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Art and Pluralism

Art and Pluralism: Lawrence Alloway’s Cultural Criticism

Nigel Whiteley
Volume: 6
Copyright Date: 2012
Edition: 1
Pages: 510
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  • Book Info
    Art and Pluralism
    Book Description:

    Lawrence Alloway (1926–1990) was one of the most influential and widely respected (as well as prolific) art writers of the post-war years. His many books, catalogue essays and reviews manifest the changing paradigms of art away from the formal values of modernism towards the inclusiveness of the visual culture model in the 1950s, through the diversity and excesses of the 1960s, to the politicisation in the wake of 1968 and the Vietnam war, on to postmodern concerns in the 1970s. Alloway was in the right places at the right times. From his central involvement with the Independent Group and the ICA in London in the 1950s, he moved to New York, the new world centre of art, at the beginning of the 1960s. In the early 1970s he became deeply involved with the realist revival and the early feminist movement in art – Sylvia Sleigh, the painter, was his wife – and went on to write extensively about the gallery and art market as a system, examining the critic’s role within this system. Positioning himself against the formalism and exclusivism associated with Clement Greenberg, Alloway was wholeheartedly committed to pluralism and diversity in both art and society. For him, art and criticism were always to be understood within a wider set of cultural, social and political concerns, with the emphasis on democracy, social inclusiveness, and freedom of expression. Art and Pluralism provides a close critical reading of Alloway’s writings, and sets his work and thought within the cultural contexts of the London and New York art worlds from the 1950s through to the early 1980s. It is a fascinating study of one of the most significant art critics of the twentieth century.

    eISBN: 978-1-84631-670-8
    Subjects: Art & Art History

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-x)
  3. List of Plates
    (pp. xi-xii)
  4. Acknowledgements
    (pp. xiii-xiv)
  5. Section A: Introduction

    • 1 Alloway and pluralism
      (pp. 3-6)

      Lawrence Alloway (1926–1990) was one of the most widely respected art writers of the post-War years. His writing, according to the eminent art historian and critic Robert Rosenblum, was “a model of open-mindedness, intelligence, and precision.”¹ Partly by chance and partly through design, he was in the right places at the right times. From his central involvement with both the Independent Group and thePlaceandSituationpainters in London in the 1950s, he moved to New York, the recently established world center of art, at the beginning of the 1960s. There, he was a key interpreter of Pop...

    • 2 Background
      (pp. 7-10)

      The son of Francis Lawrence and Nora (née Scarlet Hatton) Alloway, Lawrence Reginald Alloway was born on September 17, 1926 in the London suburb of Wimbledon. His father, a Spiritualist Church preacher and Socialist, ran a second-hand bookshop in Rochester, Kent, until the Depression before working in a mail-order office for medical publications; his mother, proud of her distant distinguished ancestry, was Church of England and Tory. Father and son were regularly in opposition to Nora. Lawrence was diagnosed with tuberculosis in 1937, a condition that necessitated enforced absence from school for more than two years. He had to spend...

    • 3 The British art scene
      (pp. 11-13)

      In an age dominated by rationing and austerity, the immediate post-War art scene that Alloway experienced in London was inevitably impoverished. However, there was undeniably a belief in the importance of culture by the newly elected Socialist government. Culture had played an important role in the War by giving visual or aural form to the nation’s identity and values, and the collective spirit engendered at a time of conflict was carried forward into peace, if measured by attendance numbers at concerts and exhibitions. The Arts Council of Great Britain was established in 1946, the year the Tate reopened. There were...

    • 4 Early career
      (pp. 14-18)

      Like other aspiring art critics in the post-War years, Alloway found Richard Gainsborough’sArt News and Review, launched in 1949, to be invaluable. The magazine had an eight-page, tabloid format, and was a low cost fortnightly publication, largely devoted to reviews of a wide range of exhibitions—contemporary and historical—in London. Alloway’s earliest pieces of criticism, which did not credit the twenty-two-year-old by name, aspired to no more than conventionality.¹ Some “Recent Acquisitions at Greenwich,” for example, were “charming” in that they “enchant the eye and relax the mind…”² The language was often that of connoisseurship with references to...

  6. Section B: Continuum, 1952–1961

    • 1 Art criticism, 1951–1952
      (pp. 21-24)

      1950 had been the year when Alloway’s scope became international, but the really significant change in his criticism occurs right at the beginning of 1951 in a longer review of a Matta exhibition at the ICA. In this, Alloway writes in a style that was to become associated with his Independent Group (IG) mode of writing between 1952 and 1955. Connoisseurship and simple evaluation is replaced by a far more dense and demanding interpretation of the artist’s activities: “In the new concept of ‘continuous creation’ we have, perhaps, the physicists’ version of automatism in modern art. Matta is the painter...

    • 2 The ICA in the early 1950s
      (pp. 25-27)

      The ICA had been at last able to purchase its own premises in late 1950. In contrast to the conservatism of most art galleries and museums in England, the ICA was progressive and avant-garde—London’s daily newspaper christened it “Advance Guard H.Q.”¹ The opening exhibition,1950: Aspects of British Art, emphasized the more adventurous younger British artists such as Eduardo Paolozzi, Richard Hamilton, and William Turnbull—artists about whom Alloway would soon be writing. In 1951, the year of what was perceived by many critics as a jingoistic Festival of Britain, the ICA showed decidedly cosmopolitan exhibitions of, not only...

    • 3 The Independent Group: aesthetic problems
      (pp. 28-31)

      I have outlined the origins at the Independent Group (IG) at some length elsewhere,¹ but the key to understanding the formation of the IG may be Read’s comment about the “youthful brilliance” of the people that were attending the Points of View discussions. One of the stated aims in founding the ICA had been to encourage a younger generation of British artists, and Read in particular seemed to be aware of a committed interest amongst the sort of individuals—artists, architects, critics, and writers—who were attending discussions and events hosted by the ICA. By the end of January 1952,...

    • 4 The Independent Group: popular culture
      (pp. 32-37)

      At the time of theParallel and Lifeexhibition, Alloway was elected onto the ICA’s Exhibitions Sub-Committee. This gave him a formal position at the ICA and moved him closer to employment there. Also in 1953 he gave two lectures in conjunction withThe Wonder and Horror of the Human HeadandBritish Painting in the Fiftiesexhibitions. A year later he was appointed Assistant Director—he had well and truly infiltrated the ICA. In January 1954 he had given the ICA a taste of things to come when he lectured on science fiction. A few months later he and...

    • 5 Art criticism, 1953–1955
      (pp. 38-42)

      Alloway’s life was intellectually rich but financially impoverished—his pay as part-time Assistant Director was meagre and was only modestly supplemented by contributions toArt News and Review. He had been unsuccessful in applications for gallery jobs at the National, Tate, Birmingham, and Leeds, and had even applied for a job in television to increase his income. He still maintained a commitment to poetry and, in 1953, the poet, novelist, and art supporter Osbert Sitwell gave him financial support for a year. This enabled Alloway to rent a bed-sit in the London suburb of Blackheath, and meant that he was...

    • 6 Alloway and abstraction
      (pp. 43-46)

      Nine Abstract Artistsreveals three values held by Alloway and other members of the IG in those years. First, as we have seen, was the implacable opposition to British Romanticism of the 1940s and 1950s—Alloway felt next to nothing was salvageable from that “tired” tradition.¹ Second, he was liable to take the critical aspect of criticism very seriously. An interest in criticism being “descriptive” did not occur until a different decade in a different place. Some of the artists criticized by Alloway were angered by his comments. The St Ives-based painter Patrick Heron referred to what he termed “Alloway’s...

    • 7 Alloway and figurative art
      (pp. 47-49)

      Alloway may have been perceived by one group of artists and critics as “Mr. Abstract” during the 1950s, but his interest in figurative art was just as strong. His early, conventional criticism had largely dealt with historical figurative art¹ but, in the mid-1950s, there was an occasional concern with revisiting past artists in order to re-evaluate their reputations. The most conspicuous was William Hogarth whose works might certainly have been described by Formalists as “narrative” and even “literary.” He wrote about Hogarth on three occasions in the 1950s, praising him for his “topicality,”² a quality that Alloway was to identify...

    • 8 This Is Tomorrow, 1956
      (pp. 50-52)

      1956 was a key year for Alloway as a critic and theorist. In that year there were a number of important exhibitions that represented the tendencies Alloway supported: American action painting,art autre, and human images influenced by popular culture. There was the chance to reassess the relevance of Dada and to continue to attack Herbert Read. And Alloway’s plural view of culture enabled him to write about not only art, but also graphic design, photography, advertising, science fiction illustration, robots, product design, and architecture. 1956 was important because a combination of developments occurred in art, as well as the...

    • 9 Information Theory
      (pp. 53-55)

      Alloway was influenced by, the overlapping clusters of Information Theory, communications, cybernetics, and artificial intelligence. Probably the single most important book in shaping his ideas, and one he returned to regularly throughout his career, was Norbert Wiener’sThe Human Use of Human Beings: Cybernetics and Society, published in 1950. Alloway saw in Wiener’s popularized Information Theory a way of defining the world, including art, in terms of what he described as “a network of available messages (a message being a form of pattern or organization)” that was fundamentally “non-hierarchic.”¹ Furthermore, in his declaration that “To live effectively is to live...

    • 10 Group 12 and Information Theory
      (pp. 56-58)

      Relatively ignored in relation to its more photogenic, even iconic exhibits, the Group 12 exhibit atThis is Tomorrowpitched together Alloway, Toni del Renzio and the architect Geoffrey Holroyd who created an environment that ably demonstrates Alloway’s interest in the “communications network.” An Information Theory approach resulted in art, advertising, film, and other discourses being viewed as sign systems rather than as either unique expressions of human creativity or as detached aesthetic form. The form of the exhibit was devised by Holroyd who, in 1953, had visited the designers Charles and Ray Eames in California, and was heavily influenced...

    • 11 Science fiction
      (pp. 59-61)

      There are four acknowledgements in the Alloway/del Renzio/Holroyd exhibition statement. One is to Wilbur Schramm’sThe Process and Effects of Mass Communication; the second is to Edmund C. Berkeley’sGiant Brains or Machines That Think(1949), a survey of recent computers and developments in artificial intelligence. Schramm and Berkeley were the two “serious” sources cited by Alloway. The two remaining sources were considerably less serious but were none the less as important in formulating his cultural model—Glamormagazine andGalaxy Science Fiction! Alloway had lectured on science fiction at the ICA in 1954 and was to lecture on it...

    • 12 The cultural continuum model
      (pp. 62-71)

      Alloway’s article on Dada joined his writings on science fiction, Charles Eames and theThis Is Tomorrowcatalogue in outlining his continuum model for culture in 1956. His employment of the term “continuum” predatesThis Is Tomorrowand was already in currency in IG circles.¹ Indeed, Alloway’s notes for his “Human Image” lecture in the “Aesthetic Problems of Contemporary Art” sessions at the ICA a year earlier refers to the “Fine popular arts continuum [that] now exists.”² No single text provided a definitive definition of the continuum model but, in the later 1950s, Alloway wrote three essays—one each in...

    • 13 Writings about the movies
      (pp. 72-77)

      Alloway recalled in 1973 that he wrote about movies for two reasons. First, he loved movies. Second, writing about them moved him closer to the “more general notion that the whole of society is the province of an art critic’s attention…”¹ The London Pavilion was a regular venue for Alloway (often accompanied by Paolozzi), and it also provided one of the main venues for the movies he was to review. We have seen that Alloway’s first review, in 1950, was of the British filmThe Third Man(1949) and was characterized by an iconographical-cumsymbolic approach. In 1954 he had lectured...

    • 14 Graphics and advertising
      (pp. 78-81)

      When discussing the “general field of communication” in his “Personal Statement,” Alloway stated that “Art is one part of the field; another is advertising,” and each had its own messages, channels, and audiences.¹ His writing about advertising belongs entirely to his continuum phase, and starts with a flurry of articles between the end of the second IG series and the beginning ofThis Is Tomorrow. Half a dozen other articles were published in the last two years of the 1950s. Six of the articles were published inDesign, including five written in 1958 and 1959. There were two conventional cultural...

    • 15 Design
      (pp. 82-85)

      Many of the points Alloway made about design were ones that had applied to advertising: in both disciplines, the critic needed to think in terms of “Images rather than forms, signs rather than patterns…”¹ and thus both could take their place on the continuum of visual communication, alongside movies and art. Read remained the chief antagonist, with his theory of the supremacy of abstract form the main object of attack: “In place of Sir Herbert’s ideal picture of the consumer exercising aesthetic choice in the market place, we are in need of a theory of the consumer who brings with...

    • 16 Architecture and the city
      (pp. 86-90)

      Alloway wrote a handful of articles on architecture and the city between the mid-1950s and his departure for the USA in 1961. They are more successful than most of his design articles because they do not reduce the discipline just to the level of symbols, but engage with use and experience, so that art merges with life. Architecture as symbol still plays its part. In the USA, Eero Saarinen’s Technical Center for General Motors was “a potent symbol of American enterprise and technology,” and the Tennessee Valley Authority’s dam building “symbolizes the optimistic technocracy of New Deal America as a...

    • 17 Channel flows
      (pp. 91-94)

      The continuum model was characterized by a number of separate channels of visual communication that comprised the plural range. However, Alloway had also assumed that flows between channels—akin to information flows—would occur. These—such as the way that fine artists could learn from the work of science fiction illustrators—were to be welcomed because they offered further visual possibilities. Two significant flows occurred in 1956, and both involved members of the IG. The main one was the use of images from American advertising and/or popular culture employed by Richard Hamilton, John McHale, and Eduardo Paolozzi, and the possibility...

    • 18 Art autre
      (pp. 95-98)

      Un art autrehad been the subject and title of what was, in Alloway’s opinion, an “enormously influential” book written by the French art critic Michel Tapié, and published in Paris in 1952.¹ What Tapié had had in mind were the post-War anti-formal and anti-classical tendencies ofinformel,tachiste, and Action Painting that could be observed in both European and American art. Among the artists in the book were Dubuffet, Fautrier, Michaux, Michieu, Mathieu, Riopelle, Soulages, Capogrossi, Richier, Appel, Tobey, Sam Francis, and Pollock. Dubuffet and Mathieu were the most illustrated artists, part of a strong French emphasis to this...

    • 19 The human image
      (pp. 99-105)

      Theart brutdepiction of the human image influenced by popular culture in the work of Paolozzi, McHale, and Cordell represents an important contribution toart autreby artists working in Britain. The human image had been of great interest to Alloway since 1953 but was largely confined to artists influenced byart brutand the new kind of human imagery that resulted. In 1954 he had presented his seminar paper on the human image at the ICA in which he included Giacometti, Dubuffet, Bacon, and de Kooning. We can gather from his seminar notes¹ that Giacometti was interpreted on...

    • 20 Modern Art in the United States, 1956
      (pp. 106-110)

      At the time Golub was exhibiting at the ICA in 1957, art from the USA was making a huge impact. The impact occurred almost explosively. In late 1954 Alloway could regret that “American art is rarely seen in London.”¹ The first Pollock painting to be exhibited in London was shown inOpposing Forcesat the ICA in January 1953,² an exhibition that focused on the work of European artists associated with the Action Painting end ofart autre, such as Mathieu, Michaux, and Riopelle, but also included was work by the American Sam Francis, then resident in France.³ Pollock’sPainting...

    • 21 Action Painting
      (pp. 111-114)

      Alloway confirmed his position as the pre-eminent British critic of avant-garde art and new American painting in a series of six articles titled “Background to Action” that appeared on the front pages of the fortnightlyArt News and Reviewbetween October 1957 and January 1958. Four focused on recent American painting. The first article dealt directly with some of the artists inModern Art in the United States—de Kooning, Rothko, and Clyfford Still, for example—enabling Alloway to demonstrate his intimacy with artists’ and critics’ statements and writings. Greenberg’s phrase about “expendable conventions” is quoted and, although Rosenberg is...

    • 22 First trip to the USA
      (pp. 115-117)

      Part of the purpose of the “Background to Action” series was to demonstrate—in the title of one of the articles—“The Shifted Centre”: “… New York is to mid-century what Paris was to the early twentieth-century: it is the center of western art.” Power and influence had ceded to the USA with the effect that “It has been a shock in Europe to find oneself on the receiving instead of the transmitting end of an aesthetic…”¹ WithModern Art in the United States, Alloway’s love of American popular culture had been matched by his respect for contemporary American art....

    • 23 The New American Painting, 1958
      (pp. 118-120)

      Back in London, the Whitechapel’s Jackson Pollock exhibition in late 1958 provided the opportunity for an in-depth assessment of the artist’s work,¹ but it was the major exhibition ofThe New American Painting, organized by the Museum of Modern Art and shown in eight European countries during 1958 and 1959, that most excited Alloway: “I thought it was absolutely marvellous…,” he recalled in 1987, “The New American Paintingwas, at last, the show we had been waiting for for years. It had almost nothing but Abstract Expressionists in it.”² But, whereasModern Art in the United Stateshad, within its...

    • 24 Alloway and Greenberg
      (pp. 121-124)

      Greenberg had made a similar point in his “‘American-Type’ Painting” of 1955, referring to the “pallid French equivalent” of the “galaxy of powerfully talented and original painters” who had established New York as the center of western art.¹ Critical accounts of many of the artists were also similar, with both writers describing the effects created by forms and colours. There were, however, some differences. Greenberg discusses Barnett Newman’s “deep and honest” paintings in terms of hue and flatness,² whereas Alloway sees them environmentally: the large size of the works means that, when other viewers come between you and the picture,...

    • 25 Cold wars
      (pp. 125-127)

      Alloway’s catalogue preface acknowledges the encouragement and support of the United States Information Service (USIS) and his friend Stefan Munsing, declaring that, “Without the USIS it would not have been possible to bring this exhibition to London.”¹ In 1959 he detailed the USIS’s UK contributions: eleven exhibitions in London from 1954 to 1956 inclusive; and fifteen exhibitions in 1957 and 1958. The point Alloway was seeking to make was that “… Britain was, culturally, the place that Washington forgot…” until the American Embassy converted part of its library into a gallery. Others would have interpreted the statistics differently. Revisionist accounts...

    • 26 British art and the USA: The Middle Generation
      (pp. 128-131)

      Alloway looked toward the reinvigoration of British art following the influence of Abstract Expressionism and the major exhibitions of 1956 and 1959. In the context of a popular and cultural fear about the Americanization of society, he argued that “… American art is not an exotic national style. It is the mainstream of modern art, which used to run through Paris.” American art currently provided the standard for contemporary art—it was the prevailing and rigorous orthodoxy—and so, by absorbing recent developments in the USA, British artists would be able to locate themselves “in the tradition of modern art...

    • 27 A younger generation and the avant-garde
      (pp. 132-137)

      Alloway pinned his hopes for British art on a younger generation of artists, including Robyn Denny, Richard Smith, and William Green. They began to emerge in 1957, the year when the shift from French to American influences occurred. At theMetavisual Abstract Tachisteexhibition at the Redfern Gallery in 1957 which, with the previous year’sStatements 1956, represented the highpoint of artinformelin Britain, Denys Sutton wrote in his catalogue preface that the new gestural painting on display was “the hybrid child of the Frenchman Dubuffet, the German Ernst, [and] the American Jackson Pollock”¹—European and American art seen...

    • 28 Hard Edge
      (pp. 138-140)

      Influences were from the USA in the late 1950s particularly in the case of Hard Edge. The appeal of this new abstraction was its shedding of the (expendable) convention of content: “It is the optical effect of geometric art, not its theoretical justification, which is the point of continuing hard-edge abstraction, and in this it differs from academic abstract art.”¹ Alloway paralleled the new abstraction to different ways of looking at Mondrian’s work. Rather than seeing Mondrian’s paintings as equivalences to his de Stijl theory about the new consciousness, order and equilibrium, they could be responded to perceptually. This would...

    • 29 Place and the avant-garde, 1959
      (pp. 141-146)

      One of the most conscious attempts to reorient the mainstream was the ground-breaking exhibitionPlace, at the ICA in September 1959. It was the first important manifestation of the younger generation, and it was under the direction of Alloway. But in this case Alloway was not just organizing an exhibition—he was attempting to shape the direction of avant-garde art. Opened by his friend Stefan Munsing of USIS, the exhibition featured the work of Robyn Denny, Richard Smith, and Ralph Rumney, with the catalogue text supplied by Roger Coleman. Like a game—and influenced by Game Theory—the scope of...

    • 30 Situation and its legacy
      (pp. 147-153)

      Situationgrew out of an idea of the artist Frank Avray Wilson, one of the three founders of the New Vision Centre Gallery in 1956, who proposed a large non-figurative show of artists either rated by Alloway or who exhibited at the Drian Gallery in Marble Arch. Alloway became the lynchpin of the project because of his network of contacts, and the authority brought about by his ICA track record of exhibitions and the publication ofNine Abstract Artists. Sally Bulgin describes how Alloway’s

      studio visits in and around the city during the 1950s became the basis of his social...

    • 31 The emergence of Pop art
      (pp. 154-158)

      There is no possible questioning of Alloway’s commitment to what was to become known as Pop art. The mass media were influential on the younger generation of artists who began to emerge in 1957 but, Alloway pointed out at the time ofPlace, “not at the level of iconography and story, but at a level of spatial experience”—the visual immersion typified by “CinemaScope aesthetics.” Robyn Denny, for example, acknowledged that “For me the consumption of Pop art, and participation in the mass media, isn’t in the nature of a symbol hunt…,” but is closer to a spatial experience.¹ Richard...

    • 32 Alloway’s departure
      (pp. 159-164)

      Given his avant-garde credentials and enthusiasm for innovation, Alloway could have been the unassailable champion of British art in the 1960s. Yet, a month afterNew London Situationin August 1961, he had departed for the USA. Had he stayed another year, he would not only have witnessed, but also been fully involved in, the explosion of British Pop. Was his departure untimely? It certainly was for the British art scene which lost its most internationally aware and networked critic and entrepreneur. Had he been championing it, British Pop would undoubtedly have benefited, as would other new movements and tendencies....

  7. Section C: Abundance, 1961–1971

    • 1 Arrival in the USA and “Clemsville”
      (pp. 167-170)

      Alloway and Sylvia Sleigh arrived in New York on theRotterdamon September 9, 1961. It was sweltering, and they were taken for dinner at the air-conditionedPen and Pencilrestaurant by Barnett and Annalee Newman, then went on toBirdlandto hear Ornette Coleman, to whom they were introduced at the end of his set. That night they stayed at Betty Parsons’ apartment on 68th Street.¹ New York must have seemed everything Alloway hoped for.

      Alloway had been offered a year’s teaching job at Bennington College in Vermont by E.C. (Gene) Goossen, then head of Art, soon after he...

    • 2 Junk art
      (pp. 171-174)

      Where Alloway and Greenberg were most apart was with new assemblage or “junk” art, neo-Dada, and the emerging Pop art. Greenberg admitted he was occasionally entertained by some of these works, “yet the effect is only momentary, since novelty, as distinct from originality, has no staying power.”¹ This made for an art of low aspirations. For Alloway, writing over six months before the Museum of Modern Art’sThe Art of Assemblageexhibition (and while still in London),² the use of junk by artists such as Arman, Robert Rauschenberg, Jim Dine, and John Latham³ was a “continuation of themes of general...

    • 3 American Pop
      (pp. 175-176)

      Alloway first wrote (very briefly) about Andy Warhol while he was still at Bennington, reporting that a “heated argument” had broken out at the college about the validity and meaning of Warhol’s soup cans. What amused Alloway was that none of the students had seen an “original” Warhol, and only about one-in-six had seen a reproduction: “Clearly Warhol had the power to create art works that did not need to be seen to make at least a part of their effect.” Whereas Duchamp had shown that art need not be hand-made, Warhol (more-or-less) made his works by hand but… suppressed...

    • 4 Curator at the Guggenheim
      (pp. 177-179)

      In Alloway’sArt Internationalreview praising the October to December 1961American Abstract Expressionists and Imagistsexhibition, he mentioned that the new vice-president for art administration of the Guggenheim, H.H. Arnason—whom he had met on his 1958 trip—had introduced a policy for the museum of showing contemporary, rather than recent and historical art. The origins of the museum in the 1930s were based on a puritanical commitment to transhistorical, non-objective painting of the 1920s and 1930s, and it was only in the 1950s, under the directorship of J.J. Sweeney, that the Guggenheim became more inclusive in its remit,...

    • 5 Six Painters and the Object and Six More, 1963
      (pp. 180-185)

      Six Painters and the Objectwas originally intended as a comprehensive survey of new developments in the USA, but was cut back to showcase the work of six New York-based artists: Dine, Johns, Lichtenstein, Rauschenberg, Rosenquist, and Warhol. It was, according to Nancy Spector, “the earliest full-scale museum exhibition to investigate the phenomenon” of Pop,¹ a textbook example of Alloway’s unofficial policy of 1961 that a museum exhibition of contemporary art could (a) make use of a theme and (b) include artists who were established, but not yet at the stage of a retrospective. Alloway emphasized that the exhibition did...

    • 6 Other writings on Pop
      (pp. 186-188)

      Similarly, as part of the continuum, criticism of Pop carried on during and after it was a live art. InArchitectural Designat the time ofSix Painters and the Objecthe was describing a typical Pop work as being a “sign of a sign” and a “play with levels of signification,”¹ revealing how a knowledge of semiotics extended his understanding of Information Theory. 1964 and 1965 were the apex of Pop art in terms of exhibitions, with solo shows for Oldenburg, Warhol, Ruscha, Rosenquist, Ramos, and Lichtenstein. British artists made an impact in the USA, and exhibitions were granted...

    • 7 Art as human evidence
      (pp. 189-195)

      Alloway’s fundamental premise, stated not for the first time, was that we had undergone a “shift from an aesthetic of shortage to one of abundance,” and that abundance was more apparent because it was experienced in the “expanded and accelerating communications network to which we are all plugged in.”¹ The problem was that we had not, conceptually, fully adapted to the new condition. Rather than selecting one particular type of art as valid, and condemning the rest, we ought to cherish diversity:

      Art is not like science in the sense that it possesses a constantly growing body of knowledge; it...

    • 8 Alexander Liberman and Paul Feeley
      (pp. 196-200)

      In 1964 the two artists who exemplified Alloway’s thinking about “evidence” were Alexander Liberman (1912–1999) and Paul Feeley (1910–1966). Alloway interviewed Liberman for the catalogue of his April 1964 exhibition at Bennington, and discussed his work inArt Internationalin the same month. In 1943 Liberman had been appointed Art Editor ofVogue, and he remained with Condé Nast publications for nearly half a century. Throughout the 1950s he painted a number of Minimal, Constructivist-influenced, symmetrical paintings whose purity and austerity was underlined by the employment of enamel paints on aluminium panels. Although contrasting starkly with Abstract Expressionist...

    • 9 Systemic Painting, 1966
      (pp. 201-206)

      The sort of work Alloway had in mind featured in his celebratedSystemic Paintingexhibition which ran at the Guggenheim from September 21 until November 27, 1966. Originally, when he had proposed the exhibition in June 1964, he had intended also to include sculpture, but news that the Jewish Museum was planningPrimary Structuresfor spring in the same year led him to reconsider because it “covered the ground too closely to repeat it.”¹

      Alloway’s essay was a good example of what his “short-term” art history which, he argued, “locates an artist in a web of topical information, more extensive...

    • 10 Abstraction and iconography
      (pp. 207-212)

      But, more than just charting a different aesthetic and/or a different way of making, or inventing new terminology, Alloway was attempting to break with the Formalist rejection of meaning: “What is missing… is a serious desire to study meanings beyond the purely visual configuration.”¹ Meaning, he argued, was always present in abstract painting. It might be in an “abbreviated and elliptical form,” such as the crucifix in Ad Reinhardt’s work. Or it may be in a general form such as the circle, repeated in Noland’s paintings, to which we respond with a “knowledge, built-in and natural by now, of circular...

    • 11 The communications network
      (pp. 213-219)

      After 1966, painting was displaced by the increasing number of alternative options open to artists but, in the first half of the decade and in spite of predictions of its demise, Alloway thought that painting was a discipline that continually reinvented itself. In 1961, just prior to his appointment at the Guggenheim, he had written in his review ofAmerican Abstract Expressionists and Imagiststhat “the experiments of twentieth-century painters have repeatedly been described as the end of art as we know it. There is an extensive and outdated literature on the theme of ‘beyond painting’, ‘the way beyond painting’,...

    • 12 Departure from the Guggenheim
      (pp. 220-222)

      In late 1965 the National Collection of Fine Arts (NCFA) informally contacted H.H. Arnason, the vice president of the Guggenheim, to ask whether Alloway would be available to curate the American Pavilion—sponsored by NCFA—at the 1966 Venice Biennale. The choice of artists for this prestigious international showcase would be Alloway’s, but the formal invitation would be, as normal, to an institution, namely the Guggenheim. Arnason replied in the affirmative. In December, on the evening of his departure to Europe for two months, Thomas Messer, the Director of the Museum, called Alloway to tell him he would have a...

    • 13 Exile in Carbondale
      (pp. 223-226)

      For the academic year 1966–1967 Alloway accepted the post of Writer in Residence at Southern Illinois University in Carbondale. He described the job as “awful.”¹ He and Sylvia were distant from their friends and art networks; the job was a non-event; Carbondale was culturally primitive; and socially their life was unfulfilling.

      However “awful” the year in Carbondale, even more awful was being away from New York at a febrile time in the art world. Art was being opened up to all sorts of possibilities in 1966 and 1967. Although painting’s status was on the wane as the predominant art...

    • 14 Arts Magazine
      (pp. 227-230)

      Alloway discussed figurative art in another Carbondale-written article of 1967, his celebrated “Art as Likeness.” In 1964 he had referred to the recent “iconographical explosion (of which Pop art is a part),” but the majority of the non-Pop artists he cited had made their reputations in the 1950s. Pop had been at the center of the explosion, but now the smoke had cleared, it was possible to see the variety that Pop’s mode of figuration had obscured. His motivation in writing about realist-oriented paintings developing out of Pop art is that “almost everything is still to be done.” Figurative painting...

    • 15 The Venice Biennale
      (pp. 231-236)

      Perhaps a book on the Venice Biennale promised to be a cathartic experience following the traumatic events of 1966. Although the original idea for a book was not Alloway’s,¹ it opened up a new and fruitful development in his thinking about art: “What I propose… is an outline of the Biennale as an organization, one that in its history touches on unsettled problems of art in society. There are many studies of artists, schools of art, media, and iconography, but not much has been written on the distribution of art.”²The Venice Biennale: from salon to goldfish bowlwas a...

    • 16 Return to New York: SVA, SUNY, and The Nation
      (pp. 237-238)

      The youthfulness of artists in the 1960s was something that impressed Alloway. Near the time of his departure from Carbondale he wrote a piece forHouse Beautifulon “The Young Crowd.” In it he thankfully remarked that “the proliferation of young artists is not only exhilarating as an experience to anybody who knows their work; in addition, it is the promise and hope of a long future.” His mood was as optimistic as the decade: “One of the characteristics of young American artists now is their confidence. They may work in doubt… but all this rests on a confident mood...

    • 17 Options
      (pp. 239-243)

      From the summer of 1967 Alloway was able fully to re-engage with the New York art scene. It was a scene that was increasingly “various and culturally discontinuous”¹ as, indeed, befitted the condition of pluralism and abundance. He had anticipated the late-1960s condition in 1964 when he discussed in his essay for theGuggenheim International Awards. One of the implications of his “art as human evidence” definition was to think of art as individual practices rather than group movements, and this is one of the reasons why the definition proved sustainable in a fast-moving age of expendable conventions. In 1969,...

    • 18 Expanding and disappearing works of art
      (pp. 244-247)

      Alloway’s revised model of greater options within a network of possibilities that represented “art as human evidence” was updated in a lecture given in December 1968 at the Parke-Bernet Galleries in New York, and repeated on Channel 13 on cable television. He reworked the lecture as “The Expanding and Disappearing Work of Art: Notes on Changing American Aesthetics,” published inAuctionin October 1969. He used the article to supplement the object-emphasis of theOptionsexhibition with a wider range of innovative possibilities. The article is essentially a survey that lists examples of “the expansion or diminution of art as...

    • 19 Alloway’s Nation criticism
      (pp. 248-251)

      Alloway made use of his column inThe Nationto demonstrate the broader values he was defining. He had clearly distinguished between art criticism and art reviewing in 1967. Art criticism did not rule out reviewing exhibitions so long as the response to the particular artist or exhibition led to a wider discussion. The advantage of a publication likeThe Nationwas that it provided a context of intelligent, informed discussion and progressive opinion. Furthermore, the regularity of his column—usually once a fortnight in the weekly publication—provided the opportunity of being topical, and writing about exhibitions while they...

    • 20 Newness and the avant-garde
      (pp. 252-257)

      As we have seen, Alloway was highly receptive to the developments in avant-garde art in the late 1960s. It is crucial, though, if we are to understand Alloway’s values fully as well as examining his critical legacy, to realize that newness was not an end in itself, but a means of increasing options. As he once put it, “There’s a tendency to celebrate the avant-garde only in terms of its newness. But frequently what the avant-garde is exercising is a ‘time-binding’ function, re-interpreting some traditional aspect of our culture rather than adding a new aspect.”¹ This was a point that...

    • 21 Post-Minimal radicalism
      (pp. 258-262)

      The 1960s are often remembered as a time of optimism, and an optimistic tone certainly underlies most of Alloway’s criticism. He explained that partly by stating that “When I came to America, it seemed to me I was surrounded by enough negative criticism, so I tendednotto write about people I didn’t like.” More important, though, was the art world itself: “The 1960s was a period of exceptional high pressure, affluence, creativity, confidence, and you had a terrific succession of movements.”¹ However, his espousal of “stylistic abundance” in art in the 1960s could be seen as the equivalent to...

    • 22 Historical revisions: Abstract Expressionism and Picasso
      (pp. 263-269)

      Most of Alloway’s revisionism in the 1960s focused, understandably, on Abstract Expressionism because so much art of the 1960s was a reaction against it. As the orthodoxy it had provided had been successfully challenged, it was time to re-evaluate it. The re-evaluation would have largely to focus on the individuals who comprised it because, as he argued in 1965, initially, “their impact on the world was as a group or, at least, as a cluster of individuals identified with the United States. Now, however, the personal attitudes and unique characteristics of each artist are visible within the general experience of...

    • 23 Mass communications
      (pp. 270-273)

      Alloway was still referring to the continuum model of culture in the late 1960s which “could accommodate all forms of art, permanent and expendable, personal and collective, autographic and anonymous.”¹ At a time when popular culture was being blamed for distracting the population from politics, Alloway was still justifying it in the sort of terms he had used in the 1950s: “Popular culture is influential as it transmits prompt and extensive news, in visual, verbal and mixed forms, about style changes that will affect the appearance of our environment…” This statement could be challenged along the lines of the “lessons...

    • 24 Film criticism
      (pp. 274-278)

      Although it was the case that, in the 1960s, Alloway wrote about fewer media than he had in the previous decade, he retained interest in a range, and did still publish occasional criticism about the movies.¹ There had been much anxiety since the 1950s about the deleterious effect of movies, and especially the effect of violence on youth. Just as Left and Right attacked the Americanization of British society in the 1950s, in the 1960s in the USA, according to Richard Maltby, Hollywood was still a primary target of attack by cultural commentators “whether they came from liberal humanists alarmed...

    • 25 Violent America
      (pp. 279-285)

      In his comments onThe Wild Angels, Alloway offers as concise a rationale for his interest in violence in the American cinema as he offers inViolent America: the Movies 1946–1964. The book had two purposes: one was to analyse the depiction of violence in American cinema; the other was the quest to find criteria germane to the discipline and type within the continuum. Although published in late 1971, the book had resulted from a series of talks and related movie showings between April and June in 1969. The original idea had been to hold a survey of several...

    • 26 Pluralism as a “unifying theory”
      (pp. 286-288)

      Violent America, with some of the more general material taken from his “Critics in the Dark” article of 1964, and his 1963 “Lawrence Alloway on the Iconography of the Movies,” comprise something close to a “unified theory of cinema” that he believed was “badly needed” to counter anachronistic or exclusivist theories that derived from “acts of exclusion on the basis of a sloganized vocabulary which prescribes the conditions and forms that reality can take.”¹ There is a clear parallel here to his thinking about art in the 1960s when he sought to counter the “acts of exclusion” that Formalist art...

  8. Section D: Alternatives, 1971–1988

    • 1 Disorientation and dissent in the art world
      (pp. 291-295)

      At the beginning of the decade, what to some like Alloway appeared as aesthetic changes, were interpreted by others as political statements. For example, Kynaston McShine’sInformationexhibition at MoMA had been intended to show the impact on art of a “culture that has been considerably altered by communications systems.” By the time it opened in July, the context had been changed by political events and the catalogue included a reproduction of the Art Workers’ Coalition’sAnd Babiesposter, endpapers with photographs of an anti-war march, and a collection of uncaptioned illustrations that mixed together art and politics. In his...

    • 2 Alloway and the politicization of art, 1968–1970
      (pp. 296-303)

      Alloway’s first response to the new mood of political unrest appeared in hisVenice Biennalebook in 1968. At this time, he thought the Biennale was “pointlessly interrupted”: he disagreed with the protestors’ manifesto claims, and tartly complained that “middle-class students have learned the pessimism long known to the poor and underprivileged.”¹ He described as “decidedly archaic” the International Socialist rhetoric of the students at Venice attacking the Biennale as a symbol of the “culture of the bosses,”² and condemned the “simplistic drama of the manifesto” arguing that, within the context of the distribution system, the Biennale and similar events,...

    • 3 Changing values, 1971–1972
      (pp. 304-306)

      One of the reasons for change was the controversy caused by the cancellation of the Hans Haacke exhibition at the Guggenheim. The photographs and documents assembled by the artist contained no evaluative commentary, but recorded the ownership of slum properties and commercial outlets. According to Alloway, Thomas Messer, the Guggenheim’s Director, described Haacke’s exhibit as “…‘a muckraking venture under the Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation’ and told Haacke so.”¹ The artist agreed to compromise to the extent that he would give fictitious names to the landlords, but Messer rejected the offer on the grounds that “he wanted to protect the ‘aesthetic...

    • 4 Artforum and the art world as a system
      (pp. 307-312)

      His initial reformist article, “Network: the Art World Described as a System,” appeared in the highly influentialArtforumin September 1972. Alloway had published half a dozen articles in the magazine in the 1960s when Philip Leider was editor. Leider resigned and was replaced in mid-1971 by John Coplans who invited Alloway to join the magazine as a Contributing Editor, which he did in October that year. In January 1973 he became an Associate Editor for three years; and between January and October 1976 he reverted back to being a Contributing Editor. During the time he was connected with the...

    • 5 1973 and a new pluralism
      (pp. 313-319)

      Rather than supporting the artist’s right to control her or his work, Alloway further challenged the power of established artists in his “Institution: Whitney Annual” that appeared inArtforumin March 1973. He remarked on a comment by the Whitney’s curator, Marcia Tucker, made in the catalogue for the 1972 James Rosenquist exhibition. Tucker had offered her “warmest thanks” to the artist for his “patience, enthusiasm, and energetic help.”¹ This earned a rebuke from Alloway: “Why thank a man for permitting you to act in his own interest?” He recalled that when he arranged the Newman show at the Guggenheim...

    • 6 The uses and limits of art criticism
      (pp. 320-325)

      If Kozloff’s essay, as mentioned above, underlined how “appreciative criticism [had]… become routine and banal,” then how should criticism be revived? The question revealed a crisis. Kozloff recounted writing a paper about art criticism and art education in 1970 at the time of the beginning of the Cambodian invasion. It was not, as he put it, that the subjects of the conference were “ignoble but their present socio-political context would taint with them the onus of a classy tipping for investors, a form of exalted PR work for a superannuated establishment.”¹ Barbara Rose, at the same conference, talked about “the...

    • 7 Criticism and women’s art, 1972–1974
      (pp. 326-333)

      Alloway had not been lavish in his praise of the women’s collectiveX12show in 1970. The work may have had a certain “primitivistic merit” and “fervor,” but it was characterized by “clumsiness,” “perverseness,” and “grossness.” Generally, it was “simplistic.”¹ This was hardly the language of praise or empowerment. 1971 was an important year in the development of women’s art. Linda Nochlin, who arranged a stream on “Women as sex object” at the annual conference of the College Art Association, published “Why have there been no great women artists?” inArt Newsin January, an essay that was reprinted in...

    • 8 Women’s art and criticism, 1975
      (pp. 334-337)

      Yet Alloway did not pay much attention to female artists’ iconography in his criticism of women’s art. It was the case that much feminist work in the first four years of the decade dealt with the central void, and may, as Alloway thought, have limited iconographical potential beyond a primary analysis. It was only in the winter 1973–1974 edition ofThe Feminist Art Journalthat the editor, Cindy Nemser, challenged the case for an intrinsic female imagery as “simplistic and reductive.” She dismissed Judy Chicago, the main proponent of the central void, as a “narrow-minded theorist” and helped to...

    • 9 The realist “renewal”
      (pp. 338-342)

      What impressed Alloway about women’s art in the first half of the 1970s was its range. “It is clear,” he wrote in 1974, “that women artists are able across the board, from abstract to realist forms.”¹ In an outline for an unpublished book onRecent Women’s Art, Alloway argued for “Women’s art as part of the expansion of aesthetics beyond linear aesthetics.”² Their work had made a major contribution to pluralism, in terms both of his 1970s’ notion of offering an alternative, socio-cultural approach to art, and of his 1960s’ notion of an increase in the range of visual options....

    • 10 Photo-Realism
      (pp. 343-347)

      It is ironic that Alloway devotes half his “Notes on Realism” to the “emergent group” of Photo-Realists, and how they were doing something new and different in Realism. Having made a distinction between those artists who work directly from life—Realists—and those who work from photographs, Alloway declares that it is this latter group who “steal the show” of22 Realists. Working from photographs was essentially a “post-Pop way of working” in that Pop was crucial to the approach, but “Pop art was neither abstract nor realist; the legible references in Pop art are to signs, not to objects...

    • 11 The realist “revival”
      (pp. 348-355)

      An artist who was departing from Karpian Photo-Realism was Malcolm Morley. Since writing about Morley’s Photo-Realist family portrait in 1968, Alloway had been able to observe some of the artist’s development at first hand because he also taught at Stony Brook. Alloway, as director of the university gallery, had invited Morley to work there on a painting in public, and he had written about this in an exhibition leaflet in 1972.¹ He also wrote about him inThe Nation, describing how Morley had rejected the “neat, clean, and careful… compulsive still-life exercises”² that comprise Photo-Realism’s “simple form,” resulting in his...

    • 12 Realist revisionism
      (pp. 356-359)

      Realist criticism may have been limited and, at times, misguided, but it did contribute to a climate that welcomed a reassessment of twentieth-century American realism. The first major exhibition was Edward Hopper’s bequest to the Whitney in 1971. He had, almost exceptionally for a realist artist, enjoyed a high reputation amongst Modernists, and so the reassessment confirmed, rather than greatly altered, his standing. Alloway analyses Hopper’s form of realism, distinguishing him from realists such as Hogarth, Degas, or even John Sloan “whose painting has to do with transmitting a sense of constant change by means of pictorial vivacity.” Hopper emphasizes...

    • 13 The decline of the avant-garde
      (pp. 360-363)

      As an option, Alloway mused, realism “just presents me, with more complex experiences than most conceptual art does.”¹ It was not just conceptual art that realism was displacing, but Modernist art in general in the early 1970s, contributing to the “corrosion of the concept of an avant-garde.”² There were two reasons for this: the greater pluralism that realism opened up; and the decline of late Modernist art as an avant-garde. At the 1972 Venice Biennale, “Much of the work by younger artists derived from recent international painting and sculpture styles is exhausted and repetitive,”³ wrote Alloway and, as such, it...

    • 14 “Legitimate variables”
      (pp. 364-367)

      The claim that an avant-garde had moral authority and historical destiny seemed no longer tenable. A conceptual framework of pluralism, as Alloway was well aware, could not tolerate the claims of specialness, but treated Modernist aesthetics as an option: “avant-garde activities seem less heroic gestures than legitimate variables.”¹ The phrase “legitimate variables” indicated Alloway’s position: “variables” related to variety and pluralism; “legitimate” implied that the situation was not one of “anything goes,” but of considered positions that offered an art of engagement and depth. Alloway’s pluralism was sometimes misunderstood. Reviewing the 1975Topics in American Art, a collection of thirty-four...

    • 15 Earth art
      (pp. 368-371)

      It was predictable that Alloway would welcome not only variant objects, but also the variant locations of Land or Earth art. The movement—including artists like Dennis Oppenheim, Michael Heizer, Walter De Maria, and Robert Smithson—had emerged around 1968 as part of the reaction against compact art work and the gallery environment. Smithson, Heizer, and Oppenheim also all expressed serious reservations about the art market system: Heizer declared that “One aspect of earth orientation is that the works circumvent the galleries and the artist has no sense of the commercial and the utilitarian.”¹ But, as Alloway points out, “the...

    • 16 Public art
      (pp. 372-375)

      The Earthworks Alloway had been writing about by Smithson, Heizer, and Oppenheim were monumental and “it is only on this basis that the core works of the movement can be understood.” Cities often sought monumental, public artworks, but he realized that Earthworks “would not work in cities… there is just too much interference from a lively and complex environment.”¹ However, the activities of artists beyond galleries had kindled what Alloway referred to as an “unprecedented interest in public art” in the mid-1970s.² Unlike any other of his writing, Alloway approached public art not in terms of a descriptive aesthetic, but...

    • 17 In praise of plenty
      (pp. 376-377)

      Mural art, whether predominantly social or aesthetic, and Earth art, when added to realism, Photo-Realism, feminism, and even lay art, made for a diverse range of practices and values in the first half of the 1970s, and in 1977 Alloway returned to the issue of pluralism in “The Artist Count: In Praise of Plenty,” written forArt in America. The fundamental premises of inclusiveness and diversity remained intact. The art world may have seemed different in the 1970s, but this was partly because of the high profile succession ofmovementsin the previous decade: “Now the atmosphere isn’t producing that...

    • 18 Crises in the art world: criticism
      (pp. 378-384)

      The problem remained, however, he argued in “The Artist Count,” that criticism “is failing completely to cope with the multiplicity of artists. The continual resort to simplificatory strategies amounts to a breakdown of adaptive thought. Despite the quantity of artists and of movements in New York there is implanted resistance to the acknowledgement of plenty.”¹ It is rare for a critic to commit to plurality at a serious level: “Few critics write about both Process art and painting or about conceptual art and realism…”² During the 1970s, he wrote at the end of the decade, it was in their “failure...

    • 19 Crises in the art world: feminism
      (pp. 385-391)

      Art criticism in general was in decline because of the increasing dominance of the market, according to Alloway. The situation with feminist criticism was different, although equally worrying. “Women’s Art in the Seventies,” a survey article by Alloway forArt in Americain 1976, traced the history of the movement and, while fulsome in his praise of women’s art, thought it necessary to “draw attention… to what seem to me to be discrepancies between work and theory.”¹ The problem was feminist criticism. Alloway identified two types of discussion of women’s art. One was the “polemical-documentary… which recounts male critics’ failings,...

    • 20 Crises in the art world: curatorship
      (pp. 392-399)

      Alloway returned to writing about his least-favourite institution, the Whitney, in 1975, when he discussed “The Great Curatorial Dim-Out” inArtforum. Many of the 140 exhibitions that took place at the Whitney between late 1969 and the time he was writing the article were worthy of praise, and most of the exhibitions about nineteenth-century art were “absolutely first rate.” However, only a handful of the shows on current or recent art “represented substantial additions to the state of knowledge concerning the artist shown… What was wrong with the other shows was not, on the whole, the choice of artists but...

    • 21 The co-ops and “alternative” spaces
      (pp. 400-408)

      Alloway may have identified worrying signs in criticism and curatorship, but his criticisms should not be taken for disillusionment with, let alone alienation from, the art system as a whole. In “The Artist Count” he had declared his ideological position to be reformist—“an adversary but not an estranged role”—and he remained in favour of the gallery system for most art, most of the time. In 1982 he wrote: “The fact is an art gallery is basically a good way to view art: it is not too large, the art is concentrated, and there are not too many people...

    • 22 Turn of the decade decline
      (pp. 409-412)

      By 1980, Alloway happily accepted that “Now we find that there are broad tendencies, rather than identifiable movements.” Pluralism did not need movements because progressive, interesting work “functions mainly in relation to individual genius”¹ or creativity. Descriptive attempts to label a tendency, such as Systemic painting, were acceptable, but labels could be misused and become mere branding. A so-called new movement may amount to no more than a marketing ploy: pattern painting, championed by John Perreault in 1977, might be a significant development in non-figuration, or it may be just “another precedent-conscious phase of abstract art… [a] synthetic movement.”² At...

    • 23 Mainstream…
      (pp. 413-418)

      Alloway was not impressed by“Bad” PaintingandNew Image Paintingbecause he found them shallow, unadventurous, and largely market-driven. However, even if the art was largely derived from the market, Alloway would not have dismissed it for that reason alone. Photo-Realism had come into that category, but he felt the work justified attention because it had authenticity as a type of art.Transavantgardiaand Neo-Expressionism came just too late for Alloway to be fully involved. According to gallery directors, Kim Levin wrote inArts Magazinein September 1981, “Last year it was pattern and decoration, this year it’s the...

    • 24 … and “alternative”
      (pp. 419-421)

      Women artists featured strongly in Alloway’s writings of the late 1970s and 1980s. Michelle Stuart, one of the artists involved with Artpark, commissioned him to write an essay for the catalogue for her 1985 exhibition.¹ Between 1975 and 1988 he provided forewords or introductions for Heléne Aylon, Lucy Sallick, Anne Healy, Kazuko Miyamoto, Joan Semmel, Cecile Abish, Marjorie Strider, Mary Joan Waid, Ursula Von Rydingsvard, Ann Chernow, Selina Trieff, Anne MacDougall, Eileen Spikol, Diane Burko, Emily Barnett, and a show of four sculptors, Maureen Connor, Donna Dennis, Irene Krugman, and Eileen Spikol.² He also wrote catalogue pieces forThe Roots...

    • 25 The last years
      (pp. 422-425)

      In 1979 Alloway was diagnosed as suffering from neurological and spinal diseases. At the age of fifty-two he underwent a thoracic laminectomy. A repeat operation was carried out eighteen months later. In 1981 two further operations were performed but with no success, and by the end of that year he was largely confined to a wheelchair. He wrote that “… I suffer from great fatigue, even after what would once have seemed short terms of activity.” He was having to come to terms with the implications of the loss of mobility: “I cannot visit exhibitions as I used to or...

    • 26 The complex present
      (pp. 426-430)

      Alloway’sNetwork: Art and the Complex Presentanthology comprised articles written between 1971 and 1983 and included sections on “Network,” “Abstract Expressionism,” “The Figure,” “The Art World,” “Words,” “Sites,” and “Women’s Art.” The title was based on his 1979 essay on “The Complex Present,” his last important contribution to an understanding of contemporary art and pluralism. The complexity of contemporary art for the critic was not just a question of identifying tendencies, sources, and influences, “but stark plurality. The present is an intricate array, like the radar screen of an airport or harbour. The data, in a great holding pattern,...

  9. Section E: Summary and Conclusion

    • 1 Pluralism
      (pp. 433-440)

      The 1960s, Alloway reminisced, had been “a period of exceptional high pressure, affluence, creativity, [and] confidence.” In the 1970s the atmosphere was distinctly different: it may have been less spectacular and entertaining, and it was certainly more serious in tone, but “I don’t think the scene is duller or weaker… rather there’s a great deal of fairly diverse activity on a continuous plane.”¹ Movements were less in evidence than individual options based not only on styles and genres, but also on ideologies, identity politics, technologies, environments, places, ideas, materials, or procedures. An indication of this changed outlook in art was...

    • 2 “Post-Modernism”
      (pp. 441-446)

      “By the end of the 1970s,” Corinne Robins points out inThe Pluralist Era, “terms such as ‘Post-Modernism’ and ‘Pluralism’ were being used interchangeably.”¹ Leo Steimberg and Gregory Battcock had used the former term as early as 1972 and 1973 repectively: Steinberg in his “Other Criteria” essay of 1972 to refer to Rauschenberg’s new pictorial organization;² and Battcock in his book about conceptual art,Idea Art, in which he equates “post-Modernist art” with Pop, Minimal, and conceptual.³ The sub-title of Calvin Tomkins’sThe Sceneof 1976 wasReports on Post-Modern Art, but the collection of his journalistic essays fromThe...

    • 3 Art history
      (pp. 447-450)

      Alloway wanted to avoid an evolutionary account of art. One of the main things wrong with “Modernism” and “Post-Modernism” is that the terms “assume an evolutionary view of history, in which movements and generations displace one another relentlessly: Post-Modernism succeeds Modernism as competitively as a parade of Modern movements followed one another.” A non-evolutionary art history was not only necessary for a perspective on art, but it could also help critics to focus: “Art history is the model that has led critics toward specific topics or more closely defined problems.”¹ The work of Linda Nochlin and Ann Sutherland Harris provided...

    • 4 Art criticism
      (pp. 451-456)

      The main problem with contemporary criticism, as Alloway had remarked many times, was that the “main tactic” of critics, “when faced with great amounts of data has been to opt for the deceptive neatness of causal models.”¹ What should remain speculative “hardens into opinion, becomes traditional two-valued, good/bad, in/out classification. However, trigger-happy value judgements made in advance of a descriptive and intentional account of all the work make the world too simple (which is how most people like it).” It was far more important for “topographical work on a diverse art scene rather than for autobiographical preferences masquerading as ultimate...

    • 5 Alloway’s reputation
      (pp. 457-463)

      When carrying out a mapping exercise of critics, Alloway occasionally mapped himself. In his notes for a class on the art criticism of Post-Minimalism in the 1970s, he included himself in the categories of “feminism” (with Nochlin, Perreault, and Lippard) and “diversity” (with Perreault and Steinberg)—the others were “process” (Pincus-Witten), “dissent” (Kozloff) and “theory” (Kuspit).¹ And in “Art for Ad’s Sake? The Problem of the Magazines” in 1981, he listed common complaints about criticism, with an example of a supposedly guilty critic: “obscurity” (Krauss), “unreadability” (Kuspit), “trendiness” (Pincus-Witten), and “lack of standards” (“the present writer”).² This was a criticism...

    • 6 Art
      (pp. 464-468)

      Art remained to Alloway a constant category, however changeable its forms and media, and however much Post-Modernism was vaunted as a radical departure: “Despite the appeal of theories of breakthrough and obsolescence the containing concept remains that of art.”¹ Any attempt to subvert art “does not allow for art’s time-binding capacity, that density of content which builds up various levels of experience.”² The idea of collapsing art’s specialness into either socio-political critique or de-privileging it within a broader concept of visual representations held no appeal to him. Just what constituted art changed over time as Alloway happily responded to art’s...

    • 7 The legacy of pluralism
      (pp. 469-472)

      In her attack on pluralism inHas Modernism Failed?, Suzi Gablik describes a condition in which “Everything can now be accommodated.” She regrets the loss of “what is acceptable as art and what is unacceptable…”¹ Although this applies to “weak” pluralism, it does not apply to “strong” pluralism in which all options could onlypotentiallybe accommodated, and would have to be critically argued as “legitimate variables.” However, the legacy of Alloway’s “strong” pluralism has not been impressive, whereas Gablik’s warnings about an entropic-like decline into “anything goes” might describe the current situation better and returns us to Alloway’s view...

  10. Select bibliography
    (pp. 473-490)
  11. Index
    (pp. 491-510)