a huge transfer of art resources: Bill Bartman

with Elizabeth Murray

Bill Bartman died this morning

An often messy, quirky, ornery bastard, but otherwise (and often at the same time) great company and a great friend with a great heart, Bill Bartman was also a selfless, totally-committed patron of the arts and an enemy of the morally and spiritually-dead who currently control the larger American public landscape and dialogue.

A dogged defender of women in the arts, an enemy of elitist institutions of any kind, but especially those which seek to prevent easy access to literature and the visual arts, Bill never lost touch with the smaller lives around him: He was unapologetic about his exuberant affection for kids and animals; I've watched him read to both.

Bill worked tirelessly to get books, especially art books, into the hands of people who did not have them, including many who would know they wanted them only once they became his beneficiaries.

His gallery space survived until the money finally ran out (including much of his own capital, and the gradual de-accessioning of his own art collection) and throughout those years Bill refused to compromise his principle that the artist was the real curator, and the artist must not have to share the receipts of any sales.

Bill Bartman died this morning after a truly heroic struggle with the multiple fiends which had been assaulting his body for years. Most of his friends have been so impressed with his awesome survival story that this latest news will be no less a shock than a report that he had been run over by a truck. He was a great soul.

Gosh, we're going to miss him.

William S. Bartman was the founder and continuing head of Art Resources Transfer, Inc., A.R.T. Press and the Distribution to Underserved Communities (DUC) Library Program

UPDATE: There will be a memorial for Bill Bartman at 2 pm on Saturday, November 5, at the Society of Friends Meeting House off Stuyvesant Square, and everyone is welcome. There will be cookies

[image by Bill Zules from A.R.T. Press]

I am deeply saddened by the news of Bill's passing. His encouragement and enthusiasm began with our first meeting in 1996 when I showed him a book dummy of my photographs. From that day onward, through several years of exhibitions of my work at ART, and several versions of book dummies, Bill's enthusiasm and encouragement never ceased. Finally, my book, Builder Levy Photographer has actually become a reality, published by William Bartman/Art Press and Art Resources Transfer. I wish he could have seen it. The book has not yet been unloaded from the container in the port, but I feel, perhaps, if only in a small way, it incorporates some of Bill's beautiful spirit and his life's meaning. I know it does for me. I am grateful for having known and worked with Bill Bartman. I will very much miss him.

Thanks James, for letting us know about Bill. Something about this news and Builder's comments makes me feel bound to all the other people who's lives he touched and lucky to have been a part of something extraordinary. I will miss him, too.

Bill Bartman, you crazy giant. Thank you. When i first met you, I thought that you would die while we talking. Now, I know that you will live forever.

For the best illustration ever of Bill's respect for artists see Ed Winkleman's wonderful story on his own blog.

Mad as a hatter and difficult to work for. Yet exceedingly kind and generous too.

Art resources on 22nd street was the only place in Chelsea (or anywhere else, for that matter!) where you could get tea and cookies on a gallery round, show Bill your portfolio and get a show, all within 15 minutes! Every bit of free wall space was allocated to an artist, which led to a freedom and a vibrancy. The shows would communicate. Better still, the artists and visitors communicated. When I first started working there, I was shy, reserved, very English. Bill pushed me into the space and said: “Go on, talk to people. Tell them about this place. Talk about the work”. That sorted out my shyness. I have remained convinced about the need to communicate about contemporary art in a human, accessible manner ever since. He urged artists to come on Saturdays so the visitors could meet them. I met some of my best friends in New York at art resources. Bill gave many people chances (self included), who wouldn’t otherwise get them. I can still hear Bill’s high pitched squeal when he’d discovered his toy gorilla in the bathroom in a noose with its paws stapled together (David). Not your average work setting. Nothing average about Bill either.

Thank you Bill. I really wish you could have had a more comfortable ride.

I spoke with Bill on Sept. 14 and told him that I would come to visit him on Saturday, Sept 17. This visit was one of several I had made to Mt Sinai as well to his apartment this summer because he selected me to create the chapter frontispiece images for a children's book written by his longtime friend, Norma Jean Wood titled "Addie's Dream". He said that he may not be there and had told Norma Jean the same day that he was "going home". Bill's enormous presence is living on in his own incredible way.

I'm honored to be part of his chosen family.

Without a doubt Bill Bartman was one of the most compassionate individuals concerned about ethics in the art world, preoccupied with the artists who he felt weren't recognized for their efforts, and pursued a fierce attitude of getting art information out to those who least understood it in an attempt to educate. He was beyond a patron to me, he was a "patron-saint". I will miss Bill and his most unusual and unique personality and behavior. In the 30 years that I have been focusing my energies on art making I have only met one individual that personified the essence of a supporter of the visual artist, regardless of the style, media, or intention, and that was Bill. I have known Bill since 1979 and myself and my family will sincerely miss him. Lots of love, Pat Sparkuhl & family

Bill Bartman was the most idealistic person I ever met in the art world. His belief in the potential value of everyone's contibution was unparalleled. I remember walking into A.R.T. on 22nd street for the first time and thinking that I had stumbled into someone's apartment by mistake. Bill was sitting in a overstuffed chair by a plate of cookies, and I sat down and chatted as though I were a guest arriving unexpectedly early at a party, with the host's undivided attention. He was that host for me and for so many others, and it is hard to believe that he's gone.

I have just read Bill Bartman's obituary. Why must the world lose people like him?

But I also have a question to ask:
Is this the same "Mr. Bill Bartman" who taught high school English in Pasadena California at a girl's school for a year or two--1970-1971. He grew up in LA, went east for college.

This "Mr. Bartman" had a high-pitched, nasal voice, loved the arts and was rabidly anti-elitist, loved film, theater and all art, and was dynamic and funny.

He would have looked similar to the man pictured in the photo above, except our teacher had wire-rimmed glasses. He advised me on an animated film I made for school. He went "out on a limb" for his students.

Either way--your Bill Bartman's idealism, art-love and distribution of free art books are awe-inspiring. Just knowing about such a person, even though they've passed, even though you've not known them, is a tonic.

Everything I know about the Bill Bartman we came to love here in New York makes me think that the wonderful "Mr. Bill Bartman" D. Smith remembers from school in Pasadena is very likely the very same guy, but another reader may be able to confirm it.

It is the same Bill Bartman. My children go to school in Pasadena and Bill told me all about his adventures as a teacher in a school nearby.

Bill had many many lives all wild and interesting or at least he made them seem so in his tales.

I was always amazed that Bill could stay alive so long and stay so wild- the last time I was with him I was running behind his electric wheelchair on the streets of NYC he wanted to show me how he could go faster than all the cabs.

I'm so sad to hear of his death.

We will miss him dearly.

Bill was a breath of fresh air that glided through the arrogant air that tends to cling
to the art world. He treated every one as an equal
and I am thankful for knowing such a man.

I'm glad that Bill gave me a chance to see the work of so many great artists who had been ignored by the commercial art establishment.
When he closed up shop on 11th ave, I regretted not spending hundreds of dollars on books there, just to get most of what I'd wanted from his shelves.
Still, I think I must have been hallucinating when I visited the place, and even worked for A.R.T. briefly... the Bill that Jonathan and Builder describe bears no similarity to the one I knew. It's very odd.

Hello everyone,
Bill was a divine being who adores his dogs more than anyone I have ever known. We STRAY FROM THE HEART, are the group he adopted from. We want to make sure that his dogs are in a good situation, and we will take them if there is any problem. If anyone knows anything about them could you please email me. I know Bill would want us to know.
love and hugs

Susan, Bill's two dogs are now frolicking with some of his dearest friends, a wonderful couple with two young children, a house and a yard in a small town on the Hudson River north of New York.

the current Brooklyn Rail has two full pages devoted to several artists' memories of their friend Bill

When a friend told me of Bill's passing I cried. When I thought of Bill's spirit I smiled. It was such a short time that I knew him, our relations were a mere comma in the great story that is Bill Bartman's life. But I have to say it is one of the most real relationships I can recall.(I know how important it was for me) He was genuine. A tireless and selfless champion for the artist. It is, as all who knew him a tremendous loss. Thanks for everything Bill.

I have a terrible memory for details, but I will never forget Bill Bartman as my 11th grade English teacher at Westridge School (for girls) in 1970-1971. He was by far the most inspiring and inspired teacher I had at Westridge, challenging us all to push the limits of education and our own notions of it. When I went to college near L.A., my college friends and I would visit Bill at the theater I believe he started there (LA Actors Theater? Anyone have memories of that?). He would invite us to productions, and we'd sleep overnight on his floor with the cockroaches crawling all around. For an 18 yo from a pretty sheltered childhood, I realize how incredible it was that Bill created a situation that felt completely natural and comfortable, and yet for me at that time was a walk on the wild side. I have kept track of Bill on and off over the years , more from a distance, and wish I could have spent more time in his sphere. Your imprint is powerful, Bill.

Wow. What to say about Bill Bartman…He taught at Westridge (school for girls, no less) in Pasadena, California, for just a year or two. What an impact. What memories. He was our 11th grade English teacher. He wanted to teach the course “pass/fail” instead of giving out letter grades, but wasn’t allowed to, so he gave us all “A”s. I remember the morning assembly when it was announced what record high GPA’s our class had. Even then, in 1970-71 he wasn’t well, and we’d go to visit him at UCLA medical center. We made “magic” brownies just for him, but they fell into the hands of some of our less adventurous classmates. That, too, made quite a stir back at school. None of the class of ’72 will soon forget Grad Night, at my family’s home in Laguna; Bill sitting in the sauna with half a dozen, half naked, beautiful, young women. I remember he was appalled we didn’t have any Little Richard records. What energy, what enthusiasm, what encouragement. He touched all of our young lives. Were we lucky, or what?

Jackie Lipton has added a comment on one of my subsequent posts. It can be seen here.

Thinking of Bill today. His gallery was important to so many of us artists. You are very missed!