Debra Balken’s book is a long-overdue assessment of Harold Rosenberg, art critic for The New Yorker from 1962 until 1978, who, together with his better-known contemporary Clement Greenberg, radically reshaped the interpretation of art in the post-World-War-II period through an examination of abstract expression. Standing as a counterpoint to Greenberg’s formalist approach, Rosenberg’s existential notion of “action” became a resonant metaphor for the elaboration of the artist’s subjectivity, the meanings and extensions of which have become relevant for contemporary discourses on art. Balken’s book will weave together an analysis of Rosenberg’s writing with aspects of his biography and intellectual and social history as a means of mining the ingredients of his aesthetic position in postwar cultural debate. Rosenberg’s mid-century linking of the New York School with the art establishment, together with his observations on the concomitant commodification of the artwork and evisceration of the “self” in favor of celebrity, help make this book especially topical.
Debra Balken is an independent curator and writer for a variety of museums and university galleries on subjects relating to American modernism and contemporary art. Her book Abstract Expressionism was published in 2005; upcoming publications include the exhibition catalogs Mark Tobey: A Retrospective and After Many Springs: Regionalism, Modernism and the Midwest. She has taught on a part-time basis at Williams College, Brown University, the Rhode Island School of Design, Mount Holyoke College, and the Institute of Fine Arts at New York University. She received the Rockefeller Foundation Fellowship at the Bellagio Study and Conference Center in 2006.