TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT January 1972

LETTERS

LETTERS

Sirs:
I regret to record several errors in my article “Color, Culture, The Stations: Notes on the Barnett Newman Memorial Exhibition,” Artforum, December 1971. Cathedra was reproduced upside down, as was Profile of Light: in the latter case I followed uncritically the labeling of Knoedler and Co.

Mr. Thomas Hess has kindly pointed out to me that the painting captioned The Name, I, is, in fact, the picture titled Yellow Painting in his exhibition. This discrepancy arose from my using a photograph given to me by the artist, inscribed in his hand: “The Name, Barnett Newman 1949.” On page 32 the date 1964 should read 1954 as I hope is clear from the context.

—Lawrence Alloway
New York City

Sirs:
I feel compelled to challenge Regina Cornwell’s analysis of Paul Sharits’ work (“Paul Sharits: Illusion and Object,” Artforum, September, 1971). Miss Cornwell asserts, “the flicker film in its fashion emphasizes the nature of the separate frames. . . .” As a consequence, she says viewers are made more aware of the film strip as an object in itself. If the viewers concentrate on individual frames, they will be distracted from perceiving the relationship between the frames which determines the film’s effects (the illusion)!

Anyone who has made a flicker film, and I have, realizes that teamwork makes a film, and separateness breaks it. Everyone understands the workings of teamwork in relation to a basketball team—individual players try to do whatever is best for the team, and in so doing their diverse skills become coordinated (they function as a team). A player who is out for himself cannot relate his skills to those of his teammates; his selfish attitude gets him bumped off the team.

Yet, how does teamwork apply to the flicker film? It operates as: (1) synaesthesis (“the harmony of different or opposing impulses produced by a work of art,” according to Gene Youngblood’s Expanded Cinema; in such a harmony, content is a merger of the objective, subjective, and nonobjective, which Youngblood terms, “extra-objective”), and (2) syncretism (the organization of dissimilar forms into a totality, in this instance, a film).

Syncretism has to do with structure, the sequence of still frames. As Miss Cornwell correctly observes, “The structure is dictated by the form of the materials themselves . . . light, color, and flicker as they affect the screen.”

But, what kind of structure is a “harmony of different or opposing impulses”? The answer is visually ambiguous structure, which is not ambiguous in the colloquial sense. Colloquial ambiguity’s Brand X implications range from either/or confusion (“Does this mean this, or that?”) to a total lack of communication (“I can’t make any sense out of this.”). Colloquially ambiguous art is an inferior product—Brand X personified!

Visually ambiguous structure, on the other hand, is a matter of all the interdependent relationships which comprise the whole film. Visually ambiguous structure promotes clarity, because the significance of the images and effects is perceived within the syntax of the entire film. Colors, for example, affect us differently in concert than they do on their own. What is the effect of a simple structure like 2 red, 2 blue, 3 yellow? We may perceive it as: (1) 2 red + 2 blue + 3 yellow; (2) 2 red + 1 blue, 1 blue + 3 yellow; (3) 1 red, 1 red superimposed on 1 blue, 1 blue superimposed on 1 yellow, 2 yellow. As Youngblood says, “A synaesthetic film is, in effect, one image continually transforming into other images: metamorphosis.”

By means of this metamorphosis, images are able to transcend themselves, and spatial illusions result in which, as Miss Cornwell explains, “color and light create and transform the space between the projector and screen and . . . between the viewer and screen, so that this space as well as that of the screen is shaped through projection of the color by the light in time.” Images appear to move: horizontally, vertically, or diagonally in the two-dimensional space of the rectangular screen. They also seem to travel into and out of three-dimensional space (the theater). A spatial illusion “fixes your gaze, physically holds your attention,” says Jordan Belson, with respect to his own Allures.

I am able to attest to the powers of spatial illusions, because I have seen Belson’s Raga (1959, a single-frame animated film). Initially, watching Raga was like looking through a kaleidoscope—lots of sheer visual stimulation. As the film progressed, the visual Raga and the audio Raga were superimposed. Suddenly all of my senses were stirred up, and Belson’s whirlpool type illusions possessed me. Had I put a note in a bottle and cast it into the sea, at that moment, it would have read, “Help! I’m imprisoned inside a kaleidoscope!”

Sharits’ films must be exciting, too, but perhaps not as exciting as Belson’s, because Sharits thinks that audio and visual should be alternately dominant. In other words, while visual is minding the store, audio sits in the back room and pouts, and vice versa.

Perhaps it is revealing to note that both Sharits and Belson possessed a working knowledge of visually ambiguous structure prior to their involvements with film. Belson had been a painter. Sharits, as Miss Cornwell reports, had been a designer. Maybe the early exposure to painting and design engendered a desire to let viewers freely interpret their illusions. They could have been affected by Motherwell’s concept of free association, or Pollock’s view of field, as a concern for the whole; perhaps Josef Alber’s color theories and Hans Hofmann’s Search for the Real also influenced them.

—Abby Coleman
Munster, Indiana

Sirs:
Having completed my article on Eva Hesse (Artforum, Nov. 1971) prior to the recent installation of 5 of her major works at the art gallery of the School of Visual Arts, I neglected to indicate that the 2 color plates of Eva Hesse’s work illustrating that article in fact had been photographed at that recent installation. The exhibition was important not only because of the acuity of the selection (the choices were made by Linda Shearer of the staff of the Guggenheim Museum) but also because the installation in effect celebrated the close relationship that existed between the artist and the School of Visual Arts. Not only was she one of the outstanding members of its faculty, so too were several of her friends, notably Mel Bochner and Sol LeWitt, who occupy so many of my considerations pertaining to Eva Hesse’s work.

Incidentally, I perpetuated an error regarding the infancy of Eva Hesse when I stated that Eva Hesse was separated from her parents for three years. Helen Charash, the artist’s sister, informs me that the separation in fact lasted only 3 months.

—Robert Pincus-Witten
New York City