Unreal Nature

February 6, 2017

Within the Maze

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:34 am

… you cannot be both wandering the maze and also above it.

This is from the essay ‘Autonomy, Actuality, Mangold‘ by Richard Shiff found in Robert Mangold (2000):

Mangold’s art might be regarded as materialist, it amounts to a series of arrangements and re-arrangements of concrete elements, without seeming to be guided by a higher principle or force, even a disguised one. This art derives from empirical experience, “thrusts of the moment,” as Mangold says. It approaches neither a limit nor a totalizing conclusion. Open, it seeks its fortune rather than attaining some aim.

Mangold remains indifferent to the balance of power in the art world, even when it tilts in his direction. The present moment, if he has anything to say about it, will never be his, to move with the fashion of his time only makes him uncomfortable. Here are some of his sobering thoughts of the 1990s, written for neither the 1990s nor the millennium but for any time, ‘always’:

Artists are always struggling against history and the moment, to propel themselves forward, not forward as in progress, but forward as a reaching for oxygen, or as a plant reaches for light. You struggle both on behalf of and against what you have already accomplished.

I often sit for hours looking at paintings I have done, or am doing, day after day. What am I looking at?

… If Mangold’s 1995 PaceWildenstein show was hardly noted by critics, it was because they themselves lacked the resources to locate the significance the work was creating. Because the art was idiosyncratic, and because the artist refused to prod the critics along, they had little idea what to say, and most said nothing. This need not have been the case; enterprising critics are free to adjust and even invent paradigms. Yet Mangold himself ponders a sense in which his paintings “mean nothing”: he believes they address no “single describable thing.”

[line break added] They do not even pretend, as does so much abstract art, to be challenging and reconfiguring ingrained habits of looking (a sure path to both Modernist and post-Modernist approval, yet a dubious exercise, for art is more likely to rehearse a habit than alter it). Should Mangold or anyone else be surprised by an admiring but relatively silent reception? Having assigned no meaning in advance, he presents his works to his viewers’ experience without guarantee of conceptual payback. What does his art mean?

[ … ]

I would like to use a metaphor and suggest that working from one group of paintings to the next is like manoeuvering ever deeper into a maze … Within the maze of your work you yearn for an overall view, as from above, where you could see whatever total sense or pattern exists in your movements. But this is impossible, since you cannot be both wandering the maze and also above it.

If Mangold were to move outside the maze of his work, outside its linkage of units, he would depersonalize his own relation to it. If a representation is to have personal meaning, such meaning must remain within the representation itself. The artist states it another way: “You work on the focus of the work as you make it. And this does not mean that at the end of the process you can state the aims of the work, as made visual. It does not work that way.” To maintain the intense personal experience of his art, Mangold defers establishing any pattern; he willfully remains within the maze.


To be continued.




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