Joseph Masheck

  • Yours Faithfully,

    IT WAS 16 YEARS AGO, and already there had been too much harping on the “end” of painting, of abstract art, of art as we know it, of the world, etc. Some of us sought to move beyond both trademark American formalist “Modernism” and Minimalist inertness. In the late ’70s, with the stock market bobbing around 600, not many dollars were being bet on art, and we were not quite yet overrun by mercantile investors, not yet stuck in a Hollywood of art stars. Obviously I wish we could have held out longer, but I think we did quite a bit in three short years.

    There is formalism and there is formalism. I


    RELIEF HAS OFTEN SEEMED to waste away in ambivalence between painting, at least painting “proper,” and any “true” sculpture. Minimalism, however, called the question on the contrived dominance of conventional freestanding sculpture—something that Charles Baudelaire and Alberto Giacometti, not just Robert Morris and other contemporaries, had already criticized. By default, relief has generally been left close—if never quite close enough—to the condition of painting, and thus compromised or “impure”; at best. it could submit to architectural subordination. Besides, in and of itself, relief seemed

  • Pressing On: Thomas Nozkowski’s Paintings

    The whole visible universe is just a storehouse of images and signs to which the imagination will give a relative place and value, a sort of fodder which the imagination must digest and transform.

    —Charles Baudelaire1

    TO BE “PAINTING AGAIN,” in the Talking Heads’ song “Artists Only,” involves “cleaning” your “brain.” That is not equally apparent in all current manifestations. “Pattern and Decoration” offers the anesthetizing “easy list’nin’” of the music piped into dentists’ offices. So-called “New Image” painting, misappropriating a term once applied to Abstract Expressionism,2 conveys the

  • Italian Drawings 1780-1890, August Sander, Twentieth-Century European Painting, Jackson Pollock, African Furniture

    Italian Drawings 1780-1890, by Roberta J.M. Olson, New York: The American Federation of Arts, and Bloomington, Ind., and London: Indiana University Press, 1980, 247 pages, 107 illustrations, including 4 in color.

    In format this is an old-masterish catalogue comprising a lot of good full-page, black-and-white illustrations with an introductory essay. Frankly, I was hoping for the kind of drawing problem that I really like, where the conservative and the radical in the 19th century may not be as distinct as is assumed (and which I took up in The Burlington Magazine (April 1977) with a letter from

  • Joseph Masheck

    Moholy-Nagy: Photographs and Photograms, essay by Andreas Haus, translated by Frederic Samson (Munich: Schirmer-Mosel, GmbH., 1978; New York: Pantheon Books, 1980).

    The very artiness of this great Hungarian modernist’s photographs can put me off, even though it all takes place on a very high level, and even though the photographs seem to be reproduced with an almost reverent fineness, which must not have been easy to achieve. (Moholy himself had an extraordinary devotion to the most delicate and minute physical properties of the photographic object.) The essay by Haus, who teaches art history at

  • The Horror of Bearing Arms: Kirchner’s Self-Portrait as a Soldier, the Military Mystique and the Crisis of World War I (with a Slip-of-the-Pen by Freud)

    EXPRESSION IN GERMANIC ART shows itself not in limpid beauty but in the truth that hurts. Anxiety itself becomes a sign of life. By that reckoning Ernst Ludwig Kirchner’s 1915 Self-Portrait as a Soldier, at Oberlin College, is definitive. In 1915 Kirchner was already a painter of exquisite fluency, and the Self-Portrait as a Soldier offers a head-on look into his most immobilizing anxieties.1

    Antithetical notions of expression, Mediterranean or classical versus Germanic, can apply to different times, and to different personality types, as well as to different phases in a single lifetime—as when

  • Brain Food: Some Books of 1979

    THE PAST YEAR MAY not have seen an abundant harvest of significant books on modern painting and sculpture, but certain other books do have modern interest. Of course, a book of more direct importance may already have been discussed in a review essay during the year, like Nancy Holt’s edition of The Writings of Robert Smithson, reviewed by Kate Linker in October, or it may require more time for a considered response, as with William A. Camfield’s Francis Picabia: his Art, Life and Times or Meyer Schapiro’s magisterial Modern Art: 19th and 20th Centuries, the second volume of his Selected Papers

  • Nothing/Not Nothing/Something

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    actually cross (not unlike lengths of molding) inside the depiction.

    Van Gogh’s combination in a single work of just-touching border bands, an entirely nonobjective square in the very corner, and narrower bands that do cross within the representation, points toward the active neutralization that Mondrian described, since even what is represented conforms to his flat topology. In several of Mondrian’s own canvases, painted from about 1927 onward, a comparable construct can be found. In some of these, from around 1929, the L-shape, consisting of two side bands and their adjacent squares,

  • Neo-Neo

    For D.N.

    ART HISTORY BEGAN IN the same period to which we often trace the origins of modern art. When Johann Joachim Winckelmann’s History of Ancient Art appeared, in 1764, European art was undergoing Enlightenment transformation, changing from an art that flattered aristocracies whose Baroque glory had faded into Rococo delight, to an advanced middle-class art with intellectual concerns, a new art expressing itself by recourse to the timeless lucidity and moral perfection of revived classical forms. This was a great period for the critical mind, and a constructive one for the historical mind.

  • Pictures of Art

    For J.H.W.

    IF THE CONVICTION of abstract painting can be said to have revived during the last few years, that revival has not been easily accomplished. In excavating down to its foundations, however, it would appear that abstraction has rediscovered certain principles, about the relations between contained rectangular forms and their containing rectangle, that were first stated in the preabstract painting of the later 19th century, and that trace back further to fundamental organizing procedures in Western art. Even revolutionaries like Malevich and Mondrian, when they concentrated on such specific

  • Iconicity

    For J.F.S.S.

    While he [Theophanes the Greek] delineated and painted all these things no one ever saw him looking at models as some of our painters do who, being filled with doubt, constantly bend over them casting their eyes hither and thither and instead of painting with colors they gaze at the models as often as they need to. He, however, seemed to be painting with his hands, while his feet moved without rest, his tongue conversed with visitors, his mind dwelled on something lofty and wise, and his rational eyes contemplated that beauty which is rational.

    —Epifanij the Wise, Letter to Cyril of

  • The Decorated Letter, Manuscript Painting at the Court of France: The Fourteenth Century (1310–1380), and The Icon

    HIGH HONORS GO TO an ongoing series of picture books dealing with medieval manuscript painting that Braziller has been publishing since last year. The project involves, in each case, the selection of some 48 full-page color plates, each with identification and commentary on the facing page, and a substantial introduction by some recognized scholar in the field, with the introduction itself fitted out with many black-and-white comparative illustrations. Each volume comes in both cloth and paper formats, the paperbacks costing in the neighborhood of $10 to $12.

    It happens that I have not seen

  • Beyond Time and Place, and Modern Art 1890–1918

    OF THE MANY, MANY new books dealing with general modern art history, three seem particularly worthy of note, although I still do not pretend to have covered the entire field. Beyond Time and Place, by Philippe Roberts-Jones (Oxford), treats the 19th century as the Symbolist century in painting and graphics. Written by a Belgian poet, and thematic in approach, it is packed with engaging visual parallels between, especially, Romantic-period material and high Symbolisme. Such an approach is not in itself new, but here it is searchingly and convincingly applied. Roberts-Jones’ subtitle is Non-Realist

  • La Belle Epoque: Fifteen Euphoric Years of European History

    LA BELLE EPOQUE: FIFTEEN Euphoric Years of European History (Morrow) is a different matter entirely, although it covers a lot of the same territory, concerned as it is with European society and culture between 1900 and 1914. This is a rather more old-fashioned sort of book, for artistic purposes at least, than Jean Clay’s, in that art becomes a kind of mood music for the telling of a story that amounts essentially to social history. Things can get too anecdotal as well, in a way that is distracting rather than mnemonically useful. But there is a lot of interesting art here, and the historical

  • Islamic Architecture and Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning

    TWO ARCHITECTURAL BOOKS OF general interest are John D. Hoag, Islamic Architecture, in Pier Luigi Nervi’s big “History of World Architecture” series (Abrams), which appeared last summer, and Architecture of the Islamic World: Its History and Social Meaning (Morrow), edited by George Michell and just out. Here it’s tough to pick one over the other, since there is not as great a polarization between connoisseurship and iconography as the two titles might suggest; Hoag also remains aware, along the way, of historical context. As far as I can tell, he does tend to be more “objective,” in the sense

  • Minor White: Rites & Passages; His Photographs Accompanied by Excerpts from his Diaries and Letters

    IN THE PAST YEAR the crushing torrent of books on photography, including tiresomely redundant surveys, historical potboilers and full-scale monographs purveying the most inconsequential reputations, has not let up. We do, however, come across something quite extraordinary in the form of the 80th number of Aperture, that justly famous periodical series of photographic books. The 80th number is Minor White: Rites & Passages; His Photographs Accompanied by Excerpts from his Diaries and Letters, edited by James Hall Baker and Michael E. Hoffman (Aperture). Frankly, I don’t readily take to driftwood

  • Saul Steinberg’s “Written” Pictures

    For D.L. G.

    SAUL STEINBERG’S WORK HAS remained for a long time on the periphery of the world of art, although just inside its frontier. His is the kind of work that artists would know about and admire, but that would be thought too idiosyncratic to have much pertinence as art. Then, too, the literary people would know about it, but they would tend to treat it as a species of narration in which literary irony is a principal technique, in which the “image” only incidentally takes real visual form, and in which line streams out of the pen hardly differently from a flow of words.

    Steinberg really is,

  • Ann Norton

    Ann Norton’s recent show consisted of six large vertical wood sculptures, 41 watercolor drawings and some documentary photographs of this sculptor’s major efforts—a cluster of big brick abstract “monuments” erected in her backyard in West Palm Beach. Norton showed and was known in New York forty years ago, and to a certain extent some of the interest in this show was in wondering what she is up to now. But if this is the work of a practically unknown older artist, and one working in a definitively provincial situation, it is nevertheless of considerable interest.

    It testifies, for one thing, to

  • Hard-Core Painting

    For G.J.M.

    We explained how one property of a surface is bound up with the outline. We must now speak of the other property of a surface, which, if I might put it this way, is like a skin stretched over the whole extent of the surface.

    —Alberti, De Pictura, I.4.

    Paintings involved with cruciformality can raise, and then transcend, the question of their being sculptural.1 Ultimately they affirm their affinities with painting by being shaped, space-displacing objects only to the same extent that other paintings are. (Today it is amazing how even Stella’s most outrageously exploded reliefs remain

  • Cruciformality

    THE STRETCHED CANVAS SUPPORTED BY a rectangular wooden armature is only one of the conventional formats of Western painting. Pottery, plaster walls, the leaves of books, panes of glass set in real windows, and “panels”—those portable solid chunks of woodwork plastered over (like little slices of wall)—all presented themselves to painting long before the light, resilient, easily transportable (and saleable) canvas as we know it settled in. Indeed, the stretched canvas coexisted for a long time with the panel before emerging as the preeminent modern Western format in the later 16th century.1