PRINT April 1976

Jewish Art and Modernist Jeopardy

AT A RECENT SHOW I came upon an exceptionally peculiar and moving early modern painting, by an artist unknown to me. It looked at first like a Juan Gris, a late Cubist still-life in brown, egg nog and lemon yellow, with dark carmine. These hues were zoned in large, flat, overlapping planes showing off against each other decoratively within a diagonal sweep from the left high to the lower right corner of the vertical canvas. My glance took in the up-ended perspective of a table, geometric schemata that rhymed curves and angles, a black collaged cardboard rectangle, and printing, displayed in a trompe l’oeil woodcut and an open book. Evidently the artist was either unaware or didn’t mind being out of chronological phase with Parisian developments. Lettering was associated with Analytic rather than Synthetic Cubism, which, by 1925, the date of this painting, was a rather passé style. Even more perverse, the printed message, no stenciled Journal or Figaro here, is in Hebrew! So, the ancient script of Biblical law is graven within a mode of high modernist irony. Further, phrases from a ritual celebrating bounty from the primordial earth are appended to form developed in intellectual response to the impact of the machine on modern sensory life.

The painting I cite, Succoth Still Life, by Issachar Ryback, was shown at an exhibition called “Jewish Experience in the Art of the Twentieth Century,” curated by Avram Kampf at the Jewish Museum. That title makes an unusual claim these days: that visual art can be about something more and other than its own esthetic modulations. Considering the show’s bad press, such a premise seems to have been as unpopular as it was novel. Mr. Kampf has written in the catalogue:

The work of art cannot be tamed into a social or personal document without impairing its essential character—integrating impulse, feeling and thought and acting as a nodal point of formalized energy . . . On the other hand, the work of art can never be completely grasped without sensing and bringing to consciousness the multitudes of personal elements, cultural aspects and historical relations that it contains.

We are invited to take this dialectic seriously and apply it to the collective memory of Jewish experience as it is interpreted on shifting levels in the art of this century.

With 264 works, a long, annotated essay, artists’ biographies and a chronology of events, the exhibition presented adequate materials for study of its topic. That the problems it exposed cut across our usual categories should have been welcomed rather than disparaged. For how often does a museum propose that grownups take the ethnic allusions of an art into primary account? On a multi-national and stylistic basis, and over a long span of time? And when have we been invited to consider that artists’ acculturation to modernism may have been, not only a risk-fraught process, but one that could be resisted, compromised, or rejected for reasons valid in terms of their own life situations? Knowledge of the real stakes involved for artists in choosing between given icons of their own background and the subject matter of the mainstream is surely of great use. It makes for a more graphic and powerful understanding of our shared, Western culture. Any exposure to the socioreligious consciousness of an artistic group will have somewhat this effect. With the Jews, who became progressively less knit as a people, but had a most “backward,” traditionalist culture, who practiced a rhetoric of self-exclusion, and who yet, in another guise, often led off the crucial discoveries of the age, the problems set forth are vital.

I was once asked if I should like to be known as doing “Jewish art criticism,” something proposed as very undesirable. However ethnically identified, one’s answer to that sort of question may depend on one’s varying placements, in time and distance, relative to the values of the composite host culture. Unless the individual is thoroughly rootless, or has amnesia, the matter is worth considering. Certainly we are all more or less on different schedules when it comes to the identities we once had and abandoned, want to keep, or are searching for anew. In the mid-’50s, while among Gentiles in the U.S. Army, I read and later forgot this sentence: “The Jews would have been deeply puzzled by the idea that the esthetic and the moral are distinct realms, for they saw beauty above all in behavior.” Between that time, and when I came across it again, yesterday (in the introduction to A Treasury of Yiddish Stories, edited by Irving Howe and Eliezer Greenberg), my generation, of course, had long been modernized. There had been no problem in rejecting the fusty Seders and shuls of childhood, just as there had been no difficulties in opening up to the broader currents of contemporary thought. Growth in such a direction meant coming into a natural patrimony, something very different from social assimilation. We had appeared on the scene too late to imagine that seductive passage as the threat it might also have been to our parents or theirs. The sentence about “beauty above all in behavior” is antagonistic to the cult of the autonomous object in modern art. Yet I look upon it as a domestic principle, having felt its effect in my own writing for years.

An individual matures, perhaps finds a center for his or her experience. But that center may well be off to the side of other people’s larger center, in a world where human beings struggle in conflict to define the base of their existence. The term “modernity” strikes me as a hostage to that struggle, which is neither collective nor individual, and does not advance according to a predetermined timetable. It is, rather, a social fumbling, more often a series of setbacks, experienced by ill-defined groups, at staggered intervals, on a course toward internalized, contradictory, and mythic goals.

Here the history of the Jews in Western culture reveals much. They were late, as a rule, in coming to it, in the early 19th century. Their tardy emancipation propelled many of them compensatingly upward through social and professional ranks at a rate so accelerated that it did much to strand those brethren holding out in their isolated communities, the typical shtetls (villages) of East Europe. This record of messy cultural extremes is one of simultaneously occurring phenomena.

To illustrate: The Polish artist Samuel Hirzenberg’s Funeral of the Zadik, 1905, is a frieze where startled or glazed eyes and anxious hands communicate through a flow of old men and boys, aimless without their dead leader. The naturalist, dun-colored style of the painting is mid-19th century. As for the Hasidic Zadik, he was an even greater atavism whose passing here, a particular event, underlines also the gradual collapse of Rabbinic authority throughout the shtetls. The joyous communions of Hasidism are far removed from this lowering sky, these pasty skins and depressed postures. Hirzenberg’s crowd presents a unity convulsed and enfeebled by religious despair. (From a patriarchal society where fathers often punished their sons if they even scrawled graffiti, the artist must have been more a keen observer than a participant of that emotion.) Though the wavelike throng flows laterally to the left, the procession itself is punctuated by some who look over their shoulders, soliciting and drawing in the viewer. Victims in their characteristic way, fugitives even, these mourners represent those left behind, and in that sense the bearded ones are as forlorn and as innocent as the children.

To the West, meanwhile, Gertrude Stein was writing The Making of Americans, in Paris. And across the Atlantic, Alfred Stieglitz, during the same year The Funeral of the Zadik was painted, opened his gallery 291 (Fifth Avenue). Through their select, highly controlled cenacles, these last two artists helped to catalyze the modern sensibility in visual art. As it happened, they were also the offspring of well-settled, affluent, German Jewish business families in America. We do not learn of any Hebrew spoken in their background. But we do know they were in the process of becoming the proud pariahs of a new religion—the art of the future.

Stein and Stieglitz were self-elected patricians of adventurism in the arts. Their charmed and charming circles—one could have found equivalents in Berlin, Vienna, and Paris—had nothing to do with the main currents of Jewish experience breaking up all over Eastern Europe and being reformulated, especially massively, on these shores. The young Socialists, Zionists, and Communists among the Jews imaged new secular exits for their people. For the distressed, a majority, there came into existence the Bunds, the political clubs, schools, and social centers, the labor unions. Whole cadres of the Jewish proletariat were organized, recurring strikes were held, and a radical tradition grew among them.

As this history is recounted, one sees that characteristic traits of the Jews played a reconverted role in it. Their outsider culture fueled a political critique of the civic structures around them. Their messianic strain found outlets in the idealist dialectics of left-wing social causes. And their cosmopolitan energies, pooled in new urban centers, gave them a framework for a larger understanding of antagonism and survival in the economic system. In short, they could conceptualize the capitalist experience as a historical phenomenon, and illuminate it, either in unfriendly analysis or the activation of its processes.

At certain points, Jews of the bourgeoisie and the lower classes met on common ground, most often the American university. From such contacts, there would be siphoned off a great deal of maverick accomplishment, self-conscious, ill at ease, existing in a precarious relationship with the institutional realities around it. Our literary criticism was haunted and our art criticism was dominated by intellectuals coming out of this environment. In the ’30s they would treat Western cultural traditions along sectarian Marxist lines. During the war and after, the greater part of them became modernists, totally transforming what now seemed to them a philistine and provincial esthetic into the grand doctrine of a mainstream.

Overall, a new sacrament was developed, whose only tie with the old alienation was redirected away from the managers to a scorn of ordinary Americans of the working as well as the middle class. Authoritarian from the first, the faith either exacted from or reconstructed an ethnic blandness and political neutrality for its artist heroes. Eventually, with the advent of receptive audiences, the “universality” of prestige modernism could account itself successful in having spread back and entrenched itself in the minds of younger generations throughout the academies. From that old time Jewish sect called American art criticism, many unsuspecting Gentiles picked up their broadest, most governing ideas of modern art.

Though I have almost inexcusably foreshortened it, such a background must be taken into account when considering a work like Ryback’s Succoth Still Life. Art historians will generally find a curiosity value in it beyond its evident physical attractions. But our stock modernist criticism would most likely see in the painting a bastard Cubism or, worse, a regressively illustrational misuse of the conceptual forms of Cubism. For here, objects and space do not classically blend into an insoluble matrix within which certain iconic cues can be detected. On the contrary, Ryback is attached to objects valued for themselves, which he inserts into a tangible if archaic setting. The discontinuous, flattened volumes of Cubism reassemble according to an internal logic assumed by the picture. With Ryback, all that is secondary to such things as the bumpiness of the lemon, the built-up paste of its wrapping, a village view, a lace curtain. Further, the montage effect is deceptive, a timid overlay on the perceived space. Just as the Succoth service, with its prayerbook and tied palm frond, was conducted domestically, so too his style is very homegrown. It has something naively literal about it. And irrational, as well: one of the antlike figures from the painted woodcut has left his procession and is crawling up the palm frond. If you want to be taken seriously as a modernist in 1925, you simply don’t do that kind of thing.

But there is more in modernism than formal propriety, for its very surface encodes underlying cultural and psychological tensions. A continuing surge of tension issues from the struggle for personal identity, a problem in which Jews are experts. Far from being peripheral, the Ryback exemplifies central principles in modern art. For it represents one more installment in that continuing modern search for an opening into an “authentic” past, an era of more spontaneous and unified feeling, of collective action and primal belief. Each of our art movements has been dedicated, on a different level, to resurrecting this instinctual charge in our lives. And in proportion to its distance from the yearned-after sources, the artist’s work is often judged by the violence of its commitment to them, the reckless extremes to which a self-liberating effort can go.

The primitive, the art of the insane or of children, folk and popular art: all of these have become models for the purification of the artistic mind in an age of technology. Needless to say, such an enterprise could only be disjunctive, composed of sign and energy systems in full discord with each other. There is, in modern visual culture, a protesting too much along these lines, whose fragmentary vision has been incorporated, nevertheless, into a generalizing thesis about the 20th-century temper. As long as the artist has despecified his or her references, the homeless condition of the work has a chance of looking legible. Succoth Still Life theoretically partakes of such sacrificial “virtues,” but, in fact, it is too close to its inspiration, too particularizing in style, and, above all, too pacific in spirit. One does not know whether it is a work in imperfect modernist flight from a parochial environment, or a hard structure lapsed and softened by nostalgia. For in the end, it does not defer to the ecumenical requirements of modernism, which permit obscurity of allusion, but not exclusiveness of content.

In truth, Ryback emerged from a set of historical circumstances that cast a different light on the problem. With Lissitzky, Chagall, and Nathan Altman, he took artistic wing during a brief intermission in the long record of Russian anti-semitism. As early as the 1870s, there had been a movement afoot, the so-called Jewish Renaissance, that had been campaigning for cultural and national autonomy. (In the far more democratic atmosphere in the United States, we’re simply puzzled by drives towards ethnic separatism.) The Jewish Ethnographic Society in St. Petersburg collected Jewish art and supported contemporary artists. Eliezer Lissitzky, from a devout Jewish middle-class family, had been an activist in Jewish affairs, working in a publishing house, taking rubbings from over 200 synagogues throughout the Pale, and illustrating Jewish folk stories. It is no exaggeration to speak of a flowering of a vigorous Yiddish literature and a spread of important painting by Jews in Russia during the period 1917–24. Just as other minorities were encouraged to explore their folk traditions, so, too, there was a coming out from the shtetl which, in this case, went typically further because it established creative links with many who had been dispersed, or who were the children of the dispersed, throughout the centers of the West.

Weird as it is to say, all this activity enjoyed, under the early Soviets, a measure of official support. To compare the Polish Minkowski’s He Cast a Look and Was Hurt, 1910, with Lissitzky’s study for the cover of Chad Gadya, 1917, is to dramatize the sudden opening in Russia. Lissitzky’s stylized Futurist force-lines, his incompletions, the exaggerated eyes and hands, his modernizing of the Hebrew script, such features are a response of the clipped tempi of the present world as they also seem racy and vernacular in their own right. There could be no greater contrast to the dim, enervated, guilt-ridden enclave of Minkowski’s Talmudic scholars, studied with a realism meant to appear refined.

But the two works, despite that, have a powerful affinity. For they deal with the archetypal adult-children, the little men, or kleine menschelach of the Jewish imagination. These figures have an unworldliness and vulnerability that caused Chagall to levitate them off the ground, Soutine, that one-man ghetto, to notice their traits in bellhops and waiters, and Raphael Soyer to discover their countenance, saddened once again, in the touching faces of his parents. Even Milton Avery displays some abstracted traces of the subject, not only in the folkish aura of his figures, but in the sweetness of his palette and the modesty of his vision.

Although Lissitzky once imagined that his work on Jewish themes was compatible with the ideals of the October Revolution, he came to see his own ethnic stakes quite correctly, as not sufficiently heroic. The grubby, insular endurance of the Jewish small traders, with their ironic shrugs and kvetches, their inbred dispossession, could not offer up a culture usable to articulate a Utopian, classless world view. “Why,” ask Howe and Greenberg, did Yiddish “lend itself so naturally to intimate speech and to resist so stubbornly more formal address; why it collaborated with the lyric past so willingly and with the epic so grudgingly?” Obviously the violinist or peddler who floats over the town could not compete with the aerial Suprematism of Malevich.

Lissitzky took prodigal leave (even before Lenin came to see Yiddishkeit as too petit-bourgeois and cosmopolitan), going on to create those dull, worldless Prouns for which he became so famous. As for Ryback, he once painted an Old Synagogue, 1917, in a style that Feininger had found congenial to the depiction of his cathedrals. According to Edward Roditi, Ryback became a chronic exile, leaving Russia a Constructivist in 1921, lithographing pogrom scenes in Berlin, devoting himself to “the world he had . . . abandoned . . . [against his father’s will] . . . and that had been destroyed while he was away, no longer present to defend it or perish with it.” And while Ryback voyaged briefly to the Soviet Union in 1925 to design sets and costumes for the Jewish art theater, he resettled in Paris, turned off from the modern and decisively on to his ethnic past. The latter he seems to have summoned recurringly in work of a real singlemindedness, heavy on the schmalz.

Though current art more and more invests itself in new subject matter, our criticism does not look with the kindest glance upon the iconographical concerns of the older artists of this century. These have been considered occasionally tolerable addenda to the style of a modern work instead of the distillates prepared and shaped through style. Such a condition applies to abstract no less than to representational work. Ethnic studies of art are suggestive because they can offer some account of the retention of a motif or attitude, despite all the successively local odds against its survival. They can interpret such reappearances when other methods fail. For the norms within a subculture have a way of persisting, informing mental habits and life-styles, now heavily, now lightly, as individuals sift through available zones of behavior. Restless, egotistic, we try to differentiate ourselves, little realizing that the very effort brands us Westerners as the minority culture we are. I don’t mean to sound deterministic about it, but the theme of the little or child-man is not a vogue, either in the literature or the visual art created by Jews—even Jews who may well identify themselves by other labels. Had it not been internalized on a collective level, they would neither have recognized the type nor encouraged its development. The same goes for certain expressive aspects in the treatment of paint—which one saw very well at the Jewish Museum.

Think of Chagall and Menkes, Brauer and Max Weber; their touch is nervous. Each deposit of the brush is impelled by a quick, light, and sinuous energy. As it articulates form it also recalls the particular gestures of someone who converses. Paint language and body language seem, somehow, reciprocal states of each other. Or rather the paint insinuates and quite often sublimates movements that well up more readily as talking gestures. In arguing for the verbal parallels to this facture, I’m mindful of the frequency with which eyes and hands act as nodes in the scenario of such painting, and are given an importance that lends the art its peculiar accent. Often the impression we carry away, whether altogether aware of it or not, is of a silent discourse: small histrionics, stylized woe, annoyed confidences, staccato inflections, disputatious, comically querulous.

It seems to have its ideal audience among those who can empathize with its rhythms because they have heard those tones of voice. Even Soutine’s landscapes strike us as a torrent of words, expostulated matter. Fretted and embroidered in Bloom and Levine, the locution becomes self-consciously tentative, a refined slurring in Rivers of the ’50s. One sees it morbidly, eddyingly caressive in Pascin. The donkey’s ears and lolling tongues in the clown personages of Maryan (who had been through Auschwitz), have a grotesquerie that specifically alludes to a speech perhaps gotten beyond words. As gay but less disturbing, Saul Steinberg’s drawings (not in the show), have frequently been discursive in that his characters are shown “talking” in their own calligraphy. On the oral behavior of human beings, Steinberg is—you should excuse the expression—paradigmatic.

Throughout much of this animated delivery, one feels that the aim is to characterize rather than to use material in the construction of a picture. Images are elaborated around figurative points of social contact, but they less readily cohere as distributed elements on a surface, with the result of unused or overloaded space. Further, paint has an expedient rather than a sensual presence, for the enjoyment of texture and color in themselves appear almost a distraction, something that would weigh or slow down the pictorial repartee. These painters rarely attain the density in which emotion is symbolically invoked through a consistent application of forces upon the surface at hand, or even the local area to be filled. There can be an eloquent “acting out” in many such canvases, but often we’re not quite convinced by them as intact paintings. It is as if, a certain urgency were incapable of being diffused so as to come to terms with the medium employed. Line, or that which grows out of it, may create arresting episodes, but there is no broad stride to such linearity, since it works more to create an effect than to function in its given terrain. Just as such agitated drawing cannot reproduce the speech which is its model (for all its interesting onomatopoeias), it does not altogether satisfy the eye that seeks a parity in the allusions of visual art. So, once again, we intuit a provisional sensibility, ill at ease, even under some duress in the physical surround.

I can think of two artists, one who illustrates, the other who enacts this dilemma very affectingly. Ben Shahn, with his typical, slightly barbed wiriness, draws arms like long plant stems reaching up to be crowned by clasped, prayerful, and clenching hands. Above them appears in mimetic Hebrew script . . . from Hillel . . . “If I am not for myself, who is, and if I am only for myself, who am I, and if not now, when?” The title of this drawing, an abstract noun, is also a question: Identity. Philip Guston’s canvases of the ’50s were not in the show and are never discussed in this context. They exhibit huddled, pink-gray touches which suffuse, luxuriantly, airily, but hesitantly into the picture environment. What I’ve observed just earlier applies to Guston’s art, with this exception: that the paint can be seen slowly taking hold of the support, half preserving its character as a monologue, half in wary and erotic surrender to claims that structure makes upon it. And the self capable of such negotiations, in its divided allegiances, is of great interest.

Many different readings could be taken of the Jewish Museum show. Judging from the catalogue and the way works were organized, in sections devoted to representations of the Holocaust or settlement in Israel, the hope had been to show how Jewish artists responded to large-scale historical events that are presumed to be of great moment to them as a people. Quite aside from the indifferent results, this was, I think, to misconstrue the lessons offered. Rather, one discovers how art, even recent art, can be socialized internally, and “from below,” as it were, in the form of an ethnic consciousness. Instead of objective appearances or documentary intent, recurring states of mind and complex feeling were the latent subjects of the exhibition.

We are obviously far more at home in the culture of big American cities than in the memory of the compressed world of the Eastern European shtetl. To a Jew living in New York, there is no reason why a Torah scroll should be more significant than a Minimal sculpture. But then it must be asked why certain iconic references, say, to Southwest American Indian rituals in new art, are automatically of greater significance than any comparable Judaic theme. If it were a question of sheer psychic removal, the Navajos, of course, provide the more alien presence. It is not enough to say that modernism, or modernistic impulses, have long habituated themselves to an amateur, manipulative anthropology. Their quest for exotic sources and motifs reveals a socialization from “above,” an implicit acknowledgment that the immediate culture compound emits signals too weak and disconnective to requite our hunger for social unity and authentic emotion. Secular, “assimilated” artists long for sacramental escape, in the process not only seeking stylistic refreshment, but some differential in an “outsider” status. The phenomenon is sanctioned as long as it is understood to be a movement from our present to appropriation of others’ past. Maintaining this socialization from above guarantees the willful, artificial character of the outcome.

Through its selective view, such a modernist route will, paradoxically, resist converging with truly unassimilated artistic elements that it may encounter in the immediate precinct. I suppose the idea we have of such survivors is that there is something wrong in their schedule, that their only possibilities of growth direct them to be colonized by that oversophisticated world from which many of us, albeit nominally, wish to depart. It is hard for us to understand others possessing distinct values they are reluctant to give up, in the light of the self-denials we have imposed upon ourselves.

The trans-cultural problem, however, is not solved by anyone repudiating or assuming a past, as if, somehow, it were a matter of voting. The more we examine them, the more the artists we admire show themselves as successful, long-haul adaptors of their ethnic, or even national traditions to a modern jeopardy. Matisse and Picasso, two presiding artists of our time, were master dialecticians in this respect. They drew a natural, organic strength from their French and Spanish roots, possibly their main asset in answering unexpected questions put to them by the 20th century at large. In some instances, artists responded relatively late in their lives to their heritage, felicitously, as in Gorky, disastrously, as in de Chirico. In any event, we have misconceived, as being far too uniform, a Western art that is actually polyglot, diversified, the richer for being ethnically centrifugal.

In the Jewish Museum show, this spectacle faced us head on, for it was a microcosm of that larger scene, or at least it should have been. Scores of artists, from as many countries, and from all points in time in this century, found a temporary home there. I imagined the exhibition as a kind of family photographic album, where scattered members of the tribe are shown in youth, maturity, and age, exposed to us in random isolated stages of their development. What had they in common? A Biblical law that some remembered, and many others forgot. A memory of their parents’ or their own earlier suffering, and the self-deprecating style, the internal prides that evolved from it. Whatever had been the course of Jewish assimilation in civil life, what we find in this exhibition over and over again is a tradition of refinement. One of its types is the erstwhile modernist who withdraws early from contact with the avant-garde to gain some psychic comfort and to address an audience whose values are sympathetic to those he had momentarily left. Chagall, Lipschitz and Weber were not above going “native” in soliciting a liberal market of Gentile and Jew alike. Another, more prevailing type is the one who cultivates a “tender” style, delicate, meditative, with an inward flavor of learning or whimsey. The closure of such a career speaks to the goyish “barbarism” beyond in tones fitted for domestic consumption. Fortunately, something else occurs in this exhibition, or is suggested by it: those fugitive moments of collision between an artist of Jewish sensibility and the innovative pressures of the modern. From the energies released, neither the one side of the argument nor the other gained the upper hand. But their reciprocal modification is invaluably volatile.

I gather that objections were raised to the inclusion of Barnett Newman and Mark Rothko in the exhibition. But for me, their art is not so “universal” that it is diminished by being called Jewish. We can think of figures who passed almost immediately outside of their Jewish orbit: Sonia Delaunay-Terk and Moholy-Nagy, in the past; Anthony Caro and Sol LeWitt, more recently. But Newman and Rothko, artists for whom subject matter was of prime concern, were avant-garde painters who neither had to reconvert to nor reassess their heritage to feel its presence in their art. The righteous compressions of Newman’s form may owe a conscious debt to Mondrian, but it must also be said that, in Jacob Kramer’s Day of Atonement, we discover one of their spiritual ancestors. The processional theme, the striped shawls and bearded faces, these are familiar features; but we do not even apprehend them before being excited by the austerity of the high-contrast design. Mark Rothko, his assistants revealed not long ago, often wore a hat when painting, as if his studio were also a synagogue. Rothko seems to me to have been an iconoclastic propagator of refinement. There was something quite passionate in both men, preventing them from becoming “bureaucratic virtuosos of ascetic rationalism” (the phrase is John Murray Cuddihy’s.) Perhaps that passion was the ingredient necessary to keep them so fruitfully long in suspension between their past and their future, a state of being they called the sense of the tragic.

“In the perspective of art since the Second World War,” writes Harold Rosenberg in The New Yorker, “Jewish references in a painting increase the odds against its being a good painting.” He means that such references can only be summoned up in a bypassed style, “outside the art of the 20th century.” But I hope I have shown not only that any heuristic move has always to be on a two-way street in context, but that a Judaic or any other cultural consciousness is a much broader and deeper condition than even the sum of its references. Mr. Rosenberg belongs to an older generation than my own, the one I mentioned as coming of age in the ’30s. From my vantage now, his cult of individualism, and with it, so much of the modernist apparat that believes it can authoritatively determine what a “good painting” is, has become quite frayed around the edges. There are legacies to be claimed now, and not only by those defined as our minorities. Whether they press from the outside or emerge from the interior of our institutionalized culture, whether they are in retreat from the socialization from below or above, such impulses contribute an increasing tension to our scene. It remains to be seen with what lucid resources and historical awareness artists can make that tension life-giving.

Max Kozloff