Death of a Poet: Remembering Alan Jones

Alan Jones in 2011 at the Festival del Mediterraneo, photographer unknown.

By JOSEPH NECHVATAL, December 2021

The death of a poet, art writer and art curator divulges a paradox. He was an uncommon person—his diction and tone of voice alone were peculiar—with a common name. It was Alan Jones. Born October 8th 1949 in Portland Oregon, he experienced his death in Venice this year on August 21st.

Jones was the kind of elusive poetic person that you moved to New York City for: a funny raconteur (story teller) with serious art historical chops. He was a generous promoter of artists and poetsthus influentialwhile also quite a flippant and ironic character. For an example of his astuteness, when the performance artist Colette first risked losing her live-in, flamboyant installation, it was Jones who brought in Leo Castelli to the rescue. Jones was good friends with Jeff Koons (he attended the 1991 wedding of Cicciolina and Koons), as well as Donald Baechler, Alain Jacquet, Sue Etkin, Peter Fend, Ron Gorchov, Peter Nadin, Richard Prince, poet Raymond Foye, Peter Schuyff, Kevin Clarke, Adrian Dannatt, Billy Copley, Taro Suzuki, designer Elisabeth Cannon, Tricia Collins, Don Munroe, Warhol Factory associate Vincent Freemont, Wolfgang Staehle and Steven Pollock, amongst many others. Jones wrote regularly for Arts, Teme Celeste and the French art magazine Galleries, which published an early Koons interview/article by Jones. He also was an active curator, organizing the Urrealism show at Paul Kasmin and the After Millet show at Phillipe Briet, a French gallery owner and publisher passionate about the work of Beauford Delaney. 

Jones had settled in New York in1976, and stayed for many years, while remaining deeply bi-continental. In the early-1980s he was often found in the East Village at the now forgotten RedBaran art bar once at 116 First Avenue at Seventh Street run by filmmakers Ralf Mann and Jamie Kaufmann where we neo-conceptualists would hang out and hang our work. Jones occasionally curated there, and could always be counted on to engage with you in witty repartee. He had a whiff of Jimmy Stewart about him, and was someone you would meet again and again at art parties, and while tipsy, could carry on a conversation with you about Nagy, Nabokov and Nijinsky (just one example, I remember).

Alan Jones & Richard Milazzo at Cafe de la Paix, Paris (circa 1/1995) Photo by Joy L. Glass.

Long After Hannibal Had Passed With Elephants

Jones was the publisher of the poetry magazine Address (1987) and a contributing editor of Arts Magazine. His book of poems and epigrams, Long After Hannibal Had Passed With Elephants, that was written somewhat in the style of  Catullus (the Latin poet of the late-Roman Republic who wrote in a personal, humorous, and emotional style; frequently using hyperbole, anaphora, alliteration, and diminutives) was published by his long-time friend, the poet and art writer Richard Milazzo. It was the first in Milazzo’s seminal Edgewise Press series, and is to be cherished. 

Jones moved back to Europe in 1993, first Paris, where I caught up with him again in 1995 at the home of his then bride Victoire Schlumberger. I recall a wonderful small dinner that took place under two prune and red Rothko paintings there. But the marriage did not last long and Jones moved to Italy and I never saw him again. He is buried in Venice now, survived by his long-time partner, the filmmaker Friederike Schaefer.

Jones was fluent in French, Italian and Latin, the latter which he interspersed in his poetry that echoed his admiration for that of Ezra Pound and the Imagist style. It was also this love of Pound that prompted his multiple travels to Japan.  

Jones had lived on the beach in Nice, worked in a bank at Frankfurt-am-Main, and stayed for a spell in Pavia, Italy, informally extending his education at the University of Pavia. In Milan he worked at Galleria Marconi, Galleria Blu and Galleria Il Milione and in Kyoto Japan he interviewed film-maker, ceramicist and installation artist Hiroshi Teshigahara for a catalogue for Teshigahara’s 1992 show held at Larry Gagosian and Leo Castelli’s joint gallery at 65 Thompson Street. Jones also curated the first important pop-up exhibition in NY during the 1990’s. Along with producers Steven Pollock and Natalie Rivera, he staged an exhibition at a mini-mall on Broadway, next to the former New Museum that mimicked an Art Fair—selling cheap purses and shoes with works by artists BEN, Sal Scarpitta, Alan Jacquet, Jean Dupey and Allen Rupensberg, amongst others.

Jones was very active in the Italian art world with many collaborations with Studio d’ Arte Raffaelli in Trento (Trent). He contributed to the Italian periodical Art Tribune, for whom he wrote the obituary for fellow poet Rene Ricard. Jones also worked with Paolo Barozzi at Camponatto Editore in Milan, and curated the exhibition 9NEWYORK for Studio Raffaelli, which included works by Donald Baechler, Ross Bleckner, David Bowes, James Brown, Ronnie Cutrone, David Salle, Peter Schuyff, Philip Taaffe and Terry Winters. Jones was also active in 2019 at Rome University of Fine Arts as a lecturer on the American art world, that ranged from Leo Castelli to Jackson Pollock. 

But Jones’ passing has gone unremarked in the art press. He has died relatively unnoticed by the art world, which is cruel, as he himself spoke and wrote much about others. (Another paradox.) Jones was the co-author of The Art Dealers (1984) book, now in its fourth edition as The Art Dealers, Revised & Expanded: The Powers Behind the Scene Tell How the Art World Really Works that includes interviews with Betty Parsons, who early-on brought the work of Jackson Pollock and Mark Rothko to the public, Mary Boone, Annina Nosei and the legendary Leo Castelli. Jones would go on to write a book in Italian exclusively about Leo (as he was affectionately called by all) in 2007; Leo Castelli. L'italiano che inventò l'arte in America published by Castelvecchi.

Alan Jones in Paris mid-1990s, photo by Bianca Sforni.

To close this goodbye salute to the poet Alan Jones: I leave you with a short section from my upcoming long book of poetry Styling Sagaciousness : Oh Great No! that Punctum Books is publishing soon. Styling Sagaciousness is a death farce epic poem, divided into seven major sections, that follows up my sex farce epic poem book Destroyer of Naivetés (2015), also published by Punctum. WM

Misconducted Memento Mori and the Mystery Tradition

no 

barbarous otherworldliness

no 

smoldering ones deceived

no

 

no passion for androgyny

no ecstasy in the veins

 

no drinking of the nectar

of all gratuitous ire

 

goodbye dear

gratuitous humanitarian

no gratuitous euphoria here

 

taken loosely as fact

no lurking outside 

 

the window 

of four elements

 

no little secrets

kept

of darkened subtlety

no utterance lent

of voluptuous ornament

 

no cell receptors

subordinated 

to passion

ceaseless go

 

no movement of the seed

in time

for jubilation row

 

no insert jubilation

no genetic inconveniency

no capricious pestilence

described round

the color of thy pee

 

and yet

acrimonious desires rage

for fatal sensuousness be

of maiden scents

behind the fence

dizzying down on one knee

 

  a double game of celebrating 

and mocking death 

through skull fucking

hardly seems worth doing

 

but no no more ergo

to be had

reassuring to a lad

 

no teeming shift

and

dissembled

shout

of

oh my, he’s such a cad

 

no urge for images either 

now

  astride 

the goat eye blind

 

no yield of viral particles

within that dirty mind

 

no capricious 

cells 

in search of bone

 

no discharges from the pressure 

 

no platitudes

no painless flee

from that internal gush

 

no damsel of desideratum

like beautiful Bardot in Mépris

 

no modicum of blown-out hope

to put the world at ease

 

of unheard pleasure pots 

no more

without  

double breasted 

insatiability

 

soil 

dark 

reaches towards the bed

to satisfy a need

 

nor balmy bottomless crevasses

a vex on ye 

no more

no harmonious coded winks

to vex 

like a toy

 

no fermented grapes 

to vex ye still

no Bacchic inebriation

to sooth

 

to vex ye now

it cannot be

this darkness

 

no cruel humiliation

no fettering of the capricious hand

caught in flagrante

 

no deadening of thought

alas

no fléche phallique 

tormenting ass

 

no cheeks smeared with menstrual blood

no tingling of the gonads

 

caught up in prosaic blunder bust

of that odd

so called material world

Joseph Nechvatal

Joseph Nechvatal is an artist whose computer-robotic assisted paintings and computer software animations are shown regularly in galleries and museums throughout the world. In 2011 his book Immersion Into Noise was published by the University of Michigan Library's Scholarly Publishing Office in conjunction with the Open Humanities Press. He exhibited in Noise, a show based on his book, as part of the Venice Biennale 55, and is artistic director of the Minóy Punctum Book/CD project.

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