PRINT November 1980


THE ABSENCE OR PRESENCE OF of the human figure in art has never been a question of happenstance. Abstraction was, and is, a matter of modernist plastic and intellectual principles. At crucial moments in this century the glorification of the human figure, a figure whose historic reality lacked nobility, purity and promise, seemed an act of naiveté; and abstraction was delivered to the 20th-century consciousness as the only possible chance for art to fulfill its most idealistic imperative—to offer universal vision. Still, whether the figure has been there or not it has always held a relative position and this position has offered symbolic meaning.

Artforum has always been and remains dedicated to the idea that the serious and worthwhile developments in art are never simply a question of changing tastes; they represent the visible evolution of theoretical and visual thought. In order to continue to do this I believe it is now necessary to suggest, and to face up to, the complex and ubiquitous existence of the human form in contemporary art. Only then will it be possible to insist that this figure have an ideology. There will doubtless be figures that do and figures that don’t.

This issue has been assembled because it appears that the foundations have been set over the last 20 years for both an intellectual and a physical ideology and that it is now time to recognize it. Here the contemporary figure has been interpreted as body—single and collective. In fact, during the last two decades it has been the breathing sweating body that has so magnificently thrust itself upon and into art, raising crucial questions.

The work that is included was selected first because it counts, second because it represents conviction, and third because it raises questions whose answers are signposts that at least begin to locate a rudimentary ideological structure for the figure in art of our time. This is not a history of the appearances and disappearances of the figure in modern art. The contents do not try to be, nor could they ever be, comprehensive—just expressive. It is a highly edited view aimed primarily at presenting significant developments of the last decade.

This issue accepts the relation between esthetics and our social evolution—since the early 1960s a few breathtaking, now historic, flashes of insight produced fleeting (but nonetheless real) revolutions and involutions that have affected everything—for better and worse.

Ingrid Sischy