After a visit to Sacramento State University from Latin American photographer Jaime Pereira in 1988, Kurt and Jaime hatched a scheme to help aspiring photographers in Equador acquire camera equipment through the donation of used, older and broken cameras owned by Sac State students. In his usual fashion, Kurt promoted the idea creatively by creating the Cryptic Quito Camera Club. “Let's face it: cameras are expensive.,” Kurt wrote, “And those of us who appreciate good design, or who become fascinated with the delicate intricacy of precision technology, just cannot bear to throw away something like a camera. That would seem so illogical. And so it is, despite all the conditioning from the throw-away society in which we live.” This article contains Kurt’s full description of the program.
Kurt’s hand filled thousands of pages of paper in his daily notebooks, a practice he maintained for at least 40 years. A combination of poems, reflections, discursive writings, doctor appointment dates, meal planning, teaching ideas and more, they documented Kurt’s daily experience of oracles and signs. These four pages from a May, 1996 lined pad are representative of his style and mode of contemplation. For the student, they are a treasure trove of scholarship and insight.
A visit to Kurt’s sister Kathie yielded this story written by Kurt when he was in seventh grade in Carmel, CA, and published in the Carmel Pine Cone newspaper. Kurt was very athletic but among his peers, a bit short of stature; accordingly, this story about a small horse-fly that accomplishes a grand task reflects Kurt’s desire for greatness and glory, desire that later fueled both his academic and social ambitions.
Kurt penned this short contemplation in July, 1972, on his Birthday while at Karma Dzong in Colorado, reflecting upon his Tibetan Buddhist name, it’s connection to the great Tibetan sage Tilopa (The Fisherman) and his father Julian “the great fisherman” (photo above, to the right of Kurt in overalls in 1938). He sees the reflection of his father in his own photo with his own fish, a Mahi Mahi (Dolphin fish) caught in Mexico in the Sea of Cortez.
Having received a letter during October, 1976, from James Keys (aka G. Spencer Brown, author of Laws of Form) in which Keys suggests he plans to move to California to take up residence, Kurt sent Keys a letter inviting him to the Diamond Sufi Ranch in Napa Valley. After noting the beauty and amenities of the area, Kurt goes on to describe his current work and interests. "I understand Laws of Form as the mathematical basis for the practical work of translating the teaching of the Dharma as preserved by the Vajrayana tradition of Buddhism, and based upon the Heart Sutra (Prajnaparamita Hridya Sutra)....Curious though, some of my questions about mathematics have led to citations from manuscripts apparently concerned with prediction and prognostication, said to be virtually unreadable or unintelligible save for the very few exceptional people. Sounds rather like the response of my students to Laws of Form."
In this draft, Kurt requests Sabbatical leave in order to "continue and complete research in the area of Formal Art." Seeking to bring his interest in esoteric systems of knowledge and wisdom into western institutional education had been a pet project for many years; in this leave request, Kurt formalizes that project. "Much of the subject matter referred to in this outline has been introduced en classes at CSUS (Mandala, Art and Mythology, Art 3); the expansion and refinement of the curriculum are projected as obvious benefits."
Here's an email Kurt composed to Cliff (Walter) Barney in 1996, in response to an email Cliff sent Kurt in May (delivered in printed form to Kurt in June). The original email noted (and the package contained) the cover of TIME magazine, featuring an article - "Can Machines Think?" Both Kurt and Cliff had steeped themselves in the cybernetic theories of Heinz von Foerster, and the writings of Warren McCulloch. Kurt's reply is typically wide-ranging, well-informed and entertaining, and reveals his frustrations with the emerging use of email and "spellcheck." Accordingly, he notes inaccuracies and inconsistencies in spelling in several sources of information. "Jene LaRue used to say that while spelling rules--the rightness of orthography--were conventional, it was most important (deepest, oldest, most prior) to spell correctly the names of the gods and presumably, in hierarchical order, those of the demi-gods, heroes, daimons, distinguished colleagues, scientists, artists, authors because they are the notational forms that enjoin (or sustain) being invoked, so one had best get it right, or at least as right as possible." He also carefully examines the magazine cover, noting the number of cogs on the gear wheels.
Many of us today have experienced New Zealand as the spectacular setting for Hollywood movies. Kurt spent two years teaching at the University of Auckland in New Zealand in the early 1960s, and it left an indelible impression on him. He continued to follow "The Blacks" rugby team for the rest of his life. His two years were not without controversy, however; his newspaper article criticizing the new fine arts building at the University's Elam School of Fine Arts made him enemies, and he returned to the United States where he taught for one year at Princeton before moving on to UCLA. This article, prepared for a talk he gave while in New Zealand, probably raised a few eyebrows as well. Kurt takes it upon himself to make a series of critical suggestions to insure that New Zealand's native Maori art remains accessible and ways to insure that New Zealand's art history program develops properly as an academic discipline.
As early as 1965 Kurt was already conceptualizing a book about his life, as these pages from one of his notebooks indicate. At the time he'd just turned thirty years old, a rising-star-assistant-professor at UCLA and beginning to write furiously in magazines about the world of fine art and art history. In a sense, his life had barely begun; many additional chapters had yet to be recorded. Though his penchant for self-documentation was well established, Kurt's Meierbücher never got written. That task was left to others, as this website attests.
Kurt also made a list of books he planned to write; that list is shown as well. He completed one and wrote others he never imagined.
In this 1984 letter to Cliff Barney while Kurt and his girlfriend Victoria were in Varansi, India, we get a glimpse not only of Kurt's fine handwriting (nary a crossed-out word to be found!) but also how he felt about India's social conditions. "The poor burn patties made from straw & cow dung (goat, dog, donkey) plastered in discs to dry on walls exposed to the sun. Of course, this is ecologically corrupt." And, "The leprous extremities. The iodine deficiency, so simple to prevent with iodized salt." His travel plans included Nepal next; he'd traveled to Thailand before India.
Kurt submitted his doctoral dissertation on the German sculptor Georg Kolbe (1877-1947) to the Department of Art and Archaeology at Princeton University in 1965. Combined, the text, notes and illustrations numbered over 800 pages, far too much to upload to this website. However, the Introduction has been scanned and converted to digital text (and a few images added) so that it can be included with the rest of Kurt's archives.
Kurt's blue-lined notebook was never far from hand. Tucked into a manila folder, it sat by his spot on the couch ready for his pen whenever a thought or event stimulated Kurt's mind or heart (which happened frequently and easily). There are many dozens of these notebooks stretching over a 40-year period.
Here are two pages from 1990; not all of it is immediately understandable, given Kurt's personal "shorthand." But overall, these pages are revealing.
One part biographical, one part fantasy, Kurt's dip into Sheisshumor takes place, naturally, in the bathroom of the Teahouse of Necessity, aka, The Diamond Sufi Ranch, where "on the back of the john door was mystic-taped the yantra of Elimination." In keeping with all things "Kurt" he finds both amusement and profundity in the mundane. Quoting the revered Tibetan Lama Longchempa, he notes, "Since everything is but an apparition, having nothing to do with good or evil, acceptance or rejection, one may as well burst out laughing."
Here's biographical snippet, an excerpt from an early draft of Kurt's history of the Diamond Sutra Restaurant which he did not include in its completed version. Turns out a Carmel High School Home Economics class played a vital part in his culinary preoccupations. "Mrs. Bourne graciously took the boys into her Home Economics classroom and taught them to cook it all, from soup to roast turkey and the trimmings, to baking bread and cakes (with measuring)."
A a fully-tenured professor at Sacramento State University, Kurt took advantage of the opportunity he was given after each seven years of teaching for a year off at reduced salary--a sabbatical. Being granted a sabbatical required submitting an application one year in advance, and this request was submitted in 1997 for the fall of 1998. His intention, as outlined in his request, was ambitious; "Historians are beset by vexing problems about any roles Alchemy may have played in prompting the goldsmith Johann Gutenberg's metallurgical innovation of casting moveable type. Yet, conventional art history is virtually silent about this, as about the nature of the ink used by early Western printers."
During 1994, two students sent letters to the Chair of the Art Department, Dr. W, expressing concerns with Kurt's classes and style of teaching; the letters were added to Kurt's personnel file. When he learned of this, Kurt complained that the Chair and Dean's actions were inappropriate, and he appealed the matter to the University President, Donald Gerth. Kurt's letter (excerpted) is characteristically erudite and forceful, speaking not only to his teaching methods and the intent behind them, but also the unfortunate tendency of the then Art Department Chair to attempt to force Kurt to use teaching methods which in his opinion "seeks to impose its elitist, sexist, racist views by claiming for its authoritarian methods the only academic validity: indoctrination with names and dates of the canonical works of art as memorized by rote."
Kurt majored in Middle Eastern Studies while pursuing a major in International Relations prior to changing his major to Art History. He studied Persian, and Islamic culture and later traveled to Afghanistan. Somewhere along the way, he acquired a shenhai, a Pakistani wooden, double-reed wind instrument similar to an oboe. This recording takes place outdoors, with students in attendance. Of course, to properly invoke the magic, Kurt must arrange his blanket first. The year is likely in the early 1970s. At the end, ask yourself: is that Kurt von Meier or John Coltrane?
In this short essay, a book report if you will, Kurt writes about casting the I Ching and two books on his work table at that time, Kenneth Rexroth's More Classics Revisited and Wendy Steiner's The Scandal of Pleasure: Art in an Age of Fundamentalism. He gathers his comments together under the umbrella of "unity and alienation," a recurrent theme in his writing and teaching, and a set of feelings that spurred his personal interest in esoteric practice.
In 1965, the young, brash and mostly unpublished UCLA Assistant Professor of Art, Kurt von Meier, was anxious to get into print. He walked into the offices of Artforum magazine in Los Angeles, and walked out with an assignment to review "Art Treasures from Japan". "For me," Kurt recalls, "that was something of a big Chutzpah ploy--although it would have passed for next to naught in the cannibalistic New York context." In this frank, personal, irreverent, and until now unpublished recollection, circa 1967-68, Kurt provides a sense of the feelings, difficulties and challenges he faced breaking into the world of art criticism.
The mystery of Duchamp's With Hidden Noise rattled around inside Kurt's head for decades, as this biographical account reveals. That this was so also reveals something about Kurt von Meier--that finding the source of the "hidden noise" within himself became something of an obsession. It's displacement into an object of sculpture cannot disguise the intent of his meticulous record-keeping and documentation of his own life, a strand of yarn stretching back over many decades.