Kathleen Gilje, Linda Nochlin at the Folies Bergère, 2005
When I asked Linda Nochlin, art historian and humanist extraordinaire, why she selected Manet's Bar at the Folies Bergère for her Appropration Portrait by Kathleen Gilje, she answered: "I could be both subject and spectator at once, in a wonderful setting."* This self-awareness was one of Nochlin's greatest gifts, an unfiltered curiosity perfectly suited to long-term, rigorous investigation. She was a sleuth, she was a mystery, she was a seductress, and she was the seduced - by art, by literature, by Paris and by the sheer pleasure of consuming experience.
Above all, Linda Nochlin was a towering intellectual, a poet, a musician (recorder), a generous mentor, and an exceptional scholar. And she knew how to really live, eyes wide open, sucking in all the juice of the moment with genuine gusto. Insatiable, she seemed to know everything about every topic, from "high" to "low," respectable to raunchy. She was never a fan of banality or simple prettiness. She loved controversy and transgression. She was, in short, a rebel with many causes, especially political.
Her zest for life seemed to surrender her body and soul to art. Her extensive vocabulary controlled the narrative - she could precisely describe color, lines, form and iconography. She could see what most of us failed to see and guide us toward joining her vision.
Linda Nochlin in front of
Philip Pearlstein, Portrait of Linda Nochlin and Richard Pommer, 1968
"Ten years ago, in Montreal, art historian Linda Nochlin delivered a lecture to the American Council of Learned Societies discussing the crucial role that art had played in her life. She spoke of visiting the Brooklyn Museum as a child, reading the great Russian novelists at the suggestion of her grandfather, and spending five days with the Isenheim Altarpiece in Colmar, France, 'writing about what I saw and felt, without scholarly constraint or rational limitation.'
'We live in contradiction: that is what becomes clearer and clearer to me as I get older,' Nochlin said in Montreal. 'I am, on the one hand, the most aesthetic of creatures: my appetite for high art is unappeasable.' At a recent Velázquez show, the 'miraculous squiggles of white-edged painted brocade close up' had put her and her 'feminist friends' in mind of Eva Hesse; Nochlin revealed that 'I try to practice Bach an hour a day, I write sonnets and odes for relaxation. The ballet and modern dance make life complete.' On the other hand, she added, 'I also drown myself in TV detective shows, and love nice clothes, playing with my cats, having silly fun with family or friends at dinner parties.'
'Indeed, more and more,' she continued, 'I feel myself to be many selves—a woman, a Jew, a scholar, a feminist, a mother and grandmother, a teacher, an athlete, a friend, a passionate devourer of printed matter not necessarily connected. I am more and more convinced that ‘inner life’ has no meaning for me: my life is exterior, lived on the surface of experience, devoted to the world and the things in it, for better or for worse'.”
Carrie Ricky in Hyperallergic offered this Nochlin quote from her 1994 essay "Starting from Scratch": “In 1969 and the years that followed,” she wrote, “the intersection of myself and history was of a different order. It was no mere passive conjunction of events that united me to the history of that year and the ones that followed, but active engagement and participation, a sense that I, along with many other politicized, and yes, liberated, women, were actually intervening in the historical process and changing history itself: the history of art, of culture, and of institutions, and of consciousness.”
I can only add, with sadness in my heart that it has come to this day to have to say anything at all about the passing of Professor Nochlin: we will miss you, Linda. Miss bumping into you at the museums and galleries. Miss splurging on lunch at the Russian Tea Room or downing rakija at Kafana in the East Village. Miss the hugs. Miss the encouragement. This week, New York and Paris have lost their glow without you.
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*Beth S. Gersh-Nesic, "Portrait as Performance: The Theater of the Self in Kathleen Gilje's Series of Curators, Critics and Connoisseurs," in Breaking New Ground in Art History: A Festschrift in Honor of Alicia Craig Faxon, edited by Margaret A. Hanni (New Academia Publishing, 2014).