Untethered – NOT Process



Abstractionists, both for and against, just can’t seem to quit Mr. Greenberg – even at this late date. However, these days Clem’s Neo-Modern legacy is used more for practical concerns than theoretical ones. In other words, if a painter wanted to make a beautiful, sellable, marketable abstraction how would she go about it? The Modernist formal recipe is a fairly simple enterprise – abstraction happens in the application of materials – From A to B so to speak. Unfold swaths of canvas, use industrial amounts of whatever medium is handy, and if really daring, apply those materials over some kind of schematic map or grid. Viola! A lovely decorative object full of Modernist Process and Material Purity. Out of this Fordist formula have come recent market investment favorites like the Zombies and the Provisionals and whatever other abstraction that looks suitably manufactured for a High Net Worth Individual.

These newly minted objects do not work like Old-School Formalists’ productions. Those lyrical color-fields would unfold like academic landscape painting rather than “antiqued” countertop surfaces. They included vast meadows of clotted hues, hazy stretches of flat skies, splashes of watery mediums, occasional itchy-scratchy lines or a lazy geometric shape floating in the ambiguous acreage. All of this Neo-Modern formalism was bound up with an evangelic reverence for the purity of material color and surface flatness – a mixture of Modern strictures and Transcendentalist romanticism. These artists wanted to maintain a connection to historical precedent while doing away with the need for image making, and what was sought was mindful, meditative, abstract landscapes.

POMO Formalism

Today’s Formalism has done away with that Old School acolyte fervor in favor of pure Postmodern studio productions. Rather than explicate the banal realities and theoretics of how the thing is made the POMO formalist will simply “feature” those processes. Process (as manufacture) and purity (as material and/or medium,) Clem’s formal contingencies, are front and center. The economic art world over the last few years has become filled with these kind of niche productions – from the classic types like painting, sculpture and photography, all the way to conceptual video installation and one-night-only performance pieces. What is important for these works is the documenting of the processes surrounding and supporting the making, displaying and selling of the piece. The event supplants the final outcome. And this creates a strange relationship to the work itself, makes it into a kind of theatrical prop. The final work in this case is like a MacGuffin“a plot device in the form of some goal, desired object, or other motivator that the protagonist pursues, often with little or no narrative explanation. The specific nature of a MacGuffin is typically unimportant to the overall plot. The most common type of MacGuffin is an object, place, or person; other, more abstract types include money, victory, glory, survival, power, love, or some unexplained driving force.”  This is how abstractions of abstraction happen in our NeoLiberal society.

Expenditure Capital

Production, manufacture and the business associated with those processes have fascinated American artists since the mid 1800s. Our early Modernists – artists like Stieglitz, Demuth, Davis, and Sheeler – were mesmerized by industrial America. The AbExers adopted new kinds of studio production in order to create formal abstraction. The desire to “end the easel picture” was on everyone’s lips. In the late 50s and early 60s the hum of machined perfection and a new kind of abstract production drew artists like Stella, Judd and Andre. The slickness and ubiquity of mechanical media was also the focus in the work of Warhol, Rosenquist and Lichtenstein. As the meaning of Process changed, as new means for Process became available it changed the structures and outcomes of Clem’s Neo-Modernism. And it was done quickly and decisively.

Our culture today is not only created on machines, but it is disseminated and received through them as well. Our world is flooded with mechanically created process imagery – videos of high-tech programmed rockets going down chimney stacks, slo-mo car accident footage, POV pornography and reality DIY television. We can’t get enough of these working programmable machines focusing on the endless explications of technique. So why wouldn’t these interactions translate into art, into our “advanced” culture, especially when it’s the focus of so much of our everyday existence? In fact we have reached the point where artists can say without irony that the process, the making of the thing, has actually made the thing in itself redundant.



Studio Incorporated

It was fun watching the Gerhard Richter movie a couple of years back. We got to see the master hard at work in his astounding studio making a series of new works. I could have done without the annoying atonal soundscapes playing in the background. But I guess there was a need for some transcendent flavor to tart up the banality of it all. (Why? – for goodness sake…) What I did find interesting in the film was that Richter started these paintings as formalist abstract landscapes and then proceeded to wipe them out with layer upon layer of viscous oil paint applied with larger and ever larger, what? – squeegees, scrapers, I don’t know, application tools. Whatever they’re called the old man struggled at times with these clumsy things pushing the thick goop up and down, left and right, buffing those surfaces into a luscious oily sheen. Then he would go back in to antique the shimmery finishes, scraping away the icing layer that he had labored to apply. I was a bit horrified by all of this, I have to say. So much waste to create that handmade distressed surface of clotted color…. But there was also a deeper and more significant symbolism at “work” here. The “abstract” picture or the “abstract” image must be wiped out, buried under the process and materiality of paint. Even as the culture at large is swamped in images, even as abstraction has claimed every image that we see, the answer to our world of abstracted images is to engage in a retrograde iconoclasm.

However you feel about Richter’s paintings you have to admit that this movie is his “Jackson Pollock” moment. Most of us have seen Hans Namuth’s famous film about Jackson painting (with similar annoying atonal music, by the way.) This particular film also has the distinction of being infamous – an Icarus myth-in-the-making if there ever has been one. After the day of filming Jackson got lethally hammered starting his painful slide into oblivion. But thankfully, Richter’s movie certifies and celebrates this legendary painter in a different Neo-Liberal economic way. We get to see the systems, the economics, the machines and programs in detail which have created the master we all know and love. This kind of documentary has become ubiquitous in today’s Economic Art World. Videos of artists working in their studios are something of a right of passage. And in fact our fascination and celebration of process through process, abstraction through abstraction, has become a means of dramatizing the banality of making art itself.

In the recent “Mr. Turner” we get to see all the drama of Turner working his magic during the famous Summer Exhibition. The dramatic art competition, the furious painting performance, the overwrought plays of personality heighten the historical theatrical inaccuracies. The film creates a retroactive art historical legend – “Harry Potter and the Wizard of the Royal Academy.” I also like that this particular DVD “extra” clip is actually a DIY reality show that describes the complicated process about making a dead artist’s studio process “real” for a contemporary film. Two for one so to speak.

(I’ve clipped the vid to the first couple of minutes – click on the vid to watch the whole thing in youtube if you like. Or better yet rent or buy the thing…)




NeoModernism and Economics

Clem’s ideas about how an advanced culture works were very straight forward. In AG&K there is a brief but frank discussion about its constituents and how they should function. Clem understood that High Culture isn’t created for the average citizen. No. The rank and file, the hoi polloi, prefer the prepackaged products manufactured by the economic markets – the easily sellable entertainments of Popular Culture. Clem, instead, makes the case for an advanced culture produced for the cultivated spectator – a person of wealth and refinement who has achieved a “high” level of success, ease, education and sophistication. This person would be able to invest and protect this advanced work, create a situation for the avant-garde artist to make a living from her work and prosper, make advanced culture viable and available within the much wider and more popular lower forms of culture. And in this particular case Clem set himself up to be the gate keeper for access to that advanced culture. Clever sod.

At the time Clem wrote AG&K there was very little of this kind of interest and investment in speculative advanced Art going on in the US, especially for American painters. Most of the moneyed collectors, the “cultivated spectators,” were still going to Europe for their avant-garde purchases. The mainstays of these cultivated collectors were Impressionism, early Modernism, and for the daring collector a bit of louche Surrealism. Very little money was being spent on the 8th Street painters. As it turned out, Clem, in addition to being a great theorist was also a practical businessman. And he was great at creating a market and a network for the New York Art World.

Clem was instrumental in manufacturing the American avant-garde art world into a vibrant business model – almost from scratch. Yes, that’s hyperbole, there were many others pushing in this direction as well, but Clem was the American Avant-garde’s CEO. Thanks to him by the end of the 1950s the Rockefellers were collecting abstract work in a big way for their corporate and government interests. (The Empire State Plaza Art Collection looks like it has Clem Greenberg’s imprints all over it.) And money began to flow into this new economy in a big way. By the time the Sculls (who began collecting in the mid ’50s) sold there collection in the early 70s, a 1958 Rauschenberg purchased for 900 bucks was auctioned for 85,000 frickin’ dollars. Bucks to dollars in about 15 years time – making the Avant-garde a gold standard investment.


Empire State Plaza Art Collection Paintings


Cyclical Proce$$

We must not be deceived by superficial phenomena and local successes. Picasso’s shows still draw crowds, and T. S. Eliot is taught in the universities; the dealers in modernist art are still in business, and the publishers still publish some “difficult” poetry. But the avant-garde itself, already sensing the danger, is becoming more and more timid every day that passes. Academicism and commercialism are appearing in the strangest places. This can mean only one thing: that the avant-garde is becoming unsure of the audience it depends on — the rich and the cultivated…. Prior to this the only market for formal culture, as distinguished from folk culture, had been among those who, in addition to being able to read and write, could command the leisure and comfort that always goes hand in hand with cultivation of some sort. This until then had been inextricably associated with literacy. But with the introduction of universal literacy, the ability to read and write became almost a minor skill like driving a car, and it no longer served to distinguish an individual’s cultural inclinations, since it was no longer the exclusive concomitant of refined tastes. Clement Greenberg “Avant Garde and Kitsch” 1939.


Unlike Clem’s monetary dilemma in the 30s the “avant-garde” today is not unsure of the audience it depends upon. The rich and the cultivated flock to art fairs, gallery openings, biennials and trade shows by the Learjet load. And once there they hand over billions of dollars each year to the Art Economy. Our infrastructure – museums, galleries, auction houses and media – celebrates these collectors and mythologizes their largess in embarrassing shows of fawning supplication. Our “avant-garde” produces work strictly for these “cultivated collectors” in special limited editions, in designer private-label series, so that each collector class will be able to buy their own version of the exact same thing. (And be assured that these series are purposely “limited” so that future demand can outstrip supply.) Jeff Koons’ Balloon Dogs, Cattelan’s Hanging Horses, Nauman’s Neons, Warhol’s Poppies, Stella’s Constructions, whatever the art is, it’s being done in marketable, publicized, certified and documented series. Even if these products are handmade one-of-a-kind objects they are done with the market and the collecting economy in mind.

Most all the gallery shows (at least here in NYC) are made up of works that are of the same “collectible” size, all on the same theme and in many cases, all done with similar compositions and color schemes – not exact copies but close enough to be recognizable as part of a specific period, a branded style, an “important” moment of “revelation.” This economic mania for the “series” may harken back to the “production” precedent set by Modern artists like Cezanne who spent a lifetime hanging his chunky brushstrokes all over that little blue mountain in the South of France. But for Paul making a “series” of work was humanely different. He wasn’t producing work for the next show or the next collector or the market, because there wasn’t one – at least not for his work. We are all taught in our MFA schools, encouraged by our gallerists and indoctrinated by other successful artists that THIS current Career Process, this market process, is the correct one. This is how it’s done. This is our model to maintain a thriving avant-garde and a successful career.




“It is a visual, and therefore, a visceral betrayal.”

Modernism began with a critique of not only culture, but society, politics and economics. For decades the Modern program was to build a new kind of society, a new kind of economy and a new kind of vision to define that society. But those theoretical intentions didn’t really flourish until the mid-Century when Modernism and Capital came together in Clem’s Neo-Modernism. And we can not dismiss the fact that when Clem wrote AG&K in 1939 he was a Marxist, but by the 1960s he had changed his tune a bit to become a more profit minded Socialist. After the Berlin Wall came down in 1989 and the Cold War ended in 1991 Fukuyama declared the American Empire the defacto “winner” bringing into power the NeoLiberal Economic Era. Since that moment the world has become fully capitalized, privatized and corporatized. Our Global Economy exists and thinks in terms of Capital. Our only solutions to humanity’s problems, every solution to every global issue, is Corporatization, privatization, capitalization – from art to science, war to peace, housing to healthcare, urban planning to farming, global warming to energy exploration, and in our tiny art world, high and low culture – you name it, whatever the problem, or in the parlance of NeoLiberalism, whatever “opportunity” presents itself, the solution involves a profit making Process of one kind or another. This is the purity of process and Postmodern contextual replacement – an abstraction of an abstraction that creates an economic opportunity.

There has never been a more abstract society, a more abstract culture than we have today. And whether we agree with Clem or not he was right on the money (so to speak) about the “avant-garde” and their supporters. What doesn’t exist any longer in our avant-garde is the “float” of innovation and rebellion that used to exist between “reality” and what used to be called “abstraction.” Today it is one and same. Process and purity may have driven the Neo-Modern era, but Postmodernism emptied that out. Process and purity no longer describe an aesthetic, they have no meaning for vision, no meaning for an avant-garde that uses them as a selling point for the cultivated collector. As I’m swiping and touching, capturing and uploading, checking my bank balance and paying my credit cards, purchasing all kinds of goods and services with apps of every kind and type – process exists independently of intention – it exists without existence – it functions without history – without input – without involvement…. And in the midst all of this Abstract Process we can no longer hold onto the hollow idea that Abstraction could or should be considered subversive or innovative. Especially in this age where the Abstract is Real.

11 thoughts on “Untethered – NOT Process

  1. What a great read.You appear to be the only critics out there who see(feel) the malaise,the way in which art reflects something not quite right with society and that it is not something recent;it seems to have an arc to it. I touch on some of the same things that you also addressed in your previous blog in this recent take on Stella. http://martinmugar.blogspot.com/2015/11/ahab-pequod-and-frank-stella-at-whitney.html

    You appear to have stepped outside of the cave and are clearly seeing the situation for what it is.Probably similar to the late 19thc when Nietzsche was forecasting the death of Western Civilization as he knew it.

  2. Thank you, that’s very kind of you, Martin.

    I really enjoyed your article. Marvelous criticism!
    But I have a different relationship to Stella than you.

    I went to the Stella exhibition last week and I’m still trying to work through my feelings about what I saw. Some of the work looked stuck in time to me. Especially those truculent protractor paintings – I’m really not a fan of those – especially that giant one with the black ground – awful. It felt like office furniture. Those works were not to my taste. The earliest of the groups – the black, silver and bronze paintings and the ones after – the shaped geometric canvases were great to see and I think they are still challenging. Those paintings were young and feisty taking on the Neo-Moderns at their own game at their word. But from the protractors on there was a real change in the focus of the work, and by that I mean a change of personality in the work, outside of the formal concerns – which by then looked academic. It seems to me that Stella was beginning to engage with and become a part of the culture that was buying and lionizing his work – in other words the work became more corporate in scope, definition and vision.

    I never really could “connect” to Stella until I started looking out the windows of the top floors of NY office buildings. It’s a vision not all of us are able to engage with everyday, but I began to realize that there’s a weird kind of realism to Stella’s later work seen from that perspective. I got to Stella’s black paintings in reverse – I worked back through his career starting from the late eighties. At the show I connected immediately to the 3 wall works/sculptures in the back. I find them extremely familiar, dealing with issues of representation, space and form.

    Frank Stella Retro Whitney

    These things crawl all over the space in ways that we see and experience every day all over this city – especially now with the redefinition of the cityscape. I do enjoy playing with all the literary allusions to Melville and to art history, but for me, when I see these pieces I take them as is, just as I do the early black paintings. You are right about Stella’s color, but he’s never made any bones about that. He wanted the color out of the can – and he got it. But as you say Stella’s real focus is Power, and more important, Corporate Power. (It’s no coincidence that his newer art began to soar and explode off the wall in a big way during the Reagan era. That’s also about the time he wrote Working Space – which is one of the best theoretical books of the fin de siecle.)

    I used to walk by the Saatchi lobby on the way to my studio and saw 2 giant pieces holding that vast space in check like armed sentinels. There aren’t many artists that can fill those kinds of spaces. Hell, there are maybe five or six, and of those he is the only “painter.” These constructed works are cold, processed, material obsessed, collaged and strangely academic in a way, like a Chapel in Rome or the Boardroom of IBM. But again I will say that they are also realist sculptures. What was it Dave Hickey once said about Stella’s work, “art for bond traders,” or something like that….

  3. this is apropos of mark and martin’s comments:

    Frank Stella… and the Simulacrum
    by Peter Halley
    Published in Flash Art, No. 126, January 1986

    Here comes the time of the great Culture of tactile communication, under the
    technico-luminous cinematic space of total spatio dynamic theatre.
    – Baudrillard

    There have consistently been two poles around which critical attitudes towards the work of Frank Stella have been located. On one hand, his work has been hailed as an apotheosis of rigorous modernist painting. It is seen as material in its effects, unbending in its logic, and hermetic in its outlook. On the other hand, it is viewed, derisively, as a dehumanized dead-end of painting. Here it is judged that the complexity of painting has been eliminated and the images have become merely “graphic.” Humanistic subtlety is seen to be lacking in his work, where only a “bureaucratic” reshuffling and an “administrative,” managerial approach to making art remains.

    Ironically, it is only by combining these two view-points that a cogent appreciation of Stella’s work can emerge. We will find that Stella’s art is both materialist and bureaucratic, that it is both hermetic and graphic. But in order to encompass these various qualities, a different critical overview is needed. We will find that Stella is neither a modernist nor a bureaucrat, but that his work conforms closely to a model of post-modernism that is dominated by ideas of hyper-realization, simulation, closure, and fascination.

    We must initially ask, how can Frank Stella’s work be post-modern when post-modernism is an idea that has emerged in criticism only in the 1980’s? The answer is that the critical formulation and dissemination of the idea of post-modernism has lagged far behind its appearance in art and in the culture. It is in fact in the early ‘60’s, the time of Frank Stella’s emergence as an artist, that the elements of the post-modern and its kindred phenomenon, the post-industrial, began to fall into place.

    The early ‘60’s produced the emergence of the informational culture of the computer and of electronics. It produced international jet travel on a commercial scale and the accompanying changes in spatio-temporal and cultural relationships that the phenomenon precipitated. The 60’s produced the Interstate Highway System and the associated development of the de-centered Sun Belt cities that are based on the circulation of the automobile. It produced ICBM’s, the space program, and satellite reconnaissance, all of which inscribed reality within their circular orbits and parabolic trajectories.

    If the ‘60’s were the cusp between the worlds of the industrial and the post-industrial, and between the real and the simulated, the art of the ’60’s was a response to this situation. On one side, in ’60’s art there is an intense nostalgia for both traditional and industrial culture. Rock musicians were fascinated by the acoustic Blues of the railroad culture of the 20’s and by sitar music from India. Fashion embraced Guatemalan textiles and the clothing of the nineteenth-century American West. But at the same time, there is a fascination for the technological, the simulated, and the futuristic that is reflected in such phenomena as molded plastic furniture, the electric guitar, and the geodesic dome.

    Stella, around 1960, can be seen as responding to this same situation. In Stella’s work, a crucial transition took place in the jump between the Black paintings, which were still nostalgic for the industrial and the traditional, and the Aluminum paintings, which clearly embodied elements of the hyper-real, post-industrial world.

    The Black paintings were still modernist in inspiration. The paint application, while mechanical, is uneven, and it shimmers with the sensitivity to light that is present in, for example, a Rothko. The patterned bands are likewise repetitive, but their symmetrical, hieratic quality and the frequent use of diagonal motifs links the images to the use of patterning in traditional non-Western art. The configurations are reminiscent of Islamic tile-work or perhaps Kurdistani carpets. Finally, the ubiquitous shimmering black color links the paintings to ’50’s nihilism and existentialism.

    In the Aluminum paintings, an entirely different consciousness is posited. The paint is now applied evenly, the bands separated by taped lines. The effect is cool, even science-fictional. The paint is not just metallic – it is aluminum, which is a contemporary, technological metal linked with lightness, efficiency, and commercial applications. Most importantly, however, the configurations have almost completely lost their traditional, associative character. Instead, the introduction of the “jog” suddenly makes the bands appear to be moving: they are like lanes on a highway; they are bands for movement or circulation. In addition, the bands are unvarying and uninflected. They fill the space evenly and neutrally, becoming surrogates for activity in the painting and substitutes for painterly incident and imagery.

    The cut-out areas of the Aluminum paintings also have an important function. No longer are these lanes of movement, these conduits of circulation, seen against a background as they are in, say, a Mondrian. In Stella, the background, and with it nature, is cut out. Abstract circulation and movement becomes the only reality.

    In the various series of stripe paintings during the following five years, the concerns of the Aluminum paintings were furthered and expanded. The Copper painting are noteworthy in so far as their right-angle turns and intersections make more explicit Stella’s circulatory concerns. The Purple series introduced a new level of simulated intensity with Stella’s use of metallic purple pigment. Their configurations – triangles, parallelograms, and pentagons in which the bands form a continuous circuit also define a situation of closure and circularity where line flows into line without beginning or end.

    In the running V series, the bands seem to travel at a new velocity more akin to electricity moving through a microprocessor than mere automobiles traveling on a highway. In the Moroccan series, Day-Glo paint is introduced. Color itself is not replaced by its hyper-realized simulated equivalent. In addition, in the Moroccan series, the theme of non-Western culture re-emerges in a post-modern way. There is no longer any possibility of actual influence by a non-Western sensibility in this art. Rather, in these paintings, as in the phenomenon of “Super Graphics,” Moroccan culture is deracinated and reduced to its most easily reproduced signs. A whole culture is reproduced by the simple devices of bright color and diagonal repeating patterns. The enclosure by the hyper-real of all other realities is complete.

    Stella’s development during these years is of interest not just for the visual themes that appear in his pictures, but for the way he went about ordering the production of his paintings as well. During this period, Stella hyper-realized the means he employed. He used only man-made high-tech pigments and paints. His deep stretchers, shaped formats, and extra human scale also seem to hyper-realize the painting as an object: they are pushed further from the wall than a “real” painting; they are bigger and more aggressive in shape.

    At the same time, Stella’s use of series in moving from one group of paintings to the next is important. Artists have often worked in series, but in Stella’s work there is no gradual evolution from painting to painting as one series emerges from the next. Rather series follows series in almost yearly intervals like car models from Detroit. Further, within the series, there is no modernist original upon which the other works are based. Instead the configurations for the whole series were decided on before hand. The identity of each painting was based on its being a part of the series.

    The exhibition of these paintings as complete series hyper-realized the modernist idea of the art exhibit. In a Stella exhibition during these years, no evolution was visible. There were no large important paintings and smaller intimate ones. Rather there was just the display of the series, which combined with the other simulated and hyper-real means Stella had employed, gave these exhibitions a distinctly science-fictional quality.

    In 1967, with the Protractor series, Stella’s work moved even further into the world of simulation. Until 1967, Stella’s paintings could still be read literally, as flat areas of paint on canvas, without illusion or ambiguity. But in the Protractor series, this literalist, still modernist space disappears and is replaced by the contradictory, theatrical, and seductive space of the Simulacrum.

    In the Protractor paintings, the way space is made is three-fold. First, there is the physical space of the painting-as-object, which is dramatized by their massive dimensions, unusual shapes, and deep relief. It is further emphasized by the inelegant physical way the canvas is stretched over the huge stretchers, the casual pencil lines, and the alternating areas of evenly applied paint and raw canvas. Secondly, there is the space of the design, which emphasized either the overlap of the interlacing bands or the interlocking relationships between fanning and framing bands. Thirdly, there is the space made by combining Day-Glo and bright acrylic colors which pulsate with an eerie push-pull effect that creates a coloristic space independent of the spatial reading indicated by the bands.

    These three independent spatial systems combine to achieve a space of theatricality and fascination. There is no attempt at a unity of spatial clues. Rather the spatial signs are additive – they combine to give as intense an effect as possible. Here we have left the unified modern space of reason and have entered a post-modern space whose purpose is to seduce.

    In the Protractor series, Stella also furthered his relationship with the issues of multiplicity and the model. The Protractor paintings are not only based on a series of pre-existing patterns, but each variant is now treated in three different ways, as ”interlaces,” “rainbows,” and “fans.” The choice of the protractor as the basis for this series is also significant. Stella’s previous configurations had been based on simple geometric shapes — squares, triangles, pentagons, and so on shapes which still had some link with the classic, idealist tradition of geometry. In the protractor, Stella chose a tool of the designer and engineer. The protractor is both itself a model, and it is a tool for making models. With the Protractor series, Stella takes the final step from the modern world of the ideal into the post-modern world, where the model precedes all.

    In Stella’s work, the Protractor series was at the same time an end and a beginning. It was the end of his making paintings simply with paint on canvas, while it was the beginning of his use of additive coloristic and spatial effects to create visual overload that has characterized his work in metal relief up to the present time.

    The various series of metal-relief paintings represent an intensification of the approach taken in the Protractor series. Seemingly massive cut-out shapes of high-tech honeycomb aluminum are lifted and tilted with mystifying ease. They are layered one over another with such complexity that any idea of their actual spatial relationships is confused. Figure and ground are also obscured as holes created by negative spaces are filled by shapes peeking out from behind. Then, each plane is covered with a profusion of paint, color, and brushwork that further complicates the space and creates a further sense of scintillating spectacle. In this work, we are in a world where space is dramatic but no longer makes sense, where everything is arranged to maximize effect, where, like at Disneyworld, Las Vegas, or the Shopping Mall, everything is arranged to entice, seduce, and amaze.

    This is also a world in which any sign is admissible but all are severed from any vestigial real meaning. Here, the abstract expressionist brushstroke is reduced to an empty, neutral sign. The brilliant, complex color serves no other purpose than to establish the color-effect. Likewise, composition serves only to establish the ideas of movement and attraction. The works as a whole become a hyper-real, neutral simulation of painting.

    The only references out of the work are into the world of the Simulacrum. Honeycomb aluminum and etched magnesium remind us of the post-industrial world of ultra-light metals and printed circuits. The illusionistic “cones and pillars” of the newest work are reminiscent of the spatial simulations of computer graphics. And, of course, everything refers to the universe of the model-multiply-produced parts with repeating imagery are bolted together into paintings that are themselves also multiples.

    If we have established a case for Frank Stella’s work as post-modern, we must finally ask – how can this be so when Stella himself articulates such a different set of concerns for his own work? It is possible because in the post-modern situation the artist does not necessarily have the same degree of self-consciousness that was characteristic of modernism. In fact, in the case of Stella, we may see him acting out the role of modernist artist for a post-modern audience, and we can see his work as a hyper-realization of modernism. We may also see him so firmly encased within the Simulacrum that he has no awareness of its existence (unlike Warhol, who during the ’60’s constantly alluded to his consciousness of this issue – although this was perhaps why he was unable to sustain his critique). For example, Stella has recently discussed his desire to give his work the same intense reality that is present in the work of an artist like Caravaggio. But if we translate Stella’s desire for intense reality into desire for intense hyper-reality, we can get an idea of Stella’s position vis-à-vis the Simulacrum.

    Finally, Stella’s modernist credentials are often supported by reference to his education: as a product of the prep school and the distinguished university, he is thought undoubtedly to be a worthy standard-bearer of the modernist tradition. Yet it is exactly this training that explains why we may locate Stella within the Simulacrum. For the Simulacrum was not invented by the masses, by the drinkers of Pepsi and the watchers of Super Bowls. It was invented by corporations, brokerage houses, advertising firms, and broadcasting companies, precisely those institutions that draw their leaders from those machines for turning modernist knowledge into post-modern information, the elite universities.

  4. A former student told me of a chat she had with Halley recently with whom she studied at Yale.I googled a recent show of his and thought how modernist it was.He made all sorts of post-modernist claims but I thought that the day glow colors were just an expansion of the modernist vocabulary and in a dialectic manner would be synthesized into an expanded painterly vocabulary.I guess I am in agreement with Halley that Stella is not modern like Mondrian. However,this attempt to decenter ourselves and see our actions as products of larger corporate forces just does not impress me anymore.Not that it is not happening and that the technological and corporate does not permeate Stella’s work but at this late date the power of that strategy is well not very powerful.The decentering of the self away from self-consciousness is a very real phenomenon in our mediated world that Warhol embraces consciously and maybe according to Halley, Stella does unconsciously but in the end at this point in history the impact of the work is fading.I speak favorably of his work in this essay where I see his minimalist creation of time in certain work and the loss of time in Richter’s work.http://martinmugar.blogspot.com/2013/11/spiraling-downward-from-minimal-to.html

  5. halley’s comments regarding stella are of their moment, with cold war dialectics tempered by analogical thinking, but credit is due for attempting to engage stella’s work on its on terms, and seeking a vocabulary with which to do so. this is woefully lacking in every current response i’ve read to the current survey, which is puzzling, as one finds modest didactics judiciously placed throughout the exhibition that voice the artists concerns in his own thoughtful, modest, and lucid words. i’ve yet to encounter anyone who’s made the leap from picasso’s ‘absinthe’ constructions currently on view at moma to the stella’s ‘exotic birds’ maquettes presented at the whitney, each of which exceed the formalism of challenging syntax and become something other in, and of, the world entirely. these are objects based on a most rigorous perception deftly translated into obdurate material terms.

    it’s almost as if critics resent stella for having the temerity to find problem, solution, and success all at once. it’s something the artist did nearly from the outset, with the ‘black’ paintings forward. would one dismiss advanced mathematics as incomprehensible? and space travel as a trite indulgence? because this is basically how stella operates as an artist, at a very high level and with results that are far from commonplace. the work at the whitney is a true wonder, if once takes it for what it is rather than wishing it were something else.

  6. Mark: I can envision the wall pieces needing some space to do their thing.They need time to unfold. I enjoyed writing my essay so as to make a larger point about social structure and the individual, sacrificing an exploration of Stella and his influences. I can see the Picasso sculpture as a direct line to his late work.Maybe “anon” can elaborate on the connection of Stella to advanced mathematics and space travel.Maybe his work can be studied from the viewpoint of linguistics,advance linguistics.I would love to see what I am missing.

  7. Now that we’ve moved the Stella comments to another post – I thought I’d mention that this article by Kenny Schachter on the recent auctions is eye opening – not only about the market but the kind of art being made for that market!

    “The all-animal realistic paintings (birds, a bunny, fox and porcupine among others) are from a calendar from Stingel’s hometown of Merano, Italy and aggressively priced at $2.5m for the small size and $4m for the larger, but as all sold in advance, perhaps it wasn’t grand enough. Stingel’s silver wallpaper painting from 2005 made $3.5m (est $800,000-$1.2m), the third highest price for his work—his record stands at $4.7m, a price achieved twice in as many days last May at both Christie’s and Phillips. Look for a record in May 2016 if someone procures a good enough example.”

  8. This line from the article reminded me of what my premise was in my blog on zombie formalism:
    “Warhol (29,215 pieces at auction to date) had 56 canvases up for sale in the week, safe to say more than any other artist; if only he could have lived to experience his transformation into fully-fledged currency, he’d have been tickled.” forget the return of the gold standard.We now have the Warhol standard. I said in that blog that any substantiality would be squeezed out of art so as to function as currency:

    “The work of these artists becomes as common as money, just a token of exchange, like baseball cards. By shifting the terms of painting away from any lingering notion of being an object and pushing it into the realm of language and in the case of Guyton producing the painting mechanically with an inkjet printer, sets the painting free from its roots in science and objectification.”

    Here is my contribution to Izzard’s take on colonialism:”Aguirre the Wrath of God” https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ojwxrzmAkdA

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