September 18, 2003

Lane Relyea's "All Over and At Once"

My very excellent and impeccable friend Aaron Parazette (an accomplished and remarkable painter living and teaching in Houston, Texas, he and his wife Sharon Englestein - a fabulous sculptor- we're old friends* going back with me to grad school) has sent me the recent four part article by Lane Relyea in the Fall issue of X-tra magazine.

I was riveted. Much of what he wrote parallels and is identical to what I've been thinking about the artworld since art school, with roots going back to my undergrad experience in architecture school in the early 80's.

Essentially: There's a totalizing aspect to the postmodern project, and a simplistic return to earlier modernist coordinates is impossible. (Lord, there's so much to write about this topic...) As Lane writes at the beginning of the fourth part: "So where do we look today for help in negotiating our way beyond this impasse?"

But today, I only have the time to post a transcription of selections from his piece:

(more from me on this later)

?...The collapse of art into the culture industry and the complete defeat of the critic?s function- these have become the subjects of a growing number of books and magazine articles. We seem to no longer recognize art apart from a very general circulation of distribution and consumption, an evermore far-reaching and tightly efficient cultural economy, now that art objects, no matter how densely material and specific, have been dematerialized into digitized images stored in dead archives without end and now that the galleries, museums, art catalogs, and magazines have all become indistinguishable from the ceaseless, overwhelming, flow of mindless entertainment programming and information.

Welcome to the world of the allover.?

?...Allover and at-once. These terms are associated with post-war art in the United States, particularly color field painting. They?re thought to be complementary, together describing pictures that make of their entire, allover surface a single, all-at-once image. But these terms in fact relate to each other very uneasily, if not in outright opposition.

?...The pervasive sense that artworks rely on chains of explanation residing outside themselves. that they are a sub-species of theory, that they depend for their legibility and legitimacy on discourse, that they are most fully revealed in books and magazines, in the dual-slide-projector lectures of classrooms and artist talks, in informed discussions among artworld insiders, did much more to erode conviction in the single, framed, all-there-at-once image.?

?...If either model of criticism- modernist or postmodernist- exists for us today, it?s as a shriveled up version of its former self. The postmodernist critic no longer sounds so triumphant when skeptically shifting focus away from the artwork to the contexts and contingencies that underlie and determine it- many are tenured art historians now, nested in the system, and continue to limit their attention to such long canonized senior artists as Ryman or Richter, artists whose quality hasn?t been in doubt in decades. And on the other hand we have the true judging critic who can feel but can?t think, whose expertise has dwindled to a mute albeit heartfelt and supposedly authentic thumbs-up or thumbs-down gesture. What?s left is a postmodernist view of the system that isn?t so much critical as conformist, and a modernist model of the self that?s too incapacitated and dim witted to act.?

?...We?re concerned that artworks are being too completely absorbed into the various contexts they?re threaded through, the magazines, coffee table books, discourses, slide comparisons, mega-Biennial group shows, Vogue lifestyle layouts, boutique architecture, the designing of experience. Artworks seem knitted at their sides to other works, references, lists, contexts, captions, commodities, product environments, etc., and these chains circulate perpendicular to us, to our attention, like internet data or TV programming, all just flowing by, a parade we?re from and only contemplate. Stopping a work, framing it, having it hold itself before us and challenge and reward our engagement with it- this is no longer a given for art but a stake that needs to be declared, fought for, pushed, risked, secured. Indeed, it?s a struggle for criticism as well, as criticism stands for the unfolding for rewards. or lack thereof, of serious attention to art.?

(you can find X-tra online at:

but they don't have the Relyea article up yet.)

*OK, five adjectives... and they're worth it.

Posted by Dennis at September 18, 2003 1:06 PM


Really rather nepotistical. Read between the lines but be cautious... cant help but get the feeling somethings being mined here thats already quite noticable, but then again that might be the point. Boils down to mnemonics now doesnt it?Havent read the entire article yet but looking forward to it. Thanks for posting these exerpts.


You're welcome!

I think I know what you mean by nepotism, but this is more about instutional systems that evolve to the point where all that matters is the survival of the system than what purpose the systems used to serve... (or so I interpret), rather than fiefdoms and transfers of power, even though this happens as a natural consequence.

One good example is the show called "Public Offerings" at MOCA LA, do you know of it? Relyea wrote for this catalog, along with many others, several of whom openly acknowledged the curatiorial thesis that the artworld as a system is the sole subject and object of what remains interesting about art today. Many or all of the artists used as examples by Relyea in his article were featured in this show.

While I agree with L.R. by and large, I have a different interpretation of the emergence of the PostModern and the interpretation of the (LA) artworld of the ninties as it whistled past the fall of the Berlin Wall. Aside form this, Relyea's article is long past due.

B.T.W., What do you mean by mnemonics?

The under-whelming percentage of people who actually care about this is alarmingly small. It just seems that Mr. Relyea is folding himself into the fray. A self-recognition that he is part of his own system and the system he is questioning needs to be addressed. This is tricky? who is ?qualified? to make such remarks? It certainly won?t come from the art-loving public. It must come from within. I agree it needs to be a subject of discourse but it should be an inclusive one. ?Move away from the ego and towards the eco?? as a friend of mine mentioned the other day.

By mnemonics I mean the system of remembrance caused by various indicators that so often go unnoticed. By using art to inform this system that same cause and response can be had by a greater audience. From what Mr. Relyea is writing this system is being forgoed for the all too familiar fast paced gallery run throughs that we all make. One painting connected to the other painting while the proverbial headset is reminding us to stop by the gift shop on the way out.

And congratulations on the Artforum ad, it looks great and it definitely caught my eye. Wish I could see the show.

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