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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.Here at the outset, I should say, too, that I later returned to Hauser & Wirth, on a sunny day, and after having read and read.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.
For the moment I was a naïve, curious about my lack of interest in Guston’s paintings.
Could it be a sign that I was about to spend the next month, if not five years, of my life studying and writing about these abstract canvases and how rich they were?
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.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.
And I think the best painting that’s done here is when he paints himself, and by himself I mean himself in this environment, in this total situation. who threw their watches off the roof to cast their ballot for Eternity outside of Time, & alarm clocks fell on their heads every day for the next decade, — Allen Ginsberg, from found myself in a partial situation—or in a total one masquerading as a partial one?
— Philip Guston, 1960 I saw the best minds of my generation . —a retrospective of the painter Philip Guston’s work from the late 1950s and 1960s. This was when he was having a good deal of success as a member of the New York School of more or less Abstract artists, and before he again openly embraced the figurative, cartoon-like, editorializing painting of his Los Angeles youth. It was a gray afternoon, heading toward evening; the gallery’s many skylights were offering little light; and I was in a gray-heading-toward-evening mood.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.I wanted both rest and to try to absorb something about Guston’s “Abstract” work that, naïve, I wasn’t absorbing.Among other things, it is a simple fact that in 2016 Abstract Expressionist work is a lot harder to understand in an art gallery or museum than it is when you see a painting in this style gracing the security desk of the headquarters of a large corporation. is that abstract painting was an ideal propaganda tool.It could be understood as pure painting—art absorbed by its own possibilities, experiments in color and form.Or it could be understood as pure expression—a “school” in which every artist had a unique signature.I was struck by the emptiness in the large, clean rooms of this gallery, by how uninteresting, passionless, depressed Guston’s paintings seemed. sheer sensation”. Harold Rosenberg, in “The American Action Painters,” his seminal 1952 essay on Abstract Expressionism, wrote: Satisfied with wonders that remain safely inside the canvas, the artist accepts the permanence of the commonplace and decorates it with his own daily annihilation.In a 1948 essay on “The Crisis of the Easel Picture,” the then dominant New York art critic Clement Greenberg (not referring to Guston’s Abstract work, which was just getting under way) wrote of how pictures were dissolving into “sheer texture . The result is an apocalyptic wallpaper. While I would not associate Guston’s paintings with “the commonplace,” it could seem “apocalyptic”—and a kind of annihilation of the artist—the flatness and frightened imagery, the repetitions of colors, brush strokes, and patterns.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.