PRINT May 1971



Barbara Rose’s “Conversation with Gene Davis” in your March issue contains some misstatements of fact, as well as several innuendos, that give a distorted impression of what was going on in part of the Washington art world during the 1950s.

Mr. Davis has already corrected his account of how the Jefferson Place Gallery was founded, and taken back his story of seeing a “life-size expressionistic male nude” by Noland in the “window of the Jefferson Place” in 1959 (“Letters,” April, 1971). But there are innuendos and implications elsewhere in his interview that invite the reader to draw conclusions equally false in point of fact.

Speaking of the Fifties in Washington, Mr. Davis says: “None of us really took ourselves all that seriously. Artistic activity sort of gravitated around the annual Corcoran area show.” During this period I myself was married to Kenneth Noland and studying painting with Morris Louis, who was a friend as well as teacher, and whose own paintings I would see frequently. I can attest to the fact that both these artists took themselves and their art very seriously indeed. So did Howard Mehring and Tom Downing, two younger painters whom we got to know in this period. As for activity gravitating around the Corcoran: not Morris Louis’s. He refused to show anywhere in Washington (except for one show at the Workshop Center of the Arts); while Kenneth Noland declined a show that was offered him at the Corcoran.

In any case Mr. Davis has no right to speak of “us” or “we.” He was regarded as an amateur artist in those years. From 1950 to 1957 he submitted his work regularly to Jacob Kainen, the Washington painter, for criticism; Mr. Davis himself wrote in the catalog text for a recent show of Mr. Kainen’s at the Stuttsman Gallery in Washington that Jacob Kainen had “taught him more about art than any living artist.” While Mr. Kainen was absent from Washington, from August to November of 1956, Mr. Davis paid Kenneth Noland to come and give him “lessons in color” like those Kenneth was then giving to his students at Catholic University.

There is the implication, in connection with the mention of Clement Greenberg’s name, that the latter unjustly overlooked Mr. Davis’s work when he wrote on Louis and Noland in 1960. The fact is that Mr. Greenberg saw his first paintings by Davis only in the fall of 1961, at a one-man show in the Jefferson Place Gallery.

Mr. Davis says that Morris Louis “slung paint for a few years and then decided to reject all of this and go back and pick up on the veil paintings.” The truth is that Louis did what Mr. Davis calls “action painting” for less than a year, from the end of 1956 to the fall of 1957. (Incidentally, and by way of a further sample of Mr. Davis’s accuracy in remembering, Barnett New-man’s first show was in 1950, not in 1951 as Mr. Davis says. 1951 is the date of Newman’s second show.)

It’s fine to put on record, before they get too hazy, things of the past that now look more important than they used to. But not in order to upstage yourself with the help of hindsight. Mr. Davis’s unburdenings to Miss Rose reflect on himself even more than on the truth.

—Cornelia Noland
Washington, D.C.

In his review of the Guggenheim International in your March issue, Mr. James Monte says, “All the European and Asian artists could be exchanged easily for others of equal merit.” I’m not well informed about Asia (I mean in terms of recent art) but at least I’m informed about the United States and Europe. It’s very clear that Mr. James Monte is only informed through color photographs in certain art magazines. The more photographs, the better the artist. The only European artist he “easily” comes up with as a possible exchange is from another generation. Apparently he does not know anything about the background of this European generation or much about the American either. It also seems he never realized that in art too, people can be dealing with similar problems at the same time. Too bad for him he is not aware of the fact that there finally is again a respect and communication among American and European artists. Mr. James Monte does not want to think in terms of art but only in terms of American art. Is one able to make a judgment about cooking when one only knows about home cooking?

Using Mr. Monte as a model one could “easily” write an article called “Art Critics International,” with a full color page of Clement Greenberg, Barbara Rose, and Michael Fried. Others would get a black and white photograph and the concluding remarks would say, “All European critics could be exchanged easily for others of equal merit.” In any case, Mr. James Monte would not even be mentioned.

—Jan Dibbets
Amsterdam, Holland

Rosalind Krauss obviously dislikes Cubist painting and resents the exhibition The Cubist Epoch (February, 1971) which I organized. She is entitled to do so. She is not, however, entitled to make certain wholly unjustifiable assumptions concerning myself. I have never read a word written by the critic Greenberg; I do not even know what he has published. So I could not acknowledge a debt I have not incurred. Golding was my pupil and his doctoral thesis, later issued as a book, contains comments and ideas which are mine. Again, no debt to acknowledge. Rosalind Krauss can know nothing whatever about the organizational problems of this exhibition. She is therefore wholly mistaken in claiming that I reproduced in the catalog “many pictures” that I never even hoped to include in the exhibition. On the contrary, certain promised loans were cancelled for reasons which I am not obliged to disclose, after the catalog had gone to press.

Lastly, I have noted with some amusement that Rosalind Krauss is apparently unable to “read” a Cubist picture. For the Still Life With Caned Chair by Picasso is not set on a table, as she says, but on a caned chair.

—Douglas Cooper
New York City

William S. Rubin wrote last month to say that it was actually he who gave the titles to the Morris Louis paintings I discussed some time ago. This is interesting, my concern being that the titles seem superbly apt. Mr. Rubin now says that they “just sort of stuck.” If there is any argument here it is that in my view Rubin’s titles are even better and more meaningful than he thought they were when he coined them. In any case they are suggestive, so that it becomes unfair to describe an effort to explore their resonances “over-interpretation.” (I do feel that the Schopenhauer/La Farge idea holds water, but for the time being it must remain a hypothesis.) I am reminded of Herbert Read’s remark that if Kurt Schwitters’ collages really are thoughtlessly composed, then the laws of nature must be identical with the laws of chance. The only criticism of my criticism in the letter is Mr. Rubin’s claim that he is “not quite sure what an ’irrevocable dance gesture in time’ is.” Well, what can I say?

—Joseph Masheck
New York, N.Y.

I would appreciate hearing from owners of little known Arshile Gorky paintings whom I have not contacted in the preparation of a Gorky catalogue raisonné.

—Jim M. Jordan
2532 “Q” Street, N.W.
Washington, D.C. 20007

In my article on “Tiepolo’s Originality” which appeared in the April issue, three drawings were wrongly captioned. They were all ascribed to G. B. Tiepolo. In fact the drawing, View of San Marco, on page 66 is by Francesco Guardi. The drawings of the Prison Interior and the Gondola on page 67 are by Piranesi. All three drawings were correctly identified in the text.

—Patrick Mccaughey
New York City