The reason Clement Greenberg was inconsistent on the subject of sculpture is because in constructing his formalist theories he had conceptually painted himself into a corner. He insisted that the ideas in Modernist Painting were never intended to be prescriptive, but he had successfully mapped a generation worth of artistic production, starting with Frank Stella's black painting (which he evidently didn't much like), right up through to the minimalist (who he down right disliked), and dribbling out among the earth artists (those guys were totally formalists - see PMD 2/3). That is no small achievement, even accounting for the mixed results (in Greenberg's opinion). His rejection of minimalism wasn't arbitrary - he clearly hoped to extend his influence for another decade or two.
The problem was he had unintentionally built into the fabric of his program for modernist painting the death of the formalist cannon he championed - what Theiry de Duve calls the Lessing-Wolfflin-Roger-Fry lineage. The painter Frank Stella had cracked Greenberg’s code and the minimalists had carried the Greenbergian system to its alogical conclusion. At the height of his powers the critic was left squirming at what he saw done with his ideas, and the artists were left to try and make sense of his rejection - Donald Judd would later admit, “I thought he wanted the same thing.”
Like the earth art it championed, the Expanded Field’s particular brand of post-modernism was still very formalist however. Krauss was not looking forward towards a future beyond modernism, she was firing back over her shoulder, aiming to kill modernism. She was still trying to beat Greenberg on his own terms. Paradoxically her essay does not refute or debunk Greenberg, but instead her defense of minimalist and post-minimalist art extended the half-life of Grenberg's formalism. Starting with her opening ambit: her choice of Auguste Rodin's Balzac and The Gates of Hell as precedents for modernist sculpture. These two works put her at odds with her former mentor (one imagine he would have landed solidly on Constantin Brâncuşi's Endless Column), but the negative and theoretically abstract tone Krauss used to discuss Rodin's masterpieces Greenberg himself had made the recognized the coin of the realm within the art world's loftiest precincts. Here is how Krauss explained her choice of Rodin:
With these two sculptural projects, I would say, one crosses the threshold of the logic of the monument, entering the space of what could be called its negative condition-a kind of sitelessness, or homelessness, an absolute loss of place. Which is to say one enters modernism, since it is the modernist period of sculptural production that operates in relation to this loss of site, producing the monument as abstraction, the monument as pure marker or base, functionally placeless and largely self-referential.
What concerns me about Minimalist art is what Teresa de Lauretis describes as 'the relations of power involved in enunciation and reception', relations 'which sustain the hierarchies of communication ... the ideological construction of authorship and mastery; or more plainly, who speaks to whom, why and for whom.
I don’t believe there can be a society without relations of power, if you understand them as means by which individuals try to conduct, to determine the behavior of others. The problem is not of trying to dissolve them in the utopia of a perfectly transparent communication, but to give one’s self the rules of law, the techniques of management, and also the ethics, the ethos, the practice of self, which would allow these games of power to be played with a minimum of domination.