Unreal Nature

September 19, 2017


Filed under: Uncategorized — unrealnature @ 5:47 am

… theirs was a rhetoric of no rhetoric.

Continuing through The New York School: A Cultural Reckoning by Dore Ashton (1972):

… Myth, metamorphosis, risk, event-painting — these liberating possibilities were little by little impressing themselves upon the troubled psyches of many New York painters. In the year or two following the fall of France, while Americans were adapting their psychology to war conditions, many artists touched bottom spiritually. The natural habitat developed during the W.P.A. years was swiftly transformed into an even more alien environment than artists had known before.

[line break added] New York quickly became a center for all kinds of war promotion, ranging from information agencies to poster-producing units, which absorbed the energies of many artists and writers. In any case, the sense of community that had at least had an embryonic existence because of the Project, was severely menaced by the exigencies of the war. For a time, the problems of artists seemed all too trivial even to artists. ‘In 1940,’ wrote Barnett Newman, ‘some of us woke up to find ourselves without hope — to find that painting did not really exists. … The awakening had the exaltation of a revolution. … It was that naked revolutionary movement that made painters out of painters.’

[line break added] Gottlieb, in his contribution to the same symposium, agreed: ‘During the 1940s, a few painters were painting with a feeling of absolute desperation. The situation was so bad that I know I felt free to try anything no matter how absurd it seemed. … Everyone was on his own.’ Gottlieb stressed the individualism of the painters in New York, and their sense of ‘aloneness.’ The war produced yet another vacuum, and discouraged all those who, through their incipient sense of the need for a milieu, found once again that it did not, and perhaps could not, exist in American culture.

At precisely this point of moral desperation the arrival of some renowned Europeans — energetic and endemically optimistic — made a difference. Not only did they infuse the New Yorkers with a sense of purpose, but they also helped reconcile various esthetic conflicts; for it was not only Ernst, Tanguy, Masson, Seligmann, and other convinced surrealists who trod the streets of New York, there were also Mondrian, Léger, Glarner, Lipchitz, and Zadkine, among others.

[line break added] When Peggy Guggenheim opened her gallery, she was careful to wear one earring by Tanguy and one by Calder, ‘in order to show my impartiality between surrealist and abstract art.’ Such impartiality was growing steadily. The synthesis of ideas drawn from all modern traditions was certainly one of the major achievements of the period.

[ … ]

… In many ways the existence of surrealist theory provided a shelter for the painters. … Painters, especially those whose consciousness had been invaded by the surrealist periodicals, had retreated from political turmoil. While the literary course seemed to be set in critical and often doctrinaire directions in the early forties, the visual artists were pronouncedly undoctrinaire and eager to retain an attitude of experimental rebellion — again, theirs was a rhetoric of no rhetoric.

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




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