The Last Problem

“…what it shows you is all that you see. This is an interesting point, because the second most striking feature of Gray Mirror is that there is no painted image at all. In fact, there is no evidence whatsoever of the artist’s hand, other than the wall label’s pronouncement that Richter made the piece. Upon examination, we can see that gray paint has been applied to the back of glass panels in a smooth, even manner which reflects anything in front of them with the near-perfect accuracy of a mirror. The only obscuring feature is the gray paint itself, which reflects poorly compared with the silver of actual mirrors. When you stand in front of Gray Mirror, you see a dull reflection of yourself. Technically, this is an abstract painting. There is no representational imagery, and if, as many in the art world do, you generally categorize paintings as either abstract or representational, Gray Mirror belongs squarely in the abstract camp—until you stand in front of it and experience how representational it really is.” [Wayne Adams on Richter’s Mirrors]

Roy Lichtenstein’s “Mirrors” are marvels. With inventive configurations and finely nuanced Ben-Day patterns, the mirrors (five circles, one oval, and two rectangles—one a giant four panel) make profound plays on our acculturated patterns of recognition, continuing the real genius of an art for a long time overly encrusted with Pop enigma and cuteypie banality. Lichtenstein renders “nothing” (an empty reflection, a “reflection” of nothing) with the most emphatic “something”—starkly painted areas, lines, and little balls of Primary School color. But we accept it, slogan for fact. Lichtenstein reminds me of John Updike, another master of the shallow who at first sang a single note (the nostalgia of puberty, to Lichtenstein’s infatuation with “low” art), then applied his swordsmanship to a range of things (essays, reviews, light verse, Couples, to Lichtenstein’s cups, explosions, haystacks, art historical parodies), and finally found himself (with Bech) writing about a writer writing about writing, as Lichtenstein, looking appropriately into the ironic mirror, paints about a painter painting about painting. [Peter Plagens on Lichtenstein’s Mirrors]

“Now, as it happens, exactly opposite the spectators – ourselves – on the wall forming the far end of the room, Velazquez has represented a series of pictures; and we see that among all those hanging canvases there is one that shines with particular brightness. Its frame is wider and darker than those of the others; yet there is a fine white line around its inner edge diffusing over its whole surface a light whose source is not easy to determine; for it comes from nowhere, unless it be from a space within itself. In this strange light, two silhouettes are apparent, while above them, and a little behind them, is a heavy purple curtain. The other pictures reveal little more than a few paler patches buried in a darkness without depth. This particular one, on the other hand, opens onto a perspective of space in which recognizable forms recede from us in a light that belongs only to itself. Among all these elements intended to provide representations, while impeding them, hiding them, concealing them because of their position or their distance from us, this is the only one that fulfills its function in all honesty and enables us to see what it is supposed to show. Despite its distance from us, despite the shadows all around it. But it isn’t a picture: it is a mirror. It offers us at last that enchantment of the double that until now has been denied us, not only by the distant paintings but also by the light in the foreground with its ironic canvas.” [Michel Foucault The Order of Things]

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