Monday, April 15, 2013

Daniel Reich’s Death

I was just in New Jersey for the weekend and it was good to get away from the bizz buzz of New York City.  It was relaxing, near water and yards sales, flea markets, local restaurants and bars were visited.  It makes one realize/remember that most of America is like this.  It isn’t the dense wonderful jumble that is the city but more a series of towns spread out with nucleuses of stores, restaurants and odd gems here and there. Most of America is these towns with people, families, and characters and they all have lives that usually don’t have much to do with the art world.  It was nice to be around all this for a few days as this past week has been full of things and it was helpful to get a distanced look at those events and experiences. 

The announcement that has still been wedged in my mind from this past week is the death of Daniel Reich.  It was released on Artforum online and then it was re-linked and re-announced on various art blogs, news outlets and sites.  I personally did not know Daniel but he was always a curious personality to me. I remember many times making it a point to see one of his shows and most often to his group shows which were almost always interesting and purposed.  He started his gallery in 2000 in his apartment and then opened a ground floor space in Chelsea.  His mentors, Pat Hearn and Colin de Land, were the best in the business and a breed that seems to be nearly extinct now a days.  With the effects of the recession he closed his gallery in 2011 and I remember getting the email announcing this and it saying that they would be “relocating.”  Everyone knew what it meant but it was at least hope that there would be a round two. 

The news and blog outlets say that Reich died on December 25th at the age of 39 and that he killed himself at his parents’ home in a suburb of New York.  The news is only now trickling to the art world, the delay perplexes me but that may reveal other things.  It was so sad to hear about this; even though Reich was not someone I had personal connection to this news felt like it represented something deeper.  One cannot open handedly blame “the art world” for his death, there is probably a caravan of internal and external baggage that he carried as we all do, but there is something so defeating about it all.  Owning a gallery seemed like a tool of living versus an occupation for Reich.  Losing one’s medium and agency of living in a certain way must be catastrophic and especially if it is a form of existence.  A singer with no voice.  A ballerina with broken feet.  A teacher with only test scores.  The recession seems like a faded memory but it did hurt many in the arts and those that didn’t have reserve capital, backers (who could maintain being backers) or cut throat tactical survival skills were sucked under.  The art world needed this; it still probably needs more of a purge but losing programs like Daniel Reich’s seems unfair and well just sad.  Life isn’t fair, art isn’t fair, this we know, but the state of things, the loss of things, the loss of people, the loss of art is very real and has real affects. 

Getting away from the city made me think about life in a way that I sometimes forget to do in the midst of appointments, things to see, people to see, living life to one’s fullest and all that jazz.  I thought about it in a small picture way.  About the little things, the daily things, the sky, trees, talking and walking.  I do this in the city too while living my regular life but most times I’m busy thinking about big things like what’s next, what’s it all mean, where to now, art, aesthetics, philosophies of living and so on.  Thinking about and letting myself experience things in this smaller scale helped in thinking about the news of Reich’s death and what that all means.  Mostly, it means that there was a person who once lived and who did things in a way that others responded to and respected and enjoyed.  He was a person and he lived his life.  Even though I did not know him, it feels like the loss is personal somehow.  Strange but true.  I will leave now with the memoriam written by Reich’s friend Paul P. that was published on Artforum’s site.  It is revealing and tender and makes one sense that a strange and special type of person is no longer apart of the art world, can no longer be with any of us. 

Daniel Reich (1973-2012)

My first encounter with Daniel Reich was also my first encounter with New York. In January 2003, I came to the city with a small folder of drawings in hand; a friend made a phone call, and suddenly I was in Daniel’s apartment/gallery amid Christian Holstad's beautiful Life is a Gift installation. We knelt on the floor to lay out the works. I remember him wiry and fresh, pulling out a few hundred-dollar bills from his jeans pocket and buying all of the works I’d come with. Those crumpled bills meant more to me than any subsequent payment I’ve ever received, and on the Greyhound back to Toronto I knew my fortune had changed.

Then there was silence, and I didn’t hear from him for a month. I later learned that this was when Colin de Land had died. Daniel started at Pat Hearn's gallery; he sought her out specifically because she showed Mark Morrisroe . It was from these two dealers, Pat and Colin, that Daniel found the value system that came to define his métier: a belief in Art above all things, and in its confluence with personality. This wisdom included giving to those special people who gravitated toward him as many big opportunities as possible. I didn’t live in New York and could only witness his small gang periodically, but I remember Nick Mauss and Ken Okiishi stuffing envelopes and hanging paintings not as artists or staff, but as believers in something extraordinary at work.

To me, Daniel always appeared a slightly mystical creature. Yet he possessed, perhaps to a stronger degree, a great number of human frailties: giddy indulgence, obstinate faith, consuming worry. He swanned and he sweated. There are lines we all skirt which Daniel—a symptom of his genius—continually trespassed. Nothing was average or passable in his world, nor was he a perfectionist; things were lost, destroyed—things languished. And yet it was the labor, the ebullience of his rich, deadly smart, radically free-associating mind that made something remarkable out of each and every show. Daniel was a born dealer, not just because he, like most good artists, was otherwise unemployable, but because his eccentricity was alchemy in the gallery. He took risks with his money and with the money of others, and I think he always sincerely believed it would all work out. Spending was like making a wish or saying a prayer; new shoes, or capriciously rebooking airfare was a type of strange magic to augur success.

I remember another conjuring, a performance almost, as we installed my show in fall 2008. Amid the unsettling quiet brought on by the worsening recession, Daniel devised a strategy for painting the gallery—one that was all but invisible to everyone but himself. An assistant went over the gallery walls, already painted in their typical white, with two other hues of white, a “yellow” and a “green.” Daniel conducted the painting with precision, so that narrow swaths were applied here and there, like highlights and shadows, taking up several days of our time in an imperceptible aesthetic labor which I could only understand as wizardry meant to invoke the old rush of collectors who weren’t coming through. On opening night the gallery had its aura, and it worked.

But despite all of his surreptitious magic, it ultimately wasn’t enough. There was a breach in the hull and the part of Daniel that understood the usefulness of life began to ebb when he had to close his gallery, forced out by his own amazing folly and by a world that demanded something more practical. Daniel enjoyed scrappily going up against the hegemony of Chelsea. An inscrutable David, what he proposed was soft, slight, and upset by masculinity. Daniel knew the legacy and aesthetics of the strengths and frailties of homosexuality. We would talk about Tennessee Williams, Denham Fouts, and King Ludwig. He knew the course of lives lived and lost.

Anyone who has had a telephone conversation with Daniel will remember that the sign-off was the hardest part for him. There were various long pauses and rapidly repeated “okays” before the final, hesitant, goodbye. I feel very much like this now, so I want to add two more little remembrances. I’m brought back to one of our earliest emails where he said, “Yes, of course I’m interested in handling the work long-term. In a way it is perfect for me.” Daniel tried to engender his artists with his own delicate gestures of rebellion, and a spirited, cerebral pleasure in beauty. It’s an imbued force, something that will continue to manifest in our best work, which will in turn always be perfect for him. Finally, the last time I saw Daniel was in August. He invited me to the Russian Tea Room and implored me to order the cheapest drink on the menu so he could treat me. I had a peppermint tea and he had several Ivan the Terribles. His conversation frothed with wicked intelligence, jokes, and glumness. I left him with an electric buzz in my gut; I felt happy and proud. I knew that Daniel was one of the last of a kind of rare bird, and I couldn’t believe my luck at having him for a friend. I know that I will miss him for the whole of my life.

Paul P.