Nalini Malani on Thomas McEvilley (1939 – 2013)

Veteran artist, Nalini Malani pays tribute to the esteemed art critic, Thomas McEvilley, who recently passed away

Thomas McEvilley and Bhima (named for the second and strongest of the Pandava Brothers in the Indian epic, the Mahabharata. Photo: Joyce Burnstein Image credit: The Huffington Post

Image credit: The Huffington Post

Mumbai: Thomas McEvilley, the internationally esteemed art critic, cultural historian, and scholar of Greek and Indian philology passed away on March 2, 2013. I was very saddened to hear of Thomas’ passing away. He was still young and had much to finish. We became friends since our very first animated, passionate and intense arguments during the days he visited me in my studio in Lohar Chawl, in the wholesale markets of Bombay in 1985.  And then we would pick up the thread whenever I met him in Johannesburg, New York, Amsterdam and Dublin.  His lifelong work “The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, 2001” is a compendium of deep research and knowledge and I have carried it with me since he gave it to me with a beautiful inscription in his own hand in Greek. Yes – the true scholar that he was – he was learned in Greek, Latin and Sanskrit. And I had heard him chant the Heart Sutra from the Buddhist scriptures, for his deceased friend, the artist James Lee Byars at the Appel in Amsterdam.

I wish I could chant the Heart Sutra for him in his passing.

Saffronart is thankful to Nalini Malani for sharing her thoughts. Thomas McEvilley is best known for his influential essays on contemporary art and criticism written over a span of twenty years for the trade journal, Artforum. He has written about Nalini Malani’s work since 1986 and has contributed  major essays to a monograph published by the Irish Museum of Modern Art (for Malani’s first major solo exhibition in Europe in 2007) and the Brooklyn Rail. His seminal work,  The Shape of Ancient Thought: Comparative Studies in Greek and Indian Philosophies, mentioned above spans thirty years of  his research, from 1970 to 2000. In this book, McEvilley explores the foundations of Western civilization. He argues that today’s Western world must be considered the product of both Greek and Indian thought, both Western philosophy and Eastern philosophies. He shows how trade, imperialism, and currents of migration allowed cultural philosophies to intermingle freely throughout India, Egypt, Greece, and the ancient Near East.  A recently published  obituary of the critic in the New York Times credits him for being a vital alternative voice in the 1960s, when the art world was dominated by formalist thinking. McEvilley was also a distinguished teacher, lecturing art history at Rice University (1969 to 2004),  Yale University and the School of the Art Institute of Chicago. He  founded the MFA program in Art Criticism and Writing at the School of Visual Arts in New York in 2005, and served as the Department Chair there for three years. Learn more about Thomas McEvilley here

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