Bruce Hainley is a critic I have a lot of time for. Oddly, many of my friends don’t understand why. I get where he is coming from, and it’s the right place. If I was in a down mood his recent article on the work of Monica Majoli in Artforum would read like a critique in advance of my forthcoming book:
“So, to reconnoiter the theoretical cul-de-sac that dotes on ‘abstraction’ is obviously hilarious…any thinking person might wonder what the art-critical-historical hand-wringing over ‘abstraction’ or ‘nonrepresentation‘—often as faceless as it has been formless—is hiding.”
Artistic temperaments, myself included, give more importance to sex than most citizens do, or they bring more imagination to it anyway. And it’s of the essence of art to make ordinary things seem special, which is exactly what Hainley is doing here in his own art of criticism. There’s plenty of sex in the abstract art I defend, and no lack of ordinary things transfigured, if that’s the right word. And without hand-wringing. Still, Hainley’s instinct, which is good, may indicate that we’re heading into another Pop moment, after all the talk about abstraction over the last few years. But illustration will still be illustration. Lest anyone jump to conclusions, I like illustration and would be happy to do it myself, opportunity rising. Meanwhile, Majoli gets better as she emphasizes other aspects than the illustrational, when she starts to hide something—something we can see anyway.
Speaking abstractly—hiding behind formalism if you will—there’s no significant difference between Majoli and say…John Currin. Maybe she should show with Gagosian.
It seems ridiculous to have to say it at this late date, but the only difference that matters is between an artwork that’s about what it means and one that is what it means. Most self-described abstraction fails the latter, and political position taking is also a way to hide.