PRINT December 1993


By refusing to have a career or to make history, [Chet Baker] managed to do both, and in the end achieved that rarest of prizes. He had a life in the arts . . . in real time.
—Dave Hickey, “Chet Baker: A Life in the Arts,” 1991
In a 1965 essay, “Minimal Art,” the philosopher Richard Wollheim described works of art that either are “to an extreme degree undifferentiated in themselves” or else exhibit differentiation which “comes not from the artist but from a nonartistic source, like . . . the factory.”1 As Rosalind Krauss suggests, commenting on this passage, it was natural then to move toward a phenomenological analysis: such artworks, like everyday objects, “simply exist within the user’s own time; their being consists in the temporal open-endedness of their use; they share in the extended flow of duration:’’2 Some critics loved the radicality of this breaking of the barriers between art and nonart. Michael Fried, who hated Minimalism’s theatrical appeal to the spectator’s presence, rejected any such ”sensibility or mode of being . . . corrupted or perverted by theater.“ No doubt ”we are all literalists most or all of our lives,“ he added, but ”presentness is grace.“3 Fried seems to have been rejecting Minimalism in the name of a quasi-theological vision. Perhaps the ideal of the pure encounter between the spectator and the Minimalist artwork, far from being liberating, resembled what was problematic in ’60s radicalism: ”Minimalism . . . might well be described as perpetuating a kind of cultural terrorism, forcing viewers into the role of victim.“4 The politics of an art of pure perception are complicated.
When Alan Uglow arrived in New York, in 1969, these concerns were much debated. Today, however, when the original promise of Minimalism belongs to what has become a pretty distant world, we need to find new ways to describe his painting. Often art writers become too academic. As Uglow said to me, ”Maybe some people are making foot-notes where they’re not needed, where they’re not necessary." When we talked late this summer, I sought to stave off bookishness. Aiming to avoid the dramatic rhythms or the historical or ideological or philosophical pigeonholing of critical writing, I wanted to stay as close as possible to the surface of the works we were looking at together.

ALAN UGLOW: These recent paintings are called “Standards.” They have a uniform nature.

DAVID CARRIER: Uniform because you always subdivide your surface the same way?

AU: No, but I’m playing with that idea. I’m interested in essentials, in getting rid of lots of stuff I find that very freeing psychologically. Basically I’m trying to make the pieces mundane or ordinary in a certain way. The frame opens the whole idea up and closes it at the same time. My work has changed, but some things have remained consistent, like this idea of “open” and “closed.” At the moment, which is a closing-off period, I’m lifting from myself a lot; this work derives from my previous work. But I really question everything.

DC: What were you doing when you began, around 1965?

AU: I was interested in the frame and the edge. I was looking at how Giacometti set a figure in space, just indicating the edge. Sometimes he’d

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