May 28, 2010

Scatter Shots

The May Art in America was rife with polemic – but before I begin my “Scatter-shot” of critiques, let me say, “Thank You, Peter Plagens!’ for driving another nail into the Whitney Biennial’s dispirited coffin. His angular wit and crisply tart evaluations of this year’s crop was dead-on. I can only add that Tauba Auerbach must also have gleaned a few ideas from Simon Hantaï’s pliage work of 1960 – everything old IS new again.

First off, Pepe Karmel’s presumptive authority on Yves Klein must be taken to task. True, Klein’s “IKB” monochromes do reign as “classically modernist paintings” but are they his “most significant achievement?” I hardly think so, given Klein’s prophetic and surgical attack on the art “object.” In addition to directing the pioneering “body art” of his Anthropometries, and regardless of what Karmel opines about how critics misrepresent Klein as a “prophet of postmodernism,” Klein did introduce early concepts of the “immaterial” into art discourse with his “Void” and those transactions of “Zones of Immaterial Pictorial Sensibility.” Both of those experiments clearly pre-figure critical assessments of the “work” of art as commodity and conceptual objections to “ownership.” Yves himself outlined how those transfers of “ownership” of said “zones” were to be “relinquished against a certain weight of fine gold” and that this transaction authenticated the immateriality of the “work” as art.(1)

Tony Godfrey points out that the “making, purchase and ownership of the work of art had become a mystery, or ritual.”(2) Because that transaction both authenticates and negates the art object, Klein revealed that art is not wedded to materiality. Klein’s genius was to position the “work” of art as both a commodity and conceptual “object” by conferring an exchange value on an intangible “idea” through a ritual transaction.

Finally, Richard Kalina’s cozy review of Robert Morris’s 2010 version of an untitled 1968 installation (“Scatter Piece”) at Leo Castelli prompts me to re-engage another of my critical pet peeves – re-creations of previously existing works or performances. Marina Abramović’s recent MOMA retrospective has opened a hornet’s nest of critical issues concerning temporality, authenticity and replication but Morris’s installation was, it seems, “not rule-bound but arrived at intuitively.” Always ahead of the curve in contemporary art, Morris was eager to extricate himself from Minimalism’s absorption into the Art Market and so began his exercises in “anti-form.” I love that Morris claimed the “materials” of “Scatter Piece” – aluminum, brass, copper, felt, lead, steel, zinc – would still be “Scatter Piece,” even stacked in storage.(3) I don’t think we can say the same for Abramovic’s “re-performances.”

Kalina reports that Richard Serra, upon being told he couldn’t kick “Scatter Piece” around, sternly replied, “It doesn’t matter.” Serra was right; Morris was manifesting disorder, the “anti-form” of materials, to “make” art. The difference between Morris’s “re-creation” of his 1968 installation and Abramović’s 2010 “re-performances” is conceptual; Morris never intended his piece to coalesce into an “object,” while Abramović is hoping her “works” will be catalogued among other “objects” within the museum’s archives.

Image: Untitled (Scatter Piece); original 1968 installation at Leo Castelli Gallery; © Copyright Robert Morris.


1. Selz, Peter, and Kristine Stiles, ed. Theories and Documents of Contemporary Art: A Sourcebook of Artists’ Writings, Berkeley, 1996, 81.

2. Godfrey, Tony. Conceptual Art, London, 2004, 81.

3. It is disturbing to learn that the original “Scatter Piece” was “accidentally disposed of” and this may dismiss all credibility of that conceptual position.

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