Unreal Nature

March 14, 2017

Detumescent Presence

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 6:05 am

… the quality is as unmistakable as it is rare — an artist’s total certainty, untouched by inhibition or affectation, as to his tastes.

This is from ‘Oldenburg’ (1967) in About Modern Art: Critical Essays 1948-96 by David Sylvester (1996):

… Slackness, besides repelling, provokes moral opprobrium, spells weakness of will, absence of energy. Attributes of art deemed to be desirable correspond to approved moral attributes: art is asked to be, for example, pure, strong, disciplined, generous. So form, in sculpture especially, is supposed to seem taut and muscular.

[line break added] No two sculptors of the same generation could be more different than Moore and Giacometti, yet this they have in common: Moore’s stated ideal of form is ‘pent-up energy,’ Giacometti’s ‘contained violence.’ From ancient Egypt to the Romanesque, the African to Michelangelo, the Parthenon to Brancusi, sculpture offers a tumescent presence. Except for bad sculpture. Claes Oldenburg, therefore, is arguably among the most revolutionary artists of all time, in that his sculpture glories in a detumescent presence — doesn’t only seem soft, it is soft.

[ … ]

Oldenburg’s brand of derangement, naturally enough, concentrates on the tactile. The objects he deforms are tools we constantly handle, never bother to contemplate, are familiar with through our sense of touch. They are virtually extensions of our bodies. At the same time, we trust them. Rather than doubt them we doubt ourselves. Their misdemeanor not only wrecks our poise but seems to reflect some weakness in ourselves. So the soft sculptures become a sort of insult to our amour propre.

This next is from ‘Rosenquist’ (1974):

Rosenquist’s art is public in that its formal elements are largely derived from the brashest kinds of commercial art, public in that its iconographic elements are generally taken over from the imagery of conspicuous mass-consumption and its attendant communal fantasies; in sensibility, it is beautifully private. It doesn’t make its meaning plain, doesn’t strike resounding chords of easily nameable feeling.

[line break added] Where other Pop Art often plays off emphatic irony against emphatic sensuousness or emphatic nostalgia or emphatic violence or emphatic melancholy, Rosenquist’s feelings about his imagery seem so inextricably mixed that one is left not puzzled but clueless as to his motivations; one simply senses a certain complex wonderment. He paints like a man absorbed in bringing back to mind for no particular reason an especially interesting dream. Some artists seem to have the attitude towards their imagery of a man flaunting his intimacy with an enviable companion; others the attitude of someone allowing you to view his collection of fetishes; others that of someone exposing his scars.

[line break added] Others seem to be persuading themselves how fervently they’re on the side of life, others to be confiding that the material was admittedly unpromising but look what they’ve managed to make of it. Rosenquist’s art is free of salesmanship. It radiates — I can’t say why, but the quality is as unmistakable as it is rare — an artist’s total certainty, untouched by inhibition or affectation, as to his tastes. To be in the company of his work is like being in that of one who is acute, relaxed, entertaining, enigmatic.


James Rosenquist, Flaming Capsule, 1970


James Rosenquist, Time Stops the Face Continues, 2008

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

-Julie

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