Last week I learned of the death of Alan Uglow, the British-born, New York-based painter. Alan was not just any painter. It is quite arguable that he was for the past 25 years, the best painter in the world. I remember how startling it was in the mid-80s seeing his work for the first time. This was at the ebbing of Neo-Ex and the beginning of Simulationism. Alan's work was as far from those two styles as one could be.
Despite belonging to the 1960s generation, Alan was a punk rocker. Upon moving to New York in the late 80s, I immediately sought him out and went to his studio many times where I met his wonderful wife Elena Alexander (whose milieu was the dance world). Alan's paintings are as subtle and delicate as he was brash and emphatic. He had little patience for bullshit of any kind.
There are two tragedies here. First, is the fact that Uglow died while still at the height of his powers (imagine what he would have done in his 70s). Secondly, it has been over a week since he died and no obituary in the paper of record or any other major NYC publications. This is the city that he lived in for over 40 years. Yet, with very few exceptions (Robert Nickas and Saul Ostrow) Uglow had almost no critical champions in the United States. One wonders if he was just too unfashionable for the hedge funders and the critics who cater to them in the Times and weeklies.
I think the problem is that we really don't have many good working art critics so much as art journalists who cover the scene here. They have developed quite the ear for art, but not the eyes. An artist like Uglow demanded real eyes and was too hard to explain unless one really took the time to look and write. That's a difficult task with so many parties to go to. His work was celebrated in Europe, however, and we will soon start to see the American necrophiliacs (curators, collectors, museums. critics, auction houses) rushing in to cash in . It will happen. Trust me. Better late than never and good for dear Elena.
But the critical neglect of such a great artist is a scandal and serves as a concise metaphor for the vapidness of the New York art scene--ALL OF IT. Perhaps this city is officially dead as the center of production of new culture but as the center of consumption and kitsch things have never been better. Uglow didn't really care about these things and just made what he called "the work." The problem with "the work" is that to have elevated it to any prominence would have made most everything else seem trivial and worthless.