Conceptual or Formal Reduction

Coming off the preceding remarks about time, an earlier post on Dean Hughes has belatedly brought to mind Martin Creed’s first well known piece, also facilitated by Matthew Higgs—a crumpled piece of paper. As it happens, Higgs has just curated a show of abstract art that uses everyday materials.

A crumpled piece of paper has a lot of formal aspects—ruled lines and lines made by pressing, planes tilted at various angles to each other—that make it both sculpture and painting, but most of the work is unavailable because folded away inside the ball. It’s common today for artists to unfold a crumpled surface and make a normal two dimensional work with creased lines and some residual illusionism, but that’s much less interesting. The many possible ways to partially open up a crumpled ball and stop at an interesting form seem to be largely uninvestigated to date. One exception might be the work of my old friend Mike Murphy, another that of John Chamberlain, with which Murphy’s work has a perverse affinity. Creed’s subsequent work seems to me to be just more conceptual art, disappointing in other words. In fact, the original crumpled paper ball, whatever its potential, was a work of conceptual art anyway, and remains one by the peculiar process of repetition that has placed it in a vitrine at MoMA, where it sits as another affirmation of the present. Hughes’s “Bus Tickets in Holes” are a space within space, a time within time—genuine infra-mince, and, as such, the opposite of the longue durée, but with exactly the same critical effect. This work is clearly better, however hard it is today to sustain the distinction between crumpled paper balls and bus tickets in holes.

Discursive art, with backstory, is a subset of global conceptualism, and conceptualism, for all the many things it knows, cannot grasp this difference, or even that between different kinds of crumpled balls.

Mike Murphy, Tall One 2002

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