COLUMNS

  • Eric Rohmer

    Love desires nothing but itself.

    —Lycidas, in Les Amours d’Astrée et de Céladon

    (The Romance of Astrea and Celadon, 2007)

    IN HIS LATTER YEARS, the French filmmaker Eric Rohmer—who died on January 11, at the age of eighty-nine—took on the terse, attenuated air of a Jansenist abbot. Lean, austere, his eyes a cool, penetrating blue, Rohmer embodied the rationalism and restraint for which his cinematic style had become famous. The elder statesman of the Nouvelle Vague, born a decade before Truffaut and Godard, Rohmer also served as the New Wave’s sage, resisting aesthetic and political fashion to

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  • Nancy Spero

    IN 1966, NANCY SPERO concluded that the language of painting was “too conventional, too establishment,” and she decided that from then on she would work exclusively on paper—flimsy, vulnerable, insignificant paper meant to be pinned to a wall. Having recently returned to the United States after a number of years in Europe, Spero was deeply disturbed by the atrocities the US military was committing in Vietnam, and over the course of the next four years, she created her first significant works on paper, the scores of gouache-and-ink pictures that make up her “War Series.” As she later described

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  • Irving Penn

    “TURN YOUR HEAD A TINY BIT TO THE LEFT. . . . Good, but a little higher . . . Yes yes, a little higher still . . .” Click.

    “Now what would happen if you’d put your hand to your left cheek? Not that far up, a bit lower . . . the index right on the jawline . . . There, yes there, great!” Click.

    “Could we try the same with the head much lower . . .”

    I’m posing for Irving Penn, and once again everything hurts. As I follow his directives I know that by the end of the day—no sitting I’ve ever had with Penn lasted less than two hours—the great ache spreading down my neck and across my shoulders will only

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  • 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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