THE POLLOCK STREETS: TED BERRIGAN’S ART WRITING

My essay on Ted Berrigan's short-lived yet prolific work as an art critic for ARTnews can be read in full at Fanzine, where it was published as "Part 1" and "Part 2." 

From Part 1:

"In the early-mid 60’s, Berrigan was saturated in the aesthetic accelerant of the hybridizing New York art scene, regularly attending museums, plays, and operas, watching French New Wave films, avidly reading about the modernist avant-gardes, and collaborating with other poets and painters. He was a casual visitor at The Factory and Warhol even gifted him a Brillo Box that, as Ron Padgett describes, Berrigan “personalized” into a clustered, stained coffee table in much the same way he “personalized” lines from other poets into his own works, such as The Sonnets. It was a time of floating silver foil, cut-ups, and Blonde on Blonde and Berrigan stood giddily and seriously in the middle of it. In 1964, looking back at his first few years in New York, Berrigan writes “Joe [Brainard] and I used to go almost every day to art galleries and museums and drench ourselves in paintings, starting up at 86th street and Madison, and hitting just about every gallery from there to the [M]useum of Modern Art where we would sit in the garden and have coffee delirious with all that art and the way even the telephone poles and drugstores had turned into paintings after a few galleries.” These are “the Pollock streets” of The Sonnets, an aesthetic stage where Berrigan’s keen associational eye was able to trace a generative compendium of artistic influences and historical networks, such as when he claimed Jean Dubuffet “is Paul Klee as King Kong” after seeing a show of Dubuffet’s at MoMA. When Berrigan started writing for ARTnews in March 1965, it was part of his continued, fluid engagement with an intimate, generative community of artists."

From Part 2:

"In his 1966 article, Berrigan calls this ability of Grooms his “Red Power.” Continuing the earlier association with the comics, he writes,

I like Red’s paintings even better than the funnies, mostly because they are so much richer. There is more detail, less story, more mystery and less art as art. Because his paintings are not so neat, and because the people and things (tables, dogs, window-curtains, playing cards, hands) seem so important simply because they exist, Red’s paintings sometimes seem very scary. The domestic scenes he has painted, such as Loft on 26th Street, the cut-out painting of 1966, are much more haunting than they are delightful, despite their bright Pop colors and the near-comic air of domesticity they strike. In fact, there is something awful about the autonomy of each person and object pictured, as if someone or everything could very well go totally berserk at any instant and it would be just as logical as not.

The combination of a hectic, disorienting surface paired with a colloquial vision of representational depth was one of Berrigan’s own poetic modes. Grooms’s ability to charge a piece with intimacy, humor, and pathos, all the while approaching and appropriating the work’s own aesthetic influences with a witty, devotional self-reflexivity, seems to have made him one of Berrigan’s favorite artists at the time. That he describes his appreciation of Grooms’s paintings in narrative terms–“more detail, less story, more mystery and less art as art”–speaks to a turn in Berrigan’s writing signaled by the more immediately domestic, autobiographical poems that would appear in Many Happy Returns. This idiosyncratic approach to representing the personal runs through each of the three artists Berrigan wrote about in his feature articles, and it is worth noting how conscientious and passionate Berrigan is about portraits and paintings full of people. His poems have exactly that intricately layered devotion to the people in his own life, and like these artists, such representations were always about the poem rather than about the person, a valuing that never resulted in loss of feeling. The presence of people, of friends, was an occasion for making art."

 Alex Katz, "Ted Berrigan," 1967

Alex Katz, "Ted Berrigan," 1967