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.
This article from March 4, 1967 covers Kurt von Meier’s “dismissal” from UCLA, an event that would change the course of Kurt’s teaching career. Reporter Art Seidenbaum notes, “To the study of painting and sculpture von Meier brought added attractions; underground movies, avant-garde poetry, visiting Pop painters and—most lively of all in a curriculum already emblazoned with living color—throbbing rock 'n' roll musicians.”
After moving from Berkeley to Carmel with his family, Kurt somehow convinced the local paper, The Carmel Pine Cone, to distribute his own weekly newspaper, Carmel Quack, and the Pine Cone generously announced the venture in its pages. "His plans for the future, "says the report, "include journalistic training in high school and possibly, later, at the University of California."
In his fifth public lecture at the Pasadena Art Museum, Kurt focused on one of his favorite topics: rock and roll. He regaled his audience by playing 20 brief selections from his collection of 45s and as Los Angeles Times reporter Ray Duncan notes, "In his usual gleefully offbeat manner the young professor jolted his audience with unexpected esthetic judgments...." The copy of this article was very in very poor condition, but is shown large enough to overcome its lack of clarity.
The Archives of von Meier contain all kinds of little jewels: here's a newspaper clipping from May, 1966 in The Massachusetts Collegian featuring Kurt and the then 26-year-old artist Chuck Close modeling "the Mod Look". As the caption reads, Kurt covered his face to hide from his mother.
In his fourth public lecture at the Pasadena Art Museum Kurt, in the words of Los Angeles Times reporter Ray Duncan, "...mischievously needled, puzzled and outraged certain members of his audience." The subject was movies, their violence and the implications of the growing influence of television and commercials. "I suspect," Kurt reportedly said, "that, in television, the first-rate people are those who conceive, design and direct the commercials!" Though he was scheduled to present six lectures, this fourth may have been his last.
In his third lecture at the Pasadena Art Museum, Kurt declared, "Comics are a great life form, but they have nothing whatsoever to do with life!" The Los Angeles Times reporter Ray Duncan again characterizes Kurt's listeners: "largely wide-eyed, wide-awake young housewives and some shrewd-eyed young women who seem to be art teachers." Kurt forces all in attendance to consider when art is art and when art is life, and vice-a-versa. In the article, Duncan makes it all sound like fun.
In this press report by Ray Duncan in the Los Angeles Times, he highlights the major points of Kurt's second lecture at the Pasadena Art Museum. Describing his audience of Pasadena housewives as "bright, pretty and bewildered" it's certain that Kurt forced them to challenge conventional notions of "art."Read More
Kurt's whirlwind of activity at UCLA during 1966-67 included a series of public lectures given at the Pasadena Art Museum. The Los Angeles Times reporter Ray Duncan followed the series, and under the title "The Score in Art" reported on Kurt's talks. This article is the first of four.
In 1983 Kurt was still talking about Rock and Roll, nearly 20 years after his book draft on the History of Rock and Roll. This time it was a reporter from The State Hornet, the newspaper of Sacramento State University. The article has been converted to digital text, and copy of the original page in the newspaper is also available.
Kurt managed to get newspaper coverage easily, such as this article in The Daily Post from 1983, when he revisited New Zealand during his sabbatical leave. Kurt had taught art history at Aukland University after graduating from Princeton and teaching there for a year. The full text of the article is available.
In 1967 Kurt garnered the attention of KRLA BEAT, a radio station newspaper focused on the growing music scene. Their archive is now online, and in their current blog they note: "on page 13 is the curious news that the KRLA Beat was required reading at UCLA. Prof. Kurt von Meier, a polymath and enthusiast about mathematics, cosmology, and world culture, was teaching an art history course that was far ahead of its time. The Beat, he recognized, was a unique source of news about pop music and poular culture. "Here at home" he said to the Beat "we have some of the most meaningful poetry of the 20th century, put to music by Bob Dylan and Chuck Berry. It's also amazing to see how the Beatles continue to revolutionize their industry — their genius cannot be denied." I'm with him!" The entire article is available here.
Yes, that is Frank Zappa in the Polaroid photo above (the guy hugging him is not Kurt). In November of 1966, Professor von Meier organized the opening of a Harold Paris sculpture exhibit. Unfortunately, the sculpture was not available, but Kurt nonetheless managed to turn the event into an "installation" rather than an "exhibition." There were bands, including Zappa's Mothers of Invention, plus Canned Heat and other rock and roll groups. And a light show. And films. And all at the same time. As the article below from the UCLA Daily Bruin notes, it all "had a strange influence on the people there." As Kurt might say, "Ah, well."
As provocateur stand-in for "artist-revolutionary" Jose Que, Kurt lit up the UCLA campus and the local press when as part of the Festival of Experimental Arts he set a tower of books on fire before a crowd of students. Of all his public acts as a professor, it was undoubtedly the most dramatic; a flood of commentary followed and the event may well have contributed to the non-renewal of Kurt's teaching contract. It's a fascinating story filled with mystery, creativity and confusion.
Kurt's love of chile peppers knew no bounds. He loved to cook with them, study them, find new varieties and wear shirts printed in chili pepper designs. He entered a chili-cooking content and Kurt was declared "chili guru for the day" by the Napa Register in its newspaper coverage of the Chili contest at the Napa Town and County Fair's 50-year Golden Jubilee, held on August 9, 1980. The coverage is a hoot.
When Kurt von Meier was 55-years-old he suffered a major heart attack and had by-pass surgery. Having come through the procedure successfully, the post-surgery photo above shows him looking pretty happy. In his inimitable fashion, his memory and thoughts of his close encounter with death are candid and uniquely his own. He suggested his surgeon wait a week to operate until the equinox, but his idea was declined. "We really don't have time to squander; I'm a busy man," his surgeon replied.
In 1967, while an assistant professor at UCLA, Kurt was notified that his contract was not going to be renewed. Had it been renewed, he would have become a full, tenured professor. He was loved by his students, and as the article from the L.A. Times notes, "This rapport with students swelled one of his classes, a survey of 20th Century Art, from 75 students in the fall of 1965 when he started at UCLA to 450 students when he taught it last fall." He was wildly popular with students, but not with his Art Department chair. In comments, Kurt is quoted about two main areas of disagreement, "The first was the subject matter and the content of my courses...such as playing rock-and-roll and maybe even my choice of slides." He went on, "The other major area of concern was the methodology, the syllabus, specifically the unorthodox classes and bringing in outside speakers and for following methods other than the strict, didactic approach that usually makes art history so deadly dull."
Among the guests he invited to speak to his classes was Rock and Roller Lew Reed, just at the beginning of his career. Phil Spector dropped in, and Andy Warhol. And then there was the "book burning" art-piece on campus, and the art-event when Kurt led his students in throwing an old black and white television off the Santa Monica Pier. This is what Kurt meant by "unorthodox." UCLA just was not ready for Kurt, who in student letters to the Daily Bruin was deemed "a genius." And of course, he was.
He lost his appeal, despite the uproar of his devoted students.