Unreal Nature

September 26, 2016

Their Homeliness

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:51 am

… They are not ugly ducklings that will grow up to be swans but what the French call “jolie-laide,” that particular kind of beauty for which unapologetic imperfection provides the most striking and original features.

Continuing through the book that accompanied her MoMA retrospective; Elizabeth Murray by Robert Storr (2005):

… Neither chaotic nor reliably structured, Murray’s ensembles remain open to as many interpretations as they suggest correspondences and discharge intense sensations.

If Murray were more sober and decorous in her way of playing with forms and symbols, the analogy I have drawn between her work and that of conceptually oriented artists of the same period might seem less far-fetched. But the purpose in forcing the comparison is to remind those with doubts about the ambition and complexity of Murray’s work that the ability to address fundamental issues in art is not circumscribed by choice of medium, style, tone, or intellectual manner, or even by the disinclination to do so.

[line break added] Rather, it is determined by the ability — whether programmatically set forth or empirically and intuitively arrived at — to seize upon the aesthetic givens of one’s time and milieu and first reconsider, then refashion them in previously unimagined ways.

murray-bop
Elizabeth Murray, Bop, 2002-03

… It would be easier to argue this if Murray’s mud-pie way of dealing with life and art made for neater, less raucous, more consistently ingratiating products, or if, following Greenberg’s defense of Pollock, one could promise that what looks “ugly” today will be acknowledged as beautiful tomorrow. (The truth of the matter is that many of Pollock’s most original and forceful paintings still look ugly.) Murray’s paintings have their beauties — of drawing, color, surface, and spatial interval — but their homeliness is every bit as essential to their integrity and power.

[line break added] They are not ugly ducklings that will grow up to be swans but what the French call “jolie-laide,” that particular kind of beauty for which unapologetic imperfection provides the most striking and original features. In any event, undistracted by thoughts of what she ought to have done or how her paintings should have looked to please the average taste, Murray has proven herself to be an undeterrable force in the rejuvenation of painting in New York in the last quarter of the twentieth century and the beginning of the twenty-first.

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

-Julie

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