Unreal Nature

June 15, 2015

Pent Up

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:43 am

… We should think of minimalism’s order not just as “stripped down” but as “pent up.”

Continuing through Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock by Kirk Varnedoe (2006):

… In the Los Angeles aesthetic, reduction does not lead toward pragmatic concreteness, as it does in East Coast minimalism. Instead, it pushes toward a dissolution and disembodiment of experience. West Coast minimalism becomes purely retinal. This sounds like the kind of opticality described by Greenberg and Fried, but it goes way beyond that, because it is not an optical style of painting, it is an actual optical experience. It points toward uncertainty, as opposed to anything essential or concrete. One does not know what is concave or convex, present or absent, tangible or intangible. In Irwin, and in a lot of Los Angeles work, purification and reduction lead to a loss of certainty, a kind of ambiguity and disorientation that is exactly the opposite of Andre’s assertive engagement with weight and physicality, with a standard foot-on-the-ground experience.

… The version of the minimal aesthetic that you find in Irwin and some other Los Angeles artists concentrates on the empirical act of looking, on seeing what is actually there. In the Renaissance, the Florentines concentrated on the tougher, more sculptural aspects of art, while the Venetians concentrated on color, on capturing the look of light dancing on water. Similarly, if minimalism in New York is Tuscan — angular and hard-edged — Los Angeles posits a softer Venetian minimalism. Los Angeles artists are interested in time and movement. Instead of skyscrapers descending into cold water, you get long Pacific horizons, dissolving cloud patterns, slow changes in the long-term weather. The coasts offer two different kinds of reductionism, both typically American: on one coast, we get the pragmatist’s insistence on the concrete; on the other, we get the transcendental, Emersonian search for the absolute and the sublime.

Irwin_scrim
by Robert Irwin

[ … ]

… We should think of minimalism’s order not just as “stripped down” but as “pent up.” It has from the beginning displayed an urge toward compression that wants back out, that has in itself the opposite desire, for expansion.

[ … ]

… the impact of minimalism is not only felt in these private spaces for the elite; it has entered every part of our life. The very building in which we are sitting [for the lecture series upon which this book is based] — I.M. Pei’s East Building of the National Gallery, completed in 1978 — is certainly unthinkable without the broad, flat, unarticulated, unfenestrated form that is emphasized in the aesthetic of vastly reductive art of the early and mid-1960s. In the purification and simplification of this art, Pei finds a vocabulary of authority that can hold its own with the grandeur and pomposity of the classicism of the Capitol and the other buildings in Washington. Maya Lin’s Vietnam War Memorial, nearby on the Mall, is even more indebted to the aesthetic of minimalist sculpture.

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

-Julie

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