Obvious Creative Expenditure

Wade Guyton Untitled 2007

“In his [Scott Rothkopf ] essay “Modern Pictures,” which was included in the catalogue accompanying the artist’s 2005 exhibition, Color, Power, & Style, at the Kunstverein in Hamburg, Rothkopf wrote of Guyton: “So suspicious was he of any kind of obvious creative expenditure that even that most minimal of gestures inspired a near existential crisis. ‘Why am I making this drawing,’ he recalls asking himself. ‘It seemed dumb to be sitting here drawing, but it didn’t seem dumb enough. If I was going to do something that required no skill, it shouldn’t require my labor.’ And soon thereafter it didn’t.” Making art without labor is the perfect response to those philistines who proclaim, “Even my kid could do this,” and to those aesthetic theorists who believe that the progress of art is marked by the steps artists take towards achieving the utopian condition of a workerless society.” [John Yau on Wade Guyton]

“Although some of his works question the structure and language of painting, in the traditional sense of the word, they still radically modify codes and modes of production. Guyton’s paintings are realized by putting canvases several times through huge inkjet printers to print motifs and letterings. Errors, drips, and misprints are part of the general composition programme and ensure the result’s unicity: “The first works I made with the computer were like writing, replacing the pen with a keyboard. Instead of drawing an X I decided to type it…””
To understand my work differently I started photographing it in the studio and using these images to produce paintings. And it is perfectly logical to use a photographic image with the tools I’m using. The printers I use were designed to replace darkroom photography; a kind of hostile business advancement masked as technological progress and image improvement.”
The sudden upsurge of biographical elements drawn from the reality of his daily practice, disrupts the iconography usually deployed by this artist and opens new perspectives. Through a mise en abîme of his own work, Wade Guyton keeps questioning the entire chain of production and representation as well as the future of art as an image.” [Wade Guyton Consortium Installation 2016]

Wade Guyton Untitled 2006

There is no smell of turpentine, no haphazard array of easels, no cans of paint or stacks of used canvases. In fact, there are none of the things one would expect in a painter’s studio. Instead all the creating is executed on computer screens and printers.
“I never really enjoyed drawing or art classes,” said Mr. Guyton unapologetically as he described growing up in a small town in Tennessee. “I would prefer to sit in front of the TV or play video games.” [Carol Vogel on Wade Guyton]

Substance Will Be Untouched

Paul Corio Odetta Gallery Installation 2017

“… the clip shows Bowie singing to himself from three simultaneous angles, with layering techniques tripling his image; not only has Bowie’s hero been cloned, he has above all become an image that can be reproduced, multiplied, and copied, a riff that travels effortlessly through commercials for almost anything, a fetish that packages Bowie’s glamorous and unfazed post-gender look as product. Bowie’s hero is no longer a larger-than-life human being carrying out exemplary and sensational exploits, and he is not even an icon, but a shiny product endowed with post-human beauty: an image and nothing but an image.
This hero’s immortality no longer originates in the strength to survive all possible ordeals, but from its ability to be xeroxed, recycled, and reincarnated. Destruction will alter its form and appearance, yet its substance will be untouched. The immortality of the thing is its finitude, not its eternity.” [Hito Steyerl The Wretched of the Screen]

Wade Guyton at Chantal Crouse 2014

“Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be. This unique existence of the work of art determined the history to which it was subject throughout the time of its existence. This includes the changes which it may have suffered in physical condition over the years as well as the various changes in its ownership. The traces of the first can be revealed only by chemical or physical analyses which it is impossible to perform on a reproduction; changes of ownership are subject to a tradition which must be traced from the situation of the original.” [Walter Benjamin The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproduction]

Michael Zahn Installation Greenspon 2017

“We usually think of memory in just this way, as if a recorder planted in our head could be rewound and replayed; however, memory often stores perceptual information in verbal forms, not images. We remember a “light blue Rambler,” and yet because we have translated it in our minds into a verbal construct, we would find it difficult to retranslate the memory into an image, re-creating exactly the right shade of blue. Autobiographical memory is a recollection of events or episodes, which we remember with great detail. What’s stored in that memory isn’t the actual events, but how those events made sense to us and fit into our experience….”
“Why do you take photographs so constantly, so obsessively? Why do you collect other people’s photographs? Why do you scavenge in secondhand shops and buy old albums of other people’s pasts? So that I’ll see what I’ve seen.”” [David Shields Reality Hunger]

Christopher Wool at the Venice Central Pavilion 2011

“Modern and contemporary art are, by contrast, products of the long history of depsychologization that many critics—for example, Ortega y Gasset—experienced as a history of dehumanization. Avant-garde and post-avant-garde artists wanted their art to be not realist but real—as real as all the other processes taking place in the world. The artwork was understood as being a thing among other things—like a tree or a car. This did not mean that avant-garde artists did not want to change the world—on the contrary, they radicalized this desire. But they did not appeal to the psyche of the reader, listener, or spectator to achieve this goal. Rather, they understood art as a specific kind of technology that was able to change the world by technical means. In fact, the avant-garde tried to turn art spectators into inhabitants of the artwork—so that by accommodating themselves to the new conditions of their environment, these spectators would change their sensibilities and attitudes. Speaking in Marxist terms: art can thus be seen as either part of the superstructure, or part of the material base. In other words, art can be understood as either ideology or technology. The radical artistic avant-gardes pursued the second, technological way of world transformation.” [Boris Groys on the New Realism]

Apocalypse, or, the Highest Stage of Modernism* – Mike Zahn

Spring 2019

“Modernism imagined itself to be beyond eschatology, those primitive bedtime stories about the end of the world, the last judgment, or some final act that would settle things as they ultimately should be. Modernism, however, in imagining that it could overcome its Abrahamic heritage, preserved it. Even as it claimed to surrender the idea of a savior, sent from heaven to redeem a fallen world, it relocated this figure again and again in this or that individual, class, or grouping—the enlightened monarch, the universal proletariat, the creative entrepreneur. The “revolutionary subject” is just another messiah born without original sin, in whose name the sinful and the fallen pursue their earthly redemption. In the absence of the savior, the image of the end of the world returns and the apocalypse reigns. In this light, the actual legacy of modernism is not a horizon of worker-led emancipation but a biosphere on the brink of extinction, self-destructive societies, and a world in ruins. This results from colonialism—the blind spot of modernity—which is not just a war machine designed to extract profit as quickly as possible, regardless of the consequences, but also an apparatus that employs cultural intervention and images of salvation and progress to obliterate the disruptive effects of the trauma it generates.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“As the apocalypse has become central to the neoliberal imaginary, it is clear that the current relations of domination—and a corresponding redemptive horizon of emancipation—are no longer legible. What we are witnessing are intolerable forms of dependency. Instead of relationships of domination, there is systemic competition and destruction leading to self-destruction, even suicide. We are seeing the outcomes of displacement, dispossession, military and colonial occupation, the eradication of identity, and the cancellation and destruction of a world of moral belonging.”

“In the late 1980s, Gilles Deleuze noted that political cinema was no longer constituted on the basis of the possibility of revolution (like classical cinema), but on the intolerable. The intolerable had become the unknown, what the media and hegemonic narratives were obscuring. This is why in various texts Deleuze wrote, “The people are missing”—meaning that the proletariat or a unified people would no longer seek to conquer power, thus situating counter-information as a political task. Along with the third-world guerrillero, the working class and the main protagonists of political struggle and of the militant image of the twentieth century had disappeared. As Félix Guattari put it, militantism came to be impregnated by a rancid church smell that elicited a legitimate gesture of rejection. A new form of emancipation of the people of the third world had been foregrounded in the 1970s, leading to the replacement of politics by a new ethics of intervention. Third worldism or internationalism had been a universal cause giving a name to a political wrong. For the first time, the “wretched of the earth” emerged for a specifically historic period as a new figuration of “the people” in the political sense: the colonized were discursively transformed into political figures. Yet, a new ethical humanism (or humanitarianism) replaced revolutionary enthusiasm and political sympathy with pity and moral indignation, transforming them into political emotions within the discourse of emergency. This led to new figures of alterity in the 1980s and ’90s: the “suffering other” who needs to be rescued and the postcolonial “subaltern” demanding restitution, presupposing that visibility within a multicultural social fabric would lead to emancipation.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“In the 1990s, the panorama of resistance opposed neoliberal reforms and fought for fair trade, sustainable development, human rights, and corporate accountability; the anti-globalization movement conceived itself as a social base to criticize corporate capitalism, globalization, and the fact that multinational corporations had acquired more and more unregulated political power exercised through trade agreements and deregulated financial markets. Anticapitalist politics in this context was characterized by interdisciplinarity, the adoption of an array of countercultural positions, and provisional political associations with the goal of creating autonomous zones, albeit symbolically. Counter- informative, didactic, and symbolic interventions against capitalism in the public sphere prevailed. In parallel, minorities continued to claim visibility and accountability under the depoliticized frame of human rights, as well as demanding inclusion within globalized democracy.”

“But once neoliberal policies of deregulation, austerity, free markets, and privatization resulted in the decline of living standards and the loss of jobs, pensions, and the safety net that the state and society used to provide, social Darwinism became the rule. One of the implications of this is that the colonial division of the first and third world as well as the global —“postcolonial”— distinction between North/South and East/West has become irrelevant, as a new arrangement of the world is now visible: modernized pockets of privilege and cultural sophistication thrive and coexist with enclaves inhabited by “redundant populations.” This sector of the population has differential access—or no access at all—to education, health services, debt, and jobs, and is governed by various forms of state control that produce differential degrees of exclusion, dispossession, and coercion. These are communities whose commons and sustainable autonomous forms of life are being destroyed in the name of their well-being and development; yet, their destruction is de facto sustaining the lives of people living in modernized privileged enclaves. I am thinking of the destruction of entire communities and their lands in the state of Michoacán, Mexico since the 1960s to provide Mexico City with much-needed water. Or of shale gas extraction in Québec in order to provide gas for home use.”

“It is clear that under capitalist absolutism it is more profitable to destroy lives and lands, rendering sectors of the population redundant, than to incorporate them into the system as consumers or exploited workers. In this panorama, the only categories that remain are winners and losers, exploiters and exploited, included and excluded. Neoliberal common sense preaches that either you are strong and smart, or you deserve your misery.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“In spite of the fact that the nineteenth-century political framework had been superseded by new forms of capitalist absolutism, myths like critique (or the principle that there can be an outside that can oppose the state of things, sublating it in the interest of something better), revolution, and democracy inflamed the uprisings of the early twenty-first century (Argentina in 2000, Mexico in 2006, and between 2011 and 2012 Occupy Wall Street, the Arab Spring, the Indignados in Spain, Syriza in Greece, etc.). These mobilizations fought against austerity measures and for better democracies, and demanded that states grant citizens rights. By now, however, it has become clear that struggles have lost their social base and their capacity for medium- or long-term political organizing. Moreover, the values underlying mobilization are increasingly neoliberal: they are focused on individual problems, private benefit, and consumer choices. Jodi Dean explains how the logic of neoliberalism itself has made collectivity undesirable, because in principle collectivity opposes individual responsibility and freedom, which are the main tenets of neoliberalism. Mobilizations become focused on the individual, and mass demonstrations become occasions for temporary coalitions, for recognizing and comforting each other, for finding transient affinities and concerns, for sharing indignation. Mass mobilizations may open up toward political subjectivity but they are not enough to ground or sustain it.”

Josh Smith
Emo Jungle (Detail), 2019
Installation View
David Zwirner Gallery

“Uprisings are about collective emotions, social disorder, acts of insurrection in which antagonism or disagreement is expressed. The state either tolerates or represses these voices. The problem is that the aspiration of politics through social mobilization has become centered around achieving democracy, denying democracy’s own limits and mechanics of exclusion, and the fact that in our current historical moment it serves to validate capitalist absolutism. For many thinkers, this is the reason why we live in a “post-political” era. Post-politics also implies the disavowal of the fundamental antagonism conditioning politics, as equality has come to mean inclusion, respect, and entitlement. What we see proliferate are struggles directing action at small or private battles for the defense of rights, territory, or policy proposals. “Post-politics” therefore means consensual politics, the end of ideology, the neoliberal withering away of the state (which is at the same time strengthened strategically according to the interests of global capital), and the financialization of the economy.”

“In other words, the Promethean frame of worker-led revolutionary resistance has been superseded by capitalist absolutism expressed as the imposition of neoliberal politics: centered on democracy, it cannot be uncoupled from free-market logic, which has become common sense. The unprecedented forms of state, social, and corporate violence brought about by capitalist absolutism are less tied to local than to abstract global processes, and yet resistance remains localized, isolated, ineffective. What does insurrection look like in this panorama?”

*Excerpted from Self-Destruction as Insurrection, or, How to Lift The Earth Above All That Has Died. Irmgard Emmelhainz. e-flux Journal #87, 2017. https://www.e-flux.com/journal/87/169041/self- destruction-as-insurrection-or-how-to-lift-the-earth- above-all-that-has-died/

Source in Nature

Brice Marden. Study for the Muses Hydra Version 1991–95

“For Marden, despite the similarities in his drawing and painting, drawing is about the first experience. In a recent interview he said: “A painting is about refinement of image. . . . Drawing is more fugitive. It’s like little scribbles. . . . These [drawings] are not pictures of specific places or things . . . they’re about particular places and inspirations. . . . For me, drawing is about the state that the person would be in who’s standing in the drawing looking at the mountain, it’s about sensing that. I find that interesting about the Chinese . . . paintings and drawings evolved in a kind of inspired state. . . . There’s usually somebody in the picture undergoing some sort of experience, or on a pilgrimage towards an experience. They depict it, I’m depicting it in another way.”
“He manipulates both the inherited and imposed grids, bringing them together. The grid is not about the language, nor is it about writing or trying to make a language; rather, Marden returns the grid to calligraphy and calligraphy constantly to its source in nature, and round about again, in a constant discourse between nature and culture. For Marden, “If the form is resolved, it’s beautiful. . . . Maybe beauty is too easy. It doesn’t deal with . . . political issues or social issues. But an issue that it does deal with is harmony.”” [Barbara Rose on Drawing]

Chris Martin Installation at Anton Kern 2018

“When I was a young painter, there was a severe orthodoxy about painting, about what one could and could not do. It was very hard to find any room in that world. To be new or on the track it was about minimalism. I made very severe paintings in the 1970s. In the 1980s, things broke apart, and people like Schnabel and Sigmar Polke, who is a hero of mine, opened up great worlds.
“Initially, it was only in my drawings that I let myself explore different things. I have a huge amount of work on paper. On paper you are not so worried if it’s good enough. Friends would say my drawings were ahead of my paintings. I came to see that they had more action and energy. I gradually let myself treat paintings the way I treated drawings. One way to do that was to start a lot more paintings.” [Chris Martin in Conversation With Jennifer Samet]

Amy Sillman SK42 2017

“I started thinking, “What if I draw first and print over it?” So I made silk screens of my drawings. I could add a drawing that was made with a machine or digitally to a drawing that was made by hand. What I love is that you can’t tell how they’re made. For some reason, fooling the eye really excites me. Then it got more and more baroque. I started to make these really complicated ones that were totally abstract. I just wanted to see if I could make it literally impossible for someone to tell how it was made, and what was underneath.
I’m in this process of trying to create a free space. Like an open field, where figure and ground are in very ambivalent, complex relationships. On top of that, I also wanted to see if I could try to blurt something out, or make something completely immediate, that ends up fitting perfectly. More recently, I started thinking about shape. I’ve never read a book on shape. I’ve read books on gesture; I’ve read tons of books on color, surface, field, ground, representation, abstraction. But I’ve never read a book on what a shape is. I like shapes. So I was making all of these round ones. And then I thought, “I guess they’re people.”” [Amy Sillman in conversation with Matt Mullen]

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).