Department of Art and Art History Calendar

Art History Lecture Series presents Debra Bricker Balken

Harold Rosenberg and "The American Art Establishment"

drawing of man in chair

From the late 1940s onwards, Harold Rosenberg (1906–1978), who became the art critic for the New Yorker in 1967, bemoaned the growing escalation of what he dubbed a "herd of independent minds." As he watched the intellectual transit from the margins of culture to institutions such as universities and museums, he contended that critical writing had suffered a grave setback and had become increasingly conformist in nature. Specifically, he was aghast at the rise of formalist art criticism, the prevalence of which had become deeply felt within art publications, curatorial programs, and as a teaching methodology as of the mid-1960s. This talk will consider Rosenberg's response to this "conformity," and the ways in which he used his platform at the New Yorker to rail against what he thought of as a new bureaucracy of tastemakers.

Debra Bricker Balken is an independent scholar, writer and curator who works on subjects relating to American modernism. Her exhibitions and accompanying catalogues have appeared at major museums nationally. She is currently completing a literary biography on the mid-century American critic, Harold Rosenberg, for the University of Chicago Press.