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As hasty as it may assume today, aback Frank O’Hara died in the summer of 1966 in an blow on Fire Island he was bigger accepted as a babysitter at the Building of Beat Art in New York than as a poet. The banderole of his New York Times obituary apprehend ‘Frank O’Hara, 40, Building Curator’, followed by a subheading that advised his balladry as an afterthought: ‘Exhibitions Aide at Beat Art Dies – Additionally a Poet.’ Today he is about admired as one of the best important and affecting abstracts in the history of 20th-century poetry.

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Just afterwards affective to New York in 1951, O’Hara denticulate a position affairs postcards at the advanced board of MoMA, primarily because he capital chargeless admission to the Matisse exhibition again showing. He bound absorbed himself in the art world, bubbler and talking the night abroad with Abstract Expressionist painters and adolescent poets at the Cedar Tavern and the Club, both allegorical artists’ hangouts. Afterwards a two-year assignment alive at the advanced desk, O’Hara larboard the museum, alone to acknowledgment in 1955 as an abettor to Porter McCray, administrator of the International Program. Rather miraculously, accustomed his average start, he formed his way up through the ranks. At the time of his death, he had been called an accessory babysitter and had amorphous organising exhibitions himself, including above retrospectives of Franz Kline, Robert Motherwell, and David Smith. The artisan John Ashbery wrote in his addition to his abutting friend’s Collected Poems that American painting – and Abstract Expressionism in accurate – ‘absorbed Frank to such a degree, both as a analyzer for Art News and a babysitter at the Building of Beat Art, and as a acquaintance to the protagonists, that it could be said to accept taken over his life’.

Although O’Hara’s affiliation with MoMA has never been a secret, the building has rarely accent it – until now. The anew adapted museum, which opened to the accessible on 21 October, has absitively to allot an absolute allowance to its best acclaimed curator, as allotment of its mission to ‘rethink’ the adventure it tells about the change of beat art. Thoughtfully curated and designed, ‘Frank O’Hara, Lunchtime Poet’ in the 1940s–1970s area of the accumulating galleries will address both to O’Hara aficionados and newcomers alike, who will arise abroad with a acceptable faculty of O’Hara’s animated contributions as poet, curator, and assistant with artists.

Double Account of Frank O’Hara (1955), Larry Rivers. The Building of Beat Art, New York. Photo: © Estate of Larry Rivers/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Upon entering the room, one is greeted by a acclaimed access from O’Hara’s composition ‘Steps’, stencilled in atramentous on one wall: ‘oh god it’s admirable / to get out of bed / and alcohol too abundant coffee / and smoke too abounding cigarettes / and adulation you so much.’ Nearby, two versions of the adolescent O’Hara’s face, at hardly altered angles, beam attentively at passersby. This bifold account by Larry Rivers provides a glimpse of how important O’Hara was as a alternating accountable for art – indeed, his abounding artisan friends, from Alice Neel to Elaine de Kooning to Alex Katz, admired the claiming of aggravating to abduction him in paint. As Rivers already said of his abounding renderings of O’Hara, ‘I consistently acquainted I was abutting to accepting him but I never did, so I kept on trying’ – which may explain the actuation abaft the bifold assuming on display.

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At the centre of the allowance there are a brace of armchairs and a coffee table with a archetype of O’Hara’s Cafeteria Balladry cat-and-mouse to be best up and read. There’s additionally a advantageous dosage of O’Hara memorabilia, including some photographs of him in his appointment at the building or in atramentous tie at exhibition openings, alternating with a shelf of attenuate aboriginal editions of the scattering of books he arise during his lifetime. His abounding collaborations are represented by two examples from Stones, the alternation that he and Rivers completed in 1959. To actualize these playful, funny lithographs, the artisan and painter formed ancillary by side, casual the lithography adorn aback and forth, O’Hara responding to Rivers’s assets with words and carnality versa.

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Love from Stones (1957; arise by Universal Limited Art Editions in 1960), Larry Rivers. The Building of Beat Art, New York. Photo: © Estate of Larry Rivers/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

One bank has a ample video adviser arena some of the alone actual footage of O’Hara, filmed for accessible television in 1966 a brace of months afore his abrupt death. The blow is quintessential O’Hara, the artisan as a becloud of motion and aesthetic activity, accounting up curve for an beginning cine he is authoritative with the artisan Alfred Leslie, talking on the buzz with a friend, chain-smoking, and patting a cat who has jumped up on his lap, afore account some of his best-known balladry while sitting at his desk, including ‘The Day Lady Died’ and ‘Having a Coke with You’, in which he compares his lover’s adorableness to some of his admired works of art: ‘I attending / at you and I would rather attending at you than all the portraits in the apple / except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyhow it’s in the Frick / which acknowledge blast you haven’t gone to yet so we can go calm for the aboriginal time.’

The affectation additionally provides a glimpse into O’Hara’s building work, acknowledgment to some abstracts aggregate from MoMA’s athenaeum – like the yellowed pages on which he jotted bottomward titles of paintings to be included in an accessible exhibition in Brazil, and a spiral-bound anthology he acclimated while accompanying a travelling exhibition to Spain, opened to one of its aback pages. Here we see, in O’Hara’s angled duke in dejected ink, an aboriginal abstract of ‘Now That I Am in Madrid and Can Think’, one of his breakable adulation balladry (with an earlier, hardly altered title: ‘Now That Iberia Has Landed Me Here in Madrid and I Can Think’). The attendance of this aboriginal abstract in one of O’Hara’s assignment notebooks gives us a actual faculty of how carefully intertwined his building activity and balladry consistently were.

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Preparatory cartoon for In Memory of My Feelings (1967), Robert Rauschenberg. The Building of Beat Art, New York. Photo: © Robert Rauschenberg Foundation/VAGA at ARS, NY and DACS, London 2019

Soon afterwards O’Hara’s death, MoMA arise In Memory of My Feelings, a alternative of his balladry accompanied by commissioned assets by abounding of the artists who were abutting to him. It is absorbing to see the 21 basic assets the artists did for the 1967 volume, which affirm to the arresting ambit of beheld artists – from a arrangement of traditions and schools – who acquainted a affiliation to O’Hara, including Willem de Kooning, Robert Motherwell, Philip Guston, Claes Oldenburg, Roy Lichtenstein, Joan Mitchell, Nell Blaine, Jasper Johns, Joe Brainard, and Jane Freilicher. Some of these are absolutely altered from the final versions that arise in the collection. In particular, Rauschenberg’s basic cartoon for O’Hara’s composition ‘A Step Abroad from Them’ is a revelation: added colourful and dynamic, and added quintessentially Rauschenberg, than the monochromatic, sepia-toned adaptation in the book itself. Collaged images – of a cat’s face, a woman’s body, words in altered sizes and typefaces, a ‘One Way’ artery sign, charcoal smears and smudges – all float about and over the argument of the composition in altered shades and colours. The assignment credibility to the actuality that O’Hara and Rauschenberg allotment a added affection than has generally been acclaimed – in their allure with cast-off, begin materials, and their adulation for the burghal and its electric energy.

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The adventure of Frank O’Hara and beat art – or alike aloof O’Hara and MoMA – is conceivably too affluent to accommodate in a distinct admitting deeply arranged room. But I couldn’t advice absorbed about added works and pairings that could accept been included: what if MoMA had army its Larry Rivers canvas Washington Crossing the Delaware (1953) abutting to O’Hara’s composition ‘On Seeing Larry Rivers’ Washington Crossing the Delaware at the Building of Beat Art’? Or had afraid Pollock’s awe-inspiring painting abutting to O’Hara’s ‘Digression on Number 1, 1948’? It would accept been welcome, too, to accept accustomed a fuller faculty of O’Hara’s complex, sometimes controversial, role as curator, art critic, and acquaintance to the artists whose assignment he helped apotheosize in the museum. (Waldo Rasmussen, his acquaintance and adolescent MoMA curator, already acclaimed that O’Hara’s abridgement of able accreditation in art history or building assignment put him ‘under suspicion as a able amateur’, and additionally accustomed that O’Hara’s ‘very accurateness to the artists was questioned as a crisis to analytical objectivity’.) What if the building had explored his role as a acute arch amid the Abstract Expressionist titans he so admired and Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenberg, Alex Katz, and the added Neo-Dada and Pop art ironists of the afterwards 1950s and ’60s, whose assignment he additionally championed? Hopefully, one day the building will accomplish use of its backing and athenaeum to put calm an alike fuller exhibition on O’Hara, accretion on the accomplished appearance curated by Russell Ferguson at the Building of Contemporary Art in Los Angeles in 1999, which featured an arrangement of O’Hara’s collaborations, works aggressive by his poems, and portraits of the artisan himself.

Preparatory cartoon for In Memory of My Feelings (1967), Jane Freilicher. The Building of Beat Art, New York

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Still, this affectation stands as an important affiliate in the adventure of O’Hara’s accession and legacy. It is additionally an archetype of MoMA’s effort, in its new incarnation, to acquaint a added complicated adventure of beat art, in which works from a arrangement of media, including film, music, dance, and literature, co-exist and cross-pollinate. By advantageous accolade to O’Hara, the building acknowledges the acute chat amid painting and balladry in the 20th aeon – additionally represented in an beforehand accumulating arcade with the admittance of La Prose du Transsibérien et de la Petite Jehanne de France (1913), the admirable collaborative artists’ book by the artisan Blaise Cendrars and painter Sonia Delaunay. The abstraction that a top babysitter at a above building could additionally be a prolific, arresting beat poet, with no academic training in art history or building studies, is rather doubtful today. As Peter Schjeldahl afresh noted, O’Hara’s afterlife in 1966 ‘ripped the affection out of an overlap of aesthetic and arcane communities in New York. He couldn’t be replaced.’ Affective through the blow of the abiding accumulating afterwards encountering the O’Hara room, one can’t advice but feel a ache of nostalgia, a accident of possibility.

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It seems astute that the building has assuredly absitively to accord Frank O’Hara this somewhat belated acceptance aural its anointed halls – he is absolutely one of the best and best absorbing ambassadors MoMA has anytime had. As he writes in ‘Digression on Number 1, 1948’, one of his abounding balladry about the joys of alive amid the abundance of the Building of Beat Art:

A accomplished day for seeing. I seeceramics, during cafeteria hour, byMiró, and I see the sea by Léger;light, complicated Metzingersand a abrupt activation by Brauner,a little table by Picasso, pink.

I am annoyed today but I am nottoo tired. I am not annoyed at all.There is the Pollock, white, harmwill not fall, his absolute hand

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and the abounding abbreviate voyages. They’llnever fence the argent range.

‘Frank O’Hara, Lunchtime Poet’ is at the Building of Beat Art, New York.

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