COLUMNS

  • Harald Szeemann

    HARALD SZEEMANN, who died in February at the age of seventy-one, was the most influential curator of his generation—and, arguably, the most influential of all time, since he practically defined the curator’s role as we understand it today. For decades, he worked out of a studio he called “The Factory” in the small Swiss village of Tegna, conceiving exhibitions that were international in scope and consistently dodging the categories of traditional museum practice, often daring to place historical and contemporary artworks beside anthropological artifacts, sacred objects, technical devices, and

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  • Philip Johnson

    PHILIP JOHNSON is not gone. The “godfather” of American architecture keeps producing the same excesses of praise and criticism that he attracted his whole life. It was his special gift always to be able to elicit this intense yet ambivalent reaction. From the moment in January 1931 that he was asked to direct an exhibition at MoMA at the precocious age of twenty-four until his recent death not quite four months after he retired at the daunting age of ninety-eight, Johnson rattled institutions and ideas. To his credit, he is unlikely to be treated kindly in official memory.

    There was always as

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  • Tom Wesselmann

    BY NOW, the works of Tom Wesselmann, who died on December 17, 2004, have become textbook icons of the ’60s. Born in 1931, he began to paint, like other members of his generation, under the shadow of New York’s chef d’école, de Kooning, before veering in the direction of Bonnard’s and Matisse’s domestic interiors. But with the passing of the ’50s, startling intrusions appeared in his work, mirroring one of the landmark rebellions in twentieth-century art. In 1961, for example, in two of the earlier entries in “Great American Nude,” the ongoing series he began in the same year, Wesselmann slipped

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  • Gretchen Bender

    WHEN DAVID ROBBINS made his signature 1986 piece Talent, a lineup of eighteen black-and-white head shots of very fresh-faced artists of a certain notoriety at that time in New York, he presented a giddily ironic vision of unbounded optimism. The photographs were taken—staged and lit, processed and retouched—by a professional portrait studio off Times Square. They were not made in the style of actor’s publicity shots; they were the real thing. It was the artists who were faking it. (As one of the subjects, I remember the experience well, feeling too imperfect, too corporeal somehow, before the

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  • Jacques Derrida

    JACQUES DERRIDA’S greatest virtue was his tenacious literalism. He wanted to capture everything in his net. About his adolescence and the continuity of some of his obsessions into maturity, he said to Derek Attridge in Acts of Literature (1992): “Still today there remains in me an obsessive desire to save in uninterrupted inscription . . . what happens—or fails to happen. What I should be tempted to denounce as a lure—i.e., totalization or gathering up—isn’t this what keeps me going?”

    In a German newspaper article appearing after Derrida’s death in October, Jürgen Habermas wrote that he had come

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  • Steven Parrino

    STEVEN PARRINO’S austere practice and straightforward approach to the art world made him a model to many of those who knew him and an influence on a wide range of artists. Following his untimely death at age 46 in a motorcycle accident early New Year’s morning, Artforum asked critic and curator Bob Nickas and sometime Parrino collaborator Jutta Koether to offer their thoughts on the late New York artist.

    BOB NICKAS: I probably saw Steven Parrino’s work for the first time in 1984 at Nature Morte, the gallery Alan Belcher and Peter Nagy ran in the East Village. I’d never seen anything like it

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  • Agnes Martin, The Sea, 2003, acrylic and graphite on canvas, 60 x 60".

    Lynne Cooke on Agnes Martin

    “SCARY” WAS THE WORD that Agnes Martin used to describe the small group of “black” paintings that we were surveying at PaceWildenstein gallery in New York one afternoon last May. These five anomalous canvases constituted about half the works in her exhibition “Homage to Life,” which would become, with her death on December 20, 2004, the last show she made. Dominated by viscous black acrylic; one or two simple geometric forms; and an impastoed, at times gestural, facture, these canvases from 2002–2003 seemed a radical departure from her practice over the previous four decades. Deemed too foreboding

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  • Jackson Mac Low

    COMMON SENSE corroborates what psychologists have noticed in recent studies: The human brain prefers unpredictable pleasures, and the imagination is best activated by puzzles. The mind enjoys having to do its own work of making sense rather than being presented with prefab meaning. What wakes us up is a combination of noticing differences and having something to do. If desire and aggression are two major drives, curiosity is surely another. This insight has implications for the design of children’s toys (infinitely combinatorial blocks are better than objects with a limited number of obvious

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  • Leon Golub, Mercenaries V, 1984, acrylic on linen, 10' x 14' 4".

    Gerald Marzorati on Leon Golub

    IT COULD BE SAID that the world caught up to Leon Golub last spring, just months before he died from complications of surgery on August 8 at the age of eighty-two. The images that emerged in April of what transpired when darkness fell at Abu Ghraib prison outside Baghdad horrified the world, Golub included, no doubt, but they couldn’t have taken him by surprise. He’d already conjured them with paint, slowly teasing pictures of abuse, torture, and degradation from his careful reading of progressive journals and from photos that he clipped from S/M magazines and, ultimately, from the deeper recesses

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  • Richard Wollheim, London, ca. 1980. Photo: Rupert Wollheim.

    Svetlana Alpers on Richard Wollheim

    RICHARD WOLLHEIM, who died on November 4, 2003, at the age of eighty, was one of the leading philosophers writing on art and on the mind in the twentieth century. Art and Its Objects (1968, expanded 1980), On Art and the Mind (1974), Painting as an Art (1987), The Thread of Life (1984), and On the Emotions (1999) were among the compelling books he wrote. But listing titles hardly does justice to the man or to his work. Wollheim’s friends were at a loss: How does one go on with one’s own work when his sustaining passion for painting and his endless vitality in pursuit of it are gone? His life,

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  • Jess

    FOR DECADES, Jess seldom left the run-down Victorian house in San Francisco’s Inner Mission District that he shared for thirty years with the late poet Robert Duncan. He didn’t like to be with a lot of people and once told me that it horrified him that he might at some point be the subject of someone’s attention. Jess had fewer shows and probably fewer articles written about him than anyone of his generation whose work is similarly represented in many of the finest museums in the country. In addition to his innate shyness, the radical infrequency of his exhibitions had a lot to do with the fact

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  • Billy Klüver preparing Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1960. Photo: David Gahr.

    Branden W. Joseph on Billy Klüver

    THE FIRST ART PROJECT to which Swedish engineer Billy Klüver—who passed away on January 11, 2004, at the age of seventy-six—lent his energy and expertise was Jean Tinguely’s Homage to New York, the machine that famously self-destructed in the garden of the Museum of Modern Art on March 17, 1960. “The Garden Party,” Klüver’s written account of the event, opens by noting that Tinguely built his suicidal contraption inside the Buckminster Fuller dome exhibited on the grounds. Although this detail is often overlooked, the two structures formed a telling dialectical pair. While Tinguely’s animate

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