Passages

  • John Ashbery

    DECADES AGO, Harold Bloom declared that after the death of Wallace Stevens, in 1955, we entered the “age of Ashbery.” That may be one of the bolder pronouncements made by a famously bold literary critic, but there remains an undeniable truth to it, as one can encounter John Ashbery’s poems seemingly anywhere in the world—from Winnipeg to Berlin to Beijing.

    Born in 1927 in Rochester, New York, Ashbery became the most influential poet of his generation. Like his New York School confrere Frank O’Hara, Ashbery possessed a deep affinity for music, art, and film, and indeed he was arguably one of

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  • Shannon Michael Cane (1974–2017)

    THE IRONIC THING about me talking about Shannon is that one of the things that made him one of my best and most cherished friends was that, while I’m almost constantly shy and embarrassed, he absolutely was never either of those things. I depended on him to prod me, to bring me out, to take me out. I depended on him to be proud of me.

    One of my most vivid and enduring images of Shannon will be of that crazy proud look on his face, an expression that I think can only really be described as CHUFFED. I remember initially being very annoyed at this face (my Catholic upbringing, pride averse, bristled),

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  • Holly Block (1958–2017)

    I MET HOLLY IN 2009 OR 2010. I was leaving the museum with a cup of wine from a public program that I was attending, and she was coming down the steps, saying, “Excuse me, excuse me.” I thought, “Oh my gosh”: I knew who she was, and I was like, “I’m going to get in trouble. I better drink this wine really quickly.” I didn’t want to seem alcohol-ish—that happened later. So I thought, Let me just play it cool.

    She came down and said, “Who are you? You’re always here.”

    I said, “Oh, I’ve lived right next door all my life. I just quit my job, nineteen years working with a New York City agency.”

    She was

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  • David Tang (1954–2017)

    THE LANDLINE TELEPHONE was still a rare commodity and the mobile a mythological status symbol in 1991 Beijing. After a banquet dinner at the Diaoyutai State Guesthouse (Beijing’s social citadel of high-level power brokers), David Tang wanted to surprise his English friends—come to see the mysteries of China shortly after the political brinksmanship of 1989—with a late-night art show. In the dark, our bevy of limousines circled the old city, trying to find the ancient gate tower where an unofficial exhibition was kept open for us. We lost contact with our guide, artist Yang Yiping of the pioneering

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  • Kate Millett (1934–2017)

    . . . and then came Kate!

    FROM MY INITIAL READING OF SEXUAL POLITICS (1970), I was a fan. I had earned my first master’s degree in literature in 1963, and no one was talking about the inherent sexism in plots, points of view, or authors’ personalities. And then came this explosive academic book, written as a Ph.D. thesis but serving as a clarion call for feminist action inside and out of the literary world.

    How did I meet Kate Millett, Renaissance artist of literature, drawing and painting, sculpture and film? When did we become friends? The answer to the first question is fuzzy. Perhaps I met

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  • John Ashbery (1927–2017)

    THERE HAVE BEEN so many tributes in words, and I adore his work so much it is hard to produce something in a short time worthy of the greatest poet we have had among us. This picture sums up my mood.

    Susan Howe is an American poet.

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  • Glenn O’Brien

    IN AN AGE OF TASTEMAKERS, trendsetters, influencers, consultants, and that most pernicious of hybrids, “creatives,” to talk about how cool Glenn O’Brien was is also to acknowledge how diminished this term has become. But O’Brien was very cool, and he achieved this status at a time when the word was still both contested and marginalized. In the remarkable half century since he arrived in New York as a wholesome kid from Cleveland, O’Brien didn’t so much report on culture as actively create it.

    I was young enough to know O’Brien’s legendary byline years before I knew him. The downtown scene back

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  • Ted Purves (1964–2017)

    IN THE CONTEXT OF ART HISTORY AND THEORY, Ted Purves will likely be best remembered for the anthology of texts he edited on relational art practices: What We Want Is Free: Generosity and Exchange in Recent Art. It is an important tome (first published in 2005 and recently revised and expanded), which grew out of a conference the artist, scholar, and professor organized at California College of the Arts, where he founded the first graduate program in social practice in North America and later served as chair of the MFA program in fine arts. For those who were lucky enough to work with or study

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  • Richard Benson (1943–2017)

    I FIRST HEARD ABOUT RICHARD BENSON decades ago in an Aperture article on the portfolios he printed with Paul Strand at the end of Strand’s life. From Calvin Tompkins’s 1990 profile in the New Yorker, I discovered that Benson had started his career in the mid 1960s as a camera operator at the legendary Connecticut printing firm Meriden Gravure. What he inhaled at Meriden, you might say, was a tradition of exquisite printing for illustrious clients. In 1972, he left Meridian to make his own photographs and to work as freelance halftone cameraman and printer. Over the next few years Benson and a

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  • James Rosenquist

    JAMES ROSENQUIST helped define an era—even as he undid its imagery from within. His cool handling of advertising and media made him one of the key figures of the Pop movement in the US and contributed to the distinctive look of American art in the 1960s; he depicted motifs redolent of the postwar period, from Marilyn Monroe and JFK to automobiles and processed foodstuffs. But while many are inclined to view Pop as an art that unequivocally celebrated the new, Rosenquist took a more nuanced stance by playing with time and history from the very start. In fact, his signature paintings employed

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  • Vito Acconci

    I FIRST MET VITO ACCONCI sometime late in the year 2000. By happenstance, a couple of local galleries had organized secondary-market exhibitions of his performance photography from the 1970s, and as a young writer then working for Time Out New York, I thought of going directly to the artist for comment. Acconci had recently forgone—or lost, depending on whom you asked—all gallery representation, having publicly declared his departure from the field of art for the disciplines of architecture and design. In light of such bold pronouncements (perhaps, I surmised, a polemical holdover from

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  • Vito Acconci

    VITO ACCONCI was already a mythical figure in New York’s teeming avant-garde scene when I arrived there on New Year’s Eve in 1977. I was bringing with me my collection of Avalanche magazines—one, the Fall 1972 issue, was devoted to Acconci and featured a picture of him on the cover, holding a cigarette to his lips and staring straight into the camera.

    Many of Acconci’s early pieces were featured in that issue. Following Piece, 1969; Blindfolded Catching, 1970; Control Box, 1971; and the infamousSeedbed, 1972, among other radical works, had propelled him to what felt like the front lines of

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