PRINT Summer 1970



John Coplans writes (March) that “Rauschenberg and Warhol seem to have developed an interest in the silk-screen technique at about the same time (though Warhol may have anticipated Rauschenberg somewhat in the money paintings of 1962).” This statement is correct but could be clarified somewhat. Rauschenberg did not begin to employ the silk-screen technique until after his visit to Warhol’s studio in the fall of 1962, when he saw for the first time the multiple Marilyns (now in the Tremaine Collection) and the multiple Coke bottles (now in the Abrams Collection) and asked Warhol where he could have silk-screens made. I see no reason to question the chronology published by Henry Geldzahler in his article on Rauschenberg in Art International (September, 1963): “In 1961 Andy Warhol began using the silk-screen to reproduce the popular image exactly on canvas. This technical possibility, indicated by Warhol, made it clear to Rauschenberg that he could translate the specificities and ambiguities of the drawings onto canvas.”

This is a fact of no great consequence as each artist used the silk-screen technique in his previously established style. Rauschenberg’s silk-screened images are scattered compositional elements, consistent with his previous use of collaged photographs. Warhol’s “machine-like” use of a single image repeated in rows on a single canvas (or singly on a series of canvases) is consistent with his previous use of stenciled images. (One reason Warhol turned to silk-screening was that dollar bills were impossibly difficult to stencil.) An equally important distinction between the two is that Rauschenberg frequently employed the expensive four-color silk-screen process (requiring separate color screens for each image) while Warhol used only the single black-and-white screen.

There are a couple of errors in the picture captions (especially confounding as the paintings are correctly dated in Coplans’s text). Peach Halves was not painted in 1962, but probably in 1961 and possibly in 1960. Plane Crash is 1962, not 1963. Triple Elvis (I helped screen this series) was painted in 1963, not 1962 which is the date of the first multiple heads of Elvis. As for the paintings for which no dates are given, Close Cover Before Striking, Glass, Handle with Care, and Seven Cent Airmail Stamps were probably done in 1962, while Red Explosion and Red Race Riot were most likely painted in 1963.

—David Bourdon
New York City

A foretaste of the bickering that will plague any discussion of Minimalism in the ’70s is most manifest in Philip Leider’s article entitled “Literalism and Abstraction” (April, 1970). Argument seems to dichotomize between the author’s desire to redeem that failing critical tradition of formal abstractionism, and those undignified “others” who literally “damaged” the new movement by over-reacting, interpreting what was new as an expression of sculptural problems. What was deemed exciting was the transformation of “painting” into a physical entity. In this connection, the author is to be applauded for reprimanding the latter, especially for their over-simplistic attitudes or “literalistic” (fundamentalist reductivism) shortcomings which equivocates the experience of minimalism as a logical consequence of technical devices (e.g. stretchers—depth complex). Accordingly, Mr. Rubin is rightly chided.

However, Mr. Leider in turn is also subject to certain “misreadings.” Despite the linguistic shortcomings of “abstractionist criticism” to do justice to the full experiential traits of the new art, the author wishes to patronize that very “tradition,” although on a more sophisticated level. He desires to reinvigorate the Greenbergian strategy that minimalism and its attendant proposals are in essence an uninterrupted continuation of traditional perceptual issues, Abstract Expressionism playing in this case a rather decisive role in preserving that legacy. In outline, two premises seem to emerge from the essay: a) the “message” of Pollock is viewed as a foundation for minimal developments, and b) that of the many contributions traced to the art of Pollock, color was pre-eminent for the work of Stella, a conviction “not related to literalism, or the issue of objecthood.”

It is just at this juncture that critical trenches seem to be cut; for the ’70s the line of demarcation over which shells will explode separates an oversimplistic attitude in juxtaposition to a form of avant-garde orthodoxy. Yet, one or the other will not do; the evidence defies the position; as different and distinct as Stella’s work appears from former engagements, so in the long run critical analysis requires a rhetoric and a scaffolding of nomenclature as different and distinct from formalist Greenbergian sentiment. This has yet to be accomplished; however, in the interim one realizes that despite all opposition, the new manifests itself on the threshold of “objecthood”—that is, whether it be through the force of color or the ruse of shape what experience discloses is the impressive fact that vision has transcended that obsession with the looking-glass (the act of perception or looking into . . .) for the more global emphasis of sheer confrontation. If the statement by Stella is to be taken seriously (and at present there is no reason to take it otherwise) that “a painting is only an object” but “one that’s intended to be a painting,” this can only be construed to mean that a painting by Stella is no longer a representation, but a presentation whose “objecthood” is utterly unrelated to all other objects because its horizon is only realizable through the “sphere of the visible.”

Distinctions of this sort allow us to transcend formalist premises, and in accounting for the evidence of experience begs the question for an alternate system of premises. This should be the realization and the task of the ’70s.

—Dr. Wm. Proweller, Assoc. Professor
Dept. of Art
State University College

Fredonia, N.Y.

Philip Leider’s “Abstraction and Literalism: Reflections on Stella at the Modern” (April, 1970) discussed a particular issue in Stella criticism on a high level of seriousness. Important observations were made and their implications were argued with real conviction. It is with regret, therefore, that I must, for the record, protest two aspects of his text.

The title of the article leads the reader to believe that its observations are related to the exhibition currently at The Museum of Modern Art—that it is in part a review of that exhibition. Such statements as: “Only four of the Irregular Polygons are in the exhibition, which seems to me unfortunate” and “the exhibition contains only eight . . . since 1967” are hardly designed to disabuse the reader of this impression. Little would he suspect that Mr. Leider wrote the article without having seen the show, on the basis of an incomplete checklist. Had Mr. Leider waited, he would have found, for example, that in the actual exhibition (and in the definitive checklist) there are five, not four of the Irregular Polygons of 1966. Mr. Leider criticizes the exhibition for containing only eight pictures from the Protractor series begun in 1967, observing that this series “does take up a third of Stella’s mature career.” Quite apart from the fact that 1967 to late 1969 does not take up a third of a mature career that begins in 1958, a glance at the exhibition would have made clear what might have been gleaned from a careful study of the checklist, namely that the eight Protractor paintings are generally much larger than those in the early sections of the exhibition (and include four of its five largest pictures). In fact, much more space is devoted to these late pictures—relative to the length of time in which they were done—than to the Black series which initiated Stella’s mature career.

What is at stake here is Artforum’s integrity. One art magazine in New York is notorious for “reviews” of shows its writers haven’t seen and catalogues they haven’t read. In one instance that magazine printed a comment about the installation of an exhibition—in an article that went to press before the walls were built. As an admirer of Artforum, and a quondam contributor, I would hope it will not slip into such habits.

Far more important is Mr. Leider’s view that I have over-emphasized Stella’s own critique of Minimal sculpture: “Mr. Rubin’s enterprise” according to Mr. Leider is “to get Frank Stella as far from those ‘Minimalists’ as he can get him.” While Leider admits that “some of Stella’s anti-literalist utterances are extreme,” he insists that “they are never as extreme as they appear to Mr. Rubin.” To this I can only reply that from the many hours of taped discussion with Stella, my presentation of his views on Minimal (or Literalist) sculpture are, if anything, less extreme than Stella’s observations might have warranted, as Mr. Leider may confirm with the artist.

Stella said (and Mr. Leider quotes him): “The sculptors just scanned the organization of painting and made sculpture out of it. It was a bad reading of painting . . .” I, in turn, spoke of “some sculptors” who “saw his shaped canvases as pointing ineluctably to their three-dimensional art,” to that extent “misreading his enterprise.” This somehow led Mr. Leider to say that “In Mr. Rubin’s text,” the Minimal sculptors “seem to be misunderstanding him [Stella] on every page.” I have reread my entire text and find no other reference to Minimalists misreading or misunderstanding Stella than the single one cited by Leider and just repeated by me. In fact, the whole question of Stella’s relationship to Minimal art covers less than two of the 194 pages of my monograph.

Since the monograph is not yet available to Artforum readers I think it only fair to Stella to add some crucial sentences from his remarks on Minimal sculpture which Mr. Leider did not see fit to include. The passage in which Stella refers to Minimal sculpture being a “bad reading of painting” continues:

Repetition is a problem, and I don’t find it particularly successful in the form of sculptural objects. There are certain strong qualities in the pictorial convention—the way in which perimeter, area and shape function—that allow a serial pattern to derive benefits from them. Repeated units on a unified painted ground function a lot differently than do separate units standing on the floor or nailed to the wall.

—William S. Rubin
Museum of Modern Art
New York, N.Y.

Philip Leider responds:
Mr. Rubin is correct in pointing out the pernicious custom of appearing to review exhibitions which in fact have not been seen by the writers. I had thought my article was self-evidently not a review of the exhibition, but I can see Mr. Rubin’s point, and perhaps I should have been more explicit about that. The rest of Mr. Rubin’s letter discusses issues which I am content to let readers decide for themselves.