: Richard Raderman. © Aldo Tambellini Art Foundation.

    Aldo Tambellini (1930–2020)

    THE BEST ART I SAW on my “Grand Tour” of 2017 wasn’t in Venice, or Münster, or Kassel. It was in Karlsruhe, at ZKM’s major retrospective of Aldo Tambellini—the media artist whose seven-decade career celebrated the sensuous power of darkness, and who passed away last week at the age of ninety. My detour to the show was a kind of pilgrimage: Although not yet a household name in the art world, he has long been a cult figure for those devoted to experimental film and video. (I myself was introduced to him around twenty years ago by both Gene Youngblood’s classic 1970 book Expanded Cinema and the

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  • Enzo Mari and Lea Vergine. Photos: Leonardo Cendamo/Getty Images.

    Enzo Mari and Lea Vergine (1937–2020, 1932–2020)

    I SAW THEM FOR THE LAST TIME a few months before the lockdown. I went over to give Lea a copy of my book on Mario Merz, which she wanted as a gift, and with a dedication. They weren’t well. Enzo was still suffering the aftereffects of an operation on his head necessitated by a fall from a ladder on which he was trying to prune some wisteria on the terrace; Lea, by contrast, had “blundered,” resulting in a nasty sunburn on her legs. Daily life had betrayed them, in short. I left their beautiful Milanese home in a state of sadness at the fact that such two strong personalities, two leaders in

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  • Frederick Weston. Photo: Olya Vysotskaya.

    Frederick Weston (1946–2020)

    BEFORE I CAN PEN ANY TRIBUTE, or remembrance, for and to my friend and artistic colleague, the visual artist, fashion designer, and poet Frederick Weston, I have to say I did not expect him to die. I was unprepared to receive the news of his demise from a private battle he fought with cancer. I was shocked in ways and still am. Just days before his death, he was on Instagram and had viewed a story I posted, so I imagined him as my all-seeing brother, always there. He was a tall, brown-skinned, handsome, and distinguished Black gay man with a personality and soul that was larger than life. If

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  • Eddie Van Halen of Van Halen in 1978 in Chicago. Photo: Paul Natkin/WireImage/Getty.

    Edward Van Halen (1955–2020)

    I HAVE A FOND MEMORY of sitting on our ratty red velvet couch—or rather, on the small rug that covered the gaping hole in said couch, into which one might fall ass-backwards and not be able to exit without assistance—and earnestly explaining to my parents why Van Halen’s 1984 “Jump” was such a fucking masterpiece. It had something to do with the fact that Eddie Van Halen had introduced the synthesizer into hard rock—something that had never been done before*—or at least so I (thought I) had read. I was actually in the process of hearing this classic for the very first time, via our newly

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