Further to the phenomenon of iconoclasm or demolition of cultural monuments—the first thing that comes to mind is that modern art has always been iconoclastic and in fact very destructive. I’m enraged to read about the burning of old Korans and other books in Timbuktu by Islamic militants, but I also want to understand why human beings evidently have a drive to destroy culture. Over the last sixty-seventy years the Chinese have celebrated a true holocaust of civilization by simplifying their written language, a festival that is probably now over as 3000 years of continuous literary tradition definitively enters the museum and academy as a subject for scholarly research instead of a vivid experience of collective values and history. The Chinese are completely modern, and have been for a very long time—they can destroy without physical violence. Modern art has also found a way to simultaneously destroy and preserve; the destructive impulse is incorporated into the artistic method, but actual works are always kept, as they should be. One could divide modern artists into pairs—the destroyers and the preservers. Malevich destroyer, Mondrian preserver; Pollock destroyer, Rothko preserver; Stella destroyer, Richter preserver. Picasso was the great destroyer, with no one able to balance or oppose his heroic efforts, but later it was Duchamp the destroyer and Picasso a baffled preserver. Personally, I’m on the side of the destroyers. They give us the most, including the greatest possibilities for future work.

Frank Stella, Diepholz 1981

Frank Stella, Diepholz 1981

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