PRINT January 2000




To the Editor:
Your review of the Queens Museum of Art show “Global Conceptualism: Points of Origin” [Summer] and the subsequent exchanges [Letters, November] miss the point of the exhibition. It would be nice if critics would stop focusing on what is not in the shows they review and give more space to what is there. Of course “Global Conceptualism” does not and cannot include everything of importance. What else is new?

It has been a constant practice of the US, and particularly of New York, to overlook artistic production from the periphery. Some years ago “periphery” meant everything outside New York City. After Californians got some exposure, it came to mean everything outside the US. This excellent historical survey confirms the great quality and relevance of Conceptualism elsewhere. It is of utmost importance that New York take note of creativity (in whatever medium) in other parts of the world. With all due respect to the Queens Museum (which is sharing the honors for this show with the Walker Art Center, one of the more intelligent museums in your country, and the Miami Art Museum), I would have liked to see it at a Manhattan venue, since it seems that many art lovers on that small island rarely cross over to other boroughs to see art (although they do so to get on airplanes). It would have been important for us in the periphery to have many more viewers for this challenging exhibition. Let us hope that the catalogue will be in print for many years.

Jorge Heft
Buenos Aires


To the Editor:
I was surprised, astonished, outraged, and at last put into a state of aghast hilarity by Hilton Als’s attack on Frank O’Hara [October]. Frank and I were briefly lovers at Harvard, and his take on life, art, literature, himself, and others had a lasting effect on my own. Als gets just about everything wrong. Factually, for instance, O’Hara did not meet Ashbery and Koch in New York; he already knew them well at Harvard. But perceptually even more is askew. Frank had a sharp and witty tongue and would sometimes subject those he loved and respected most to frank (Frank?) comments on their behavior. But the oozing viciousness that seeps from every sentence in Als’s article—a poorly used excuse of a review of the MoCA show for a personal attack purulent with envy—was not in Frank’s vocabulary. Does Als wish he could be the darling of such distinguished friends as David Smith, Pollock, Ashbery, Koch, Nakian, Mitchell, Patsy Southgate, Porter, Goldberg, Kline, Freilicher, Tàpies, and the list goes on and on? You betcha! But too bad, Hilton. From how you give yourself away in that article, you’ll never make it.

Lawrence Osgood
Germantown, NY

To the Editor:
Not being a native English speaker (nor gay nor black nor from an affluent family) probably led to my fallacious idea that “fag” is as offensive a word as the one once used to indicate people “darker than blue” (thank you, Curtis Mayfield). In any case, I avoid both. One thing I do know darn well: Poetry does not depend on race, or sex, or affluence. It could depend on constipation, with the addition of just a little psychology, but it does not depend on sexual habits. But I should thank Hilton Als for making me feel fifty years younger with his question “Is this verse?” This is the abyss into which an excess of “political correctness” has led Americans, not unlike the Marxist craziness that devastated Italian art in the ’50s and ’60s.

Als (whose works I shall in the future avoid like the plague) has so little sense of irony as to be unable to realize that his line “The victims of O’Hara ... were selected because he recognized himself in them” applies to Als himself; and that to blame O’Hara and his admirers for “lacking the discipline [sic!] to write about things other than themselves” while having written a book about his own mother is downright hilarious. It doesn’t matter to Als that what he was commenting on were works of art in an exhibition, about which we’re left with very little information (who cares about painting anyway, it’s probably not PC).

Paulo Patelli
Sambughe (Treviso), Italy

To the Editor:
I found Hilton Als’s article on Frank O’Hara to be shrewdly written. His choice of words—fag, fairy, cocksucker—was edgy in Artforum, would be impossible in Vogue, and merely humdrum in the Village Voice. They remind me of summer stock forty years ago, when actors anchored their legs and said DAMN! It sent titters through the house.

More important than the trendy words is Als’s misrepresentation of Frank O’Hara. It appears that his primary source was Brad Gooch’s book, a brilliant parade of information, which romanticized or demonized O’Hara and neglected his passion for art.

Frank O’Hara had one blue suit. He spent all his life in New York in rundown cold-water flats and finally in a rundown loft. Most of his friends were poorer than he. He gave more, intellectually, to more people than anyone, before or since, in the New York world of artists and poets.

Frank O’Hara pursued art with an intensity that is hard to imagine by persons who never knew him. That he held down a museum job, saw most art shows, was a poet who encouraged poetry, read at and went to poetry readings and theater downtown and up, saw dance at the Judson Church, in lofts, or at the New York City Ballet, enjoyed highbrow and lowbrow movies and culture, was a regular at the Cedar Tavern, and was openly gay at a time when that openness could have very serious personal and professional consequences, hardly describes Frank as a nonintellectual, self-indulgent fly-by-night, looking for a handout or elbows to rub. Well-heeled artists sought Frank’s company for the same reasons poor ones did; they could also offer a weekend on Long Island.

But what really struck me in the article was the lack of understanding of O’Hara’s poetry. The freshness of O’Hara’s language and his emotional extension made him my hero and someone whose art I would like to emulate.

Below is Frank’s poem “To the Harbormaster” (1954). Read it and tell me who’s superficial.

I wanted to be sure to reach you;
though my ship was on the way it got caught
in some moorings. I am always tying up
and then deciding to depart. In storms and
at sunset, with the metallic coils of the tide
around my fathomless arms, I am unable
to understand the forms of my vanity
or I am hard alee with my Polish rudder
in my hand and the sun sinking. To
you I offer my hull and the tattered cordage
or my will. The terrible channels where
the wind drives me against the brown lips
of the reeds arc not all behind me. Yet
I trust the sanity of my vessel; and
if it sinks, it may well be in answer
to the reasoning of the eternal voices,
the waves which have kept me from reaching you.

Alex Katz
New York