Love him or hate him, there’s no denying the influence of conservative art critic Hilton Kramer on the New York art scene. A longtime champion of modernism and a harsh critic of contemporary art, Kramer died this morning in Harpswell, Maine.
Kramer is best remember nowadays as the founder of New Criterion, a literary journal with a severely conservative slant that continues to battle out the culture wars though with less impact than it once enjoyed.
What many people don’t realize was that Kramer was an art critic for the New York Times from the mid-1960s to the early 1980s, when New York’s role as the center of art dialogue was at its zenith. In the last decade, he also wrote regularly for the New York Observer, though reading Kramer’s prose during that period often felt like reading the words of someone from another era.
A lover of the canon of Western Art, Kramer has over the years become increasingly negative about many aspects of contemporary art, museums and the evolving landscape of art, particularly identity-related work. The New York Times obituary collects some of his harshest phrases about various movements:
“ … Pop (“a very great disaster”), conceptual art (“scrapbook art”) and postmodernism (“modernism with a sneer, a giggle, modernism without any animating faith in the nobility and pertinence of its cultural mandate”).”