PRINT May 2014


Rene Ricard

Rene Ricard, Donald Baechler, 2000, oil on linen, 72 x 48".

THE FIRST JOB held by Rene Ricard, born Albert Napoleon Ricard, was Warhol superstar. Rene had run away from home and high school, fleeing to Harvard Yard, and then, after an epiphany before a Warhol flowers painting at the Institute of Contemporary Art, Boston, he moved on to New York, where he presented himself to Andy and was accepted. He was twenty when he played the title role in The Andy Warhol Story (1966/67) opposite Edie Sedgwick. Rene played Andy viciously, sending up his jealousy, meanness, and control-freakiness. Rene said later, “The only reason I agreed to do his film was to get even with him.”

A decade later, Rene was the leading theorist of the post-Minimal (I refuse to say neo-expressionist) resurgence of painting, although he denied being a critic, preferring “art enthusiast.” He was also an outlaw flaneur and then a spectacular homeless person for a bit. He lived in a dramatic opiated ménage with Richard Hambleton, the outdoorsy painter. There were fires and disappearing bicycles. But then there was crystalline, memorable poetry and mad painting! Suddenly, Rene had an art show of his very own and, voilà, he proved that he could produce just like the famed artists he championed. (And more smartly.)

When I can’t think of a thing to
Write; I draw. That’s what makes
Painters: They can’t write.

Ultimately, he became a highly successful, though intermittently productive, painter of poems. Brilliant poems on canvas instead of mimeo, one of one.

Rene was a gay social butterfly, a shameless flirt, a coveted dinner guest, and a holy terrorist in conversation, destroying the less articulate (and who wasn’t?) in bursts of inspired and highly educated vitriol. He flamed people to ashes if they crossed him, and sometimes he did it just for fun. Rene was famed as a houseguest and was an adopted uncle and occasional dependent of several distinguished New York art families.

He was also arguably the last of the New York School poets, before and after the poetry-slam scourge hit, one of the last great practitioners of what’s now an essentially lost art—heir to Berrigan and Brainard. Rene understood the symbiotic relationship between painter and poet—and that, with him, it was coming to an end.

Rene’s essays (some in this magazine) boosted the careers of Jean-Michel Basquiat, Francesco Clemente, Keith Haring, Judy Rifka, Julian Schnabel, and Philip Taaffe, among numerous others. But Rene never supported artists in a fawning way. He had tests, and if an artist passed them, he became that artist’s champion, a fantastic fan. He had a way of zeroing in on historical significance, supporting his case with Plato, Petronius, or Edith Wharton. He was maddeningly correct, although occasionally explosive. Rene dared to be funny in places where laughter never rings. In his 1981 essay in these pages “Not About Julian Schnabel,” he wrote: “For someone of my generation the possession of a Marden drawing is a big thing. I call it my de Kooning and I have a de Kooning.”

Rene’s erudition was always matched by his dramatically personal style, and in that plodding time in art writing (aren’t they all, I suppose?) he pulled off a prose style as unique as John Ruskin’s in Victorian London. One didn’t really edit Rene, although occasionally you might have had to talk him down from a literary ledge. When he felt like working, he worked intensely. But for all his accomplishments, Rene’s best work was ultimately Rene Ricard, a personality the likes of which we are unlikely to see again soon.

Style is personality. “The Radiant Child”(1981), his famous essay on Basquiat and Haring, the bedrock on which a market of billions is anchored, means as much today as when he wrote it, maybe even more, and not just because of the market but because of the essay’s bravura demonstration of personality.

Rene was as hip as it gets, the ultimate collector of exotic knowledge, but he wasn’t cool. He hated cool, whether he found it in a drawing room or a dark alley. If he encountered cool, he wanted to scare it out of the room. At a house party in 1980, when the young art and music community was deluged with drugs—an era well documented by Nan Goldin—at least half those present were waiting for the arrival of a drug dealer who was, of course, taking his time. Finally, when the dealer walked in the door, Rene hopped up and crowed with delight: “Oooh, the heroin is here!” And the dealer ran right out the door.

Rene seemed to consider it his mission to punish hubris, vanity, and pretense. Shelley said that poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world; Rene was the art world’s unacknowledged dictator. A position now vacant.

Aug 10 89

Chelsea Hotel
222 W. 23
When I die
Don’t bury me
Just throw away
My hotel key

Glenn O'Brien is a writer based in New York.