New York

Mary Heilmann

303 Gallery

Bertolt Brecht was no fan of abstraction. Worthless as a radical political tool, non-figurative art was, in the Marxist playwright’s eyes, little more than aesthetic scaffolding supporting upper-class pleasures. An abstract composition might as well be a blank screen for psychological projection, eliciting unearned emotional responses. “You paint . . . an indeterminate red; and some cry at the sight of this indeterminate red because they think of a rose, and others because they think of a child lacerated by bombs and streaming with blood,” Brecht wrote in his Notebooks (1935–39). And yet, while ostensibly directing his comments toward the hazards inherent to nonobjective painting, he inadvertently revealed the target of his anxiety to be less abstraction than color. It was, after all, red (rather than the field it marked) that wielded the power to suggest romance and horror in one fell

Sign-in to keep reading

Artforum print subscribers have full access to this article. If you are a subscriber, sign in below.

Not registered for artforum.com? Register here.

SUBSCRIBE NOW for only $50 a year—65% off the newsstand price—and receive the print magazine plus full online access to this issue and our archive.*

Order the PRINT EDITION of the May 2005 issue for $17 or the ONLINE EDITION for $5.99.

* This rate applies to U.S. domestic subscriptions.