Monthly Archives: August, 2017

“Arlene Gottfried, Photographer Who Found the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Dies at 66,” By William Grimes

“Communion.” Arlene Gottfried

“Arlene Gottfried, Photographer Who Found the Extraordinary in the Ordinary, Dies at 66”

‘She roamed the streets of New York, camera in hand,
finding opportunity at every corner.’


Arlene Gottfried, whose arresting images of ordinary people in New York’s humbler neighborhoods earned her belated recognition as one of the finest street photographers of her generation, died on Tuesday at her home in Manhattan. She was 66.

Her brother, the comedian and actor Gilbert Gottfried, said the cause was complications of breast cancer.

Ms. Gottfried roamed the streets of New York, camera in hand, finding opportunity at every corner. Much of her work recorded the daily routines and local characters in the city’s Puerto Rican areas, where cultural exuberance coexisted with poverty and urban blight.

Arlene Gottfried in 2011. Kevin C. Downs

In one of her most celebrated images, a nun leads a group of Roman Catholic schoolgirls in Communion dresses down a trash-strewn street lined with old cars, one of them with a plugged-in television set on the hood tuned to a western.

She photographed a gospel choir in Harlem; followed a club dancer and former convict known as Midnight as he declined into mental illness, a journey recorded in her book “Midnight” (2003); and turned her lens on her own family in her mother’s final years for the photo essay “Mommie,” published last year.

“Jewish Bodybuilder and Hassid.” Arlene Gottfried

She struck pay dirt on a nude beach in Jacob Riis Park in 1980, when a Hasidic Jew, dressed in black hat and overcoat on a scorching summer day, unexpectedly appeared. A nude bodybuilder approached and asked her to take a picture of the two together “because,” he said, “I’m Jewish.” She obliged. The unforgettable photo shows a flexing nude, smiling proudly, next to his thoroughly nonplused and emphatically clothed companion.

Ms. Gottfried’s subjects were never specimens, held up for cold examination. She was part documentarian, part social worker, a warm and sometimes lingering presence in the lives she recorded. She spent 20 years with Midnight and ended up joining the gospel choir that was the subject of her first book, “The Eternal Light,” published in 1999.

“Puerto Rican Day.” Arlene Gottfried

“How her eye captures people, and how she touches them, that’s hard to explain,” her brother told The Guardian in 2014. “Someone else couldn’t see the funny or odd or touching thing, and capture it. Kind of like how a singer can have a great song, but not know how to sing it. She’s able to do that.”

Ms. Gottfried is prominently featured in a documentary film about her brother, “Gilbert,” scheduled to open in November.

Arlene Harriet Gottfried was born on Aug. 26, 1950, in Brooklyn. She spent her early childhood in Coney Island, living above the hardware store that her father, Max, ran with his brother, Seymour. Her mother, the former Lillian Zimmerman, was a homemaker.

When Arlene was 9 the family moved to Crown Heights, whose growing Puerto Rican population captured her imagination. In later years she took the cry of a Puerto Rican street vendor, selling cod fritters and fireworks on the Fourth of July, as the title of her book “Bacalaitos & Fireworks” (2011), an unvarnished but loving look at Puerto Rican life on the Lower East Side and in Spanish Harlem.

“Summer Afternoon.” Arlene Gottfried

“It was a mixture of excitement, devastation and drug use,” she told The New York Times in 2016, describing the scenes she recorded. “But there was more than just that. It was the people, the humanity of the situation. You had very good people there trying to make it.”

When she was in her teens, her father gave her an old camera, and she began taking pictures as she walked around the neighborhood, a habit that became a career. “We lived in Coney Island, and that was always an exposure to all kinds of people, so I never had trouble walking up to people and asking them to take their picture,” she told The Guardian.

“Brothers With Their Vines, Coney Island, N.Y., 1976.” Arlene Gottfried

Ms. Gottfried took photography courses at the Fashion Institute of Technology in Manhattan because, she once explained, she did not want to listen to lectures or do homework. After leaving the school, she found work doing commercial photography at an advertising agency.

In the mid-1970s she began a freelance career in which her work sporadically appeared in The New York Times, The Village Voice, Fortune and Life.

Arlene Gottfried in 2012. Kevin C. Downs

She discovered a second life as a gospel singer in the 1990s. Selwyn Rawls, the director of the Eternal Light Community Singers in Harlem, invited her to join the choir. Belting out songs of praise, she began appearing with choirs at gospel festivals and eventually emerged as a soloist. Most recently, she sang with the Jerriese Johnson Gospel Choir.

In addition to her brother, she is survived by a sister, Karen Gottfried.

Left, “Guy With Radio, East 7th St., 1977.” Right, “Rikers Island Olympics, N.Y., 1987.” Arlene Gottfried

Although well known to photographers and photo editors, Ms. Gottfried remained unknown to the larger public for most of her career. That changed when her black-and-white work from the 1970s and ’80s, some of it collected in her book “Sometimes Overwhelming” (2008), caught the wave of interest in the gritty, dangerous New York of yesteryear. An exhibition at Daniel Cooney Fine Art in 2014 attracted the attention of the national news media and led to shows in France and Germany.

The attention seemed to startle her, since she described her vocation in modest terms. “I think I wander around and I see things that just speak to me, in one way or another,” she told Time magazine in 2011. “There are things that you try to say something about, or a moment you want to hold.”

By William Grimes, Reprint from The New York Times / Art & Design, 10 August 2017, © 2017 The New York Times Company.

“How to See Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in 5 Museums at Once? Facebook,” By John Hurdle

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), from the Neue Pinakothek museum in Munich. The painting is one of five that will be seen together “virtually” on Monday. Neue Pinakothek, Munich

“How to See Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ in 5 Museums at Once? Facebook”


PHILADELPHIA — Five versions of van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” painting will be showcased simultaneously on Facebook Live on Monday in a collaboration among art museums on three continents.

The paintings will be interpreted by curators from museums in London, Amsterdam, Munich, Philadelphia and Tokyo, who will deliver a sequence of live 15-minute commentaries while standing with the works in the museums.

Ahead of the curatorial events, the museums will also use their own Facebook pages, starting on Thursday, to simulate the experience of viewing all five paintings in a gallery, allowing the audience to compare and examine them as if they were in a three-dimensional environment.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), at the National Gallery in London. National Gallery, London

The virtual gallery will include narration by van Gogh’s great-grand-nephew, Willem van Gogh, who will share memories of the paintings, which were created in 1888-9 for a visit by the artist Paul Gauguin to van Gogh’s house in Arles, France.

The Facebook Live event is being led by the National Gallery in London, which in 2014 brought together its own version of “Sunflowers,” and that of the Van Gogh Museum in Amsterdam, for the first time in 65 years.

Jennifer Thompson, curator of the Facebook Live event at the Philadelphia Museum of Art — which houses the only version of “Sunflowers” in the United States — said she believed it was the first time that art museums in different countries had used social media to highlight works that are unlikely to be seen together in one physical space.

Van Gogh’s “Sunflowers” (1888), at the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo. Seiji Togo Memorial, Sompo Japan Museum of Art, Tokyo

“It’s a fun and engaging way to think about these five paintings that are scattered about the globe, that are unlikely to ever come together in one venue or one exhibition,” Ms. Thompson said. “This is a way for us to take advantage of technology to virtually bring the paintings together, and to have a conversation among curators.”

She said that the “Sunflower” paintings were among the public favorites at all the participating museums, and that the event was an opportunity to highlight van Gogh’s choice of color and texture and his love of nature.

Each curator will talk about a different aspect of the paintings, Ms. Thompson said. For example, she will focus on van Gogh’s repetition of subject, while her colleague from the Neue Pinakothek in Munich will talk about his use of color.

“Sunflowers” (1889), from the Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam. Van Gogh Museum, Amsterdam

Ms. Thompson said she would distinguish the Philadelphia and Munich versions of the paintings — which both have turquoise backgrounds — from later versions in the other three museums, which have yellow backgrounds.

The Facebook Live event will begin with the London presentation, starting at 12:50 p.m. Eastern time, and conclude with that of the Tokyo curator (from the Seiji Togo Memorial Sompo Japan Nipponkoa Museum of Art), starting at 2:10 p.m. Eastern time.

“Sunflowers” (1888 or 1889), from the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Philadelphia Museum of Art

A version of this article appears in print on August 11, 2017, on Page C2 of the New York edition with the headline: Van Gogh’s ‘Sunflowers’ Is Starring on Facebook. 

By John Hurdle, Reprint from The New York Times, 10 August 2017, © 2017 The New York Times Company

“Famous Artists and their Cats – A Feline Inspiration,” Interview with author, Alison Nastasi

Like the rest of us mortals, artists own pets. Some have dogs, others take care of parrots, but an impressive number of painters, sculptors, photographers we all adore is owners to those enigmatic, furry animals known as cats. In fact, there are so many of them that an entire book could be written on the subject – and so it was, by Alison Nastasi, in a publication simply titled Artists and Their Cats. Accompanied by a series of photographs of the most famous figures in modern and contemporary art with their cats, the book surveys the roles felines played in their lives, and even the way they affected the practice and artwork of these artists – after all, felines have been a subject in the arts for centuries now. Think Pablo Picasso, who portrayed women with cats both in 1900 and 1964, for instance, or Paul Klee, whose most notable work perhaps is a portrait of a cat and a bird, or Balthus and Andy Warhol, both of whom dedicated multiple drawings and even entire artist books dedicated to the animal.
But what came over Alison Nastasi to write Artists and Their Cats in the first place? Why were cats so important to these men and women? Of this and more, we talked to the author in an exclusive interview. Have a read below!

 “Famous Artists and their Cats – A Feline Inspiration”

‘Widewalls Editorial: Interview with author, Alison Nastasi’

Artists and their Cats – John Cage

Artists and Their Cats by Alison Nastasi

Widewalls: You explored the world of artists and cats in your recent book titled Artists and Their Cats. Can you introduce it to our readers? How did the idea of writing this book come to be?

Alison Nastasi: Several years ago, I wrote an article about artists and their cats for, where I am the weekend editor. The idea came to me after reading about Tracey Emin’s cat Docket, who is featured in some of her work. The art editor at Chronicle Books spotted my listicle and asked me if I would be interested in expanding the subject for a book. I loved the idea, because, in addition to being a writer, I’m also an artist who keeps cats as pets. They’ve been a constant part of my time working in my studio.

Widewalls: How long have you researched this topic, and what sources did you use? How difficult was it to obtain all the materials?

AN: A lot of time went into curating the right selection of images. I wanted a mix of artists who most people would know – like Salvador Dalí, who is on the cover with his pet ocelot, Babou – and a few I might be able to introduce to certain audiences, like Claude Cahun. Diversity was extremely important to me when choosing artists.

The writing and research took a few months. Everyone I reached out to was very helpful. I corresponded with Georges Matisse, who is the great-grandson of the famous Henri Matisse, about the elder Matisse’s cats. Donna Van Der Zee, the widow of  Harlem Renaissance photographer James Van Der Zee, told me about his photo session with Jean-Michel Basquiat. Laura Kuhn, the director of the John Cage Trust, worked closely with Cage during his life and shared some personal stories. Their information was fascinating and indispensable.

Widewalls: There is an impressive list of names in it. Most of them are well-known and world-famous artists. What drew them to adopt a feline friend, in your opinion?

AN: Artists tend to spend long stretches of time alone so they can stay focused on their work. Many artists do this while locked away in a studio. Cats bring a certain energy to a space, but they’re generally independent creatures. This makes them the perfect companion for the artist. Both can cohabitate peacefully without making demands on the other.

Widewalls: Do you have a favorite from the book?

AN: It’s difficult for me to choose just one favorite, but I remember how much Burroughs’ photo and message about love, which is quoted in the book, moved me. I wrote Artists and Their Cats shortly after both of my cats passed away.

I think each photo captures a part of the artist’s personality. There’s just something really adorable about seeing an iconic artist turn to mush when their cat is around – like the photo of Hermann Hesse crawling around on the ground with one of his cats.

Left: Philip Burne Jones / Right: Florence Henri

Inspired by Felines

Widewalls: Can you tell us some of the anecdotes from the book? How did some of the artists interact with their cats?

AN: Dalí, who was a complete exhibitionist, would bring Babou to public places. Imagine eating dinner next to a 30-pound ocelot on a leash near your table. People would often panic, which amused him.

At one time, Andy Warhol had 25 cats in his New York City apartment.

Ai Weiwei’s cats can be seen in the documentary Never Sorry. They roam around his studio in Beijing. One of them can even open doors.

Widewalls: Is there any story of an artist being directly inspired by their cat, and how did this inspiration manifest in art?

AN: Oh yes, I think most of the artists included in the book were directly inspired at one time or another.

Warhol wound up writing a book called 25 Cats Name Sam and One Blue Pussy. (“Name” is not a typo, either. His mother did the lettering for the book and accidentally left the “d” off the word. He liked it and kept it.)

Paul Klee, whose cat’s name was Bimbo, made many cat paintings.

Jim Henson’s love for cats and all animals clearly inspired his work on the Muppets.

Agnès Varda created an image of her late cat for the logo of her film production company. The cat was also featured in one of her art installations.

Louis Wain made these wild, psychedelic cat paintings of cats. He credited a lot of his inspiration to his cat, Peter.

Widewalls: It’s been two years since the book has been published. When you look back, what are some of the best and also hardest moments you experienced while writing it?

AN: Sometimes there’s a lot of detective work involved in tracking down information that is extremely personal, like the name of someone’s cat. It’s always rewarding when you can piece together bits of information and finally see the complete picture.

The hardest moments involved having to exclude an artist and cat for one reason or another. For example, I wanted Karl Lagerfeld and his cat Choupette in the book, but I believe they were creating a book about Choupette at the time, so we wound up not working together. There’s no grudge between us, though. I still follow Choupette on Instagram (yes, she has her own social media manager). She’s fabulous.

Widewalls: Do you own a cat now? Did any personal reasons draw you to write this book?

AN: I own two cats, a brother and sister named Lynx and Luna. I adopted them in 2014. They’re both very striking and completely white. Lynx is very talkative and has heterochromia. One eye is blue, and the other is green. Luna is very shy and has a bobtail, which is super cute and makes her look like a bunny.

I dedicated Artists and Their Cats to my late cats who were wonderful pets. Several years ago, I was living and working in a massive artist loft in Philadelphia that was big enough to ride a bike around inside. They loved the space and always kept me company while I worked.

I live in Los Angeles now with my boyfriend (another artist, he’s a filmmaker) and create my art at home. Lynx and Luna are always very curious about what I’m doing and love to try to dip their paws in my paint water.

Widewalls: What can we expect from you next? Is there any new book in the making at the moment?

AN: I’m really excited to announce that I’m currently working on a new book for Chronicle Books called Writers and Their Cats. I just finished drafting the final list of writers. I think readers will be really pleased with the variety. Stay tuned to my Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, and website for updates about the book and to find out when it will be released. I can’t wait to share more!

Left: Carlos Nadal – Pablo Picasso, 1960. © Estate of Pablo Picasso / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York / Right: James van der Zee – Jean-Michel Basquiat and Cat, 1982


Andy Warhol. © 2014 The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts, Inc. / Artists Rights Society (ARS), New York


Henri Matisse. © Robert Capa and the International Center of Photography / Magnum Photos


John Candelario – Georgia O’Keeffe, detail. Courtesy Palace of the Governors Photo Archives


Editors’ Tip: Artists and Their Cats

Pablo Picasso, Andy Warhol, Frida Kahlo… so many great artists have shared one very special love: the companionship of cats. Gathered here for the first time are behind-thescenes stories of more than 50 famous artists and their feline friends. From Salvador Dali’s pet ocelot Babou to John Lennon and Yoko Ono’s menagerie of cats, including Salt (who was black) and Pepper (who was white), Artists and Their Cats captures these endearing friendships in charming photographs and engaging text, and reveals what creative souls and the animals best known for their independent spirits have in common. In this clever compilation, art aficionados will discover a softer side of their favorite artists, and cat lovers will enjoy a whole new way to celebrate their favorite furry friends.

Widewalls Editorial/Interview, Reprint from, © 2017 WideWalls. Images courtesy Alison Nastasi.