PRINT January 1986


Jim Dine Drawings

Constance W. Glenn, Jim Dine Drawings (New York: Harry N. Abrams, Inc., 1985), 223 pages, 110 black and white illustrations, 52 color plates.

Some artists challenge criticism because they seem so much in need of interpretation; Jim Dine, however, does so because he seems to render interpretation superfluous. It is difficult to see past the facility, permeability to influence, and beauty of Dine’s work. Perhaps that’s why the artist gets luscious reproductions but a lightweight introduction in this book.

Too bad, because there is an interesting story buried here: that of a successful artist swerving from an intellectual, Duchampian esthetic to a retinal, Giacomettian one without having to subject himself to a wholesale stylistic and iconographic revolution. After all, we are used to thinking of an esthetic stance as something that gives at least a provisional unity to a body of work or set of practices, excluding certain possibilities and favoring others. In this case we must look elsewhere to explain this unity, which brings up questions that Constance Glenn does not even raise, let alone attempt to answer. However, these questions do not escape the drawings themselves, for they are constantly probing those points at which aggression turns into restraint, transience into monumentality, negation into affirmation. What these drawings show, perhaps better than Dine’s paintings, is the way his increasing fluency of means has developed in tandem with an increasing sense of the insecurity of those means in the face of any subject taken seriously The most interesting parts of the texts are Dine’s own statements and interviews, whose characteristic irony and misgivings effectively undercut Glenn’s explanatory and celebratory certainties. The pride as much as the humility of the artist is evident in his statement, “I really don’t know how to make art.”

Barry Schwabsky