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CRITICAL REFLECTIONS

IT WAS PROBABLY SOMETIME in 1963 that the founder of a struggling, funny-shaped, and at that point very new art magazine out of San Francisco came across the writing of a young critic in Art International whom he obviously decided he admired. That, at any rate, was the year John Irwin invited Kozloff to contribute to Artforum from New York. Though barely aware of the journal at the time (“I was in France on a Fulbright—I think a magazine with an odd format devoted to art had appeared before I left”), Max was delighted to do so. Decades passed, and publishers and editors came and went (Max himself serving as executive editor for a few years); today, Max Kozloff is surely the only writer regularly publishing in Artforum who would recognize John Irwin if he passed him on the street.
 
Veritable tsunamis have broken and receded in art and art criticism since 1963, and Max has watched them wash in, and then out, with a certain curmudgeonly glee. Meanwhile he has stuck fiercely to the standards enforced by his own intelligence, by the rigorous care with which it is his habit to inspect the visual images that engage him, and by the searching way he combs his own responses to them. Max would probably frown at the idea that those responses should be grounded in any particular theoretical camp, and I think he feels this has put him out of step with a lot of the thinking that has been applied to art and photography during his lifetime. I also don’t think he minds. Call it the camp of Max: ferociously learned, voluminously wide-ranging, humanistic, tender at heart, but not at all forgiving of anything sensed as doctrinaire or narrow-minded. So far this camp has only one critic, and given Max’s views on simulations and simulacrums in art, I doubt he would tolerate cloning. Editorially if not scientifically speaking, this is a pity.
 
Simultaneously elegant and stubborn, Max’s writing has appeared in most of the art and photo magazines I can think of and others besides, and he has published a civilized shelf—full of books (one of which, Lone Visions, Crowded Frames, has just been reissued by the University of New Mexico Press). But I first met him when he allowed me (at first rather begrudgingly, as I remember) to edit his articles for Artforum, and his conversation was one of the perks of employment there, so the magazine you are reading is the experience we share. A poltergeist that has haunted this publication for eons has been the mysteriously persistent impression that its text is impenetrable—technical, obscurantist, cabalistic. People seemed to enjoy floating that notion by me when I worked at the magazine, but if I challenged them on it, which I naturally tended to do, they would sometimes try to duck by pinning the blame on Artforum’s earlier history—at which point I usually found myself thinking, Now I know they’re bluffing: That was when Max was here! The essay I am honored to introduce shows how this critic’s writing has always worked: a challenging, closely argued statement, it has both breadth and style.
 
David Frankel

MAX KOZLOFF

Twenty-one years ago, after having switched my field from art criticism to writing on photography, I started to make photographs as well, and in earnest. It afforded a surprised insight into the process from “behind” a medium I had previously regarded only from the front. But there was no reason that this new intimacy should require the sacrifice of a previous distance. I was beguiled by picture-making and attached to writing about the art of others. Why not—like a few colleagues—be responsible for both? Back then, one who let it be known that he simultaneously practiced an art and commented on it was looked upon as a dubious character. I recall the artist Scott Burton warning me that if I were to do pictures, then it was advisable to drop criticism, as he had (to my regret, since he was an excellent writer). One should not overtax the art world’s ability, he said, to handle

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