Unconscious Formalism, A Response to Andre’s Note on the Bechers

IN CARL ANDRE’S “NOTE on Bernhard and Hilla Becher” (Artforum, December, 1972), he deals with a body of work that came into being when a painter, Bernhard (or Bernd) Becher, gave up painting to record photographically with Hilla Becher an intriguing genus of structures that had initially concerned him as a favorite pictorial motif—industrial buildings. Thus far Andre’s fellow-artist’s sympathy is insightful. But what an artist finds fresh is not always new, and sometimes not even problematic. One creative function of art history is to draw on the memory banks of culture to claim for contemporary artists the traditions to which they may unknowingly contribute, bringing into light work by past artists whose activity was obscured by the (temporary) activation of other traditions.

I found this important for one reason, because of Hilla Becher’s statement that what they do may not be “art” and

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