Thinkin ’bout My Generation…
Since my interaction with Jerry Saltz (described in this blog’s last installment), I have been considering how I relate to the collective population defined as people who became artists and just happened to have been born around the same time as me. I’ve never felt that my interests in art necessarily aligned with the people around me, but I also felt that was one of the benefits of being an artist now was that we’d gotten to a point where we could do whatever we want. We’ve already seen the historical end of Modernism and post-modernism’s U-turn out of the cul de sac (followed by the artists that followed Schnable, Salle, et al high-tailing it out of an ugly suburban neighborhood at high speed), so the benefit of being a Post-Post-Modernist was no longer being yoked to the need to drive a historical narrative forward. Just as the Renaissance introduced new tools for representation into art, once they were absorbed artists were able to follow their own ideas. Artists now should be in a similar position, but with even more freedom, as any notions of ghetto or hierarchy by medium should not be taken seriously. This leaves artists with the explicitly personal. This is the proverbial blessing and curse, as freedom to go anywhere can make it awfully hard to pick a destination.
That Mr. Saltz felt that I was cribbing from the Post-Minimalists is certainly fair in that they do form the backbone of my influences as a painter. I still remember walking into the Johnson County Community College Gallery to see a pared down version of Terry Winters Whitney Museum of American Art retrospective and being completely bowled over. Here was someone who understood paint as a physical material but was able to marry it to an interest in science and information. These were my interests; it felt like he was painting directly for me. This was a great experience for a budding artist, inevitably leading to a great deal of imitation and then trying to figure out a way around or through that influence to something that was my own. What I discovered was that I had little interest in brash expressionism; my subject and presentation was going to be restrained and considered. I worked my way back through artists like Donald Judd and early Frank Stella, and found artists that I wanted to rebound off of, that made work that I appreciated on a deeply personal level, but at the same time who did not signal a way forward. While working I paid more and more attention to my process and materials, finding that my handling of paint was not going to change, like handwriting. My corrections, editing, scraping, and sanding were intrinsic to my project, and my surfaces informed my painting’s conceptual structure.
This has me circling back to Roberta Smith’s NY Times columns on Post-Minimalism’s recent pervasiveness in New York City museums and on the future of painting. Ms. Smith (married to Mr. Saltz) argues that we’re seeing too much cool, reductive art in Manhattan museums. Leaving aside the larger geo-social implications of needing to see the work on the island, I was at first a bit put off by her argument. I waited for a long time for the Roni Horn and Gabriel Orozco exhibitions and getting them in short order felt like a bounty rather than a burden. That there was a synergy between institutions to explore a particular period in depth didn’t feel like a bad thing, certainly not as someone interested in that period.
But she was also arguing for painting, for work “that seems made by one person out of intense personal necessity, often by hand.” It’s certainly something I would like to see more of in galleries, if only out of pure selfishness. This is how I think of what I make. However the examples she presents, especially in the later slide show, are not anything I can relate to. “Made by hand” need not direct the artist to retreat into a clunky folk figuration. I prefer to think of Cash in As I Lay Dying, meticulously planing and fitting the boards for his mother’s coffin. Personal need and the handmade can side with craftsmanship, and reference the body only by measure. The materials used are as necessary. That these concerns are labeled as ‘Post-Minimal’ strikes me as more an issue of the currency and failure of the label rather than my project. That my concerns likely don’t matter to my peers, ‘my generation,’ as a whole doesn’t render them moot, merely unfashionable. That I can live with.