Going Baroque…

“But the limitation of Stella’s analysis, which explains the problems of his recent art, lies in his fundamental misunderstanding of Baroque art. His formalist analysis both overestimates Caravaggio’s importance and misrepresents his achievement, as when he claims that Caravaggio’s pictorial space is “self-contained.” It leads him to the absolutely mistaken conclusion that the goal of abstracti”on should be to create a literal space, like that of his recent works, which really are large-scale relief sculptures. The true power of Baroque art, and also of abstraction, is its capacity to create an illusionistic space. Stella misidentifies the spectator’s role. Painting circa 1990, as circa 1590, involves the spatial and temporal relation of a spectator to the image. The aim of the Baroque was to reestablish contact with the spectator, which cannot be done with literal space.” David Carrier and David Reed, “Tradition, Eclecticism, Self-Consciousness Baroque Art and Abstract Painting,” Arts Magazine 65, No. 5, (Jan. 1991): 44-49.

#275, 1989-1990 26 x 102 inches Oil and alkyd on linen.jpg
David Reed, #275, 1989-1990 26 x 102 inches Oil and alkyd on linen

In the early 90s there was Scully, Heilman, Read, Row, Halley, Dryer, Zinsser, Lasker, Bleckner, Winters and many others. But don’t be mislead. This wasn’t so much a movement as it was a geek reformulation of Greenberg’s process painting and a throaty reaction to Frank Stella’s ideas of abstraction as presented in his “Working Space.” Unfortunately, this “moment” for abstract painting never unfolded into something culturally meaningful. It never really took flight. Was it a real Baroque movement for abstract painting? I’m not so sure. It always felt more like a full-blown Florentine Mannerism to me – like Bronzino or Pontormo rather than Caravaggio.

I really like the idea put forward by Carrier and Reed in their essay that there was a need for abstraction to establish contact with the spectator through an illusionistic space. But this is something that no one could really agree on – illusion and space, I mean.

8 thoughts on “Going Baroque…

  1. Mannerism, certainly, but of a very low order. Where are the even half-good paintings that came out of this? I’ve yet to see much of real quality, but maybe I’ve missed them altogether. Reed looks so formulaic, a one-trick pony – “a geek reformulation of Greenberg’s process painting” is a pretty good shout – and the intellectualised noise is so much louder than the product.

  2. Hi Martin, I still find Stella’s Working Space difficult. New and/or different Abstract Painting of the time never really finished the argument. Those “New Abstractionists” of the early 90s emerged just as the Art World and the still provincial economic market of the time began to shrink away to nearly nothing. If you remember it was a very difficult time for all kinds of painting. When the art world began to recover in 95-97 it was because the Clinton government had given a ton of tax dollars to the wealthy and had begun to gut Glass Steagall. Suddenly there was money for new art and the market cultivated a new generation of figurative painters like Currin, Yuskavage, Brown and many more. What was different was that no one really discussed theoretics or history or influence in the same ways.

  3. Hi Robin, I don’t really know what was going on in the UK at the time – Saatchi and the YBAs if I’m not mistaken. I know you have a different experience of abstract painting than we did. For us Greenberg was still fighting old battles, an old geezer screaming at the kids to get off his lawn, but the art world here had moved on. I think since the late 60s and 70s abstraction had begun a heavy critique of Greenberg in the “underground.” On the one side there was Stella’s Working Space and on the other was the Cal Arts Pictures imperative. I really love David Reed’s discussion of those struggles in his book High Times Hard Times, and I recommend a read here: http://www.davidreedstudio.com/writings/dr_streets_studios_2006.pdf

  4. I might also mention that we can not discount the influence of Richter and Polke on ALL types of serious painting, especially abstraction, that was going on at that time.

  5. In talking with Row about his work when he had a forty year retro at Loretta Howard in 2016, I sensed he was insecure about his role as though he had missed something or maybe as you say the scene he was part of never expanded into the next step in the dialectic due to the influx of money that gravitated toward the schocky emotions of Currin et alia. It was “which” Held he had decided to be influenced by.There are so many and he may have picked the least fruitful. I sensed that he sensed that he was a mannerist. He gets treated harshly by critics, https://observer.com/2004/10/david-rows-futuristic-abstractions-scramble-for-technozeitgeist/ even the Plagens I tacked on in the comment section was pure equivocation. I liked the David Reed pdf. New York was inexpensive but dangerous. I saw Petit in Paris doing his thing on the Blvd St Germain in 1972. Raising money I guess for his big assault on the twin towers. The day I left for Paris I bumped into Judy Pfaff in the street.Her hair was dyed purple. She was starting her career in NYC.Row probably arrived around the same time on the coattails of Held.

  6. what do critics say about the late Held.It was very spatial.Was that the illusionistic abstraction that would have fulfilled the goal of the artists you mention above? He like Row only drew on part of his previous work to construct these paintings.None of the push/pull work of the big N ilk. Just the geometric stuff from the 70’s that I knew when I studied with him. Could he have pulled it all together ? and what would it have looked like?

  7. Hi Martin, I think you touch on the problem of illusion here. I was never much attracted to Held’s floating geometries – somehow they felt a bit like Kandinsky and the Bauhaus crew, another bunch that I find difficult to like. What I appreciate more are Held’s works from the 60s when it looked like he moved away from the 2nd generation AbEx paintings and embraced Olitski’s use of lens-based formatting – like he zoomed in to a part of a larger image finding something interesting there. This kind of scale I find exciting. I also think that this kind of vision is less a European concern and more an American one. Ellsworth Kelly’s work tends to this sort of scale and spatial fracturing as well. And I think that this is also an interesting connection with Row’s work.

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