Saying Goodbye to the Ones We Lost in 2016
They will be sorely missed.
At the end of a blistering July this year, singer, songwriter and poet Leonard Cohen penned the following note for a dying friend: “Know that I am so close behind you that if you stretch out your hand, I think you can reach mine.”
That friend was longtime muse and former lover Marianne Ihlen, of “So Long Marianne” fame. Four months later, Cohen himself passed into memory, on 7 November, at the age of 82. Besides correctly predicting his own death, Cohen left the world yet another generous lesson in tidiness and tenderness. Even when you write the songs, it’s often hard to know how to say goodbye.
To take a page from the bard in the black fedora, it’s time now to bid farewell to some of the figures in visual arts and culture who passed away in 2016. For all of their gifts and a few of their curses, they will be sorely missed.
1. David Bowie
Musician, actor, and artist David Bowie died on January 10, after an 18-month battle with cancer. The legendary musician, whose influence on popular music is unrivaled, attended art school in his youth and painted throughout his life.
Bowie befriended and interviewed major art figures, played Andy Warhol in the 1996 biopic Basquiat, collected important art, and was himself the subject of a traveling museum retrospective organized by the Victoria & Albert Museum in 2013. His final album, Blackstar, was released on his 69th birthday, just two days before his death.
2. Thornton Dial
Thornton Dial, a prominent outsider artist, died on January 25 at his home in McCalla, Alabama. He was 87. An illiterate metalworker who turned scrap metal, animal bones, and other discarded material into sculptures and paintings, Dial lived to see a number of his works exhibited at major art institutions such as the Museum of Modern Art, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, the Museum of Fine Arts Houston, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum.
3. Fred Holland
New York-based sculptor and choreographer Fred Holland died on March 5 at the age of 64. The cause was colon cancer. Holland was widely recognized for his unique, poetic visual language for which he was awarded many grants and residencies. The artist’s passing took place only days after the opening of his exhibition at Tilton Gallery in New York.
4. Zaha Hadid
Iconic Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid died of a heart attack on March 31 at a Miami hospital, where she was being treated for a case of bronchitis. She was 65. Hadid was the first female architect to win the coveted Pritzker Architecture Prize. She also received the Royal Institute of British Architects’s Stirling Prize twice and became a Dame in 2012.
artnet News columnist Kenny Schachter, a longtime collaborator, called her “one of the most shockingly, stubbornly brilliant people I have ever had the honor and fortune of befriending and working with over years.”
Legendary singer, songwriter, and artist Prince Rogers Nelson, popularly known as Prince, died of a self-administered Fentanyl overdose on April 21. He was 57. An “artist who defied genre,” according to The New York Times, Prince’s work spanned funk, rock, rhythm and blues and pop. He sold more one hundred million records, won seven Grammies and was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2004.
6. Marisol Escobar
Pop artist Marisol Escobar passed away in New York on April 30 at the age of 85. A pop star in the 1960s, the Venezuelan-American sculptor’s work fell into obscurity in last decades of the 20th century only to be rediscovered at the start of the 21st. She was the subject of a retrospective at the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, N.Y., in 2001. Her work was later included in, among other exhibitions, “Seductive Subversion: Women Pop Artists, 1958-1968,” at the Brooklyn Museum, and “Power Up: Female Pop Art,” at the Kunsthalle in Vienna. Her sculpture Women and Dog (1963-64) was prominently featured at the 2015 inaugural exhibition of the Whitney Museum.
7. Martin Friedman
Martin Friedman, who oversaw Minneapolis’s Walker Art Center for three decades, died on May 9 at his home in New York City. He was 90 years old. As the institution’s third and longest-serving director, he oversaw the construction of a new building and developed a beloved new public space, the Minneapolis Sculpture Garden. He is widely credited with making the Walker one of the finest modern-art museums in the country.
8. François Morellet
French contemporary painter, sculptor and light artist François Morellet died on May 10, just days after turning 90. According to artnet News’ Lorena Muñoz Alonso, Morellet “enjoyed a long and illustrious international career, which included more than 130 solo exhibitions at institutions like Paris’ Centre Pompidou and Musée d’Art Moderne, as well as the Museum of Modern Art (MoMA).” More than 20 exhibitions were scheduled for the artist at the time of his passing.
9. Morley Safer
The veteran CBS journalist and sometime art critic died on May 19. He was 84. Safer cut his teeth as a TV reporter during the Vietnam War in the 1960s, when he famously brought the war’s horrors home to America’s living rooms. Years later, Safer took aim at contemporary art on two occasions for the magazine show “60 Minutes.”
Unfortunately, Safer’s repeated invocations of the Hans Christian Andersen story “The Emperor’s New Clothes” on those episodes fit the broadcaster at least as well as the art he vilified.
Tunga (Antonio José de Barros Carvalho e Mello Mourão), one of the most influential Brazilian artists of his generation, died on June 6 in Rio de Janeiro, at the age of 64. His work forms part of the collections of many of the world’s most important art institutions, including MoMA, MOCA LA, the Reina Sofia and the Moderna Museet. Tunga represented Brazil in 1997 at Documenta X and at the 2001 Venice Biennale.
11. Tony Feher
Tony Feher, an American sculptor, died on June 24 of cancer-related complications. He was 60 years old. Feher’s art was informed by a consistent effort to understand life via simple objects. His work was surveyed in 2012 in a traveling retrospective organized by the Blaffer Art Museum in Houston. The exhibition also traveled to the Des Moines Art Center, the Bronx Museum and the deCordova Sculpture Park and Museum in Lincoln, Massachusetts.
12. Ben Patterson
Ben Patterson, the artist and composer who helped found the Fluxus movement, died on June 25, in Wiesbaden, Germany. He was 82. The artist took a nearly 20-year hiatus from performance to enjoy what he called “ordinary life,” returning to art making in 1987. The Contemporary Arts Museum Houston hosted a retrospective of Patterson’s work in 2010; that show subsequently traveled to the Nassauischer Kunstverein in Wiesbaden, and the Studio Museum in Harlem.
13. Bill Cunningham
The street and fashion photographer Bill Cunningham died on June 25 in New York after being hospitalized due to a stroke. He was 87. After four decades photographing celebrity events for The New York Times, Cunningham became a reluctant celebrity himself. He was awarded the French Legion of Honor in 2008 and the Carnegie Hall Medal of Excellence in 2012. The documentary Bill Cunningham New York premiered at MoMA in 2010.
14. Alan Vega
Punk-rock pioneer, ex-Suicide frontman, and visual artist Alan Vega died on July 16. He was 78. Vega majored in fine arts at Brooklyn College, studying with Ad Reinhardt and Kurt Seligmann before taking up music after attending a concert by Iggy Pop and the Stooges. The musician maintained his work as a visual artist throughout his career, opening Barbara Gladstone’s first downtown space in 1983, exhibiting at Deitch Projects in 2002, and showing at Invisible Exports on the Lower East Side in 2015.
15. Billy Name
William Linich Jr., better known as Billy Name, died on July 18, 2016. He was 76 years old. The original source of the Factory’s all-silver look, Name was also the Factory’s in-house photographer, its unofficial manager, and Andy Warhol’s former lover. Legend has it that Name became a photographer after Warhol gave him a 35-millimeter Pentax camera. After that, the pictures were all his.
16. Anne Chu
New York artist Anne Chu died on July 25 from cancer. She was 57. A recipient of many prestigious grants and awards, she had solo exhibitions at the Dallas Museum of Art, the Neuberger Museum of Art in Purchase, the Weatherspoon Art Museum, the Indianapolis Museum of Art and the Kunstmuseen Krefeld/Museum Haus Lange.
17. William Louis-Dreyfus
William Louis-Dreyfus, the French-born billionaire collector, philanthropist and father of actress Julia Louis-Dreyfus, died on September 16 at the age of 84. Louis-Dreyfus made headlines in 2015 when he announced his decision to donate proceeds from the sale of his 3,500-piece art collection—estimated to be worth between $10 million and $50 million—to the charity Harlem Children’s Zone.
18. Shirley Jaffe
Shirley Jaffe, an American painter of energetic geometric forms who had long worked in Paris, died on September 29 in Louveciennes, France. She was 92. Jaffe moved to France in 1949 and counted among her friends there the American artists Sam Francis, Joan Mitchell, Al Held, and the Canadian Jean-Paul Riopelle.
Writing about her 2015 show at Tibor de Nagy Gallery in New York, New York Times critic Holland Cotter called her “an expressive geometrician” who “makes painting look like fastidiously worked joy.”
19. David Antin
Poet, art critic, performance artist, and teacher David Antin passed on October 11, after struggling with Parkinson’s disease. He was 84. His essays are collected in the book Radical Coherency: Selected Essays on Art and Literature, 1966-2005.
Follow artnet News on Facebook:
Want to stay ahead of the art world? Subscribe to our newsletter to get the breaking news, eye-opening interviews, and incisive critical takes that drive the conversation forward.