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Umbrella Online - Current Issue

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ISSN 0160-0699

Volume 30, No. 1, Mar 2007

Emmett Williams R.I.P.

Emmett Williams was a friend of mine. I met him in 1972 at the Brand Library, where he was part of an exhibition in our large gallery. I met him and his wife Ann Noel while they were installing. I also knew he was teaching at Cal Arts during those dynamic years when Dick Higgins, Alison Knowles, and Allan Kaprow were teaching and administering. From time to time, we would meet in New York at Emily Harvey’s especially when he was having an exhibition. But the force of this man, the intellect, and the talent were felt everywhere I went. People talked about Emmett in Poland as much as in Japan. He was an amazing American poet whose transposition of words into visual art and performances made him not only one of the founding members of Fluxus, but a mover and a shaker.

He died in February in Berlin at the age of 81, where he had been living for the past 27 years. He was editor in chief of The Something Else Press in 1966, editing “The Anthology of Concrete Poetry”, still a monument today, and had written “Sweethearts,” two of his most widely recognized works. I had the great fortune of collecting those works and remembering the profound respect I had for the man.

When he came to Los Angeles to perform in 1998, I was assigned to be his chauffeur for a week and what a rare week that was for me! I did so with the caveat that he would give me time for an interview and that he did. In fact, I think he would be glad that his own words were quoted from that interview in his obituary in the New York Times on 1 March. Those who knew him will miss him. Those who did not know him will also miss him, for he added so much to the history of performance, poetry and Fluxus. Emmett we hardly knew you.

There will be a memorial for him on April 1 at the Emily Harvey Foundation at 537 Broadway in New York City.