The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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MAY 2021 Issue
In Memoriam

A Tribute to Barbara Rose


Portrait of Barbara Rose, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.
Portrait of Barbara Rose, pencil on paper by Phong H. Bui.

Sara Roffino

Barbara liked to tell people she found me in a basement in Brooklyn. Technically, it was a warehouse, but I wasn’t in a position to argue with her. Our first meetings were in 2013, when I was the managing editor of the Brooklyn Rail and she was co-editing the special Ad Reinhardt centennial edition of the publication, which we produced on-site in the middle of the Come Together: Surviving Sandy exhibition at Industry City. I was appropriately deferential, a bit in awe, and mostly focused on not saying anything so uninformed as to embarrass myself. Apparently I was successful because Barbara took a liking to me, in the same way she did with so many other artists and writers. Over the years I became one of Barbara’s people, which was sometimes overwhelming but always exhilarating and enlightening.

Sara Roffino and Barbara Rose.
Sara Roffino and Barbara Rose.

I would visit Barbara and her husband Richard at what she called her cottage in Rhinebeck or at her apartment on 73rd Street—both filled with art and books, so many of which she wrote herself. Richard was usually dispatched to procure drinks upon my arrival, often vodka and soda, and Barbara would let me know if I was looking good or bad, ask me what I was going to do with my life, and then move on to whatever book or exhibition or magazine was on her mind that day. I will never forget our last drink together, last summer. We sat on a swinging chair in her garden (composed of a mixture of fake and real flowers that I could never quite wrap my head around) and drank Aperol spritzes, talking about her memoir and who should publish it.

Richard Du Boff and Barbara Rose.
Richard Du Boff and Barbara Rose.

We spent days in her archives, looking through the countless articles and books she wrote—on everything from the Dutch Golden Age to Manet’s depiction of women to abortion in New York. Having studied the Old Masters and believing deeply in the importance of connoisseurship, Barbara often reminded me that she never intended to write on contemporary art and did so only because she needed to earn a living. That she happened to be brilliant and prescient in her understanding of her contemporaries is then simply luck or grace or whatever one believes in. Barbara didn’t wave the feminist flag, but any critique that she didn’t support women artists is both lazy and wrong. Among her myriad accomplishments are the curation of the first-ever Lee Krasner retrospective, writing the first monograph on Helen Frankenthaler, and catalogue essays and extensive texts on artists including Magdalena Abakanowicz, Beverly Pepper, Chryssa, Niki de Saint Phalle, Georgia O’Keeffe, the little-known abstract painter and Holocaust survivor Alice Lok Cahana, and so many others. Barbara also made some cameos in the art itself, participating in the early Happenings and starring in Andy Warhol’s Thirteen Most Beautiful Women. There is also Dan Flavin’s The Barbara Roses sculpture and a portrait of her by her beloved friend Avigdor Arikha that hung above her couch on 73rd Street, and surely others.

Barbara Rose. Photo: Sara Roffino.
Barbara Rose. Photo: Sara Roffino.

To be one of Barbara’s people meant you could write an email asking about an exhibition or an artist and receive a response (likely within hours and likely also incredibly funny) that wove together anything from Velázquez to WWII to Tel Quel to a contemporary photography show. The people, places, and art that Barbara could bring into a cohesive understanding of art history, politics and life itself was truly astounding. But perhaps more than anything, to be one of Barbara’s people meant that she wanted you to know her other people—her many former students, her friends in Italy and Spain, the writers and artists she thought were interesting. As much as she cared about art, she cared more about her people. And we already miss you dearly, my teacher, my friend.

Alex Bacon

I met Barbara Rose in 2012 through the curator Jeffrey Weiss, who recommended I speak with her for my PhD dissertation on Frank Stella, her former husband. We connected at her small, art-filled apartment on the Upper East Side of what she liked to derisively refer to as the “Pig Apple,” chosen for its proximity to two of her favorite haunts, the Met and the Frick. Barbara immediately absorbed me into her life, acting as both a mentor and a friend. For a period she regularly invited me to stay with her upstate in Rhinebeck, where she felt more at home than in Manhattan. As she liked to write from bed, she would join late in the morning and retire late at night. She also kept homes in Madrid, Paris, and Palm Beach, which suited her restless, nomadic nature and kept her connected to the various international art scenes she participated in.

Her energy was infectious. At an age when most people of her stature would deservedly rest on their laurels, looking back fondly on their many achievements, Barbara still felt deeply invested in both the contemporary art world and that of the 1960s, which had formed her, and which she had made major contributions to. Consequently it was immensely present for her, and there was always a new battle to be fought.

Always ready to go to war, she lived for the next project and loved to scheme and plot ambitious plans. Our biggest joint undertaking, and most extended time together, was editing the special issue of the Rail on Ad Reinhardt in late 2013. While working on this, Barbara liked to tell everyone in the office that she felt 25. Indeed, she had a youthful energy and arrived early every day in the car service that she insisted the Rail hire to shuttle her from East 73rd Street to Industry City. This was during Phong’s Hurricane Sandy show, and the whole office was full of activity and on view as a social sculpture. From Jonas Mekas with his camera filming everything, to the riotous clatter of a Bruce High Quality Foundation installation downstairs going off every few minutes, and visitors to the exhibition gawking at our efforts.

Through it all Barbara proved indefatigable, perched on the exercise ball she sometimes brought with her, pouring over one of the over a hundred contributions that she gamely encouraged us to assemble. She was so invested to the point that she edited many of the texts herself, without consulting either myself or the authors. Always deeply committed to her view of the facts, she rewrote certain passages, much to the ire of several contributors and resulting in some differences between the printed copies featuring Barbara’s heavy editorial hand, and the online version, which was rectified after the fact.

But such was Barbara’s depth of conviction and passion for getting things right, to the point that she wasn’t afraid to ruffle feathers in the service of her position. However convinced she may have felt by certain ideas, she always held adamantly to an eclectic range of beliefs, which she loved to discuss and debate, rather than subscribing any one of the dogmas so common to 1960s art writing. You can see this from the very start of her career. Consider, for example, her best known essay “ABC Art,” which is typically seen as an early manifesto for Minimalism, but which ranges from dance to music to painting and sculpture. It is more about shared approaches and outlooks across disparate work than the articulation of a singular vision or way of working.

Her alternate viewpoints to now well-trodden positions on art of the 1960s and ’70s mean that Barbara’s academic, curatorial, and critical contribution is well overdue for reexamination. She was a woman who, till the very end, continued to fearlessly live by the ’60s idealism and values that we are nostalgic for, and which now feel quaint in their seeming impossibility. Her life and output are ready and waiting to be mined for inspiration.

Carroll Janis
For Barbara Rose

I knew Barbara from the gallery scene for some years before we both took Meyer Schapiro’s seminar on Abstract Expressionism at Columbia in the late 1950s. Fellow students included Don Judd and Bill Rubin. Barbara had a keen and wide-ranging commitment: early on she wrote books on American art, ABC art, and then a book on Rembrandt.

We both returned to Columbia years later to hear a talk by Hubert Damisch, the European art historian. He had been visiting Meyer in Vermont and claimed that during their long conversations Schapiro said, “Abstract art has no meaning.” Sitting in the back row, my immediate reaction was “Oh no!” Next to me was Maurice Tuchman, who exclaimed, “Oh, that can’t be right!” In the front row was Barbara, who immediately engaged Damisch in an extended discussion inaudible to us. As soon as I got back to my office I wrote a note to Damisch stating, “I have known Meyer as both teacher and friend for 40 years and I don’t believe he would ever say that abstract art has no meaning. He might have said that abstract art needs no iconographic meaning to be a complete art.” (I don’t even think Meyer would say that abstract art has no iconographic meaning, since, for example, Mondrian felt his art dealt with the oppositions present in nature and the universe.)

I emailed Barbara a copy of my note. Damisch never responded. But Barbara called me with effusive thanks.

When Barbara was in town, we invited her for dinner. Sometimes we got Leo Steinberg to join us as well, and what wonderful conversations we had! Barbara and I were good friends. She was much admired for her intelligence and independence, her insight and empathy. She will be greatly missed.

Heather Hutchison
The Beaming Barbara Rose

Barbara Rose was a survivor. Like a hermit crab, she could pick up and move to a different country, create a livelihood, form a community around herself and survive, over and over again. In her 80s and aware that the cancer had returned, she still spoke excitedly about possibly building a life in Asia. It is difficult to see a survivor not survive any more.

Her ability to adapt to different cultures has left behind many friends in many communities. We all feel the absence of Barbara’s vivacity. She loved artists. She delighted in kindling relationships among them and their works, and encouraged each artist to pursue their vision with endearing enthusiasm and simpatico.

Barbara Rose, Heather Hutchison, Angela Dorazio, Mark Thomas Kanter, Rosella Vasta, Anne Lamunière. Perugia, 1997.
Barbara Rose, Heather Hutchison, Angela Dorazio, Mark Thomas Kanter, Rosella Vasta, Anne Lamunière. Perugia, 1997.

Barbara was razor sharp, hilarious, and always smarter than everyone in the room. I imagine that it must have always been like this for her, even as a little girl in a room full of adults. She was tough, she was soft. She loved to laugh and to look pretty. She didn’t let her circumstances define her; whether that be her being a woman, who she was married to, or the cancer.

You could say anything to her that you felt was true. She would respond in her full truth and wisdom: no politics, no self-correcting. She would lay out a full timeline of art history and encourage an artist to see their place in that continuum. You recognized that Barbara was passing a torch to you. This made it imperative to do what Barbara said, to get into the studio and make things in direct transmission of this continuum, from the soul through your very own hands, without dropping the torch.

My most memorable conversations with Barbara took place riding in someone’s car. Barbara would never drive, and in the years before Richard took such loving care of her, she depended on the kindness of others to get around and to get supplies. In the ’90s, when we were first getting to know each other, I was pondering the perceived schism between motherhood and being an artist. It’s not just that I wanted to “have a baby,” but as an artist I was curious about allowing my body to follow through with gestation, a spectacular creative process in itself. If I allowed my body to operate unimpeded, its natural, automatized systems would possibly create a living human being, complete with its own naturally automatized systems, wow.

Eleanor Heartney, Barbara Rose, Heather Hutchison, August 18, 2019, Saugerties, NY. Photo: Larry Litt.
Eleanor Heartney, Barbara Rose, Heather Hutchison, August 18, 2019, Saugerties, NY. Photo: Larry Litt.

I had many conversations with others in the art world about gestation as automatism. Most said that having a child would ruin my career. It may well have. I remember sitting in the back of a car in Italy with Barbara and bringing up the topic while my husband, Mark Thomas Kanter, drove her to the train station in Terni. With her bright blue eyes narrowing and dimples deepening, Barbara turned towards me and said that the hardest and by far the best thing she had ever done in her life was to have children; mostly because it took her out of her own mishigas. I couldn’t agree more.

She loved and was amazed by her own children and grandchildren. The “mother thing” was important to her, a part of her relationship with many artists, and especially with her students. But she wasn’t baking anyone cookies. She advised us to work hard, to ask for what we need, and she illuminated to us that artists need money, “because money is power and power is interesting.” I miss you, my wise fairy godmother.

Phyllis Tuchman

Barbara Rose touched many lives: her family, her longtime friends, recent acquaintances, readers of general interest magazines as well as esoteric art journals, museum goers, and countless artists both famous and not so well known. Since we shared many friends in common, I know she is already missed dearly.

I knew Barbara Rose for most of my life. We met a few weeks after I started graduate school. I introduced myself to her at an opening at the Modern. Soon afterwards, she invited me to the Richard Meier-designed loft in Greenwich Village that she shared with her husband Frank Stella. As the years passed, I visited her place on the Upper West Side, the house in Connecticut near Yale, the loft in SoHo, the swanky Eastside apartment in the Galleria, the cottage near Bard where she lived with her first—and as she put it—her last husband Richard Du Boff. Obviously, she knew a thing or two about real estate.

Barbara was loyal, confident, determined, a linguist, an accomplished story teller, a bit of a fashionista, a world class traveller, someone with a great sense of humor, and she certainly had a way with words. Above all, she enjoyed her status as a bona fide muse.

In looking for adjectives and nouns to describe her, I came up with a number of words that begin with “in”: indomitable, intrepid, incomparable. Barbara wrote with alacrity about ABC Art, i.e. what became known as Minimalism, early on; and it should not be overlooked that throughout her career, versed in the fundamentals of the abcs of language, she engaged us with a style that was easy to read, even when discussing profound subjects.

Not that long ago, when I gave her a stack of clips from Vogue and New York Magazine that I found in a closet, even she was awed by what she had done week in and week out. Remarkably, it always seemed as if she had written all those books, curated all those shows, visited all those artists’ studios effortlessly.

Andrew Lyght
Reminiscences of Barbara

I met Barbara when I was 27 years old, about nine months after I had arrived in New York on an overnight bus ride from Montreal, Canada in the spring of 1977. I arrived at Port Authority early in the morning with a knapsack on my back, carrying one artwork packed up in a slim wood carrying case and 150 dollars in my pocket. Montreal had been my home for eight years after leaving Georgetown, Guyana, South America, where I was born and grew up.

It was filmmaker Emile de Antonio who took me to meet Barbara Rose at her uptown apartment in January 1978. After looking at my slides that included images from my first room-size installation piece at one of Canada’s first artist-run galleries, Vehicule Arts Inc., in 1976, as well as drawings inspired by ancient petroglyphs found in Guyana’s interior, and the single artwork that I had brought from Canada, she appeared to like something in what she saw. She then said, “The work you are doing now, the combination of painting and sculpture, is at the core of your personal aesthetic. In recent decades both painting and sculpture have appropriated so many of the qualities that used to be the sole property of one or the other that the strict boundaries that once existed between the two are blurred. It will take time to develop it fully, so you must play the long game of making art over a period of decades so that it will stand the test of time, when life and art become one.”

She went on to say, “What you need is time to work. You have a very personal way of doing things and get your influences from inside and not outside. You are in a unique position because you began your art training and working as a professional artist at a very young age in Guyana.” Referring to the line drawings that I had done in 1968 that were inspired by the petroglyphs in Guyana, “Your free-hand drawing is amazing, Andrew. You should try to figure out how to create a hybrid using your multicultural heritage. You could turn out to be something in time, because you are committed.”

At first, I did not say much. I was shy with a speech impediment—stuttering, so I only spoke when it was necessary. I then told her that I had come to New York because I wanted to test the limits of my creative ability. Her response was, “Talent is cheap, it takes character if you want to endure and live a creative life. As far as I can tell, you have no shortage of it. Being shy is a blessing in disguise, it will not stop you. It will allow you to hide in plain sight and enable you to stay focused on your work because the majority of people will leave you alone.”

By the end of our meeting, Barbara knew I did not have money, nor had I come from it. At the time, I was living in a rooming house on Bank Street in Greenwich Village and had no studio, so Barbara recommended me for one at P.S. 1 in Long Island City, now MoMA PS1, and I was awarded one that spring.

After that first meeting, Barbara became a friend and a champion of my work until the end of her life. She visited me many times at P.S. 1, where we continued our conversations about art and my upbringing in Guyana. Our visits continued after I left my two-year residency at P.S. 1, first at my studio in Williamsburg, later in Italy after my short residency at the American Academy in Rome, and by email. Her last visit was to my home and studio in an 1830 brick mule barn that I renovated here in Kingston, New York. It was late summer of 2019, when she came with her family and grandchildren from Rhinebeck to see me. It was a wonderful visit. She marveled at my new work and my new home and studio, calling it “a work of art.”

I will never forget her and the generosity that she showed me.

François de Menil
Recollections of working with Barbara Rose

The Di Suvero film team: (Left to Right) Francois deMenil, Mark Di Suvero, Barbara Rose, Philip Glass, NYC, 1976.  Photographer: unknown.
The Di Suvero film team: (Left to Right) Francois deMenil, Mark Di Suvero, Barbara Rose, Philip Glass, NYC, 1976. Photographer: unknown.

At some point in 1974–75 I met Barbara Rose in New York and she asked me if I wanted to make a film about Mark Di Suvero. He was an exiled American sculptor living in France on a péniche (barge) on the river Saône. The work he had done in Chalon-sur-Saône was immensely important and was going to be exhibited in the Tuileries Gardens in Paris. He would become the first living artist to have his work exhibited there. Barbara wrote of the significance of this in a piece on Mark’s work in 1975 in Art Journal.

The six steel works executed by the American sculptor Mark di Suvero in the factories of Chalon-sur-Saône during 1972–73 and exhibited in public outdoor areas of Chalon in 1973–74 constituted a unique event in the history of modern sculpture. In many respects the fulfillment of the aspirations of generations of avant-garde artists who desired to escape the confining context of the museum, they reclaim their function as public symbols within a social context. Special circumstances prevailed in Chalon to make possible di Suvero's realization of these monumental, Herculean sculptures: the belief in di Suvero's vision on the part of Marcel Evrard, director of the CRACAP in Le Creusot, as well as the enthusiasm and support of the staff of the Maison de la Culture in Chalon, together with the generosity of local industry, the participation of local workers, and the interest of the people of Chalon—all were necessary to the fruition of this unusual cooperative venture.1

After the Tuileries exhibition, Mark would return to the United States and have a retrospective at the Whitney Museum with his large sculptures from Chalon-sur-Saône installed in all five boroughs of New York. This was all immensely exciting.

I was a young documentary filmmaker living in New York. I had completed a short film on the demolition of a huge Nana sculpture by Niki de Saint Phalle, Jean Tinguely, and Per-Olof Ultvedt at the Moderna Museet in Stockholm, and I was looking for a project, so I said yes. I did not know Mark Di Suvero at the time, nor did I know much about his work, but was intrigued. Barbara had a seductive way of spinning a narrative that could be very convincing. It was going to be an adventure and a series of firsts.

In the spring of 1975, I flew to Paris with Barbara and my camera. As I recall, the initial footage we were to shoot was going to be of Mark assembling a new piece for the first time titled, Mon Père, Mon Pére in a steel yard in Chalon-sur-Saône that he was using as his sculpture studio. We flew to Chalon in a small private plane which was an exhilarating way to begin this adventure.

Barbara had conceived of the idea to make this film on Mark, but she wasn’t a filmmaker. She was a writer, a historian, and critic. She knew Mark and his work well and Mark had agreed to the project clearly because he trusted Barbara.

In a text for the Paula Cooper Gallery, Barbara Rose wrote, “[Mark di Suvero’s] genius lies in his unique ability to fuse the excitement of the momentary … with the gravity of a timeless geometry and the engineered ability and intuitive equilibrium that his hard-won mastery of structural balances makes possible.”

Barbara made all the arrangements about where we were going and what we would film. She arranged for us to film the initial erection of the Mon Père sculpture; to film him on the péniche he lived on; to film the sculptures being installed in the Tuileries Gardens; to film the scene with Mark’s mother; to film the Whitney installation, etc. Typically, she would call me and say this or that was happening, and we should film it. I would then show up with the camera and crew and do the filming. Later I also took care of the editing.

At the time I thought documentary films were rarely really scripted undertakings, but this one was in some ways. Barbara was the interlocutor in the film, and she always showed up for filming with a series of questions or topics she was going to address with Mark that day. She was always prepared with, “Why did you make…, Tell me about…, What happened to…?” Her questions seemed simple enough and Mark was a willing participant and would always answer her question from his particular point of view and with his characteristic energy.

When it came to a music score for the film, Barbara suggested that Philip Glass do the score. We all knew Philip and thought this was a great idea. This would be his first film score. This was going to be a film of firsts.

The editing process took quite some time because we were not sure what the ending should be. I always felt that there was ultimately something missing in the film. We had been filming Mark for almost a year and a half, but It was all too tidy and neat a movie. This feeling led me to shoot the confrontation scene where I tell Mark there is something missing. True to himself and his work, Mark answers, “Everything I have to say is in the sculptures. I am stunned you don’t see it.”

While we had some disagreements along the way, in the end Barbara and I worked well together. She was the writer who knew the story she wanted to tell. I was the filmmaker capturing the image and the emotion of the story she guided us to, and Mark revealed. The collaboration with Barbara was a great adventure and a great privilege for me. We both added to our understanding of the artistic process and became lifelong friends.

  1. Barbara Rose. “On Mark di Suvero: Sculpture Outside Walls,” Art Journal 35, no. 2 (1975): 118–125.

Loretta Howard
Barbara Rose, A Mentor and Friend

“You are just a kid, but I like you,” Barbara pronounced the first time I met her at the André Emmerich Gallery almost 40 years ago. I was starstruck to actually meet in person the great art critic whose textbook American Art Since 1900 I had studied as an undergraduate.

Our paths continued to cross when Barbara would come to the Emmerich gallery to see the exhibitions by Helen Frankenthaler and Beverly Pepper. She supported both women long before they got their full due. Years later, our common ground became Roberto Caracciolo, Nicolas Carone, and Larry Poons, all of whom I showed at my own gallery. She wrote extensively about each and believed passionately in their work. Her loyalty was fierce and abiding.

Her catalogue essay on Caracciolo, then a young, unknown painter, was an astonishing seal of approval. And she insisted the world know what a very fine artist Nicolas Carone was, even if he was hiding out in Italy, far away from the New York art world he’d fled. Recently, Barbara swooped back into Larry Poons’s life. Theirs was a friendship that started in the 1960s when she was married to Frank Stella, and a few years ago she declared that a major monograph must be written on Poons. And so it was—co-written by Barbara, to be published by Abbeville Press in the fall of this year.

Barbara may have been petite in stature, but she was larger than life. When she entered the room, you felt it immediately. Famously direct, she minced no words. Her insight was as sharp as her tongue. As an independent thinker, she always sought to set the record straight: “No! It is not that she did it first, it is that she did it better,” she might argue.

I was so honored to be in her inner circle. As the years passed, and our history together lengthened, we became closer. Though not in New York very often, Barbara would swoop into my gallery when she was in the city. Immediately, she would begin pronouncing upon what was good and what was not.

My last visit with Barbara was at her apartment on East 73rd Street. Full of girlish enthusiasm for our time together, she emailed me beforehand, “Let’s gossip and think things up!”

With love,
Loretta Howard

Don Kimes
Honoring the Vortex: Barbara Rose

Barbara at Chautauqua, 2004.
Barbara at Chautauqua, 2004.

Barbara Rose was a non-stop series of rapidly moving pieces, thoughts, and possibilities. One time an artist sitting at a table with her opened a box of matches and pulled out a wooden matchstick. He held it up for emphasis and said, “I have an idea for you.” She reached across the table, picked up the box of matches and dumped all of them onto the table. “Ideas are easy,” she said, “but bringing them to life? That requires genius.”

There were many art worlds swirling around Barbara. She was the connector, the believer, the touchstone, the vortex. I’ll leave it to others to talk about her well known role as a trailblazing maverick in American art history, a pioneering woman who shaped the discourse of American art in the 1960s and 1970s, beginning with her seminal text “ABC Art,” published in Art in America in 1965 when she was just 29 years old. I knew Barbara during the final third of her life, that more discerningly experienced but still very active period, when she spent much of her time in Italy.

This goodbye, written for all of us, is for a dear friend who changed the art world and made us better for it. Her fierce intellect; her uncompromising, naked honesty; her pioneering charge into the unknown and untried; her mistakes and her successes; her warts and her beauty; the adventures we had; the battles she, and we, have fought and lost, and once in a while won together; the late night laughter; her belief in all of us whose lives she changed; these are all reasons why I, why we, will miss our friend, our partner in crime, our co-conspirator.

I met Barbara in the early ’90s. She was temporarily leaving her home in Italy and visiting Washington, DC, where she grew up. I was running the art program at American University at the time and I invited her to teach. At our initial meeting she asked to see my studio. She looked at the monochromatic steel abstractions I was making and said, “You know how to draw don’t you?” To this day I have no idea how she knew this by looking at that work, but I immediately thought, “I’ve been waiting 20 years to meet someone with an eye this incisive.” As she did with many others, she said we should conspire on some ideas together. We spent the next 28 years doing just that.

Left to right: Louis Finkelstein, Irving Sandler, Barbara Rose, Don Kimes, Mark Stevens, Andrea Packard panel at American University
Left to right: Louis Finkelstein, Irving Sandler, Barbara Rose, Don Kimes, Mark Stevens, Andrea Packard panel at American University "Where did we come from?, Where are we going?" 1994.

Barbara could walk into any situation and immediately figure out how to connect the dots. One example: in 1992 American University had a small art department and a smaller facility. We spent an evening together looking through the university catalog, finding all of the courses in various departments that had something to do with art, performing arts, and culture. We highlighted all of them. That evening’s draft became a well-received blueprint leading to the eventual construction of the 130,000 square foot Katzen Arts Center and American University Museum, where Barbara served a short time as the museum’s inaugural director.

She loved artists and was generous with them. A year or two after meeting her I was awarded a year-long teaching sabbatical. She’d been publishing the Journal of Art in Italy but had recently stepped back from it. When I told her I’d been rejected for the Prix de Rome she said: “All right, I have a place in Umbria. I'm leaving for the year. You stay there, and just pay the utilities. It will change your life and you’ll meet people who wouldn’t even talk to you in New York.” So in 1994 with my young family, we went to live in Barbara’s house in Italy, a beautiful 400-year-old stone villa surrounded by olive groves and vineyards. There were centuries-old paintings hanging on the walls. A little Beverly Pepper sculpture over here, and a Niki de Saint Phalle over there. The experience completely changed my life, opening up a whole new world not only for me, but also for so many others because we continued to conspire.

Barbara and Don, Pieve del Vescovo, Italy, 2019.
Barbara and Don, Pieve del Vescovo, Italy, 2019.

Barbara could move quickly. There was a heavy dark oak table in her Umbrian kitchen. It was probably as old as the United States. A couple of days before the end of the sabbatical Barbara returned. Sitting at that table one evening, sipping a bottle of Montepulciano in front of her massive fireplace, I told her I wanted to move to Italy, but with a full time position and three young children it seemed impossible. We started scheming. Halfway through the night we figured it out. We would start an Institute: the “Istituto Internazionale di Arte e Architettura,” and we would bring our students to Italy for half of the academic year instead of teaching them in DC. Barbara said, “I'll be the Director and you be the Artistic Director.” Then she said (and these are her exact words) “Okay. Poof! It exists.” Of course we needed a building, so the next day, along with our close friend, Rossella Vasta, who knew the Director of the Academy of Fine Art in Perugia (where Perugino taught the young Raphael to paint 400 years earlier), we drove to the Academy and introduced ourselves as the Director and Artistic Director of the Istituto Internazionale di Arte e Architettura, and said we wanted to create a program at the Academy. He gave us the space gratis.

From the time Barbara said let’s figure out how to spend half the year in Italy, to the time we’d secured an affiliation, was less than 24 hours. That's the way Barbara moved. I kept my job at American University and we brought our students to Italy. For the next quarter of a century we built programs in Italy together and continued to change the lives of countless younger artists. Our aim was, as Barbara said, to look at art first hand, to resist technology and factory-made art produced for a commercial market, and to remain aware of the roots of contemporary art, from Pompeii, to Piero, to the present. At the time of her passing she was still enthusiastically working on plans for a major exhibition of works from our clan, as she called it, that would be called Umbria Mistica, in reference to what she saw as the importance of space, light, and color in terms of the spiritual in art.

Our relationship was about friendship more than career. If something good came of it, that was great. And if it didn't, that was okay too. We still had the friendship. Barbara always called me Clyde, and I always called her Bonnie. She signed all of her correspondence to me with one word: “Avanti!” She was brilliant, had no tolerance for mediocrity, spoke five languages, and had an acerbic sense of humor. If she were alive today she would tell us not to look back at 2020. Instead look forward, because if you're looking back, you're probably going to run into a tree.

Barbara was the nexus who changed our lives. There will never be another like her. Avanti Barbara. Grazie, e Avanti!

Robert Morris, Rosemarie Castoro, Barbara Rose, Don Kimes; with Morris's piece Labyrinth, at the Gori Sculpture Park near Firenze, 2003.
Robert Morris, Rosemarie Castoro, Barbara Rose, Don Kimes; with Morris's piece Labyrinth, at the Gori Sculpture Park near Firenze, 2003.

Mark di Suvero
Barbara Rose changed my life

On my little dinghy in the Canale della Giudecca in Venice she introduced me to Marcel Evrard. She screamed with fear as the tempestuous waves licked at the gunwales that stormy night and I did not realize that she had changed my life.

Our words and acts have the strangest consequences: when the French Ministry of Culture, through Evrard, gave my works of sculpture a show in the Jardin des Tuileries (a never-before one-person show, just outside the Louvre) Barbara Rose made a film with Philip Glass’s music and a major art-patron movie maker, François de Menil.

Barbara Rose was intelligent, joyous, dedicated to art and artists, a writer, and movie maker, a power in the art world—she was a great American art critic!

Arne Glimcher

Barbara Rose: incomparable eye and inextricable voice of the ’60s and ’70s in American art.
Barbara: a great woman whose humor and friendship I already miss.

Kate Bonansinga

I never met Barbara Rose in person. But I came to know her in 1989 when I pored over American Art Since 1900, a required text for one of my courses in graduate school.

I came to know Rose again beginning in Spring of 2020 when I received a call from the chief curator at the Cincinnati Art Museum inviting me to guest curate the exhibition American Painting: The Eighties Revisited. American Painting: The Eighties, A Critical Interpretation was an exhibition of 41 abstract paintings by 41 artists curated by Rose in 1979 for the Grey Art Gallery at New York University. It traveled to several venues in Europe and, upon its return, a Cincinnati-based couple, Ronnie Levinson Shore and John Shore, purchased 40 of the 41 paintings. They displayed them in their homes and office for several decades, and in 2018 they gifted the collection to the Cincinnati Art Museum. As guest curator, my role was to re-present this historical moment and exhibition. I interfaced with the exhibition designer to determine the placement of the paintings in the museum’s gallery, I told the story of the collectors and how the paintings came to Cincinnati, and I investigated the current practices of the artists in the exhibition (29 of them are still living) in order to write exhibition text that creates a context for today’s viewership.

As I researched the exhibition it became clear to me that Rose knew these artists well: all with the exception of Sam Gilliam were based in New York City. Through these personal relationships she developed authority about the artwork. The show speaks to Rose’s passion for the materiality of paint and for the formalism of abstraction. Many of the works look back to the muscular renderings of Abstract Expressionism, and others reference their present of New Image Painting. Yet the subtitle of the exhibition indicates that these works are the wave of the future. Rose’s courage in making this assertion impresses me. Critics of the time took issue with it, and hindsight reveals that media and type of avant-garde artistic expression continued to fracture and diversify. But painting continues to hold its own, and Rose’s conviction that painting was, and is, important no doubt helped it to do that.


The Brooklyn Rail

MAY 2021

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