A Giambologna marble in the Loggia dei Lanzi, Florence. Some 300 years before the advent of modern abstraction, sculpture discloses its subjects as tension, equipoise, and force. But, per the Renaissance, abstraction is always figurative, as in Leonardo’s man within a circle within a square.
Gerhard Richter, Corridor, 1964, oil on canvas, 59 x 51”. From his “Notes,” 1964-65: “I like everything that has no style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings. (Because style is violent, and I am not violent.)” In the same text, he declares himself a “Surrealist”; elsewhere, he invokes the strange, unsettling emptiness of a de Chirico.
David Wojnarowicz, What’s This Little Guy’s Job in the World?, 1990.
Gelatin silver print, currently on view at the Whitney.
Text in the photograph below:
What is this little guy’s job in the world. If this little guy dies does the world know? Does the world feel this? Does something get displaced? If this little guy dies does the world get a little lighter? Does the planet rotate a little faster? If this little guy dies, without his body to shift the currents of air, does the air flow perceptibly faster? What shifts if this little guy dies? Do people speak language a little bit differently? If this little guy dies does some little kid somewhere wake up with a bad dream? Does an almost imperceptible link in the chain snap? Will civilization stumble?
Goya’s Atopos (The Fates), one of 14 of his Black Paintings, 1819-23, composed in the final years of his life directly atop the walls of his home in Carabanchel, on the outskirts of Madrid. Muted, haunting, and wonderfully strange. Now on permanent view at the Prado. Roughly 9 x 4 ft.
From a 1971-72 text by François Morellet, “Viewer to Viewer, or The Art of Unpacking One’s Picnic”:
[…] Je pense que tout l’art moderne est de l’art pour amateur d’art, c’est-à-dire de l’art pour y mettre de l’art, de l’art fourre-tout, de l’art où l’spectateur fourre tout […] Malevitch, Duchamp, Mondrian, Yves Klein ou aujourd’hui Beuys, Carl Andre, Kosuth, de Andrea, etc., sont des exemples, entre autres, de l’art fourre-tout. Ils ont crée des œuvres qui ont enthousiasmé petit à petit les critiques et qui ont suscité et susciteront des tonnes de commentaires. Et ils ont bien mérité leur succès puisqu’ils ont su offrir aux amateurs éclairés ce presque rien qui appelle le remplissage.
Pour moi, tout le problème de l’art moderne se trouve là, dans ces causes qui poussent certains individus à répandre tout leur génie poétique et philosophique d’amateur d’art dans le carré noir de Malevitch, d’autres dans le rectangle bleu de Klein, ou dans la page de dictionnaire de Kosuth […]
Les arts plastiques doivent permettre au spectateur de trouver ce qu’il veut, c’est-à-dire ce qu’il amène lui-même. Les œuvres d’art sont des coins à pique-nique, des auberges espagnoles où l’on consomme ce que l’on apporte soi-même. L’Art pur, l’Art pour l’Art, est fait pour ne rien dire (ou tout dire).
Below, the headline of critic Paul Goldberger’s article on Peter Eisenman’s House VI, published in The New York Times Magazine, March 20, 1977.
In Eisenman’s words:
…the house is not an object in the traditional sense–that is, the end result of a process–but more accurately the record of a process. The house, like the set of diagrammed transformations on which its design is based, is a series of film stills compressed in time and space. Thus, the process itself becomes an object; but not an object as an aesthetic experience or as a series of iconic meanings. Rather, it becomes an exploration of the range of potential manipulations latent in the nature of architecture, unavailable to our consciousness because they are obscured by cultural preconceptions.
cf. Process Art, Post-Minimalism, “Specific Object.”
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.
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
not as much anarchitecture as spacism ?
or space if/ication
Gordon Matta-Clark, undated index card.
“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.
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.