Kathleen Gilje Charlie Finch in the Manner of a Rembrandt Self-Portrait (2006)
The gossip columnist Charlie Finch is a close reader of The New Criterion and a McGovernite relative of President Nixon. He is also the insult comic of the art world. If you are on the receiving end of his attacks, it usually means you are heading in the right direction.
That's my message to the artists I know and admire who appeared in Finch's artnet.com column last Friday called "Noble or Nibble? LAST TRAIN TO DULLSVILLE." While oddly praising Barnett Newman, Finch called Thornton Willis "an old guy who... produced some idiotic figure-ground mazes in pastel colors that all look the same." He complained that James Siena makes "dick-like puzzles." He said that Richard Pousette-Dart painted "mandalas of crap," and Helen Frankenthaler "stupid stains." He lambasted Loren Munk as a "likeable, dimwitted observer
who has recently emerged as the darling of the most reactionary element in art criticism, James Panero of the New Criterion, who shares the initials of Jed Perl (New Republic) while managing to be even more right-wing and visually clueless about painting, an almost impossible task.
Funny stuff, maybe, and certainly undeserving of a point-by-point response. But it also strikes me as a little bit sinister. Over at his blog "Too Much Art," my colleague Mario Naves offers his own thoughts and wonders what Finch sees in Barnett Newman. The correct answer, Mario concludes, is "zip." In other words, what Finch says is nonsense. He writes like a drunk driver who is used to getting bailed out through his daddy's name. He wants to end up in a wreck. Unfortunately, he'll happily take out some bystanders in the crash.