PRINT November 1994



To the editor:
Rosalind Krauss has to work awfully hard to turn Cy Twombly into a naughty schoolboy (“Cy’s Up,” September ’94). It’s one thing to take on an easy target like Heiner Bastian’s flowery prose, another to ignore the plain sense of the artist’s work. If Twombly writes “M/ars” on one of his paintings, why can’t she just let that “ars” mean what it So clearly says: “ars,” as in “ars longa.” Twombly could have written the “em in ”arse“ if he’d wanted to. But he didn’t. That’s Krauss’ own graffiti or ”deflationary gesture,“ her own ”retaliation against the . . . drone" of Twombly’s listlessly invoked tag-ends of classical culture. It’s easy to sympathize with Krauss, but she should have restrained the impulse. There’s more and better to Twombly than that.
Barry Schwabsky
Brooklyn, N.Y.

Rosalind E. Krauss replies:
The schoolboy image is not mine, but Roland Barthes’. If I find it compelling, that’s because of the way it focuses attention on the difference between seeing graphic signs lettered onto a neat white surface (the page of a book, for instance) and encountering them gouged into a resistant medium (the top of a desk, the stucco of a wall). In the case of “M/ars,” the break between the M and the rest of the word might, in the first context, call up a kind of pedagogical decorum: lessons in pronunciation, instruction in etymology; but the second context produces associations from another part of the affective spectrum, one that reacts against the decorum of learning. My suggestion was meant as an example, not as an assertion of what Cy Twombly “wanted,” something about which I haven’t the slightest idea. But then, an artist who devotes the first twenty-five years of his work to an exploration of the graffiti mark, a sign whose anonymity persists even though the mark is often “intended” as a signature, obviously has a complex and interesting relationship to the question of what the marker originally “wanted.”

To the editor:
Having cited a largely negative review by me of Robert Morris’ recent retrospective, Thomas Crow reveals with a flourish something I wrote 21 years ago about Morris’ impact in an epoch then already past: “a nearly transcendent art-world presence, an artist who, it seemed, could do no wrong.” (“Yo Morris,” Summer ’94) In a footnote, Professor Crow thanks Richard Meyer for directing him to this smoking gun. I am obliged and surprised to defend against a charge of inconsistency, a hobgoblinism I rarely fear. In my recent review, I speak of Morris’ “sensational effect” in the ’60s and early ’70s, “always a half-step ahead in whatever artistic dialectic was the rage.” That is, I report the same thing I did in 1973, with the added perspective of two decades in which Morris has lacked comparable edge. Is Morris back? His eerily comprehensive marshaling of academic intellectuals in his support may be savored as a performance work of big panache.
Peter Schjeldahl
New York

To the editor:
I am writing in response to Linda Nochlin’s article, “Frayed Fraud” (March ’94).

I first saw Freud’s work at his show at the Pompidou in 1987. I was working toward a degree in art history at the time, and had a reaction not unlike Nochlin’s current response. I remember wondering of Naked Girl, 1966, whether that much of her genitalia could be visible in that pose. I thought of Sickert and Degas, and did the art historian’s routine of saying “Aha: got your number.” Yet what may be a permissible level of analysis from a teenage undergraduate is unforgivable from Nochlin. It betrays an incredibly limited understanding of both painting and painters. That she should compare his work to that of Cindy Sherman makes it obvious that she isn’t interested in making this basic distinction.

Just as I am offended by the pretense of objectivity by critics such as Clement Greenberg or Hilton Kramer, I am disturbed by the current charade of “divine (i.e. politically correct) subjectivity” exemplified in Nochlin’s piece. She pretends to be writing about paintings, but unvariably ends up writing about “images,” as a vehicle for addressing her real concerns—namely, gender and class issues. What I resent about this sort of writing is not merely the predictable-and I’d have to say lazy—level of thinking behind it, but the air of superiority lorded over the “brute artist,” painting with his penis, too stupid to keep up with the post- Modern dialogue. I find it laughable that she should characterize Freud’s imagery as “trendy” given the fact that he has investigated it for over fifty years, during periods when it was anything but fashionable. I can’t think of anything more trendy than to suggest that the role of the artist is to “challenge the most banal clichés of class, age, and gender, or call into question the stereotypes that keep them in place,” let alone to accuse a painter of playing the role of the “Great White Western Male Artistic Genius.” Nochlin bases her entire article on Freud’s actual or projected “persona,” which she finds personally offensive. What I saw as a pathetic self-portrait (Painter Reflecting, 1993)—his penis constructed from what looked like mouse droppings—Nochlin perceived as “self-aggrandizing.” Even Freud’s insistence on privacy is deemed to be “Great Artist behavior of the most classic kind”—how absurd! I don’t know of any serious artist who isn’t protective of his or her privacy. Ultimately, I was more embarrassed than vexed by Nochlin’s article.

One reason for the outpouring of praise for the Freud retrospective was the excitement many of us felt at seeing a contemporary painter stick to his guns for more than half a century; to maintain his point of view as a painter. This isn’t to say that I consider his work to be consistently successful, or that I necessarily agree with or value his stance, but I do respect it. It’s vital for critics like Nochlin to recognize the viewer’s ability to form opinions on art based on more than merely “unconscious or ideological” reasons-to acknowledge the validity of highly conscious, personal judgments.
Jennifer N. Bradford
Portland, Maine

Linda Nochlin replies:
To answer Jennifer Bradford’s letter would require me to repeat my original article. Let us just say that we disagree and leave it at that. I would like to reiterate the fact that I did not rely merely on “unconscious” or “ideological” reasons in coming to my conclusions but on my own “highly conscious and personal judgments”: I think, that Freud is often, too often, simply a bad painter.

I do hope, however, that Ms. Bradford is not still thinking of Degas in relation to Freud. They have absolutely nothing in common besides the fact that they represent the female nude. Degas is an artist who never fails to take account of the relation of form to surface; Freud consistently fails to do so; Degas’ surfaces are remarkably matte, dry, and, in the pastels, constructed by means of strands of color interwoven in layers; Freud’s are lumpish, thick, and scumbled, lacking in freshness and sensitivity. They couldn’t be more different.