A Tribute to Petrus Schaesberg (19672008)by Nathlie Provosty
Petrus Schaesberg was an upright man, whose presence was defined by a gentle nobility and love of art. We met at a gathering at Dore Ashton’s house in the spring. A casual conversation that began as a satellite to the drink counter and food table stretched into an hour or more of art-focused gleanings. Petrus spoke about his current projects—writing the catalogue raisonnés of Ed Ruscha’s drawings and, in a more nascent form, Anish Kapoor’s sculpture. While we were talking about Kapoor’s work, I became absorbed, embedding my language into the curve of a concave non-object and its physically metaphysical, self-reflective power. Petrus corroborated certain observations and expanded into interpretations. Moments like these—moments of resonance between two humans—matter. They embody the ever-elusive and always lingering present. Speaking of work such as Kapoor’s, with a visceral vibration, required us to speak in the same key. It was lovely. With Petrus, a new person to me, I felt a degree of intimacy. Like Kapoor’s work, Petrus struck me both as open and contained.
Stage two of our contact: the email dialogue. During our original conversation, I thought, wouldn’t it be fantastic to listen to Kapoor discuss his own work, and so I asked, “Petrus, would you consider doing an interview for the Rail?” “Yes,” he replied. We emailed back and forth, and he spoke to Kapoor about my proposal. Kapoor was willing, but busy preparing for an upcoming show at Gladstone gallery. Time happened, loose ends dangled, email dialogues pittered away, and the interview never came to be. Five months later, I hear the news and feel sunk.
Who was Petrus? Born in Germany in 1967, he earned his Ph. D., summa cum laude, at Munich’s Institute of Art History, Ludwig Maximilian University. He taught at the Institute of Art History at Munich University. In 2005, he began teaching art history as an adjunct professor at Columbia University, but was not teaching this semester. His book, Das Aufgehobene Bild, which discussed collage as a mode of painting, from Pablo Picasso to Richard Prince—was published in 2007, and his Louis Bourgeois: The Secret of Cells was published in 2008. Many essays and an exhibition of his photographs fill his list of accomplishments. On behalf of The Brooklyn Rail, I send our warm condolences to his family and friends.