PRINT April 1963



I have admired—and still admire—the art reviews of Don Factor. They are clear, concrete and outspoken. He tries to give his reasons for liking or disliking, and he has avoided the murky obscurantism of many of his colleagues—the verbal false face in front of the blank mind.

But, alas, Mr. Factor has let his bias show—and a good record of clear thinking is badly smudged. I refer to his review of the paintings of James McGarrell (Artforum, Feb., ’63).

In this review, all Mr. Factor can find to say is that McGarrell’s paintings look important but on closer examination they don’t seem important anymore. “The main problem,” Mr. Factor says, “is that others have done it better.”

If we were to take Mr. Factor’s criterion seriously, there would be nothing left of most of contemporary art, including that part Mr. Factor admires most. The only artists since 1945 who can be described as doing something that others had not done better are Pollock and de Kooning. All the others, from Gorky through Jasper Johns and Ed Kienholz, can be charged with the same “weakness” as McGarrell.

I do not make this point to derogate the artists who are among us and whose sources are self-evident. But an honest critic like Don Factor shouldn’t have had two sets of standards, one for artists he admires, and one for those he dislikes. If Mr. Factor believes that McGarrell is unimportant, let him suggest where the artist fails esthetically. It is scarcely enough to say that Francis Bacon does it better. Picasso did it better than Kienholz, but that doesn’t make Kienholz unimportant.

It is bias, not art criticism, that moved Mr. Factor. I refer to his further comment on McGarrell, who, he says, “has received some prestige and, one assumes, sales, based on all the recent return to the figure publicity.” That is art criticism?

McGarrell has been painting the figure long before there was any such so-called movement. His sales and prestige based on publicity—(I am embarrassed even to mention these items as evidence brought forth in art reviewing)—are as irrelevant as the color of his eyes. By including them in his review, the critic demeans the artist and, sadly, himself as well. How would Mr. Factor ask us to judge an artist’s work? By the fact that it does not sell or does not get publicity?

Don Factor is one of the best reviewers around. Because of my respect for him, I must protest even at one failure of taste and thoughtfulness.

—Michael Blankfort
Los Angeles

Thank you for the copy of Artforum, with the article on the new mansion. With all due respect to Mr. Gebhard’s credentials as a critic, I must confess I believe he was much too harsh with the design. And I am not the least bit discouraged by it.

—Edmund G. Brown, Governor
State Of California

I want to congratulate you on your excellent coverage of Jose Luis Cuevas’ new book, including the cover, of your magazine. I have the double privilege of being Cuevas’ personal friend and representing his work in New York and Canada and consider him, quite objectively, one of our greatest contemporary artists.

—Emilio Del Jungo, President
Andrew-Morris Gallery, N.Y.

Isn’t it time that the San Francisco Art Institute defined their annual exhibition as a “Regional Invitational“?

By now, it seems obvious that the purpose of the “National” AND “Open-Competition” is really a guise to promote and dignify the work of a regional art association.

In fact, many of the so called “important” artist members of the S.F. Art Institute (who serve on juries and are regularly invited to exhibit in local museums) either exist on outdated reputations or by virtue of their work and exhibition record must be considered as regional artists at best.

—Fredric Hobbs
San Francisco

I have just read my first issue, cover to cover, and I want to commend you on an art magazine that really is for artists. Your format is a beautiful job.

—Meyers Rohowsky
President, New Jersey Chapter
Artists Equity Association

As a member of the San Francisco Women Artists I was much struck by Mr. Monte’s review of its 37th Annual Exhibition at the San Francisco Museum. He raised the point as to whether a women’s exhibiting organization had any true function today when there is no “genuine discrimination between the sexes in the art community of the area.”

Discrimination is often difficult to prove. It’s so easy to say “there weren’t any qualified women around.” However, isn’t discrimination beside the point? Most exhibiting organizations use a gimmick of some kind—painted flowers, being born in California, religious themes, realistic or abstract style, age—what’s wrong with sex? Excluding one-half of the art community is no worse than the Phelan show which excludes 75 per cent of it by reason of birth.

It seems to me that the reviewer’s task is to evaluate the show; only the quality of the work admitted should be the test of whether a given gimmick isvalid. If the Women’s Annual ever becomes weak and mediocre then I’m sure the San Francisco Museum will be the first to ask its removal to the “Women’s Army Corps barracks” suggested by Mr. Monte. In the meantime, let’s enjoy the exhibit.

—Eleanor Dickinson
San Francisco

Charles Mattox, San Francisco Museum of Art: Objects kinetic, a review dissenting.

The night rainy that we went to the museum warm to see the Objects Kinetic by Charles Mattox, half the objects had attached a sign neatly lettered that said, “Do not touch. This machine is out of order.”

And we wondered in what other field of endeavor artistic such incompetence pathetic would be dignified by such a title pretentious and display elaborate.

—Margery Mann
Davis, California

All information is so late it is hard to relate, calendars obsolete, criticisms precious and picky . . . and NOW . . . to try to start a quibble about the San Francisco Women Artists. Really! (Artforum, Feb., ’63.)

—Gertrude Murphy
San Francisco

Concerning the article by “I.E.D.” in your February issue, it seems that I.E.D. has a very limited store of adjectives in her vocabulary, or maybe she was kidding. Maybe she really meant that the “awful lot of pictures” picked in 1953 were awful?

But, thank you for the beautiful article on Jose Luis Cuevas! It lives!

—Miss Julie Simmonds
Oakland, California