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Stella insistence on the primacy of space over every other aspect of the experience and process of painting was still directly in line with Clement Greenberg’s insistence on the primacy of flatness. With his 1964 “What you see is what you see” — eerily contemporary with Marshall McLuhan’s own tautological formula about the medium being the message — Stella brings Greenberg’s literal flatness to a metaphorical level: Painting is the message and metaphorical flatness is now achieved in painting by denying it any depth of content. With the Baroque metal reliefs, however, despite their apparent act of apostasy from Greenberg’s dogma, Stella clearly remained within the boundaries of the reductivist paradigm. Rather than confront the strictures of Greenberg’s Modernist tropes, he allowed them to endure by substituting three-dimensional space for flatness.But, come to think of it, when he speaks about space, Stella’s subtext is all about speed, or rather, of space as speed. Speed entered American painting as a latent concept with Barnet Newman’s “zips.” But it is worth remembering that Newman did not adopt Thomas B. Hess’s term of zip for his paintings’ vertical bands until 1966, fairly late in his career. Prior to that, he simply called them “stripes.” Even though today the term zip can’t help but connote the idea of speed, Newman was clearly on the side of slow art, with a rare, deliberate, and carefully pondered production of only 118 paintings over 25 years, versus the thousands of paintings that have poured out of Stella’s studios.
I'll be in town for MB's birthday and will be checking this out.