Wednesday, May 23

one million thesis chapters: chapter 3


Minimalist Objects in Maximalist Times

Half or more of the best new work in the last few years has been neither painting nor sculpture…but this work which is neither painting nor sculpture challenges both. It will have to be taken into account by new artists. It will probably change painting and sculpture.
-Donald Judd, Specific Objects, 1965

This prophecy by the formidable minimalist authority Donald Judd remains relevant to what continues to be some of the best new work in the last few years even four decades after its pronunciation. It certainly ignited my own imagination seven years ago as a young painter searching to stretch the limits of painting in his own way. Consider Judd’s own sculptural work. Once his fabricated cubes are viewed in terms of paintings, or the painting object, they are simply steel, brightly colored, broadly proportioned versions of the shallow stretched canvas box – the sculptural qualities of a painting emphasized. Sculptures once labeled as boring because they withstand understanding and bar interest now unfold a side panel to offer an entry point into a dialogue– not the entry point, but an entry point nonetheless. Looking at minimalism through the lens of painting is like highlighting through decoder glasses previously invisible text. Judd’s work is not the only text decoded by the lens of painting among the “neither painting nor sculpture” arts. The earth work of Robert Smithson, the sliced architecture of Gordon Matta Clark, the organic objects of Eva Hesse, the slight of hand of Richard Tuttle, the monoliths of Leonardo Drew, and the installations of Judy Pfaff and Jessica Stockholder exemplify varied and valid responses to the Judd challenge that also excite my imagination when read through my painting lenses.
My own explorations into the space between painting and sculpture were predicated upon meditation of the Judd manifesto combined with a fascination with the dead-end ideas of Clement Greenberg. The fact that the reductive tenents of both minimalism and modernism led to impasses and were often considered bankrupt or unfashionable were the very qualities that made them ideal beginning points. Counter intuitively following closed ideas opened up new forms. I had found that painting in the style of my heroes was the true dead end, and that trying to take work I disliked and make it my own created a friction that could be construed as ‘interesting’. I found the work of Donald Judd boring and been taught to mock the essentialist qualities of modernism but they became, ironically, a genesis of work I would love. My questions centered on: how could I build a new sort of object from scratch – one that was neither painting nor sculpture - yet played with the essentials of painting?
My investigation of the specific object began with a Greenbergian contemplation of what the “scratch” of painting was anyway: wooden stretchers, panels, canvas and white gesso? In exploring these essentials in object making I veered from fabricating with new wood and Styrofoam toward using reclaimed materials scavenged from thrift stores and junkyards, repairing their cracks and dents with Bondo and wax. Thus I not only found creative energy by revisiting discarded ideas, but mirrored this ethic by using discarded materials. In perhaps another modernist gesture of unity, both my concepts and my mediums sought to resurrect and heal the abandoned, the trashed, the junked, the marginalized, the overlooked, the second-hand, the wasted, and the forgotten.
Tongue-in-cheek I called myself a modernist and, although I suspected that making modernist work in contemporary times was a post-modernist activity, I knew that my work was true to its formalist upbringing at Brigham Young University - even though it had begun to look different than any other work from that school. I had been introduced to Judy Pfaff when she came to BYU to do an installation in the Museum of Art on campus and I was excited to see her work with plaster, metal, and found objects through the painter’s lens. Equally thrilling was my secret insight that the installations of Jessica Stockholder were really paintings in real space. I would soon realize that nearly everyone agreed on this point, but it didn’t dampen my excitement that had already been building about the possibilities of “neither painting nor sculpture”.
As I continued to develop my formalist work at Virginia Commonwealth University my connections to minimalism, modernism, the specific object and installation grew into interests with the readymade, kitsch, conceptual art, and site specificity. In other words, I am an artist who finds himself on thresholds: between modernist and post-modernist tendencies and between sculpture and painting; rubbing opposites together to create frictions which could be construed as ‘interesting’.

Chris Coy came to Richmond just in time for the opening.

Chris Purdie also came to Richmond - right after Chris Coy left.

It was a little confusing for some people.

1 comment:

stackingchairs said...

That was a good read. Thanks! It makes second guess having left the MFA program at OSU. Maybe one day, eh? In the mean time I'll just make ads and call them art! Hurrah!!!

In many ways to see the work you have done this year-up close and personal- was worth not being at OSU.

You sexy giant you!!