Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Hilton Kramer, R.I.P.

Hilton Kramer, editor of The New Criterion, has died, age 84.

His reactionary politics were too ill-thought-out to merit discussion, but his magazine was always worth picking up for its arts and literature coverage.
A resolute high Modernist, he was out of sympathy with many of the aesthetic waves that came after the great achievements of the New York School, notably Pop (“a very great disaster”), Conceptual art (“scrapbook art”) and postmodernism (“modernism with a sneer, a giggle, modernism without any animating faith in the nobility and pertinence of its cultural mandate”).

At the same time, he made it his mission to bring underappreciated artists to public attention and open up the history of 20th-century American art to include figures like David Smith, Milton Avery and Arthur Dove, about whom he wrote with insight and affection. Some of his best criticism was devoted to artists who had up until then been regarded as footnotes.
I suspect that as time wears on, Kramer's general lack of respect for the fads that followed modernism will seem increasingly correct.


  1. He called William Eggelston's photos snapshots in a review of that first great show at the Modern Art Museum, and dismissed it all with contempt. I've no doubt at all that he's going to come out wrong on that one, and wonder about his eye given that he missed that Eggleston was on a very modernist mission-- he's photos are about abstract issues and not the subject matter-- and Kramer didn't see it.

    That and other snarky-missing-of-points makes me have some doubts you're right about him. Reading him as I went along, I grew less and less patient.

  2. Oh, I don't say he was infallible. I just happen to agree that postwar has been a bleak time for art. Maybe every time is.

  3. How many great artists do you want at any one time? I've no doubt that paintings by Jasper Johns, Gerhard Richter, Chuck Close, Richard Serra, and Robert Rauschenberg will survive for the ages, and that's just off-hand without trying to dig out names.

    There's a lot of commercial crap posing as art, which is not new, and it's hard to see a historical narrative-- what's the next development?-- in all this, but that just means we lack historical perspective.

    Kramer really seemed to me to refuse to keep his mind open to the new. There's always a lot of crap. The great critics point us to the new and great, and I had the sense of not getting that from Hilton Kramer.

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