The Unforgettable Works of 15 Artists Who Died in 2018
We lost many beloved artists in 2018. The list includes the creator of possibly the most iconic work of Pop art; a pathbreaking ceramicist; a tireless documentary photographer; and a pioneer of Photorealism. Some lived into their nineties; others died tragically young. As the year comes to a close, we take a look back at some of the most impactful artists who died in 2018—and the timeless works for which they’ll be remembered.
Robert Indiana (1928–2018)
As the subtitle of his 2013–14 retrospective at the Whitney Museum of American Art—“Beyond LOVE”—made clear, Robert Indiana’s career came to be defined by the prints and sculptures he first created in the 1960s, with the distinctively stacked letters of the word “LOVE” in bold red, blue, and green. Though the image partly came from the artist’s own heartbreak, it instantly achieved iconic status as a zeitgeisty encapsulation of the late-1960s ethos of peace and love. Indiana would go on to make countless editions of the work in various media (and languages), even creating an alternative version with the word “HOPE” to express his support for Barack Obama.
Laura Aguilar (1959–2018)
At the time of her death in April, Laura Aguilar—a Chicana photographer whose powerful and sensitive images documented the dreams, realities, and ambitions of various marginalized groups—was in the midst of a career renaissance. She was coming off prominent inclusion in the Getty Foundation’s 2017 “Pacific Standard Time” program, and had a retrospective touring the country (it will be at Chicago’s National Museum of Mexican Art in 2019 and New York’s Leslie-Lohman Museum of Gay and Lesbian Art in 2020). That retrospective included many of Aguilar’s self-portraits, which are among her most powerful works, demonstrating not only the originality of her vision, but also the strength of her voice.
Jack Whitten (1939–2018)
Jack Whitten’s adventurous approach to painting—specifically, to intensely process-based abstraction—earned him respect among his peers early on, and, in the last years of his life, widespread acclaim. (A posthumous exhibition that traveled from the Baltimore Museum of Art to the Metropolitan Museum of Art this year also shed light on his lesser-known sculptural practice.) His most famous body of work, the “Black Monolith” series, features abstracted portraits of influential African-Americans—including Maya Angelou, Ralph Ellison, Chuck Berry, and Amiri Baraka—rendered primarily in luminescent acrylic tiles.
Betty Woodman (1930–2018)
Betty Woodman started out in the 1940s and ’50s making more functional objects, but eventually became one of the leading figures in bringing ceramics from craft into the realm of contemporary fine art. Through it all, she continued to riff on the forms and patterns of decorative arts, simultaneously honoring and upending convention in colorful, deconstructed vase sculptures.
Geta Brătescu (1926–2018)
The pioneering Romanian artist Geta Brătescu staunchly resisted the pressure to follow the artistic dictates of her country’s Communist party, finding her voice in enigmatic, irreverent videos and, later, largely abstract collages and drawings. The latter works, which defined her practice in the last decades of her life—and formed the centerpiece of her solo presentation in the Romanian pavilion at the 2017 Venice Biennale—have an infectious, playful approach to geometry.
David Goldblatt (1930–2018)
South African photographer David Goldblatt unflinchingly documented daily life in his country during the apartheid era. But rather than training his lens on the places and moments where the nation’s institutional violence exploded into actual, public violence, he allowed the tensions, inequities, and injustices of the society to seep out in everyday scenes.
Malcolm Morley (1931–2018)
Over a career that spanned more than a half-century, the revered British painter Malcolm Morley distinguished himself twice as an early adopter of a style that would become widely popular. In the 1970s, he started painting in a loosely figurative style that anticipated the Neo-Expressionist vogue of the following decade. But for many, the Photorealist paintings he made in the 1960s—exacting renderings of everything from mod-ish domestic spaces to ocean liners—remain his most indelible.
Per Kirkeby (1938–2018)
It seems fitting that Per Kirkeby, the renowned Danish Neo-Expressionist painter, went to university to study geology when, as a young man, he became convinced that he couldn’t cut it as an artist. His most distinctive canvases feature large-scale compositions filled with color that nonetheless retain something of the earth, of volumes and masses piled atop and embedded within one another like landmasses glimpsed from afar.
Wendell Castle (1932–2018)
If you’ve walked through Manhattan’s SoHo neighborhood—or the equivalent high-end shopping district of any other global capital—you have seen one of Wendell Castle’s daring designs through a store window; perhaps you were even drawn in to get a closer look and try to figure out just how on earth he made such a thing. Castle was a daring designer who managed to combine cutting-edge processes with a classicist sensitivity and a touch of irreverence; his most iconic creations are his chairs, which ranged from elegant wooden forms to smooth and shiny fiberglass. Castle’s chair designs figured prominently in many exhibitions with his New York gallery Friedman Benda, as well as his 2015–16 solo show at the Museum of Arts and Design and an ongoing exhibition at the Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art.
Robert Morris (1931–2018)
A hybrid artist who married Carl Andre’s Minimalist interest in industrial materials with something resembling Chris Burden’s penchant for interactive (and potentially dangerous) installations and performances, Robert Morris’s work took many forms over the course of seven decades. But his most instantly recognizable works are the enormous, folded, flopping, and dramatically cut felt wall sculptures he began making in the late 1960s.
La Wilson (1924–2018)
A beloved figure in her hometown of Hudson, Ohio, La Wilson was a fixture at local flea markets and garage sales, where she collected multitudes of worn and well-loved everyday items. She would transform these pieces by enshrining them in her distinctive, frame-like constructions: Wunderkammer-style wooden boxes containing meticulous—but never precious—arrangements of found objects.
Ed Moses (1926–2018)
A core member of the coterie of California artists known as the “Cool School,” Los Angeles painter Ed Moses experimented relentlessly with different styles of abstraction. Though he created many memorable compositions, none may be so distinctive as his monochromatic crackled paintings, which look like swaths of crisp salt flats applied to canvas.
Cui Xiuwen (1970–2018)
One of China’s most successful contemporary women artists, Cui Xiuwen rose to fame with her 2000 video piece Ladies Room, which she shot in a nightclub bathroom with a spy camera. Later, she shifted to abstract, geometric painting in the final years of her life. But Cui’s most instantly recognizable works may be her photographic series focused on outsized female figures set against snowy landscapes and Beijing’s Forbidden City.
Jacqueline Hassink (1966–2018)
Jacqueline Hassink, The meeting table of the Board of Directors of Total, from “The Table of Power 2,” 2009. Courtesy of Benrubi Gallery, New York City.
Dutch photographer Jacqueline Hassink created several series of elegant, eloquent images that honed in on spaces that are symbolically—and sometimes actually—charged, from car trade shows to jam-packed subway cars and Zen Buddhist gardens. But her most powerful series is her breakout body of work, “The Table of Power” (1993–95), plus a sequel series she began shooting in 2009 after the recession hit; the photographs showcase the empty boardrooms of major companies and banks, from BP and Total to BNP Paribas and ArcelorMittal. “I wanted to find a table that symbolised modern society’s most important value: economic power,” she said of the series.
Dawn Clements (1958–2018)
In her exacting ink drawings and watercolors, Dawn Clements imbued still-life compositions and panoramic interiors with vibrant life. Her unique talent for bringing the nuances of three-dimensional space onto the page is most emphatically articulated in her drawings based on the spaces occupied by characters in classical Hollywood films, allowing the viewer’s gaze to read her drawing like a camera panning across a scene.