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ARTH 3520 (1)


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University of Guelph
Art History
ARTH 3520
Leah Modigliani

Art in the 1950s Gavin Butt, "America and its Discontents: art and politics 1945-1960" (p. 19-37) Two sets of opposing histories dominate accounts on post WWII art: 1) Modernist, celebrates rise of NY school (eg. Irving Sandler's The Triumph of American Painting, 1970) –emphasis on formal developments 2) Critical socio-historical accounting (eg. Serge Guilbaut's How New York Stole the idea of Modern Art, 1983) – emphasis on ideological context -these two accounts, really just two sides of one account, are not the whole story. Gavin Butt will go on to describe other historical accounts that have been marginalized from this history of form vs. politics. Caroline Jones, Form and Formless (pages 127-142) Key idea: Oppositional relationship between aesthetics of form and informe is an artificial one, but has been generative in the development of late 20 C and early 21 C st visual art and culture. Gavin Butt Describes the following accounts of 1950s art: 1.” a-political” painting (Greenbergian formalism and Abstract Expressionism), including their exclusionss (woman, colonial subjects, “others”) 2. “Queer" silences of "neo-dada" art (Cage, Rauschenberg, Johns) 3. Participatory activism of Neoconcrete art and happenings (Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Beat poets, Allan Kaprow) 4. Ambivalent reflections on mass culture in Pop art (UK Independent Group) 1.” a-political” painting A central question raised by Gavin Butt is “What / or how is art political?” The formalist discourse promoted by Clement Greenberg in 1950s, by Michael Fried in 1960s was largely imagined as being apolitical Jackson Pollock, Number 1, 1950 (Lavender Mist),1950, Willem de Kooning Woman VI, 1953 Oil on Canvas Question: How can these be theorized as apolitical (not embodying politics)? Clement Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” 1960 Central Thesis: “The essence of Modernism lies, as I see it, in the use of characteristic methods of a discipline to criticize the discipline itself, not in order to subvert it but in order to entrench it more firmly in its area of competence.” Greenberg sees this form of self-criticism coming out of 18 and th 19 C philosophy, in particular Kant’s “Immanent criticism”; that is the “use of logic to establish the limits of logic” Rosenberg's theory of action painting shows that even at the time there were alternative ways of considering abstract expressionism as individual and heroic resistance to status quo society: Quotes: At a certain moment the canvas began to appear to one American painter after another as an arena in which to act – rather as a space in which to reproduce, redesign or analyze, or “express” an object, actual or imagined. What was to go on the canvas was not a picture but an event. *the apples had to go+ “so that nothing would get in the way of painting” Form, colour, composition, drawing, are auxiliaries, any one of which – or practically all . . . can be dispensed with. What matters always is the revelation contained in the act. Action painting is not ‘personal,’ though its subject matter is the artists individual possibilities. The gesture on the canvas was a moment of liberation from Value- political aesthetic, moral. Action painting, however, also critiqued retrospectively by feminist and post-colonial theorists because "action" was coded masculine: "metaphors of masculinity” Aubrey Williams (1926-1990), Death and the Conquistador, 1959 Aubrey Williams, Open Cluster, 1966, oil Arshile Gorky (1904-48), Agony, 1947, on canvas oil on canvas “These paintings…express in essence a sense of being which differs from that of the European in the same way that the music of a spinet differs from the rhythm of a drum . . . His art reflects the instinctive sense of rhythm of the Negro fused with the mytho- poetic imagination of the Indian voodoo and the image of gods and man, the Dreams born in cradles of a forest and brought to the city where twentieth century man paces the pavements of destruction. (Critic Jan Carew, Art News and Review, 1959 Aubrey Williams, Death and the Conquistador, 1959 2. “Queer" silences of "neo-dada" art (Cage, Rauschenberg, Johns) John Cage: “One may give up the desire to control sound, clear his mind of music, and set about discovering means to let sounds be themselves rather than vehicles for manmade theories or expressions of human sentiments” John Cage with prepared piano circa 1940 Performance of John Cage’s 4’ 33” 1952 Robert Rauschenberg, White Painting, 1951. House paint on canvas, 72" x 72" , 4 panels. Jasper Johns (b. 1930) Target with Plaster Casts, 1955, encaustic and collage on canvas with objects, 129.5 x 111.8 x 8.9 cm Robert Rauschenberg (1925-2008) Canyon, 1959 (example of combine) 3. Participatory activism of Neoconcrete art and happenings (CoBRA, Situationist International, Hélio Oiticica, Lygia Clark, Beat poets, Allan Kaprow) CoBRA Asger Jorn (1914-73) 1959 Oil on canvas (older painting) 53 x 64,5 cm Neoconcrete Group (Brazil) Helio Oiticica (1937-80) Spatial Relief 1959, constructed 1991 Painted wood. 98.5 × 78 × 10.5 cm Hélio Oiticica. Tropicália, 1967. Mixed media. Neoconcrete Group (Brazil) Lygia Clark (1920 – 1988) Maquete para interior, 1955 Wood, Oil Paint, 50 x 30.5 x 18 cm Lygia Clark, circa 1963 Lygia Clark Oculos sensoriasis (Goggles) From the Objectos sensoriasis series (Sensorial Objects series) Allan Kaprow (1927-2006) Allan Kaprow. Yard. View of tires in court of Martha Jackson Gallery, New York 1961. HAPPENINGS (USA) -Term first coined by Allan Kaprow in a 1958 Artnews essay the ramifications of experiencing art after Jackson Pollock, specifically an expanded scale and space -described by Susan Sontag as “animated collages” -utilized chance and accidents like John Cage -often scripted but meant to involve participants -tried to break down border between audience and viewers -used real settings (not staged), were non- verbal, discontinuous, non-sequential, multi- focussed, open ended 4. Ambivalent reflections on mass culture in Pop art (Independent Group) Richard Hamilton (1922-2011) Just What Is It That Makes Today's Homes So Different, So Appealing? 1955. 10 1/4 × 9 3/4”. Caroline Jones, Form and Formless (pages 127-142) Key idea: Oppositional relationship between form and informe as a form of aesthetics, is artificial but has been generative in th st the development of late 20 C and early 21 C visual art and culture. Form: associated with modernist discourse Formlessness (informe): associated with postmodern process -"Formalism" dominant aesthetic theory in 1950s and early 60s -interest in formlessness emerges in 1980s as antithesis to formalist art criticism of Clement Greenberg UK: Early 20thC British Formalism: Roger Fry (1866-1934) and Clive Bell (1881-1964) and “Significant Form” Quotes from “Art and Significant Form,” in Art, 1913, by Clive Bell: “He who would elaborate a plausible theory of aesthetics must possess two qualities — artistic sensibility and a turn for clear thinking. Without sensibility a man can have no aesthetic experience, and, obviously, theories not based on broad and deep aesthetic experience are worthless. ” “All sensitive people agree that there is a peculiar emotion provoked by works of art” “There must be some one quality without which a work of art cannot exist; possessing which, in the least degree, no work is altogether worthless. . . What is this quality? . . . Only one answer seems possible — significant form. In each, lines and colours combined in a particular way, certain forms and relations of forms, stir our aesthetic emotions. These . . . I call “Significant Form”; and “Significant Form” is the one quality common to all works of visual art. The Blue Virgin Window (c.1150) Chartres Cathedral Significant Form? Edwin Landseer, Monarach of the Glen (1851) th 10 C Persian / Iranian bowl Giotto: Joachim’s Dream (1304-1306) Bell associates absence of representation as important to formal aesthetics; yet the context of Late Victorian ignorance of different forms of cultural representation problematic retrospectively Germany: Early 20thC Formalism: France: Early 20thC Formalism: -emphasized stable typologies and -anti-metaphysical, body-based, genre-specific boundaries universalist phenomenological approaches
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