Jon Kessler

I first met Irving when I was a seventeen-year-old kid, a freshman enrolled in his “Art Since 1945” class at SUNY Purchase. Irving tended to show up at the last minute with a stack of Kodak carousels in his arms, and while his analysis of the art on those slides was impressive, it was his vivid stories about the artists, many of whom were his friends, that made the biggest impact on me. I feel so fortunate that he soon took a similar interest in me and agreed to be my thesis advisor. Decades later, he wrote about my thesis, a site-specific performance and installation about a cousin who had recently been killed in a car crash, in his book Swept Up By Art.

After I graduated, we remained close. He made regular studio visits and came to all of my New York shows, including my very first one in 1983, at his beloved Artists Space. Speaking of Artists Space, I’ll never forget an evening of artist talks there only a few years ago. It was a scorching August night—sweltering outside and even hotter indoors. When I walked into the backroom, there was Irving, undeterred by the heat, waiting for the talks to begin. He was always present.

By this point, I too was a professor. I think the most important thing I learned from Irving is to be generous to young artists. Irving didn’t go to random openings for the sake of being seen; he knew so many people and he supported them with his presence. After teaching at Columbia for more than two decades, I have many hundreds of students out in the world showing their work, and I try to give a part of myself to as many of them as I can by doing studio visits and going to their shows. I learned this from Irving.

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