New York

Antero Kare

American-Scandinavian Foundation Gallery

Since the reemergence of expressionist-type figuration, pure abstract painting has been trying hard to prove it has a superior power of connotation. (The recent exhibitions by James Rosenquist, Tom Wesselmann, Roy Lichtenstein, and Jasper Johns seemed to have a similar intention, under the same duress.) The point is to prove that while the new figuration makes us conscious of something, even of the unconscious, abstract painting makes us conscious of consciousness itself. Thus Antero Kare’s assertion that an abstract painting is “a stopping place in the process of becoming,” that its “silence . . . bears the message,” and that Umberto Eco’s notion of “absent structure” is the most appropriate way of describing it. The question is whether silence—the silence T. S. Eliot and Ludwig Wittgenstein once deemed sacred by reason of its signifying the limit of discourse and assured comprehensibility—does bear the message these days, and what the nature of the message might be.

The old idea of the absoluteness of silence was actually concerned with the desocialization of the work of art to guarantee a prereflective response to it. But one can no longer have a prereflective response to the abstract work of art, because it is no longer silent; it has a history, and this history is the context of its production, which can no longer be mythologized. Abstract art talks an old language, which can no longer be mistaken for the language of consciousness. Silence has become a tired, slightly lurid cliché, all too well-spoken these days. Looking at Kare’s elegant, very controlled paintings, full of almost systematic puddlings (tending to the pudgy side) and double bars balancing the atmospheric effect (almost like repoussoir devices, but here recalling us to the austere integrity of the picture plane), one can’t help feeling that these paintings are a ritually executed recognition of the history of abstract painting. Abstract painting has simply become homage upon homage—a homage to a homage being the safest way of establishing a history, if only a textbook one.

The paintings are charged with a nostalgia for the Finnish forest, especially Metsäkiviä (Forest stones, 1983), from which all the other works seem to depart. (The “stones” are progressively flattened, and finally pulverized, until they become atmospheric particles.) But this “mythical” forest, as Kare thinks it is, is hardly an unexpected connotation. Neither its painterly presence nor its supposedly profound meaning come together with dialectical vigor. Instead, the perceived becomes instantly nostalgic by being reduced to the glamorously abstract, and the meaning tags along simplistically. The correspondence effected between nature and art—the attempt to renew through paint “a fullbodied participation with Nature”—is nothing more than the swan song of an old language of abstraction, become nothing but a sensibility ignorant of the fact that it is quite artificial. Such grandmanner abstraction as Kare offers has nothing to do with either the heroic intentions of early, or the refinements of later, abstraction. Rather it represents that state of senility in which art, thinking that it has at last become wise or sagelike, imagines that it can speak with the trees and snakes. But it is only talking to itself, speaking its silence—the fact that it has nothing to say, but is using language to structure that nothingness—out loud.

Donald Kuspit