William Rubin

  • EXCERPTS FROM “A CURATOR’S QUEST”

    WHEN ALFRED [H. BARR JR.] and I discussed filling gaps in the museum collection, we both put a Picasso Cubist construction at the top of our wish list, and agreed that the Guitar of 1912–14 would be the ideal choice. The latter was the first in a new race of constructed—as opposed to carved or modeled—sculptures, and an object more radical and influential in the history of sculpture than was Les Demoiselles d’Avignon [1907] in the history of painting. Made of sheet metal and wire, never before imagined as materials for high art (Picasso would later use copper, iron, and steel as well), the Guitar

  • Letters: On “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief: ‘“Primitivism” in 20th Century Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984,” Part II

    To the Editor:

    Under normal circumstances I would not trouble __Artforum’s readers with a continuation of the exchange between myself and Thomas McEvilley on the “’Primitivism’ in 20th Century Art“ exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art [“Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief,” November 1984; “Letters,” February 1985]. However, there are important issues which have been obscured in this fray, and these need clarifying. Thus I ask the reader to rise above the intemperate tone of McEvilley’s “final word” and to—dare I say?—please bear with me.

    In places, McEvilley and I argue past each other, creating

  • Letters: On “Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief: ʻ“Primitivism” in 20th Century Art’ at the Museum of Modern Art in 1984”

    To the Editor:

    After years of work on an exhibition, a curator derives a certain satisfaction from a review that attempts to engage the basic issues of his show in a fair-minded way and on a high level of discourse. This is true even when the review is largely negative, as in the case of Thomas McEvilley’s article on The Museum of Modern Art’s “Primitivism” [“Doctor Lawyer Indian Chief,” November 1984]. Most analyses of exhibitions and their books fall away and are soon forgotten. McEvilley’s could be one that becomes part of the history of the event it addresses. I hope, therefore, that he will

  • Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition, Part IV

    VI. AN ASPECT OF AUTOMATISM

    THE ORIGIN OF THE SO-CALLED “drip” technique has become something of a sore point in discussions about Pollock. Certain of his partisans insist on his having been the first painter to drip or pour pictures; other critics stress Max Ernst’s and Hans Hofmann’s claims in this regard. But all these arguments are beside the point since it was not the dripping, pouring or spattering per se, but what Pollock did with them that counted. The particular character Pollock gave to this technique, and the unique pictorial fabric he drew from it, may be better distinguished by a

  • Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition, Part III

    V. CUBISM AND THE LATER EVOLUTION OF THE ALL-OVER STYLE

    THAT THE ALL-OVER POLLOCKS should have any connection at all with Analytic Cubism is a surprising suggestion (at least this writer found it so some years ago). So much in both the character and plastic structure of the drip pictures seems, at first consideration, diametrically opposed to that meditative, architectonic art. Yet the existence of such a relationship is the central thesis of Clement Greenberg, pioneer critic of the new American painting and particular supporter of, and commentator on, the work of Pollock; if for no other reason,

  • Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition, Part II

    III. IMPRESSIONISM AND THE CLASSIC POLLOCK1

    REVIVALS OF INTEREST IN STYLES which have gone out of fashion constitute a commentary on the history of art. And the transformation of American painting between the late forties and mid-fifties must be considered in the context of a concurrent re-evaluation of Impressionism, particularly of the virtually forgotten late. Monet, and a shift of interest on the part of painters—Pollock among them—from Picasso to Matisse.

    Classical Impressionism had ceased to be an issue for advanced painters well before the First World War. American avant-garde painting in

  • Jackson Pollock and the Modern Tradition, Part I

    We dwell with satisfaction upon the poet’s difference from his predecessors; we endeavor to find something that can be isolated in order to be enjoyed. Whereas if we approach a poet without this prejudice we shall often find that not only the best, but the most individual parts of his work may be those in which the dead poets, his ancestors, assert their immortality most vigorously. And I do not mean the impressionable period of adolescence, but the period of full maturity . . . the historical sense involves a perception, not only of the pastness of the past, but of its presence . . . What

  • 1. Notes on Surrealism and Fantasy Art

    “SURREALIST PAINTING” IS TO SOME extent a contradiction in terms, for, as defined in the First Manifesto, Surrealist activity is ideally “beyond any esthetic . . . preoccupation.”1 Since all art—whatever non-formal or iconographic charge it may carry—necessarily involves some degree of esthetic structuring, there can be no such thing as Surrealist painting if we take the Manifesto’s statement at face value. This is precisely what Pierre Naville did when, in 1925 in the movement’s pioneer magazine, La Revolution surréaliste, (which he edited) he insisted that “every body knows” there is “no such

  • 2. Giorgio de Chirico

    MOST OF THE 19TH-CENTURY “precursors” of Surrealist painting on Breton’s early lists had very little influence on what came to be called Surrealist painting (Redon is a signal exception).6 Such similarities as do obtain derive more from related aims than historical cause and effect. Giorgio de Chirico’s painting, on the other hand, exercised an immense formative influence on Surrealist art and was so prophetic in character that de Chirico has often been mistakenly labeled a Surrealist himself.7 But the truth is that, except for copies—which amounted to self-made "forgeries”—de Chirico had ceased

  • 3. A Post-Cubist Morphology

    IT IS ONLY AS ONE follows the development of Dada artists into the Surrealist decades that the apparent anarchy of Dada styles begins in retrospect to resolve itself into several basic directions. Though the Surrealists strove to distinguish their work from Dada, the evolutionary continuity could not be disguised; this continuity was particularly apparent in painting, if only because of the continuity of the personalities involved. Arp and Ernst became pioneer Surrealists, and Picabia, while formally rejecting association with the movement, produced work not unrelated to it. Duchamp, though he