Passages

  • Roy Lichtenstein

    ROY AND I HAD these little talks whenever I got shaky about dying. No one else I knew seemed so certain about death’s vacant aftermath, and seemed so certain without bravado or dread. He had no fear of death, he said. You were just gone and out. As for any aftermath, Roy was going to leave his soul to science.

    So much for what I’d already known. In this arena (and perhaps this was the only one), there were no consolations forthcoming from Roy. Why did I bother to ask? Just to hear him repeat how unfearful he was, I suppose. For the tonic effect it might have on me.

    Hemingway said that one of the

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  • Douglas Huebler

    I WAS INTRODUCED TO Doug Huebler in 1968 by Seth Siegelaub, a soon-to-be former dealer who at the time was showing Robert Barry’s and Lawrence Weiner’s paintings and the work of a few others as well as Doug’s Formica sculptures (as these artists’ work changed, so did the nature of Seth’s activity). Doug had strength, grace, and a kind of wizened humility, all qualities that I, at twenty-three, frankly lacked. He also had maturity—when I was born in 1945, Doug was serving as a sergeant in the US Marine Corps. The image of him as a Marine fit in with the strong impression he made physically. He

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  • Martin Kippenberger

    MARTIN KIPPENBERGER’S MAGIC always cast a powerful spell over his audience, sometimes literally putting them under the influence. Not so long ago I invited him to visit the Yale School of Art, and with extravagant melodrama he struggled through the early-morning commute to New Haven. Immediately on arrival he scuttled his scheduled lecture by ambushing the students with a cheering invitation to head straight for Yale’s favorite bar. At the Anchor, they ate from the breakfast menu and got all liquored up. He held forth, judging the quick and the dead in the art world; opinions were refueled with

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  • James Lee Byars

    JAMES LEE BYARS DIED in the Anglo-American Hospital in Cairo late on the night of May 22 or early in the morning of May 23, 1997. Cancer had planted flags of occupation in his body for several years, and finally claimed it all. Toward the end he said ruefully, “My bones stick to the chair.” Yet in the days and hours before his death, he was engrossed in the lingering issues, problems, and satisfactions of his life—working on a new will, speaking on the phone with friends on other continents and vigorously pursuing his artwork up till, literally, the final minutes.

    Late on May 21 a turn for the

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  • Willem de Kooning

    WHEN I HEARD THE NEWS of Willem de Kooning’s death, I was speeding down a highway in New Mexico. I had just left New York where an exhibition of his late paintings at the Museum of Modern Art was still on view. The artist had been in fragile health for years and had recently taken a turn for the worse, but I was still jolted by the irrevocability of the event. De Kooning had not been “with” the world for a long time, but suddenly he was gone from it. Needing to gather my thoughts about an artist whose work had been the focus of my thinking for the past three years and whose example dominated my

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  • Peter Cain

    PETER CAIN DIED on January 5, 1997, at the age of thirty-seven. He had a cerebral hemorrhage in his sleep, lingered in a coma for a few days, and was gone.

    His work was widely seen but not too widely known. He’d had five one-person exhibitions in New York and California since 1990. He was in the 1993 and 1995 Whitney Biennials, so he had “respect,” and a lot of warm bodies had passed in front of his work, but his serious audience remained small—small enough that we mostly knew who each other were. His paintings and drawings are odd and special, and they’ve always polarized people.

    An occasional

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  • Dan Flavin

    THE DEATH OF Daniel Nicholas Flavin, Jr., on November 29, 1996, sent my memory rushing back to the early ’60s, now a mythic moment in the history of art. Born on April 1, 1933, Flavin was part of my own generation, for which the complementary austerities of an iconic soup can and a perfect rectangle appeared to launch a visual order in which industrial uniformity and pure cerebration would be the reigning muses. Worshiping early at New York’s shrines of Modern art (he once worked as a guard at the Museum of Modern Art, and attended Meyer Schapiro’s lectures at Columbia), by 1963 Flavin had become

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  • Leon Polk Smith

    LEON POLK SMITH was born in what was then known as Indian Territory and a year later, in 1907, as Oklahoma. Both his parents were part Cherokee, and many of their neighbors were Chickasaws and Choctaws. Smith was to speak with warmth about the Native American stories, songs, and rituals he learned as a child. His heritage would put him at odds neither with contemporary America nor with Modernism; in fact the spirituality of the Native Americans, he felt, attuned him to the present and its possibilities.

    Attending Oklahoma State College as a young man, Smith passed an open door that showed him an

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  • Meyer Shapiro

    MEYER SCHAPIRO, WHO DIED on March 3 at the age of 91, enjoyed an adulation that may in his later decades have been as taxing as it was rewarding. Intent younger art historians asked him time and again to recount the genesis of the extraordinary publications with which he began his career in the ’30s; to rehearse his simultaneous commitments and interventions (in such journals as New Masses, Art Front, and Marxist Quarterly) in the politics of the Left during the Great Depression, Popular Front, and anti-Stalinist schisms; to recall his warm and abundant friendships with giants (and peers) in

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  • Félix González Torres

    A MUTUAL FRIEND called me in Havana from New York to tell me the news of the death of Félix González Torres. As I hung up the phone I thought that this precarious communication might have been the only link between the artist’s death and the country of his birth. It was like one of Félix’s own works, a subtle line coming down, a minimum trace of a presence in absence. Félix is not well known in Cuba, and his death went as unnoticed as had his life.

    I felt an absurd emptiness. I also thought of the telegram that ten years earlier had announced to me the death of Ana Mendieta, 38 years old, like

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  • Krzysztof Kieślowski

    WHEN KRZYSZTOF KIEŚLOWSKI retired from cinema at 52 “to sit on a bench in Poland,” Cannes reporters seemed almost more shocked at the Poland part. (Why, when he could be sitting in Paris?) Two years later he left us wondering why anyone with his resources would have heart surgery in Warsaw. Few in the West understood the man’s ferocious Polish complex. Because he came to the attention of most film audiences only in the final phase of his career, while working in France, we barely grasped the extraordinary integrity of his life or his project, and even critics who praised the four French

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  • Gilles Deleuze

    I

    THE SUICIDE OF PHILOSOPHER Gilles Deleuze at the beginning of November, after he had spent many years suffering from a terrible respiratory illness, was a gesture that struck many in France dumb. Deleuze’s thought, however resistant to summary, was above all an affirmation of the life force, of the will to life: “One’s always writing,” as he put it in Pourparlers (1990 [Negotiations, 1995]), “to bring something to life, to free life from where it’s trapped.” While there is something tragically unbearable about the willful death of a philosopher who always, in the final instance, exalted and

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