Tuesday, October 21, 2014

"evolving visual landscape"




For Philip Guston, the "evolving visual landscape" led him from figurative painting, to abstract painting, to a hybrid of the two -- not merely figuration, as many suggest.

Earlier this year we noted a similar evolution in the painting of Elizabeth McIntosh, as featured in an exhibition Mina Totino curated at Equinox Gallery, entitled Persian Rose, Chartreuse Muse, Vancouver Grey.

A painting included in this exhibition is McIntosh's The Girl (2014):


When I first saw this work, I recognized it as a McIntosh painting for its use of colour, its attention to line and form -- this despite the presence of a figure.

After Guston debuted his figurative paintings in 1970, critics turned on him. Guston, who was clearly bothered by this, withdrew from the art scene, but continued to paint. A painting he made some years later was of the composer Morton Feldman, a friend who turned on him after he changed his style.

Here is Guston's Friend -- to M.F. (1978):


Although I would never suggest that the figure in McIntosh's The Girl is someone who turned away from the artist after her introduction of a figure into her painting, one wonders if in the midst of such a painting she might have considered for a moment what had happened to Guston.

Monday, October 20, 2014

Press Release



In 1963, the Jewish Museum in Brooklyn gave us Towards a New Abstraction, an influential exhibition that featured Dan Flavin's first light tubes. Now, some fifty years later, the museum invites us to a panel discussion entitled What's At Stake For Abstract Painting Today -- and Where Do We Go From Here?

The panel, led by Bob Nickas, includes artists Joanne Greenbaum, Philip Taaffe, and Stanely Whitney. It asks:

Why, at a time when there is greater interest in abstraction, is so much art seemingly unconcerned with evolving the visual landscape? And why is so much of it embraced by collectors, and not by critics and curators? Perhaps one question answers the other. This panel considers: What's at stake for abstract painting today.

When much of what we see today isn't actually painted, claims to be conceptual, borders on design, eagerly lends itself to branding, and, self-satisfied to have been quote/unquote emptied of meaning, provides an inoffensive backdrop to an endless succession of art fairs and auctions. Of one point we are certain: there is nothing in any way abstract about this recent turn of events.


Reading through this description, one cannot help but ask: Are the questions raised based in reality? Is there a greater interest in abstraction?

I would say no more than usual.

Of this abstraction, is it "seemingly unconcerned with the evolving visual landscape?" If the question of an abstraction "embraced by collectors, and not by critics and artists[,]" constitutes an aspect of the "evolving visual landscape" (not so much the abstract work of art, but its function as a flag of conquest in the private spaces of collectors), then I would say, as much as art can be "concerned" with anything, its makers and agents are very much aware of -- and indeed contribute to -- this "evolving visual landscape."

To ask, "What's at stake for abstract painting today?" is (Eli) broad enough.

The sentence that leads off the second paragraph leads nowhere. Shouldn't it be placed before the sentence that ends the paragraph before it? As in:

This panel considers: What's at stake for abstract painting today[, w]hen much of what we see today isn't actually painted, claims to be conceptual, borders on design, eagerly lends itself to branding, and, self-satisfied to have been quote/unquote emptied of meaning, provides an inoffensive backdrop to an endless succession of art fairs and auctions[?]

As for the final sentence, let me rewrite that one too:

Of one point we are certain: there is nothing in any way abstract [about my reading of this press release].

Saturday, October 18, 2014

"red water in the swimming pool from some mysterious source of rust"



Arthur Erickson's "Graham House" was something of a marvel when it debuted in 1963, a work inspired by the Villa d'Este near Rome. But the house suffered birth defects; and though the original budget was $35,000, it ballooned to over twice that.

In his biography of Erickson, Stouck provides details of a letter David Graham wrote to project manager Garry Hanson in 1966 that cite "nine major problems and omissions," which include "stains throughout the house, unlevel beams, and red water in the swimming pool from some mysterious source of rust."

But the house endured, until it fell into disrepair in the late-1980s. In December 2007 it was torn down.

Friday, October 17, 2014

c̓əsnaʔəm



In his biography of Arthur Erickson, David Stouck devotes space to the architect's lecture at the closing of the 1963 Festival of the Contemporary Arts at UBC: "In North America, Arthur reminded his audience, the most present visual symbols were power poles rather than church steeples, the traffic exchanges rather than the pedestrian space. Where to find the indigenous forms that were waiting to be discovered and transformed was the specific questions he posed for his audience. Architectural form is eloquent only in context, he said, and in a poetic vein continued: 'The act of siting betrays to us the tenor of human aspirations, the shape of God, and the worth of man.'" (p.179)

Thursday, October 16, 2014


A small room inside a bay window. A single bed, a table and chair, and a sink. I could manage something larger, with more conveniences, but I could never match the view.

At my bedside table, a copy of David Stouck's biography of the architect Arthur Erickson, who affected me at the memorial for art historian and curator Doris Shadbolt some eleven years ago, when he said, "We have lost the ability to converse with one another, have conversations."

This was a comment that brought to mind a line from Evelyn Waugh's novel The Loved One (1948), when Sir Francis Hinsley, sitting in the fading light of his backyard in West Hollywood, and on the topic of Americans, turns to the younger Barlow and says: "Always remember that, dear boy. It's the secret of social ease in this country. They talk entirely for their own pleasure. Nothing they say is designed to be heard."