We welcome anecdotes about Greenberg by people who knew or encountered him.
To e-mail anecdotes or other material :
http://www.artrealization.org/ -- This site is well worth a visit.
Lefens remarks about "the life of [Greenberg's] mind" are accurate and stated more succinctly than I've seen anywhere. Greenberg was a personality above all, and that stamped itself on everything he said or did, much as Samuel Johnson's did two centuries earlier. -- TF
An exchange about paintings went something like this:
You say some of these are good. Does that mean they're not great?
When they're good, that's good enough.
When are they good?
When they work.
When do you know when they work?
You just do.
Someday I should write down some of the wonderful things he said and all our fun going out to eat and being about town. Although these visits were less than twelve, they were at a time in his life when he was alight with kindness and elfin encouragement for me. His curiosity was pointed and stood out from all the other people I knew. He had this way of holding the life of his mind in a very lively way that was peppered with shifts of feeling but appeared as clear facets of one thing. You could feel the life in him. You could feel how deeply and interestingly he held the world and how this helped make things that few care to hold, as clean, fresh, and important -- more important than -- the gross scale of pop society.
I never got drunk when I drank with Clem, which was about every time I saw him. One morning after a particularly long session the night before, I told him of this fact. He replied that my comment was one of the most flattering he had ever received.
John Russell -- quoted from interview by Jason Edward Kaufman: Clement Greenberg as the American art world remembers him
We were on a jury together in Liverpool in 1965. For three days we went through hundreds of works of art which were submitted, and I did experience and admire the truly extraordinary quality of his gaze when examining these pictures. All the moving was done by unemployed boys from the neighborhood who were totally ignorant about art. On the first morning they arrived late, but after about ten minutes, they were so fascinated by Greenberg and his way of looking that they hung around, and on the other mornings they arrived early so to miss nothing. It showed his extraordinary gift of communication -- with anybody, really. He had a simply amazing quality of response to the works of art he liked, which was very moving to witness.
James Walsh, painter. Originally published in the Edmonton Review, a newsletter produced by the Edmonton Contemporary Artists Society.
For more about Walsh's painting go to: http://www.sharecom.ca/fenton/walsh.html
One night in the 1980's, Annie and I went up to Clem's for drinks and Chinese take-out. We had our typical visit talking about whatever shows we'd seen and so on, and we were getting ready to leave for home. I had adjourned to fetch the coats and when I returned to the living room I was surprised to find Annie holding the top of Clem's head. As a laying on of hands was not the standard goodbye, I came back into the room curious and inquiring. It seems that in my absence Clem had asked if we would get him some cigarettes and send them back up to the apartment with the elevator man. He had attempted to pull some money out of his pants pocket while still seated by rocking way back in the dining room chair instead of standing up. Well, this had not been a night of furious drinking -- there had certainly been those nights on occasion, but this evening had been fairly reserved , some drink taken had been moderated with Chinese hot and sour soup, noodles and such. However, as he rocked back, he lost his balance and toppled clear over the chair and in so doing split his scalp against the corner of the wall. And to say split is to ameliorate the look of the damage done. By the time I'd come back into the room, Annie had uprighted him and he was sitting once again in the chair. The events were explained to me and I had a look at his head without Annie's hands holding it together -- I felt I was looking down into the abyss, watching the thought processes themselves: here a thought of Kant, there a thought of Camels. Of course Clem was shrugging off the whole affair as I ran to the phone to call 911.
The police arrived first instead of an ambulance and with a compress to his head we made our way to the hospital at high speed. Since the pair of NYPD officers were a male and a female, Clem took the opportunity to extol to the young woman on her good looks -- I didn't agree but this wasn't the time or the place. All the while, no blood to speak of issued from the wound. Clem proudly announced that "the Greenbergs were never bleeders." And so it seemed.
When we arrived at the hospital emergency room we were confronted with a full waiting room, wall to wall with what Clem called the "other patrons." After the triage nurse set a temporary bandage, they took his vitals and information and due to the backlog of patients we imagined we were in for the night. As there was no more seating in the waiting area we were placed in a treatment area hallway where all manner of acute care was whizzing past. After quite a long wait and repeated attempts to have him looked at by a doctor, one happened by whose eye caught the name Clement Greenberg on the chart. He came over, introduced himself and inquired if this was the Clement Greenberg, to which Annie exclaimed, "Yes! He is!" As a student, the doctor had started out in architecture (and had read Art And Culture), but had subsequently witched to medicine. He said he would be happy to send the surgeon over as soon as he was able. Some minutes later the surgeon appeared, sweaty from hours of overwork and hustled us into a tiny room. There he undid the preliminary bandages with Clem inquiring after the surgeon's name and recognizing it as one of royal Iranian origin. The doctor explained that, as they were shorthanded that night, would we mind helping a bit and he hurried off to fetch the necessary supplies. We were left holding Clem's head together.
The doctor returned shortly with an armload of supplies; I thought he had run to pick it up at a local pharmacy because everything was in neat little packages. Clem, curious, amiable and feeling no pain, was set up sitting on a little table still quizzing the doctor regarding his family name. Then came the antiseptic scrubbing... the doctor handed me this compress and that towel to do whatever holding or swabbing as he instructed, but as a novice at surgery I was unprepared for the primitive look of the stitching needle -- with its hugeness and large curve which looked more suitable for rug hooking than its present purpose. Annie took one look at the needle and excused herself. As the doctor administered several injections of local anesthetic Clem was unfazed and as the actual sewing up proceeded was unperturbed. The whole event disturbed him only to the extent that smoking was prohibited. After the last knots were made and the bandage replaced there were thanks all around and we were off to return him to Central Park West in a taxi.
When we got back upstairs he was keen for a nightcap and wanted us to join him but we declined and recommended that he take to bed after the night's events. Assisting at surgery had drained me and I was glad to be heading home. We called the following morning to find out how he felt; he was fully recovered and had returned to "idle reading."