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.
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.”
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.
In 1988, Kurt von Meier was one of the beneficiaries of a grant provided by The Getty Center for Education in the Arts, which specifically enabled him to invite a series of guest lecturers to his Aesthetics & Criticism class at Sacramento State University. The lectures were video-taped, later transcribed, and copies of those transcriptions were found in Kurt's archives. Drawing upon his academic and cultural relationships, Kurt assembled a remarkable group of speakers, and these transcripts document the thoughts of talented academics and artists, some of whom have since died. The transcripts can be accessed from the links below.
Dr. Raphael Monteñez (Ralph) Ortiz - Artist and Professor
In this powerful lecture, Ralph Ortiz discusses art that enchants and art that dis-enchants, artistic creativity, the cultural framework of what's called "art" and nature of experiencing art.
Dr. Daniel Herwitz - Professor of Aesthetics and Philosophy
In his presentation, Daniel Herwitz reviews the history of aesthetics as a discipline which arose in the 18th century, how those roots continue to affect our present view and appreciation of art, and the difficulty twentieth century art presents in aesthetic analysis.
Dr. Keith Gunderson - Professor of Aesthetics
Keith Gunderson tackles the difficult problem of defining what is and what is not art by recounting the struggles attempting to do that have engendered.
James Hanlon - Artist
Commercial artist James Hanlon discusses artistic creativity, satisfying oneself as an artist while satisfying a client, and the practical nature of the creative process.
Morrie Turner - Cartoonist
As a black cartoonist, Morrie Turner confronted some unique challenges, and met them with humor and creativity. In his presentation, he discusses this through the examples of the multi-cultural cartoon characters he created for his syndicated comic strip "Wee Pals."
Raphael Montenez Ortiz, Ralph to Kurt, is a Brooklyn born artist of Puerto Rican decent whose lengthy career as an artist (he is now in his mid-eighties) includes what has been termed "destruction art." Kurt and Ralph became friends early in the 1960s, and Kurt covered Ralph's participation in the Destruction In Art Symposium held in London in 1966 in the pages of Artscanada magazine. Noted for his theatrical art pieces wherein Ralph destroyed pianos with an ax, beheaded live chickens, tore apart mattresses, and spilled buckets of blood, his work was and remains controversial and for many, uncomfortable.
In this recording made by Kurt circa 1966, Kurt, Ralph and an unidentified woman discuss Ralph's plans for a theatrical art performance to be held in a gallery in Los Angeles, and Ralph exuberantly describes what it will include--namely chickens, mice, snakes, a piano, a harp, paper bags and buckets of blood--in his words "...a whole crazy kind of thing." Kurt suggests the work is a "menstruation ritual" and Ralph explains that his intent is to provoke people to the point where one "can't stand behind all your defenses." Note: Ralph's plans are graphically described; the discussion lasts about fifteen minutes.
By 1966 Kurt had already gained recognition as an up-and-coming voice in the art historian community. His regular contributions to Art International magazine along with the attention he gained at UCLA for his unconventional teaching approach helped Kurt establish relationships with others with aspirations in his chosen field. Among them was the young Roberta Bernstein, who felt great affection for Kurt; Roberta did indeed fulfill her aspirations and today is a recognized leader in the field art history. This charming 1966 letter about her visit with Andy Warhol has its place in the history of both Roberta and Kurt.
The late sixties were a period of ferment in the arts, and the notion of intermedia--the mix of art, technology, kinetic environments, mixed-media, dance and more--became popular as conventional art boundaries began to dissolve. The idea of "happenings" was hot, and Kurt "dug the scene". Among his archives are materials related to various intermedia events and organizations, such as E.A.T. and USCO. Robert Rauschenberg was in the forefront of such movements, and embraced such collaborations. Below is a flyer about an event, Intermedia '68, held in New York, managed by John Brockman Associates, who later acted as a book agent for Kurt. (Photo: Carolee Schneemann performing an enviromental theatre piece).
Kurt's study and visits with Hopi Elders in the late 1960s made a lasting impression on him. He was among the first non-Hopi to receive Hopi permission to hear about their prophesies, and he spoke about them often. Among Kurt's artifacts are the Hopi Kachina Dolls above. Traditionally, Kachina Dolls were carved by the men in Hopi tribes, and presented to girls in the tribe along with sacred teachings. The "dolls" generally replicate particular design features, and the ones pictured above, which are old, feature snout-like mouths.
A history of creating a reproduction of Marcel Duchamp’s sculpture With Hidden Noise
by Tamara A. Blanken
In 1986, graduate student and Duchamp devotee Tamara Blanken decided to make a reproduction of With Hidden Noise, Duchamp's Readymade sculpture with an object hidden inside a ball of twine pressed between two metal plates. She consulted Kurt.
"Kurt von Meier suggested that I should take notes during the process which consequently reminded me to better tune into the spirit of Duchamp and attempt to provide a REASON as to why I (we) made the choices that I (we) did: "donner toujours ou presque le pourquoi du choix entre dew ou plusieurs solutions (par causalite Monique)."
Take notes she did, 63 pages of them, documenting the effort from start to finish. And what this documentation reveals is not only the rigor brought to the project by Tamara and Kurt, but also the rather Byzantine experience of working with both the Philadelphia Museum (where the original sculpture resides) and UC Davis, where a presentation of the replica and lecture by Kurt was planned and eventually took place (Kurt and Tamara celebrate completion of their Readymade in the photo above).
The document is too large for website display; it is available below as a web-ready PDF document, however.
In 1988, Artist Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) paid a visit to Sacramento. He had attended Sacramento State University in the late 1950s, and a book about his work had just been published. Scholder gave a talk and Kurt, naturally, made sure it was recorded and later transcribed. The final transcription has Kurt's proofreading marks all over it.
It's a wonderful talk, illuminating and entertaining. And this transcript, found in Kurt's archives, is a welcome addition to the material available about this important artist.
As one considers the question of how it is that Kurt became the man he was, the figure of Erwin Panofsky looms large. Panofsky was a Jewish/German scholar and art historian who taught at Princeton while Kurt was earning his Ph.D.; Kurt makes reference to him frequently in his writing. At U.C. Berkeley, Kurt originally pursued a degree in International Affairs, but along the way switched his major to Art History. By the time he arrived at Princeton, pursuing Art History was his intent.
Panofsky was instrumental in establishing and elevating the field of Art History. One suspects that his focus on iconography and visual symbolism caught Kurt's attention, and the approach Panofsky refined is clearly reflected in Kurt's methodology and approach. Panofksy is credited with codifying a three-system approach to visual analysis:
1. Primary or natural subject matter: The most basic level of understanding, this stratum consists of perception of the work’s pure form.
2. Secondary or conventional subject matter (iconography): This stratum goes a step further and brings to the equation cultural and iconographic knowledge.
3. Tertiary or intrinsic meaning or content (iconology): This level takes into account personal, technical, and cultural history into the understanding of a work. Essentially, this last stratum is a synthesis; it is the art historian asking "what does it all mean?"
Kurt's interest in Marcel Duchamp was long-standing. Here's a note he typed to himself on September 16, 1985 in which he references three works by Duchamp, all incorporating the use of twine. As we now know, he then focused upon A Bruit Secret as the the vehicle for his 350,000-word opus, which he completed in 1991. Images of the works mentioned are included here.