TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT April 1993

PUNISHMENT AND DECORATION: ART IN AN AGE OF MILITANT SUPERFICIALITY

MICHAEL CORRIS: In the service of a souped-up formalist view of Modernism, Rosalind Krauss recently enlisted Algirdas Julien Greimas’ semiotic square to reanimate that most conventional, reductive, and central modalization of Modernism’s development: the relationship between “figure” and “ground.” The basic conceit at work here is that the terms “figure” and “ground”—canceled, mirrored, and restated within the logic of Greimas’ square—will bear significant conceptual results. But the very cancellation of the terms of this dichotomy reinforces their power, resuscitating the figure/ground problem as the dominant model of 20th-century painting. When this analytic exercise is applied to specific, canonical Modernist works, the appearance of particular types of painting practice is explained chiefly by reference to the move from figuration to abstraction. Indeed, the whole history of

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