John Perreault, “Polyartist” of the New York School (1937-2015)

John Perreault, by Philip Pearlstein (1975)

The New York Times reports today that the poet, artist, and art critic John Perreault has passed away, at the age of 78.  In Terence Diggory’s Encyclopedia of the New York School Poets, Perreault is described as “an emblematic figure when it comes to the sensibilities of the New York School; he is, as Richard Kostelanetz would call it, a ‘polyartist,’ someone more interested in making art than in classifying his work into any particular genre. Perreault is an art critic, curator, poet, fiction writer, and visual artist, and his fusion of different media is indicative of the way the arts often commingle in the New York School.”

Perreault came into the New York School orbit when he took a formative class at the New School with Kenneth Koch in the early 1960s.  His work was included in the second issue of the New York School house journal Locus Solus, and his first book featured an introduction by John Ashbery.  By the later 1960s, Perreault had become an influential art critic for the Village Voice and had begun creating works of conceptual and performance art as well.

From the New York Times obituary:

John Perreault, an art critic at The Village Voice and The SoHo Weekly News who was an early champion of feminist art and the craft-oriented pattern and decoration movement in the 1970s, and who later held senior curatorial positions at the Snug Harbor Cultural Center on Staten Island and the American Craft Museum, died on Sunday in Manhattan. He was 78.

The cause was complications of gastrointestinal surgery, his husband, Jeff Weinstein, said.

Mr. Perreault started out as a poet and painter, but after being recommended by the poet and art critic John Ashbery, he began writing criticism for Art News. In 1966, The Village Voice made him its chief art critic, and he used the position to make the case for new art and work outside the mainstream, especially the creations of feminists like Judy Chicago; photorealism; art with gay content; and the pattern and decoration art associated with the Holly Solomon Gallery.

On Artopia, a blog on the website Arts Journal that he started in 2004, he described his interests as ranging “from Minimalism and Earth Art to realist painting; from pattern painting to performance art; from street works to ceramics and design.”

Mr. Perreault’s reviews were required reading for anyone trying to make sense of the swirling, often confusing, art scene of the 1970s, when movements and trends vied for attention.

As an artist himself, he became friends with many of the subjects he wrote about.

Alice Neel painted him, nude, in a portrait shown at her 1974 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art. In“The Turkish Bath,” Sylvia Sleigh painted him — nude again — with his fellow critics Lawrence Alloway and Carter Ratcliff. Depicted from the chest up, this time wearing a shirt, he was the subject of a 1975 portrait by Philip Pearlstein.

John Lucas Perreault (pronounced per-ALT) was born on Aug. 26, 1937, in Manhattan and grew up in Belmar, N.J., and other towns along the Jersey Shore. His French Canadian father, Jean, parlayed his experience cooking on merchant marine ships during the war into a series of restaurant jobs…

After studying briefly at Montclair State Teachers College (now Montclair State University), he enrolled in Kenneth Koch’s poetry workshop at the New School for Social Research in Manhattan. His first poetry collection, “Camouflage,” was published by Lines Books in 1966, with an introduction by Mr. Ashbery. He was also the author of the collections “Luck” (1969) and “Harry” (1974).

In the mid-1960s Mr. Perreault began exhibiting his paintings at One Eleven Gallery in Greenwich Village. He soon turned to conceptual and performance art. For the Poetry Project at St. Mark’s Church-in-the Bowery, he recited a long poem, “Hunger,” as color slides were projected on his back. He also did a series of street projects with Vito Acconci and, with Hannah Weiner and Eduardo Costa, organized the Fashion Show Poetry Event, which featured clothing made by Andy Warhol, Claes Oldenburg, Alex Katz and other artists.

Perreault Street Music

Perreault Street Works 2

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