Meaning in Art
Robert C. Morgan has a nice piece in this month’s Brooklyn Rail, in which he reviews Thomas Nozkowski’s recent show at Pace Wildenstein and discusses the state of current abstract painting.
Tags: art theory, deconstruction, pace wildenstein, robert c. morgan, brooklyn rail, abstract painting
In recent years, meaning in art is rarely discussed by critics in terms of abstract painting. The implication is that the survival of meaning in art hovers somewhere outside of abstract painting. The alternatives range from illustration on canvas to digital photography, from deconstructive texts to destructive installations, from kitsch assemblages to interactive cyber-pods. Is the concept of meaning in art long-gone, out-of-fashion, overspoiled? In theoretical jargon, it may appear too close to epistemology, as if epistemology—being the study of knowledge—has been inadvertently removed from the aesthetic, conceptual, and productive components of making art. In the wake of this insouciant exhaustion of consciousness, is it possible that substance in art may have reverted back to abstract painting? After two visits to Pace Wildenstein Gallery, the site of the recent Thomas Nozkowski exhibition, I am willing to place my bet that abstract painting is back in the saddle not because of the market, but that it means something…
…To paint abstract form suggests an intuitive process by way of a carefully constructed dexterity. This may or may not add up to being epistemological or even ontological. But is it still about meaning. In abstract painting—in the formalist sense—meaning is closely related to the result obtained from the process, that is, whether the coherence of shape, color, line, and texture hold together. Whether the mediumistic definition of abstract painting is essentially practical is finally the artist’s decision. While meaning may refer deductively to the material, pigment, and process, this does not negate the possibility that whatever appears as form is subsequently about meaning. Meaning is ultimately a linguistic extension of the manner in which the work is painted. This relates to a sense of connoisseurship in art, a pre-Modernist idea that suddenly is beginning to appear again, as if something had been missing for decades, and no one seemed to know exactly what was missing. This may sound like a standard definition of late Modernism—which, perhaps, it is. Yet there are exceptions to this hackneyed paradigm that occasionally come into view. These exceptions subvert the quotidian semiotic nuances, such as the quixotic manner in which palsy-ridden theories and ornery hybrids begin to ascend to the constellation of speculation and investment, relinquishing aesthetics and epistemology along the way. [Read More...]