Barbara Rose, Critic and Historian of Modern Art, Dies at 84 – The New York Times
She wrote a celebrated college textbook, but, extending her reach beyond academia, she preferred exploring the unfolding art of the present.
Barbara Rose, the influential art historian and critic who began her career as a champion of Minimalism and wrote about culture with an authority informed by her close friendships with two generations of artists in New York and abroad, died on Friday in Concord, N.H. She was 84.
Her death, in a hospice, was confirmed by her husband, Richard Du Boff, who said that she had had breast cancer for a decade.
Ms. Rose is probably best known as the author of the textbook “American Art Since 1900,” which became a campus perennial in the 1970s. But, extending her reach beyond academia, she preferred exploring the unfolding art of the present.
She was an art critic for Vogue and New York magazines and produced eight documentary films. A devotee of the ritual known as studio visits, she was always traipsing to artists’ lofts to look at their latest paintings and probe for helpful information.
“The reason I interviewed artists is because I really wanted to know the answer to my questions,” she said in a recent lecture. “I never thought of them as interviews.”
Art critics as much as artists are shaped indelibly by their moment of entry onto the art scene. Ms. Rose formed her approach at a time when Minimalism was ascendant, and she married one of its key exponents, the artist Frank Stella. With their combined displays of wit, knowledge and slanting opinion, they were a glamorous couple but, according to Ms. Rose, certainly not unflawed.
“We had babies right away,” she told New York magazine, “and everyone in SoHo said, ‘Oh, look, the babies had babies!’”
In her criticism and essays, Ms. Rose took a formalist approach, maintaining that abstract painting is inherently superior to realism. As the decades passed, her faith in connoisseurship came to seem conservative and a rebuff to the present era, in which the meaning of any work of art is deemed inseparable from issues of race and gender.
Even so, Ms. Rose probably did as much as any critic of the postwar era to advance the art careers of women. In 1971, she wrote the first major monograph on Helen Frankenthaler. In 1983, she organized the first museum retrospective of Lee Krasner’s work, a year before Ms. Krasner’s death.
Ms. Rose also furnished the text for definitive monographs on Magdalena Abakanowicz, Nancy Graves, Beverly Pepper and Niki de Saint Phalle, contemporary female sculptors whose work encompassed a gamut of styles.
And although she generally denigrated photography as a lower art form devoid of the imaginative majesty of painting, she wrote a book on the photographs of Carolyn Marks Blackwood after discovering her work in a small-town library show near her summer house in Rhinebeck, N.Y.
“She took me seriously when no one took me seriously, including myself,” Ms. Marks Blackwood said in a phone interview.
Ms. Rose was a vivid personality, a slender blonde with large green eyes, a dimpled smile and a taste for turbans that could rival those of Gloria Swanson. She taught and lectured at several colleges and universities, including Sarah Lawrence, and formed enduring friendships with her students.
The artist Lois Lane, who studied with her at Yale, recalled her astonishment when Ms. Rose materialized at the Willard Gallery in Manhattan and purchased a Lane painting. “Barbara whooshed in there, in true Fairy Godmother style, and that was my first sale,” Ms. Lane wrote in an email. “She has whooshed in so many times over the years.”
Barbara Ellen Rose was born on June 11, 1936, in Washington, the oldest child of Lillian and Ben Rose. Her mother was a homemaker, and her father, who owned a liquor store, had a cut-glass bar made for the family’s recreation room. By the age of 3, Barbara felt aesthetically offended by her “bland, tasteless or vulgar surroundings,” she wrote in a forthcoming memoir, and resolved to flee as soon as she could.
She earned a bachelor’s degree from Barnard and attended graduate school at Columbia, writing her thesis on 16th-century Spanish painting and visiting Pamplona on a Fulbright fellowship. It was the beginning of a lasting fascination with Madrid, where she eventually acquired a home. In 2010, she was awarded the Order of Isabella by the Spanish government for her contributions to Spanish culture.
Ms. Rose was still a student when she started dating Mr. Stella, a precocious Princeton alumnus whose austere black-stripe paintings were pushing art away from the expressionist past. In the fall of 1961 he followed her to Pamplona, sketching in their hotel room as she visited age-old churches to research Navarrese painting.
They were married that October at the register’s office in London. Michael Fried, the formalist art historian, served as a witness and gave them a volume of Ludwig Wittgenstein’s writings as a gift.
Ms. Rose later said that she started writing criticism with Mr. Fried’s encouragement. Her landmark essay “ABC Art,” published in Art in America in October 1965, identified a generation of young artists whose work, she wrote, gave off a “blank, neutral and mechanical impersonality.” They included Mr. Stella, as well as Carl Andre, Robert Morris and Donald Judd. Linking their work to European predecessors like Kazimir Malevich and, less predictably, Marcel Duchamp, she provided a lofty historical lineage for the vanguard art of the ’60s.
Her marriage to Mr. Stella ended in 1969, and they both divorced themselves from their early embrace of Minimalism as well. “The only thing anybody knows about me is that I wrote that article with the title I didn’t give it,” Ms. Rose lamented in Artforum magazine in 2016, referring to “ABC Art.” She blamed her editor for the headline.
In place of reductivism, she championed art that replenished painting with inwardness, subjectivity and lush brushwork. She particularly admired the paintings and prints of Jasper Johns, with his “world of psychologically charged images,” as she wrote in the catalog for “American Painting: The Eighties,” an important group show that she organized in 1979 at New York University’s Gray Art Gallery.
The exhibition included post-Minimalist, imagistic paintings by Ms. Lane, Susan Rothenberg, Bill Jensen, Robert Moskowitz and Gary Stephan, among others, and its grandiose title — it was named for a decade that had yet to begin — was taken by critics as either brilliant prophecy or brazen posturing.
In a time when professional women were often branded as overly ambitious, Ms. Rose endured countless jabs from her male colleagues. “I have been beat up by more people than Hillary Clinton,” she joked in 2016.
Among them was Robert Hughes, the art critic for Time magazine, who described Ms. Rose in his memoirs as “one of the most extreme cases of misplaced self-confidence I have ever come across” — no matter that she proved indispensable when he moved to New York from his native Australia, chaperoning him through the lofts of SoHo and providing him with instant entree to the art scene.
It is true that Ms. Rose could be imperious. In 1981, hired as a senior curator at the Museum of Fine Arts in Houston, she declined to move to Houston or give up her longtime position as the art critic of Vogue. Her stint as a Texas curator ended awkwardly in 1985, after she bemoaned the city’s cultural backwardness in an interview with the magazine Artspace.
Ms. Rose was married four times, including twice to Mr. Du Boff, an economic historian who was both her first and last husband. After her divorce from Mr. Stella, she married the rock lyricist Jerry Leiber, who collaborated with the composer Mike Stoller on hit songs for Elvis Presley, the Coasters and many others. In 2009, she remarried Mr. Du Boff on what was their 50th wedding anniversary.
In addition to him, she is survived by her two children from her marriage to Mr. Stella, Rachel and Michael Stella, and four grandchildren.
In her last decade, though suffering from advanced cancer, Ms. Rose sat at her desk and wrote a memoir, “The Girl Who Loved Artists,” which she had been circulating to publishers at her death. Her characterization of herself as a “girl” might seem coy for a woman whose body of work is marked by a formidable critical voice, but Ms. Rose was full of contradictions.
Her last published article was a review of work by Andrew Lyght, the Guyana-born artist, which appeared in The Brooklyn Rail in October. “The capacity to synthesize opposites is one of the distinctions of his entirely original style,” she wrote. That comment could have applied just as easily to her.
Ann Wilson, Last Survivor of an Influential Art Scene, Dies at 91 – The New York Times
Working from a gritty loft in Lower Manhattan in the late 1950s, she made abstract paintings on quilts that brought a fine-art sensibility to a folk art.
Ann Wilson, a painter who rose to prominence among the art luminaries who clustered in an industrial stretch of Lower Manhattan in the late 1950s, creating an eruption of art between the peak of Abstract Expressionism and the burst of Pop Art, died on March 11 at her home in Valatie, N.Y., in Columbia County. She was 91.
Her death was confirmed by her daughter Ara Wilson.
Ms. Wilson was the last surviving member of the influential Coenties Slip group, which also included Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin and Robert Indiana. The group flourished in a bruised, brawny area near the East River in the days of decline after its industrial heyday a century before.
“During the 18th and 19th centuries, this was the heart of New York,” the New York Times art critic Holland Cotter wrote in a 1993 retrospective of the storied Coenties Slip art world. “The city’s earliest publishing houses were here, as were its theaters, and such writers as Melville, Whitman and Poe walked the streets.
“Although the neighborhood went on to become the financial district,” Mr. Cotter continued, “as recently as 30 years ago it was still making cultural history: It was home to some of America’s most distinguished and radical living artists.”
Ms. Wilson, a Pittsburgh native, landed on Coenties (pronounced coe-EN-teez) Slip in the mid-1950s. The youngest of the artists who thrived there, she drew influences from its established members, in particular Ms. Martin, a celebrated painter who blended the hues of nature with Abstract Expressionism, and Lenore Tawney, a fiber artist known for her monumental sculptural weaving.
Such earthy, elemental minimalism helped inspire Ms. Wilson’s primary medium at the time: quilts painted with abstract geometric patterns. Her best-known work, “Moby Dick,” a roughly 5-by-7-foot quilt painting from 1955, is in the Whitney Museum of American Art’s collection. She also has works in the collection of the Museum of Arts and Design in New York.
“I was interested in geometry,” she once said in an interview for the Institute of Contemporary Art at the University of Pennsylvania. “And in the colors of nature. It was just gardening, making a quilt.”
In helping to establish the folk art of quilting as a fine-art medium, Ms. Wilson “became a beacon for women artists in the avant-garde who explored alternative mediums and avenues of the arts as they were forming in a momentous time, from the 1950s to 1970s, when New York was burgeoning with new ideas and means of expression that were far outside the mainstream,” William Niederkorn, an artist and writer who mounted “1 Saint in 3 Acts,” a 2018 retrospective of her work at the Emily Harvey Foundation in Manhattan, wrote in an email.
Ann Marie Ubinger was born on Oct. 14, 1931, in Pittsburgh, the only child of John and Helen (Foley) Ubinger. Her father, who worked in public relations for a steel company, was an intellectual omnivore and a voracious reader, as was her mother, who worked as a librarian but was also a skilled painter and had studied with the renowned artist Samuel Rosenberg at the Carnegie Institute of Technology (now part of Carnegie Mellon University) in Pittsburgh.
Fascinated by art from an early age, she eventually enrolled at Carnegie Tech, where her fellow Pittsburgh native Andy Warhol was also a student. She ultimately graduated from the Tyler School of Art at Temple University in Philadelphia.
After college, she spent two years teaching art history at West Virginia University, where she read copies of ARTnews in the library and realized “there was something more brewing than I had been educated for,” she said in an interview with the art historian Jonathan Katz for the Archives of American Art at the Smithsonian Institution.
Those art ambitions led her to New York, where she fell in with her future art compatriots when they were running a paid workshop for hobbyists called the Coenties Slip Drawing School. Among the teachers were Jack Youngerman, who would become known for his exuberantly colorful abstract paintings, and Robert Indiana, who would find fame as the Pop artist who created the famous “love” image, consisting of the letters L-O-V-E stacked in a box.
Before long, Mr. Indiana suggested that she take an open loft in an old factory building at 3-5 Coenties Slip, in the shadow of the Brooklyn Bridge. The loft, which rented for $40 a month, had no electricity — power was wired in from a light fixture in the hall — and was heated with a potbelly stove.
“Not only were these artists drawn together through their ideas and their appreciation of the Slip area, but also through a continuous struggle to live there,” Art in America observed in a 2017 history of the scene. “Most of the lofts did not have hot water, heat or kitchens, and it was the Seamen’s Institute, then located on the Slip, that provided a much-needed cafeteria and warm showers.”
What the buildings lacked in creature comforts, they made up for in artistic significance. Mr. Kelly, a painter renowned for his bold, colorful abstract work, and Ms. Martin lived in the same building as Ms. Wilson. Barnett Newman, Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg lived nearby, on Pearl and Front Streets.
Soon after Ms. Wilson moved in, her art life “just mushroomed,” she told Mr. Katz. “I knew everybody in town in about five minutes.”
The scene began to splinter in the 1960s as the area faced the onslaught of urban renewal, and Ms. Wilson moved a few subway stops north, to a loft on Canal Street. She became enmeshed in the world of performance art, including the so-called Happenings, which combined dance, theater, poetry and visual art. She also collaborated on installations with the artist Paul Thek.
Ms. Wilson also became close with Robert Wilson (no relation), the groundbreaking experimental theater director and playwright. She worked with him into the mid- 1970s, performing and contributing visual art to “Deafman Glance” and other works of his.
In addition to her daughter Ara, Ms. Wilson is survived by another daughter, Katherine Wilson, and a son, Andrew, from her marriage to the writer William S. Wilson. She and Mr. Wilson separated in 1966, though they never divorced. Mr. Wilson died in 2016.
As the New York art world began to move in new directions in the 1980s and ’90s, Ms. Wilson moved upstate, where she explored new mediums like Eastern European icon paintings and taught art at Dutchess Community College.
Even so, she continued to paint, an obsession since early childhood. As her daughter noted, “She always said she had to repeat first grade because all she wanted to do was draw.”
The Thief Collector review – the ordinary married couple behind a massive art heist – The Guardian
It was a brazen case of daylight robbery. In 1985, a couple walked into an art gallery on the campus of the University of Arizona and left 15 minutes later with a rolled-up Willem de Kooning shoved up the man’s jacket. In 2017, the painting was finally recovered – not by the FBI, but by a trio of house clearance guys in New Mexico. It had been hanging for 30 years on the bedroom wall of retired teachers Rita and Jerry Alter.
How an ordinary couple like the Alters pulled off one of the biggest art heists of the 20th century is told in this mostly entertaining documentary. You can imagine the story being turned into a podcast and it’s perhaps stretched a little thin for a full-length documentary. (Did we really need an interview with the couple’s nephew’s son?) The weak link is the film’s dramatisation of the theft: a tongue-in-cheek pastiche that feels a bit glib as questions about the Alters’ motivations deepen and darken. Still, the film offers a fascinating glimpse into the mystery of other people, especially other people’s marriages. Friends and family still look dazed that the Alters – Rita and Jerry! – were behind the theft.
The unlikely heroes of the story are a trio of honest-as-they-come house clearance men who bought the De Kooning along with the contents of Jerry and Rita’s house after they died. When a customer offered them $200,000 for the painting, they did a bit of Googling; after realising it could be the missing artwork (Woman-Ochre, now worth around $160m), they were straight on the phone to the gallery in Arizona to return it, with no question of making a dime for themselves.
The three men are brilliant interviewees, warm and thoroughly decent; their experience in rooting through other people’s homes and lives has clearly given them the kind of insight that would make them great detectives, too. And if nothing else, this documentary ought to give someone working in television the idea of making a detective series about house clearance experts.
Art in spotlight as 9 countries’ Holocaust envoys hold 1st gathering on restitution – The Times of Israel
In 2018, a Dutch court issued a highly controversial ruling, allowing an Amsterdam museum to keep a Nazi-looted painting for free, saying this would serve the “public interest” better than returning the artwork to its rightful Jewish owners.
The decision was panned by Holocaust restitution activists as an outrageous miscarriage of justice, with the potential of undoing decades of progress.
Following an international outcry, the city last year disregarded the court ruling and made the Stedelijk Museum return the Wassily Kandinsky work to the heirs of the art dealer from whom the Nazis stole it, bringing the claim to a close.
On Tuesday, Ellen Germain, the US State Department’s Special Envoy for Holocaust Issues, pointed to the case as offering a valuable lesson for other countries on “best practices for restitution of Nazi-looted art.”
Speaking in London at a first-of-its-kind summit with eight of her counterparts from around the world, Germain said the Dutch example “is a case where legal complications arose, and were solved in a satisfactory manner. That’s exactly the sort of cases we came here to examine and learn from so that governments can build on each other’s experience.”
In 1998, over 40 countries signed the Washington Principles on Nazi-Confiscated Art, which contains a roadmap for restitution. However, 25 years later, more than 100,000 paintings out of approximately 600,000 that the Nazis stole remain unreturned, according to German media outlet Deutsche Welle.
Mark Weitzman, chief operating officer of the World Jewish Restitution Organization, or WJRO, said during a press conference at the gathering that “whereas significant gaps in restitution remain, there are also positive developments and successes.”
He noted Latvia, whose parliament last year voted in favor of a long-awaited restitution plan in which authorities agreed to pay more than $40 million to the country’s Jewish community of about 10,000 people over the coming decade. Lithuania, meanwhile, allocated $38 million as compensation for private-owned property that Jews lost there in the Holocaust, when 90% of the community was murdered by the Nazis and local collaborators.
Croatia, Weitzman said, was in the process of advancing its own legislation seeking to resolve this issue.
But “some problems persist,” said Eric Pickles, UK Special Envoy for Post-Holocaust Issues, who hosted the meeting. Pickles said it would be “undiplomatic” to name problematic countries.
WJRO has long called on Poland to address private-owned, heirless property, which Polish officials say can be claimed through the civil court system but which restitution activists say requires special legislation. Estimates vary on the value of such property, with some saying it’s worth billions of dollars.
In addition to the United States and Britain, the meeting had representatives from Canada, the Netherlands, Austria, Germany, France and Croatia, as well as Israel. The Conference on Jewish Material Claims Against Germany was also represented.
While this week’s conference focused mostly on art restitution, Germain invited the delegates to the United States for a follow-up meeting that would focus on other aspects.
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