There are few people in the course of your life who totally change your trajectory. For me, John Perreault, former AICA President, art critic, poet, artist, curator, and editor was one of them. I first met John in 1996, when I interviewed for a job as the Development Associate at UrbanGlass, a non-profit glassblowing studio and school located in Fort Greene, Brooklyn, where he was the director. I knew very little about contemporary craft and absolutely nothing about glass art, but during the interview John saw on my resume that I went to UCSD and had studied philosophy and poetry. He had also taught at UCSD in 1976, where he met his husband Jeff Weinstein who was a food critic, editor, and art critic. So somewhere in the middle of our interview John asked me whom I had studied with at UCSD. Fortunately, many of the poets and writers that I had been friendly with had been there when he was on the faculty, and so at the end of the interview John made me an offer and asked when I could start. That began a mentorship and friendship that lasted twenty years.
John’s influence on me was wide ranging. He was encyclopedic in his knowledge about art and artists. He had personally lived through the burgeoning New York art world in the mid 1960s and was very much a part of the scene. His close friendships with Hannah Weiner, Scott Burton, Sylvia Sleigh, Alice Neel, Les Levine, Malcolm Morley, and many other pivotal figures of that time provided endless hours of stories and anecdotes. For me it was like a personal graduate school seminar—art history told from the perspective of the artist, not an academic. The art criticism he wrote during this period for publications like ARTnews, Soho News and the Village Voice was groundbreaking as well. His eye was unerring, his politics were radical, and his prose was clear and to the point. Clarity was one of the most important lessons I learned from John, as I had come out of a heavy French deconstructive philosophy department with all of its attendant language and terms. He taught me that in one’s writing one should always take a position, look for things that are challenging and out of the mainstream, and then make it jargon-free so it could be smart but readable.
Other things that John taught me about were the worlds of glass, ceramics, wood turning, fiber arts, design, face jugs, Outsider art, food, and sartorial choices (if we have a meeting in Manhattan you must wear a suit and tie!). I loved John’s very dry sense of humor, his advice, gossiping with him about the art world and his relentless drive to find and try new things. I can honestly say that if I hadn’t met John in 1996, I am not 100% sure that I would have gone on to run a museum, curate exhibitions, and actively write about art. For this I will be forever grateful to him.
BRETT LITTMAN has been the Executive Director of The Drawing Center since 2007. Previously he was the Deputy Director of MoMA PS1, Co-Director of Dieu Donné Papermill and Associate Director of UrbanGlass. He has contributed news and commentary to a wide range of international publications and critical essays to many exhibition catalogues. As a curator, Littman has organized exhibitions for The Drawing Center and other non-profits and galleries worldwide.