21st Century Space?

The discussion of John Seed’s article on new figurative art opened up a lively back and forth about the past, present and future and the direction of painting and sculpture. I thought we might continue in a new post directed specifically at the meaning and use of space in 21st century. I think that the way we approach space, understand it has to be thought through once again. Modernism for the most part relied on what would typically be understood as a flat landscape space. This had a great deal to do with the fact that abstraction was not interested in depicting space but using space. Illusion of any kind, except maybe in the case of optical illusion or accidental illusion, was verboten. For the Modernist there are only theoretical spaces, spiritual or “sublime” spaces, but never figurative ones.

Greenberg’s Neo-Modernism set the final distinctions for space in abstract painting, and taken to its logical outcome, brought painting to an exploration of its tools and techniques – materiality and process – a thing on the wall, a thing on the floor, or a thing in the room. One does not look “into” a painting, painting is no longer an image to be seen, but it is a thing to be encountered. It is a physical reality, a form made manifest, and if you’ll forgive me Robin, a near sculptural thing. For abstraction Minimalism is the endpoint, endgame. The logocentric form, the unassailed logic of the surface and side, the reneging of any kind of illusion brought abstraction into the Postmodern era.

Of course this grew up right along with appropriation and the proliferation of the lens-based image – the reproduced image, the found image, and/or the overlaid image – all of it aimed at the space of the Neo-Modern surface. Lens-based images were used as flat things to collage over the empty “billboard” maintaining the appearance of Neo-Modern space. What remained in this photo based art was process, materiality and of course flatness – the hallmarks of consumer production. In this case Murakami’s idea of the Superflat hits the nail on the head. This space is a hybrid of the Neo-Modern space elucidated by Greenberg and the Cold War aesthetics of Mad Man culture. Clem’s idea is that this is Kitsch space, and it’s manifested in the consumer culture developed in the 20th century. It’s in these spaces that the Pop artists were able to connect consumer culture to Modernist theoretics, where retro-painting of all kinds links to market spaces, where the economics of auction house art truly exists. None of this work is directed at physical vision. It is produced and manufactured like any other economic abstraction – like junk bonds, housing bubbles, quantitative easing, or derivatives. What we are talking about is the space of exchange value, where actual vision is not needed or expected, where physical encounters slow the flow of abstraction. This kind of space is meant for the screen, the lens and the program. Space that goes nowhere, defines nothing and is infinitely flat. Space designed not to be seen but to be sold.

This is where abstraction has come to in the 21st Century. And I think this is an interesting place to be. We have a chance to redefine vision in this new abstract environment, recreate abstract space, outside of the program. Robin Greenwood believes that painting cannot accomplish such thing without resorting to figurative means, and if I’ve read him correctly, abstraction cannot exist in a figurative space, at least not on canvas. For Robin, it is sculpture that has a better chance at redefining these abstract spaces, making them more “figurative,” let’s say. John Seed takes this a bit further and actually says that pictorial figuration is the key to moving on. He insists that we must look back to our history to find a precedent, some idea of vision that may make fleshy sense of the current spatial dilemma. And Martin Mugar agreed with this idea of our extensive history being a resource. His further point that one’s personal vision determines the processes for seeing and painting makes a great deal of sense to me. His article about Cezanne finding a specific technique related to both his hand and his eye is a wonderful elucidation of the way we might move forward and define a different kind of space, a more quirky and personal one.

Of course all of this is a simplistic wrap up of the discussion, but I think that we are rounding onto something interesting. So I throw it out there once again – what is space at this stage of abstraction’s development? Is it possible for painting to move ahead (or backward) to a different kind of space and would that include abstraction? Can painting rework the Modern legacy of those early years of the 20th Century and find a different idea of what space might look like here in the 21st Century? Can a figurative space exist with abstraction? As Robin and Martin stated, there were a lot of ideas left unexplored  in the work of Matisse and Cezanne, (and I might add Picasso) ideas about space, form and composition that were never developed in the Modern Century. And I have to ask once again – is it possible to make abstract painting without the Modern legacy and what would that look like?

22 thoughts on “21st Century Space?

  1. Wow, I’m coming into this late and I enjoyed every bit: the Seed article, the discussion under the previous Henri piece (glad to bump into you again, Robin!) and the new Henri.

    There’s an important point about the flattened, Modernist space of painting that needs address: What they all discovered – not just the painters, but Greenberg Himself – was that as soon as you put a mark inside a rectangle, you create an illusionistic space. Your perceptual system goes to work on it just the same way it does on the physical world, and you can’t help but see one thing in front of another thing. You can make the space flatter, but not flat; John Peto and William Harnett actually made flatter pictures than many modernist masters.

    The strong desire to persist toward the unattainable goal of ultimate flatness had a kind of quasi-religious piety to it, as did the neo-Kantian goal of purity and distillation. And these are the things I think need to be ejected – not only because they’re the goals of a previous era, but because of the kind of moralistic overtones attached to them. Painting is Beyond Good and Evil, or at least it should be.

    So once you wrap your arms around the idea that the illusionistic space of Renaissance painting and the flattened space of modernist painting don’t differ in character but only depth, then it becomes a much more work-a-day decision: what depth should we use? Or less programmatically and more realistically, what depth should I use?

    I actually think it’s a great time to be a painter.

  2. Thanks for this continuation, Mark.
    (And ‘Hi’ to you too, Paul.)

    As you knew I would, I have to take issue with the idea that painting became ‘sculptural’ by asserting its illusion-free flatness (and put like that, the absurdity of it is obvious). All that the concentration on process and quiddity has done for painting is make it dull and boring, in extremis. OK, so now painting is an ‘object’, but that doesn’t qualify it as ‘sculptural’. As such, all this literalness is antipathetic to sculpture and its current quest for greater three-dimensionality, physicality and spatiality. I say this knowing full-well that many, many painters (and others) don’t get it; they think very mistakenly that sculpture can behave frontally, pictorially, flatly, just like any other object. Well, it could, in Smith’s and Caro’s day (with connivance from Greenberg, who, though a very great writer, was in the case of sculpture one of those ‘others’), but that is very definitely a modernist dead-end. Flatness, minimalism, literalism are all dead-ends.

    Minimalism is a beautiful black hole of modernist aesthetics that sucks everything in, to the death. So I agree very much with your notion, Mark, that minimalism is the endpoint and endgame of ‘modernist’ abstraction, and that abstract art needs to abandon these restraints on its freedom. The pendulum now needs to swing way out in the other direction, towards far-out complexity, three-dimensionality, and ultra-liveliness (though always with the check of simplicity of purpose and lucidity of expression). Painting and sculpture must find new, active ‘content’, and, whilst this has to happen through the deeply personal vision of individual artists, it cannot and will not happen through the perverted subjectivity and weird figurative subject-matter that John Seed champions. It seems to me that this content must focus on ‘what-the-art-is-visually/physically/spatially-doing’. This is NOT a formalist approach – let’s say it an ‘activist’ approach. It’s a very open way forward, completely non-prescriptive of what direction individuals might want to take; all is fair game, so long as it is directed at the core concern of the ‘reality of the active content’ of the work. I think in general you (Mark) compound the current problems of painting by bringing in all sorts of contextual stuff about modern life and technology. I think it’s in some ways much simpler than you make out. Strive to find new ways to make abstract paintings that are absolutely loaded with active content and visual excitement – instead of the constant paring back to easy next-to-nothing solutions that take five minutes to accomplish – and theoretical problems will largely fall by the wayside, revealing the real job in hand, difficult though that remains.

    This connects strongly, for me, with the core values I still find relevant and alive in great art from the past, and especially that of Cezanne and Matisse, as we have previously discussed. I consider one of those values, perhaps for me the main one, to be spatiality, which is such as astounding thing in figurative painting, particularly when that spatial three-dimensionality begins to become highly resolved in two-dimensions – but without flatness! (There is a really great essay on this by Patrick Heron on Constable’s drawings.) This is the area where Cezanne and Matisse score so highly, and move so purposefully. Both these artists wrestle throughout their respective careers, by their different but overlapping means, with the issue of making space palpable and plastic by such a resolution.

    So my question, really, is how and if abstract painting can continue that progression. To return to the minority sport of sculpture: I’m not sure why you think, Mark, that I want to make sculptural space ‘figurative’, though this might be just an issue over words. But what I do want is to make sculpture that is spatially plastic (and/or plastically spatial), without any figurative reference. There does seem to me to be the strong possibility of a continuum with the magnificent spatiality of figurative painting of the past in such an ambition, which would dash John Seed’s backtracking project to pieces.

  3. Here are two paragraphs from an essay I have written for a show I am curating with artists who have engaged Modernism but are not at ease with the dead end it has created.I should have it on my blog by Monday with pictures.Maybe my analogy of minimalism and concentration camps is over the top,but judging how people like Held whom I studied with responded to emotion and sentiment it may have some truth.The title of the show”Lighting out for Territory” is taken from the last lines of “Huckleberry Finn”.

    “In a blogpost I wrote about Jean Helion, I drew a parallel between his prison camp experience in Germany in WW11 that reduced him to a raw unit of labor and the abstraction that he rejected after the war. All he could think about besides trying to survive during his confinement was the vibrancy of life in Paris. When he escaped and came back to Paris, he abandoned abstraction and embraced figuration in the form of paintings of people in urban settings. I thought of a parallel evolution in style in the work of Stella and Held who abandoned the minimalist trope of their early work to embark in their later years on multifaceted paintings, where there was a complex relation between the parts and the whole. Helion was subjected to a physical and emotional “minimalism” by the Nazi’s. Was the minimalism of abstract art a sort of scientific asceticism in some way parallel to the emotional oppression of life in prison camp? Maybe the essence of this show is the primacy of life in the creative process. To borrow the title of Addison Parks’s novel: ”Love and Art, in that order”.

    “We are all painters, a distinction that makes a difference these days and moreover we all are in our own way artists who want to put back together what was torn asunder in painting over the last fifty years, not by ignoring the ideas that motivated the deconstruction but by working with them. There is a paring down of art to bare essences in the Greenbergian ethos of painting. And it goes to the point where artists start taking the material and ground of the painting apart. Where does it end? The work of Kelley, Stella, Ryman, Tuttle and Richter, artists I’d like to label as artists of the ‘bare minimum’ informs our work. They provided us with the iconic shapes and notions of canvas as sculpture set free by their research into the underpinnings of painting.”

  4. I think part of the “problem” here is the fuzzy multiplicity of definitions that the term “space” is readily applied to.

    I recon that when it comes to art, we’re talking about two types of space: actual space with its attendant x,y and z coordinates that we sense and navigate with our bodies and two: illusory space, which is a perceptual phenomenon created by visual cues passing into the brain from the eye.

    Actual space is the realm of sculpture, illusory space the realm of painting, drawing etc.

    Within these parameters, there is no “abstract” space, only space. As Paul correctly notes, the barest touch of paint on a surface is enough to establish a rudimentary figure-ground relationship and elicit a sense of illusory space.

    Within the realm of painting there is however, two variations on space, with one being unique to it and inaccessible to sculpture (sorry, Robin).

    There is what we might call “terrestrial space”, illusory space that seems to conform to our physical experience of moving on the earth with the force of gravity being the dominant factor. Terrestrial space has an X,Y and Z orientation, up and down, centers, edges and hierarchies. Shapes, whether “abstract” or “realistic” appear to be affected by a perceived sense of gravity.

    The other type of space in a painting, and this is a space inaccessible to sculpture, is what we might call “undifferentiated space”, space with no up, down, left or right. No perceived force of gravity, no centers, no edges, no hierarchies. This is the space of many modernist works. Mature works by Mondrian or Pollock might fall into this category. Undifferentiated space might favor “abstraction” but it does not excluded representational or realistic depictions within in.

    As a side note to Robin, whom I assume will disagree with me as a knee-jerk reaction, I want to make it explicitly clear that sculpture, by virtue of it being an actual existing thing on the plant Earth, in no way can operate in undifferentiated space. It’s forms can however, be as “realistic” or “abstract” as you like them to be. But they will always exist in actual terrestrial space.

    So from my point of view, there really is no problem here. Space is not capable of being “abstract” “figurative” “modernist” “neo-modernist” or “21st century”. Space can only ever be space.

    An artist might choose to work in actual space as a sculptor, or choose illusory space as a 2D artist. That 2D artist might further decide that an illusory terrestrial space best suits his or her interests, or that an undifferentiated space best suits the work.

  5. This has to be one of the most incomprehensible exchanges about art ever. The writing is SO terrible! But for some reason I love it—and I want to add to the confusion by introducing an idea/concept/whatever called Plastic Consciousness.

    Plastic Consciousness is simply an awareness of form and space, of “three-dimensionality” in drawing/painting/sculpture—maybe an awareness of form and space in the world outside of drawing/painting/sculpture too.
    It’s something I’ve learned about/maybe “developed” (to a very limited extent) as a student at the New York Studio School over the past 40 years. (It’s taken me a long time. Maybe I’m not very smart. Maybe I’m just a typical citizen of the 21st century, a century of computers and whatnot, a century of Plastic Unconsciousness.)

    I think Robin Greenwood has a robust Plastic Consciousness. Maybe he learned about it/developed it at a school in England. Maybe he was just born with it. All “great”/“real” artists have/have had robust Plastic Consciousnesses. They may or may not have been aware of their Plastic Consciousnesses. There’s more to Art than just Plastic Consciousness. I think most artists in the past were too busy with other things to be self-conscious about their Plastic Consciousnesses. I don’t think Robin really understands what his Plastic Consciousness is though. He’s aware of it—but instead of recognizing it as simply one “dimension” of Artistic Consciousness (whatever that is), he’s blown it out of proportion and decided it’s all there is to art—at least to a particular kind of art he calls Abstract Art.

    To be very summary: Alan seems to be dimly aware of Plastic Consciousness. He recognizes that there’s more to Visual Art than just vision. Tactile and kinetic senses matter too. But Alan gets way too fancy talking about space. Too many silly distinctions about illusion in painting and sculpture, etc. Go look at the Donatellos in New York now, Alan. Are they not simply vivid/alive (and full of spatial illusions) in this 21st century of ours?

    I don’t want to rate Martin’s and Paul’s and Mark’s and John’s and Clem’s levels of Plastic Consciousness, but let’s imagine a PC Rating Machine: let’s stick Martin’s head inside and Jerry Saltz’s. (Jerry’s latest Critical Pronouncement was a Tweet comparing a Bob Ross painting to (maybe) the Sistine Chapel—or was it Beethoven’s 9th Symphony?) Guess who gets the higher rating. But Jerry can write intelligently/intelligibly. And he talks about what everybody’s talking about. He doesn’t get all balled up in “old-MoMA” issues.

    So can/does/doesn’t Roberta Smith. For last Friday’s paper she wrote about the Kehinde Wiley show at the Brooklyn Museum. She wrote intelligently/clearly. She was kind of getting at the whatever of Plastic Consciousness when she talked about the lack of “physicality” in Wiley’s paintings—but the whatever of Plastic Consciousness is not enough to deal with the complexity (even though Wiley’s paintings are, of course, simplistic in many ways) of the Wiley show. Roberta talked about all kinds of connections and disconnections. She also wrote, “One day, on a street near the museum, he picked up a piece of paper featuring the image of a young black man; it was a confidential police mug shot of a suspect. Looking at the image in the catalog, or the painting from 2006 based on it, one can see why the innocence and nobility of this young face became, as Eugenie Tsai writes, “a catalyst for his subsequent work.”” That made me think of Balthus.

    And of Yves Bonnefoy’s essay on Balthus in the Bonnefoy book, The Lure and the Truth of Painting. The Patrick Heron essay Robin mentions is terrific, but a bit lite. Heron never asks, What is a tree? Bonnefoy does kind of ask that kind of question. Bonnefoy’s good on space too. “In this respect the painting of the past centuries and of yesterday—from Giotto, and then Masaccio, to Cubism—was greatly superior to the utopian art which has subsequently come in its wake. Ever in transformation, pictorial space was at once a stage and a metaphor for the conflict between the mediate and the immediate, language and being. Its essentially material nature was able to draw the painter into the nocturnal meanderings of thought, into its mirages and ambiguities. Nothing could be more improbable than the aspect taken on by simple things (if we may call them this) in the space where the interplay of geometry and poetic intuition, each rendering the other more intensive, may engender—witness Paolo Uccello—an almost fiendish obliteration of the light of the world.”

    And that made me think of Paul Corio’s sentence: “I actually think it’s a good time to be a painter.” That sentence I understand.

  6. Well, Jock, welcome, and my apologies for the “terrible.” I do hope this discussion wasn’t too painful an experience for you. We didn’t know your safe word after all. I am happy that the writing, no matter the flavor, did get you to “love!” So we’ll call your indulgence an unhealthy interest, just like the heroine in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and welcome you to our special “Red Room of Pain.” We’re all very happy to see that you’ve also brought along your own sinful device called the “PC Rating Machine!” The line forms behind me, fellas! As you describe it we have to stick two heads into the damned thing at once, and see whose consciousness of space is larger. Delicious! I can hear Jerry panting all the way from 53rd Street, where he remains ball-free up on the second floor of “old-MoMA.” (My apologies, Jerry. Jock brought it up.)

    Yes, Jock, it is a very good time to be a painter.

  7. That is a funny scattershot take on the discussion by Jock Ireland. At the end of the day I don’t know what to make of it all.A few references helped me get a sense of where he is coming from.I have known a lot of artists who did the NY Studio School thing and noticed from the work they did that the school teaches a formulaic Giacometti technique.I was a good start,admirable in the context of the absence of drawing classes about seeing elsewhere.But none of them went beyond that good start and turned it into a technique for art making. I noticed I tend to think historically and not about absolutes.I think perception is opened ended as well.Was Giotto and Masaccio better than the utopian art that came in its wake.Not sure what Bonnefoy is referring to? Minimalism? The turning away from space you see in Judd is a challenge and no less important that Giotto.

  8. Hi Robin! Thanks for this – wonderful!

    Well, to answer your last question first, and you knew this already, of course abstract painting can continue the progression to a different kind of space. But truthfully I don’t think we’ll find it through Modernist means. We do live and work in a flat world made in the Modern century, and I don’t believe that I’m confounding anything by trying to bring that world into my discussion and engagement with abstraction. This may not be to your taste, but I want to paint what I see, what I feel about the world around me and do it in my own way. The thing about Matisse, Cezanne, Picasso and Braque was that they remained connected to the world around them, they abstracted (as all painting had done) from their lives. They used what they saw and experienced. But what was truly wonderful was that they made it up as they went. And that’s something we don’t do anymore.

    I know you may find this tedious, but their work, those beginning abstractions, were informed by photographs, by the way the lens works, the images that the lens produced. Its distortions, its flatness, its breaking up of space changed how they created the images of their lives. Our world is swamped in those kinds of images, in flat lens-based space. I’m communicating with you in just this way, folding space into nothingness, just as a photo does. What those early Modern painters didn’t let go of was the human aspect of space, or as Hockney calls it, wonky space, a space based on the way the eye translates the world around us.

    Look, I don’t talk very often about my own work and I do this only in order to clarify my concept of space for you. My apologies for all the “I”s that follow. The spaces that I engage in are up close, intimate spaces. The space that interests me is the space that exists when I confront (and I mean this in a broad sense) some thing, some object, some person. I use abstraction because I feel this gets to my life, this short time that has been given to me. This is where I exist. This is how my vision translates the world. I don’t feel a part of the floating billboard space of contemporary Modernist painting. It doesn’t excite me, it’s not part of my personality. I prefer the fleshy world. My idea of confrontational space relies on a kind of vision that works outside of myself and through myself. It’s personal and direct. But mostly it is tactile – I see what I touch, I feel what I see. This is nothing new. There are precedents for this kind of space in the paintings that I love, that I return to over and over again. Tintoretto at the Scuola di San Rocca in Venice, Caravaggio at the Francese Church in Rome and the Misericordia in Naples, Courbet’s infamous portrait (nothing like it in the canon of great western painting,) Manet’s Luncheon and Olympia, Michelangelo’s church, to name just a few, and all of them are about intimate, carnal, fleshy spaces. (I’ve written about all of these works and artists before.)

    In the end an artist has be who he or she is. We are all worn into our times, but we are also all unique, and hopefully, we’ll find the daring to express that uniqueness in our art. What I find lacking in so much of the professional work, both sculpture and painting, that I see is imagination! Aren’t there other stories to tell, other visions to see? Do we have to keep reproducing the same things over and over to quell our anxieties in the face of change? I say let me see the strange animals, make me a little nervous, please!

    I agree with you, Robin. Our precedent should be with Cezanne and Matisse. But I also have a yen for Picasso, his hand, his drawing, his understanding of form, his understanding of human nature, especially in the late work. I saw a late portrait a couple of years ago hung not in a “gallery” but on a back wall of the castle in Antibes. That for me is one of the greats of the 20th Century. I think that this kind of work may offer painters a place to begin again, but as you know, that depends on the vision and temperament of the painter. If you’d like me to expound on the painting and why I think it’s great I shall, but suffice to say, that this painting contains both Modern flat spaces and the historic carnal spaces of the Western Canon. The painting also works as a vision of a real thing, an image of “reality” not made by a lens. It’s personal, poetic, real and it creates a space in front of us. And I’ll say something about that painting that we don’t hear much anymore – it’s exciting!

    I take your point that sculpture may offer the reality that we all crave, the thing in the room, but I also believe that a painting and an image can do this as well. It’s happened to me and for me on many occasions. It all depends on how we approach the image and how that image exists in our personal space, and that means the space that we and it exists in, the space that we produce. The painting must define those two realities, actually create the feeling of that space, just as the Antibes Picasso did for me. That space must be a hybrid of process, material and vision without resorting to Modern theoretics, Modern space. It must appeal to our carnal, tactile vision and take us off of the billboard. Then we can get to meaning and experience. Not an easy task, but one well worth confronting.

    OK, I’ve gone on long enough, and I’m sure Jock (and you as well) may find this incomprehensible or “terrible” (a bit more pain in the Red Room!) I’m sure I haven’t answered anything in your comment, but there may be something in these meanderings that sparks an idea or two!

  9. I’ve read all these comments.And the thing is.
    (that’s it..a provisional response)
    Two provisional painters walked into a bar. They never reached the bar.

  10. Good to hear the late Picasso is brought into the mix.I once exchanged some emails with Jed Perl about that body of work.Perl also feels there is a lot to learn from his use of space and form.I suggested that there is a connection between the late Guston and late Picasso,either an influence or a parallel evolution. I think that strong painters because of their own intelligence see the genius in their predecessors and try to incorporate it into their own work although they tend to cover their tracks.

  11. I apologize if the provisional jokes seem flippant. I actually take this stuff quite seriously. I also realize that it (directly) had little todo with the topic at hand. But for one, I thought when everyone’s chest is puffed out so far it’s hard to see the ground. BUT MORE SO, I think if provisional painting and zombie formalism are the alternatives to, as you say Jock, OLD MOMA thinking than we ESPECIALLY need to retrace our (historical/modernist) steps as Martin has relentlessly tried to do for years in his work and writing. Progress must be respected. The new trends in painting, actually ARE flippant, insulting responses in the long serious conversation right up through Judd, Held and other old MoMA icons.The enemy is the disease of conceit (need for forced progress and immediate recognition). it’s reached a joke level with me.

  12. Hi Martin,

    Thanks for keeping the conversation going!

    That’s interesting, the connection you make between the late periods of Guston and Picasso. I don’t have a preference for Guston as I do for Picasso, though I do enjoy some of his late works. The fairly recent retrospective of Guston at the Met was problematic for me, and I thought that there were more brave failures than successes on the walls. I do have a great deal of respect for that kind of painterly bravery, and it’s worth noting. My preference though is for Picasso’s drawing rather than Guston’s. I think Guston’s limitations affect his use of space, makes it a bit more flat-footed and less nimble. He seems less able to move convincingly between Modern space and “figurative” space. But that’s probably his point!

    I do agree with your assessment about “stealing” as you know. Eviscerate the signature, burn the provenance and consume the lot before anyone can trace the “crime” back to you…

  13. Mark,
    I’m a big fan of late Picasso paintings, and quite a lot of his drawings and etchings. To stick with our theme of ‘space’, he is one of the few artists who can spatially distort the figure all over the place without making it into something grotesque. But he is, like Cezanne and Matisse, decidedly figurative.

  14. Fantastic! I’m a big fan of those late works as well, Robin.

    So, let’s try to work from there. Maybe the issue then, isn’t just about space, but also about form. Maybe I’ve missed this somewhere. What kind of form is abstract, and how does it create the space that we experience? Does Picasso (Matisse or Cezanne for that matter) not abstract the thing? Or does it take more for a thing to become abstract? Maybe it’s not just the thing, but our understanding of what abstraction actually is or what it does in the spaces it inhabits. Does Jasper Johns’ portrait of the American Flag constitute an abstraction of a thing while remaining a tenuous figurative device? Is there visual space involved in so absolute an object, and if so what is it, how does it work? Do Matisse’s cut outs – flat as a board, decorative as a cake but thick with figurative references – constitute an abstract painting as aggressively spaceless and abstract as Malevich’s tumbling geometric forms?

    Ok, either we’re wrapping this up or we’re about to get started again… anyone up for the “PC Rating Machine!”

  15. /Users/donaldvaccino/Desktop/21st c spc.rtf
    I was pleasantly surprised to recently stumble across your discussion of 21st century space in painting. This is something which is a consideration in my work and it’s good to know I am not alone.
    Here are some thoughts that come to mind upon reading the on going discussion

    Light and Space are essential in creating a PLACE where the feeling/meaning of the work exists and from which it can unfold in time to the viewer. Without the creation of this place the painting serves as a point of departure for discussions about its “meaning” relevance etc. rather than a destination.
    The painting IS the concept

    There is the space we look into and the space that comes at us or which we are enveloped in. These two are not mutually exclusive and an exploration of how they interact could be fertile ground in which a 21st century space could evolve.


  16. D. Vaccino, I think that is a clear and interesting territory, the interaction between the two, the allusion of space, light..place and the object/ concept itself. It is a stumbling block still on a daily basis: when one shows another a painting and asked “what do you think?” Because we don’t wear our affinities and expectations of a good work on our sleeve we often have to stumble through a lot of give and take comments before somebody says, “well, thats not what I believe a good painting should be based in. My point is that what you say is and has been a living and unresolved issue.One could argue since the first painting was made. Truth is most of peoples ideas today in one form or another were already proposed centuries ago. Fore-fronting qualities, the self-consciousness of issues is what we recognize as stages/movements. What you speak of has been of concern for so many GOOD painters in the shadows, I wonder if the self-consciousness would kill the magic and turn it into a cartoon This is a painters, not a writers point of view.

  17. “Ironic to see Milton Resnick in the photo since he always told me space and air are cheap – which is why he doesn’t want any in his paintings.”

    Our Henri mag discussion was aggregated by “Painter’s Table” with the Resnick image and ended up on Facebook. My friend Larry(aka Jorge) who was Resnick’s studio assistant made the above comment.It was “liked” by Mark Wethli,who is an abstract painter.We tend to forget to what degree Judd and others praised the abolition of space and saw it as cheap romanticism,glorification of the private self that had to be eliminated in modern society.Same old marxist slogan of false consciousness.

  18. I have been a lurker in the shadows of Henrimag for many years,stepping out into the light,this being my first comment.

    Working in the trenches of abstraction for thirty some years. I’m an outsider, who belongs to no scene or group. There is no MFA or pedigree to establish my validity. The current art scene (corporate)structure demands this. An individual with a pedigree or a piece of paper validating them as an artist in my opinion is frankly absurd. This is why the scene is dead, the inbreeding of MFAs. Everything looks the same and feels the same. Outsiders are locked out,thus the new vision is compromised.

    The new vision of abstraction needs two objectives to find it’s way. The first being a return to the power of the myth. The greatest abstractionists of the twenty century, Picasso, Pollock, Rothko, to name a few, embodied this. They connected to the mystery of being alive and this is what resonates to this very day, but completely devoid in current times. It’s not about formulas, theories, spreadsheets, fiscal earnings and look how smart I am MFAs.

    The second objective is moving away from the lens. Just like in the 18th century the camera greatly influenced the composition of the Impressionists. Now is the time to embrace the compositional possibilities of digital. I’m not suggesting switching to digital, but adapting it’s compositional view as the camera previously did. How can we as painters incorporate it’s vision?

    Looking back on this it smells of rant, but it’s the truth, a piece of paper validating one’s self as an artist is a big part of the current problem. Just look around you and it’s there. I’m probably out of line, but who cares, the scene will continue to pump out “shit”.

  19. Good points about the MFA.Trouble I see is that the students buy into whatever the MFA program is selling as contemporary and assume that is a ticket to success in NYC.No autonomy.The point of myth and its role in the artists you mentioned is well taken as well but is not crucial for the exploration of space as we can see in Cezanne and Matisse.But they somehow merged the cognitive with the mythic at a subliminal lever that hides the mythic.Not sure what you mean about the computer.I used the word hypertext in my latest blog to address the presence side by side of disparate cognitive realities.Not sure what you mean when you say the impressionists used the camera but should move away from the lense?

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