Deborah Solomon points out in the New York Times that New Yorker writer Calvin Tomkins will be honor by the Whitney this week. In turn, she thought she would honor him:
“He’s not trying to impress with his use of language,” said John Baldessari, the Conceptual artist. “I love him because he would rather say house than edifice.”
His detractors accuse him of helium lightness and superficiality, of writing about art stars in a consistently adulatory tone. Both he and his editors counter that he has no interest in pricking bubbles or deflating oversize reputations. […]
Descended from a line of blue bloods who settled along the banks of the Hudson River and quarried limestone, Mr. Tomkins grew up in suburban Llewellyn Park, N.J., an enclave of West Orange. His father owned a plaster company that manufactured wallboard and was eventually sold to Allied Chemical. The house was hung with serious paintings — a Charles Burchfield, a Utrillo, a Dufy, a small Alfred Marquet and “a very large painting of a family of wolves” that was believed, with unearned optimism, to be a Courbet. […]
Mr. Tomkins, who is currently at work on a profile of Carl Andre, occupies a privileged position that grants him seemingly instant access to every artist. Asked whether any had ever declined to be profiled by him, he could think of only one: Cy Twombly, the magisterial abstract painter, who died in July. Jasper Johns, he added, whose heraldic images of flags and targets imbue the bright contours of Pop art with gray doubt, was his single “most difficult” subject and required the longest chase. Mr. Tomkins pursued him over four decades before the artist agreed to be interviewed for a piece that appeared in 2006.
Asked in an e-mail why he chose to relent, Mr. Johns replied, tersely, “As well as I can remember, Calvin told me that he would like to talk with me and to write something that would not really be a profile.“
Artists Painted with a Palette of Words (New York Times)