Week 7 Lecture, 20th Century


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  • In order to understand the comprehensive aims of the mid-century abstract painters, it’s necessary to ground their work in experience, whether it be the experience we have in front of a work of art, meaning the actual physical experience of standing in front of a painting, as a connoisseur might do, or the experience of beholding a thing, a vast expanse of scenery laid out before you. As we briefly discussed last week, the word sublime is often used to describe the experience of looking at the monumental works of the mid-century American abstract painters, as well as, and even more so, monumental natural scenery. The aspect of the sublime suggests a quality of greatness or vastness so overwhelming in its meaning or physical presence that one may become dumbfounded in the face of it. But, more fundamentally, it implies that what’s most important about this moment is not the internal aesthetic value of the object itself, but the interaction happening at that time between the object and its viewer. The key idea here is “experience,” which governs not only much of the production of art during the second-half of the century, but how this art is received by its audience. What action did the artist perform in the creative process and how does it act upon you as a viewer?
  • By the 1950s, the sublime had been addressed in art and philosophy (in the writings of the enlightenment philosophers, Kant and Burke), and in painting, and it returns again here in abstract painting, particularly in the work of Barnett Newman.
  • What Newman is really privileging is the experience of looking, and of being, standing alone in front of this vast expanse of nothingness, or of everything, without “memory, association, nostalgia, legend, myth.” It’s about giving the beholder a “sense of place” a sense of his/her own “scale”
  • The irony of some mid-century American abstraction is that in their desire to begin again in painting, to “start from scratch, to paint as if painting never existed before” in the words of Newman, they often returned to the original forms, the original stories that had influenced artists for centuries—allusions to creation myths, both Biblical ( Adam and Eve , the first books of Genesis) and pagan (Greek mythology), can be found in some of their works, albeit now they don’t take concrete or representational form. They’ve become abstracted.
  • Gutai “literalized” Rosenberg’s ideas on action painting – art as an “arena for action” and in doing this, their work revived Dadaist and Futurist performative practices and set the stage for Fluxus and Happenings of the 60s
  • Week 7 Lecture, 20th Century

    1. 1. Week 7 American Modernisms continued Japanese and Brazilian Modernism 1950-1955
    2. 2. The Art of Beholding Norman Rockwell, The Connoisseur , 1962 Martin Parr, Small World: Grand Canyon, USA , 1994
    3. 3. 1951 – Barnett Newman: From AbEx to Minimalism <ul><li>Newman reintroduces the idea of the sublime into painting </li></ul><ul><li>Here wearing a monocle, often associated with the old world effete intellectual, suggests the act of close inspection </li></ul><ul><li>The enormity of his canvases frustrate the viewer, constantly forcing him/her to shift his viewing from afar to close up (monocle) </li></ul>There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance. - Barnett Newman Irving Penn, Barnett Newman, New York, 1966
    4. 4. <ul><li>Figure and ground </li></ul><ul><li>Zip added to prepared ground </li></ul><ul><li>An active object (his zip ) </li></ul><ul><li>Vertically divides canvas into two equal parts to reinforce flatness </li></ul><ul><li>Canvas becomes object or symbol itself (ideograph) vs. a field for representation of images </li></ul>Onement: The state of being at one or reconciled Barnett Newman, Onement I , 1948 Q: What was he trying to reconcile? On his birthday, Jan 29, 1948, he prepared a small canvas with a surface of cadmium red dark (a deep mineral that looks like an earth pigment—like Indian red or a sienna) and fixed a piece of tape down the center. Then he quickly smeared a coat of cadmium red light over the tape, to test the color. He looked at the picture for a long time. Indeed he studied it for some 8 months. He had finished questing. - Thomas Hess Mondrian, Composition with Yellow, Red, Black, Blue and Grey , 1920
    5. 5. Man, Heroic and Sublime <ul><li>Reaffirms man’s position in the world (vertical orientation) </li></ul><ul><li>Man as spectator </li></ul><ul><li>At human scale (7’ tall) </li></ul><ul><li>To empty painting of memory, history, myth </li></ul><ul><li>Merleau Ponty’s Phenomenology of Perception (1960s) </li></ul>Newman, Vir Heroicus Sublimis , 1950-51 approx 7’x17’ Caspar David Friedrich, Woman Before the Rising Sun , 1818
    6. 6. A Return to Origin <ul><li>To go back to a state of oneness, to find the thing that existed before “the initial split” </li></ul><ul><li>Though he wants to empty art of specific references, Newman mines traditional origin myths (Biblical and pagan) </li></ul>To “start from scratch, to paint as if painting never existed before” ? -Barnett Newman Michelangelo, Creation of the Sun, Moon, Planets , 1511, Sistine Chapel, Vatican
    7. 7. 1953 – Dada Redux? <ul><li>In early 50s, some artists came to reject the abstract painters of the previous decade, who had become objects of near idolatry </li></ul><ul><li>Robert Rauschenberg also seeking a new beginning? </li></ul><ul><li>To turn the expressive, emotive, and autographic (Abstract Expressionism) into the cool, ironic, and objective (Neo-Dada?) </li></ul><ul><li>Had made series of white paintings and wanted to make a white drawing </li></ul>Allan Grant, Robert Rauschenberg, 1953
    8. 8. 1953 - Dada Redux? <ul><li>“ I want it to be </li></ul><ul><li>something I’ll miss.” </li></ul><ul><li>-de Kooning to Rauschenberg </li></ul>http://www.sfmoma.org/multimedia/videos/24?autoplay=true Robert Rauschenberg, Erased de Kooning Drawing , 1953 Willem de Kooning, Woman and Bicycle , 1952-53
    9. 9. Memory and the Trace <ul><li>De Kooning’s drawing a record of his unique trace (or autographic mark) </li></ul><ul><li>Drawing by erasure is systematic vs. the spontaneously expressive gesture </li></ul><ul><li>Reflects memory and its loss, time and atrophy, origins of art? </li></ul><ul><li>This from the legend of the Corinthian Maid as told in the writings of the ancient Roman historian, Pliny </li></ul><ul><li>The Maid invented portraiture by tracing the shadow of her lover on the wall before his departure </li></ul><ul><li>Her potter father, Butades, filled it with clay and made an object of it </li></ul><ul><li>Origins of art in love, loss, and desire to remember? </li></ul>Joseph-Benoit Suvee, Invention of the Art of Drawing , 1791
    10. 10. <ul><li>Cage a composer teaching at Black Mountain College in North Carolina, interested in Zen Buddhism </li></ul><ul><li>Scroll-like format first of many stylistic and conceptual interactions between Western and Eastern artists </li></ul><ul><li>Rauschenberg a student </li></ul><ul><li>Further showed his ideological distance from AbEx </li></ul><ul><li>Does it make a joke of art as individual expression? </li></ul><ul><li>A Dadaesque gesture? Readymade in painted form? (the manufactured mark) </li></ul>1953 - Dada Redux? Rauschenberg (with John Cage), Automobile Tire Print , 1953 John Cage 4’33” (excerpt from score) 1952 http://www.sfmoma.org/multimedia/videos/23
    11. 11. Black Mountain College <ul><li>Est. in Asheville, NC in 1933 </li></ul><ul><li>Was unorthodox—collaborative learning and holistic teaching </li></ul><ul><li>Thrived in 40s and 50s & very influential on many artists working then </li></ul><ul><li>Teachers included Merce Cunningham, de Kooning, Feininger, Greenberg, Kline </li></ul><ul><li>Other teachers European artists in exile </li></ul><ul><li>Josef and Anni Albers, first Bauhaus artists to teach at Black Mtn following the former’s closure </li></ul><ul><li>Albers taught with ‘analytical rigor’ (techniques of visualization, color and its properties, spatial studies) </li></ul><ul><li>Contructivist approach to art (form, material, vision) contrasted with the Dadaist impulse (chance, play, transgression) </li></ul>Josef Albers, Homage to the Square: Soft Spoken, 1969 … a beautiful teacher and an impossible person…what he taught had to do with the entire visual world…I consider Albers the most important teacher I ever had and I’m sure he considered me one of his poorest students. – Rauschenberg on Albers “ Everything has form, every form has meaning.” - J.Albers http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v =h39bMVlnBpc
    12. 12. 1955 – Modernism in Japan & Brazil <ul><li>Despite challenges, AbEx still gaining momentum, particularly outside U.S. </li></ul><ul><li>The Japanese group Gutai (1954-72) revered Pollock (d. 1956) </li></ul><ul><li>Its leader and financial backer, Jiro Yoshihara wrote about Pollock’s work when it toured Japan in 1951 </li></ul><ul><li>Namuth’s photos of Pollock painting were also influential </li></ul><ul><li>Held multi-media public performances in 1955/56, some outdoors </li></ul><ul><li>Volatile recent past – Pearl Harbor & atomic bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki in 1945 </li></ul><ul><li>Total radicalism in art </li></ul>{Gu}tai tool body Shozo Shimamoto, Hurling Colors , 1956 http:// www.youtube.com/watch?v = QD_dA-Bwnok&feature =related
    13. 13. <ul><li>With our present-day awareness, the arts as we have known them up to now appear to us in general to be fakes fitted out with a tremendous affectation. Let us take leave of these piles of counterfeit objects on the altars, in the palaces, in the salons and the antique shops. </li></ul><ul><li>They are an illusion with which, by human hand and by way of fraud, materials such as paint, pieces of cloth, metals, clay or marble are loaded with false significance, so that, instead of just presenting their own material self, they take on the appearance of something else. Under the cloak of an intellectual aim, the materials have been completely murdered and can no longer speak to us. </li></ul><ul><li>Lock these corpses into their tombs. Gutai art does not change the material: it brings it to life. Gutai art does not falsify the material. In Gutai art the human spirit and the material reach out their hands to each other, even though they are otherwise opposed to each other. The material is not absorbed by the spirit. The spirit does not force the material into submission. If one leaves the material as it is, presenting it just as material, then it starts to tell us something and speaks with a mighty voice. </li></ul><ul><li>Jiro Yoshihara </li></ul>The Gutai Manifesto (1956)
    14. 14. Gutai & Iconoclasm Kazuo Shiraga Challenge to the Mud 1955 Saburo Murakami Passing Through 1956 Atsuko Tanaka, Electric Dress , 1956
    15. 15. Lygia Clark & Neo-Concretism <ul><li>Clark co-founded movement, assoc. with Tropicalia </li></ul><ul><li>Engagement with materials and their properties </li></ul><ul><li>Art should be subjective, organic, and participatory </li></ul><ul><li>Caminhando created by cutting down center </li></ul><ul><li>of a Mobius strip </li></ul><ul><li>Meaning lies in performing the activity </li></ul>Take a pair of scissors, stick one point into the surface and cut continuously along the length of the strip. Take care not to converge with the preexisting cut - which will cause the band to separate into two pieces. When you have gone the circuit of the strip, it's up to you whether to cut to the left or to the right of the cut you've already made. The idea of choice is capital. The unique meaning of this experience is in the act of doing it. The work is your act alone. To the extent that you cut the strip, it refines and redoubles itself into interlacings. At the end the path is so narrow that you can't open it further. It's the end of the trail…There is only one type of duration: the act. The act is that which produces the Caminhando . Nothing exists before and nothing afterwards . -Clark Clark, Caminhando (Walking) , 1966