“Spare me smart Jewish girls with their typewriters,” quipped Clement Greenberg, the legendary critic of modernism, to Rosalind Krauss, his most brilliant disciple. It was 1974: Krauss had made a name for herself writing on Minimalism in the pages of Artforum but would soon leave the magazine to cofound October. As promised by the journal’s name, a revolution in art history was afoot. All of which is as familiar to students of contemporary art as the legacy of Richard Serra—one of many artists whose reputations are bound to Krauss’s pioneering analyses. Her key essays remain mainstays of academia, and for good reason. With a tenacity unmatched by other critics of her time, Krauss insisted on the possibility, the necessity, of shoring up valid art-historical methodologies at a moment when “art” and “history” appeared to be collapsing. Greenberg’s remark graces the back cover of Perpetual Inventory, a collection of Krauss’s writing from the mid-1970s to today, most of it previously published. It’s no accident that Greenberg is literally inscribed onto this volume: Each of the book’s six chapters is organized to tell the story of its author’s debt to, and distance from, her mentor’s central claim. As formulated most succinctly in his 1960 essay “Modernist Painting,” Greenberg proposed that the art of the twentieth century was engaged in a process of self-awareness and critique, honing its “area of competence” to a set of increasingly small but necessary refinements of the essential material conditions of its medium. Famously, this entailed foregrounding the “flatness” of painting’s picture plane, a developmental narrative that the critic suggested stretched from Manet to Pollock.
more from Nathan Lee at Bookforum here.