Exhibits Big & Small
by Jack Foran
The small exhibit is a kind of capsule version of the big exhibit currently at the Albright-Knox. The small exhibit, about the invention of the art book around the 1960s. The big exhibit, some of the backbone works of the collection, at home before heading off on a traveling exhibition to several other galleries. Some Pollock, Giacometti, Gauguin, Van Gogh, Matisse, Motherwell, Picasso, DeKooning, David Smith, etc.
The small exhibit comprises work by just three artists: Sol LeWitt, Edward Ruscha, and Dieter Roth. The three have little in common other than the objective to make books that were polar different from what books traditionally were.
A salient theme of the big exhibit is the objective of one artist after another to make art polar different from what art traditionally was. Sometimes to the point of different from any and all previous art.
What both exhibits demonstrate is the various artists’ heroic endeavors toward such objectives, but I think ultimate frustration of their endeavors.
What books traditionally were were narratives, stories. The basic tactic of the three bookmaker artists was to create non-narrative books. Books without stories.
Some of LeWitt’s books consist of page after page of compass and straight edge geometrical drawings. Kind of all the things you can do with a compass and straight edge. But no words. Just the book titles, like Lines in Two Directions and in Five Colors on Colors with All Their Combinations. Another, called Autobiography, consists of grid layouts of photos of material objects in the artist’s life, supposedly—pots and pans, books on shelves—again without words, so ostensibly, no narrative. But a narrative emerges. As also in the geometrical figures books. (Euclid’s Elements is much different book than Homer’s Odyssey, but still tells a story. Of all the things you can do with a compass and straight edge.)
Of his Twenty Six Gasoline Stations, a book of just photos, without words, Ed Ruscha says, “I never thought of the gas stations as a story. They were more like facts I collected on my trips.” But they amount to a story. A road story, and a pretty banal one. But that’s kind of the point of the story. What do we see in the banal, when we look?
Much the same, but different, with his photos of Los Angeles apartment houses, and aerial views of L.A. parking lots on a Sunday morning, so empty of cars. Just herringbone patterns of white stripes on blacktop or concrete. Abstract art.
The Dieter Roth books present Rorschach split image doodles and gnomic to nonsense prose accompaniment. Or maybe poetry. “I wished time was a yellow bird.” “A question is a thing that looks for shape, but mostly it knows its shape before it gets it, and then it is a stupid question.” Interpreting the Rorschach images? Psychological case study narratives? Or notebook notes for such?
What painting and sculpture traditionally was was representation, mimesis. The story of art in the latter half of the twentieth century was about how artists the likes of Jackson Pollock, Helen Frankenthaler, Agnes Martin, et al., made art in a completely non-representational, non-referential mode. Made paintings of nothing but the painting itself. Rejecting not just the mimetic tradition, but on occasion all previous art and artists.
Wall explanatory copy on Frank Stella, beside one of his black-and-white pinstripes paintings, might apply to any number of artists in the show. With such works, it says, “Stella rejected the past in an effort to create something new and different. This entailed moving away from any representational illusion derived from figurative art, as well as the emotional content found in works by recent generations of artists: abstract expressionist painters such as Jackson Pollock. Stella’s goal was to treat the work of art as no more or less than the sum of its physical components—in this case paint and canvas.”
Sounds a lot like what Pollock was endeavoring, at least as to rejecting the past, and getting away from any representational illusion, and treating the work as the sum of its physical components, paint on canvas.
And how did the artists do with their key goal of getting away from representation? To describe such radically abstract work—what the paintings were showing—the art world came up with terms like “action painting,” and “gestural.” And talked about how to “read” paintings. Which represented something.
Even perhaps Stella’s pinstripes paintings, ultimate icons of the New York School of radical abstraction, referencing from the uniform of the New York City business “serious” world, to the uniform of the Yankees.
The great works of the collection show is up through September 14. The bookmaker artists show through January 4, 2015.blog comments powered by Disqus
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