Magazine article Art Monthly

Charles Harrison 1942-2009

Magazine article Art Monthly

Charles Harrison 1942-2009

Article excerpt

Charles Harrison's exceptionally productive career coincided with a remarkable and creative period in British art; one that began during the 1960s and culminated nearly a decade later in the mainstream acceptance of a raft of diverse and competing avantgarde practices such as Arte Povera and Conceptual Art. It would not be an exaggeration to claim that Harrison's work as critic and curator during that time paved the way for the serious reception in the UK of these new artistic practices that were to prove so influential to succeeding generations.

While on the staff of Studio International (as assistant editor, 1966-71 and contributing editor, 1972-75), Harrison became known as one of the fiercest proponents in the UK of Clement Greenberg's account of late-modernist painting and sculpture. Yet he quickly grasped that such art, while having had a profound impact on emerging British painters and sculptors of the mid to late 1960s, represented a turning point for Modernism. The art exemplified by the work of Frank Stella and Donald Judd, among others, increasingly appeared to him as symptomatic of a crisis in Modernism rather than its lofty, logical conclusion. It was at this point that Harrison became acquainted with the type of artwork and art discourse that would be highly significant to his interests for the remainder of his life; namely, early conceptual art.

With Harrison's move, in 1971, to become formally involved in the collaborative project of Art & Language, the interests and attitudes of the first portion of his career as critic, historian and curator underwent something of a transformation. He took on the role of editor of Art-Language journal, although it is more accurate to say that no such distinction between contributor and editor was ever actually sustained in practice. It was in this capacity that I first made Harrison's acquaintance, encountering him as a particularly avuncular and welcoming face of the group. However, the assimilation of someone of Harrison's stature into the collaborative practice of artists intent on producing works that would challenge, if not stymie, the competences and authority of the managers of the avant-garde culture of British art may have been a surprise to some. Harrison's intimate involvement with art practice constituted a transforming contribution to the general cultural landscape of the English-speaking world.

The current generation may not be immediately aware of Harrison's role in bringing Harald Szeeman's ground-breaking 1969 exhibition 'Live in Your Head: When Attitudes Become Form: Works, Concepts, Processes, Situations, Information' to the ICA, London; nor would they necessarily be familiar with the way in which he had managed to turn the occasion of this project in the UK into an opportunity for some emerging British artists to exhibit their work alongside that of their North American and Continental peers. …

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