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Norwegian would: the efforts of Edvard Munch

Post #1799 • January 10, 2018, 5:32 PM • 4 Comments

[Image: Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1907, Oil on canvas, Tate Modern]

Edvard Munch, The Sick Child, 1907, Oil on canvas, Tate Modern

My latest for The New Criterion is a review of "Edvard Munch: Between the Clock and the Bed" at the Met Breuer.



John Link

January 11, 2018, 10:12 PM

Nice job, Franklin. I liked your observation of the Greenbergian character of Knausgaard's statement. I'm also glad that you included Clem's reference to "never looks more than minor" coupled with "so intensely." I firmly believe Clem and others who follow him obsess too much over minor versus major, but with Munch, and as is so typical of Clem, he gives in to what his eye delivered instead of what his a priori categories suggested "should" be delivered.

If Clem considered Munch minor, like he considered Edward Hopper minor, what difference does it make and who cares?


John Link

January 15, 2018, 3:05 AM

"Art happens, however, to be a matter of self-evidence and feeling, and of the inferences of feeling, rather than of intellection or information, and the reality of art is disclosed only in experience, not in reflection upon experience."

This is a quote from Clement Greenberg's essay on T. S. Eliot that was included in Art and Culture. If it is true, and I think it is, then it is easy to understand why Greenberg diminished his own intellectualizing about the difference between minor and major art when describing his direct experience of the work of Munch.

I remember him saying on a number of occasions something to this effect: "If I were to be a minor artist, I would like to be one like ________." Then he might fill in the blank with Hopper or Thiebaud. I have a vague memory of Eakins and Homer too. The point I am making is that Greenberg often subjugated his "minor v. major" distinction to the intensity of his own feeling when actually looking at works by so-called "minor artists."

My own attitude about the minor/major distinction is that when it is good, it is good enough. I think he said that once as well.



January 15, 2018, 6:17 AM

Part of the obsession over Greenberg's distinctions of major and minor is how important it is to the narratives of certian writers that Greenberg got some notable artist wrong. There was a Calder show going around in 2013 and 2014 that garnered this review from Christopher Knight:

Einstein, upon seeing the 1943 Calder exhibition at the Museum of Modern art, understood. As quoted in the show's catalog, he lamented: "I wish I had thought of that."

Einstein got what eluded art critic Clement Greenberg. The writer savaged the MOMA survey as sculpture inappropriately mimicking paintings by Picasso and Miró.

But Calder's mobiles were important in the radical development of the concept of drawing in space. That technique became the structural lingua franca for much that came after, including art as various as Henri Matisse's paper cutouts, Jackson Pollock's drip paintings, Eva Hesse's sculptural skeins of latex, Gordon Matta-Clark's chain saw cuts into walls, Lucio Fontana's neon squiggles, Robert Irwin's translucent scrims and lots more.

And then this one from Sebastian Smee:

It seems crazy that the sheer loveliness of Calder’s work — its very tendency to trigger smiles — has had an adverse effect on his reputation. But over the years, that’s exactly what seems to have happened.

Clement Greenberg, the trenchant, agenda-setting critic in New York at mid-century, dismissed Calder’s works as “racy and chic,” claiming they were guilty of an “easy facility” and a “jejune reliance on tastefulness and little more.”

Misrepresenting him as an American interloper in avant-garde Paris, others have accused him of stealing ideas from such friends as Duchamp, Arp, Alberto Giacometti, and Joan Miró, when in reality Calder was a respected peer of these artists, engaged in open dialogue.

So of course I read up on what Greenberg had written about Calder and found that it was quite a bit more interesting than all that. The knowledge figured prominently in my own review of the show.

This is what I meant by the "parade of mannerisms peculiar to art history." It's not enough that the writer summon a judgment, it must for some reason be in contrast to the supposedly benighted Clement Greenberg. It is consequently useful to make him seem more wrong than he was.


John Link

January 15, 2018, 10:30 AM

Your review of the Calder show was especially provocative in that you, like Greenberg, found pleasure in viewing his work, pleasure that is worthy of praise for his art, no matter how it might stand with respect to certain categories of value (high, low, major, minor, etc.). You make the observation that there is a difference between the influence of Calder and that of, say, David Smith, on subsequent artists. I agree with the observational facts you cite.

So you say: "...Calder’s creative output was so particular to him that it closed off the possibility of further development by younger artists." This is in contrast to how Smith influenced Caro and Hide, who you say have developed out of Smith in some way or another.

The lack of "development by younger artists" also applies, as far as I can tell, to Pollock, certainly to his drip pictures. I suppose someone, somewhere has attempted to work from them, but if they were successful, they have not surfaced. Riopelle might be argued an exception, except some of my Canadian friends tell me Riopelle did dripped all-overs a year before Pollock. Even though Riopelle was eleven years younger than Pollock, and even if he was simultaneous or a year late instead of a year earlier, it makes the pair like Picasso and Braque, where both were responding to what ever was in the air at the time. The difference would be that Picasso and Braque were dead-even with respect to success, while Pollock was well ahead of Riopelle.

In any case, my point is the no one I know of has been successful in using Pollock to advance the idea of his dripped all-overs. I am puzzled by this because, like you, I tend to think great art spawns its own sequel, at least for a time. And it is clear that Pollock's approach was very particular, with a very particular effect that, so far, only he has managed to aesthetic profit. But with Pollock there is no Pollockesque, no kitsch, and no baby toys (like Calder) that resemble what he did, much less the kind of effects that have followed Smith. How do you account for this or otherwise deal with it? Or do you see evidence of some continuation of his dripped all-over?



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