Hilton Kramer Legendary American Art Critic Dies

Hilton Kramer

Hilton Kramer who carried on the legacy of Clement Greenberg at the NY Times has died aged 84.

Hilton Kramer was one of the most influential art critics of the late 20th century. His career was meteoric and shot to prominence after writing a response to Harold Rosenberg’s,1952 article on action painting. The piece was published in Art News, Americas leading art publication, raising eyebrows and impacting on current trends of criticism. Kramer objected to Rosenberg’s assertion that the Abstract Expressionists were creating records of an event, rather than artworks”. His response consequently led to his being invited as a regular contributor to Arts Digest and Commentar. The latter at the request of Clement Greenberg the most influential art critic of the era. Kramer would later be the great defender of Greenberg’s doctrines. In 1965 Kramer became the New York Times’ art-news editor. After eight years he succeeded John Canaday as its leading art critic. This appointment was at a time when American art was in a period of flux. Abstract Expressionism dominated the public conscience and Pop art was about to explode on the New York scene, like shaken bottle of Coca Cola. Post-modern Art, Conceptual Art Happenings and Performance Art was just starting to emerge.

Hilton Kramer was born on March 25, 1928, in Gloucester, Massachusetts, a seaside fishing community, one hour north of Boston. As a boy he gravitated toward the local colony of artists who included, Emile Albert Gruppe, Edward Hopper, Mark Rothko and Joseph Solman. A passionate advocate of Modernism, he spent long hours at Boston’s many art museums. After earning a bachelor’s degree in English at Syracuse University in 1950, he studied literature and philosophy at Columbia, the New School for Social Research and Harvard.

Kramer was a staunch critic of both the National Endowment for the Arts and the National Endowment for the Humanities for what he regarded as their excessive political correctness. He blamed them for helping to create the ‘Culture Wars’. He also challenged the Whitney Biennial which he faulted for its preoccupation with gender and ethnic identity. He opposed fashionable politics at the expense of visual engagement. He wrote that the biennials “seem to be governed by a positive hostility toward a really visceral distaste for anything that might conceivably engage the eye in a significant or pleasurable visual experience.

His wife Esta Kramer stated that he died in Harpswell, Maine in an assisted living facility, near their home in Damariscotta, Maine. He was 84. The cause of death was heart failure, aggravated by a rare blood disease.


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