Unreal Nature

August 19, 2014

No Place Left to Go

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:44 am

… he clowned out of a historical instinct that he himself was half unconscious of.

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of Giorgio de Chirico‘ (1947) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… At the beginning of his career Chirico was struck by the German Swiss painter Böcklin, whose work is one of the most consummate expressions of all that we now dislike about the latter half of the nineteenth century; however, I cannot believe there was not some perversity, half-concealed from himself, some desire to shock his peers and betters, in this admiration of Chirico’s — a desire that sprang perhaps from his despair of equaling the profound matter-of-factness of the impressionists and of Cézanne and Matisse. Like many a twentieth-century Italian, with the glorious past behind him and the glorious present elsewhere — in Paris, London, Berlin — he clowned out of a historical instinct that he himself was half unconscious of.

The Red Tower, 1913 [image from WikiArt]

… The early work [of Chirico] parodies the perspective of the Quattrocentist masters and the means in general by which the Renaissance attained the illusion of the third dimension; and because it parodies, it destroys. From his tangential position Chirico, by an exaggeration that amounted to ridicule, helped the cubists exile deep space and volume from painting. See only how completely schematic and secondhand is his delineation of depth, how flat all surfaces in these early pictures, how the shading and modeling are applied in undifferentiated patches, like a decorative convention, and how light is handled as if in a shadow box.

Mystery and Melancholy of a Street, 1914 [image from WikiArt]

Having performed this parody, which was in the nature of a final summing up and relegation of all the problems that had occupied Western painting between Giotto and Courbet, Chirico had no place left to go. Failing or unwilling to understand either what he had done or the character of painting since Manet, he could find nothing to replace that remnant of the Renaissance which he had destroyed.

Happiness of Returning, 1915 [image from WikiArt]

[ ... ]

… negligible as this stuff [Chiroco's later work] is at its best and symptomatic as it may be of a real degeneration and of an impotence to react cogently to modern life, still it has some reality as a gloss on the history of painting, an illustrated lecture on the ABCs of baroque painting. Irrelevant as painting inside painting, it is sheer cultural evidence, a kind of funeral oration more affecting than anything that could be put into words.




August 18, 2014

Disrupting Their Day

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:42 am

This is from Defining Moments in Art: Over a Century of the Artists, Exhibitions, People, Artworks, and Events that Rocked the World, general editor Mike Evans. The book features items sequentially, starting in 1863 and ending in 2008. I am selecting items from back-to-front (starting in 2007) because I enjoy going from recent to distant more than the reverse:

Key Artist Richard Long wins Turner prize; Date 1989; Why It’s Key One of the best known British Land artists

… Long is the forefather of the Green art movement that is now turning white-box galleries into places to worship the great outdoors.

by Richard Long

Key Artist Richard Serra, controversial Tilted Arc scrapped; Date 1989; Why It’s Key Important Minimalist sculptor noted for his large-scale sheet metal constructions.

… Inconvenience was part of Serra’s aesthetic mission. He expressed his objective for Tilted Arc as, “The viewer becomes aware of himself and of his movement through the plaza … Contraction and expansion of the sculpture result from the viewer’s movement. Step by step the perception not only of the sculpture but of the entire environment changes.” But the people who worked in Federal Plaza were frustrated by being forced to act as “viewers” of an object disrupting their day and making it hard to find a spot to eat lunch. Locals also accused the sculpture of attracting graffiti and rats, and providing a tempting site for terrorist activity.

In 1989, after a prolonged public hearing and bitter artistic dispute, Tilted Arc was cut into three pieces, removed from Federal Plaza, and carted off to a scrap-metal yard.

Richard Serra, Curved Arc

Key Artist Allan McCollum, Perfect Vehicles series; Date 1987; Why It’s Key Interrogates the status of the artwork in the age of mass production

… in the 9180s McCollum turned to Appropriationism and sought in his work to question the status and meaning of the art piece, demythologizing it, examining its uniqueness in a world constituted in mass production, and its value in the mercantile art market.

Those themes are particularly well exemplified in his famous Perfect Vehicles series, started in 1985. the Perfect Vehicles pieces are sculptures which all bear the exact same form — that of traditional Chinese jars — but they differ in size and color. Those vehicles can thus measure from thirty centimeters to over two meters, and they are all painted in a uniform everyday acrylic color — red, blue, black, or yellow for instance.

Allan McCollum, Perfect Vehicles




August 17, 2014

No More than This

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… That which indefinitely trembles at the border of the sketch, the suspended whiteness of the page or the canvas …

Continuing through the essay ‘The Sublime Offering’ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… The sublime is not “greater than” the beautiful, it is not more elevated [élevé], but in turn, it is, if I dare put it this way, more removed [enlevé], in the sense that it is itself the unlimited removal of the beautiful.

What gets removed and carried away is all form as such. In the manifestation of a world or in the composition of a work, form carries itself away or removes itself, that is, at once traces itself and unborders itself, limits itself and unlimits itself (which is nothing other than the most strict logic of the limit).

… the imagination can still feel its limit, its powerlessness, its incommensurability with relation to the totality of the unlimited.

… The sublime is the self-overflowing of the imagination. … [I]t gains access to something, reaches or touches upon something (or it is reached or touched by something): union, precisely, the “Idea” of the union of the unlimited, which borders upon and unborders the limit.

What operates this union? The imagination itself. At the limit, it gains access to itself as in its speculative self-presentation. But here, the reverse is the case: that “part” of itself that it touches is its limit, or it touches itself as limit.

… The sublime totality does not respond to a schema of the Whole, but rather, if one can put it this way, to the whole of the schematism: that is, to the incessant beating with which the trace of the skema affects itself, the carrying away of the figure against which the carrying away of unlimitedness does not cease to do battle, this tiny, infinite pulsation, this tiny, infinite rhythmic burst that produces itself continuously in the trace of the least contour and through which the limit itself presents itself, and on the limit, the magnitudo, the absolute of greatness in which all greatness (or quantity) — is traced, in which all imagination both imagines and — on the same limit, in the same beating — fails to imagine. That which indefinitely trembles at the border of the sketch, the suspended whiteness of the page or the canvas: the experience of the sublime demands no more than this.

To be continued. My most recent previous post from Nancy’s essay is here.




August 16, 2014

And So Doth He

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:41 am

… Shall we understand another on his terms or on ours?

This is from the essay ‘Ripeness is All’ found in The Collected Essays of J.V. Cunningham (1976):

I am concerned here with understanding precisely what Shakespeare meant. It is true that “when we read Shakespeare’s plays,” as one scholar says, “we are always meeting our own experiences and are constantly surprised by some phrase which expresses what we thought to be our own secret or our own discovery.” But the danger is that the meaning we find may really be our own secret, our own discovery, rather than Shakespeare’s, and the more precious and beguiling for being our own. The danger I have in mind can be illustrated by our attitude toward one of the most famous Shakespearean phrases, “Ripeness is all.”

… “After repeated disaster,” [one recent critic] says of Gloucester in King Lear:

he can assent, “And that’s true too,” to Edgar’s “Ripeness is all.” For man may ripen into fulness of being, which means, among other things, that one part of him does not rule all the rest and that one moment’s mood does not close off all the perspectives available to him.

In this way we discover in Shakespeare’s phrase the secret morality of our own times. It is a meaning I can enter into quite as deeply as anyone, but it is not what Shakespeare meant.

… In Thomas Wilson’s Art of Rhetoric (1560) we read:

Among fruit we see some apples are soon ripe and fall from the tree in the midst of summer; other be still green and tarry till winter, and hereupon are commonly called winter fruit: even so it is with man, some die young, some die old, and some die in their middle age.

Shakespeare has Richard in Richard II comment on the death of John of Gaunt:

The ripest fruit first falls, and so doth he:
His time is spent

That is, as fruit falls in the order of ripeness, so a man dies when his time is spent, at his due moment in the cosmic process. Again, Touchstone’s dry summary of life and time in As You Like It:

And so, from hour to hour, we ripe and ripe,
And then, from hour to hour, we rot and rot

does not mean that we ripen to maturity and then decline, but that we ripen toward death, and then quite simply and with no metaphors rot.

… the [ripeness is all] metaphor shifts our point of view from a man’s attitude toward death, from the “readiness” of Hamlet and the “Men must endure” of the first part of Edgar’s speech, to the absoluteness of the external process of Providence on which the attitude depends.

But this is not what the phrase means to the uninstructed modern reader, and this poses a problem. The modern meaning is one that is dear to us and one that is rich and important in itself. It would be natural to ask, Need we give it up? I see no reason why we should give up the meaning: maturity of experience is certainly a good, and the phrase in a modern context is well enough fitted to convey this meaning. But it is our phrase now, and not Shakespeare’s, and we should accept the responsibility for it. The difference in meaning is unmistakable: ours looks toward life and his toward death; ours finds its locus in modern psychology and his in Christian theology. If we are secure in our own feelings we will accept our own meanings as ours, and if we have any respect for the great we will penetrate and embrace Shakespeare’s meaning as his. For our purpose in the study of literature, and particularly in the historical interpretation of texts, is not in the ordinary sense to further the understanding of ourselves. It is rather to enable us to see how we could think and feel otherwise than as we do. It is to erect a larger context of experience within which we may define and understand our own by attending to the disparity between it and the experience of others.

In fact, the problem that is here raised with respect to literature is really the problem of any human relationship: Shall we understand another on his terms or on ours? It is the problem of affection and truth, of appreciation and scholarship. Shakespeare has always been an object of affection and an object of study. Now, it is common experience that affection begins in misunderstanding. We see our own meanings in what we love and we misconstrue for our own purposes. But life will not leave us there, and not only because of external pressures. What concerns us is naturally an object of study. We sit across the room and trace the lineaments of experience on the face of concern, and we find it is not what we thought it was. We come to see that what Shakespeare is saying is not what we thought he was saying, and we come finally to appreciate it for what it is. Where before we had constructed the fact from our feeling, we now construct our feeling from the fact. The end of affection and concern is accuracy and truth, with an alteration but no diminution of feeling.

My previous post from Cunningham’s book is here.




August 15, 2014

Singing with a Rusty Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… There’s something about that guy who sings alone.

This is taken from ‘A Conversation with Ed Ruscha’ by Trina Mitchum (1979) found in Leave Any Information at the Signal: Writings, Interviews, Bits, Pages by Ed Ruscha; edited by Alexandra Schwartz (2002):

[ ... ]

Trina Mitchum: Who is your favorite artist?

Ed Ruscha: Hieronymus Bosch. He hasn’t had that much influence on my work, either.

Hieronymus Bosch, The Temptation of St. Anthony (detail) [image from WikiArt]

TM: Has anyone?

ER: Munroe Leaf is somebody who has influenced me. He was a cartoonist who made big square books for kindergarteners and first graders. The title would be something like Good Morning and you’d open the book up and there would be little stick figures inside going through their little routines of teeth brushing and so forth. Absolutely dry, simple stuff. Kids brushing their teeth, feeding their dog.

TM: There is something wonderful about simple, commonplace things.

ER: Yes. There’s something so direct about simplicity. There’s a lot of conviction in the misspelled grocery sign. It’s go heart, but then there might be a grammatical mistake. It’s like the difference between a musician who goes to a recording studio and does a very polished professional recording job and the guy who is down in the subway singing with a rusty voice. There’s something about that guy who sings alone.




August 14, 2014

The Day After Easter

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:46 am

… “Jim, do you think that the end of the world will come at nighttime?” and Jim replies simply, “No, at dawn.”

This is from the chapter ‘Nicholas Ray’s Rebel without a Cause‘ in Narration in Light: Studies in Cinematic Point of View by George M. Wilson (1986):

Rebel without a Cause seems to operate as a fundamentally reassuring contemporary morality play. The characters, parents and children, act out the semiofficial version of “the youth issue” and, in the course of the plot, come to discover an ideologically acceptable resolution of the conflict.

… of all the films discussed in this book, none better illustrates the dangers of a premature attempt to read a film as symptomatic of an extracinematic “ideology” that is thought of as determining its form and content.


[ ... ]

… The spiritual entombment of mass urban society impels the young to seek some release. Yet this release is dangerous and opens more easily upon a prospect of the void. A glimpse of that prospect impels them back into the safety of the baffled herd. Like their parents, they retreat into the shelter of an enclosure without a view of any kind. In Rebel, with this ultra-Hobbesian outlook, these are the fundamental processes that underlie both social cohesion and its resulting tensions. They are presented as processes of nature that are fixed and inexorable in their operation. Their emblem in the film is “the ancient rhythm of the stars.”

… The condensed duration of the film’s events makes sense as the product of a use of time that is as schematic as the use of space. The day we watch is the day after Easter, and it carries the connotation that something is being re-created and renewed. But that something is not the harbinger of a hopeful rebirth or resurrection. Rather, the predominant significance of the restricted duration lies in a metaphorical association of the domesticating revolution that subdues the rebel with the silent, unshakable revolution of the earth in its orbit. The human changes in the narrative transpire with the same mechanistic regularity and irresistibility with which the day passes, and these changes renew what the film posits as the fundamental forms of human social life. Related to this is the “temporal” image of the smallness of such a transformation within the history of an individual’s life. In his early discussion with the juvenile officer, Jim asserts that the one thing he most wants not to be is like his own pathetic father. On the other side, his father repeatedly claims that he was once a young man like Jim with the same troubles and that “in ten years time” these troubles will be as nothing to him.


… Despite Jim’s blindness to the essence of what is happening to him, and despite the grim resolution of the series of events, neither he nor the other kids is treated with contempt or hostility. On the contrary, the film is, on balance, sympathetic to their youthful sensitivity, vitality, and emotional honesty.

… In the last shot of the film, the camera cranes slowly up to show the dawn breaking over the observatory. … Plato asks, “Jim, do you think that the end of the world will come at nighttime?” and Jim replies simply, “No, at dawn.”

My most recent previous post from Wilson’s book is here.




August 13, 2014

Some Unsatisfied Demand

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… For a personal symbolism in the religious field to be both creative and successful it would seem to have to reflect some unsatisfied demand in the power structure.

This is from Symbols: Public and Private by Raymond Firth (1973):

… As a symbolic instrument, a person may use his own body as a means of communication, to indicate by bodily action or reference some more abstract idea. When a person kneels in prayer he is symbolizing his humility before what he conceives as a higher personality, a god; when he says to someone else ‘I bow to your opinion,’ he symbolizes his deference to authority. These are simple instances, but there are many more subtle ways of using one’s body to express a social relationship. As Mauss put it: ‘The body is the first and most natural instrument of man.’

[ ... ]

… symbols may be regarded as means whereby the individuals simply express their own experiences or feelings and attempt to communicate these by comprehensive images to other people. Any question about the validity of the symbols then relates to the degree to which they are thought to reflect accurately the experiences and feelings signified. The meaning of the symbols is the clue they give to the state of mind of the person who expresses them. Quite another significance of the private symbols may be thought to lie in the degree to which they express experiences or feelings of what may be called the audience. The dream, trance presentation or other symbolic form is regarded as relevant not only to the individual’s situation but also to that of those to whom it is communicated.

… It is characteristic of many mystics that they have felt a need — almost a compulsive need — to communicate their experience and to assert its validity. Not only again do they claim their symbolic presentations as true; they claim this truth as having more than a personal application. So, commonly the personal symbolic experience of a mystic has resulted in a call for a commitment by others, for a recognition of the social validity of his symbolic order. And this in turn has often meant a need for judgment by the established forms of authority in the society. (The personal symbolism of a poet is usually easier to handle; except perhaps in a dictatorship, his market is apt to be uncluttered by power considerations.)

… For a personal symbolism in the religious field to be both creative and successful it would seem to have to reflect some unsatisfied demand in the power structure.

My most recent previous post from Firth’s book is here.




August 12, 2014

Because of the Excess

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… better this waywardness and muscle-flexing than the anemia of good taste.

This is from ‘Review of an Exhibition of David Smith, David Hare, and Mirko’ (1947) found in Clement Greenberg: The Collected Essays and Criticism, Vol. 2, edited by John O’Brian (1986):

… The baroque exuberance and invention that disrupted Smith’s style in 1944 and 1945 has in this latest work been assimilated into a new unity of style that moves again with that “classical” spareness and speed which is so indispensable to the new linear. pictorial sculpture of our time. That Smith has been so well able to subdue his embroidery and luxuriance to this streamlining without emasculating his invention represents a feat and establishes a strong example. It is easy to be elegant in Smith’s vein at the cost of power; it is far from easy to combine the two. His sculpture for all its energy presents an elegance like that of Picasso’s or Braque’s high cubism: there is a similar clarity and a similar plenitude, both of which come from the artist’s certainty of having a style that is able to say everything he has to say with the maximum of economy. Yet at the same time the content of Smith’s art is worlds away from cubism, being the product of an age whose remaining optimism — of which Smith seems to have plenty — has become the private affair of individuals; whereas the cubists regarded the disenchantment of the world as a triumph for man, later artists like Smith have become so disillusioned with that triumph that they now seek new myths and new obscurities inside themselves.

David Smith, Hudson River Landscape, 1951

Hare is still somewhat too prone to the self-indulgence and whimsy of surrealism to channel his powers into a style. Thus, at his present show, any unity the very fact of his temperament might impose is still not enough to overcome the impression of eclecticism and capriciousness. But one feels, as in Smith’s case, better this waywardness and muscle-flexing than the anemia of good taste. In the end, when Hare does develop a style, it will say and include more, precisely because of the excess it will have to subdue.

David Hare, Magician’s Game, 1944

… The exhibition of works by Mirko, a new young Italian sculptor, at Knoedler’s offers an epilogue. This, indeed, is the last gasp of academic sculpture — and that it is even a gasp and not merely a sigh is due to the fact that it is expelled by an artist of real talent. Like Chirico’s, Mirko’s parody destroys — in this case, the classical tradition of bronze casting. His bronze figures have the texture and suggestion of contours, if not the size, of eroded, oxidized archaic Greek figurines, although there is nothing of archaic stiffness about them. The distortions and simplifications are licensed by post-Rodinesque sculpture — which is about all they have to do with modern art. And yet Mirko’s sculpture [in some pieces] has a certain contained vehemence underneath its impressionism and period stylization. Nor do the classical and Renaissance motifs he favors retain enough of their original chasteness to hide a curious sexuality and sadism. This is academic, archaeological art all right, but it is also very up to date. Chirico set the example. And is all the new Italian art as academic, and, at the same time, as full of the Zeitgeist as this? It is a shame to see a talent as natively strong as Mirko’s waste itself and everything it has to say about modern life on the academic, only because Italian despair, pride, and nostalgia have made the academic de rigueur.

Basaldella Mirko, Roaring Lion II, 1956

[Note that the artwork of Smith and Mirko that I have chosen to show post-dates Greenberg's review.]




August 11, 2014

Preoccupation with Hares

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:40 am

This is from Defining Moments in Art: Over a Century of the Artists, Exhibitions, People, Artworks, and Events that Rocked the World, general editor Mike Evans. The book features items sequentially, starting in 1863 and ending in 2008. I am selecting items from back-to-front (starting in 2007) because I enjoy going from recent to distant more than the reverse:

Key Artwork John by Chuck Close; Date 1992; What It’s Key The giant face of a fellow artist [John Chamberlain] perfectly captures Close’s imaginative low resolution art.

Typifying his preoccupation with the depiction of people and faces on a grand scale, Chuck Close’s John is also nevertheless recognized for consolidating his movement away from the Photorealist style that made him famous.

John by Chuck Close


Key Artwork The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst; Date 1991; Why It’s Key Controversial sculpture that established Hirst as the UK’s best known and most financially successful Conceptual artist.

… [it] is actually an arresting, beautiful, and poetic piece. A play on the idea that sharks need to constantly move ahead or die, the work addresses the reality of death with quiet resignation and poignant humility. Strip away the shock of the shark, and it is possibly an immortal work of art.

The Physical Impossibility of Death in the Mind of Someone Living by Damien Hirst

Key Artwork Six Foot Leaping Hare on Steel Pyramid by Barry Flanagan; Date 1990; Why It’s Key The bronze sculpture captures the essence of Flanagan’s archetypal animal subject.

… The artist’s preoccupation with hares can perhaps be attributed to the naturally expressive nature of their form. Flanagan is able to invest the animal’s loping legs and long ears with subtle emotions that would otherwise be difficult to convey …

Flanagan_Leaping Hare
Six Foot Leaping Hare on Steel Pyramid by Barry Flanagan

Key Artist Anselm Kiefer awarded the Wolf Prize; Date 1990; Why It’s Key Acknowledged Kiefer’s role as a defiant artist in West Germany

He first came to artistic prominence in the 1970s with subjects that dealt derisively with German heritage like the Nazi period. As a result he was regarded as a national embarrassment for years in West Germany, his art being riddled with German taboos and often seeming rather dark and neo-Romantic in style and thus out of date. While the press in the Federal Republic chastised the artist not a single other German artist — not even Joseph Beuys — enjoyed such a huge international following during his lifetime.

by Anselm Kiefer

My most recent previous post from this book is here.




August 10, 2014

The Offering

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… It is a matter of something else, which takes place, happens, or occurs in presentation itself and in sum through it but which is not presentation: this motion through which, incessantly, the unlimited raises and razes itself, unlimits itself, along the limit that delimits and presents itself.

This is more from the essay ‘Ths Sublime Offering’ in A Finite Thinking by Jean-Luc Nancy (2003):

… if it is permissible to speak of the “unlimited” as of “something” that sets itself off “somewhere,” it is because in the judgment or the feeling of the sublime we are offered a seizure, an apprehension of this unlimitation that comes to raise itself up like a figure against a ground, although strictly speaking, it is always simply the limit that raises a figure up against a nondelimited ground.

it is the infinity of a beginning (and this is much more than the contrary of a completion, much more than the inversion of a presentation). It is not simply the infinite sprawl of a pure absence of figure. Rather, the unlimited engenders and engages itself in the very tracing of the limit: it retraces and carries off so to speak, “unto the ground” what this tracing cuts on the edge of the figure as its contour.

… Because unlimitation is not the number but the gesture, or if one prefers, the motion, of the infinite, there can be no presentation of the unlimited.

… the logic of the sublime is not to be confused with either a logic of fiction or a logic of desire, that is, again, with either a logic of representation (something in the place of something else) or a logic of absence (of the thing that is lacking in its place). Fiction and desire, at least in these classical functions, perhaps always frame and determine aesthetics as such, all aesthetics. And the aesthetics of mere beauty, of the pure self-adequation of presentation, with its incessant sliding into the enjoyment of the self, indeed, arises out of fiction and desire.

But it is precisely no longer a matter of the adequation of presentation. It is also not a matter of its inadequation. … In the sublime — or perhaps more precisely at a certain extreme point in which the sublime leads us — it is no longer a matter of (re)presentation in general.

It is a matter of something else, which takes place, happens, or occurs in presentation itself and in sum through it but which is not presentation: this motion through which, incessantly, the unlimited raises and razes itself, unlimits itself, along the limit that delimits and presents itself. This motion would trace in a certain way the external border of the limit. [ ... ] What takes place in this going overboard of the border, what happens in this effusion? As I have indicated above, I call it the offering, but we need time to get there.

… to be continued. My previous post from this Nancy essay is here.




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