COLUMNS

  • May Stevens in her studio, New York, 1974. Photo: Joyce Ravid. © The Estate of May Stevens.

    MAY STEVENS

    IN 1968, I moved to a loft in SoHo around the corner from where May Stevens and her husband, the Lithuanian-born painter Rudolf Baranik, lived with their dog, Sparta. We became friends and political allies. They were way ahead of me, having been deeply committed to the civil-rights movement and, later, active participants of the Angry Arts Week and cofounders of Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam. Rudolf, a self-defined “socialist-formalist,” was the dedicated activist and strategist. May was involved but less active until the feminist art movement hit New York in 1970. Her

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  • May Stevens, A Life, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 78 × 120". From the series “Ordinary/Extraordinary,” 1976–84. © The Estate of May Stevens.

    MAY STEVENS

    I MET MAY STEVENS in the fall of 1983, when I enrolled in her survey class, Women in the Arts, at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I had made it through the tedium of the school’s conventionally designed foundation-year curriculum and into the second year of my degree program, when it was finally possible to take the many electives offered by the extraordinary instructors then teaching there. SVA was an early adopter of the adjunct-instructor model, meaning the school offered a representative sampling of the New York art world—for better and for worse. Painting was the dominant practice,

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  • Peter Wollen, August 1984.

    PETER WOLLEN

    ON DECEMBER 17, 2019, Peter Wollen died from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a slow, debilitating illness, a cruel death. He had been in a care home in England for fourteen years. Alzheimer’s denied Peter—and us—the life of his brilliant mind. Death may be a writer’s subject—the subject—but it is awful and very sad to write about a good friend’s. I know this will be inadequate to Peter.

    Peter thrived on ideas, adventures, and had many of both. He held strong views and was very knowledgeable. Peter wrote on film, art, politics, fashion, on culture generally. He wrote poems, curated art exhibitions,

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  • Jason Polan, New York, 2013. Photo: Lele Saveri.

    Jason Polan (1982–2020)

    IT WASN’T SO UNUSUAL to run into Jason Polan in New York, as he loved to wander the streets and was always out and about, looking for people and things to draw. And in the last few years, he lived down the street from me. “Hi, how you feeling?” he would ask. Still, it was always one of the happiest things that could happen. A minute with Jason could turn a low day into a good one—he made life felt lighter, brighter somehow.

    I don’t remember the first time we met, but it must have been at some book fair, or book release, definitely at some book-related thing. What I remember well was the first

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  • Carla Herrera-Prats. Photo: Richard Lehun.

    Carla Herrera-Prats (1973–2019)

    I FIRST MET CARLA HERRERA-PRATS in the summer of 2008. I was invited to contribute an essay for her solo show at New York’s Art in General gallery, back when it was still just west of Chinatown on Walker Street. It was one of the first texts I ever wrote about a contemporary artist, and Carla was patient and generous with her time, most of it spent familiarizing me with her approach and materials—the technology that facilitated standardized testing in the United States. Photographs of antiquated IBM machinery and cluttered archives pertaining to the Iowa Testing Program hung on the walls, with

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  • Huang Yong Ping, 2012.

    HUANG YONG PING

    I MET HUANG YONG PING for the first time over lunch in Guangzhou one Saturday in October 2002. He arrived fresh from the emergency room, having cut his hand that morning while collaborating with a crew of metalworkers on his Bat Project II, a 1:1 facsimile of the cockpit and left wing of a US Navy surveillance plane that had unexpectedly landed on the island of Hainan after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet nineteen months earlier. The plane was to sit on the plaza in front of the Guangdong Museum of Art, part of the first edition of the Guangzhou Triennial. Huang had injured himself in vain:

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  • Xiamen Dada event, outside the Cultural Palace of Xiamen, Fujian, China, November 24, 1986. Photo: Wu Yi Ming.

    HUANG YONG PING

    IN 1989, Huang Yong Ping traveled to France at the Centre Pompidou’s invitation to take part in Jean-Hubert Martin’s “Magiciens de la terre,” widely remembered as the “first truly international exhibition of worldwide contemporary art.” The artist decided to stay in Paris. Thirty years later, his life, cut suddenly and prematurely short, has left an indelible mark on art history.

    Huang was born in 1954 in Xiamen, a city in southern China. From 1978 to 1983, he studied at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art). By the time he moved to Paris, Huang had already established

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  • Jessye Norman performing in Leoš Janáček’s 1925 The Makropulos Case, Metropolitan Opera, New York, January 1996. Photo: Johan Elbers/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty.

    LAST SONGS FOR JESSYE NORMAN

    1. I REMEMBER driving away from Tanglewood one summer night in 1987 after having heard Jessye Norman sing a concert performance of Salome’s last scene, a soprano’s autoerotic orgy with the head of John the Baptist. (Long ago, I wrote about that pivotal night, but the memory of the performance and its aftermath rises up now, untainted by the sentences with which I once clothed the experience.) I remember driving into the night and wondering what on earth I would do with my life. My life, struck by Norman’s artistry, had become a thing worth interrogating. My life had become, suddenly, very very

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  • Carla Herrera-Prats. Photo: Nate Harrison.

    Carla Herrera-Prats (1973–2019)

    VIVACIOUS is a wrenching word to use about someone no longer alive, but Carla had immense energy. She was someone you wanted to spend more time with—you’d go to a party and end up talking only to her. She had a disarming magnetism that came from a rare mix of honesty and kindness, and she never pretended; talking with her was like being enveloped in an emotional warmth scarce in New York.

    Kids, husbands, jobs. You start to see less of people in your thirties and forties. Carla was away from New York most summers leading SOMA’s Summer Program in Mexico City, and her teaching jobs at Cooper Union,

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  • Ed Clark.

    Ed Clark (1926–2019)

    HISTORICAL AMNESIA will have us forget that, as a painter, Ed Clark was always on the inside. Touted as one of the few black painters known to be adjacent to the Abstract Expressionist movement, Clark advanced gestural painting into the arena of the sublime.

    After pocketing the GI Bill money from his World War II service in Guam, the artist sailed across the Atlantic in 1952, making his entrée as a painter in Paris at a moment when New York had deposed his new city as the epicenter of the global art world. He experienced James Baldwin’s Paris with Beauford Delaney and returned to paint in New

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  • Osvaldo Romberg. Photo: David Romberg.

    Osvaldo Romberg (1938–2019)

    OSVALDO ROMBERG WAS ONE OF THE FIRST ARTISTS that I met upon my arrival in New York in 1992. My friend, the painter Fabián Marcaccio, was his assistant at the time, and he considered meeting Osvaldo an unavoidable rite of passage for any recent Argentine émigré. Larger-than-life in all possible senses, a mountain of a man with a voracious intellect and inexhaustible energy, he was welcoming, if slightly intimidating, when we visited him at his chaotic studio on Broadway and Prince, full of architectural models and canvases of all sizes. In a single sentence he could string together thoughts on

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  • Gillian Jagger, Rift, 1999. Courtesy the estate of Gillian Jagger and David Lewis Gallery, New York.

    Gillian Jagger (1930–2019)

    SOMEHOW, AT THE BEGINNING OF AUGUST 1988, I ended up in the Catskills with Nancy Graves and my husband, Paul Greengard, hell-bent on trying out our riding talents on Gillian Jagger’s horses. We were giddy like a group of children hungry for adventure. Being lifelong, thoroughbred hard workers, we weren’t used to taking a month off for anything, but that year we bought plenty of country records, cowboy boots, chaps, and riding helmets. I believe Gillian had four horses that summer. They were old and tired, but more than willing to do anything their beloved Gillian asked of them. She was their

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