Category: Obituary

Art critic Hilton Kramer, a champion of modernism, dies at 84

March 27, 2012 |  1:07 pm

Visitors at a press preview of the 2012 Whitney Biennial, an event that was often a target for critic Hilton Kramer's scorn.
A fierce champion of modernism both in his tenure as critic at the New York Times and at the New Criterion, Hilton Kramer died Tuesday morning in Maine at 84 years old.

A combative but immensely respected figure on the art scene, Kramer took barbed stances against postmodernism, the politicization of art and the Pop movement, and he took a particularly negative view of the Whitney Biennial.

"The Whitney curatorial staff has amply demonstrated its weakness for funky, kinky, kitschy claptrap in recent years,” he wrote in a review of the 1975 Biennial, as cited in the New York Times obituary, “and there is the inevitable abundance of this rubbish in the current show.”

Shifting into cultural politics in his later years that included attacks on the National Endowment for the Arts and liberal bias in media (a frequent target in his late-'90s columns in the New York Post), Kramer was not a critic who shied away from criticism, either of his subject or of himself. 

A full obituary will follow on


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-- Chris Barton

Photo: Visitors at a press preview of the 2012 Whitney Biennial, an event that was often a target for critic Hilton Kramer's scorn. Credit: Mario Tama / Getty Images.

Ulu Grosbard, noted stage and film director, dies at 83

March 21, 2012 | 12:48 pm

Ulu Grosbard, the stage and film director who helmed "The Subject was Roses" on Broadway and later as a movie, has died at 83
Ulu Grosbard, the stage and film director who helmed "The Subject was Roses" on Broadway and later as a movie, has died at 83. The director died in New York earlier this week, the New York Times reported.

In a career that spanned Broadway and Hollywood, Grosbard worked with some of the top actors in the profession, including Dustin Hoffman, Meryl Streep, Robert De Niro, Martin Sheen and Michelle Pfeiffer. He also had directed works by a number of celebrated playwrights, including Arthur Miller, David Mamet and Beth Henley.

Grosbard worked with Miller twice, on the original Broadway production of "The Price" in 1968 and an off-Broadway production of "A View from the Bridge" in 1965. The director was twice nominated for a Tony Award for the Broadway productions of Frank D. Gilroy's "The Subject Was Roses" and Mamet's "American Buffalo."

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Artist who created TV 'Bonanza' map dies at 98

March 8, 2012 |  8:01 am

Bonanza map at Autry with artist Robert Temple Ayres by Tessie Borden

Artist Robert Temple Ayres died Feb. 25 at his Riverside County home at the age of 98, but not before making one last pilgrimage to the Ponderosa two days before his heart finally gave out.

In his career as an artist for MGM, Paramount and the Walt Disney Co., Ayres created his most famous work, officially called “Map to Illustrate the Ponderosa in Nevada.” It was created in 1959 so it could burn up weekly on television screens for the ensuing 13-plus years.

While the immortal “Bonanza” theme music played at the start of each episode, Ayres’ map appeared, then dissolved in flames, revealing the Ponderosa ranch’s inhabitants on horseback –- the Cartwright clan played by Lorne Greene, Michael Landon, Dan Blocker and Pernell Roberts.

The map had hung for decades in the home of “Bonanza” creator and producer David Dortort before his family donated it to the Autry National Center of the American West after his death in 2010. When the Autry Center announced last June that the Ponderosa map had gone on permanent display, The Times contacted Ayres to get his thoughts on his TV icon that was now a museum piece.

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Actor Erland Josephson, frequent Bergman collaborator, dies at 88

February 26, 2012 | 10:23 am

  Erland Josephson, the noted Swedish stage and screen actor who collaborated frequently with Ingmar Bergman in both mediums, has died at 88
Erland Josephson, the noted Swedish stage and screen actor who collaborated frequently with Ingmar Bergman in both mediums, has died at 88. He died Saturday at a Stockholm hospital following a long battle with Parkinson's disease, Christina Bjerkander, a spokeswoman for Sweden's Royal Dramatic Theatre, told the Associated Press.

Josephson was widely regarded as one of the most important figures in Swedish theater. During his career, he acted in numerous productions, some of which traveled to the U.S., and headed the Royal Dramatic Theatre between 1966 and 1975.

Noted for his warm presence that could turn prickly and hostile on a dime, Josephson was a versatile actor whose roles often allowed him to combine a sense of insecure masculinity and a razor-sharp intelligence.

His first collaboration with Bergman was as a 16-year-old actor in a production of Shakespeare's "The Merchant of Venice." He would continue to work with Bergman on stage and screen for the next seven decades, becoming one of the director's most frequent collaborators, along with Liv Ullmann and Max von Sydow.

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Ceramics artist Kenneth Price dies at 77

February 24, 2012 |  8:00 am

Kenneth Price LA Louver

Kenneth Price, a prolific Los Angeles artist whose work with glazed and painted clay transformed traditional ceramics while also expanding orthodox definitions of American and European sculpture since the 1960s, died early Friday at his home and studio in Taos, N.M. He was 77.
Price had struggled with tongue and throat cancer for several years, his food intake restricted to liquids supplied through a feeding tube. Despite his infirmity, he continued to produce challenging new work and to mount critically acclaimed exhibitions at galleries in Los Angeles, New York and Europe.

At the time of his death Price had completed preparations for a 50-year retrospective, scheduled to open at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art in the fall in an exhibition designed by architect Frank Gehry. The show will travel to the Nasher Sculpture Center in Dallas and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York.

A full obituary will follow on

-- Christopher Knight

Photo: Kenneth Price (1935-2012). Credit: LA Louver


Dancer and actress Zina Bethune, 66, dies; founded TheaterDanse

February 13, 2012 |  1:20 pm

LeadZina Bethune, the dancer, actress and advocate for disabled children, was an L.A. artist with a long resume and a long list of admirers. On early Sunday, she was killed in a road accident when she got out of her car near Forest Lawn Memorial Park and was struck by an oncoming vehicle.

The L.A. Now blog reported that she was struck by two vehicles after she apparently stopped to help an injured animal on the side of the street.

Bethune, whose real name was Zina Feeley, was 66. In L.A., she was perhaps best known for founding Bethune TheaterDanse in 1980. The organization, located at the L.A. Theatre Center downtown, brought together multimedia visual art and dance in innovative ways.

In addition to her dance career, Bethune had the distinction of acting in Martin Scorsese's first feature film, "Who's That Knocking at My Door?" in 1967.

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Ben Gazzara, 81, leaves a rich, gruff legacy in theater and film

February 3, 2012 |  6:10 pm


Ben Gazzara, who died Friday in New York at the age of 81, was an actor with a gruff voice and intense demeanor. His acting legacy, which included the films of John Cassavetes and originating the role of Brick in "Cat on a Hot Tin Roof" on Broadway, was a catalog of masculinity in free-fall, self-doubt and sometimes willful self-glorification.

As with so many actors of his generation, Gazzara got his start in the theater, often returning to the stage throughout his film career. He brought the same level of artistic integrity and intensity to his theater roles as to his movie characters.

Most recently, Gazzara appeared on Broadway in the Tony-winning 2006 revival of "Awake and Sing," by Clifford Odets. He played the role of Jacob, the grandfather of a New York family struggling through the Depression. Gazzara appeared on stage despite several years before having undergone treatment for oral cancer that affected his speech.

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Mike Kelley is remembered for more than his art

February 1, 2012 |  6:25 pm

 PHOTOS: Mike Kelley's career in pictures
Anyone who knew Mike Kelley knew the importance of music in his life -- he was a musician himself, loved Iggy Pop and had collaborated with Sonic Youth. As an art student in the 1970s, he helped found  the band Destroy All Monsters.

Kelley, who died Tuesday, formed the band in 1973 with fellow University of Michigan art students Jim Shaw, Cary Loren and a woman known as Niagara.

"He worked way too hard for way too long and he never rested," Niagara said Wednesday by phone from Detroit.

PHOTOS: Mike Kelley | 1954-2012

An exhibition of artwork created by band members --and  co-curated by Kelley -- recently ran at the Prism Gallery in West Hollywood, and Niagara was in town for the opening. The show included about 140 individual works, the gallery said.

Kelley was very emotional about his years in Michigan and working with the band, according to Niagara. "Mike was a sentimentalist -- you wouldn't see it at first," she said. "He would do huge installations about being in high school and living in Detroit. We were a kooky team trying out new ideas constantly."

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‘Devastated’: Shock, grief after artist Mike Kelley’s sudden death

February 1, 2012 |  2:26 pm

Mike-Kelley-installationMike Kelley's apparent suicide Tuesday rocked the Los Angeles art community, and friends, admirers and colleagues expressed their shock and grief.

"I am so devastated. Mike is our great Los Angeles artist. He’s the one that changed the game for a whole generation, said Paul Schimmel, chief curator of the Museum of Contemporary Art. "If one could point the finger singularly, he’s it. As an artist, a curator, as a kind of passionate advocate for this community and his generation, he’s a real giant."

Dennis Cooper posted his reaction on his Facebook page: "I'm completely and absolutely shocked and devastated about the death of Mike Kelley, a very great artist and a very old friend of mine. Please hold a good thought for him." Cooper is a writer, performance artist and art critic. His “Smothered in Hugs: Essays, Interviews, Feedback, and Obituaries”  includes a 2003 interview with Kelley published in Art Forum.

PHOTOS: Mike Kelley | 1954-2012

A group of colleagues and friends including fellow artists Paul McCarthy and Jim Shaw and collector Kourosh Larizadeh sent an email that they said was "for all Mike's many friends near and far":

"Our dear friend the artist Mike Kelley (born 1954 in Detroit) has passed away. Unstintingly passionate, habitually outspoken and immeasurably creative in every genre or material with which he took up--and that was most of them, from performance and sculpture to painting, installation and video, from experimental music to writing in a thousand voices--Mike was an irresistible force in contemporary art. For Mike history existed only to be reconstructed, memory was selective, faulty and willful and life itself vibrant but often dysfunctional. We can hear him disagreeing with us. We cannot believe he is gone. But we know his legacy will continue to touch and challenge anyone who crosses its path. We will miss him. We will keep him with us."

Others signing the email were Kelley Studio and Emi Fontana, Karen McCarthy, Fredrik Nilsen, Anita Pace, Mary Clare Stevens, Marnie Weber, John C. Welchman.


Artist Mike Kelley has died

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--Kelly Scott

Above: Kelley's "Kandor 10 A (Grotto)." Credit: Fredrik Nilsen for Gagosian Gallery


Mike Kelley, contemporary artist based in L.A., is found dead

February 1, 2012 | 12:07 pm

Click here to see more photos. Mike Kelley, the L.A.-based but internationally renowned artist, was found dead in his South Pasadena home Tuesday, police said Wednesday.

Police are still investigating and did not immediately have a cause of death.

PHOTOS: Mike Kelley | 1954-2012

Kelley's studio released a statement saying: "Mike was an irresistible force in contemporary art.... We cannot believe he is gone. But we know his legacy will continue to touch and challenge anyone who crosses its path. We will miss him. We will keep him with us."

A complete obituary will follow at

--Kelly Scott


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Photo: Mike Kelley in 1996. Credit: Los Angeles Times


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