February 1988. Lucas Samaras. Ingrid Sischy’s last cover as editor.
Ingrid Sischy and Sandra Brant at the International Centre for Missing & Exploited Children’s Inaugural Gala for Child Protection, 2015. Photo: Clint Spaulding/PatrickMcMullan.com via AP Images.
WHAT I REMEMBER most about Ingrid is her voice. It was, as they say, an excellent instrument, low and honeyed, which could easily turn into a growl or a purr. Her use of it totally depended on what her goal was: getting someone out of her face, drawing someone closer, closing the topic down, opening a golden door. She would have made a great, rampaging Auntie Mame. I can see her climbing that stairway to paradise, arm extended, voice rising like an alto sax, exhorting “Live! Life’s a banquet and most poor suckers are starving to death!”
Richard Flood is the director of special projects and curator at large at the New Museum in New York. He was managing editor of Artforum in 1980, and books editor in 1982-83.
February 1982. Issey Miyake, 1982 Spring-Summer Collection, rattan bodice and nylon polyester skirt. The rattan is split, colored, and polished. It has been formed to follow the line of the body and bamboo has been woven in to hold the curve in place, and prevent the rattan from separating. Produced with the collaboration of the bamboo artist Kosuge Shochikudo. Photo: Eiichiro Sakata.
Summer 1984. Cover question: Mirós, Mirós, on the wall, which is not by Joan at all? Answer: Top right is Sherrie Levine, After Joan Miró, 1984, watercolor on paper, 14 x 11“. All reproductions except top right: Joan Miró, Blue II, 1961, oil on canvas, 8' 10 1/2” x 11' 8“. From page 87 of Miró: Selected Paintings, catalogue for exhibition at Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden, Smithsonian Institution, Washington D.C., March 20–June 8 1980; 10 x 9”. Courtesy of Pierre Matisse Gallery, New York. This is the source for top right.
Summer 1985. Lucas Samaras, Draw, 1975/85. About the cover: The relief, made out of painted plaster on wire mesh, is dated 1975 and measures 13 x 11¼ x ½”. The original hologram of the “A” in the word “Draw” was produced in May 1985 through the cooperative efforts of Lucas Samaras, the Museum of Holography in New York, New York Holographic Laboratories, and Polaroid Corporation. The hologram that appears on the cover is a precise replica made by the Polaform process recently developed at Polaroid's Research Laboratories. Polaroid® Polaform™
December 1985. Solenevich, illustration for James Blish, A Life for the Stars (1962), last in “Cities in Flight” cycle. From Analog: Science Fact Science Fiction magazine, New York, September 1962. Inside Artforum logo: detail of illustration from Jules Verne, Robur le Conquérant (Robur the conquerer), 1886.
For tributes to Ingrid Sischy by Julian Schnabel, Barbara Kruger, and Laurie Anderson, see Artforum’s October print issue.
Ray Learsy and Melva Bucksbaum at the Granary in Sharon, Connecticut, 2013. Photo: Brian Wilcox.
IN 2013, Melva Bucksbaum curated “The Distaff Side” at the Granary, the private gallery and open art-storage space she shared with her husband, Ray Learsy. The exhibition’s title refers to the maternal line in a family and is appropriate for a show comprising only works by women artists. This exhibition—like her life in art—was about womanhood, and it served as a living will of sorts, a testimony to her belief in the power of contemporary art and the power of women in art. And the works included in the exhibition—by artists ranging from Louise Bourgeois, Agnes Martin, and Ana Mendieta, to Barbara Kruger, Kara Walker, and Laurie Simmons, as well as younger artists such as Dana Schutz, Isca Greenfield-Sanders, and Tauba Auerbach—exemplify this commitment.
Initially, Melva considered titling the exhibition “The Women,” as curator and friend Joan Simon wrote in an essay for the catalogue. Indeed, I believe so much of Melva’s attraction to and involvement in the art world had to do with her conviction that it was a place where she could act effectively as a woman and on behalf of women. In fact, she played a key role in the appointment of Simon as interim director of the Des Moines Art Center. Simon became a major force in the art world as an editor of Art in America, curator, and writer. She went on to curate exhibitions and/or write on artists Jenny Holzer, Lorna Simpson, Susan Rothenberg, and Joan Jonas, among others. Melva always admired Simon’s work and took great pride in her accomplishments. Melva saw herself as part of growing and influential network of women in the art world.
When Melva joined the Whitney Museum of American Art’s board in 1996, she was well aware that the museum was unique in its founding by a woman artist, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Inspired by Mrs. Whitney’s steadfast belief in artists, Melva acted definitively in support of the Museum’s mission to support the artists of our time. As chairman of the Painting and Sculpture Acquisition Committee, she helped acquire dozens of works to build the Whitney’s collection. And when we were short of funds to purchase a work, she regularly gave more herself and challenged others to do the same to make an acquisition possible. She and Ray donated numerous works over the years. One of her last acts on behalf of the Whitney was to donate Eric Fischl’s 9/11-inspired sculpture Tumbling Woman, 2002, because she wanted it to be downtown near where it had been conceived. Her establishment of the Bucksbaum Award at the Whitney in 2000 was intended not merely to recognize what artists had accomplished but to spur them on in taking risks in future work. Whether she had a particular interest in artists’ work at the time of their selection didn’t matter; she kept tabs on each and took pride in their successive accomplishments.
Eric Fischl, Tumbling Woman, 2002, bronze, 38 x 72 x 48". Photo: Brian Wilcox.
Melva understood the complexity of museums and the importance of a strong staff, and her support of women extended beyond artists, to those who worked in the arts—not just curators but across the institution—and in particular those at the Whitney. She was so pleased when Donna DeSalvo was appointed the first chief curator in the Whitney’s history and was a great fan of Elisabeth Sussman, with whom she shared a passion for particular artists such as Elaine Reichek. When Alexandra Wheeler returned to the Whitney from Exit Art to lead the Museum’s development team, Melva was delighted. She was moved to tears when she learned that her beloved daughter, Mary Bucksbaum Scanlan, endowed Carol Mancusi-Ungaro’s position of associate director for conservation and research in her mother’s name.
Knowing that the person most responsible for shaping a museum is the director (something she learned from her mentor, James T. Demetrion, the former director of the Des Moines Art Center and Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden in Washington, DC, where she also served on the board), Melva was thrilled when Lisa Phillips, a Whitney curator, was selected as director of the New Museum in 1999 and when Thelma Golden, also a Whitney curator, was chosen as director of the Studio Museum in 2005; enthusiastically, she and Ray continued to support them in their new posts in the city. And although she was delighted when I became director, at the time, I detected that she was a tad let down that a woman had not been selected.
If she was disappointed, she more than made up for it with her commitment to my efforts on behalf of the museum. I will always be grateful to Melva, because she was one of the first to champion the notion of a downtown Whitney. When concern was raised about leaving the museum’s Upper East Side home, Melva—a downtown resident—was one of the few trustees who reassured others that we could have a great future in another location; accordingly, she was quick to make a major commitment and was appointed cochair of the Whitney’s capital campaign. Sadly, Melva was too ill to attend the opening dinner that she had talked about for months if not years. She was devastated, as we were. Melva emailed me a photograph of the dress she had picked out to wear—the one she had proudly worn to meet Queen Elizabeth II. One of the last times I saw her was but weeks ago. She was seated in a wheelchair, looking gaunt but gorgeous, eyes aglow with a huge grin, on a tour of the inaugural exhibition at the Whitney. As I leaned down to greet her with a kiss, she warded me off for fear of germs, but whispered triumphantly: “We did it!”
In the catalogue that accompanied “The Distaff Side,” Melva included Maya Angelou’s poem “Phenomenal Woman”; a few lines follow.
It’s the fire in my eyes,
And the flash of my teeth,
The swing in my waist,
And the joy in my feet.
I’m a woman
That was her.
Adam D. Weinberg is the Alice Pratt Brown Director of the Whitney Museum of American Art in New York.
James Gowan, 2004. Photo: John Goto.
You cannot overestimate James Gowan’s effect on his field as a teacher. The list of his students is formidable: Michael Hopkins, Peter Cook, Richard Rogers, and among the present generation of British architects Alex de Rijke and Stephen Bates. My encounter with him was as a final-year student in the Architectural Association School of Architecture in 1972. James was intellectually and creatively scrupulous and generous to a fault. This was very different from most other teachers at the school, who offered mostly rhetoric and a simplifying sense of certainty rather than actual intellectual guidance. His attitude toward students was one of high tolerance; he was open to whatever they brought to him. This was not laxity but a very Duchampian view of the value and possibilities of chance. He said that if a student brought him a scheme about white rabbits (and that would not have been unusual in the AA at the time), he would be able to turn it into architecture. And this was entirely believable, because his intellectual and imaginative skills had produced a number of exceptional and distinctly surreal built works, such as the famous Round House in St. David’s and the Schreiber house in London—the mute, abstract form of the latter juxtaposed against a circular, half-buried swimming pool. His intellectual fearlessness created space for creativity and originality within the orthodoxies of the AA and the other schools where he taught.
Indeed, no one should underestimate James’s value as an architect, either. In the 1970s, the University of Leicester’s engineering building he coauthored with James Stirling, completed in 1963, was widely regarded as a great work of architecture. Though today the building is remembered primarily as Stirling’s work, over the years I have increasingly seen the fundamental contribution that James made to the building, a contribution that was echoed in the invaluable lessons offered by his work and teaching after the breakup of his partnership with Stirling. Like Asplund and Lewerentz, Stirling had the ability to project his architecture, to sell it to the world, while Gowan’s mind was always on the architecture itself. Looking at his work now, you can see how perplexingly direct and fine his buildings are. In the Schreiber House, typical London brick fenestrated architecture has been reformulated into an abstract play of solid and void, bringing exceptionally fine daylight to the interiors and a measured degree of visibility to the outside world. Rectangular figures on the exterior spread through the interior of the house as precast elements in the ceiling, plaster paneling of the wall, furniture, and modeled handrails, with these resonances giving the entire composition repose and dignity. The house combines the coherence of eighteenth-century architecture with the existential sensitivity of the present time. Yet its cerebral visuality and cultural sophistication is unlikely to appeal to the consumerist bourgeoisie, professional architectural critics, or academic theorists. It is something else: a contribution to the inner workings of practice, and architecture is the better for it.
CHRIS BURDEN HAS ALWAYS INSPIRED ME as art’s unprecedented media savant. Like key artists, politicians, and celebrities he learned from, Burden understood the power in speaking the language of the world’s ever-evolving media system and using this vocabulary to maximum effect. PR, for Burden, was an essential material in his oft-dematerializing work.
Take Shoot, 1971, his most famous piece. The perfect title, the elegantly succinct action, and the iconic photograph that remains—Burden holding his arm, the flesh wound dripping blood—a straightforward document (originally shot in full color, but widely distributed in black-and-white), which burned itself into the memories of every artist and art-history student who saw it in a slide lecture, a catalogue, or online. The photo depicts not the moment of impact between bullet and arm but the aftermath, leaving its viewers to wonder what really happened in that gallery.
Burden’s folkloric works from this pivotal period of his oeuvre beg for discussion and debate. They were events—things to publicize, write about, and to talk about with friends over a joint around the dining-room table. Burden left clues: his documentary-like photographs and props that, like traces of evidence, asked viewers to solve the mystery or imagine the circumstances of their making.
Times changed, and so did Burden’s methods. He took his act straight to TV, buying up commercial spots and bypassing the limitations of the art context. He consistently reached out to, and invited, a broader interest in his work. When he fearlessly returned to making sculpture in the late 1970s and early ’80s, Burden took up subjects with Hollywood-action-movie-style mass appeal, his knack for bodily endurance oftentimes channeled into obsessive handicraft: He created epic battle scenes, aircraft carriers, tanks, bridges, submarines, and other symbols of the military-industrial complex, alongside a floating steamroller, falling I beams, a motorcycle stunt, a ghost ship, and a massive, apocalyptic vision of planet earth. At the beginning of his career, Burden had to believe that no matter how much of art’s traditional methods he relinquished, his wouldn’t be a story of limit and loss. He had to believe that in art, there was much to be gained through the expanded dialogue he shot into motion, and that there were so many more people to engage, as stories and images of his works dispersed outward in all directions. His was—and is—an art for everyone.
But Burden was, after all, a Los Angeles artist, living here in the Hollywood-PR-media-machine’s wake for his entire adult life. His second-most-iconic artwork, Urban Light, 2008, an almost religious tribute to the passage of time in his adopted city, is arguably among the world’s most instagrammed. His specific understanding of LA culture brought us into the city’s present, our beloved hometown of media scandals, selfies, and sensationalism, of car culture, aerospace and tech, beautiful traffic, heartbreaking fantasy, storytelling, lights, cameras, and action.
When it comes to one of our city’s favorite pastimes, marijuana, I’m a lightweight. It takes one or two puffs of a joint to send me off into a paranoid tailspin or else put me to sleep. Nonetheless, on Christmas Eve in 2006, I accepted a hit when a joint, “fresh from Petaluma,” was passed around the dining room table in South Pasadena, a Picabia painting of a devilish monster egging me on in my peripheral vision. I was at the home of Mike Kelley and Emi Fontana, and the joint, traced back counterclockwise around the table, had originated at the facile hands of my hero, Chris Burden. That night was the only time I ever met him, and I wish I could say I remembered what happened next.
Alex Israel is an artist based in Los Angeles.