Hilton Kramer, who died today after a long and debilitating illness, was a great art critic who also founded an important magazine, The New Criterion. He was, like so many other great critics, more than a little bit narrow in his enthusiasms, but whenever he wrote about the artists who engaged his sensibilities most powerfully, he never failed to be illuminating.
I last had occasion to write about Hilton in 2007, when he brought out his final book, The Triumph of Modernism: The Art World, 1985-2005:
Kramer is best known for his unfavorable reviews, and in recent years he has spent an ever-increasing share of his time commenting on politics. As a result, too many younger readers are unaware that he is one of the best critical advocates we have. I saw several of the shows reviewed in The Triumph of Modernism when I was first starting to take a serious interest in art, and I vividly remember how reading what Kramer had to say about such critically undervalued modern painters as Fairfield Porter, Arthur Dove and Richard Diebenkorn helped give shape to my inchoate excitement. For all his gifts as a demolition man, it is this aspect of his work that continues to mean the most to me. Nothing is harder to write than a good review, and nobody writes better ones than Hilton Kramer.
John Podhoretz, who has written well about Hilton’s political passions, portrays him as a difficult man who was hard to like. For my part, I found him so intimidating that it was impossible for me to get to know him more than superficially. I regret that, but I am proud both to have known Hilton at all and to have published in The New Criterion. He was a man of the highest possible seriousness, forthright and fearless, and I expect that he will not soon be forgotten.
UPDATE: The New York Times obituary is here.
Franklin Einspruch gets Kramer exactly right.