Sidney Tillim

  • Further Observations on the Pop Phenomenon

    “David McCallum is utterly self-contained and completely dedicated to his own world. He acts and loves acting, but he also lives and loves living. He has never dissipated himself, never soiled himself with casualness, never deviated from a passionate addiction to his own basic values.”

    Jean Kessner, Photoplay Magazine, July, 1965

    “Claes Oldenburg has subordinated his entire being to the pursuit of an original, intensely personal vision. His artistic goals are ambitious, and he applies himself to their realization with complete dedication . . . He is the completely inner-directed man. His personality


    In this little girl’s image I saw the kindness which had formed her being immediately and forever, without her having inherited it from anyone....For once, photography gave me a sentiment as certain as remembrance.

    —Roland Barthes, Camera Lucida, 1980

    I HAVE ALWAYS been partial to photographs of the ’30s and ’40s, largely because my memories of those years simply do not allow the images to disappear, as Walter Benjamin would say, into Art. In the ’30s, all the men seemed to wear hats and vests like my father did; in the ’40s, even if it was partly propaganda, there was a sense of solidarity


    . . . I WENT TO WASHINGTON to see the Bonnard and Watteau exhibitions but came away utterly absorbed by a Gérôme—Egyptian Recruits Crossing the Desert, 1857. It was being shown at the National Gallery in an exhibition called “The Orientalists: Delacroix to Matisse.” The principal orientalist painters were, of course, the so-called academics, and these would include not only the French and English painters, but Americans like Frederic Church and Sanford R. Gifford. The former’s academic side, which I suspect American chauvinism has obscured, is very evident in his Jerusalem from the Mount of


    THE REVIVAL OF PRINTMAKING AND papermaking, the recovery of photography as art, and the popularity of architectural drawings are phenomena related to the idea of the “work on paper” whose revival seems to be gaining momentum. Together, they collaborate in the ongoing discourse on the presumed limitations of Modernism, at least as formalist practice. “Works on paper” now have a kind of trendy cachet, but they actually represent a kind of conceptual androgyny, symptomatic of a genuine problem that emerged when abstract art conflated drawing and painting to the point where they became interchangeable,


    WHAT LIES AHEAD FOR the artist past 50, largely unsung? All history is quickly limited to a few reputations, and while we know temporal judgment can be off, that hardly compensates the artist who, though generally recognized, nonetheless passes into a kind of limbo, trying hard not to feel left out.

    Still, the answer to emptiness is not to latch on to whatever comes along. The answer may be the careful nurturing of illusion, the maintenance of expectation in face of the odds and momentary facts that can’t be denied. Neither can one’s rage be denied. It is, at the very least, a crying shame to


    THE WILLEM DE KOONING retrospective at the Whitney Museum was, for some of us at least, a sentimental occasion. De Kooning, now nearly 80, is the “grand old man” of Modernist American art, if only because he is almost the only major artist of his generation to have lived long enough to attain this virtually irrelevant but nonetheless symbolic distinction. Arshile Gorky, whose influence de Kooning acknowledges and who would be de Kooning’s age had he lived, died, a suicide, in 1948. Jackson Pollock died in an accident in 1956, Franz Kline died from natural causes in 1962, David Smith was an

  • “Specimens Of Photomechanical Printing From The Collection Of Samuel Wagstaff”

    This exhibition of specimens of photomechanical printing was not the first in this country in recent times; several years ago the Marcuse Pfeiffer Gallery mounted a show of process reproductions. But that show was neither historical nor representative. It was conceived rather as a gesture and an experiment, since the photographic market was dealing in what were actually reproductions of photographs without taking much critical or theoretical recognition of the fact. The Wagstaff exhibition, in outline at least, was a historical survey of most of the known photomechanical processes since 1840,


    SINCE THE LATE 18TH CENTURY the function of art as a form of value, and how that value was to be defined, has been anything but clear. The subsequent development of art for exclusive exhibition purposes coincides with efforts, in the absence of specific cultural and spiritual obligations, to assign it various other functions. Art was seen as either serving itself as Art, with esthetic experience deemed a type of transcendence, or, in one form or another, serving the state, the people, or the masse. The result has been constant conflict between contending movements, perplexing even the greatest

  • Notes on Narrative and History Painting

    I FIRST THOUGHT OF PAINTING a narrative picture—one that told a story—in 1963. Perhaps it was a year earlier. At that time, I thought of it strictly as a problem in subject matter and had no visual concept to match it. I simply lacked pictorial conventions that would enable me to credibly represent the subjects I had in mind and I did not finish the projects I started, though the studies exist. One of them was called The Return of My Father from Alaska.

    I had the notion at the time that autobiographical subject matter was somehow more modern than the traditional kind which, as a good “modernist,”

  • The Ideal and the Literal Sublime

    A STRIKING ESTHETIC CONFRONTATION between painting and photography occurs in the current exhibition at the Metropolitan Museum of Art of American masterpieces from its collection. The room devoted to the period during which the Hudson River School flourished contains paintings by Cole, Church, Kensett and Bierstadt and a photograph by Carlton Watkins. Cole’s Ox-bow, Church’s Heart of the Andes and Kensett’s Lake George are shown side by side on one wall; Bierstadt’s huge Rocky Mountains is juxtaposed with Watkins’s photograph of Mt. Starr King, Yosemite, on the wall opposite. Within a thick,

  • Tiepolo Acquisitions at the Met

    THE METROPOLITAN MUSEUM HAS very quietly purchased and placed on view three huge mural paintings by the 18th-century Venetian master, Giovanni Battista Tiepolo. Reputedly the best of a set of ten painted for the Dolfin family of Venice in the early 1700s, the huge oil paintings were acquired for an undisclosed sum from a source as yet undisclosed. It is not clear when the murals first arrived in the United States.1 Unquestionably the acquisition is a major, even miraculous, one; yet the paintings, the largest of which is 18 feet high and 11 feet wide, are something of a disappointment. Virtually

  • Gauguin and the Decorative Style

    “GAUGUIN AND THE DECORATIVE STYLE,” the summer exhibition at the Guggenheim Museum, concluded with Matisse in the forties rather than Frank Stella in the sixties and thereby advertised itself as a minor exhibition on a major theme. For what it called “the decorative style” represents a particular type of formal consciousness that constitutes one of the most misunderstood aspects of modernist art. Far from making the connection, the Guggenheim mandarins organized a show in terms of the influence of Gauguin rather than an autonomous impulse with sources antedating Gauguin and of which Gauguin was

  • Edward Kienholz’s “Barney’s Beanery”

    IT’S DIFFICULT TO JUDGE with any accuracy just how the New York art world received Edward Kienholz’s ultimate assemblage—Barney’s Beanery—a bar reconstructed in every detail but living action. The New York Times ran an advance item on it, with a photograph, yet after it was installed in the Dwan Gallery’s recently opened New York quarters, the Beanery, to my knowledge, received little of the word-of-mouth publicity that is customary when an unusual exhibition happens along. It is safe, I think, to say that local cognoscenti missed its import—as I almost did—out of simple snobbism. I had intended

  • The Figure in Abstract Expressionism

    THE SUBJECT OF THIS ESSAY—the fate of the figure in Abstract Expressionism (or action painting)—is conceivable only in the light of post-Abstract Expressionist developments. Five years ago it was unthinkable. Abstract Expressionism was still popularly believed to deal in apocalyptic “acts,” the resulting imagery of which was at best a secondary presence. The total work was felt to have presence and the artist’s identity was said to be behind it. The only Abstract Expressionist of note still working with the figure—de Kooning—was relieved of guilt by association by interpreting his imploded

  • Evaluations and Re-Evaluations

    The precursor can have no imitators: he is always sui generis, while the rebel appears in crowds because the way of the rebel is easily imitated. The precursor shapes a new civilization; the rebel defines the edges of a disintegrating one.

    George Kubler, The Shape of Time

    DURING THE PAST SEASON or so a number of exhibitions that I thought had merit or interest have gone unreviewed in Artforum. Others provoked critical comment which overlooked aspects that seemed to me fascinating if not profound, though the implication of any incidental illumination grows in profundity upon reflection. I propose

  • Morandi: A Critical Note and a Memoir

    THE LANDSCAPES OF GIORGIO MORANDI, the Bolognese painter who died in 1964, are not nearly as well-known as his still lifes—huddled groupings of softly tinted bottles, boxes, pitchers, bowls and the like. These latter have a pronounced mood, an aura of suspense that is simply more gripping than the far more formal landscapes. They have besides a greater variety of color, even approaching sweetness at times. Inevitably, the Morandi exhibition which was put on at the end of last season at the Loeb-Krugier Gallery in New York, contained only two landscapes in oil. Happily one of these was one of

  • Surrealism as Art

    Form today is significant enough, significant of incapacity. Some hope I see in Surrealism; for the surrealists are showing, together with much silliness and indecency, a renewed respect for their materials, for some beauty of surface and a return to inventiveness in their paintings.

    —William Rothenstein in Since Fifty, Vol. 3 of his memoirs, Men and Memories, 1940

    THE HOPE OF A RETURN to illusionistic1 art is as old as modernism itself. It was a hope before art became fully abstract and it has sometimes been the hope of the most advanced art as well. In fact, abstract art encountered considerable

  • Philip Pearlstein and the New Philistinism

    IT IS A LONG TIME since modernist art seriously offended anyone, at least in a way that was enduringly significant culturally. “Le Dejeuner Sur L’herbe,” or, rather the scandal provoked by it, has become one of modernism’s most durable legends, and the cultivated bourgeoisie, assimilated to the tradition of the new, is now among that tradition’s most enthusiastic patrons. It not only expects to be shocked but counts on it as the most valid and visible criterion of esthetic judgment, which ironically assures it that (its) tradition is safe. It takes, in fact, extreme gestures to arouse the public

  • Pat Johanson

    In a recent article in this journal (Scale and the Future of Modernism, October, 1967) suggested that one of the major problems confronting abstractionist painting was the problem of shape, or rather, the lack of shape. Abstract Expressionism’s assault on the contour matured finally in the openness of color painting, the sheer visual breadth of which swept the pictorial surface clear of those “abstract” shapes that had become a staple of all post-Cubist abstractionism. Color painting so generalized mass that the function of drawing was assigned to the edge of the canvas itself, thereby paving

  • Peter Gourfain

    Still another artist concerned with an alternative to Abstract Expressionism and post-painterly abstraction, Peter Gourfain, has evolved an interesting solution to the problem of structuring an essentially shapeless field. It is neither as radical, minimal nor as original as Miss Johanson’s but it is singular enough.

    Gourfain, whose exhibition at the Bykert Gallery was his first (he is 32 and was seen in the Systemic Art Show at the Guggenheim), has found a way of combining line and light. Ordinarily, line, which moves always in the single dimension of a plane, would contradict the non-planar