Greenberg Bests Rosenberg at the Jewish Museum

Finally caught up with "Action/Abstraction" at the Jewish Museum. A mostly well known group of abstract artists' work organized within a Harold Rosenberg vs Clement Greenberg frame. Unfortunately there's really no comparing the two critics. As I noted at Paddy's:

Rosenberg doesn’t have much of a reputation outside the art world, and his writing and theory is not as cogent as Greenberg’s. Rosenberg's "American Action Painters" essay is pretty much of a crock–-the artist as existential hero, but who must also be "serious" [i.e., not a mystic], gimme a break. Whereas Harvard modernism scholar Daniel Albright (a cross-disciplinary thinker) recently said of Greenberg’s "Towards a Newer Laocoon," which argues for separating media into areas of competence (or honesty, as Greenberg phrased it at that time): "in this essay Greenberg presents the finest statement I know of Modernist aesthetic purism."

Paired video loops of the two critics at the Jewish Museum tell the story. Greenberg talks about art after Cezanne being in some way responsive to or influenced by the rectangle that surrounds it, whereas Pollock worked on the floor to avoid this ingrained rhetorical limit. Rosenberg says nonsense along the lines of "Someone in England asked if you could have a slow action painting. I said that action painting can take an artist's entire life."

The intelligent theorizing of the former and the empty bloviating of the latter can be seen in quote after paired quote throughout the exhibit. A large chunk of the art world defined itself in opposition to Greenberg but that's because he offered something to oppose.