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

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