COLUMNS

  • John Vaccaro in 2007. Photo: John Sarsgard.

    John Vaccaro (1929–2016)

    FOR THOSE UNFORTUNATE ONES, like me, who never had a chance to experience the Theatre of the Ridiculous in its heyday from the mid-1960s to the early ’70s in New York City, it is difficult to know fully how crucial director John Vaccaro was to that movement’s unconventional, disorienting, and defiant queer vision. The two other key figures of the Ridiculous—Charles Ludlam and Ronald Tavel—were both playwrights and essayists who reflected on their work and on the broader implications of this radical theater. Their writings provide fantastic evidence of both their wacky and inventive stage plays

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  • Max Ritvo. Photo: Ashley Woo.

    Max Ritvo (1990–2016)

    MAX,

    We die. You did, who seemed to have believed this fact. That we are of the nature of dying means that what happened to you in August in Los Angeles is that you went ahead of us. If too far ahead.

    I froze on a Brooklyn sidewalk the moment I realized I would no longer be chanting your name as I had for months with everyone in our temple: “Max Ritvo . . . Monastic Senjin . . . May they heal all their ills.”

    Did you hear, before you died, that Senjin’s last words were “I’m ready”? I have wondered if you were ready, who wrote:

    When my heart stops, it will be the end of certain things,

    but not the

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  • Mladen Stilinović, An Artist Who Doesn’t Speak English is Not an Artist, 1992, acrylic on artificial silk, 54 3/4 x 38 3/5".

    Mladen Stilinović (1947–2016)

    “La Pologne, la Pologne. Isn’t it terribly cold there?”

    “Pas du tout,” I answer icily

    THIS IS THE DEDICATION Mladen Stilinović wrote me in his artist’s book Energetic Action, comprising newspaper cutouts of political meetings in former Yugoslavia, reprinted on the occasion of his 2010 exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art in Warsaw. The quote is by Polish poetess Wisława Szymborska: two lines of mordant irony and deceptive simplicity.

    Stilinović loved poetry. He loved Polish poetry especially. He wrote his own poems, though he rarely published them. He also loved colloquial language: “One must

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  • Alan Vega, 1980. Photo: Ebet Roberts.

    Alan Vega (1938–2016)

    “Screams at:

    03:33

    03:59

    04:38

    06:15

    08:11

    09:24

    09:50.”

    “imagine just playing this , like casually like ppl would listen to Beyonce and shit”

    —Comments on a YouTube video of Suicide’s “Frankie Teardrop”

    THERE WAS NOTHING CASUAL ABOUT ALAN VEGA, who died last summer at (what turned out to be) the age of seventy-eight. An artist, musician, provocateur, and all-around wild man, Vega was best known as the vocalist for the lightning-bolt-channeling Suicide, who in the late 1970s gave Frankenstein-life to the extraordinarily loud, harsh breed of synth punk that not only inspired others to take up the

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  • Peter Hutton, New York Portrait, Part II, 1980–81, 16 mm, black-and-white, silent, 15 minutes. © Estate of Peter Hutton.

    Peter Hutton

    PETER HUTTON, who died on June 25 at the age of seventy-one, made motion pictures that are above all extended exercises in the rapture of looking. He specialized in long takes—of landscapes, seascapes, and cityscapes—in which the motion is subtle, fleeting, gradual, capillary. His movies, always shot on film and completely silent, invite sustained contemplation as well as spacing out, daydreaming. They lure the viewer into the frame, where the images can be absorbed by the body while the mind goes on a little vacation. They are “austerely romantic,” as J. Hoberman wrote in his New York

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  • Tunga

    LEGEND HAS IT that the Brazilian modernist master Alberto da Veiga Guignard was a guest in the house of an eminent Rio de Janeiro politician when he produced one of his best-known works, a large portrait of his host’s twin daughters, As gêmeas (The Twins), 1940. The painting is an enigmatic study in likeness and difference: The sisters wear identical dresses and similar hairdos, yet their faces remain distinct. They are linked most of all by the ornate colonial settee on which they are perched, its carved wooden swirls merging with their curls. It is an uncanny image, all the more so with the

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  • Lisa Liebmann

    LISA LIEBMANN was a passionate explainer. She wrote fine-textured prose that detailed the interplay of the subtle, shifting, often evanescent sensations connected with the act of looking—and that expressed her complex, animated, and mostly approving relationship to art and to the scene. Her writing was imaginative; she could take vast interpretive leaps without bothering to look over her shoulder. She was the embodiment of an engaged critic—a participant, in many ways the ideal audience member. Lisa let the art, whatever it was—painting, opera, ballet, literature—flow through

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  • Page from Artforum, April 1992. Lisa Liebmann, “Grand Elisions.” Page from Artforum, October 1987. Lisa Liebmann, “Icons at Large: X Marks the Spot.”

    Lisa Liebmann

    LISA LIEBMANN was a friend, but I knew her first as a writer. Her thoughts seemed to percolate in a brain that never stopped cooking. When she spoke, words tumbled out in such a fizzy rush that even she would stumble over them in her haste to make room for the next fusillade, adding a sprinkle of French and quick, stuttering gestures of the hand that mirrored the circles she was drawing around your own startled mind. On the page, she was just as nimble, writing in acrobatic language that somersaulted between archaic formality and vernacular prose.

    “No dog is more intelligent or more sociable than

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  • Julie Becker, Interior Corner #3, 1993, C-print, 35 × 27". From the series “Interior Corners,” 1993. © Julie Becker.

    Julie Becker

    “SHE WAS THE ONE TO WATCH,” Bruce Hainley recalls thinking when he surveyed the local art scene in the summer of 1997. He’d just moved to Los Angeles and seen an installation of Julie Becker’s photographs at Regen Projects. Becker had recently been profiled, along with Liz Larner, Catherine Opie, et al., in Ralph Rugoff’s Harper’s Bazaar feature “L.A.’s Female Art Explosion.” The year before, her monumental CalArts MFA thesis project, Researchers, Residents, A Place to Rest, 1993–96, had been selected by Paul Schimmel, then a curator at the Museum of Contemporary Art, Los Angeles, for the 1996

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  • S. H. Raza in Paris. Photo: The Raza Foundation, New Delhi.

    S. H. Raza (1922–2016)

    FOR SOME REASON, which now will forever remain a mystery, the great Indian painter S. H. Raza was always known by his family name. His initials stood for Sayed Haider, but one rarely found these used. This was, oddly, common to all the founders and associates of India’s modernist movement, the Mumbai (then Bombay)–based Progressive Artists’ Group: M. F. Husain was Husain, not Maqbool Fida; K. H. Ara was Ara; F. N. Souza was Souza. This was probably just coincidence; to find any significance in this is likely to be futile.

    What was significant was that the Bombay Progressive Artists’ Group was

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  • Malick Sidibé, Self-portrait, 1956, silver gelatin print, glass, paint, cardboard, tape, and string, 16 x 12 x 1/4".

    Malick Sidibé (ca. 1936–2016)

    REGARDEZ-MOI!” a voice shouts assertively. The photographer turns and swings toward the young man dancing. His knees are bent low, buttressing a torso thrown impossibly far back. His arms are flung wide open, his grin even wider. Snap. The photographer shifts position, steps one foot forward, lowers his camera, and snaps again. The year is 1962. The place is Bamako, Mali. And the photographer is Malick Sidibé, whose formally elegant, dynamically composed black-and-white images testify to the complex modernities fashioned across postcolonial Africa.

    That they exist as such is cause for both

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  • Vladimir Kagan. Photo: John Walsh.

    Vladimir Kagan (1927–2016)

    PUCK IS DEAD. That was my reaction when I heard of the passing of Vladimir Kagan at the age of eighty-eight. I only met him late in his life, by which time he had an unmistakable sparkle of celebrity. But even when he was young, I imagine that he resembled Shakespeare’s “shrewd and knavish sprite” pretty well. Like the elfin upstager of A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Kagan stood somewhat outside the mainstream of his profession (that is, furniture design), a good place to be if you want to provide a little light relief. Though he was initially influenced by the Bauhaus, he never adopted its rigorous

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