Thank you, Art in America, for posting "Provisional Painting Part 2: To Rest Lightly on the Earth," Raphael Rubinstein's eagerly anticipated update to "Provisional Painting," online this month. Rubinstein takes a more experimental, philosophical approach, attempting to explain the why of provisional painting in nine numbered paragraphs and four interludes.
What are the consequences if a work of art is produced under the sign of abandonment, negation, impossibility? Until very recently, these questions sounded very old-fashioned. The existential selfquestioning, the doubt, the anguish, all those hallmarks of mid-20th-century art, have been long put aside, superseded, forgotten, laughed out of the room. With the eclipse of Abstract Expressionism circa 1960, new modes of artmaking were discovered in which the kinds of doubts that troubled artists from Cézanne to Giacometti became largely irrelevant. They were replaced by a solid work ethic, by an emphasis on production, by attention to surfaces (in both a material and a psychological sense), by coolness, by social rather than individual identity; in short, Giacometti's gloomy, doubt-filled studio was replaced by Warhol's Factory.
Visiting the Brooklyn studio of one of the artists I wrote about in "Provisional Painting," I get into a discussion about "impossibility." The artist thinks I've misunderstood something fundamental about his work. For him, painting is never impossible—just the opposite. I realize that I have committed one of the worst, if most common, critical (and curatorial) sins: recruiting an artist into a compelling critical narrative while missing something fundamental about his or her work.
And what if provisional painting is an implicit critique of human ambition, a kind of vanitas?
And what if provisional painting is a response to the renewed dematerialization of art that has accompanied the rise of digital mobility, a way for painting to say "I, too, am just a momentary image on a screen?"
But what if provisionality is nothing more than a stylistic trope, rather than a matter of profound artistic conviction and philosophical reflection? I keep rereading a sentence I came across in one of Frank O'Hara's art reviews: "It is simply a property of Bonnard's mature work, and one of its most fragile charms, to look slightly washed-out, to look what every sophisticated person let alone artist wants to look: a little ‘down,' a little effortless and helpless." Could provisional painting, or at least some of it, be merely the medium on a casual Friday?
Abstract Painting: The New Casualists
Reader Response to The New Casualists
Claude Viallat: Exploring Casualist abstraction in 1960s France
Are the days of a "casual, wonky posture" numbered?
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