Saturday, March 30, 2019

Last week on a whim I approached the Resnick-Passlof Foundation with a proposal for an exhibition, joining the abstractions for which Resnick became famous with his last figurative works, and putting both in a larger historical context. I referred half-jokingly to a Jewish sense of materialism, a vulgar as opposed to idealist physicality  I mentioned Pissarro but also specifically, given the overlap, Soutine –I was thinking also of Titian and Rembrandt, the materialism of trading cultures.

Soutine's name brought out a surprisingly enthusiastic response. Resnick loved Soutine's work, and I read later in the week that Resnick had said he'd been a huge influence for painters in the late 1940s. Picasso's work had become stale and Soutine's paint handing had been a revelation.

This fit with something else I'd been thinking about: the interest in the tactile as opposed to the merely visual in post-war art. The sense that physicality in paint, impasto, often but not always coincides with a sense of pictorial depth, not geometrical but the perception of distance from the human viewer.  Wölfflin etc. Also a relationship between the formal simplicity of iconographic art and serialism, minimalism etc: the sense that structure is a given, a ground, allowing other interests to come to the fore.  See the relation Fontana's abstract 'paintings' to his figurative sculpture. And in the age of photography and film, paintings are still things, not images of things. For sculpture, see my responses to Fried et al.

And then there's the odd mix of personal and impersonal, the subjectivism of CoBrA the emptiness or void of the Zero school being the technocratic grid within which individual human beings live their lives, see: Kubrick/Piranesi.

As I said in a letter to the foundation director
Some of the work is cool, some is hot, much of it is dark again responding to post-war optimism of the boom years,  but the focus on physicality is a common trait.
My mistake was to say that all of this went against 'formalism'.  I said specifically that it separated de Kooning's women from this abstractions, which although I didn't say it, quickly became mannered.

After the meeting I'd sent a thank-you note and received a detailed reply, cc'd to a trustee.  My response to that a day later, with a more detailed description and a link to images on a private page I'd set up got no reply. I dropped in after work on Friday, since I'm working in the neighborhood, and it was clear immediately that I had no reason to be there. The director barely looked up from his computer screen. My proposal was "interesting"; his tone was curt. I mumbled a few words, an attempt at something if only to lead into a goodbye, but the conversation was over.

Resnick's late switch to figuration surprised people, but not as much as Guston's switch to cartoons and black comedy. I remember people being nonplussed. It was seen as a step backwards, a betrayal of progress.

I'm still trying to wrap my mind around the stupidity of what happened this week.




de Kooning

Ryman (L) Fontana (R)




Appel(L)  Dubuffet (R)



Ryman (L) Manzoni (R)


Tuesday, March 12, 2019

"Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus" It means just what it says. Ferdinand I was a Catholic absolutist.
Justice is for and of god. Kant's twist is silly, Arendt's obliviousness to history is just odd. Spinoza was writing after Westphalia.

Arendt, Truth and Politics
The subject of these reflections is a commonplace. No one has ever doubted that truth and politics are on rather bad terms with each other, and no one, as far as I know, has ever counted truthfulness among the political virtues. Lies have always been regarded as necessary and justifiable tools not only of the politician's or the demagogue's but also of the statesman's trade. Why is that so? And what does it mean for the nature and the dignity of the political realm, on one side, and for the nature and the dignity of truth and truthfulness, on the other? Is it of the very essence of truth to be impotent and of the very essence of power to be deceitful? And what kind of reality does truth possess if it is powerless in the public realm, which more than any other sphere of human life guarantees reality of existence to natal and mortal men–that is, to beings who know they have appeared out of non-being and will, after a short while, again disappear into it? Finally, is not impotent truth just as despicable as power that gives no heed to truth? These are uncomfortable questions, but they arise necessarily out of our current convictions in this matter.

What lends this commonplace its high plausibility can still be summed up in the old Latin adage "Fiat iustitia, et pereat mundus" ("Let justice be done though the world may perish"). Apart from its probable author in the sixteenth century (Ferdinand I, successor to Charles V), no one has used it except as a rhetorical question: Should justice be done if the world's survival is at stake? And the only great thinker who dared to go against the grain of the question was Immanuel Kant, who boldly explained that the "proverbial saying ... means in simple language: 'Justice shall prevail, even though all the rascals in the world should perish as a result.' " Since men would not find it worth while to live in a world utterly deprived of justice, this "human right must be held sacred, regardless of how much sacrifice is required of the powers that be . . . regardless of what might be the physical consequences thereof."[1] But isn't this answer absurd? Doesn't the care for existence clearly precede everything else–every virtue and every principle? Is it not obvious that they become mere chimeras if the world, where alone they can be manifested, is in jeopardy? Wasn't the seventeenth century right when it almost unanimously declared that every commonwealth was duty bound to recognize, in Spinoza's words, "no higher law than the safety of [its] own realm"? [2] For surely every principle that transcends sheer existence can be put in the place of justice, anq if we put truth in its place–"Fiat veritas, et pereat mundus"–the old saying sounds even more plausible. If we understand political action in terms of the means-end category, we may even come to the only seemingly paradoxical conclusion that lying can very well serve to establish or safeguard the conditions for the search after truth–as Hobbes, whose relentless logic never fails to carry arguments to those extremes where their absurdity becomes obvious, pointed out long ago.[3] And lies, since they are often used as substitutes for more violent means, are apt to be considered relatively harmless tools in the arsenal of political action.

Reconsidering the old Latin saying, it will therefore come as something of a surprise that the sacrifice of truth for the survival of the world would be more futile than the sacrifice of any other principle or virtue. For while we may refuse even to ask ourselves whether life would still be worth living in a world deprived of such notions as justice and freedom, the same, curiously, is not possible with respect to the seemingly so much less political idea of truth. What is at stake is survival, the perseverance in existence (in suo esse perseverare), and no human world destined to outlast the short life span of mortals within it will ever be able to survive without men willing to do what Herodotus was the first to undertake consciously–namely λἐγειν τα ἐὀντα,  to say what is. No permanence, no perseverance in existence, can even be conceived of without men willing to testify to what is and appears to them because it is.
1. Eternal Peace, Appendix I 
2. I quote from Spinoza's Political Treatise because it is noteworthy that even
Spinoza, for whom the libertas philosophandi was the true end of government,
should have taken so radical a position. 
3. In the Leviathan (ch. 46) Hobbes explains that "disobedience may lawfully be
punished in them, that against the laws teach even true philosophy." For is not "leisure the mother of philosophy; and Commonwealth the mother of peace and leisure"? And does it not follow that the Commonwealth will act in the interest ofphilosophy when it suppresses a truth which undermines peace? Hence the truthteller, in order to cooperate in an enterprise which is so necessary for his own peace of body and decides to write what he knows "to be false philosophy." Of this Hobbes suspected Aristotle of all people, who according to him "writ it as a thing consonant to, and corroborative of [the Greeks'] religion; fearing the fate of Socrates." It never occurred to Hobbes that all search for truth would be self-defeating if its conditions could be guaranteed only by deliberate falsehoods. Then, indeed, everybody may turn out to be a liar like Hobbes' Aristode. Unlike this fig- ment of Hobbes' logical fantasy, the real Aristotle was of course sensible enough to leave Athens when he came to fear the fate ofSocrates; he was not wicked enough to write what he knew to be false, nor was he stupid enough to solve his problem of survival by destroying everything he stood for.