COLUMNS

  • Charles Harrison, Karlsruhe, Germany, March 2, 2008. Photo: ONUK.

    Charles Harrison

    CHARLES HARRISON may be the most important writer on modern art whom a good many readers of this magazine will never have encountered. As an accolade, that is indeed far too qualified: Harrison was one of a small handful of writers by whose standard the best art writing of our time will be judged. His death on August 6 at age sixty-seven, after a struggle with cancer, cut short a life of profound engagements with both art history and the contemporary practice of art.

    The shape of his commitments and career diverged from the patterns of his few peers in ways that may account for the limited currency

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  • Robert Colescott

    WHEN THE ARTIST ROBERT COLESCOTT passed away this June in Tucson, where he had lived since 1985, he left behind a body of work that troubles many of the antinomies haunting Western art and its institutions. Appraised as both beautiful and ugly, racist and radical, hilarious and tragic, cutting and cathartic, Colescott’s paintings wed such contrary terms in order to instigate a “one-two punch”: As he put it in a 1996 video of that name, the vibrancy of his works’ colors and compositions seduced from afar, eliciting an “Oh wow!” from viewers who might then mutter “Oh shit!” when confronted up

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  • Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, Durham, NC, 1992. Photo: H. A. Sedgwick.

    Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick

    WHEN I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick, in the 1980s, we were both teaching at New England schools. It was a dark and snowy night, but the friends and faculty who came out that evening for Sedgwick’s lecture at Williams College (where I had recently joined the Romance-languages department) were excited to hear the Amherst professor who had authored the groundbreaking book Between Men: English Literature and Male Homosocial Desire (1985). Sedgwick’s talk was a thunderbolt. At a time when “theory” was riveted to analysis of Foucault’s power-knowledge axis, her presentation revalued ignorance.

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  • Hanne Darboven in her studio, Harburg, Germany, 2005. Photo: Michael Danner.

    Hanne Darboven

    ONE AFTERNOON, SOMETIME in the mid-1980s, I paid a visit to Leo Castelli’s gallery on West Broadway to see a Hanne Darboven show. The only other person in the room at that moment was the artist herself, whom I instantly recognized from photographs. After some minutes, I approached—whether to introduce myself or to comment on the work, I hadn’t quite decided. As if suddenly sensing my presence, she turned and blurted out: “No questions.” Then, without giving me time to parley, she left. So began what would develop into, despite this unpromising debut, a close professional and personal

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  • Coosje van Bruggen

    “PREPARE YOURSELF TO SPEAK with Coosje van Bruggen,” the assistant on the other end of the line said. Little did I know what I was preparing myself for. The call came after I had first met Coosje at the Chateau Marmont in Los Angeles in 1981. I had just finished my MFA at CalArts, where I studied with Michael Asher (who introduced us), John Baldessari, and Douglas Huebler, among others. I showed Coosje my work and she asked her husband, Claes Oldenburg, to join us; two days later, the phone rang. She informed me that they wanted to acquire the piece we had talked about. They were the first people

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  • Max Neuhaus

    BY THE TIME OF HIS DEATH on February 3, Max Neuhaus was widely regarded as a, if not the, founding father of “sound art.” Neuhaus never liked the term, which came into circulation decades after he began using sound as a medium in site-specific installations. Asked in 2000 to provide an elder statesman’s endorsement of a self-described “sound art” exhibition, Neuhaus responded with an essay deriding the term. “It’s as if perfectly capable curators in the visual arts suddenly lose their equilibrium at the mention of the word sound,” he wrote. “These same people who would all ridicule a new art

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  • Odetta

    SOME ARTISTS CREATE visions of the future. Others illustrate how to get there by showing us where we have been. In doing so, they lay out what we are up against and remind us of our strength, fortitude, and resilience. Their work accompanies us on the journey, joins us in struggle, points out the way, and carries us when necessary. Odetta, who passed away this past December, at age seventy-seven, was of this latter group. She was singular, awe inspiring, and real.

    With a voice that was recognizable from the first note, Odetta, a woman known by one name, was a historian and an activist, a culture

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  • Avalanche headquarters at 93 Grand Street, New York, ca. 1973. Foreground, from left: Liza Béar and Willoughby Sharp. Background, from left: Alfonia Tims, Barry Ledoux, Christopher Lethbridge. Photo: Cosmos.

    Willoughby Sharp

    Willoughby Sharp, a vital force in America’s postwar art world as a writer, curator, publisher, artist, and teacher, died on December 17, aged seventy-two. Artforum asked Liza Béar, who met Sharp in 1968 and shortly thereafter founded the magazine Avalanche with him, and artist Hans Haacke, who participated in several exhibitions Sharp organized, to mark his passing with their thoughts and reminiscences.

    LIZA BÉAR

    New York, November 8, 1968

    Nixon has been elected. The CBS News Election Unit keeps a few of us expats on to do the recounts. Catapulted from London’s 1960s counterculture on my first

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  • Michael Baxandall

    “MONEY IS VERY IMPORTANT in the history of art.” Everyone was struck in 1972 by this placid assertion, so lucid and disillusioned, on the very first page of a slim, learned tract on Renaissance painting. That study, Painting and Experience in Fifteenth-Century Italy: A Primer in the Social History of Pictorial Style, immediately installed itself on every university curriculum and in every museum bookshop. It is still the first book that many people read about Renaissance art. The author, Michael Baxandall, a philologically inclined scholar trained at Cambridge University, the Victoria and Albert

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  • Manny Farber, Del Mar, California, ca. 1998.  Photo: Patricia Patterson.

    Manny Farber

    MANNY FARBER FIRST CAME TO MY ATTENTION by way of a book generically titled Movies, with a generic cover illustration of Bogie, George Raft, and suchlike tinted with cupcake dyes. Heaven knows why I even bothered to open it, but I immediately found myself reading such violently nongeneric sentences as “The movie’s color is that of caterpillar guts, and its 14-karat image is a duplicate of the retouched studio portraits that could be obtained in Journal Square, Jersey City, in 1945.” Or “Rita Tushingham’s sighting over a gun barrel at an amusement park (standard movie place for displaying types

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  • Bruce Conner

    BRUCE CONNER’S DEATH this past summer was not his first. Back in 1972, in an attempt to stanch annual solicitations for inclusion in Who’s Who in America, he wrote to inform the publisher of his death, only to find himself an entry in Who Was Who in America the following year. A more conceptual loss, of his artistic persona, took place in February 1973, when a long-planned exhibition titled “The Complete Dennis Hopper One Man Show” finally opened at the James Willis Gallery in San Francisco. Originally proposed in the mid-1960s at a time when Conner had completed two dozen or so Ernst-like

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  • Anne d’Harnoncourt with Marcel Duchamp’s Bride Stripped Bare by Her Bachelors, Even (The Large Glass), 1915–23, Philadelphia Museum of Art, 1973. Photo: Patrick Radebaugh.

    Anne d’Harnoncourt

    NOW AND THEN, as a curator at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, I found myself speculating about what Anne d’Harnoncourt might have done had she not followed in her father’s footsteps as a museum director. University president? Supreme Court justice? Or US ambassador to the United Nations? For reasons I don’t quite understand, this game intrigued me, as my imagination delivered her diplomacy, eloquence, and erudition to sectors of American life sorely in need of them. Perhaps it was just fun to know well someone who was fully credible as a star in any of these roles.

    What these musings reflect,

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