Death of art critic Hilton Kramer

   |  28 March 2012  |  AMA  |  Tweet  |  LinkedIn

Harpswell, 28 March 2012, Art Media Agency (AMA).

Art critic Hilton Kramer passed away Tuesday 27 March 2012 in Harpswell, Maine. He was 84 years old.

It was the New York Times, the newspaper for which Kramer worked as chief art critic from 1974 to 1982, who announced the news. According to a statement made by the artist’s wife, Esta Kramer, Hilton died from a heart attack. At the time, he was under the care of an assisted living facility for a rare blood disease.

Born on 25 March 1928 in Gloucester, Massachusetts, Hilton Kramer had spent much time in Boston’s art museums and studios ever since his childhood. He studied English, as well as literature and philosophy, completing his studies at Harvard. He first entered the world of journalism by writing a response to art critic Harold Rosenberg, which was published by his friend Philip Rahv in 1953 in the Partisan Review, thus launching his art critic career. He contributed to Arts Digest starting in 1955, and later to The Nation and The New Republic. He joined the New York Times in 1965 and became chief critic in 1974. Disagreeing with the New York Times, he left the newspaper in 1982 to create The New Criterion, a monthly  literary magazine and journal of artistic and cultural criticism. During this same period, he wrote editorials for the New York Post and for the New York Observer where he critiqued the artistic vision of the New York Times. He also wrote about dance, poetry, and philosophy.

Hilton Kramer was known for his very conservative positions concerning Modern art. The Whitney Museum of American Art and the MoMA were his regular targets. He consistently criticised Conceptual art, Pop art (which he qualified as a ’very great disaster’), and Postmodernism. He maintained throughout his career what he called a high conception of art, rejecting in particular anything dealing with Modern art and popular culture, which for him reflected a liberal derivation in the art world. This was the case for Jackson Pollock, Julian Schnabel, and Odd Nerdum. Meanwhile, he tried to bring attention to under-appreciated modern painters such as David Smith, Milton Avery, and Arthur Dove.

According to the New York Post, when asked by Woody Allen if he was ever embarrassed when meeting someone who’s work he had criticised, Hilton Kramer responded, ““No — I expect them to be embarrassed for doing bad work.”

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