A Site by Beck & Stone
powered by Ecom solutions

Hilton Kramer

Hilton Kramer


December 01, 2001

The man who created MOMA

A work of art is an infinitely complex focus of human experience. The mystery of its creation, its history, and the rise and fall of its esthetic, documentary, sentimental, and commercial values, the endless variety of its relationships to the other works of art, its physical condition, the meaning of its subject, the technique of its production, the purpose of the man who made it— all these factors lie behind a work of art, converge upon it, and challenge our powers of analysis and publication.

March 01, 1996

Abstraction at the Guggenheim

Nothing is more remarkable about the art of the last quarter-century than the diminished role played by abstraction in defining the course of contemporary artistic thought. Where abstraction had not so long before been the mark of an “advanced” aesthetic sensibility, it was now increasingly said by critics, curators, and artists of many different persuasions to represent a conservative or academic or even reactionary attitude toward art and culture.

January 01, 1995

Samuel Lipman, 1934-1994

Samuel Lipman, who served as the publisher of The New Criterion from its inception in September 1982 until his death on December 17, 1994, was one of the most remarkable figures of his generation in America. He was at once an artist and an intellectual—a gifted pianist, a brilliant writer, an incisive critic, an inspiring teacher, an accomplished administrator, and, in his later years, a fiercely articulate participant in the controversies that have shaped the critical debate about the future of high culture in our tragically divided society.

December 01, 1994

At the Warhol Museum

When you think about it, department stores are kind of like museums. —Andy Warhol One’s first impression of the Andy Warhol Museum is of a smart new specialty store—not exactly a department store, to be sure, but something on the scale of the old Henri Bendel’s on West Fifty-seventh Street in Manhattan or the new Barneys on Madison Avenue, only in this case distinctly downmarket and featuring but one line of goods: the artist’s reputation.

May 01, 1994

Angry history: Richard Pipes on the Bolshevik Revolution

My brother Evgeni Yakovlovich used to say that the decisive part in the subjection of the intelligentsia was played not by terror and bribery (though, God knows, there was enough of both), but by the word “Revolution,” which none of them could bear to give up. It is a word to which whole nations have succumbed, and its force was such that one wonders why our rulers still needed prisons and capital punishment.

March 01, 1993

Clement Greenberg & the Cold War

No art critic of our time has been the subject of more discussion than Clement Greenberg, who was born in 1909 and published the bulk of his critical writings between 1939 and 1969. Yet the nature of that discussion has at times been so contentious, not to say acrimonious, that the effect has been to obscure the virtues that made this criticism loom so large—and for so long a time—in the minds of both his admirers and his adversaries.

December 01, 1992

Aesthetics & ideology in

[Suprematism] will liberate all those engaged in creative activity and make the world into a true model of perfection. —El Lissitzky, 1920 Whereas the realist artists and those following similar trends … were less willing to greet the Revolution than those following new trends, the latter—whose nonrepresentational methods were very suitable for artistic industry and ornament—proved to be powerless to give psychological expression to the new content of the Revolution.

November 01, 1992

Reflections on Matisse

Sometimes it has been conceded that I have a certain technical ability but that all the same my ambition is limited, and does not go beyond the purely visual satisfaction such as can be obtained from looking at a picture. But the thought of a painter must not be considered as separate from his pictorial means, for the thought is worth no more than its expression by the means, which must be more complete (and by complete I do not mean complicated) the deeper is his thought.

January 01, 1992

Stuart Davis at the Met

Few American painters have been more articulate than Stuart Davis (1892-1964) about the purposes of their art, yet throughout a long and distinguished career as a champion of American modernism Davis was clearly troubled about the way he should best define his relation to the aesthetic issue that was paramount in his own work and that would become increasingly crucial to the modernist movement in this country—the issue of abstraction. There were moments in his later years—the period in which abstraction came to dominate American painting —when he simply disavowed all connection with abstract art.

September 01, 1991

Has success spoiled the art museum?

Of all the institutions of high culture that have undergone significant change in recent decades, none has been more radically transformed than the art museum. In every aspect of its function, its atmosphere, and its scale of operations, in the character and number of the events that it encompasses, in the nature and size of the public it attracts, and in the role it plays in codifying—and at times deconstructing—our ideas about what art is, the museum has been so dramatically altered in our lifetime that in many important respects it can no longer be said to be the same institution we came to in our youth.

May 01, 1989

Art, anarchism & Félix Fénéon

In certain modern careers the union of a keen aesthetic intelligence with the imperatives of a radical political commitment would appear to be so complete that there is hardly any way to separate the one from the other even for the purposes of analysis. Yet about such a union of art and politics there is nonetheless something that requires explanation—something that remains, if not exactly an enigma, then at least a paradox, the kind of paradox that illuminates not only the minds of the individuals in question but the larger contradictions that have been endemic to the phenomenon of avant-garde culture in bourgeois societies since the concept of the avant-garde first emerged in nineteenth-century France.

February 01, 1989

Studying the arts and humanities: what can be done?

For those who have followed the problem with the attention it demands, both the nature and the scale of the crisis that has overtaken the study of the arts and the humanities in our universities have now been made vividly and painfully manifest. The subject has become a matter of (albeit muddied) debate in the media, it has won the attention of government agencies, it has produced some best-selling books, and—it is my impression, anyway—it has caused a more acute feeling of anxiety, at times amounting to panic, among the educated parents of high school- and college-age students than anything that has occurred in American life since the Vietnam war.

December 01, 1988

A nostalgia for innocence: Martin Green’s “New York 1913”

The impulse, to look back upon halcyon days—to seize upon a treasured moment in history when every promise of an ardently desired change in all aspects of life seemed not only infinitely fulfillable but virtually irresistible—is one that we are all prone to in periods of disillusionment and disarray. But some sensibilities are more susceptible than others to this tendency to locate in a distant past the moment of optimum possibility, and it is my impression, anyway, that nowadays it is our aging radicals who find this impulse both especially tempting and especially necessary.

March 01, 1988

Thinking about “Witness”

Almost all of the prophecies of Marx and bis followers have already proved to be false, but this does not disturb the spiritual certainty of the faithful, any more than it did in the case of chiliastic sects: fir it is a certainty not based on any empirical premises or supposed “historical laws,” but simply on the psychological need for certainty. In this sense Marxism performs the function of a religion, and its efficacy is of a religious character.

February 01, 1988

The Anselm Kiefer retrospective

It was to be expected that the Anselm Kiefer retrospective, which opened at the Art Institute of Chicago in December, would be accorded a rapturous reception, and so it has been. [1] Throughout the nineteen-eighties, as the art market soared and an almost unencompassable quantity of meretricious painting glutted the galleries, the museums, and the public consciousness, the emergence of a new master—an artist who could be seen as transcending the more compromising scenarios of the new art scene—was anxiously awaited.

April 01, 1987

On the “Spiritual in Art” in Los Angeles

The exhibition called “The Spiritual in Art: Abstract Painting 1890-1985,” which Maurice Tuchman has organized with the assistance of Judi Freeman at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art, is the kind of event that illuminates a good deal more than its ostensible theme. [1] The theme itself—the role played by certain occult or spiritualist doctrines in the creation of abstract painting from its origins to the present day—is an important one, and in recent years we have had ample opportunity to become better acquainted with it as more and more scholars have explored the often arcane ideas which are believed to have exerted a considerable influence on the aesthetics of abstraction.

October 01, 1986

The two Henry Moores

With the death of Henry Moore on August 31, our last living link with the world of Jacob Epstein and Henri Gaudier-Brzeska, of Ezra Pound and Roger Fry—the world of the London avant-garde in the years just before and after the First World War—has passed from the scene. Moore often spoke of what it had meant to him to have stumbled upon Fry’s Vision and Design, with its great essays on “Negro Sculpture” and “Ancient American Art,” while he was still a student at the Leeds School of Art.

September 01, 1986

Anti-Communism and the Sontag circle

It was to be expected that the collapse of the intellectual Left in France—the virtual extinction there of Marxism and its ideological variants as a source of fashionable ideas —would sooner or later be reflected in the attitudes of those American intellectuals who habitually take their political cues from Paris. The only question that remained to be answered was: What form would this inevitable shift in political attitudes take on this side of the Atlantic.

August 01, 1986

New York in the Eighties: Introduction

From a special issue printed in the Summer of 1986 entitled “New York in the Eighties, a symposium.” Contributors include Hortense Calisher, Chuck Close, Arlene Croce, Clement Greenberg, Mark Helprin, Ada Louise Huxtable, Richard Koshalek, Mimi Kramer, Samuel Lipman, Jed Perl, William Phillips, Alan Rich, Larry Rivers, Barbara Rose, William Schuman, Gerard Schwarz, Hugo Weisgall, & Leon Wieseltier. With an introduction by Hilton Kramer.

February 01, 1985

A catalogue raisonné for Arthur Dove

To mark the publication of Ann Lee Morgan’s Arthur Dove: Life and Work, With a Catalogue Raisonné,[1] three New York galleries—Dintenfass, Mathes, and Salander-O’Reilly—recently joined in mounting what was described as “an overall view” of Dove’s paintings, watercolors, drawings, and collages. [2] It is welcome news that at long last— nearly forty years after his death—we have been given a catalogue raisonné of the work of this distinguished American painter.

September 01, 1984

Who was Josephine Herbst?

Condemn the fault and not the actor of it. —Measure for Measure There is a passage in an essay by Henry James—it occurs in the obituary article he wrote on “Dumas the Younger” in 1895— which defines very exactly the feeling we are likely to experience when, at a certain age, we see the people we have known and who have meant a good deal to us pass away and become in death something very different from what they were in life, both in their own lives and in ours.

June 01, 1984


To the Editors: It was called to my attention recently that Hilton Kramer in “The MLA Centennial Follies,” had attributed a remark to me that I found, when I looked it up on page four of the February issue of The New Criterion, did not represent at all accurately what I had said in my talk at the Modern Language Association. As one can see from the typescript of the talk I gave, I made a generalization about every person who was once a young Turk becoming, by the simple process of time, an old fogey.

February 01, 1984

The MLA centennial follies

’Tis hard to say, if greater want of skill Appear in writing or in judging ill; But, of the two, less dang’rouse is th’ offence To tire our patience, than mislead our sense. —Alexander Pope, in “An Essay on Criticism” It had been a good many years since fortune had first brought us to enter the labyrinthine purlieus of the Modern Language Association’s annual convention, and memories of our early experience of that event were not so redolent of pleasure—or, for that matter, of intelligence and enlightenment—that we had reason to feel a keen sense of regret over the many meetings we had missed in the interval.

June 01, 1983

Vanity Fair: an autopsy

Nothing in the recent antics of American publishing has been quite as spectacular, or quite as revealing, as the swift and ignominious collapse of the new Vanity Fair just as the magazine's third issue was reaching disgruntled subscribers in the last week of April. It was already apparent in February, when the inaugural (March) issue made its appearance, that something had gone seriously wrong with this project to revive a magazine that had become something of a myth in publishing circles since it suspended publication nearly half a century ago.