Critics’ Picks

View of “Joseph Grigely: The Gregory Battcock Archive,” 2016.


Joseph Grigely

Kunstverein in Hamburg
Klosterwall 23
March 5–June 5

In 1992, Joseph Grigely discovered the abandoned archives of Gregory Battcock, the great 1970s art critic who was murdered in his holiday apartment in Puerto Rico in 1980. In a small series of vitrines containing an edited selection of Battcock’s papers, and with some framed posters and an abstract painting from his early art career hanging on a wall, Grigely tells a story that leaves us wanting more. Excerpts from banter and rant-filled essays and reviews make us nostalgic for a time when art criticism was practiced as a literary form. In one, Seth Siegelaub is described as “a pleasant sort of sexy chap.” That same essay, “Painting Is Obsolete,” from 1969, declares, “Why do we have to experience anything. I don’t like playing with buttons and little balls, and opening little doors, and patting slimy surfaces or listening to gurgling or popping sounds when I’m around art. I can do all that, even better, with real things and if art is anything remotely like imitation of reality then I don’t like it since I don’t like imitations.”

Like John Ruskin before him, Battcock rated life over art. Therein lies his greatness as an art critic. Operating on the side of the life force, he strove, through his writings, to bring the sheer vivacity and fun, tragic, anarchic unpredictability of existence into the increasingly closed off world of art. An avid traveler, he authored a series of essays on an ocean liner, even arguing that a major US art museum should purchase a transatlantic passenger ship and keep it operating in perpetuity. Realizing that no art magazine would dare publish such a piece of writing today, one notes just how much the art world lost when Battcock perished.