PRINT April 1993


April 1993

Remember the soft-focus ’70s? The mood most celebrated by the yuppie “poets” of the ’80s, who came of age in that “blighted” decade, was a misty nostalgia for the ’60s they had missed. Back then, the ’70s seemed the one slice of history constitutionally immune to the wave of cultural cannibalism already flowering in products as diverse as New Wave, American Graffiti, and a photograph by Sherrie Levine of a photograph by Edward Weston.

Well, the ’70s are back—and have been for some time, if one heeds the augurs of clubdom, where mood rings, bell-bottoms, and the Brady Bunch have already enjoyed second comings (and goings). Last month in these pages, David Rimanelli and Tina Lyons upstaged the zeitgeist, celebrating the inevitable recuperation of the ’80s well in advance of its visible manifestation. Closing the gap between the “original” moment and its increasingly instantaneous recuperation, they claimed for their New Wave generation the status of being the first to understand its own period in quotes even as it was going down.

So much by way of hip credentials. The rhythms of the ’70s traverse this issue.

In his forthcoming film, Dazed and Confused (due out this summer), Richard Linklater turns his camera on his high school days in the ’70s. In anticipation of the movie’s release, Lane Relyea visits the director, whose feel for the texture of life in the slow lane should make him an ideal medium to channel that patch of down time between the mythic ’60s and the reign of Reagan. In his last film, the instant cult-classic Slacker—a trek through the backwaters of the University of Texas at Austin fueled less by narrative drive than by stream-of-consciousness serendipity—Linklater followed his restless camera onto the cultural map by pointing it just where the action wasn’t. If Dazed delivers anything half as inspired as Slacker’s texture of possibility, it may well occasion a brush with the Real more exhilarating than any ready-to-wear zeitgeist.

A refreshingly skewed look at high fashion’s overexposed nod to the ’70s, Rhonda Lieberman’s “Springtime for Grunge” celebrates the liberative downside of the upscale revival. Seizing the moment as a window of opportunity temporarily open to the congenitally dowdy in the normally daunting facade of fashion, she hails Roseanne Arnold as the “sublime body of grunge,” hammering the last nail in the coffin of the phenomenon’s high-style apotheosis.

These uncanny returns are not confined to the sphere of popular culture. For Arthur Danto, whose latest installment in an ongoing meditation on that oft-abused slogan, “the end of art,” appears in this issue, the ’70s are “easy to write off as a decade in which nothing happened, when in fact what happened was everything.” Indeed, Danto grants the period status as the first full decade of what he terms “posthistorical art”—a periodizing conceit that serves his examination of the recent “renaissance” in abstract painting. In keeping with the “objective pluralism” he attributes to the current moment, Danto notes that “abstraction is possible,” but adds that the question one must ask in the face of the recent rush of activity is, What makes it so “vehemently actual” just now? The answer, he suggests, will be “local rather than global” and necessarily complex.

Michael Corris and Robert Nickas—playing fast and loose with some formulations from Rosalind Krauss in their own jointly curated look at “abstract” painting, “Punishment and Decoration: Art in an Age of Militant Superficiality”—would undoubtedly second Danto’s sentiment. As a pedagogical provocation, I used to project a series of monochromes, for all practical purposes identical, on the classroom wall, with dates that roughly spanned the century. The exercise made a palpable mockery of the “historical inevitability” that Clement Greenberg attributed to painting’s pursuit of formal self-identity and pointed to the vexing problem of “repetition” at the core of both essays. Of course, as Danto points out, “That someone did it ‘first’ . . is often an observation that only blinds you to what the artist did who did it ‘second.’” Concerned parties here clearly have their eyes wide open; yet while Danto’s sense “that everything is possible at this time, or that anything is” enables a relaxed and liberating pluralism, the oddly cathected objects that Corris and Nickas have assembled always seem to return to the same place. Locked in fetishistic combat with surface and its support, the authors make repetition—in Corris’ notion of a second-order vantage (a picture of a painting)—central to their reading of the work.

Listen to the rhymes and dissonances of the various repetitions (mechanical, psychic, historical) in these articles—seen together, they mark out the central issues at stake in painting today

Jack Bankowsky