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Jules Olitski, 1922-2007

Post #952 • February 4, 2007, 5:57 PM • 35 Comments

A regular reader has just informed that Jules Olitski died this morning at 6:10.

I reviewed a retrospective of Olitski's work at the Goldman Warehouse in 2005. Googling "Jules Olitski" returns this post as an astoundingly high result, #12 or so, which I take as an unfortunate comment on the state of discussion about his work. In the last part of his career, making advanced, surprising, eminently wonderful paintings, he was treated with inversely proportionate critical attentions. This is not the time to lament the shortcomings of the art world, but I mention it because a great talent has left us, and those of us who treasure quality above all other artistic concerns feel an additional sting.

I want to express my condolences to the Olitski family, particularly to his daughter Lauren, whom I had the pleasure to meet during the Miami fairs this past December. Whatever is said about him in the coming days, I'd like it known that a dedicated group of art lovers regard him as one of the greatest painters of recent times, a crucial figure not only of an era gone by, but of this one as well. Although saddened by the fact that more of his works are not forthcoming, I saw for myself the impact that the 2005 show had on some sharp-eyed, younger Miami artists, and know beyond a doubt that his legacy of painterly charm, verve, and invention will far outlive him.




February 4, 2007, 7:33 PM

Death is always sad, but it must come at some point, and he had a long, full life and a very good run as an artist. He might not have wanted to outlive his ability to keep working. Yes, he could have been more appreciated, but that has happened time and again to all sorts of artists who deserved better, and it will continue to happen. The work which is his legacy will still be there. Rest in peace.



February 4, 2007, 9:00 PM

Thanks Jules.



February 4, 2007, 10:12 PM

[I'm not in the mood to tolerate this comment. - F.]



February 4, 2007, 10:17 PM

I recently wrapped and moved a number of Olitski paintings and prints housed in the AGA's permanent collection, most of which I stared at for some while before consigning them to plastic and cardboard. One of his Five Prints Part II has been serving (elliptically) as "cipher and muse" for an upcoming AGA group exhibit entitled "FLAT". And just this past Thursday I assigned the reading of Olitski's Barley Soup... talk/essay to my Visual Fundamentals students.

Though I am only distantly and peripherally familiar with the man's artwork, he has figured large in my recent artworld machinations. Selfishly, I am saddened to hear of his death, as I now have no hope of meeting him.

My special and sincere condolences to all who knew Mr. Olitski.


stupor bowl

February 4, 2007, 11:05 PM

Yeah Franklin, I'm not in the mood either. I'm a bit pissed actually because we have our concerns all messed up in this continental town.
I hope that everyone is enjoying the stupor bowl.


albert ohlen

February 4, 2007, 11:50 PM

death happens. as does better-than-average-but-nothing-out-of-this-world-painting.

all condolences



February 4, 2007, 11:59 PM

Re your comment Jack, I understand that the last thing he said was "I've got to get back to work". Typical of him.

He was a great artist and a great friend.



February 5, 2007, 12:04 AM

Albert, you must have gotten a few great things from Jules. I remember meeting with him and his wife. What a privilege I must say. He was invited to exhibit at the University of Miami in 1994. His paintings conveyed a commingling of physical boldess coupled with the dusting of a sensitivity that even the Ubutu would call elequently Angelic.


Marc Country

February 5, 2007, 12:30 AM

Better than average, of-this-world art is all too rare, and now there's one less artist making it. Ahab, you shoulda swiped a few of those prints when you had the chance.

To (again) quote Schopenhauer:

"Talent works for money and fame: the motive which moves genius to productivity is, on the other hand, less easy to determine. It isn't money, for genius seldom gets any. It isn't fame: fame is too uncertain and, more closely considered, of too little worth. Nor is it strictly for its own pleasure, for the great exertion involved almost outweighs the pleasure.

It is rather an instinct of a unique sort by virtue of which the individual possessed of genius is impelled to express what he has seen and felt in enduring works without being conscious of any further motivation. It takes place, by and large, with the same sort of necessity as a tree brings forth fruit, and demands of the world no more than a soil on which the individual can flourish.

More closely considered, it is as if in such an individual the will to live, as the spirit of the human species, had become conscious of having, by a rare accident, attained for a brief span of time to a greater clarity of intellect, and now endeavors to acquire at any rate the results, the products of this clear thought and vision for the whole species, which is indeed also the intrinsic being of this individual, so that their light may continue to illumine the darkness and stupor of the ordinary human consciousness. It is from this that there arises that instinct which impels genius to labour in solitude to complete its work without regard for reward, applause or sympathy, but neglectful rather even of its own well-being and thinking more of posterity than of the age it lives in, which could only lead it astray.

To make its work, as a sacred trust and the true fruit of its existence, the property of mankind, laying it down for a posterity better able to appreciate it: this becomes for genius a goal more important than any other, a goal for which it wears the crown of thorns that shall one day blossom into a laurel-wreath. Its striving to complete and safeguard its work is just as resolute as that of the insect to safeguard its eggs and provide for the brood it will never live to see: it deposits its eggs where it knows they will one day find life and nourishment, and dies contented.



February 5, 2007, 12:33 AM

Yesterday was one of those depressing days in the first place. The passing of Jules Olitski hit me very hard when I found out. It made me cry, several times, as the day wore cheerlessly on. I felt a little presumptious - I only talked directly with the man once, over the phone, about something he wrote for Partisan Review and his efforts to make sculpture. But his passing is difficult to bear and that is what weighs upon me and I can't help that..

His work is destined for eternity - at least as much eterneity as art is ever afforded. His paintings are well known, even among the skeptics who deride them. Huging the ground beneath them are some wonderful sculputres that are difficult to find but when you do, they burn and fill your retina with their sheer rightness. They embody all the simplicity that Judd and others worshiped by rote, but along with simpllicity they are clear and remarkably supple, not rote at all - natural symplicity basking in the clear light that comes down from heaven when someone gets it right. Assembling enough money to produce sculpture was difficult for him, he told me, so I doubt there are many of them.

But the day will come that the collective art world will regret deeply that he did not do more of those amazing ground hugging wonders. The few I saw should worry every living sculptor, including Caro, who is too prolific to ride with the raw excitement of Olitski's emergent shapes. Olitski's was the scariest sculpture since Smith's. That there is so little of it makes it more so.

We know it will get better as time goes on. That is not a lot of help today.



February 5, 2007, 12:54 AM

My condolences to the family and to those of you who considered Jules Olitski a friend and colleague. May you have fond memories.



February 5, 2007, 1:53 AM

George, I made a comment a few weeks ago that was not directed to you regarding "puppetry." I should have put two "V's" together with it at the end - my bad. Any how, it was nice to have dinner with the Olitski's before.


Bunny Smedley

February 5, 2007, 3:23 AM

How fortunate some of you are, even to have spoken with Olitski, let alone to call him a friend!

In the UK we see his work all too rarely, but on the one occasion where I saw actual Olitski canvas (a few actually) I was bowled over - as with any artist who really understands the exciting, surprising materiality of pigment, his work was a thousand times more compelling in 'real life' than in reproduction. I look forward to seeing what he did next.

Perhaps, in due course there will be retrospectives that will help us understand the scope of Olitski's achievement - although obviously that will be small consolation to those of you who are, today, experiencing a very personal loss. RIP.



February 5, 2007, 6:31 AM

Jules is amazing and am yet not.


I was there

February 5, 2007, 6:58 AM

Sad news.
I guess I'm fortunate to have seen the show at the Goldman warehouse.
I remember big, active paintings that radiated from the surface of the canvas three dimensionally.
Very powerfull, like the Northern Lights.
Rest in Peace Mr. Olitski.



February 5, 2007, 8:47 AM

I miss Jules. He was my friend.



February 5, 2007, 10:34 AM

Condolences to family and pals, and thanks for the great work Mr. Olitski. I'm sure there's many of us that will do our best to steal what we can from what you figured out.



February 5, 2007, 2:56 PM

I suppose there's little point in rehashing the implications of the 2005 Olitski show at the Goldman Warehouse (which has since turned to considerably less distinguished fare), but it was certainly a sign of the times. MAM will fall all over itself over contrived Vik Muniz trifles, and MOCA will do it over some embarrassing purveyor of gaudy glass doo-dads, but a major show by a major talent has to make do with the private vanity space of some real estate wheeler-dealer. It was still a great show, but the irony is all too obvious.



February 5, 2007, 3:20 PM

It is strange to feel sadness for someone you don't know well. I feel priviledged to have meet him and speak with him, thanks to those who helped that happen, and have seen enough of his work to appreciate greatness at ease. That's what I like most about his work, it seems so effortless and natural to make. He eliminates everything but the art!
He seemed also to have led a great life. He succeeded.



February 5, 2007, 3:38 PM

as far as i know, one of two greenberg championed as greatest living painter in the world.



February 5, 2007, 4:05 PM

I've known Jules for 29 years. To quote Longfellow:
" Lives of great men all remind us
We can make our lives sublime,
And ,departing,leave behind us
Footprints on the sands of time"
Jules left some very big footprints,,,, a GREAT ARTIST INDEED!! Goodbye Jules ,it was great knowing you!! And Thanks for sharing your art with the world ! Eventually they will come to know who you really were. Love, to Kris and Lauren et al.



February 5, 2007, 10:44 PM

Googling "Jules Olitski" returns this post as an astoundingly high result, #12 or so, which I take as an unfortunate comment on the state of discussion about his work.

If you think that's sad, try typing "Jules Olitski" into a Google News search.



February 5, 2007, 11:21 PM

(Franklin - I"ll get back with you on the e-mail.)
Regarding your post on the show at Goldman warehouse, that painting titled " with Love and Disregard: Silence " 2002 is a real beauty !



February 5, 2007, 11:28 PM

"There is value in long years of obscurity, if one doesn't go insane or suicidal, in that, simply because nobody is looking, the habit of fooling around and trying things out gets ingrained." Whether or not he actually said it, Olitski seems to have made the most of his insulation from the artworld.



February 6, 2007, 10:29 AM

I guess I should have better things than to be reading this today, but thought I'd print some of the obits and articles that have been appearing in papers and online to share with my family. Expected kind words from the extended art family that I know reads and writes on And, many of the comments are quite kind and deeply appreciated. Thank you. And Franklin, thank you for yours.

For the lesser comments might I suggest that if all you see in the work of Olitski is "average" than perhaps you don't know the language. Something similar was told to my father when as a young man he mentioned to an an older artist that he didn't see the value in abstract art. "Do you speak Greek? No? Well, many people do." the sage man responded.

More than once my father told me that inspiration happens while working. Might I suggest that we all do our work. I know I will continue to do mine. And if any of us can find near the vision and generosity of spirit that Jules Olitski shared with us we will all be extremely fortuante.

Please try to keep good thoughts for Jule's spirit today as he will be buried in a few hours, and what goes out in the world should be thoughtfully considered His spirit was a strong one, and the journey he is on may be just beginning.
Thank you,



February 6, 2007, 10:49 AM

Dear Lauren, I'll be thinking of Jules and your family today. Thank you for commenting on this blog.




February 6, 2007, 11:25 AM

Greetings, Lauren. My thoughts are with you.

I should note that Google is now returning that post quite a bit lower than when I wrote the above, maybe #70 or #80. MC's link to Google News is starting to return some results.



February 6, 2007, 1:01 PM

Lauren, I don't think anyone needs to be bothered by a few inane comments on what is a wide-open anonymous blog format. And anyone who thinks his work is "average" needs to see an eye doctor.The overwhelming majority of the people who commented are very admiring and deeply saddened, as I am, of course. This is bringing out a lot of submerged and unexpressed feeling for Jules, and it is heartening to see.



February 6, 2007, 2:43 PM

A few years ago I was babysitting a 7 year old girl and she pulled out a huge modern art book and showed me her favorite painting from this massive amount of reproductions, and it was Jules Olitski's. I didn't look at the title. An extraordinary moment. I met Lauren briefly as I work at Rich's gallery and I heard the news last night at the memorial for Dan Christensen. It would be the right thing now to have a major retrospective in New York geared up.



February 6, 2007, 5:07 PM

No doubt it sucks to be underappreciated when people who are clearly inferior are getting much more attention and the money that goes with it, but really, in the long run, it's better to have done enduringly good work than mediocre (or worse) stuff that was temporarily highly overrated.

If nothing else, somebody like Olitski does his thing his way and enjoys it, because he's not some clone or phony or cynical glorified prostitute who's cranking stuff out like so much bratwurst because it happens to sell. He's not some celebrity type whose name on something means more than the actual quality of the actual work. He's not pandering to trendoids or ripping off the rich and clueless (not that they don't fully deserve it). He's being who and what he truly is, take it or leave it, which is the only way for any artist to do his best.



February 6, 2007, 6:59 PM

If people can't see Jules' paintings that's there problem. Time will bare witness to his greatness among the likes of Titian,Pollock, Goya,Cezanne, etc.. History is is full of examples of mainstream art that makes it as fashion of the time but doesn't hang on as great art.

1, I think you're refering to Noland as the other artist Greenburg held up as Olitski's equal. I would like to read that if it's available. I 've read Greenburg in which he says he makes no bones about Jules being the greatest of the last 40 years or so and he could hang with pollock, the venetions, etc...


Marc Country

February 6, 2007, 9:37 PM

Edmonton, Alberta, Canada, is the home of some of the world's most cutting edge research in Cancer treatment (and sculpture, of course, but that's another story).

The Canadian Cancer Society Relay For Life is an overnight non-competitive relay that celebrates cancer survivors and pays tribute to loved ones. It's a night of fun, friendship and fundraising to beat cancer. I will be participating as a member of the "Jimmy Coole #1 team", in the Edmonton event on 25 May 2007 (in memory of my older brother Jon "Jimmy Coole" McCourt, who I technically just became older than, as of today).

Anyone who'd like to make a donation, in anyone's memory, or just out of the goodenss of your heart, is more than welcome to pledge me online...



February 7, 2007, 10:28 AM

Noland cannot compete with Olitski, far inferior work.



February 7, 2007, 11:22 AM

Thank you opie, and thank you all. Jules never really had any issues with how he was viewed, and I don't really, either. Of course the work more than stands on its own. And I'm so very lucky, as we all are, to be able to find Olitski most everywhere. (as long as the museums keep hanging what they own). He did okay, more than okay, and he got to do his work, which is all he cared about. He even lived to see his work begin the journey of true public acclaim. No regrets, here.

It is a cold bright day in Vermont, and there is snow on the ground, and it looks much like Papa's native Russia looked when he came into this world. One day at a time we begin our ajustments.


Gallery One

February 7, 2007, 2:35 PM

The passing of Jules is the passing of a great artist and a great man. We are all sadden by the passing of such a remarkable creature!



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