Archive for the ‘Obituaries’ Category
Conceptual artist David Weiss, of Swiss duo Fischli/Weiss, has passed away, two months shy of his 66th birthday.
The film, Der Lauf Der Dinge (The Way Things Are), tends to be cited as their representative work — but me, I love their early series, The Sausage Photographs, from 1979 (below).
No more Würste.
A rendering of Jack Flowers, from Yvonne’s Film Diary.
Actor Ben Gazzara is dead at 81.
Gazzara is best remembered for his participation in several John Cassavetes’ films, like The Killing of a Chinese Bookie, but he was also the star of one of Peter Bogdanovich’s lesser known outings, Saint Jack, from 1979.
And that is noteworthy here why ?
To this day, Saint Jack remains the only Hollywood film shot entirely on location in Singapore.
Based on a novel by Paul Theroux, written during the author’s stint here in the early ’70s, the film managed to capture a side of our island nation – seedy, run-down, generally insalubrious – that even then was already rapidly vanishing under the onslaught of the PAP govt.’s vigorous remaking of the post-independence landscape, both materially and economically.
Bogdanovich’s film was itself the subject of an intensive recounting by expat author Ben Slater, published under the title Kinda Hot: The Making of Saint Jack in Singapore. It’s a fascinating read – go pick up a copy. Or have a look at the author’s blog here, which includes a recent interview with Gazzara on his experiences working on Saint Jack.
Or take a peek at a trailer of the film here.
Or, better yet, read an essay on the significance of the film for the local imagination – some three decades after the fact - here. Penned by a pal, in the interest of full disclosure, but important for its articulation of a stance caught somewhere between the white man’s gaze of the filmic diegesis, and a more populist, localized discourse. The sort of third text that the author is attempting to negotiate here – an oscillation between the two positions of insurmountable alterity (the quasi-colonial experience of yesteryear) and an alienation from the post-modern, post-colonial condition (contemporary Singapore as a dystopia of “shopping malls and chain stores”) – is, in my opinion, becoming the dominant voice of desire, of what the author characterizes as the longing for the autochthonous “authentic” in the land of ceaseless, air-conditioned consumption, an increasingly conjunctive terrain.
With good reason.
Gazzara’s NYT obit below.
Ben Gazzara on the set of Saint Jack. Image from Blue Sunshine.
BEN GAZZARA, RISK-TAKING ACTOR, IS DEAD AT 81
By Nick Genzlinger. Published: February 3, 2012.
Ben Gazzara, an intense actor whose long career included playing Brick in the original “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof” on Broadway, roles in influential films by John Cassavetes and work with several generations of top Hollywood directors, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 81.
The cause was pancreatic cancer, his lawyer, Jay Julien, said. Mr. Gazzara lived in Manhattan.
Mr. Gazzara studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio in Manhattan, where the careers of stars like Marlon Brando and Rod Steiger were shaped, and like them he had a visceral presence. It earned him regular work across half a century, not only onstage — his last Broadway appearance was in the revival of “Awake and Sing!” in 2006 — but in dozens of movies and all sorts of television shows, including the starring role in the 1960s series “Run for Your Life.”
If Mr. Gazzara never achieved Brando’s stature, that was partly because of a certain laissez-faire approach to his career: an early suspicion of film, a reluctance to go after desirable roles.
“When I became hot, so to speak, in the theater, I got a lot of offers,” he said in a 1998 interview on “Charlie Rose.” “I won’t tell you the pictures I turned down because you would say, ‘You are a fool.’ And I was a fool.”
And yet Mr. Gazzara’s enduring reputation may well rest on his film work, specifically the movies he made with Mr. Cassavetes, the actor and director revered by cinephiles for his risk-taking independent projects and a directorial style that encouraged spontaneity.
The two had had bit parts in the 1969 comedy “If It’s Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium,” but it was in“Husbands” (1970), directed by Mr. Cassavetes, that they, along with Peter Falk, really made an impression as unhappily married men out for a drunken night on the town together. As Mr. Gazzara wrote in his autobiography, “In the Moment” (2004), the on-camera camaraderie was so convincing that people assumed the three men had been lifelong friends; in fact they had barely known one another when the filming began, though they became friends during it.
Mr. Gazzara’s most important role for Mr. Cassavetes was in “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie” (1976), in which he played a strip club owner in debt to the mob. “It’s a thoughtful, intelligent interpretation of a role that just may not have as much depth to it as he’s ready to give it,” Vincent Canby of The New York Times wrote of Mr. Gazzara’s performance.
In 1977 Mr. Gazzara had a supporting role behind Mr. Cassavetes and his wife, Gena Rowlands, in the backstage story “Opening Night,” with Mr. Cassavetes again directing. Speaking of Mr. Cassavetes recently, Mr. Gazzara said, “He set the climate for an actor to feel free to give whatever, and if it didn’t work, it didn’t work.” Mr. Cassavetes died in 1989.
Two years after making “Opening Night,” Mr. Gazzara joined forces with another important director, Peter Bogdanovich, who gave him a rare leading role in “Saint Jack,” an adaptation of Paul Theroux’s novel about an American who operates a brothel in Singapore. He worked again for Mr. Bogdanovich in “They All Laughed” (1981), as a private detective who falls in love with the woman he is assigned to follow. The woman was played by Audrey Hepburn, with whom Mr. Gazzara had a brief romance after they met on the set of the 1979 film “Bloodline.”
Mr. Gazzara worked with numerous other notable directors, among them Otto Preminger, whose courtroom drama “Anatomy of a Murder” (1959) featured Mr. Gazzara as a military man who is tried for killing his wife’s rapist and defended by James Stewart’s small-town lawyer. In David Mamet’s 1997 film, “The Spanish Prisoner,” he played the possibly duplicitous boss of an inventor who has come up with a valuable idea. Wearing a slick white suit, he was a producer of pornographic movies in the Coen brothers’ “Big Lebowski” in 1998. In Spike Lee’s “Summer of Sam” in 1999, he was a mobster.
Beginning in the early 1980s Mr. Gazzara spent substantial stretches of time acting in movies in Italy, where he had a villa in Umbria. He appeared in Marco Ferreri’s 1981 adaptation of Charles Bukowski’s “Tales of Ordinary Madness”; “Il Camorrista” (1986), directed by Giuseppe Tornatore; and Stefano Mignucci’s “Bandits” (1995).
“You go where they love you,” he said in a 1994 interview with Cigar Aficionado, explaining his work in Italy.
Mr. Gazzara had parallel careers on the stage and in television. His first significant stage role was as a two-faced bully named Jocko in “End as a Man,” about life in a Southern military academy. Developed at the Actors Studio, it opened on Broadway in 1953. “Jocko is attractive, clever and alert on the surface, but evil at the core,” Brooks Atkinson wrote in The Times, “and Mr. Gazzara’s acting perfectly expresses this ambivalence.”
Then, in March 1955, came “Cat on a Hot Tin Roof,” in which he played the alcoholic son Brick to Burl Ives’s Big Daddy in the Tennessee Williams classic, with Barbara Bel Geddes as Maggie. Elia Kazan directed. The play ran till November 1956, but Mr. Gazzara left the cast early to take another Broadway role, in “A Hatful of Rain,” which opened in the fall of 1955. He played a dope addict named Johnny Pope, and the performance earned him a Tony Award nomination.
But his next Broadway venture, “The Night Circus,” closed in less than a week in 1958, and he did not return to Broadway until a revival of Eugene O’Neill’s “Strange Interlude”in 1963. His other Broadway work included a 1976 production of “Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?” opposite Colleen Dewhurst, which earned him another Tony nomination, as did his dual roles in a 1975 double bill of O’Neill’s “Hughie” and David Scott Milton’s “Duet.”
Mr. Gazzara also acted in Off Broadway and regional productions, among them “Nobody Don’t Like Yogi,” a one-man show about Yogi Berra, which Mr. Gazzara began performing in 2003 and took all over the country for two years.
He was a familiar presence on television. “Run for Your Life,” in which he played a terminally ill man, was seen on NBC from 1965 to 1968, earning him two Emmy nominations. He was nominated again for his role as the father of a young man with AIDS in the 1985 television movie “An Early Frost”; his old friend Ms. Rowlands played his wife. He won a supporting-actor Emmy for his work in the 2002 HBO film“Hysterical Blindness,” playing the romantic interest of a character again played by Ms. Rowlands.
Mr. Gazzara was born Biagio Anthony Gazzara on the East Side of Manhattan on Aug. 28, 1930, the son of Antonio Gazzara, a laborer who did carpentry and laid bricks, and the former Angela Cusumano. Both his parents had immigrated from Italy, and they often spoke Italian at home, giving Mr. Gazzara a language skill that served him well when he began making films there. He grew up in a building at 29th Street and First Avenue, where, he wrote in his autobiography, he slept on the fire escape in summer and occasionally heard screams from the patients at Bellevue psychiatric hospital.
When he was about 11, he saw a friend act in a play at the Madison Square Boys Club and was bitten by the acting bug himself. He performed in shows there and, when he was older, found his way to the Dramatic Workshop in Midtown. A radio actress he met there, Louise Erickson, who would become his first wife, told him about the Actors Studio, and in 1951 he successfully auditioned for it.
That marriage ended in 1957. In 1961 he married the actress Janice Rule, whom he had met in 1958 when they appeared in a short-lived production of “The Night Circus.” They had a daughter, Elizabeth. That marriage, too, ended in divorce, not long after Mr. Gazzara met a German model, the former Elke Stuckmann, while filming the war movie “Inchon” in Seoul in 1979.
They were married in 1982; she and his daughter survive him, as does another daughter, Danja, his wife’s child from a previous relationship, whom Mr. Gazzara adopted. A brother, Anthony, also survives.
Mr. Gazzara was treated for oral cancer in 1999, but he said his bigger health battle was against depression, lasting on and off for decades. In a 2005 appearance before a group of mental health professionals, he recalled dealing with the condition 25 years earlier while shooting “They All Laughed.”
“I was in a depression during the whole shooting, and I was terrific in that film,” he said. “And I don’t remember doing it.”
Mike Kelley. Image from beautifuldecay.com.
Artist Mike Kelley passed away earlier this week, apparently from a suicide.
His immersive installations, informed by the visuality of popular culture, led Jerry Saltz to coin the label “clusterfuck esthetics” as a descriptive term.
Kelley’s NYT obit reproduced below.
By Holland Cotter. Published: 1 February 2012.
Mike Kelley, one of the most influential American artists of the past quarter century and a pungent commentator on American class, popular culture and youthful rebellion, was found dead on Wednesday at his home in South Pasadena, Calif. He was 57.
Sgt. Robert Bartl of the South Pasadena police said it appeared that Mr. Kelley had committed suicide. Speaking to The Associated Press, he said a friend of Mr. Kelley’s had told investigators that Mr. Kelley had been depressed after breaking up with a girlfriend.
An autopsy was to be performed, Sergeant Bartl said.
Mr. Kelley was born in Wayne, Mich., a suburb of Detroit, to a working class Roman Catholic family in October 1954. His father was in charge of maintenance for a public school system; his mother was a cook in the executive dining room at Ford Motor Company. He had early aspirations to be a novelist, but doubted his talent and found writing was too difficult, so he turned his energies to art, through painting, object-making and through music.
In high school he immersed himself in Detroit’s heavy metal music subculture, and that involvement continued through college at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. There he performed in a proto-punk noise band called Destroy All Monsters with three other artists, Jim Shaw, Niagara and Carey Loren, creating work that, with its combination of anti-establishment politics and Dada theatrics, had close connections to performance art.
He brought this interest with him to graduate school in 1978 at the California Institute of the Arts in Valencia, Calif. There he formed a second art-band, “The Poetics,” with fellow students John Miller and Tony Oursler. He absorbed, with some resistance, the school’s overriding focus on Conceptual Art and theory, eased into by the embracing approach of teachers like John Baldessari, Laurie Anderson and Douglas Huebler.
He began creating multimedia installations that synthesized large-scale drawings and paintings, often incorporating his own writing, along with sculptures, videos (one was based on the television show “Captain Kangaroo”), and performances, often scatological and sadomasochistic in nature. Although he stopped performing in 1986 — he later said that he always had to get drunk to do it — the other formal elements remained constants in his art.
A certain tone or attitude remained constant, too. The shorthand term for it is abjection, a deliberate immersion in the gross-out anarchy associated with youth culture. But to see only that was to miss the deep and covered-up strain of poetry in his work, evident in a series of sculptural pieces using children’s stuffed animals sewn onto or covered over with hand-knitted afghans.
On one level, the pieces were sardonic send-ups of aesthetic trends like Minimalism, which Mr. Kelley despised as elitist. On another, they took aim at the strain of too-easy sentimentality he found repellent in popular culture. At yet another level, these pieces, with their martyred dolls and ruined promise of warmth, were innocence-and-experience metaphors, suggesting the trauma of hurt and loss that underlay the juvenile delinquent antics that surrounded them.
By the mid-1980s, he was already gaining attention nationally and internationally. His career took off earlier in Europe than it did in the United States; he found enthusiastic audiences in France and Germany, at a time when Americans still didn’t know quite what to do with him, this artist who made drawings of garbage, parodied both religious art and underground politics, and made pieces with titles like “Plato’s Cave, Rothko’s Chapel, Lincoln’s Profile.” Mystifying as they were at the time, they have given inspiration to countless young artists since.
The band Sonic Youth used Mr. Kelley’s work on the album cover for “Dirty,” released in 1992.
Mr. Kelley began having regular one-man exhibitions at Metro Pictures in Manhattan in 1982, and at Rosamund Felsen Gallery in Los Angeles the following year. In 2005, he had his first solo show at Gagosian gallery in New York City, which was representing him at his death. A retrospective, “Mike Kelley: Catholic Tastes,” appeared at the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1993 and traveled to Los Angeles and Munich; a second retrospective appeared at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Barcelona in 1997; and a third was at the Tate Liverpool in 2004.
Work by Mr. Kelley will be in the upcoming Whitney Biennial; it will be his eighth appearance in that show.
Mr. Kelley is survived by a brother, George.
Helen Frankenthaler at work, in 1969. Photographed by Ernst Haas; all images here from ernst-haas.com.
Seems like the Grim Reaper is determined to get the most mileage out of the last few days of the year.
Helen Frankenthaler, pioneer of so-called color field painting, passed away yesterday, on Dec 27th.
What I find absolutely fascinating are the series of images Life magazine photog Ernst Haas took of her at work in the studio in the late ’60s. There she is, straddling a wide expanse of canvas rolled out against the floor; unravelling a river of paint; impressing a series of splotches onto the blank canvas, her body crouched like a cat’s or an acrobat’s.
Remind anyone of anything ?
Yep – Hans Namuth’s famous pictures of Jackson Pollock in a similar vein, which gave rise later to Harold Rosenberg’s declaration of “action painting.” And indeed Namuth’s images cemented Pollock as the Ab-Ex artist par excellence in the popular imagination: the reinventor of post-war painting as a gestural, action-oriented, macho arena, a man who embodied talent, tragedy, and – ultimately – self-destruction at the height of fame.
(Chief victim though: Lee Krasner.)
Perhaps Ernie Haas had Namuth’s Pollock pictures in mind when he snapped these shots of Frankenthaler; they look like a conscious attempt to mythologize her creative processes and originary power, in like fashion. The NYT’s obit of her (reproduced below, or read it here), interestingly enough, seems to emphasize her privileged, moneyed existence, offering up her biographical circumstances – which includes her connections to influential men, such as ex-squeeze Clement Greenberg (?!) and one-time husband Robert Motherwell – as an explanation of sorts for her place in a resolutely masculine canon, almost apologist in tone, not unlike Haas’ conspicuously citational framing of her as a Pollock-ian wannabe (whatever the reality) …
HELEN FRANKENTHALER, ABSTRACT PAINTER WHO SHAPED A MOVEMENT, DIES AT 83
By Grace Glueck. Published: December 27, 2011.
Helen Frankenthaler, the lyrically abstract painter whose technique of staining pigment into raw canvas helped shape an influential art movement in the mid-20th century and who became one of the most admired artists of her generation, died on Tuesday at her home in Darien, Conn. She was 83.
Her longtime assistant, Maureen St. Onge, said Ms. Frankenthaler died after a long illness but gave no other details.
Known as a second-generation Abstract Expressionist, Ms. Frankenthaler was married during the movement’s heyday to the painter Robert Motherwell, a leading first-generation member of the group. But she departed from the first generation’s romantic search for the “sublime” to pursue her own path.
Refining a technique, developed by Jackson Pollock, of pouring pigment directly onto canvas laid on the floor, Ms. Frankenthaler, heavily influencing the colorists Morris Louis and Kenneth Noland, developed a method of painting best known as Color Field — although Clement Greenberg, the critic most identified with it, called it Post-Painterly Abstraction. Where Pollock had used enamel that rested on raw canvas like skin, Ms. Frankenthaler poured turpentine-thinned paint in watery washes onto the raw canvas so that it soaked into the fabric weave, becoming one with it.
Her staining method emphasized the flat surface over illusory depth, and it called attention to the very nature of paint on canvas, a concern of artists and critics at the time. It also brought a new, open airiness to the painted surface and was credited with releasing color from the gestural approach and romantic rhetoric of Abstract Expressionism.
Ms. Frankenthaler more or less stumbled on her stain technique, she said, first using it in creating “Mountains and Sea” (1952). Produced on her return to New York from a trip to Nova Scotia, the painting is a light-struck, diaphanous evocation of hills, rocks and water. Its delicate balance of drawing and painting, fresh washes of color (predominantly blues and pinks) and breakthrough technique have made it one of her best-known works.
“The landscapes were in my arms as I did it,” Ms. Frankenthaler told an interviewer. “I didn’t realize all that I was doing. I was trying to get at something — I didn’t know what until it was manifest.”
She later described the seemingly unfinished painting — which is on long-term loan to the National Gallery of Art in Washington — as “looking to many people like a large paint rag, casually accidental and incomplete.”
Unlike many of her painter colleagues at the time, Ms. Frankenthaler, born in New York City on Dec. 12, 1928, came from a prosperous Manhattan family. She was one of three daughters of Alfred Frankenthaler, a New York State Supreme Court judge, and the former Martha Lowenstein, an immigrant from Germany. Helen, their youngest, was interested in art from early childhood, when she would dribble nail polish into a sink full of water to watch the color flow.
After graduation from the Dalton School, where she studied art with the Mexican painter Rufino Tamayo, she entered Bennington College in 1946. There the painter Paul Feeley, a thoroughgoing taskmaster, taught her “everything I know about Cubism,” she said. The intellectual atmosphere at Bennington was heady, with instructors like Kenneth Burke, Erich Fromm and Ralph Ellison setting the pace.
As a self-described “saddle-shoed girl a year out of Bennington,” Ms. Frankenthaler made her way into the burgeoning New York art world with a boost from Mr. Greenberg, whom she met in 1950 and with whom she had a five-year relationship. Through him she met crucial players like David Smith, Jackson Pollock, Willem and Elaine de Kooning and Franz Kline.
In 1951, with Mr. Greenberg’s prompting, she jointed the new Tibor de Nagy gallery, run by the ebullient aesthete John B. Myers, and had her first solo show there that year. She spent summers visiting museums in Europe, pursuing an interest in quattrocento and old master painting.
Her marriage to Mr. Motherwell in 1958 gave the couple an art-world aura. Like her, he came from a well-to-do family, and “the golden couple,” as they were known in the cash-poor and backbiting art world of the time, spent several leisurely months honeymooning in Spain and France.
In Manhattan, they removed themselves from the downtown scene and established themselves in a house on East 94th Street, where they developed a reputation for lavish entertaining. The British sculptor Anthony Caro recalled a dinner party they gave for him and his wife on their first trip to New York, in 1959. It was attended by some 100 guests, and he was seated between David Smith and the actress Hedy Lamarr.
“Helen loved to entertain,” said Ann Freedman, the former president of Knoedler & Company, Ms. Frankenthaler’s dealer until its recent closing. “She enjoyed feeding people and engaging in lively conversation. And she liked to dance. In fact, you could see it in her movements as she worked on her paintings.”
Ms. Frankenthaler’s passion for dancing was more than fulfilled in 1985 when, at a White House dinner to honor the Prince and Princess of Wales, she was partnered with a fast stepper who had been twirling the princess.
“I’d waited a lifetime for a dance like this,” she wrote in a 1997 Op-Ed article for The New York Times. “He was great!”
His name meant nothing to her until, on returning to her New York studio, she showed her assistant and a friend his card. “John Travolta,” it read.
Despite the early acknowledgment of Ms. Frankenthaler’s achievement by Mr. Greenberg and by her fellow artists, wider recognition took some time. Her first major museum show, a retrospective of her 1950s work with a catalog by the critic and poet Frank O’Hara, a curator at the Museum of Modern Art, was at the Jewish Museum in 1960. But she became better known to the art-going public after a major retrospective organized by the Whitney Museum of American Art in 1969.
Although Ms. Frankenthaler rarely discussed the sources of her abstract imagery, it reflected her impressions of landscape, her meditations on personal experience and the pleasures of dealing with paint. Visually diverse, her paintings were never produced in “serial” themes like those of her Abstract Expressionist predecessors or her Color Field colleagues like Noland and Louis. She looked on each of her works as a separate exploration.
But “Mountains and Sea” did establish many of the traits that have informed her art from the beginning, the art historian E. A. Carmean Jr. suggested. In the catalog for his 1989-90 Frankenthaler retrospective at the Modern Art Museum of Fort Worth, he cited the color washes, the dialogue between drawing and painting, the seemingly raw, unfinished look, and the “general theme of place” as characteristic of her work.
Besides her paintings, Ms. Frankenthaler is known for her inventive lithographs, etchings and screen prints she produced since 1961, but critics have suggested that her woodcuts have made the most original contribution to printmaking.
In making her first woodcut, “East and Beyond,” in 1973, Ms. Frankenthaler wanted to make the grainy, unforgiving wood block receptive to the vibrant color and organic, amorphous forms of her own painting. By dint of trial and error, with technical help from printmaking studios, she succeeded.
For “East and Beyond,” which depicts a radiant open space above a graceful mountainlike divide, she used a jigsaw to cut separate shapes, then printed the whole by a specially devised method to eliminate the white lines between them when put together. The result was a taut but fluid composition so refreshingly removed from traditional woodblock technique that it has had a deep influence on the medium ever since. “East and Beyond” became to contemporary printmaking in the 1970s what Ms. Frankenthaler’s paint staining in “Mountains and Sea” had been to the development of Color Field painting 20 years earlier.
In 1972, Ms. Frankenthaler made a less successful foray into sculpture, spending two weeks at Mr. Caro’s London studio. With no experience in the medium but aided by a skilled assistant, she welded together found steel parts in a way that evoked the work of David Smith.
Although she enjoyed the experience, she did not repeat it. Knoedler gave the work its first public showing in 2006.
Critics have not unanimously praised Ms. Frankenthaler’s art. Some have seen it as thin in substance, uncontrolled in method, too sweet in color and too “poetic.” But it has been far more apt to garner admirers like the critic Barbara Rose, who wrote in 1972 of Ms. Frankenthaler’s gift for “the freedom, spontaneity, openness and complexity of an image, not exclusively of the studio or the mind, but explicitly and intimately tied to nature and human emotions.”
Ms. Frankenthaler and Mr. Motherwell were divorced in 1971. In 1994 she married Stephen M. DuBrul Jr., an investment banker who had headed the Export-Import Bank during the Ford administration. Besides her husband, her survivors include two stepdaughters, Jeannie Motherwell and Lise Motherwell, and six nieces and nephews. Her two sisters, Gloria Ross Bookman and Marjorie Iseman, died before her.
In 1999, she and Mr. DuBrul bought a house in Darien, on Long Island Sound. Water, sky and their shifting light are often reflected in her later imagery.
As the years passed, her paintings seemed to make more direct references to the visible world. But they sometimes harked back to the more spontaneous, exuberant and less referential work of her earlier career.
There is “no formula,” she said in an interview in The New York Times in 2003. “There are no rules. Let the picture lead you where it must go.”
She never aligned herself with the feminist movement in art that began to surface in the 1970s. “For me, being a ‘lady painter’ was never an issue,” she was quoted as saying in John Gruen’s book “The Party’s Over Now” (1972). “I don’t resent being a female painter. I don’t exploit it. I paint.”
Overheard on the tweet-vine: American sculptor John Chamberlain, famed for his works involving old automobile parts, is dead at 84.
And right before his big retrospective at the Guggenheim too …
His NYT obituary reproduced in full below. (The original here.)
JOHN CHAMBERLAIN, WHO WRESTED ROUGH MAGIC FROM SCRAP METAL, DIES AT 84
By Randy Kennedy. Published: December 21, 2011.
John Chamberlain, who almost singlehandedly gave automotive metal a place in the history of sculpture, smashing and twisting together a poetic fusion of Abstract Expressionism and Pop from fenders, fins, bumpers and hoods, died on Wednesday in Manhattan. He was 84.
His wife, Prudence Fairweather, announced his death but declined to give a cause. He had spent his last years mostly in Shelter Island, N.Y.
In a restless career of almost half a century, Mr. Chamberlain worked with a broad range of materials, some as pliant as foam rubber and as ephemeral as brown paper bags. But he returned again and again to the more substantial stuff of the scrap yard, explaining the attraction as one of practicality. “I saw all this material just lying around against buildings, and it was in color,” he said, “so I felt I was ahead on two counts.”
But auto bodies also provided him with a material that could bear more than its weight in art-historical significance: as a chaotic riff on Duchamp’s readymades, as a renegade form of truth-in-materials Minimalism, as a bridge between the raw expressiveness of the New York School painters and the assembly-line deadpan of Warhol.
Critics often saw his crumpled Cadillacs and Oldsmobiles as dark commentaries on the costs of American freedom, but Mr. Chamberlain rejected such metaphorical readings. He turned to making sculpture from other things partly because he grew so tired of the automotive associations.
“It seems no one can get free of the car-crash syndrome,” he told the curator Julie Sylvester in 1986. “For 25 years I’ve been using colored metal to make sculpture, and all they can think of is, ‘What the hell car did that come from?’ ”
Years later, he said: “I think of my art materials not as junk but as garbage. Manure, actually; it goes from being the waste material of one being to the life-source of another.”
Mr. Chamberlain devoted his life to challenging traditional notions of sculpture and to eroding the boundaries between sculpture and painting. He was among a wave of late-modernist sculptors who put color on an almost equal footing with form, and he had an uncanny ability, as the curator Klaus Kertess wrote, “to make roundness into color and color into roundness.”
Donald Judd, who enshrined many of Mr. Chamberlain’s pieces at the art complex he built in Marfa, Tex., observed that Mr. Chamberlain’s colors in his early years were quintessentially American, “the hard, sweet, pastel enamels, frequently roses and ceruleans, of Detroit’s imitation elegance for the poor.”
Mr. Chamberlain felt that even the word “sculpture” was limiting in describing art that, while functioning in three dimensions, could be made from almost anything.
“A sculpture is something that if it falls on your foot, it will break it,” he said. (Well into his career, some people still had a tough time seeing his sculptures as works of art; in 1973, two 300-pound metal pieces were mistaken for junk and carted away as they sat outside a gallery warehouse in Chicago.)
Mr. Chamberlain’s early influences included few sculptors. He gravitated to poets and to the Abstract Expressionist painters he met at the Cedar Tavern in Greenwich Village after moving to New York from Chicago in 1956, chiefly to Franz Kline and Willem de Kooning.
“Kline gave me the structure,” he once said. “De Kooning gave me the color.”
They also helped fuel a love of drink that contributed to his reputation as an art-world hellion, especially during the heyday of Max’s Kansas City, the Cedar’s successor as New York’s art-world clubhouse. At six-foot-four, with a broad, toothy smile full of mischief and menace, he looked, and sometimes acted, like a character from a Sam Peckinpah movie. In 1964, the year he represented the United States at the Venice Biennale, he was arrested in the Village after a drunken street fight with a police officer. Mr. Chamberlain’s lawyer defended his client by saying the fight was the fault of the officer, who had repeatedly and “needlessly struck Mr. Chamberlain on the head with a nightstick.”
John Angus Chamberlain was born on April 16, 1927, in Rochester, Ind., the son of a fifth-generation saloonkeeper. He was raised above a meat market until he was 4, when his parents divorced. His mother, a sometime waitress, took him to Chicago, where he was left in the care of his maternal grandmother, Edna Brown Waller, whom he described as a strong, voluble presence in his life.
In his teens, he grew to love classical music but decided he didn’t have enough talent to pursue a music career. Mostly to stay out of trouble, he joined the Navy at 16 in 1943, lying about his age, and served in the Pacific and Mediterranean before returning to Chicago to study hairdressing on the G.I. Bill — an occupation he saw partly as a good way to meet women. Between shifts as a hair and makeup instructor at a modeling school, he tried to teach himself to draw but grew frustrated and enrolled in private art classes. He later entered the School of the Art Institute of Chicago but lasted only a year and a half because of quarrels with instructors he accused of being narrow-minded.
Through a friend, Mr. Chamberlain found Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which he attended in 1955 and 1956. It introduced him to like-minded artists, most of them poets including Robert Creeley, Charles Olson and Robert Duncan. Shortly after leaving the school he met and married Elaine Grulkowski, his second wife, and the couple had three sons. Two, Angus and Duncan, survive him, as does his fourth wife, Ms. Fairweather, and her daughters, Alexandra Fairweather and Phoebe Fairweather. Elaine Chamberlain died in 1973, and a son, Jesse, died in 1999. Two other marriages ended in divorce.
Early on, Mr. Chamberlain was drawn to the totemic welded constructions that David Smith made from old tools and machine parts. But in 1957, he had an epiphany while staying with the painter Larry Rivers in Southampton, N.Y. Using two fenders he pulled from a 1929 Ford rusting on Mr. Rivers’s property, he made a sculpture by running over the pieces repeatedly with a truck to bend them the way he wanted, then he fitted them together almost like puzzle pieces.
The sculpture, “Shortstop,” opened his eyes to the potential of pre-painted junk metal. And work like it, heavily indebted to his Abstract Expressionist mentors, attracted admirers like the influential collector Allan Stone, who described the young Mr. Chamberlain as “a gruff, hairy” character, “more like a north woodsman than a sculptor.” Many critics saw his early work as an affront. One, writing in The New York Times in 1959, described a Chamberlain work as “a construction from the wreckage of a motor car.”
Even admirers like the critic Peter Schjeldahl seemed unsettled by the apparent randomness of Mr. Chamberlain’s crushing machines. “As with a sunset or a snowstorm, you don’t know whether there’s an operating intelligence behind it all or not,” he wrote in 1969, “so you learn to accept the manifestations for themselves.” He added: “The mangle is the message.”
Mr. Chamberlain was rarely happy working for long in one place. Besides New York, he lived in New Mexico, California, Connecticut and Sarasota, Fla., where he kept a houseboat and a yacht in addition to two sprawling studios. He continued to work and sail after settling in Shelter Island (while living part-time in Manhattan). At 74, he took up the saxophone. He also made headlines in 2011 by leaving his longtime gallery, Pace, for the larger empire of the Gagosian Gallery.
His pieces — with punning, portmanteau titles like “Awesomemeatloaf,” “Schizoverbia” and “Anything Goethe” — were not usually intended to be figural. But, depending on the vantage point, they could evoke dancing or hobbled human forms, trees, flowers, boats and birds. A 1982 sculpture called “The Lineup (Dedicated to the Sarasota Police Dept.)” looked like a row of reprobates hauled in for public indecency.
In the late 1960s he switched from car parts to unpainted galvanized steel, then made pieces from resin-coated crushed paper bags. He also began using blocks of foam rubber that, when tied with cords, resulted in forms strikingly like his car-metal pieces, underscoring the seeming softness of such rigid pieces. In 1968, Mr. Chamberlain took a detour into filmmaking, the most notable result of which was the cult hit “The Secret Life of Hernando Cortez,” filmed in Mexico with Warhol regulars Taylor Mead and Ultra Violet in various states of intoxication and undress.
In 1970, the year he was given a retrospective at the Solomon R. Guggenheim museum, he began working with heat-shaped Plexiglas and aluminum foil. But he returned to car bodies in 1974. (The Guggenheim is planning a new retrospective, to open in February.)
Mr. Chamberlain’s work is in the collections of dozens of museums, including the Guggenheim, the Museum of Modern Art and Dia:Beacon in Beacon, N.Y.; this year an older piece sold at auction for $4.7 million, a record for his work.
Mr. Chamberlain spoke of his work with reluctance and often humility, deriding the over-intellectualizing tendencies of his questioners. “Everyone always wanted to know what it meant, you know: ‘What does it mean, jellybean?’ ” he told Julie Sylvester, adding: “Even if I knew, I could only know what I thought it meant.”
But he trusted his instincts and seemed to follow them to please himself more than anyone else. “When a sculpture is nearly done, you can put things on and you take them off and it doesn’t make any difference,” he said. “Stopping is the key; you have to know when to stop. If I feel so glad that a sculpture is here, and I don’t care who did it, then I figure it’s a good piece.”
Guess everyone’s heard of the planking phenomenon by now.
Local plankers have even set up a Facebook page … Here’s a picture I swiped:
Newsflash, folks: this ain’t new.
Here are images of artist Dennis Oppenheim‘s Parallel Stress performance way back when — in May 1970, to be precise.
“PARALLEL STRESS – A ten minute performance piece – May 1970. Photo taken at greatest stress position prior to collapse. Location: Masonry block wall and collapsed concrete pier between Brooklyn and Manhattan bridges. Bottom photo: Stress position reassumed Location: Abandoned sump, Long Island”. Photographs and typewritten text on paper, in the collection of the Tate.
Ladies and gentlemen, the fountainhead of all that is plank-y.
Granted, posture-wise, he wasn’t so much planking as he was … er, Superman-ing ? In any case, though, contemporary plankers seem to have displaced Oppenheim’s original intent – reconfiguring corporeal engagement with the landscape – with an increasingly inane fascination with novelty. In the artist’s own words,
… the sense of physically spanning land, activating a surface by walking on it, began to interest me. When you compare a piece of sculpture, an object on a pedestal, to walking outdoors for ten minutes and still being on top of your work, you find an incredible difference in the degree of physicality and sensory immersion. The idea of the artist literally being in the material, after spending decades manipulating it, appealed to me.
(Qtd. in Ben Tufnell, Land Art [London: Tate Publishing, 2006], p. 61.)
Oppenheim emerged as an artist in the late ’60s, his practice informed by the most cutting-edge notions of the day: conceptualism, earthworks, body art. He never quite rose to the same hagiographic heights of renown that others of his generation did, though that doesn’t detract from some good stuff – Parallel Stress is a prime example.
Oppenheim passed away in January this year. His New York Times obituary:
DENNIS OPPENHEIM, A PIONEER IN EARTHWORKS AND CONCEPTUAL ART, DIES AT 72
By Roberta Smith. Published: January 26, 2011.
Dennis Oppenheim, a pioneer of earthworks, body art and Conceptual art who later made emphatically tangible installations and public sculptures that veered between the demonically chaotic and the cheerfully Pop, died on Friday in Manhattan. He was 72.
The cause was liver cancer, his wife, Amy Van Winkle Plumb, said. Mr. Oppenheim, who died at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center, had homes in Manhattan and the Springs section of East Hampton on Long Island.
Belonging to a generation of artists who saw portable painting and sculpture as obsolete, Mr. Oppenheim started out in the realm of the esoteric, the immaterial and the chronically unsalable. But he was always a showman, not averse to the circuslike, or to courting danger. For “Rocked Circle — Fear,” a 1971 body art piece, he stood at the center of a five-foot-wide circle painted on a New York sidewalk while a friend dropped fist-size stones from three stories above, aiming for inside the circle without hitting the artist. There were no mishaps.
Mr. Oppenheim had a penchant for grandiosity. It was implicit in the close-up photograph of a splinter in his finger, portentously titled “Material Interchange.” It was explicit in “Charmed Journey Through a Step-Down Transformer,” a Rube Goldberg-like outdoor installation from 1980 that sprawled 125 feet down a slope at the Wave Hill garden and cultural center in the Bronx, its disparate parts suggesting engines, tracks, organ pipes and much else.
Sculptures like these, from Mr. Oppenheim’s Factories series, combined aspects of machines and industrial architecture with intimations of mysterious human processes, presenting what he called “a parallel to the mental processing of a raw idea” by both the artist and the viewer.
Many works involved moving parts, casts of animals (whole or partial), upturned or tilted building silhouettes and sound, water and fireworks, which on occasion prompted unscheduled visits by the fire department.
An athletic, ruggedly handsome man who maintained a shock of blond hair longer than seemed biologically possible, Mr. Oppenheim had a knack for the oddly poetic title — as in “A Station for Detaining and Blinding Radio-Active Horses” — and a penchant for the occasional sensational remark. “Korea is a nice place to be,” he said after executing sculptural commissions for the 1988 summer Olympics in Seoul, “if your work is hysterical.”
Dennis Allan Oppenheim was born in Electric City, Wash., on Sept. 6, 1938. His father was an engineer; his mother promoted his early interest in art. In the mid-1960s he earned a Bachelor of Fine Arts from the California College of Arts and Crafts in Oakland and an M.F.A. from Stanford. He moved to New York in 1966.
He first became known for works in which, like an environmentally inclined Marcel Duchamp, using engineers’ stakes and photographs, he simply designated parts of the urban landscape as artworks. Then, in step with artists like Robert Smithson, Walter De Maria and Lawrence Weiner, he began making temporary outdoor sculptures, soon to be known as land art or earthworks. “Landslide,” from 1968, for example, was an immense bank of loose dirt near Exit 52 of the Long Island Expressway in central Long Island that he punctuated with rows of steplike right angles made of painted wood.
In other earthworks he cut abstract configurations in fields of wheat; traced the rings of a tree’s growth, much enlarged, in snow; and created a sprawling white square (one of Modernism’s basic motifs) with salt in downtown Manhattan.
He had his first solo exhibition in New York in 1968, at the John Gibson Gallery, then on East 67th Street in Manhattan, and his work was included in groundbreaking surveys of the new dematerialized art in 1969 at the Kunsthalle Bern in Switzerland and in 1970 at the Museum of Modern Art in New York.
In the mid-1970s, after tiring of the physical demands of body art and subsequently using his children in several works, he turned to custom-made automated marionettes, a solution that brought out his dark humor and theatrical proclivities and led to increasingly elaborate sculptural narratives. One of the first, “Lecture” (1976), centered on a marionette with Mr. Oppenheim’s face who addressed several rows of small chairs on the topic of the art world, talking especially about an artist whose preferred medium was assassination. Only one chair was occupied: by a marionette of a black man.
Mr. Oppenheim’s art-making could seem simultaneously driven and lackadaisical, fearless and opportunistic. Few of his contemporaries worked in a broader range of mediums or methods, or seemed to borrow so much from so many other artists. His career might almost be defined as a series of sidelong glances at the doings of artists like Vito Acconci, Mr. Smithson, Bruce Nauman, Alice Aycock (to whom he was married in the early 1980s) and Claes Oldenburg.
Yet few artists could give these borrowings such a personal, sculptural immediacy, as exemplified by “Recall,” a 1973 piece now on view in Manhattan as part of a group show at Salomon Contemporary in Chelsea devoted to art once exhibited at an artist-run alternative space in SoHo called 112 Greene Street.
In “Recall,” a video monitor shows a close-up of Mr. Oppenheim’s mouth as he recalls studying painting as an undergraduate, evoking the obsessive performances and gravelly voiced mumblings of Mr. Acconci, his friend. But in a glamorous, characteristically simple visual touch, the image of Mr. Oppenheim’s moving lips is reflected in the shimmering surface of a long, shallow pan of turpentine, the madeleine used to stimulate his memories.
Mr. Oppenheim’s first marriage, to Karen Marie Cackett, ended in divorce, as did his second, to Ms. Aycock.
In addition to his wife, Ms. Plumb, Mr. Oppenheim is survived by a daughter, Kristin Oppenheim, and a son, Erik, both of Brooklyn, from his first marriage; a daughter, Chandra Oppenheim of Portland, Me., from a relationship with Phyllis Jalbert; a son, Georges Poquillion, of Toulouse, France, from his relationship with Hélène Poquillion; his sister, Valerie Long, of Livermore, Calif.; and two grandchildren.
In the past two decades Mr. Oppenheim turned to smaller, less elaborate pieces whose all-purpose, rather coarsely made forms were generic and instantly legible. Among the 25 or so permanent sculptures from this period, several used enlarged objects in the manner of Pop Art: orange safety cones, Hershey’s Kisses, diamond rings, an easy chair, paintbrushes. “Device to Root Out Evil” (1997) is an inverted church, its steeple provocatively stuck in the ground. “Monument to Escape” (2001), a memorial in a Buenos Aires park to victims of the Argentine military dictatorship during the so-called dirty war, is simply a pile of three boxy house forms with bars added to their windows and doors.
His work was the subject of many surveys and retrospectives in the United States and in Europe, including a 1991 exhibition at the P.S. 1 Museum, and is represented in museum collections around the world.
Mr. Oppenheim’s best work had a transparency, almost an obviousness, that could seem hokey. But it also took the notion of communication seriously. It refused to talk down.
Lucian Freud in 1952. Image from CNN.
Lucian Freud passed away in London yesterday.
His New York Times obit:
LUCIAN FREUD, FIGURATIVE PAINTER WHO REDEFINED PORTRAITURE, IS DEAD AT 88
By William Grimes. Published July 21, 2011
Lucian Freud, whose stark and revealing paintings of friends and intimates, splayed nude in his studio, recast the art of portraiture and offered a new approach to figurative art, died on Wednesday night at his home in London. He was 88.
He died following a brief illness, said William Acquavella of Acquavella Galleries, Mr. Freud’s dealer.
Mr. Freud, a grandson of Sigmund Freud and a brother of the British television personality Clement Freud, was already an important figure in the small London art world when, in the immediate postwar years, he embarked on a series of portraits that established him as a potent new voice in figurative art.
In paintings like “Girl With Roses” (1947-48) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1951-52), he put the pictorial language of traditional European painting in the service of an anti-romantic, confrontational style of portraiture that stripped bare the sitter’s social facade. Ordinary people — many of them his friends — stared wide-eyed from the canvas, vulnerable to the artist’s ruthless inspection.
From the late 1950s, when he began using a stiffer brush and moving paint in great swaths around the canvas, Mr. Freud’s nudes took on a new fleshiness and mass. His subjects, pushed to the limit in exhausting extended sessions, day after day, dropped their defenses and opened up. The faces showed fatigue, distress, torpor.
The flesh was mottled, lumpy and, in the case of his 1990s portraits of the performance artist Leigh Bowery and the phenomenally obese civil servant Sue Tilley, shockingly abundant.
The relationship between sitter and painter, in his work, overturned traditional portraiture. It was “nearer to the classic relationship of the 20th century: that between interrogator and interrogated,” the art critic John Russell wrote in “Private View,” his survey of the London art scene in the 1960s.
William Feaver, a British critic who organized a Freud retrospective at Tate Britain in 2002, said: “Freud has generated a life’s worth of genuinely new painting that sits obstinately across the path of those lesser painters who get by on less. He always pressed to extremes, carrying on further than one would think necessary and rarely letting anything go before it became disconcerting.”
Lucian Michael Freud was born in Berlin on Dec. 8, 1922, and grew up in a wealthy neighborhood near the Tiergarten. His father, Ernst L. Freud, an architect who was Sigmund Freud’s youngest son, married Lucie Brasch, the heiress to a timber fortune, and the family enjoyed summers on the North Sea and visits to a family estate near Cottbus, in Germany.
In 1933, after Hitler came to power, the Freuds moved to London, where Lucian attended progressive schools but showed little academic promise. He was more interested in horses than in his studies, and entertained thoughts of becoming a jockey.
In 1938, he was expelled from Bryanston, in Dorset, after dropping his trousers on a dare on a street in Bournemouth. But his sandstone sculpture of a horse earned him entry into the Central School of Arts and Crafts in London. He left there after a year to enroll in the East Anglian School of Drawing and Painting in Dedham, where he studied with the painter Cedric Morris. While it is true that the school burned to the ground while he was there, the often repeated story that Mr. Freud accidentally started the fire with a discarded cigarette seems unlikely.
In 1941, hoping to make his way to New York, Mr. Freud enlisted in the Merchant Navy, where he served on a convoy ship crossing the Atlantic. He got no nearer to New York than Halifax, Nova Scotia, and after returning to Liverpool developed tonsillitis and was given a medical discharge from the service.
Mr. Freud was a bohemian of the old school. He set up his studios in squalid neighborhoods, developed a Byronic reputation as a rake and gambled recklessly (“Debt stimulates me,” he once said). In 1948, he married Kitty Garman, the daughter of the sculptor Jacob Epstein, whom he depicted in several portraits, notably “Girl With Roses,” “Girl With a Kitten” (1947) and “Girl With a White Dog” (1950-51). That marriage ended in divorce, as did his second marriage, to Lady Caroline Blackwood. He is survived by many children from his first marriage and from a series of romantic relationships.
His early work, often with an implied narrative, was strongly influenced by the German Neue Sachlichkeit (New Objectivity) painters like Georg Grosz and Otto Dix, although his influences reached back to Albrecht Dürer and the Flemish masters like Hans Memling.
On occasion he ventured into Surrealist territory. In “The Painter’s Room” (1943), a zebra with red and yellow stripes pokes its head through the window of a studio furnished with a palm tree and sofa. A top hat sits on the floor.
Mr. Freud later rejected Surrealism with something like contempt. “I could never put anything into a picture that wasn’t actually there in front of me,” he told the art critic Robert Hughes. “That would be a pointless lie, a mere bit of artfulness.”
A decisive influence was Francis Bacon, a fellow artist at the 1954 Venice Biennale and the subject of one of his most famous works, a head painted in oil on copper in 1952. Bacon’s free, daring brushwork led Mr. Freud to abandon the linear, thinly painted portraits of the 1940s and move toward the brushy, searching portrait style of his mature work, with its severely muted palette of browns and yellows.
“Full, saturated colors have an emotional significance that I want to avoid,” he once said. To the artist and Freud biographer Lawrence Gowing, he said, “For me the paint is the person.” Mr. Freud’s dingy studio became his artistic universe, a grim theater in which his contorted subjects, stripped bare and therefore unidentifiable by class, submitted to the artist’s unblinking, merciless inspection.
The sense of the artist-model relationship is suggested by “Reflection With Two Children,” a 1965 self-portrait showing Mr. Freud seen from below, the vantage point of a dog looking at its master. Two children, almost miniature in scale, are shunted to the side of the canvas. A glaring light overhead contributes to the impression of the artist as all-powerful inquisitor.
His female subjects in particular seemed not just nude but obtrusively naked. Mr. Freud pushed this effect so far, Russell once noted, “that we sometimes wonder if we have any right to be there.” By contrast, his horses and dogs, like his whippets Pluto and Eli, were evoked with tender solicitude.
“I’ve got a strong autobiographical bias,” he told Mr. Feaver, the British critic. “My work is entirely about myself and my surroundings.”
On rare occasions Mr. Freud took on something akin to official portraits. He painted the collector Hans Heinrich Thyssen-Bornemisza, fully clothed, in “Man in a Chair” (1985). His stern 2001 portrait of Queen Elizabeth, showing the royal head topped by the Diamond Diadem, divided the critics and public.
Some critics hailed the picture as bold, uncompromising and truthful. Arthur Morrison, the arts editor of The Times of London, wrote, “The chin has what can only be described as a six-o’clock shadow, and the neck would not disgrace a rugby prop forward.” The newspaper’s royal photographer said Mr. Freud should be thrown into the Tower of London.
These were deviations. Much more in the Freud vein was his portrait of a man sprawled on a couch holding a sleeping rat (“Naked Man With Rat,” 1977-78). The animal’s tail, draped across the model’s left thigh, nearly makes contact with his genitals, producing an ineffably creepy effect.
Mr. Freud remained deeply unfashionable in the United States for many decades, but in 1987 the Hirshhorn Museum in Washington exhibited his work in a show that no New York museum would take on. This was a watershed event. Mr. Hughes proclaimed him “the greatest living realist painter,” and a Freud cult soon developed. In 1993 the Metropolitan Museum of Art organized a retrospective of his work.
“It is an attempt at a record,” Mr. Freud said, describing his work on the occasion of his retrospective at the Hayward Gallery in London in 1974. “I work from the people that interest me and that I care about, in rooms that I live in and know.”
Cy Twombly in 1958. Image from The Guardian.
So Cy Twombly, doodler extraordinaire and one of the last surviving artists of his generation — which includes Rauschenberg (a former flame) and Jasper Johns — passed away two days ago.
I hadn’t even heard.
The NYT put out a long-ish obituary, reproduced below; the original can be read here.
CY TWOMBLY, 1928-2011: AMERICAN ARTIST WHO SCRIBBLED A UNIQUE PATH
By Randy Kennedy
Cy Twombly, whose spare, childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar American art even as he became one of the era’s most important painters, died on Tuesday in Rome. He was 83.
His death was announced by the Gagosian Gallery, which represents his work. Mr. Twombly had battled cancer for several years.
In a career that slyly subverted Abstract Expressionism, toyed briefly with Minimalism, seemed barely to acknowledge Pop art and anticipated some of the concerns of Conceptualism, Mr. Twombly was a divisive artist almost from the start. The curator Kirk Varnedoe, on the occasion of a 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote that his work was “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.”
The critic Robert Hughes called him “the Third Man, a shadowy figure, beside that vivid duumvirate of his friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.”
Mr. Twombly’s decision to settle permanently in southern Italy in 1957 as the art world shifted decisively in the other direction, from Europe to New York, was only the most symbolic of his idiosyncrasies. He avoided publicity throughout his life and mostly ignored his critics, who questioned constantly whether his work deserved a place at the forefront of 20th century abstraction, though he lived long enough to see it arrive there. It didn’t help that his paintings, because of their surface complexity and whirlwinds of tiny detail — scratches, erasures, drips, penciled fragments of Italian and classical verse amid scrawled phalluses and buttocks — lost much of their power in reproduction.
But Mr. Twombly, a tall, rangy Virginian who once practiced drawing in the dark to make his lines less purposeful, steadfastly followed his own program and looked to his own muses — often literary ones, like Catullus, Rumi, Pound and Rilke. He seemed to welcome the privacy that came with unpopularity.
“I had my freedom and that was nice,” he said in a rare interview, with Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, before a 2008 survey of his career at the Tate Modern.
The critical low point probably came after a widely panned 1964 exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York. The artist and writer Donald Judd, who was hostile toward painting in general, was especially damning, calling the show a fiasco. “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”
But by the 1980s, with the rise of neo-Expressionism, a generation of younger artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat found inspiration in Mr. Twombly’s skittery bathroom-graffiti scrawl. Coupled with rising interest in European artists whose work shared unexpected ground with Twombly’s, like Joseph Beuys, the newfound attention brought him a kind of critical favor he had never enjoyed before. And by the next decade, he was highly sought after not only by European museums and collectors, who had discovered his work early on, but also by those back in his homeland who had not known what to make of him two decades before.
In 1989, the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened permanent rooms dedicated to his monumental 10-painting cycle, “Fifty Days at Iliam,” based on Alexander Pope’s translation of “The Iliad.” (Mr. Twombly said that he purposely misspelled Ilium, a Latin name for Troy, with an “a,” to refer to Achilles.) That same year, Mr. Twombly’s work passed the million dollar mark at auction. In 1995, the Menil Collection in Houston opened a new gallery dedicated to his work, designed by Renzo Piano after a plan by Mr. Twombly himself. Despite this growing acceptance, Mr. Varnedoe still felt it necessary to include an essay in the Modern’s newsletter at the time of the retrospective, titled “Your Kid Could Not Do This, and Other Reflections on Cy Twombly.”
‘It Does Not Illustrate’
In the only written statement Mr. Twombly ever made about his work, a short essay in an Italian art journal in 1957, he tried to make clear that his intentions were not subversive but elementally human. Each line he made, he said, was “the actual experience” of making the line, adding: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.” Years later, he described this more plainly. “It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture,” he said. The process stood in stark contrast to the detached, effete image that often clung to Mr. Twombly. After completing a work, in a kind of ecstatic state, it was as if the painting existed but he himself barely did anymore: “I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days,” he said.
Edwin Parker Twombly Jr., was born in Lexington, Va., on April 25, 1928, to parents who had moved to the South from New England. His father, a talented athlete who pitched a summer for the Chicago White Sox and went on to become a revered college swimming coach, was nicknamed Cy, after Cy Young, the Hall of Fame pitcher. The younger Mr. Twombly (pronounced TWAHM-blee) inherited the name, though he was much more bookish than athletic as a child, with stooped shoulders and a high ponderous forehead. He read avidly and, discovering his calling early, he worked from art kits he ordered from the Sears Roebuck catalog. As a teenager, he studied with the Spanish painter Pierre Daura, who had left Europe after the Spanish Civil War and settled in Lexington. Daura’s wife, Louise Blair, studied cave paintings and may have sparked Mr. Twombly’s early interest in Paleolithic art.
In 1947 he attended the Boston Museum School, where German Expressionism was the rage, but Mr. Twombly gravitated to his own interests, like Dada and Kurt Schwitters and particularly to Jean Dubuffet and Alberto Giacometti, two important early influences. He moved back to Lexington in 1949 and studied art at Washington and Lee University, where his talent impressed teachers. By 1950, he was in New York, the recipient of a scholarship to the Art Students League. Later in his life, he cited visiting Willem de Kooning’s studio and seeing an Arshile Gorky retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art as important moments in his young painting life. But he also came to New York at the heyday of the New York School and was exposed to the work of almost all its giants in the city’s galleries. He turned down an offer for a solo show of his paintings at the Art Students League in 1950, saying that he felt it was too early for him.
He met Rauschenberg, a fellow student at the league, during his second semester, and Rauschenberg later persuaded Mr. Twombly to enroll at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, which had become a crucible for the American avant-garde, with John Cage, Merce Cunningham, Ray Johnson, Dorothea Rockburne and John Chamberlain among its faculty and students. Mr. Twombly, who studied with Ben Shahn, stayed at the college only briefly and was a bit of an outsider even then. As he told Mr. Serota: “I was always doing my own thing. I always wondered why there are books with photographs of all the artists of that period and I was only in one! I thought: ‘Where was I?’ ”
In the summer of 1952, after receiving a grant from the Virginia Museum of Fine Arts, Mr. Twombly traveled to Europe for the first time and met up with Rauschenberg. The two wandered through Italy, North Africa and Spain, an experience that later yielded some of the first paintings to be considered a part of Mr. Twombly’s mature work. “Tiznit,” made with white enamel house paint and pencil and crayon, with gouges and scratches in the surface, was named for a town in Morocco that he had visited, and the painting’s primitivist shapes were inspired by tribal pieces he saw at the ethnographic museum in Rome, as well as by artists like Dubuffet, de Kooning and Franz Kline.
The painting, along with another based on tribal motifs, was exhibited in 1953 at Eleanor Ward’s Stable Gallery on West 58th Street along with monochromatic paintings by Rauschenberg. The show was generally savaged. (Early this year, the Museum of Modern Art acquired “Tiznit,” along with another early work, which Mr. Twombly had kept in his personal collection.)
Mr. Twombly was drafted and spent more than a year in the Army, where he was assigned to cryptography work in Washington. On weekends and leaves, he continued to paint and draw, sometimes at night with the lights out to try to lose techniques he had learned in art classes and to express himself more instinctively. After receiving a medical discharge and teaching for a time in Virginia, Mr. Twombly returned to New York and worked in a studio on William Street, near both Rauschenberg and Johns, who helped choose titles for his paintings during this period.
Mr. Twombly tried without success for several months to get a grant to go back to Europe and in 1957, with Ward’s help, he spent several months in Italy, where he met Tatiana Franchetti, a portrait painter and member of a storied family of Italian art patrons. They were married in 1959 at City Hall in New York and their son, Cyrus Alessandro, was born that year. She died in 2010. Mr. Twombly is survived by his son; two grandchildren, and by Nicola Del Roscio, his longtime companion.
In Love With Italy
Mr. Twombly fell in love with Italy, which reminded him of the faded grandeur of Lexington. (“Virginia is a good start for Italy,” he once said.) He rented an apartment facing the Coliseum in Rome and began to work on larger scale paintings, which were increasingly spare, incorporating scrawled words and doodle-like shapes on a smudged off-white background, establishing a lifelong reputation as a high-art graffitist that generally irked him. He told Mr. Serota that while early paintings made visual reference to ancient graffiti, his intentions were “more lyrical” and his inclusion of phalluses and female body parts were often just ways to evoke male and female presences in the work. If his aspirations were toward any period, he later said, it was an early neo-Classicism, like that of Poussin, whom he said he would have liked to have been. (In his final days, he at least communed with his hero’s spirit; the Dulwich Picture Gallery in London opened a show on June 29 pairing his works with Poussin’s.)
In 1958, Mr. Twombly left Ward’s Stable Gallery and began to show at Leo Castelli, which represented Rauschenberg and Johns and was establishing them as presences in the New York art world. Mr. Twombly continued to live and work in and around Rome, but he traveled extensively, to the Sahara, Greece, Egypt and Turkey. In 1964 his work was included in one of the first exhibitions to explore the ideas of Minimalism, “Black, White and Grey,” at the Wadsworth Athenaeum in Hartford, with a roster of rising stars like Agnes Martin, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol.
But the same year, Mr. Twombly’s “Nine Discourses on Commodus,” an ambitious painting cycle he made after the assassination of President John F. Kennedy, based on the life and death of the Roman emperor, received scathing reviews in a show at the Castelli gallery. In addition to Judd’s condemnation, other critics dismissed the work as nostalgically backward-looking or barely there; one described paintings of “indecisive pinkish scrawled areas floating across each other at the edges.” According to the catalog for the Tate Modern show, the criticism damaged Mr. Twombly’s career and caused him to paint less for several years. His aversion to the press might also have been cemented at this point; not long after the Castelli show, Vogue magazine ran a piece about Mr. Twombly, lavishly illustrated with pictures by Horst P. Horst of his elegant Roman apartment. The article noted archly that his wealth and comfort had led to “Twombly being suspected of having fallen for ‘grandeur’ ” and to a view among American critics that he had “somehow betrayed the cause.”
In the 1960’s, he began to work for periods of time back in Lexington and in New York, where he used the collector and curator David Whitney’s loft and then rented space on the Bowery. In 1972, he began working on one of the largest canvases of his career, a painting inspired by Burton’s “Anatomy of Melancholy,” which would take him 22 years to complete and is now installed in the Twombly gallery at the Menil Collection.
With the opening of that gallery Mr. Twombly fully entered what might be called the Old Master stage of a career that had taken a long time to arrive there, though his presence is still muted in the narrative of postwar art told by many American museum collections.
In 2010, the Louvre unveiled a ceiling painting it commissioned by Mr. Twombly, a 3,750-square-foot work in the museum’s Salle des Bronzes, next door to a ceiling triptych created more than half a century before by Georges Braque. The work is as calm and classical as his many of his early paintings were stormy and scatological: a listing of Hellenic sculptors against a deep blue background with planet-like discs. Characteristically, Mr. Twombly said little about the work.
Just before the retrospective at the Modern opened in 1994, he submitted reluctantly to an interview with The New York Times, sounding more agitated by the attention the show directed his way than vindicated by the recognition.
“I have my pace and way of living,” he said, in his hillside house in Gaeta, south of Rome, “and I’m not looking for something.” Of reputation and artistic acclaim, he added: “It’s something I don’t think about. If it happens, it happens, but don’t bother me with it. I couldn’t care less.”
M. F. Husain. Image from The Times of India.
Breaking news: The so-called Picasso of India, M. F. Husain, passed away in London yesterday. The NYT published the following obituary (read the original here).
Maqbool Fida Husain, India’s Most Famous Painter, Dies at 95
By WILLIAM GRIMES
Maqbool Fida Husain, an artist whose modernist reinterpretations of mythic and religious subjects made him India’s most famous painter and, in recent years, a target of right-wing Hindu groups, died on Thursday in London. He was 95.
The cause was a heart attack, The Press Trust of India said, citing family members.
Mr. Husain, who developed his sweeping brushstrokes and bright palette when he painted movie billboards in Bombay (now Mumbai), applied the formal lessons of European modernists like Cézanne and Matisse to scenes from national epics like the Mahabharata and to the Hindu pantheon.
He also painted, obsessively, two women who were, in very different ways, his muses. The first was the 1990s Bollywood sex symbol Madhuri Dixit, also known as the Oomph Girl. The other was Mother Teresa.
Indifferent to both religion and politics, Mr. Husain, a Muslim by upbringing, treated the gods and goddesses of Hinduism as visual stimuli rather than deities, depicting them unclothed and often in sexually suggestive poses. This cavalier treatment earned him the bitter hatred of Hindu nationalist groups, which beginning in the 1990s mounted a campaign of intimidation and violence against him.
In his later years, Mr. Husain spent much of his time defending himself against court actions aimed at the messages in his artwork, and in 2005 he left India and became a citizen of Qatar.
He cut a dashing, highly eccentric figure. Dressed in impeccably tailored suits, he went barefoot and brandished a slim cane that, on closer inspection, turned out to be an extra-long paintbrush. He never maintained a studio. Instead, he spread his canvases out on the floor of whatever hotel room he happened to be staying in and went to work, splashing paint with abandon and paying for damages when he checked out.
“I am like a folk painter,” he told the BBC. “Paint and move ahead.”
He was enormously prolific. He once claimed to have produced some 60,000 paintings. A gifted self-promoter and hard bargainer, he amassed a fortune but maintained, he insisted, a bank balance of zero. Revenue from his sales, including the $2 million that a private collector paid for his painting “The Last Supper” in 2005 — a record for an Indian artist — went to support the four museums he created to showcase his work and to his collection of classic sports cars.
Maqbool Fida Husain was born on Sept. 17, 1915, in Pandharpur, in the central Indian state of Maharashtra, and grew up in Indore in Madhya Pradesh. His father was an accountant. Rather than become a tailor’s apprentice, he decided to try his luck in Bombay, where he found work as a “graphics wallah” painting the vibrant billboards advertising Bollywood films. He also designed toys and children’s furniture.
He remained a film fan throughout his life. After seeing Ms. Dixit in “Who Am I to You?” (1994), one of the most successful Hindi films ever made, he adopted her as his muse, painting hundreds of portraits and directing her in the 2000 film “Gaja Gamini,” which he also produced and in which he invested $2 million. He later directed the Hindi star Tabu in “Meenaxi: A Tale of Three Cities” (2004). Neither film was a commercial success.
In 1947 he was invited by Francis Newton Souza to join the Progressive Artists’ Group, an organization that encouraged embracing modernism and breaking free of traditional painting styles, especially the classical miniatures favored by the Bengal School.
After winning a prize at the annual exhibition of the Bombay Art Society, he began showing his work throughout India and abroad at international art fairs. In 1971 he was given a major exhibition at the São Paolo Biennale. In 1967 his film “Through the Eyes of a Painter” won the Golden Bear award at the Berlin Film Festival.
Among his best-known paintings are a series based on the Ramayana and Mahabharata and a series of 45 watercolors, completed in 1975, “Passage Through Human Space.” His political troubles stemmed from a group of paintings, made in the early 1970s, that included a depiction of the goddess Durga copulating with a tiger, the goddess Lakshmi perched naked on the elephant head of Ganesh, the god of success, and a nude Saraswati, the Hindu goddess of knowledge. They were reprinted in 1996 in the Hindi monthly Vichar Mimansa in an article titled “M. F. Husain: A Painter or a Butcher?”
In response to the article, eight lawsuits were filed against him for “promoting enmity between different groups.” Although the Delhi High Court dismissed the complaints in 2004, Mr. Husain became a lightning rod for political and religious tensions between Hindus and Muslims. An angry mob ransacked his gallery in Ahmedabad, and members of the far-right Hindu group Bajrang Dal invaded his house and vandalized paintings.
The lawsuits kept coming. Mr. Husain observed the turmoil with a cool eye. He once invited a panel composed of an art critic, a lawyer and a Hindu nationalist to review his work. If they found any of it offensive, he said, he would throw it into a fire in a traditional Hindu sacrificial rite.
Despite his talent for provocation, Mr. Husain received many official honors. In 1986, as a reward for his status as a national treasure, he was appointed by Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi to the upper house of the Indian Parliament. He attended sessions for six years and never spoke a word, preferring instead to make drawings of his fellow legislators, which he published in the satirical “Sansad Upanishad: The Scriptures of Parliament.”
Mr. Husain shrugged off widespread criticism of his performance in government service. “I’m concerned with my country, of course; and to be there inside the corridors of power, I was learning so much,” he told The Daily Telegraph of London. “And I got free public transport, and a lifetime pension. It’s still coming!”
After leaving India, Mr. Husain, whose survivors include six children, divided his time between Dubai and London. “They can put me in a jungle,” he told The New York Times in 2008. “Still, I can create.”