Wielding the Club
On Thursday, January 26, 1961, John F. Kennedy had just taken the oath of office. Arthur Miller’s “The Misfits” featuring his soon-to-be ex-wife, Marilyn Monroe, would open the following week in movie theaters. In New York’s Greenwich Village, two painters, Milton Resnick and Ad Reinhardt—both first generation Abstract Expressionists and charter members of the artist’s “Club”—were disturbed about changes occurring in the art world. They’d known each other for twenty-five years, and although previously on opposite ends of the artistic spectrum, they decided to air things out in public at a Club session that they planned together and labeled “Attack.”
By the end of the evening, the scene had descended into total chaos, with Willem de Kooning attacking Reinhardt from the floor and then bitterly turning on Resnick. Not long after the event, Franz Kline died, David Smith was killed in an accident, de Kooning moved to the Springs, and Abstract Expressionism, which had begun as a nameless insurgency fifteen years before, eased into what Reinhardt ruefully called “the business of buying and selling.” In some ways this evening signaled the end of an era.
Resnick’s original notes outlining his opening salvo survive. The event was tape-recorded, and just about all of the crossed out words were re-inserted into his talk, as they can be heard on the tape. The penultimate line delivered was, indeed, “I curse the stupid, the smiling, the strong.”
Were he alive, Milton Resnick would now be 101 years old. An exhibition of his work is currently on view at Cheim & Read, and another show opens at Miguel Abreu on March 20. The Milton Resnick and Pat Passlof Foundation exhibition space at 87 Eldridge Street will open to the public with a retrospective of his work in April.
GEOFFREY DORFMAN is a painter who also writes on cultural history, in particular (but not limited to) Modernism and Modern Art. He has authored the full-scale biography: Milton Resnick: Painter in the Age of Painting, which remains in manuscript form.