Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Four Years Without You

Max Beckmann, Departure (1932, Collection The Museum of Modern Art, New York)

"In the right panel of Departure, Beckmann once said, `You can see yourself trying to find your way in the darkness, lighting the hall and staircase with a miserable lamp, dragging along tied to you, as part of yourself, the corpse of your memories.' (...) Beckmann called the center panel "The Homecoming," and said of it, `The Queen carries the greatest treasure—Freedom—as her child in her lap. Freedom is the one thing that matters—it is the departure, the new start.'"
SOURCE The Museum of Modern Art, MoMA Highlights, New York: The Museum of Modern Art, revised 2004, originally published 1999, p. 162

Four years ago on January 20 I got an email with the shocking and devastating news that you were dead. It took months to finally understand that this was true. Even a year later, some of us who were your friends almost believed that it was an elaborate hoax of yours to see what we'd do. That you'd show up unexpectedly, mocking us for our sentimentality and grief. That is not what you would want. You would want us to laugh at everything, to question everything, to never take anything for granted, to enjoy every single second of life, infinitely curious, missing no details, loving even what was ugly. To adopt your pose of cynical detachment and ironic humor, your passing fixations with things that ware campy, ridiculous, base, low culture, recondite; your meandering monologues filled with unexpected comparisons, erudite, unusual, mundane, bizarre, vulgar, pretentious, punning, deadpan, devastating, hysterically funny. The way you focused in like a laser on what you were seeing, eating, hearing, touching, the way you pulled away, distant, sarcastic, condescending, always amusing. The way this came across not only in your meandering staccato conversation and indescribable bursts of laughter but also in your writing.

I learned things from you that shaped who I am today. As the years passed, we reached a cordial entente, respectful of each other's work in separate worlds that grew closer. Now I find myself going to openings, biennials, conferences, art fairs, meeting your friends, all of us feeling the void of your no longer being there with us.

The first time we met you showed me a book about Beckmann, one of your favorite artists, and you loved this painting, Departure, its ugliness, and beauty. I remember writing a paper about it for class, and finding the quote above, not knowing that so many years later it would console me, thinking of you. But I know that if you read this it would make you laugh, and maybe you'd write a clever satire of my sentimental musings, using the mocking name Petite Maoiste.