The Accessible and the Mysterious

Kiki Smith Lilies 2006

Her mind chases an idea across different materials and mediums. For example, the figure of Saint Geneviève was a fixation of hers for a while; she repeatedly captured the pious figure, often posed with animals, in drawings and sculptures. In fact, the use of animals in this series led the German-born, New Jersey-raised artist more deeply into nature as a subject. What’s interesting about Smith’s mind-—as much as we can know about it through what it creates—is how it moves forward through compulsions. There’s a propulsive quality to her curiosity; even when it revisits tropes or images or her own personal “vocabulary,” the impulse is part of a quick-shooting trajectory. She’s guided less by ideas and intellect, more by intuition and attentiveness. Of her recent work, she said, “I’m drawing pictures of owls and trees and stuff.” [Kiki Smith in conversation with Heidi Julavits]

Robert Gober September 12, 2005–9

Mr. Gober stands at the forefront of a generation that emerged in the 1980s and devised new ways to fuse the personal and the political, the accessible and the mysterious. His art is a sometimes subtle, sometimes furious protest against what might be called delusions of normalcy; the sexual, racial and religious prejudices these delusions engender are examined at their point of origin, the childhood home.
He has communicated these themes in shifting ratios of folk art, Surrealism, Pop Art, Magic Realism and Social Realism, leavened by doses of the body and performance art of the 1970s. There are moments of eerie trompe l’oeil, as in his cast wax legs or torsos with individually applied hairs, which jut startlingly from walls and corners, like phantom limbs or parts of bodies otherwise crushed by buildings. [Roberta Smith on Robert Gober]

Kiki Smith Self Portrait 1993

“I take it as a base assumption that I’m not good at making things. I am not making great things, and then I think, “So what? I need to make them, I want to see what happens.” In art at least, you are stopped by whatever you want to stop you. Nothing is stopping you. Some people are stopped because they’re not good at drawing. I’m not particularly good at drawing either, and I’m terrible at sculpting, but I really love the struggle. I love fighting it until I get someplace where I can say it’s okay. Sometimes I look back on things and just cringe at how bad they are. But I made up strategies for myself where it wouldn’t matter. I thought of that saying, Exploit your—not your disabilities, but—your deficits….
… I always laugh, because I think about my father’s work and my work being influenced by that. My father’s work is like complex monotheism, because it’s monolithic but it changes on all sides and you can’t — I mean, he has ones that are in parts, but a lot of them are very singular, and the singular ones can’t be read from just one side. But if I can make a drawing with two things in it, I’m really ahead of the game. Any regular old painter can make whole backgrounds and foregrounds. I can make a single thing, you know, one picture of one thing, and that’s it. I collage them together. But I love altar painting, sequential narratives, or Egyptian friezes; things where there is implied movement and narrative, friezes of activity, like a single frame or like film strips, a single image with a narration…” [Kiki Smith in conversation with Christopher Lyon]

Robert Gober Untitled 2017

What claims our attention are not so much Gober’s quotidian subjects as the intentness with which he reconstitutes ordinary objects; this is his way of possessing them. Gober’s laconic perfectionism lends humdrum stuff an eeriness. I feel that eeriness in the subtle shadow play he reveals in his plainly carpentered closet, in the delicacy of human hairs inserted into the wax surface of a sculpted leg, and in the trompe l’oeil finesse with which he paints the label on the battered Benjamin Moore can. Gober keeps his virtuosity tamped down and under wraps. His weird world is constructed with the meticulousness of a jeweler putting together a Fabergé egg.” [Jed Perl on Robert Gober]

Restriction on Form

Whaam! Roy Lichtenstein 1963

“Transformation is a strange word to use. It implies that art transforms. It doesn’t, it just plain forms. Artists have never worked with the model—just with the painting. What you’re really saying is that an artist like Cézanne transforms what we think the painting ought to look like into something he thinks it ought to look like. He’s working with paint, not nature; he’s making a painting, he’s forming. I think my work is different from comic strips—but I wouldn’t call it transformation; I don’t think that whatever is meant by it is important to art. What I do is form, whereas the comic strip is not formed in the sense I’m using the word; the comics have shapes but there has been no effort to make them intensely unified. The purpose is different, one intends to depict and I intend to unify. And my work is actually different from comic strips in that every mark is really in a different place, however slight the difference seems to some. The difference is not always great, but it is crucial. People also consider my work to be anti-art in the same way they consider it pure depiction, ‘not transformed’. I don’t feel it is anti-art. There is no neat way of telling whether a work of art is composed or not; we’re too comfortable with ideas that art is the battleground for interaction, that with more and more experience you become more able to compose. It’s true, everybody accepts that; it’s just that the idea no longer has any power. [Roy Lichtenstein in conversation with
Gene Swenson

Roy Lichtenstein girl with A Ball 1961

“The history of art can almost be seen as getting more ground-directed. You have icons, then figures, then landscapes, and so forth, and then you have Pollock where there’s no figure; it’s all ground. So it’s a shock to suddenly do an object. You can’t do it in a primitive way; you have to keep the wholeness of the painting. But it might seem that you’re presenting a part disconnected from the whole, separate from the whole white canvas … . It isn’t that you’re making a golf ball; you’re actually making a group of marks, you know. And you’ve done something which is the opposite of what art’s been leaning toward for six thousand years. I was always interested in getting the thing, and then disconnecting it from composition.” [Roy Lichtenstein in conversation with April Bernard]

Roy Lichtenstein Little Big Painting 1965

“… I think I’m really interested in what kind of an image they have and what it really looks like as well as the formal aspect of it. Let it go at that. I’ll just do it anyway. I’m interested in the kind of image in the same way that one would develop a classical form, an ideal head for instance. Some people don’t really believe in this any more, but that was the idea, in a way, of classical work: ideal figures of people and godlike people. Well, the same thing has been developed in cartoons. It’s not called classical, it’s called a cliche. Well I’m interested in my work’s redeveloping these classical ways, except that it’s not classical, it’s like a cartoon. I’m interested because of the impact it has when you look at it, not because it does anything formally. As a matter of fact, it’s really contradictory to form, it’s a restriction on form. I mean, you have to take into account something else while you’re forming this painting. The hair, the eyes, whatever it is, have to be symbols which – it’s sort of funny to say this – are eternal in this way. In realising of course that they’re not eternal. But they will have this power of being the way to draw something. I don’t know how to express it beyond that, but if it didn’t quite look like the kind of eye I wanted it to look like and the kind of mouth I wanted it to look like, I would be changing it; it would bother me a lot. It isn’t purely a formal problem. I’m not sure exactly why I do this, but I think that it’s to establish the hardest kind of archetype that I can. There’s a sort of formidable appearance that the work has when this is achieved. I think it also doesn’t become achieved unless it’s in line formally; just by itself it doesn’t work. In other words, the enlarged cartoon itself would not do anything; it would be a kind of joke. But I think it’s when the formal and this aspect of it being the right kind of eye come about, you have something. I think, really, that Picasso is involved in this. In spite of the fact that it seems as though he could do almost any kind of variation of any kind of eye or ear or head, there are certain ones that were very powerful and strong because of the kind of symbolism that he employed. And I don’t know the meaning of this. It’s what I think I’m up to, anyway.” [Roy Lichtenstein in conversation with David Sylvester]

Experience of Illusory Motion

Bridget Riley Hesitate 1964

“In one sense, paradoxically, Riley’s formalist project is a relativizing one; it’s about harnessing the ways that forms and colors affect their neighbors, and exploiting the unpredictability of perceptual experience, for aesthetic ends. That’s as far as it goes, though: The idea that the significance of painting’s form ultimately relies on factors outside the literal frame–that history, relations of production and consumption, social formations of subjectivity, inescapably contaminate “pure” form with ideological content–would, one imagines, earn a big raspberry from Riley. So how might one read her work against the formalist grain? It offers a perceptual experience of illusory motion and fluidity, of iridescent mirages, of phantom colors born of simultaneous contrast and optical mixture, all underpinned by rigidly delineated, insistently repeated, progressively more and more “standardized” units (fabricated by Riley’s studio assistants). Depth in front, flatness behind: a mind-boggling, anti-Idealist sublime-in-reverse. Risking accusations of crude reflectionism, it’s tempting to interpret all this as an unwitting but incisive anatomization of the phantasmagoric mechanisms of ’60s and ’70s commodity design and display. (Riley, incidentally, worked at the J. Walter Thompson advertising agency in the late ’50s.) That would certainly raise interesting questions about commercial design’s huge attraction to Riley’s work when it first emerged, and its ripeness for appropriation by the likes of Damien Hirst and Philip Taaffe.” [Rachel Withers on Bridget Riley]

Peter Schuyff Untitled 1987

Optical art represents, to some critics at least, a respite from the undisciplined spirit and techniques of abstract expressionism which held sway for the past decade in American art circles. Abstract expressionism with its emphasis on the highly personalized and immediate (sometimes violent) emotional evocations of the artist often misses a rapport with the viewer. The feeling of the intensity of the technique of the abstract expressionist artists (witness the splash and dribble of the action painters), it seems to me, falls short of the visual impact of great masses of rich color which are also present on these usually huge canvasses. Furthermore, the texture of the generously applied paint can produce an interesting optical effect. Expression is also brought out forcibly and with a greater economy of means in many examples of Chinese calligraphy….[Gerald Oster on Optical Art]

Paul Corio Rocks in My Bed 2017

“For the cultural elite’s antagonism toward Op was every bit as intense as the general public’s (and popular press’s) fascination with it. The highbrow dismissal of Op came from artists and critics: Noland spoke of optical “delusions.” Writing in the April 1965 issue of Artforum, Barbara Rose spoke of “optical hysteria” and dismissed the work as “expressively neutral, having to do with sensation alone.” Rosalind Krauss, still evidently operating within the intellectual arena of Greenberg, connects Op to the tradition of trompe l’oeil and denigrates its visual trickery, its “duplicity.” Donald Judd was rather open to Tadasky’s paintings in a February 1965 review–the same month “The Responsive Eye” opened–remarking with characteristic brevity, “It’s fairly good”; but in October of the previous year he had dismissed Stanczak, while simultaneously giving the movement its name: “Optical effects are one thing, a narrow phenomenon, and color effects are another, a wide range. Op art.” But popular usage of the term derived from an unsigned article by Time magazine correspondent Jon Borgzinner, “Op Art: Pictures that Attack the Eye.” It is thus in the context of the mainstream media that the question of Op’s “attack” is first broached.” [David Rimanelli on Op Art]

Everyday Images Shaped by Convention

Robert Rauschenberg Canto I: The Dark Wood of Error, from the series Thirty-Four Illustrations for Dante’s Inferno 1958

Photo-based media had already entered Rauschenberg’s work in clippings glued to the surfaces of Combines such as Canyon (1959) and Monogram (1955–59)…; with his transfer drawings, photomechanical images plucked from the flux of contemporary culture became central. The Dante project provided Rauschenberg with what the art historian Rosalind Krauss has described as “his apprenticeship to the media image,” training in the strategic premises of what would become known as Pop art. The Dante drawings led Rauschenberg almost immediately to efforts to scale up, to create a painting with readymade images: the artist first made Calendar, a solvent “transfer painting,” in 1962, which he felt was not fully successful in the way that the magazine images were dwarfed by the large canvas; he then attempted and failed to find a way to produce photosensitive canvas that would allow images to be imprinted directly onto the support; and finally—after consulting with Andy Warhol, who had just begun making silkscreen paintings—he adopted the silkscreen technique himself. “Silkscreen was a way not to be victimized and limited in scale and color, but still have access to current worldwide information,” he would explain in 1997 in comments he made on an essay about his work that Krauss was preparing for publication. Combining photography and painting, machine work and manual work, these early silkscreens registered images of culture at large but also reflected on the tradition of fine-art painting. In Rauschenberg’s case, the move from collaged abstraction to media-based imagery came via Dante. [Leah Dickerman on Rauschneberg’s Dante’s Inferno]

Jasper Johns Hatteras 1963

Raising the issue of slippage between form and handling, however, reminds
us how barren any isolated delectation of Johns s surfaces and lines must quickly become. If we are to grasp his ambition as an artist — to understand both its singularity and its relation to modern traditions — we should attend simultaneously to his subjects, and to what he has said about them. Johns has wanted his subjects, like his schematic models for drawing, to come ready made. He has also long favored those that have arrived involuntarily, through chance encounters or uncontrolled circumstance —fleeting glances, unexpected gifts from friends, suggestions made by others, or even, in the case of the first Flag , 1954—55, a dream. This is clearly not, however, a belated case of the Surrealist courtship of chance and the unconscious mind, which meant so much to the generation of American artists immediately preceding Johns’s. What came to him from his initial dreams and serendipities were not primal icons beyond civilizations reach, or exotic eccentricities, but everyday images shaped by convention and culture. The prime gift, the dream of painting the American flag, was prime precisely because it provided the most conventional of conventions, a wholly public symbol. [Kirk Varnedoe on Jasper Johns]

Robert Rauschenberg Canto XIV- Circle Seven, Round 3, The Violent Against God, Nature, and Art 1958

Rauschenberg’s tracings of his own hand and foot allude to the artist’s identity and its place in the narrative. Despite having referred to himself as merely a “reporter” of the cantos, Rauschenberg carves out a space for himself in the fourteenth-century epic poem. His indexing of his own body declares an artistic presence in addition to that of Dante’s—one that complicates and even perhaps contradicts Dante. While Dante remains a strict adherent to Christian piety, and his journey through Hell is an allegorical journey with the goal of recognizing and rejecting sin, Rauschenberg at times appears to sympathize or ally himself with the sinners being punished. He also uses images from contemporary American politics and pop culture to provide his own commentary about his nation and his era. Despite Rauschenberg’s statements about his work on the series, his canto drawings do not adhere strictly to the text but rather create a unique visual interpretation of the poem that incorporates anachronistic and autobiographical elements in order to convey ideas about his own body and sexuality and to explore notions of materiality and immateriality in art. [Eliza Mott on Rauschenberg’s Inferno series]

Jasper Johns Skin with O’Hara Poem 1963–65

In more particular terms, the theme of the body offers one key point of connection between Johns’s work and specifically contemporary concerns. Since the mid-1980s, in a period when a new consciousness of sexuality has been affected by aids, and when sex and gender have been put under intense scrutiny as matters of the mind and of society as well as of biology, the singularly fraught store of morbid sensuality that Johns long ago began investing in corporeal imagery seems revivified. The object-body interchanges that mark Robert Gober’s art, for example — his combination of homages to Duchamp and veristic segments of torsos and limbs — move back onto territory Johns broached in the early 1960s. Similarly, Kiki Smith’s sacks of flayed flesh, and her splayed deformation of her face, reawaken the climate of feeling that surrounded Johns’s Study for Skin drawings — at the same moment when Johns himself, in the stretched and dislocated “face” he derived from Picasso and from a child’s drawing, is reexploring this very terrain of epidermal distension and pyschically decentered dissociation. For Murray, these new stretched faces in Johns’s work evoke a child’s fascination with pulling and stretching his or her body as a possession to be tested and discovered; pushing toward that inside-outside attitude, they pass through the adult repugnance that buries such instincts and cloaks the body in clothes and willed forgetfulness. Even beyond the Freudian linkages of early pleasures and adult sufferings in this explicit “infantilism,” Murray senses that such seemingly innocent trompe l’oeil devices as the standing nails and pieces of masking tape in the recent imagery may evoke “the pain of the body” and a compulsive, Band-Aid-like covering of the flesh. [Kirk Varnedoe on Jasper Johns]

“That Was Outside. Inside The Same Light Illuminates . . .“ Some Paintings by David Novros – Mike Zahn

Spring 2019

David Novros Lent Painting 1975

The ghosts of a vanished metaphysics haunt the world.Mind, matter, idea, technique, word, image— these are concepts whose potency has expired. The structures which frame their use harbor particular biases, those of art, or of philosophy, or possibly of politics, each in or well past their terminal stages. That which commands attention today is expediency in the service of economics. Nowhere are these issues clearer than in the works of David Novros, described by the artist himself as compromises with the conditions of their presence.

David Novros Untitled (Frog Altar) 1975

It’s possible there’s something diminished, anachronistic, or even ridiculous in the approach Novros takes. His works are massive, and seemingly at odds with the circulation of artworks in the marketplace. If not quite practical, this decision is pragmatic. It internalizes the role architecture plays in his work, and becomes its key strength. The presentation of multi-panel reliefs is figured as vacillating between the fragment and the whole, and addresses an entire lineage of painting from the paleolithic to the modern. This brings a predicament to the fore with which Novros has always struggled: When detached from its substrate, how does scale retain its integrity? The question is answered by the claim of a ‘painted place’, which for Novros accommodates performative aspects of the work while maintaining its specificity as the focus of ritual.

David Novros (L) DB, 2016 (R) Portable Cave 1975
Installation view Paula Cooper Gallery 2019

What’s discerned in the ‘portable murals’ Novros executes is the refinement of a sensibility attuned to volume and movement, to hue and surface, brought forth as the work perpetually unfolds in a curious time out of its immediate space. There’s no image here. Nor is there an object per se. What the work as such organizes is a proprioceptive awareness which takes hold as dark masses give way to swaths of lambent effulgence. A flashing of here and there insinuates an inside and an outside to the work, where the optical and the haptic mitigate against one another, giving rise to the paradox of a third state beyond reason and experience, or in terms Giotto would have recognized, logos and flesh. Here it’s tempting to suggest the paintings Novros makes incarnate a mysterious joining of the human and the divine in hypostatic instances of fleeting perspective. This implies unity, and a summoning of the faith required of painters of Trecento murals or of prehistoric caves. To achieve this now entails not a belief, but a doing, above all a not- doing of many things: A different being.

David Novros is currently showing at Paula Cooper Gallery, 524 West 26th Street, May 11 – June 15, 2019.

Change, Doubt, Indecisiveness, and Poetry

Christopher Wool Last Year Halloween Fell on a Weekend 2004

“In 2000, Wool discovered another new process. He was working with a sprayed composition of yellow enamel when he became frustrated, picked up a rag soaked in turpentine, and wiped away the lines using rapid gestures. He then began to experiment with this technique with black enamel, leading to a body of work he refers to as his “gray paintings.” He alternated this act of erasing with the act of “drawing” (Wool considers spray-painting closer to drawing than painting). On these new canvases, black lines were swallowed in layers of gray erasure and then complicated by further layers of lines. Addition was as important as subtraction. Wool described this process of making work in four words: change, doubt, indecisiveness, and poetry. The works have been described as an argument he was having with himself—a constant interplay of concession and rebuttal. Wool has said that, “the traditional idea of an objective masterpiece is no longer possible,” and “without objectivity you’re left with doubt, and doubt insists on plurality.” [Guggenheim on Christopher Wool’s drawing]

Robert Rauschenberg Erased de Kooning Drawing 1953

“When I just erased my own drawings, it wasn’t art yet. And so I thought, Aha, it has to be art. And Bill de Kooning was the—was the best-known acceptable American artist, well known, that could be indisputably considered art. And so—
I was on a very low-budget situation. But I bought a bottle of Jack Daniels. And hoped that—  that he wouldn’t be home when I knocked on his door. And he was home. And we sat down with the Jack Daniels, and I told him what my project was. He understood it. And he said, “I don’t like it. But, you know, I—I understand what you’re doing.” And he went through one portfolio, and he said, “No. It’ll have to be something that—that I’ll miss.” So I’m—I’m just sweating, shitless, ya know? And then I’m thinking, like—like, It doesn’t have to be something you’re gonna miss. And—then he went through a second portfolio. Which I thought was kind of interesting, things he wouldn’t miss and things he would miss and—and then— and—and he pulled something out, and then he said, “I’m gonna make it so hard for you to erase this.” And it took me about a month, and I don’t know how many erasers, to do it.” [Rauschenberg in conversation with Leah Dickerman]

Christopher Wool King Walk 2004

“Wool’s abstracts reference Robert Rauschenberg’s lyric “Erased DeKooning,” where Rauschenberg could be said to have subverted DeKooning’s abstract expressionist bravado by erasing his marks just enough to leave their identity without their impact.
Since Wool marks his canvases and then, partially erases his own drawing, you get to note that he subverts the implied intent of his initial gesture with the latter one of erasure. It could make an art speaker giddy to realize that Wool’s abstracts show more gesture in their erasure than in their markings since the erasures are done with solvent soaked rags, leaving drips and smudges that capture the action quite well.” [Cat Weaver on Christopher Wool’s drawing]

Robert Rauschenberg Tideline 1963

“Painters showed that making a painting wasn’t a logical process of will gradually moving toward an ideal conclusion. An artist throws his arms around and is many times fairly uncomfortable; and he is forced to admit that he tries many things which he isn’t sure he can do. I think that’s always been the case before in art—artists crawling around on scaffolding or grinding—their own pigments or accepting commissions that interrupt their immediate concerns.
It is physical, the whole activity; you don’t begin with some divine image and end up with some divine image—to say you do is part of the popular illusion built around art. When you finish a picture and people like it they say, ‘It’s just perfect,’ or, ‘It couldn’t be any different,’ or, ‘That’s the way a real artist sees it.’ I think that’s a lot of bull because it could, it obviously could, be some other way. By the time it starts drying, it doesn’t look the same as when it’s still wet. That’s one reason I made four versions of Summer Rental; all four are made up of exactly the same ingredients except for a small amount of paint I used at the end to finish them.” [G.R. Swenson Robert Rauschenberg Paints a Picture]

Obvious Creative Expenditure

Wade Guyton Untitled 2007

“In his [Scott Rothkopf ] essay “Modern Pictures,” which was included in the catalogue accompanying the artist’s 2005 exhibition, Color, Power, & Style, at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, Rothkopf wrote of Guyton: “So suspicious was he of any kind of obvious creative expenditure that even that most minimal of gestures inspired a near existential crisis. ‘Why am I making this drawing,’ he recalls asking himself. ‘It seemed dumb to be sitting here drawing, but it didn’t seem dumb enough. If I was going to do something that required no skill, it shouldn’t require my labor.’ And soon thereafter it didn’t.” Making art without labor is the perfect response to those philistines who proclaim, “Even my kid could do this,” and to those aesthetic theorists who believe that the progress of art is marked by the steps artists take towards achieving the utopian condition of a workerless society.” [John Yau on Wade Guyton]

“Although some of his works question the structure and language of painting, in the traditional sense of the word, they still radically modify codes and modes of production. Guyton’s paintings are realized by putting canvases several times through huge inkjet printers to print motifs and letterings. Errors, drips, and misprints are part of the general composition programme and ensure the result’s unicity: “The first works I made with the computer were like writing, replacing the pen with a keyboard. Instead of drawing an X I decided to type it…””
To understand my work differently I started photographing it in the studio and using these images to produce paintings. And it is perfectly logical to use a photographic image with the tools I’m using. The printers I use were designed to replace darkroom photography; a kind of hostile business advancement masked as technological progress and image improvement.”
The sudden upsurge of biographical elements drawn from the reality of his daily practice, disrupts the iconography usually deployed by this artist and opens new perspectives. Through a mise en abîme of his own work, Wade Guyton keeps questioning the entire chain of production and representation as well as the future of art as an image.” [Wade Guyton Consortium Installation 2016]

Wade Guyton Untitled 2006

There is no smell of turpentine, no haphazard array of easels, no cans of paint or stacks of used canvases. In fact, there are none of the things one would expect in a painter’s studio. Instead all the creating is executed on computer screens and printers.
“I never really enjoyed drawing or art classes,” said Mr. Guyton unapologetically as he described growing up in a small town in Tennessee. “I would prefer to sit in front of the TV or play video games.” [Carol Vogel on Wade Guyton]

Substance Will Be Untouched

Paul Corio Odetta Gallery Installation 2017

“… the clip shows Bowie singing to himself from three simultaneous angles, with layering techniques tripling his image; not only has Bowie’s hero been cloned, he has above all become an image that can be reproduced, multiplied, and copied, a riff that travels effortlessly through commercials for almost anything, a fetish that packages Bowie’s glamorous and unfazed post-gender look as product. Bowie’s hero is no longer a larger-than-life human being carrying out exemplary and sensational exploits, and he is not even an icon, but a shiny product endowed with post-human beauty: an image and nothing but an image.
This hero’s immortality no longer originates in the strength to survive all possible ordeals, but from its ability to be xeroxed, recycled, and reincarnated. Destruction will alter its form and appearance, yet its substance will be untouched. The immortality of the thing is its finitude, not its eternity.” [Hito Steyerl The Wretched of the Screen]

Wade Guyton at Chantal Crouse 2014

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. The traces of the first can be revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition which must be traced from the situation of the original.” [Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction]

Michael Zahn Installation Greenspon 2017

“We usually think of memory in just this way, as if a recorder planted in our head could be rewound and replayed; however, memory often stores perceptual information in verbal forms, not images. We remember a “light blue Rambler,” and yet because we have translated it in our minds into a verbal construct, we would find it difficult to retranslate the memory into an image, re-creating exactly the right shade of blue. Autobiographical memory is a recollection of events or episodes, which we remember with great detail. What’s stored in that memory isn’t the actual events, but how those events made sense to us and fit into our experience….”
“Why do you take photographs so constantly, so obsessively? Why do you collect other people’s photographs? Why do you scavenge in secondhand shops and buy old albums of other people’s pasts? So that I’ll see what I’ve seen.”” [David Shields Reality Hunger]

Christopher Wool at the Venice Central Pavilion 2011

“Modern and contemporary art are, by contrast, products of the long history of depsychologization that many critics—for example, Ortega y Gasset—experienced as a history of dehumanization. Avant-garde and post-avant-garde artists wanted their art to be not realist but real—as real as all the other processes taking place in the world. The artwork was understood as being a thing among other things—like a tree or a car. This did not mean that avant-garde artists did not want to change the world—on the contrary, they radicalized this desire. But they did not appeal to the psyche of the reader, listener, or spectator to achieve this goal. Rather, they understood art as a specific kind of technology that was able to change the world by technical means. In fact, the avant-garde tried to turn art spectators into inhabitants of the artwork—so that by accommodating themselves to the new conditions of their environment, these spectators would change their sensibilities and attitudes. Speaking in Marxist terms: art can thus be seen as either part of the superstructure, or part of the material base. In other words, art can be understood as either ideology or technology. The radical artistic avant-gardes pursued the second, technological way of world transformation.” [Boris Groys on the New Realism]

Apocalypse, or, the Highest Stage of Modernism* – Mike Zahn

Spring 2019

“Modernism imagined itself to be beyond eschatology, those primitive bedtime stories about the end of the world, the last judgment, or some final act that would settle things as they ultimately should be. Modernism, however, in imagining that it could overcome its Abrahamic heritage, preserved it. Even as it claimed to surrender the idea of a savior, sent from heaven to redeem a fallen world, it relocated this figure again and again in this or that individual, class, or grouping—the enlightened monarch, the universal proletariat, the creative entrepreneur. The “revolutionary subject” is just another messiah born without original sin, in whose name the sinful and the fallen pursue their earthly redemption. In the absence of the savior, the image of the end of the world returns and the apocalypse reigns. In this light, the actual legacy of modernism is not a horizon of worker-led emancipation but a biosphere on the brink of extinction, self-destructive societies, and a world in ruins. This results from colonialism—the blind spot of modernity—which is not just a war machine designed to extract profit as quickly as possible, regardless of the consequences, but also an apparatus that employs cultural intervention and images of salvation and progress to obliterate the disruptive effects of the trauma it generates.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“As the apocalypse has become central to the neoliberal imaginary, it is clear that the current relations of domination—and a corresponding redemptive horizon of emancipation—are no longer legible. What we are witnessing are intolerable forms of dependency. Instead of relationships of domination, there is systemic competition and destruction leading to self-destruction, even suicide. We are seeing the outcomes of displacement, dispossession, military and colonial occupation, the eradication of identity, and the cancellation and destruction of a world of moral belonging.”

“In the late 1980s, Gilles Deleuze noted that political cinema was no longer constituted on the basis of the possibility of revolution (like classical cinema), but on the intolerable. The intolerable had become the unknown, what the media and hegemonic narratives were obscuring. This is why in various texts Deleuze wrote, “The people are missing”—meaning that the proletariat or a unified people would no longer seek to conquer power, thus situating counter-information as a political task. Along with the third-world guerrillero, the working class and the main protagonists of political struggle and of the militant image of the twentieth century had disappeared. As Félix Guattari put it, militantism came to be impregnated by a rancid church smell that elicited a legitimate gesture of rejection. A new form of emancipation of the people of the third world had been foregrounded in the 1970s, leading to the replacement of politics by a new ethics of intervention. Third worldism or internationalism had been a universal cause giving a name to a political wrong. For the first time, the “wretched of the earth” emerged for a specifically historic period as a new figuration of “the people” in the political sense: the colonized were discursively transformed into political figures. Yet, a new ethical humanism (or humanitarianism) replaced revolutionary enthusiasm and political sympathy with pity and moral indignation, transforming them into political emotions within the discourse of emergency. This led to new figures of alterity in the 1980s and ’90s: the “suffering other” who needs to be rescued and the postcolonial “subaltern” demanding restitution, presupposing that visibility within a multicultural social fabric would lead to emancipation.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“In the 1990s, the panorama of resistance opposed neoliberal reforms and fought for fair trade, sustainable development, human rights, and corporate accountability; the anti-globalization movement conceived itself as a social base to criticize corporate capitalism, globalization, and the fact that multinational corporations had acquired more and more unregulated political power exercised through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets. Anticapitalist politics in this context was characterized by interdisciplinarity, the adoption of an array of countercultural positions, and provisional political associations with the goal of creating autonomous zones, albeit symbolically. Counter- informative, didactic, and symbolic interventions against capitalism in the public sphere prevailed. In parallel, minorities continued to claim visibility and accountability under the depoliticized frame of human rights, as well as demanding inclusion within globalized democracy.”

“But once neoliberal policies of deregulation, austerity, free markets, and privatization resulted in the decline of living standards and the loss of jobs, pensions, and the safety net that the state and society used to provide, social Darwinism became the rule. One of the implications of this is that the colonial division of the first and third world as well as the global —“postcolonial”— distinction between North/South and East/West has become irrelevant, as a new arrangement of the world is now visible: modernized pockets of privilege and cultural sophistication thrive and coexist with enclaves inhabited by “redundant populations.” This sector of the population has differential access—or no access at all—to education, health services, debt, and jobs, and is governed by various forms of state control that produce differential degrees of exclusion, dispossession, and coercion. These are communities whose commons and sustainable autonomous forms of life are being destroyed in the name of their well-being and development; yet, their destruction is de facto sustaining the lives of people living in modernized privileged enclaves. I am thinking of the destruction of entire communities and their lands in the state of Michoacán, Mexico since the 1960s to provide Mexico City with much-needed water. Or of shale gas extraction in Québec in order to provide gas for home use.”

“It is clear that under capitalist absolutism it is more profitable to destroy lives and lands, rendering sectors of the population redundant, than to incorporate them into the system as consumers or exploited workers. In this panorama, the only categories that remain are winners and losers, exploiters and exploited, included and excluded. Neoliberal common sense preaches that either you are strong and smart, or you deserve your misery.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“In spite of the fact that the nineteenth-century political framework had been superseded by new forms of capitalist absolutism, myths like critique (or the principle that there can be an outside that can oppose the state of things, sublating it in the interest of something better), revolution, and democracy inflamed the uprisings of the early twenty-first century (Argentina in 2000, Mexico in 2006, and between 2011 and 2012 Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the Indignados in Spain, Syriza in Greece, etc.). These mobilizations fought against austerity measures and for better democracies, and demanded that states grant citizens rights. By now, however, it has become clear that struggles have lost their social base and their capacity for medium- or long-term political organizing. Moreover, the values underlying mobilization are increasingly neoliberal: they are focused on individual problems, private benefit, and consumer choices. Jodi Dean explains how the logic of neoliberalism itself has made collectivity undesirable, because in principle collectivity opposes individual responsibility and freedom, which are the main tenets of neoliberalism. Mobilizations become focused on the individual, and mass demonstrations become occasions for temporary coalitions, for recognizing and comforting each other, for finding transient affinities and concerns, for sharing indignation. Mass mobilizations may open up toward political subjectivity but they are not enough to ground or sustain it.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“Uprisings are about collective emotions, social disorder, acts of insurrection in which antagonism or disagreement is expressed. The state either tolerates or represses these voices. The problem is that the aspiration of politics through social mobilization has become centered around achieving democracy, denying democracy’s own limits and mechanics of exclusion, and the fact that in our current historical moment it serves to validate capitalist absolutism. For many thinkers, this is the reason why we live in a “post-political” era. Post-politics also implies the disavowal of the fundamental antagonism conditioning politics, as equality has come to mean inclusion, respect, and entitlement. What we see proliferate are struggles directing action at small or private battles for the defense of rights, territory, or policy proposals. “Post-politics” therefore means consensual politics, the end of ideology, the neoliberal withering away of the state (which is at the same time strengthened strategically according to the interests of global capital), and the financialization of the economy.”

“In other words, the Promethean frame of worker-led revolutionary resistance has been superseded by capitalist absolutism expressed as the imposition of neoliberal politics: centered on democracy, it cannot be uncoupled from free-market logic, which has become common sense. The unprecedented forms of state, social, and corporate violence brought about by capitalist absolutism are less tied to local than to abstract global processes, and yet resistance remains localized, isolated, ineffective. What does insurrection look like in this panorama?”

*Excerpted from Self-Destruction as Insurrection, or, How to Lift The Earth Above All That Has Died. Irmgard Emmelhainz. e-flux Journal #87, 2017. destruction-as-insurrection-or-how-to-lift-the-earth- above-all-that-has-died/

Source in Nature

Brice Marden. Study for the Muses Hydra Version 1991–95

“For Marden, despite the similarities in his drawing and painting, drawing is about the first experience. In a recent interview he said: “A painting is about refinement of image. . . . Drawing is more fugitive. It’s like little scribbles. . . . These [drawings] are not pictures of specific places or things . . . they’re about particular places and inspirations. . . . For me, drawing is about the state that the person would be in who’s standing in the drawing looking at the mountain, it’s about sensing that. I find that interesting about the Chinese . . . paintings and drawings evolved in a kind of inspired state. . . . There’s usually somebody in the picture undergoing some sort of experience, or on a pilgrimage towards an experience. They depict it, I’m depicting it in another way.”
“He manipulates both the inherited and imposed grids, bringing them together. The grid is not about the language, nor is it about writing or trying to make a language; rather, Marden returns the grid to calligraphy and calligraphy constantly to its source in nature, and round about again, in a constant discourse between nature and culture. For Marden, “If the form is resolved, it’s beautiful. . . . Maybe beauty is too easy. It doesn’t deal with . . . political issues or social issues. But an issue that it does deal with is harmony.”” [Barbara Rose on Drawing]

Chris Martin Installation at Anton Kern 2018

“When I was a young painter, there was a severe orthodoxy about painting, about what one could and could not do. It was very hard to find any room in that world. To be new or on the track it was about minimalism. I made very severe paintings in the 1970s. In the 1980s, things broke apart, and people like Schnabel and Sigmar Polke, who is a hero of mine, opened up great worlds.
“Initially, it was only in my drawings that I let myself explore different things. I have a huge amount of work on paper. On paper you are not so worried if it’s good enough. Friends would say my drawings were ahead of my paintings. I came to see that they had more action and energy. I gradually let myself treat paintings the way I treated drawings. One way to do that was to start a lot more paintings.” [Chris Martin in Conversation With Jennifer Samet]

Amy Sillman SK42 2017

“I started thinking, “What if I draw first and print over it?” So I made silk screens of my drawings. I could add a drawing that was made with a machine or digitally to a drawing that was made by hand. What I love is that you can’t tell how they’re made. For some reason, fooling the eye really excites me. Then it got more and more baroque. I started to make these really complicated ones that were totally abstract. I just wanted to see if I could make it literally impossible for someone to tell how it was made, and what was underneath.
I’m in this process of trying to create a free space. Like an open field, where figure and ground are in very ambivalent, complex relationships. On top of that, I also wanted to see if I could try to blurt something out, or make something completely immediate, that ends up fitting perfectly. More recently, I started thinking about shape. I’ve never read a book on shape. I’ve read books on gesture; I’ve read tons of books on color, surface, field, ground, representation, abstraction. But I’ve never read a book on what a shape is. I like shapes. So I was making all of these round ones. And then I thought, “I guess they’re people.”” [Amy Sillman in conversation with Matt Mullen]