Passages

  • Barbara Weiss (1960–2016)

    I MET BARBARA WEISS AT A TIME when I still regarded galleries as false agents of a new financialization of the city. So at first I hesitated to show with her, but over several conversations with her I found that she was receptive to my concerns and even shared some of them. This is what moved me to exhibit with her. At that point, I didn’t yet know the meaning of sustained collaboration or what it was like to be able to count on someone across decades; it was to her credit that she showed me that.

    Barbara Weiss advocated not only artistic positions that represented their creator’s subjectivity

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  • Gustav Metzger (1926–2017)

    IT WAS THE CULTURAL COMMENTATOR FRED KAPLAN who observed that many of the great epiphanies of the 1960s were set in motion in 1959. This is certainly true in the case of Gustav Metzger—1959 was the year he wrote his first manifesto on “auto-destructive art,” a public art form that held up a mirror to a social and political system that Metzger felt was progressing toward total obliteration. Auto-destruction, he wrote, was “an attempt to deal rationally with a society that appears to be lunatic.”

    I heard of Gustav years later. I was on an eight-city lecture tour of the UK with not much to lecture

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  • Ferreira Gullar

    FIRST-TIME VISITORS to the poet Ferreira Gullar’s apartment were often struck by his homemade replicas of works by Piet Mondrian and Alexander Calder. “Since I cannot afford originals,” he used to say, “I make my own.” His nonchalance about copying these masters underscores just how close Gullar and the midcentury circle of Brazilian artists around him felt to the modernist lineage they admired; Lygia Clark even wrote a personal letter to the long-deceased Mondrian in which she told him, “You are more alive today for me than all the people who understand me, up to a point.” Instead of revering

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  • Daan van Golden

    DAAN VAN GOLDEN vowed never to give an interview or a lecture. In 2004, when awarded the Dr. A. H. Heineken Prize for Art, he chose to accept the honor with a number of found quotes. “Art is not a contest” was a particular favorite of his. Van Golden elected not to participate in the competition of art. He worked slowly, even stopping altogether for a decade beginning in the late 1960s. He participated in the BKR (Beeldende Kunstenaars Regeling), a system of financial support then given to artists by the Dutch government in exchange for their works, and so his art, for the most part, belongs to

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  • Barbara Weiss (1960–2016)

    I HAD HEARD MANY THINGS ABOUT BARBARA WEISS before she invited me for a one-person show at her legendary gallery in Berlin this past November. She was notoriously tough, strong willed, known for doing things her way and speaking her mind. But by the time I arrived in the city she was already bedridden with cancer. So from the invitation to the exhibition itself I communicated exclusively with Barbara through her directors, Daniel Herleth and Bärbel Trautwein, who helped me to turn my show into a wonderful, successful endeavor.

    This made my exhibition an exercise in remote communication and delayed

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  • Jannis Kounellis (1936–2017)

    CAN AN EXHIBITION, CONSIDERED IN RETROSPECT, PROVE TO BE A CREATIVE MARRIAGE OF SORTS between an artist and a gallerist?

    Jannis Kounellis’s presentation of live horses in the garage space in Rome I’d converted into an art gallery was undoubtedly the apex of our careers: Jannis’s, and mine. Yes, in a certain sense, we tied the knot on January 14, 1969, when his quadrupeds entered the garage. That exhibition of twelve mighty Dutch horses, arranged in a semicircle with their reins attached to the walls, lasted three days. Visitors moved among the horses, who defecated and urinated continually, their

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  • Ferreira Gullar (1930–2016)

    ALTHOUGH FAMILIAR WITH HIS WORK FROM MY UNDERGRADUATE YEARS, I never had any reason to reach out to Ferreira Gullar until 2010, when I was preparing the exhibition “Specters of Artaud” for the Reina Sofía. In my research interview with him, we reviewed some well-trodden history: his Concrete poetry of the 1950s and his authorship of the 1959 “Neoconcrete Manifesto” that marked his and his cohort’s break with the rationality of Concrete poetry and visual art. Around the turn of the decade, he also penned a series of newspaper articles titled “Stages of Contemporary Art,” a programmatic and

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  • Ferreira Gullar (1930–2016)

    I ENCOUNTERED FERREIRA GULLAR’s WRITINGS IN THE MID 1990s. I had become familiar with the work of Neo-concrete artists Hélio Oiticica and Lygia Clark—then utterly unknown in American academia—so it was Gullar’s writings in support of those artists and his criticism of the period that I first tackled. With the Neoconcrete cohort, Gullar penned the famous “Neoconcrete Manifesto” of 1959, which was published as a pamphlet and in the revolutionary Suplemento Dominical Jornal do Brasil, for which Gullar served as visual-arts editor. But by then Gullar was an established poet too, author of A luta

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  • Teodoro González de León (1926–2016)

    AUDACIOUS MAY SEEM LIKE THE BEST WORD to describe both the work and the personality of Teodoro González de León.

    The last time I saw him he was both amused and deeply touched as he looked again, after more than sixty years, at the drawing that symbolized his daring entry into the world of architecture. When he was a twenty-year-old architecture student, he and his classmate Armando Franco decided to draw an alternative master-plan proposal for the University City UNAM in Mexico and show it to the university authorities. Against all odds, the drawing became the basis for the most important design

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  • John Berger

    TO EXPLAIN why John Berger was such a great writer about art, it’s easiest to start with questions of boredom. What first struck me, when I saw the classic 1972 TV series Ways of Seeing and read the book adapted from it, was the way Berger made boring old paintings of men in ruffs look interesting. He was able to do this—and so much more—because he was the least boring writer on art there has ever been. Think, on the other hand, of that lavish catalogue accompanying the wonderful show of whatever at the museum of wherever. You really wanted a souvenir of your visit, but when you looked

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  • Jean Fisher

    JEAN FISHER had a knack for getting under the skin of art. Describing herself as “an artist who practices writing on contemporary art,” she was drawn to work that sparked momentary crises of recognition—and that, in turn, opened up new sources of ethical and political agency. The glitches that can arise when communication breaks down, the opacities and blind spots in our experiences of cultural difference, were particularly generative for the artistic strategies illuminated in her writing and teaching.

    With a background in the life sciences, and having earned a degree in fine art from

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  • Martha Swope (1928–2017)

    IF YOU CARE ABOUT BALLET from the second half of the twentieth century, one of your wished-for fly-on-the-wall moments is probably a late rehearsal, back in 1957, for a new piece by George Balanchine. It’s called Agon. Music by Igor Stravinsky. Today, Stravinsky himself is stopping by to see a run-through. In dark glasses, a vest, and a tie, he sits with the choreographer at the mirrored front of the room. The dancers begin. Stravinsky beats time. Balanchine snaps his fingers. At one point, the pair consult with the rehearsal pianist, and a corps member rests on the floor in front of them.

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