Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man | Our Town | Chicago Reader

Portrait of the Artist as an Old Man 

Tristan Meinecke's Final Days

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Last fall, at the age of 87, Chicago artist Tristan Meinecke was the subject of his first retrospective. While the exhibit of his paintings, drawings, constructions, and recorded music was being mounted at 1926 Exhibition Space, Meinecke said to one of its curators, John Corbett, "I just hope I make it until the show." But when I interviewed him in September he seemed vigorous to the point of pugnacity: when I took offense at his use of the term "little faggot" to describe a former Art Institute official he disliked, he responded by asking whether the Reader wasn't a "hippie newspaper."

He proceeded to give me a terrific interview, spiced with stories of his premarital sexual escapades and of erotic propositions he'd declined since marrying Angel, his wife of 57 years. A few of these anecdotes made it into print. Corbett says Meinecke complained to him that the profile made him look like a "sex maniac."

"I was there for most of it and that's what you sounded like, Tris," Corbett replied.

Meinecke, Corbett says, laughed and said, "I guess you're right."

Shortly before Christmas, says his son Brad, Meinecke was watching a football game on TV, rooting for his school, the University of Michigan. When the game turned against the Wolverines, he jumped up in anger and then fell over, injuring his leg. Admitted to the emergency room, he was diagnosed with a serious blood infection.

While hospitalized Meinecke went over the galleys for "Sherman Walks Straight," a story he wrote in 1943, soon to be published in a new literary journal, Parakeet. He noticed that an editor had removed a few words, then remembered having agreed to the changes. "I've never had anybody edit me," he said to Corbett. "I could use an edit."

Discharged after eight weeks of treatment, Meinecke convalesced at home for two weeks, then took a turn for the worse and was rehospitalized on February 21. Brad describes seeing him "splayed on the table, not responsive, arms out in kind of a crucifixion pose. While the doctors were working furiously to revive him, one doctor leaned over and said in a very loud voice, 'Mr. Meinecke, Mr. Meinecke, can you touch your nose?' He put his thumb on his nose and extended his four fingers and wiggled them. That pretty much sums up my father's spirit."

His body failing, Meinecke was placed on life support, which his family resolved would be discontinued at noon on February 25. Meinecke spared them from having to abide by their decision by dying at 8:20 AM that day, two weeks after turning 88.

Some of the "building full of art" that Meinecke left behind will be sold at auction in a few months, says Brad. Other pieces will be placed in museums.

Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bruce Powell.

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Performing Arts
June 26
Galleries & Museums
Tech Vanitas ARC Gallery
April 30

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