Physical But Relatively Shallow Space

Ed Moses Ring-D-Whip 2005

The paintings hold forceful, interrelated energies, contained in the way Moses vigorously applies paint and related elements, including graphite, India ink, masking tape, mylar, and polyester resin. “Wall Layuca” (1989) looks like he scumbled together vertical slices of black, white, and ochre in both oil and acrylic pigments. Although the application processes Moses employs are difficult to quantify, he develops his surfaces layer by layer. In an early example, the Hegeman Series (1970–72), the alternating build-up of acrylic and polyester resin with masking tape produces a density of light that’s spread evenly across each painting. [Robert C. Morgan on Ed Moses]


Mark Grotjahn Untitled (Free Capri 50.59) 2018

“Strands of knife-applied color in uneven variations of grey, dark red, and some white pass horizontally or in shallow diagonals, like streamers hung across a street. They occupy a physical but relatively shallow space, behind which is the ground—also very physical but operating visually as if a void. The affect of the addition, on top of the layers already described, of a field of “slugs” confounds any sense that this is a straightforward abstract painting: lyrical, improvised, balanced through adjustments in the process. Despite all the gestural painting, row after row of tick-marks add up to a field that Grotjahn anticipated and calculated….The narrative paradox of formal elements that seem so contradictory and yet add up to a cohesive visual whole leaves the question open deliberately. It’s not a formalist issue so much as an existential one: how can contradictions exist so successfully without an explanation? [David Rhodes on Mark Grotjahn]

Terry Winters Untitled (1) 1999

“I thought I had moved to a minimal, process-driven painting, but I became dissatisfied after awhile. I missed drawing. Drawing was my connection to making art from the beginning, from when I was a kid. Those early paintings were an attempt to bring drawing back into my work. I became curious about how to include imagery, how to build a picture through drawing. I wanted to move the abstraction that attracted me in architecture to the center of my work. Those subjects and concerns had been sidelined….
Pattern-making systems are a preoccupation — how they play out across different cultures. Those patterns somehow describe forces specific to historical contexts. The question becomes how to locate those forces here and now. For myself, I’m taking pieces of existing data and combining them into new patterns….
By the early ‘90s, I began to see the total surface as a kind of phase space—an accumulation of actions and information. The resulting pictorial space contains the subject or somehow holds the meaning.” [Jennifer Samet in conversation with Terry Winters]

Decoration is the Ultimate Interdiction

Jackson Pollock Cathedral 1947

“… no matter how shallow the picture becomes, as long as its shapes are sufficiently differentiated in terms of light and dark, and kept in dramatic imbalance, it will remain an easel painting….
This tendency appears in the all-over, “decentralized,” “polyphonic” picture that relies on a surface knit together of identical or closely similar elements which repeat themselves without marked variation from one edge of the picture to the other. It is a kind of picture that dispenses, apparently, with beginning, middle, end. Though the “all-over” picture will, when successful, still hang dramatically on a wall, it comes very close to decoration – to the kind seen in wallpaper patterns that can be repeated indefinitely – and insofar as the “all-over” picture remains an easel picture, which somehow it does, it infects the notion of the genre with a fatal ambiguity.
The fact that the variations upon equivalence introduced by a painter like Pollock are sometimes so unobtrusive that at first glance we might see in the result not equivalence, but an hallucinatory uniformity, only enhances the result.
The very notion of uniformity is antiaesthetic. Yet many “all-over” pictures seem to succeed precisely by virtue of their uniformity, their sheer monotony. The dissolution of the pictorial into sheer texture, into apparently sheer sensation, into an accumulation of repetitions, seems to speak for and answer something profound in contemporary sensibility.” [Clement Greenberg on Easel Painting]

Tomma Abts Untitled (big circle) 2015

“There’s a documentary impulse that provides some way of responding directly to the world and a corollary urge to abstraction, which aims at the emotional fallout and underlying forces driving those actions,” she says. “Both impulses speak to the state of the world and change—the big millennial questions as well as the issues of the present.” She finds that much of the work today is “more in the spirit of earlier 20th-century artists like Malevich, where abstraction emerged out of something both real and revolutionary, like war, industrial technology, and the radical social, economic, and cultural upheavals endemic throughout Europe at the time.”
“The problem with abstraction is always its closeness to the decorative, to something that feels escapist and closed-eyed rather than probing, as, for example, when Peter Halley attempted 20 years ago to overlay a graphic notation, referring to both the cultural critique of Michel Foucault and the black lines of Mondrian, onto a ground of phosphorescent house paint. In the painting of Amy Sillman or Tomma Abts, there is something more concrete at play—an effort to make every decision visible in the painting of the painting.” [Linda Norden on Abstract Painting]

Peter Halley Red Cell Over Blue Prison 2005

Abstraction is at the very core of the concept of decoration and all decoration is inherently abstract. In fact it could be argued convincingly that abstraction in the visual arts begins with the concept of decoration and this beginning goes all the way to the very first objects made by humans…. The main problem is the result of an association within decorative arts between abstraction and decoration. Within craft practices, abstraction, as patterns and motifs added to form, is closely related to decoration, if not totally relegated to it. Of course, within Modernism in visual arts and most notably painting, decoration is the ultimate interdiction. When the Austrian architect Aldolf Loos writes “Ornament and Crime” in 1908, he specifically targets decoration as irrelevant and unessential within Modernism. Ornament, according to Loos, is a superfluous appendage, unfitting to the Modern Age. Within the reductive logic of Modernism and Abstraction in Art, at the beginning of the 20th Century, we see the progressive removal of ornament from functional objects. By 1925 and Art Deco, geometric abstraction reigns supreme in all forms of design and it could be successfully argued, that geometric abstraction in art and in decorative arts is nothing but a stylistic revival of historical precedents going back to the origins of mark- making and object making by humans. What differs is that the work now has a slickness and perfection given by mechanical processes, not quite generally available before when things were hand made. The irony of this is that we have also seen Abstract Art quickly reduced to decoration and product merchandising, something evident in all the posters, postcards, greeting cards and calendars available in Museum shops worldwide. [Paul Mathieu, The Art of the Future]


Signe : Signe (or Precisely, Alphabet).* – Mike Zahn

Spring 2019

Donald Baechler Alphabet 2003

‘In childhood, linguistic reverie focuses at once on the elements of natural language, and on the vocables constituted from them, and it may even begin working on the latter before any analytical ability. We are going to violate the order of the text a bit, and probably that of lived experience, so as to begin with the elementary speculations to which Michel Leiris devotes, almost exclusively, the first fifteen pages of the chapter titled, precisely, Alphabet.**

‘It goes without saying that, for the child, properly phonic analysis remains inaccessible and without doubt inconceivable for a long time. On the other hand, graphic analysis is given, so to speak, in shapes at once simple and seductive, in various presentations— images, blocks, the sculpted letters of shop signs, and so on— that fall into this category. But a readymade analysis is no longer, or not yet, a genuine analysis. Here, straightforwardly, each letter appears as an autonomous and picturesque shape, even as a concrete object, prior to any consciousness of its possible utilization in a greater linguistic whole, whether syllable, word, or sentence. At the outset, the only perceptible whole is, naturally, the alphabet itself. Letters are therefore concrete objects that belong to a concrete unity that is “the alphabet-object, a thing with shape and weight, opacity and consistency,” which directs attention spontaneously to the materiality of the elements of— what is not yet— writing.

Donald Baechler Untitled (Composition with Cucumber) 1988

‘With their material existence confirmed and intensified in this way, the elements of language quite naturally take on an evocative value of their own, a direct and autonomous signification. “Letters do not remain dead letters, but are shot through with the life force of a precious Kabbalah.” As in Hugo or in Claudel, we find here a repertory of formal equivalences between letters and objects: is a stepladder; a soldier or a column; Othe original spheroid of the world; a winding path or a snake; lightning; the cross; the fragment of a portico or the fork in a tree; is a fat stomach; a tenon; a corbel; J a fishhook or an inverted crook; a chair without legs; a zig-zag; a pillar supporting an architrave; the longitudinal section of a vase . . .
Among the secondary graphemes, the cedilla { } evokes a small pig’s tail, and in a more specific memory, a crank like the one used by the owner of the bazaar at the corner of Michelangelo and Auteuil Streets, for operating the awning that protected his shop stall. As the reader has noticed, every letter is interpreted solely according to its shape as a printed capital, reconfirming the dominance of the alphabet.

Donald Baechler Colorful Ball 2010

Such materiality is of course graphic, plastic— “a lightweight scaffolding of letters, an impalpable framework of girders, the book’s thickened space” — chromatic — “a yellowish alphabet” — and above all, and in the present case, gustatory and, as it were, alimentary. This description may seem absolutely idiosyncratic, and it probably is, given its circumstantial causes: Alphabet happens to rhyme with Olibet, a trademark of sweet biscuits and butter cookies, which transmits its yellowish color— corroborated by the yellow cover of the primer of the ABCs— and its consistency of “fine and dense crumbs” to “alphabet”. Another of its manifestations also happens to be “pasta for alphabet soup”, whence that almost daily experience of “ eating an A, a B, a C, a D” and thus “tasting the fruit of the tree of knowledge”, from which issues yet another experience, apparently unique but crucial: “One evening, when I was under the weather and had gulped down a little too much soup too fast, I suddenly emitted, greatly to the detriment of the tablecloth and the large, deep breadbasket next to me, an enormous series of letters which I had not digested and which remained as legible as the fat letters that compose, if not the headlines, at least the subtitles of a major daily newspaper.” **

Andy Warhol Polaroid Triptych (Donald Baechler) 1986

*Excerpts from Mimologiques: Voyage and Cratylie, Gerard Genette, 1995.
**Genette’s chapter title ’Signe : Signe’ alludes to the wordplay characteristic of Michel Leiris, especially his Biffures and Glossarie,excerpted here.

Letters, Paint Marks and Collaged Elements

Julian Schnabel Untitled (Zeus Duende) 1992

“While Schnabel works on an immense scale…the letters, paint marks and collaged elements — fits comfortably within the overall schema. He wants the viewer to see the painting and everything in it all at once, to get it, because there is nothing more to see after that first glance….
In addition to working on found and, often, previously used surfaces, Schnabel also exposed their surfaces to the elements and dragged them across the ground. When he joins two large sections of velvet or drop cloths together, he makes sure the seams are visible. If the support can’t be stretched tightly, this is proof of some kind of authenticity. Sometimes he applies just enough paint to produce an imprint from the stretcher bars. Paw prints are another sign of casualness. This calculated offhandedness tempers the pretentiousness, as it activates the surface upon which the artist will deposit the paint, gesso, resin and other things.” [John Yau on Julian Schnabel]

Joe Bradley JJ Ram 2018

Black serves as a drawing tool, a way of obscuring the part of the painting that needs to be obscured. Is it even really a colour? I think of it more like ink – a drawing medium – but I suppose it can also be read as outer space, or just the absence of colour.
I almost want palette not to present itself as an issue. I don’t want the viewer to get lost in the nuances of colour. The palette skews towards iconic – the sort of colours you might see in a flag. When you look at a comic book, there are no more than eight colours – they register, but it’s not something that’s occupying too much space in your head.” [Joe Bradley in conversation with Samuel Reilly]

Oscar Murillo Untitled (chorizo) 2012

Paintings happen in the studio where I have my own kind of system, although there can be physical residue of performance in them. I like to cut up the canvas in different sections, work on them individually, fold them and just leave them around for months. I don’t work on a painting with the goal of finishing it or having a complete and finished painting at the end of a work process. The idea is to get through as much material as possible, and various materials go through various processes. In most parts there is this mark making that happens with a broomstick and oil paint. I make a bunch of those canvases, fold them in half, and put them on the floor….
The individual canvases are very much the DNA; they record that movement, the process of making. When these different processes are done, I move on to the stage of actually composing a painting. The individual canvases are laid out with the aim of making a composition. [Oscar Murillo in conversation with Legacy Russell]

An Instrument of Coercive Persuasion

Marilyn Minter Food Porn #51 1990

“When I think about my work, I mostly think about the paradox that goes on when you look at these images,” Minter says. “How much pleasure glamour gives us but at the same time, how we know we’ll never look like that, and even [models] don’t look like that. There’s this constant distortion that’s happening between all of us—men and women—there’s a sense of failure. But at the same time, all of this pleasure.” [Marilyn Minter in conversation with Cait Munro]

“…images trigger mimetic desires and make people want to become like the products represented in them. In this view, hegemony infiltrates everyday culture and spreads its values by way of mundane representation. Image spam is thus interpreted as a tool for the production of bodies, and ultimately ends up creating a culture stretched between bulimia, steroid overdose, and personal bankruptcy. This perspective—one of more traditional Cultural Studies—views image spam as an instrument of coercive persuasion as well as of insidious seduction, and leads to the oblivious pleasures of surrendering to both.” [Hito Steyerl on The Spam of the Earth]

Alfred Stieglitz Georgia O’Keeffe 1918

“As revolutionary as living out of wedlock was in 1918 (the couple married in 1924), a 1921 survey of Stieglitz’s photographs, including 45 pictures of O’Keeffe, many of them nudes, transformed the two of them into the equivalent of an art world Angelina Jolie and Brad Pitt. Stieglitz said, “When I make a photograph I make love.” O’Keeffe, who later recalled the “heat and excitement” of the photo sessions, opined that “nothing like them had come into our world before.”
Yet the same nude photos that made Stieglitz famous triggered a backlash against O’Keeffe. Forever after, her work was seen in purely sexual terms. “When people read erotic symbols into my paintings they’re really talking about their own affairs,” O’Keeffe said. Still, the sexualized misconceptions of her work devastated her. “I almost wept,” she wrote of one review in 1921.” [Jerry Saltz on Georgia O’Keeffe]

“This is why many people by now walk away from visual representation. Their instincts (and their intelligence) tell them that photographic or moving images are dangerous devices of capture: of time, affect, productive forces, and subjectivity. They can jail you or shame you forever; they can trap you in hardware monopolies and conversion conundrums, and, moreover, once these images are online they will never be deleted again. Ever been photographed naked? Congratulations—you’re immortal. This image will survive you and your offspring, prove more resilient than even the sturdiest of mummies, and is already traveling into deep space, waiting to greet the aliens.
The old magic fear of cameras is thus reincarnated in the world of digital natives. But in this environment, cameras do not take away your soul (digital natives replaced this with iPhones) but drain away your life. They actively make you disappear, shrink, and render you naked, in desperate need of orthodontic surgery. In fact, it is a misunderstanding that cameras are tools of representation; they are at present tools of disappearance. The more people are represented the less is left of them in reality.” [Hito Steyerl on The Spam of the Earth]

David Reed #252 1987

“In works such as #310 and #328 (1992 and 1993), marks modeled with strong value contrast with monochrome marks that emphasize the texture of a brush. Because everything is relative, some of these marks seem to refer to touch and some to vision. Around 1990, Reed discovered that a certain kind of photographic effect had begun to figure much of his work (this was pointed out to him by critics and friends). This similarity to photography pushes his work still closer to vision, and away from touch, even though the resemblance is, in these works, an illusion, as all the marks are equally handmade, made with paint and not photography. Still, if we had no photography these would look much different — it is the implicit ghost haunting these paintings, rather than a real presence.” [Katy Siegel on David Reed]

“Mirroring, reflections on, reflecting in are gestures made literal through Reed’s digital insertions, but also point back to his thought processes and the formal influences that these filmic narratives have had on his abstractions. This is a strategy Reed has used before, having previously inserted his paintings into the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo (1958) in Two Bedrooms in San Francisco, Judy’s Bedroom (1992) and Scottie’s Bedroom (1994). These insertions represent another move by the artist to emphasize how the world outside painting––architecture, film, popular culture––influences his abstractions. The idea that paintings can absorb or be influenced by the environment around them is one that is in direct contrast to the notions of formal purity espoused by the influential postwar critic Clement Greenberg, who championed Abstract Expressionist artists such as Jackson Pollock and Willem de Kooning. Greenberg demanded that abstract painting seek to solely reference its own formal qualities, rather than respond to the characteristics of the space and world around it. Reed began working in a period in New York when Greenberg’s ideas were still highly influential, and to this day his theories and writings serve as reference points for Reed to work against. In the context of Greenberg’s orthodox ideas, the fact that Reed’s paintings absorb a television program’s color palette or lighting effects represents another form of vice, or aesthetic sin.” [Tobias Ostrander on David Reed]

Potential of Recombinant Bodies

John Coplans Untitled Study for Self-Portrait (Upside Down no. 5) 1992

“For a quarter-century, Coplans—former painter, Artforum editor, curator, and writer turned self-taught photographer—has made his nude, aging body the subject of heroically scaled single and multiple images. The work’s impact is double-barreled, fueled by his disarming honesty and humanism and by his picture-making bravura. Working with an assistant, sometimes adjusting his postures before the shutter opens by watching himself on a video camera, Coplans strikes and holds poses that explore, question, and sometimes mock conventions of both representation and masculinity. The resulting photographs of body parts, torsos and full figures are crammed with detail (hair, calluses, varicose veins, scabs, and flesh—muscular or slack) and ricochet with historical, cultural, and psychological meaning. Coplans shrewdly harnesses our lingering belief that black-and-white photographs are documentary to his own formal interests in abstraction, frontality, tension and scale.” [Marvin Heiferman on John Coplans]

“The potential of recombinant bodies is emphasized in a text written by Siegfried Kracauer in 1927 called “The Mass Ornament.” He analyzes a group of showgirls named the Tiller Girls. At the beginning of the century they became extremely popular because of their invention of what was called “precision dance”—a formation dance in which female bodies, or rather body parts, as Kracauer emphasized, moved synchronously and in unison. Kracauer analyzes precision dance as a symptom of a Fordist regime of production, comparing the articulation of the Tiller Girls on stage to the composition of a conveyor belt. Of course, they first had to be disarticulated in order to be rearticulated, and this was done by cutting time and activity into fragments and assigning them to separate elements of the body
The industrial body of the Tiller Girls is abstract, artificial, alienated. Precisely because of this, it breaks with the traditional and, at that time, racially imbued ideologies of origin, belonging, as well as with the idea of a natural, collective body created by genetics, race, or common culture. In the artificial bodies and the artificially articulated body parts of the Tiller Girls, Kracauer saw an anticipation of another body, which would be freed from the burden of race, genealogy, and origin—and we can add, free of memory, guilt, and debt—precisely by being artificial and composite. The recombination of the cut-off parts produces a body without subject or subjection. In fact, this is what has been cut: the individual, as well as its identity and its unalienable rights to guilt and debt bondage. This body fully affirms its artificial composition while opening itself up to inorganic flows of matter and energy.” [Hito Steyerl Cut! Reproduction and Recombination]

Carroll Dunham Untitled (6), 2011

“What became very irritating to me was this… There’s a so-called “biomorphic abstraction” that is very rich in associations. You can look at what is nominally an abstract picture and be reminded of a lot of things in nature. Anyway, I started to get really annoyed by that idea, the sort of evocative ambiguity of all of it… I was still very convinced that I was making abstract art, and I was drawing these ellipses with lines in them, and saying, “Oh, it looks like a mouth,” and it occurred to me: well, what if an abstract painting actually had a mouth? What if you really couldn’t look at it and not have the word “mouth” in your head? That was a huge breakthrough for me personally. I’m not making any big claims. It’s simply that that was my experience… It was quite an eye-opener to make what is basically the same painting again but with this snarling mouth. It was the beginning of a kind of slippery slope that led me to much more nameable kinds of subjects and eventually to people.” [The Great Glenn O’Brien in conversation with Carroll Dunham]

Like abstractness, the mass ornament is ambivalent. On the one hand its rationality reduces the natural in a manner that does not allow man to wither away, but that, on the contrary, were it only carried through to the end, would reveal man’s most essential element in all its purity. Precisely because the bearer of the ornament does not appear as a total personality—that is, as a harmonious union of nature and “spirit” in which the former is emphasized too much and the latter too little—he becomes transparent to the man determined by reason. The human figure enlisted in the mass ornament has begun the exodus from lush organic splendor and the constitution of individuality toward the realm of anonymity to which it relinquishes itself when it stands in truth and when the knowledge radiating from the basis of man dissolves the contours of visible natural form. In the mass ornament nature is deprived of its substance, and it is just this that points to a condition in which the only elements of nature capable of surviving are those that do not resist illumination through reason.” [Siegfried Kracauer The Mass Ornament

Matthew Barney Still from Cremaster 3 2002

The real person, who has not capitulated to being a tool of mechanized industry, resists being dissolved into space and time. He certainly exists in this space here, yet is not utterly dispersed in it or overwhelmed by it. Instead he extends himself across latitudinal and longitudinal parallels into a supra-spatial infinity that should not in any way be confused with the endlessness of astronomic space. Nor is he circumscribed by time experienced as expiration or as measured by the clock. Rather he is committed to eternity, which is different from an endless extension of time. Even though he lives in this life here, which appears to him and in which he appears, he does not live only in this life here; for, as anyone who has encountered death knows, it is both contingent and incomplete. How else is that which is passing away in space and time supposed to participate in reality, other than through the relationship of man to the indeterminate that lies beyond space and outside time? [Siegfried Kracauer Travel and Dance]

Barney continues to inject his narrative into architecture though with Cremaster 3 he seemingly welcomes a kind of sculptural release. This three-hour tour through Barney’s Art Deco cock begins inside the lobby of New York City’s Chrysler building, where technology (here, a demolition derby with a 1930s Chrysler Imperial as the target) has begun to implode. Inside the erect Chrysler building, the Entered Apprentice (Barney) slinks his way down elevator shafts, deferring the building’s release by filling a shaft with cement. This is the body as architecture, anatomy as sculpture. Barney’s aesthetic seemingly engages everyone from Argento (architecture as terror mechanism) and Cronenberg (body consciousness) to Kubrick (the unnerving décor) and Lynch (cinema as wet dream), yet no artist has ever moved so far inside the body as Barney does with Cremaster 3. From the shaft of the Chrysler building to the many tiers of the Guggenheim Museum, Barney’s Celtic, operatic allegory is that of the testes ascending and descending in response to premature ejaculation (a barman’s failed attempt to serve ale), sexual asphyxiation (the nooses, the final “little death”) and, most significantly, fear of penetration. What with Barney’s obsession with the phallus, gender-bending motifs and modes of camp, Cremaster 3 is curiously unhomoerotc (a testament, perhaps, to his fabulously comfortable heterosexuality). 

Imagine How It Would Work

Bruce Nauman. Crime and Punishment (Punch and Judy) 1985

“For Bruce Nauman drawing is equivalent to thinking. From 1966, when he left the University of California at Davis, until about 1969, when he alternated between traveling in Europe and working in his studio in Mill Valley, he drew mostly small, quick sketches that served as notes for sculptures or diagrams for films, videotapes, and performances. Nauman drew these in pencil while sitting at his desk; they were like writing. At the same time he made larger drawings in which he tried to solve the execution of a sculpture or imagine how it would work out. Occasionally, Nauman would make a representational drawing of a work after it had been executed, reasoning that ‘when I take distance I can see aspects of the work that did not appear before, but which now seem the most important.’ Nauman approaches his projects systematically, even if he often pushes their inner logic into absurdity.”” [Coosje van Bruggen on Bruce Nauman]

Ed Ruscha Double Standard 1970

“I get my inspiration from just about everything, even things I hate, and they all combine into a Mixmaster of thought and activity. My pictures come out of this Mixmaster, they’re tumbling when they come out, and they can be difficult to grasp and understand. But they are still pictorial to me. I’m making a painting, I’m making a picture, just like Thomas Cole made a picture. I don’t analyze it. When I’m driving a car, I might have the radio tuned to any given channel, but it’s a soundtrack to what I’m seeing out my windshield. I imagine that all paintings could have a soundtrack, and if they did, Cole’s might be religious music. My soundtrack might be something like the overlapping of two unlikely radio stations that produce crackle and aggravating noise….
I always liked the abstractness of movies that had scratches on the film, these little blips and mistakes that occur when a film goes through a projector. In doing these things, I’m kind of stating some of my history of seeing these movies and liking their abstract quality. I don’t care what the movie’s about, I really like the physicalness of the scratches. It’s funny because it means something to me today, but ten years from now, young people are not going to know what this is at all. They’re going to say, “What?” There’s no such thing as scratches on film anymore. It’s going to pass on into history.” [Ed Ruscha in conversation with Tom McCarthy and Elizabeth Kornhauser]

Marcel Duchamp Note autographe pour “Le grand verre” : 1 l’intention, 2 la crainte, 3 le désir, 1912–68

In early 1934 Duchamp began to create faithful facsimiles of a large number of his notes and diagrams for inclusion in what is generally known as the Green Box. ‘I wanted to reproduce them as exactly as possible. So I had all these thoughts lithographed in the same ink which had been used for the originals. To find paper that was exactly the same, I had to ransack the most unlikely nooks and crannies of Paris. Then we had to cut out three hundred copies of each lithograph with the help of zinc patterns that I had cut out on the outlines of the original papers.’ The reference here to using the ‘same ink’ is misleading: the notes were reproduced using a collotype process that used straightforward printing inks that imitated the appearance of the originals. However, Duchamp’s determination to create visually accurate facsimiles of the notes, rather than to produce typeset versions, or photographs of the notes as before, was striking. Perhaps he felt that the full complexity and originality of the ideas could not be conveyed without providing the visual and material qualities of the handwriting and pieces of paper themselves. The British artist Richard Hamilton, who later prepared a typographic edition of a translation of the notes, acknowledged that the originals and their facsimile versions had a special quality that a typeset version of the same words did not offer: ‘They convey the doubts, the rethinks and doubletakes, the flat bewilderment and the moments of assurance; the pauses and reaffirmations are there, the winces, private sniggers and nervous ticks.’ But, of course, this adherence to a painstaking reproduction of the appearance of authenticity was full of paradoxes, given Duchamp’s famous rejection of the importance traditionally associated with the artist’s touch in art, and his invention of the readymade in 1916–17. Consequently, the project of faithfully reproducing the notes through mechanical means should perhaps be seen as a gesture that cleverly undermines, and ultimately negates, the familiar dualism of ‘original’ versus ‘reproduction’. [Jennifer Mundy on Duchamp’s drawings]

Dominant Visual Paradigm

David Reed Color Study #5, 2013

“These paintings mark real time as much as real space: the brush moves, time passes. But even at this most basic level, something interrupts.” [Katy Siegel on David Reed]

“Only the blind, reading its fault lines with their fingertips, will ever understand Junkspace’s histories…. While whole millennia worked in favor of permanence, axialities, relationships and proportion, the program of Junkspace is escalation. Instead of development, it offers entropy. Because it is endless, it always leaks somewhere in Junkspace; in the worst case, monumental ashtrays catch intermittent drops in a gray broth…. When did time stop moving forward, begin to spool in every direction, like a tape spinning out of control? Since the introduction of Real Time™? Change has been divorced from the idea of improvement. There is no progress; like a crab on LSD, culture staggers endlessly sideways…. The average contemporary lunch box is a microcosm of Junkspace: a fervent semantics of health – slabs of eggplant, topped by thick layers of goat cheese – cancelled by a colossal cookie at the bottom…. Junkspace is draining and is drained in return. ” [Rem Koolhaas Junkspace

George Hofmann Little Edo Painting, 2018

“Frontality persisted in painting – in Pop, in Minimalism, in Color Field, even in Conceptual art – the dominance of the picture plane has ruled since Manet, since Cubism, common to all schools. Color difference and scale alone made for spatiality – so it was mostly thru splitting that space could be alluded to; fracturing led to differentiation itself – the breaking-up of space in a shallow field – as subject.
Eventually, the combination of frontality and fracture, the mix of virtual and real, the juxtapositions of subjects, and the speed that characterize media began to underlie, more and more, the feeling of almost all paintings. The reverse, of course, is also true: collage and fracturing are now everywhere in media; Cubism probably made Windows possible.” [George Hofmann on Fractured Space]

Time is an organizing system, a continuity within which the subject may situate him/herself as a unitary individual. Humans used to map themselves temporally within the scheme of history. Within multinational capitalism, it is critical for the subject to be able to cognitively map him/herself within both a physically global system and a socially one. The spatialization of time is a result of the destruction of the temporality of the subject.
In postmodern society where temporal continuity has collapsed, time implodes into a perpetual present. “Time has become a perpetual present and thus spatial. Our relationship to the past is now a spatial one” (Stephanson 1988). Space becomes the crucial key to understanding our place within the cultural logic of Late Capitalism.” [Space Conceptualisation in the Context of Postmodernity: Theorizing Spatial Representation

“Propelling modern painting in the European tradition – abstract painting, in particular – was a move upwards, a throwing-off of the pull of the ground and the restriction of the horizon line. For centuries, painters had used these conventions as fundamental structuring elements of their pictures, inextricable from the order underlying their arrangements of spaces, bodies and things. What had been conventions became constraints, placing what came to be seen as unacceptable limitations on the equivalents artists created of the world or their feelings for it. Everything solid melted into air.” [Sam Cornish on Peter Lanyon

“We seem to be in a state of transition toward one or several other visual paradigms. Linear perspective has been supplemented by other types of vision to the point where we may have to conclude that its status as the dominant visual paradigm is changing….
… many of the aerial views, 3D nose-dives, Google Maps, and surveillance panoramas do not actually portray a stable ground. Instead, they create a supposition that it exists in the first place. Retroactively, this virtual ground creates a perspective of overview and surveillance for a distanced, superior spectator safely floating up in the air. Just as linear perspective established an imaginary stable observer and horizon, so does the perspective from above establish an imaginary floating observer and an imaginary stable ground.
This establishes a new visual normality—a new subjectivity safely folded into surveillance technology and screen-based distraction. One might conclude that this is in fact a radicalization—though not an overcoming—of the paradigm of linear perspective. In it, the former distinction between object and subject is exacerbated and turned into the one-way gaze of superiors onto inferiors, a looking down from high to low. Additionally, the displacement of perspective creates a disembodied and remote-controlled gaze, outsourced to machines and other objects. Gazes already became decisively mobile and mechanized with the invention of photography, but new technologies have enabled the detached observant gaze to become ever more inclusive and all-knowing to the point of becoming massively intrusive—as militaristic as it is pornographic, as intense as extensive, both micro- and macroscopic. [Hito Steyerl In Free Fall: A Thought Experiment on Vertical Perspective]

Robin Greenwood Untitled 2018-19

“Whilst I think “space” in sculpture is important, it remains in my understanding something that is associated with figuration, because it is either directly related to the body, or at the very least has an architectural connection that is referenced outside of the sculpture itself, a part of an inevitable contextualisation. “Space” tends perhaps towards being in some way descriptive, and, as we have often seen, it gets worked in a linear fashion, articulating material from A to B. That might have been enough once, if we had not recently put so much pressure on what space might do or not do in relation to being fully abstract. Spatiality as an end-game now seems limited compared to what is possible with a free-flowing three-dimensionality that can come and go, back and forth, in an open and unlimited way, not reliant on either subject or context.” [Robin Greenwood on Space]

Body Blow to the Primacy of Painting

Marcel Duchamp Network of Stoppages 1914

…[there are] two developments in the history of art that shook painting to its foundations, in both cases almost fatally. One was the invention of photography in the 1830s. Photographs did more than just depict the world better and faster than painting; they also made entire painterly languages defunct, from military painting to academic portraiture. (“From today, painting is dead,” the academic painter Paul Delaroche is purported to have said after seeing a daguerreotype for the first time.) Ever since, painting has in some ways functioned in dialogue with the camera….
… the other body blow to the primacy of painting came in the 1910s, when Marcel Duchamp elevated a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack and an upturned urinal to the status of art. Even more than photography, the ready-made object struck at the heart of painting’s self-justification. Not only did Duchamp recalibrate the terms of artistic success, privileging ideas over visuals. He also eliminated the need for the artist’s hand in a way photography never entirely did….Duchamp’s insurrection removed technical skill as a painterly virtue, and by the 1960s an artist like the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd could confidently say, “It seems painting is finished.”[Jason Farago on painting]

Robert Ryman Bridge 1980

“There is in his language, as in his paintings, a strict adherence of the matter at hand. His conception of painting is reduced to the stark physical components of painting-as-object. The systematic, single-minded, persistent attempt to once and for all empty painting of its idealist trappings gives to Ryman’s work its special place during the 1960s as, again, “just the last paintings which anyone can make.” And that is, as well, their very condition of possibility. Ryman’s paintings, like Buren’s, make visible the most material of painting’s conventions: its frame, its stretcher, its supporting surface, the walls on which it hangs. But more significantly, his paintings… make visible the very mechanical activity of laying on the brushstrokes, as they are manifestly lined up, one after the other, left to right, row after row, until the surface is, simply, painted.” [Douglas Krimp The End of Painting]

Ad Reinhardt Abstract Painting 1963

“A square (neutral, shapeless) canvas, five feet wide, five feet high, as high as a man, as wide as a man’s outstretched arms (not large, not small, sizeless), trisected (no composition), one horizontal form negating one vertical form (formless, no top, no bottom, directionless), three (more or less) dark (lightless) no–contrasting (colorless) colors, brushwork brushed out to remove brushwork, a matte, flat, free–hand, painted surface (glossless, textureless, non–linear, no hard-edge, no soft edge) which does not reflect its surroundings—a pure, abstract, non–objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting—an object that is self–conscious (no unconsciousness) ideal, transcendent, aware of nothing but art (absolutely no anti–art).” [Ad Reinhart on the Black Paintings]

Francis Picabia Catax 1929

“Picabia would reinvent himself yet again in the mid-1930s and into the following decade, creating the so called ‘kitsch’paintings. Derived from photographs of Hollywood stars and images found in ‘girlie mags’of the times, the ‘kitsch’paintings again demonstrate Picabia’s willful disregard of convention in painting. For decades these works were virtually ignored by critics and art theorists, who deemed the works amateurish or insincere. The enormous impact these works had on subsequent generations of artists is only now being considered. 
Throughout his long and varied career, Picabia continually reinterpreted the role and meaning of painting. His endless experimentation with styles and methods of painting defied easy categorization, then as now. Picabia’s richly diverse and confounding oeuvre is marked as well by fluid movement between figurative representation and abstraction, especially in the 1940s. While this caused consternation among critics during his lifetime, it makes Picabia a fresh source of ideas and inspiration for artists working today.” [Francis Picabia @ Michael Werner Gallery]

Work in Progress: Charlotte Posenenske at Dia Beacon – Mike Zahn

Spring 2019

Charlotte Posenenske
From Series DW Vierkahntrohre, 1967
Installation view
Dia Beacon, 2019

From its inception, Dia Beacon has presented itself as deeply engaged with a materialist record of artistic production.  Its site north of New York City on the lush banks of the Hudson River underscores this awareness.  At Dia, the relationship between humans and nature is mediated by its comprehensive making, observed in the museum’s collection as passing from the phenomenology of orthodox minimalism to the semiotics of its anti-form twin.  Yet a tremendous and somewhat unexpected presentation of works by the German artist Charlotte Posenenske destabilizes this reading, and discloses an even more radical proposition.  It’s that in which expression takes an abrupt turn towards the faculty of mimesis.  The subsequent epistemological rupture enacted by this direction is the key premise in understanding Posenenske’s influence.

Fra Angelico
The Annunciation, 1437-1446
The Convent of San Marco, Florence

How may one become mindful of the world?  How is it possible to recognize that which is before one? Things show themselves to one, in their sensuous presence and over the steady unfolding of time, through the channels of language. One may recognize the mystery which is the world as that integrated with one’s sense of it through a grasp of language as such. Language thus resists instrumentalization, and in this way insists foremost that the world truly has the potential to communicate with one. This message may be recognized, and reconfigured in concrete terms, as resemblance, as affinity, as likeness, or as image, with sacred and profane falling where they might.   

Charlotte Posenenske
From Series D Vierkahntrohre, 1967
Installation view
Dia Beacon, 2019

In ‘Doctrine of The Similar’, an essay written in 1933, Walter Benjamin surmised that nature creates similarities, not as imitation, but as examples of the irreducible elements of itself.  In this respect, language is a medium in which there’s found the human ability to follow nature in kind.  As mimesis is grounded in litanies of ritual, compiled in ancestral archives, and asserted through the desire to become Other, it supersedes the play of nature and becomes an eminently historical product, that which constantly changes while social developments themselves ceaselessly do the same.  This last point leads directly to the fundamental manner in which Posenenske’s work functions.  The Vierkahntrohre, fungible series of square tubes of her own manufacture in sheet metal or cardboard, elicit a living awareness of experience comprehended as openly evolving embodiment.  That the artist would have suddenly left sculpture behind for another form of engagement with the world as she perceived it shouldn’t be surprising.  In fact, it would appear to us, as it possibly did for Posenenske, that she was doing no such thing.  Just as with Benjamin, her life, as well as her art and her thought, moved towards extreme positions where language operates as a structure without limits.