In Memoriam: Remembering Those the Art World Has Lost in the Coronavirus Pandemic [UPDATED]

We take a look at the lives of some of those lost.

Clockwise from left: David Driskell; Helène Aylon; Vittorio Gregotti; Tom Blackwell. Images courtesy Wikimedia and Getty.
Clockwise from left: David Driskell; Helène Aylon; Vittorio Gregotti; Tom Blackwell. Images courtesy Wikimedia and Getty.

As the coronavirus takes lives around the globe, Artnet News is memorializing those in the art and cultural worlds who have died in the pandemic. Here are some of their stories. This list will be continually updated.

Artist Manuel Felguérez, 91, who pioneered new forms of expression in Mexico and rejected the influence of Muralism, died on June 8. The painter and sculptor, who studied in Paris from 1954 to 1959, came under the influence of the Russian-born artist Ossip Zadkine, who introduced him to Constantin Brancusi. After his return to his native Mexico, Felguérez experimented with a variety of forms, even pioneering digital art in an era in which there were only three computers in the whole of Mexico. Felguérez is currently the subject of a survey at Mexico City’s University Museum of Contemporary Art. (The Art Newspaper)

Artist Rafael Leonardo Black, 71, who had his first New York solo show at the age of 64, died on May 15. The artist, who was born in Aruba, moved to the US when he was 17, and later attended Columbia University before dropping out his senior year. Drawn to the counter-culture scene, he made illustrations for Crawdaddy, a rock music magazine, that drew on Surrealist and Symbolist imagery. The new York art dealer Francis Naumann hosted Black’s first solo show, titled “Insider Art,” in 2013. Reviewing the exhibition, New York Times critic Holland Cotter wrote that it “stays in the mind long after you’ve left the gallery.” (Francis Naumann)

Concretist artist Abraham Palatnik, 92, who pioneered abstraction in Brazil, died on May 9. As a part of the Grupo Frente movement in the 1950s and ’60s, Palatnik, along with artists such as Lygia Pape and Hélio Oiticica, ushered in a new era of kinetic-based abstraction, embracing and developing on international modernist trends. At the height of his fame, Palatnik was included in eight of ten consecutive São Paulo biennials, and was praised by the influential critic Mário Pedrosa for creating sculptures that were like “frescoes of light.” (ARTnews)

Researcher Motoko Fujishiro Huthwaite, 92, one of the Monuments Women who protected cultural heritage after World War II, died on May 4. Huthwaite, who was born in the US but was sent to Japan after the bombing of Pearl Harbor, was tasked with cataloguing and inventorying artworks and artifacts in the Pacific Theater after the war. As a bilingual speaker, she was uniquely equipped to translate between the American military and Japanese sources. In 2015, she was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal. (New York Times)

Photographer Roger Whiteside, 67, a longtime staff photographer at the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, DC, died on April 24Whiteside, one of seven children, was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and discovered photography while in high school. After a stint in the US Air Force, he worked at a Ford motor plant before moving to Washington and starting a freelance photography business. He became a full-time employee of the National Museum of the American Indian in 1999, and took documentary images of Native peoples, their homes, and surrounding landscapes. He retired in 2014. (Washington Post)

Curator and art historian Germano Celant, 79, who coined the term “Arte Povera,” died on April 21. Celant a towering figure in the art world, launched his career in 1967 with the publication of his Arte Povera manifesto, “Notes for a Guerilla War,” in Flash Art magazine, where he championed the work of artists who made “poor art, committed to contingency, to events, to the non-historical, to the present.” Since then, he curated the Venice Biennale, held roles at the Guggenheim, and served as artistic director of the Prada Foundation in Milan. (Read the full Artnet News obituary.)

Painter David Leverett, 82, whose abstract works were filtered through his fascination with the environment, died on April 20. Throughout his career, Leverett was included in dozens of exhibitions at institutions including the ICA and the Serpentine Gallery in London. He once described himself as being preoccupied with the landscape, “partly to affirm our identity within the world we inhabit, and partly to draw attention to the remarkable dynamics of the natural environment on which we depend.” The Tate in London holds nearly 30 of his works from the 1970s. (Camden New Journal)

Historian of African American art and culture Pellom McDaniels III, 52, who retired from the NFL to focus on scholarship, died on April 19. McDaniels, who was the curator of African American Collections at Emory University’s rare book library, played as an NFL lineman in the 1990s before earning a PhD and publishing books on subjects ranging from photography and masculinity in World War I to early black sporting pioneers. He organized more than a dozen exhibitions for Emory, including one on the art and activism of artist Camille Billops. (Press release)

Lawyer David Toren, 94, who engaged in a determined quest to recover art looted from his family by the Nazis, died on April 19. As a 14-year-old, Toren took the last Kindertransport evacuation out of Germany before World War II broke out, and never saw his parents again. Eventually, he moved to New York and became a patent lawyer. In his final years, he earned international attention for his efforts to recover his family’s art, including Max Liebermann’s Two Riders on the Beach, which surfaced in the collection of Cornelius Gurlitt. One of his cases against Germany and the state of Bavaria, first filed in 2014, is still pending. (New York Times)

Photographer John Pfahl, 81, whose manipulated images were a riposte to nature photography, died on April 15. The artist, who studied at Syracuse University, earned his reputation through photographs that emphasized the strange beauty of power plants and rotting fruit, and images that parodied the works of Ansel Adams and other nature photographers. In one image, titled Triangle, Bermuda, August 1975, Pfahl depicted a triangular line of string leading out into the ocean. “He was showing us that while we believe in a picture, it looks real, it looks normal, but it’s actually false,” said curator Lisa Hostetler. (New York Times)

Scholar William Gerdts, 91, an expert on American art, died on April 14. Gerdts wrote more than 20 books on the subject, including the three-volume tome Art Across America: Two Centuries of Regional Painting 1710–1920. A former curator of painting and sculpture at the Newark Museum, he was a sought-after expert on American Impressionism and 19th-century still-life painting (as well as a collector of the latter). In 2018, he donated works from his personal library of American art, as well as paintings and drawings, to the National Gallery of Art in Washington, DC. (Culturegrrl)

Animator Ann Sullivan, 91, who worked on Disney Renaissance films such as The Little Mermaid, died on April 13. Sullivan, who grew up in Fargo, North Dakota, first worked in Disney’s animation paint labs in the 1950s before moving to Hanna-Barbera, the studio behind Scooby-Doo and The Jetsons. She returned to Disney to work on films including The Lion King and adopted digital animation techniques in the late 1990s before retiring in the early 2000s. “All she ever wanted to do was work at the Walt Disney Studios, and she did,” Motion Picture and Television Fund CEO Bob Beitcher said in a statement. (Deadline)

Artist and art-supply entrepreneur Norman Gulamerian, 92, who turned his passion for art into a successful business, died on April 13. The Brooklyn-born artist left high school to join the Navy when he was 18 and later returned to study painting at Brooklyn College. When he struggled to find linen for his canvases, he and his brother decided to start an art-supply business out of their Brooklyn basement in 1949. It grew into Utrecht Art Supply Corp., a well-known chain from New York to California. (New York Times)

New York graffiti artist Nic 707, 60, who brought street art back to the subways in the late 1980s, died on April 12. Born Fernando Miteff in Buenos Aires, the artist made his name by reviving the genre some years after New York officials cleaned up the city’s early subway art scene. Instead of creating large-scale murals on the exterior of subway cars, he replaced the ads that adorned their insides. The idea, he said, was to foreground the temporariness of his gestures. “I wanted to leave an impression,” he said. “As long as you saw and remembered it, I’m happy with that.” (New York Times)

Abstract artist Gillian Wise, 88, a key member of the British constructivists, died on April 11. Wise became the youngest member of the group, which sought to revive the rational geometry of prewar Europe, in 1961. Although Soviet-inspired geometric abstraction was at the time out of fashion, she remained committed to the form, later joining the Systems group to propel a similar style. Eventually, she left London and settled in Paris, where she created an ambitious series of red paintings that remain largely unseen to this day. (Guardian)

Dealer-scholar John Driscoll, 70, who ran one of America’s oldest art galleries, died on April 10. Driscoll shepherded Driscoll Babcock gallery, which was founded in 1852, into new territory when he took over in 1987, moving the gallery to Chelsea and signing contemporary artists to show alongside such established figures as Winslow Homer and Mary Cassatt. Before turning to the commercial world, Driscoll held appointments at Yale University and New York University, among other institutions. (Read the full Artnet News obituary.)

Prolific Iraqi architect Rifat Chadirji, 93, who designed more than 100 buildings in the country, died on April 10. Chadirji, who died in London, was renowned for his fusion of modernist forms with traditional Middle Eastern designs. Among his works was the Unknown Soldier Monument of 1959, which was demolished in 1982. A statue of Saddam Hussein took its place in 2003. In 2017, an award in his honor was established to recognize significant projects completed in Iraq. (Arch Daily)

Artist Tom Blackwell, 82, a pioneer of the Photorealist movement, died on April 8. A self-taught artist, Blackwell grew up in Chicago and Incline, California, and moved to New York in the late 1960s, where he emerged alongside Richard Estes as a key figure in the “New Realism” movement. He taught at the School of Visual Arts in the 1980s and has been represented by Louis K. Meisel Gallery since 1976. (Poughkeepsie Journal)

Feminist artist Helène Aylon, 89, who explored Judaism and pacifism through her work, died on April 6. Aylon, who grew up in Brooklyn and attended the Shulamith School for Girls, took up art in earnest after enrolling at Brooklyn College and meeting Mark Rothko, who visited her studio. She recalled her later encounter with feminism as “a rebirth that dazzled my imagination like a sunrise, and plucked me out of the guilt that was caving in on me.” (Times of Israel)

Lexington, Kentucky, gallery owner Carleton Wing, 77, who left behind a career as a technical writer to explore his interest in art, died on April 2. The artist and gallerist, who retired from his full-time profession in the late 2000s, ran his gallery out of Kentucky and Florida while making his own artworks exploring varying “altered egos.” Among his final works were portraits of guardian angels. (Lexington Herald-Leader)

Cartoonist Juan Giménez, 76, who created popular science-fiction comic books with collaborator Alejandro Jodorowsky, died on April 2. In the 1990s, the pair began publishing Metabarons, an epic space opera about patricide and codes of honor. Giménez also worked on the animated film Heavy Metal and won several prestigious awards in his field. (Hollywood Reporter)

Photographer Richard di Liberto, 82, the chief photographer for the Frick Collection in New York, died on April 1. The son of an Italian immigrant bricklayer, Di Liberto, who was born in Manhattan, catalogued hundreds of Frick Collection objects, as well as the museum’s interior and exterior, between 1974 and his retirement in 2004. A drummer in his teens, Di Liberto also had a passion for restoring vintage cars, which he did out of a rented garage in Queens alongside Galen Lee, the Frick’s horticulturist. (New York Times)

Curator and painter David Driskell, 88, who championed the long history of art by African Americans, died on April 1. In 1976, Driskell curated the groundbreaking traveling survey “Two Centuries of Black American Art: 1750–1950,” which debuted at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art and featured the work of 63 artists. Although LACMA asked Driskell to organize the show, he still had to win over its board. “I said, ‘It just happens to be that white Americans have little or no knowledge about what black Americans have done in the visual arts. So this is an educational process for everybody,’” he recalled in 2009. (Read the full Artnet News obituary.)

Jersey City gallerist and special-needs children’s advocate Javiera Rodriguez, 43, died on April 1. A jewelry designer and teacher in East Rutherford, New Jersey, Rodriguez was also part of a team that ran the Raven Gallery from 2014 through 2017. As an artist, she collaborated with Elisabeth Smolarz for “The Encyclopedia of Things,” a project that was scheduled to be on view at the Visual Arts Center of New Jersey through June 7. (NJ.com)

French politician Patrick Devedjian, 75, who was leading the charge to build a new museum dedicated to the Sun King, died on March 30. Devedjian was the head of Hauts-de-Seine, France’s wealthiest district, and was due to serve as director of a planned museum about Louis XIV in Saint Cloud, Le Musée du Grand Siècle. Even in his final months, he was busily securing acquisitions to build out the museum’s collection. (The Art Newspaper)

Architect Michael McKinnell, 84, famed for his imposing Brutalist Boston City Hall, died on March 27. The British-born architect, who attended graduate school at Columbia University, studied under the German-born architect Gerhard Kallmann. In 1962, the pair entered a contest to design Boston’s City Hall and won against more than 250 other submissions. Their building—a mammoth concrete structure with a sprawling red-brick pavilion—was intended as a clear rebuke to “degenerate frippery and surface concerns,” McKinnell later said. (New York Times)

Writer Michael Sorkin, 71, who gave voice to activist ideas in his architectural criticism, died on March 26. Sorkin made his name as a writer for the Village Voice in the 1980s, focusing on how urban design enhanced or denigrated democratic ideals. Among his dozen books is Twenty Minutes in Manhattan from 2009, which chronicled his walks through the city. (New York Times)

Artist Paul Karslake, 61, who raised money for charities by selling his portraits of Hollywood celebrities, died on March 23. The artist, who lived in the English town of Leigh and was a fellow of the Royal Society of Arts, raised tens of thousands of pounds for organizations such as hospice centers by putting his portraits up for sale. In 2005, the Karslake Centre for arts education at the Cornelius Vermuyden School and Arts College opened in his honor. (Leigh Times)

Critic and historian Maurice Berger, 63, whose prescient work addressed representations of race, died on March 23. For seven years starting in 2012, Berger, who grew up in a public housing project in Manhattan, wrote “Race Stories” for the “Lens” section of the New York Times, a column that looked at race in relationship to photography and championed many non-white image-makers. He also organized the exhibition “Revolution of the Eye: Modern Art and the Birth of American Television” at the Jewish Museum in 2015. (Read the full Artnet News obituary.)

Museum founder Ronald W. Lewis, 68, who was dedicated to preserving the street culture of African Americans in New Orleans, died on March 20. Lewis was the founder of the House of Dance and Feathers, a museum that captured the rich local history of the Lower Ninth Ward and the Mardi Gras Indians who led (and continue to lead) parades through the city’s black neighborhoods. The museum was located in a trailer-size building in Lewis’s backyard and filled to the brim with costumes, photographs, parade ephemera, and other treasures. (New York Times)

Modernist architect Vittorio Gregotti, 92, who designed buildings as well as entire cities, died on March 15. Gregotti, who was as happy to design cultural centers as he was sporting arenas, was highly regarded for his Olympic Stadium in Barcelona, for which he preserved a facade from 1929 while expanding and renovating its interior. He retired and closed his firm in 2017, saying that “architects are only creating images, to amaze, rather than propose projects.” (New York Times)

Watercolorist Liu Shouxiang, 62, who taught at the Hubei Institute of Fine Arts in Wuhan, died on February 13. The artist was highly regarded in his native China for his still lifes and landscapes. After studying at the Hubei Institute, he returned to the school as a professor, and later retired to focus on his artwork. (China Daily)

To submit obituary notices, please contact Pac Pobric at [email protected]


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