The “destruction artist” Raphael Montañez Ortiz, known as Ralph to Kurt, is a senior Professor at Rutgers University after a long and distinguished career, but in the early sixties was notorious for his performance art. From taking a sledge hammer to a piano to splattering blood across a stage and onto the audience, he challenged accepted norms about what constitutes art and pushed its appreciation into previously taboo territory. In this essay from 1966 found in Kurt’s archives, Ralph writes about art, its emergence and its relationship to dreams and the unconscious, as well as the role of repression in acts of violence.
Kurt was taken with the writing and analysis of Psychiatrist Roland Fischer, and copies of several of Fischer’s articles are found in the von Meier Archives. In this essay Fischer explores the idea of the Triune Brain, and views presented in three books about the brain and mind, published in the mid-seventies. It’s an amusing and insightful essay filled with references to literature and culture; that it attracted Kurt’s attention is not surprising. Fischer writes with an educated vision , “…how the Universe becomes aware of itself through the evolutionary emergence of matter and energy into magical, mythical and mental structures of consciousness.”
In August of 1967 Kurt was invited to speak at the First Los Angeles Film Conference in Hollywood, CA., a four-day event sponsored by National Film Study Project and Academy of Motion Pictures Arts and Sciences. His presentation was entitled “Pop Goes the Music.”
Greek national Iris Clert became famous and fashionable in Paris by owning a small art gallery where she featured the works of emerging and popular avant garde artists like Robert Rauschenberg. Her weekly newsletter, shown above uses a remarkably-formatted dot-com identity now commonly used for the internet addresses. Kurt’s archives includes a couple of years’ worth of Iris’ newsletters published during 1963-65 while he was establishing himself as an art history professor at Princeton and UCLA.
Even the custodian of the Archives of von Meier is subject to finding his own life scattered among Kurt’s lifelong collection of assorted memorabilia. Kurt called me by my nickname, “Bean,” until the day he died. This business card dates back to 1970, when I lived at 25th and Diamond Streets, a couple of blocks south of the Diamond Sutra Restaurant at 24th and Diamond, and maintained a home address for my graphic design studio. It was at the Diamond Sutra that I first met Kurt, and lo and behold, much to my surprise, I ran across this card while making yet another pass through one of Kurt’s file boxes. Notably, I had saved no copy of my own.
Kurt clipped articles like crazy, but infrequently went to the trouble to make photocopies of them. An exception is this piece by Roland Fischer, professor of experimental psychiatry and associate professor of pharmacology at the Ohio State University College of Medicine, written in 1972, exploring psychic states ranging from ecstasy to samadhi produced by various psychotropic substances, including Psilocybin, Mescaline and LSD. Kurt’s interest in Fischer’s observations was natural; his own experience and curiosity melded perfectly into the premise of Fischer’s work.
Fischer states, “Our credo affirms, then, that there is nothing but the universe becoming aware of itself through little islands of 'I's'-and-'Selves', which are experienced in, and recognized as, 'normal' and exalted states. Man, the self-referential micro-cosmos, is conscious of himself, although his 'l'-and 'Self' awareness is but a re-presentation of the universe (which it creates).”
This quote from historian Lewis Mumford (pictured - 1895-1990) was found typed and tucked away among various papers in Kurt’s archives .
“Within the span of early civilization, 3000 to 1000 B.C., the formative impulse to exercise absolute control over both nature and man shifted back and forth between gods and kings. Joshua commanded the sun to stand still and destroyed the walls of Jericho by martial music: but Yaweh himself, at an earlier moment, anticipated the Nuclear Age by destroying Sodom and Gomorrah with a single visitation of fire and brimstone; and a while later He even resorted to germ warfare in order to demoralize the Egyptians and aid in the escape of the Jews..
In short, none of the destructive fantasies that have taken possession of leaders in our own age, from Hitler to Stalin, from the khans of the Kremlin to the khans of the-Pentagon, Were foreign to the souls of the divinely appointed founders. of the first machine civilization. With every increase of effective power, extravagantly sadistic and murderous impulses emerged out of the unconscious: not radically different from those sanctioned, not only by Hitler's extermination of six million Jews and uncounted millions of other people, but the extermination by United States Air Force of 200,000 civilians in Tokyo in a single night by roasting alive. When a distinguished Mesopotamian scholar proclaimed that "civilization begins at Sumer" he innocently overlooked how much forgotten before this can be looked upon as a laudable achievement. Mass production and mass destruction are the positive and negative poles, historically, of the myth of the mega-machine.”
Lewis Mumford "The First Mega-Machine," Diogenes: Fall 1966, No. 55, p. 13.
Kurt von Meier was a special kind of pack-rat. His discerning eye for design combined with his fascination in tribal cultures and human rituals inclined Kurt to collect all sorts of objects. After the fire at the Diamond Sufi Ranch in 1979, Kurt had to move his collection to a new location, and being the ever-rigorous documentarian, he made a list of everything he had to relocate. Between 1979 and his death in 2011, he had added voluminously to his possessions, vastly increasing the objects, clothing, nick-knacks, artwork, photos, books and so forth that eventually filled every corner of Kurt’s living space. This list provides an insight into Kurt’s interests and obsessions.
Allegedly developed by Tibetan Monks, the Tibetan Eye Chart is used in various exercises to improve vision. This copy of the chart was given to Cliff Barney by Kurt. For information about the use of the chart, click here.
Kurt’s pal and collaborator Clifford (Walter) Barney worked as the Science Editor at the San Francisco Examiner, and one of his last articles was about chemist Albert Hofmann and his visit to UC Santa Cruz. His appearance became a reunion; Tim Leary, Richard Alpert (Ram Dass) and Ralph Metzner all attended and the 1977 event was as much celebration as conference. Read more to see the full text of the article.
The Diamond Sufi Ranch played host to a variety of groups and teachers during the early 70s, but this invitation was tied to a weekend devoted to Amanita muscaria, the sacred mushroom of the ancients. Kurt had taught a weekend seminar at Esalen on SOMA, but this ranch weekend was to be a hands-on affair, as this invite indicates.
PS: SANTA CLAUS IS A MUSHROOM.
Given our current political circumstance in America, it seems timely to post this set of “stamps” found tucked away in Kurt’s archives. Not sure of the date of issue, but especially timely right now!
OK, his last name is misspelled, but Kurt even showed up in the “30 Years Ago” portion of the “Olden times” section of the August 22, 1989 section of the Monterey Herald newspaper. An old friend sent him this clipping, and of course, Kurt saved it. The guy was a publicity magnet.
According to Wikipedia, Judy Fiskin (born April 1, 1945 in Chicago, is an American artist working in photography and video, and a member of the art school faculty at California Institute of the Arts. Her videos have been screened in the Documentary Fortnight series at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles, and at the J. Paul Getty Museum in Los Angeles; her photographs have been shown at MOCA, the Museum of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles, at the Getty Museum in Los Angeles, at The New Museum in New York City, and at the Pompidou Center in Paris.
And her photography career began under the watchful eye of Professor Kurt von Meier. In a November 15, 1992 article in the Los Angeles Times, Fiskin told the tale:
“Fiskin, a native of West L.A., received her bachelor's degree in art history from Pomona College and after a brief stint in medieval art at UC Berkeley finished her master's degree in 20th-Century art history at UCLA in 1969. The defining moment of her study there took place in a class taught by Kurt von Meier. Art dealer Fred Hoffman, art critic Merle Schipper and CalArts Provost Beverly O'Neill were in the same class. Von Meier's unconventional approach included taking students to the airport, where they would watch planes take off, or telling them to buy inexpensive TVs to throw off the end of the Santa Monica Pier.
"In order to get us to think about how conventional symbols were used in popular culture," Fiskin recalls, "he assigned us each a symbol--mine was the heart--and had us get cameras. This is after six or seven years of art history and all this input of looking at images. I held the camera up to my face for the first time and thought, 'This is for me!' I think all that art history was that I really wanted to be an artist and didn't know how. The minute I held up that camera, I realized I could."
Fiskin was soon photographing views of San Bernardino, military architecture, stucco and dingbats. It was a time when the aesthetics and theories of Minimalism held sway.”
The Universal Life Church was founded by Rev. Kirby J. Hensley in 1962 and offered ministry credentials to anyone who applied and sent a small financial offering. Of course, Kurt became a member, and received Certificate No. 66343, date May 2, 1962 making him an ordained minister. Regrettably, his first name is misspelled “Kirt.” Included here is his certificate, a printed sheet with information about the Universal Life Church, and a panel from one of its newsletters. The church remains in operation.
A booklet written by cyberneticist Heinz von Foerster was tucked amid Kurt’s archives, a document Kurt concluded was worth retaining. Entitled “On Constructing a Reality,” the twelve-page excerpt from a von Foerster address of 1973 puts forth the following postulate: “The Environment As We Perceive It Is Our Invention.” Von Foerster then goes on to make his case in support of this postulate. Heinz’ inscription to ”Walter and friends” refers to Walter (Clifford) Barney and Kurt von Meier. The booklet, in its entirety, is reproduced here.
Kurt considered Ed “Big Daddy” Roth (March 4, 1932 – April 4, 2001) to be a significant artist. Roth created visions of the “hot rod” through cartoons, models and customized car creations, and burnished the image of the hot rod bad-boy through exaggerated, even demonic-looking characters. Kurt loved cars, especially “hot” cars like Ferraris and Maseratis, both of which he owned later in life. The “Firebird” illustration above was sent to Kurt by Ed Roth in 1968. Naturally, Kurt kept it, along with the note on its reverse side and the envelope in which it was delivered.
There are few first-hand accounts of the AUM Conference at Esalen in 1973. Clifford Barney’s account in the Pacific Sun Newspaper is one, and this article by Carole Levine in Paul Krassner’s iconic publication The Realist, is another. Von Meier tape recorded all the discussions and Barney produced transcripts of the tapes (all available here), but Levine’s account provides yet another, and less technical, slant on the conference and its participants. Here’s link to all AUM Conference articles on this website.
This recording made by Kurt von Meier during the AUM conference at Esalen includes a short Tuesday evening discussion led by mathematician Douglas Kelly and a longer Wednesday morning session dominated by a presentation by Gregory Bateson, an English anthropologist, social scientist, linguist, visual anthropologist, semiotician, and cyberneticist (pictured above circa 1974), followed by group discussion. Heinz von Foerster provides his insights about paradox, tautology and contradiction while others -- Kurt von Meier, Alan Watts, and Douglas Kelly chime in with their perspectives. While focused on the mathematics of Laws of Form, the recording contains welcome moments of humor and laughter as the group struggles to make sense of G. Spencer Brown's ideas. The recording lasts about one hour and a half; the volume varies as speakers were in differing positions relative to the single microphone.
Unexpected treats come this way now that Kurt’s archives are online; one such treat is this painting by Kurt, “Karekare” (Karekare is a black sand beach on the violent Tasman coast west of Auckland). The inquiry came through the contact form on this website and included this information: “The Chartwell Collection has acquired a work of Kurt's, Karekare, pva on Board, dated 1962, signed, 565 x 1200mm, from an Auckland auction of works from the John Perry Collection. John was a student of Kurt's at Elam.”