COLUMNS

  • ROBERT RYMAN

    EVEN THOUGH I wrote several essays on Robert Ryman’s art, I hardly knew him. I did meet him a few times, but on each occasion he was rather reserved—extracting information or comments from him was like pulling teeth. My guess is that he was shy, even though other writers have been able to conduct remarkably rich interviews with him over the years: Obviously, I did not have what it takes. No matter, for he did not have to speak in order to make a statement. Eloquent silence.

    My first encounter with him is a case in point. It was during the installation of his retrospective at the Centre Pompidou

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  • ROBERT RYMAN

    HAVE YOU EVER walked into a darkened room only to find that, once your eyes adjusted to the light, there was much to discover? Long ago, I wrote this about a particular Ryman painting, yet it is a feeling at the heart of what makes all of his artwork so remarkable. Often described as simply squares of white paint of various textures, Ryman’s paintings suggest a narrow focus. That focus, however, allows our attention to be more acute and sharpened, and what is actually offered is far from straightforward. What might at first seem simple turns out to be complex.  

    Ryman’s art is one of practical

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  • ROBERT RYMAN

    I MET ROBERT RYMAN IN 2003, when I was a graduate student seeking out the would-be subject of my nascent dissertation. I had been curious, mostly, about the man whose ostensibly minimal paintings had already irrevocably altered my understanding of the medium. I was shocked to discover my West Village apartment was only a few blocks north of his studio, which was located in a tall, skinny building next to a then-empty parcel that I had long walked past without really noticing it. When I rang the buzzer, Bob appeared, bespectacled and well-groomed, framed through the window grille. I was a nervous

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  • ALEX BROWN

    I MET THE PAINTER ALEX BROWN when I moved to New York City from San Francisco in 1996. We were set up on a kind of blind date by friends from his childhood in Des Moines, Iowa, whom I’d known in SF. Among his Iowa friends, Alex had a certain legend attached to him. He’d moved to NYC, played guitar in various seminal hardcore bands (Gorilla Biscuits, Project X, Side by Side), produced a coveted zine called Schism, and almost immediately had an art career after graduating from Parsons.

    “I’ll be wearing a blue anorak,” he said to me on the phone, so I could identify him when we met. We were more

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  • Kevin Roche. Photo: Ford Foundation.

    Kevin Roche (1922–2019)

    IF THE CONTEMPORARY ARTIST ASPIRES to channel the spirit of the modern world, the modern architect is in the business of, also, shaping that world. Kevin Roche succeeded at this more than most. Aligning himself with some of the most powerful systems of the twentieth century, Roche remade city blocks and skylines from Columbus to Kuala Lumpur. His firm, Kevin Roche John Dinkeloo and Associates, completed projects for the computing industry (IBM), advertising firms (Leo Burnett), chemical companies (Union Carbide), big pharma (Merck and Company), petroleum giants (Conoco), and banks (Deutsche

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  • Jack Burnham (1931–2019)

    AS THE CLOUDS of Hurricane Sandy gathered, I sped north from Virginia to Maryland en route to interview Jack Burnham, the elusive curator of the digital art exhibition “Software” (1970) and the author of the influential Artforum essay “Systems Esthetics” (1968). We had begun our correspondence months earlier, when I tracked him down to request permission to reproduce one of his alchemical diagrams for a piece I was publishing on mysticism, systems theory, and ecological art. When he returned the signed permission form, he included a diagram, a Kabbalistic tree of life mapping the circulations

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  • Bisi Silva (1962–2019)

    I FIRST MET BISI SILVA in 1995, when she joined me to organize the 1996 conference for the British chapter of the AICA and the accompanying book, Art Criticism and Africa (Saffron Books, 1997). By then, Bisi had graduated with her master’s in curating from the Royal College of Art. Throughout the 1990s, in London, she established herself as a freelance curator and critic, which was no easy task.

    We frequently discussed the many misconceptions of contemporary art from Africa as well as how people are positioned as being “from” a place when speaking “to” a rapidly internationalizing art world. Our

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  • Susan Hiller in 2006. Photo: Nanda Lanfranco.

    Susan Hiller (1940–2019)

    IN SUSAN HILLER’S EARLY VIDEO INSTALLATION An Entertainment, 1990, scaled-up images and the amplified sound of Punch and Judy performances transform popular children’s entertainment into a terrifying spectacle. Aspects of our collective culture considered unworthy of serious attention—in this case, puppet shows she watched with her young son—repeatedly formed the starting point for a wide range of innovative artworks produced over the artist’s remarkably productive five-decade career.

    Susan’s art often focused on the subconscious and the paranormal. Early experiments with automatic writing and

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  • JONAS MEKAS

    JONAS MEKAS described himself as a diarist, using this term to encompass his films and his videos, his prose and his poetry. He once told me that he was a long-distance runner; he was a sickly child and had taken up exercise to build stamina. Ninety-six years is a long run, but Jonas was so alive, so present during his last public appearances in the summer and autumn of 2018, that although his body was noticeably frail I refused to believe he would stop anytime soon. He told the writer John Leland, who had followed Jonas since 2015 for a New York Times series on New York City residents who are

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  • JONAS MEKAS

    WHEN I ARRIVED in New York City in the early 1990s, it seemed as though the most adventurous elements of film culture had either disappeared or were on their way out. The grindhouses of Times Square were undergoing Disneyfication. The Millennium Film Workshop had grown moribund, and the Collective for Living Cinema had vanished into memory. Even the punk-ass Cinema of Transgression crowd was settling down to have kids.

    Bucking all those trends was Jonas Mekas, then in his seventies, ensconced in the brick fortress of Anthology Film Archives on the corner of Second Avenue and Second Street, running

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  • David Beitzel. Photo: Patrick McMullan.

    David Beitzel (1958–2019)

    I NEARLY ALWAYS SAW David Beitzel in a dark-blue suit and tie, as if he came from the world of banking or investments. But David was no stuffed shirt. A painter turned art dealer, he had just set up his first gallery in a storefront on Greene Street when I first met him, around 1989. Only three years later he moved to the second floor of 102 Prince Street and was showing a full roster of promising and established artists. His vision for the gallery clearly developed out of his early experiences as a painter at Bennington College, where he had lived and worked largely in solitude during his MFA

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  • Joseph Jarman. Photo: Roberto Masotti / ECM Records.

    Joseph Jarman (1937–2019)

    I FIRST MET JOSEPH JARMAN in 1961 after returning to Chicago from a tour of duty with the United States Army Band in Heidelberg, Germany. The two of us became acquainted while we were both under the tutelage of Richard Wang, Lela Hanmer, and Otto Jelinek at Wilson Junior College. Our peers at Wilson at that time included Malachi Favors, Henry Threadgill, Anthony Braxton, and Jack DeJohnette.

    It made a profound impression on me to all of a sudden be surrounded by these daring musical minds, and I drew inspiration from Joseph from the moment we met. I was able to experience his revelations firsthand

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