PRINT September 1967



Donald Judd is quoted, in “Art and Objecthood,” (Summer, 1967), as saying, “Actual space is intrinsically more powerful and specific than paint on a flat surface.” Near the end of the same piece Mr. Fried, the author, admits that the issue of color in recent modernistic sculpture “is a large and difficult subject which I cannot hope to do much more than touch on here.” I would like to suggest that, although it may not bear directly on Fried’s main thrusts (shape v. objecthood and art v. theatricality), there is something basic at stake in the juxtaposition of these two statements.

“Actual space”, that is physically three dimensional space, is a conglomerate of two-dimensional tonal variations, diminishing sizes, fading colors, etc. which is confirmed when we walk into it, reach out to touch it, etc. Three-dimensionality through color in painting, on the other hand, cannot be physically confirmed (try to touch the depths in a Hans Hofmann, for example, and you’ll put a hole in the canvas). But color-space in painting is a spiritual thing (not merely “illusionistic”) based on the premises that true three-dimensionality can only be realized through two-dimensional color-space and that physical “confirmation” is only another set of illusions. There is no more three-dimensional an artist than Mondrian. All of which may have something to do with Fried’s regarding color in recent modernist sculpture as a “difficult subject” and being forced to treat it with a description of a Jules Olitski sculpture (of which there is an adequate color plate) and an explanation of same on a very cursory level.

The foregoing paragraph is not meant as a back to push-and-pull plea or as a criticism of the article or Fried in general. On the contrary, Fried is devoted to careful exposition on the best artists going and, although his prose style invites unconscious parody through clumsy imitation, he seems to take great pains to clarify crucial issues. For this, I am very grateful.

—Peter Plagens
Austin, Texas

I got to disagree with Professor Fried (“Art and Objecthood,” Summer, 1967). All that talk about fighting between “literalists” and “modernists.” First I heard of it. Maybe he’s in on some plot or something, but the fact is some of my best friends are pure as the driven snow. And you know how un-pure I am!

But I sure do dig his much better idea that all this mucky stuff, from Tony Smith to John Cage, is out to get ART ITSELF. I haven’t checked to find out if they know what they’re really doing, but they might be tickled to hear about it. After all, back in the studio we always said it takes a good working-over to make art tough. . . . And I’d judge it’s coming along just fine.

Prof, don’t you realize that all us low-lifes are helping you see how close to heaven you’re getting day by day? Why, without us showing you what’s real, you wouldn’t have any article to write. Man, we got to stick close. Teamwork. Like, we dirty it up. You clean it up. We dirty it up. You clean it up. We dirty it up. You clean it up. We dirty it up. You ]. . . .

—Professor Allan Kaprow
New York, N. Y.

Although Mr. Fried, in his article Art and Objecthood, has used such words as “literalist” and “theatrical” in special and sometimes inconsistent ways (e.g. in Brechtian theater, the spectator is encouraged to focus on the object rather than to be involved in a “situation”), my point is not to accuse him of semantic unfairness or special pleading. Rather, it is to extol articles like his without which “literal” art would be of minimal interest. Susan Sontag, in being “against interpretation,” would be right only if we assume objects have such intrinsic value, or at least interest, that comment, evaluation, analysis are superfluous. But where are such objects? For Henry James, physical objects and events were only the occasion for mental reverberations.

I enjoyed Mr. Fried’s reverberations, of which perhaps the juiciest parts were the embedded ruminations of Judd, Morris, and Tony Smith. The latter made Mr. Fried’s commentary twice removed from reality, if we are to believe Plato. But Plato made Sontag’s mistake of dismissing all that is implied in the word “about” in favor of a so-called “primary” reality (the same mistake made by the primary structuralists) As it turns out, the comments are more provocative than the objects. (However, the objects are not boring—any of Judd’s or Morris’s works placed in the everyday environment would be arresting because they emphasize the incredibility that anything exists at all. If you turn a corner and run into a square, black, functionless box, surely you are not bored by the encounter. But the encounter must take place in the everyday environment, which is why the “literalists” insist on the spectator being aware of the qualities of the room, the conditions of light, space, observer-observed which obtain in any real-life situation.) Thus, if Mr. Fried really means to damn that without which his article (and, by extension, Artforum) couldn’t exist, he should call “literalist” art by its right name—“literary” art. For it has been the occasion for the richest epistemological and existential explorations (verbal, of course) since Abstract Expressionism (another literary form, for the same reason). And so this letter, too, with its references to Sontag, James, and Plato, adds to “literary” art.

—Lawrence Shaffer
New York, N. Y.

Mr. Leider’s criticism (Summer, 1967) of the distracting architecture and crowded conditions that marred “American Sculpture of the ’60s” was deserved, but his annoyance at the inclusion of sculptures he had seen elsewhere and his utter condemnation of survey shows betray the jaded eye and the narrowed viewpoint of many who are privileged and obliged by their profession to see every show that comes along or can be flown to. He objects to the presence in an L.A. show of sculpture already seen in Berkeley, Santa Barbara, or New York, as though a work once exposed anywhere should be considered as unsanitary and disposable as a used Dixie Cup.

He should realize that many who do not share his opportunities are still hungering for experiences with which he has become surfeited. Even works previously shown in L.A. commercial galleries were still unknown to most Museum goers, for whom, after all, the show was planned. Some, as Mr. Leider pointed out, are familiar with many of the sculptures through magazine coverage; but, as startling and painful to Mr. Leider as the revelation may be, he should be told that looking at reproductions and reading critical reviews—even in Artforum!—is not quite the same as seeing the real thing, however unfavorable the display situation. The great joy of the show was the opportunity to evaluate for oneself many things previously experienced only at second hand, flattered or slandered by photography and editorial comment. This and the stimulating vitality and authority of many of the works made it worthwhile to buck the interference of the architecture, the general confusion, and the happy hubbub of the lively crowds. Although it is preferable to take art in smaller, better administered doses, massive treatment is occasionally needed for the sake of those who otherwise never see more than a very small percentage of what is being done. For this purpose a survey show still seems necessary and valid.

—Jackson Wooley
San Diego, California

I am puzzled by Mr. Tillim’s review of Walker Evans. (March, 1967.) It is commendable that such appreciation is forthcoming while Mr. Evans still lives; his place in American art has received a fraction of the space accorded Edward Hopper yet he is no less important to an understanding of a time and place in art. However, once past Mr. Tillim’s appreciation of Evans, the review seems to become a muddled esthetic interpretation of all photography, with the added attraction of a hurled stone at current New York art movements and Andy Warhol.

All this is not without merit, but it is without insight. The statement that there are “no primitives among photographers, since the camera does the drawing,” is most curious and revealing. Mr. Tillim, I assume, continues to think of the photograph in terms of drawing and painting. Has he ever thought about or seen a fraction of the thousands of theoretically inept, but visually exciting images produced by the primitive photographer since the development of more convenient cameras? (See, “The Hand Camera—Its Present Importance” reprinted from The American Annual of Photography, 1897 in Photographers on Photography, 1966). These are a valid expression of a folk tradition. This should permit photography to have the “grand style” mentioned in the same sentence, although I am uncertain as to what a “grand style” is or what it might have to do with photography or painting. Does it refer to Mr. Tillim’s continual discomfort over “scale”? (An echo of an earlier Artforum review of Aaron Siskind, by Arthur Bardo?) This is, of course, a continuation of the shopworn idea that photography is somehow painting. I cannot recall any intelligent request that Goya’s etchings be larger that we know them so that they might become monumental. A Julia Margaret Cameron portrait of 14” x 11” is a potent confrontation, the mystery of a Frederick Sommer is not diminished because it measures 8” x 10”.

This confusion of media continues throughout the article. “Photography’s willingness to cooperate in mixed media art suggests a crisis of identity . . .” is a completely groundless statement unless it implies that painting’s cooperation in polychrome sculpture suggests a similar crisis of identity. Mr. Tillim constantly confuses technique with picture. They are not the same. “. . . The limits of its illustratively biased representation,” is further proof of his complete confusion, unless of course we understand that Mr. Tillim’s bias toward representation has established his limits.

I am afraid a large part of this incredible naivete is a result of believing that “. . . .the true destiny of the photograph is the book.” Books convey content admirably, they fare less well with photographic form and the “presence” a fine photographic print can convey (the Weston platinum of Tina Modotti). Photography is a form of recording, but it is not all reportage and the persistence of critics to arbitrarily establish photography’s limits is dismaying.

The author “assumes the existence of more talented younger photographers than . . . [he] can name or know of firsthand.” Assumptions are of no value when attempting the critical condemnation of an entire medium. One can only wish that a firsthand knowledge of photographs was as much in evidence as secondhand opinions.

—Thomas F. Barrow
Rochester, New York

I should like to correct an impression given by a sentence in my discussion of Clement Greenberg’s Vogue Magazine piece on Jackson Pollock (Artforum, May 1967, p. 33). I wrote:

“Contrary to Greenberg’s assertion, the use of this battery demanded a great deal of skill (we can see this developing between 1946 and late 1947) and Pollock himself always asserted the importance of control in this method.”

I had wanted to emphasize the factor of control but by tacking the relevant clause to the one taking issue with Mr. Greenberg in regard to skill. I gave the unfair impression that Greenberg had dismissed control along with skill despite the fact that Greenberg himself had always talked of Pollock’s control. Actually he had written that while Pollock’s drip paintings “eliminated the factor of manual skill” they only “seemed to eliminate the factor of control along with it,” (italics mine).

Part of the problem is semantic, lying in the different meanings attributed to “manual skill” and “control” by the two of us. I had tended to equate the latter much more with the former than Mr. Greenberg does, to define skill, in effect, as the control necessary to achieve desired effects.

—(Prof.) William Rubin
New York, N. Y.

We are trying to find the present owner of a small portrait of Sir Peter Paul Rubens painted by Sir Anthony Van Dyck. This painting was formerly in the Aldred Collection, and was sold at auction at Parke-Bernet Galleries on December 6 or 7 of 1940. The purchaser, Miss M. Horgan, has since died, and the collector for whom it was purchased is not known. Any information leading to this collector will be appreciated.

—Rev. Anthony J. Lauck, C.S.C.
Director, Art Gallery; University of Notre Dame; Notre Dame, Ind.

Bob Morris writes a paragraph in Notes on Sculpture Part 3, (Artforum, Summer, 1967), which designates the art of painting an “antique mode.” The contention parallels Judd’s polemic in Specific Objects, (Arts Yearbook 8, 1965), and taken together, warrant rebuttal.

Morris alleges an “inescapable, inherent illusionism” in painting, and derives the rest of the indictment from this fallacy. The misconception has at bottom two focusing points: illusion, which is technical, and allusion which is either mundane or ubiquitous. Morris restricts his critique to mundane allusion: he believes a painting is necessarily a picture of something. This “duality of thing,” (the painting) “and allusion” (the picture) he finds “divisive,” “ambiguous,” “elusive,” “non-actual,” “unconvincing,” “indeterminate,” “unpragmatic,” and “nonempirical.” I never much liked it myself. He may be confusing inherent and inherit. It is true we inherit a pictorial convention, but painting has challenged and reduced this inheritance, decade by decade, so that pictorial allusion inheres no more now in paint than in wallpaper. Some recent paintings exist which are not pictures. To de-specify, and in regard to ubiquitous allusion: all art always alludes to something else. Here are some allusions which “advanced sculptors” may be said to illustrate: a molecular code in the brain which enjoys esthetic principles of symmetry, unity, good gestalt; geometry, a fabricated schema which surveys and measures solids, surfaces, lines and angles, space and figures in space; logic, a catalog of canons and criteria of validity; other art forms: painting, the theatre; other objects: boxes, tables, benches, statues; and the psychological projections of the artists themselves; object as “surrogate.” If not, all sculptures are statues, and not all cubical specific-objects boxes, then not all paintings are pictures.

Two of Judd’s three specific objections to painting specify limits; they clearly objectify Judd’s limits, not the art’s. Here is his first objection:

“The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangements of whatever is on or inside it. . . . A form can be used only in so many ways. The rectangular plane is given a life span. The simplicity required to emphasize the rectangle limits the arrangement possible within it.”

The arrangement of shapes which Judd states, and reiterates, is a specious objective to assign to painting of the mid-sixties. Radical painting completed this specific endeavor in the thirties. It began it in 1908. Judd’s own specific objective has been the arrangement of cubes and other parallelepipedon in or on a shallow space (a 6” to 48” projection from the wall, a 6” to 48” projection from the floor); and though he specifies arrangements which emphasize unity and wholeness of the objects, paintings or sculpture, this latter qualification was also invented by painters, and is also much prior to any art or paper by Judd (’58–’63: Johns, Stella, Noland). As the exhaustion of Cubist concerns in painting is hardly news, their translation now, into specific objects, is at best a minor sport. For about one hundred years painting has demonstrated the precursive, radical ideas in art. Painting is best suited for this pursuit, and the best painters are still about it. It is no surprise, however, that an academic, sculptural sensibility is not able to anticipate these new ideas. Arrangements which “emphasize the rectangle” is not one of them.

Judd’s second objection: “Oil and canvas are familiar, and like the rectangular plane, have a certain quality and have limits. The quality is especially identified with art.”

Oil and canvas are no more or less identified with art than tempera and board, flux and porcelain, ink or watercolor and paper, colored earths and granite, colored glass and mullions, pigments and sandstone, lacquer and metal, acrylic and plexi. We paint a house with oil, and shade its windows with canvas. Auto paint (lacquer) sprayed on sheet metal does not innovate, either towards or away from that which “identifies art.” Any kind of articulated color film on any kind of flat, frontal surface may be a painting. The only limits to the materials of painting are those of technology and of the eye’s discrimination in seeing reflected light. Humans can distinguish 15,000–17,000 colors: envenomed monkey, rat color, and elephant’s breath are some of the 7,000 documented varieties. A computer differentiates about two million. Judd has tacitly confused the novel with the radical. He implies that any vacuformed plexi-bas-relief is automatically superior to any contemporary ideated marks on a flat surface. But ideas are ideas. Techniques and materials are not ideas. Ideas and materials have a functional relationship, not an identity. If oil and canvas did confer a familiar quality “especially identified with art,” there are those who would count this an especial virtue of the materials; there is no new, esthetic value served in an arrangement of lamps anywhere but the ceiling, or in mirrored cubes confounded with moderne tables: Duchamp’s early question put and answered what is art, and his catachesis is still sufficient. “Non-art” settings, sites, and positions per se, like new materials and techniques per se, are not innovations in art. Those works which do depend on the “unfamiliar,” require intensive propaganda to establish and maintain the small art quality in their amalgam; the printer then provides “that familiar quality especially identified with art.”

Judd’s only technical objection to painting has two parts. He first speaks about spatial illusion:

“Almost all paintings are spatial in one way or another. Yves Klein’s blue paintings are the only ones that are unspatial. . . . It’s possible that not much can be done with both an upright rectangular plane and an absence of space. Anything on a surface has space behind it. Two colors on the same surface almost always lie on different depths. An even color, especially in oil paint, covering all or much of a painting is almost always both flat and infinitely spatial. . . .”

A hard look at this expert critique shows it is wrong on all counts. One: not all paintings are spatial, and Yves Klein’s blue panels are not even paintings, since their surfaces lack articulation. They are the artifacts of an intellectual position. Two: it is apparent that anything done with both an upright rectangular plane and an absence of space is more than may be seen by the retrograde eye. Three: anything on a surface becomes that surface; it has no space behind it, unless it is so designated; it has its support (canvas, board, steel) behind it. If the painted surface is continuous, border to border and throughout, that shallow space between surface and support (so enjoyed by painters from Dürer to Cézanne, Matisse through Stella and Noland), no longer exists. Some recent paintings look as if their colors might be continuous right through the object to the wall. Some recent wall boxes look hollow. Four: two colors on the same surface can always be made to lie on the same depth. The ability to accomplish, and apparently to see this, distinguishes the painter from the sculptor or whatever. Some recent paintings redefine color as luminance (reflected light), and use this new color spectrum so that no illusion of depth is possible at all. Some recent sculptures light lamps deep in their interiors to make them seem less hollow. Five: an even color, especially in a rich oil paint, covering all or much of a painting, is always flat and finite if the covering and color are even, or if the color has been put on vertically. A surface is almost always infinitely spatial if it is scumbled, or the paint is applied horizontally. It is also infinitely spatial if it is mostly painted blue, in any manner, and its frame sides are not. Some recent oil paintings have large, flat, vertically painted areas where light reflection is controlled to where the painted canvas is discernible as a finite, painted event, and reflectiveness is still a bounded surface. Some recent lamp arrangements diffuse their light in a fluffy likeness of an Infinite Mazda.

Judd now continues to allusion: “Except for a complete and unvaried field of color or marks, anything placed in a rectangle and on a plane suggests something in and on something else, something in its surround, which suggests an object or figure in its space, in which these are clearer instances of a similar world—that’s the main purpose of painting.”

This thought on allusion makes a full circle back to Morris’ sister-allegation: the main purpose of painting is to make pictures in the very everyday sense of the word. And only Renaissance pictures, at that. The purpose includes no Oriental journeys ascending the plane, no Grecian narratives gracing an horizon, no Muslim proliferations weaving a surface: only the figure in its perspective ground may be a clearer instance of a “similar world.” The last radical paintings to attend figure-ground problems were Noland’s circle paintings of about 1960. Painters discarded the teleology of distance and pictorial depth when they discarded ground altogether, and paintings became objects altogether. This happened some time before they were inflated into wall objects, up-to-ceiling objects and out-to-floor objects.

An “inescapable” delusion moves the above critics. It is objectionable.

—Jo Baer
New York City