hilton kramer: against academic twaddle, commercial hype or political mystification


Kramer’s most provocative judgment is to insist upon Modernism as an essential component of bourgeois culture. He admires Modernist art and has less patience for the artworks made “after” Modernism, which he tends to interpret in terms of decline or degeneration. Contemplating Matisse’s achievement, Kramer laments, “It is hard to believe that we shall ever again witness anything like it, now or in the foreseeable future.” Today, instead, we endure “the nihilist imperatives of the postmodernist scam.”

Not that Kramer hates everything that came after Matisse. Many of the items in the book, though slight and descriptive, perform a modest, useful function for newcomers to subjects including Jackson Pollock (“a triumph of ambition and short-lived inspiration over a severely handicapped and unruly personality”), Helen Frankenthaler (“a major artist”), Odd Nerdrum (“a first-rate dramatic imagination”) and Alex Katz (“one thinks of Monet at Giverny”). He also discusses Richard Diebenkorn and Christopher Wilmarth, not to mention past masters like Courbet, Bonnard, Braque and Beckmann. In all, an eclectic group, and Kramer writes interestingly and engagingly about each one.

more from the NY Times Book Review here.