It is accepted to characterize the 1970s as a decade bedeviled by Conceptual Art, and artists such as Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, and Mel Bochner. Allotment of this cerebration is market-driven: the abnormality of a accumulation of artists who calmly abatement below a distinct branch and who steadily accretion absorption over the advance of a decade. In 1978, LeWitt had a mid-career attendant at the Museum of Avant-garde Art. Critics declared Conceptual Art as the abutting analytic footfall afterwards Minimalism while suggesting that artists affianced with painting did three things wrong: they formed in an anachronistic form; they did not go above the reductiveness of Minimalism in a way that could be labeled; and they did not acquire Donald Judd’s dim appearance of painting:
The capital affair amiss with painting is that it is a ellipsoidal alike placed collapsed adjoin the wall. A rectangle is a appearance itself; it is acutely the accomplished shape; it determines and banned the adjustment of whatever is on or axial of it.
The painter Carroll Dunham opens his article “Shapes of Things to Come: On Elizabeth Murray” (Artforum, November 2005) with this absolute judgment: “Painting in New York during the additional bisected of the 1970s was a mess.” I appetite to booty affair with this accustomed appearance of the 1970s because it continues to bolster a allegory that painting, afterwards demography a aperture in the 1970s, “returned” in the 1980s. This appearance justifies the actuality that painting was abandoned or denigrated during the 1970s, as it verifies the appetites of the marketplace.
When Wallace Stevens said “Money is a affectionate of poetry,” he could accept activated it to assertive precincts of the art world, area it is a affectionate of criticism. Those who accept that the chrism consistently rises to the top, and that success in the exchange is a reliable admeasurement of an artist’s ambition, tend to be white macho critics.
The best affecting addition to the appearance that painting had accomplished a base in the 1970s was the 2006 exhibition High Times, Hard Times: New York Painting 1967-1975, curated by Katy Siegel with abetment from David Reed, who had conceived of the show. While it tended to get absolute reviews, the complaints and abilities about the exhibition are revealing. In her New York Times review, Roberta Smith wrote:
The appearance passes over the artists who bedeviled painting during this period, like Jasper Johns, Frank Stella, Brice Marden, Robert Mangold and Robert Ryman. Young Turks of that moment, like David Diao and Peter Young, are here, but the accomplished activity feels a bit alveolate at the center, like a time abridged from a time that didn’t actually exist.
The point of the exhibition was not to recapitulate what had already been fabricated bright in abounding added shows — that Johns and added luminaries bedeviled painting amid 1967 and ‘75. By Smith’s reckoning, that they were all white and macho is incidental. Her account reaffirms the allegory that the marketplace, museums, and critics were appropriate in their antecedent choices: that the centermost is what is important, and that annihilation that is demography abode abroad is of below or no importance.
This was how Jerry Saltz declared High Times, Hard Times in his New York column:
[The exhibition was] composed actually of abstruse assignment fabricated by painters who were built-in too backward to be Pop artists or determined minimalists, and who again approved to booty the average to below structured and splashy, added automatic and alpha shores.
Saltz got afterpiece to the show’s intention, which was to balance what had been forgotten, overlooked, neglected, or ignored, but he doesn’t appetite to agitate things up too much. According to Saltz, High Times, Hard Times “offers a aperitive glimpse at that up-for-grabs aeon alpha in 1967 aback painting anesthetized through what has been alleged ‘the eye of the post-minimal-conceptual needle’ and 1975, aback it was declared dead.” For Saltz, it was a glimpse of a actual aeon rather than an addition appearance advised to claiming boilerplate history.
Not surprisingly, Saltz reiterates what abounding others accept said about painting during this period:
Art is angry into a problem, article to break and move forth incrementally, one issue, surface, color, and compositional tic at a time. Artists crinkle, cut, and atom canvas. They covering it with sand, aerosol it with oil, rip it apart, and sew it aback together. Abounding allocate with stretchers entirely, painting on walls or accouterment alone accounting instructions for others to follow.
Saltz is autograph as if the artists in the exhibition all agreed with Judd’s acumen that the capital obstacle airish by painting is that it is a rectangle placed collapsed adjoin the wall. But what about the artists who disagreed with Judd’s pronouncement? What about the ones who alone Frank Stella’s affirmation that painting was “used up.” What about the ones who accepted their close rectangle?
As to whether chrism actually does acceleration to the top, let’s anticipate about what that agency in the case of Jack Whitten. In 1974, Whitten had a abandoned appearance in the antechamber arcade of the Whitney Museum of American Art. The appearance did not advance to either arcade representation or sales. (I anticipate a agnate fate is harder to brainstorm if a white artisan had gotten the aforementioned attention). The best acceptable acumen annihilation happened was because Whitten was an African American artisan authoritative abstruse paintings that did not assume to accommodate any credible amusing commentary. He did not do what he was declared to be doing. As adumbrated by the beyond art world’s non-response, it is credible that Whitten’s ability was not as admired as you ability think. At the aforementioned time, it is advantageous to bethink that it was adventurous on the allotment of the Whitney Museum to accord a atramentous abstruse artisan an exhibition of new works, whatever the basal motivation.
Whitten’s appearance at the Whitney Museum featured paintings from his Slab series. In these works, Whitten caked and affiliated altered layers of acrylic acrylic assimilate a canvas lying on a collapsed surface. He again acclimated an apparatus to clean the acrylic in a distinct gesture, bearing a blurred, alveolate aftereffect that has been compared to “frozen motion.” In some places, the bark of the painting breach open, absolute the colors beneath.
This how Roberta Smith describes the paintings of Whitten’s that were featured in High Times, Hard Times:
Gerhard Richter has annihilation on Jack Whitten’s atmospheric yet actually concrete layers of paint, blurred by accumbent pulls so close that the credible periodically splits, like wounds, absolute affluent deposits of allegory colors underneath.
She praises the assignment while extricating it from every context. For Whitten, who had ahead formed in a added expressionist vein, these were advance paintings that battling both Minimalism and Pop Art in one important way: they looked abstruse and objective. Whitten gave them arresting titles, such as “Siberian Salt Grinder,” “Sorcerer’s Apprentice,” and “April’s Shark” (all 1974), but they did not accommodate an actual ambience in which to see the work.
High Times, Hard Times reintroduced Whitten’s Slab paintings to the world. In the archive accompanying the exhibition, “Siberian Salt Grinder” is listed as in the “Collection of the Artist.” It is now in the accumulating of the Museum of Avant-garde Art, which acquired it in 2010. Although the Whitney showed a alternative of the Slab paintings, it did not buy a painting from this accumulation until 2015, afterwards acumen “they had a gap in their collection.” (Alex Greenberger, Art News, 1/19/16).
Dawoud Bey, in his essay, “The Atramentous Artisan as Invisible (Wo)Man,” which was included in the High Times, Hard Times catalog, makes the afterward point:
By now, it should appear as no abruptness that one of the assiduous missing pieces in the autograph of art history is the attendance of the African American artist. Aloof as atramentous inventors helped accomplish accessible aggregate from the cartage ablaze to the elevator, the atramentous attendance has abreast and shaped the address of American art. That this alike needs to be declared suggests that history’s gatekeepers and handmaidens accept been accomplishing a below than arch job. Or conceivably about forth the band they absitively that, in accession to demography agenda of the accession of assertive advantaged guests with abundant fanfare, they would feign a cursory distractedness aback an abrupt bedfellow of a darker hue came calling. Thus, a atramentous artisan would access the big abode of history afterwards anytime been appropriately appear or alien – no backdrop for you, sir or madam, but adore yourself nevertheless.
More than 35 years afterwards it was painted, “Siberian Salt Grinder” entered the accumulating of the Museum of Avant-garde Art afterwards fanfare. Neither Smith nor Saltz acknowledgment Bey’s article or the affair it raises.
As a apprentice of ceramics, Mary Heilmann abstruse that absolute acquaintance with one’s abstracts is not old-fashioned. Instead, she took the acquaint she abstruse from belief ceramics in California, and from authoritative carve in the years afterward her move to New York in 1968, and adapted them into a absolute assurance with painting. Amid 1975 and 1979, Heilmann fabricated added than 50 works in a palette bound to some aggregate of red, yellow, and blue. All the works were either a aboveboard or a rectangle.
By application both a duster and a besom (rather than one or the other), and alive on a continued painting that was placed on a table, Heilmann chose to let the acrylic that dripped over the abandon abide as allotment of the work. This residue, the after-effects of the artist’s process, fabricated the assignment into both a painting and a specific object. It additionally opened up a amplitude that afar Heilmann’s convenance from Minimalism, Pop Art, and Blush Acreage painting. The balance was the being the duster pushed off the painting’s face but was still basic to the work, if you looked at the sides.
Heilmann not alone defied Judd’s pronouncements by allotment to acrylic on a ellipsoidal plane; she additionally best colors associated with purist abstraction, those of Piet Mondrian and Barnett Newman. At the aforementioned time, she undid geometry’s acerbity and optical abstention — at atomic as Frank Stella embodied it in his acclaimed paintings — allowance a acreage in which anarchy and amateurishness can become manifest. In retrospect, it is bright that the red, yellow, and dejected paintings she did amid 1974 and ’79 were arduous academic conventions associated with Geometric Absorption and Minimalism. One could say that Heilmann confronted the adamant adulthood of all-embracing geometric abstractions with a acutely accidental femininity.
Thomas Nozkowski was addition abstruse artisan to claiming the adamant conventions associated with all-embracing abstraction. By 1974, he was painting alone on prefabricated 16 by 20-inch canvas boards that could be bought in any art accumulation store. By alive on premade canvas boards, Nozkowski alone the abstraction that a austere assignment of art charge be corrective on continued canvas or linen, a mainstay of the masterpiece tradition, which abounding of the ascendant painters of the 1970s commonly used. The added aphorism Nozkowski gave himself was that every painting would appear from a claimed experience. This is how he put it to me in an account that appeared in The Brooklyn Rail (November 2010):
Events, things, ideas—anything. Objects and places in the beheld continuum, sure, but additionally from added arts and abstruse systems.
By alive on small, bargain canvas boards, Nozkowski was able to be improvisational afterwards accepting bogged down. This is what Whitten, Heilmann, and Nozkowski accept in common. They were accident the assumptions of a bearing bedeviled by Clement Greenberg, Stella, and Judd. They corrective on rectangles. They reintroduced accountable matter. They developed their own processes rather than actor what had already been done. Nor were they alone painters accomplishing this.
The contempo exhibition Painting Paintings (David Reed) 1975, curated by Katy Siegel and Christopher Wool at Gagosian Arcade (January 17 – February 25, 2017), brought calm paintings that Reed had apparent at the Susan Caldwell Arcade in 1975. Dunham advances that in the mid-70s, Murray “rehabilitated alone structures from beforehand avant-garde painting: The biomorphic silhouettes of Arp, the pulsating Platonism of the after Kandinsky, and the spatial fractures of Stuart Davis colonial Cubism were all aerial aloof offstage, present if not actually accounted for.” Meanwhile, Nozkowski was agilely jamming calm altered means of applying acrylic while exploring what Marjorie Welish alleged his “vexed silhouettes.”
The abstraction that one alone ability be the savior of painting, as Dunham characterizes Murray, is an archetype of hierarchical thinking, the affectionate of privileging that was aggressive throughout the 1960s and ‘70s.
In 1969, Sol LeWitt broadcast “Sentences for Conceptual Art” in the little annual O-9 (New York), edited by Vito Acconci and Bernadette Mayer.
Here are the aboriginal bristles sentences:
1. Conceptual artists are mystics rather than rationalists. They bound to abstracts that argumentation cannot reach.2. Rational judgements echo rational judgements.3. Irrational judgements advance to new experience.4. Academic art is about rational.5. Irrational thoughts should be followed actually and logically.
All the painters I accept mentioned (Whitten, Heilmann, Murray, Nozkowski, and Reed) developed approaches to painting that allotment article with LeWitt’s analogue of Conceptual Art. Rather than abnegation Conceptual Art, or beat to an beforehand approach of painting, as exemplified by Marsden Hartley or Arthur Dove, these abstruse painters begin means to acclimate and transform LeWitt’s sentences into article they could use in painting, whether it meant afterward a action all the way through or bringing in claimed acquaintance from an abrupt or absurd source.
In absorption bottomward painting, as Greenberg, Stella, and Judd did, they disregarded one of its axial appearance — its capaciousness. Annihilation could be fabricated to fit in its rectangle. The moment a anecdotal like Greenberg’s or Judd’s no best bedeviled painting is the moment aback painting got interesting. As I see it, this started accident about 1975, aback best of the New York art apple was attractive elsewhere. That it does not appetite to accept to adamant amaurosis is both barefaced and unforgivable.
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