Many of us who work in or had passed through the Chicago art world of the 1990s and 2000s were shocked to learn that Kathryn Hixson died suddenly on Sunday, November 7. By the time I got to know her Kathryn was established as a writer, critic, and the editor of New Art Examiner. She had some advanced training as an artist but I never knew her as one. She was a Carleton alumna and that was an early connection between us. After I found that out, I wasn't surprised to hear about her migration from art making to art writing. That seemed like a shift somebody who went to Carleton would easily make.
Kathryn gave me some of my first breaks as a writer. We were in the audience at a panel at the Smart Museum of Art's exhibition Ecologies. I asked a question from the floor–now I can't remember what it was. Kathryn, who I'd met only briefly before then, told me she liked the question and asked me to review the show. She offered to make it one of their longer "extended" reviews. I said yes and that was my first paid piece of writing.
A few months later, she asked me to write a long article about Kerry James Marshall, timed to coincide with his February keynote at CAA in Chicago that year. She set me up to visit Kerry's studio and it turned out to be the beginning of my following Kerry's work up close for about ten years now. I will always be grateful to Kathryn for thinking of me then. She could have assigned it to a more experienced writer but was looking for fresh voices. Writing that piece, I wanted to satisfy her more than anyone.
I know Kathryn gave chances and advice to many other young writers and artists, too. She was that wonderful combination of critical and generous.
After New Art Examiner folded I would run into Kathryn here and there, casually catch up on her curatorial projects when we talked, and hear about her taking jobs or positions. Though I'm sure she would touch people in the positive ways that she touched me wherever she was, I sometimes wondered if she would find herself a position of wide reach again; I always hoped that she would.