Potentially Yours

Sarah Hromack, in a typically thoughtful (no rush-to-the-press) reflection on the continuing value and influence of those “seminal” Artforum issues published forty years ago, asks, “Is it crazy to suggest…that blogs and the community of people who maintain them, have potential similar to that of the earliest Artforum contributers?” Potential indeed. But how to actualize that potential, in what form, in response to what aspects of the current scene, etc. is not so easily determined.

There’s a suggestive remark in Challenging Art made by Nancy Holt as she looks back on that period.

I read Artforum and I certainly was around a lot of those discussions [about minimal and conceptual art, earthworks, formalism, art and politics, etc.] Some of it related to me. The Greenbergian battle was interesting, but I didn’t feel directly connected to it. I could see that the Greenbergian kind of thinking was too restrictive and we had to break it down. We had to open up the art world to other kinds of thinking and other influences from outside. The art world was very limited in scope and it was very entrenched. It had to be taken on aggressively. I don’t know how it ever got so entrenched. I wasn’t around when it was entrenching itself. But by the time I arrived on the scene it was constricting anyone who wanted to do something different.

I find it fascinating that the situation she describes is precisely the opposite of the one we’re in today. The artists and critics — Holt, Serra, Bochner, Judd, Smithson, Krauss, Fried, Kozloff, Rose, Baldessari, etc. — were coming out of a period dominated by Abstract Expressionism. In the ’50s, all new work was measured against it. The critical paradigms were either Greenberg’s formalism or Rosenberg’s existentialism. Then in the early ’60s Pop Art emerged as, among other things, a rejection of the purity and angst of Ab Ex and its defenders. This opened things up considerably with minimalism, conceptual art, and earthworks contributing to the options for young artists and grist for the critics.

It’s hard to imagine how small and constricted the art scene was in the ’60s. Even with the proliferation of new practices and assumptions among intelligent and aggressive artists and critics, they still felt the weight of formalism and the long arm of Greenberg extending his reach through Michael Fried, Hilton Kramer, and Thomas Hess. The Artforum crowd was still looking for ways to open things up to other influences.

Today, after a generation and a half of pluralism, driven by increasingly diversifying market forces, it’s difficult to even generalize in a convincing way about the works we see, let alone formulate assumptions that justify one’s critical judgments. The problem now, it seems to me, is not breaking out, but breaking in new critical tools, forms of creative expression, ways of writing, and concepts to help us both see what’s at stake in the current state of affairs and respond to it. The virtue of the web and, by extension, the art blog, is that here, if you’re fortunate enough to have the time, resources, and imagination, you can experiment without answering directly to economic and social pressures or conforming to conventional ways of thinking. The opportunity may not last for long.

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