Brian Dupont: Artist's Texts

An artist's writings on art.

Posts Tagged ‘Judd

My List

As the little tempest in a teacup that is some artists on Twitter finding Modern Art Notes Tyler Green’s Art Madness Bracket rather light on works of the post-war art that wasn’t produced by white males, noted art writer Sharon Butler solicited alternative lists that were published on her Two Coats of Paint blog. I submitted my own list as did several other artists, writers, and critics. I found the entire exercise to be very interesting; looking at the other lists I had quite a few “Oh, how could I leave that work off?” moments. In other cases it allowed me to gain a slightly more subtle understanding of another artists own work, development, and interests. I found drawing up my own list to be fairly eye opening; some artists that I hadn’t consciously thought about for awhile wound up having a lot of pieces on my first draft (that I had to cut 3 Bruce Nauman works was a surprise). In other cases I found that artists that were important to me didn’t have a singular work or even series that stood out in proportion to their overall career (or against the other works I listed).

In the end I approached my list as I think the individual writers who rank baseball prospects do. It has to be considered a snapshot of what I think right now, it is not the same list I would’ve produced a year ago and may change even in the near future. It also almost certainly contains a bias towards works that have influenced me in the past and work that I look at and consider in relation to what’s going on in my own studio now. I think this was a consideration for all of the artists who participated. As one of my primary issues with Mr. Green’s list is that focusing on individual masterpieces was one of the systematic biases that lead to so few women making the list, I made much broader allowances than he or his co-jurors did.

1. Pollock Number 32
2. Judd 100 works in milled aluminum
3. Ellsworth Kelly La Combe
4. Joseph Beuys Arena
5. Smithson Spiral Jetty
6. Gordon Matta-Clarke  Splitting
7. DeKooning   Excavation
8. Frank Stella   The Marriage of Reason and Squalor
9. Cindy Sherman   Untitled Film Stills *
10. Judd  Untitled 1962
11. Serra  Belts
12. Nauman  South American Triangle
13. Roni Horn   Paired Mats – for Ross and Felix
14. Terry Winters  Good Government
15. Brice Marden  The Grove Group *
16. Gober  Silly Sink
17. Richter  October 18th *
18. Christopher Wool  Apocalypse Now
19. Glen Ligon  Untitled (Text paintings) *
20. Paul Thek Technological Reliquaries *
21. Matthew Barney  Cremaster 3
22. Eva Hesse  Untitled 1970
23. Catherine Opie  Untitled (Icehouse series) *
24. Blinky Palermo  To the people of NYC
25. L. Bourgeois  Spider 1997
26. Felix Gonzalez Torres  Untitled (Perfect Lovers)
27. Nauman  Corrider Installation (Nick Wilder Installation)
28. Flavin  Untitled (Marfa Project) 1996
29. Barry LeVa  Continuous and Related Activities
30. Maya Lin  Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial
31. Julie Meheretu  Goldman Sachs Mural
32. Wade Guyton Untitled 1997 *(kind of)

Works marked with an asterisk point to series or bodies of work that are so closely related that I think pulling out a single work is beside the point.

My last changes were removing Martin Puryear’s Bask in favor of Maya Lin’s Vietnam Memorial and cutting Moria Dryer’s Random Fire. The works that just missed were Ana Mendieta’s Silueta Series, Rachel Whiteread’s House, Bruce Conner’s A Movie, Robert Frank’s The Americans, Christian Marclay’s Video Quartet, and Mark Bradford’s Scorched Earth. Clearly some of these works will be seen by others as more deserving, or “better”, but the point is that they just aren’t to me. I’m not arguing that Wade Guyton’s Untitled is of greater historical importance than Frank’s masterpiece, but The Americans doesn’t hold any interest for me or my practice. On the other hand I still find myself referring back to that painting of an “X” that was run through a big Epson printer, and thinking about how it has changed how I approach ideas of text and touch in my own painting. Similarly, early on I toyed with the idea of adding John Beech’s Make in the last spot on the list. I wanted the end to point towards a new work that had recently affected me and caused me to reconsider a broad swath of the art I was seeing around me every day.

At the top I still have Pollock and Judd. I wanted to put Judd’s Chinati Foundation (the entire Foundation and everything in it) ahead of even Pollock, but that wouldn’t really have been in the spirit of the list or the response to Mr. Green. As it stands, Pollock’s drip paintings in total represent a great deal to contemporary art, and I think one of the major differences between post-war European and American art turns on the different spaces in painting and process he opened up with these works. I can oscillate between Number 32 and Autumn Rhythm, but I prefer the stark graphic quality of the uncorrected black enamel on cotton duck. That it all starts with drawing appeals to me.

It has also been interesting to hear suggestions to what we missed. John Powers noted that Jay DeFeo’s The Rose was left off everyone’s lists. (If women are denied the admission of genius that would “let them produce a singular masterpiece, she’s an excellent example of an opposite bias – she produced that single masterpiece, but is otherwise not considered for not having a more level career.) John Morris pointed out that I missed any reference to street art, and that Henry Darger perhaps should have been listed. I’ll speak to street art at another time, but Darger would’ve presented an interesting case. My own list is remarkably light on figuration (even in the photography), and Darger also raises the issue of “outsider” art. It’s a different angle, and one I don’t have an answer to, but considering everything from his opus as a single work would turn notions of art’s canon on it’s head.

Obviously I’m completely missing Johns, Rauschenberg, Rothko, Guston, Barnet Newman , and Warhol. This exercise has me reconsidering John’s White Flag. (I still think the Ballantine Ale Cans are a fairly lame joke, however.) With the others, I still just don’t come back to them anymore. I think all of these artists produced great works, and they’re works that I love, but they’re not something I relate to day to day anymore. John Powers has written an excellent repudiation of the concept of the masterpiece itself in response to the uproar. Looking over the lists the other artists provided, I think that may point to where artists are going to take art. Less masterpieces and more work is more democratic after all. If more voices is deemed a good thing then maybe shouting down the masterpiece is a good use of breath.


Written by Brian Dupont

March 25, 2011 at 7:42 am

The Real Anne Truitt

Anne Truitt’s recently closed exhibition at Matthew Marks has provided the New York art scene with a chance to reassess her work, as her Hirshhorn retrospective did not travel. While some were less than thrilled with this use of Chelsea’s precious allotment of gallery space, it did allow those of us in the “art capital” (of the country or of the planet, depending on your point of view) to assess the physical objects in a clean, well lit space, such as Marks’ immaculate space at West 22nd Street. While isolated works in the perimeter galleries allowed one to chart some of the changes in Truitt’s career, the central grouping of her iconic column sculptures were the star. Settled under skylights, the installation gave each individual work enough space while also allowing the group to be taken in as a whole. Moving through the works allowed one to catch shifting relationships between facets of the same sculpture as well as the next work in the visual field, be it straight away or on the periphery.

This grouping reinforced the traditional phenomenological reading of Truitt’s work that has been at the center of discussions of Minimalist art since Michael Fried. This reading is partly out of place in regard to Truitt, at least according to her own intentions. She arrived at a minimal language at the same time as Judd, Morris, and Flavin, but after experimenting with similar production techniques (her 1965 exhibit at Andre Emmerich featured works fabricated in metal), she stepped back to embrace a handmade practice that was out of step with the works of her contemporaries despite a shared aesthetic language. The texts supplied by the gallery, culled from the artist’s own writings, point to her interest in moving painting off the wall. Her surfaces, inflected with subtle traces of brushwork sitting atop solid wood, lie between Barnett Newman’s brushed fields and the evenly applied stains of her friends Kenneth Noland and Morris Louis. While she was interested in the emotional impact of pure color that could interact with viewer in his or her own space, the intimate nature of her personal subject matter aimed for a more emotional engagement than the matter-of-fact phenomenology of Judd, but one that was less grand and universal than that espoused by Newman. The Marks installation showed her formal successes off to great effect, but at the expense of her more idiosyncratic and narrative sources.

This approach makes much more sense today, as any such personal coding of universal elements can feel quaint, whereas a literal reading places her within a more accepted canonical framework; it is much easier to bring her into the discussion rather than pulling history out to her. This reading continues from the Hirshhorn show as Kristen Hileman’s lecture “Arriving at an Art Historical Anne Truitt” argued for her place alongside Judd as a founder of Minimalism. Leaving aside the accusations of sexism (although it is interesting how such marginalization never has a direct source, but “just happens”), it feels like a mistake to remove the personal reading from her work. Her intentions are what set the unique constraints of her art, and if we are to accept a larger vision of Minimalism and its influence, then we will be better served to understand what she ultimately aimed to construct with it.

Written by Brian Dupont

July 11, 2010 at 10:00 pm

Posted in Review

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Why Do Artists Write? As I See It…

Since the Renaissance elevated individual painters, sculptors, and architects beyond the status as crafts- and guildsmen and created the Western notion of the artist, a few artists have maintained a writing practice alongside their physical production. Though Vasari’s Lives gave us a model for art historical writing, Vasari did not have to contend with shifting attitudes of aesthetics that found the need to categorize various projects as “Art” or “non-art.” (The impulse for catty gossip, on the other hand, appears to be woven into our DNA.) As early Modernists fought the prevailing academies, they relied heavily on the manifesto to define their agenda or identify their faction. After World War II, when the center of the Modernist art world migrated to New York and artists began to produce objects that did not look any different from everyday items, writing became a way for some artists to (try to) control the terms of debate around their work. As contemporary Western art moved from traditional disciplines and its discourse pushed past the Modernist project to a myriad of concerns (the position of art in culture, the engagement—and exploitation and repression—of the dominant culture with other cultures, the necessity of art and its attendant institutions, the viability of entire media, etc.), the volume of writing by artists truly exploded.

I see the most vital writing recently done by artists as coming from the supposed end of Modernism, by Donald Judd and Andy Warhol. Judd brought the control he sought over every facet of his work and life to his writing, and he was specific enough to take on Michael Freid and other critics on their own terms after the previous generation had largely abdicated the interpretation of their work to others. (Indeed there was a certain distrust of writers by artists. Mel Bochner has stated that in the ’60s, “artists who wrote were looked at suspiciously, as if writing somehow tainted their visual practice.”) Armed with a degree in philosophy, Judd worked in the trenches writing criticism as he found a voice for his sculpture and developing installation concerns. Because of his example, the writing projects of conceptual artists such as Bochner and Smithson were more easily accepted than they might otherwise have been. Counter to the theoretical and journalistic rigors of Judd’s writing, Warhol’s writing took the laissez-faire approach of the personal diarist. Even if his dairies weren’t intended for public consumption, they are an antecedent to our celebrity-dazed, reality-show culture. Like his art, his writing progressed from “high” art into mass marketing and popular culture, and he went so far as to found Interview Magazine, setting the bar particularly high for future artists wishing to mine celebrity culture for their work. The territory he staked out seems particularly relevant to today’s art world, which can plumb the depths of personal revelation or wade the shallows of the contemporary mediascape just as easily as it can engage the formal interplay of shape, line, mass, and color.

For young artists working now, writing has become ever more important and common, while simultaneously being dreaded. With the Internet as an everyday utility and the proliferation of social networking sites, more and more interactions occur via text; and yet I rarely meet artists who enjoy writing. The extraction of a wisdom tooth is considered preferable to writing a new artist’s statement, and writing about larger concerns or the work of other artists is out of the question. The contraction of print media means that the profit motives that lead Judd and Bochner to writing no longer obtain for artists. I think most artists would rather leave the production of text to someone they see as more qualified, which probably leads to the sad state of the statements about artist’s works found in press releases, many of which could be contenders for a Bulwer-Lytton award if there were a relevant category.

Indeed, I do dread writing. Partly because I generally do not have to do it, partly because I live with a writer who makes it seem easy (and so all the more frustrating to me), and largely because writing would keep me out of the studio. But it’s starting to seem more important to make the effort, both as a way to engage with artists and work I may not know, and as a way to decode contemporary thinking on art generally, and on painting specifically, even in the midst of the messy present. I confess that I incline toward Judd rather than Warhol; and as I endeavor to post with a semblance of regularity, I will be combining reviews with longer pieces aimed at addressing broader questions, while keeping the gossip out of it. Consider this first post a way up and off the couch.

Written by Brian Dupont

March 12, 2010 at 4:20 am

Posted in General

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