REVIEW: A Complicated Marriage: My Life with Clement Greenberg

Book by Janice Van Horne

REVIEW: A complicated marriageFamed art critic Clement Greenberg shocked the art world when he married Janice “Jenny” Van Horne, a 21-year-old graduate from Bennington College, only two months after they met at a party in 1955. It wasn’t just any party—Greenberg socked a gallery director and slapped his ex-girlfriend, artist Helen Frankenthaler. Rather than steering clear of Greenberg that night, Jenny slipped him her phone number. A Complicated Marriage charts the life they shared in a 39-year entanglement marked by affairs, a 25-year age gap, a child’s death, depression, divorce and fraud.

Technically, it was an open marriage. That’s what Jenny agreed to, but she never thought Greenberg would exercise the infidelity clause so enthusiastically. Their first five years were a blur of parties. She talked baseball with Saul Bellow, traded diet tips with Truman Capote and watched Gloria Swanson hit on her husband. As a couple, they kept company with Jackson Pollock and his wife, artist Lee Krasner, Barnett “Barney” and Annalee Newman, and Hans and Miz Hofmann. As the champion of the American abstract expressionist movement, Greenberg enjoyed life as an art world celebrity, but Jenny always felt excluded. Canadian painter Jack Bush and his wife, Mabel, were “the only couple who had ever made me feel I was part of a foursome.”

Jenny spent the seventies and eighties finding herself, dabbling in acting, drugs and therapy before becoming a playwright. That’s when this reader wanted to skip forward to more tidbits about Greenberg, who loved his suede shoes from Calgary. When the Greenbergs were bilked in a Ponzi scheme, Clem was 85 and failing. Jenny scrambled to make money from their art collection while he read Dickens. He died in 1994. She ends the book on an unexpected note, denying regrets about her open marriage. Perhaps it’s a widow’s profound grief talking.