January 25, 2012

Adolph Gottlieb lamented the end of the underground --in 1966

Yesterday I went to The Phillips Collection in Dupont Circle where Joseph Marioni is having an elegant solo show of monochromatic paintings through the end of the weekend. The Phillips, which opened in 1921, was founded by Duncan Phillips,  a champion of Modern art and, particularly, American artists, many of whom he knew personally. Adoph Gottlieb must have been one of his friends because this unusual Gottlieb entered the Phillips collection in 1963--the year it was made. I looked up Gottleib, who with his wife Esther Gottlieb founded the Gottlieb Foundation to support struggling artists, and found this interview with Andrew Hudson for a 1966 Washington Post article called “Gottlieb finds Today’s Shock-Proof Audience Dangerous."


Gottlieb: I think the situation today is similar to the period when Surrealism became important in France and Europe and the only painters who were able to continue working in the tradition of Cubism were those who were the originators and initiators of the movement. It wasn’t possible to have a really significant second generation of Cubist painters. What happened was that the younger painters who were able to contribute something went into another direction, which happened to be Surrealism. And I think a similar thing has happened today: That the so-called New York School, or Abstract-Expressionists, consisted of a group of painters who were about my generation and they are the legitimate practitioners of their concepts. But when so many young painters became involved in trying to carry out some of the ideas of Abstract Expressionism, it became rather academic.

Hudson: A sort of manner…?
Gottlieb: Yes. It was like Andre Lhote doing Cubist paintings of football games, and it became second-rate, and it was necessary for painters to develop other ideas. Now, I think the point is that Surrealism also had certain popular elements that could appeal to a large public like the postcard color, the use of realistic, naturalistic techniques, as in Dali- so that this was a kind of dilution of the values that had existed; there was a lowering of the standard that Cubism had. It just so happened that it wasn’t possible to do anything, to use Cubism as a springboard, let us say. I don’t think any movement ever is a springboard for another movement.

Hudson: It has to start again.
Gottlieb: Yes. The tradition of modern art is a tradition of revolution: there’s one revolution after another – for better or for worse. And I think that’s what we have today: there’s been a revolution, the older Abstract Expressionists can legitimately continue working in their way, but young people have to find some other way.

Hudson: Do you think sometime or other there’ll be another revolution somewhere.
Gottlieb: There is one now and there will be others. I think that one of the problems is that today what we are witnessing is the development of art in a democracy, and this never existed before. The idea of a democratic art which can reach many people ultimately must be a notion of some kind of mass culture. And this is the dismal aspect.

I don’t know if it’s possible for artists to feel that they can even go underground any more. We felt that we were living in an underground; we felt that we were a bit outside of society and, in a sense, outcasts. If such a mood could develop among artists, this would be a good sign – but I haven’t seen any signs of it. They all want success more than achievement.

I think one of the sorriest examples is that of two young artists – who I guess are taken rather seriously – recently collaborated on a scheme to use a computer go find out what people really liked best. The computer told them, for example, what color combinations people liked best, what shapes they liked best – and on the basis of this information they jointly made an object. I think the idea was to make it so that it could be duplicated. Obviously this is a different spirit than what has happened in the past with artists who are serious an independent.

What’s unfortunate is that nobody seems to be in a position to make a criticism of what’s going on, about standards being lowered, and having false ideals…We have a lot of young critics, and the young critics feel that the way to succeed in their own area is to espouse and support whatever it is that’s catching on, and if they can be the first ones to proclaim it, they can then become another Clement Greenberg, perhaps. They try to ride on the tail of whatever seems to them to be the art which is viable at the moment.

You have a situation in the art world that’s become like show business; and, after all, if you’re in the museum field, or if you’re an art writer, there has to be a great deal of grist for your mill. You’ve got to be putting on shows all the time, which will draw the public in; and you also have to have new material to write about. Suppose that you were convinced that in the last 30 years or so there were only a handful of artists who were making an important contribution, and these were the ones who were worth discussing. You wouldn’t have much to write about, let us say, if you were writing for a magazine.

I think that at least two thirds of the vast new art public that we have today has never made a serious attempt to study art; they only know about art because they’ve started going to some exhibitions in the last three years, and they’ve read some reviews in newspapers or art magazines. And that’s their total knowledge…

But, of course, I don’t have a really objective view of what the art situation is. I think that some of the dealers might be in a better position to evaluate; they see the artists coming in with work all the time.
The other thing is that I don’t really care too much, because there isn’t anything that at my stage of the game I can do about it – I have to concentrate on continuing to work out my own problems. In other words, my path has been determined over the years: I believe the only thing I have to do is stay with my own direction.

Related Two Coats post:
Abstract Expressionism at MoMA
"Artists less celebrated, whose work used to seem flatfooted and obvious to me, now scan as forward-thinking. What I once considered lesser paintings because of the color, composition, brushwork, or surface quality have come to look fresh and challenging in their visual awkwardness. Adolph Gottleib’s symbolic contrivances, William Baziotes’s acidic color, Hans Hoffman’s clunky palette knifery, and Clyfford Still’s jagged edges are more in tune with the uncomfortable aesthetic decisions painters are making today...."

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5 comments:

"They all want success more than achievement." This really struck a chord as I see it constantly being drummed into conversations on artist social networks, art business sites, etc.

Great read and I so agree with this " I believe the only thing I have to do is stay with my own direction."

cheers Jafabrit

I read this blog and as far as I am concern, I think we must go with our own direction. Getting the achievement and success both are placed in their own manner. I appreciated to the author for sharing the nice Blog.

"The idea of a democratic art which can reach many people ultimately must be a notion of some kind of mass culture. And this is the dismal aspect." Could have been written today..... as it is very much in evident.

I see lots of what he was talking about happening today. People don't seem to really care if the work is great or not. If a gallery is showing them, there will be a consensus amongst people who wanna be near you just because you are having a show in a gallery. Doesn't matter if your work is good or not.

I thought I'd add a little context to the interview. Andrew Hudson was at one time the main Art Critic for the Washington Post as well as a professor at the Corcoran school. He was know in gallery circles as being a real "artist's critic". Also he was notoriously anti-trend.

I see this Gottlieb interview as two alike minds concerned more with a timeless approach rather than a here and now kind of criticism. It's a great find - thanks for posting it.

Hope DC is treating you well.

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