Chuck Close on Early Support for Glass from the Visual Arts Community

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I met Phil in 1964 in Paris where he was studying with Nadia Boulanger and I was on a Fulbright grant to Vienna. We reunited in 1967 through the sculptor Richard Serra when we were both helping him make his early lead prop sculptures. Phil was working as a plumber and actually plumbed my first two lofts in what was to become SoHo.

Philip was part of the vital and exciting downtown mix of artists, composers, choreographers and filmmakers. Philip along with Steve Reich, Terry Riley and La Monte Young were beginning to radically change serious music. He was performing in various artists’ lofts and the legendary performance/exhibition space 112 Greene Street. The musical establishment was either uninterested in or extremely hostile toward Phil’s music. In fact, all of his early support came from the visual arts world. His first public performances with The Philip Glass Ensemble were at the Whitney Museum of American Art, the Guggenheim Museum and the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis.

His first recordings were commissioned by Klaus Kertess, owner/director of the Bykert Gallery, which also happened to represent my work as well as Brice Marden’s and many others. Those recordings under the Chatham Square label included the groundbreaking and shocking Music With Changing Parts (1973) and announced the arrival of “the minimal school of composition,” of which Philip was seen to be its most gifted, innovative and profound member. He shared with many of us in the visual arts a strong belief in process and the use of severe self-imposed limitations. I have seen virtually every performance Philip and his ensemble have given throughout the years, including the legendary, original presentation of Einstein on the Beach at the Metropolitan Opera House in 1976.

In 1968 I photographed Phil for a nine-foot-high black-and-white portrait which is in the collection of the Whitney Museum, and started a four decade-long period of the recycling of that one 1968 photograph, which has produced more than a hundred different works in all mediums, from dot drawings, fingerprint, pulp paper and print editions in even more variations.

Recently, Philip returned the favor (if it ever was a favor that I have flooded the world with an annoying number of images of him) and composed A Musical Portrait of Chuck Close. That generosity on his part and our enduring friendship stands as a high water mark in my life and my career. 

Excerpt appears courtesy of the author and Nonesuch Records, from Glass Box: A Nonesuch Retrospective, © 2008 Nonesuch Records Inc.