Nothing is Dead

Malevich Black Cross 1923

“From crosses, to piles of geometric forms, to simple relations among shapes, each canvas appeared an exercise in reductive simplicity. Yet, the focus of Malevich’s Suprematist debut was the simple black square displayed prominently in the room’s corner—a place, pointedly, reserved for religious icons in the traditional Russian household. Such deliberate, and, some might argue, seemingly blasphemous corner placement implied the reverence Malevich deemed due the black square, what Malevich envisioned not merely as the initiator of a new artistic style, but, in many respects, of a new cosmology.” [Elizabeth Berkowitz on Malevich]

Red, Yellow, Blue, Black and White. Really, that’s all anyone needs to make paintings – any kind of painting in any kind of style. Everything can come from those five things. And in the Modern Era those 5 colors were used to strip away the past in order to remake the present.

Mark Rothko Tryptic Rothko Chapel

But Modernism could not remove our collective memories and that past would reemerge throughout the era. From 1900 through the First World War – painters reworked the Western visual canon and their innovations were so radical and unexpected that no one could define what painting was any longer. After the war and the end of High Modernism there was a scramble to find meaning in these new visions. Surrealism, the Return to Order, and ultimately American Neo-Modernism all indulged in nostalgia even as they reinterpreted and advanced Modern painting.
“I am interested only in expressing basic human emotions: tragedy, ecstasy, doom… People who weep before my pictures are having the same religious experience I had when painting them.” [Rothko reaching back to the 12th century…]
By the 1960s and the dawn of the Postmodern era rhetoric like this gave the younger generation of painters a reason to revive pure Modern abstraction using absolute processes as they rushed to the “end of painting”. “There’s always been a trend toward simpler painting and it was bound to happen one way or another. Whenever painting gets complicated, like Abstract-Expressionism, or Surrealism, there’s going to be someone who’s not painting complicated paintings, someone who’s trying to simplify.” [Frank Stella in conversation with Don Judd and Bruce Glaser]

David Reed #49 1974

High Times Hard Times came after Modernism’s philosophic battles and after Posmodernism’s rush to the “end of painting”. This period in the 70s highlighted our exhaustion and confusion over what painting was supposed to be, what it was supposed to do and what it was supposed to mean. Many painters simply quit. So, when David Reed ran his paint brush across the canvas and deliberately manipulated the outcomes of those brushstrokes, he began to rebuild abstraction into a resurgent Modernist Mannerism underwritten by a belief and understanding of the history of the 20th Century.

“In the paintings made of two or more joined canvases, there is the feeling of a grid without any of the mechanical or photographic repetition we associate with this format (Andy Warhol’s silkscreens of Coca Cola bottles, for example). This is not what makes these works interesting or relevant today. Rather, there is an important lesson that they convey through their modesty and directness. The lesson is this: nothing is dead, no matter how many authorities claim otherwise. Sweeping generalizations are the politician’s bailiwick and, in the world of culture, it might be best to reject these across-the-board announcements out of hand.” [John Yau on David Reed]

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