Thursday, September 15, 2005

Bill Bartman

I'm shocked and saddened to read on James Wagner's blog that Bill Bartman passed away today. I don't know many people in the NYC art world who don't have a story about the inspiring, if baffling, dichotomy Bill embodied. Here's mine.

When I was still curating, I started up a dialog with Bill. We never became very close friends, but he honored me by coming to the opening of one of my earliest efforts, even though he was traveling via his wheelchair in those days. Like most people, I had more than a few chances to see the curmudegeon in Bill. My God could he be grouchy. But I still list him among the folks I most aspire to be like when I consider how I want to work with artists.

Once while I was poring over his files on emerging artists in the Art Resources Transfer office, Bill was tearing someone on the phone a new one. He was a fiery mix of Evangelical preacher and drunken sailor. From what I could gather the poor schmuck on the other end was involved in a distribution mix-up of a new publication, but you would have thought he had single handedly burnt down the Metropolitan Museum or something the way Bill badgered the guy. Smoke was virtually pouring out his ears.

Eventually, Bill showed mercy by putting the recipient of his anger on hold to take another call. It was an artist who had an upcoming exhibition in the gallery. Bill did the fastest 180 in attitude I've ever witnessed. He gave the artist his undivided attention, and offered a string of reassuring, comforting bits of advice. I was so surprised I just stood there with my mouth wide open, looking like I was missing a chromosome or something.

I decided then and there to never forget how much respect he obviously had for generous he could be to someone worried about an upcoming exhibition, despite what he had going on himself.

Bill, we will miss you. May you rest in peace, sir.


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