Are Artist/Critic Friendships so Unusual? Anthony Caro at The Met

by Paddy Johnson on May 26, 2011 · 7 comments Opinion

Anthony Caro, "Blazon," 1987-90, Image via: NYTimes

Wow, those Anthony Caro sculptures on the rooftop of the Met look awful. I’ll have to see them in person when I get back to have a real opinion (for now I just have the Times review and commentary by Andrew Russeth at Sixteen Miles) but his work’s always been a little too contained for my tastes. This doesn’t look much different than what I’ve already seen.

Russeth doesn’t talk too much about the quality of the work, but does discuss Caro’s relationship with Clement Greenberg at length, which he notes, has gotten a lot of attention over the years. The Times Ken Johnson reminds us of this in recent review, which mentions Greenberg and Russeth adds a relevant quote from the Voice’s David Bourdon. The question is, why do people care about critic-artist discussions and collaborations? According to Russeth, one explanation might be that Caro-Greenberg relationship was the last of its kind: a major artist and a major critic working together, “forging art and theory in unison.”

“Clement could somehow get you to develop [the work],” Caro says later in the interview. “Get you to go that one stage further. That, I think, was his thing. He was in the studio, it was in the studio he was good. But you had to do it. He didn’t do it.” I cannot think of any other interview in which an artist emphasizes that a sympathetic critic is not actually making his work.

Caro’s comment has the ring of teacher-student exchange, which from what I’ve heard would have been typical of Greenberg though of course it’s not a particularly common relationship these days. Being told what to make isn’t exactly collaboration in the traditional sense of the word.

As for the unusualness of the relationship today, so long as we’re talking actual discussion and actual collaboration, I’d argue there’s far more of that going on between critics, artists, curators, dealers and any other art professional than ever. Firstly, I don’t think a critic can reasonably be expected to do their job without at least a couple of professional friendships with artists. This doesn’t mean I endorse discussing the work of friends without the necessary disclaimers — I don’t — but I also don’t think it’s possible to respond to art well without maintaining at least a few close relationships with artists. Second, I don’t want to endlessly blow the internet’s horn, but let’s face it, it makes nattering all day with whomever one pleases easier. Of course, whether all this activity often amounts to anything more than noise is debatable, but on good days, I know nothing could be further from the truth.


Andrew Russeth May 26, 2011 at 1:49 pm

Hi Paddy,

Point well taken. I think almost all critics definitely have close friendships and productive working relationships with artists. They go on studio visits. They teach. What interested me, and what was maybe not entirely clear in my post, was the remarkable degree to which Caro and Greenberg have been portrayed (rightly or wrongly) as collaborators (or, worse, with Caro as a puppet of Greenberg). I can’t think of another example off the top of my head that parallels the “apocalyptic” (Bourdon’s word) studio visit that Greenberg had with Caro in 1959, though I’d love to hear other anecdotes, because their must be some comparable situations. Thanks for posting about this,


Anonymous May 26, 2011 at 1:58 pm

I suspect most artists have had studio visits like this in their younger years, but no one talks about them. What may be extraordinary about this visit, was simply that it happened when he was 30 not 20, and it wasn’t exactly a visit from some unknown critic. You think to mention an extraordinary visit that changes your work when you’re 30 because it’s unusual. When you’re 20 you expect your work to look radically different 3 months down the road. I guess that age thing may play into the interpretation of Caro as a puppet of Greenberg too, but I don’t believe Caro made anyone’s work but his own. Artists do makes sense to them, not what makes sense to someone else.

jameskalm May 27, 2011 at 12:57 pm

Regarding your speculation: “I’d argue there’s far more
of that going on between critics, artists, curators, dealers and any other art
professional than ever.” Yes Paddy, you are correct, and it’s more insidious
and incestuous than ever, but I think whose ultimately holding the power has
changed.   As an example, in the early
eighties Rene Ricard wrote the first major national review of Julian Schnabel
in Art in America.  The review, a rave,
was written months in advance so that it’s publication coincided with the show’s
opening.  It was placed on the front page
of the review section with a large color photo. 
Ricard actively  championed not
only Shcnabel but a whole coterie of Downtown Neo-Expressionists for years.  Three weeks ago, Vito Schnabel (Julian’s son)
organized an exhibition of Rene’s painting’s in a temporary gallery space in
Chelsea.  It was proclaimed by the artist
himself that he’d executed the painting in the last couple of days before the
opening, which would imply that there was no other work available (?).  This is how the art world works, and has for

Anonymous May 27, 2011 at 1:20 pm

Wait, why does claiming that he’d executed the last painting in the last couple of days before the opening imply that no other work was available? 

I wonder if Greenberg ever had more power than collectors or whether that’s just a popular misconception.  

jameskalm May 27, 2011 at 1:52 pm

1. Because, why would someone kill themselves to make new work if there were good paintings in inventory (implying that the artist has a consistent practice, not a paint-to-order factory).  Or maybe, some people (poets) just like the romantic notion of having to paint a show in two days.

2. I think you could make the distinction of whose wielding the power if you look at the number of collections (particularly those outside NYC) who all followed Greenberg’s recommendations, and all bought the same artists, whereas to my knowledge, no collector ever came to Greenberg and got him to take on their pets.  Again, things have changed since Clem’s days.

Anonymous May 27, 2011 at 2:04 pm

Maybe I’m not understanding the Richard scenario right. People create new work for shows all the time even when they have other works in inventory. There’s a romantic notion of working up to the wire for a show, sure, but he finished a couple days before the show opened. That’s normal. Why does this imply that everything’s been sold? I mean, I believe it likely that’s the case, but that’s mostly because Schnabel’s son seems to buy a lot of what he curates.

Anyway, I don’t think critics ever had much power though I guess Greenberg is a good example of one who had a fair amount of influence. I expect he’d find these times frustrating: No one wanted to discuss Skin Fruit seriously, yet there it was in the New Museum.  

jameskalm May 27, 2011 at 2:26 pm

I have no idea of what Rene and Vito sold.  Rene didn’t finish a couple of days before the opening, he finished the day of the opening, having painted all the stuff in the two days before.     I’m speculating (and it’s pure speculation) that it’s not that everything else was sold, but rather that Ricard paints only as opportunities present themselves, and that Vito’s curation is paying homage to him as a dear friend and early supporter of his pop.

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