In a recent post I inadvertently, without realizing what I was saying, raised the bar pretty considerably for myself in both art and life. Abstraction as an “ethics of the real” is a tall order, assuming I can get clear what it means. The post started out on Ai Weiwei, but almost accidentally ended up with Morandi, with the thought that I may have to take him up later on this blog, so it’s fortuitous that in the October Artforum there is a very thoughtful review of a Morandi show by Barry Schwabsky. Schwabsky makes a number of good points, and I can’t respond to them all, but readers of this blog will hear something familiar in the sentence “His project was to observe continuous change, without the alibi of meaning.” Luc Tuymans was involved in this show, contributed to the catalog, and apparently is very critical of Morandi’s refusal to engage in life outside of his studio. I have enormous respect for Tuymans’ work and admire him for his way of life, but this might be precisely his failing—that he feels the need to tack a political meaning to his pictures. In any case, a landscape reproduced with the review looks like nothing so much as a premonition of both Tuymans and his countryman Raoul De Keyser—and too many young contemporaries to even mention. I love it because I can’t at all understand what it is.
The ethics of art, abstraction above all, are found in the right attention to the work, and Morandi could certainly manage that. That human realities (meaning politics) are strongly present at the moment of most perfect attention to the work is a matter of faith, but usually hard to see. Schwabsky makes a convincing case that Morandi’s pictures are a demonstration of this exact truth. He suggests that the anxiety producing aspect of the work, in other words the pleasure it gives, is that it seems to exist at the point of greatest….tension? stress? conflict? communication? difference? transformation?…between individual subjectivity and collective life. I don’t know how to characterize it without getting too abstract, but I do know that work cannot get done properly if it has to meet a social demand. This is a new Morandi for me, but an attractive one—maybe a harbinger of a more nuanced respect for art as art. The nuances are in the work, the ability to see them only an intermittent faculty of the collective.