Series and painting

I still intend to spend some time on Motherwell, because for me he presents important problems about the literary in abstraction, but just today I’ve been reading one of Shep Steiner’s new pieces, this one about Frank Stella. One quote from the conclusion:

“As a provisional conclusion we can say that Stella’s paintings from 1958-61 hinge on the question of the decorative and the series far more than has heretofore been suspected. If anything the designer colors and the very tight series specific nature of the Benjamin Moore paintings—strung out as much like a logical argument, a narrative, and a number of interior design solutions—confirms this consistent troubling of individual works. A troubling that never entirely settled upon objecthood as the target as such (and this is still the case in the Irregular Polygons where Fried argues for the overcoming of literal shape above all else), but which variably entertained the tension between painting on the one hand and on the other collage, support, grammar, series, etc.”

Frank Stella, Benjamin Moore Series, small version (for Andy Warhol)

In view of my earlier discussions about the series format I find the notion that the series and painting itself are in tension both troubling and productive. For Steiner it seems to hinge on an equation of painting and the individual work, which implies that individual works are, or should be, representative. This notion itself appears to be grounded in a fundamental recognition of the concrete particular as of the essence of painting. This I can agree with; that the series should “trouble” this seems both self-evident and something to fight against.

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