TABLE OF CONTENTS

PRINT January 2003

LETTERS

LETTERS

COMMON DENOMINATOR

To the Editor:
It is a pity that Thomas Crow did not name the eight artists included in the exhibition “The New Painting of Common Objects” [“10•20•30•40,” November 2002]. If I remember correctly there were three artists from the Los Angeles area, two from Detroit, and the balance from New York. They were: Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Andy Warhol, Philip Hefferton, Robert Dowd, Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, and Wayne Thiebaud.

A footnote: I went to the Pasadena Art Institute (as it was then called) a day or so before the exhibition opened to have a look and get a catalogue. There was no catalogue. I met Walter Hopps in his office to obtain some information. While I was there he called a silkscreen print shop and ordered a poster. He gave the size, the number required, and the copy. He was asked for some direction on the design, to which he laconically replied, “loud and clear.” The poster arrived the next day. (It is reproduced in the February 1975 Artforum.)

—John Coplans
New York

UGLY SHTICK

To the Editor:
Rachel Harrison’s work seems to me the latest offering of an art industry that regards cool detachment and “coy” (to use Saul Anton’s word) juxtapositions as the stuff of greatness [“Shelf Life,” November 2002].

Can it be true that work of such amazing thinness and excruciating familiarity is still being showered with self-congratulatory praise—a praise couched in the critical pyrotechnics of early postmodernism? References to Adorno’s “dialectics at a standstill”; celebration of the willfully ugly; puns on “cosmopolitan (Cosmopolitan?) taste”—have I woken up in 1982?

It is heartbreaking, truly, not rhetorically, to find ourselves still mired in this bloodless slump. It is neither repellently bourgeois nor yawningly middlebrow to be unimpressed by feats of ugliness, particularly at a time when such varieties of ugliness are far from rare.

Coyness is not brilliance. Microscopic jokes are not the foundations of engaged art. Must we still speak in the rusty semiology of “nonreferential objects” and of “foreground[ing] the object’s phenomenological status”? Must we still play the game of I know that you know that I know that you know…?

This time has come and gone. Whatever your feelings for it, let the body be buried with whatever dignity we can afford it. Let’s move on.

—James Borwick
Philadelphia

Saul Anton responds:
Mr. Borwick contends that Rachel Harrison’s art demonstrates “cool detachment,” “amazing thinness,” and “excruciating familiarity.” These are strong judgments indeed. I for one do not share them, and I cannot evaluate whether it is “repellently bourgeois” or “yawningly middlebrow” to be “unimpressed with feats of ugliness,” as he claims. To my mind, it would depend on the ugliness, though one hour of television should tell us that ugliness, not beauty, is in fact what we as a culture are impressed with.

Borwick asserts that I celebrate Harrison’s work for being ugly, i.e., one more product of the anti-aesthetic. Yet my point is patently the opposite. I do not think Harrison’s work participates in the vanguardism of the anti-aesthetic, of negation as a critical principle. Despite the fact that I invoke Adorno (it’s true that Adorno is the greatest thinker of the anti-aesthetic, but in this respect he is a thinker of modernity, not postmodernity), a full reading of my article makes it abundantly evident that what I value in Harrison’s work is precisely its refusal to adopt a dialectical stance, to play the ugly card or the high-low game, to interpret form as negation, critical, historical, or otherwise. The term I use to distinguish the structural principle of her work from other neo-avant-gardist work is delay. This is a term used by Duchamp, and I say that not to lend a pedigree to my claim but to point out that Harrison’s work can be contextualized in a variety of ways, and shares the playful, deliberate spirit of Duchamp’s work.

The writer’s suggestion that we are now beyond the historical sphere in which critical terms like nonreferential or phenomenology meant something is disheartening. That’s like saying we’re beyond everything that came into existence more than ten minutes ago. According to this logic, a painter should no longer use cadmium red since it’s been in use for quite some time, or, in fact, shouldn’t paint at all since painting is an ancient practice, far more ancient than the term nonreferential. This logic is one of negation, the very bogeyman of the aesthetics of the “ugly” that the writer seeks to escape.

REGRETS ONLY

To the Editor:
David Rimanelli’s review of “Jack Pierson, Regrets” [Focus, November 2002] was an evil deed done to an artist who deserves keen recognition for defining a new aesthetic. Pierson’s quiet nonchalance and eloquent accounting of the quotidian are the very targets your critic attacks. Most unkind is the flaying of the curator, as if the artist were done in by the very person who wants to praise him. Mr. Rimanelli is a bearer of nasty tidings. Lose him.

—Chris Busa
Provincetown, MA

CORRECT CALLS

To the Editor:
In the November issue of Artforum, Robert Storr was identified as the organizer of the Museum of Modern Art’s Bruce Nauman retrospective. To set the record straight, that exhibition was in fact co-organized by Kathy Halbreich and Neal Benezra for the Walker Art Center in association with the Hirshhorn Museum and Sculpture Garden. Mr. Storr contributed an essay to the catalogue and later installed the touring exhibition at the Museum of Modern Art.

—Richard Flood
Chief Curator, Walker Art Center
Minneapolis

To the Editor:
Robert Storr is such a good writer that I hate to quibble with his misappropriation of tropes in his rebuttal letter over the Richter exhibition [Letters, November 2002]. He states in his opening paragraph, “Essential to any such attempt [at representation], then, is the principle of metonymy, whereby a part stands in for the whole.” The term he wants here is synecdoche, which is often confused with metonymy. In metonymy, one sign is associated with another, whereas synecdoche means a part standing for a whole or vice-versa. I point out this critical difference because the term synecdoche so fully realizes Richter’s work, as has been noted by Benjamin Buchloh, to whom Storr refers in his piece as being “unquestionably among Richter’s most important critics.” Without the concept of synecdoche, Richter’s work degenerates into a mindless display of forearm virtuosity. It is difficult to think of any one of his paintings standing alone as a particularly important work without the benefit of his overarching conception of painting.

—Corey Postiglione
Chicago

Robert Storr responds:
I find it hard to believe that Richter’s work would degenerate into “a mindless display of forearm virtuosity” absent any single concept that might be used to address it, but I stand corrected on the misuse of the term, and thank my corrector.

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