April 26, 2015

Culmination and Denial (Painting Beyond Pollock)

Consider, if you will, the two bookends of this interview with Morgan Falconer about the publication of his new book, Painting Beyond Pollock.

To start off, I have to ask you: why Pollock? Why not painting beyond Newman? Or Rothko? Or de Kooning?

In certain accounts of modern painting, Pollock is seen as a culmination. He was certainly seen by many artists at the time, people like Allan Kaprow, as having finished painting--as having brought it to a kind of culmination beyond which it couldn't go any further. Kaprow thought painting was over after Pollock, that he'd done the most with it that could be done.

My initial thought was that this illustrates the recognition that any nascent era first must push back from the previous one. I think that we are still circumscribed by postmodernism. We should have come to the realization that it had come to cumulation at the height of critical theory, precisely at the time of the fall of the Berlin Wall and the collapse of the Soviet Union at the beginning of the 90's. Twenty five years has passed without a critical reassessment. One of the problems involved is that many of us in the art world have a fragmentary idea about postmodernism. Indeed it is the dispersive tendencies due to the philosophical relativism which is the intellectual linchpin of that era that prevents us from seeing that it is not only the crown of the 20th century but also a unitary whole from Pop Art to Critical Theory and the sputter of activity that followed it afterwards into the first and now second decade of the next century. Admittedly, such a reassessment is a monumental task, to put it lightly... and many, many sacred cows would be gored in the process. So, we can understand that outside the ignorance of this critical imperative, there is a natural fear that inhibits what is now becoming an urgent task.

Look at the danger signs that loom in the torpor of this interregnum:
-the emergence of Zombie Art (not just painting but all media),
-a long accepted "end of criticism",
-the deferral of the museum to the marketplace,
-a herd instinct among curators and artists... especially emerging artists,
-the tendency of young artists to treat their generative arc in a manner similar to down-market fashion designers (where they first survey the "runways" and concoct a synthesis of trends for the marketplace),
-the clear and present danger of insider trading, market manipulation, bubbles and price signal confusion
-conflicts of interest that emanate from the role jumping between artist, curator, gallerist, museum, collector, critic

We must assess the end of the 20th century, and to the extent that we haven't yet done this, specifically: that what could be done with postmodernism has already been done, we won't be able to embark into the new era, our 21st century already in progress.

So reading this was good news for me. At last, the call to reassessment was sounding and the model can be located in the birth of postmodernism itself. I was almost about to buy his book, but by the time I drilled into the bottom of the interview, I was put off by this:

Your book is about celebrating painting while also putting it in perspective--in some ways, sidestepping debates about the death and life of painting.

Lots of articles about painting start with this tedious thing, and I just want to get away from that--there's not much point talking about it. Painting is not in great health, but painters will end up continuing to paint and to turn out paintings worth looking at. I just don't think it's worth talking about whether it's dead or alive.

You could say that it's in decline...

So. Painting after Pollock seems to report that painting is not in great health. It's in decline, actually. Even though, according to Falconer, that painters will continue to turn out paintings that are merely "worth looking at", and not much more than that it seems. This sorry state of affairs is not worth talking about for this author, it is a tedious chore.

I think we have another declinist before us, ladies and gentlemen. Kevorkians abound to ease painting into that dark night.

Not wanting to address the "death of painting" meme misses a huge issue, pivotal, really. Why did painting have to die? Painting had to step aside for the emergence and recognition of its' other, the multitude of alternative media. This was a good thing in as much as alternative media deserved recognition in the world's stage. All argumentation requires a measure of artifice and hyperbole. A point of view necessarily backgrounds competing perspectives to achieve focus. But it is as if we have forgotten the operation of the suspension of disbelief.

This is what I was referring to in this October 19, 2010 blogpost, It's as if:

It's as if...

We looked for the stars beside the sun, so we blocked it out with our hand.

And we found stars. Constellations. Nebulas. Galaxies. Other worlds.

And it was good. The world is bigger, better now that we know this.

But we forgot that the sun was there, even why it was there. Along the way, some of us became unaware that our hands are held aloft.

Others mumbled, then cried: "Fucking Sun! if it wasn't for you, we wouldn't have to hold our hands up to see the sky! You g-ddamm selfish asshole! You keep the sky for yourself! You hoard all the glory! DAMN YOU TO HELL!"

Caught in the passion of the era, many took the proposition that painting was over as a literal truth. A proposition was taken as an article of faith and the nostrums of postmodernism attained a religious glow, a kind of gleam that must have moistened Savonarola's eyes. What was gained was valuable but in a final analysis, art is not a zero sum game. Art without painting is impoverished, does this really need to be be said?

Apparently so.

That painting is yet vital, this is a notion that we need to be reminded of.

eclipse sun copy.gif

Posted by Dennis at April 26, 2015 8:44 AM

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