Open Marriage Chez Clem: A Life with Clement Greenberg

MAX ERNST, A GERMAN SURREALIST and sometime husband of Peggy Guggenheim (the famously promiscuous art dealer), once overturned a fully loaded ashtray on the bald head of Clement Greenberg, thereby crowning him “King of the Critics,” which indeed he was from the later 1940s through the 1970s. He influenced artists, dealers, collectors, curators, other art critics, and academics. As Florence Rubenfeld, his best biographer, put it, for more than 30 years he “served as the backboard off which the art conversation bounced.” As a LACMA curator once quipped, he “loved being a tastemaker.”

Greenberg actually began as a literary critic in the 1930s, published his first seminal essay in the Partisan Review in 1939, became the foremost champion of abstract expressionism and color-field painting (aka post–painterly abstraction), and thereby claimed New York City as the art capital of the world. He did more than anyone else (even more than Peggy G.)

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