It's hard to believe that Leo Steinberg is gone at 90. All I can contribute about him is, surprise, this report on our fun encounters over the last ten years or so.
First off, I was kinda thrilled he even knew who I was, like a sandlot ball hawk in 1950s Manhattan being recognized by Willie Mays. Whenever Leo saw me, he would pull up his cloak and cover his face, walking slowly backwards as if I were from Transylvania. It was as if you threw Willie Mays the ball and, jokingly, he dropped it.
Unbeknownst to Leo, I was very friendly with his shrink, who lived in my building, and who would occasionally give me tips about his state of mind. Hence, I was always ready with a quip to engage him. Leo was a smoker, a good looking guy who was insecure and vain about his appearance and a lifelong lady's man with all the weaknesses that entails.
Out of my own insecurity, I would always have some fact from the real world ready for him, to try to stump the wizard. In 2005, blabbing with Leo near the Hudson River in Chelsea, I informed him that Henry Hudson and his son had been pushed out to sea on an ice floe by their mutinous crew to their deaths. Leo was astounded by this bit of history, launching into an animated dialogue about exploration and the river, during which I commented that, when Henry Hudson first approached what is now Battery Park in 1660, that the smell of the wildflowers was so intoxicating that his crew got high from the scent. It didn't prevent mutineers from subsequently killing the Captain, however.
Captain Leo was a great discoverer, with the ego and confidence to introduce his own fetishes and neuroses into any artwork for the higher purpose of interpretation, a sort of mental coagulant. I'd like to think that, in my small way, I do the same, but Leo would laugh at that. One more giant of the mind in the art world gone, and, under the current dispensation of art thinkers, never to be equaled or replaced.
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).