Depart From Pollock

Helen Frankenthaler Hommage á Chardin 1957

“It was more than just the drawing, webbing, weaving, dripping of a stick held in enamel, more than just the rhythm. It seemed to have much more complication and order of a kind that at that time I responded to. Something maybe more baroque, more drawn and with some elements of realism abstracted or Surrealism or a hint of it. In other words, you could certainly look at that picture and not see that at all. It is a totally abstract picture but it had that additional quality in it for me. There were pictures I liked equally well that I could see nothing in that had anything to do with subject matter. But this one I particularly responded to.
And at that time I was just starting to part totally with subject matter. I have a couple of pictures that, well, one of them looks like a design pattern all over. I mean it’s not a painting, it’s a motif. And I was experiencing many changes and experiments during this time. I was then working in a medium of, and this was brief, I have maybe ten pictures of this, plaster of Paris, enamel house paint, tube pigment, sand, and probably kerosene or something. It was all very cheap.” [Helen Frankenthaler in conversation with Barbara Rose]

Helen Frankenthaler Hotel Cro-Magnon 1958

“She studied with the German-born guru of painterly abstraction Hans Hofmann, but she shunned the modes of fervent expressiveness—promoted as Action painting by Greenberg’s agonistic rival critic Harold Rosenberg—that engaged most artists of the so-called second generation of Abstract Expressionism. She said, “You could become a de Kooning disciple or satellite or mirror, but you could departfrom Pollock,” by which she meant that adapting Pollock’s idea of coöperating with chance held more promise than aping de Kooning’s unattainable virtuosity. She was just twenty-three when she poured puddles of paint, in palely glowing colors, onto a cotton canvas to produce “Mountains and Sea” (1952), which is the Rosetta stone of color-field (it’s in the National Gallery of Art, in Washington), despite the fact that it bears drawn lines and a redolence of landscape. Greenberg showed the picture to Louis and the painter Kenneth Noland, both visiting from Washington, D.C., on April 4, 1953. If color-field were a nation, that day would be its Fourth of July. Frankenthaler’s work was the “bridge from Pollock to what was possible,” Louis later declared.” [Peter Schjeldahl on Helen Frankenthaler]

Helen Frankenthaler Before the Caves, 1958

“…the works are pretty extraordinary, some of them very unexpected. Many people don’t have a strong sense of the course of her development, or haven’t studied her transitions at this level of detail. I think even scholars who know her work will find these lesser-known periods revelatory and exciting. Of course, once the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation has published its catalogue raisonné, it will be great to have a real sense of what was happening work after work for her entire career.
One interesting thing that starts to happen in the second half of the 1950s, for example, is that the canvases become more depictive than they were in the first stain period. That depictive quality is obviously there in the light, thin lines of Mountains and Sea, but it soon disappears from subsequent paintings, then comes back with a vengeance in ’56 and ’57: the paint is very much poured on and manipulated but there’s a clear figurative emphasis. At times you’re not quite sure what the figure represents… the figuration is produced through an expanded version of linear drawing, which is poured on as well as drawn with the brush. And the figuration can be as much in negative spaces as in positive ones.” [John Elderfield on Helen Frankenthaler]

Forms of Waywardness

Raoul De Keyser Dalton 1990

“De Keyser was adamant in his commitment to the most economical use of materials and compositional strategiesDalton (1990) is only four Cobalt dots organized on a flat ground the color of dead grass. The whisper of that same blue flashes through just where the canvas turns across the stretcher bars. This small, unassuming painting does a lot with a bare minimum of tools. The four dots reflect the boundaries of the canvas itself, making it a kind of object painting; they suggest a grid structure. The wobbly brushwork blurs into the wet ground—obviously painted, erased, and repainted. These visible imperfections intentionally reveal De Keyser’s mistakes, his rethinking during the process of painting. After relentless scrutiny and repeated editing, only the most essential elements remain.” [Stephen Truax on Raoul De Keyser]

Raoul De Kyser Front 1992

“To return to your question about why I used an absorbing surface: the painting is essentially about these traces of this white line. Many of my paintings are an exercise in recalcitrant painting, a purification of lines or surfaces. I used to have a neighbour whose job it was to paint the white lines on the football pitch. He did so with a bucket and a brush. When he was painting, he sometimes had to go back, because the wayward grass resisted… I, too, always searched for forms of waywardness. What is technical competence? Going from A to B. Some do it as straight as possible, others do it waltzing…” [Raoul De Keyser in conversation with Hans Theys]

Raoul de Keyser Bleu de ciel 1992

“In truth, when you encounter a De Keyser it doesn’t take too much imagination to attribute it to an amateur painter having a try at abstraction after seeing reproductions somewhere of paintings by Clyfford Still and Jean Arp. He manages to lay down a few jagged shapes, usually all the same color, against a monochrome ground. The limited palette suggests not any reductivist strategy but a novice who has invested in only a couple of tubes of paint. No effort is made to hide the laborious adjustments to the contours of the shapes or preliminary pencil markings. No line is quite straight; placement of shapes and dots of color appear either senselessly random or stiffly coordinated. As French curator Jean-Charles Vergne puts it, De Keyser’s work “constantly asserts the impossibility of painting free of touch-ups, mistakes, accidents, set on laying bare the seams, the second tries and the failures. . . . [There is] a constant stuttering in the painting.” [Raphael Rubenstein on Raoul De Keyser]

Way of Marking Time

Martin Barré 67-Z-12-81×65 1967

“Stella and Barré both reject illusionism and its implications of space deeper than the surface of the painting. Both also reject the seduction of the expressionist touch, advocating instead a neutral, workmanlike brush mark, at least through the ’70s for Stella. Finally, both organize the progression of their work in a series of series. For them, space is both painting’s primary subject and their primary subject, but they approach it from diametrically opposite angles, diverging on how to define the limits of “literal” space. Where Stella begins with the assumption that a painting is first and foremost an object, Barré assumes that a painting is first and foremost a conceptual and historical construct, a tableau….
Barré’s space, in contrast to Stella’s, develops on a plane parallel to the wall, where the thickness of a painting as an object does not come into play. The paintings are always presented on their traditional vertical/horizontal axis, never tilted at an angle or into a diamond shape, which would emphasize their objecthood. In Barré’s stubborn insistence on a quasi-traditional presentation, one can only infer that a very salient point is being made about the nature of painting. Barré is offering a clear resistance to objectification, a rejection of the support and a focus on the surface. This is where Barré’s approach departed emphatically from the Supports/Surfaces school of thought as well as American Minimalism, and why his lone wolf position was and still is so difficult to understand.” [Gwenaël Kerlidou on Martin Barre]

Martin Barré Installation Andrew Kreps Gallery New York 2008

“Emptying the canvas space, the painter favors a provisional aesthetic, as his minimalist approach deviates from the fastidious allover method used by many of his contemporaries. In Barré’s own words, ‘What bumped up against the taste or style of the period was not so much this lack of thickness as the impression of emptiness, of nonwork.’ Seemingly menaced by inconsequence or collapse, his abstractions look remarkably simple, self-cancelling and offhand. Yet, while Barré’s art seems to masquerade as a preliminary study or an under-painting, their plain compositions animate their surfaces to create a finished piece that is anything but tentative.
In a 1974 interview, Barré stated: ‘What I was doing could well appear as antipainting, whereas what I wanted to show, through the traces or points of impact in a clear surface, was what a painting could be if disencumbered of object, color, and form.’ Never ceasing to engage with minimalist ideologies, his reinvention of the canvas’s surface has secured his place as a leading figure within the canon of art.” [Ariane Belisle on Martin Barré]

Martin Barré “63-F-5” 1963

“Two years later, in “63-F-5” (1963), flocks of arrows extending inward from the canvas’s vertical edges point right, left, and down. I think it is telling that none of the arrows point upward. In all four groups of paintings in the exhibition, Barré is directing our attention beyond the canvas’s physical edges. I would say this is also true of the Zebrapaintings, such as “67-Z-21” (1967), in which some of the diagonally arranged sprayed lines, with their feathery edges, extend beyond the painting’s borders. It also seems as if the off-white ground has been applied with horizontal brushstrokes over a previous layer of vertical black marks. The layering is Barré’s way of marking time, which is another way he stands in opposition to the American idea of presence, timelessness, and taking in a work all at once.” [John Yau on Martin Barré]

Xeroxed, Recycled, and Reincarnated

Frank Stella Delta 1958

“Well, it seems to me we have problems. When Morris Louis showed in 1958, everybody (ARTnews, Tom Hess) dismissed his work as thin, merely decorative. They still do. Louis is the really interesting case. In every sense, his instincts were Abstract-Expressionist, and he was terribly involved with all of that, but he felt he had to move, too. I always get into arguments with people who want to retain the old values in painting—the humanistic values that they always find on the canvas. If you pin them down, they always end up asserting that there is something there besides the paint on the canvas. My painting is based on the fact that only what can be seen there is there. It really is an object. Any painting is an object and anyone who gets involved in this finally has to face up to the objectness of whatever it is that he’s doing. He is making a thing. All that should be for granted. If the painting were lean enough, accurate enough or right enough, you would just be able to look at it. All I want anyone to get out of my paintings is the fact that you can see the whole idea without any conclusion . . . What you see is what you see….
I think what I said is sentiment wasn’t necessary. I didn’t think then, and I don’t now, that it’s necessary to make paintings that will interest people in the sense that they can keep going back to explore painterly detail. One could stand in front of any Abstract-Expressionist work for a long time, and walk back and forth, and inspect the depths of the pigment and the inflection and all the painterly brushwork for hours. But I wouldn’t particularly want to do that and also I wouldn’t ask anyone to do that in front of my paintings. To go further, I would like to prohibit them from doing that in front of my painting. That’s why I make the paintings the way they are, more or less.” [Frank Stella in conversation with Bruce Glaser and Donald Judd]

David Reed #46 1974

“In the contemporary aesthetic production it’s easy to detect the signs of a sort of dark zeitgeist. Zeitgeist – the spirit of the time – means perception of imminence. If we look at recent narrative works we find everywhere the same no-way-out imagination. Art, poetry, narration, music, cinema and the overall aesthetic semiosis of our time are tracing a landscape of imminent darkness: social de-evolution, physical decay and neuro-totalitarianism….
Human evolution is made of hard stuff like technology, production, and the physical environment, but also the soft mental stuff, sensibility and language. Unconscious, desire, common expectations and fears, are the subjective side of human evolution. As it is the product of the never-ending transformation of the psycho-cultural composition of the social brain, this software is perpetually changing.” [Bernard “Bifo” Berardi Heroes]

Christopher Wool Installation Venice 2011

“How Wool’s paintings take advantage of an in-between position in the remarkably self-conscious history of abstract painting has been repeatedly observed, between immediate gesture and mediated remove, between Pollock and Warhol, between a reti­nal quiver and allover legibility of process, between paroxysm and cool…These are surfaces where intrusion and retreat interrupt the trajectory of each spray-painted mark. Taking place at different times in the enamel’s attempt to set, the solvent-laden rubbing varies in intensity from the grey smear of immediate erasure to the recalcitrant rubbing out of a long-standing line that thereafter bears trace of its absence, losing enamel but maintaining a ghosted outline within the composition. Links between works are further complicated by rotating the canvases—as evinced by the up, down, and side-to-side direction of the drip down—indicating a session-like approach of attending to more than one painting at a time in order to further elaborate serial yet conjunctive rela­tionships….
These “tiny deportations” result in an experience of time rather than depth as an index emerges from the mix of clouded gesture and lacerated crossings, one that makes a positive of cancel and activates Wool’s propulsive vision of null and void further into the frame with each pass… And while the hand remains conspicuously removed by spray paint and rag, a re-assertion of expressive ges­ture—though impoverished and reputed—is increas­ingly prominent. This move toward what was previ­ously disallowed is familiar as Wool often overturns his process: whether reversing painting procedures in his silkscreen enlargements—where a splotch, drip, spiral, or wash of paint is often zoomed in on to give a molecular, microscopic feel of immediacy—or by foregoing the hit-record status of the text paint­ings, Wool has repeatedly moved away from hall­ marks. As he has said, “You take color out, you take gesture out—and then later you can put them in.” [Fione Meade on Christopher Wool]

Desperate Lack of Irony

Brice Marden Star (for Patti Smith) 1972-74

“The dimensions of each of the vertical panels are the height and shoulder width of Smith. The colours are also hers: blue-black hair, pale skin tone, and as Marden explained, ‘a third “spirit diviner” colour to keep the work open, playful and non-didactic’ – a buttery yellow that has to do with Smith’s quality of ‘flash’. The surface of each painted panel is as smooth as skin. Like some of Zurbarán’s portraits, Star (for Patti Smith) has a coolness about it, yet it is a passionate painting. In a statement about the work, Marden reflected on his attempt to ‘make a portrait, not a picture of a person. I hoped to embody a spirit.’” [Brice Marden Portraits]

“Modern history is a process of forgetting that provokes an effect of anguish and that forces people to desperately hold onto some kind of memory. But memory has faded, together with the dissolution of the past, such that people have to invent a new set of memories. Like the character Rachel in the 1982 neo-noir sci-fi film Blade Runner, people create their own memories, putting together pieces of old texts, of faded images, of words whose meaning is lost….”
“… heroism disappeared towards the end of modernity, when the complexity and speed of human events overwhelmed the force of the will. When chaos prevailed, epic heroism was replaced by gigantic machines of simulation. The space of the epic discourse was occupied by semiocorporations, apparatuses for the emanation of widely shared illusions. These games of simulation often took the shape of identities, as with popular subcultures like rock, punk, cyberculture and so on. Here lies the origin of the late-modern form of tragedy: at the threshold where illusion is mistaken for reality, and identities are perceived as authentic forms of belonging. It is often accompanied by a desperate lack of irony, as humans respond to today’s state of permanent deterritorialization by enacting their craving for belonging through a chain of acts of murder, suicide, fanaticism, aggression, war. I believe that it is only through irony and through a conscious understanding of the simulation at the heart of the heroic game, that the simulated hero of subculture still has a chance to save itself.” [Franco “Bifo” Berardi Heroes]

Christopher Wool Untitled 1988

Renunciation benefitted Wool. He did not use color, or expressive gesture; their meanings could not be controlled. Nor did he indulge, as his friends Robert Gober, Richard Prince, and Jeff Koons did, in the easy ironies of adopting themes and images from mass culture. (Koons wrote the press release for Wool’s solo show, in 1986, at the short-lived Cable Gallery; he keenly observed that “Wool’s work contains continual internal/external debate within itself.”) Wool liked the éclat of Pop-influenced art, but not its borrowed subject matter. Around the time of his delivery-truck eureka, he hit on a witty means of grounding high art in the everyday: the incised paint rollers once commonly used by slumlords to give tenement halls and stairwells the appearance of having been wallpapered. The tall paintings that resulted—floral or grille-like patterns, with skips and smears suggesting haste—have just about everything you could want of an all-over abstraction, plus the humor of their absurd efficiency. Can painting be so simple? It can for an artist who has despaired of every alternative. The expedient of the rollers, like that of the words that Wool proceeded to paint, suggests the ledges to which a rock climber clings by his fingernails.” [Peter Schjeldhal on Christopher Wool]

Josh Smith Untitled 2015

“A lot of people who became painters, who now are painters and call themselves painters, and if you ask what they do say ‘painter,’ are sculptors at the very best. More likely they just like art. So now, in this show that’s coming up next week, I’m gonna call it ‘Sculpture’ because I figure, well, if you’re making paintings then I must be a sculptor…
The idea that all these artists are making these colorful, sort of expressionistic abstract paintings, it’s hard to believe it’s going on right now, but it is, so I’m hoping that my white, like, sickly, falling-apart paintings will degrade the perfection that people have discovered…
It’s like in a pool game, when all the balls are in one mass, and you just sacrifice your shot, just to break it up so the game’s more fun. So I’m going to show something here that’s, you know, it doesn’t have the sheen and gloss of an art-fair booth type of thing where its unequivocally like a sublime object. I hope to present something here that clearly has some problems and some issues.” [Josh Smith on painting]


Mass Murder and Austerity Suicide, or Global Activism in The Age of Depression

Mike Zahn. Brooklyn, Spring 2019.

It’s not easy to harmonize your breathing to the cosmic breath, when people are suffering around you, and you feel guilty in one sense or another for their pain – – because you know that your job is to find a solution, a therapy, a way out – – and you are unable to say what should be done.

In the last few decades, artistic sensibility has been paralyzed by a sense of paranoiac enchantment, of psychic frailty, fear of precariousness, and the premonition of a catastrophe that is impossible to avoid.

Now all this paranoia has to be disposed of. Let’s forget about it. Let’s go forward.

Jackie Orr writes in Panic Diaries:
“In an exquisite sense of contagious connectivity, paranoia is one form that a felt insistence on the sociohistorical structuring of psychic experience can take. Paranoia ‘knows well’ the remnant evidence suggesting that everything really is connected, the psyche and the power of the social, a small white pill and a wildly historical story.”

If paranoia “knows well”, we need a method of ignorance. We need to assume some distance from what seems to be inscribed in the present cartography of events. The spectrum of the possible is much larger than the range of probability. Dystopia has to be faced and dissolved by irony. We need to correct dystopia with irony, because irony, far from being a cynical alliance with power, is the excess of language that opens the door to the infinity of the possible.

Mike Zahn ‘Heroes’, 2019
Joint Photographic Experts Group (JPEG) 4 KB 400 x 403
One of eight

So what can be done when nothing can be done?

Politicians call on us to take part in their concerns, economists call on us to be responsible, to work more, to go shopping, to stimulate the market, and priests call on us to have faith. Follow these inveiglements to participate, to be responsible, to believe, and you are trapped.

Ironic autonomy is an answer. The contrary of participation, the contrary of responsibility, the contrary of faith. Dystopian irony is the language of autonomy. Irony is about the independence of mind from knowledge. It is about the excessive nature of the imagination.

Do not believe your own assumptions, or mine. Be skeptical.

Do not take part in the game.

Do not expect any solution from politics. Do not be attached to things. Do not hope.

Do not revoke revolution. Revolt against power is necessary, even if we may not know how to win.

Do not belong. Distinguish your destiny from the destiny of those who want to belong, and to participate, and to pay their debt. If they want war, be a deserter. If they are enslaved, and want you to suffer like them, do not give in to their blackmail. Do not be a slave. What is important is how you live your life.

Do not be frightened by despair. It does not delete the potential for joy. Remember that despair and joy are not incompatible. Despair is a consequence of understanding. Joy is a condition of the emotional mind. Despair acknowledges the truth of the present situation, but the skeptical mind knows that the only truth is shared imagination, and shared projection. Joy proves intellectual despair wrong.

Do not take me too seriously. Don’t take my catastrophic premonitions too seriously, and if it is difficult to follow these prescriptions, don’t take them too seriously.

Finally, at the very end, don’t believe me.*

*Excerpts from ‘Dyst-Irony’, “What Should We Do When Nothing Can Be Done”, Chapter 11, pp. 223–226. Heroesby Franco (Bifo) Berardi. Verso Futures, London and Brooklyn, 2015.

Proliferate Like Mad

Philip Guston North 1961-62

“Guston insists that the issues Abstract Expressionism raised regarding painting were “the most revolutionary problems posed and still are,” despite the fact that so many people (artists, critics, curators) had tried to kill the movement off. The error of these would-be murderers is to mistake Abstract Expressionism as a mere “style, as a certain way of painting.” It’s a cinch to get rid of a style; as Guston says, “After 10 years or 15 years, you’re bored sick of it. Younger painters come along and want to react against it.” The revolution of Abstract Expressionism, however, was not a matter of any stylistic innovation; instead, Guston says, it “revolves around the issue of whether it’s possible to create in our society at all.” He immediately draws a distinction between “creating” and simply producing art:
Everybody can make pictures, thousands of people go to school, thousands go to galleries, museums, it becomes not only a way of life now, it becomes a way to make a living. In our kind of democracy this is going to proliferate like mad. In the next ten years there will be even much more than there is now. There’ll be tons of art centers and galleries and pictures. Everybody will be making pictures.” [Raphael Rubinstein on Provisional Painting Part 2]

Philip Guston Traveller III 1959-60

“To paint is always to start at the beginning again, yet being unable to avoid the familiar arguments about what you see yourself painting. The canvas you are working on modifies the previous ones in an unending, baffling chain which never seems to finish. (What a sympathy is demanded of the viewer! He is asked to “see” the future links.)
For me the most relevant question and perhaps the only one is, “When are you finished?” When do you stop? Or rather, why stop at all? But you have to rest somewhere. Of course you can stay on one surface all your life, like Balzac’s Frenhofer. And all your life’s work can be seen as one picture—but that is merely “true.” There areplaces where you pause.” [Philip Guston Faith, Hope and Impossibility]

Philip Guston Untitled 1963

Time plays a curious role in the perception of finish or its lack. Most Abstract Expressionist paintings now seem quite finished to us. But in some canvases—I’m thinking of mid-1950s Joan Mitchell and mid-1960s Guston—the flurries of marks have yet to settle down. It’s rare to find a completed work that can retain an unfinished aura for several decades; Miró’s white-ground anti-paintings of the 1930s are another striking exception. Long before Studio 35, Chinese artists had pondered the question of finished/unfinished. In his invaluable book on Chinese painting, Empty and Full, French scholar François Cheng quotes Chang Yen-Yuan, a Tang dynasty historian, in praise of the incomplete:
In painting, one should avoid worrying about accomplishing a work that is too diligent and too finished in the depiction of forms and the notation of colors or one that makes too great a display of one’s technique, thus depriving it of mystery and aura. That is why one should not fear the incomplete, but quite to the contrary, one should deplore that which is too complete. From the moment one knows that a thing is complete, what need is there to complete it? For the incomplete does not necessarily mean the unfulfilled. [Raphael Rubinstein on Provisional Painting Part 2]

Vaguely Ironic Slightly Sarcastic

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Butterfly with Eyes CB and SL 768) 2008

“… We are living in an age of skepticism and as a result the practice of art is inevitably crippled by the suspension of belief. The artist can continue as though this were not true, in the naive hope that it will all work out in the end. But given the situation, a more considered position implies the adoption of an ironic mode. However, one of the most troubling results of the cooptation of modernism by mainstream bourgeois culture is that to a certain degree irony has also been subsumed. A vaguely ironic, slightly sarcastic response to the world has now become a cliched, unthinking one. From being a method that could shatter conventional ideas, it has become a convention for establishing complicity. From being a way of coming to terms with lack of faith, it has become a screen for bad faith. In this latter sense popular movies and television shows are ironic, newscasters are ironic, Julian Schnabel is ironic. Which is to say that irony is no longer easily identified as a liberating mode, but is at times a repressive one, and in art one that is all too often synonymous with camp. The complexity of this situation demands a complex response. We are inundated with information, to the point where it becomes meaningless to us. We can shrug it off, make a joke, confess bewilderment. But our very liberty is at stake, and we are bamboozled into not paying attention.” [Thomas Lawson Last Exit Painting]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Captain America Drawing in Ten Parts) 2008

“During this time, from 2016 to the present, I made a lot of lines that did not feel right. And when a line does not feel right, either I paint over it or I scrape it. In this case, I started scraping the lines. As I scraped the lines, I’d look at the palette knife, and as I scraped, the slugs would form along the palette knife. I created different kinds of rolls than what happened with the brush. And they looked interesting. Actually, they looked more like caterpillars than slugs. They are beautiful as individual things. I would take them off the palette knife and cut them off of it. Then I would roll another one with a palette knife and cut that one off. I’d stick them on a painting to see what it looked like. Then I started deliberately scraping paintings so I could get slugs. What I now say is I’m “harvesting slugs.” I would put them on a palette knife and line them up. I would string them at the top of a painting as if they were popcorn on a Christmas tree. I’d see how I felt about that. It was poetic and nice. I’d ask myself: “Where are you going to put them on this time? Are you going to put them on the top? Are you going to put them in the right corner like a signature? Are you going to put seven here, and two here?” Since I didn’t like contemplating their placement, I ended up putting them exactly in the middle. And that was another thing or another question I would ask myself: “Are you going to make a grid out of them? Are you going to put that grid right in the middle of this nice painting?” Then I started making more and more grids. The grids got bigger and bigger. I was experimenting with that. It became a process of putting down some lines, scraping them, getting lines that worked. Splattering them. Putting on the slugs. Finishing the painting. Done. And that’s how it is now. It’s fairly systematic in the way that my series “Butterflies” is. Within the system, I’m allowed to experiment.” [Mark Grotjahn in conversation with Phyllis Tuchman]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (New Capri XIX 47.19) (2016)

“What does it all add up to? In the Butterfly series, viewers saw the palette change, going from monochrome hues to multi-colored works. Each graphically clear painting was a smart example of branding. In his monochrome versions, Grotjahn often added his name, which could be seen as a sarcastic nod to Robert Ryman as well as a further way of trademarking his work. In this series, Grotjahn utilized Renaissance perspectival systems and vanishing points — often misaligned — to evoke the illusion of depth while depicting a radiating form on a flat surface. The results were handsome, mannered, and brittle.
The combination of old master devices and minimalist forms is not a new move, having been central to the work of Peter Schuyff in the 1980s. The problem that Schuyff encountered is one that Grotjahn has had to face: how do I get myself into a new body of work that employs a different — and therefore fresh — set of mannerisms?” [John Yau on Mark Grotjahn]

Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Copenhagen Blue and Scarlet Lake Butterfly Porsche Drawing 41.98) 2011

“Abstraction is a language primed for becoming a representation of itself, because as much as it resists the attribution of specific meanings, the abstract mark cannot help but carry with it an entire utopian history of modern painting. Murillo and Smith are not alone in their acknowledgment of the received meanings of their expressionist marks. It would be difficult to identify a contemporary abstract painter who is not self-consciously referring to that history. “How can you look at a drip without thinking of Jackson Pollock or Sigmar Polke?,” Kerstin Bratsch asked rhetorically during a recorded conversation with painter Amy Sillman. An abstract gesture is “not empty anymore but loaded with historical reference.” It is characteristic of an atemporal painter to see and utilize style, as if it is a bit of iconography; some even use specific stylistic gestures and strategies in a manner akin to a medium. What atemporal painters do not do is use a past style in an uninflected manner; in other words, as a readymade. By avoiding this, they not only definitively separate themselves from the 1980s legacy of appropriation, but also place themselves in opposition to the use of style as a paean to some sort of “time-warp cult” or worse, as a kind of “zombie burlesque” parody.” [Laura Hoptman Forever Now]

Art is not a Modern Phenomenon

Joe Bradley Love Boat 2013

“To Mr. Galenson markets are what make the 20th century completely different from other eras for art. In earlier periods artists created works for rich patrons generally in the court or the church, which functioned as a monopoly. Only in the 20th century did art enter the marketplace and become a commodity, like a stick of butter or an Hermès bag. In this system, he said, breaking the rules became the most valued attribute. The greatest rewards went to conceptual innovators who frequently changed styles and invented genres. For the first time the idea behind the work of art became more important than the physical object itself.” [Patricia Cohen on David Galenson]

Petra Cortright Digital Painting 2016

“There are two very different types of artists, which I call Old Masters, who work by trial and error and tend to improve with age, and conceptual people, or Young Geniuses, who generally do their best work early in their careers…
Conceptual people—the Young Geniuses—emphasize the new idea, and plan their work very carefully. They often say that the execution is perfunctory. Indeed, in today’s world, some of the greatest conceptual artists don’t even execute their own work—they have it made by other people. But the Old Masters are never entirely sure what it is they want done, so they couldn’t possibly have anybody else do it. Cezanne couldn’t have said to somebody, “Go and make a painting for me.” [David Galenson on artists]

Sterling RubyWIDW. RESEDA. 2018

“Outsiders to the art market often find it difficult to comprehend the importance of supply in the art market. This is not an industry like most others, where the problem lies in finding buyers for your product.
The problem here is to find desirable works for sale, notably on the secondary market. In the primary market, there is a theoretically endless supply as living artists create new work. The reality is more complicated. Galleries control the market for their artists, “rationing” it in order to maintain prices and high demand. Only a small number of artists account for the bulk of the market and so the pressure on them to produce enough for their galleries can be intense.
The demand is not only for quantity—it is also for works of a certain size. And while “huge” art is not a modern phenomenon—centuries-old artworks such as the Sistine Chapel in Rome or the great Baroque palaces in St Petersburg were vast undertakings—a number of elements in today’s world have stimulated the need for large-scale artworks.” [Georgina Adams From Studio to Factory]

Rejection of the Market

Lucien Smith Untitled (Red/Black Flood painting 08) 2018

“My struggle with this assessment [of zombie formalism] is that it appears to critique the artist based on his decline in market value. There is no comment made about the work, other than that it was large and sold at a thesis exhibition, the implications being that the work was arrogant and ostentatious and that the artist was young. The legacy of Lucien Smith, Schneider believes, can be summed up by an inference from an art collector.
This conclusion seems to ignore Smith’s rejection of the market, his own commodification and the desire to explore beyond painting that came in the wake of the fixation on his work’s selling price within the press (both to primary buyers and at auction). I’d theorize that having artists reach those sorts of auction prices in their early twenties is dangerous because the buyers have to contend with the rest of the artists’ lives; it raises the risk of the investment. So why, then, if the fluctuation of the contemporary art market is so ridiculous, do we not commend Smith for reclaiming his artistic agency? Why is he not vindicated? [Allan Gardner on Zombie Formalism]

Lucien Smith Untitled (Tulip 17) 2019

“Generating sales is not really the most important thing for me. Especially living out here, the money that I spend day to day is significantly less than it was in the city. I don’t have a humongous overhead on my studio and my apartment. I don’t have assistants. I don’t need to be making art sales to keep my studio or my business alive. And without that pressure it really creates a freedom for me. For the first time, I feel like a real artist… the model that was set for me when I was younger, it wasn’t a healthy model. It was about sucking up to collectors and trying to sell for the highest prices. That stuff isn’t real. That’s not art. For the last four years, I’ve been trying to create this nonprofit called STP [Serving the People]. It’s about spreading awareness about health and how to make a creative environment. I want to provide a place for people outside of school and people who haven’t gone to school to be able to talk about and share their work before it goes out into the world. So they can get critique and positive feedback from their peers.” [Lucien Smith on his career]

Lucien Smith Untitled (Camo Magma) 2015

“I seek to understand the relationship between photograph and image through a painting perspective. The notion of the ‘instant’ form rivaling the traditionally mastered and an investigation into source imagery. Navigating through social media as a resource I notice the relationship between images I bookmarked. A subconscious narrative begins to form, each image like a chapter in a book, and like any book is incomplete until the last chapter is written.
This search for imagery allows me to disembark from the confines of my studio as the Impressionists once would, and embrace the abundant source of imagery accumulated through the gaze of others. Nevertheless, this new freedom has raised attention to the positive and negative effects of this Accidental Tourism. [Lucien Smith Accidental Tourist]