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A Tribute to Rudolph Burckhardt

"One morning, a black kitten wandered in from next door, and turned out to belong to Bill de Kooning. Bill played Stravinsky’s Symphony of Psalms, Flamenco music, and Louis Armstrong very loud on his phonograph and talked about Picasso. He was poor. We lent him twenty dollars now and then; he would give us a painting or we bought one for maybe $200. What an investment! It later paid for my divorce, a house in Maine, and a co-op loft on 29th Street."

Mobile Homes (1979)

"I believe that young people are now as bright as ever. I think its totally ridiculous when you say, ‘Oh, young people, the young people, they don’t believe anything anymore, when we were young, we believed in what we were doing,’ I mean, that is… so ridiculous. I find that young people today… maybe I didn’t know that many when I was young— I know a lot more now— I think they are fantastic."

From "Conversations with Rudy Burckhardt about Everything"
with Simon Pettet (1987)

Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby, 1981. Photograph by Rob Brooks. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.
Rudy Burckhardt and Edwin Denby, 1981. Photograph by Rob Brooks. Courtesy Tibor de Nagy Gallery, New York.

Having been an admirer of his films, photographs, paintings, I finally met Rudy Burckhardt through two mutual friends, Jim Long and Maury Colton III, and was invited to visit him at his loft on 29th Street.

I remember being taken by his discreet disposition and bohemian elegance— what Virginia Woolf would have called "impoverished genteel." His loft was extremely charming and simple. There were some paintings by Alex Katz, his wife Yvonne Jacquette, and a few others by their friends hanging on the main wall, a cheaply framed, crooked, unmatted de Kooning drawing on the floor casually leaning against the wall. I stayed for the whole afternoon. We spoke about de Kooning, and Rudy’s own life for a while, and then he inquired about my new life as a young painter. He listened with great interest and later when we parted at the door, he said to me:

"There is a little niche in the world for people like us."

I feel that the two excerpts above are quintessential Rudy. He was beloved and admired by those who had the privilege and pleasure of knowing him. I was very honored to be among them. On behalf of all my friends, the Brooklyn Rail salutes Rudy. His presence will always be with us.

A Tribute to Rudolph Burckhardt: Lavender Sky
by Vincent Katz

The kind of sky Rudy might have filmed from out his loft window, looking east but caught on chairs and sofa, sweeping the room. Later, there he’d be in the editing room, a tiny corner with his simple hand-turned axles, table piled high with reels. He’d sit there, searching a shot, a "scene" he’d call it, which might have been pigeons scrambling for water from a puddle, or a stock still building, finding it, cut it out quickly, without hesitation, reattach ends of film, put it back on the machine.

Rudy Burckhardt,
Rudy Burckhardt, "Maine 1979," courtesy of Vechile Editions.

Then it was dark. Rudy sat beneath a de Kooning: an orange globe and a yellow, and to the north a green area and a gray and more globes. De Kooning gave it to Edwin Denby, who left it to Rudy, but Rudy and Edwin both bought de Koonings in the 1930s and early ’40s. They’d give him a little money when he needed it, and after a while, he’d give them a painting. That was 145 West 21st Street, a loft where they had the same phone number for fifty years.

And closing it off. Looking at women: photographing them, filming them, painting them. And now there are no more women. Just light that is still delicate, still liquid, still fills 29th Street with its amber glow. But you see, there’s more than that, and that’s what the child wants, his fingers extended as winter whips the city.

Recent Tributes to Rudy Burckhardt:

New York Photographs, Tibor de Nagy gallery, New York

Rudy Burchkardt’s Maine, The New York Studio School, New York, curated by Vincent Katz.

Documentary, Men in the Woods: The Art of Rudy Burckhardt,
directed by Vivian Bittencourt and Vincent Katz.
Produced by Checkerboard Film Foundation.


Phong Bui

Vincent Katz

Vincent Katz is a poet and translator whose most recent book of poetry is Broadway for Paul.


The Brooklyn Rail

JUN-JUL 2003

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