PRINT December 1974



To the Editor:

I am rather perplexed and uneasy about Terry Smith’s labeling me a formalist critic (not, to many, necessarily a dishonor or a sign of subservience to NYC) in his “The Provincial is! Problem,” Artforum, September, 1974, because, although I have written of the formal qualities in Morris Louis in Art International, no one could term my treatment, in the same journal, of Don Nice, Gilbert and George, and Robin Page, formalistic. Yet I am alleged to have made some “promise” (a peculiar word to use and into which some might import quite denigratory implications) to follow a single line in abject servility to NYC metropolitanism. Again, as Curator of The Power Gallery within The University of Sydney, though I have purchased works by Frankenthaler, Bush, Reich, Olitski and Seery, I’ve also purchased works by Uecker, Duchamp (etchings), Kienholz, Wewerka, Weseler and Beuys (sufficient to have me expelled from a mythical Greenbergian college). Perhaps this puts me under the thrall of establishment art all over, but that “fact” will not suit Mr. Smith ’s argument: L. A., Dusseldorf, Köln, London, São Paulo, et cetera, cannot be, he says, metropolitan centers, because there is only one, “unfair” NYC.

It is not at all clear what Mr. Smith means by metropolitanism (one suspects the conspiracy syndrome at large) or provincialism, and it does seem a peculiar methodology to use Australia’s “provincialism” to indict NYC for its imposition of “rules,” distortions and so on. Further to confound the issue, he says that most people in the NYC art nexus are provincial, but that provincialism outside NYC consists in regarding NYC as a metropolitan center. The term provincialism is further widened to mean that provincial artists (in NYC?) are both divorced from genetic contexts and cannot participate in artistic changes. Such are some of Mr. Smith’s “rules,” but one has only to reflect a moment to see that such confused categorizing could hardly account, say, for the shift from provincial ism to metropolitanism and vice-versa.

But the mire is deeper; if NYC calls the rules of the game, he says, then provincial
artists must be provincial, yet, says Mr. Smith, artists are morally obliged to reject
this situation as a “natural law.” (It all sounds like night-school debates in Marxism: if the revolution is inevitable why try to speed up the natural processes?) Again, though he concludes that provincialism is perniciously destructive, he admits that a local art (i. e., Australian; cooee!!) can emerge through imported styles, but only approved imports beca use some are “entirely foreign to the provincial artist’s responsibilities — which are to himself in his culture and in terms of its integrity relative to other cultures.” Is all he saying is that it is only subservient to accept some cultures? If so, provincialism cannot
be defined in terms of subservience. Is it permissible to adopt those cultures, unspecified, that run counter to NYC art’s closed shop? Questions. Questions.

It is still more complex; for example, he reproduces and mentions works by Ti Parks and John Arm strong as escaping the metropolitan hegemony; I recommended Parks as a candidate for the 1973 Paris Biennale for young painters and he was selected; I wrote a piece on Armstrong for Art International, October, 1973, before he took one of the international prizes at São Paulo. I used the same Armstrong reproduction as does Mr. Smith, but 11 months before. It suggests that when the provincials are overtaking or jogging alongside the metropoles, there is something amiss with the training methodology.

Despite such obvious difficulties in the supposed dichotomy between provincialism and metropolitanism, the article is pervaded by an ideology that metropolitan imperialism, with its wicked agents abroad, bound by oaths (or promises), is diverting indigenous art from its true destiny; the model of subservience and domination appears quite inadequate and the case would have to be argued more subtly and coherently. I have been mite autobiographical, but that has been forced upon me and, at least, indicates, that the situation is not to be treated so simplistically . . . more on me. . . . I have, since 1959, lived in YC on five occasions each for a month, happily at home with all those YC provincials.

—Elwyn Lynn
Woollahra, N.S.W., Australia

Mr. Lynn seems to feel that his dosage of self-promotion, plus his evident failure to grasp the points I made in my article, somehow add up to a critic ism of it. I concede immediately that I was certainly rather abbreviated in my characterization of him as a “formalist.” In view of his variegated career, I should perhaps have added a footnote to the effect that in his critic ism, purchasing and paintings he has, at one time or another, been a participant in nearly every one of the style shifts that have occurred in Australian art during the past 30 years, each of which has been a response to a style shift occurring in England, Europe or America. I need not spell out the details — his own letter shows the quality of mind that has informed such responsiveness.

Just as surely as the artworks I illustrated, and the many others I referred to, the very ways in which M r. Lynn has difficulties with my argument make him a shining example of the problems of provincialism. Above all, he has missed my central point: that provincialism is not merely a submissiveness to the power exerted by a geographically distant metropolitan art world. Rather, it is all that follows from seeing one’s options as an artist, critic, curator, dealer, audience, etc. within a framework whose two inclusive
poles are joining in with the metropolitan center’s criteria for “significant art” on the one hand, and burying oneself in peculiar localisms or idiosyncrasies on the other. In practice, compromise is the result in nearly every case.

In New York itself, this structure generally holds for artists, critics, etc. who are not “superstars” (but for them too, by implication ). Outside of New York, the structure remains the same - geographic distance and cultural differentiation do not originate provincialism, they complicate it in socially specific ways. Dan Christensen is as provincialist in his submission to the Greenberg-Olitski-Emmerich academy as is Patrick Heron in his I-did-it-first defiance of that academy. Both are alienated from their art and their sociality as a consequence, but in particularly different ways.

Having (the rudiments of) a theory for the whole, we can perhaps begin to see the specifics. And, hopefully, we can strive for ways out of the provincialist bind. I tried to underline in my article that we do not have a problem, because that suggests the possibility of a neat solution. Rather, we are all (in no way excluding myself) in a problematic situation and, in struggling within it, we try to build not just an alternative, but an oppositional, structure. I spoke of “responsibility to oneself in one’s culture in terms of its integrity relative to other cultures” not as a call to Sidney Nolan-type nativism (the “true destiny” of “indigenous art,” as Mr. Lynn puts it), but for the obvious reason that all reconstructions needs must begin from our particular selves in dialectic interaction with our close cultures. In our culturing in and against our enculturation (see “Draft for an Anti-Textbook,” ArtLanguage, vol. 3, no. 7, November, 1974).

lncidentally, there were two rather amusing typos in my article. Near the middle of the first paragraph in column three on page 56, the academic artist in question is William Dobell, not Dodell. Two lines later, my wish was to characterize Sidney Nolan’s and Arthur Boyd ’s work, for example, as “eccentrically eclectic blends” — not as “eccentrically electric” ones.

—Terry Smith
London, England

To the Editor:

In connection with my May article on “The Imagism of Magritte” I would like to
call the readers’ attention to an interesting monograph by André Blavier, Ceci n’est pas une Pipe: Contribution furtive à l’étude d’un tableau de René Magritte, published simultaneously by the Foundation René Magritte at Brussels and as numbers 120-22 of the revue Temps Mêlés (Verviers) in 1973, of which M. Blavier was kind enough to send me a copy. A paperback of 42 pages, this study can be obtained by sending 15 French francs to M. Blavier’s account (No. 738059J) at Crédit Lyonnais, Agence N, Boulevard Magenta, 75010 Paris.

Also, I would also like to add to the record of floating or disembodied eyes the interesting (and pre-Symbolist) portrait photograph of Countess Castiglione, by Adolphe Braun (1811-77), in The Metropolitan Museum of Art.

—Joseph Masheck
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

The following letter was written by the artists named below in response to an advertisement by a Parisian gallery in Artforum and several European publications.


—We strongly object to the use of our names for the obvious purpose of publicity by galleries with which we have no connection or affiliation.

—We specifically object to the exploitation of our names by these galleries for commercial gain.

—The name of the artist is not the name of his work. Art dealers should know that they haven’t bought Carl Andre, Daniel Buren, Sol LeWitt, or Robert Mangold on acquiring their works.

—Our works and our names should not be presented to the pubIic without our prior consent.

Carl Andre
Daniel Buren
Sol LeWitt
Robert Mangold
New York, N.Y.

To the Editor:

“Theatricality may be put in tension with this received epistemology because the temporality of the theatrical is the logical corollary of the stability of sculptural space, as the undifferentiated space of the world at large is the corollary of the differentiated space of painting” (“The Complication of Exhaustion,” Artforum, September, 1974).

Come on folks, who do you think you’re writing for, mere carhops? Where’s the heavy stuff?

Offhand, I would say (this is simple speculation, mind you) that Gilbert-Rolfe spent more than just his formative years in school.

—Kar Klarin
San Francisco, Calif.

To the Editor:

I am shocked. For some years now I have depended on Artforum as consistently, patently inoffensive family reading, a publication filled only with photographs of Minimal, Process, and Conceptual art devoid of even a trace of sensuality, which I could place on my coffee table next to Reader’s Digest, Family Circle, and Art & Language, and have it blend in nicely. Frankly, I never thought I’d see the day when I would have to keep it from the reach of my children. Your November issue, with that color photograph of some shameless hussy showing everything from here to Bakersfield is disgusting. Imagine my perplexity when my nine-year-old son, who’d met this “artist” only weeks before here, in our home, asked me if that dildo was really made of some Japanese plastic which would further depress the situation in our domestic styrene industry! What could I say? I gave him the best evasive fatherly answer I could and assured him that Robert Morris owned controlling interest in the company. And imagine my chagrin when my wife, looking up momentarily from her copy of Screw, asked me if she couldn’t trade me and four box boys for that . . . thing! Our household is now in a shambles, and my students hound me with queries on the myth of the vaginal orgasm. If your publication cannot return to its former dignity (I suggest covering the offensive anatomy with a small Don judd inset), then cancel my subscription immediately.

P.S. On the other hand, anyone who could win Edye Gorrne and Steve Lawrence look-alike contests simultaneously, can’t be all bad.

Yours for a cleaner SoHo,
Peter Plagens
Studio City, California

To the Editor:

For the first time in the 13 years of Artforum’s existence, a group of associate editors feel compelled to dissociate themselves publicly from a portion of the magazine’s content, specifically the copyrighted advertisement of Lynda Benglis photographed by Arthur Gordon and printed by courtesy of the Paula Cooper Gallery in the November, 1974, issue of the magazine. The history of the copyright mark and the “courtesy,” so anomalous among the advertisement, needs to be told. Ms. Benglis, knowing that the issue was to carry an essay on her work, had submitted her photograph in color for inclusion in the editorial matter of the magazine, proposing it as a “centerfold” and offering to pay for the expenses of that inclusion. John Coplans, the editor, correctly refused this solicitation on the grounds that Artforum does not sell its editorial space. Its final inclusion in the magazine was therefore as a paid advertisement by some arrangement between the artist and her gallery. The copyright and the caption linger as vestiges of the artist’s original intention.

We want to make clear the reasons why we object to its appearance within Artforum ’s covers:

1. In the specific context of this journal it exists as an object of extreme vulgarity. Although we realize that it is by no means the first instance of vulgarity to appear in the magazine, it represents a qualitative leap in that genre, brutalizing ourselves and, we think, our readers.

2. Artforum has, over the past few years, made conscious efforts to support the movement for women’s liberation, and it is therefore doubly shocking to encounter in its pages this gesture that reads as a shabby mockery of the aims of that movement.

3. Ms. Benglis’s advertisement insinuates two interconnected definitions of art-world roles that are seriously open to question. One is that the artist is free to be exploitative in his or her relation to a general public and to that community of writers and readers who make Artforum. The other is that Artforum should be a natural accomplice to that exploitation, for the advertisement has pictured the journal’s role as devoted to the self-promotion of artists in the most debased sense of that term. We are aware of the economic interdependencies which govern the entire chain of artistic production and distribution. Nonetheless, the credibility of our work demands that we be always on guard against such complicity, implied by the publication of this advertisement. To our great regret, we find ourselves compromised in this manner and that we owe our readers an acknowledgment of that compromise.

This incident is deeply symptomatic of conditions that call for critical analysis. As long as they infect the reality around us, these conditions shall have to be treated in our future work as writers and as editors.

Lawrence Alloway
Max Kozloff
Rosalind Krauss
Joseph Masheck
Annette Michelson
New York, N.Y.