In 1975 Italo Calvino offered the following very interesting remarks on the work of Giulio Paolini: “It is not the relationship of the self to the world which these works seek to target: it is a relationship which is established independently of the self and of the world.” This double outside—outside of the self and outside of the existing order of society—is the ideal of modernist autonomy. It could also be what I meant by the “inhuman,” in the first post on this blog. But then I interpret the term “world” to mean the human world, not the physical world. Calvino is getting at something else, which becomes clearer as he proceeds: “Between one work and the next the painter pursues a single argument, one that is neither communicative nor expressive, because he does not aspire to communicate something which is outside nor to express something he has inside…” Here the outside is both the physical and social worlds. What’s unexpected, and very interesting, in my view, is the use of the term “relationship,” which suggests that the art work is two things that relate to each other only. This applies well to certain of Paolini’s works, but maybe not generally; a modernist work is usually supposed to be one thing.
A good moment to point out that a work doesn’t have to be abstract to be abstract.