As the décollagist works of Jacques de la Villeglé attest, artistic practice in post-World War II Europe would be relocated in urban, collective, consumerist space as his grifted street posters embodied artistic intervention via the appropriative act. The random vandalizing of the ubiquitous posters by anonymous Parisians gained a new life of gestural repetition in Villeglé’s hands, as his disintegration of the pictorial relationships in the cinema /concert /product adverts gained a seriality and structure that also implied a cancellation of a “completed” work. Further, the torn text of the posters was subject to an erasure of its semantic context, expressing different significance in fragmentation.
Benjamin Buchloh has distinguished Villeglé as one of those post-WWII Parisian “New Realist” painters who would seek a “total dispersal of a centered Cartesian subjectivity and the discrediting of conscious control”(1) by making paintings beyond their intentional composition. Further still, these paintings would “refute the last residues of a visual hedonism, seducing its viewers either by the virtuosity of its graphic, gestural, or chromatic execution or by an enigmatic iconography that pretended to lead to the deepest recesses of the mythical and the pre-linguistic unconscious.”(2)
This search for an “enigmatic iconography” would prove to be relentless and fruitful for the next twenty years or so, producing innumerable unintentional compositions, perhaps none as thrilling or nuanced as the Frenchman Yves Klein’s anthropometries. Klein’s actions transformed his models’ nude bodies into “living brushes,” in a kind of Duchampian disengagement from the “hand,” through a series of prophetic and public performance works, putatively as the logical extension of Pollock’s “choreography.”
Essentially problematic for abstract expressionist painting was how to maintain an equal emphasis throughout the surface of the painting. Back in New York, Jasper Johns’ solution was simple; cover the canvas with alphabets or numbers, sustaining this “all-over” emphasis but also reinforcing the Duchampian “thingness” of the paintings. Eventually, representation would become further intertwined with advertising and consumerism. That great French iconoclast, Francis Picabia, “had already submerged drawing and painterly design within the vulgarity of the mass-cultural photographic matrix,”(3) while the American Andy Warhol used repetition as motif; commodity objects reiterated as codified representation. But throughout the 1960’s it would be the German, Sigmar Polke, who would fully exploit and develop the idea of transgressive, codified citations of commodity culture. Often utilizing the “ben-day” dot pattern of industrial reproduction, he would then negate this commercial representation technique through his manual execution, in an ironic snubbing of Duchamp’s “detachment.” Even more brilliantly, he stretched “found” printed fabrics (bed-spreads and sheets) as his “canvas,” subversively juxtaposing the consumer codification structures with painterly gestures of Modernism.
Readings for 20 September: From Ch. 2: Ad Reinhardt’s Twelve Rules for a New Academy, 25 Lines of Words on Art, The Black-Square Paintings and Frank Stella's Pratt Lecture; from Ch. 9: Sol Lewitt’s Paragraphs on Conceptual Art and Sentences on Conceptual Art.
1. Benjamin Buchloh, Neo-Avantgarde and Culture Industry, MIT Press, 2000, p. 250.
2. Ibid., p. 250.
3. Ibid., p. 249.