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 Nation in 1942, and was associate editor of Commentary 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.