Recently I came across a review of the Nada art fair in The Art Newspaper, which amounted to the observation that abstract painting was everywhere and that it all looked the same. Actually the reviewer was warning that it will likely come to be that way. I’m more critical because I see no reason to qualify. So many young abstractionists are visible, yet there is so little that stands out. Blog readers will know that I like Lauren Luloff, but the most successful of the new wave, such as Jacob Kassay and Lucien Smith, are really missing it, in my opinion. Everywhere I see the baleful influence of Gerhard Richter. Now, if my readers can put up with my constant returns to Frank Stella, I ask them to ponder the close reading I gave one of his prints in an earlier post. Abstraction starts out arbitrary, arbitrariness is genetic for the mode, part of its deep constitution, and that’s one of the reasons we like it. Openness, freedom – whatever value you want to give to that condition – is what makes the arbitrariness of abstraction socially valid. Richter at least has a sense of this anyway. The point, as I see it in Stella, and in my own work, is to keep the overall arbitrariness but work with the parts. In my case more than Stella the parts make organic patterns that grow like nature, though that might be an unimportant distinction.
Every little fragment and mark is chosen and placed, but still within the overall arbitrariness and freedom, which makes itself felt right down to the atom. I feel that the results are good – they make paintings, or any work, that one can live with and look at for a long time. The Richter mode, so widely adopted today, is to give the arbitrary a clean, polished presentation – the result an overall field of many small incidents, none of which particularly matter. It’s full of details, which don’t actually count for anything in themselves; they could all be changed or moved or made different, and the picture would be essentially the same. Where Stella makes the better method most explicit is in the large paintings of the Kleist series, discussed in older posts. Will viewers and artists one day debate the relative merits of the Kleist paintings and the Had Gadya prints? The approach I describe should give easily recognizable results, but today it’s hard to see anything.