COLUMNS

  • 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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  • Edward Said

    When you think about it, when you think about Jew and Palestinian not separately, but as part of a symphony, there is something magnificently imposing about it. A very rich, also very tragic, also in many ways desperate history of extremes . . . that is yet to receive its due.

    —Edward W. Said1

    THE UNTIMELINESS of Edward Said’s death was persistently mentioned in the press and poignantly remarked upon, again and again, by his friends. By the time he passed away in the early hours of September 25, Edward Said had survived a decade of disease, his leukemia always lying in wait for him, drenching

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  • Mario Merz

    IF I CLOSE MY EYES, I can still envision my first encounter with Mario Merz in 1966 at his studio in Turin, which marked the beginning of my long friendship and collaboration with him as a fellow nomad and adventurer, a journey unbroken until his death on November 9, 2003. In the series of rooms where he worked, the artist’s triangular structures projected out from the walls and floors. Made of fabric and woven bamboo, they brought to mind the shaped canvases being produced at the time by Frank Stella and others and were splashed with red paint (as well as scorched with burn holes), evoking the

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  • Kirk Varnedoe

    ARRIVING WITH KIRK VARNEDOE at a museum was like showing up with a rock star about to play Madison Square Garden. Bypassing the public entrance, we would enter by an inconspicuous door next to the loading dock. Kirk would announce his name, I would say mine, and the bored security guard would phone upstairs. A few minutes later the museum director would appear, slightly out of breath, greet Kirk effusively, and lead us up to the galleries or down to the storage area, where we would study the paintings arrayed on racks under fluorescent lights like sides of beef in a butcher’s freezer.

    When the

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  • Pierre Restany

    “PIERRE RESTANY? A MYTH.” That was Andy Warhol’s laudatory reply when asked his opinion of the inventor of Nouveau Réalisme, who died in Paris in May. Restany was much more than a curator or a critic as we understand the terms today: He was at once a champion of artists and an entrepreneur of concepts, which he defended with all the power of his conviction. He is mostly remembered for founding the movement, with Yves Klein, Christo, and Jean Tinguely, in the late ’50s. Less known is his more recent and discreet engagement with a new generation of largely European artists—from Pierre Huyghe to

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  • Fred Sandback

    IN 1986 FRED SANDBACK concluded one of his rare written statements with the words: “Perhaps indeed, I have nomadicized my existence.” He was speaking about his unexpected disaffection for the museum dedicated to his work in Winchendon, Massachusetts, which he had opened five years earlier with the financial help of the Dia Art Foundation. The idea of the museum had been “quirky,” he readily admitted, but his work, not “easily acquired or preserved,” had gradually become invisible. “I did feel that the work ought to exist somewhere in a reasonably dense and permanent grouping, outside of the ‘

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  • Fred Sandback

    I met the sculptor Fred Sandback through my partner in Artforum and copublisher Amy Baker, though I only got to know him after they married in 1982. He was a shy, kind, wryly humorous bear of a man, with the look of someone who wanted to be anywhere else but in the middle of an art-world function. He was an outdoorsman who loved to travel but was happiest and most at home in the woods and lakes around Rindge, New Hampshire, where his family had a house and where he spent much of his time.

    When we first met I knew his work only through illustrations, which give little sense of its quality. I

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  • Stan Brakhage

    STAN BRAKHAGE’S DEATH at seventy, on March 9, 2003, marked the end of the most astonishing career in the 108-year history of the cinema. For fifty years Brakhage released up to a dozen new works every year without a break, so that he leaves a filmography with some four hundred titles. In his artistic practice and in the themes of his films he was an Emersonian vitalist, a legacy he inherited through the poets Ezra Pound and Robert Duncan. But in the end he moved from being a celebrant of the aesthetic creed of the American Orpheus, and from a self-consciously Spinozist position as a critic of

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  • Colin de Land

    IT WAS A DARK AND STORMY NIGHT, and I was standing, freezing, outside American Fine Arts, Co., when a shiny new purple pickup truck arrived with its ferocious cargo: The Voluptuous Horror of Karen Black. Naked save for a coat of brightly colored body paint, seven band members leaped from the vehicle and paraded into the packed gallery for their performance. Inside the space, visitors were greeted by a photo in which bandleader Kembra Pfahler was seen prancing on a bed with another naked body—that of Colin de Land, the proprietor of American Fine Arts, painted completely blue and topped with a

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  • Jack Goldstein

    “I AM ALWAYS DISAPPEARING in my performances––it’s strange how personal my work is.”

    Just as a serious assessment of the ’80s is beginning, one of the period’s most important and neglected figures has slipped from our grasp. The long-term significance of Jack Goldstein’s artistic achievement is only now becoming evident. In his life and work, Jack, who committed suicide in San Bernardino in March at the age of fifty-seven, articulated the profound anxiety dominating an era of spectacle, as the open-ended Conceptual practices that characterized the ’70s gave way to an appropriation-based return

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  • Charles Henri Ford

    IN THIS SUGAR-FREE ERA, what artist has a life more interesting than his art? The death of Charles Henri Ford (1908–2002) puts the capper on a time when precociousness and chutzpah were art forms in themselves. In 1927, on the eve of his nineteenth birthday, Ford wrote in his diary: “In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. In two years I will be famous. This is my oath.”

    Not missing a beat, the poetry-besotted high school dropout started a little magazine out of his small-town

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