Sunday, October 30, 2011

Thoughts from London: On time zones, waves, Richter, and Cubism

I am an hour closer to you now.

I never thought about how Daylight Savings would be different in another country. It makes sense, sure, but I never thought about it. It's weird that for this week only I am only 4 hours away from Ohio, 5 from Illinois. Our time zones are practically buzzing they're getting so close. Being in the future from a past you've always known is a shaky-ground place.

Does Flava Flav care about time zones?

I've been reading a lot, which is good. Not enough to feel like I'm making a difference on the void-in-my brain-representing-all-that-I-don't-know-about-modern-art-history, but the act of reading itself is a nice thing to remember how to do. I have begun a French artist-writer-collector-printer-publisher timeline in post-its on my wall above my desk, hoping to find some kind of sense in these overlapping lives. I've been thinking about waves and movements and wondering if feminist political theory can/does apply to the eternal debate about modernism and postmodernism in art history. That the idea of a wave rising up and sucking everything that came before back into it seems really nice for postmodernism. I like waves, too, because they correspond with life cycles. 

This timeline on my wall reminds me to think about when these 19th and 20th century artists actually started thinking about the world in an adult fashion (probably around age 18-20), and that the contemporaneous context was probably really important to a sense of identity and development. You surface into the world slowly from the depths and the things that make the most sense are the ones nearest your gaze. So, Manet born in 1832 'matures' at 20 in 1852 (opens his studio in Paris in 1856). Then artists and writers like Redon (b.1840) and Mallarm√© (b.1842), when they 'mature' at 20 in 1860 and 1862 cannot help but be influenced by Manet's place in the world (e.g. Olympia, above, is 1863). It's an oversimplification, I realize, but one to work with. 

  • Stadtbild Paris (Townscape Paris), 1968, 200 cm x 200 cm, Oil on canvas

    Went to see the Richter show at the Tate Modern last week (although I apparently missed a room). Mixed feelings about it, but I was glad to see so much of his work in one place. As usual the wall texts were disappointing in how much they dumbed-down everything. Richer's movement between monochrome faux-photorealism and garish abstraction is certainly a jarring one. This particular painting, Stadtbild Paris (1968) stood out to me as entirely different from the rest of the exhibition. We've been talking about walking the city (e.g. Paris) as a modernist practice in my course lately, so I was drawn to this bird's eye view depiction of a 'postmodern' Paris. Here Richer is merging his two brains, pulling the photographic monochrome as a layer over his abstract sensibility. It's Richter channeling Johns through the eye of a camera, which I like very much. 
The other Richter component I'm still thinking about is his visual relationship with Marcel Duchamp. I thought the textual justification in the exhibition was a little wishy-washy, but I like the idea, and there's definitely a conversation between this:

L: Gerhard Richter, Ema (Akt auf einer Treppe) [Ema (Nude on a Staircase)], 1966, 200 cm x 130 cm, Oil on canvas 
R: Marcel Duchamp, Nude Descending a Staircase, 1912

This 1965 Descending Richter that the Art Institute has shows the fractal play of light and movement a little better, though, I think. But, still, Richter seems to care more about the figure (e.g. reclaiming the nude body and the portrait for painting) than he does about the movement and perception of objects in space. 

Thinking about Cubism a lot lately, too and the very formulaic way it was applied by artists other than Picasso/Braque/Gris in the early 20th century. It seems like most major artists had to make at least one 'Cubist' painting (e.g. this 1914 Reservist of the First Division painting/ collage by Malevich seems very weird for him). Duchamp painted Nude Descending a Staircase in 1912 and then moved on to everything else except painting. What was behind this need to mimic Cubism? Why was it used in such a formulaic way by so many artists, when the intention was anything but formulaic? Is it photography (e.g. the question What images do we make now that photography exists?) or is it collage (e.g. the three-dimensional expansion coupled with the act of reading) that solves the problem of the grounding for Cubism, gives us the framework behind when a 'Cubist' painting works or does not work?

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