Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Hilton Kramer: Milton Avery and Arthur Dove

After reading the most recent Art in American I heard the news that art critic Hilton Kramer had died.  Since he had championed two of my favorite artists, Milton Avery and Arthur Dove, I thought I'd celebrate his life by posting some of my favorite works of theirs. 

But first, if you don't know much about Kramer and his beliefs here is an abbreviated version of the New York Times article wrote by William Grimes and published on March, 27 2012.  The full article can be found at http://www.nytimes.com/2012/03/28/arts/design/hilton-kramer-critic-who-championed-modernism-dies-at-84.html?pagewanted=all.

Hilton Kramer, whose clear, incisive style and combative temperament made him one of the most influential critics of his era, both at The New York Times, where he was the chief art critic for almost a decade, and at The New Criterion, which he edited from its founding in 1982, died early Tuesday in Harpswell, Me. He was 84. 
He was a passionate defender of high art against the claims of popular culture and saw himself not simply as a critic offering informed opinion on this or that artist but also as a warrior upholding the values that made civilized life worthwhile.
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”).
"By defining Abstract Expressionist painting as a psychological event, it denied the aesthetic efficacy of painting itself and attempted to remove art from the only sphere in which it can be truly experienced, which is the aesthetic sphere [...] It reduced the art object itself to the status of a psychological datum." - Kramer
Mr. Kramer made it his mission to uphold the high standards of Modernism. In often withering prose, he made life miserable for curators and museum directors who, in his opinion, let down the side by exhibiting trendy or fashionably political art.
“The Whitney curatorial staff has amply demonstrated its weakness for funky, kinky, kitschy claptrap in recent years,”.  The biennials, he wrote, “seem to be governed by a positive hostility toward — a really visceral distaste for — anything that might conceivably engage the eye in a significant or pleasurable visual experience.” - Kramer

                                                                   Milton Avery

When I first learned of Milton Avery and Arthur Dove I was turned off by their clumsiness, especially Avery's paintings with figures.  I much prefered Matisse over his work and Georgia O'Keefe over Dove's.  Even to this day I think that both of these artists are hit or miss.  Much of their work dosen't move me.  But here and there their weirdness really comes through. 

Arthur Dove