Recently I put up a post on Wilhelm Worringer’s classic book, Abstraction and Empathy. It worked off an earlier post about Michel Serres, but I didn’t give it much importance; it was something of a placeholder. But as Mr. Waller said: one just never knows, does one? The post attracted a lot of interest and reactions. I had reread the book maybe a year before, and remember being impressed, but didn’t have the specifics at my fingertips exactly. Going back to it I find that Worringer believed that sculpture had to tend toward the silhouette, because a full in-the-round experience causes unbearable anxiety. This seems to me like an anticipation of Greenberg’s notion of the opticality of sculpture, one of the most notorious and influential claims in modern art. I don’t know if it influenced practice, but critics have been citing it for a long time; Greenberg himself was responding to what he found in the work of David Smith. Worringer confirms Greenberg’s claim that modern sculpture has become optical, dematerialized, and finds a psychological cause. But Worringer is not a critic of the sixties, his contemporaries are the artists discussed by Margit Rowell in her catalog The Planar Dimension, so he actually confirms the pictorialism of early abstract sculpture and relief, or rather the tendency to the optical embodied in the new experiments with relief—Picasso’s Guitar for example. But if sculpture is optical why does Stella have an uphill battle to claim his reliefs as painting? Because of the deep conservatism of painters. A plague on them!
This recent piece is explicitly modeled on Kandinsky’s early work, and also has a musical origin—the title refers to the catalog of the works of Scarlatti. Perhaps Stella is picking up on the musical way of thinking about form common in early abstraction.