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Recent Deaths in the Arts

posted by Christopher Howard — Aug 14, 2012

In its monthly roundup of obituaries, CAA recognizes the lives and achievements of the following artists, curators, designers, photographers, filmmakers, and other men and women whose work has had a significant impact on the visual arts. This month was marked by the loss of the larger-than-life art critic Robert Hughes, the French filmmaker Chris Marker, the beloved collector Herbert Vogel, the New York painter and professor Denyse Thomasos, and the Austrian sculptor Franz West.

  • Jane Barbour, a British researcher of African artifacts and textiles, died on June 14, 2012, at the age of 89. Barbour and her husband, a geographer, lived in different parts of Africa from the 1950s to the 1980s. She edited the volumes Adire Cloth in Nigeria (1971) and Kenyan Pots and Potters (1989)
  • Karl Benjamin, a prominent member of the West Coast art scene in the 1950s and 1960s, died on July 26, 2012. He was 86 years old. Benjamin painted in an ordered geometric pattern, dubbed Abstract Classicism by his painting cohort as a response to New York’s Abstract Expressionism. His methodology was informed by many decades as an elementary school art teacher in southern California
  • Bram Bogart, a Dutch-born artist who lived in France and Belgium and was known for his heavily layered pigment-and-cement paintings, died on May 2, 2012. He was 90 years old. Associated with the CoBrA art movement in Europe, Bogart exhibited with Jean Dubuffet, Jean-Paul Riopelle, Pierre Soulages, and Karel Appel
  • Horacio Coppola, an Argentine photographer active in the avant-garde art scene of Buenos Aires, died on June 18, 2012, at the age of 105. Coppola worked in two modes of black-and-white photography: Surrealist-tinged nocturnal shots of city streets, and stark abstract portraits of objects reminiscent of Bauhaus experiments with the medium
  • Stephen Dwoskin, an experimental filmmaker and teacher originally from New York and based in London for over forty years, passed away on June 28, 2012, at age 73. In 1966 he cofounded the London Film-Makers’ Co-op with his fellow filmmaker Jeff Keen (who died in June) and the poet Bob Cobbing. Dwoskin’s films include Chinese Checkers (1964) and Trixi (1969); retrospectives of his work have been held at the British Film Institute in 2009 and at the Arsenal in Berlin in 2010
  • Eugene F. Farrell, formerly senior conservation scientist at the Harvard Art Museums’ Straus Center for Conservation and Technical Studies, passed away on March 19, 2012. He was 78 years old. Farrell’s colleague Francesca G. Bewer has written a special obituary for CAA
  • Mary Fedden, a British painter of modernist-inflected still lifes, passed away on June 22, 2012, at the age of 96. Her subject matter was domestic life, but her work also made reference to the choices of Cubist painters and Henri Matisse: flattened tabletops, vases, bottles, and flowers. Fedden was the first woman to teach at the Royal College of Art in London, a position she held from 1956 to 1964
  • Chris Honey, a British architect and humanitarian, died on June 20, 2012, at the age of 52. Honey’s most significant assignment was the design of the Sanctuary Lakes Resort in Melbourne, Australia. He and his wife Rebecca were supporters of the Oxford-based charity Lifelines that works to abolish the death penalty in the United States
  • Marilyn Houlberg, an artist and a scholar of the arts of Haiti and Western Africa, died on June 30, 2012. She was 72 years old. Houlberg was a professor emeritus of art history, theory, and criticism at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. She cocurated the traveling exhibition Sacred Arts of Haitian Vodou (1995) and contributed essays to the publications Fragments of Bone: Neo-African Religions in a New World (2005) and Vodou: Visions and Voices of Haiti (1998)
  • Robert Hughes, the Australian-born art critic, died on August 6, 2012, at the age of 74. Hughes began writing for Time in 1970, and in 1980 his book and BBC television series The Shock of the New brought his theory of modern art and culture to a wider audience. Hughes was known for his elegant yet fiery critical voice that rattled the genteel art worlds of New York and London
  • Georgina Hunt, a British artist known for her luminous, gradient-color paintings, passed away on April 16, 2012. She was 89. Hunt was transformed by her time spent in New York in the early 1970s, where she furthered developed her minimalist approach to painting. Another early influence on her technique was Carl Jung’s theory of the integrated personality
  • Sunil Janah, a photojournalist who captured India as it fought against colonial rule to become an independent state in 1947, died on June 21, 2012. He was 96 years old. Working with a rudimentary camera—a Kodak Box Brownie—he photographed Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, as well as moments of ordinary life and mass demonstrations
  • Wael Issa Kaston, a Syrian sculptor who worked in wood and mud, has reportedly been killed in Homs under torture by the Syrian government. He was 46 years old, and the news of his death was first announced on July 24, 2012. Kaston’s figurative work dealt with the “freedom of women,” and he described his choice of materials as connected to the elemental life force of the human body
  • Bill Komodore, a painter and professor of art at Southern Methodist University in Dallas, Texas, died on August 3, 2012, at the age of 80. Born in Athens, Greece, Komodore made expressive, lyrical work that engaged the subjects of myth, war, and love. His 2010 exhibition Arcadia: The Recent Paintings was held at the Decorazon Gallery in Dallas
  • Chris Marker, the renowned French filmmaker who invented the essay-film and took the medium to new heights of poetry and political force, passed away on July 30, 2012. He was 91. Marker’s best-known films, La Jetée (1962) and Sans Soleil (1982), deal with memory, time travel, and human longing. He also worked in photography, video installations, and new media: his last exhibition was a portrait series of anonymous Paris métro riders, called Passengers (2011) at Peter Blum in New York
  • Helen Messenger, one half of a flamboyantly bohemian artist couple (her husband was the artist Tony Messenger), died on April 11, 2012, at the age of 77. The Messengers met as students at Saint Martin’s School of Art in London and established an informal salon for new ideas in fashion, art, and lifestyle, in their Notting Hill home in London. Helen was later involved in costume design in the 1960s and 1970s, working for Ossie Clark, Laura Ashley, and, most famously, David Bowie
  • Dewey Mosby, a specialist in nineteenth- and twentieth-century French art and director emeritus of the Picker Art Gallery at Colgate University in Hamilton, New York, died on August 1, 2012, at the age of 70. Mosby was the first African American to receive a PhD in art history from Harvard University and also the first African American curator of European art at a major art museum (Detroit Institute of Arts)
  • Alvin Nickel, a fabric artist and professor emeritus of art and art history at the University of Texas at Austin, died on August 27, 2011. He was 85 years old. Prior to joining the university in 1960, he worked as a craft director for the United States government in Germany. Nickel created large-scale painterly wall hangings using the dyeing process of batik
  • Walter Pichler, a visionary Austrian architect and artist, passed away on July 16, 2012, at the age of 75. Pichler called his architectural plans “dream drawings” and was invested in the narrative possibilities of architecture and design. In later years he moved even further in the direction of fine art with a series of drawings and installations based on his farm in rural Austria
  • Jacinto Quirarte, professor emeritus and former dean of the College of Fine and Applied Arts at the University of Texas at San Antonio, died on July 20, 2012. He was 81 years old. Quirarte specialized in Precolumbian art, Latin American art, and Latino art history. From 1982 to 1987 he chaired the National Task Force on Hispanic Art of the National Endowment for the Arts. His books include The Art and Architecture of the Texas Missions (2002), Izapan-Style Art: A Study of Its Form and Meaning, and Mexican American Artists (both 1973)
  • Mary Louise Milligan Rasmuson, a patron of the arts in Alaska, died on July 30, 2012, at the age of 101. She was married to Elmer Rasmuson, chairman of the National Bank of Alaska, and through the Rasmuson Foundation the couple helped to found Alaska’s Anchorage Museum of History and Art in 1968. During World War II and after, she was an ardent campaigner for women’s rights in the military and was named fifth commandment of the Women’s Army Corp in 1957 by President Dwight Eisenhower
  • Denise René, a Parisian gallery director and an art collector whose stable of abstract artists included Jean Arp, Alexander Calder, and Piet Mondrian, passed away on July 9, 2012. She was 99. A 1938 meeting with the artist Victor Vasarely in the Café de Flore in Paris ignited her career in dealing art. In 2001 the Pompidou Center in Paris held an exhibition in homage to her cultural impact as a gallerist
  • Wayne Roberts, a Bronx-based graffiti artist known by the street moniker Stay High 149, died on June 11, 2012, at the age of 61. Roberts’s heyday was in the 1970s; his work was featured in Norman Mailer’s book The Faith of Graffiti (1973), and he was respected by graffiti aficionados for his easily identifiably tag of a joint-smoking haloed stick figure
  • Martin E. Segal, a patron of the arts and a long-time supporter of Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts in New York, passed away on August 5, 2012. He was 96 years old. Segal was instrumental in setting up the Film Society of Lincoln Center, where he served as chief executive from 1968 to 1978. In his last years he remained a spritely figure in the philanthropic world, always wearing a rose in his lapel at social functions around the city
  • Roy Shaw, formerly secretary-general of the Arts Council of Great Britain, died on May 15, 2012, at the age of 93. During his tenure, Shaw sought to make the arts more accessible to the public without consenting to vulgarization and commercialism. He was knighted in 1979 and authored the volume The Arts and the People (1987)
  • Jack Simcock, a British painter, died on May 13, 2012, at the age of 82. Simcock’s signature paintings were rich, dark-toned images of the village of Mow Cop in North West England, where he lived and worked from 1958 until his death. He exhibited his work at the Piccadilly Gallery in London and also published an autobiography and a collection of poems
  • Jonathan Speirs, an architect who specialized in creatively lighting monumental buildings around the world, passed away on June 18, 2012, at the age of 54. In 1993 Speirs founded the architectural lighting firm Speirs + Major, with Mark Major, and the projects the team worked on include Terminal 5 at the Madrid Barajas International Airport, the Sheikh Zayed Mosque in Abu Dhabi, and the Burj Khalifa in Dubai, the world’s tallest building
  • Denyse Thomasos, a painter who created large-scale expressionistic work that referenced urban space, maps, and travel, died on July 19, 2012, at the age of 47. Thomasos was a beloved professor to many art students at Tyler School of Art in Philadelphia and at Rutgers University in New Jersey, where she taught from 1995 to the present day. Her work is represented by Lennon Weinberg in New York and Olga Korper Gallery in Toronto
  • Herbert Vogel, one half of a legendary contemporary art collecting couple, died on July 22, 2012, at the age of 89. Vogel worked as a postal clerk in New York for decades and, with his wife Dorothy, came to collecting from a genuine love of art. The National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC—the institution that first ignited the couple’s fascination with modern art during a 1962 honeymoon visit—was bequeathed a significant portion of their collection. CAA plans to publish a tribute to Herbert Vogel
  • Franz West, the Austrian sculptor of ebullient abstract forms, passed away on July 25, 2012, at the age of 65. West was invested in the functionality of an artwork, bridging the darker currents of the European avant-garde with the lightness and accessibility of Pop art. Recent installations include an outdoor sculpture in New York’s Central Park, called The Ego and the Id (2009)
  • George Wyllie, a Scottish sculptor who called himself a “scul?tor” to emphasize the social aspect of his practice, died on May 15, 2012, at the age of 90. Wyllie specialized in outdoor artwork that commented on the decline of industry in his native Glasgow. His best-known pieces are two temporary works, Straw Locomotive, a full-scale reproduction of a train made from straw and chicken wire, and Paper Boat, a vessel that caused a stir when it docked at the harbor of New York’s World Financial Center in 1990

Read all past obituaries in the arts in CAA News, which include special texts written for CAA. Please send links to published obituaries, or your completed texts, to Christopher Howard, CAA managing editor, for the September list.

Filed under: Obituaries, People in the News