PRINT April 1968



Little did we suspect, here in quiet, esthetically remote Transylvania, that a pleasant little complaint dispatched by our famous Professor von Helsing about critically editorialized sub-titles curiously attached to two of our articles published in Artforum, could compel that magazine’s editor, Phil Leider, to “explode” his infamous “cool” in hypothetical, overwrought retaliations of more of the same silly stuff plus added attractions of wild assumptions and false accusations. (LETTERS, February.) As a result of the latter, you probably owe “Between the Lines” apologies to “all you English Sculptors, Light Artists, Kineticists, Ron Davis, Bob Smithson, Billy Banana, Art Critics, Museum Personnel, Art Magazine Editors” for associating their names and categories with “the Rest of You Crooks, Charlatans, Thieves and Parasites.” For myself, I may only sing “Don’t Blame Me.”

Since it is obvious that I can report for myself as I have already proven quite openly and discreetly on the pages of your magazine, and with your approval, I do not like the new disrespect of your critical editorial ruse for supplanting me as a writer, whatsoever. As you already know from face to face conversation and otherwise, I have too much regard for you and your editorial position ever to try to abuse cleverly (superciliously)-publicly as you have done by a ridiculous and blatant failure of meandering, fictitious “questions.”

Further, your terminating sentences “Caution! These Fluorescent Tubes Bite the Hands That Pay The Light Bills?” pretend to some rather unseemly conclusions about my artistic and personal integrity which, in my opinion, you, Phil, should either explain or explain away apart from the printed page, and in my presence. After that, you can do as you damned please with your incautious metaphor. Man, you have applied the correct pressure and you have attained the anticipated results. Incredible!

Truly Yours All The Way From Lompoc,

—Eggbert Sousé
(Dan Flavin)

Philip Leider responds:
Only a spoilsport would allow a farce as ripe as this one to end with a simple, “Aw, Dan, I was only kidding.” Therefore,

1. The manner in which it somehow emerges that it is I who owe apologies to all those people has a brazen, horrible kind of charm, much too powerful to resist. I rush to comply: Listen, all you “English Sculptors, Light Artists, Kineticists, Ron Davis, Billy Banana, Art Critics, Museum Personnel, Art Magazine Editors,” I apologize. And you could all do worse than to drop Dan Flavin a card thanking him for coming to your defense. Don’t blame him.

2. A separate apology to Mr. Robert Smithson. Mr. Flavin has convinced me, “apart from the printed page,” as he says, that I was incorrect in assuming that Mr. Smithson was identical to the Mr. . . . who appeared on the printed page some months ago. “Quite openly and discreetly,” Mr. . . . is someone else.

3. I am not a connoisseur of Mr. Flavin’s integrity, artistic or personal, and have reached no “conclusions” about either, seemly or “unseemly,” nor do my “terminating sentences” make any reference to the subject. Rephrasing them more elegantly, all they meant to say was, “Gosh, Dan, with all the attacks you make on the art world, it’s a wonder anyone shows your tubes!”

4. In an abject, utterly hopeless attempt to have the last word, I should like to affirm my continuing admiration for Mr. Flavin’s work that involuntary esthetic response the awful Mr. Greenberg is always talking about.

Max Kozloff’s December article on criticism appears to be nothing more than a last ditch effort to wring associative interest from an art which is pure because it excludes associative elements.

Color can certainly reverberate through all of the sensory faculties. It may allude to various states of being, catalyze one’s feelings, or recall old and familiar objects, if it is supplemented by other cues: texture, shape or thickness of paint, for example. One can hardly help noting that the terms used by Aretino, “light and shadow,” “sfumato,” “hatching,” “modeling,” signify devices utilized by a representational art. Aretino associated the sunset with Titian’s landscapes because Titian painted sunsets, intentionally.

While it cannot be denied that one can recall some colors apart from objects, such as khaki, and olive green, and flesh color, for the most part colors which are reduced to flat hard edged bands do nothing but relate to each other, and the critic would be guilty of overgeneralizing were he to evoke, rather than describe.

—Susan Balthaser
Natural Science Division
Southampton College
Long Island University

There have been a series of letters recently which are highly critical of the stand which Artforum has been taking toward current creative trends. Two questions arise in this context: first, is the stand justified; second, what is the function of Artforum?

To answer the first, I would like to refer to the recent letter by Robert Irwin in the February issue. He states in part, “We now officially have a new Academy—self-proclaimed, intent on creating instant history, seeking out young adherents to affirm itself, and building its own pyramids.” He has succinctly summed up the tenor of much of the Artforum style. There is nothing wrong with this attitude or style except: a) To make proclamations about the art of one’s peers and contemporaries, trying to attribute to them an historical significance, is doomed to failure. To coin a phrase, only time will tell. b) All too often the verbal gymnastics and constructs which are used to supplement (justify?) the plastic constructs are of apparently more significance and require more intellectual effort than the work they describe.

There is no doubt in my mind that much of the current art presented in Artforum will fade into oblivion. But what will fade and what will survive? no one can tell or pretend to. And whereas certain works by a particular artist may be trite, superficial and ludicrous to us at this time, perhaps later works by the same artist will be historically and esthetically significant.

Now we come to the second part of my question, the function of Artforum. As a professional artist and a physician I feel qualified to make an analogy. The function of Artforum is to present, vividly and with conviction, the work which is reaching out into new areas of expression and technique. It has been doing this, I think, quite well. The point is that the serious artist, as the serious professional in any field, must keep up with what is new. And it is becoming increasingly more difficult to do this because of the rapid advances in all fields. The physician who has kept his professional outlook on a par with early 20th century medicine would be obsolete (and needless to say, dangerous). The artist who closes his eyes to the new visual material which Artforum represents is, in a similar sense, doomed to professional decay. Only by keeping abreast of the new can one hope to grow, to keep his intellectual and expressive maturity a dynamic rather than a static process.

Therefore, regardless of the often excessive verbosity, Artforum is a superb, and will even someday be considered a classic, presentation of later 20th century art.

—Arnold Chanin, M.A., M.D.
Dover, Delaware

In his highly informative article on Ralph Humphrey in the February, 1968 issue of Artforum Max KozIoff remarks upon the similarity between Humphrey’s recent work and certain canvases of the Los Angeles painter, Robert Irwin, which he dates as being painted in 1962. In commenting on this article I wish to emphasize that I have no firsthand knowledge of Mr. Humphrey’s work, nor do I know the chronology of his work beyond the information conveyed in the article mentioned above and that in another article which appeared in the February, 1968 issue of Art News. Moreover, it is not my intention to either challenge or impugn Mr. Humphrey’s integrity as an artist. My concern is with various facts relating to Irwin’s work which to the best of my knowledge were not available to Mr. Kozloff at the time he wrote his article, though he is essentially correct in his information. I now also realize that my catalog introduction to the current Irwin exhibition at the Jewish Museum is sufficiently vague on the chronology of Irwin’s early work to merit amplification and, where necessary, correction, and take this opportunity to set the record straight.

There exist two series of line paintings by Irwin. The first, which evolved from some 1959 Abstract Expressionist paintings, was begun in 1961 and completed or closed off in 1962. I have seen a number of these early paintings which, for the most part, consist of three or four very thin lines positioned on a slightly textured field of color. There is a coloristic interplay between the lines which, for example, change from blue to green and back to blue, and the ground is often a different color from the lines. This creates a shallow illusionism, the lines and the ground appearing to be in flux. This first series was shown at the Ferus Gallery, Los Angeles, in 1962. It was not reviewed, and, apart from a purchase by Henry Geldzahler in 1963, went unnoticed.

It is the second series of line canvases, started in 1962 and closed off in 1963, that Mr. Kozloff refers to in his article. In this second series Irwin refuted his earlier approach and laid the foundations for his current work. The first series, to quote Irwin, is “confined, pictorial and uniform.” Though the paintings employ the same pictorial elements, the second series is predicated upon the rejection of relational parts. The size of these paintings was increased from a five foot square to that of about a seven foot square. The color is monochromatic and the two bars used in all this series are uniformly and equidistantly positioned near the top and bottom of the format. The format is symmetrical and as a consequence of the increase in scale and the positioning of the bars, it is difficult for the observer to simultaneously scan the total composition. The painting thus de-emphasizes positional relationships (though they obviously exist). The color hovers on the verge of change; for example, if the painting is red, because of the amount of blue mixed within, it gives the appearance of being about to dissolve into blue.

The bars are the same color as the ground, but built forward by palette knifing into a shallow relief. Thus neither the ground paint, which has been brushed on, nor the bars lack paint body.

The second series was shown at the Ferus Gallery in Los Angeles in 1964 and again went unreviewed. Contrary to what I have written elsewhere (and in this respect I owe Mr. Clement Greenberg an apology), Irwin was invited by him to exhibit in his 1964 Post Painterly Abstraction exhibition organized for the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. Irwin declined the invitation since he radically disagreed with the esthetic premise of the catalog introduction (which was shown to him in, advance). Richard Bellamy of the Green Gallery approached Irwin to exhibit the second series in New York, but the exhibition fell through as Irwin wanted to show only two paintings. This attitude had nothing to do with preciousness on his part; Irwin emphatically maintains it is absolutely necessary for the paintings not to be hung cheek by jowl: otherwise adjoining paintings coloristically interact. Despite Mr. Bellamy’s well known commitment to radical art and the highly audacious series of exhibitions he had organized, he evidently felt he could not commit himself to show only two paintings in his gallery space. Several of the second series were shown, however, at the Sidney Janis Gallery in 1964 in the exhibition entitled Seven New Artists. Irwin’s work was favorably mentioned in a review by Michael Fried in Art International (Summer, 1964). Dore Ashton also reviewed the exhibition in Arts and Architecture, (June, 1964) but disliked Irwin’s work—she thought it didn’t “Op” enough. A number of these paintings were selected by Walter Hopps to be included in the American representation at the 1965 Sao Paulo Bienal. The paintings were nearly all destroyed within the first three days of the opening by slashing, kicking and gouging.

This history, as well as the history in general of Irwin’s work, has not received much coverage in the art press, probably because of the restrictions Irwin has placed on the reproduction of his work. Irwin has permitted the accompanying photograph from the first line series, as these were not predicated on the esthetic position which ultimately resulted in his decision to restrict reproduction.

—John Coplans
Los Angeles, Calif.