The Objective Pluralist Structure of Post-history

Frank Stella Gobba, zoppa e collotorto (Hunchback Wryneck Hobbler) 1985

In my own speculations about the fate which movement abstraction has suffered in our own day, two specific developments seem to nominate themselves as the cause orcauses of our current impasse. The larger and more general cause is the fate of paint- ing itself—its fate as a factor in cultural life generally as well as in the life of art. If we look back on two recent developments—the series of exhibitions at the Museum of Modern Art called “MOMA z000” and the transformation of the Tate Gallery in London into two really bizarre institutions — Tate Britain and Tate Modern — we are obliged to recognize two things: (1) that on both sides of the Atlantic, abstract art has been marginalized by the institutions that art has been marginalized by the institutions that were formerly in the vanguard of its public support and presentation, and (2) that painting itself is well on its way to being similarly marginalized.
…this fateful shift of priorities away from the aesthetics of painting, both abstract and representational, in favor of a political, sexual, and sociological interest in art-making activities, two historical developments — one within the realm of art itself, the other in the larger arena of intellectual and cultural life — appear to have shaped the situation in which we find our-selves. In the art world, the emergence of the Minimalist movement, which has been so central in determining the fate of abstract art since the 1960s, went so far in diminishing the aesthetic scope and resources of abstraction that it may in some respects be said to have marked a terminal point in its aesthetic development. At the same time, in the larger arena of cultural life, the fallout from the 196os counterculture left all prior distinctions between high art and pop culture more or less stripped of their authority. It was hardly a coincidence that Minimalism and Pop Art made their respective debuts on the American art scene at the very same moment. However they may have differed in other respects, they were alike insofar as each constituted a programmatic assault not only on the Abstract Expressionism of the New York School —their initial target—but also on the entire pictorial tradition of which the New York School was seen to be a culmination. [Hilton Kramer on Abstract Painting]

“The ’70s is a fascinating period whose art history is as yet uncharted, but it is certainly, as I see it, the first full decade of posthistorical art. It was marked by the fact that no single movement was its key, as Abstract Expressionism was for the ’50s, Pop art for the ’60s—and, delusionally, neo-Expressionism for the ’80s. And so it is easy to write it off as a decade in which nothing happened, when in fact it was a decade in which what happened was everything. It was a golden age that seemed to those who lived through it to be anything but golden. And my sense is that what gave it that character was the objective pluralist structure of posthistory: it was no longer necessary to pursue the material truth of art. Or, rather, a lot of artists continued to accept the materialist ideal, but also felt that that ideal no longer responded to anything they were interested in, and they perused what they were interested in whether it was “really” art or not. That gave them an immense freedom, and since the gallery structure, with marginal exceptions, had no place for anything except what was “really” art, they had no special expectation anyway of fame or fortune. They could live fairly cheaply, and do what they did for a small circle of like-minded persons. A lot of the cultural politics of the time in any case turned artists away from the institutions of the art world toward other, less commercial venues.
Another kind of politics began to ascend in that period, its best example a certain kind of feminism, one that calls in question the sort of painting that culminated, on Greenberg’s theory, in materialist abstraction. The question began to be raised as to whether such art was at all the appropriate vehicle for feminine creativity, whether, in fact, it was not a form of false consciousness for women to seek to excel in something that was possibly just a form of expression created by males as the instrument of a male ethos. And analogous arguments sprang up through which various excluded minorities sought to express themselves in terms they felt corresponded to their condition, or, alternately, to their identities. I don’t say this was altogether explicit in the ’70s, but the tendencies emerged then, and crystallized, at least in New York, in the “Decade Show” in 1990 at the New Museum, the Studio Museum in Harlem, and the Museum of Contemporary Hispanic Art—a show that marginalized (guess what?) easel painting. The reasons, certainly, were different from those that prevailed in Berlin in 1920 or in Moscow in 1921 or in Mexico in 1942. But it has been the mark of a certain form of politicized art in this century to villainize easel painting, and the charge that such art is a Eurocentric white-male expression is only the latest form the politics has taken.” [Arthur C. Danto on Art After the End of Art]

Pablo Picasso Le Matador 1970

“More compelling, because more perverse, is the idea of tackling the problem with what appears to be the least suitable vehicle available, painting. It is perfect camouflage, and it must be remembered that Picasso considered Cubism and camouflage to be one and the same, a device of misrepresentation, a deconstructive tool designed to undermine the certainty of appearances. The appropriation of painting as a subversive method allows one to place critical esthetic activity at the center of the marketplace, where it can cause the most trouble. For as too many Conceptual artists discovered, art made on the peripheries of the market remains marginal. To reopen debate, get people thinking, one must be there, and one must be heard. One of the most important of Duchamp’s lessons was that the artist who wishes to create a critical disturbance in the calm waters of acceptable, unthinking taste, must act in as perverse a way as possible, even to the point of seeming to endanger his or her own position. And it seems at this point, when there is a growing lack of faith in the ability of artists to continue as anything more than plagiaristic stylists, that a recognition of this state of affairs can only be adequately expressed through the medium that requires the greatest amount of faith.” [Thomas Lawson Last Exit Painting]

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