A CRITIQUE OF CLEMENT GREENBERG ( 1904-1994) AN IMPORTANT MODERNIST WHO USED HIS EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE TO DEFINE A THEORY OF ‘HIGH MODERNISM’ WHICH REJECTED OTHER FORMS OF MODERN ART IN THE 20TH CENTURY INCLUDING POP ART , MINIMALISM , NEO REALISM , PERFORMANCE ART , CONCEPTUAL ART , VIDEO INSTALLATION AND THE ART OF MARCEL DUCHAMP: PART 4

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This is the  concluding part to my critique of Clement Greenberg the foremost Modernist of the 20th Century.

I will now consider Charles Harrison’s comments which he made in his essay on Modernism.

” Greenberg was consigning popular culture and mass culture to the realms of the culturally inert”. [1].

” Of course influential as Greenberg’s analysis has been some strong objections have been raised to this account of culture of the past two hundred years or so”. [2].

Harrison continues to comment that Greenberg more than anyone else defined Modernism in a very narrow context.

” Modernism has been used to label a specific tradition and tendency in criticism- one in which the art of the Modern period is viewed and represented in away consistent with Greenberg’s theories and judgements”. [3].

” Might it not be the case that Modernist critics were constructing theories simply to justify their own preferences for the relatively flat and formal over the illusionistic  and illustrative”. [4].

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Harrison continues with his critical eye over Modernism.

” Among the former were Historians who observed that the Modernist criticism and its attendant art-historical accounts had tended increasingly to obscure the social conditions of the production of art”. [5].

” Martha Rosler- commented that The art that’s important now is a form of Theatre and one thing that means is that it has to be in the same space as the viewer”. [6].

Rosler who together with Victor Burgin are pointing out that Art can no longer be an art that treats the Viewer as just an onlooker but one whom occupies the same space and interacts with the art object.

Terry Eagleton a Marxist critic made some useful comments relating to Modernism and what he called Post Modernism.

” In bracketing of the real social world establishing a critical negating distance between itself and the ruling social order Modernism must simultaneously bracket the political forces which seek to transform that order”. [7].

” Moreover by removing itself from Society into its own impermeable space the Modernist work paradoxically reproduces the key illusion of aesthetic authority”. [8].

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I have included images that clearly relate to the Modernist canon like the abstract expressionists Rothko and Pollock but I have also included Performance art and Dadaism of the 1920’s. This was not considered Modernist art but Theatre as Michael Fried was to describe it in his Essay Art and Objecthood when he had his ferocious battle with the Minimalist Donald Judd.

Lawrence Alloway a British art critic in his essay Arts and the Mass Media a supporter of pop Art takes a critical eye over the position of Greenberg and the High Modernists.

” All these activities to Greenberg and the minority he speaks for are ersatz culture destined for those who are insensible to the value of genuine culture”.[9].

” Critics of the mass Media often complain of the hostility towards intellectuals and the lack of respect for art expressed  there but as I have tried to show , the feeling is mutual. Why should the mass Media turn the other cheek , what worries intellectuals is the fact that  as Mass Arts spreads they encroach on the high ground”. [10].

Alloway stresses in his commentary the changing nature of art and how this new art is attracted to the masses.

” The definition of culture is changing as a result of the pressure of the great Audience which is no longer new but experienced in the consumption of the arts”. [11].

Donald Judd one of the leading Minimalists wrote in his essay about the end of painting and Sculpture but what we are left is ‘specific Objects’ which is what his colleagues Dan Flavin and Robert Morris produced using different types of industrial materials.

” Half or more of the best work in the last few years has been neither Painting nor sculpture”. [12].

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Donald  Judd continues to explain the art of Three Dimensionality and how Painting  is limited because the only materials a painter  uses is a rectangular Plane. Judd , Morris , Flavin , Lichenstein and others were all influenced by Abstract Expressionism and their work is both a reaction and a development of Art itself.

” The main thing wrong with Painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. In the paintings of Pollock ,Rothko ,still and Newman the rectangle is emphasized. the shapes and surface are only those which can occur plausibly within and on a Rectangular plane”. [13].

What Judd is here doing is criticising the Modernist Canon of High art and trying to show that there are other forms of art and art has to develop after Pollock , Rothko Still and Newman. This entails a strong criticism of  Greenberg and Fried who defend the Modernist canon.

” The space is shallow in all of the work in which the rectangular plane is stressed. Rothko’s space is almost traditionally illusionistic”. [14].

Referring to their own work Judd comments that it looks like sculpture but it has a greater affinity with Painting.

” The new work obviously resembles Sculpture more than it does painting but it is nearer to painting. Most sculpture is like the painting which preceded Pollock , Rothko still and Newman”. [15].

Robert Morris another Minimalist but using different materials who was  also active in Performance art comments in his Notes on Sculpture.

” Clearer distinctions between Sculpture is essential tactile nature and the optical sensibilities involved in painting need to be made “. [16].

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Robert Morris was always impressed by the Great Revolutionary Russian Constructivists Vladimir Tatlin and Alexander Rodchenko .

” Tatlin was perhaps the first to  free Sculpture from representation and establish it as an autonomous form both by the kind of image , he employed and by his Literal use of materials”. [17].

” He Rodchenko and other constructivists refuted Apollinare’s observation that a structure becomes Architecture and not Sculpture”. [18].

Finally Morris comments on the illusionistic aspect of Painting. He really was a materialist with statements like that.

” The trouble with Painting is not its inescapable illusion per se but this inherent illusionism”.[19].

This concludes My critique of Clement Greenberg and his theory of High Modernism together with criticism of his disciple Michael Fried.

FOOTNOTES

  1. MODERNISM  MOVEMENTS IN MODERN ART CHARLES HARRISON .PG.20
  2. DITTO.PG.20
  3. DITTO.PG. 21
  4. DITTO.PG.43
  5. DITTO.PG.72
  6. DITTO.PG.75
  7. ART IN MODERN CULTURE: CAPITALISM MODERNISM AND POST MODERNISM. TERRY EAGLETON.PG.96
  8. DITTO.PG.96-7
  9. ART IN THEORY 1900-2000. THE ARTS AND THE MASS MEDIA 1958: LAWRENCE ALLOWAY.PG.715
  10. DITTO.PG.716
  11. DITTO.PG.717
  12. ART IN THEORY 1900-2000. SPECIFIC OBJECTS 1965: DONALD JUDD. PG.824
  13. DITTO.PG.825
  14. DITTO.PG.826
  15. DITTO.PG.826
  16. ART IN THEORY 1900-2000 . NOTES ON SCULPTURE 1-3: ROBERT MORRIS. PG.829
  17. DITTO.PG.829
  18. DITTO.PG.829
  19. DITTO.PG.829

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2 thoughts on “A CRITIQUE OF CLEMENT GREENBERG ( 1904-1994) AN IMPORTANT MODERNIST WHO USED HIS EXPERIENCE AND KNOWLEDGE TO DEFINE A THEORY OF ‘HIGH MODERNISM’ WHICH REJECTED OTHER FORMS OF MODERN ART IN THE 20TH CENTURY INCLUDING POP ART , MINIMALISM , NEO REALISM , PERFORMANCE ART , CONCEPTUAL ART , VIDEO INSTALLATION AND THE ART OF MARCEL DUCHAMP: PART 4”

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