Unreal Nature

June 29, 2015

Ground-level Reality

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:19 am

… These are not just neutral, unconventional art materials …

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

… more interesting and widely evident in the art of the late 1960s and early 1970s is the staged collision between order and disorder, between geometric rule structures and recalcitrant irregularity and shapelessness. This was not simply a change from one thing to another, but involved an aggressive hostility against the precedent.

… order in the work of the late 1960s is something that cannot simply be, it must be shown to be something that is imposed, contrasted, and contested.

… A prime example of this new interest is a series of Smithson works called “Non-Sites,” which involved photo-maps with realizations in the gallery of minimalist-like boxes containing rocks and earth from the various points in the “non-site.” The sites are meant to be utterly banal — Franklin, New Jersey, is one, for example — and the idea is to map out a collision between order imposed by a map and the actual gritty, nonorderly facts of life found literally on the ground. Smithson’s is a diagrammatic or didactic collision, which again involves the clarity of the overhead view versus the chaos of ground-level reality, in which minimalism’s rigidity is made evident by piling it against the rough chaos that it contains and cuts through.

Robert Smithson, A Non-Site, Franklin, New Jersey, 1968

… [In his Device of 1962] Johns has nailed rulers onto the sides of the picture, and then dragged the rulers in circular pivots through the paint on the picture.

detail from Device

… the message [here] … it seems to me, has a more complex meaning or implication than the mere opposition of order and disorder. It has to do not with the collision of measurement and chaos but with the fusion of the two things. What the Johns says to me is that creating order creates disorder. That is, by imposing one order, you must efface another, and that all acts of measure and regularity involve destructive force. There is a kind of violence to rationality itself.

Jasper Johns, Device, 1962

… We see a lot of work in the late 1960s where the promise of shaping by material, and by program and method, no longer means the geometric playing out of possibilities, as in Le Witt’s cube, but rather overtly liquid pourings and castings. But I raise Pollock in connection with this Serra piece [the thrown lead works] only to contrast them, because what I want to point out is the difference between the almost lyrical nature of Pollock’s choreography, of his dance, and the imagery of manual labor in Serra’s piece.

Giacometti once made a sculpture called No More Play, and in a certain sense that is the subtitle of Serra’s work. It is all about hot metal, toxic materials, dangerous work. And this is personal to Serra — as archaeology is personal to Heizer — in that he has experience in a steel mill, and that his father worked in boatyards. But it is also, as with Heizer, symptomatic of the time. Heizer and Smithson both work with bulldozers and earth-movers to get what they want done, and now Serra in this lead-flinging piece with its steel-mill overtones seems to say to Judd and others, “To hell with tinsmiths and custom body shops. No more hands-off phoning in the plans for anything.” Instead, they literally go to work with an earnest, hands-on, blue-collar ethic.

… Their materials are the useless end of the utilitarian world, materials with an exhausted functionality, materials that speak the opposite of efficiency, that speak instead of overflow, of a society producing too much, and consequently of waste, detritus, and garbage. These are not just neutral, unconventional art materials; they imply a combination of overflow and excess with pollution and defilement.

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




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