Undead Formalism

I have yet to weigh in on the Stefan Simchowitz imbroglio – actually the post is written but not yet posted. However, Walter Robinson’s response comes first. He thinks that formalism is dead, and instead of adducing Jacob Kassay and Lucien Smith as proof, he works the other way and says since formalism is dead they must be zombies. Readers of this blog will know why I have little interest in their work, but that’s not a moral judgment coming from the fact that they sell lots of work to less discerning collectors. The collectors must have the same education as the artists, because everything Kassay and Smith do is within the norms of American painting. Or you could say that if Richter can do what he does to great acclaim, then Kassay and Smith are completely legitimate. Oddly, Robinson slams Greenberg – as if the dogmas of the 80s still had any validity – yet doesn’t offer a critical perspective on the work of Kassay and Smith, in fact giving it the credit of saying “something basic about what painting is—about its ontology, if you think of abstraction as a philosophical venture.” I don’t want to sound like a British curmudgeon, but these guys are not on that level. But then neither is Robinson I guess, or his criticism would be concrete rather than moral. A  critic with conventional views can hardly get a perspective on conventional art.

a work by Lucien Smith

a work by Lucien Smith

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4 Responses to Undead Formalism

  1. Martin Mugar says:

    I just came across the Robinson article on Sarah Butler’s facebook page. She friended me after I wrote an article about provisional painting. I was surprised to see Robinson used the adjective zombie to describe the neo-formalist work. I used the same term last December. In the article I try to describe the cultural underpinnings of the work,not just vituperate. It is interesting that I talk about reducing art to common currency for exchange purposes and that now it is being used for flipping.

  2. Martin Mugar says:

    I came across some writing by Boris Groys where he makes a distinction between the abstraction of Mondrian and Malevich. Malevich was seeking a language according to him that would not look back at the metaphysics of the past but would be a perfect vehicle for the future world of technology and the state(communism). Mondrian works from out of the past in his reduction of the perceptual world as in the series of the apple tree and the cathedral. He drags along notions of spatial structure, push and pull and warm and cool. I think what is tricky about these zombie artists is that they look like they have their origins in Mondrian but are really embracing the inert absolutism of Malevich.

  3. Walter Robinson says:

    Subway Eat Fresh!

  4. Martin Mugar says:

    Isn’t that the paradox?

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