Restoration

In the previous post I raised the stakes for my own work considerably, but before backing my bet I’ll explain what I meant by the last sentence of that post. Sometime in the late sixties or early seventies, it became clear that aesthetic reduction was producing things that looked like other things. A hole was punctured in the carefully inflated space of modernism and meanings flooded in. I remember the moment well, and like most of my generation, I enjoyed it. Sol Lewitt had no intention to do what I’m describing, but his work could serve as an historical hinge as well as any other.

Sol Lewitt, Serial Object #1. 1966-68

The system of the work resembles other systems that we live in. The key is resemblance, a resemblance that is noticed and then reflected back into the world. In the eighties this strategy became widespread. The paradigmatic text of this turn, in my view, was Dan Graham’s article on minimalism and corporate logos, though some critics, such as B.H.D.Bucholoh, following Jeff Wall, would cite Graham’s earlier “Homes for America.” There are many variations. Some artists, such as Jan Vercruysse and Ken Lum, found a way from minimalism back to surrealism through the domestic; others, such as Julian Opie, stayed with the shock of recognition in the present; still others, such as John Armleder and his many epigones, had a gentler kind of recognition that brought art into proximity with ordinary stuff. These are all examples of restored meaning. I love all of this work, but I think the moment is passed, and what I strongly dissent from is work that simply posits meaning, that has lost touch with the negative. So when Byron Kim notices that paint chips at the hardware store or decorating outlet resemble various skin tones, I have the strong feeling that the minimalist option is no longer available.

Byron Kim, Synechdoche, 1991-2005

We may well find race a more compelling topic than architecture, or vice versa, but from the point of view of art, at this late date, there is little to choose between them. And for that matter, emptiness, with its full quota of anxiety, has much more to do with life as we live it than any abstract schema.

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