Chuck Close, who died of congestive heart failure last week, was an oversized presence in the art world for more than half a century. As Roberta Smith pointed out in her New York Times Valuation, Close’s career had three phases: the huge photo-realistic portraits, mostly black and white, and the self-portraits which brought him instant fame; the looser, more colorful, partly abstract with which he surprised us after suffering a collapse of the spinal artery which left him paralyzed from neck to feet; and accusations of sexual abuse of women which resulted in his downfall and banishment from the art world.
Time will reveal how it fits or does not fit into the art history of that period, but there will always be an asterisk attached to its name. Here are the voices of other artists – some of whom he painted – and Chuck Close curators they knew.
Cindy Sherman, artist
Dear Chuck, so sad … He was someone I loved a lot when I was young and started because he used a camera and himself in his job. Corn [it was] mainly because he was highly respected in the arts community at the time, when he was kind of like the mayor of SoHo. He has seen a lot of shows, mostly performances by young artists, which is not always the case with artists once they “get it” – they don’t have time to go to galleries, but he did. The first time I heard he went to one of my shows at Metro Pictures and said to Helene [Weiner] and Janelle [Reiring] that he loved my job, I was more than delighted. It was a very important lesson for me, a kind of giving back to the community, just showing up in the smaller galleries with young, new artists.
And he was everywhere, going to every major opening, serving on many boards and committees. We were on the Louis Comfort Tiffany board of directors together, and it was so sad after the allegations of sexual discussions were published. Phong Bui [The Brooklyn Rail’s co-founder] and I went to Florida to ask him to step down from the board. He suspected why we were there and fully understood that resigning was the best thing to do. On the flight home, I just cried and got drunk.