Glenn O’Brien’s “The Style Guy” column in GQ magazine pertained not only to fashion but also to how people carried and represented themselves.
The writer, editor and poet will be acknowledged for his influence on the arts at the Hammer Museum on Jan. 14, promoting the recently released “Intelligence for Dummies: Essays and Other Collected Writings.” The book is a collection of O’Brien’s commentary on music, art, politics, fashion and advertising. The event features various people reading his works, some of whom have worked with O’Brien. Michael Zilkha, who has collaborated with O’Brien, said having multiple people read excerpts from the book showcases the diverse fields O’Brien covers.
“He was a brilliant chronicler of the last 40 years whether it was in fashion or music or art. … There was an incredible prescience to him,” Zilkha said. “He would really know what was happening and had a very interesting angle of things.”
Freelance arts journalist Linda Yablonsky, who will read at the the event, said she was an avid reader of “Glenn O’Brien’s Beat” in Andy Warhol’s Interview magazine. While this was meant to be an amusing column regarding late 1970s music and nightlife culture, she said he also included politics, society and fashion simultaneously.
O’Brien did not portray topics such as politics and fashion as mutually exclusive, as Zilkha said O’Brien approached politics indirectly as opposed to head-on and derived universal truths from cultural specifics. For example, when O’Brien writes about Sarah Palin in “The Rhetoric of Confusion: Sarah Palin and the Rise of Mediocracy,” he focuses on speech patterns as well as politics, he said. This is also demonstrated in his book “How to be a Man: A Guide To Style and Behaviour For The Modern Gentleman,” which pertains not only to fashion but also to how to behave and conduct one’s life to be a gentleman, Yablonsky said.
“He wrote about art in a way that I always admired because it wasn’t academically (overwhelming),” Yablonsky said. “It was very straightforward, and he didn’t hold back in either his enthusiasm or judgment.”
Another reader O’Brien was close to is creative director Andy Spade, who said O’Brien considered advertising to be very similar to art because it could take up former causes of art, such as philosophy and beauty. Spade said an important part of O’Brien’s work was demonstrating that one could work across several media, such as film, television, advertising and writing including his columns “Like Art” and “Fashion Ate Art.”
“(O’Brien) called himself a writer, but he was many things,” Spade said. “The fact that he’s so difficult to describe is what makes him wonderful. … That’s a magical kind of thing about (O’Brien).”
Accordingly, Yablonsky said O’Brien created and hosted Glenn O’Brien’s “TV Party,” a late-night variety talk show on public-access TV. O’Brien had a pioneering presence in television, and author Jonathan Lethem, who was inspired by O’Brien’s public-access shows as a teenager, said O’Brien almost inadvertently invented reality TV. Yablonsky said “TV Party” focused on people in the underground arts scene in Manhattan and served as a precedent to cable television.
Yablonsky said O’Brien’s ability to juggle multiple creative projects in a day makes him resonate deeply with people across the arts industry.
“At the event, I hope we can capture the flavor of all of these things,” Yablonsky said. “There aren’t too many people like him in the world today who can be credible on all these fronts at once and maintain all these … different relationships with musicians, writers, fashion people.”