Fairfield & Clem

[Posted 1:23 PM by James Panero]

While digging through the New Criterion archives (digging is the operative word), I came across a letter from Clement Greenberg to the magazine, dated July 1983. An edited version of this letter ran in the September issue of that year. I want to reproduce it below, evidence that titans once walked the earth.

To the Editors:
Only just now did I see Hilton Kramer’s piece on Fairfield Porter in your May number. Mr. Kramer quotes a paragraph from an interview the artist gave Paul Cummings that was published in Archives of American Art. Every reference made to me in that interview contains errors of fact or is wholly fictitious in substance.

Porter did not introduce me to de Kooning, whom I’d met several years before I ever set eyes on Porter. We were never in de Kooning’s presense together. Fairfield and I did see one another often, but far from "regularly," in 1942, not at all before that, and hardly at all afterwards. We seldom argued, we seldom disagreed. Once, in the summer of 1942, we painted together.

This trivia to show Fairfield’s relation to the truth. What isn’t trivial, at least for me, is his having me tell de Kooning (no acolyte of truth either), "You can’t paint figuratively today." That’s dreamt up. You don’t talk that way to art or to artists.

Porter was a bit "touched"; I have to come out and say that. There was something wrong with him, and not only in relation to the truth. I admired his art, but by the time he started showing I’d acquired a distaste for his person that kept me from writing to even talking about anything that had to do with him. (There was one other instance in which I let my reaction to a person--mistaken this time--whose art I admired shut me up. That was Rothko, whose hysterical moments I couldn’t see through or into.)

All the same: that porter was by way of being icky, and that he was an inveterate prevaricator, and that he could be dishonest in his art criticism--all this takes nothing away from his art itself. Painting along with him, I felt envy.

Clement Greenberg
Norwich, New York

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