Deborah Jowitt on Jill Johnston

Al Giese’s contact sheet of Jill Johnson and Robert Morris, New York, March 3, 1965.

“Jill Johnston was one of my most influential teachers, but I never told her that. In 1959, she began to write a radical, erudite, slangy column called Dance Journal for the Village Voice, four years after it was founded by Ed Fancher, Dan Wolf, and Norman Mailer. She embarked on a career as a critic at a time when, in her words, ‘the entire art world was entering a convulsion of dissolving boundaries.’ Happenings and other interdisciplinary events erupted onto the scene. The zeitgeist of the 1960s was one of rebellion. The question that permeated the air was, ‘Why not?’ When exuberant and fearless choreographers such as Yvonne Rainer, David Gordon, and Trisha Brown came together in 1962 to present their work at Judson Memorial Church, they redefined what dance could be. Robert Rauschenberg became a choreographer. So did fellow visual artists Alex Hay and Robert Morris. Their work radicalized Johnston, who had hitherto been writing perceptively about Martha Graham, José Limón, and other titans of modern dance, and she soon became the de facto chronicler of Judson Dance Theater. In 1965, she defined her role in a piece for the Voice titled ‘Critics’ Critics’: ‘Criticism wears me out—it’s like riding a bike up and down the country hills in a race against a phantom judge. I’ll take a plot of level territory and stake out a claim to lie down on it and criticize the constellations if that’s what I happen to be looking at.’ In 1967, by which time Johnston’s column was less about dance and more about visual art and her life in the city, a series of coincidences landed me at the paper’s cramped offices, where they invited me to write dance reviews at thirty-five dollars per submission. As a novice critic, I admired her power to create literary structures analogous to the movement structures she was dealing with. … Over the years, Johnston’s writing got wilder, more adventurous—and more personal. At one point, she experimented with doing away with punctuation, only allowing for a period now and then. After leaving the Voice in 1981, she tamed herself a bit, writing more than twenty brilliant essays for Art in America and many books. Art, biography, autobiography, travel, politics: She dived into them all. I like to think of her literary life as one rich and daring dance.”
W – Jill Johnston
frieze: The Revolutionary Dance Critic Jill Johnston
ARTFORUM: “Jill Johnston: The Disintegration of a Critic”
amazon: The Disintegration of a Critic

About 1960s: Days of Rage

Bill Davis - 1960s: Days of Rage
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