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Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Volume 31 Number 14. June 25, 1968

Art — Critic on permanent revolution in art


Critic on permanent revolution in art

Nevil Gibson previews the visit of eminent American art critic Clement Greenberg.

Next month the internationally known American art critic. Clement Greenberg, will be in New Zealand. He was recently in Australia where he was the main speaker at a seminar on criticism in the arts sponsored by UNESCO. His visit to New Zealand is due solely to the efforts of Peter McLeavy, the Wellington art dealer and critic, and is sponsored by the Queen Elizabeth II Arts Council.

Greenberg began writing art criticism after he became editor of the left-wing cultural periodical Partisan Review in 1940. Although his first criticism was concerned with literature, he felt that the low standard of writing on art—"the most ungrateful form of 'elevated' writing, but also the most challenging"—must be radically transformed by establishing the same rigorous standards as were accepted in literary criticism.

As a critic Greenberg was responsible for the recognition and acceptance of the American abstract expressionist movement, especially that of its leading painter Jackson Pollock, in international art circles. Today Greenberg still champions American art, claiming that much art outside of the United States is cither provincial or minor, with the exception of a group of young British sculptors.

The core of Greenberg's role as a critic is to detect, define, and develop the mainstream which the best artists create and follow. This concept of "permanent revolution" in art explains the dialectic in the progression from the impressionists through the post-impressionists to the cubists. Abstract impressionism was a further evolution in this continual movement of art.

New York, Greenberg's birth-place, to him has been the centre of the best modern art for the last 25 years. It is in here that the major progression in modern art has taken place. From the drip paintings of Jackson Pollock in 1948-1950, painting has developed through the work of Hans Hofman, Barnett Newman and Clyfford Still to that of Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski.

Greenberg's criticism has knocked many sacred cows in the art world; he has stirred up more controversy than any other major critic. His visit to this part of the world is an important occasion, and those interested in the visual arts should not miss this opportunity to hear him. He will speak in Wellington on 2 July.