Thursday, April 5, 2007

The Scarlet Letter is Actually "G"

As I mentioned in my short obit on Jules Olitski, his career was laid low by his association with Clement Greenberg, who after 40 years is still reviled like the plague. I just read Michael Fried's Olitski piece in Artforum, and was pretty surprised to find out the depth to which this hatred runs. In Art Since 1900, the 704 page volume on modern art released in 2004 by the heavyweight quartet of Yves-Alan Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Hal Foster, and former Greenberg disciple Rosalind Krauss, the subject of Olitski and Color Field is, well, skipped. You might not like it, but it's rather hard to deny that it happened, no?

Here's the first half of the first paragraph of Fried's Olitski obit:

"Before sitting down to draft these reflections, I went to my shelves and brought forth Yves-Alan Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh, Hal Foster, and Rosalind Krauss's monumental and tendentious Art Since 1900: Modernism, Antimodernism, and Postmodernism (2004), consulted the index, and looked up 'Olitski, Jules.' There was one reference, on page 472. I turned to page 472, where I found an inset column headed 'Artforum.' In the last paragraph I read: '[Editor Philip] Leider's insistence on lucid analytical prose forged a close relationship between him and Michael Fried, opening the magazine's pages as well to Clement Greenberg and its covers to artists such as Jules Olitski, Kenneth Noland, and Morris Louis.' Nice for me but not so nice for Jules, one of the foremost painters of the last half century - also a sculptor of great originality - no work by whom in any medium is deemed worthy of being illustrated in Bois, Buchloh, Foster, and Krauss's massive tome, which will likely have a huge impact on pedagogy in upcoming years [Corio note: the book contains 300 illustrations, 200 in color]. Then, knowing the outcome, but wishing to make sure, I turned to the section called "Further Reading" at the rear of their book, a section organized by key names and movements, where Color Field painting is conspicuous by its absence. I mention this not to protest - what would be the point? - but rather by way of indicating the state of the question with respect to high modernist art in soi-distant avant-garde circles as recently as 2004."

I suppose I should take heart in the simple fact that Artforum, which has been in large measure the messenger of the "painting-is-dead" message, saw fit to print this piece. But I'm still rather taken aback by the near-complete exclusion of color painting in Art Since 1900. Ironically, I'm probably going to go ahead and buy the book now to find out what they say was happening during this period, or if they simply skip these years entirely ($58.69 is the lowest price I've found, but I'm going to shop a little more).

It's important to remember that things pertaining to culture (art, religion, language, etc.) never die by fiat; they die when they no longer have utility. All the 704 page books in the world can't kill abstract painting if society still wants it. And by the same token, the most skillful attempts to preserve it won't work if society, by a natural drift, disregards it. Only the passage of time will sort this out, but I'm going to keep painting until the results are in.