Robert Rauschenberg Factum I & II 1957

In 1957 Robert Rauschenberg made Factum II, which took its place as the second member of a duo that included Factum I, also painted that same year. Now in the collection of the Museum of Modern Art, Factum II is separated from its twin, which resides in the warmer climes of Los Angeles, at the Museum of Contemporary Art.
To say that II was painted after I would be incorrect. The two canvases were painted simultaneously, with Rauschenberg attending to one and then to the other. We should note, however, that he did not replicate his actions and materials in order to make the same painting, or even really to make two different paintings; rather, Rauschenberg seems to have painted the works simultaneously so as to render difference itself, to render difference as an inescapable, indeed necessary, goal of creation, artistic or otherwise. [Jonathan T.D. Neil on Rauschenberg’s Factums]

Bernard Piffaretti Untitled 2016

By highlighting our aesthetic and emotional tendencies for problem-solving and resolution the artist both affirms and restrains the narrative power of painting. Through this technique of mirroring or doubling an image, the artist continues the philosophical exploration of difference and repetition. His occasional Tondi and petits tableaux works, with their surprise blank halves, subvert our expectations, and further emphasise the efficient simplicity of the unique pictorial game being played.
Piffaretti began developing his method in the 1970s, settling on the central mark and division method in 1986. Conceived initially as a way for the artist to escape the painted gesture and expressionist influences, the procedure is not so much a critique of abstract painting but a comment on the concept of originality. For Piffaretti, the subject of his paintings is the process. His objective is to remove any trace of subjectivity through these meta-pictures. [Lisson Gallery press release for Bernard Piffaretti]

“But Mr. Baldwin said that something about the painting always gave him unease. The colors weren’t quite the same. It smelled, somehow, new. In fact, he said, just a few months ago he discovered that he had not bought the painting he pined for. Instead, he said, for reasons that remain disputed, Ms. Boone sent him another version of the painting. He claims she passed it off as the original.” [Lawsuit between Alec Baldwin and Mary Boone Gallery]

Halfway into the film, French director François Reichenbach, whose documentary footage on de Hory and his biographer Philip Irving was used by Welles, tells a story that coincidentally sums up the deceptive nature of F for Fake. De Hory had, supposedly, sold Reichenbach a few fake Modigliani’s, which the latter then sold for double the price. Unaware of that, Hory offered to reimburse the director with a check that turned out to be false. “A false check for a false painting,” adds Welles amusedly. Deliberately deceiving and drawing our attention to one aspect of the narrative while planting in our minds, like a cuckoo’s egg, another, perhaps more profound one, Welles builds his hall of mirrors in which concepts of fakery and originality bounce off one another as reflections.
“It’s pretty. But is it rare? Lots of oysters, only a few pearls. Rarity. The chief cause and encouragement of fakery and phoniness, in everything, even what we’re given to eat,” comments Welles on our innate infatuation with exclusivity. But would the endlessly engaging conundrum exist without the presence of the so-called authorities on taste? Where would the debate stand, if there were no claims of infallible judgment on art and authorship? [Lidija Grozdanic on F For Fake]


“Well, there are all sorts of things online like that. I think people, when they’re at the office, when they’re bored, they look at the toy duck in a dog’s stomach. Kind of odd, but it’s a visual tool so it informs the way I work formally, but also the content of it has to do with insides and outsides of the body. The ways technology allows us to look in and look through … that would be an example of a universal image that I always have around, it becomes part of my iconic set. But for one like this [gestures to Black Moon Socket,2013], it could be anything, from an art historical reference, such as a Rousseau painting, or there are images of indoor jungles from the Victorian period, or pictures on people’s vacation blogs in Brazil, or something like this. And sometimes the image will strike me because there’s something a bit wrong about it, or the person taking it either doesn’t care at all about formal concerns, and so strange warts appear in the image, or they care specifically so much in making it look like something that already exists in the world and conforms to a set of our predetermined desires about what nature is, and how it should look – the greenness of the green, the edges. And you see this a lot in iPhone photos, of course, because they’re hypersaturated. Sometimes, I’ll actually get a feeling of anxiety because it’s this hyperness of the world – and so, yeah, working on a painting like that [gestures to Black Moon Socket, 2013], I might have a set of images.
…It was important to me when I started making sculpture to bring painting issues and sculpture issues together. Often, I think they’re separated in a curatorial role sort of unnecessarily, maybe because it’s a matter of convenience. There are all sorts of reasons why people don’t think about paintings in as rigorous a way sometimes as they think about sculpture. So when I make these [gestures to Gate 2014], I’m not interested in making a 3D version of a painting, because painting does what it does through a process partially of illusionism. Because it’s a flat surface and then there’s the feeling of depth created by different thicknesses of paint and other kinds of drawing techniques. Whereas a sculpture is already real and in the world – it’s not an experience of illusion so you can’t just pour paint over a lump and have it do what a painting does because it intrinsically has a different life in the world and a different physical relationship to a person. So the idea with making sculptures that seemed worth making was to employ the kind of linguistic thought process and series of actions that happen in the painting with objects, and that way create a more open dialogue rather than just a kind of mimicry.” [Elizabeth Neel in conversation with MK Palomar]

Charline von Heyl Corrido 2018

“At the beginning of a painting, it’s almost arbitrary what happens, but it stays abstract for a long time. It’s more about movement, shapes, and colors. As for drawing, I’m usually making a lot of drawings in notebooks to illustrate thoughts, or that could become thoughts by themselves. They’re often funny. Three years ago I started to incorporate drawing into painting. The drawings that I had done before in paintings were just outlines of shapes, so for me they stayed abstract. They were never anecdotal moves describing a head, or an eye, or a bottle, or whatever. Recently, I started to think that things would get more intense if the paintings had that factor of anecdote. I would make the drawings bigger and more painterly, cut them out, and move them over the painting to see where they would “land,” where they would enhance the painting. Then I would paint an exact copy of that drawing into the painting. And that’s when the heads started to appear. A head, or a pair of eyes, that looks back from a painting is a death sentence for a painting, so I tried to avoid that by either having a profile, or having the eyes covered, or making the head an object.
…We are living in dark times, and that has seeped in. These feelings—of fragility, of helplessness, of sadness—that we are all experiencing have had two effects on me during the past few years. One is that I actually have a feeling of being able to dare more, because it feels like I need to throw myself against the wall. I need to do the stupid move that actually expresses my feelings. But also, it does the opposite, it shuts things, closes them down hermetically even more than usual. My paintings usually have a way of being closed in upon themselves, and that makes them maybe a little more intense. I just read that 76% of all flying insects in Germany are gone, just gone. Every day there seems to be something like that, a kind of news-bit that would have been a headline twenty years ago and would have made everybody cry out in pain and fear, and now we just eat it up in this weird way.” [Charline Von Heyl in conversation with Raphael Rubinstein]

Jacqueline Humphries jHΩ1-), 2018

FB: You use a lot of literal question marks, as well as a lot of J’s, which resemble upside-down question marks. There is no “decoding,” or answering the antinomies your paintings propose: robot or human, original or remake, information or art. You’re thrown back onto the structure itself, and the constituent units of the structure—the all-too-familiar keyboard characters.
JH: Right, keyboard characters are both familiar and unfamiliar. They leave you suspended on the razor edge between the pure abstraction of language and the possibility of communication. The promise of keyboard characters is to universally communicate, but it comes with all this disappointment and miscommunication. So I have brought that promise and disappointment into the painting alongside this array of visuals that is also reliant upon the very same components—letters smashed together with color and gesture. But I hope it produces a sense of longing for real communication and content. Is that hopelessly romantic?
FB: Yes, it’s a romantic and sublime threshold state. You see and feel these antinomies, and they stay with you, but instead of getting a new artificial synthesis, you’re left suspended.
JH: That’s what I call a limited case of transcendence, which is more about causing desire than resolving it. So the painting frame remains to keep things bounded, just as dance has a beginning and end, or sculpture has a back and a front.
FB: In one painting, you quite strikingly have a flat smiley-face sculpture tacked on outside the frame. It’s a 3D-printed yellow disk of a new emoji, but with the neutral face of a classic emoticon, so it’s an emoji-emoticon hybrid.
JH: I needed to put something outside the frame, hanging off the painting. And when that happened, it energized and made the inside active. It is clearly outside; it’s been pushed out. That can be narrativized. I did it for formal reasons, but I can’t account for my unconscious reasons for insisting on that emoji-emoticon face. I would call it a joke, but we all know what jokes are. 😐 [Jacqueline Humphries in conversation with Felix Bernstein]

Progenitor V

Frank Stella “The Whiteness of the Whale (IRS-1, 1.875X) 1987

Abstract painting, Stella suggested, is in crisis. After the achievements of Mondrian and Color-field abstraction, painting seemed to lose its way. Not only has it become increasingly difficult to envision a vital future for abstraction but, perhaps even more significantly, it is difficult to relate it to a meaningful past that extends back much beyond the early twentieth century. In this sense, the current crisis in painting is said to parallel a crisis that occurred near the end of the sixteenth century with the death of Titian. Hence, Stella calls for a new Caravaggio to fill the void. For just as Caravaggio reinvigorated painting through his new treatment of space, so too painting’s task today is to discover “a new pictoriality,” a new sense of space, that is not determined by extra-artistic considerations. “After all,” Stella argues, “the aim of art is to make space, space that is not compromised by decoration or illustration, space in which the subject of painting can live. This is what painting has always been about.”
The last part of this statement becomes more credible when we realize that for Stella painting did not really come of age until the Renaissance, when the reconstruction of space according to one-point perspective gained dominance. The creation of such autonomous “working space” is Stella’s real subject. For him, the problem of painting is not so much the problem of representing a three-dimensional object on a two-dimensional plane but the use of “convincing illusionism” to make pictorial space seem real. According to Stella, painting should not confine itself to the picture plane (thus enslaving itself to “the tyranny of the perimeter”) but should seek to create a “communicable whole,” a “sense of absolutely convincing reality” that is capable of “making figuration look real and free.” (One recalls Kant’s observation that “beautiful art must look like nature, although we are conscious of it as art”) Adopting a phrase from Berenson, Stella describes Caravaggio as a premier “space composer,” meaning by that term not a composing in space but a composing of space. Dreaming of making painting “an enterprise that is independent and self-contained,” he praises Caravaggio for living up to the post-Renaissance artist’s “new-found responsibility” to create his own space, “space with a special self-centered character.” By steadfastly exploring this space, Caravaggio “made the studio into a place of magic and mystery, a cathedral of the self.” [Roger Kimball on Frank Stella’ s Harvard Lectures on Working Space]

Stella’s challenge, in Working Space, to the existing spatial parameters of modernist abstraction had already taken artistic form in the rupture and realignment in his own artistic development, from the mid-1960s to the mid-1980s. The crisis hinged on whether painting should reject or cultivate its capacity to create pictorial space. Stella’s minimal stripe paintings from the late 1950s and early 1960s – monochrome stripes of enamel paint of a uniform width, modulated by a two and three quarter inch brush – rejected illusionism by emphasizing, on the contrary, a painting’s objecthood, its condition as the residue of a physical process, a set of measurements, a realization of scale. In their symmetry and serialism, they conform to the anti-compositional ‘oneness’ which Donald Judd prescribed for Minimal art. Judd’s essay Specific Objects (1965) approvingly describes Stella’s shaped paintings of the early 1960s as involving ‘little or no space’. The ‘little’ that remains consists of diagrammatic traces of illusionism: a kink in the stripes, a diagonal configuration, a maze structure which might intimate spatial recession, but only by inference, and seems designed merely to designate the work as ‘specific object’ in the form of painting rather than sculpture. What signification remains is confined to the beefy H and Vs of the shaped canvases, and they are more geometric monoliths than linguistic signs. Then, in the late 1960s and ’70s, just as early Concep­tualism was opening up new spaces for art outside the traditional boundaries of the stretcher frame, Stella’s painting expanded, as though in sympathy, into many-faceted relief – multicoloured, compositional, explicitly gestural and spatially diverse. 
It is ironic, therefore, that Stella’s influence on recent painting – for example, on the work of Wade Guyton or Ned Vena – is mostly limited to that of his minimal stripe paintings, which are being interpreted as mechanically divided surfaces representing their own production. Guyton, for example, uses an enlarged version of an ink-jet printer to progressively blacken primed canvases. The bands of ink – a technical feature of the ink-jet print – become an image of striped formalism, a rarefied ghost of Stella’s wobbly-edged tracks of black enamel. Slippage in the printing suggests the humanistic imposition of compositional values onto a remorselessly uniform technological field. They register, with metaphorical weight, as apertures onto white light, glitches in the drawn blinds. In their imposing scale and ‘all-overness’, Guyton’s ‘paintings’ resemble US late modernist abstraction, and cultivate that association, but they prove to be ‘blinds’ in both senses of the word – false leads and screens. Where we expect to find modernist autonomy there is instead a graphic design idiom which frames painting as a Warholian metaphor for its own production and reproduction. Reductively, but with ruthless consequentiality, Guyton casts the seduction of the black monochrome not as the transcendental void (as with Kazimir Malevich or Ad Reinhardt), or the autonomous painted object (Stella’s black striped paintings of 1959 – The Marriage of Reason and Squalor II or Zambezi), but as acquirable design decor. The solipsistic space of the painting cedes to the spaces in which it will be produced, collected, owned and displayed. [Mark Prince on the legacy of Frank Stella’s Working Space]

In “Working Space,” a book derived from a series of lectures that Stella delivered at Harvard in the early eighties, he framed his new work as an answer to a crisis in abstract painting. He saw a precedent in Caravaggio’s invention, in around 1600, of Baroque spatial illusion, in which the space in a picture appears continuous with the space outside it. But Stella’s theory proved more gripping than his practice. Caravaggio, in service to the militant piety of the Counter-Reformation, devoted his dramatic style to fervently envisioned religious content, such as the appearance of the risen Christ at Emmaus. The story told and the manner of its telling conjoin in Caravaggio’s work. Stella’s fealty to abstract art as a cause and an ideal—the only content that his art allows—can seem remarkably frail by comparison. It led him into willful eccentricities that may raise unkind questions about the cogency of his early triumphs….
Stella’s cynosure then, and perhaps his problem now, was a coolness beyond cool. In a telling passage from “Working Space,” he recounts a youthful misgiving about the grand masters of Abstract Expressionism, Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning, whom he revered. He writes, “I sensed a hesitancy, a doubt of some vague dimension which made their work touching, but to me somehow too vulnerable.” The older artists had established New York as the imperial court of artistic innovation. It was time for their heirs to start behaving with an impunity befitting emperors. The stars of Pop and minimal art did so, though in most cases with some degree of irony. Warhol’s Factory poked fun at itself as a cottage-industry miniature of commercial mass culture. Minimal art related itself to new forms of public space—corporate lobbies and plazas, airports, malls, and freeways, synopsized in white-box galleries—which seemed to render obsolete the contemplation of discrete pictures and sculptures. But Stella wanted to maintain the grandeur of post-Renaissance Western painting, updated through the elimination of the muss and fuss of religion, politics, psychology, and other all-too-human weaknesses. [Peter Schjeldahl on Frank Stella]

Progenitor IV

Andy Warhol Rorschach 1984

Warhol synthesizes Sontag’s high-art and camp categories, and this, it seems to me, is the key to the difficult mix of his qualities, methods, and intentions. He’s consciously camp, as everyone has known forever, but transcendentally so, as opposed to, say, the consciously camp Aubrey Beardsley. Warhol can’t be reduced to camp; he has elevated camp to high art. Maybe that’s the wave of the future, a future that may be short-lived for humans, and one in which consciousness of morality becomes meaningless because nothing is real. Everyone does what he or she must do in the mechanistic and random universe (“I want to be a machine,” Warhol said), and reality is a show since we can only perceive what our limited faculties permit, eliminating the possibility of knowing “reality” except as show. (Sontag writes that camp sees everything in quotation marks.)
Here I should acknowledge a distinction between what Sontag means by “high,” “moralistic” art and another common use of the term “high art,” which is simply to distinguish fully ambitious art—art profoundly concerned with how things are—from commercial or decorative or otherwise more practical art. (The category-two artists Bosch, Bellmer, and Schiele are certainly high artists in that sense.) And the point is that Warhol’s camp achievement fits this second “high” definition too—he made commercial, decorative art into high art. [Richard Hell on Andy Warhol]

Andy Warhol Rorschach 1984

Andy Warhol’s Rorschach paintings, produced in a giant spurt of activity in 1984, have the kind of star quality that Warhol always admired. Liquid, protean and seductively vacant, they reflect your own desires and fantasies right back at you. Conceived in the spirit of superstar Nico’s beguiling promise (“I’ll be your mirror”), these pictures will be whatever you want them to be….
Although Warhol professed ignorance about the standardized blots of the official Rorschach Test, he was obviously intrigued by their serial repetitiveness and formulaic impersonality. In his brilliant faux-naive deadpan, he explained: “I was trying to do these to actually read into them and write about them, but I never really had the time to do that. So I was going to hire somebody to read into them, to pretend that it was me, so that they’d be a little more…interesting. Because all I would see would be a dog’s face or something like a tree or a bird or a flower. Somebody else could see a lot more.”
In her rather highbrow catalogue essay, [Rosalind] Krauss reads the Rorschach series as a “parodic vision of Color Field abstraction,” as a sassy corruption of the “stain painting” practiced by Helen Frankenthaler and Morris Louis, Kenneth Noland and Jules Olitski. If the Color Field painters wanted to transcend the carnal messiness of Abstract Expressionism, to move painting into the disembodied realm of pure opticality, as Krauss says, then Warhol “pulled the plug” on these sublime aspirations by reminding us that there’s no form so innocently abstract that it can’t be turned back into literary content–like a tree or a bird or a flower. [Mia Fineman on Andy Warhol’s Rorschach Paintings]

Andy Warhol Rorschach 1984

Paul Taylor: You’ve been in trouble for using someone else’s image as far back as 1964. What do you think about the legal situation of appropriated imagery, and the copyright situation?
Andy Warhol: I don’t know. It’s just like a Coca Cola bottle – when you buy it, you always think that it’s yours and you can do whatever you like with it. Now it’s sort of different because you pay a deposit on the bottle. We’re having the same problem now with the John Wayne pictures. I don’t want to get involved, it’s too much trouble. I think that you buy a magazine, you pay for it, it’s yours. I don’t get mad when people take my things.
Paul Taylor: You don’t do anything about it?
Andy Warhol: No. It got a little crazy when people were turning out paintings and signing my name.
Paul Taylor: What did you think about that?
Andy Warhol: Signing my name to it was wrong but other than that I don’t care.
Paul Taylor: The whole appropriation epidemic comes down to who is responsible for for art. If indeed anyone can manufacture the pictures of those flowers, the whole idea of the artist gets lost somewhere in the process.
Andy Warhol: Is that good or bad?
Paul Taylor: Well, first of all, do you agree with me?
Andy Warhol: Yes, if they take my name away. But when I used the flowers, the original photograph was huge and I just used one square inch of the photo and magnified it.
Paul Taylor: What do you ever see that makes you stop in your tracks?
Andy Warhol: A good display in a window… I don’t know, a good-looking face.
Paul Taylor: What’s the feeling when you see a good window display or a good face.
Andy Warhol: You just take longer to look at it. I went to China, I didn’t want to go, and I went to see the Great Wall. You know, you read about it for years. And actually it was great. It was really, really, really great. [Andy Warhol in conversation with Paul Taylor]

Progenitor III

Jackson Pollock Echo- Number 25 1951

A more critical aspect of Pollock’s formal conflict is the conflict between line and image, in which line always seems to fight to break free of delineation. It is, more fundamentally, an issue between form and content. On the one hand is Pollock’s ambition for a total visual effect, and on the other his need for symbolic figuration. It is essential to grasp the point that Pollock’s was an ambition for a total visual effect that went beyond anything previously achieved. It amounted to an ambition to affect the spectator by means of painting alone, by “sensation” alone.
Donald Judd distinguishes between sensation and emotion in the art of the fifties: “expression of emotion occurs through a sequence of observing, feeling, and recording. It’s one of the main aspects of European or Western art,” noting that the main vehicle for expression of emotion, the expressive brushstroke, “portrays immediate emotions.” It doesn’t involve immediate sensations. He goes on to say “Pollock’s paintings don’t involve the immediate emotions of traditional art and don’t involve the way these are generalized,” that is, portrayed or rendered. Pollock’s paintings are about immediate sensations; the development of Pollock’s art is one of tension between emotion and sensation. The work of the forties shows a developing movement away from emotion to sensation. The work of the fifties involves a tension between emotion and sensation resolved in favor of sensation, and later a movement back toward emotion again. [Berenice Rose on Jackson Pollock]

Jackson Pollock Untitled 1950

Pollock’s tendency seems to have been to work in series, almost compulsively (and sometimes simultaneously) until the initial impetus had exhausted itself. Then either an accidental or a logical development within the work itself or a specific material stimulus would set off a new series of works. This pattern of using technique as catalyst and probing the limits of mediums persisted and grew more complex with time. When asked in 1944 if he considered technique important Pollock answered:
“Yes and no. Craftsmanship is essential to the artist. He needs it just as he needs brushes, pigments, and a surface to paint on.” Beyond the idea of technique as such, the material means for making a work of art was always a stimulus to a new invention or new group of works for Pollock. The drip line that is a function of the quality— the liquidity and viscosity— of the enamel paint itself was an initial stimulus that gathered momentum as Pollock allowed the medium to take over and then devel oped control over it, culminating in the so-called high period works of 1947-53. Following his early tendency to sum up a group of small sketches in one “finished” drawing, Pollock later worked in series stimulated by a particular material, whether paint, paper of a particular quality, or the interaction of linear and spattered elements. [Berenice Rose on Jackson Pollock]

Jackson Pollock Untitled 1951

However, the invention of the drip technique had raised a fundamental issue for the concept of touch in drawing— and even for the idea of “touch” within painting. And it is one that seems to have occurred to Pollock himself, if we accept the handprints of Number 1, 1948 as evidence of a concern for touch. Drawings had always been prized for touch— that unique mark by which the artist’s presence was recognized and that was, classically, more intimate than any painting mark could be (although Cezanne had changed that too). Pouring totally transformed the notion of touch for both drawing and painting (indeed, it initiated a crisis for work that followed). In one sense it suspended the notion of touch in that the poured work was at one remove from the artist’s hand. And yet this made the artist’s control far more critical, for in Pollock’s unique method only total physical involvement could control the mark. Since Pollock was, in one sense, the subject of his work, the transformation of both role and process guaranteed his touch. But even more was at issue.  [Berenice Rose on Jackson Pollock]

Progenitor II

 We start with his arrival in Paris, being absolutely stunned and bewildered by ‘gay Paris’ and the incredible life, the wonderful liveliness he discovers there. Then he starts to live in Paris and it becomes much more difficult; more real. He becomes involved with, and pays attention to, the people around him and their lives, which are very hard. Even though – as you can see from the paintings – he frequents with people from the circus, it’s not all amusement. The only thing that really gives him a sense of affirmation is his work. And work is not easy either because breaking away from a decorative, easy way of painting – as he wished to do – is a hard job. A big, big job.
…Then a little bit later Picasso runs into ‘primitive art’ and this gives him a clue to the fact that you don’t need necessarily to imitate nature, you just need to express what it can be, and what the essential elements are: the vision, the sound, maybe the smell; the senses and the sexual aspect of things. And I think that’s what happens when, all of a sudden, at the end of the show, you see that he has found ‘Picasso’. After all this dry, minimal kind of painting, he has found Picasso. And this is a great achievement because this is going to revolutionise everything in art as we see it now. Because all of us today see as Picasso sees when he becomes ‘Picasso’. It’s a different world, a different thing. It kicks in everything – it kicks in beauty, kicks in the academy, the beauty standards of the academic world, and it goes on from there. And then because he’s knocked everything down, he has to reconstruct it, and from this point onwards he’s constructing art ‘after Picasso’, and that’s the next step. And he spent his life doing that. [Claude Picasso on Pablo Picasso]

Picasso Les Demoiselles d’Avignon 1907

Picasso (Spanish, 1881–1973) began making sketches and preparatory studies for Les Demoiselles d’Avignon in the winter of 1906–07, producing hundreds over the ensuing months before arriving at the final composition in the summer of 1907. Combining Picasso’s interest in the classical nude and antique Iberian statuary with his newfound passion for African art, the composition’s asymmetrical, angular figures and flat, splintered planes were rendered in clashes of color and style.
The eight-foot-square canvas created an enormous stir among visitors to Picasso’s studio. Dealers, critics, friends, and fellow artists such as Henri Matisse and André Derain reacted to the painting with shock, incomprehension, anger, or laughter. Picasso did not title the painting; it was referred to as The Philosophical Brothel until a friend of the artist, the writer André Salmon, entitled it Les Demoiselles d’Avignon on the occasion of its first public exhibition, the 1916 Salon d’Antin in Paris. [MOMA Picasso press release]

In 1910, while Pablo Picasso was summering at Cadaqués, Spain, he made a small group of strange pictures that looked unlike any that had preceded them. Leaving behind the hillsides of reversible cubes that he had made the previous year in Horta, he now worked in an idiom that seemed closer to a diagram. His new paintings featured angled planes defined by linear scaffolding that shifted across the work’s surface. Only the faintest traces of the structure of the female figure or still life named in the pictures’ titles were discernible within. “The Cadaqués images are so difficult to decipher,” wrote Picasso’s biographer John Richardson, “that even the artist sometimes forgot what a particular image represented.” These works seem abstract in all but name.
Picasso’s dealer Daniel-Henry Kahnweiler could not reconcile himself, it seems, to the terrifying novelty of these new works: he declared them “unfinished.” The Picasso scholar Pierre Daix has noted that while Kahnweiler had the right of first refusal of Picasso’s paintings, these particular works went to a rival dealer, Ambroise Vollard — suggesting that Kahnweiler had rejected them. And it seems that Picasso himself—the most nimble-minded, radically innovative artist of the first decade of the twentieth century — also struggled with the implications of these works. In a later conversation reported by his wife Françoise Gilot, Picasso asserted that these “pure” pictures required supplements to function as painting. Referring to the fragmented forms of bodies, musical instruments, and words that began to appear in the Cubist pictures he made immediately after his sojourn in Cadaqués, he explained, “I painted them in afterwards. I call them‘attributes.’ At that period I was doing painting for its own sake. It was really pure painting, and the composition was done as composition. It was only towards the end . . . that I brought in the attributes.” In the works that followed those almost abstract images made in Cadaqués, Picasso incorporated the shattered forms of representation as if to tether his paintings securely to the world of things. Failure to do so, it seems, threatened painting itself. He would later declare that abstraction was impossible: “There is no abstract art. You always have to begin with something. Afterwards you can remove all appearances of reality, but there is no danger then, anyway, because the idea of the object will have left an indelible mark.” [Picasso Inventing Abstraction]

Progenitor I

Marcel Duchamp L.H.O.O.Q. 1919

“‘Today there is no shocking. The only thing shocking is “no shocking”. Shocking has been one of the main themes of modern art, its baggage. Something that would shock me? Well, Russian painting. Those young girls at the window like in 1880, or Hitler in his bunker. It’s a diminished shock, but still a shock. Pop artists are not shocking because the public is always expecting another movement. They see it and they say: ‘What’s next?’ A movement should really last at least twenty years. The only movement that seems to last for any time is Surrealism, but that’s because it is not essentially a painters’ movement.
‘Movement; modern—they’re new words. Rather silly. Think of Art Nouveau, how old it seems. The word “artist”, for instance. Until the French Revolution it hardly existed from a social point of view. There were artisans. Now the artists are integrated. They are commercialized. Too commercialized. It wasn’t that way in the days of the kings. (Don’t make me into a monarchist!) Such a levelling as we have now may not engender many geniuses.’
What, I asked, does he mean when he sometimes refers to ‘bad art’ and ‘good art’?
‘There is bad art, only people forget it if they can. It’s art anyway. The St Sulpice images, for instance. Or Tanagras : the Tanagras were bad Greek art that are now worth a lot. Generally it’s bad art that becomes good. The simplest thing is to take a thing disliked and rehabilitate it. A group of four or five men can do this very easily. Part of the shock of a new movement is just that.’ [Marcel Duchamp in conversation with Dore Ashton]

Marcel Duchamp Bottle Rack 1914

CT: Do you think the diffuse idea that doing art is simple? 
Marcel Duchamp: No, it’s not easier than before to do art, it’s because there are more galleries. But also a lot more competition.
CT: And in your opinion, all this new artistic activity is not a positive signal? 
Marcel Duchamp: Yes, if we look at it from a social point of view. But aesthetically, it seems very damaging.In my opinion, such abundant production can only generate mediocrity. There is no time to do really beautiful works. This is what I call the integration of the artist into society.
This means that the artist has acquired a status equivalent to that of the lawyer, the doctor. Fifty years ago, we were outcasts. The parents of a girl would never have consented to marry him an artist.
CT: But did you like to be seen as an outcast?
Marcel DuchampOh yes, of course, it is not very convenient but at least you have the sensation of realizing something different and unusual, which will remain for centuries after your death.
CT: So, do you disapprove of the fact that the artist integrates into society? 
Marcel Duchamp: On the one hand, it is a very pleasant thing because there is the possibility of making a living with art. But it is deleterious from the point of view of the quality of the work provided.
I am of the opinion that important things must be done slowly. I do not believe in speed and that’s what happens with integration. I do not believe in speed, speed, concepts now introduced into art, to be able to do it quickly. “The faster, the better,” they say.
CT: You said that your work helped to create this phenomenon that you just described. The creation of ready-made for example … 
Marcel Duchamp: But when I realized things like these, it was not with the idea of ​​producing thousands. The goal was to evade the capacity for exchange, monetization so to speak of the work of art.
I never intended to sell my ready-made. It was a gesture to show that something could be done without the thought of making money. In fact I never sold them. I never even exposed them. Nobody has ever seen them until about twenty years ago.
When I showed them at the Galerie Bourgeois in 1916, Bourgeois did me a favor to include them in the exhibition, as an ironic thing (on his part, not mine).
If I am responsible for what happens today, I am responsible for it to a certain extent, not entirely. [Marcel Duchamp in conversation with Calvin Tomkins]

Marcel Duchamp Fountain 1917

Tell me something about your urinal which you sent to the Independents Exhibition, signed R. Mutt? 
That was a bit of an exception, as it was sent to the first Independents Exhibition in New York and, as is the case with all the Independents Exhibitions, there was no hanging committee. The whole point of the Independents Exhibition was to enable artists to satisfy their need to exhibit without having to submit their work to a hanging committee. So I sent that piece under the impression that there would be no problem having it accepted and that afterwards we would see how the public reacted to it. But the organisers, or the hanging committee, decided against exhibiting it. It was too shocking, I suppose, even though it was not obscene or pornographic, or even erotic. As the organisers couldn’t find any reason to suppress it or reject it, they dumped the piece behind screens where it could no longer be seen and we lost sight of it for the whole exhibition. We didn’t know where it was and it was only at the end of the exhibition, when everything was being dismantled, that we found the piece hidden away and realised what had happened. 
What is more, I was on the organising committee, so I resigned and I never again exhibited at the Independents Exhibition.
And what about the ready-mades you created afterwards? 
Basically, they grew out of a thought process which was perhaps a little too logical, but logical all the same, relating to works made with your hands: you can cut off the artist’s hands and still end up with something that is a product of the artist’s choice since, on the whole, when an artist paints using a palette he is choosing the colours. So choice is the crucial factor in a work of art. Paintings, colours, forms, even ideas are an expression of the artist’s choice. So you can take this even further if you want, by saying: why go to the trouble of using your hands at all? So the idea of making something that is not physically created by the artist, that simply stems from choices he has made, that is, something already created like the ready-mades, was valid—personally speaking, at any rate. But remember, I definitely do not want to create a school of the ready-made; far from it. [Marcel Duchamp in conversation with Jean Antoine]

What is Painting? V

Sarah Morris Creative Artists Agency (Los Angeles) 2005

If you follow the sweep of the painting exhibitions at MOMA just before and after this show (What is Painting?) you can see a larger critique of Modernism and abstraction developing. Anne Umland as well as Ann Temkin were actually screwing with MOMA’s history of Modern art and challenging the institutional idea of how painting progresses – and so they took us through a different history of Modernism. And after reading the reviews of this particular show – you can see that Umland was poking at the expectations of the suits and conservatives that run the middle-brow Art World.
The absolute truth of art in the 21st Century is that so far it’s all been about redefining Painting. And because everything in painting is up for grabs all kinds of artists have been vying for dominance – much like the technocrats in our changing society. The only unifying principle in all of this mishigas is that painting (so far in this century) has been deeply involved in deconstructing and recombining its own history and re-using this history as a kind of painting technology. It’s like painting in the “cloud” – in other words – a grand depository of information floating through and accessed by all kinds and types of programs…
OK – this may be a “classic” Postmodern situation of appropriation and “fair use”, but by the end of the 90s we had left Postmodern irony and critique out of the equation. Something different was afoot.
For example the work of Sarah Morris uses classic Modernist hard edged abstraction without stepping back or engaging in a critique of style. Here the abstraction is taken at face value – as a way to paint a different sort of portrait. The painting doesn’t step back from the technology or the history – it uses it as given:

“For me, the paintings are not depictions of space, although you could possibly view them as that. They become some other form of space. They’re not virtual space, because a painting is a built thing, obviously. I subscribe to that Frank Stella notion that what you see is what you see. That said, I try to incorporate elements of the films into the paintings, usually through composition, the titles, or even the use of certain colors—I often play with the psychology of colors. I view all space as public, in a sense.” [Sarah Morris in conversation with Taylor Dafoe]

Artists like Cindy Sherman and Elizabeth Murray challenge the authority of Modernist principles. In Sherman’s case it was through the use of photography while she upsets our expectations of historical imagery – like this idea of a Madonna that looks contrived and false (with stage make-up and studio lighting). Sherman questions Modernism through a highly contrived Renaissance studio model that comfortably references painting history while bypassing Modernist Surrealism. Elizabeth Murray’s painting “Dance” takes Hanna Barbera cartoon imagery out of the Pop canon and brings it into Modernist figurative abstraction referencing Picasso’s later Cubist landscapes and Matisse’s Dance.
“Elizabeth Murray’s “Do the Dance” is a late painting, made in 2005 after she had received the diagnosis of the brain cancer that would kill her two years hence, at 66. Made of five separate shaped canvases that create the illusion of scores of individual smaller canvases percolating momentarily into a rectangular cluster, it is obliquely autobiographical, as all convincing art probably must be to some extent. Most of Murray’s paintings can be read as tallies of both the private emotions and events of her life and of the visual sources that fed her art throughout her career. Her vocabulary was built on elements from the work of Braque, Picasso, Miró and Malevich, as well as Jim Nutt and R. Crumb. Like my other choices here “Do the Dance” operates in the lavishly appointed gap between the actual and the abstract.” [Roberta Smith on Elizabeth Murray’s Do the Dance]

Elizabeth Murray Do the Dance 2005

“What is Painting?” happened the year before the crash of 2008. Painting was having a massive monetary renaissance in the markets at the time, and there was a lot of grousing about the influence of money in determining what painting was being seen, what painting was becoming, and how we were supposed to interpret what we were seeing. And the truth is this Economy HAD to be taken into account. – Our art world had changed. – The vehemence of a lot of the criticism for this show is telling. It had become apparent that something different was upsetting a lot of those eyes and voices that were upholding the foundations of Modernist “history”, “meaning” and “quality”. But what wasn’t being discussed in these reviews was made obvious by this exhibition – the older institutional standards for judgments of meaning, history and quality HAD to become different in this new era.

What is Painting? IV

Al Held Mao 1967

For the summer, both the GuggenheimMuseum and the Museum of Modern Art are presenting surveys of work from their contemporary holdings. Typically scorned by critics as un-blockbusters assembled on the cheap, these shows are interesting to the extent that they introduce new 21st-century artists to the official museum canon. 
At MoMA, curator Anne Umland has organized “What Is Painting: Contemporary Art from the Collection,” July 7-Sept. 17, 2007, a show of works dating from the early ‘60s to the present. Amusingly, the exhibition space has been divided into a series of cells arranged along a long corridor, with each gallery installed according to an elementary “compare and contrast” logic, good for those who think that curating is about making 1 + 1 = 3. 
Though most of the artists are well known, the installation still feels fresh, especially for aging art-lovers who can warm to the sight of Al Held’s muscular post-Pop abstraction, Mao (1967) and Dorothea Rockburne’s Scalar (1971), a classic of early 1970s conceptual painting — it’s really folded paper, inflected by oil. Some of the interesting newer acquisitions include paintings by Wade Guyton and Sarah Morris, and minimalist works by Shirazeh Houshiary and Karin Sander. [Walter Robinson on “What is Painting”]

The delightful proposition of “What Is Painting?” — a broad survey of art from the 1960s to today, drawn from the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary collection — is that we have utterly lost our way: We no longer have any idea what painting is, and we are much better for it. Loosely chronological and with an equally relaxed thematic structure, the show makes its argument largely through the variety and quality of the work on view…
Text paintings, German Neo-Expressionism, and Pop-inspired wackiness all receive their due here (though not, sadly, black paintings). By the time one reaches the last two galleries, a certain symmetry has been achieved: The penultimate gallery yokes together current representational styles and the final gallery current abstract works. Fittingly, one of the very last works one encounters, a 2006 untitled study of Xs by Wade Guyton, was made, not with paint, but with an ink-jet printer and canvas.
Does the use of a printer mean its product is a print, a printout, or something else? Of course, the answer depends on definitions: In other words, What is a painting? This fine exhibition insouciantly suggests a painting is not what we are used to, not what we expect, but rather, whatever we can get away with. [Daniel Kunitz on What is Painting]

Much less than the sum of its parts, “What Is Painting?”—despite a provocative title shared with a John Baldessari piece—is an exhibition conceptualized, if not actually curated, by committee. It offends no one (because it takes no risks), squanders the museum’s deep and rich catalog (because it cherry-picks to illustrate not the best contemporary painting but contrived ideas about painting), and most egregiously apes curatorial models developed by other, younger institutions with a fraction of MOMA’s artistic, financial, and authorial acumen….
Since the 2000 exhibition “Modern Starts”—the museum’s last show before closing its flagship 53rd Street space for renovations—MOMA has desperately attempted to imitate the success of other powerful institutions, most notably London’s Tate Modern. “Modern Starts,” in fact, was a direct forgery of Tate’s handling of its own meager permanent collection. Whatever the actual drawbacks, it laid down the conceptual flagstones upon which “What Is Painting?” now clumsily trods. The new rules—insofar as they apply to temporary exhibitions (though, thankfully, not to MOMA’s bread-and- butter permanent displays of isms: Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism)—are, like pig Latin, coded and yet childishly simple. No history but historicity. No to verifiable associations or influences shared by distinct pieces; Yes to trendy postmodern juxtapositions. And ideals of curatorial authority need not apply. [Christian Viveros-Faune on What is Painting?]

What is Painting? III

Guillermo Kuitca Untitled 1992

Goodness! – The critics really did not like this show, and they took Anne Umland to task. For instance – “crowded”, “boxy” & “cubicle” – terms used by Jerry Saltz – implying a perfunctory business-like presentation of the works. And it’s fairly damning that he also says, “‘What Is Painting?’ isn’t really about contemplation.’ A painting show that’s not about contemplation? Ouch!
But then Jerry seems to get the larger implications of the reason for this exhibition: “Not only does it bring artists from the margins into MoMA’s center, but each gallery becomes a condensed chapter in the cliff-hanger story of painting through the sixties and seventies, when Minimalism and Conceptualism both presumed it dead, and its subsequent journey to the multifarious shores it occupies now.” [Jerry Saltz on What is Painting?]

“Anne Umland, curator in the Department of Painting and Sculpture, gathered the work, all made between 1960 and the present. Her selection will alienate many, if not most, visitors. Are you looking for paintings that open luminous windows onto another world, hold mirrors to the soul or just revel in their color-rich surfaces? Too bad. Would you like an answer to the exhibit’s titular question? You’ll have to look elsewhere. Umland has more theoretical, and ultimately misguided­, ideas about that, too. To make matters worse, she never clearly expresses them to the public. Instead, she presents what she calls a “kaleidoscopic” (curatorial code for scattered) exhibition “dedicated to the principle of questioning”—i.e., the sloppy postmodern assertion that no question has a real answer.
Nearby, a Barbara Kruger graphic looking the worse for wear assaults the eye with what should be the stunningly accusatory phrase, you invest in the divinity of the masterpiece. In this context, viewers can only wish that Umland had made such an investment, or imagined this work as more than the sum of its mundane parts. The exhibit is laid out in small rooms, hung almost unvaryingly with four works, one per wall. No momentum builds up between those discrete spaces, and none of the pieces ever manage to “talk” amongst themselves across the space. Umland would do well to eschew fours in the future: Two works read as a dialogue of compare and contrast; three works read as a series, a narrative arc; four works beg for closure on that arc, and closure is something she prefers to avoid.” [Sarah Schmerler on What is Painting?]

Jackie Winsor Bound Square1972

When I saw the show it left me a bit confused until it occurred that the show was in line with the post-historical nature of painting in the 90s and 2000s. The installation of the show was also in line with the way we were beginning to engage with art online. Umland’s examination of the pluralism and scattershot thematics in painting showed how changed our relationship to both painting and the history of Modernism had become. Mario Naves’ telling line below says it all, “If these are paintings, then everything is a painting.

What Is Painting? is an overview, not a manifesto. Ms. Umland isn’t interested in one concrete or comprehensive definition of the art form. Instead, the exhibition is open-ended and “multifocal”—a tack that is, on the whole, disappointing. MoMA has had an incalculable influence on international art, on how we look at modern art and how artists continue to make art. Favoring vagueness over discrimination forsakes the museum’s history and its ostensible purpose: to make finely tuned, if not inflexible, distinctions. Acquiescing to pluralism tiptoes around hard and important questions.
The show’s 12 sections present a variety of approaches to putting paint to canvas or, in some cases, not putting paint to canvas. The featured works “share an element fundamental to painting … dependence on a wall or planar surface, requiring viewers to approach them from a relatively fixed frontal vantage point.” Works by Lynda Benglis, Jackie Winsor, Dorothea Rockburne and Lee Bontecou are, yes, placed against a wall—Ms. Winsor’s primal construction Bound Square (1972) leans against it. But none of these artists, as seen here anyway, are painters. They’re sculptors who refer to painting, but only tangentially and largely not at all. If these are paintings, then everything is a painting.” [Mario Naves on What is Painting?]