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Report from the Front

Art criticism, sometimes with context, occasional politics. Published in hard copy 2-4 times a year. New shows: "events;" hard copy rates & how to support the online edition: "works."

 

JANICE VAN HORNE GREENBERG

As many--and perhaps most --- of my readers already know, Janice Van Horne Greenberg, widow of Clement Greenberg and a published author in her own right, died on October 14 in New York.

The cause of death was COPD, from which she had suffered for a long time. She was 81.

She was so universally known to Greenberg’s many friends as “Jenny” that I feel awkward calling her anything else in this obituary notice.

However, as I don’t normally refer in this column to her husband as “Clem,” I think I shall have to stick with “Van Horne” – this being not only her birth name but also the name she used for the plays she published prior to Greenberg’s death and also for those publications associated with Greenberg that she wrote or edited after it.

In some ways, this is like another ending of an era.

True, Van Horne is survived by their daughter, Sarah Greenberg Morse, Sarah’s husband Matthew Morse and their two daughters, Clementine and Roxanna.

However, there is nobody whom I know about alive any longer who knew Clement Greenberg as long as Van Horne did, or as well.

If I have a question about his life and times, there is really nobody now whom I can call to find the answer – as I did last winter, when l was investigating charges made by a New York Times reviewer on a panel at the College Art Association.

(Not that Van Horne wanted to be quoted in that connection, nor did I quote her – but she did give me intelligent & useful guidance, all the same.)

Now for answers, I shall have to go to the books about Greenberg, or more likely, to the libraries & archives preserving his own writings—and I can only be grateful that Van Horne did such a good job preserving his legacy in this and other ways.

I am also grateful to her for the many small kindnesses she showed me, over the years.

HER LIFE & MY CONTACT WITH HER

For the account of her life that follows, I am also indebted to the obituary published in the “Deaths” column of the New York Times on October 21, and again today.

Van Horne was born in New York City and raised in suburban Rye, New York. After graduating from Bennington College in 1955, she moved to Manhattan and soon met Greenberg. They were married the following spring.

The glittering years that followed, mixing and mingling with many different art world celebrities during the later 1950s and throughout the 1960s, are described in Van Horne’s memoir, “A Complicated Marriage: My Life With Clement Greenberg,” published in 2012 by Counterpoint.

Also discussed is her own career in the theater, performing in Off-Broadway plays and studying at the Actor’s Studio.

I didn’t meet Clement Greenberg until March 12, 1969, when I was still on Time. Although I saw him on several occasions over the next six months, and knew that he and Van Horne lived together in their Central Park West apartment, the only time I actually saw her was at a party given that spring by Alexander Liberman of Vogue that the Greenbergs attended together.

That fall, I left Time and went to live in London. By the time I returned, in 1971, Van Horne was no longer living in the Central Park West apartment.

Although the couple didn’t officially divorce until 1977, they lived apart from 1970 to 1989, when they remarried.

And, as this was the period when I myself came to know Greenberg best, I knew nothing of Van Horne beyond what he told me about her.

Still, that was a lot, for two reasons. One was that he was enormously proud of her, and often talked about her skills at managing money as well as her accomplishments as an editor of Madison Avenue magazine. The other was that she continued to perform many wifely duties.

Thus I can recall his mentioning her having bought some tea for the house in upstate New York that they shared, and some pajamas that he wore in New York.

I also recall her visiting the Central Park West apartment on one occasion when I was there, in order to measure the living room for a new rug.

After they remarried, she returned to the Central Park West apartment, but still I saw very little of her. When I was invited over to the apartment for the occasional drink by Greenberg, she might answer the door, but then she’d usher me into Greenberg’s study – and leave me there alone with him.

It was really only in his very old age and since his death that I came to see most of her.

During the summer of 1993, when he was in the hospital with a broken pelvis, I visited there and was allowed to feed him dinner when Van Horne and Sarah went out for a much-needed break.

I was then teaching in West Virginia, but when I returned to New York for Christmas vacation, and again in the spring, Van Horne made it possible for me to see him.

On the day in 1994 that he died, she called me twice – once to say that he was dying and again to say that he’d died. I really appreciated that, as I did the two photographs of him that I asked for and that she sent me.

PRESERVING THE LEGACY

I think she did a tremendous job of preserving his legacy, beginning with the sale in 1995 of his papers to the Getty Research Institute in Los Angeles.

True, she had the help of an ace literary agent named Andrew Wylie (known to the book publishing world as “The Jackal”) but the Getty took a tremendous amount of these papers: in all 50 boxes of them or (in library lingo) 25.0 linear feet.

This includes not only preliminary drafts of much and maybe all of Greenberg’s published work, but also early poetry and other unpublished writings.

Even more importantly, it includes all his private journals, diaries and other intimate materials—some of which are so intimate that they are sealed until 2030.

(This is not all of Greenberg’s papers—in his lifetime, he gave to the Archives of American Art a sizable number of his letters, and allowed more to be microfilmed. The most controversial part of the Archives’ material is the documents relating to the David Smith Estate—access to which is “restricted.” .

In all, however, the Archives material is only 8.6 linear feet, a third the size of the Getty’s holdings.)

The other major disposal of Greenberg’s legacy that Van Horne oversaw was the sale of his art collection, whose acquisition was announced by the Portland Art Museum in Oregon in October 2000.

According to an article by Roberta Smith in the New York Times for November 7, 2000, the collection that went to the museum included 152 works by 58 American, Canadian and European artists.

It wasn’t given directly to the museum, but sold to Tom and Gretchen Holce, Portland art collectors, who then gave it to the museum.

Smith quoted John Buchanan, the museum’s executive director, saying that the value of the collection was “over several million dollars,” but that total also included hundreds of often-annotated books, catalogs and gallery brochures.

In addition, Van Horne took a very active hand in seeing three more posthumous Greenberg books through publication.

The first to appear was “Homemade Esthetics: observations on art and taste,” published by Oxford University Press in 1999. It was based upon a series of seminars that the critic had originally given at Bennington in 1971, as edited by Peggy Schiffer Noland.

Second was “The Harold Letters, 1928-1943: The Making of an American Intellectual,” published by Counterpoint in 2000. As edited and annotated by Van Horne, this 310-page book distilled over 400 handwritten letters from Greenberg to a college friend, Harold Lazarus.

Third was “Clement Greenberg: Late Writings,” published by the University of Minnesota Press in 2003. As edited by Robert C. Morgan, this collection of Greenberg writings and transcripts was designed to supplement the four-volume “Collected Essays and Criticism,” edited by John O’Brian, published by the University of Chicago Press between 1986 and 1993, and covering the period up to 1969.

Goodbye, Jenny. You’ll be missed – by me and by a lot of other people.
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