Clement Greenberg : biography
Clement Greenberg (January 16, 1909 – May 7, 1994) was an American essayist known mainly as an influential visual art critic closely associated with American Modern art of the mid-20th century. In particular, he is best remembered for his promotion of the abstract expressionist movement and was among the first published critics to praise the work of painter Jackson Pollock.
Art history, Abstract Expressionism and after
Greenberg wrote several seminal essays that defined his views on art history in the 20th century.
In 1940, Greenberg joined Partisan Review as an editor. He became art critic for the Nation in 1942. He was associate editor of Commentary from 1945 until 1957.Roger Kimball, , Commentary, December 1987
In December 1950, he joined the government funded American Committee for Cultural Freedom. Greenberg believed Modernism provided a critical commentary on experience. It was constantly changing to adapt to kitsch pseudo-culture, which was itself always developing. In the years after World War II, Greenberg pushed the position that the best avant-garde artists were emerging in America rather than Europe. Particularly, he championed Jackson Pollock as the greatest painter of his generation, commemorating the artist's "all-over" gestural canvases. In the 1955 essay "American-Type Painting" Greenberg promoted the work of Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still, as the next stage in Modernist art, arguing that these painters were moving towards greater emphasis on the 'flatness' of the picture plane.
Greenberg helped to articulate a concept of medium specificity. It posited that there were inherent qualities specific to each different artistic medium, and part of the Modernist project involved creating artworks that were more and more 'about' their particular medium. In the case of painting, the two-dimensional reality of their facture lead to an increasing emphasis on flatness,in contrast with the illusion of depth commonly found in painting since the Renaissance and the invention of pictorial perspective.
In Greenberg's view, after World War II the United States had become the guardian of 'advanced art'. He praised similar movements abroad and, after the success of the Painters Eleven exhibition in 1956 with the American Abstract Artists at New York's Riverside Gallery, he travelled to Toronto to see the group's work in 1957. He was particularly impressed by the potential of painters William Ronald and Jack Bush, and later developed a close friendship with Bush. Greenberg saw Bush's post-Painters Eleven work as a clear manifestation of the shift from abstract expressionism to Color Field painting and Lyrical Abstraction, a shift he had called for in most of his critical writings of the period.
Greenberg expressed mixed feelings about pop art. On the one hand he expressed that pop art partook of a trend toward "openness and clarity as against the turgidities of second generation Abstract Expressionism." But on the other hand Greenberg expressed that pop art did not "really challenge taste on more than a superficial level."http://www.sharecom.ca/greenberg/ppaessay.html
Through the 1960s Greenberg remained an influential figure on a younger generation of critics including Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss. Greenberg's antagonism to 'Postmodernist' theories and socially engaged movements in art caused him to become a target for critics who labelled him, and the art he admired, as "old fashioned".
Such was Greenberg's influence as an art critic that Tom Wolfe in his 1975 book The Painted Word identified Greenberg as one of the "kings of cultureburg", alongside Harold Rosenberg and Leo Steinberg.
Avant Garde and Kitsch
Though his first published essays dealt mainly with literature and theatre, art still held a powerful attraction for Greenberg, so in 1939, he made a sudden name as a visual art writer with possibly his most well-known and oft-quoted essay, "Avant-Garde and Kitsch", first published in the journal Partisan Review. In this Marxist-influenced essay, Greenberg claimed that true avant-garde art is a product of the Enlightenment's revolution of critical thinking, and as such resists and recoils from the degradation of culture in both mainstream capitalist and communist society, while acknowledging the paradox that, at the same time, the artist, dependent on the market or the state, remains inexorably attached "by an umbilical cord of gold". Kitsch, on the other hand, was the product of industrialization and the urbanization of the working class, a filler made for the consumption of the working class: a populace hungry for culture, but without the resources and education to enjoy cutting edge avant garde culture. Greenberg writes,
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