cover photo

blog archive

main site




View current page
...more recent posts

The idea of "boundless abstraction" first surfaced in the water lily murals of Monet -- for Greenberg they were abstract in all but name, and set the precedent for Pollock’s all-over mural paintings -- and was extended by Kandinsky, however hesitantly, in his early works, particularly the famous First Abstract Watercolor (1911, scholars now say 1912 or 1913). There the eccentric continuum of petite color and line perceptions moves beyond the technical boundaries of the work, suggesting an infinite flux of uncontainable visual sensations. Pollock’s implicitly boundless mural abstractions are the climactic statement of "abstraction as total environment," correlate with the idea of the "environment as totally abstract."

Abstraction came to dominate thinking about the environment as well as art, and the triumph of abstraction signaled by such opposed movements as Abstract Expressionism and Minimalism confirmed that it had become a generalized mode of perception and cognition: only when art and the environment were perceived and understood in abstract terms was their presence convincing. That is the point of van Doesburg’s five-step transformation of a naturally appearing cow into an abstract construction that seemed to have no relation to a cow, yet was an epitomizing summary of it in abstract terms. Duchamp’s readymades, which are everyday objects found in the environment, and given a little twist (or "assistance," as he said), can be read as abstract artifacts), however manqué. With the triumph of abstract visual thinking, every dumb thing reads as abstract art: thus the "surprise" of art, suddenly self-evident and extraordinarily present in the banally evident and ordinarily present.

It became de rigueur to see and understand things abstractly -- it was the modern take on them. To distill and convert old appearances into new abstractions was to modernize them. Sol LeWitt’s photographs of urban geometry -- manholes and brick walls -- makes the innate and intimate abstractness of the urban environment explicit, while suggesting the interchangeability and simultaneity of abstraction and the representation of reality. Mondrian came to prefer urban architecture to natural landscape because the former was overtly abstract while the latter was only subliminally abstract -- he spent the first part of his career extracting that abstractness, no doubt to convince himself that the abstract was "real." He came to regard his art as a "representation" of the "abstract real," in the (mystical?) belief that only the abstract was (really) real. Abstract art became the only "correct" and "real" art because it revealed the abstract truth, which made it seem "scientific" -- certainly Mondrian had what could be called a "scientific esthetics," as his preoccupation with precision suggests -- or at least an "experimental esthetics," for his oeuvre is a series of changing esthetic experiments designed to demonstrate the reality of the abstract.
kuspit building up to a stella russo review
[link] [add a comment]