Greenberg, Clement, 1909-1994

Alternative names
Dates:
Birth 1909-01-16
Death 1994-05-07
Americans
English

Biographical notes:

Clement Greenberg, for many years America's most influential art critic, helped to create an audience and market for New York School artists such as Pollock, Newman, and David Smith. Greenberg wrote for Partisan review in the late 1930s and began writing art reviews for The Nation in the 1940s. Beginning in the 1950s, he abandoned regular reviewing in favor of the occasional article, organized exhibitions, lectured around the world, and served as a consultant for galleries, museums, and dealers.

From the description of Clement Greenberg papers, 1928-1995. (Getty Research Institute). WorldCat record id: 81665292

Greenberg, was an art critic; Cast, a professor of art history; Bryn Mawr College, Bryn Mawr, Penn.

From the description of Clement Greenberg letters to David Cast, 1981-1987. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 77808799

d. May 7, 1994.

From the description of Artist file : miscellaneous uncataloged material. (Museum of Modern Art (MOMA)). WorldCat record id: 84111702

Art critic; New York, N.Y.

Highly influential critic of the 1940s who advocated the formal purity of flatness in modernism. Greenberg studied at the Art Students League and at Syracuse University.

From the description of Museum without walls. Cubism : transcript, [ca. 1971]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 122502699

Art critic; New York, N.Y.

Highly influential critic of the 1940s who advocated the formal purity of flatness in modernism. Greenberg studied at the Art Students League and at Syracuse University.

From the description of Sound track narration for Museum without walls: Cubism, [ca. 1971]. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 779476903

Art critic; New York, N.Y. Died May 7, 1994.

Greenberg was a highly influential critic of the 1940s who advocated the formal purity of flatness in modernism. Greenberg studied at the Art Students League and at Syracuse University.

From the description of Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1984. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 422875173

Art critic; New York, N.Y. Died May 7, 1994.

Greenberg was a highly influential critic of the 1940s who advocated the formal purity of flatness in modernism. Greenberg studied at the Art Students League and at Syracuse University.

From the description of Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1984. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 86132985

Clement Greenberg (1909-1994) was an art critic from New York, N.Y.

Greenberg was a highly influential critic of the 1940s who advocated the formal purity of flatness in modernism. Greenberg studied at the Art Students League and at Syracuse University.

From the description of Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1983. (Unknown). WorldCat record id: 669910196

Biographical/Historical Note

Clement Greenberg, born in 1909 to Lithuanian Jewish immigrants, was raised in New York City, Norfolk, Virginia, and Brooklyn. As a child, Greenberg drew from nature with unusual accuracy, and as a teenager he joined the Art Students League, but by the time he attended Syracuse University his interests had shifted to languages and literature, and upon graduation he set out to become a writer. For nearly a decade Greenberg wrote poetry, short stories, and a novel (never finished) while also reading extensively in English, German and French. To earn a living, he worked in his father's businesses, which gave him opportunity to travel and live in various parts of the U.S. During this period he published two stories, one poem, and two book-length translations. He was also briefly married, fathered a son, and divorced.

He returned to New York City in 1936 and found employment as a clerk, first for the Civil Service Comission, then for the Veteran's Administration, and finally for the Customs Service, Department of Wines and Liquors. His interest in art re-emerged as he began taking drawing classes at a WPA studio and consorting with Greenwich Village artists, including Hans Hofmann, Lee Krasner, and Jackson Pollock. At the same time, Greenberg met the circle of writers around Partisan Review, with whom he shared an interest in socialist politics on the one hand, and aesthetics on the other. In 1939 Partisan Review published Greenberg's "Avant-garde and Kitsch," to great acclaim.

Soon thereafter, Greenberg joined the editorial staff of Partisan Review, and was employed primarily as a literary reviewer. In 1941 he wrote his first art review for The Nation and, resigning from Partisan Review, served as The Nation 's regular art reviewer from 1942 to 1949. He was also the associate editor of Commentary from 1944 to 1957. Greenberg wrote four books: Miró (1948), Matisse (1953), Hans Hofmann (1961), and Art and Culture (1961). The latter, a classic of American art criticism, has influenced artists and critics alike.

Greenberg is most remembered for having recognized the achievements of Pollock, Barnett Newman, Mark Rothko, and other abstract expressionists at a time when few others could perceive them, and still fewer could explain them. Greenberg offered clear, concise explanations in formalist terms, situating these painters squarely within the Western tradition. These painters' unprecedented success assured Greenberg's success; he became America's leading art expert.

In his personal life, Greenberg carried on numerous amorous relationships with women, among whom were intellectuals and painters known in New York in the 1940s and 1950s. From 1950-1955, Greenberg was romantically involved with the much younger Helen Frankenthaler, with whom he remained friends for the rest of his life. In 1955, as that relationship ended, Greenberg began his lengthy psychoanalysis. He married Jenny Van Horne, an actress, in 1956, and they had a daughter in 1963. The marriage floundered soon thereafter, and the couple eventually divorced but then remarried in the decade before Greenberg's death.

In the 1950s Greenberg abandoned regular reviewing in favor of occasional articles for major reviews and catalog essays. He also began organizing exhibitions on such painters as Pollock, Adolph Gottlieb, Newman and Hofmann. He gave lectures at museums and universities, served as a consultant for galleries and museums, and from 1958 to 1960 was employed by French and Company. Greenberg's ties to artists, critics, dealers and curators gave him unequalled influence in a booming American art market, influence that endured through the 1960s and 1970s, even though others did not always endorse the artists he championed, such as Ken Noland and Jules Olitski.

Greenberg's reputation began to decline in the late 1970s after it was discovered that, while serving as the executor of David Smith's estate, he had had the paint stripped from six Smith sculptures. The resulting scandal fueled a kind of revolt against what some saw as Greenberg's tyranny over the New York art world. A new generation of critics emerged who questioned Greenberg's connoisseurship, his view of art history, and his character. Magazine articles referred to him as "the most hated man in the art world."

Despite this growing opposition, Greenberg continued to publish articles, though less frequently, to give talks in the US and abroad, and to advise certain artists, dealers and curators until his death in 1994. His Collected Essays, published in 1986 and 1993 was highly praised, offsetting to some degree the years of disrepute.

From the guide to the Clement Greenberg papers, 1928-1995, (Getty Research Institute)

Clement Greenberg was a highly influential art critic working in New York City from the 1940s through the 1960s. He was an advocate of modern art, particulary the abstract expressionist movement, and one of the first critics to recognize the significance of Jackson Pollock's work.

Greenberg was born in 1909 to Russian immigrants in Bronx, New York. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1930, he married and had a child, David. He settled in New York City while working at the United States Customs Department as an appraiser.

In the late 1930s, Clement Greenberg attended a meeting of the U.S. Works Progress Administration and heard Hans Hofmann speak of avant-garde art. In 1939, he wrote one of his first important critical pieces "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" for the Partisan Review . Greenberg argued that the avant-garde art movement rose out of the need to defend and maintain high art standards against the decline in taste brought about by America's consumerism and capitalist culture.

In 1940, Greenberg joined Partisan Review as an editor. He became art critic for the Nation in 1942, and was associate editor of Commentary from 1945 until 1957. In December 1950, he joined the CIA-fronted American Committee for Cultural Freedom.

Throughout the 1940s through the 1960s Greenberg continued to write and, in his essays and articles, he promoted the work of Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. He particularly championed Jackson Pollock. Greenberg wrote several seminal essays that defined his views on art history in the 20th century. "Greenberg on Collage" was one one of his most important.

Greenberg's views on pop art were mixed. He also became less enamored with Abstract Impressionism, particularly the second generation. However, he became very interested in the Color-Field and Hard-Edge painters.

Through the 1960s Greenberg's views informed a younger generation of art critics including Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss. Some writers maintain that Greenberg's views were so well-respected that he had too much of an influence on the world of art. In time, Greenberg's antagonism to Postmodernist theories and other modern art movements caused him to lose much of his credibility among both artists and art critics.

Greenberg died at the age of eighty-five in 1994.

Since his death, letters edited by his widow, Janice Van Horne and a re-evaluation of his writings have helped to restore his reputation within the art world.

From the guide to the Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1983, (Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution)

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Subjects:

  • Art--India
  • Arts
  • Art criticism--History--20th century
  • Art critics--United States--Correspondence
  • Art critics--New York (State)--New York
  • Modernism (Art)--New York (State)--New York
  • Art--Economic aspects
  • Art criticism--New York (State)--New York
  • Art criticism--History--20th century--United States
  • Modernism (Art)
  • Art--Japan
  • Art criticism
  • New York school of art
  • Art, Abstract
  • Art, Abstract--United States
  • Art critics--Correspondence
  • Art critics
  • Abstract Expressionism

Occupations:

  • Photographers

Places:

  • India (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • Japan (as recorded)
  • United States (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)
  • New York (State)--New York (as recorded)