Obituary: Clement Greenberg

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The Independent Online
CLEMENT GREENBERG's death robs the contemporary art world of its most significant figure, writes Sir Anthony Caro. Greenberg was a towering force; the reasons were an unerring eye, what he would call taste, his ability to write about art with breadth and clarity, and without any ambiguity or pretension, and his sense of history. The views he held and the way he talked permeated the way a whole generation of artists, critics and curators, from the Fifties to the Eighties, thought about art.

I first met him 35 years ago, when I was a young sculptor, and he came to visit me in my studio. He didn't think highly of what I was doing. What was intended to be a short visit turned into hours of talking and looking. In a catalogue of English sculptors of the Fifties he surprised me by signalling out the works of Frank Dobson and FE McWilliam. I saw that he valued the direct, the unvarnished, no matter how square it seemed. He had no time for cleverness, style or kitsch. This was manifest in his disregard for fashion. He looked for the real, the true.

In my experience, it was in the studio that he was at his best. He responded directly to his feelings; in front of art it was as if he was listening to the angels. At the National Gallery he would see a Rembrandt as if it was by a young unknown, and would subject it to just as fierce criticism or praise. He was unfailing in his willingness to visit artists' studios and he would invariably find something to encourage, something that could be followed up to the artist's advantage. He has sometimes been taken to task for holding a programmatic position. But this is false; he saw painting or sculptures or paintings of different persuasion from the so-called 'formalism' he was accused of promoting and he focused on them with an eye to their quality, as paintings, as sculpture. Reproductions were not the real thing. He always said, 'Let me see it.' It was no good to talk about theory or ideas. He would make pronouncements only in the face of the art.

Clem was not an easygoing man. Perhaps it was because art and people carried too much weight with him. He judged his friends as mercilessly as artworks which did not measure up. Nevertheless we loved him very much. Greenberg was without doubt one of the greatest of all art critics. His eye was as clear as his prose style. He looked straight and he wrote straight.