PRINT September 1964



Re. John Coplans’ article on Hassel Smith in your May 1964 issue. First I would point out that Clyfford Still taught at the California School of Fine Arts from 1946 to 1950. Also that he had a one-man show at the California Palace of the Legion of Honor Museum the Summer of 1947, and another one-man show at the Metart Gallery the Summer of 1950.

I was present in the room in 1947 in California Street in San Francisco when a group of the faculty of the California School of Fine Arts returned from the Legion of Honor Museum after previewing the one-man exhibition by Clyfford Still. Included in the group were Clay Spohn, Mark Rothko and Mrs. Rothko, David Park, Douglas MacAgy, and Hassel Smith. Rothko and Spohn were enthusiastic in their reaction. Hassel Smith was rather silent until Rothko asked him, “We haven’t heard from you, Hassel.” Smith’s reply was “Hell, he’s upset my applecart. I’ve got to start painting all over again.” (Smith’s work in a faculty show of a few months prior to this made clear that his interests were social-illustration and landscape.)

Once again Hassel Smith made a similar remark in 1950 when he saw Mr. Still’s one-man show at the Metart Gallery. Should any further proof of Smiths’ relation to Still’s work and influence on Smith’s painting be necessary, there are letters from him averring it, in Mr. Still’s files. There remains, unfortunately, considerable doubt that Hassel Smith ever fully understood Still’s work however much he admired it and used it. But that is not the concern of this letter.

Lest the envy of the little boys in San Francisco—students and teachers alike—who studied under Still, completely obliterates their memory of those days, this is offered as just one instance of many I can name. Make no mistake about it, Still’s paintings and ideas were the source for nearly everything that gave interest or uniqueness to their work. In other words, it was common knowledge both in San Francisco and New York that his presence alone kept the California School of Fine Arts from being just another in a multitude of typical art schools selling commercial and popular versions of realism, Bauhaus aesthetics, and muscular daubings.

It is unfortunate that the present crop of writers seems to be incapable of learning the facts of those days or understanding their import, but unwrite them into an “art school” smog. Even the term’ “generation” is construed to mean nothing but chronological age, instead of what Mr. Rubin implied—the generation of ideas which in the second stage could be elaborated upon or perverted. Some rewriting of history by journalists and alleged “critics” is inevitable as they adjust their thoughts to fit the fashionable political mode. But ignorance as patent and writing as banal as that revealed by Mr. Coplans (and your New York representative, Max Kozloff) demands reproof.

—Mrs. Patricia Still
Westminster, Md.

The Los Angeles police recently closed Connor Everts’ show at the Zora Gallery on a charge of pornography, and forced the artist to remove some of his paintings before they would allow the gallery to open again.

All of Connor Everts’ artist friends have rallied to his support. The members of the Los Angeles Printmaking Society at a meeting on Sunday, June 28, 1964, unanimously passed a vote of confidence for our president, Connor Everts. We feel that Mr. Everts is innocent of the charge of pornography, that his paintings are not intended to arouse sexual feelings, but rather they are a graphic symbolic comment on man’s conditions of anguish, fear, and withdrawal.

We believe evidence on which Connor Everts is accused is insufficient and inaccurate and that all charges should be dropped. It is our conviction that Connor Everts is innocent.

—Leonard Edmondson
Membership Chairman

Last Sunday, for reasons too tenuous to recall just now, we found ourselves on a back road between Sacra mento and Stockton, and, having seen Pirkle Jones’s and Ruth-Marion Baruch’s photographic essay on Walnut Grove, and having read the glowing review of the show in the May Artforum, we decided to make the side trip of a few miles to look at Walnut Grove for ourselves.

Jones and Baruch told a heart-rending story of a dying community, a little world bypassed by the vagaries of progress, a town with old, dilapidated buildings and old people who stayed there only because they had nowhere to go, although the young people were all departing. And a pathetic story it was. It brought a touch of moisture to the eye, a slight quiver to the lip.

As we crossed the bridge—the town is on both sides of the river—we began to try to relate the reality to the Baruch images presented by Jones and Baruch. We first saw the pockmarked building of the Bank of Alex Brown, 1920-ish with chipped gold letters on the windows, and we felt a pride of recognition. But what was that? About a hundred yards south, there was a large airy building, a new Bank of Alex Brown to replace outdated facilities. Startled, we asked each other if small private banks would invest so much money in expansion in a community where everyone was going away.

We found the site of the first photograph, an almost-deserted street with what looked like deserted stores. It was, to be sure, an area which had seen more prosperous times, but the small businesses in the old frame buildings seemed active—a barber shop, a rooming house, a market, a couple of bars. But this is not all the business district. Walnut Grove has a Ford agency, a Chevrolet agency, five or six filling stations, a new bar, a hardware store, a large farm equipment company, and in an area almost deserted by farming, according to Jones and Baruch, a branch office of the State Department of Agriculture.

Jones and Baruch pictured a residential area as pathetically timeworn as their business district, a shack along the river, a tangle of weeds for a garden. But Walnut Grove has several blocks of attractive well-kept homes with neat flower beds. At the north entrance to the town, there are a number of elegant houses, mansions almost, with acres of landscaped grounds in the midst of pear orchards. In the residential district, there is a new community church with a social hall beside it. Would people as defeated as those pictured by Jones and Baruch have the ability to raise money to build this church? Would there be any need to build it if the population is drifting away?

None of this did Jones and Baruch see. Their story, which your reviewer foolishly called “simple” and “honest” was a patent photographic falsification, a grim fairy tale, and the implications of this type of editing-to-prove-a-point are far-reaching in the world of responsible photojournalism. Their picture of Walnut Grove is no more valid than an essay on San Francisco showing only pictures made at Third and Howard Streets, or pictures made in Pacific Heights.

We studied Walnut Grove for a longish afternoon, driving back and forth, crossing and re-crossing the bridge, and by the time we had passed the city limits sign at the north end of town for the fifth time, we muttered angrily that the reason Jones and had photographed this sign at dusk to give a sweet symbolic close to their story was that dusk obscured the prosperous-looking hotel across the river.

But their story was so convincing, and it was told so sincerely. They saw and photographed nothing extraneous to their story line. But why? Most charitably, was the story photographed so long ago that the town has vitally changed direction? Then the true story of Walnut Grove would be the story of the reversal of fortune. Did they spend too little time in the town? Were they such poor observers that they didn’t see the new bank and the new community church? Did they go to Walnut Grove with a rigid idea of what they were going to see and then make only those photographs which exemplified their preconceptions? Were they over-impressed with the weathered visages of persons and places, confusing seediness with SIGNIFICANCE?

This show is a remarkable illustration of the old saw that the photograph can’t tell a lie, only the photographer can. Creative photojournalism must certainly express the point of view of the individual photographer, but the photographer must have open-mindedly and painstakingly surveyed his entire subject to select out those elements which best embody its truth. Irresponsible photojournalism is not only dishonest but dangerous. What, for heaven’s sake, would have happened if Jones and. Baruch had gone to photograph a village in the Soviet Union?

As to your review, which I have reread with increasing amusement, your too-trusting reviewer has been HAD.

—Margery Mann
Davis, Calif.

I could care less for Mr. French’s personal sarcasm of finding my work: “. . . monotonous and banal . . .” I do not expect all critics to like my work and especially writers of Mr. French’s caliber. What I do care is that such a statement appearing in the April issue of Artforum can influence the public to a prior judgment.

In fairness to the public, I wish to emphasize that my work has been accepted and judged by internationally known critics like Raffaele Carrieri who writes for Domus, Times, Epoca, Milano-Sera newspaper, Gallery del Milione, Corrente, and author of articles appearing in Panorama-Roma. Milian Gazette, not to mention his books: “Pittori E Sculturi D’Avanguardia” (1890–1950); “In Italia,” Dipingere-Meravglia; Raffaele De Grada whose articles appear in L’Italia Letteraria, Gallery Del Currente, Meridiano Di Roma, Bi-Annual Art Venezia; Stefano Cairola, author of “Art Italiano Del Nostro Tempo,” Bergamo 1946; David Gebhard, Robert Grobski, and many many others. As for the show in dispute, I would like to quote Mr. Fried of the San Francisco Examiner who wrote: “The landscape paintings by Italian-born John Mancini create their feeling usually in lonely space, simple forms of houses, fields and sky, simple harmonies and areas of individual color. While his work is the opposite of passionate, it has a valuable emotional sense within its serenity. Humans are nowhere visible in his pictures, but their presence is felt.”

Anyone with common sense can detect from Mr. French’s remarks that he is expressing a fast-drawn conclusion from an introspective analysis rather than a careful observation of what was before his eyes. If this excuse is not the answer for saving face, then it is easy to see that Mr. French is limited in his scope of understanding art and has shamefully detracted from himself and the magazine Artforum in the eyes of the public.

John Mancini

For a study of the Synchromists and American painting, I would appreciate biographical information, paintings, photographs and other pertinent information concerning Patrick Henry Bruce (1881–1937) and Arthur B. Frost, Jr. (1887–1918).

—William C. Agee
121 E. 90th Street
New York

A friend of mine, Anita Fisher, who is a poet, saw the reproduction of Edward Kienholz’s “The Birthday” on the cover of the Summer issue of Artforum, and was so intensely moved by it that she wrote the interpretation which follows. I must confess that, through her, it became more significant for me:

On “The Birthday”

A pagan princess lies violated on a roll-away table mourning the death of the natural world. Who is she and why does this room evoke a uteral void? As though I lay there in a lethal dream after the surgeon had cut the placenta from my heart.

Her womb has been anesthetized. The water that breaks and precedes birth is frozen above her stomach like a shriek. There is no blood anywhere, you do not bleed in the void. There is only the grim reversal of womanhood and birth and tomorrow. No other room exists in the world except this one and no bed but a cold table to lie upon.

She has brought a little valise for her week-end and the litter of feminine apparel lies in bland disuse of bodies or life. Identical pictures hang side by side on the wall and each one contains the punctured center of an egg. Like the soul that is retching and hung up to dry. Two soul blots, mother and child.

But she has not given up, though her legs are spread for death and she lies in hypocritical surrender to the cold light of the anti-world. She still breathes in sexual dilations to the memory of a kiss and a bubble forms round her mouth where sensation would be. A red flower floats within the bubble like a tiny fetus and it is the only life-sign in the room. This fetus flower is her voice calling for someone to come and retrieve her with a look or a kiss. As in the fable of Snow White who waits in her bridal gown in a state of unreal death for the Prince.

But again, dying is soundproof. There is no wedding gown on this girl. She is dressed for the ceremonies of our world, the world whose voice is a white smock on an abandoned body. The world that performs surgery on its own genitals and its own heart and the operating room exists where we used to make love.

Sidney Gordin
Provincetown, Mass.

Before ascribing “influences,” Palmer D. French should check. In his April review of oils by the late Francis de Erdely, French wrote: “Although the WPA muralists and the Mid-western Regionalists—particularly Benton—obviously strongly influenced his painting manner . . .”, and even drags in Dali, too.

De Erdely’s first glimpse of the U.S.A. was in 1940. A Hungarian with a strongly defined style, the only American influence upon it was subsequent to that year and came from living and working amid the landscape, light and people of the American Southwest.

If French had seen Cézanne and Spanish and Flemish painting behind the De Erdely manner he might have come closer.

Arthur Millier
Los Angeles

Note: There have been a surprising number of inquiries regarding the little “Judge” in the Quay Gallery advertisement on page 9 of the May, 1964 issue. She is Miss Hannah Leider, age 3, the daughter of Artforum’s Editor in-Chief. The painting is entitled “The Conflict of Harmony and Invention, after Antonio Vivaldi;” the “Harmony” part was painted by John Coplans, the “Invention” part by James Monte.