Kurt touched and affected many lives; those of his students (thousands), friends, colleagues and family. He was at varying times confusing, obsessed, outrageous, sweet, brilliant and funny, but always generous. This portion of the website will feature recollections of Kurt provided by those who loved and appreciated him.
Obituary in the San Francisco Chronicle
Kurt von Meier 1934-2011
Professor Emeritus of Art History at Sacramento State University, Kurt von Meier, PhD. passed away suddenly on Saturday October 15th at the age of 77. Kurt was born in San Francisco, spent his early years in Berkeley and then Carmel, California. After earning his undergraduate degree at the University of California at Berkeley, a stint in the U.S. Navy and obtaining his PhD. at Princeton University, Kurt enjoyed a distinguished and storied 40-year teaching career, influencing and inspiring generations of students with his uniquely engaging style and encyclopedic knowledge of world culture and art. To his friends he was a vibrant, entertaining, generous and unpredictably creative presence; a mentor, companion, teacher, lover of life. To his family he was supportive, encouraging, loving and steady. A true polymath, in addition to the world of art, Kurt mastered multiple languages, higher mathematics, physics, cosmology, physiology, and varied wisdom traditions. His discourses were wide-ranging, surprising, insightful, hilarious and most often brilliant. Kurt leaves behind his loving companion of many years Marijane Anthony, his two daughters Amanita and Alexandra von Meier, grandson Ishi, sisters Katherine and Karen and a devoted circle of friends who will dearly miss his sweet and beguiling presence.
— Published in San Francisco Chronicle on Oct. 25, 2011
“I had many unforgettable short and long conversations with Kurt. His advice to me on teaching at Sacramento State still makes me smile. Kurt was a kind-hearted subversive with a unique, unfathomable mind.”
— Elaine O'Brien, Professor of Art History at Sacramento State University
The Bodhi Meier Sutra
"Thus have I heard once in El Ceritto on Colusa Street Mountain, the departed one, Bodhi Meier, Kurt von Meier, Professor von Meier, Kvon Meier, Karma rDorje Wangdu, was being honored by a great gathering of friends and family, a great gathering of Bodhi lovers. At that time..."
"At the Arica Sugar Maples reunion Kurt was in charge of the luncheon, and I was greatly pleased that Kurt was also a fan of Gruyere cheese which he provided in abundance, much to my joy. It was the expensive brand too which was my favorite. And all the rest of the food was of first class."
Journey to the Bottom of the Sierra Madre
and the Sea of Cortes
One summer — Kurt as a professional professor didn’t work summers — Kurt and I headed south into the Sonora, to the town of Chihuahua. There we got on a train taking us up into the Sierra Madre. We had no idea where we were going, but a stop called Divisidero sounded decisive, so there we stepped off the train onto the continental divide.
"At the time I learned of Kurt's death, this site didn't exist. Many thanks for creating it! Such a totally amazing person, and a dear (if far away) friend of long standing. Hopefully some day you'll get around to digitizing and posting all of Kurt's UCLA lectures I recorded for him back in whenever it was.
A side note on Panofsky: I happened to see Panofsky's inscription to Kurt in the text book of his (Panofsky's) Early Netherlandish Painting; it read, to the effect, "To one of the finest medieval art historians I know." There are -- as many of us find -- substantial parallels between the medieval world and our own.
I do miss Kurt."
1978-1980 Remembering Kurt von Meier
My first thoughts of Kurt was that there were always girls hanging around him, and his classes were filled with Middle Eastern students. He kept a selection of Middle Eastern records out at his place in Oakville. Whenever students came out, the stereo was blasting, with several men playing disc-jockey and dancing in the living room. An Andy Warhol silkscreen of Elizabeth Taylor hung on the wall. He had a shelf full of art history books. I kept going back to a small black book on DADA.
Kurt’s lectures were so interesting, we would just go wherever he wanted to take us. In Art and Mythology, for example, he talked one Tuesday about Monday Night Football commentators, then rice, beans and corn as a Mexican food staple, then Kirk, Spock and McCoy from Star Trek. I looked at the clock and thought “how is he going to connect all this to Art and Mythology in twelve minutes?” But he did; the power of threes.
A roommate accompanied me to one of Kurt’s lectures, and when we got home he had six words written down. “What are those?” I asked. “These are words your teacher used that I don’t know,” my roommate said. So, we looked them up. After that, I kept my own list of words, like “lubricious” and “epicene,” and compiled 29 more by the end of the semester.
I wasn’t angry when he flirted with my girlfriend while smoking my pot in his kitchen. And Kurt didn’t get angry when I yelled at him for rejecting my first Master’s thesis. “This is going to take another year of my life!” I screamed, while his girlfriend stared out blankly from his car in the CSUS parking lot. “I’m not going to send you out into the world without a sharp sword,” Kurt said. “Take a week and make a ten-page outline for your new thesis, then come out to my house. It’s going to be okay.” A few months later I admitted to Kurt how right he was. He already knew that.
Kurt showed me that it is more important to have students hanging on to what you said, than to stick to a course outline. He felt that it would all connect in the end. Kurt lectured about life, but used art history as his platform.
--Ken Magri, April 9, 2018
On the Passing of an Old Friend
Death often arrives unannounced, of course, and at my age more frequently. This past year has brought the passing of family and most recently my dearest friend of 41 years, Kurt von Meier. Kurt was unlike anyone else I’ve ever met. Even as he grew older, he never stopped being a surprise. Brilliant, unpredictable, outrageous, generous; all these words refer to Kurt. Let me explain.
Memories of Kurt
I was a student of Kurt's at CSUS in the late '90's when I attended the school as an art major. My time in Kurt's classes is something that I often look upon with deep fondness and reverence. Kurt taught us to look at things with a sense of humor, to question art and architecture for its deeper meaning, and to consider the greater human impact of our actions as a people and as art makers.
One of my most poignant memories of Kurt was a lecture that he gave around the subject of nuclear semiotics. He asked us to consider in what ways art can solve this profound existential quandary. As an art student - and a self-admitted hot-head, I didn't think much of it at the time - other than to think of it as an interesting, and difficult question that other people should answer.
As my life has continued on, the thought of this continued to reemerge. I remember another lecture where Kurt relayed a parable of a slow lorus, imperceptibly moving close to an eagle until it was able to catch and eat it. The lecture around semiotics worked very much in to my mind like that lorus, until it ultimately found a way in to the forefront of my consciousness.
Today, I lecture at the University of Washington in the Museum Studies graduate program. My specific area is museum exhibition design and installation. I use much of what Kurt taught me to inform my approach to both lectures and knowledge transmission/reception. I am a firm believer, as Kurt used to say, that "receptivity is the key".
This morning I presented (for the third year in a row) a lecture on nuclear semiotics and framed it around the idea that not only is this a problem that art can solve, but it is also an issue of exhibition and interpretive studies. I don't think my lectures will ever have the je ne sais quoi that Kurt's did, but I can only think that somewhere out in the universe Kurt is smiling at the idea that his knowledge is being passed hand-to-hand from one teacher to another, and on, and on...
I think of Kurt often. Indeed in relation to this morning's lecture, and an email this afternoon to former student, in which I quoted him, I felt it important to reach out. I think he would have suggested that. Much of what he taught me in the few years that I studied with him has had a profound influence in my life. I am thankful for what he, so generously, gave.