Suzi Gablik, an artist, author and critic who wrote the first English-language biography of René Magritte, died on May 7 at the age of 87. In volumes that are still relevant today, Gablik took on a wide range of topics, including the commercialization of art, the relationship between art and the ecological and sociological spheres, and that between art and morality. Gablik firmly believed that artists could bring about social change, and also believed that the term artist itself deserved a broad definition. “I’ve always tried to deconstruct the cultural narrative that links art to career, self-promotion and the creation of ‘art stars’, and that is linked to the obvious gallery and museum entanglement,” she said. Integral assessment‘s Russ Volckmann in 2007. “I wanted to validate and expand the possibilities for art making so that they could include many more options.”
Born in New York in 1934, Gablik was introduced to art through her father, who accompanied her to the city’s many museums at an early age. In 1951, after a summer at the legendary Black Mountain College in North Carolina, she enrolled at Hunter College in New York, where she received her undergraduate degrees in art and English. While there, she befriended abstract expressionist Robert Motherwell. After graduating, Gablik created and exhibited collages, mostly with images ripped from the pages of glossy magazines. In the early 1960s, she began writing criticism for: art news and Art in America† she would eventually become the London correspondent for the latter publication for fifteen years, from the 1970s through the 1990s.
In 1969, Gablik edited with John Russell Pop Art Redefined, which related to a study at the Hayward Gallery in London that examined Pop Art through a formalistic lens. Around that time, Gablik came into contact with Magritte through a collector; she spent the better part of a year with the surrealist and his family in Belgium while working on his biography, Magritte, published in 1970, in which she specifically referred to Magritte as a “son of boredom.” Among her other volumes are: Progress in art (1977), in which, to the dismay of art forumJeremy Gilbert-Rolfe, she cast the work of avant-garde artists like Sol LeWitt and Kasimir Malevich as “more complex” than that of their Renaissance predecessors Leonardo and Uccello; Has modernism failed? (1982), in which she linked contemporary art to consumerism and argued for its removal from that framework, sometimes leaning on spiritualism; and The renewed enchantment of art (1992), in which she reduced art’s ties to the natural world. Later volumes include: Conversations for the end of time (1995) and Living the Magical Life: An Oracle Adventure (2002).
In the 1970s, Gablik gave lectures through the American International Communications Agency in countries such as India, Hungary and Pakistan. She has taught at Virginia Commonwealth University’s School of the Arts and Washington and Lee University. Her art is held in the collections of the Black Mountain College Museum in Asheville, North Carolina, and the Smithsonian American Art Museum in Washington, DC. Her papers are held by the Archives of American Art of the Smithsonian Institution.