Clement Greenberg

SHORTLY BEFORE READING Florence Rubenfeld’s life of Clement Greenberg, I speculated about it with an art writer who had broken away from Greenberg’s circle. “I still say that Greenberg was the greatest critic of the century,” he stated. “But he was an absolute #@!!” The “greatest x of the century” is an entirely Greenbergian magnification: part of what it meant to be a critic, in his practice, consisted in bestowing gold stars and participating in arguments more often than not ending in fisticuffs, concerning who—Jackson or Bill—was the top living painter. For several decades Greenberg held tenaciously that Jules Olitski was the best painter we have, staking his claim to Best Critic on the prediction that in the fullness of time Olitski’s bestness would be acknowledged. The expletive, on the other hand, was the vulgar underside of the superlative in Greenbergian patois, which was, in the

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