Kramer, Hilton 1928–
Kramer, Hilton 1928–
Born March 25, 1928, in Gloucester, MA; son of Louis and Tillie Kramer; married Esta Teich, December 6, 1964. Education: Syracuse University, B.A., 1950; attended New School for Social Research (now New School University), 1950, Columbia University, 1950-51, Harvard University, 1951, and Indiana University, 1951-52.
Office—New Criterion, P.O. Box 5194, FDR Station, New York, NY 10150.
Writer, editor, journalist, art critic. Arts Digest, New York, NY, associate editor and features editor, 1954-55; Arts Magazine, New York, NY, managing editor, 1955-58, editor, 1958-61; Nation, New York, NY, art critic, 1962-63; New Leader, New York, NY, art critic and associate editor, 1964-65; New York Times, New York, NY, art news editor, 1965-82; New Criterion(monthly review), New York, NY, founder and editor, 1982—. Visiting professor of criticism at Yale University School of Drama, 1973-74.
Phi Beta Kappa, Century Association Club of New York City.
D.Hum., Syracuse University, 1976; National Humanities Medal, 2004.
(Editor) Perspectives on the Arts, Art Digest (New York, NY), 1961.
(Author of introductory text) Milton Avery, Paintings, 1930-1960, Yoseloff (New York, NY), 1962.
The Age of the Avant-Garde: An Art Chronicle of 1956-1972, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1973.
(Author of text) Richard Lidner, Richard Lidner, New York Graphic Society (New York, NY), 1975.
Brancusi, the Sculptor as Photographer, Callaway Editions (Lyme, CT, 1979.
The Revenge of the Philistines: Art and Culture, 1972-1984, Farrar, Straus (New York, NY), 1984.
(Editor, with Roger Kimball, and author of introduction) The New Criterion Reader: The First Five Years, Free Press (New York, NY), 1988.
(With Christopher Green) Joan Miro I La Mort De La Pintura: Dos Excursos, Barcanova (Barcelona, Spain), 1991.
(Editor, with Roger Kimball) Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century, Ivan R. Dee (New York, NY), 1995.
(With Marc D'Estout) Julius Hatofsky, Monterey Peninsula Museum of Art (Monterey, CA), 1996.
(Editor, with Roger Kimball) The Future of the European Past, Ivan R. Dee (New York, NY), 1997.
Gaston Lachaise: Sculpture and Drawings, Salander-O'Reilly Galleries (New York, NY), 1998.
(Editor, with Roger Kimball; and author of introduction) The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 1999.
The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War, Ivan R. Dee (New York, NY), 1999, published with a new afterword by the author, 2000.
(With others) William Scharf: Paintings, 1984-2000; the Phillips Collection, Washington, DC, November 18, 2000-January 21, 2001, Phillips Collection (Washington, DC), 2000.
(Editor, with Kimball) The Survival of Culture: Permanent Values in a Virtual Age, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2002.
(Editor, with Roger Kimball) Lengthened Shadows: America and Its Institutions in the Twenty-first Century, Encounter Books (San Francisco, CA), 2004.
The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1987-2005, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2006.
(Editor, with Roger Kimball) Counterpoints: Twenty-five Years of the New Criterion on Culture and the Arts, Ivan R. Dee (Chicago, IL), 2007.
Author of texts for exhibition catalogs, including those of Ben Benn and Julio Gonzalez. Contributor to periodicals, including Partisan Review, Commentary, New Republic, New York Review of Books, Art in America, and Artforum.
Hilton Kramer is one of the nation's best known critics—"a percipient, sophisticated and highly intelligent observer of the contemporary art scene," to quote Richard Wollheim in the New York Times Book Review. From the pages of the New York Times, and beginning in the 1980s from his own publication, the monthly New Criterion, Kramer has covered the art world for more than three decades. His views on art and culture are controversial, but few fellow writers would argue that he presents his opinions in a forthright and readable style. As Wollheim put it, Kramer "writes about matters that are sometimes difficult and often elusive with enviable fluency, and he has for these purposes formed a style which, bypassing elegance, is descriptively powerful and at times rises to real eloquence."
In Commentary, Michael J. Lewis described Kramer's aims as a critic. "Since the early 1950s, when his essays and reviews began appearing in Arts Magazine, Partisan Review, The Nation, and Commentary, Kramer has been a principled and discriminating champion of modern art," Lewis stated. "His hallmark as a critic is a scrupulous, often exquisite, concern for the aesthetic primacy of the object itself—that is, for the formal properties of a work of art—and secondarily for its place within the art of its time. But as every aspect of art, from its making and display to its criticism and historiography, has in the past generation become relentlessly politicized, Kramer too has turned to politics, and to the larger culture of ideas in which contemporary art has become, willy-nilly, a ‘player.’" Indeed, since founding the New Criterion in 1982, Kramer has written about wider cultural and political issues and has made his mark as a neoconservative journalist.
In The Age of the Avant-Garde: An Art Chronicle of 1956-1972, Kramer presents selected articles and reviews that he wrote during the years 1956 to 1972. The essays examine such topics as art exhibits, new books and artists, and events concerning the world of art. According to James Ackerman in the New York Review of Books, Kramer transcends the limitations of his genre: he "has accomplished a lot in pieces on more than 125 nineteenth- and twentieth-century artists; the articles are consistently informative, acute, and helpful to the reader." The reviewer added: "Kramer is probably the best art journalist of our time; he knows his subject in depth, understands his audience, and is scrupulously fair as well as courageous in his attacks on wrongdoing and sham." Yet Ackerman also noted that it is precisely Kramer's "scholarly openness and thoroughness" that firmly gives him the label "art historian" rather than "art critic," for rarely does the author espouse a "definable philosophical or critical position" in his writings. "Kramer faults [writer] Clement Greenberg for taking a critical stand that excludes other viewpoints and that narrows his perception of recent art and its evolution," Ackerman wrote, "but no criticism is possible without a particular point of view, and that is why Greenberg's reviews of art exhibitions are still challenging thirty years later, while the commentaries in this collection, informative as they are, have lost their primary function, have ceased to be news, and read like random passages from an encyclopedia of modern art."
Nevertheless, other critics preferred Kramer's careful, conservative assessments of artists and their creations in The Age of the Avant-Garde. "Art fares best without fanaticism," asserted Roger Shattuck, writing in the New York Times Book Review. "A critic's taste is his least important contribution," Vivien Raynor seconded in a Washington Post Book World review. She concluded: "It would be out of character for [Kramer] to subscribe to a philosophy based on technique. Seeing art as a metaphor for life, he measures it according to humanistic principles. The content of a work is, on the whole, more important to him than its surface; that is, he is willing to sacrifice some stylistic felicity if he feels the artist is struggling to illuminate some common human experience."
In The Revenge of the Philistines: Art and Culture, 1972-1984, Kramer argues that the great traditions in modernist art have been deliberately eroded by such movements as camp, pop art, and revivals of second-rate artistic movements of the past, such as art deco. This collection of essays and reviews reveals Kramer's strong aversion to postmodernism and his view that the standards once held to the visual arts have been jettisoned in favor of kitsch that will sell to uninformed but wealthy patrons. Noting that Kramer "earned a name for incorruptibility in a field much afflicted by mutual back-scratching," New Republic contributor Robert Hughes praised The Revenge of the Philistines for its "full parade of Kramer's strengths and weaknesses as a critic." Hughes added: "One is glad to have them all, since quite a lot of Kramer's journalism does transcend the hurried and ephemeral nature of his medium…. Kramer has never been afraid of going against the grain—indeed, of hacking right into it when he needs to."
The works Kramer has written and edited since 1987 consist of collections of material previously published in the New Criterion. His coeditor, Roger Kimball, is another noted editor/contributor at the magazine, and the collections they have produced together concern themselves with assaults on liberalism and the challenges presented to high culture by an age of materialistic ennui. In a New York Times Book Review of The New Criterion Reader: The First Five Years, David M. Oshinsky noted that the magazine "offered itself as an alternative to [a] ‘leftward drift’ in our cultural life." Oshinsky went on to observe that of the essays in the book, "the clear majority of them are lively, learned and original." National Review correspondent David Lipsky found the essays in The New Criterion Reader to be "in the present climate essentially indispensable."
Kramer continues his editorial collaborative efforts in the 1995 Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century, a collection of forty-five essays reprinted from the New Criterion. Authors here range from Kramer himself writing on museums to Jason Epstein treating the writer Henry James. Other contributors include David Fromkin, John Gross, and Donald Kagan. For National Review critic J. Bottum, these reprinted essays were "intelligent, witty, and grown-up," and Kramer's magazine was "possibly America's most distinguished intellectual journal." A reviewer for the more politically neutral Publishers Weekly also had praise for this collection, noting that "even when one disagrees with their positions, one still has to admire the grace and erudition with which they are presented."
Kramer and Kimball again collaborate on The Future of the European Past, which examines the cultural and historical legacy of Europe. Writers including Roger Scruton, David Pryce-Jones, and John Harrington investigate this legacy. In The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control the editing team of Kramer and Kimball bring together ten essays previously published in the New Criterion. According to Jack Forman, writing in Library Journal, "the ten essays in this provocative anthology persistently attack present-day liberals for ‘betraying’ their time-honored heritage of freedom and equality." Kramer and Kimball contend, both with the collected articles and in the book's introduction, that modern liberals betray their historic roots by trying to make society conform to certain virtues by simply imposing strictures on the culture. Reason critic Loren Lomasky, however, did not feel the editors made their case as the collected articles lacked cohesion: "The ten essays contained herein are split; some identify liberalism as the aggrieved party and some as the culprit, and a couple confusedly stumble back and forth, certain that there's something in the political atmosphere that doesn't smell right but unable to identify the offending scent." Irving Louis Horowitz, on the other hand, reviewing the same collection in Academic Questions, praised The Betrayal of Liberalism for its cohesion: "Many anthologies are such random affairs that only the binding seems to hold the essays together. Not so for Kramer and Kimball's volume. Each of the closely reasoned, well-integrated essays merits careful reading." David Steigerwald, writing in Historian, also commended the work: Steigerwald felt that Kramer and Kimball had "gathered a fine collection of … original essays that ponder the main conundrum besetting conservative intellectuals: Why is it that they have all the best arguments and yet seem to lose at every turn to liberalism?"
Kramer's own views are collected in The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War. The essays in this work, among other themes, seek to redress certain distortions of viewpoint on Cold War-era intellectuals and on the distinct threat posed by Soviet Communism, especially in the Stalin era. Commentary contributor Michael J. Lewis commended the book for its "trenchant and powerfully argued essays," observing of Kramer: "At bottom, what engages him chiefly is not his subjects‧ positions on this or that issue but their personal response to the great challenges of their age. Another way of putting this is to say that he is interested mostly in how we as individuals exercise moral choice."
Working again with Kimball, Kramer published the 2002 The Survival of Culture: Permanent Values in a Virtual Age, a further collection of essays from the New Criterion "on perceived threats to contemporary Western culture," as Library Journal contributor Andrew Brodie Smith described the volume. Such threats include the digitalization of books, as well as a perceived anti-Western bias among intellectuals; writers such as Mark Steyn, Keith Windschuttle, and Robert H. Bork contributed to the volume. Smith complained that the "book lacks coherence," yet went on to note that in spite of such a shortcoming The Survival of Culture "has much to offer." A similar mixed assessment came from a Publishers Weekly reviewer who noted, "though the essays themselves are a mixed bag, the book should be applauded for its attempt to stimulate debate, which it surely will among those who read it."
In Lengthened Shadows: America and Its Institutions in the Twenty-first Century, Kramer and Kimball present a volume of reprinted essays that "combines politically self-conscious praise for American high modernism in architecture, poetry, and war with mournful longing for the very nearly departed in American society," according to Booklist writer Brendan Driscoll. Their 2007 collaborative effort, Counterpoints: Twenty-five Years of the New Criterion on Culture and the Arts, is a gathering of forty essays published in the New Criterion during its first quarter century of publication. Here are gathered voices on the political and cultural right which attempt to prove that the United States is a country and society in decline because of its pop culture leanings. Peter Dollard, writing in Library Journal, felt "this is the kind of book that will prove whatever prejudgments the reader brings to it: conservatives will find it a good source of quotations and arguments to buttress their views, while progressives will only shudder." For Raymond Carr, writing in Spectator, "this book is something of an omnium gatherum." Collected are articles ranging from architecture to Mark Twain and Kemal Ataturk. "This book's overall message is conservative, but that conservatism is not a monolithic structure," Carr further commented.
Kramer presents his own art criticism in the 2005 volume, The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1987-2005. Most of the pieces in the compilation were earlier published in the New Criterion, the New York Observer, or Commentary. Anthony Julius, writing in the New York Times Book Review, observed that Kramer did not rewrite any of these older articles, not having changed his mind or altered an opinion over the course of time. "This is perhaps a pity," Julius wrote. "Second thoughts are often more interesting than first ones, and current opinions more interesting than historical ones—save perhaps to those readers interested in an author's intellectual biography." Kramer's subjects include modern artists such as Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Robert Mapplethorpe, and Alex Katz, as well as discussions of earlier artists, including Gustave Courbet, Pierre Bonnard, and Georges Braque. For Julius, "this collection offers many other arresting, perceptive judgments." Similarly, Booklist critic Donna Seaman found the essays "enlightening, stimulating, and uncompromising."
BIOGRAPHICAL AND CRITICAL SOURCES:
Academic Questions, summer, 2000, Irving Louis Horowitz, review of The Betrayal of Liberalism: How the Disciples of Freedom and Equality Helped Foster the Illiberal Politics of Coercion and Control.
Booklist, November 15, 2004, Brendan Driscoll, review of Lengthened Shadows: America and Its Institutions in the Twenty-first Century, p. 537; November 1, 2006, Donna Seaman, review of The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1987-2005, p. 26.
Commentary, June, 1999, Michael J. Lewis, review of The Twilight of the Intellectuals: Culture and Politics in the Era of the Cold War, p. 65.
First Things, January, 2000, review of The Betrayal of Liberalism, p. 62.
Historian, summer, 2001, David Steigerwald, review of The Betrayal of Liberalism.
Library Journal, December, 1999, Jack Forman, review of The Betrayal of Liberalism, p. 161; January, 2003, Andrew Brodie Smith, review of The Survival of Culture: Permanent Values in a Virtual Age, p. 140; May 15, 2007, Peter Dollard, review of Counterpoints: Twenty-five Years of the New Criterion on Culture and the Arts, p. 90.
Nation, November 30, 1985, J. Hoberman, review of The Revenge of the Philistines: Art and Culture, 1972-1984, p. 590; March 6, 1995, "Neo Con Artists," p. 296.
National Review, March 28, 1986, Terry Teachout, review of The Revenge of the Philistines, p. 58; February 5, 1988, David Lipsky, review of The New Criterion Reader: The First Five Years, p. 54; May 15, 1995, J. Bottum, review of Against the Grain: The New Criterion on Art and Intellect at the End of the Twentieth Century, p. 73; November 24, 1997, Digby Anderson, review of The Future of the European Past, p. 58; December 13, 2004, "President Bush Has Conferred the National Humanities Medal on Some Excitingly Deserving Recipients, Including Hilton Kramer," p. 14; August 13, 2007, "Ad Multos Annos!," p. 45.
New Republic, April 14, 1986, Robert Hughes, review of The Revenge of the Philistines, p. 28.
Newsweek, June 17, 1974, review of The Age of the Avant-Garde: An Art Chronicle of 1956-1972, p. 104; February 13, 1995, Peter Plagens, "Kramer versus Everybody," p. 80.
New York, February 13, 1995, Charles Kaiser, "He Bites," p. 72.
New York Review of Books, February 7, 1974, James Ackerman, review of The Age of the Avant-Garde, p. 25.
New York Sun, June 9, 2006, Gary Shapiro, "Hilton Kramer, a Man of Arts & Letters."
New York Times Book Review, January 6, 1974, Roger Shattuck, review of The Age of the Avant-Garde, p. 6; November 17, 1985, Richard Wollheim, "Modernism: Smothered by Its Friends," p. 11; April 10, 1988, David M. Oshinsky, "No to ‘Leftward Drift,’" p. 35; April 4, 1999, Allen D. Boyer, review of The Twilight of the Intellectuals; December 31, 2006, Anthony Julius, "Minister of Culture."
Publishers Weekly, January 23, 1995, review of Against the Grain, p. 66; November 11, 2002, review of The Survival of Culture, p. 54.
Reason, March, 2001, Loren Lomasky, review of The Betrayal of Liberalism, p. 61.
Reference & Research Book News, August, 2007, review of Counterpoints.
Review of Metaphysics, March, 2004, V. Bradley Lewis, review of The Survival of Culture, p. 630.
Spectator, August 18, 2007, Raymond Carr, "Warding off the Barbarians," p. 29.
Washington Post Book World, January 6, 1974, Vivien Raynor, review of The Age of the Avant-Garde.