Today’s self-styled image-breakers, or iconophobes, are as predictable and bellicose as ancient ones. A few weeks ago, not long after The New York Sun‘s Lance Esplund haughtily dismissed Robert Rauschenberg’s groundbreaking combines at the Met as “colorless, muddled, mute, faithless, boring,” etc., the even more conservative Mario Naves, of The New York Observer—who never actually describes works of art and who only pontificates—bragged that he hadn’t seen the Van Gogh drawing show at the Met, glibly sniffing that “a friend tells me I didn’t miss much.” Then he calls the drawings “a respectable, not spectacular, achievement.” Oy!
Next, Naves set his dull-eye on Rauschenberg, chiding the combines, currently gloriously ensconsed at the Met, with the exact same meaningless phrase, “far out,” that Clement Greenberg used in 1967 when he was essentially blind to contemporary art. Naves, who is also an artist, fabricates small generic abstract collages that could have been made any time in the last 50 years and that owe much to Abstract Expressionism, Schwitters, and Rauschenberg, allows that the combines “evince a sensitivity to the materials used in their crafting.” This boring nonsense sounds like a 1930s textbook. Finally, he concludes that had Rauschenberg “explored this tendency on the intimate scale it called for” (Mr. Naves’s scale) “he might have made an unassuming and welcome contribution to the history of 20th-century American art.” Ah, dogma.