Terry Fox

I've done performances that went on for hours, and we all (the people who were there) got so close, you know, that at the end it was just—wonderful. It was like you were sorry to leave or something.

Terry Fox was born in 1943 in Seattle. At the age of seventeen, he was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s disease, a cancer of the lymphatic system. As Brenda Richardson wrote in the 1973 catalog for his solo exhibition at the University of California Berkeley Art Museum, “Fox’s installations and performances describe, sometimes quite literally, the physical and emotional circumstances of illness, hospitalization, isolation, and the physiology of being alive, death, and spiritual transfiguration.” As a young artist, Fox was drawn to the ephemeral nature of performance, he said, because “the only people this art exists for are the people who are there, and that’s the only time the art exists.”

After graduating from high school, Fox lived for several months in Italy, briefly attending the Accademia di Belle Arti, Rome, then moved to San Francisco. Three years later, he spent a year in Paris, then returned to San Francisco to live for a decade before moving permanently to Europe, to Cologne, Germany. Fox began to establish a reputation as a performance artist in 1970 with a solo show at the Richmond Art Center, California, called “Levitation Piece”, in which he lay on a mound of earth in the gallery and attempted through concentration to levitate his body. He was included in an important group show, “Prospect 71”, at the Kunsthalle, Düsseldorf, in 1971, and in Documenta V in Kassel, Germany, in 1972.

In 1972 Fox made a visit to the labyrinth at Chartres Cathedral and wrote that “although it exists physically, on the floor of the cathedral, it is not really an object at all; it is a metaphor.” For several subsequent years, Fox set about expanding that metaphor in performance work, sound works, and video. Constance Lewallen described one of his sound pieces, The Labyrinth Scored for the Purrs of 11 Different Cats, in a 2003 catalog essay for Fox’s solo show at Kunsthalle Fridericianum in Kassel, Germany: “The piece uses recorded tape loops of different cats purring to create an auditory metaphor for walking the labyrinth. Each step is replaced by ten seconds of a single cat purring, until the listener reaches the symbolic center when all the cats finally purr together.” Another expansion of the labyrinth metaphor that engaged Fox’s imagination was the pendulum. In a 1977 etching made at Crown Point Press, Fox recorded a pendulum’s progress with acid dripped onto a plate.

Terry Fox had two Project exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art in New York, in 1971 and 1980. He was included in the Whitney Biennial in 1975 and had an exhibition at the important New York performance space, the Kitchen, in 1976. In 1984 he was included in the Venice Biennale. His work is in the collections of the San Francisco Museum of Modern Art, the Berkeley Art Museum, and the Musée des Beaux-Arts, Ottawa, Canada, among other museums. In 2008, Fox died in Cologne, Germany. His estate is represented by the Gallery Anglim Gilbert, San Francisco and Ronald Feldman Fine Arts, New York.

-Kim Bennett, Crown Point Press

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