Barbara Rose

  • Ad Reinhardt

    The recent exhibition at David Zwirner of twenty-seven blue paintings made by Ad Reinhardt, focusing on the period between 1950 and 1953, was a tour de force on many levels. It is doubtful that any museum could or would have assembled such a concentrated, ambitious show, since it lacks the box-office appeal of shock-and-awe sensationalism. Ironically, the gathering of such a cohesive group of paintings was shocking in its laser-like focus and awe-inspiring in the loftiness of its uncompromised aesthetic achievement. It was, without a doubt, one of the most beautiful and coherent, even breathtaking,

  • the NEA

    IN SEPTEMBER 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation that would establish the National Endowment for the Arts, the largest arts funder in the United States. In March of this year, President Trump proposed its elimination. While any immediate action has been forestalled, the threat to thousands of community organizations, museums, artists, and projects that benefit from NEA grants still looms. In light of this, Artforum asked five distinguished artists and critics to reflect on the NEA’s vital impact.


    IN THE MONTHS immediately following the Watts riots in Los Angeles in

  • passages December 13, 2016

    Walter Darby Bannard (1934–2016)

    How can we demonstrate that Mozart is “better” than Salieri or, for that matter, better than Elton John? Well, we can’t. . . . Mozart thrills me. . . . Elton John does not thrill me. . . . I suppose all we really can have is a Mozart fan club, which will grow or diminish with time.

    —Walter Darby Bannard, artcritical, 2002

    WALTER DARBY BANNARD WAS BORN TO WIN. He was the perfect American, a taller, more physically imposing but equally charming version of Warren Beatty, smiling and savvy, brilliant but mischievous. He could have been a movie star, a tennis pro, or at the very least a successful

  • passages June 17, 2016

    Richard Smith (1931–2016)

    WHEN RICHARD SMITH, the British painter who spent much of his life in the United States, passed away in Patchogue, Long Island, on April 15 at the age of eighty-four, he was less well known than when he first came to New York, on a Harkness Fellowship in 1959. He had every opportunity to grab the brass ring on the merry-go-round of contemporary art, but for reasons no one really understands, he chose not to, preferring to virtually disappear from the stage where he had once been a shining star. When he was young, he knew all the celebrities in swinging London as well as all the Pop and Minimalist

  • passages April 24, 2014

    Chryssa (1933–2013)

    I FIRST SAW Chryssa’s work at the Museum of Modern Art, in Dorothy Miller’s “Americans 1963” show. I was impressed. I continued to be impressed by the sculptures and reliefs for which she is best known. They looked startlingly fresh and original. I did not meet her until later, and had no idea whether she was a man or a woman, American or foreign; I just knew that this was a really strong artist with a personal vision. Chryssa worked in many different media—including painting, drawing, and prints. In all media, her imagery often recalled calligraphy. However, she became famous for her sculptures


    THE LAST TIME I SAW BOB RAUSCHENBERG was this past March in Valencia, Spain. He had been unable to go the year before, when he was awarded the prestigious Julio González International Prize for lifetime achievement—but no one could keep him from attending the exhibition opening of his friend Darryl Pottorf at the Instituto Valenciano de Arte Moderno. It was the usual Bob story: The doctors forbade him to go, so of course he went. He was in great form, despite being confined to his wheelchair, as he had been since his stroke in 2002. (Considering that he could never sit still, being tied

  • Barbara Rose on Larry Rivers

    ONE OF THE REASONS I came to New York before I was old enough to go anywhere was to meet artists like Larry Rivers. Larry was already famous—or infamous—for indulging in activities that white-bread America in the ’50s believed was a one-way ticket to hell. Everything about him was offbeat and funky. He was vain enough to lie about his age. He was either seventy-six or seventy-eight when he died this summer of liver cancer in Southampton, Long Island, where he hobnobbed with the rich and famous while still living more or less the life of a hobo. But this was typical of Larry’s endless contradictions,

  • Richard Bellamy

    HE NEVER SEEMED TO AGE; they would continue to call him boyish right up to his death, at seventy, this March. Richard Bellamy’s youthfulness was as much spiritual as physical: he remained filled with wonder to the end of his days. He was an anomaly, the loose round peg in the tight square grid that the art world became. He was called an art dealer because he ran galleries, but that was hardly his vocation: he was the artist’s confidant who, when it was absolutely necessary, could negotiate the real world on behalf of those even more alienated than he. In truth, he was a terrible salesman, so

  • On Chamberlain’s Interview

    CHAMBERLAIN’S DIRECTION REVEALS A GREAT deal about his character: he expresses himself without intellectual pretense in everyday slang vernacular. He is intuitive rather than methodical, revising a thought in the process of communicating it rather than referring to a set of fully formed predetermined referents which might form any kind of logical system. Both his basic nature as well as his means of expression ran counter to the ’60s’ vogue for terse, unambivalent (presumably factual) statements which disregarded emotional reaction, experiential context, or on-the-spot improvisation. The interview

  • Mondrian in New York

    ALTHOUGH HE DID NOT ACTUALLY arrive in New York until 1940, the influence of Piet Mondrian began to be felt by American artists before the great pioneer abstractionist found himself in America, once again in flight from Hitler’s advancing armies. Even before Harry Holtzman persuaded his Dutch friend to leave London for the greater safety of New York, Mondrian’s works could be mo re easily seen in America than in Europe, where the extreme reductiveness and severe austerity of his style was not pleasing to School of Paris taste. Americans, on the other hand, seemed to take to his work naturally.

  • Quality in Louis

    DESPITE THE GROWING ACKNOWLEDGMENT of Morris Louis as one of America’s greatest painters, certain questions regarding his work have not been widely discussed. Among these are exact reasons for the superiority of Louis’ paintings, the oddness that the oeuvre, although relatively large, was produced during a period of four or five years, the criteria for distinguishing relative quality in Louis’ work, and why his work appears to belong, not with the stain painting of the ‘60s to which it is technically related, but with the work of the first generation of the New York School.

    The more I think of

  • The Films of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy

    THE FILMS OF THE HUNGARIAN Constructivist Moholy-Nagy and the American Dadaist Man Ray have special relevance as historical precedents for current cinematic activity on the part of painters and sculptors. Their films were a response to certain contradictions inherent in the very aims and ideologies of the modern movements themselves, and thus provide a locus for studying a crisis, within the plastic arts, which reasserts itself today.

    Conceived during the period between the two world wars of the détente from Cubism, the films of Man Ray and Moholy-Nagy attempted to formulate an alternative to

  • A Conversation with Gene Davis

    When did you join the Jefferson Place Gallery in Washington?

    ALICE DENNY SAW MY WORK in Corcoran area shows or in a local group show. She may have seen my one-man show at Catholic University in 1953. I also had a show at the Franz Bader Gallery in 1956, so I wasn’t totally unknown. The Jefferson Place was a co-op gallery founded jointly by Alice Denny and a young wealthy collector around town whose name escapes me. It was made up mostly of the American University group who were oriented toward de Kooning and the figure. They included Robert Gates, Joe Summerford, Helene McKenzie Herzbrun and Bob

  • Georgie O’Keeffe’s Late Paintings

    THESE DAYS IT IS FASHIONABLE to believe that we already have an accurate picture of the quality art of the sixties. The idea that any important work is unknown to us seems out of the question. Yet there exists a body of work done during the decade of the sixties, almost unknown to the general art public, which I believe will endure when the media favorites of today have long faded. I am speaking of the recent paintings of Georgia O’Keeffe which rounded out her recent Whitney Museum retrospective.

    The works in question were painted in virtual isolation in O’Keeffe’s barn at the remote Ghost Ranch,

  • The Graphic Art of Jasper Johns, Part II

    As we look back from the middle of the twentieth century, what makes a medium artistically important is not any quality of the medium itself but the qualities of mind and hand that its users bring to it.

    —William Ivins, Prints and Visual Communication

    By innovation is meant simply an emphasis to which the contemporary public is not accustomed. Thus, to a people improvident through excessive hopefulness, the artist who disclosed the cultural value of fear, distrust, or hypochondria would be an innovator. Any “transvaluation of values” is an innovation, though it be a reversion to an earlier value.

  • The Graphic Work of Jasper Johns

    IF ONE OF THE VICES of current criticism is the exhaustion of superlatives, then it is not as crucial to dwell on the quality of Jasper Johns’s graphics now as it is to investigate other ways in which they are remarkable and unique. When quality is so apparent, to speak of fineness of impression, blackness of black and subtlety of values seems more the province of connoisseurship than of criticism. Yet the work does pose essential critical problems. Among these is the relationship of Johns’s graphic oeuvre to his work in other media. In his graphic work, Johns explores the same set of themes

  • The Origins of Ray Gun

    I have a dream about a “happening” at the Yale Art School. A costume of baroque gold chandelier and a white body with detachable bra-tits (worn by) the resident genius whom I know. I later assist in the presentation in a clean hall before a conservative audience. I look in tube, am popped in eye. Surprised but play along. Followed by rubbing out of traditional paintings accomplished by trick of turning off light behind chromo of painting.

    —Claes Oldenburg, notebook entry

    Provincetown, July 18, 1960

    ONE OF THE DIFFICULTIES IN attempting to reconstruct Claes Oldenburg’s development is that he has

  • Problems of Criticism VI: The Politics of Art, Part III

    We are revealing new pages of art in anarchy’s new dawns . . . You who are bold and young, make haste to remove the fragments of the disintegrating rudder.

    Wash off the touch of the dominating authorities.

    ––Kasimir Malevich, To the New Limit, 1918

    The same fat surplus which burns in Viet Nam feeds us. Let the art armies be disbanded. In the wake of the anarch, all marches are up . . . Art is what we do; culture is what is done to us.

    ––Carl Andre, statement in “Sensibility of the Sixties,” Art in America, 1967.

    IF THE PRAGMATIC METHOD IS, as William James describes it, “the attitude of looking

  • Painting Within Tradition: The Career of Helen Frankenthaler

    THERE ARE FEW INSTANCES IN WHICH the critic has to evaluate work that has had some special personal significance for him; but those instances are often the most challenging. When I abandoned the provinces, I came to New York to study the Old Masters. But Morningside Heights soon proved less compelling than 57th Street. This was something I couldn’t justify for a long time. One day, however, I saw abstract paintings that succeeded in preserving many of the qualities I admired in the Old Masters—especially the lightness and airiness of the great “painterly” painters like the Venetians—without

  • Problems of Criticism V: The Politics of Art, Part II

    Perhaps it will be the task of an artist as detached from esthetic preoccupations, and as intent on the energetic as Marcel Duchamp, to reconcile art and the people.

    ––G. Apollinaire, The Cubist Painters, 1913.

    . . . I believe that art is shedding its vaunted mystery for a common sense of keenly realized decoration. Symbolizing is dwindling––becoming slight. We are pressing downward toward no art––a mutual sense of psychologically indifferent decoration––a neutral pleasure of seeing known to everyone.

    ––Dan Flavin, “Some Remarks,” Artforum, December, 1966.

    My monuments and other manifestations