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View of “Displace, Disclose, Discover: Acts of Painting, 1960–1999,” 2012. From left: Marc Devade, Untitled, 1976; Marc Devade, Untitled, 1975; Marc Devade, Untitled, 1976; Marc Devade, Untitled, 1976. Photo: Philip Bernard.

“Displace, Disclose, Discover: Acts of Painting, 1960–1999”

View of “Displace, Disclose, Discover: Acts of Painting, 1960–1999,” 2012. From left: Marc Devade, Untitled, 1976; Marc Devade, Untitled, 1975; Marc Devade, Untitled, 1976; Marc Devade, Untitled, 1976. Photo: Philip Bernard.

“THE FRENCH TALKED SUCH NONSENSE.” This is Clement Greenberg in 1968, as interviewed by Edward Lucie-Smith. The remark comes among a set of judgments about the international reception of postwar American painting: Although the first to pay it serious attention were the French, Greenberg claims, the responses of these key continental tastemakers—painter Georges Mathieu, critic Michel Tapié, dealer Paul Facchetti—essentially baffled critical understanding. It was an old point for Greenberg, who had earlier decried a creeping tendency in the Paris art scene toward privileging “acts” of painting over results, “gestures” over form. And nobody, the critic thought, had done more to encourage that error than his rival Harold Rosenberg, whose 1952 essay “The American Action Painters” had supplied this shift in emphasis with an existentialist apology.

What seemed like nonsense to

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