Sidney Tillim

  • PHOTOGRAPHY AND REMEMBRANCE: HELEN LEVITT

    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

  • ON GÉRÔME, BOUGUEREAU, INGRES, AND “THEY DIED WITH THEIR BOOKS ON,” NOTES FROM A JOURNAL

    . . . 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

  • REPRESENTING PAPER

    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,

  • THE VIEW FROM PAST 50

    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

  • DE KOONING

    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.”

    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,

  • A Variety of Realisms

    Modern art, like modern literature and modern life, has lost much. In some directions it has more than compensated for the loss, developing its own complexity and its own—far more subjective—inwardness. But as one brought up on the past (like everyone else), I cannot help regretting what has been lost. The regret is futile, yet I believe that this nostalgia for the past, responsible though it has been for academicism, has also been a vital ingredient of the greatest advanced art of our times. The artist immune to it has that much less to struggle with, but he is also so much the poorer for his

  • The Reception of Figurative Art

    FIGURATIVE ART IS NOT YET “IN”—far from it. But it is no longer the orphan of modernism that it was until only recently. Though hardly commonplace as yet, a few exhibitions have been devoted to the subject and others are planned. Of those already on record, most notable, perhaps, was the “Realism Now” exhibition presented by the Art History department at Vassar College late last spring. Causing considerably more critical agitation however (since “Realism Now” went largely unnoticed), was Norman Geske’s selection of figurative painters and sculptors to represent the United States at the Venice

  • Earthworks and the New Picturesque

    IN 1964 DONALD JUDD WROTE that conventional media and the canvas rectangle were no longer adequate for a contemporary expression and called for an art with “the specificity and power of actual materials, actual color, actual space.” The recently concluded exhibition of Earthworks at the Dwan Gallery in New York brings to a climax the subsequent involvement with "actual’’ media in recent art. The Earthworks were just that—works made either with actual soil or by marking lines, digging holes and cutting rings on and into selected portions of the earth’s surface (illustrated in the exhibition by