Archive for the Kenneth Noland Category

My grandmother, Billie Sinclair (Noland) Barnes passed away on Wednesday morning, September 3, 2008, at 5:05 am Pacific Daylight Saving Time, after a long illness. She was 84 years old, and survived by her husband, John Wesley Barnes, son Jay, daughter Pamela, and three grandkids.

The poem posted below—which was originally posted on CAFA on May 15, 2008, just after the death of Robert Rauschenberg—was actually intended to be a tribute to my Grandma Billie, who had just become bedridden at that time. I’ve added an additional Postscript, in honor of my grandmother’s death, to the version I originally posted on this site. Enjoy.

The 1964 Venice Biennale

for Billie

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
Kenneth Noland’s paintings occupied half the American pavilion
at the Venice Biennale,
and Robert Rauschenberg won
the Gran Premio—
the youngest artist to do so to date.
As a result Europeans raged about America,
its Pop sensibilities
and its imperialistic designs—
though they didn’t riot like they would in 1968,
when I was two.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
my parents met on a blind-date trip down to Tiajuana,
in Baja California,
and my mother’s mother,
my grandmother Billie Ruth,
celebrated the twenty-somethingth anniversary
of her divorce from Kenneth Noland,
whom she had met in Asheville, North Carolina,
during the Second World War
when she was just eighteen-years old
and had run away from her mother.

In 1964,
less than two years before my birth,
the esteemed Cardinal Urbani proclaimed a Biennale ban,
and the president absented himself.
Critics fumed too,
at Castelli’s campaign for the American.
“An offense to dignity,” said one;
“A general defeat of culture,” another.
But the artists could care less,
Chamberlain hopscotching across piazzas like a bear,
Oldenburg and his melting typewriter,
Cunningham and a safety pin to hold up his pants.

In 2007,
Forty-three years later,
long after half of these men’s deaths,
and after I had reached the age that Noland was at that time,
I would read about the Venice Biennial
and its embarrassment of riches,
about Rauschenberg’s combines
which had everything but Merce Cunningham’s pants.
And I would pause and consider
how things never really change—
unless you are a cobbler or a typewriter repairman—
and that is both a good and bad thing.

(Postscript)
Then, in 2008,
In the spring of the year,
I passed through Captiva Island,
Where Rauschenberg kept his own council as he faded,
And my grandparents in California
Barked at hospice workers,
Accusing them of swiping their savings,
And treated their family like gold-digging strangers.
When my mother shunned Billie Ruth’s funeral in September,
I sent a note to the artist Noland—
Though he wouldn’t know me from Adam—
And he replied that he had fond memories of her.