May 20, 2008

Clement Greenberg vs. Harold Rosenberg

In The New Yorker Peter Schjeldahl reports that The Jewish Museum’s chief curator, Norman L. Kleeblatt, has focussed “Action/Abstraction” on the writers, interspersing paintings and sculpture with abundant texts, photographs, and memorabilia. "Film clips display the men’s differently impressive rhetorical panache: Greenberg is incisive and imperious, Rosenberg droll and oracular. (Parallel shots witness Pollock dripping and de Kooning stroking.) Born to Jewish immigrants in New York, both critics were public intellectuals in the heroic mold of Partisan Review and other small but scarcely humble organs of cosmopolitan thought. Buoyed by America’s ascendancy among nations after the Second World War, they projected the confidence of New York as the new world capital of progressive culture. Each seemed to covet a throne of high-cultural authority which proved, in the end, not to exist. Their quarrels have been outlasted by the art that was their pretext. The resilient mergers of feeling and form in Pollock’s galvanic fields, de Kooning’s dismembered figuration, Rothko’s transcendent color, and, in sculpture, David Smith’s stately animation mutely chastise lopsided partialities of any stripe. But the notion of bracketing the artistic and the critical audacities of the watershed postwar era is so good it’s a wonder that no museum has tackled it before. The result suggests, to me, the pleasant conceit of considering Rosenberg and Greenberg themselves as types of Abstract Expressionists, in discursive prose: Rosenberg lyrically impulsive, like de Kooning; and Greenberg as starkly decisive as Newman. Both aspired, à la Pollock, to perfect unconventional modes of argument that would knock any would-be antagonist cold." Read more.

"Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976," curated by Norman L. Kleeblatt. the Jewish Museum, New York, NY. Through September 21.

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