||Judith Hoffberg’s death on January 16th deprives the art world of a most unique publisher, of Umbrella, and historian, and this publication of a much valued contributor and friend.
From Judith’s final “From the Editor” in Umbrella:
“One would not have imagined a disease chasing me down the end of the road, but it happened in August, diagnosed in September, analyses were done by experts, and I came home on the first of October to hospice at my home.
“As soon as I walked into the house, my life completely changed; I was a cancer patient. As I write this, I have been organizing my archives, throwing things away I never would have otherwise, and preparing myself for the last journey.
“Through the years, from the beginning, I have depended upon all the [institutions and individuals] that supported me in this 31-year endeavor. But it is also the artists, friends, and colleagues, who have allowed me to produce Umbrella. Without you, it could not have happened.”
I first met Judith in the mid-1980's when I was working at the Washington Project for the Arts. My book education began at Bookworks, the WPA's artist's book store where Judith was a frequent visitor. When I moved to Santa Monica after CalArts in I began running into Judith at galleries and art openings. We were able to trace how we knew each other and often discussed people we knew in common. Judith collected people, like she collected books and umbrellas.
|Once I traveled with Judith to Chicago for a book event. I lugged my heavy bag as she wheeled her carry-on with ease. She knew where to go and who to see, she was the one driving me, while in my mind I thought it would be the other way. A few years back she asked me to design the Umbrella anthology. It was only then that I realized the scope and breadth of not only her knowledge, but her network and her support of people who made artists books.
Working with Judith was not always easy, she was strong willed and opinionated. She knew what she wanted. I was happy to be able to collaborate with her on that book, and later on some postcard projects. If there was a book I wanted, or wanted to look at, I knew Judith would be able to locate it for me. Whenever I made a new book, she was always among the first to express how amazing it was.
This summer she complained of being run down, yet she continued as if nothing was wrong. When she found out there was, she tried to remain in high spirits. But when someone who is always on the go, is told to stop, its not so easy. I watched Judith fight for as long as she could. Her goal was to see Obama inaugurated. I am sorry she passed before that moment occurred, yet I think she knew in her heart that we are finally moving in a positive direction. I regret that she is not here to welcome that change.
Picking up Judith's mail at her PO Box during the last few months was always a treat. Not a day passed by when she did not receive some interesting package or decorated envelope, someone sending her a special something from so many disparate locations. She opened each with such joy and was always surprised by the contents. "WONDERFUL," she would exclaim!
People all over the world loved her, were there for her, took the time to make things for her and shared what they could. She was surrounded by friends and family even when she wanted to be alone. "Tell them not to come," she'd say, not wanting anyone to see her at less than 100%, not wanting them to make a special effort on her behalf. Yet people came because they wanted to be with her, because they cared and because they were saddened that this extraordinary woman's life was cut short.
Judith was someone who was always there for me and so I wanted to be there for her. Brian Moss and I visited her every other day including the day she died. The void, I feel and will feel, has to do not only with the loss of a friend but with the loss of someone who built a community that I was lucky to become a part of. It is my hope that that community can and will live on.
Judith and I took a break from the last AICA conference in Paris to survey the graves of celebrated artists and writers at Pere-Lachaise Cemetery. Tombs and memorials, their placement and how they reflect the lives and times of those they honor, became the subject of our lively conversation.
I doubt that Judith has left instructions for any words or images to be carved in marble on a tombstone erected in her honor. However, as I scan through the hundreds of emails from ”Umbrella” that I don’t have the heart to delete, I see in the quantity and variety of her posts, clear evidence of the breadth of her knowledge and concerns in areas including political activism, books and umbrellas, art and cultural events, critical reviews, etc. world wide. Along with slews of emails she made to umbrella recipients, were others directed specifically to issues of interest to me. Judith’s urgings ran the range from lists of hundreds of shows and events I was directed to see when I went traveling anywhere outside L. A. to links to the latest research benefiting my husband in his struggle with Parkinson’s.
An email I received from Alexandra Pollyea sums it up beautifully: “Judith was for me an extraordinary observer and appreciator of culture and humanity; a person of direct opinion, great wit, and a generous heart.”
What can one say about Judith Hoffberg, except once you have met her you will never forget her. Our paths crossed many years ago at the L.A. County Museum of Art. Since we both covered the local art scene (and both were writing for ArtScene), we ran into each other all around the Southland.
It didn't take long to discover her formidable intellect. With a quick wit, facile tongue, and encyclopedic knowledge of art, Judith didn't suffer fools lightly; but the glint in her eye gave her away. Inside of her stoic, no-nonsense facade was a warm and loving person with a compassionate heart and a hunger for justice.
Whenever we met, we exchanged opinions of what we saw with total respect for the other's point of view. Whether it was a small gallery near the beach or a major museum in the city, Judith was straight as an arrow. The last time I saw her was at MOCA's reception for the Louise Bourgeois exhibit.
Sitting in a wheelchair, she told me quite candidly that she almost didn't make it--that she had been in the hospital, had some bad news, refused treatment, and was going into hospice. Then we hugged each other and Judith said goodbye, which left me speechless in the middle of the gallery.
I can still see her smiling as her friends wheeled her away. She was as exceptional human being, and once you've met her you can never forget her.