- May 7
) was an influential American art critic
closely associated with Modern art
in the United States
. In particular, he promoted
the abstract expressionist
movement and was among the first critics to praise the work of painter Jackson Pollock
Greenberg was a graduate of Syracuse University
who first made his name as an art critic with his essay "Avant-Garde and Kitsch
," first published in the journal Partisan Review
in 1939. In this article Greenberg claimed that avant-garde
art was a means to resist the leveling of culture produced by capitalist propaganda. Greenberg appropriated the German word 'kitsch
' to describe this consumerism, though its connotations
have since changed to a more affirmative notion of left-over materials of capitalist culture. Modern art, like philosophy, explored the conditions under which we experience and understand the world. It does not simply provide information about it in the manner of an illustratively accurate depiction of the world. "Avant Garde and Kitsch" was also a politically motivated essay in part a response to the destruction and repression of Modernist Art in Nazi Germany
and the Soviet Union
and its replacement with state ordained styles of "Aryan
" art and "Socialist realism
Abstract Expressionism and after
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 came to believe 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. As part of his program to promote the principle of medium specificity
in the arts, Greenberg stressed that this flatness separated their art from the Old Masters, who considered flatness an obtrusive hurdle in painting. Greenberg argued for a method of self-criticism that transported abstract painting from decorative 'wallpaper patterns' to high art. Greenberg's view that, after the war, the United States had become the guardian of 'advanced art' was taken up in some quarters as a reason for using Abstract Expressionism as the basis for Cultural Propaganda exercises. 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's taste led him to reject the Pop Art of the 1960s, a trend clearly influenced by kitsch culture. 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 lose influence amongst both artists and art critics.
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. Wolfe contended that these critics influence was too great on the world of art.
Eventually, Greenberg was concerned that some Abstract Expressionism had been "reduced to a set of mannerisms" and increasingly looked to a new set of artists who abandoned such elements as subject matter, connection with the artist, and definite brush strokes. Greenberg suggested this process attained a level of 'purity' (a word he only used in quotes) that would reveal the truthfulness of the canvas
, and the two-dimensional aspects of the space (flatness). Greenberg coined the term "Post-Painterly Abstraction" to distinguish it from Abstract Expressionism, or Painterly Abstraction, as Greenberg preferred to call it. Post-Painterly Abstraction was a term given to a myriad of abstract art that reacted against gestural abstraction of second-generation Abstract Expressionists. Among the dominant trends in the Post-Painterly Abstraction are Hard-Edged Painters
such as Ellsworth Kelly
and Frank Stella
who explored relationships between tightly ruled shapes and edges, in Stella's case, between the shapes depicted on the surface and the literal shape of the support and Color-Field Painters
such as Helen Frankenthaler
and Morris Louis
, who stained first Magna then water-based acrylic paints into unprimed canvas, exploring tactile and optical aspects of large, vivid fields of pure, open color. The line between these movements is tenuous, however as artists such as Kenneth Noland
utilized aspects of both movements in his art. Post-Painterly Abstraction is generally seen as continuing the Modernist
dialectic of self-criticism.
Clement Greenberg Collection
In 2000, the Portland Art Museum (PAM) acquired the Clement Greenberg Collection of 159 paintings, prints, drawings, and sculpture by some of the most important American artists of the mid-20th century. PAM exhibits the works primarily in the Jubitz Center for Modern and Contemporary Art - some sculpture resides outdoors. Among the collection: Kenneth Noland, Helen Frankenthaler, Jules Olitski, and Sir Anthony Caro.
Greenberg's widow, Janice van Horn, donated his annotated library of exhibition catalogues and publications on artists in Greenberg's collection to the Portland Art Museum. Greenberg's annotated library is available at the Portland Art Museum's Crumpacker Family Library which is open to the public free of charge.
Writing by and about Clement Greenberg
- Greenberg, Clement. Art and Culture, Beacon Press, 1961
- Greenberg, Clement. Late Writings, edited by Robert C. Morgan, St. Paul: University of Minnesota Press, 2003.
- Clement Greenberg: A Critic's Collection by Bruce Guenther, Karen Wilkin (Editor), Portland: Portland Art Museum, 2001. (ISBN 0-691-09049-1)
- Greenberg, Clement. Homemade Esthetics: Observations on Art and Taste. Oxford University Press, 1999.
- Jones, Caroline A. Eyesight Alone: Clement Greenberg's Modernism and the Bureaucratization of the Senses. University of Chicago Press, 2005.
- Kuspit, Donald. Clement Greenberg: Art Critic. University of Wisconsin, 1979.
- Marquis, Alice Goldfarb. Art Czar: The Rise and Fall of Clement Greenberg. Boston: MFA Publications, 2006.
- Rubenfeld, Florence. Clement Greenberg: A Life. Scribner, 1997.
- Tekiner, Deniz. "Formalist Art Criticism and the Politics of Meaning." Social Justice, Issue on Art, Power, and Social Change, 33:2 (2006).