The Collector #7

Deven Golden / Judith Linhares

Judith Linhares, “Home” (1981)

As someone who has collected art for a bit over 40 years, and who is, to boot, married to a painter, it should not be surprising that I have a story to tell about every work in our collection. So when Cathy asked me to contribute to her “The Collector” series, I had to think for a bit before selecting the right work. In the end, I decided on Judith Linhares’ Home, 1981, a work that inadvertently altered the trajectory of my life.

I was unaware of Judith Linhares’ art prior to walking into her solo show at Nancy Lurie’s townhouse home and gallery on North LaSalle Street in Chicago in 1981, and it is hard to exaggerate my shock as I entered the main space on the second floor. To give some context: I was a young artist myself at the time, heavily involved in the Chicago art scene. I had graduated from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago where I had studied with Ray Yoshida and Karl Wirsum. I had already organized shows for the Hyde Park Art Center, and was the Chair of Exhibitions at the Randolph Street Gallery. Even today Chicago does not have a massive community of artists, and I knew, or at least thought I knew, the work of all the artists working in Chicago at that time. I was, in fact, myself represented by Nancy Lurie Gallery. Yet walking into the intimate, high-ceilinged, well lit room filled with Linhares’ large and marvelous gouache paintings on paper, I was confronted with the work of a mature and subtle artist working in the Chicago Imagist tradition that somehow had slipped my notice. Or so I thought, until Nancy Lurie explained that Linhares was from New York, having only recently moved from San Francisco. She explained further that she had first seen Linhares’ work in Marsha Tucker’s now infamous 1979 “Bad Painting” exhibition.

For me, seeing someone who was not from Chicago working as an Imagist, a movement I identified with deeply, was exciting all on its own. But the work itself was amazing. Linhares used gouache in the most sophisticated way I had ever seen, taking full advantage of its unique viscosity and opacity to highlight the sensitivity of her draftsmanship and palette. Her imagery mixed elements of sexuality and death, domesticity and feral abandon in a way vaguely reminiscent of Fuseli’s The Nightmare, yet in a wholly contemporary and utterly seductive way. The night of the opening, I met the artist briefly, and asked if she might consider a trade. Honestly, she had never heard of me and was not interested. But for the first time I was struck by the work in a way that anyone who has longed to live with a particular artwork knows well. I had to have one. After much looking (they were all pretty great) I decided on Home, which at $800 was an exorbitant amount of money for me. To put this in some perspective, I was paying about $300 for rent, and earning maybe $10,000 a year. So $800 was quite a commitment for me at the time. Fortunately, Nancy agreed to let me pay in installments, and in the end a good part of the sales from my own show the next year went to finish paying for the piece. It was the first time I had ever paid for an artwork.

And that might have been the end of this story, except a few months later the show was reviewed in the New Art Examiner, the only national art magazine published out of Chicago. The reviewer didn’t understand the work and hated the show. To put it mildly, I was incensed, a feeling made even worse by their use of Home for the illustration. I told Stephen Reynolds, a friend and one of the artists with whom I shared my studio, that I was going to write a letter to the editor slamming the reviewer. He sensibly suggested that rather than rant at the reviewer, I might, instead, point out what the reviewer had misunderstood about the work and offer, in effect, an alternate review. Even to my youthful, pissed off mind, this seemed like a much better idea. So I sat down and laid out the case for Linhares’ art and sent it in. They published it, and then called me (remember, this was long before email) and asked if I would like to become a regular writer and reviewer for the magazine, a relationship that would last ten years and through four editors. I went on to write catalogue essays for many artists, including Linhares, and reviews for Dialogue, Art Critical, and Bomb before starting my own blog, Art Monkey Wrench.

Eventually, Judith and I became close friends. Primarily an oil painter now, I think she continues to be one of the best artists working today. I own more of her work, but Home has been up on one my walls since the day I bought it thirty-nine years ago; it has never ceased to bring me immense pleasure.

—Deven Golden

“The Collector” is an ongoing series in which I ask people to talk about a painting or a drawing they own. See other installments here.

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