F e b r u a r y   2 0 0 2

We got mail!

Bleary-eyed or not ...
Time is on our side

Former Time Magazine Art Critic Piri Halasz recently wrote to NW Scuttle Arts Editor Jeff Jahn; here’s an excerpt:

Dear Jeff,

I've now read all of your articles online, back to the very beginning, though I have to confess I am rather bleary-eyed at the moment, so there may have been some things that I missed. I found your entries very clear and interesting and it certainly seems as though there's a gallery scene in Portland, as well as a museum scene.

I did my dissertation on painting in New York, so I hope you'll excuse me if I disagree with you about New York becoming the art capital of the world during World War II. Certainly, the future abstract expressionists weren't yet producing world-class art: they were still in their formative stages, but on the other hand, an awful lot of very distinguished and/or meaningful Parisian artists did leave Paris and settle in New York, and Motherwell wasn't the only one who benefited from this exposure. True, neither Picasso nor Matisse moved to the U.S. during the war, but both of them were ancient history as far as Paris was concerned anyway, having made their real contributions prior to or during World War I (fauvism in 1905, cubism between 1907 and 1917). The artists who did come to the U.S., however, represented most of the next generation of leaders, the artists who had come of age in Paris between the two world wars, including Masson, Matta, Tanguy, Ernst, Dali and Mondrian (the last-named having pointed out to Peggy Guggenheim in one of her group shows at Art of This Century that he thought this young guy named Pollock had talent). Also in the U.S. during World War II were Andre Breton, Duchamp, Dali and Leger, as well as Stanley William Hayter, who was less well known than any of others, but as I see it far more important for Pollock than any of them, either. I'm convinced that Pollock learned more about surrealist automatism and the use of poured paint to express it at Hayter's graphics workshop than anybody (especially Greenberg) was ever willing to admit (I did an article on this for Arts in 1984).

One other comment, on Freud: I don't think the postmodernists or post-structuralists have any exclusive claim to him, as you suggested in one of your reviews. I quite agree that as they use him, they don't add much to the dialogue, but there are lots of other ways of using him, and I happen to feel that mine is neither postmodernist nor counterproductive.

Finally, it's funny to read you talking about the baby boomers in ways that suggest you see them as fat and middle-aged and smug or whatever. For you, as a Gen Xer, they must seem that way. You also perhaps think that I as an Old Person (member of the Silent Generation, prior to the boomers) look upon the baby boomers as dangerous radicals only because I am older, and think of them in terms of how radical they were in the '60s. You may be tempted to assume that it was these radical boomers who have gotten fat and smug with age. Sure, that's part of it, but the other part, which I've discovered by reading a number of books, and observing a number of people, is that the radicals of the '60s were only one small segment of the boomer generation as a whole, and that most of their contemporaries weren't politically involved in the '60s either. That second, much larger segment of the boomer generation never wanted anything much but the good life anyway, so that's what they got and what you're more aware of now. The radical boomers from the '60s, on the other hand, have often stayed committed in one way or another, though less conspicuously so. I have a younger cousin who was and is one of them: she has put in a career teaching mostly nontraditional female students (i.e. working-class women) English in a community college in the Chicago area.

Ah well, enough of that. If you ever get to New York, I'd be glad to have coffee with you and offer any suggestions you might welcome on shows or artists whose work you might like to see. Like you, I feel that 99 percent of what goes on in the New York galleries is dull stuff, but that's the 99 percent that gets the publicity. I also think there's one percent of much better work being done that gets ignored.

New York

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