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PRINT October 1979

Cosmetic Transcendentalism: Surface-Light in John Torreano, Rodney Ripps and Lynda Benglis

THE WORK OF JOHN TORREANO, Rodney Ripps and Lynda Benglis, especially certain “sparkling” objects which present rather than represent light and use it to dazzle our eyes rather than to reflect a surface, seem to me a new species of “luxury painting.” Clement Greenberg once applied this term to French painting in the period between the World Wars. Its sweep included masters as different as Braque and Matisse. They all came together in a pursuit of sensation for its own sake, a luxurious handling of means with a near indifference to subject matter, or at most the acceptance of a convention of subject matter. For Greenberg, the problem with luxury painting was that it had lost all “truth to feeling.” It did not bespeak the pessimism—later, after World War II, an existential pessimism—of the postwar years, but continued to cling to the mood of “optimistic materialism,” as Greenberg called it,

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