When Clement Greenberg was five years old, he beat a goose to death with a shovel handle. Near the end of his life, Greenberg explained that he had killed the bird not out of cruelty but out of fear. This incident was a portent, quipped the New Yorker’s Adam Gopnik: “The slow escalation in targets, the growing taste for blood, the rise to bigger and uglier assaults…The die is cast; the boy will become an art critic.”
The anecdote and Gopnik’s response are retold in Art Czar, Alice Goldfarb Marquis’ masterful biography of Greenberg (1909-1994). With a rare combination of meticulous scholarship and crisp, vivid prose, Marquis has astutely constructed a complex, highly nuanced portrait of America’s most controversial art critic.
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