The loss of book dealer, promoter, collector and champion John McWhinnie in a water accident last weekend at a young age is a devastating one to those who love books, especially old books, which, these days, is just about every book. The smell of the paper, the design of the cover, the tattered pages and convenient cocktail napkin employed as a bookmark, all experiences before the reading, remain the hallmarks of John, as presentable and gracious a fellow as ever walked Park Avenue.
His exhibitions were first rate; John Waters, Brigid Berlin, James Frey. I went to Jack Hanley's amazing "Diggers" show at his Watts Street gallery last Friday and was again reminded that the literary collectibles from the 1960s that I have in my library are now as old as the Civil War, turning to dust at McWhinnie's untimely death. McWhinnie's emporiums, on East 64th Street and in East Hampton, their stock supplemented by the great bent bibliophile Richard Prince, were the Elaine's or the Mortimer's of fading bookland.
Everything unique from Barney Rosset of Grove and James Laughlin of New Directions down to cookbooks by Holly Woodlawn and sex advice from James Beard. Serena Altschul, splendid cultural correspondent of CBS, weeps for McWhinnie and Vincent Fremont mourns his soul.
"I can't go on, I go on," says Godot. McWhinnie has breathed his last. Books don't breathe: they catch our breath. So did McWhinnie!
CHARLIE FINCH is co-author of Most Art Sucks: Five Years of Coagula (Smart Art Press).