… They stand entirely on their own.
This is from the essay ‘The Zone Paintings’ by Arthur C.Danto in Robert Mangold (2000):
… The Zone Paintings embody — as do indeed all of the families of paintings the artist has achieved over the past twenty years — a fixed set of rules. There are, accordingly, two kinds of creativity: the creation of the rules which define the family, and the execution of the rules in making individual paintings. Executing the rules, however, is never entirely mechanical.
… With Motherwell and Diebenkorn, there has … been an obsessive reversion to the same idea, over and over, as if the artist hoped that a painting might emerge which would embody that idea to perfection (Motherwell explicitly confided that he would stop painting Elegies when he did one which at last realized the idea perfectly). With Mangold, by contrast, none of the Zone Paintings can be imagined as fulfilling what the others merely aspire to.
[line break added] The family relationship is wholly different from the relationship between an examplar and its lesser instances. Each member realizes a different set of possibilities as defined by the identical phenotype, and no individual painting could hope to possess them all. From this perspective, the members of the family are all alike. There is no ideal or paradigmatic member to which the others aspire.
… If each of the zones behaved itself, so to speak, and stayed within the boundaries of the panels to which it corresponds, the Zone Paintings would be perfectly symmetrical. The boundaries of the zones would coincide perfectly with the boundaries of the panels, and in particular the right and left arcs would intersect the right and left sides of the paintings at precisely correspondent points. In consequence, the sides would be equal to one another in height.
[line break added] But because of the ways the zones penetrate into one another’s territories, there are de facto asymmetries throughout the Zone Paintings, even if the overall impression of the works is that of balance and symmetry. The arcs differ in length, the sides differ in height, the bases of the zones differ in width. If we imagine an axis perpendicular to the base, bisecting the entire work, the two sides would constitute incongruent counterparts.
… their right-left asymmetries, which differ from Zone Painting to Zone Painting, make the works virtually immune to architectural placement — in lunettes, for example, or in bays.
… it is, for practical and economic reasons, unlikely that a space pre-exists in which one or another Zone Painting could fit exactly. So they must be hung, as paintings, on walls to which they have no further relationship than a conventional rectangular painting would.
From this perspective, if sound, the architecturality of the Zone Paintings is a way of proclaiming the autonomy of painting. These works imply possibilities of placement to which they refuse to conform.
… The Taoist thinker, Chuang Tzu, once wrote of a tree, whose trunk was so gnarled and bumpy, its branches so twisted and bent, that no carpenter would look at it twice. His counsel was to be like that tree: ‘Axes will never shorten its life, nothing can ever harm it. If there’s no use for it, how can it come to grief or pain?’
[line break added] Such bristling non-conformity was the formula for that sort of metaphysical independence to which Taoists aspired. While resembling Chuang Tzu’s tree in no further respect, the Zone Paintings proclaim their independence and indeed their autonomy by the distance at which they hold the architecture they imply. They stand entirely on their own.
My most recent previous post from this book is here.