It’s shaping up to be a busy week at the Blanton! On Thursday, March 20, Scholar Kirsten Swenson will give a Perspectives Talk at 12:30, and on Saturday, March 22 noted art critic Lucy Lippard will speak at 1pm in the auditorium. To introduce Lippard and her connection to the Blanton’s current exhibition, Converging Lines, curatorial assistant Amethyst Beaver describes Lippard’s relationship with Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt.
Lippard was one of Hesse and LeWitt’s best friends and earliest supporters. The art world now knows Lippard for her numerous thoughtfully curated and well-researched exhibitions, her foundational writings on contemporary art, political activism and for Printed Matter, the bookstore that she and LeWitt helped establish in 1976. But decades before the Brooklyn Museum of Art produced the exhibition Materializing “Six Years”: Lucy R. Lippard and the Emergence of Conceptual Art, Lippard was starting out as a page in the MoMA library.
As Veronica Roberts, the curator of Converging Lines, notes in her catalogue essay, Lippard worked at MoMA from 1958 to 1960 where she met Sol LeWitt, Robert Ryman (her future husband), Dan Flavin, and Gene Beery, among others. At that time LeWitt was a receptionist at the information desk and the book counter. Flavin and Beery worked as guards and elevator operators. It is comforting to think that the jobs we have in our 20s are not what we will be known for in the future, and also to know that the friendships we foster early in our professional careers may be ones that sustain us throughout our lives.
Lippard, Hesse, and LeWitt all lived within walking distance of each other: Hesse at 134 Bowery, Lippard just north at 163 Bowery and LeWitt was just a few streets southeast at 117 Hester Street. They were not alone, but rather a dynamic part of a larger community of friends and artists. Lippard and Ryman lived in the same building as Robert Mangold and Sylvia Plimack Mangold and Frank Lincoln Viner. Gene Beery and Adrian Piper each lived in the same building as LeWitt (although at different times). Grace Wapner shared a studio with Hesse before Hesse’s move to 134 Bowery and then for a brief time also found herself in the same building as Lippard, Ryman and the Mangolds at 163 Bowery Street. [You can find a map of the artists living in lower Manhattan in our exhibition catalogue and in our education resource room at the end of the exhibition.]
Hesse kept and carefully stored correspondences with her friends—a resource that is invaluable to the art historians trying to piece together the history of her life. In her archive—housed at the Allen Memorial Museum at Oberlin College—researchers can look through years of her diaries and letters from friends. One such letter has given me moments of levity during the long nights meeting pressing deadlines. On November 14, 1964, Lippard wrote a letter to Eva Hesse and Tom Doyle while they were in Germany, writing:
You know the New York gossip so I won’t repeat. I’m reviewing for Art International now. God knows how long that will last as I don’t see myself getting along with Fitzsimmons past the honeymoon stage…Our main concern aside from work at the moment is naming the little bastard who is systematically destroying my insides and outside shape. We can’t agree on a damn thing (Bob wants a boy named Jazz, yet. If it’s a girl we seem to temporarily agree on (don’t laugh) Delancey.) Last night out of desperation, I turned to the two places I never thought would fail me—Faulkner and H.L. Mencken’s American Language. The latter had some pretty wild ideas but not too practicable. Such as Tennessee Coal and Iron Ryman? Pism C. Ryman (for Psalm 100), Munsing Underwear Ryman? Matthew Mark Luke John Acts-of-the-Apostles Son-of-Zebedee Garden-of-Gethsemane Ryman? All suggestions welcomed with three boxtops [sic] and 25 words or less. Three weeks to go wild in. It took the Rosenquists a month to decide on John. Hope we don’t get to that stage of dilution. Cheers, Lucy & Bob
If you are interested to know, Lucy Lippard and Robert Ryman finally decided on the name Ethan. Ethan Ryman—a far cry from Tennessee Coal and Iron Ryman, two of my favorite contenders.
You will have the chance to hear Lucy Lippard in all her wisdom and wry humor at the Blanton Museum on Saturday March 22 at 1pm . She will speak about her personal experiences writing about and knowing Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, their work in the exhibition and their lives in the Bowery. Lucy’s much-anticipated talk concludes a week of not-to-be-missed programming. On Thursday March 20, as part of our Third Thursday festivities, Kirsten Swenson, Assistant Professor of Art History at the University of Massachusetts, Lowell and contributor to the exhibition catalogue Converging Lines: Eva Hesse and Sol LeWitt, will lead a 12:30pm Perspectives Talk in the galleries sharing her deep knowledge about both artists and her perspective on this show. If you can’t catch her tour in the gallery, please join us at 6:30pm that same day when she will present her extensive research on Hesse and LeWitt’s work.
Amethyst Beaver is the curatorial assistant to Veronica Roberts at the Blanton Museum of Art. For more information about this week’s events, visit our online calendar.