COLUMNS

  • Ferreira Gullar, 2015. Photo: Greg Salibian.

    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, 2015. Photo: Greg Salibian.

    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, 2016. Photo: Tania Victoria/Secretaría de Cultura CDMX.

    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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  • Still from Ways of Seeing, 1972, a TV show on BBC. John Berger.

    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, Wrexham, UK, 1967. Photo: Tony Fisher.

    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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  • George Balanchine, Agon, 1957. Rehearsal view, 1957. George Balanchine and Igor Stravinsky watch Diana Adams and Arthur Mitchell. Photo: Martha Swope.

    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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  • Hassan Sharif, 1981.

    Hassan Sharif (ca. 1951–2016)

    TALKING ABOUT COURAGE would be a bit grandiose for Hassan Sharif. He dismissed the labels put on him in the second half of his life: the Gulf’s “Godfather of Conceptual art,” the “grandfather of United Arab Emirates art,” and such. Yet one can take courage in the way Hassan continued to work despite early rejection and the true nature of his work going underappreciated until the end of his life.

    I worked with Hassan for about a year on what would turn out to be his last solo show of new work on his home turf in Dubai. He lived and worked between two rooms, on stuck-down strips of garish pink

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  • John Berger, 1999. Photo: Jean Mohr.

    John Berger (1926–2017)

    JOHN BERGER WAS AN EXTRAORDINARY INDIVIDUAL—extraordinary in the range of his creation and his criticism. But also extraordinary as a presence. He had the least sense of hierarchy of anyone I have ever known. And he was uniquely interested in the present moment. So whoever he was with, young or old, rich or poor, famous or unknown, man or woman, had his complete attention. This was, in its way, unnerving: You had to think about what you were saying because you were being listened to with a quite unusual concentration. And you had to listen with real intensity because what was being said was

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  • John Berger, 2009. Photo: Wikimedia commons user Ji-Elle.

    John Berger (1926–2017)

    IN A TIME OF POLITICAL TRAUMA, the ability to communicate complex ideas about history in language that is accessible to more than just the most highly educated and privileged is a rare gift. John Berger’s death at the age of ninety on the second day of this ominous new year struck many as a symbolic blow against the last embers of the Enlightenment. People turned to his writings to find words to help us in the current moment: For example, as we prepare ourselves for the necessity of years of political demonstrations to preserve civil rights and democracy, this quote immediately circulated, taken

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  • Klaus Kertess, 2000. Photo: Robert Giard.

    Klaus Kertess (1940–2016)

    KLAUS KERTESS’S BRILLIANT EYE shaped a strong curatorial voice at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York, during the 1980s and ’90s, when it was my privilege to work with him. He served as the Robert Lehman Curator (1983–89) and continued as an adjunct curator and articulate advisor, ultimately serving on the search committee that selected the architects Herzog & de Meuron to design the new Parrish in Water Mill. Even a short list of the many exhibitions he organized for the museum gives a vivid picture of his wide-ranging tastes and distinctive approach: “Marin in Oil” (1987), the

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  • Jean Fisher. Photo: James De Quesada. www.jeanfisher.com/. www.jamesdequesada.com/.

    Jean Fisher (1942–2016)

    WRITERS OFTEN SAY THEY WRITE TO FORGET, and as I sat down to write this tribute to my beloved friend Jean Fisher, a conversation that we had about Fernando Pessoa’s posthumously published The Book Of Disquiet came back to me. We were at a dinner in Lisbon with the quixotic art gallerist Luís Serpa, mercilessly teasing him as he tried to get us to agree that without an ending, all narratives are essentially the same, as they come to the same end: to death, to nothing. Pessoa’s book, which solidified his reputation as Portugal’s greatest writer, is a series of fragments, not a book at all, really,

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