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Clement Greenberg: A Life Paperback – February 18, 2004

3 out of 5 stars 4 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In her first book, arts journalist Rubenfeld demonstrates that it is possible to delve into aesthetic precepts while giving an absorbing account of a life. As she notes, the death of American art critic Clement Greenberg in 1994 was treated as a nonevent by the New York art world. That was not the case with his life. Born in 1909 to Polish Jewish immigrants, Greenberg joined the heady mix of New York modernists who felt that the arts could change society. An English graduate from Syracuse University with no formal background in visual art, Greenberg championed the cause of American post-WWII vanguard art, often leaving a trail of enmity and even, in the case of David Smith's estate, near scandal in his wake. His personal life was no less turbulent, largely because he aligned himself with Newtonian psychiatrists who reduced marriage to a series of "musical beds." What distinguishes this book is Rubenfeld's combination of prodigious research (much of it in the form of interviews with art world personalities) and her clear explanation of the intellectual trends Greenberg espoused or that grew up in reaction to him?all of which she does without the deadening gigantism of some biographies. Deftly written in an evenhanded tone, this is both a chronicle of one man's highs and lows, and an intriguing behind-the-scenes look at the art world. It will appeal to anyone interested in 20th-century art or simply in a good story, convincingly told.
Copyright 1998 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Booklist

Rubenfeld's is the first major biography of Clement Greenberg, the art critic everyone loves to hate, and it is superb on all counts. Greenberg was a bully who meddled in the lives and with the work of the artists he championed, who used his fists as readily as his pen, and who outraged the art establishment with his lack of credentials, "godlike arrogance," "unethical behavior," and enormous influence, but he possessed a keen eye, a passion for bold and original art, and a gift for extraordinarily influential critical writing. Rubenfeld deftly analyzes Greenberg's conflicted attitudes toward his own Jewishness and pro-Marxist politics, and interweaves personal, intellectual, and aesthetic strands into her chronicle of his abrupt leap from editor at the Partisan Review to oracle of the New York art world, when he declared abstract expressionism this kingdom's lingua franca and Jackson Pollock its king. Greenberg blazed a path not only for "radically new art" but also for a completely new way of seeing. His landmark essays do embody criticism at its most presumptuous but also at its most exalted and heroic. Art mattered then, and Greenberg made sure people knew why. Donna Seaman --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Univ Of Minnesota Press; 1 edition (February 18, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0816644357
  • ISBN-13: 978-0816644353
  • Product Dimensions: 6 x 0.7 x 9.5 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #3,291,933 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Alex Grimley on May 8, 2007
Format: Paperback
The unabashed bias with which this book was written is appalling. Hardly worthy of being deemed a biography--the last few chapters blather through the 60s, 70s and 80s with no regard to chronology--this book reads more like a collection of (mostly useless and uninformative) anecdotes about Greenberg and the group of critics and artists that surrounded him. Most of it reads like a late-night confession: telephone calls from drunken, disgruntled artists; fistfights with surrealists; battered and abandoned women; and bottle after bottle of devil liquor.

With regard to Greenberg's writing, a single paragraph discusses the polemical essay "Modernist Painting." The entire thrust of Greenberg's arguement is limited to one sentence, shocking in its ignorance: "...Clem emphasized modern art's continuity with the past and took an indirect shot at Rosenberg..."

Needless to say, this book is utterly useless to anyone interested in Greenberg's life and his writing. As a historical document, one of only two biographies written of Greenberg, this book is frankly offensive.
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Format: Hardcover
Best biography in years about manufacture of American culture.As recently as 1951,you could not give away examples of abstract American art.With the assistance of powerful art collectors such as Ben Sonnenberg,( who revolutionized the public relations industry) an obscure,hard-drinking,cocaine-loving New York journalist named Clement Greenberg-- almost single-handed--hoisted American art to the commanding heights.This is romantic stuff.But no other book is so honest about the creation of value in Abstract Expressionism,Color Field painting,Pop Art and Minimalism.This is like reading the honest recollections of people who created the computer-driven stock markets.It is the book of the year. And maybe the book of the decade.Do not miss this smog-clearing gem!
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Format: Hardcover
The usefulness of this biography of the greatest art critic of the 20th Century is fatally compromised by its unfortunate tendency to use rumor, innuendo and the undependable testimony of disgruntled art world second-raters to cast Greenberg as an nasty, abusive all-around bad character.
I knew him for 35 years. He was sometimes cranky and disputatious, but he was also gentle, civil and always helpful, and he went out of his way to crit my paintings and listen to and tolerate my bitching and complaining about the art world. I do not recognize the man I knew in this book. Lets hope the next biographer does better
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Format: Hardcover
Florence Rubenfeld tells a magnificent story about a topic that might otherwise be rather dull: art criticism. She does, however, have great material to work with. Greenberg is intelligent, insightful, and had a difficult personality. The latter should not be seen as a drawback, however. A strong personality was needed to convince Americans and Europeans of the value of abstract expressionism and color field painting.
Rubenfeld provides a thorough story. I have written one book, Art in the Courtroom, and am busy on another one. Therefore, I consider myself fairly well-read with respect to art. I learned a tremendous amount. Nothing can be better than an informative book that is written well. Thank you F Rubenfeld.
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