In Memoriam: Joe Zucker (1941-2024)

The Museum mourns the loss of collection artist Joe Zucker, who emerged from Abstract Expressionism to pursue a constantly evolving artistic inquiry into the physical properties of painting. His unorthodox approach to artmaking yielded several innovative and unpredictable techniques and bodies of work throughout his 50+ year career. From his iconic paint-soaked cotton balls to deconstructed grids, he rarely repeated a method and always pushed boundaries: tools, materials, processes, procedures, content, and subject matter were all interrelated in his opinion.

“My paintings are about the process of painting,” Zucker once said. “It’s a blue-collar, proletarian approach. The work touches on the issues of the relationship between the process of painting and the meaning and use of the materials.”

The Parrish was fortunate to work with Zucker for the 2023 Artists Choose Parrish exhibition series, where 41 renowned artists with deep roots in the East End selected works from the collection to be shown with their own work. In his typical inquisitive approach, Zucker added various layers to this task: he was interested in works with maritime themes that he felt were art historically significant and paired them with one of his works relating to water, Regatta 8 (2016), which he marked using shark fins. He brought the works to life by activating the wall with red burlap as a nod to the former Parrish building, where founder Samuel Parrish used red-tinted burlap to cover the museum walls.

Installation View: Joe Zucker Artists Choose Parrish, Part I B at the Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, April 16–August 6, 2023. Photo: Gary Mamay

Zucker’s own work from the Parrish collection, Aquarium, 1970, made of cotton balls, acrylic, and Rhoplex, was chosen by Amy Sillman during Artists Choose Parrish. Zucker’s last active involvement with the Parrish emphasized his deep love for the Museum and the East End, and the love and respect he enjoyed from his fellow artists. The Museum has exhibited Zucker’s work several times over the years, including two shows that illustrated the breadth of Zucker’s varied themes and processes: Parrish Perspectives, Joe Zucker: Life & Times of an Orb Weaver (2015), featuring newly acquired prints and drawings inspired by the workings of spiders; and Joe Zucker: The Boxer (2019), consisting of Boxing Rounds #13, #14, and #15 (1981), a large-scale triptych inspired by the bloody boxing gloves at the end of a prizefight.

Our hearts go out to his wife Britta Le Va.

Joe Zucker, (American, 1941-2024), Spider, 1991. Acrylic on Japanese rice paper, 17 3/4 x 24 inches. Parrish Art Museum, Water Mill, New York, Gift of Julia Childs Augur 2014.10.5

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