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One Man’s Vedanta

In response to:

The Scene from the August 5, 1965 issue

To the Editors:

Hilton Kramer should not be allowed to pull the wool over the eyes of those readers not familiar with his critical record. In his reply (NYR Aug. 5) to Barbara Rose’s accusation that he has turned his back on the art produced on his doorstep, he insists that he has been “firmly focussed” on the subject for a decade. If this means responsible illumination, rather than shrill catcalling, I am afraid Hilton Kramer misrepresents himself. He has dismissed Pollock as decorative, considered Abstract-Expressionism to have brought modern painting to an end (1959), vilified Johns and Rauschenberg as “effete hipsters,” and flicked off Pop art, as an “odious little style”: all this with a minimum of explanation and maximum assertion. Under the circumstances, Barbara Rose was right. The Tompkins book was not discussed relevantly. There is a difference between intellectual substance (however incredulous), and having a chip on one’s shoulder….

Max Kozloff

New York City

Hilton Kramer replies:

This is not the first time Mr. Kozloff has paid me the compliment of noticing my work. The last occasion, as I recall, was in the pages of Partisan Review (“Art and the New York Avant-Garde,” Fall 1964, pp. 53-54), where, in the course of a lengthy rumination on the current art scene, he found it useful to quote, and with apparent agreement, a passage from an essay I had written on recent abstract painting. I supposed—foolishly perhaps—that his use of this critical passage meant that he took it as an example (shall we say?) of “responsible illumination,” especially as there was nothing to indicate the contrary. Certainly the passage wasn’t cited, so far as I could tell, as a specimen of “shrill catcalling.” As Mr. Kozloff is never at a loss for words himself, I even went so far as to believe that he had found some merit in what I had to say.

Oh well. Mr. Kozloff now takes a quite different view of my contribution. That is surely his right. But it is not his right to misrepresent more than a decade of work. If I have not joined in the hosannas lavished upon Pollock, Raushenberg, et. al., I have not, I believe, been reticent in my praise elsewhere. About the oeuvre I consider the greatest to have been produced by an American artist in our time—that of the late David Smith—I have written at a length and (if I may say so) with a discrimination greater than that of any of my contemporaries, though even in Smith’s case I did not hesitate to report an adverse judgment where I felt his work had taken a wrong turn. But Mr. Kozloff, who reads everything, knows all this—or ought to. What he cannot abide, apparently, is that (to paraphrase Robert Graves) there are some artists I prefer to others. A pity.

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