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Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1983

Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1983

Greenberg, Clement, 1909-1994

Art critic

Collection Information

Size: 8.6 linear ft.

Summary: The papers of influential New York art critic Clement Greenberg measure 8.6 linear feet and date from 1937 to 1983. The bulk of the papers (7 feet) consists of letters from art critics, artists, family, friends, galleries, and museums, with some letters from Greenberg.

Correspondents include Edward Avedisian, Darby Bannard, Ethel Barziotes, Jack Bush, Anthony Caro, Gene Davis, Richard Diebenkorn, Piero Dorazio, Friedel Dzubas, Andre Emmerich, Paul Feeley, Sam Francis, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Goodnough, Adolf Gottleib, Hans Hofmann, Philippe Hosiasson, Jacob Kainen, Rosalind Krauss, Robert Motherwell, Ken Moffett, Barnett Newman, Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Beverly Pepper, Ludwig Sander, David Smith, Kimber Smith, Clyfford Still, Anne Truitt, and Leslie Waddington.

Biographical materials include a transcript of an interview with Greenberg conducted by Deborah Solomon in 1983. Greenberg's personal business and financial records include correspondence regarding his lectures and seminars, requests for his writings, student queries, documents regarding his television and radio appearances, royalty statements, and receipts for gifts of works of art. Also found within business records are documents relating to Greenberg's testimony at the Mark Rothko Trial in 1974.

Artwork consists of one etching by Kurt Wisenski entitled "Spring." The papers contain very few of Greenberg's writings about art. Found are lists of artists, and reports written by Greenberg on the state of art in Japan and India in 1967, likely related to his membership in the American Committee for Cultural Freedom. Printed material includes scattered clippings concerning art and exhibition announcements.

One series of ACCESS RESTRICTED papers contains documents relating to Greenberg's role as a trustee in the David Smith estate; correspondence between Greenberg with Andre Emmerich and Peter Fuller, Nuala O'Faolain, and the Greenberg family; and some financial materials regarding the sale and loan of Greenberg's art collection.

Biographical/Historical Note

Clement Greenberg (1909-1994) was an art critic from New York, N.Y. Greenberg was a highly influential critic of the 1940s who advocated the formal purity of flatness in modernism. Greenberg studied at the Art Students League and at Syracuse University.


Clement Greenberg donated his papers in several accretions between 1984 to 1991; portions had initially been lent for microfilming, 1968-1969.

Related Materials

The Portland Art Museum holds Clement Greenberg's private art collection as well as a library of exhibition catalogs.

A Finding Aid to the Clement Greenberg Papers,
, in the Archives of American Art
Biographical Note
Clement Greenberg was a highly influential art critic working in New York City from the 1940s through the 1960s. He was an advocate of modern art, particulary the abstract expressionist movement, and one of the first critics to recognize the significance of Jackson Pollock's work.
Greenberg was born in 1909 to Russian immigrants in Bronx, New York. After graduating from Syracuse University in 1930, he married and had a child, David. He settled in New York City while working at the United States Customs Department as an appraiser.
In the late 1930s, Clement Greenberg attended a meeting of the U.S. Works Progress Administration and heard Hans Hofmann speak of avant-garde art. In 1939, he wrote one of his first important critical pieces "Avant-Garde and Kitsch" for the
Partisan Review
. Greenberg argued that the avant-garde art movement rose out of the need to defend and maintain high art standards against the decline in taste brought about by America's consumerism and capitalist culture.
In 1940, Greenberg joined
Partisan Review
as an editor. He became art critic for the
in 1942, and was associate editor of
from 1945 until 1957. In December 1950, he joined the CIA-fronted American Committee for Cultural Freedom.
Throughout the 1940s through the 1960s Greenberg continued to write and, in his essays and articles, he promoted the work of Abstract Expressionists, among them Jackson Pollock, Willem de Kooning, Hans Hofmann, Barnett Newman, and Clyfford Still. He particularly championed Jackson Pollock. Greenberg wrote several seminal essays that defined his views on art history in the 20th century. "Greenberg on Collage" was one one of his most important.
Greenberg's views on pop art were mixed. He also became less enamored with Abstract Impressionism, particularly the second generation. However, he became very interested in the Color-Field and Hard-Edge painters.
Through the 1960s Greenberg's views informed a younger generation of art critics including Michael Fried and Rosalind E. Krauss. Some writers maintain that Greenberg's views were so well-respected that he had too much of an influence on the world of art. In time, Greenberg's antagonism to Postmodernist theories and other modern art movements caused him to lose much of his credibility among both artists and art critics.
Greenberg died at the age of eighty-five in 1994.
Since his death, letters edited by his widow, Janice Van Horne and a re-evaluation of his writings have helped to restore his reputation within the art world.
The collection is arranged as 7 series:
Series 1: Biographical Information, circa 1950s-1983 (Box 1; 2 folders)
Series 2: Business and Financial Records, 1940-1983 (Box 1; 12 folders)
Series 3: Correspondence, 1937-1983 (Boxes 1-8; 7 linear feet)
Series 4: Artwork, 1973 (Box 8; 1 folder)
Series 5: Writings and Notes, 1967-1983 (Box 8; 3 folders)
Series 6: Printed Material, 1950-1982 (Box 8; 2 folders)
Series 7: Restricted Material, 1963-1983 (Boxes 9-11; 1.2 linear feet)
Clement Greenberg donated his papers in several accretions between 1984 to 1991; portions had initially been lent for microfilming, 1968-1969.
Processing Information
All accretions, including earlier loaned and microfilmed materials, were merged and processed by Jayna Hanson in 2009 with funding provided by the Terra Foundation for American Art.

Additional Forms Available

Portions of the papers were originally microfilmed as loans and are still available on microfilm reels N69-91, N70-7, and N737 at Archives of American Art offices and through interlibrary loan. The arrangement of the papers on microfilm does not match the current arrangement of the papers.

Restrictions on Access

Material on estate of David Smith; loan agreements, 1963-1974; a selection of documents concerning sales; and correspondence with Peter Fuller and Nuala O'Faolain: ACCESS RESTRICTED; written permission required

Use of original papers requires an appointment and is limited to the Archives' Washington, D.C., Research Center. Contact Reference Services for more information.

How to Cite This Collection

Clement Greenberg papers, 1937-1983. Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.

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