Judith Hoffberg, May 19, 1934 – January 16, 2009
Until stopped in our tracks by a sign posted on the glass doors of the Centre Pompidou apologizing for the indefinite closure of the museum due to a labor dispute, Judith Hoffberg and I were making fair progress working our way through her list of places “we simply must see” while in Paris for the 2006 AICA art writer’s conference. Refusing to be stymied, Judith offered up a cheer for the workers and instantly switched to plan B, paying our respects to celebrated writers and artists entombed at Père Lachaise Cemetery. The critical analysis of monuments carved in stone, their placement, how they reflected the lives and times of those they honored, and their relevance to the living became the subjects of our lively discussion.
By January of 2009, Judith’s earthly remains had been set adrift. Her friends, such as Alexandra Pollyea, consoled each other with summations of her life: “Judith was for me an extraordinary observer and appreciator of culture and humanity, a person of direct opinion, great wit, and a generous heart.”
But perhaps the editorial Judith composed for the last issue of Umbrella is her most appropriate memorial. “The whole field of artist books became my life and I wanted to share it with all of you… With this issue I say goodbye, knowing full well that you can always read back issues, do database research in all the issues from vol.1 no. 1, with Umbrella being a free journal for all to read, from 1978 through 2008.”
In addition, as I scan through the hundreds of emails from “jumbrella” that I don’t have the heart to delete, I see in the quantity and variety of her posts clear evidence of the breadth of her knowledge and concerns in areas ranging from political activism, books, mail art, and collecting umbrellas to suggestions for living a rewarding life on limited funds. Typical is an Umbrella email enumerating Library Success’s suggestions for distributing unwanted books. Their recommendations cover everything from worthy donation sites to art and altered book projects including those featured at http://www.funforever.net/archives/dont-try-this-at-home.
The doors to the Pompidou reopened the day before Judith and I left Paris. Once inside, she directed me to a site that she felt might be appropriate for one of my Looking Out photos—postcard-sized pictures taken with a hand-held digital camera of the type typically carried by tourists. These images play with an inversion of the expected. Instead of focusing on artwork housed within museums and galleries, they utilize windows and doors to frame investigations of the art institution’s position within the community and its influence on our view of the world outside its walls. Over the years, I have sent hundreds of Looking Out j-pegs via email to friends around the world. Judith, ever the promoter of artists’ books, urged me to compile a collection of Looking Out photographs some day. Those selected for this issue of X-TRA were among her favorites.
Diane Calder began honing her photographic skills documenting her own paintings, books and performances, along with the work of other artists, at the Woman’s Building in the ‘70s. Calder earned her MFA from CalArts and undergraduate degrees at Cal State Northridge, where she taught classes in contemporary art and mass media. While teaching, showing work, and writing reviews for publications such as High Performance and ArtScene in L.A., New York, Europe and Japan, Calder began emailing “Looking Out” photographs to people such as Judith Hoffberg, whom she befriended after documenting an artist’s book exhibition Hoffberg curated.