Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Douglas Messerli | "Believing in the New" (on the death of Klaus Kertess)

believing in the new
by Douglas Messerli

A couple of days ago Art News announced that the gallerist-curator Klaus Kertess had died, at the age of 76.

      I had never visited his noted Bykert gallery, which he ran, with Jeff Byers, from 1966 until 1975, nor did I ever meet Kertess face to face; but my husband Howard and I did know of several of the artists his gallery showed, including Brice Marden, Barry Le Va, Alan Saret, Chuck Close, Dorothea Rockburne, and Deborah Remington.
      Kertess, himself, described the scene before Bykert’s existence, arguing that, except for Park Place, run by Paula Cooper, “there were no galleries that were actively looking for new artists and no galleries where younger artists could turn to in the hopes that they would show their work.” 
     Besides showing and curating great artists, he also employed several of them, including sculptor Lynda Bengalis, as a secretary, and later, future gallerist Mary Boone, who years later marveled at Bykert’s commitment to artists as opposed to collectors.
     Upon leaving Bykert, Kertess became a curator at the Parrish Art Museum in Southampton, New York, were he showed Carroll Dunham, April Gornick, Jane Freilicher, Alfonso Ossorio and others.
     In 1983, he became adjunct curator of drawing at the Whitney Museum of American Art. Even after leaving that post in 1989, he curated the 1995 Whitney Biennial which featured Richard Serra, Agnes Martin, Brice Marden, Helen Marden, Cy Twombly and younger artists such as Jason Rhoades, Ellen Gallagher, and Stan Douglas (a Canadian artist).
     In 1998, he curated “Willem de Kooning: Drawing Seeing/Seeing Drawing” and the Drawing Center in New York
      2007 saw him curating the premier show for the Museum of Contemporary Art Detroit, which, once again, included a wide range of artists ranging in age and styles, including Mark Bradford (a personal friend of Howard and mine), Kara Walker, Barry McGee and numerous others.     
     In 2009 Kertess received the Lawrence A. Fleischman Award for Scholarly Excellence in the Field of American Art History from the Smithsonian’s Archives of American Art.
     In 1979 or early 1980, while he was still at the Whitney, Kertess, out of the blue, sent my Sun & Moon: A Journal of Literature and Art a story, “Pisonia,” which I accepted and published in the award-winning “Experiments in Traditional Forms” issue in the summer of 1980.


Los Angeles, October 11, 2016

Reprinted from Art Là-bas (October 2016).

(The factual information above is based on the story by Andrew Russeth published in Art News. October 9, 2016.)