by Lisa Wainwright.
Artist and educator, Barbara DeGenevieve, passed away on August 9 and now the world is a little less interesting without her.
Barbara was irrepressible. I first learned of this willful spirit while a graduate student at the University of Illinois in Urbana-Champaign, where she was on the art and design faculty. There was a great hubbaballo as she had called for the melt down of a 19th sculpture whose sexist bravado [gorilla with naked maiden] had been prominently placed in the entrance of the new Krannert Museum. Barbara’s was a conceptual call to arms with text and photos, aided by her longtime colleague and friend, Alan Labb, and the intent was to incite conversation. This was her steadfast M.O. Years later, when I was her Dean at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago—where she taught since 1994, I was obliged to rein her in with some of the riskier projects. At one point I even placed a letter in her personnel file about not touching students’ genitals, but that’s a longer essay. She and I would laugh about it later, about the infamous penis and its sober critique panel. Then there was her porn class. She was one of the early pioneers to offer studio courses in this arena, and it also got her into some trouble–of course. Semester after semester, I tried to counsel her, temper her a bit. She won mostly. And bully on her. It was about artistic integrity and Barbara had this in spades. Barbara was irresistible. She could charm the pants off you –literally.
She was strikingly good looking. Thin, statuesque, with a mane of wild grey hair—she was that Medusa she had coined as her penname on one of her naughtier websites. Barbara had amazing hands with elegantly manicured nails in lurid green and decadent black, and a sexy barbed wire tattoo that wrapped around her wrist. Her voice was deep and seductive. She dressed well—somewhere between Stevie Nicks and Chrissy Hines [She’s cringing at the Stevie Nicks reference]. Barbara always looked great as she was essentially always on the prowl–for sex, for ideas, for engagement, for life.
Barbara was irreplaceable. She was an amazing teacher with an enormous following. For she gave her students permission to act and think and make with uncompromised abandon. And at the same time, she insisted on their being deeply immersed in art history and theory, particularly around the leitmotifs of power, class, and race. The rigor of theory undergirded her promiscuous practice and she taught this matrix to her students. And they followed. Social media sites have been buzzing for weeks since her death. Across the country and around the world, legions of students are honoring Barbara with their thoughts and condolences. She impacted so many. More recently, Barbara became enchanted with the pedagogy of professional practice. Ironic I thought for someone who liked to break the rules and push the edge. But she was as fierce in her commitment to teaching artists how to manage their careers as she was in helping them find their voice.
Barbara was subversive and kind, radical and caring, unconventional and humane. She was a complex creature with a heart of gold–trimmed in leather. We miss her madly.
images thanks to Hyperallergic