Hilton Kramer, 1928-2012

Kramer1-articleInlineWilliam Grimes in the NYT:

Admired for his intellectual range and feared for his imperious judgments, Mr. Kramer emerged as a critic in the early 1950s and joined The Times in 1965, a time when the tenets of high modernism were being questioned and increasingly attacked. He was a passionate defender of high art against the claims of popular culture and saw himself not simply as a critic offering informed opinion on this or that artist, but also as a warrior upholding the values that made civilized life worthwhile.

This stance became more marked as political art and its advocates came to the fore, igniting the culture wars of the early 1980s, a struggle in which Mr. Kramer took a leading role as the editor of The New Criterion, where he was also a frequent contributor.

In its pages, Mr. Kramer took dead aim at a long list of targets: creeping populism at leading art museums; the incursion of politics into artistic production and curatorial decision making; the fecklessness, as he saw it, of the National Endowment for the Arts; and the decline of intellectual standards in the culture at large.

A resolute high modernist, he was out of sympathy with many of the aesthetic waves that came after the great achievements of the New York School, notably Pop (“a very great disaster”), conceptual art (“scrapbook art”) and postmodernism (“modernism with a sneer, a giggle, modernism without any animating faith in the nobility and pertinence of its cultural mandate”).

At the same time, he made it his mission to bring underappreciated artists to public attention and open up the history of 20th-century American art to include figures like Milton Avery and Arthur Dove, about whom he wrote with insight and affection.