Adorno, in my favorite apothegm, observed that “there is no origin but ephemeral life.” The murder of Lorca during the Spanish civil war and Lorca’s elegy to the bullfighter Meijas make up the backstory of Motherwell’s Elegies series, but these points only triangulate the real backstory, which is the situation of the intellectual/artist in the American fifties, or his(!) view of himself anyway, meaning ephemeral present day dreams and delusions. So the origin presented by Gareth James, in his recent show at Miguel Abreu, namely a drawing with no known significance, is beautifully accurate. But then the question arises, what is the need for all the stuff in the gallery, or for the backstory? An enigmatic drawing would be sufficient in itself n’est-ce pas? But that would be ordinary abstract art, available on every corner. James’s real origin, and the subject of his show, is pedagogy. He is a university professor, and his work follows an ethic of self grounding, which also means a turn toward the social. But as Adorno points out, in an idea easy to understand but difficult to grasp, there is no ground that isn’t moving beneath our feet. In my view, an abstract drawing would better acknowledge that. Institutional analysis tends toward the stability of fixed positions
What I really want to think about is the concept of backstory, and why an artist would want to build it into the presentation of their work.