PRINT February 1969



The Avedisian illustrated on the front cover of your January issue was incorrectly identified as belonging to Prof. Harvey Wagner. It belongs, in fact, to Carter Burden.

—Robert Elkon
New York City

Regarding Mr. Billy Al Bengston’s comments on “Late Fifties at the Ferus,” (January), Mr. Bengston mythed the point of the exhibition.

James Monte, Assistant Curator
Los Angeles County Museum of Art
Los Angeles, California

A press release that is currently in circulation has announced the revival of “official” art. The message is this: The Los Angeles County Museum of Art is undertaking (for the survival of art it seems) the task of placing artists “within the walls of corporations for three months” to facilitate the “long-standing urge” to create an Art and Technology alliance. This “need,” according to Museum Director Donahue, “is one of the most pressing esthetic issues of our time.” Summarily, their objective is to match twenty major corporations with twenty major artists to make advanced art objects for a 1970 spring exhibition. Their program, the release says, “is one of the most dynamic concepts in the evolution of art,” but registers like a Madison Avenue manifesto and comes across with the self-assurance of the slogan in a Chevy ad—MATCH THIS YOU OTHER 69’s.

Senior Curator, Maurice Tuchman, “will direct the program and negotiate the assignment of artists to corporations.” Doubtless, the art objects will be of high quality; all that is required is careful selection: if, for instance, Donald Judd or Tony Smith were aligned with Kaiser Steel Corporation or Lockheed Aircraft Corporation (two of the twenty corporations on the Museum’s list) it would probably be an appropriate alliance. Indeed, any obvious marriage of artist and organization would turn out first-rate works.

The observations made here are not criticisms of art and technology vis-à-vis technology in art; one can only advocate the future—it is impossible to be on the wrong side of this question. Objections can be made, however, and these deal with the Museum’s role as arbiter and the part it wishes to play in the process of making art. “Art and Technology,” according to the three-page press release, will be the Museum’s “major activity for 1969–1970 in Modern Art.”

It is necessary to quote Senior Curator Tuchman:

With this project the Museum expands its role as a dynamic forum which serves both the community and the artist. A newly-defined institutional function enters in when private industry is publicly involved in the creating of art works; moreover, the concept of the Museum as an active arbiter in the PROCESS (his caps) of making works of art is in itself a significant innovation. The exhibition is not conceived as a display of technological fabrication nor as a compendium of new uses of sophisticated materials and processes. Rather, the works themselves, potentially involving media as disparate as electronic systems, holography, specialized means of forming metals and plastics, and experimental sonic devices, will stand ultimately as culminations of a long-standing urge to expand the material domain available to advanced art forms.

The histories of such twentieth century art movements as Constructivism, Futurism and the Bauhaus, testify to a continually evolving artistic assimilation of developments in science and technology.

With the Constructivists, the Bauhaus, twenty major corporations, and the “community” on your side, it would be difficult to invoke higher authority in support of the Museum’s proposal. The program itself, together with Mr. Tuchman’s “eye” are, of course, the central substance of the affair. The proposed “exhibition” and the “eye” become, by definition, the stated goal and the purpose of the program. These intangible facts become dominant facts in this directed project; the real artist is diminished while the Museum is magnified into the position of ultimate artist.

All of this thrusts aside the individual philosophically and psychologically in favor of an abstract idea—the super-charged mass-mindedness of the Museum. Instead of the unique and concrete individual you have “bigness” and the names of corporations. “Official” because the aims and meaning of an individual artist no longer lie in personal concerns but in the policy of the Museum. The Museum wishes to attract all life to itself. Art in service of the “establishment.” Art that is ruled, housed and nourished as a social arm of official experts. Art policy like state policy decides what shall be advocated. Art and Technology shall be advocated during the 1969–1970 season. The “community” (Mr. and Mrs. Beverly Hills) is entertained in accordance with the standards of those in positions of power—the respected authorities.

In making pronouncements about “advanced” art (or any art for that matter) the Museum is predicting the future; it is advising all concerned what to do to bring about tomorrow’s good art—and everyone is listening. The music on the bandwagon is noisy and hard to ignore—a streamlined arrangement of More Than You Know, What’s New, and Together. Tomorrow’s “advanced” art has already become today’s “acceptable” art—even though it doesn’t yet exist.

When the individual artist combines with this kind of thinking he becomes part of the corporate body and a function of society; he is offering himself for obsolescence; he disappears like last year’s Chevy. When the time comes the ’69 model artist is replaced by the newer, more high-powered ’70 or ’71 model artist—and so on. The result is the extinction of the individual.

Artists banding together into groups and organizations will find security. What the many believe must of course be true and worth striving for, and important, and therefore good. All the thinking and looking after are done from the top; for all problems there is a solution, and for all needs the necessary provisions are made. The sanctions of the Museum and its ambitions, under these conditions, come to this: the Museum is being deified, not the artist.

The artists will cooperate. The American artist, unlike the radical student and the black American, is rather satisfied with the quality of American life; he has no real argument with things as they are and is anxious to become part of the “establishment.” “Making it” is a singular drive among most artists today and the kind of parental care that the Museum is offering will not be turned down.

One suspects that all of this “art” business is a nuisance to many of these corporations and that it interferes, in a minor way, with the real purpose of their existence—making money. They have, however, donated moderate sums in support of the Museum’s project—a kind of Community Chest for Art with a few machines and technicians thrown in—a public service.

Are any of the participating corporations manufacturing for the American War Machine? For instance, if one of the announced corporations or one of its subsidiaries were making parts for bombs or missiles, would the Museum or the invited artists have any compunctions about this association?

Using donated funds, the Museum could offer financial aid to each of the chosen artists—minus instructions, and forget about being an “active arbiter in the PROCESS of making works of art.” There are abundant technologies and specialized skills available to the artist in the phone book—you can FIND IT FAST IN THE YELLOW PAGES. A check in the mail would be an authentic contribution toward one or two primitive, but independent, technological experiments. On the other hand, a pencil and a piece of paper might be a single artist’s advanced technology and straightforward financial aid would let him muddle through on his own, unofficially, without manufacturing for the Museum.

Alternate Proposals For Art And Technology In 1969–1970 Are Amended Here:

The Museum would form an alliance with the Los Angeles Police Department and the California Flower Growers Association. The proposal: a float for the Rose Parade on New Year’s Day, 1970. The invited artist would build a mechanical cop twenty feet high—covered with flowers. The botanical officer’s passionflower billy-club would pound the papier-mâché heads of daisy plated demonstrators in an everyday gesture of Law and Order. Chrysanthemums on each side of the float would spell out ART IS ART and LIFE IS LIFE.

Art Satellite: co-sponsored by NASA and the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. A major program that would send an artist and an art object into space. Each week an invited artist and his work would be put into orbit. This proposal would abolish, once and for all, any minor differences that might still exist between science and art—as well as bring the artist even closer to God.

A Distributional Sculpture.

The invited artist would do a number with the Cleveland Wrecking Company. The skills and technology of this organization would be fully mobilized. The Museum buildings would be reduced to small “piles” and the artist, assisted by AFL-CIO laborers, would rearrange the Museum in sequential “rows” at a more suitable site—Disneyland.

With the full support of the Museum, an American Cement Corporation truck with a crew of four or five technicians would quietly pull up in front of Grauman’s Chinese Theater at four A.M. on Ad Reinhardt’s birthday. The invited artist and his team, using fast drying cement, would fill in all the footprints, handprints, and autographs on the sidewalk—beginning with the Andrew Sisters and ending with Shirley Temple. The artist would then sign his own name in the wet cement, shake hands with the team, and get out of town as fast as he could.

The moon as an art object.

Using laser light the invited artist would project images on the moon’s surface to create a slide show or movie in the sky. As a beginning color portraits of famous museum officials could be shown; given priority, one of these officials, in an accelerated program, could be—the first man on the moon.

—Guy Williams
Los Angeles

In Robert Pincus-Witten’s recent review (December) of the Fold paintings which I exhibited at Sachs Gallery he stated that the perspective used was one-point. This is not so. Without exception the perspective used in all of the paintings was parallel.

In the Plank paintings, which I exhibited last spring, I worked with one-point and also two-point perspective. However, since then I have turned to the use of parallel perspective and am finding that the simplicity and flexibility of it particularly lends itself to the more fluid character of the Folds.

—Thomas Downing
Washington, D. C.

Congratulations to the San Francisco Museum of Art on once again pointing new directions in the world of art! It is refreshing to see, once again, that the Museum has not sunk to the abysmal level of exhibiting Bay Area work, but has followed the examples set by national magazines and major New York museums. Traditionally, in its wisdom, it has waited before recognizing local artists, allowing them to move to the art wastelands of New York and Los Angeles before wisely welcoming them back.

I recommend a title more in keeping than Untitled ’68 (Artforum, January): “The San Francisco Museum and the San Francisco Art Institute Present: A Survey of American Art from 1949 Through 1968 as Seen Through the Eyes of Every Major Magazine, Museum and Art Critic East of the Rockies.”

—Tom Holland
Berkeley, Calif.

The National Endowment for the Arts has announced awards of $5000.00 to the following artists: Pat Adams, Peter Agostini, Carl Andre, Edward Avedisian, Jo Baer, Darby Bannard, William Bollinger, Gandy Brodie, Paul Burlin, Dan Christensen, Beauford Delaney, Friedel Dzubas, Manny Farber, Mary Frank, Robert Gordon, Bob Grosvenor, Al Held, Morris Kantor, Frederic Karoly, Tadaaki Kuwayama, Robert Murray, Philip Pearlstein, Howard Rogovin, Richard Tuttle, Richard Van Buren, Gerald Van de Wiele, David von Schlegell, Christopher Wilmarth, Peter Young, and Larry Zox.

The names of other artists who have received similar grants since the program was put into effect in 1967 follow:

Lennart Anderson
Robert Beauchamp
Billy Al Bengston
Wallace Berman
Charles Biederman
George Bireline
David Black
Ronald Bladen
Jean Charlot
George Cohen
Rollin Crampton
Nassos Daphnis
Andrew Dasburg
Gene Davis
Ron Davis
Dale Eldred
Dan Flavin
Jean Follett
William Geis
Sam Gilliam
Robert Gordy
Joe Goode
Robert Goodnough
Joe Goto
Stephen Greene
Colin Greenly
Julius Hatofski
Wally Hedrick
George Herms
Robert Huot
Will Insley
Bill Ivey
Donald Judd
Gary Kuehn
Craig Kauffman
Al Leslie
Alvin Light
Roger Mack
Robert Maki
Robert Mangold
Agnes Martin
John McCracken
Ed McGowin
John McLaughlin
George McNeil
Neil Meitzler
Edwin Mieckowski
Gary Molitor
Robert Morris
Clark Murray
Bruce Nauman
J. Geoffrey Naylor
Manuel Neri
Gene Owens
John Opie
Ray Parker
Victor Pickett
Charles Pollock
Richard Pousette-Dart
Mark Di Suvero
Kenneth Price
Richard Randell
Ralph Rosenborg
Ed Ruscha
Ludwig Sander
Olie Sihoven
Hassel Smith
Leon Polk Smith
Tony Smith
Theodore Stamos
Richard Stankiewicz
Myron Stout
George Sugarman
Peter Teneau
Robert Tiemann
John Tweddle
Jim Turrell
Steven Urry
Tony Veevers
David Weinrib
Bruce West
H. C. Westermann
Douglas Wheeler
Phil Wilburn
Franklin Williams
Neil Williams
Wes Wilson
George Woodman
Jack Youngerman

—Henry Geldzahler
National Endowment For The Arts

I find Mr. Sidney Tillim’s article on Earthworks (December) exasperating. It is as if he doesn’t really need works of art at all: all one would have to do is say “Earthworks!” and Mr. Tillim will be ready with a full-blown theory. To the extent that Earthworks are related to the picturesque, they are damned; to the extent that they are related to “modernism,” both are damned. Won’t we ever know what Mr. Tillim thinks of this piece by Robert Morris and that piece by Robert Smithson?

—Eileen Donovan
Chicago, Illinois

I should like to clarify the critical implications of the somewhat sweeping conclusion of my recent article, “Earthworks and the New Picturesque.” The basic premise of the piece, that Earthworks represents a late and indicative phase of modernism, stands; and besides I am as much concerned at having oversimplified the old picturesque as well as the new one.

There was in my conclusion the clear implication that the picturesque is per se decadent. Of course, this is not true, or at least, not wholly true. The cult of the picturesque resulted in much that is sentimental, precious and overrefined in the extreme and Victorianism is inconceivable without it. In England, indeed, the picturesque was an expression of very refined taste, but there was Gainsborough after all, the Norwich watercolorists and a few early Victorian genre painters for whom genteel rustication was no artistic hazard.

In America, especially during the first half of the 19th century, the cult of the picturesque involved, in fact, an identification of the American landscape with the promise of America itself. Out of this naive faith came an extraordinary and indigenous landscape school, however tinged by Claudian arcadianism, comprised, after Cole, of artists such as Kensett, Church, Cropsey, Durand and others. There is also much book illustration and early landscape engraving in the picturesque manner that retains its original appeal.

The modernist picturesque is something else. It is, as I wrote, an essentially cultivated expression and extremely refined. Virtually all earth art and cognate types like air art, water art, light art, the whole art in technology “bag”—anything, that is, with an utter materialist and phenomenological stance—is, if not actually “picturesque,” then theatrical and utterly involved with sensory levels of taste.

There is, however, some minimal art that, naive in its belief in the “medium,” has a special conviction that separates it from mere taste. The naiveté functions as a defense against taste and tends rather to idealize the medium rather than bathe with it. I refer primarily to the better things by Don judd and Bob Morris and, at least theoretically, Dan Flavin. I do not have to like their work to feel its conviction, but there are works by all three that I have liked. The simplicity of their work is actually due to simplistic theory that naively delights in media. I am also impressed by a displaced ethic of utilitarianism and a revival of functionalist pragmatism that I believe is part of the sentiment of their works.

True, the “brutalism” of these artists’ approach is another form of the exquisite, at times. Morris’s earthwork like his felt pieces, is, in its feeling for irregular shape, wholly picturesque in feeling, but it is demonstrably didactic also. That is, it illustrates an idea, an idea about art with respect to media, and thus escapes the onus of the merely picturesque. And Alan Saret’s wire friezes and “hedges,” literalist landscapes that reject the architectural like rigor of earlier minimalism, actually can be called “pretty” and still retain the special conviction of their elegant informality.

Otherwise, the picturesque impulse itself signifies a defection from the ideals of modernist high art, meaning Abstract Expressionism and color art mostly. In the case of Walter de Maria’s lines painted on a desert, we are exposed to a willful travesty of those ideals or a desperate burlesquing of them.

Here is where we must consider the best “abstractionist” art as now an attempt to preserve those ideals against encroachment by sheer taste, objecthood (Fried) or novelty (Greenberg). But this only means that the “formalist” position, as it is now crudely identified, is limited to its tradition. It is now essentially a conservative force in art. Thus, Mr. Greenberg’s cautious reasoning about modernism a few years ago. Modernism—the sensibility that has dominated art since Cubism—has, all this means, either fewer alternatives, or perhaps what Mr. Greenberg felt was “at least one more” alternative was the last one. And not everyone is agreed that it is the only one to adopt at the present time.

—Sidney Tillim
New York City