Unreal Nature

May 31, 2017

Double Vision

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… Although the photographer’s vision may discern the same “reality” as the painter’s, use the same effects of light, and value the same qualities of both character and appearance, it is subject to such different restrictions of time and material that the quantitative differences make a qualitative difference.

This is from The Photograph: A Strange Confined Space by Mary Price (1994):

… a key difference [from painting] is that a photograph is available for many uses inappropriate for painting. One reason for this is the cheapness and multiplicity of photographs, but the primary reason is that the photograph has a direct and physically governed relationship to the external world of objects.

… In most contemporary circumstances, the convention of the photograph will be made clear by a setting governing the expectations of the viewer. In a newspaper, photographs of action or situation will be expected and found; in a gallery, photographs that are presumed to have intrinsic visual interest; in a snapshot album, snapshots; in a book, photographs of visual interest complementing or illustrating a text. These examples are so commonplace, and they and other examples so numerous that it seems almost unnecessary to think about them. They are part of the context of everyday life. I shall try to make it interesting to think about them, beginning with the problem of description.

… If description is necessary to complete the meaning of a photograph or to interpret the visual aspect by identifying its elements in words, the question might arise of who is qualified so to describe. The answer is, anyone who is persuaded to look. Descriptions will be more or less competent, sophisticated, accurate, and useful. Accuracy is checked by reference to the visual evidence.

… Describing is necessary for photographs. Call it captioning, call it titling, call it describing, the act of specifying in words what the viewer may be led both to understand and to see is as necessary to the photograph as it is to the painting. Or call it criticism. It is the act of describing that enables the act of seeing.

… Contemporary critics writing about photography discuss the one-to-one causal relationship between objects and print in terms such as index and transcription. Photographs are without code. All three terms, index, transcription, and without code refer to a neutral, affectless, physical, impression of light on film, without reference to an operative cause, that is, without reference to human control. They eliminate the element of metaphoric instrumentality implied by the most famous phrase in the history of English photography, William Fox Talbot’s “pencil of nature.”

Transcription is the neutral term and the most exact way of thinking about the removal of an impression from objects to film. If a photograph suggests representation, it is because it has an analogic relationship to painted subjects. A portrait has primary identity in being of somebody; the physical being is the same whatever the medium. Secondarily, the portrait is an example of its medium and technique.

[line break added] The “reality” the painter creates is a combination of the attributes and appearance of the subject with the stubborn resistance of a separate vision, the artist’s own. Although the photographer’s vision may discern the same “reality” as the painter’s, use the same effects of light, and value the same qualities of both character and appearance, it is subject to such different restrictions of time and material that the quantitative differences make a qualitative difference.

[ … ]

… It is difficult to imagine conceptual interpretation of photographs before naming what is seen in literal description. Nor are the conceptual interpretations necessarily the more interesting. They are interesting only if they reinforce the visually nameable elements, the subject(s), in such a way as to preserve the double vision of literal and conceptual; they are not interesting when they substitute abstractions for subjects.




May 30, 2017

It Was a Great Period, the Sixties

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:55 am

… We were feral children, we ran everywhere …

This is from the 2000 interview with Carl Andre found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

David Sylvester: You once said to me that if anything is worth doing it’s worth doing again and again and again.

Carl Andre: I have the same attitude towards restaurants; there are about half a dozen restaurants in New York that I will go to. Everyone accuses me of having a very narrow range as an artist and I do indeed, and I feel my range becoming narrower. I feel the years have honed me to a sharper and sharper edge with my work and I find that this narrowing, this sharpening, this honing, is a gratifying experience.

[line break added] There are foxes and there are hedgehogs, as you know from Archilochus, the Greek poet, who told us about how the fox knows many things, the hedgehog knows one thing very well. When I met Frank Stella in 1958, he was very much a fox pretending to be a hedgehog, and I was very much a hedgehog with a delusion that I was a fox. It took me quite a while to realize that I was a hedgehog and no fox at all.

[ … ]

DS: … These pieces of yours are so modest they almost disappear into the floor, and I am left totally mystified why they can take me over as they do.

CA: Well, for one thing I do employ a dimension or a position that had not commonly been used in this century for art — that is, the horizontal plane. When I first showed work in New York, people would come into the gallery, look around, see there was nothing on the walls and say, ‘I’ll come back after it’s installed.’ Of course, when you told them, ‘You’re standing in the middle of the work,’ they would look down and leap up and run out even faster. I was just lucky.

DS: It was a great period, the sixties. The amount of originality which you on the one hand and Oldenburg on the other brought to sculpture was fabulous.

CA: But there were a lot of people doing that. Smithson and Judd and Morris and Flavin. A diagonal Flavin in a room is about as powerful as a work of art can get. I think there is a plain, obvious, simple reason that no one seems to be willing to admit. Everybody says, what is it about the sixties that made this possible? It wasn’t anything about the sixties, it was about the thirties, forties and the fifties. We are the sum of our pasts, not the sum of our presents. And all of us were raised before television. I think that’s such a key point.

[line break added] Because we were raised before television, before organized games for children. … [W]e always went out and organized our own games and we learned our games from the slightly older children. You learned how to be responsible and kids learned about justice from playing games which they were inventing and composing and making the rules for. I don’t know if Britain is oppressed with it, but in the US adults now want to organize all their children’s activities, allegedly to protect them, and I suppose that’s right.

[line break added] We were feral children, we ran everywhere over our neighborhood and in the swamps and so-called islands and mounds that were around it. Melissa Kretschmer, my wonderful friend and brilliant artist, had the same kind of childhood in Pacific Palisades. They used to run through the Will Rogers State Park all day long, and nobody worried about paedophiles or such things at that time. Occasionally there would be a great tragedy and some little child would be destroyed by some deranged person, but it was very very rare and nobody went into riots about it.

[line break added] It was a different era, a much freer era in many many ways, certainly free of television. And there was not nearly so much conformity. We live in an age of much greater conformity now than even the derided fifties. I always felt in the fifties, if you paid your dues, your tuppence to appearances, you could do anything you wanted to. William Burroughs said that, of course. He was very proud of his banker’s drag. He could dress up in a three-piece suit and go to a club with anyone and outclub them all.

[line break added] Now you must be sincere, you must show your inner self to everyone, and your appearance must be absolutely consistent with your inner reality, and that’s an impossibility. You lose your internal reality if your external appearance is the same. We were a product of our time including the Second World War. In the United States we didn’t have any bombings, we didn’t have any of that domestic hardship that Britain had with death, destruction, shortage. But we did have a great sense of uniting for a national purpose. That’s an enormous experience to go through as a young child.

DS: You know what Oldenburg said about everything he did having been made up when he was a little kid.

CA: That’s his great line, I love that. You ask, ‘Claes, where did all those great ideas come from?’ and he says, ‘I made it all up when I was a kid.’ And of course Henry Moore said the work of art is to recover the vividness of our earliest experiences. I feel I haven’t learned anything since the age of five. My work was nothing to do with language, but the most important work a human child does is acquire language. That is one of our most complex accomplishments.

[line break added] Calculus is nothing as compared to acquiring a language. And almost every human being does it, and at certain ages when the wiring is fresh and still malleable in the brain they do it quite well and they love doing it. A three-year-old child can make up a sentence that nobody has ever heard before. It’s good to keep that in mind, I think.

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




May 29, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:48 am

… Ever since it appeared, the museum, whether large or small, has been the vanishing point of the desire to paint, whether painters admit it or not.

This is from Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

… We cannot be too skeptical of the image of a casual and dilettantish Duchamp, as popularized in legend. Quite the contrary, we must imagine him as a young man who, after having dabbled in painting — and in caricature, like his brother Gaston — because of a family penchant, we might say, and after having superficially participated in the Julian Academy from 1904 to 1905, decided to follow the path of his brothers and embrace the career of the artist.

[line break added] A career that began with a failure — quite harmless, and rather flattering when seen from a distance, yet still felt harshly like a failure since in 1905 Marcel failed to pass the entrance exam for the Ecole des Beaux-Arts. It is not an exaggeration to suppose that this failure — whose delayed effect was the refusal of the Nude by the Indépendants — would act like a light “initial trauma,” quickly “forgotten” but nonetheless sufficient to keep alive a worry about his identity as a painter and to establish his determination to become a painter, no matter what, as if by revenge.

… he was ambitious and enough of a painter to know that a real avant-garde painter could innovate significantly only if he succeeded in imposing a new “definition” of painting on the sensibility of his epoch, but also only if he showed that he had assimilated history by transgressing it. And he was lucid enough about himself to know that he would never be this sort of painter — that he would never be Picasso.

[line break added] From 1902 to 1910 he had evolved, with a curious mixture of distant mimicry and technical industriousness but, above all, with very little invention, in all the styles that seemed avant-garde, successively painting in the manner of Impressionist, of Cézanne, of Matisse, but without ever stopping at those pictorial problems that, at some point, must obstruct the path of a young painter.

… When Duchamp declares that he wants to introduce “gray matter” into painting, we must not try to understand this as a mark of intellectualism or, even less, of rationalism. Quite the contrary, it was the orthodox Cubists — as they repeated often enough — who wanted to restore an intelligible and rational order to the chromatic chaos of Impressionism.

[line break added] And when Duchamp imputed to Courbet the dire responsibility of having pushed the entire history of painting toward the fostering of mere retinal titillation, his judgment was certainly unfair to Courbet, but it was an exact interpretation of the cubist impasse: Cubism had been and remained a realism, something that Cézanne’s painting no longer was. Duchamp’s critique of retinal painting was a critique of realism and not of the visualness of painting …

[ … ]

… if they innovated, the Salon would refuse them, and if they innovated significantly, they would have done more than conquer the Salon: they would have conquered the Museum. This is the historical law of modern painting, the particular form of the historicity of the avant-garde: it functions inevitably according to this retroactive verdict. A scandal is necessary to legitimate aesthetic innovation. There are a million examples in all the artistic domains.

… Here is a rejection that has become institutionalized, officially recognized, albeit involuntarily, as an integral part of a process of legitimation. The two stages of the dialectic implode: first the rejection of innovation and then its recognition; these two moments become synchronous. Rather than succeeding each other in time, they become juxtaposed in space: on the one side, the official Salon, behind the times, and on the other side, the Salon des Refusés, ahead of the times. Logically, this means that whatever strategic pictorial innovation the Déjeuner sur l’herbe contained addressed itself equally to both Salons: it is one and the same strategy that “desires” the refusal of the official Salon and participation in the Salon des Refusés.

… Ever since it appeared, the museum, whether large or small, has been the vanishing point of the desire to paint, whether painters admit it or not. This is true for ambitious painters as well as for modest ones, for vain painters on whom an ephemeral academic success has heaped honors as well as for those audacious artists who bypass the most avant-gardist of institutions and who, as a result, condemn themselves to speak only to a more or less distant posterity. This was true for Duchamp.

In his painting, as in all avant-garde painting, innovation was strategic, and its strategy desired the museum — let us use this name to refer to that sort of imaginary and anticipated parity with the masters that must have been filling up the head of a young, ambitious artist.

To be continued.

My previous post from de Duve’s book is here.




May 28, 2017

The Real Center of Gravity

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:56 am

… I really never believe completely that I am only that which I actually am here and now …

Continuing through the essay ‘Author and Hero in Aesthetic Activity’ in Art and Answerability: Early Philosophical Essays by M.M. Bakhtin edited by Michael Holquist and Vadim Liapunov (1990):

… What is the basis of my inner confidence? What straightens my back, lifts my head, and directs my gaze forward? Is it really pure givenness — uncomplemented and unextended by what is desired and what is still to be accomplished? Once again, it is my being present to myself as someone yet-to-be — that is what supports my pride and self-satisfaction; once again, the axiological center of my self-determination is displaced into the future.

[line break added] It is not only that I want to appear to be more than I am in reality, but that I am really unable to see my own pure givenness — I really never believe completely that I am only that which I actually am here and now; I render myself complete out of what is yet-to-be, what ought to be, what is desired. That is, the real center of gravity of my own self-determination is located solely in the future. However fortuitous and naïve may be the form assumed by what is desired and what ought to be, the important thing is that it is not here, not in the past and present.

[line break added] And whatever I may be able to achieve in the future — even if it be everything I had anticipated — the center of gravity of my self-determination will continue to shift forward into the future, and I shall rely for support on myself as someone yet-to-be. Even my pride and self-satisfaction about the present are rendered complete at the expense of the future (let it but begin to express itself and it will immediately show its tendency to proceed forward, ahead of itself).

What constitutes the organizing principle of my life from within myself (in my relationship to me myself) is solely my consciousness of the fact that in respect to all that is most essential I do not exist yet. The form of my life-from-within is conditioned by my rightful folly or insanity of not coinciding — of not coinciding in principle — with me myself as a given. I do not accept my factually given being; I believe insanely and inexpressibly in my own noncoincidence with this inner givenness of myself. I cannot count and add up all of myself, saying: this is all of me — there is nothing more anywhere else or in anything else; I already exist in full.

… A temporally consummated life is a life without hope from the standpoint of the meaning that keeps it in motion. From within itself, such a life is hopeless; it is only from outside that a cherishing justification may be bestowed upon it — regardless of unattained meaning.

… This position of outsideness makes possible (not only physically, but also morally) what is impossible for me in myself, namely: the axiological affirmation and acceptance of the whole present-on-hand givenness of another’s interior being.

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




May 27, 2017

Red Laughs

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… It refuses to be pacified.

This is from The Primary Colors: Three Essays by Alexander Theroux (1994):

… Love is red. So is death, its counterpart It is the color of fire and flame. A bride’s gown in China is red. So is the button on a mandarin’s cap.

… Vermillion is a light cadmium red. Adrianople red, also known as Turkey red, is a bright, intense color made from the madder plant. Fire-engine red is unsubdued, like the translucent red-plastic Fresnel lenses of automotive lights. Dog food, which is presently being extruded and puffed and dyed in multicolors, is a sort of hideous matt liver-red. There is the deep red of Red Sea labels on old opera 78 r.p.m. records. Fox-red tenné in the language of chivalry shows a somewhat burnt tone. And garnet red with its low brilliance and medium saturation is a sort of “pigeon blood” or “Spanish wine.” Cranberry red has a saucy sharpness to it, with a hint of yellow.

… I would love to have seen the great ancient temple dedicated to Bast, protector of cats, mistress of love and of matters feminine, and glimpsed the strange red cat coffins, fashioned of red obsidian, on that island in the Nile, in Lower Egypt, north of Bilbeis, where the city of Bubastis once lay and the remains of which can still be seen. I wonder if Jesus as a boy ever played with cats there.

… A factory-candy red can be found in the shockingly bright, wildly artificial maraschino cherry, probably the most singularly garish red food on earth, thanks to Red Dye No. 3.

… There are even red laughs. David Plante, writing of artist Francis Bacon and his group, spoke of Isabel Rawsthorne, a friend whom Bacon often painted, “laughing a wide, wet red laugh.”

… years ago when the first telegraph lines were strung across rural China, they became a source of alarm — their purpose unfathomable, their appearance forbidding — not only for the piteous moans heard as the wind blew through them but because as the wires rusted, the rainwater dripping from them acquired a gruesome tinge of red and convinced the terrified peasants that dead spirits were being tortured by these alien contraptions.

… It is never diluted by reflection. It refuses to be pacified. It commands. Demands, even. It seems almost exclusively and energetically masculine, bold, and objective, until one considers the deep and abiding feminine implications in virtually every measure and morph of the color.

… Blandness or temperance may even serve to provoke it, to taunt it. As Wallace Stevens observes in his masterpiece, Notes Toward a Supreme Fiction,

The lion roars at the enraging desert,
Reddens the sands with his red-colored noise,
Defies red emptiness to evolve his match …

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




May 26, 2017

Everything Has a Voice

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:24 am

… who speaks, when everything has a voice?

This is from the chapter on ‘Ulysses‘ in James Joyce (2nd Edition) by Steven Connor (1996, 2012):

… The understanding of the relations between Ulysses and the modern world appears to have gone through three historical stages, which mimic perhaps the three stages of art, the lyrical, epical, and dramatic, defined by Stephen in A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man. The first stage covers the period of the writing and periodical publication of Ulysses and extends after its publication in 1922 to the beginnings of the novel’s passage into critical respectability in the years following the publication of Stuart Gilbert’s semi-authorized study of it. This stage is characterized by baffled, negative, and hostile responses.

[line break added] During this period, Ulysses is read as a horrifying surrender or release of dark and ugly energies, energies identified both with the body and with the forms of modern life; it is said both to reveal and revel in the filth, ennui, and corruption of modern urban life. A sophisticated, and aestheticized version of this criticism is to be found in Wyndham Lewis’s Time and Western Man, which attacked the work of Joyce as representative of the decadent time-obsession of the modern Western world.

The second stage in the reading of Ulysses extends from the 1930s through to the 1970s, and marks the critical rehabilitation of the novel. The labor of explication carried out in these years is intended to show that Ulysses immerses itself in the destructive element of modernity and mass culture in order precisely to transform that destructiveness into art.

[line break added] It is a work of critical transformation which exactly and uncannily shadows the work of spiritual-aesthetic transformation said to be undertaken in the novel. By the 1960s, Ulysses had been transformed from a dark and threatening exposure of, and to, the baseness and horror of modern life, into a rich and complex refusal of modernity. Modernity here brings forth modernism.

The third stage, which extends from about the 1970s to our own period, reflects the new complexity of the understanding of the relations between modernism and modernity, high and mass culture, art and the commodity, which arose during that period, especially in discussion of postmodernism. This way of reading Ulysses, of which this present discussion is doubtless an example, is less certain of the nature of the willed surrender to the modern brought about by, and in, the novel.

[line break added] Central to this way of reading Ulysses has been an enlarged understanding of the politics of voices, both in narrative and in social life — their origins, processes of transmission, conflicts, and forms of authority. The cultural work on modernity undertaken in Ulysses can thus be seen as a work of voicing. The novel anticipates its successor, Finnegans Wake, in beginning to use the novel form as a sounding board or receiving apparatus for the manifold voices, styles, and idioms which throng about and permeate modern subjectivity.

[line break added] Perhaps this reaches its point of maximum intensity in the ‘Circe’ chapter, which explores that condition of ventriloquial logomachia, or universal war of voices which is to be the structure of Joyce’s next work, for in ‘Circe,’ not only does everything speak ‘in its own way,’ but everyone and everything also speaks in the way of, or through the mouths of, others. Here, Joyce presses the principle of mimetic autonomism almost beyond the power of the text to channel and contain it, forcing on us the conundrum: who speaks, when everything has a voice?

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




May 25, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:49 am

… gazing wistfully at the aimless zombies milling about travertine tile and plastic flora like suburban teenagers killing time, waiting for the cavalcade of minivans and expectant parents to pick them up, offering “This was an important place in their lives.”

This is from the essay ‘The City Without Qualities: Allegorical Landscapes and the Revolutionary Undead’ (2008) found in Walead Beshty: 33Texts: 93,614 Words: 581,035 Characters: Selected Writings (2003-20015) edited by Lionel Bovier (2015):

… In his book America Jean Baudrillard describes the American West as a desert containing “cities which are not cities.” Irvine: a new Silicon Valley. Electronic factories with no openings to the outside world, like integrated circuits.

… Whatever the reasons were to move to the suburbs, they no longer matter. In [photographer Robert] Adams’s work, the fantasy of suburban utopia seems to have been severed from its roots. Like a lingering ghost, desire and memory have become separated from the body that once supported them. What Adams recognized was that the suburbs themselves were an apparition, an image and index of a cultural mythology.

[line break added] Despite the endless flow of suburban traffic (as he once lamented, “the cars never stop coming”), Adams continued to produce views devoid of people, as though the place itself precluded their existence. Even after all this time in one of the most rapidly expanding suburbs of the 1970s, Adams still saw only ghosts.

… A similarly morbid fascination with suburban sprawl seems to have inspired George Romero’s second installment of his “Living Dead” trilogy, Dawn of the Dead (1978). Romero chose the newly opened Monroeville Mall in the suburbs of post-industrial Pittsburgh as the films backdrop for his macabre fantasy. When Romero’s characters arrive at the mall, it has been overrun by zombies.

[line break added] But these monsters are not the standard fare of horror films. Romero’s zombies are the perfect citizens for the American vernacular; liberated from history and social constraints, they merely congregate and consume. Like Adams’s tract homes, they seem to develop spontaneously from the landscape, appearing without explanation at the onset of the trilogy, and populating successive scenes in progressively greater numbers.

[line break added] As Elias Canetti reminds us in his magnum opus Crowds and Power (1960), the masses of the dead always outnumber those still living. Similarly, the select few who grace the covers of magazines, billboards, television and movie screens are outnumbered by the unseen who consume these products. In Romero’s case, the undead masses resonate as the invisible working class of the American Rust Belt, the return of a public absented from popular depictions, as homogenous masses that haunt the shopping malls and master plan communities to which they were delivered.

[line break added] It is a basic instinct that draws the zombies there: as one of Romero’s characters surmises when the question “Why do they come here?” is asked, gazing wistfully at the aimless zombies milling about travertine tile and plastic flora like suburban teenagers killing time, waiting for the cavalcade of minivans and expectant parents to pick them up, offering “This was an important place in their lives.”

[line break added] A similar question might arise about what drew the inhabitants of the homes in Adams’s photographs to Colorado; as if to the mythical visions of unspoiled mountains, quaint towns, and prairies found in common postcards that no longer exist: a memory of an image of a place.




May 24, 2017

The Mess of the Present

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:57 am

… These photographs of man-altered landscapes forestalled nostalgia and prevented an escape into the past — instead, they forced viewers to remain in the present and think about the future.

This is from the title essay by Britt Salvesen for the new, 2010 reprint of New Topographics, which was originally published in 1975:

… Although New Topographics has since been identified by many as a turning point in photographic history — and has given a label to a highly validated approach to landscape — neither the original viewers, nor the curator, nor the participating artists anticipated this outcome at the time.

… Looking back from the perspective of the twenty-first century, we can see New Topographics as a bridge between the still-insular fine-art photography world and the expanding post-conceptual field of contemporary art, simultaneously asserting and deconstructing the medium’s modernist specificity, authority, and autonomy; and ultimately serving as a progenitor of today’s Dusselforf-inspired school of landscape photographers, whose work is presented as contemporary art in museums, galleries, and art fairs.

[line break added] In this coming-of-age story, photography assimilates and also generates new meanings and markets. Harbinger, catalyst, point of departure … these terms, applied retrospectively to New Topographics, suggest a neat trajectory from past to future without adequately accounting for the mess of the present, that is, the moment of coalescence, when aesthetic intuitions aligned with everyday lived experience and larger cultural preoccupations.

[line break added] This registration of micro and macro concerns — the resolution of many layers into a complex but legible image — not only validates the prominence of New Topographics in photographic history, but also suggests something about the history of ideas, providing a case study of their elaboration and circulation in a particular place and time.

… “People come to me and think that I understand this because I invented it, and I didn’t really understand it very well then. I think my essay reveals that.” With this retrospective comment, [show curator] Jenkins reminds us that New Topographics was an experiment, soundings rather than a statement.

… Jenkins’s foregrounding of the problem of style challenges the viewer to engage, at least at one level, in fairly traditional connoisseurship or formal analysis. How can the New Topographics style be characterized? More specifically — to use the language of style’s key theorists — what are its generative elements, that is, the qualities discernible not only in one body of work but across several bodies of work? And are those elements unique as seen against other artists, periods, or schools?

Looking for commonalities in New Topographics, we might first observe that all the prints are “straight,” exhibiting sharp focus, tonal range, minimal grain, and full-frame printing. Uniformity of subject matter can also be observed, for all the photographs portray the built environment, without apparent distortion or intervention, and without imposing an obvious judgment or agenda. The nine bodies of work reveal patterns, trace resemblances, or gather types.

[line break added] These shared features distinguish New Topographics from photographic modes based on other aesthetic values, such as expressionism, abstraction, narration, and the unique print, which might be achieved through high contrast, cropping, darkroom manipulation, staging, or non-silver processes. As for points of disparity, the most evident are related to technical preferences.

… When, how, and why did New Topographics — not some other exhibition, group, or approach — come to be seen as marking a turning point or even a paradigm shift for photography? This outcome is all the more surprising given the fact that no single proselytizer took up the legacy of New Topographics.

… the participating artists showed little inclination to identify themselves with New Topographics as a style or label. Simply put, they wanted to continue their work as individuals. As Andy Grundberg and Julia Scully summarized in 1979, “It would be difficult to argue that the exhibition’s premise was faulty. More likely, the show’s codification of loosely shared values simply acted as a springboard against which the photographers could respond in their ongoing involvement with photography.”

… Bringing that rare moment forward to the present, we see New Topographics deployed rhetorically as if it were a universal standard rather than a set of proposals that loosely linked a group of individuals at a particular time. Speaking in the early 1970s, Walker Evans rejected the sentimental idea that his photographs embodied an era (the 1930s) for later generations. The artists of New Topographics took this warning to heart in dealing with their own time.

[line break added] They drew on the photographic medium, the ideas around them, their personal experiences, anxieties, and hopes — all of which led to the pictures Jenkins and others saw as neutral, uninflected, and objective. These photographs of man-altered landscapes forestalled nostalgia and prevented an escape into the past — instead, they forced viewers to remain in the present and think about the future.




May 23, 2017

Holding On

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:53 am

… This is the thing that got me inside myself and that’s the thing I’ve been holding on to.

This is from the 1997 interview with Alex Katz found in David Sylvester’s Interviews with American Artists (2001):

[ … ]

David Sylvester: So I take it that one of the reasons why you’re attracted to doing the large landscapes is that here you’re able to use a Baroque rhythm?

Alex Katz: Yes, that’s one of the things that interests me. Painting another way. But it’s been a new area. And it would seem exciting to go to a place that was kind of open and dangerous. And actually when you do a ten- or twenty-foot painting wet-in-wet, you’re going where no one’s been. Wet-in-wet painting is just the same technique you’d use on a small painting but on a huge scale, and it seems to suit my temperament. So it’s like finding a part of yourself that you didn’t know was there and working with it.

[line break added] When you start out you learn to do something, then you try something else, then you take a chance and try something else and it works, and soon you’re doing things you never dreamed you could do. Then people ask you to do things and you do things, and you didn’t know you had a talent for it, and it’s a continual trip trying to find something that’s interesting to do.

DS: You were very emphatic when you said that the work would never go into fantasy.

AK: Well, everything could be changed, but I’m pretty sure, always working from an optical base, you have an idea about what a painting should be, or an idea of a painting. And then it correlates with something I see and then I start out empirically and optically. And when I do that I get involved in the light: there’s an unconscious procedure and it gets into something I wouldn’t have thought of to start with. It moves around a bit and that’s the part that’s interesting.

[line break added] Because when you go in there you find things; weird things happen and some are all right and some aren’t all right. But they wouldn’t have happened if you just took the idea and did it, and that’s part of it. I think with painting you have the opportunity to go inside yourself and find your unconscious intelligence or your non-verbal intelligence and your non-verbal sensibility and your non-verbal being in a sense. And you alternate between consciousness and unconsciousness and it can engage much more of you than if you just merely took an idea and executed it.

[line break added] You know it’s very bright but you don’t get as much into it. That’s my feeling about it. So the thing I’ve found is that the subject matter is the outside light. This is the thing that got me inside myself and that’s the thing I’ve been holding on to. And it’s just a matter of seeing how many variations I can do on it or where it could go.

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




May 22, 2017

Detached from the Specific Craft that Legitimated It

Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:54 am

… it is a fact that the destiny of modern art passed, in August 1912 in Munich, through the Triebschicksal (instincts and their vicissitudes) of an individual …

This is from Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp’s Passage from Painting to the Readymade by Thierry de Duve (1991):

… Something is revealed in a work of art, but it is not so much what the author sacrifices to the language that makes it into a text nor the symptomatic truth that the manifest level of the work hides but, rather, what the movement from hidden to manifest reveals of its own conditions of emergence.

… On 18 June 1912 Duchamp took the train to Munich, from which he would return on 10 October with [five drawings and paintings]. The reasons for his sudden departure from Munich will always remain a mystery, as has his everyday life in the Bavarian capital. One thing is certain: the group of artworks that he realized there — the last ones from his “cubist” period — constitute a turning point in his career as a painter as well as in his personal life. On returning from Paris he told himself: “Marcel, no more painting; go get a job.” Indeed his first abandonment of painting dates from his return from Munich. But the motto was quickly denied: “I looked for a job in order to get enough time to paint for myself.”

… Out of Munich will result a “little game between I and me,” at once personal therapy and artistic strategy taking as subject matter the gap between “the man who suffers” and “the mind which creates.”

… The “abandonment” of painting is the passage by which its name is detached from the specific craft that legitimated it. The “invention” of the readymade is the transition by which the name painting, having lost its specific legitimacy, nonetheless connects with the generic name art. This passage and this transition are not the work of a single man but of a whole culture that the work of this man reveals to itself and that it reveals in the first place by naming them. The Passage from the Virgin to the Bride is the title that Duchamp would give in August 1912 to the painting that a month later would precipitate his decision to abandon painting.

… Since it is a fact that the destiny of modern art passed, in August 1912 in Munich, through the Triebschicksal (instincts and their vicissitudes) of an individual — if not through the aesthetic destiny of a single painting — it is impossible not to call out to psychoanalytic theory and method …




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