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Greenberg vs Rosenberg

Art	
  109A:	
  	
  Contemporary	
  Art	
  
Westchester	
  Community	
  College	
  
Fall	
  2012	
  
Greenberg vs
Rosenberg
Leading critics of postwar American
art

Divergent ways of interpreting
Abstract Expressionism

                                      Clement Greenberg
                                      Image source: Saatchi Gallery




                                      Harold Rosenberg
                                      Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
Formalism
Emphasis on formal elements: line,
form, color

Work of art is valued for its form,
rather than its content




                                      Clement Greenberg
                                      Image source: Saatchi Gallery
Formalism
 “[A] work of art . . . is worth
 looking at primarily because it
 presents a composition or
 organization of color, line, light
 and shade. . . since
 resemblance to nature is at
 best superfluous and at worst
 distracting, it might as well be
 eliminated.”
 Alfred Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, 1936




“Let me confess: I hold my mind
and my work free from any
association foreign to the act of             Carl Mydans, Alfred Barr, 1953   Hans Hoffman in his studio, 1957
                                              LIFE
painting”
Hans Hoffmann
Formalism
Abstraction is superior to realism
because the focus is on form rather
than content


“Whereas one tends to see what is in
an Old Master before seeing it as a
picture, one sees a Modernist painting
as a picture first.”
Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting”




                                          Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949
                                          Hirshhorn Museum
FormalismPollock has managed to
“In these works
free line not only from its function of
representing objects in the world, but
also from its task of describing our
bounding shapes or figures, whether
abstract or representational, on the
surface of the canvas. In a painting
such as “Number One” there is only a
pictorial field so homogenous overall
and devoid both of recognizable objects
and of abstract shapes that I want to
call it ‘optical’ . . . . Pollock’s field is
optical because it addresses itself to
eyesight alone. The materiality of his
pigment is rendered sheerly visual, and
the result is a new kind of space – if it
still makes sense to call it space – in
which conditions of seeing prevail rather
than one in which objects exist, flat
shapes are juxtaposed or physical
events transpire.”
Michael Fried, “Jackson Pollock”



                                               Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949
                                               Hirshhorn Museum
Non-Formalism
Emphasis on meaning/content


“Non-formalist critics tend to
focus on issues like the artist's
personal beliefs and/or the
context in which a work was
produced. If there is one
unifying belief among 20th-
century non-formalist art
critics, it is that art is an
organic process in which the
artist's emotional state is laid
bare by the final product.”
Theartstory.org




                                    Harold Rosenberg
                                    Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
Rosenberg
Emphasis on painting as “act”


“The act of painting is
inseparable from the
biography of the artist”
Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action
Painters”




                                         Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
Rosenberg




“What was to go on the canvas was
not a picture but an event.”
Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters”



“In this gesturing with materials the
esthetic, too, has been
subordinated . . . . What matters
always is the revelation contained in
the act.”
Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters”




                                                   Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
Rosenberg
Rosenberg considered the formal
elements to be irrelevant:

“The critic who goes on judging in
terms of schools, styles, form, as if
the painter were still concerned with
producing a certain kind of object (the
work of art), instead of living on the
canvas, is bound to seem a stranger.”
Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters”




                                                   Harold Rosenberg
                                                   Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
Rosenberg



“Form, color, composition, drawing,
are auxiliaries, any one of which—or
practically all, as has been attempted,
logically, with unpainted canvases—
can be dispensed with. What matters
always is the revelation contained in
the act.”
Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters”




                                                   Harold Rosenberg
                                                   Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
Test Your
Understanding
Formalist or Non-Formalist
                             “Painting isn’t just the visual thing
                             that reaches your retina – it’s
                             what is behind and in it. I’m not
                             interested in ‘abstracting’ or
                             taking things our or reducing
                             painting to design, form, line, and
                             color. I paint this way because I
                             can keep putting more things in it
                             – drama, anger, pain, love, a
                             figure, a horse, my ideas about
                             space.”
                             Willem de Kooning
Test Your
Understanding
Formalist or Non-Formalist
                             “You might as well get one thing
                             straight . . . I am not an
                             abstractionist . . . not interested
                             in relationships of color or form or
                             anything else . . . I’m interested
                             only in expressing basic human
                             emotions – tragedy, ecstasy,
                             doom, and so on”
                             Mark Rothko
Test Your
Understanding
Formalist or Non-Formalist
                             “One of [Ellsworth] Kelly’s
                             preoccupations has been to
                             explore the tension in our
                             perceptions of volume and plane,
                             foreground and background. He
                             uses perceptual ambiguities and
                             optical effects to force us to
                             acknowledge their simultaneous
                             presence and recognize the play
                             between them.”
Test Your
Understanding
Formalist or Non-Formalist
                             “The chaos in Pollock’s painting
                             seems to well up from deep
                             within his psyche, as a kind of
                             upsurge of primal energies,
                             which provides the work with its
                             authenticity. Chaos, however, not
                             only was the result of Pollock’s
                             individual psychology but was
                             informed by the turbulent state of
                             the world, which, like his
                             adventitious process, seemed
                             unmanageable and beyond
                             rational control.”
                             Irving Sandler
Greenberg vs
Rosenberg
Divergent views on art
• Formalist
• Non-formalist




                         Exhibition Catalog, Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art,
                         1940-1976, The Jewish Museum, 2008
Art as Life
Greenberg vs
Rosenberg                                      Art as Art
These divergent views influenced
the distinct paths taken by art in the
1950s/1960s
• Art as art
• Art as life
Modernist Theory
Clement Greenberg’s ideas were
developed in a series of essays
written during the 1940s-1950s

They were collected together in Art
and Culture, published in 1961
Modernist Theory
Greenberg’s key ideas included:
     1.  Artistic “progress”
     2.  Art as a self-critical activity
     3.  Medium specificity
     4.  Autonomy and self-referentiality
         (art about art)
     5.  Purity
     6.  The distinction between Avant
         garde and Kitsch




                                            Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland
                                            Image source:
                                            https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp
Modernist theory
Greenberg believed that art evolves
progressively, and that each new
advance renders previous
discoveries obsolete


“Formalism decreed a narrowly
linear progress in modernism
toward a relentless
purification . . . . Subject matter
was irrelevant, illusion
forbidden . . . .”
Fineberg, p. 155




                                      Jacket cover for the exhibition catalog for Alfred Barr’s
                                      Cubism and Abstract Art, Museum of Modern Art, 1936
Modernist Theory
He believed that the inevitable path
of modern painting since the 19th
century was towards abstraction




  Henri Matisse, Large Reclining Nude /
  The Pink Nude1935
                                          Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1865
Modernist Theory
The engine driving artistic evolution
is self criticism


“I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost
exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency that
began with the philosopher Kant”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting


“The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the
use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to
criticize the discipline itself.”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting




                                                Jeff McMillan
                                                http://www.jdmcmillan.org/works/self-criticism-and-want-it/
Modernist Theory
For Greenberg, art is like
philosophy

It is a self reflexive activity in which
art is used to investigate the nature
of art




                                           Nina Katchadourian, Special Collections, from the Sorted Books
                                           Project, 1996
Modernist Theory
 Medium specificity: Greenberg
 believed that each of the arts
 should focus on what is “unique
 and irreducible” to the medium


“The task of self criticism became to eliminate from
the effects of each art any and every effect that
might conceivably be borrowed from or by the
medium of any other art. Thereby each art would be
rendered ‘pure,’ and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee
of its standards of quality as well as its
independence.”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting
Modernist Theory
Paintings should not tell stories
because that is the domain of
literature and theater




                                    Rick Foucheux, Tim Getman, Nancy Robinette, and Jeremy S.
                                    Holm in Death of a Salesman. Photos by Scott Suchman/courtesy
                                    Arena Stage.
Modernist Theory
Nor should painting try to suggest
three dimensionality, since that is
the domain of sculpture




                                      David Smith, Cubi XVII, 1963
                                      Dallas Museum of Art
Modernist Theory
Greenberg believed that realistic art
is an “illusion”



“Realistic, illusionist art had
dissembled the medium, using art
to conceal art.”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting




                                        Rene Magritte, Promenades of Euclid, 1955
Modernist Theory
In realist painting, the picture
pretends to be a window when in
reality it is a flat piece of canvas
covered with paint
Modernist Theory
Greenberg believed that for art to
be “advanced,” it had to focus on
what was specific and unique to the
medium itself




                                      Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland
                                      Image source:
                                      https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp
Modernist Theory
A canvas is a flat surface, and the
material of painting is paint
Modernist Theory
 In an abstract picture, we are made
 aware of the picture as paint on
 canvas



“Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old
Master before seeing it as a picture, one
sees a Modernist painting as a picture first.”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting




                                                 Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949
                                                 Hirshhorn Museum
Modernist Theory
  It is therefore “self referential” and
  “autonomous”


“Modernism used art to call attention to art.
The limitations that constitute the medium of
painting -- the flat surface, the shape of the
support, the properties of pigment -- were
treated by the Old Masters as negative
factors [i.e. things that had to be overcome
to create a seamless illusion] . . . Modernist
painting has come to regard these same
limitations as positive factors that are to be
acknowledged openly.”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting




                                                 Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948
                                                 MOMA
Modernist Theory
Greenberg believed that through
this self-critical activity, art
becomes more pure


“Thereby each art would be
rendered ‘pure’, and in its ‘purity’
find the guarantee of its standards
of quality as well as of its
independence.”
Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting




                                        Jeff McMillan
                                        http://www.jdmcmillan.org/works/self-criticism-and-want-it/
Modernist Theory
This is what separates “art” from
“kitsch” -- the vulgar products of
mass culture


“To fill the demand of the new
market, a new commodity was
devised: ersatz culture, kitsch,
destined for those who,
insensible to the values of
genuine culture, are hungry
nevertheless for the diversion
that only culture of some sort
can provide.”
Clement Greenberg, Avant Garde
and Kitsch
Post Painterly
Abstraction
Clement Greenberg had been an
early champion of Jackson Pollock
and the Abstract Expressionists




                                    Hans Namuth, Clement Greenberg, 1951
Post Painterly
Abstraction
In his 1955 essay “American Type
Painting” he praised Pollock’s “all
over” style as the latest step in the
evolution of Modernism




                                        Jackson Pollock, Shimmering Substance, 1946
                                        Museum of Modern Art
Post Painterly
Abstraction
The “all over” style destroyed the
last remnants of illusionism in
painting




                                     Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949
                                     Hirshhorn Museum
Post Painterly
Abstraction
But Greenberg grew impatient with
Pollock’s “Gothic” personality and
intensely emotional style




                                     Clement Greenberg
                                     Image source: Saatchi Gallery
Post Painterly
Abstraction
His pictures were not “pure” enough
since they inevitably pointed to the
process of painting and the
emotional state of the artist




                                       Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948
                                       Museum of Modern Art
Post Painterly
Abstraction
Greenberg also denounced De
Kooning’s Women

In addition to wallowing in the
vulgarity of “kitsch,” the pictures
were not “self referential” or “pure”




                                        Willem De Kooning Woman I, 1950-52
                                        Museum of Modern Art
Post Painterly
Abstraction
In the late 1950’s Greenberg shifted
allegiance to a new style of painting
he called “post painterly
abstraction”




                                        Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland
                                        Image source:
                                        https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp

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3.2 greenberg vs rosenberg

  • 1. Greenberg vs Rosenberg Art  109A:    Contemporary  Art   Westchester  Community  College   Fall  2012  
  • 2. Greenberg vs Rosenberg Leading critics of postwar American art Divergent ways of interpreting Abstract Expressionism Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  • 3. Formalism Emphasis on formal elements: line, form, color Work of art is valued for its form, rather than its content Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery
  • 4. Formalism “[A] work of art . . . is worth looking at primarily because it presents a composition or organization of color, line, light and shade. . . since resemblance to nature is at best superfluous and at worst distracting, it might as well be eliminated.” Alfred Barr, Cubism and Abstract Art, 1936 “Let me confess: I hold my mind and my work free from any association foreign to the act of Carl Mydans, Alfred Barr, 1953 Hans Hoffman in his studio, 1957 LIFE painting” Hans Hoffmann
  • 5. Formalism Abstraction is superior to realism because the focus is on form rather than content “Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before seeing it as a picture, one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first.” Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting” Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 6. FormalismPollock has managed to “In these works free line not only from its function of representing objects in the world, but also from its task of describing our bounding shapes or figures, whether abstract or representational, on the surface of the canvas. In a painting such as “Number One” there is only a pictorial field so homogenous overall and devoid both of recognizable objects and of abstract shapes that I want to call it ‘optical’ . . . . Pollock’s field is optical because it addresses itself to eyesight alone. The materiality of his pigment is rendered sheerly visual, and the result is a new kind of space – if it still makes sense to call it space – in which conditions of seeing prevail rather than one in which objects exist, flat shapes are juxtaposed or physical events transpire.” Michael Fried, “Jackson Pollock” Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 7. Non-Formalism Emphasis on meaning/content “Non-formalist critics tend to focus on issues like the artist's personal beliefs and/or the context in which a work was produced. If there is one unifying belief among 20th- century non-formalist art critics, it is that art is an organic process in which the artist's emotional state is laid bare by the final product.” Theartstory.org Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  • 8. Rosenberg Emphasis on painting as “act” “The act of painting is inseparable from the biography of the artist” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
  • 9. Rosenberg “What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” “In this gesturing with materials the esthetic, too, has been subordinated . . . . What matters always is the revelation contained in the act.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Hans Namuth, Pollock in his studio, 1950
  • 10. Rosenberg Rosenberg considered the formal elements to be irrelevant: “The critic who goes on judging in terms of schools, styles, form, as if the painter were still concerned with producing a certain kind of object (the work of art), instead of living on the canvas, is bound to seem a stranger.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  • 11. Rosenberg “Form, color, composition, drawing, are auxiliaries, any one of which—or practically all, as has been attempted, logically, with unpainted canvases— can be dispensed with. What matters always is the revelation contained in the act.” Harold Rosenberg, “The American Action Painters” Harold Rosenberg Image source: http://nationalvanguard.org/2010/11/jews-and-modern-art/
  • 12. Test Your Understanding Formalist or Non-Formalist “Painting isn’t just the visual thing that reaches your retina – it’s what is behind and in it. I’m not interested in ‘abstracting’ or taking things our or reducing painting to design, form, line, and color. I paint this way because I can keep putting more things in it – drama, anger, pain, love, a figure, a horse, my ideas about space.” Willem de Kooning
  • 13. Test Your Understanding Formalist or Non-Formalist “You might as well get one thing straight . . . I am not an abstractionist . . . not interested in relationships of color or form or anything else . . . I’m interested only in expressing basic human emotions – tragedy, ecstasy, doom, and so on” Mark Rothko
  • 14. Test Your Understanding Formalist or Non-Formalist “One of [Ellsworth] Kelly’s preoccupations has been to explore the tension in our perceptions of volume and plane, foreground and background. He uses perceptual ambiguities and optical effects to force us to acknowledge their simultaneous presence and recognize the play between them.”
  • 15. Test Your Understanding Formalist or Non-Formalist “The chaos in Pollock’s painting seems to well up from deep within his psyche, as a kind of upsurge of primal energies, which provides the work with its authenticity. Chaos, however, not only was the result of Pollock’s individual psychology but was informed by the turbulent state of the world, which, like his adventitious process, seemed unmanageable and beyond rational control.” Irving Sandler
  • 16. Greenberg vs Rosenberg Divergent views on art • Formalist • Non-formalist Exhibition Catalog, Action/Abstraction: Pollock, de Kooning, and American Art, 1940-1976, The Jewish Museum, 2008
  • 17. Art as Life Greenberg vs Rosenberg Art as Art These divergent views influenced the distinct paths taken by art in the 1950s/1960s • Art as art • Art as life
  • 18. Modernist Theory Clement Greenberg’s ideas were developed in a series of essays written during the 1940s-1950s They were collected together in Art and Culture, published in 1961
  • 19. Modernist Theory Greenberg’s key ideas included: 1.  Artistic “progress” 2.  Art as a self-critical activity 3.  Medium specificity 4.  Autonomy and self-referentiality (art about art) 5.  Purity 6.  The distinction between Avant garde and Kitsch Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source: https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp
  • 20. Modernist theory Greenberg believed that art evolves progressively, and that each new advance renders previous discoveries obsolete “Formalism decreed a narrowly linear progress in modernism toward a relentless purification . . . . Subject matter was irrelevant, illusion forbidden . . . .” Fineberg, p. 155 Jacket cover for the exhibition catalog for Alfred Barr’s Cubism and Abstract Art, Museum of Modern Art, 1936
  • 21. Modernist Theory He believed that the inevitable path of modern painting since the 19th century was towards abstraction Henri Matisse, Large Reclining Nude / The Pink Nude1935 Edouard Manet, Olympia, 1865
  • 22. Modernist Theory The engine driving artistic evolution is self criticism “I identify Modernism with the intensification, almost exacerbation, of this self-critical tendency that began with the philosopher Kant” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of the characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jeff McMillan http://www.jdmcmillan.org/works/self-criticism-and-want-it/
  • 23. Modernist Theory For Greenberg, art is like philosophy It is a self reflexive activity in which art is used to investigate the nature of art Nina Katchadourian, Special Collections, from the Sorted Books Project, 1996
  • 24. Modernist Theory Medium specificity: Greenberg believed that each of the arts should focus on what is “unique and irreducible” to the medium “The task of self criticism became to eliminate from the effects of each art any and every effect that might conceivably be borrowed from or by the medium of any other art. Thereby each art would be rendered ‘pure,’ and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as its independence.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting
  • 25. Modernist Theory Paintings should not tell stories because that is the domain of literature and theater Rick Foucheux, Tim Getman, Nancy Robinette, and Jeremy S. Holm in Death of a Salesman. Photos by Scott Suchman/courtesy Arena Stage.
  • 26. Modernist Theory Nor should painting try to suggest three dimensionality, since that is the domain of sculpture David Smith, Cubi XVII, 1963 Dallas Museum of Art
  • 27. Modernist Theory Greenberg believed that realistic art is an “illusion” “Realistic, illusionist art had dissembled the medium, using art to conceal art.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Rene Magritte, Promenades of Euclid, 1955
  • 28. Modernist Theory In realist painting, the picture pretends to be a window when in reality it is a flat piece of canvas covered with paint
  • 29. Modernist Theory Greenberg believed that for art to be “advanced,” it had to focus on what was specific and unique to the medium itself Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source: https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp
  • 30. Modernist Theory A canvas is a flat surface, and the material of painting is paint
  • 31. Modernist Theory In an abstract picture, we are made aware of the picture as paint on canvas “Whereas one tends to see what is in an Old Master before seeing it as a picture, one sees a Modernist painting as a picture first.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 32. Modernist Theory It is therefore “self referential” and “autonomous” “Modernism used art to call attention to art. The limitations that constitute the medium of painting -- the flat surface, the shape of the support, the properties of pigment -- were treated by the Old Masters as negative factors [i.e. things that had to be overcome to create a seamless illusion] . . . Modernist painting has come to regard these same limitations as positive factors that are to be acknowledged openly.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Barnett Newman, Onement I, 1948 MOMA
  • 33. Modernist Theory Greenberg believed that through this self-critical activity, art becomes more pure “Thereby each art would be rendered ‘pure’, and in its ‘purity’ find the guarantee of its standards of quality as well as of its independence.” Clement Greenberg, Modernist Painting Jeff McMillan http://www.jdmcmillan.org/works/self-criticism-and-want-it/
  • 34. Modernist Theory This is what separates “art” from “kitsch” -- the vulgar products of mass culture “To fill the demand of the new market, a new commodity was devised: ersatz culture, kitsch, destined for those who, insensible to the values of genuine culture, are hungry nevertheless for the diversion that only culture of some sort can provide.” Clement Greenberg, Avant Garde and Kitsch
  • 35. Post Painterly Abstraction Clement Greenberg had been an early champion of Jackson Pollock and the Abstract Expressionists Hans Namuth, Clement Greenberg, 1951
  • 36. Post Painterly Abstraction In his 1955 essay “American Type Painting” he praised Pollock’s “all over” style as the latest step in the evolution of Modernism Jackson Pollock, Shimmering Substance, 1946 Museum of Modern Art
  • 37. Post Painterly Abstraction The “all over” style destroyed the last remnants of illusionism in painting Jackson Pollock, No. 3, 1949: Tiger, 1949 Hirshhorn Museum
  • 38. Post Painterly Abstraction But Greenberg grew impatient with Pollock’s “Gothic” personality and intensely emotional style Clement Greenberg Image source: Saatchi Gallery
  • 39. Post Painterly Abstraction His pictures were not “pure” enough since they inevitably pointed to the process of painting and the emotional state of the artist Jackson Pollock, Number 1A, 1948 Museum of Modern Art
  • 40. Post Painterly Abstraction Greenberg also denounced De Kooning’s Women In addition to wallowing in the vulgarity of “kitsch,” the pictures were not “self referential” or “pure” Willem De Kooning Woman I, 1950-52 Museum of Modern Art
  • 41. Post Painterly Abstraction In the late 1950’s Greenberg shifted allegiance to a new style of painting he called “post painterly abstraction” Clement Greenberg looking at a painting by Ken Noland Image source: https://www.artnet.sk/Magazine/features/kostabi/kostabi9-11-18.asp