PRINT March 1975



To The Editor:
Joseph Masheck’s article “Mondrian the New Yorker,” (Artforum, October, 1974), contains a few mistaken observations and speculations. In his discussion of the derivation of Mondrian’s tipped-square (lozenge) format he invokes an 1852 Gottfried Semper diagram which he says may, through Berlage, have been known to Mondrian. This is a rather slender hypothesis. Actually, the derivation of Mondrian’s tipped-square is two-fold. First, it is a logical (rectilinear) outgrowth of the Cubist oval format, which Mondrian had used extensively in 1914. The other source is older. The Dutch artists of the 17th century who most closely relate to Mondrian are the painters of church interiors, such as Emmanuel de Witte, Gerrit Berckheyde, and, especially, Pieter Saenredam. Most of their cold, white, asymmetrical interior views contain prominently displayed coats of arms in the lozenge format attached to columns. Interior of Grote Kerk, Haarlem, by Saenredam, in the National Gallery in London, for example, contains five such lozenges, one of which is very large and dead center. The analogy between these architectural paintings and Mondrian’s classic paintings is unmistakable, and deserves future investigation. These works would have been almost unavoidable for a young artist visiting Dutch museums. It is also possible that the tipped-square coats of arms themselves were still visible in Dutch churches during Mondrian’s youth.

In Masheck’s analysis of Mondrian’s New York City 1, he says that the stripes are all equal in width. He adds, in a footnote, that one stripe, however, “looks accidentally narrower.” Mondrian was just not that careless. Masheck, perhaps accustomed to ’60s grid regularity, should see that the one narrower stripe is of a piece with all the other strategies Mondrian employs to imply the existence of systems, rather than system. In this painting the blue stripes are always behind all the red and yellow stripes, except for one unsettling instance where blue crosses over yellow. Mondrian plays almost perversely with one’s expectations, and in this work, the basic contradiction involves the appearance of a grid (suggesting regularity, evenness, etc.) and the actual arbitrary, unpredictable placement of the lines.

Masheck describes Mondrian’s colored-tape method as leading to the later Boogie-Woogie paintings. He is at something of a loss to explain the unfinished status of New York City 2 and 3, but the reason seems obvious to me, in the light of Mondrian’s more complex work before and after this series. The presence of only equal length horizontal and vertical stripes in the New York City paintings, and the absence of black and “caught and held” stabilizing colored rectangles, perhaps led him to decide that this series was too even, too decorative and unstressed. (I feel that New York City 1 is one of the least successful of Mondrian’s mature works). Most significantly in each of the two following paintings, Broadway Boogie-Woogie and Victory Boogie-Woogie, Mondrian stepped up the complexity—in numbers of colors, in rhythmic spotting, in alternation of line and rectangle, and finally, in the very format itself.

—Budd Hopkins
New York, N.Y.

Joseph Masheck responds:
It is a sign of shared enthusiasm for Mondrian that Budd Hopkins, provoked by what he finds a “slender” hypothesis of mine, can suggest even slenderer hypotheses that also prove tempting.

Most people would probably find, even to the point of cliche, that the “Dutch artist of the 17th century who most closely relates to Mondrian” is Vermeer. Nevertheless, Hopkins’s point about heraldic lozenges in the church interiors of Saenredam and others is stimulating. I see two problems with it. In all four of the examples which I can now muster (three by Saenredam and one by de Witte) the compositions are, so thoroughly dominated by an insistent play of curves—in the arcades and vaults of the churches—that Vermeer’s overall asymmetrical rectilinearity is an even more convincing foil, by comparison. Secondly, the lozenges are very diminutively scaled within the compositions, although Hopkins does have a point with regard to real heraldic lozenges in real Dutch churches.

Along the same lines, this time provoked by Budd Hopkins, I would suggest that further speculations, carrying about the same degree of conviction, could be made with regard to the emphatic diagonal positioning of windmill vanes in landscapes by such artists as Ruisdael. (Besides, aren’t windmill vanes supposed to have semiotic properties, as with coats of arms?) We could even refer Mondrian’s pure abstraction to Fromentin’s notion, writing in his Masters of Past Time (1876) about 17th-century Dutch painting, that “One thing strikes you when you study the moral basis of Dutch art—the total absence of what we call today a subject.”

All such speculations may lend illumination to a consideration of Mondrian’s “Dutchness.” However, the obvious contemporary relevance of Semper and/or Berlage to a committed leader of the De Stijl movement deserves precedence in any serious historical consideration over connections that hang in somewhere between the fortuitous and the mood-musical. It would be prosaic and no doubt wrong to expect that whichever single lozenge was Mondrian’s absolute first, derived directly and simply from Semper’s diagram. The obvious point is that the pattern published by Semper had an uncanny appropriateness to what Mondrian, concerned about the interrelations between the purified plastic arts, did when he rotated the square format into a lozenge. Furthermore, it could certainly have been seen.

The phrase Hopkins picks out of my discussion of New York City I is embarrassing. At that point in the analysis I was under the strain of the very ambiguity Hopkins describes. In my hesitation, I confined the comment on that one stripe to a footnote, almost hoping—not unlike the function of the stripe itself, as Hopkins has it—that this unsettling complication could be at least detached from the main thought as an exception, if it wouldn’t just go away. Hopkins has found a weak spot, but because what I said about the stripe was inadequate not wrong. His final speculations on New York City II and III are welcome.

—Joseph Masheck
New York, N.Y.

To The Editor:
I am a young woman who has devoted much of her life to art and to artists. When I first saw the photograph of Lynda Benglis, in her self-advertisement in the November, 1974, Artforum, I felt astonished. But, I also felt astonishment, and of a similar nature, upon my first exposure to the work of Edvard Munch. Initial shock. What did Gertrude Stein say to Roger Fry concerning the seemingness of the ugly in the art of the new? Upon consideration, I thought that the magazine reproduction of the photograph of Benglis was her statement, her artistic statement, her art; an aspect of it.

Reading the denunciatory diatribe-type letter by Lawrence Alloway et al., in the December, 1974, Artforum, I was astonished at their astonishment; shocked at their shock; indignant at their indignation; and affronted. After all, they are, or are supposed to be, professionals. This image, which they decry, why does it bother them so? What are those connotative words, exploitative and vulgarity, which they chose to use? Why couldn’t they relate to this work with positive and constructive criticism; with objective art-historical methodology? Why couldn’t they relate this work, this statement, this image, for instance, to Paul Klee’s Nero with a Wing, which to my mind and eye is not essentially different?

Why couldn’t they? Surely there must be a host of works in the last 500 years of Western art, besides the thousands of pieces of Oriental erotica, to which this work could have been related, had these art historically trained writers chosen to have been so minded. Did they consciously choose, or was their reaction beyond their choice, their statement malicious and inconclusive, aberrational and not as objective as befits their position?

I feel that those associate editors were shocked deeply, and personally, by an image of a woman with a penis; that it was new and unnatural to them; virtually unthinkable, and absolutely unforgivable, let alone commendable or condone-able; that they could not relate it to art; that out of the fear which is a manifestation of their own characters, repressions and indoctrinations, they attacked Benglis personally, as well as her method of extending her art to the public, as if she had done something to them.

I feel that her magazine publication medium/method is essentially the same as their own, except that she paid, and they got paid, for it. I sense their feeling of rivalry, of the threat of artists taking over the critics’ platform, their feeling that, as Zanuck said of United Artists’ formation, “The lunatics are taking over the asylum!”

They mention in part 3 of their long letter, “. . . a general public and community of readers . . .” whom they seem to assume they speak for, and whom they seem to wish to protect. I’m a member of the public, I’m a reader of Artforum, and have been for ten years, and I feel that in their letter they don’t in any way represent me, and I do feel that they are presumptive and paternalistic in thinking that they do.

I feel that their reaction, so defensive and hostile, which they were apparently able to get printed in Artforum with greater ease and at less expense than Ms. Benglis’s self-promotion, was unfair! elitist! hysterical! dictatorial! piffle!

—Mickey Maritime
Napa, California

To The Editor:
Let’s give three dildos and a Pandora’s Box to Ms. Lynda Benglis, who finally brought out of the closet the Sons and Daughters of the Founding Fathers of Artforum Committee on Public Decency and Ladies’ Etiquette. Too bad they weren’t around to protest when Dada and Surrealism let those arty people run amok and do unspeakably vulgar things. But I must say that since Ms. Benglis’s photo doesn’t seem to involve actual erection or penetration, I’m not certain what the X-rating is all about.

Still, who am I to judge such serious matters? That’s why I’m proposing that Artforum readers form their own committee to assure us that the vigilant editors themselves have all been leading blameless public and private lives, and have never done anything that could be construed as offensive to good taste or women’s liberation. We admit that we’ve now been hearing some rumors to the contrary, and have even seen some paintings and movies that gave us pause. Won’t readers interested in keeping Artforum clean please submit any relevant data to the editorial board dossiers?

—Robert Rosenblum
New York, N.Y.

To The Editor:
After living in Tangier I thought I had seen everything, but the Lynda Benglis ad was shocking. I don’t care what she is doing with that dildo, and furthermore I don’t even like her artwork. Now, thanks to this silly ad she will become famous, or infamous as the case may be. Are we the public supposed to judge her work on its artistic merits or whether she is an athletic sexplextrus with a two-headed dildo? She should be tarred and feathered, and Paula Cooper and Artforum should be put in the public stocks. The entire episode is even more absurd because this letter only adds to the scandal and notoriety.

—Daniel H. Steward
Seattle, Wash.

To The Editor:
There is uneasiness with the ‘forum’ in Artforum! We were surprised at the Paula Cooper advertisement in the November, 1974, issue. However, for us the image is not disturbing in its ‘vulgarity’ (a value judgment) or its ‘exploitative’ quality (a political issue) as the disclaimer of five associate editors suggests (December, 1974, Artforum). The disclaimer is disturbing as a challenge to artistic freedom. It is dangerous to let the offensive quality of an image eclipse the possibility of a validly expressed statement.

Another objection to the position of the dissident editors is their failure to take offense with the image of Ms. Benglis reproduced within the article (“The Frozen Gesture,” Artforum, November, 1974, caption: “Lynda Benglis, Announcement for Show, May 1974.”). An important distinction between this photograph and that in the Paula Cooper advertisement is fundamental to the liberation movement. Liberation is opposed to repression; an attempt to equalize the worth of ‘getting fucked’ and ‘fucking.’ The editorially accepted image of Ms. Benglis, depicting woman as ‘getting fucked,’ (“. . . homage to Betty Grable pinups . . .”), is an image/symbol we are culturally conditioned to accept. Such imagery is repressive, even though we may be accustomed to it. There is no disclaimer. The advertisement, proposing woman as ‘fucker,’ is ‘vulgar’ and ‘brutalizing’ and disclaimed. This imagery may be offensive, but it is not repressive imagery.

Are these associate editors suggesting that the ‘forum’ in this magazine will only admit culturally sanctioned evidence? Will they choose repressive imagery over offensive imagery? If so, they had better reexamine their “. . . conscious efforts to support the movement for women’s liberation. . . .”

—Allison Asbjornsen, Dick Burg
Lorane, Oregon

To The Editor:
One of your reviewers seems to be proceeding under the familiar (and barbaric) assumption that the text of film art is coterminous with his experience of it. I refer to Alan Moore, who writes (January, 1975, p. 68), in the midst of some remarks about Frank Gillette’s recent video show at The Kitchen:

The disjunction of audio and visual, I would guess, derives from Jean-Luc Godard’s Brechtian non-coincidence of action and mood music in films like Weekend (1967). It has been continued in the work of many filmmakers as just such an indication of the act of artifice, or, as in Hollis Frampton’s Nostalgia (1971), to discourse on the nature of memory in time.

Guess again! Mr. Moore is correct in his surmise that I do not hold a patent on disjunction, whatever role it has played throughout my work; indeed, that very disjunction that Moore notices first in Godard’s films of the late 1960s has always struck me as a fundamental strategy of modernism. If Godard invented audio-visual disjunction, that fact belongs in the same chapter of our universal almanac with the conquistadores’ “discovery” of gold in the Americas . . . long after the Incas had dug it out of the ground. But Godard need not have gone to America for his discovery, nor, even, so far afield as the epic drama of Brecht. A suggestion, even an injunction concerning disjunction, was already there to be mined from the primordial tradition of his own art.

“THE FIRST EXPERIMENTAL WORK WITH SOUND MUST BE DIRECTED ALONG THE LINE OF ITS DISTINCT NON-SYNCRHONIZATION WITH THE VISUAL IMAGES.” I quote, of course, from privileged discourse: a single sentence from a statement written by Sergei Eisenstein, cosigned by two such strange bedfellows as Alexandrov and Pudovkin, and published in Zhizn Iskusstva on August 5, 1928 . . . nearly 40 years before the making of Weekend. Eisenstein extends into the domain of the sound film his axiomatic view of human thought as dialectical; the montage-structures that were to instantiate the process of thought, must necessarily be congruent with the dialectic.

Need I remark that Godard, a Marxist of a later rhetorical cast, everywhere gives evidence of a thorough knowledge of the film tradition, and of its history of written polemic? I encountered Eisenstein’s writings on sound in about 1950; I first saw Alexander Nevsky in the same year, and the collision of text and film produced in me a malaise that was long in departing. Godard, a few years older than myself and coming to young adulthood and his first work in a milieu that was intellectually active, politically just utterly different, would have been able to learn more efficiently from the Soviet master. “Derive” is not an informative verb . . . but I would gladly assent to a suggestion that whatever I myself have thought about sound, can be charted against axes first laid out in 1928. To this day, no filmmaker known to me (Eisenstein included) has given full and systematic attention to the questions raised at that time (unless I am to be confounded by Kirsanov’s Rapt, which I have not seen).

Eisenstein’s primary concern was that language (and especially staged drama, a linguistic mode that had strongly contributed to his own formation) was about to engulf the new art. Now spoken language might be said to lie at one end of an auditory spectrum, at the other end of which we find music . . . and the typical silent film was not SILENT at all, as are, for instance, the films of Stan Brakhage. Musical ‘accompaniment’ was ubiquitous, and it was tacitly accepted for the most part; on exceptional occasions, specially composed scores replaced the piano-player’s improvisations. And music in the sound film, except in the special case where its acoustical origins are visible on the screen, must by definition be disjunct from the visual image—since all sound is so disjunct when it originates in off-screen space and is not narratively explained (i.e., causally related to) what is simultaneously seen. Elaborate sound-stages, perfectly degraded acoustical universes, are built in order to keep such disjunctions at bay. So it would seem, at first thought, that to apply the epithet disjunct to “non-coincidence of action and mood music” is to speak in tautologies.

The phrase “mood music” brackets a musical typology so low on the entropic scale as to lie beyond, even, the fearless artistic metabolism of a Charles Ives. In the entertainment film industry it has two main functions. First, it is an inhibitor of random communication, masking the shuffling, crackling and coughing of a crowd of spectators . . . and thus effectively isolating the individual viewer in the presence of the projected image. The second, and more important, function of such ‘music’ is the crude sequestering of a single ’meaning’ out of the welter of significances, semantic and affective valences, by which images may combine and come to articulation among themselves.

(Consider an example from a standard Western. In shot #1, the wary settlers have formed their Conestoga wagons into a redoubt. Splice. In shot #2, we are given a bald, scrubby hill that might be in Wyoming, Spain, Korea. In silence, the imagination bathes in the energies radiating from this collision. But no: there is sound. Galloping hooves and bugles signal the cavalry. Alternate scenario: the heathen tom-toms of the dreaded . . .)

The musical stereotype, as surely as the spoken word, adheres limpetlike to its coeval image. We need not look far in this engineered ’adhesion’ for a fundamental principle of alienation, which addresses us at once in the terms of a gross contempt for our capacity to participate in that articulation of consciousness which is a work of art . . . and again, in the terms of a vulgar irreverence toward that intricacy which is the most noticeable trait of everything, and of which film art deeply partakes.

In annihilating the customary (for how long?) bond between banal music and banal image, Godard calls, both into question. Eisenstein would agree, I think, that this factoring of the condition of alienation, secreted at the very center of a popular art, is not only a formal insight, and it is not also a formal insight, but rather that the two are the same thing. Is this what Godard meant when he spoke of making a film that was a political act? If it is, I believe your reviewer has, paradoxically, detected a moment when he did so.

—Hollis Frampton
Eaton, New York