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Published 10/10/2002 email E-MAIL print PRINT

Andrew Forge 1923–2002

Andrew Forge, who died on 4 September 2002 in New Milford, Connecticut, aged 78, was a prominent and influential figure, a teacher and critic, and a distinguished painter, whose loss is regretted on both sides of the Atlantic. His contribution to Studio International was significant, as an Editorial Advisory Board Member, joining with Alan Bowness and David Thompson at a formative time for the journal's future, on GS Whittet's retirement as Editor in 1966.

These were heady days for art critics in London as in New York. Bowness and Forge appeared characteristically in discussion together in Tony Snowdon's photograph in 'Private View', published in 1964. In Studio's own January 1966 issue, Forge fruitfully discussed what had been the biggest ever Bonnard Show at the Royal Academy, debating with Michael Podro. The next issue saw him assessing the pros and cons of colour on sculpture with Antony Caro. In the summer, he contributed a perceptive analysis of Richard Hamilton's own reconstruction of Marcel Duchamp's 'The Bride Stripped Bare by her Bachelors' (June 1966). Two years later, he led a somewhat historic discussion on 'The Relevance of Matisse' (July/August 1968), together with Howard Hodgkin and Phillip King. Forge drew attention to Matisse's lack of awareness of avant-garde, or being part of it: so anticipating the dispersal of such ideas by the 1970s. Forge's famous controversial article on 'de Kooning's Women' was published in December of that year - truly memorable.

Forge was an original commentator; he was one of the first to champion the concept of the mixed show, and envisioned a mixed Biennale for London on such lines, putting the emergent Hayward Gallery on the map. This failed to develop as intended, perhaps because Forge had settled in New York in 1973, where he taught at Cooper Union. By 1975 he moved up to Yale as professor of painting, and dean and director of graduate studies for painting.

Andrew Forge had previously met the American artist Ruth Miller and they married in 1974. He had first been married to Sheila Dean, with whom he had three daughters. But there had been an earlier and key visit to America in 1963, when Forge first came to grips with abstraction. In 1950, Forge had been on the staff of the Slade, and later, in 1964 took over the Department of Fine Art at Goldsmith's College, London. An interesting historical footnote of 1968 records enfant terrible Malcolm McLaren assaulting Forge, as a symbol of the College's authority, with a copy of Chairman Mao's Little Red Book.

Forge was an influential painter. His move from figurative and 'story' paintings to dots and sticks in abstraction was essentially precipitated by the exhibition in London at the Tate Gallery in 1965 and then in 1959 of the work of the American Abstract Expressionists. Yet, David Sylvester was known to openly regret the extent that Forge's painting interfered with his writing (many would argue the opposite). In 1996, an important retrospective of his work was shown at the Yale Center for British Art, but his work has now been too little exhibited in Britain, where a fresh retrospective would be welcome - not only exhibiting Forge's paintings, but also the various critical connections Forge developed and established with lasting effect, as a teacher and critic.

He showed with the London Group from as early as 1950, and was elected the Group's President from 1964-71. In 1981 he could, with insight, maintain these connections with the British exhibition, Eight Figurative Artists, including Bacon, Coldstream, Freud, Kossof, Uglow, George, and Auerbach. This remarkably prescient show was a significant landmark of his career as a painter and teacher.

Forge, as well as being an accomplished painter, was also much respected as an author. His monograph on Paul Klee (1953), on Vermeer (1954) and subsequently on Soutine (1965), Rauschenberg (1972), Bacon (with Dawn Ades, 1985) and Degas (1988) are valued in their range and scholarship.

Apart from his Studio International contributions, Forge ran a regular column in the New Statesman from 1953. The 1974 exhibition which he curated at the Hayward, British Painting was a valedictory landmark. As curator he took pride in nominating a wide range of artists' works, involving some in selecting the show as well. His judgement was widely and increasingly valued. He was a Trustee of the Tate Gallery from 1964-71, and again 1972-74: here he was vital in encouraging the special purchase from the artist of Giacometti's works, then on loan from the artist, in 1965. From 1966-72 he was also a painter-trustee of the National Gallery, London (1966-72), and a Trustee from 1983 of the American Academy in Rome.

Forge was something of a unique individual, and a creditable ambassador abroad for British contemporary art. He had sadly been struck with cancer - ironically for a painter it had started in his eye - but he still returned to his family's farm in East Kent, where he had grown up, every summer to paint.

Michael Spens

 

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