COLUMNS

  • Owen Land (George Landow) during the filming of On the Marriage Broker Joke as Cited by Sigmund Freud in Wit and Its Relation to the Unconscious or Can the Avant-Garde Artist Be Wholed?, ca. 1977. Photo: Friedl Kubelka.

    Owen Land

    FILMMAKER GEORGE LANDOW, also known as Owen Land, was found dead in his Los Angeles apartment on June 8 at the age of sixty-six. He was an exceptionally private, even mysterious man, and though he was a luminary of the American avant-garde cinema, little is known of his personal life or the circumstances of his death. Shortly after hearing of his passing, I happened upon an undated letter he had sent to Stan Brakhage, presumably in the early 1970s. It appears to be a response to a request from Brakhage for a summary of Land’s formation as an artist. He wrote:

    The biographical data which seems

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  • Leo Steinberg, 1987. Photo: Pamela Blackwell.

    Leo Steinberg

    Leo Steinberg was a beacon of twentieth-century art criticism. Whether in his trailblazing interpretations of artists such as Robert Rauschenberg, Pablo Picasso, and Jasper Johns, his revelatory understanding of Monet’s late work, or his contributions to Renaissance art history, Steinberg’s enduring faith that “the eye is a part of the mind” freed his thought and writing from the orthodoxies of the age. In the years before his death this past March, Steinberg gave his last interviews to curator ACHIM HOCHDÖRFER, who here presents their wide-ranging conversations for the first time.

    WHEN I VISITED

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  • Milton Babbitt at work in one of the four composition studios at the Columbia-Princeton Electronic Music Center, Columbia University, New York, ca. 1968. © William Gedney Collection/Rare Book, Manuscript, and Special Collections Library at Duke University.

    Milton Babbitt

    BABBITT. For decades, that bouncy disyllable signified two things: a man who was one of the most engaging presences in the New York musical world—composer, theorist, teacher (at Princeton and Juilliard); connoisseur of popular song from the golden age; lecturer possessing formidable erudition, wit, and improvisatory prowess; faithful supporter at his friends’ and students’ concerts—and a prodigious body of work that went back to the years immediately after World War II and guaranteed its author a leading place among those remembered for remaking music at that time. But, hard as this

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  • Documentation of Dennis Oppenheim’s Reading Position for Second Degree Burn, 1970, color photographs and text, 85 x 60".

    Dennis Oppenheim

    READING POSITION FOR SECOND DEGREE BURN, 1970, was one of the first of Dennis Oppenheim’s works I ever saw. I was struck less by the willingness of this fair-skinned artist to inflict pain on himself than by the title of the book on his chest––Tactics: Cavalry and Artillery. Here was someone who was going to play the art game hard and from a series of strategic positions. I paid attention to his work––Attempt to Raise Hell, 1974; I Shot the Sheriff, 1977; Predictions, 1972; Lecture #1, 1976; Gallery Decomposition, 1968, to name a few. I saw them all. They were multilayered and suggested the

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  • Captain Beefheart/Don Van Vliet, ca. 1970. Photo: Redferns/Getty Images.

    Captain Beefheart

    “GOD, PLEASE FUCK MY MIND FOR GOOD!” Captain Beefheart shouted at the end of Doc at the Radar Station, his second-to-last album. It was 1980, and it was a dare to whatever version of God might be present to receive it: his audience, maybe; music itself. Or it was a dare to time—the fifteen years since he’d made his first record, or the thirty years to come. Can you shut me up? Can you scramble my rhythm and my words until they’re a labyrinth I’ll never escape? I’ll do it first!

    His first record—a single that was cut in 1965 in Los Angeles, a street sign away from Glendale, where he was

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  • Sigmar Polke, Lapis Lazuli II, 1994, lapis lazuli and dammar resin on canvas, 9’ 10 1/8” x 7’ 4 3/8”. All works by Sigmar Polke © Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York.

    Sigmar Polke

    I FIRST MET SIGMAR POLKE in the 1970s—a decade that has been dealt with too summarily in most of his retrospectives to date, since the prevailing opinion has been that the artist spent these years devoting himself to almost anything but painting: photography, film, travel, experiments in collective living, and other consciousness-expanding activities. But shortly before his death at age sixty-nine in June of this year, an extraordinary exhibition at the Hamburger Kunsthalle—organized by Petra Lange-Berndt, Dietmar Rübel, and Dorothee Böhm—offered a finely articulated, revisionist

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  • Robert Mapplethorpe, Louise Bourgeois, 1982, black-and-white photograph, 20 x 16". © The Robert Mapplethorpe Foundation/Art + Commerce.

    Louise Bourgeois

    CLAD IN A LUXURIOUS MONKEY-FUR COAT, a sculpture tucked firmly under her arm, Louise Bourgeois boldly confronts the camera with a mischievous grin. Shot in 1982, Robert Mapplethorpe’s image has become iconic. Perhaps lesser known is its checkered history. The portrait, commissioned by Robert Miller (whose gallery represented both artists), would become the frontispiece to the catalogue for Bourgeois’s first retrospective, scheduled to open at New York’s Museum of Modern Art in November of that year. Feeling anxious about the photo shoot, Bourgeois decided to wear one of her favorite pieces of

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  • Arakawa

    THE ARTIST AND VISIONARY ARCHITECT Shusaku Arakawa, known by his surname alone, was in his mid-twenties when he left Japan, under some kind of cloud, in 1961. Legend has it that he arrived in New York with fourteen dollars and Marcel Duchamp’s phone number in his pocket. The following year he met Madeline Gins, a Barnard College graduate, in the art classes both were taking in Brooklyn, he to satisfy some visa condition, though he was already exhibiting his work. They became a couple almost immediately, and collaborators as well, soon embarking together upon their best-known artwork, The Mechanism

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  • Malcolm McLaren

    TWENTY-TWO YEARS AGO Malcolm McLaren and Richard Hell politely faced off over “Who created punk?”—a question Lester Bangs once answered, after citing and dismissing Hell, by naming, among numerous others, himself, Lou Reed, Robert Mitchum (“the look on his face in the photo when he got busted for grass”), Pretty Boy Floyd, Theodore Roosevelt, Billy the Kid, Napoleon, Voltaire, and Lady Godiva. The occasion was a panel on punk and fashion at the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York, with Hell, McLaren, the designer Stephen Sprouse, the critic Jon Savage, the curator Paul Taylor, and myself.

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  • Callie Angell on Bear Island, Maine, August 7, 2003. Photo: Felicity D. Scott.

    Callie Angell

    IN JANUARY 2000, Callie Angell, curator of the Andy Warhol Film Project at New York’s Whitney Museum of American Art, e-mailed me to wish me happy New Year. “I’ve been traveling a lot, out to PA nearly every week,” she wrote, referring to the site of MoMA’s Celeste Bartos Film Preservation Center in Hamlin, Pennsylvania, “but I seem to be finished with the films out there for the time being (hard to believe).” She went on to detail what she’d been working on:

    I just finished cataloguing the most incredible Warhol film: the 105 Screen Tests he shot of Philip Fagan, his lover, over 105 days, each

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  • Thomas Hoving

    THOMAS HOVING’S DOUBLE LIFE, as art historian and arts administrator, was in both its dimensions driven by much the same set of obsessions—a passion for beauty in its most flamboyant artistic embodiments, and an insatiable lust for the publicity that went with celebrity. These qualities prompted a number of decisions that laid the groundwork of the museum as we know it today. And this was perhaps the true crowning achievement of his famous tenure as director of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, from March 1967 until June 1977.

    The history of Hoving’s acquisitions for the institution,

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  • Kenneth Noland

    THERE ARE SOME PAINTERS who treat a finished canvas as a virginal thing that should remain undisturbed on the wall once placed there. When I made a trip three years ago to Kenneth Noland’s Maine studio, I was surprised to learn that he was not one of them. I was visiting the artist because I wanted to view a circle painting titled Back and Front that he had kept since making it in 1960. After I’d looked at the canvas for a while, I told him I didn’t understand why the top had to be the top. “Well, let’s see,” he said. He sprang from his seat and rotated the canvas a half turn. He talked about

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