CLEMENT GREENBERG: A Life by Florence Rubenfeld


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A sympathetic biography of the controversial critic who championed the abstract expressionist school as early as 1944, when he anointed Jackson Pollock and a few others as the ""future of American painting."" The bristly Greenberg, who died in 1994, began writing literary and art criticism and essays in the '30s, while working for the US Customs Service in New York. His classic manifesto ""Avante-Garde and Kitsch,"" published in the Partisan Review in 1939, distinguished high art from popular middle-class diversions, arguing that it was the function of the avant-garde not to experiment but to find a path along which culture can keep moving, In his celebration of artists like Willem de Kooning, Pollock, Morris Louis, and David Smith (and in his sweeping denunciation of Pop art), Greenberg, who in later years wrote for the Nation and Commentary, developed a reputation as a fighter, his power and influence earning him vocal enemies. Rubenfeld, a former East Coast editor for the New Art Examiner, notes the influence on Greenberg's criticism of T.S. Eliot, a sometime Partisan Review contributor, from whom Greenberg may have drawn in formulating his ideas on modern art and its relation to earlier traditions. Usefully locating Greenberg in the context of American art-world politics and letters, and making a persuasive case for his importance, she makes no apologies for the critic, who could be both brilliant and devastating in his opinions, even of his friends' work. His personal life as presented here was a series of fractured relationships. But as Rubenfeld notes, when he committed critically to an artist's work, he committed personally as well, forging close social ties with many of the painters and sculptors whose work he was drawn to, though these positions of influence sometimes led to inevitable questions of conflict of interest. A clear and honest summary of the life of one of the most pugnacious, influential, and original critics of modern art.

Pub Date: March 1st, 1998
ISBN: 0816644357
Page count: 322pp
Publisher: Scribner