Procrastination

I found a thoughtful but also very amusing article in the NYT, by Anna Della Subin. The topic is procrastination, and she begins with the story of St. Expeditus:

According to legend, when the Roman centurion [Expeditus] decided to convert to Christianity, the Devil appeared in the form of a crow and circled above him crying “cras, cras” — Latin for “tomorrow, tomorrow.” Expeditus stomped on the bird and shouted victoriously, “Today!” For doing so, Expeditus achieved salvation, and is worshiped as the patron saint of procrastinators.

I thought for sure this was made up, but there is such a saint, and his real life history is in fact equally as hilarious. In any case, she makes a good case for procrastination, which reduces to the simple formula that not doing anything in particular is simply living, and worthwhile as such. Being myself a productivity oriented kind of guy, I am sympathetic. Some time is better spent, but it doesn’t have to be on busy work. In art, the moment of decision, which is also the moment of salvation, is always a moment, however long one has to wait for it. Everything important happens in a moment. The main human problem is that we have too much time to think during the long preparation.

Robert Linsley, Sphere #3 2013

Robert Linsley, Sphere #3 2013

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Detour

One of my favorite jazz standards is “Detour Ahead”, though I’ve only heard it in one version, and maybe not the best possible one. Was listening to it tonight.

Smooth road, clear day
But why am I the only one travelin’ this way
How strange the road to love can be so easy
Can there be a detour ahead

This has something to do with art—I know that experience well, of being the only one on the road. Solitude and originality have some relation after all. In any case, the road to love and the road to art are the same, at least part of the way. But what makes this song so great is that it has at least three distinct voices. Hear how it shifts in the next verse:

Wake up, slow down
Before you crash and break your heart
Gullible clown
You fool, you’re headed in the wrong direction
Can’t you see the detour ahead

It happens—to most artists no doubt. Now a different voice, more objective.

The further you travel
The harder to unravel the web
She spins around you
Turn back while there’s time
Can’t you see the danger sign
Soft shoulders surround you

What’s to say? You have a goal, a plan, a direction, a map—but you can’t help it, you’re only human after all. And those soft shoulders—a beautiful lyric, and a beautiful world.

Smooth road, clear night
Oh lucky me that suddenly
I saw the light
I’m turning back away
From all that trouble
Smooth road…smooth road…no detour ahead

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The View from Inside

In an old issue of the NYRB I find the following from Vladimir Ashkenazy, on his fellow pianist Sviatoslav Richter:

“The strongest element in his magnetic appeal to audiences is his conviction that what he does is absolutely right at that particular moment. It comes from the fact that he has created his own inner world, absolutely complete in his mind, and if you argue with him about anything it’s almost no use…I don’t often agree with him after the performance, but during it I can see that everything fits together and is completely sincere and devoted, and that wins me over.”

The organic truth arises at a moment, which itself arises from the surrounding moments. The retrospective critical view, which sees the totality, is always false. The problem with a lot of art today, as I keep harping on in this blog, is that a retrospective judgment is present at the beginning, as a tacit understanding of what art is supposed to be.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2012

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2012

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Kippenberger

The collection at the Stedelijk is pretty great, but l kept seeing sameness, unchanging qualities. Martin Kippenberger, for example, was a talented painter, in a completely normative way. His fooling around was fun to do and is fun to watch, but it seems to arise out of his consciousness of the unbreakable conventionality of “art.” I think that captures Kippenberger.

Martin Kippenberger, Drei Häuser mit Schlitzen (Betty Ford Klinik, Stammheim, Jüdische Grundschule) 1985

Martin Kippenberger, Drei Häuser mit Schlitzen (Betty Ford Klinik, Stammheim, Jüdische Grundschule) 1985

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Pictorial Energy

Looking at the work of Mr. Energy himself at the Wallraf-Richartz museum in Cologne—the striking thing about Rubens is that he covers so many square yards of canvas without losing intensity. The level is uniformly high. This is a bit different from the overall kind of abstraction, which has a uniform level, true, but not necessarily a uniformly high level of energy. I think Stella wants to be like Rubens in this respect.

Peter Paul Rubens, Juno and Argus c.1610

Peter Paul Rubens, Juno and Argus c.1610

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Obstacles and Tests

Talking with my friend Chris Gergley about the art world and the obstacles we all face in our careers, it came to me that I have been too one-sided in my stress on objectivity. Yes, art is objective, and yes one wants to let it stand alone and produce its own meanings, but it still needs a human enabler; art has its own life but can’t live without a person to sustain it. Might sound obvious, but it’s not—at least not in the realms of abstraction. What brought these thoughts to mind were practical problems and difficulties. Chris and I agreed that if an artist calculates their market, or makes work to meet the expectations of curators or collectors, then they really don’t think their work is worth anything. Such behavior is deeply self negating. But it can be hard when one is struggling to find one’s own language—social pressures have to be overcome, and one of the worst, in our experience, is the need and desire to be anointed and given professional help by a more successful artist. In a way that is the canonical career path, but we’ve both seen how many young artists sacrifice their own identity to fit in, how they adapt and suppress their work to enable a smooth follow on with the work of someone else. That’s tragic, but it’s also a test. An artist has to be free inside and out. Formal freedom is a given today, there are no rules, but the feeling of freedom—the freedom to think, feel, respond and create as one needs to do—has to be achieved, often against resistance. It isn’t easy and it can be painful. But if you can’t do it then you betray the work; it doesn’t get a chance to be autonomous, and its possibilities will not be realized.

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2014

Robert Linsley, Untitled watercolor 2013

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The Other

In Cologne Gerhard Richter is a common presence, as one might expect. In the conference center I saw a couple of pictures by another artist that at first I mistook for Richter. Are they as good? Debatable point, but the fact that it is debatable says something. Close in person comparison of concrete details would be necessary to decide. They seem even more blandly grid like than Richter’s work, but maybe comparable to the Cage series.

richtercopy1richtercopy2

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Richter’s Church Art

I went to see Richter’s window in the cathedral of Cologne, and my first impression was that it blended in well with the other windows, which may be a good thing for the church, but doesn’t necessarily help the reputation of Herr Richter. Though the bombing left the cathedral intact, many windows must have been blown out, because there are some

Abstract windows of relatively recent date in Cologne's cathedral.

Abstract windows of relatively recent date in Cologne’s cathedral.

obviously modern ones. Most prominent are windows with recurring abstract patterns, like carpets in glass. Richter’s window is different from those in that it has a degree of randomness or variation, but on site that didn’t seem such an important distinction. You can theorize it and say that Richter replaces religious certainty with openness and chance, but that’s not an interesting thought. A banality in fact. His work is variation within a conventional manner, and doesn’t depart much from the past.

Gerhard Richter's window, Cologne

Gerhard Richter’s window, Cologne

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Thomas Ruff

I saw the recent photograms of Thomas Ruff in Düsseldorf, but since they are entirely digital you could call them imitation photograms. But that would only apply to the ones that have the typical photogram look, with some straight lines and a few circles and a few shapes that look like they might be shadows of common objects. Photograms are normally made with ready-made things, and usually have arrangements that look like modernist design. The legacy of the twenties is hard to shake. But Ruff’s better works go even farther back, looking like nothing so much as cubism. I imagine most painters would object to the

Thomas Ruff, phg.05_III, 2013

Thomas Ruff, phg.05_III, 2013

impervious photographic surface, but I’m bothered less by that than I am fascinated by shapes that twist my brain around, that make me follow them into their own convoluted spaces. In other words, Ruff is making abstractions, and they’re not bad. There’s sufficient energy there that de Kooning and Klee and Kandinsky can put in appearances, along with Braque and Picasso, maybe even Picabia. But then we learn once again that modern art doesn’t change that much, and the middle of the road continues to be heavily traveled.

Thomas Ruff, phg.04, 2012

Thomas Ruff, phg.04, 2012

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Owens on Koons

After writing three and a half posts on Jeff Koons, I naturally took an interest in the comments by artists in the September 2014 Artforum, Koons on the cover. Laura Owens in particular was really good; devastating, but true to her experience of the work, which she never left for a second. She manages to be critical without making any criticism, a skill I associate with the laid back intensity of California and it’s highly competitive inclusiveness, but also seems completely adequate to conditions today anywhere on this overpopulated planet. Intensely present with the work—she gave it a good look, not a moral evaluation.

Close up detail of a Jeff Koons balloon dog, stainless steel with an applied transparent blue coating. Technically high level, wound up tight, looks like an inverted sphincter.

Close up detail of a Jeff Koons balloon dog, stainless steel with an applied transparent blue coating. Technically high level, wound up tight, looks like an inverted sphincter.

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Marlene Dumas

At the Stedelijk, I had a brief chance to see a Marlene Dumas retrospective. Since she lives in Amsterdam it must have been a satisfying show for her. I was expecting to admire her faces, and a wall of ink drawings were as expected, with touching and complex expressions, but these days I can’t shake the feeling of the sameness of art, that the things one sees in museums don’t really change from period to period, despite the modern revolutions, which start to seem superficial. For example, if one looks closely at Dumas’ sensitive drawing, around a pair of lips say, it’s pretty familiar from any number of old

Marlene Dumas, Julie, die Vrou 1985

Marlene Dumas, Julie die Vrou 1985

master works, and the blotchy “expressive” color sinks into the background as period style. I’m far from wanting to assert timeless values, in fact I find it a bit depressing to think that there’s a look of art that automatically qualifies certain works. Give me difference and novelty, please. But certain questions remain compelling. Isn’t the figure still important, even of the essence? The ideal would be to realize the central content without using the standard manner. Some artists have done that. Dumas does it in one of her ink drawings of a nude, painted in masses to the degree that it verges on abstraction, which forces me to remember that some of my works move the other way, and figures emerge from the blob. Recognizability or resemblance is still a very interesting problem. But Dumas goes straight to the figure as a source of value, or as a question of value, and she gets there through a very simple and direct kind of painting, which is admirable.

Nudes by Marlene Dumas, though not including the one I saw, which was much more of a shapeless blob, trending in the right direction.

Nudes by Marlene Dumas, not including the one I saw, which was much more of an amorphous blob, but still trending in the right direction.

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Sculpture Figurative and Abstract

Lane Relyea has an original perspective on the work of sculptors such as Rachel Harrison and Isa Genzken: “What we are looking at here, after all, is figurative sculpture…who or what exactly is it representing?” He answers: “…in the new bricolage we find something like a court art for today’s network paradigm….portraits of the trader, the consultant, the networker or multitasker, the free agent or proximate manager…Too internally diverse and intersected to be constrained by form, such bricolaged statues are also mobile and autonomous enough to escape the fetters of site and circumstance. These are actors who are both embedded and disembedded…their parts never adequately unify, never reach the level of wholeness demanded by the criteria of a self-conscious, self-identical subject. Here the figure is shown always coming apart as much as coming into being and constituting itself.” The title of this piece means a vacationer or someone off work.

Isa Genzken, Urlaub 2004

Isa Genzken, Urlaub 2004

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Lost Boundaries

One moment in Lane Relyea’s book that caught my attention was this:

“The rise of networks might not mean the end of of all insides and outsides, but it does mean that, with boundaries and the exclusions they effect being more communicational than representational, one now gains entrée by mastering not paradigms and metalanguages but circuits of connections.”

As a description of a boundary this is a good account of systems theory—and, since art always works with boundaries, thought provoking to an artist. Think of boundary as representation, as surface but also as picture—not far from earlier discussions on this blog about opticality and sculpture. Now think of a boundary as made above all to be crossed, in other words no boundary at all, or with just an abstract, invisible existence. Reminds me of Fred Sandback. But Relyea is thinking of a boundary as itself an act of communication, and exclusion as happening in all conversations. A good description of the art world.

Rirkrit Tiravanija, the paradigmatic networked artist, organizes another gallery cook off with conversation

Rirkrit Tiravanija, the paradigmatic networked artist, organizes another gallery cook off with conversation, the function of which is to represent community and simultaneously place individuals as insiders or outsiders

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Anxiety

A couple of months ago I visited a well known Toronto gallery (well known in Toronto), which had just moved to a new space. As it happened, the gallerist was alone when I arrived, and the whole encounter gave me new thoughts about anxiety. I’d be curious to know how the work sold, or if it did, because Gedi Sibony’s piece of plastic with a few bits of tape attached is nothing if not anxiety ridden. The gallerist was looking a little unsure, but who knows the reason. The paradox is that the art world isolation bubble

Gallery with Gedi Siboney's plastic sheet with tape in the background at right

Gallery with Gedi Sibony’s plastic sheet with tape in the background at right

actually muffles the anxiety of work that tries to advance by doing less—turning a risky, on the edge strategy into a matter of mere tasteful knowingness, or maybe knowing tastefulness. When Sibony casually brushes white paint on a piece of cardboard he evokes Ryman by making the painted patch roughly echo the rectangle, and he evokes Gabriel Orozco by showing something that looks like it was found in a vacant lot—but all that smartness is just a cosy blanket for an exposed sensibility. What could a collector who bought that possibly be aspiring to? If they didn’t feel like a fool for buying it, and didn’t want to throw it away afterwards, they wouldn’t really know what it was.

Sibney's painted doorskin at the back

Sibony’s painted cardboard at the back

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The Deep

This late Pollock has come in for some critical contempt over the years, not least because the title seems to confer on it a Melvillean sort of portentiousness, but without Melville’s humor. It has to be Melville because it has to be some sort of American sublime. Certainly it fits in with post-war literariness, with works like Motherwell’s Elegies, or Gottlieb’s symbolic bursts. It may also suffer in many viewer’s eyes when it’s somewhat vaginal

Jackson Pollock, The Deep 1953

Jackson Pollock, The Deep 1953

image (reminiscent of Fontana) is related to its dreary color and knowledge of Pollock’s depression at the time. Formally, for anyone conditioned by the great drip pictures, and even familiar with the black and whites, the torn white surface opening onto a deep space has to look cornball, even kitsch, and the sexual associations redouble the impression. But, as I discussed earlier, Reflection of the Big Dipper is an important turning point for Pollock, I think because it rationalizes the canvas on the floor as a collector of imagery that falls on it from above, from the sky, and it has a similar opening in the clouds. The Deep might have been a milestone of equal importance, if Pollock had lived. In a word, there are other depths in this picture, and the slashed surface was clearly necessary for him in some way we do not and likely cannot understand.

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Other Reliefs

Blog reader Kizi Spielmann Rose kindly sent me some shots of Stella’s recent work. He seems himself to respond to energy in art, and has taken up the relief painting method accordingly, with gusto, as evidenced in this image.
rose
Some things that I see in his work that are also present in Stella are: using both the cut out positive forms and the resulting negatives, usually in different works; a diversity of forms and manners on the cut out panels; forms jumping between the levels. Since the panels are usually parallel and flat, the works have a resemblance to those of Arp, which goes to prove that Stella is not and cannot be the only reference for someone who works like this. The only problem I have is that the forms seem a little hard and linear—but to each their own. Meanwhile, I was particularly attracted to earlier works with overlapping shapes. I can’t tell if these are prints, digital pieces or paintings, but see a lot of potential in the method.

Image 40

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Starry Reflections

My theory about Pollock’s Reflection of the Big Dipper is that the title should be taken literally. It shows reflections of clouds, stars and tree branches in a puddle. I just saw the piece in person for the first time at the Stedelijk, and see no reason to abandon that interpretation. What has not been clear to me till now is that the ropes of thrown enamel went on last, over the titular reflection and oil painted first layer, so maybe they can’t be called tree branches only. After all, this piece is one of the crucial transitions toward the full blown drip works, so its meaning breaks. Most shocking is the color of the oil paint—purple, alizarin, orange, yellow-green, more grassy green—a real salad.

Jackson Pollock, Reflection of the Big Dipper 1947

Jackson Pollock, Reflection of the Big Dipper 1947

The skeins are far from random: note the splashy encircled nexus in the upper right, with the smaller hook/semi circle surrounding a patch of green (looks yellow in the reproduction) slightly below and to the left, above another splashy bit. See the large bent finger shape that occupies the left side and across the top. There are strong grid feelings given by strokes of oil paint along the left hand edge and parallel ones at the lower right (these don’t show up in the reproduction). The design of the skeins is kind of figurative, Miro-like. Floating free from the lower level but still responding to it. I love that kind of relationship between levels. And the blue opening into the night sky anticipates The Deep, which now seems sad and depressive, but still supported by this earlier work. Over all, quite a tightly organized piece, and it feels sprung, not scattered.

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Chaos Shimmering Through

In an old copy of the NYRB I just found an article about Alfred Brendel, who quotes the poet Novalis: “Chaos, in a work of art, should shimmer through the veil of order.” So now I can see where Ehrenzweig was coming from, and wonder why I am so attracted to musty old romantics. Probably because they were right. The most dramatic example is Walter Benjamin’s university thesis “The Concept of Criticism in German Romanticism,” which I think is a much more relevant read for any art student than the famous “Artwork” essay. He convinced me that Schlegel understood the condition of art today. A conventional approach to Pollock is to seek the order underneath the chaos. A more sustained look and a more subtle perception gives the opposite. Will prove it in the next post.

Jackson Pollock, Number 5 1948

Jackson Pollock, Number 5 1948

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John Bunker

Some collages by the British artist John Bunker are very good. I can’t help but think of Stella, as usual, but this piece is pretty compelling, and stands any comparison.

ram raider 14

John Bunker, Ram Raider 2014

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Bureaucratic Fantasy

Here’s a moment of high comedy from Chin P’ing Mei, an account of Taoist ritual:
“This lot consists of nine memorials…the one submitted at the time of the ninth recitation to the Ruler of the Most Exalted Crimson Empyrean, the Perfected Lord and Investigation Commissioner of the Nine Heavens. These nine memorials are accompanied by memoranda addressed to the four bureaus in charge of undeserved emolument, retribution, concealed injustice, and cumulative accomplishment, and thanking the said four bureaus for their attention.”
The Taoist pantheon appears to be a parody of Imperial bureaucracy. Does this have any relevance to Chinese art? It might. Certainly there is some large area of official culture that is completely bureaucratized. Amusing that the heavenly offices correspond exactly to the earthly crimes of the protagonist. We might find the same correspondence between art and life in any Chinese gallery.

The Jade Emperor, Bureaucrat-in-Chief

The Jade Emperor, Bureaucrat-in-Chief

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Abstract East and West

My blog readers wouldn’t necessarily know it, but I have made a pretty close study of Chinese art, historical and modern, and even written about it. There is a chapter in my book on that topic in fact. My question is always—why is the Chinese avant-garde so bad? And why are westerners so willing to accept it? I was just watching a video of a conversation at the Metropolitan Museum with Huang Yong-ping and Frank Stella. (I don’t recommend it, it’s very dull.) Huang goes on about how he believes that art today should be subversive, but his work is completely conventional and unoriginal, not to mention tediously literary. Stella wants to talk about the past—Caravaggio, Malevich, Paulus Potter and Chinese imperial portraits—yet continues to create. Not such an unusual contrast, but it’s very irritating to hear fatuous Huang get such a platform. He comes on without a clue and walks off oblivious, having learned nothing, and unable to do so. Probably in tight with the communists anyway. A billion people, and no artists. But the

The Yong Le Emperor

The Yong Le Emperor, a painting that Stella compares with a Yellow Quadrilateral by Malevich

real ones must be suppressed. Stella’s art historical ponderings are eccentric and unprofessional, but very interesting, at least to an artist; Huang just spouts clichés.

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Too Many Mediations

It’s very important to remember—as often as possible—that the current highly mediated context, in which artists learn their business and craft from books, schools, the internet, art magazines and any number of other mass outlets, is very new and very strange. Up until the second world war one could only learn about modern art from personal contact with the artists. Well, not entirely, but direct contact was the most important form of transmission. Direct contact with work in exhibitions equally so. Have things really changed? I think something of how the immediacy of experience can affect an individual or change them has been lost, and that has something to do with a loss of depth of response. Today we know everything, or think we do, so feel less in front of a work, and see less there. There are exceptional occasions of course, but the general run of experience is flat. But then how could it be any other way? We see too much art, all the time, when one moment with one work can be enough to change your life, meaning the direction of your career. What happens after that is up to you.

otherArtFair2013

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Enlightenment

Lately I’ve been enjoying Andrea Fraser’s writings, and I’m not sure that blog readers who follow me to Stella, Barré, Motherwell or Riley will also come along that way. The fact is that I am a believer in modern art as part of the enlightenment project, meaning the critique of myth. The artistic way to free the mind from myth is first of all to recognize that all thought is analogical, based on resemblances, correspondences, analogies and tropes, even mathematics, and therefore there is no truth that is not a metaphor. Myth is constitutional. Secondly an artist works behind the myth, and that may entail making up new ones, a kind of play. You can’t work with myth unless you know it as such.

Andrea Fraser, Little Frank and his carp 2001

Andrea Fraser, Little Frank and his carp 2001

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No Meaning

How does one answer the charge of nihilism? Just observe that nature is nihilist. And that meaning is myth.

clouds-03

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Andrea Fraser

I remember in Artforum a few years ago a piece on institutional critique by Andrea Fraser, and also remember being underwhelmed. To me it seemed conventional, a reiteration of familiar insights, without the enlightening shock of work by Buren, Asher or Haacke. Perhaps because the last few years I’ve been so involved with normative painting, I now find Fraser’s writings a lot more interesting. The truth is always welcome. But it’s still impossible to accept that the sorry manipulations of the collecting class are the final truth about painting. The truth for every artist is that life is always a failing effort against chaos—and society is mass delusion, however much it is the enabler for anything one wants to do. Fraser herself is not outside the struggle, as she well understands. She deserves her success because she worked for it very intelligently, and in the end she is just another artist. But if so, then the critique of the kind of subjectivity produced by art—artist and viewer—is not so compelling. The need to sell something in order to live is the final truth about art and society, and I don’t see how one can escape that through critique.

Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk 1989

Andrea Fraser, Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk 1989

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Networks

Lane Relyea describes the reconstitution of the art world around systems of communication, around networks, and he makes a strong case that the ruling paradigm today is information. The database and the project are the fundamental forms, and the idea of a self-integrated, autonomous individual creator apparently doesn’t have traction anymore. His arguments are convincing, and I’ll post some quotes another day, just to say that for someone who has spent a lifetime to become that kind of artist the book is a painful pleasure. But it hits the more deeply in that Relyea is not endorsing what he describes. Millennial enthusiasms are easy to dismiss, but Relyea is a realist, not a promoter. And his critical manner is pretty discreet—he presents without moralizing; a coolness fraught with implications that I recognize from some of the California  artists we both know, and whom I know he has influenced, and been influenced by.

Dave-Muller-Three-Day-Weekend

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A New Artworld

On holiday I brought two books, precisely because of the excruciating contrast between them. The criticism of Patrick Heron is on a very high level, of both insight and rhetorical skill. It’s inspiring, and what more could you ask? It doesn’t inspire you write, but to make art, the only justification for criticism that I can understand. Lane Relyea’s recent book,

Your Everyday Art World, is also pretty great, not because it inspires, but because he tells it like it is, and one thing he is clear eyed about is the passing of people like Heron, a type definitively obsolete. The end of the authoritative, masterful critic is naturally consequent on the disappearance of the artist-genius, but even though he or she may be out of fashion, I wouldn’t bet that the artist-genius is really gone. Mere social changes in the constitution of the artworld cannot eliminate human capacities.

Patrick Heron, Blue and turquoise with yellow-green 1966

Patrick Heron, Blue and turquoise with yellow-green 1966

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Why Abstract?

In what lies the abstraction?

Frank Stella, Gobba, zoppa e collotorto 1985

Frank Stella, Gobba, zoppa e collotorto 1985

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Late Picasso

I’ve been reading some of the writings of Patrick Heron, an artist who suffered somewhat from his extreme eloquence as a writer. He certainly has me beat, and I know what he was up against, because his writing didn’t help the reception of his work. Yet like me everything he had to say came from experience, not a theoretical bone in his body. I’m particularly struck by a piece on the late work of Picasso, the last ten years. This was the art that inspired me the most at the very beginning; I loved it, and really did not agree with the standard American take, which was that it was shamefully bad. There was a flurry of interest in the wake of “bad” painting and the neo-expressionism of the 80s, but there really is no connection between late Picasso and anything that’s happened since De Kooning’s hilarious portrait of Fiorello LaGuardia. There is an affinity there for sure. Anyway, Heron’s article is so compelling I would have to quote pages. He takes me back to the days when I thought a musketeer by Picasso was the best painting ever, and makes the

Pablo Picasso, Musketeer with cupid 1969

Pablo Picasso, Musketeer with cupid 1969, my favorite painting back in the day

necessary point that reproductions are just not adequate. When I eventually saw one in person it was in fact a big disappointment, but I kept faith, despite the evidence, and many years later was very happy to see some very good ones. One recently shown in Toronto was much much better than I ever thought from the photograph, attached below. It’s quality can be felt, but I don’t feel a need to explain it, not least because Heron has already done a good enough job. Among other things he shows me the value of Picasso’s extreme abbreviation of form, which I never really understood. And for an abstractionist flags the most important thing—his beautiful clear, strong, vivid, indestructible sense of reality.

Pablo Picasso, woman with a pillow 1969

Pablo Picasso, woman with a pillow 1969, the piece I found so striking in Toronto. It probably helps that it’s big—maybe six or seven feet high.

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A Real Change

Walter BenjaminRecently I’m rediscovering the absolute genius of Walter Benjamin, including reading some texts I had a hard time with years ago. In “The Task of the Translator” he confirms remarks made in an earlier post about how artworks change over time:
“Even words with fixed meaning can undergo a maturing process. The obvious tendency of a writer’s literary style may in time wither away, only to give rise to immanent tendencies in the literary creation. What sounded fresh once may sound hackneyed later; what what once current may someday sound quaint. To seek the essence of such changes, as well as the equally constant changes of meaning, in the subjectivity of posterity rather than in the very life of language and its works, would mean—even allowing for the crudest psychologism—to confuse the root cause of a thing with its essence. More pertinently, it would mean denying, by an impotence of thought, one of the most powerful and fruitful historical processes.”
To a common-sensical rationalist it might seem over subtle to distinguish between root cause and essence, and to a confirmed post-modernist the very notion of an essence is suspect, but to an artist Benjamin affirms what is evidently real but can’t be proven—changes in reception explain everything but the fact that the artwork has a life of its own.

Frank Stella, La penna di hu 1987–2009

Frank Stella, La penna di hu 1987–2009

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