Imitating Imitation – After Clement Greenberg

Folk Culture has been imitated resulting in ‘Kitsch’ says Clement Greenberg, which was filled with concept and meaning therewith brought to a higher level, a network of strings resulting in a story for art that has the possibility of success and recognition in the art world due to an underlying concept created by critics and curators.

Duchamps the father of the Avant-Garde which Kitsch was followed by took an object of everyday life, a urinal, sent to the Armory Art Fair in New York. He brought the every day object and simply signed it, therewith giving it an additional twist. The object wasn’t a mere object of daily life any longer, he so-to-say ‘forced’ the high elite art world to confront themselves with the banality of every-day life. The transition from ‘Kitsch’ to art recognised in art history has been achieved by something as simple as a tongue-in-cheek moment, by someone who had the guts to create something out of nothing and opened our eyes for the everyday world, we let pass by too easily, being consumed by our day-to-day routine.

When starting to re-write the history of contemporary art I first began with the comparison of two artists which only by engaging with Clement Greenberg’s writings I realised he was doing the same. He started with Giotto and Raffael and I started with Monet and Manet both pairs bear similarities in their way of painting however, with one main difference one seemed to have more budget as the other. Researching the visual material by Giotto and Raffael I noticed that Raffael used more expensive colours than Giotto.

My former research on the Sixtine Chaple and Michelangelo Buonarotti’s life led to the conclusion that Michelangelo worked for two commissioning parties and with his commission by the Pope back then allowed him to buy more expensive art materials which resulted in works with a stronger colour palette. The same seemed to have appeared with Giotto and Raffael. Both seemed to have worked for the church but Raffael painted ruby red robes of priests and the Pope, Giotto used fainter colouring.

With Monet and Manet my research showed that Manet painted Monet painting on his boat who seemed to have more expensive art material again, whereby jealousy seemed to play a major role as well or another explanation could be a name change when becoming more renowned.

However, back to my research on Clement Greenberg’s writings.

When reading his book Selected Writings and Critics I realised that he favoured particular artists and they became successful others didn’t, it can be said that the curator and critics play a major role in making or breaking an artists careers which might seem unfair to some but this is the course of definition of art historical movements, as already described in my critique on Lee Ufan’s writings ‘The grey-zone between Arte Povera and Minimalism’.

The success of artists and art movements is clearly linked to art critique and curators themselves who therewith create their own history of art in the course of their engagement with arts.

The point I reached in the past few weeks engaging with art historical renowned artists showed me that most art has been created by the more art historically renowned artists therewith everything has been done once before. So what can you do when everything has been done before and artists or curators only follow other colleagues paths?

Is it the imitation Greenberg talked about, and where do we draw the line between imitation and copying? Is the only real hand-writing of an artist to be seen after decades or does it end, when looking at a CV which shows their art teachers which leave nothing but a fine line to recognise the thought from the teaching?

In my curatorial projects I always try to give artists space to create something for a particular space, which results in new works or installations to be created. Some took that chance, others left it aside and installed existing work, but the ones that engaged with the space were the ones that became successful. One might reason: Hard work always pays off, maybe to a Wagnerian ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ that leaves room to pause and think, like with Mark Rothko’s room at the Tate Modern in London. But the younger generation artists still give us the chance to learn and even curators and gallerists need to be open for the young generation even though their work might bear similarities to art historically renowned artists, because starting from that point of a Wagnerian ‘Gesamtkunstwerk’ and a already written art history is a difficult point of departure which means we have to scatter our entire knowledge and take it apart to be open for something new.

Otherwise one day you might face yourself with a crowd of artists in a travelling art show wandering from one institution to the next and forget to pause and think about something newly suggested to you.

The problem this entails and this brings me back to Clement Greenberg’s Imitation I started with is ‘What if you come across the person, be it artist or curator that started to imitate before yourself? He or she faced the same issues but little ones might have realised that they followed the same path. So like mentioned above we need to keep an open mind for our contemporaries and stop dwelling about the past.

Daniela Haberz, M.A.
Independent art critic and Curator


Mobile: +43 (0) 664 182 8678

Mono-Ha The grey-zone between Arte Povera and Minimalism

Lee Ufan Selected Writings – A Geographical Localisation

In addition to the subject object allocation of Foucault’s the difference of the two access points is the rooting to a particular place not as with Foucault an undefined spatial allocation that can happen everywhere around the world.

Lee Ufan therefore grounds the lightness of Foucault’s to a specific place which adds a fourth component to the reasoning of Foucault, who only engages the three components: The viewer, the object and the empty space in between. Lee Ufan adds a fourth component the geographical positioning named topography, the space allocation to a specific geographically determined place and roots the scenery to a be it permanent or temporary place.

The grey-zone, the extension of subject object and in-between therefore shrinks and densifies to a place that the curator or artist chooses for his work.

Foucault left this one constant aside and Ufan’s theories brings the work to a more site-specific and further determined installation that place the scenery in real-space rather than an illusionary undefined setting.

Ufan says himself he actually wanted to become a composer but then only became a mere painter and sculptor which he didn’t want to be in the first place. He says in Japan they have a saying that a stone is decaying in the end but a Korean saying speaks of the dissolution of the stone instead.

We can therefore reason that at the end of the day the Mono-Ha movement had a greater influence  on him as the dissolving of stones into almost nothing but space or mist brings us back to the dissolution of the object per se but still the specific site remains in his equation being a further development of Foucault’s original approach that he did not include in his writings. Might it have been unnecessary for him to follow or not, might he not have studied Lee Ufan’s writings we can not proof today but the further determinant of a geographical allocation seems a very important fact for me as it roots people to a specific place which as well brings more quiet in life opposed to the constant migration from one place to the next.

Ufan therefore rather defines installations further and the grey-zone of his works and art in general are actually diminished and art historical allocation leading to the two art historical periods Arte Povera and Minimalism, starting with Celant’s definition of the term ‘Arte Povera’ results in a defined art period and locates the first in Italy of the 1950s. The constant flux of art periods is therefore reduced and gives way to installations and art spaces that are located in cities, as well as  the country side but are determined by one crucial fact, the geographical positioning.

Daniela Haberz, M.A.
Art Consultant and Curator

Lee Ufan is represented by Lisson Gallery, London

AØH Art Consultancy Haberz
Daniela Haberz, M.A.
Mobile: +43 664 182 8678