The thought of Philip Glass driving a cab, fixing pipes.
A beautiful meditation on the nature of art by philosopher Elizabeth Grosz. From her 2008 book, Chaos, Territory, Art.
Cosmological imponderables—among the most obvious, the forces of temporality, gravity, magnetism—equally the objects of scientific, philosophical, and artistic exploration, are among the invisible, unheard, imperceptible forces of the earth, forces beyond the control of life that animate and extend life beyond itself. Art engenders becomings, not imaginative becomings—the elaboration of images and narratives in which a subject might recognize itself, not self-representations, narratives, confessions, testimonies of what is and has been—but material becomings, in which these imponderable universal forces touch and become enveloped in life, in which life folds over itself to embrace its contact with materiality, in which each exchanges some elements or particles with the other to become more and other.
It is for this reason that art is not frivolous, an indulgence or luxury, an embellishment of what is most central: it is the most vital and direct form of impact on and through the body, the generation of vibratory waves, rhythms, that traverse the body and make of the body a link with forces it cannot otherwise perceive and act upon. This explains art’s cultural or human universality and ubiquity: it is culture’s most direct mode of enhancement or intensification of bodies, culture’s mode for the elaboration of sensations, and thus culture’s most intense debt to the chaotic forces it characterizes as nature.
… What philosophy can offer art is not a theory of art, an elaboration of its silent or undeveloped concepts, but what philosophy and art share in common—their rootedness in chaos, their capacity to ride the waves of a vibratory universe without direction or purpose, in short, their capacity to enlarge the universe by enabling its potential to be otherwise, to be framed through concepts and affects. They are among the most forceful ways in which culture generates a small space of chaos within chaos where chaos can be elaborated, felt, thought.
Yayoi Kusama with Macaroni Girl and Infinity Net in her 1964 show at Castellane Gallery, New York. The narcissistic sublime.
Coop Himmelb(l)au’s The Restless Sphere, staged in the streets of Basel in 1971. Inside and outside merge as sculpture becomes a mobile membrane or tactile skin: a proto-alveolus, rendered in plastic.
A bulletin board in Ellsworth Kelly’s Spencertown, New York studio; photograph by Jack Shear. Also pictured: Dutch & Flemish masters (van Eyck, van der Weyden, Hals, Rembrandt). Among other things: abstraction, derived from the frontal gaze and the slight skew of the three-quarter view.
5. Pockets and/or loose change
6. Sunset views
7. Lucid confusions
From James Schuyler’s “Unlike Joubert,” c. 1970 (?):
…All that is
clear on this shadowless day under
a sky like a shadow is that the first
thought was gray, a harshly bright
blue-gray, a piece of too highly colored
slate, while the second was gray
as some roses are, or hair you see
was once red, a gray with the charm
and warmth to it of an intimate and
not overly cozy room, one with woodwork
by Pajou, or like worn upholstery, or
your first biplane. As different as
day from night, and as alike,
just as their connective—the nothing which
may not have been—was also a gray,
creamier, lighter, and shifty-eyed
as the sky or a big flat button
cut out of a seashell, the polished
off husk of oyster, perhaps:
subtle days in winter when thought
sinks down in the presence of an absence.
not as much anarchitecture as spacism ?
or space if/ication
Gordon Matta-Clark, undated index card.
Oldenburg on his French Fries with Ketchup from a 1964 radio interview with Bruce Glaser, Lichtenstein, and an affectedly mum Warhol. Composed in kapok and vinyl, the work first appeared in a fall 1963 solo show at Dwan Gallery in Los Angeles along with Bacon, Lettuce, and Tomato Sandwich (partially fabricated by Artschwager) and the Bedroom ensemble.
If it was just a satirical thing there wouldn’t be any problem. Then we would know why we were doing these things. But making a parody is not the same thing as a satire. Parody in the classical sense is simply a kind of imitation, something like a paraphrase. It is not necessarily making fun of anything, rather it puts the imitated work into a new context. So if I see an Arp and I put that Arp into the form of some ketchup, does that reduce the Arp or does it enlarge the ketchup, or does it make everything equal? I am talking about the form and not about your opinion of the form. The eye reveals the truth that the ketchup looks like an Arp. That’s the form the eye sees. You do not have to reach any conclusions about which is better. It is just a matter of form and material.
“I would be so happy without unbalance and also so happy with more unbalance. I wonder but, for practical purposes, do not want to know what my trouble is. How dull I would be, if cured.” Claes Oldenburg, notebook, New York, c. 1956.
Warhol in the original Factory at 231 East 47th St., c. 1964, in a photograph by Billy Name. Name had laminated the space with silver tinfoil and Mylar in mime of his own downtown apartment, which he had recently “silvered” on an amphetamine kick.
From Kittler’s Optical Media (trans. Anthony Elms), p. 119-20:
The negative of all painting existed in its naked materiality, namely in its colors. It therefore existed neither in symbolic meaning nor in the imaginary effects of red, green, or blue, but rather in the simple reality of pigments, as they have been known since time immemorial. I recall carmine red, Prussian blue, lapis lazuli, etc. I recall above all the last great European novelist, who conceived of himself as a magician or an “illusionist.” Humbert Humbert, the protagonist of Nabokov’s most widely read novel, talks about Lolita, himself, and art in the very last sentence: “I am thinking of aurochs and angels, the secret of durable pigments, prophetic sonnets, the refuge of art. And this is the only immortality you and I may share, my Lolita.”
Spread from Claes Oldenburg’s Store Days, 1967.
Under Chocolates in Box (Fragment) (bloodied, fecal): “This is paint vs. sculpture.”
“Everything in Oldenburg’s work is carried to an extreme. According to him, even the banal must be intense: ‘The ordinary must not be dull,’ he declares. ‘It can be excruciating, excruciatingly banal.‘” Barbara Rose, 1969.
Inked paper soaked in glue and congealed over chicken wire. Roughly five feet in length and set atop a dehinged door. Exhibited at Peridot Gallery in the spring of 1951; destroyed by Pollock the summer following. Lumpy and strange: a proto-Store object.
Lucy Lippard’s inventory of conceits in post-Pollock, New York art. From the catalog for “New York 13,” Vancouver Art Gallery, winter 1969.
From the catalog to Jack Burnham’s “Software” exhibition (Jewish Museum, fall 1970).
Monomorphic, modular, monochrome.
John Cage, “On Robert Rauschenberg…”, 1961:
Is there any need before we go to bed to recite the history of the changes and will we in that bed be murdered? And how will our dreams, if we manage to go to sleep, suggest the next practical step? Which would you say it was wild, or elegant, and why?
Frontispiece to Dawns + Dusks, found at the Strand. From 1976.
She had a cat named Fat-Fat.
The first lines of Jorie Graham’s “Erosion,” 1983:
I would not want, I think, a higher intelligence, one
simultaneous, cut clean
of sequence. No,
it is our slowness I love, growing slower,
tapping the paintbrush against the visible,
tapping the mind.
We are, ourselves, a mannerism now,
out of the chain
So we grow fat with unqualified life. …
According to Robert Smithson, The Creation of the Humanoids, 1962. First two minutes: the technological sublime. “Humankind, which once, in Homer, was an object of contemplation for the Olympian gods, has now become one for itself. Its self-alienation has reached the point where it can experience its own annihilation as a supreme aesthetic pleasure.” Walter Benjamin, “The Work of Art…”
“The subject of Pop art really is style not life. It is the play between art, style, and machine style, not between art and life, because stylization is all—there is no ‘life.’” Claes Oldenburg, London, fall 1966.
From Richard Nonas’ notebooks, undated (1970s? early 1980s?):
‘Things mean’ is what structural thinking is always about—expeditions into the interior: the invasion of reason into the interior; the search for information (that turning everything into information is what is dubious about anthropology, and much of art too). I’m not looking for clarification (which is just dull), but for something I don’t have words for: a kind of confusion or doubt which excites me the way some women do. Analysis is too violent, too specific, and too slow. I like my violence ambiguous, but quick—weakened by time, but strengthened by the depth of its wounding. (Words, analysis, make their object nothing more than object, but object—ambiguous object—left alone is something more.) As an anthropologist I destroy (or change, which is the same) whatever I touch. What do I do as an artist? What I touch is tainted; what I’ve touched is tainted. I destroy what I don’t know, by understanding it. Is that what art is about? Is art a kind of extended suicide? What we know, we destroy. What we can’t face, we kill. Art is about failure.
Donald Judd’s Relief, 1961: a rectangular sheet of masonite, brambled with black paint and inset with an aluminum baking pan (4 x 3 x 2′, roughly). Currently installed on the fourth floor of MoMA opposite Anne Truitt’s Catwaba, 1962, and Stella’s Marriage of Reason and Squalor, 1959. Worth the trip to go see; it fares poorly in reproduction.
Relief, n., from the Italian rilievo and the French relever. 1. The remains of a thing; a remainder, a residue. 2. The body, or part of the body, of a dead person, esp. a saint; a relic. rare. 3. Alleviation of or deliverance from distress, anxiety, or some other emotional burden; the feeling accompanying this. 4. A change which provides respite from something monotonous or tedious. 5. The fact of jutting out or projecting from a background. 6. The representation of solidity in two dimensions.
“Things that exist exist, and everything is on their side. They’re here, which is pretty puzzling. Nothing can be said of things that don’t exist. Things exist in the same way if that is all that is considered—which may be because we feel that or because that is what the world means or both. Everything is equal, just existing, and the values and interests they have are only adventitious.” Judd, 1964. (Compare to the epigraph to analytic philosopher G.E. Moore’s Principia Ethica, 1903: “A thing is what it is and not another thing.” Or, alternately, to Hemingway’s prose: short, declarative sentences; inexpressive adjectives; indefinite pronouns; variants of the verb “to be”; etc.)
The “corporate model” of advanced art. From Steinberg’s “Other Criteria,” 1971:
It is probably no chance coincidence that the descriptive terms which have dominated American formalist criticism these past fifty years run parallel to the contemporaneous evolution of the Detroit automobile. Its ever-increasing symbiosis of parts—the ingestion of doors, running boards, wheels, fenders, spare tires, signals, etc., in a one-piece fuselage—suggest, with no need for Kant, a similar drift toward synthesizing its design elements. It is not that cars look like the paintings. What I am saying here relates less to the pictures themselves than to the critical apparatus that deals with them. Pollock, Louis, and Noland are vastly different from each other; but the reductive terms of discussion that continually run them in series are remarkably close to the ideals that govern the packaging of the all-American engine.
The monochrome as black hole: space-time vortex or sublime abyss; impossibly dense, infinitely void, and so forth. But also, as apotrope and fetish, fascinating (fixating, arresting, paralytic) and grotesque. f.ex. Sarah Charlesworth’s cibachrome dipytch, Fear of Nothing, 1988 (each 32 by 32”).
Responses to patriarchy, à la VALIE EXPORT’s Menschenfrauen (1979):
- Piousness (hope for the best)
- Mobilization of cliché
- Emotional distress (self harm, hysteria)
- Negation of self (suicide)
- Insanity (involuntary commitment)
- Hallucination (attenuation of reality)
- Epistolary exchange
- Female friendship
- Flight to Alaska
Robert Smithson on limits and irresolution, from a 1969 interview with Patsy Norvell.
All legitimate art deals with limits. Fradulent art feels that it has no limits. The trick is to locate those elusive limits. You are always running against those limits, but somehow they never show themselves. That’s why I say measure and dimension break down at a certain point. … Like there are the people of the middle, lawyers and engineers, the rational numbers, and there are the people of the fringe, tramps and madmen, irrational numbers. The fringe and the middle meet when somebody like Emmett Kelly sweeps light into a dustpan.
An art against itself is a good possibility, an art that always returns to essential contradiction. I’m sick of positivists, ontological hopes, and that sort of thing, even ontological despairs. Both are impossible.
From Frank O’Hara’s Collected Poems.
He allows as how some have copped out
but others are always terrific, hmmmmmm?
Then he goes out to buy a pair of jeans,
moccasins and some holeless socks. It
is very hot. He thinks with pleasure that
his first name is the same as de Kooning’s.
People even call him “Bill” too, and
they often smile. He feels rather severe
actually, about people smiling without a
reason. He is naturally suspicious, but
easily reassured, say by a pledge unto death.
He likes to think of windows being part
of life, you look at them, they look at
you, why not? Passing the huge white Adam
sculpture at the Musée d’art moderne he
was heard to fart. He likes walls to be
white, sculpture to be colored. He provides
his own noise. He is kissy and admires
Miró. Though his head is feathery, his
chronologies are very serious. He has a
longer neck than you might think. About
Courbet he seldom thinks, but he thinks a lot
about Fantin-Latour. He looks like one.
Corner of a Table. At the Frick Museum he
seems rather apache. He likes tunafish
and vodka, collages and cologne, and
seeing French movies more than once.
He is most at home at the Sidney Janis Gallery.
Thus shoring my suspicion that the monolith from 2001: A Space Odyssey (Kubrick, 1968) is, indeed, a John McCracken: shiny-seductive minimalist plinth meets space fetish meets augury from above. From a page in the artist’s sketchbook, dated 1966.
Isa Genzken, Ohr (Ear), 1980, c-print, next to Wolfgang Tillmans, Outer Ear, 2012,
inkjet print on paper. The ear as auditory device and surrealist object: f.ex. Bill Brandt’s recumbent Ear on the Beach, 1957.
British writer Robert Macfarlane on Sebald’s The Rings of Saturn, as quoted in Grant Gee’s 2012 film, Patience (After Sebald):
There’s a beautiful section in Vladimir Nabokov’s novel, Transparent Things, where he talks about how when you concentrate on a material object, he says, the very act of attention may lead to our involuntary sinking into its surface. And he talks about, Nabokov has this beautiful phrase, “the dream life of debris.” And that seems to happen again and again in Sebald: that what begins as a particular object that is seen in all its specificity and radiance slowly shimmers, becomes a kind of quicksand, sucks the gaze of the viewer and the footfall of the walker down into it, and we find ourselves at Bergen-Belsen or in the Congo.
NB: I don’t believe that “the dream life of debris” comes from Transparent Things (perhaps it inhabits another of Nabokov’s novels?) but the bit about “involuntarily sinking” into an object’s history is from the first page. Also, another wonderful passage from that book: a gloss on the experience of reading Nabokov from the author himself.
Sometimes he wondered what the phrase really meant—what exactly did “rimiform” suggest and how did a “balanic plum” look, or should he cap the ‘b’ and insert a ‘k’ after ‘l’? The dictionary he used at home was less informative than the huge battered one in the office and he was now stumped by such beautiful things as “all the gold of a kew tree” and “a dappled nebris.”
The opening lines of the 1972 Diane Arbus Aperture monograph:
My favorite thing is to go where I’ve never been. For me there’s something about just going into somebody else’s house. When it comes time to go, if I have to take a bus to somewhere or if I have to take a cab uptown, it’s like I’ve got a blind date. It’s always seemed something like that to me. And sometimes I have a sinking feeling of, Oh God it’s time and I really don’t want to go. And then, once I’m on my way, something terrific takes over about the sort of queasiness of it and how there’s absolutely no method for control.
From David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists.
One thing that is certainly true about my work: it’s very conservative because I have retained in the work the experience of materials that have largely disappeared from the world, such as copper—as in copper pans and kettles. I like that. And actually I think materials are richer in properties than colors are. Color is only one of the properties of matter, whereas there are so many other properties that one can display and develop and bring out. I’ve never in my life made a mark on canvas that I could believe in. When I started doing art seriously in 1951, at Andover, it was the first time I was ever in a studio, the first time I ever used oil paint. I painted away—there was no other option at that time. When I learned about Clement Greenberg praising flat painting, I was tremendously amused, as I had never been able to do anything but a flat painting! You have to have some gift for painting to make paintings that aren’t flat. My making a mark on a canvas has never convinced me. Moving a brick from one side of a room to another: that convinces me. I know I’ve done something when I’ve done that.
From a 1978 interview with Ian Wallace and Russell Keziere, published in Janet Kraynak’s edited anthology of the artist’s writings and statements, Please Pay Attention Please.
When I left school and got a job at the Art Institute in San Francisco, I rented some studio space. I didn’t know many people there, and being a beginning instructor I taught the early morning classes and consequently saw very little of my colleagues. I had no support structure for my art then; there was no contact or opportunity to tell people what I was doing every day; there was no chance to talk about my work. And a lot of things I was doing didn’t make sense so I quit doing them. That left me alone in the studio; this in turn raised the fundamental question of what an artist does when left alone in the studio. My conclusion was that I was an artist and I was in the studio, then whatever it was I was doing in the studio must be art. And what I was in fact doing was drinking coffee and pacing the ﬂoor. It became a question then of how to structure those activities into being art, or some kind of cohesive unit that could be made available to people. At this point art became more of an activity and less of a product. The product is not important for your own self-awareness. I saw it in terms of what I was going to do each day, and how I was to get from one to another, and beyond that I was concerned with maintaining my interest level over a longer period of time, e.g., a part of a lifetime. It is easier to consider the possibility of not being an artist. The world doesn’t end when you dry up. What you are to do with the everyday is an art problem. And it is broader than just deciding whether to be a sculptor or a painter. It is a problem that everybody has at one time or another.
From Croatian artist Mladen Stillnović’s 1993 text, “The Praise of Laziness”:
As an artist, I learned from both East (socialism) and West (capitalism). Of course, now when the borders and political systems have changed, such an experience will be no longer possible. But what I have learned from that dialogue, stays with me. My observation and knowledge of Western art has lately led me to a conclusion that art cannot exist any more in the West. This is not to say that there isn’t any. Why cannot art exist any more in the West? The answer is simple. Artists in the West are not lazy. Artists from the East are lazy; whether they will stay lazy now when they are no longer Eastern artists, remains to be seen.
Laziness is the absence of movement and thought, dumb time – total amnesia. It is also indifference, staring at nothing, non-activity, impotence. It is sheer stupidity, a time of pain, futile concentration. Those virtues of laziness are important factors in art. Knowing about laziness is not enough, it must be practised and perfected.
Artists in the West are not lazy and therefore not artists but rather producers of something….. Their involvement with matters of no importance, such as production, promotion, gallery system, museum system, competition system (who is first), their preoccupation with objects, all that drives them away form laziness, from art. Just as money is paper, so a gallery is a room.
Artists from the East were lazy and poor because the entire system of insignificant factors did not exist. Therefore they had time enough to concentrate on art and laziness. Even when they did produce art, they knew it was in vain, it was nothing. …
For Documenta 5 in 1972, Alina Szapocznikow proposed the creation of an ornamental Rolls Royce, blown up to twice its normal size and fashioned from solid pink marble. Though the project was never realized, the text of her proposal, entitled “My American Dream,” offers a droll commentary on the muscular, grandiose ambitions of her male peers. The typewritten text is reproduced below; an image is linked here.
TO BLOW UP, TWICE THE SIZE AND IN PINK PORTUGESE MARBLE, THE CONVERTIBLE ROLLS ROYCE, THE ONE PIECE SOLID MARBLE ROLLS. THIS WORK OR OBJECT WILL BE VERY EXPENSIVE AND COMPLETELY USELESS, AND A REFLECTION OF THE GOD OF SUPREME LUXURY.
IN OTHER WORDS A “COMPLETE” WORK OF ART.
IF THERE EXISTS SUCH A FANTASTIC SNOB AZ WHO WOULD ORDER THIS WORK TO BE MADE AND PUT IT RIGHT ON HIS PRIVATE LAWN TO GREET HIS GUEST AND INVITE THEM FOR DRINKS ON THE MARBLE SEATS, THEN MY AMERICAN DREAM WILL BE ACCOMPLISHED.
From the artist’s 1980 memoir, POPism:
Sometimes I like to be bored, and sometimes I don’t – it depends on what kind of mood I’m in. Everyone know how it is, some days you can sit and look out the window for hours and hours and some days you can’t sit still for a single second.
I’ve been quoted a lot as saying “I like boring things.” Well, I said it and I meant it. But that doesn’t mean I’m not bored by them. Of course, what I think is boring must not be the same as what other people think is, since I could never stand to watch all the most popular action shows on TV, because they’re essentially the same plots and the same shots and the same cuts over and over again. Apparently, most people love watching the same basic thing, as long as the details are different. But I’m just the opposite: if I’m going to sit and watch the same thing I saw the night before, I don’t want it to be essentially the same—I want it to be exactly the same. Because the more you look at the same exact thing, the more the meaning goes away, and the better and emptier you feel.
The Easter Sunday be-in in Central Park was incredible; thousands of kids handing you flowers, burning incense, smoking grass, taking acid, passing drugs around right out in the open, taking their clothes off and rolling around on the ground, painting their bodies with Day-Glo, doing Far East-type chants, playing with their toys—balloons and pinwheels and sheriff’s badges and Frisbees. They could stand there staring at each other for hours without moving. As I said before, that had always fascinated me, the way people could sit by a window or on a porch all day and look out and never be bored, but then if they went to a movie or play, they suddenly objected to being bored. I always felt that a very slow film could be just as interesting as a porch-sit if you thought about it the same way.
Carl Andre responds to Gertrude Stein’s Tender Buttons in the avant-garde poetry journal L=A=N=G=U=A=G=E. “In the / morning there is / feeling…” December 1978.
John Armleder on Fluxus, from an interview with curator Fabrice Stroun in Artforum:
One of the things that was great about the Fluxus artists is that they were undecided as to whether an artwork was a joke or something that demanded some kind of veneration. This vacillation is central to my understanding of my own work and of art in general. If you view something as completely serious or as completely ironic, you’re missing it altogether.
Robert Smithson on suburbia and surreality from his article, “A Museum of Language in the Vicinity of Art,” Art International, March 1968:
Suburbia literally means a “city below”; it is a circular gulf between city and country—a place where buildings seem to sink away from one’s vision—buildings fall back into sparawling [sic] babels or limbos. Every site glides away toward absence. An immense negative entity of formlessness displaces the center which is the city and swamps the country. From the worn down mountains of North New Jersey to postcard skylines of Manhattan, the prodigious variety of “housing projects” radiate into a vaporized world of cubes. The landscape is effaced into sidereal expanses and contradictions. Los Angeles is all suburb, a pointless phenomenon which seems uninhabitable, and a place swarming with dematerialized distances. A pale copy of a bad movie. Edward Ruscha records this pointlessness in his Every Building on the Sunset Strip. All the buildings expire along a horizon broken at intervals by vacant lots, luminous avenues, and modernistic perspectives. … Exterior space gives way to the total vacuity of time. Time as a concrete aspect of mind mixed with thing is attenuated into ever greater distances, that leave one fixed in a certain spot. Reality dissolves into leaden and incessant lattices of solid diminution. An effacement of the country and city abolishes space, but establishes enormous mental distances. What the artist seeks is coherence and order—not “truth,” correct statements, or proofs. He seeks the fiction that reality will sooner or later imitate.
From her book-length interview with Diana MacKown, Dawns + Dusks (1976):
One of the reasons I originally started with black was to see the forms more clearly. Black seemed the strongest and clearest. But then somehow as I worked and worked and worked…it pleased me. You see, one way about my thinking—I didn’t want it to be sculpture and I didn’t want it to be painting. I didn’t want to make something. I think it’s stupid to want to make anything. Why make anything? You know, there’s an awful lot of crap on this earth and we don’t want to fill it with any more. Let the air breathe. But—the thing is that it’s something beyond that we make. My work has never been black to me to begin with. I never think of it that way. I don’t make sculpture and it isn’t black and it isn’t wood or anything, because I wanted something else. I wanted an essence.
…When I fell in love with black, it contained all color. It wasn’t a negation of color. It was an acceptance. Because black encompasses all colors. Black is the most aristocratic color of all. The only aristocratic color. For me this is the ultimate. You can be quiet and it contains the whole thing. There is no color that will give you the feeling of totality. Of peace. Of greatness. Of quietness. Of excitement. I have seen things that were transformed into black that took on just greatness. I don’t want to use a lesser word. Now if it does that for things I’ve handled, that means that the essence of it is just what you call it—alchemy.
From Carl Tomkins’ New Yorker profile of Carl Andre, December 5, 2011
Andre’s breakthrough…took several years to materialize. He had scavenged a six-foot-long, four-by-four timber that he wanted to work on, but the Mulberry Street space he shared with [Hollis] Frampton was too small, so Stella told him to bring it over to his West Broadway studio. The deal was that Andre could work there when Stella was out. Surrounded by Stella’s black paintings, Andre attacked the beam with a mallet and chisel, cutting deep, roughly similar indentations on one side, in the manner of Brancusi’s “Endless Column.” Frampton, a disciple of Ezra Pound, had introduced him to Pound’s essay on Brancusi, and Andre had gone to see the Brancusi sculptures in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. “Brancusi was my idol,” he told me. “So what I did was to take the timber and carve into it. I didn’t change its shape, I just cut into it. One day, I had finished carving and set it up on end, and Frank came in. He ran his hand up and down the uncarved back of the timber, and he said, ‘You know, that’s sculpture, too.’ ”
This story, told and retold in the art literature, is one of the founding myths of minimal art. The usual interpretation is the one Andre gave in a 1966 interview with the art writer David Bourdon. “Up to a certain time,” he said, “I was cutting into things. Then I realized that the thing I was cutting was the cut. Rather than cut into the material, I now use the material as the cut in space.” But is this what Stella had meant? “I thought he meant that the uncarved back was sculpture, too,” Andre said to me, “but once I was telling the story, and Frank started laughing, and I said, ‘Frank, is the story not true?’ And he said, ‘Yes, but what I meant was that you had to carve on that side, too.’ So my whole career is based on a misunderstanding!”
W.G. Sebald, from The Rings of Saturn:
We talked about the deserted, soundless month of August. For weeks, said Michael, there is not a bird to be seen. It is as if everything was somehow hollowed out. Everything is on the point of decline, and only the weeds flourish: bindweed strangles the shrubs, the yellow roots of nettles creep onward in the soil, burdock stands a whole head taller than oneself, brown rot and greenfly are everywhere, and even the sheets of paper on which one endeavors to put together a few words and sentences seem covered in mildew. For days and weeks on end one racks one’s brains to no avail, and, if asked, one could not say whether one goes on writing purely out of habit, or a craving for admiration, or because one knows not how to do anything other, or out of sheer wonderment, despair, or outrage, any more than one could say whether writing renders one more perceptive or more insane.
Louise Bourgeois on modern art, as quoted in Donald Kuspit’s 1988 monograph:
What modern art means is that you have to keep finding new ways to express yourself, to express the problems, that there are no settled ways, no fixed approach. This is a painful situation, and modern art is about this painful situation of having no absolutely definitive way of expressing yourself. This is why modern art will continue, because this condition remains; it is the modern human condition…it is about the hurt of not being able to express yourself properly, to express your intimate relations, your unconscious, to trust the world enough to express yourself directly in it. It is about trying to be sane in this situation, of being tentatively and temporarily sane by expressing yourself.
Joan Didion on the influence of author V.S. Naipaul, from her 2006 interview with The Paris Review:
I read [Naipaul’s] nonfiction first. But the novel that really attracted me—and I still read the beginning of it now and then—is Guerillas. It has that bauxite factory in the opening pages, which just gives you the whole feel of that part of the world. That was a thrilling book to me. The nonfiction had the same effect on me as reading Elizabeth Hardwick—you get the sense that it’s possible simply to go through life noticing things and writing them down and that this is OK, it’s worth doing. That the seemingly insignificant things that most of us spend our days noticing are really significant, have meaning, and tell us something.