Remembering Barbara Rose

by Rachel Vancelette

In Memoriam: Barbara Rose (1936-2020), an influential art historian and critic influenced generations with championing avant-garde 20th century art. The one-on-one interview of Ms. Rose took place with Rachel Vancelette, Art, Culture & Fashion Editor At Large in June 2019 in New York City. This personal insider interview with Ms. Rose is noted as one of the last personal interviews she offered to the public discussing her life, influences and her important impact on generations of contemporary artists, curators, art historians and art collections.

Art Critic and Historian Barbara Rose began writing art criticism in the 1960s, where she mingled in the New York art scene with greats such as Richard Tuttle, Andy Warhol, Carl Andre, Dan Flavin, Al Held, Lee Krasner, Beverly Pepper, Claes Oldenberg and Frank Stella to name few. A former contributing editor to Art in America from 1965 to 1971, Rose’s critical writings has made a profound impact on generations of art aficionados. Publications such as Art Forum, New York Magazine, Vogue, Partisan Review and multiple international periodicals and newspapers globally have memorialized, archived and republished many of her writings recently. Rose is currently focused on finishing her memoirs with many followers and fans anticipating the release. 

She wrote her first contemporary art book, America since 1900, A Critical History, which was distributed and used by colleges nationwide. Rose’s keen eye and great foresight to dive into new concepts over the decades in contemporary art put her at the forefront of experiments dealing with art and technology back in 1972, before the age of the internet. Her first love is to continue to dedicate her work towards curating exhibitions, executing catalogues and essays for her close artists’ friends. During her long career, she has curated countless exhibitions, essays and films earning her distinguished awards such as the prestigious College Art Association Award plus many more.  Rose made the decision recently to donate many of her papers to the Getty, a selection of research on post-war and contemporary American artists from 1960-1985. This selection includes sound recordings and personal interviews with artists conducted over coffees, during studio visits and from meetings with some of the most famous artists to date.  

 

Rose’s critical voice has impacted generations of artists, critics, and curators with writings which are known as both polarizing and innovative, controversial and revered. She executes her writing daily with a powerful voice and self-driven spirit. With her unique eye, Rose forges ahead to always find a new path which will push the art conversation forward. Dedicated to tackling the rarified art world with personal force, Rose’s interviews capture rare insider views from her platform as an art critic, historian and curator. Continuing to always surround herself with trusted artist friends, she weaves the story-telling and history of those who have been around her into deeply insightful and concrete art history for generations to explore. Sitting with this repository of art knowledge provides one with a rare window into the world of Barbara Rose sharing her immediate thoughts on life, art and more. 

Has art always been an influence in your life?

No. I never saw a painting before I was twelve years old and went to the museums in dc alone. Then I spent the whole time in them.

What did you want to be when you were a child?

A concert pianist like my mother’s cousins or betty Grable.
I was a very good tap dancer.

Has your personal taste changed over the years?

No

Do you live with art in your home or daily life? 

Yes

How often do you visit art studios?

A few times a week usually. Most of my friends are artists.

How do you feel about the art galleries of today? 

90 Percent cheap recycled trash. 10 Percent quality that will last

Did you ever collect art personally? 

Yes, always. Mainly presents from friends. I can’t afford to buy.

What do you think about collecting art today, i.e., art collections/art collectors/etc. Not worth looking at for the most part. Trivial toys, games, jokes, sensations. Fine for those who are satisfied with these experiences.

 

Do you think connoisseurship lives on today? 

I have a handful of old friends who are connoisseurs and have collected all their lives.   They buy, don’t sell. Good artists collect, usually friends’ work. Connoisseurship takes years of reading and especially looking and comparative judgment. You don’t acquire it overnight or from your “art consultant”. It requires sensitivity and training. Artists have the best eyes.

Who and what has been your greatest inspiration?

My teachers, especially Meyer Schapiro, my friends and of course the artworks themselves. Both 1 and 2 are Meyer Schapiro also john cage. I dedicated my first book to them. They were the biggest influences on my life.

What kind of legacy do you want to leave behind for future generations? 

To help them see the complexity and learn about the historical context of an artwork.

How important is the artist to the curatorial relationship? 

Not at all. The artist makes, the curator chooses. Good curators have artist friends and spend all their time in museums and studios, reading, not going to dinners and cocktail parties. 

What writers have influenced you over the years?

In terms of art history Panofsky, of course Schapiro, William Rubin, Julius held, LeRoi Laurie, Braudel, Merleau-Ponty, Foucault, Wittgenstein, Benjamin not necessarily in that order. And of course, there are many more, mainly German, the Frankfurt school. 

What do you think future generations will remember about the art of today in 2019?

The masters will still be there of all periods. The rest will turn to dust as they are tired, which will be fast since all today is speed or pure materialism.  Art is for those who contemplate, concentrate, absorb, consider, evaluate, and need the experiences. It is not sensation, diversion, fashion, or pop goes the weasel. We live in an infantile, materialistic culture in which little lasts and little means anything true or beautiful. The ugly becomes beautiful if it transcends the mundane.  

It will be interesting to see how long it takes Warhol to get boring. Then what is interesting about his work will emerge. He is not a zero although what came in his wake is ephemeral sensation. 

What collectors or collections do you think are making an impact in today’s world?

Impact on the world today doesn’t mean an impact on the world tomorrow. Private collectors now fund their own tax-deductible museums which are generally lousy outside of the Frick collection, the Philadelphia Museum, the Jewish Museum, dis, and the Menil collection. I think European museums, especially in Paris and London are better, more rigorous, and quality-oriented. I like the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg, Florida as well.

You taught for many years, what is your favorite part of the process of teaching a younger generation? 

Seeing my students make a difference with their own work. I’m especially proud of Linda Shearer, Lyn Gamwell, Martin Puryear, Lois land, Jacqueline Serwer, Jim Terrell, Jacqueline Wild drake, but there are many others who have made important contributions. 

What artist that is no longer around would you wish to sit down with again today and continue a conversation with? 

I’d just like to keep talking to Bob Rauschenberg. 

Is there anyone you wish you still could meet?

Mme.De Stael  

The age-old question – if you could choose one person for dinner who would it be? 

Avigdor Arika

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