TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT April 1969

LETTERS

LETTERS

Sirs:

I am referring to Mr. Hilton Kramer’s letter, published in your remarkable March issue.

Mr. Kramer has every reason to reject the suggestion that his review of the Studio Museum show derived from a sense of guilt or from racism. Had I made such a charge, he ought immediately to have filed suit for libel. As a matter of fact, my respect for Mr. Kramer as a critic is such that I more or less accepted his judgments at face value; nowhere did I write a word about his review. What I spoke to in my article was a general problem that Mr. Kramer had himself raised and that had nothing directly to do with his judgments on the work presented in the show. (At that, I only used the word “guilt” because he had and because it is one of my pet peeves; admittedly, I meant to needle him a bit.) I can only assume from Mr. Kramer’s harsh reaction that some graceless remark on my part deeply offended him and caused him to miss the point. If so, I am certainly sorry, for it was no part of my intention; but he most assuredly did miss the point.

The point comes to this: black artists are today putting forward difficult questions that cannot be answered on the level at which even so good a critic as Mr. Kramer has chosen to keep the discussion. I never objected to his answers to his own questions—or to those of Mr. Ghent—but I did suggest that there are other and more vexing questions with which men of his learning and ability will sooner or later have to come to terms. These questions concern the real or imagined development of a specific national Afro-American consciousness and sensibility. From this point of view, for example, the art world is being called upon to study afresh the entire record of black art in America. Mr. Kramer seems to think that this is a demand for a double standard or for the lowering of standards. In the hands of this or that person it may be, but it is not intrinsic to the position of the black intelligentsia and was not suggested in my article. I merely argued for a look at the record, which will require genuine efforts to reconstruct that record, with a view toward evaluating the claims being advanced by black artists. Even a third-rate painter might have contributed to the development of a distinctly Afro-American tradition. If so, that contribution deserves recognition; that recognition, however, would hardly equal his being declared a first-rate artist.

Mr. Kramer ought not to have taken my remarks about racist indifference personally, for they clearly were directed at our culture as a whole. I have taken members of my own profession to task on this point and have criticized much of my own work as well; I have done so not in the spirit of mea culpa but in. recognition of a general problem afflicting our society. I meant only to suggest to Mr. Kramer, as to myself, that we need to take a fresh look at those claims of black intellectuals which affect our respective areas of specialization, for we have tended to miss their point and to translate their arguments into those with which we are more comfortable. If Mr. Kramer will reread my article, I think he will find that I treated his viewpoint with the greatest respect and asked only that he extend it to meet the more difficult arguments being advanced black painters. These problems have become too important—and too dangerous—for any of us to allow
some personal slight or unfortunate formulation to inhibit the development of an essential discussion.

—Eugene D. Genovese
Visiting Professor of History
Yale University

Sirs:

About your rather complimentary review of my work in the February issue, and nowhere in order of importance:

Photo and photo-data on page 67 are all screwed up. The painting you reproduced was done in 1962, not 1968 and three of the white outer edges (sides and bottom) have been cropped out. These edges are crucial to the painting if not to the sense (?) of the accompanying critique.

The second matter confounds and puzzles me. I’ve never painted the three sequential paintings red-edged, blue-edged, yellow-edged, didactic, expository, Kellyesque or especially primary which are described in your review. I have made a number of nonserial diptychs which use these colors, but what’s so “primary” about a purple set? These double paintings have never been shown together at the same time or in the same place. There is a circular series of grey paintings I did where I found the academic esthetic position uncomfortable and not for me; I also showed a set of three single paintings in the 1966 Guggenheim Systemic show titled Primary Light Group: Red, Green, Blue, but the point was discrete-light, not color wheels. Perhaps there’s some confusion about the differences within a system and everything in the world is in a system, between sets and series?

For openers, sets are saltatory and mainly a convenience; series imply dynamics and are the process-lessons in the book bag.

Last point, and more as a footnote. I find the words “reluctant,” “arid,” “basket-woven,” OK if somewhat pejorative common adjectives, but don’t you ever tire of that yellow-dogged, malaproped misnomer, “Minimalist”? The noun’s original use in criticism (Richard Wolheim, Arts Magazine, January, 1965) referred to a minimum art-content in the found object works of Duchamp and Rauschenberg; the article includes a small (minimal?) nod to Reinhardt’s positions and dogmas. Otherwise, and in the real and greater world of History, a “Minimalist” is a Russian “anti-Maximalist,” having it out with the Bolsheviki and Mensheviki. Now while it happens I esteem Marx’s manifesto (over any of Reinhardt’s), I doubt you mean to call me a Communist, even that cop-out kind. And Reinhardt’s stands always left me cold unless they were funny. For the record I believe in a maximal art content and work for paintings which are as complex as the world I find around me. It is most unfortunate that the formal means of painting today are so sophisticated and intricate to appear obvious, gratuitous or mystifying to those not sufficiently able to deal with them.

—Jo Baer
New York City

Naturally I am pleased to learn that Miss Baer realized that I was being “rather complimentary” when, in fact, I was being considerably more enthusiastic than Miss Baer’s “somewhat pejorative tired adjectives” convey. I am pleased because Miss Baer’s reading skills are otherwise so startlingly hampered by a bad spell of paranoia. With regard to the date of the pictures, for example, my review states clearly that they were made in 1962. The caption error resulted, undoubtedly, from the fact that no information (not even the artist’s name) was supplied on the back of the photograph. The cropping of the crucial white edges was simply a printer’s error, and one which seems innocent enough except, of course, to an artist so deeply versed in the arcana of the Mensheviki versus the Bolsheviki (although to translate these terms into Maximalist and Minimalist when they mean minority and majority seems a rather strange linguistic expropriation).

I am sure that the en tire Left wipes a communal brow in their relief at learning that Miss Baer is willing to throw her weight on the side of the Manifesto. Having neither mentioned Marx nor Reinhardt (nor Bolsheviks nor Mensheviks, for that matter), I admire Miss Baer’s restraint in not using her letter as a platform to proclaim her sympathies or antipathies for any of her other bugaboos I somehow neglected to mention—Freud, Wanda Gag, Rex Reed, Malcolm X and so on.

—Robert Pincus-Witten

Sirs:

If the function of an artist is to create and the purpose of a critic to interpret, explain and judge that creation. Annette Michelson has fused the two. For in her discussion of Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (February), she has made one of the most poetic and brilliant statements, not only regarding the film itself, but also about cinema in general.

As a full-time student of motion pictures, I read numerous material on the subject of film, but not even Eisenstein, Jacobs or Manny Farber ever gave the meaning of film such depth as Michelson’s article. She treats “film as art” with an almost religious respect.

Thank you for such an article and for such a fine publication.

—Charles Salmore
Los Angeles, California

Sirs:

The John Mason piece I discuss in my article January was indeed 1957 and not 1959 and I was all wet on that account.

—Billy Al Bengston-
Venice, California_

Sirs:

Albert Elsen’s generosity, in his review of my book, Brancusi (December), has led him to attribute to me the Rumanian versions of two articles on Brancusi which I wrote for journals in Cluj and Bucharest. These articles were anonymously translated from my English by the Rumanians, Peter Comarnescu, critic and art historian, and Andrei Brezianu, a student of English and the son of a well known Brancusi scholar. My own
knowledge of Rumanian only permits me to read the language.

Since it may be some time before it will be possible for me to make changes in my book, may I use this occasion to note the following corrections:

The children’s heads, nos. 43 and 44, which I dated “1908 (?),” should be 1907. Thus the original of the bronze, no. 47, and the carvings, nos. 48–50, dated “1908 (?),” should all be 1906 (?). These changes make it very likely that Sleep, no. 46, which I dated “1908,” belongs to 1906.

Pasarea Maiastra, no. 61, which in my illustration shows the present state of the work and which I dated “1910,” had, in its early state, a square foot around the bottom of the leg. This early state should, properly, be reproduced in my book and be dated 1910 or 1910–12. The work achieved its present state with the removal of the foot in 1912 or later; I cannot determine when. Thus Maiastra, no. 70a, which I dated “1912 (?),” should be dated 1910 (?). Bird in Space, no. 165, dated “1926 (?),” should be 1930. Bird in Space, nos. 185 and 186, both dated “1933,” should be 1936.

—Sidney Geist
New York City

Sirs:

In response to Mr. Guy Williams’ letter (Feb.) concerning the L.A. County Museum’s “Art and Technology” program for 1969: The publication of this letter will serve as official notice that “Art Disposal Service” fully supports Mr. Tuchman’s program.

Since the function of A.D.S. is also dedicated to public service we are confident that at some time during this project Mr. Tuchman will seek our support and services.

—John Manno, (Director)
Art Disposal Service, L.A.

Sirs:

Re: Letters, February issue, LONG LIVE GUY WILLIAMS!!

—J. Garren
Dept. of Art, UCLA
Los Angeles, Calif.

Sirs:

In relation to “The Politics of Art, Part II” (January 1969) by Barbara Rose, I want to suggest here that Judd and Minimalist sculpture are less pragmatic than is supposed, at least on the grounds provided for Miss Rose’s discussion.

We are told that “for Judd, illusionism is close to immorality, because it falsifies reality. The pragmatist demands an absolute correspondence between facts and reality; things must be as they appear to be.” If we look closely at this issue of illusionism, we find that sculpture is not rid at all of illusionism as is believed and warmly sustained by Mr. Judd, in the statement reproduced in the above-mentioned article. It is produced by the use of mirrored surfaces like highly polished bronzes, and chrome-plated metals. In the case of Judd’s sculpture, the use of plexiglass or, as in some Smithsons, by mirrors themselves. The reflection or duplication of environmental images conveys an ambiguous sense of irreality. In Miss Rose’s words it is a “disjunction between appearance” (duplication of depth of the room where it is located), “and reality” (actual rigidity and impenetrability of the mirrored material). Furthermore, the common use of mirrors in architecture, to “enlarge” small rooms is illustrative enough of my assumption.

John Perreault, reviewing Judd’s newest work at Castelli, pointed out that the open-ended rectangle “because of interior reflections offers the illusion of being bigger on the inside than on the outside”; however he didn’t reach any further conclusions about that fact, on the contrary, he was impressed by the “serene look of a Pragmatic classicism,” which means nothing (The Village Voice, January 23, 1969). There is another question: to what extent is any painted material a specific one? See the example of one McCracken, where the paint that covers a slab of wood and fiberglass has been polished to the degree of glass, forced to take the appearance of glass, without being it—isn’t that fiction, if we don’t want to call it illusionism? We could name it a “color slab,” but can we claim that it is a wood slab, while we are perceiving a quite different appearance? All painted sculpture is involved here (Judd partly included), for it poses another problem than the one of specificity of materials.

Robert Morris, more orthodox, has discarded emphasis on color, or specific, sensuous materials, as well as impressive finishes, as mediums foreign to the physicality of sculpture. To him these features become one more internal relationship between parts, because they detach themselves from the whole of the work and “have a dualistic character in relation to the matter they distribute.” (“Notes on Sculpture,” Artforum, 1966.) This is precisely the kind of duality condemned by Miss Rose: “any kind of duality, any discrepancy between process and end, is as repugnant as illusionism to the orthodox pragmatist.” The non-hierarchical arrangement of elements, in regular grids (not composition—just “order”), aimed at suppressing any internal relationship between parts (“bound together in such a way that they offer a maximum resistance to perceptual separation,” according to Morris), brings out to a high degree the most valuable features of recent American Art: scale, wholeness, simplicity. However, this “non-relational” character can be understood as well against a sort of background of retinal memories of “relational” sculpture. It would be a dialectical opposite and in this sense one could point out, as Merleau-Ponty did, that “dialectic is not a relation between contradictory and inseparable thoughts; it is the tension of one existence toward another existence that denies it, and without which, nevertheless, it cannot be maintained,” a phenomenon that, surreptitiously, underlies the most recent tendencies in art.

The core of Minimalist sculpture, roughly speaking, is composed of cubes, polyhedrons and their derivations. If we consider that in order to build a cube it is necessary to operate out of very simple principles provided for the geometry of solids (which is a very abstract and ideal science), and that if we want the cube to stand up, it has to be built in rigid materials (unless we want it “soft” which implies a quite different kind of visual experience), we must conclude that the spectrum of possibilities is not as wide as we can imagine for an “operational pragmatist.” The repetition of the same process becomes unavoidable, therefore, it couldn’t be said that “anything can be appropriated if it works” (perhaps the latest development of Morris’s work, encompassing soft materials, could be seen more properly as pragmatic). This test of workability is not so different from the choice that any artist makes to achieve his own repertoire of forms and materials. Thus, the engagement, the adherence to forms that, primarily, are embodiments of abstract principles of an ideal science (geometry of solids), could hardly promote a pragmatic esthetic.

“Pragma” means action, activity. To examine the activity rather than the object (cube, polyhedron), where the activity of the artist finally is congealed, is, I believe, to distort the esthetic appraisal, unless we are forced to perceive through the lenses of words, statements, and the like. Activity is condensed in objects (esthetic ones), colors, sounds, words, volumes, movement and lines that are more than their own realities. A big steel cube by Judd must be (in fact is) much more than that, despite his own efforts to draw it to the level of an object (specific), merely “interesting.” Otherwise, why does he make a 4 x 4 foot stainless steel cube? The activity of the artist (sculptor, painter), prior to the object, is definitively dead, gone, past. As such, it is not apparent as the object is. The question of whether or not the latter has traces of that action once engendered the myth of “action painting,” in a vain attempt to “revive” action, to make it present. My assumption that it was a vain attempt has been demonstrated by later criticism, which has, rightly, devaluated such a myth, attending to the proposals of result, embedded in
the object.

—Cesar Paternosto
New York City