The De-Definition of Art

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This was the book I was originally searching for when I ended up reading Art on the Edge. My initial euphoria w/r/t Rosenberg has dissipated, or perhaps my mood has shifted. Regardless, this book of essays was less enjoyable and somewhat incomprehensible. I felt my attention straying on nearly every page—my own fault, I’m sure.  He’s best when he’s sniping at someone, my favorite in this case was the essay École de New York wherein he takes the Met curator Henry Geldzahler to task for trying to make such a thing as the “New York School.” Here’s his zinger:

Indeed, it was by the frequency with which they had been displayed that the artists in his show presumably met Geldzahler’s criteria: that the works shall have “commanded critical attention or significantly deflected the course of recent art.”… “Critical attention” and historical “deflection” were Gledzahler’s sententious terms for confessing his adherence to the star system. What he was actually saying was: I have been going through museum catalogs and art magazines, and from the artists most talked about I have picked the ones I like best.

Later, “no description could be less relevant to these artists than Geldzahler’s reference to Gorky, Pollock, and Smith as ‘giants.’ Giants do not paint pictures, they roll boulders down hills.” And “it seems evident that for him the significant ideas are those of curators and dealers, and he goes as far as to express the astonishing belief that the fall of the School of Paris was brought about by the absence of enterprising museum personnel: ‘One of the reasons French art weakened so considerably after World War II was that the key paintings and sculptures of the first half of the century were not on view in Paris.’ The decline of Europe could, it seems, have been averted after all if there had been sufficient gallery space. ”

Another essay I enjoyed was Art and Words, dissecting the necessary relationship of current art between materials and words, especially in certain forms like earthworks where the art is inaccessible except through the explanatory text. “Art communicated through documents is a development to the extreme of the Action-painting idea that a painting ought to be considered as a record of the artist’s creative process rather than as a physical object… Logically the work may therefore be invisible—told about but not seen.” Painter Gregoire Müller declares that works are often of “greater intellectual than visual interest.”

Also fun was to read the inscription some previous library patron had added to Rosenberg’s paean to Barnett Newman, accusing Rosenberg of vilifying “Miss” Frankenthaler’s work while building up Newman’s simply because they were in the same social circle. It covers two pages in blue pen.