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Edit DeAk, a Champion of Outsider Artists, Dies at 68

Attuned to the emerging alternative galleries and performance spaces in downtown Manhattan, the journal, published out of Ms. DeAk’s SoHo loft, turned the spotlight on art at the margins: performance art, video art, conceptual art and outsider art. She had a special affection for street art, which she once called “information from the middle of the night.”

Ms. DeAk’s critical style was personal, quirky and inventive, with adjectives like “nuancical” popping up unexpectedly.

“You couldn’t tell if it was a Joycean toying with the language or a problem of translation,” Mr. Robinson said in an interview. “She was a poet.”


Edit DeAk in June.

William Howell

The prose was a calculated affront to the rarefied theorizing that surrounded minimalism and dominated the slick art journals.

“There’s something rotten about a structure that produces terminological pollution and calls it theory, like a mob-controlled waste disposal company,” Ms. DeAk once wrote. The goal was “to destroy the criticship of critics,” she was quoted as saying in an unpublished article for Artforum magazine in 1974.

It was also to get there first, even if that meant writing about art still in the studio. As a part-time assistant at the alternative gallery Artists Space, Ms. DeAk organized a series in 1974 devoted to video, performance art and readings that included Laurie Anderson, Kathy Acker, Adrian Piper and Jack Smith. She was later among the first critics to notice Jean-Michel Basquiat, before he began showing in galleries.

She continued to beat the bushes in the early 1980s as a contributing writer for Artforum, where she and her fellow critic Rene Ricard covered the downtown scene like a zeitgeist tag team. Ms. DeAk later wrote an occasional column for Interview magazine. Called “The New According to Edit DeAk,” the column was based on her Polaroid pictures of gallery openings and parties.

The critic William Zimmer, in The SoHo Weekly News, summed her up succinctly: “DeAk has been everywhere before anybody.”

Edit Deak was born on Sept. 16, 1948, in Budapest, to Bela Deak and the former Vira Csatkai, a teacher. Little is known about her early life.

At 18 she married Peter Grosz, an artist, who later changed his surname to Grass. Soon after, the couple, traveling separately in the trunks of two cars, crossed the border from Hungary into Yugoslavia and, after a stay in Italy, made a beeline for Manhattan, determined to plunge into the New York art world.

Ms. DeAk also changed how she rendered her last name; capitalizing the “a,” she seemed to think, made it seem more American. She used a lowercase “d” at the beginning of her career and an uppercase “d” later.

Her marriage to Mr. Grass ended in divorce. Her survivors include a sister, Eva.

Ms. DeAk earned an art history degree from Columbia in 1972. In her senior year, she took a seminar on art criticism given by Brian O’Doherty, the editor in chief of Art in America. Also in attendance were Mr. Robinson and Mr. Cohn, who became her fellow conspirators in the creation of Art-Rite.

The magazine, published irregularly until expiring in 1978, envisioned the alternative art scene as a social collective and itself as an enabler. It invited Dorothea Rockburne, Pat Steir, William Wegman and others to design its covers, and made space in its pages for artists to write or show their work.

In 1976, Ms. DeAk, with Mr. Robinson, Sol LeWitt and Lucy Lippard, helped found Printed Matter, a publisher and distributor of artists’ books.

When Ingrid Sischy, the director of Printed Matter, took over as editor of Artforum in 1979, she saw a kindred spirit in Ms. DeAk, who had contributed gallery reviews to the magazine for several years — someone who blurred the boundaries between art, fashion and night life and practiced art criticism as theater.

Ms. DeAk, in return, delivered prescient articles on the Italian Neo-Expressionist painters and the post-Conceptual artist Joseph Nechvatal.

Poor health and heavy drug use sidelined Ms. deAk for the last two decades of her life. The scene she covered so vividly retreated into distant memory, but traces of her presence lingered.

In 2007, as developers converted a loft at 151 Wooster Street in SoHo into a luxury condo, they uncovered a wall decorated with graffiti by Mr. Basquiat (then using the tag SAMO), Fab 5 Freddy and Futura 2000, seminal figures in the graffiti art movement.

It turned out to be Ms. DeAk’s old apartment.

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