Suzi Gablik, art critic who took modernism to task, dies at 87

“For the general public, modern art has always involved loss of craft, disgrace, fraud or hoax,” she writes. “One may graciously accept not understanding a foreign language or algebra, but in the case of art it is more likely, as Roger Fry once pointed out, that people will think, when they will be confronted with a work that they do not like and cannot understand, that it was made especially to insult them.

Criticizing the uselessness and commercialism of contemporary art was not a new stance – Tom Wolfe gleefully punctuated it in 1975’s ‘The Painted Word’ – but Ms Gablik’s book struck a chord nonetheless.

Credit…Thames and Hudson

“She turned against the mainstream art aesthetic for 20th century art,” said Ms. Solomon, who “absolved artists of any social responsibility. She wanted art to be a force for social betterment, a view initially unpopular but which became mainstream with the rise of identity art in the 21st century.

Suzanne Eve Gablik was born on September 26, 1934, in Manhattan, the only child of Anthony Gablik, a commercial artist who worked in advertising, and Geraldine (Swartz) Gablik, a homemaker. She grew up on the Upper West Side; spent the summer of his 16th year at Black Mountain College, the North Carolina maverick art incubator of Rauschenberg, Buckminster Fuller, Merce Cunningham and others; then attended Hunter College in Manhattan, where she studied studio art and English, graduating in 1955.

In addition to her books on Magritte and modernism, Ms. Gablik was the author of “Progress in Art” (1977), in which she argued that artistic creation throughout history – from realism to abstraction – followed the Developmental stages of human cognition set forth by Jean Piaget, the Swiss psychologist who studied the intellectual development of children. “The Reenchantment of Art” (1991) was an argument in favor of a socially and spiritually engaged art.

Christopher S. Washington