Saturday, March 30, 2019

Last week on a whim I approached the Resnick-Passlof Foundation with a proposal for an exhibition, putting the abstractions for which Resnick became famous next to 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)


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