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Waldo rising.

Three decades in a magazine's life can see a number of professional generations come and go. No one now at Artforum worked here with Phil Leider, let alone with John Irwin, or even, for that matter, with Coplans or Masheck. The longest-lasting Artforum staffer must be Tanya Weinberger, who arrived as a secretary in 1966 and went on to handle production. Tanya's home was upstate. She would arrive on the premises monthly via Greyhound bus, unrolthe sleeping bag she kept in a closet, and live in the office for the ten days or so of paste-up. This undoubtedly illegal arrangement lasted to evryone's convenience until Tanya left, to make animated films, in the summer of 1982. Since then we've been on our own.

Just who this "we" is, of course, is as flexible and transitory as the idea of "the old Artforum." For most of the '80s "we" was Ingrid Sischy, who recently rehashed issues and goals with the magazine's current editor; Jack Bankowsky. Writer Lisa Liebmann describes the discipline of Artforum work during the Sischy period; it seems she was a sort of eminence grise of those years. And Sischy's successor, Ida Panicelli, talks to Alessandra Mammi about the magazine she inhertied and the direction in which she guided it.

Approaching the magazine's changing identity from another side, writers write about writing. Barbara Kruger describes how commentary comments, Thomas McEvilley analyzes how Artforum itself has done the job. Thomas Crow supplies a historical overview of criticism and Artforum's role in it. We are scolded by Stuart Morgan, who raises the issue of communication on an international scale. Critics have often been urged to get back to looking at pictures; Richard Flood takes the suggestion to heart, and goes to the movies. Glenn O'Brien, meanwhile, moves the debate out of the academy and into stand-up comedy, a giant step to and fro.

The various publishers of Artforum have enabled the magazine to survive through all controversies, successes, and adversities. Finally, then, Anthony Korner, publisher of Artforum for the last 14 years, recalls some of the high points of his time here, and graciously omits the low ones. And Amy Baker Sandback, who has filled a number of posts on the publishing side since 1979, recalls the part of the job that she loved most: looking at art.

The moment he opened his mouth, I fell in love with Waldo Lydecker. For most, I assume, Gene Tierney was the star of Otto Preminger's Laura, of 1944, but I remained steadfastly focused on Clifton Webb, Laura's caustic mentor. It was my first look at a critic and I liked what I saw--and heard. It didn't matter that he was an unapologetic murderer. No, what I responded to was an acidic esthete who used language like a polo player users a mallet--to keep the game moving and score.

The film essentially pits a man of action (Dana Andrews) against a man of words (Webb), and from my then- adolescent point of view, the words were winning right up until the wordsmith became full-stop punctuation for a shotgun blast. However, long before his buckshot blackout, I could have cared less if Waldo was innocent or guilty. I was particularly enthralled by the way he revenged himself on a painter named Jacobi, who dared to compete with him for Laura's affections. Lydecker gleefully removed his opponent by means of a review. Airily describing his strategy to Dana Andrews, he says: "I demolished his affectations, exposed his camouflaged imitations of better painters, ridiculed his theories." And, he adds, "I did it for her...."

Apres Waldo

The movies adore critics and treat them like critics treat each other-abominably. Frequently they're portrayed as evil, often as effete, and inevitably as cynics. After Waldo, my favorites were that silken viper Addison DeWitt (George Sanders, All About Eve, 1950), the murderously egalitarian Ellsworth Toohey (Robert Douglas in the movie version of Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead, 1949), and the exquisitely melancholy Mark Lamphere (Michael Redgrave, Secret Beyond the Door, 1948). DeWitt is a gloriously, wickedly opportunistic twin of Lydecker. Toohey and Lamphere are, however, something entirely diferent. Not content to merely tussle on the upholstered wrestling mat of esthetic discourse, they are out to choreograph crucifixioins. Toohey is a virtual Inspector Javert of conservatism. There is, in his campaign against difference (waged in a column entitled "One Small Voice"), something creepily akin to his fancifully named, real-life comrade, Hilton Kramer.

Lamphre is harder to pin down. He has a rather lovely theory that revolves around "felicity," but, in application, his theory is bonkers--the kind of bonkers that, applied medicinally, could kill.

Still, his search for the felicitous does not take place in opposition to the new; it simply asks that the new be given the time to be acted upon by its own period. The problem is, of course, that nobody has that kind of time. It also suggests that there is something truly laudable in the spontaneous willfulness of a Lydecker or a DeWitt. Their worth is in their ability to secure a position on the mat. Sometimes they're on top; sometimes on the bottom. That's not the point. The point is their expertise at the holds and their eagerness for a competitor who's worthy of engagement.

Title Search

I am constantly on the lookout for Waldo's real-life counterparts--critics who create a consistent persona from which their criticism flows--but have met with scant success. By 1980, most of the great polemicists had, like the bison, wandered over the horizon. What replaced them were essentially recipe writers, fortune tellers, quota counters, bricklayers, and coroners. Art criticism had moved from the barricades to the census bureau and seemed to be heading for the morgue. One searched with growing desperation through the dailies, weeklies, monthlies, and quarterlies for a voice that could carry over the oceans of white noise. Infrequently, as if from a great distance, one heard the laconic drawl of Dave Hickey or the high-strung bark of Stuart Morgan (the clarity of their diction perhaps enhanced by their remove from New York). Closer to home, the voices were somewhat more collegial, with Peter Schjeldahl as the wryly detached housemaster and Roberta Smith as the dedicated, thermometer-wielding school physician. Other voices trembled in the air--Arthur Danto, Herbert Muschamp, Carter Ratcliff--only to drift back off into the academic grove. Then too came sounds that, for a moment, miraculously altered the way one heard. I am thinking of Rene Ricard's remarkable belcanto arias for Schnabel and Basquiat and Edit deAk's chansons d'amour for Clemente. Equally remarkable--as much for its sustained pitch as for its content--was Gary Indiana's schizy, weekly scherzo in The Village Voice.


Indiana came as close as we're likely to get to a flesh-and-blood Lydecker. Week after week, in a column that resembled nothing so much as a brilliantly idiosyncratic lounge act, he matched the jittery rhythm of an art world dancing on the edge of the abyss. He started out with a tempo that was impossible to sustain and gradually began to display signs, as Longfellow said of Poe, of "the irritation of a sensitive nature chafed by some indefinite sense of wrong." The wrong, I suspect, was the obvious economic and social inequality between a writer and his subject--an inequality that grew ever more pronounced as the gluttonous '80s careened forward. Finally there was a column where Indiana was in a gallery looking out the window at a Marlboro billboard (and away from an exhibition he had intended to review) and rambling on about his attempts to quit smoking. I knew he had come to the end and so, I believe, did he. Not long after, he stopped the column. Nonetheless, Indiana went out as he had arrived--completely, uninhibitedly himself.

Reading him addictively, being allowed to share in his struggle to find reasons to keep writing and looking, was an exhilarating roller coaster ride. He was a perfect example of H. L. Mencken's theory that "all the best criticism of the world has been written by men who have had within them, not only the reflective and analytical faculty of critics, but also the gusto of artists."

Give Me a Club

Now, we're in the '90s. Indiana isn't writing about art. DeAk isn't writing. Richarad is reminiscing. Hickey and Morgan, Schjeldahl and Smith, are, thank God, still on the beat. Muschamp is filing some of the best architectural columns ever to run in the New York Times. And, good news, there are some writers new to the decade (I'll apply Lamphere's "felicity" theory and let them age into their time) who are producing some appropriately edgy harmonies.

Still, I am troubled by signs of rising Tooheyism, as, for example, when the lead critic for the New York Times begins his review of the last Whitney Biennial with the phrase "I hate it." Never mind that Smith had already written a provocatively measured piece to coincide with the public opening. Weeks later--with presumably much more time to analyze the exhibition--encountering "I hate it" was like walking out your front door to find a cross burning on the lawn. Indiana earned his first-person pronouns: he had clearly established who "I" was. The lead critic for the Times had not. Coming from him, the phrases was the petulant whine of a spoiled consumer, and that is exactly what a critic is not. A critic must be a creator, must fight against the empitness that is the artist's greatest enemy and challenge. Without that goal--the desire to craft something that is competitive with and, at best, equal to its subject--there is no criticism. There is only a tired butler passing a tray of stale hors d'oeuvres.
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Title Annotation:critic Waldo Lydecker
Author:Flood, Richard
Publication:Artforum International
Date:Sep 1, 1993
Previous Article:Culture's in between.
Next Article:Ingrid Sischy.

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