Rosenberg Action Painting Essay

Rosenberg Action Painting Essay-90
And yet—or simultaneously—confronted with the work, an art-gallery visitor could also feel or see, less happily or more empathetically, distances—between the artist and his work and the world, and thus, too, between the work and the viewer.

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I think every good painter here in New York really paints a self-portrait.

I think a painter has two choices: he paints the world or himself.

Marx (shoved) aside, could this —Guston’s seeming refusal to bother himself with order, beauty, seeing—could this be an inversion, as in a mirror, of the extraordinary human capacity to find order in the universe and to superimpose orders on it, to delight in our perceptive capacities? Or, in his best works, could there be found, as in the remains of a fire, the ashes of an anger that had once burned bright, against order and oppression? “The difficulties begin,” Guston once observed, “when you understand what it is that the soul will not permit the hand to make.”[15] Guston’s father, a blacksmith who had scratched out a living as a junk collector, had committed suicide when Guston (then Goldstein) was about 10, and it has been said that one of the reasons for this suicide was the anti-Semitic prejudice that had dogged the family from the Ukraine to Canada to Los Angeles.

[14] And beauty in art is certainly related to this finding and superimposition of order. When he was 18, Guston/Goldstein painted for the John Reed Club in Los Angeles an indoor mural—not about anti-Semitism, but—on the subject of the Scottsboro Boys, the nine black teenagers who, in the 1930s, were being framed for raping two white women.

And I had looked again and again at versions of the paintings available online, versions that, , deformed the work, backlighting it, making it more resplendent and translucent—almost as if one were holding an old photographic slide up to a light.

Surprise, surprise, given all this, on my second visit the work looked quite different.We are not surprised to learn that Guston was someone who struggled with depression.Before coming to the gallery—Hauser & Wirth, 18 Street, New York—I had read some of the critical literature, but not that much and long enough ago to have forgotten a good deal.And so was my seeming lack of interest in Guston’s work an inversion of, a response to, anxiety provoked by his seeming disinterest in beauty, order . The mural was defaced by local police officers, and I have also read that Ku Klux Klan members, who in Southern California were after Jews and African-Americans, defaced Guston’s early, political murals. ) I like asking people—strangers in art museums and galleries—what they think of art works that we are both looking at.n the Hauser & Wirth room in which I was trying to pass to the other side of my lack of interest and to collect my thoughts, there were two other people: a young man who was touring the canvases and a woman about my age—early sixties—who was sitting at the other end of “my” bench. It’s a way of making a little conversation; it touches on my curiosity about how other people are experiencing the world, what their points of connection are.Nothing better than an art work that speaks of human creativity and of being modern and with it and wonderful and pure, and without speaking openly about how organized forces are at work in our times and how human beings are caught up in the machinery. It was avant-garde, the product of an advanced civilization.There is an extensive literature on how Abstract Expressionism—Guston paintings included—became a tool in a Cold War effort to win over the hearts and minds of foreign elites: writers, thinkers, and artists who remained attached to the Soviet Union, communism, and that now quaint idea: from each according to his ability, to each according to his need. In contrast to Soviet painting, it was neither representational nor didactic.Fate might have drawn me into this gallery and this room, and my initial negative reaction could be to not wanting to always be fate’s slave.In her memoir of her father, Guston’s daughter Musa Mayer notes how, repeatedly, he “abandoned ways of working that had met with critical success.”[6] I think our subject is—and that Guston’s work reflects, inter alia—compulsion, both psychological and social (the extent to which external forces, often internalized and combining there with our native biochemistry, dictate our fate).For one, the figurative elements in many of the paintings leapt out at me.As one may see faces in the clouds, so now I saw all the black, cartoon heads peering out through the forest of the “texture.” Hammers, a wizard, chairs, a woman with a handbag, a ghoulish figure with a crutch, black and white faces together, as on the prow of a ship, a Santa’s bag, full of presents, but not red and white: black. It is savagely, if one may say so, ironical that the only proof the world—mankind—has ever had of White supremacy is in the Black face and voice: that face never scrutinized, that voice never heard.[10]eaders will be noting that the present text is a complex piece, moving between specific experiences in an art gallery and reading done in response to those experiences or independent of it.


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