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Thomas McEvilley

Kwakiutl mask from British Columbia, n.d., painted wood, 13 1/4 x 7 1/4 x 4 1/4". From “‘Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art: Affinity of the Tribal and the Modern,” Museum of Modern Art, New York, 1984.

DAVID FRANKEL

THOMAS MCEVILLEY’S most widely remembered appearances in Artforum, to which he contributed often between 1981 and 1997, must be his essay “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief” of November 1984 and his ensuing exchange of letters with William Rubin and Kirk Varnedoe, curators of the “Primitivism” show at the Museum of Modern Art, New York, that had been the essay’s subject. Anyone not around at the time, almost thirty years ago now, may find it hard to imagine how intense was the argument around those texts, and how wide the fallout, and how both outrageous and courageous they seemed in the New York culture of that moment. Today’s reader of those pieces will still be powerfully rewarded—but you’d have to read a lot of Tom’s writing to get a sense, and then probably no more than a sense, of the full range of his mind.

Tom’s thinking combined great scholarship with wonderful

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