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The most telling aspect of Charlie Finch’s takedown of James Siena, Thornton Willis, James Kalm, Jed Perl and James Panero isn’t the search-and-destroy broadsides. That’s Finch’s shtick, after all, and it’s often funny and sometimes true. Rather, it’s his adulation of “special hero” Barnett Newman:
“Abstraction [Finch writes] should be about liberation, the chain-smoking, searching, reductivist dubiation of a Newman.”
Great minds think alike, right? So do blowhards. Macho-blowhards, that is–chain smoking types who toss around words like “dubiation” when they think no one’s looking. Newman and Finch deserve each other.
Granting Vir Heroicus Sublimis (1950-51) its iconic status, Newman’s oeuvre is notable primarily for its overweening ambitions and paltry realizations. It’s by that pretentious and under-nourished yardstick that Finch dismisses Helen Frankenthaler, Richard Pousette-Dart and the “dick-like puzzles” of Siena and Willis.
I’m not a disinterested party: Willis is a stable-mate at Elizabeth Harris Gallery, Panero my editor at The New Criterion and Kalm has immortalized me, my baseball cap and winning personality on YouTube. Swell fellows, all. But someone out there has to take Finch seriously. For the fifteen minutes or so it took to write this post, that’s exactly what I did.
© 2011 Mario Naves