Friday, January 27, 2006

Ken Oda

I just found out that Ken Oda died on January 15, 2006, and this obituary in the WaPo is astonishing to me in its absolute lack of mention of Oda's massive contributions to the DC area arts scene through the publication of the Ken Oda Art Newsletter (KOAN), which for many years was the main documentation of what the Greater Washington area visual arts was all about.
Ken Oda
You can add a personal note about Ken online in his WaPo obit here.

The Ken Oda Art Newsletter and later on the Ken Oda Art Newsletter ArtWOW website were for many years the strongest documentary voice of what was going on in the visual arts around here.

Ken Oda gathered a diverse group of writers, assigned reviews, interviews and article ideas to them, and then sent us around the Greater DC area to cover what was going on in our galleries and museums. He then assembled all of our reviews, cut and pasted a magazine together, had it printed and then hand delivered the magazine to nearly all galleries in the area as well as posted them to his many subscribers.

He was tireless in his zeal to expose to the public the great art scene that was and is the Greater DC area, and was one of the first voices around here to actually do something about the apathy of the mainstream media in covering our visual art scene. As an editor he was fair and sensitive to all points of view. Oda and I disagreed on nearly everything that dealt with contemporary art, and his tastes and mine (in art) were world's apart. Nonetheless, we shared many a glass of wine and many a beer discussing these differences, and his ability to always keep an open mind, and refrain from pushing his own point of view to the exclusion of others was one of his greatest gifts as an editor, art collector extraordinaire and friend.

At one point Ken burned out from the publishing demands and the magazine ended; I am told that a complete set of the KOAN Art Newsletter is now part of the archives of the Library of Congress, as a reference tool for historians and people who want to know what was going on on our area's galleries and museums in the 1990s; to a detail and granularity that none of the newspapers ever covered (and it has gotten significantly worse since then - back in those days both the "Galleries" column and the "Arts Beat" column were weekly columns and both of them focused on the visual arts).

And then Ken became one of the first to take his crusade to expose the DC art scene to the world on the Internet, and somewhere in the late 90s he started ArtWOW, with reviews, interviews and a message board, which for a long time was one of the only online voices to discuss and talk about DC area art.

Ken's illness took us all by surprise, and a few weeks ago most of the writers and friends who knew Ken Oda gathered to pay an homage to Oda. I recall that he looked frail, but was happy and loquacious as ever. In retrospect I now realize that Ken was probably hiding not only a lot of pain, but also making all of us feel better and secure about his presence.

Ken Oda will be missed, but his footprint and his legacy on the Greater Washington area art scene lives in the minds and hearts and resumes and bibliographies of the thousands of artists whose shows were reviewed in KOAN over the years, as well as on the silent thanks of future historians who will have access to the past issues of his newsletter to find out what the visual arts in Washington, DC were all about in the 1990s.

Farewell my friend, and thank you!

Update: In defense of the WaPo's short notice about Ken, the WaPo tells me that "although it falls under 'obituaries' on the site, it's technically what we call a "death notice" in the paper (much shorter, with bare-bones biographical info -- it doesn't even have his age!!). If a true, bylined obituary had been written, I'm sure his contributions to the art scene would have been mentioned."

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