TABLE OF CONTENTS

ARTISTS ON AB-EX:

Nicole Eisenman, The Breakup, 2011, oil and mixed media on canvas, 56 x 43.

EI ARAKAWA

Gutai is often considered the starting point for postwar art in Japan, typically described as a response to American Abstract Expressionism (via Pollock, who first exhibited in Japan in 1951) and as a parallel to French art informel (via Michel Tapié). However, I want to point out two earlier collectives of midcentury Japanese art (pre-Conceptual On Kawara aside): Jikken Kōbō (Experimental Workshop)—an avant-garde art, music, and theater collective that was influenced by the Bauhaus and European Surrealism—and Zero-kai (Zero Society), whose member Kazuo Shiraga had already begun making “foot paintings” before the group merged with Gutai, when these works would be lumped together with general “action painting.” Yet if Gutai initially took an interest in the experimental—especially outdoors and onstage—Tapié’s visit to Japan in 1957 catalyzed a shift in which performance was deemphasized, as new value was placed on making art that demonstrated virtuosic quality. At the time, Japan’s domestic contemporary art market was basically nonexistent, but new relationships with French dealers (some contractual) pressured Gutai members to parlay their more ephemeral actions into wall-oriented abstract “action painting.”

Looking back on this shift, I’m interested in painting as an object but also as a canonical medium that carries a variety of social meanings. What is the difference between expression that is organized by a group of people and painting that is the product of an individual practice? Can paintings reposition our bodies as spectators? Last fall in a work I staged during Frieze and then again at Artissima, Silke Otto-Knapp’s paintings of dancers became a kind of audience, looking back at the spectators, first from the wall and then as we precariously moved them through each space: These paintings were also performing. Another time, Amy Sillman lent a few pieces for a performance at Japan Society in New York in which we, a group of friends already familiar with Amy’s practice, fantasized about how her works could be extended through our “painting actions.” Painting is watching.

Ei Arakawa is an artist based in New York.

Ei Arakawa and Karl Holmqvist, pOEtry pArk (with a painting by Silke Otto-Knapp), 2010. Performance view, Regent’s Park, London, October 15, 2010. Léa Tirabasso, Ei Arakawa, and Jenny Moule. Photo: Polly Braden.

RICHARD PRINCE

Right now I’m reading the Lee Krasner bio . . . I always thought she got the short end of the stick (the short shrift? . . . is that kind of like a dress above the knee?) . . . (I just finished reading the Modigliani bio and realized the author wrote a bio of Romaine Brooks . . . one of my favorite painters . . . she called the book Between Me and Life . . . Romaine Brooks . . . she’s huge . . . hooked into the whole Paris Natalie Barney Djuna Barnes trip scene.) The equivalent? I’m a big fan of Mercedes Matter (and Herbert too) . . . but mostly Mercedes . . . she slept with Hans Hofmann, Franz Kline, and Thelonious Monk . . . and I like Patsy Southgate (the one photo that’s always reproduced in these bios of her is a real looker photo . . . beautiful . . . bleached out . . . small holes for the nose, great beatnik haircut, someone who looks like today and your reaction is . . . that’s the holy . . . the rolling stone! . . . is that someone who was next to Keith Richards or in the tub in the movie Performance?) And then there’s Elaine de Kooning (I just bought one of her paintings that looks like a 1944 Gorky . . . and then I’m reminded that Mercedes Matter slept with Gorky) and finally Ruth Kligman, the last lover of Pollock (she walked Warhol). She was also a lover of de Kooning. De Kooning . . . the guy who spread his arms and said that’s all the space I need (and as long as there’s that hole, that mouth) . . . that’s what he liked. That’s what he wanted. That opening, in the head under the nose just above the chin and with a red outline and some teeth and having the idea of “getting out” . . . It all started there. That opening. That pierce. That way in . . . When he tore the advertisement for Camel cigarettes . . . the one that framed a woman’s mouth with an outline of a capitalized letter T . . . and he pasted it onto his painting . . . right onto the head of his “monster” woman . . . he started Pop art. And it’s funny too because abstract expression wasn’t supposed to come from anything outside the brain (especially if that “outside” was from an advertisement). Anyway it was Lee Krasner, Romaine Brooks, Natalie Barney, Djuna Barnes, Mercedes Matter, Patsy Southgate, Elaine de Kooning, and Ruth Kligman . . .

Richard Prince is an artist based in upstate New York.

Richard Prince, Untitled (de Kooning), 2009, ink-jet and acrylic on canvas, 77 3/8 x 61 3/4.

KATHARINA GROSSE

AbEx: The Clusterfuck

Since I come from a background in European painting, my work is deeply rooted in the idea of pictorial space as an illusionistic stimulus. I have come to understand illusion as a field of infinite possibilities generating an ever-changing reality.

With household paint and the by-product of decent painting—the drip—Pollock forced the act of making into a razor-sharp nakedness. And yet I cannot overlook a demonstrative sexual presence.

Pollock stripped Michaux’s Emergences/Resurgences of its poetry, Monet’s expanding field of its color, and he relieved Velázquez of the integration of the spectator into the zone of Las Meninas. He swapped their notion of pictorial space for the immediacy of performed presence and everyday tools. He tested the nonhierarchical image against pattern.

The limitations he encountered helped me to rethink the controversial relationship of pictorial space and its constructedness. They made me rethink the acknowledged unity of the object and the object’s surface.

In the piece I showed at MASS MoCA, One Floor Up More Highly, 2010, the unity of object and surface dissolves into the concurrence of image and outside world. The coexistence of the imaginary and the material makes for a paradox. Painting is the only place to experience this paradox, which emerges from a nonrepresentative, nonabstract relationship, the absence of any dependence or hierarchy.

Katharina Grosse is a Berlin-based artist.

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Katharina Grosse, One Floor Up More Highly, 2010, acrylic on floor, wall, soil, Styrofoam, clothes, canvas. Installation view, MASS MoCA, North Adams, MA, 2010. Photo: Art Evans.

LESLEY VANCE

The first painter to make a meaningful impression on me in school was Jackson Pollock; the first painter to make a meaningful impression when I encountered his work in person was Mark Rothko; and the artist I keep going back to right now is Lee Krasner. I especially love her collages. I admire their force, their uncompromised dynamic. And I can relate to the role destruction played in their creation.

At one point in the early 1950s, Krasner grew dissatisfied with some drawings she had been working on in her studio, so she tore them to shreds and tossed the scraps on the floor in frustration. The sight of those fallen fragments triggered much of her subsequent work—collages made from ripped-apart drawings and, later, from torn sections of paintings.

I had a similar moment of destruction born from discontent a few years ago, only instead of tearing up my painting, I scraped away paint. This act of erasure produced a more intuitive composition and opened the door to the type of spaces I now pursue. Likewise, the paintings I end up being the most satisfied with have to go through a stage in which I dislike the work enough to lose it for a while, prompting nonsensical actions that become essential.

Lesley Vance is a Los Angeles–based artist.

Lesley Vance, Untitled (44), 2010, oil on canvas, 16 x 14".

NICOLE EISENMAN

Scaling up and unmitigated personal expression were emblems of the mancentric world of midcentury AbEx. However, as we know, women weren’t invited to that party. This is pretty ironic given that the very ideas central to AbEx—antirational ones, driven by emotion and passion—have long been considered stereotypically female. But we made up for it big-time in the 1990s and 2000s, resurrecting the AbEx project and bringing it to the next level—the work of Keltie Ferris, Amy Sillman, and Wendy White comes to mind here. I’m a big advocate of the politics of self-expression and the existentialist individualism that AbEx helped to open up, my own work being decidedly queer.

De Kooning and Pollock showed us all over again that abstraction and figuration are not mutually exclusive. Through painting I can find the point at which representation dissolves into abstraction and at which abstraction begins to represent. But the event horizon for that moment is slippery and inexact, dependent on the context of a given brush mark, the viewer’s physical proximity to the painting, and his or her willingness to associate meaning with form. In my paintings there are often islands of abstraction—figures made from one big rough brushstroke or a series of marks meant to represent a feeling that floats in the air. Yet I contain all of this within a representational framework. I like the way our world looks too much to not show it to some degree.

Nicole Eisenman is an artist who lives and works in New York.