Critic with a sky-high ego
Post #1228 • September 12, 2008, 10:13 AM • 150 Comments
Mary Christa O'Keefe, for the self-described Bullshit Issue of Vue Magazine in Edmonton, AB, put Clement Greenberg on her BS list targeted at the local art world:
So people in Edmonton had him over for dinner sometime in the '70s. It doesn't make him relevant now, and I bet a New York critic with a sky-high ego wouldn't be having dinner in Edmonton in the '70s if he were still relevant in New York at the time. Yes, he defined part of mid-20th century art and art criticism. Yes, he's a writer with provocative ideas. Yes, his connection with the Edmonton Art Gallery shaped the AGA collection and influenced university departments, so he's a legitimate part of our history and continuing dialogue on art. But it's pathetic he's considered the end point of all artistic development by a vocal minority of our art community. Art is an onward story with multiple threads, not a mausoleum of ideas with one heroic thrust inherited from New York or London. Focusing on an iconic figure the rest of the universe already put in proper historical context isn't worldly - it's the definition of provincial. Anne Whitelaw did a fine job this year of dealing with Greenberg's local legacy - now let's move on.
I responded like so to the editor:
I'm a US-based artist and writer with an exhibition on display at Common Sense Gallery here in Edmonton though September 28. I'm also the producer of Artblog.net, one of the longest-running blogs about visual art.
Mary Christa O'Keefe's piece for this week's Vue (Aug. 28) goes out of its way to lambast the art critic Clement Greenberg. She also complains that "...it's pathetic he's considered the end point of all artistic development by a vocal minority of our art community."
Since no names are named, it's hard to know how anyone not already on the inside of your art scene might make sense of this. Insult-laced caricatures of Greenberg are so entrenched in the art establishment that aficionados of his work have a term for it - Clembashing - and as such, O'Keefe's comments are unremarkable in their conformity. But that "vocal minority" bit is chilling. Apparently she would like this minority to be less vocal, or not vocal at all, or vocal in a manner better suiting her sensibilities.
Common Sense is run by some talented artists who, like me, find value in Greenberg's work, and comment freely on goings-on in the art world locally and abroad. We would be happy to discuss Greenberg or any other topics with Ms. O'Keefe, if indeed she values dialogue. She's read "critical/cultural theory," as she puts it, and admits that she and her kind are "complicit in distancing art from the public sphere, because for a while, if you couldn't speak Lacan-ese, you were excluded from the discussion." But that's not the whole problem. People who refuse to sling the jargon, and disagree with the premises behind the jargon, are equally excluded from the discussion, at least the one O'Keefe thinks we all should be having.
Dialogue requires communication with actual persons who may not agree with you, not making nameless straw men the subject of cheap brickbats. Your readers would be better served by an art critic who didn't need this explained to her.
Since he didn't publish it, here you are.
I'd like to get some questions answered: What does she mean by "relevant"? Who thinks of Greenberg as "the end point of all artistic development"? Who belongs to this vocal minority? "Move on" and do what, exactly? As noted above, O'Keefe appears to have concern for "the discussion." My comment threads are open and she's welcome to provide us with some. Or was that, to use the apparently preferred term for this sort of thing, just bullshit?