Thursday, May 29, 2008

John Weber

Robert Mangold, Imperfect Cirlce #2, 1973

Lucio Pozzi emailed me his honest and poignant memorial (below) to John Weber, who died this week at the age of 76. An early champion of minimal and conceptual artists such as Sol LeWitt, Ellsworth Kelly, Agnes Martin, Fred Sandback, Carl Andre, Richard Artschwager, Robert Mangold, Dan Flavin, and Robert Smithson, Weber and his SoHo gallery had an historic impact.
Weber, however, was no dogmatist. I remember the first time I saw Lucio’s work, many years before we became friends. It was in 1976 and I, a young artist, had recently moved to New York to work at Artforum, eager to trade Chicago’s Imagist tropism for the fresh air of Lewitt, Ryman, and Martin. One day I trudged up the stairs to Weber’s minimalist temple to find the walls lined with work of a sort that could not have been more outré for the times: tiny, tender, watercolor landscapes. As I recall, I laughed out loud. Suddenly I saw that New York’s mindset was as narrow as Chicago’s, and that my task was not to follow the artists I admired, but to create my own aesthetic. In that one liberating moment, Lucio (by way of John) gave me permission to do anything I wanted.
Lucio Pozzi:
Barbardos, 11 January 1972, watercolor on paper, 11.5 x 23.1"
NY State, 1971, watercolor on paper, 8.7 x 15.5"
Three years ago, John included my work in an exhibition he curated at a local gallery of artists, including Kelly and Artschwager, who had moved their studios from New York to the Hudson River Valley area, and it was inspiring to be in the company of such early heroes.
* * *
John represented me in his gallery for more than twenty years. His loyalty to the artists he worked with was sustained through the vagaries of the market and the changing fortunes of art. He was one of the great forces enlivening the artistic culture of the second half of the Twentieth Century. Having trained first at the Dayton Institute of Art, he started working at the Martha Jackson Gallery and then moved to the Dwan Galley in New York until, after the closing of the latter, he opened a gallery in his own name. He believed that a gallery owner could not only exhibit art but should also participate in the formation of artistic discourse. The influence of Sol Lewitt was absorbed by him in terms of always relying not on mere visuality but also on visual language and context. Hearing John lecture, especially about art of the sixties and seventies, was an experience of consideration and scholarly depth.
His gallery was the training ground for innumerable dealers and curators, among them Angela Westwater, Jeffrey Deitch, Amy Baker Sandback, Susanna Singer, Naomi Spector. Several younger dealers and curators in the US and Europe have told me how they still now learn from his approach to the art of his times. His yearly Summer Invitational exhibition inevitably raised controversy because he exhibited art that often contradicted the very canons of the regular artists of his gallery. He had guts of a kind that few now allow themselves to have. The list of artists who found in his gallery the springboard for their career is too long to enumerate. What was exceptional was how he continued to exhibit them even when their market was in a lull. He stubbornly defended what they were doing, and lost money in exhibiting them, because he was convinced of their thought and practice. I remember how many times I objected to some of the art he showed and with how much patience and insistence he would try to convince me to change my mind.
John was both a rationalist and a romantic. The contradictions of his character ran deep into his soul. Raised virtually as an orphan he had no sponsors funding his gallery. He was generous but also was able to hurt himself and others. In matters of money and policy he often shot himself in the foot, losing important allies for trivial reasons. John risked greatly on an idea but then managed to diminish its potential by stranding himself almost as if by distraction in its practical implementation. Or else he would panic about a financial mishap and twist and turn it as if survival was at stake. Some people had no patience with this and lost sight of the grandeur of his vision and how he nonetheless acted as one of the few great prompters of visual culture.
He has died in a very modest apartment in Hudson NY, practically a pauper, supported by family and charitable friends, surrounded by some of the art of his past. Always running after debts and organizational problems, he had never managed to assemble the collection he had dreamed of. During the last years he had emphysema and walked around carrying his oxygen tank on the back to allow himself to breathe. His eyesight was failing but he found the energy until the very last to curate some exceptional shows of unexpected art in the Hudson area and in the city. Two years ago, he came to visit my studio in Hudson. It was a mess because I had moved so much stuff there and had found no time to rearrange it. In a pile, he saw a little painting of a few years ago, made of subtle low contrast values, thus not easily decipherable by a weakened eye. He stunned me by identifying it and remembering exactly when it was made and exhibited.
He appeared at my last exhibition at BCB Art in Hudson, smiling his charming smile and friendly and attentive as always, despite the effort it must have cost him to come to the gallery. Last month, I interviewed him briefly to write a short article about him for an Italian magazine, knowing how proud he was to have been to the first to present artists from that country who then had proceeded to great appreciation by the artworld. He couldn't get up from the bed, but managed to answer brilliantly to all my questions.
Farewell, Johnny boy.

Lucio Pozzi

Lucio Pozzi, Central Horizon, 2005


David said...


Thank you for this lovely and encouraging remembrance.

David said...

There's a transcript of an interview with John Weber by James McElhinney online at the Archives of American Art: