… Without your experience there is no content in a Newman painting.
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Richard Serra: … American minimalists created the “specific” object, what was supposedly free of “meaning” and allowed for the content of perception to reside in the viewer’s relationship to the object and its place of installation. The “specific” object led to work that completely destroyed the notion of the object by emphasizing its interrelationship with a given site. When site and work become inseparable it implies that the perception of the work does not remove us from the real world but rather involves us in it.
[line break added] One of the most important developments of the last twenty years is that the notion of the autonomous object, where content is locked up within the boundaries of the art work, has been abolished, and the work could become the vehicle for a critique of its context. This critique can be articulated in many different ways, through language, figural elements, abstract painterly or sculptural installations, etc. and can have a very subversive effect.
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RS: … Once a work is placed in a museum and a label attached to it, the visitor is asked to identify the author, the year, the material, the donor. Institutionalization changes the effect of any work of art. Any kind of disjunction a work might have originally produced is eclipsed in favor of superficially positivist historical readings. If a work is not completely robbed of its initial meaning, it is definitely distorted by its inclusion in a museum.
Mark Francis: And takes on other meanings?
RS: And takes on other meanings.
MF: And isn’t that the purpose of the museum: that things should take on other meanings? Museums tend to put objects in juxtaposition with each other. Comparisons are intended to be made between different things, which — if it doesn’t produce a “natural” debate — is at least supposed to encourage mental debate rather than simple contemplation of single objects one at a time.
Touché Mr. Francis. This next is from ‘Interview’ with Nicholas Serota and David Sylvester :
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RS: … The reason that Le Corbusier, and for that matter [Barnett] Newman, interest me is that in their work distillation is not reduction, but the synthesis of different levels of meaning, whereas I would say that Minimalism is based on the theology of reduction. One of the biggest limitations of Minimalism, ironically, is its relation to context.
[line break added] The work was originally made in and for a loft space, which was then imitated by the galleries of the 1970s and ’80s, to be reproduced again by the new museums of the 1990s where it is perfected and neutralized into a well-lighted white shoebox. Simultaneous to the rarefaction of the context the Minimalist object turned into a high-tech, mass-produced commodity.
[line break added] Now the container and the contained both go into circulation. The Minimalist’s notion of site specificity was always limited to the room, the perfect white cube. That explains why any attempt to place Minimalist sculptures in the landscape or in urban sites reduces them invariably to homeless objects.
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RS: … In Newman’s paintings space and mass, which are formed between the vertical divisions, are experienced as you walk or scan the field. It is an experience that unfolds in time. Newman differentiates between the sense of time, that is, the passage of literal time, and the sensation of time, which is a physical experience of a given context. In this sense, Newman’s invention was an enormous breakthrough and places him outside the parameters of traditional painting.
[line break added] In Cézanne, Picasso, de Kooning, and Baselitz, content remains contained within the composition. In Newman content is inseparable from your sense of place and time. Without your experience there is no content in a Newman painting. When you reflect upon a Newman, you recall your experience, you don’t recall the picture.