Warren Niesłuchowski, 1946–2019

The artist, writer and artworld vagabond has died

Warren Niesłuchowski in Simon Leung’s War After War (2011). Courtesy the artists

Warren Niesłuchowski, the artist, writer, translator, collaborator and editor, whose nomadic lifestyle came to be considered as an artwork in itself, has died, age seventy-two.

Born in a Polish refugee camp in Germany after the Second World War, he immigrated with his parents to the US where he was raised. After deserting the Vietnam War in 1968, Niesłuchowski exiled himself to Paris and started performing with the Bread and Puppet Theater throughout Europe and in Iran, later joining a post-68 theatre collective inspired by the pioneering methods of Jerzy Grotowski’s Teatr Laboratorium. He returned to the US in 1974, after Gerald Ford offered partial amnesty to Vietnam deserters, and enrolled in an undergraduate art programme at Harvard (which he would never complete). Following a chance encounter with Alanna Heiss (then director of MoMA PS1) on a train, he moved to New York became Heiss's assistant at PS1. It was only after losing his East Village apartment that he left his job and embarked into a life of itinerancy and vagabondage, depending on the hospitality of his vast social circle across the globe (‘How long can a passing visit be extended before it becomes – before it threatens to become – something more like cohabitation? What are the limits to one’s hospitality, one’s toleration? You don’t just take Warren in; you take him on,’ critic Barry Schwabsky wrote in an oft-quoted 2011 essay for The Nation).

One of the many artists he met and befriended during his time at PS1 was Simon Leung, then on a residency, who went on to make two feature films about Niesłuchowski – Warren Piece (1993) and War After War (2011). Talking to Tyler Coburn about their collaboration back in 2012 (ArtReview December 2012), Leung observed: ‘In some ways, because of how the artworld is set up, we make room for Warren. I’m interested in how he carved a life out of this particular apparatus'; before adding: ‘He doesn’t quite know what his project is, and I, in a way, am the one who insists that he is an artist.’

20 June 2019