COLUMNS

  • Michael Sorkin. Photo: Aundre Larrow.

    Michael Sorkin (1948–2020)

    I LOST A FRIEND, AND CITIES LOST THEIR FIERCEST, MOST PASSIONATE ADVOCATE with Michael Sorkin’s death from the coronavirus. He was one of only a few friends whom I consider—considered—brilliant: skillful beyond belief with words, master of arcane knowledge, and always quicker than anyone else at making connections. The sensuality of nature and angular modernity; vulgarity, narcissism, and a taste for autocracy. Dreams of a just society and projects that made artists and intellectuals feel they could really create one. Michael was always on the front lines, yet he was also off to the side, both

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  • Ulay with Thomas McEvilley, Eric Orr, and James Lee Byars, ca. mid-1990s. © Ulay.

    Ulay (1943–2020)

    IT IS PROBABLY THE FIRST PHOTOGRAPH OF HIS I ever encountered. I saw it during my initial visit with Ulay, in 2009 in Amsterdam, where we were beginning to prepare the exhibition “Become,” at Škuc Gallery, in Ljubljana. At that time I recognized only James Lee Byars (that telltale cylinder hat) but eventually learned that Thomas McEvilley and Eric Orr, all close friends of Ulay’s, are also in the photo. And hiding behind the slab of wood is Ulay himself.

    I would see this image on several other occasions, all in Ulay’s company. The last time was less than a year ago, when he was reminiscing about

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  • Suellen Rocca, 1966.

    Suellen Rocca (1943–2020)

    WHEN I HEARD of Suellen’s passing, I thought back to my first meeting with her. As I recall, she wasn’t at the get-together we had for the planning of the first Hairy Who show. So I did the “grown-up lady thing” and invited her for lunch, even though my kitchen skills were severely lacking. No matter, it was getting to know each other that was important. I served a packaged soup, but didn’t stir in the required amount of water, so it was sort of lumpy, powdery, and weird. Suellen was gracious and such a good sport, laughing with me, not at me. We gradually choked it all down.

    She was kind,

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  • David Hockney, For Paul With Love David, 1965, colored crayon on paper, 19 7/8 x 15 7/8".  © David Hockney. Courtesy of Kasmin Gallery.

    Paul Kasmin (1960–2020)

    I KNEW PAUL KASMIN ALL HIS LIFE. When Paul was a small baby, his father used to have a Tuesday evening soirée, where I met a lot of people, David Sylvester and Francis Bacon among them. And then, in the late ’60s, we used to go to a chateau in the Dordogne at Carennac, which Kas rented every summer. Paul was then seven or eight years old. I always loved him. He used to come and see me in London, then Paris, and then many times in California. From his father he inherited a fabulous eye—the gallery he opened in New York proved it. It was flawless. I last saw him here in Normandy, where his mother

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  • May Stevens in her studio, New York, 1974. Photo: Joyce Ravid. © The Estate of May Stevens.

    MAY STEVENS

    IN 1968, I moved to a loft in SoHo around the corner from where May Stevens and her husband, the Lithuanian-born painter Rudolf Baranik, lived with their dog, Sparta. We became friends and political allies. They were way ahead of me, having been deeply committed to the civil-rights movement and, later, active participants of the Angry Arts Week and cofounders of Artists and Writers Protest Against the War in Vietnam. Rudolf, a self-defined “socialist-formalist,” was the dedicated activist and strategist. May was involved but less active until the feminist art movement hit New York in 1970. Her

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  • May Stevens, A Life, 1984, acrylic on canvas, 78 × 120". From the series “Ordinary/Extraordinary,” 1976–84. © The Estate of May Stevens.

    MAY STEVENS

    I MET MAY STEVENS in the fall of 1983, when I enrolled in her survey class, Women in the Arts, at the School of Visual Arts in New York. I had made it through the tedium of the school’s conventionally designed foundation-year curriculum and into the second year of my degree program, when it was finally possible to take the many electives offered by the extraordinary instructors then teaching there. SVA was an early adopter of the adjunct-instructor model, meaning the school offered a representative sampling of the New York art world—for better and for worse. Painting was the dominant practice,

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  • Peter Wollen, August 1984.

    PETER WOLLEN

    ON DECEMBER 17, 2019, Peter Wollen died from early-onset Alzheimer’s disease, a slow, debilitating illness, a cruel death. He had been in a care home in England for fourteen years. Alzheimer’s denied Peter—and us—the life of his brilliant mind. Death may be a writer’s subject—the subject—but it is awful and very sad to write about a good friend’s. I know this will be inadequate to Peter.

    Peter thrived on ideas, adventures, and had many of both. He held strong views and was very knowledgeable. Peter wrote on film, art, politics, fashion, on culture generally. He wrote poems, curated art exhibitions,

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  • Jason Polan, New York, 2013. Photo: Lele Saveri.

    Jason Polan (1982–2020)

    IT WASN’T SO UNUSUAL to run into Jason Polan in New York, as he loved to wander the streets and was always out and about, looking for people and things to draw. And in the last few years, he lived down the street from me. “Hi, how you feeling?” he would ask. Still, it was always one of the happiest things that could happen. A minute with Jason could turn a low day into a good one—he made life felt lighter, brighter somehow.

    I don’t remember the first time we met, but it must have been at some book fair, or book release, definitely at some book-related thing. What I remember well was the first

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  • Carla Herrera-Prats. Photo: Richard Lehun.

    Carla Herrera-Prats (1973–2019)

    I FIRST MET CARLA HERRERA-PRATS in the summer of 2008. I was invited to contribute an essay for her solo show at New York’s Art in General gallery, back when it was still just west of Chinatown on Walker Street. It was one of the first texts I ever wrote about a contemporary artist, and Carla was patient and generous with her time, most of it spent familiarizing me with her approach and materials—the technology that facilitated standardized testing in the United States. Photographs of antiquated IBM machinery and cluttered archives pertaining to the Iowa Testing Program hung on the walls, with

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  • Huang Yong Ping, 2012.

    HUANG YONG PING

    I MET HUANG YONG PING for the first time over lunch in Guangzhou one Saturday in October 2002. He arrived fresh from the emergency room, having cut his hand that morning while collaborating with a crew of metalworkers on his Bat Project II, a 1:1 facsimile of the cockpit and left wing of a US Navy surveillance plane that had unexpectedly landed on the island of Hainan after colliding with a Chinese fighter jet nineteen months earlier. The plane was to sit on the plaza in front of the Guangdong Museum of Art, part of the first edition of the Guangzhou Triennial. Huang had injured himself in vain:

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  • Xiamen Dada event, outside the Cultural Palace of Xiamen, Fujian, China, November 24, 1986. Photo: Wu Yi Ming.

    HUANG YONG PING

    IN 1989, Huang Yong Ping traveled to France at the Centre Pompidou’s invitation to take part in Jean-Hubert Martin’s “Magiciens de la terre,” widely remembered as the “first truly international exhibition of worldwide contemporary art.” The artist decided to stay in Paris. Thirty years later, his life, cut suddenly and prematurely short, has left an indelible mark on art history.

    Huang was born in 1954 in Xiamen, a city in southern China. From 1978 to 1983, he studied at the Zhejiang Academy of Fine Arts (now the China Academy of Art). By the time he moved to Paris, Huang had already established

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  • Jessye Norman performing in Leoš Janáček’s 1925 The Makropulos Case, Metropolitan Opera, New York, January 1996. Photo: Johan Elbers/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty.

    LAST SONGS FOR JESSYE NORMAN

    1. I REMEMBER driving away from Tanglewood one summer night in 1987 after having heard Jessye Norman sing a concert performance of Salome’s last scene, a soprano’s autoerotic orgy with the head of John the Baptist. (Long ago, I wrote about that pivotal night, but the memory of the performance and its aftermath rises up now, untainted by the sentences with which I once clothed the experience.) I remember driving into the night and wondering what on earth I would do with my life. My life, struck by Norman’s artistry, had become a thing worth interrogating. My life had become, suddenly, very very

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