COLUMNS

  • Karl Wirsum. Photo: Derek Eller Gallery.

    Karl Wirsum (1939–2021)

    FOR A BOOKLET published on the occasion of the third Hairy Who exhibition in Chicago, in 1968, Karl Wirsum drew a woman whose head has been replaced by a mandala—not a groovy meditative symbol but a pulsating, agitated, electrified pattern vibrating in red, blue, yellow, and green. This must have been what the inside of Wirsum’s mind looked like: protean and always switched on. For sixty years—from his graduation from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago in 1961, through his association with the Hairy Who in the mid to late ’60s, and right up to his death on May 6—Wirsum produced a legion

    Read more
  • Julião Sarmento. Photo: Paulo Pires.

    Julião Sarmento (1948–2021)

    IT COULD BE SAID that Julião Sarmento’s major theme was desire. In his work, we are repeatedly faced with opposing points of view—subject and object, voyeurism and blindness, dream and reality—that repudiate the male gaze by undoing the rote equivalencies between possession and existence. The Lisbon-born artist’s evocations of bodies, often partially or completely erased, demonstrate nothing so much as the impossibility of reaching a final representation of anything; his unsettled forms cling to the illusion, nearly disintegrated today, of an unattainable, secret image.

    Beginning in the 1960s,

    Read more
  • William T. Wiley, 1966. Photographer unknown.

    William T. Wiley (1937–2021)

    LOVING WHATEVER IT IS that you clutch to your chest and call “art” means taking some care of the culture around that word and its objects. It’s a positive gesture to some kind of eternity. It means you love the making of things, and you do not fear those things, nor fear or resent the artist who makes the things you don’t understand. You care for the artist who passively refuses to take part in whatever culture he deems damaging to his mind or spiritual well-being. These are the ways I want to love and the ways I believe in William T. Wiley, who died on April 25. I first met Bill Wiley in early

    Read more
  • James Bishop with his painting Hours, ca. 1963, American Center for Art & Culture, Paris, 1963.

    JAMES BISHOP (1927–2021)

    IT MAY BE THE NEAREST THING to a monochrome James Bishop ever made. Closed, 1974, is just slightly smaller—by a few inches—than the six-and-a-half-foot square format the painter adopted as his standard from the mid-1960s through the early ’80s. And like much of the work from that period, it situates him within a broadly “reductivist” tendency in postwar American art, running roughly from the less-gestural iterations of Abstract Expressionism and Color Field painting through Minimalism. One notes in particular Bishop’s self-professed inclination for the square as the most “neutral” form; his

    Read more
  • Barbara Rose, Gemini G.E.L., Los Angeles, 1971. Photo: Hannah Wilke. © Marsie, Emanuelle, Damon, and Andrew Scharlatt, Hannah Wilke Collection & Archive, Los Angeles/Licensed by VAGA at Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Barbara Rose (1936–2021)

    I MET BARBARA ROSE in early 1969 in Minneapolis, where I was living for a year with my husband, the French painter Georges Noël. Barbara came out to give a lecture. She was already a well-known New York art critic with a definite aura, so expectations were high. She stepped up to the podium and, as a preface to her presentation, unfolded a chain of cutout paper dolls. She began: “Well, I’m going to have to ad-lib my talk this afternoon because when I got up this morning to take the plane, this is what my daughter Rachel had done to my lecture.” (Much later, Rachel told me that this was probably

    Read more
  • SOPHIE, 2019. Photo: Renata Raksha.

    SOPHIE (1986–2021)

    SOPHIE BELONGED TO THE FUTURE. At the last SOPHIE concert I attended, the central item on the merch table was a black T-shirt with white lettering. LIVE IN PERSON! SOPHIE LA000010302017, it announced. Four zeroes ahead of the date, four powers of ten for us to expand into, millennia upon millennia still unwritten. That was the music’s promise—that we would all make it out, that we would spill not just past this present moment, but into the untold expanses of time yet to come. Now those of us who loved what SOPHIE did must chart a future without SOPHIE, reconstructing our worlds around an abyssal

    Read more
  • Lawrence Ferlinghetti with Anne Waldman at Washington Square in North Beach, 2006. Photo: Ambrose Bye.

    Lawrence Ferlinghetti (1919–2021)

    LAWRENCE FERLINGHETTI—poet, painter, international literary hero, bookshop keeper, and publisher of renowned City Lights—is in anarchist heaven with a Buddha’s smile. He is in the poetry bardo of scrying and in Antonin Artaud’s shamanic mantras, Whitman’s luminous details. He is in the Kabbalistic night of bohemian magic and anticapitalist joy, in liberated public hipster space, where he archives his century of adventure and speaks for Everyman. A cosmic night of celestial chat in Paris, and the pounding waves of Big Sur, crystalline reckonings, political acumen and alternative creation. He’s

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more
  • 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

    Read more