When everything seems great, everyone appears to get on great, but there is an essential ingredient missing.An intangible awkwardness that defies resolution. Everyone wants freedom from cheese. Or do we?…
Because Bernard Berenson was more respected and learned than any other expert on Renaissance art, people assumed that he was also trustworthy. His stature seemed to guarantee honesty. But after his death in 1959, successive biographies showed that the shell of prestige surrounding him concealed more than a trace of chicanery. In 1912, he signed a secret contract with Joseph Duveen, the world’s richest art dealer, that provided Berenson with a share of the profits from the sale of every painting he authenticated.Berenson became rich by certifying, for instance, that a questionable painting was by Leonardo da Vinci rather than “Studio of Leonardo.” This of course meant a difference in price of hundreds of thousands of dollars. Sometimes, to give Duveen further help with sales, Berenson wrote a few words of descriptive prose, a connoisseur’s equivalent of ad copy: “an overwhelming masterpiece … jewel-like in its glory.” …Read More:http://arts.nationalpost.com/2011/09/20/fulford-criticism-and-conflicts-of-interest/
What Fulford is nibbling on here is Berenson’s ambiguous and perhaps ambivalent attitude to his Jewishness. Although pilloried by critic Meyer Schapiro on the subject, the view of Berenson, an arch conservative, is more nuanced and complex. In his article, “Sketch”, Berenson compared himself, favorably, of course, with three men: Saint Paul the convert, Spinoza and he secular philosophy and excommunication from the faith, and lastly, the Gaon of Vilna, a kind of ambassador for the Eastern European jews and filterer of new idea. Part of this was not out of conviction, but rather a means to a higher social milieu in which conversion was self-serving and commercially lucrative to shed the image of the venal Jew art dealer of Germany.
…Mary Berenson, her husband’s partner in all his enterprises, shared his greed. He wanted to build a fortune so that he could fill I Tatti, his villa near Florence, with great paintings. He was preparing it as a gift to his alma mater. Today, Harvard calls I Tatti the world’s greatest research centre for Renaissance culture. Mary wanted to leave a fortune to the children from her first marriage, whom she had left with their father when she took up with Berenson. She also did well. Long after her death, the publication of Mary Berenson: a Self Portrait from her Letters & Diaries provided copious evidence of her avarice. After visiting various potential art collectors among the millionaires of Newport, she wrote that “I hope a small share of this river of gold will flow into our pockets.” And so it did.Did Berenson cheat? Did he stretch a point, now and then, in the interests of commerce? ( Fulford ibid. )…
But, Fulford is walking on brittle ground here. No less than Kuspit claimed that jews like Berenson survived to constitute and define an identity in, by and large, a world that was anti-semitic and barely tolerated their existence; surmounting all this discrimination to become a model, an ideal, for the way artists attained their creative identity. Kuspit, follows this up by saying that “the negative social experience out of which artists make something aesthetic possible, through their creative mastery of it, is fundamentally Jewish.” Within the context of Berenson, its a plausible assertion.
…Whenever the ethics of critics come up, my mind turns to Berenson and I remember the innocent way he was trusted until his role in art-market machinations became known.Last week the Wall Street Journal once more raised the conflict-of-interest question in an article by Terry Teachout, who covers theatre for the Journal and reviews other art forms for his excellent blog, About Last Night….
Under the heading “How two great critics compromised their posthumous reputations,” Teachout called into question the ethical standards of both Virgil Thomson, the composer, who served as a music critic on the New York Herald-Tribune in the 1940s and ’50s, and Clement Greenberg, the most influential critic of painting in the same era.The case against Thomson is clear. In the 1930s, his compositions were respected but not often played. When he was asked to join the Herald-Tribune, he told the editors that he would do so in the hope that his status as a prominent critic “might stimulate performances of my works.”… ( Fulford )
…What Kuspit termed the dynamic was what would become the “Jewish Paradox” . Here, the success of a person or an original work of art survives a significant level of adversity and criticism. Through an association of artistic creativity with overcoming contempt and prejudice, such as that which Jews were held, Kuspit suggests a kind of aesthetic; something hinting at the redemptive and messianic, an aesthetic od the original owing to a sense of spontaneity unleashed and inner freedom, a liberty, triumphing over barriers which he could perceive as a “jewish unconcious” . So, the problem with analysis like Fulford, is the narrow parameters, the absence to reflect on contexts, and awillingness to challenge the reader. Call it writing of “the kind of smart.”
.Fulford:The evidence against Greenberg can be found in the Greenberg Collection at the Portland Art Museum in Oregon, where there are 155 works by Jackson Pollock, Jules Olitski, David Smith and many other artists Greenberg praised. They were all gifts from the artists and were sold to the museum for $2-million by Greenberg’s widow. In his lifetime, he had sold other gifts whenever he needed money. For as long as Thomson’s and Greenberg’s work is read, Teachout says, “some people will wonder whether they could be bought.”
It seems likely that the views of Berenson, Thomson and Greenberg were all inflected, to some extent, by self-interest. At the same time, each of them produced uniquely valuable criticism. I’d much rather have an impure Greenberg, with all his connections, than a critic pure in heart but slow in wit.Conflict of interest is a favourite charge brought against critics by their enemies. It seems to me greatly exaggerated.
All criticism, being the work of humans, inevitably suffers from certain imperfections. Critics who lack passionate interest in their subjects are much more harmful than critics in, say, Virgil Thomson’s position. Critics who know little about the art they analyze are more to be feared than those who have arrangements like Berenson’s. Critics who write unreadable prose are a danger to the language as well as to the arts they discuss. There are much worse sins than conflict of interest.
Besides, there are no spotless critics. They all bring to the job conflicts that may be far more influential than mere money or even career progress. Read More:http://arts.nationalpost.com/2011/09/20/fulford-criticism-and-conflicts-of-interest/
Kuspit:It is also well-known that Greenberg eschewed spirituality in favor of materiality — he thought the former was an incidental and irrelevant byproduct of the latter [the supposedly strictly material facts of art] — which I want to suggest is part of what he himself called his Jewish self-hatred. The paradox of the Jews is that they are a pure spiritual people — the people who discovered the oneness or unity of God or the sacred — who have been forced to become materialists to survive in a world that however much it yeasays spirituality refuses to accept the control of instinct that is a sign and proof of being truly human, that is, a spiritual being. Spiritual consciousness in fact brings with it a sense of the oneness or unity of self that the instinctive never affords. Pagan religions, which are purely instinctive, randomly — promiscuously — find the sacred in an endless variety of objects [animal, vegetable, and mineral], suggesting that they lack a concept of unitary selfhood and the concentration of purpose that comes with it. These are exactly what one finds in Modiglianis figures: they are always one with themselves and resonate with a sense of existential purpose.) Read More:http://www.artnet.com/magazine/features/kuspit/kuspit7-27-04.asp