beauty was invariably his criterion


With Hilton Kramer’s passing last month, American high culture lost a fearless – and at times feared – dissenter. He was also among the last of a remarkable generation of New York intellectuals. A sometime idealistic anti-communist liberal turned neo-conservative, Kramer reshaped debates about politics and culture with unstinting passion and erudition. His enduring legacy was The New Criterion, the journal he co-founded in 1982. He had a long career in criticism that came to include almost two decades as the chief critic of the New York Times, his other posts – en route or subsequent to that defining appointment – including stewardship of Arts Magazine, critic’s chairs at The Nation and the New York Observer, influential teaching posts at Columbia, Berkeley, and Bennington, and the authorship of books and monographs. While his politics shifted significantly to the right, his artistic tastes, it can be claimed, remained consistent: the art world changed around him and he stuck to his aesthetic guns. He was what can be called a soft modernist: he admired the historic avant garde, but strictly for its advances to the language of plastic expression, rather than for its revolutionary or subversive aspirations. He was an ardent student, for instance, of the Russian Constructivists, planning later in his life to write a monograph on the subject, while having no particular affection for its political or theosophical ideals.

more from David Cohen at Artcritical here.