After pondering the problem for a while I think I understand what Benjamin Buchloh means when he describes Frank Stella’s work as “myth.” If an artist makes coloristic and formal choices, if they work with their materials through both their sensibility and intellect, then they foster the myth of the artist as a talented being with an exceptional subjectivity. Or something like that. Personally, I can’t see it that way. I guess because I’m an artist myself all I can understand is competence and achievement. The achievement is real, not mythic, and the competence is evident. Whose myth? Who suffers from what delusion? And who dares posit the content of other people’s minds anyway?
But most interesting is the way that Buchloh’s comments reflect back on Richter, noting of course the fact that the artist himself likely doesn’t see things the same way. Richter’s “critical” practice involves, according to Buchloh, a denial of artistic competence through strategic and selective use of the aleatory and the systematic. So much we know, but the critic’s twist is to emphasize that the aim above all is the denial, which has a moral and ethical necessity. Richter may or may not agree, but in any case, positive achievement will always win out over critical denial, in anyone’s work. What we have is always more compelling than the negative we aspire to, because that’s what we’ve got.
The overwhelming impression I have is that Stella loves art. Of all the successful artists he has made the best use of his success. Richter is a pompier, the Bougereau of abstraction, and he appears to suffer from the malaise of senior (male) German artists—stuffed-shirtism. Often told that he’s the greatest artist in the world, he believes it. Stella knows opposition, neglect and critical rejection, signs that he is still alive and a genuine artist. Universal critical success is a worrisome premonition.