I was reminded of the phrase, Other Traditions (2001), the collective title John Ashbery gave to the publication of his six Charles Eliot Norton lectures at Harvard University, when I was looking at Marcia Marcus’s grisaille portrait of “Edwin Dickinson” (1972) in the timely exhibition, Double Portrait: Mimi Gross and Marcia Marcus, at the Shirley Fiterman Art Center at the Borough of Manhattan Community College (May 23–July 27, 2019), curated by Lisa Panzera.
Twenty years before the publication of Other Traditions, Ashbery made the following observation about Dickinson in New York (October 13, 1980):
Coming on this show fresh from Whitney’s [Edward] Hopper retrospective made me wonder once again if we really know who our greatest artists are. I would be the last to deny Hopper’s importance, but even in the smallest and most slapdash of these oil sketches, Dickinson seems to me a greater and more elevated painter, and all notions of “cerebralism” and “decadence” — two words critics throw around when they can’t find anything bad to say about an artist — are swept away by the freshness of these pictures, in which eeriness and vivacity seem to go hand in hand, as they do in our social life.
You are not likely to find the work of Gross and Marcus on display in the area reserved for works from the “Permanent Collection” of any major New York City museum, and I find that both predictable and troubling. Ashbery was right of course: we might not “really know who our greatest artists are,” but — at the same time — we don’t have to look very far to know who does well in the auction houses. New records seem to be set every few months. This is one of the measures that art world institutions and their well-spoken representatives seem to routinely trot out.