“The Double Negative” – Turner, Monet, And Twombly – In Conversation – Art Post By: Stephan Jones-Hughes

English: Chichester Canal circa 1828

English: Poppy Field in Argenteuil, oil painti...

Tate’s latest exhibition brings together three men separated by eras. We spoke to exhibition curator Jeremy Lewison to see what unites them…

It seems year on year, as summer time comes around, it is to the pleasure of art lovers and beyond that we welcome another name from the A-list to the Albert Dock. In the recent past we’ve seen Picasso and Klimt, while this time last year it was the turn of Belgian surrealist Rene Magritte. If Tate Liverpool continues in this vein, they may worry about being taken for granted. This time around, we’re getting triple the bang for our buck, with Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings.

Of course, the three men operated in markedly different times: JMW Turner, Claude Monet and Cy Twombly couldn’t possibly have anything in common, not enough to base an exhibition featuring more than 60 works around, surely? If not exactly ‘emperors new clothes’, we did wonder why, other than guaranteeing visitors, would Tate plump specifically for these three.

Jeremy Lewison wasted no time at all in exploding whatever assumptions we’d brought to the table. Previously Director of Collections at Tate in London (a position he held for 18 years), Lewison began by explaining that “the exhibition was commissioned by Moderna Museet [in Stockholm], who initially wanted the show to feature Turner, Monet and [Mark] Rothko … the more I thought about it, I thought it wasn’t the right combination. Rothko had already been canonised, and his place was firmly established. Twombly was a bit more edgy, and of course, at that point still alive.”

Early omens were good. When Jeremy visited him shortly before his death last year, Twombly had “found the exhibition really interesting, and had began to think about the show and how it would work.” An avid collector of letters by artists who fascinated him, Twombly explained that in his collection were letters written by both Turner and Monet. It was at this point Lewison must have known his instinct in plumping for Twombly over Rothko had been correct.

“They might come to blows but they also might have a grudging admiration in the end”

Before that wonderful, serendipitous discovery, Lewison explained that he had pondered “a number of different links” between the three, which pointed to how he would tie the show together. “I was interested to look at what happens to Romanticism after Turner. Somehow art moves towards the symbolist and then the modernist. There are strong aspects of Romanticism in Monet’s work that he might not admit himself, [and] Twombly described himself as a romantic symbolist. His works are a palimpsest – layers of different cultures, imbued with a sense of the romantic.”

Another important aspect is that ‘Later Paintings’ element of the exhibition title. We are looking at works by men in later life. “What preoccupies artists in older age?” asks Lewison. He goes on to suggest that it’s “an attitude towards mortality and an attitude to loss – how did the artist deal with, and frame, loss?” These questions had particular relevance in Twombly’s case. Of course, he has only very recently died, but he continued to work after a number of health scares. “It’s quite extraordinary with some of the bigger of Twombly’s paintings. When I saw him, he was transformed in front of the canvas. Camino Real [in The Vital Force section of the exhibition] expresses vitality and exuberance of still being alive.”

If it all still seems a little on the nebulous side, as soon as you walk around the exhibition, such thoughts are instantly banished. Arranged thematically (“I constructed this as a conversation”, says Lewison) the exhibition draws some wonderful parallels between the artists – juxtaposing two, sometimes all three – and one can see the intent and effort that has gone into the exhibition to provide a new context in which to view the already wonderful pieces.

Lewison puts it best, setting a scene. “Twombly and Turner meet downstairs standing in front of their respective versions of Hero and Leander. They could have an exchange and come to an understanding eventually. They might [all three of them] come to blows but they also might have a grudging admiration in the end.” When asked whether in curating the exhibition he felt part of their conversation, he replied: “I felt I was listening in. I wasn’t taking part in the dialogue, simply listening in”.

Of course, the inclination when presented with greats such as these is to compare them, and perhaps pick a particular favourite. We couldn’t leave without asking the question of Jeremy. “I don’t have a favourite artist of the three. Amongst the Twombly, I love Orpheus; it’s such a slow painting. That’s what this exhibition is about; it’s opening itself up to poetry, looking into this conversation that’s taking place. I’m not telling you how to respond to it – I want you to have your own response.”

Turner Monet Twombly: Later Paintings continues at Tate Liverpool until 28th October £12, concessions available via The Double Negative » Turner Monet Twombly – In Conversation.


* In Pictures: Turner Monet Twombly (bbc.co.uk)

* Turner, Monet, Twombly – a trio of sublime painters (guardian.co.uk)

* The great upstager: how Monet made Turner and Twombly look ordinary (guardian.co.uk)

* VIDEO: The rising popularity of art galleries (bbc.co.uk)

* Cy Twombly, 1928-2011 American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path by Michael

Stravato (tigergroves.wordpress.com)

* Phila. Museum Of Art Now Displaying Cy Twombly’s Weird Bronze Rocks (philebrity.com)

* Twombly/Poussin at Dulwich College Art Gallery (tony_green.typepad.com)

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“Édouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, 1890-1940” Art Review

Madame Vuillard Leaning Over the Paraffin Stove

Madame Vuillard Leaning Over the Paraffin Stove (Photo credit: Wikipedia)


Mere Society Paintings? Look Again

Vuillard Works at Jewish Museum and Jill Newhouse Gallery

By KEN JOHNSON    Published: May 3, 2012

If, by some fluke of metaphysics, the last four decades of Édouard Vuillard’s long, prolific and rewarding career were erased from collective memory, he still would not be forgotten. Before the age of 30 he made some of the most beguiling paintings of fin de siècle Paris: intimate, compact, brushy pictures of his mother and sister in the apartment he shared with them and the dressmaking shop they worked in. Painting with special attention to wallpaper and fabric patterns, he made people almost dissolve into atomized, flattened surfaces, anticipating a century that would pulverize into air everything once taken for solid.

After 1900 Vuillard (1868-1940) turned back his own clock. Reverting to a more conventionally naturalistic style and often using his own photographs as references, he painted portraits of well-to-do people and decorative murals for their homes. In the eyes of many critics he became a mere society painter. But Vuillard’s later work has its supporters too, and they are having their say, convincingly, in a pair of exhibitions: “Édouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, 1890-1940” at the Jewish Museum and, at Jill Newhouse gallery, a complementary show featuring major late works as well as some small early paintings and a selection of drawings.

Organized by the museum’s assistant curator, Stephen Brown, the Jewish Museum show includes more than 40 paintings, and 15 from the 1890s convey the hothouse interiority at which Vuillard excelled early. “Woman in a Striped Dress” (1895) is a dreamily blurry picture compressed into an approximately two-foot square. A young woman engulfed in billowing red-and-white fabric tends to flowers on a table in the foreground as an older woman looks on over her shoulder. Domestic routine becomes mystic ritual.

A late painting from the opposite end of the psychic spectrum is the portrait of David David-Weill (1925), which pictures a past chairman of the bank Lazard Frères wearing a business suit and tie and standing in a palatial chamber filled with antique furniture, gleaming decorative objects and a dozen gold-framed paintings on the background wall. As is typical of his late work, Vuillard here decompresses interior space, giving its rich and powerful subject a distinctive, commanding presence and making room for his expensive and well-pedigreed possessions, which Vuillard describes in sensuous detail.

In “Madame Louis Kapferer” (1918), a large portrait of an elderly woman in a black dress sitting in a dark armchair and gazing into space, with a sparkling clutter of decorative glassware on a mantel behind her, Vuillard combines sharp-eyed realism and a subtly comical sympathy. But, as in the portrait of David-Weill, you sense a willingness to flatter and a desire to please.

Part of the exhibition’s mission is to shed light on Vuillard’s social circles, which, as it happened, included numerous assimilated, cosmopolitan Jews throughout his lifetime. With some of these he was quite intimate. He had a romance with Misia Natanson, wife of his friend and first dealer, Thadée Natanson; and a 40-year affair with Lucy Hessel, the wife of one of his later dealers, Jos Hessel.

But it remains hard to say in what way the Jewishness of his relations influenced Vuillard as an artist. What seems more obviously consequential was his move from the avant-gardist circles of his youth, when he belonged to an upstart group of painters who called themselves the Nabis, to a more conservative milieu governed more by money and haut-bourgeois taste.

But Vuillard was not just another John Singer Sargent knocking out suave portraits of the rich and indolent for lunch money. The exhibition at Jill Newhouse reveals how intensely and eccentrically Vuillard labored over his most ambitious late works. Using glue-based distemper paint that he built up into crusty, granular surfaces, he devoted years to some. “Misia Sert and Her Niece Mimi Godebska” (1925), an eerily dark and gloomy, mostly gray canvas measuring more than 4 ½ by 5 ½ feet, took two years. It depicts two women — the elder one the remarried Misia — in a cavernous room, one standing and one sitting at a dinner table whose glassy surface reflects white-striped black teacups sitting on it. A shadowy haze fills the space, rendering the women indistinct and giving the scene a spectral feeling.

An even larger portrait at about six feet square, “Madame Jean Bloch and Her Children” (1927-9), took so long that Madame Bloch had had a fourth child by the time he finished it. So he made another one, reproducing the original image but adding a toddler into the lower left corner at her mother’s elbow. (The second version is in the Jewish Museum show.) As a composition it has the stiffness of an official family portrait. But it compels close scrutiny because of the excruciatingly slow and self-aware technique that he brought to it.

The most surprising as well as the biggest piece in either show is “Garden in Winter With Peacock” at the museum, a wintry picture, 6 foot 9 ½ inches by 4 foot 9 ½ inches, of a fenced-in garden with leafless trees and the bird in question in the foreground. Painted in broad strokes and drawn into with brusquely gestural lines, it is more suggestive of a prison’s exercise yard than of a fancy aviary. Completed in 1940, the year he died, it seems a landscape of despair, which, oddly, calls to mind the allegorical landscapes of postwar grief that Anselm Kiefer would create 40 years later.

These shows are unlikely to change minds about which Vuillard was better — the pre- or the post-1900 model — but they make a convincing case for looking more thoughtfully at what the late one did.

“Édouard Vuillard: A Painter and His Muses, 1890-1940” runs through Sept. 23 at the Jewish Museum, 1109 Fifth Avenue, at 92nd Street; (212) 423-3200, thejewishmuseum.org. The Vuillard exhibition “Paintings and Works on Paper” runs through May 25 at Jill Newhouse, 4 East 81st Street, Manhattan; (212) 249-9216, jillnewhouse.com.

Cy Twombly, 1928-2011 American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path by Michael Stravato

cy twombly.

cy twombly. (Photo credit: Jjjjanic)

Cy Twombly

Cy Twombly with his painting “1994 Untitled (Say Goodbye Catullus, to the Shores of Asia Minor),” at the Menil Collection in Houston in 2005.

Cy Twombly’s Gagosian GalleryCy Twombly’s “Untitled” from 2007. He once described his work as “more like I’m having an experience than making a picture.”   

Cy Twombly, whose spare childlike scribbles and poetic engagement with antiquity left him stubbornly out of step with the movements of postwar American art even as he became one of the era’s most important painters, died in Rome Tuesday. He was 83.

The cause was not immediately known, although Mr. Twombly had suffered from cancer. His death was announced by the Gagosian Gallery, which represents his work.
Cy Twombly in 2005.Michael Stravato for The New York TimesCy Twombly in 2005.

In a career that slyly subverted Abstract Expressionism, toyed briefly with Minimalism, seemed barely to acknowledge Pop Art and anticipated some of the concerns of Conceptualism, Mr. Twombly was a divisive artist almost from the start. The curator Kirk Varnedoe, on the occasion of a 1994 retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art, wrote that his work was “influential among artists, discomfiting to many critics and truculently difficult not just for a broad public, but for sophisticated initiates of postwar art as well.” The critic Robert Hughes called him “the Third Man, a shadowy figure, beside that vivid duumvirate of his friends Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg.”

Mr. Twombly’s decision to settle permanently in southern Italy in 1957 as the art world shifted decisively in the other direction, from Europe to New York, was only the most symbolic of his idiosyncrasies. He avoided publicity throughout his life and mostly ignored his critics, who questioned constantly whether his work deserved a place at the forefront of 20th-century abstraction, though he lived long enough to see it arrive there. It didn’t help that his paintings, because of their surface complexity and whirlwinds of tiny detail – scratches, erasures, drips, penciled fragments of Italian and classical verse amid scrawled phalluses and buttocks – lost much of their power in reproduction.

But Mr. Twombly, a tall, rangy Virginian who once practiced drawing in the dark to make his lines less purposeful, steadfastly followed his own program and looked to his own muses: often literary ones like Catullus, Rumi, Pound and Rilke. He seemed to welcome the privacy that came with unpopularity.

“I had my freedom and that was nice,” he said in a rare interview, with Nicholas Serota, the director of the Tate, before a 2008 survey of his career at the Tate Modern.

The critical low point probably came after a 1964 exhibition at the Leo Castelli Gallery in New York that was widely panned. The artist and writer Donald Judd, who was hostile toward painting in general, was especially damning even so, calling the show a fiasco. “There are a few drips and splatters and an occasional pencil line,” he wrote in a review. “There isn’t anything to these paintings.”

But by the 1980s, with the rise of neo-Expressionism, a generation of younger artists like Jean-Michel Basquiat found inspiration in Mr. Twombly’s skittery bathroom-graffiti scrawl. Coupled with rising interest in European artists whose work shared unexpected ground with Mr. Twombly’s, like that of Joseph Beuys, the new-found attention brought him a kind of critical favor he had never enjoyed. And by the next decade he was highly sought after not only by European museums and collectors, who had discovered his work early on, but also by those back in his homeland who had not known what to make of him two decades before.

In 1989 the Philadelphia Museum of Art opened permanent rooms dedicated to his monumental 10-painting cycle, “Fifty Days at Iliam,” based on Alexander Pope’s translation of the “Iliad.” (Mr. Twombly said that he had purposely misspelled “Ilium,” a Latin name for Troy, with an “a,” to refer to Achilles.) That same year, Mr. Twombly’s work passed the million-dollar mark at auction. In 1995 the Menil Collection in Houston opened a new gallery dedicated to his work, designed by Renzo Piano after a plan by Mr. Twombly himself. Despite this growing acceptance, Mr. Varnedoe still felt it necessary to include an essay in the Modern’s newsletter at the time of the retrospective, titled “Your Kid Could Not Do This, and Other Reflections on Cy Twombly.”

In the only written statement that Mr. Twombly ever made about his work, a short essay in an Italian art journal in 1957, he tried to make clear that his intentions were not subversive but elementally human. Each line he made, he said, was “the actual experience” of making the line, adding: “It does not illustrate. It is the sensation of its own realization.” Years later he described this more plainly. “It’s more like I’m having an experience than making a picture.” The process stood in stark contrast to the detached, effete image that often clung to Mr. Twombly. After completing a work, in a kind of ecstatic state, it was as if the painting existed and he barely did anymore: “I usually have to go to bed for a couple of days.”

The New York Times:Cy Twombly, 1928-2011 American Artist Who Scribbled a Unique Path by  Michael Stravato        


“As a tribute to the recently deceased artist, the Centre for Fine Arts is turning the spotlight on a less familiar aspect of his oeuvre. The exhibition includes more than 100 dryprint Polaroid photographs (selected by Twombly himself), along with a selection of other works by Twombly and a film portrait by Tacita Dean.

Cy Twombly (who was born in Lexington in 1928 and died in Rome in 2011) was one of the most important US artists of his generation. He made his name with large-scale abstract paintings whose free form and spontaneous dynamism recall calligraphy and graffiti. In his work Twombly often referred to the myths of Classical Greek and Roman Antiquity, to literature and to art history.

The exhibition focuses on a less familiar aspect of Twombly’s oeuvre: his photographic work. The photographs are an addition to the artist’s creative world and throw new light on it. At the request of the publishers Schirmer/Mosel, Twombly selected more than 100 never previously published Polaroid photographs for a catalogue that was published just before his death on 5 July 2011. This selection is the subject of a travelling exhibition that has already been seen in Germany at the Museum Brandhorst (in Munich) and the Museum für Gegenwartskunst (in Siegen). At the Centre for Fine Arts the exhibition is being expanded, in collaboration with Dr. Hubertus von Amelunxen, who wrote an essay for the Twombly catalogue and who has made a selection for BOZAR of drawings and paintings by Twombly that reveal in greater depth the interplay of lines and light in his work. In addition, the exhibition is complemented by the screening of Tacita Dean’s intimate film portrait “Edwin Parker” (which takes its name from Twombly’s official given names).

Twombly and photography

Twombly took up photography back in his student days in the 1950s and continued to take photographs throughout his career. It was only in the 1990s, however, that he went public with his photographic work in gallery exhibitions and publications.

All the photographs in the exhibition were taken with a Polaroid camera, enlarged, printed using a special kind of dryprint, and reproduced in limited editions. This procedure, developed by Twombly himself, gives the photographs a hazy glow and a coarse grain. Twombly further reinforced this impression of blurring by playing with light and shade, by overexposure and sophisticated colour saturation, and by employing extreme close-ups. The lack of definition gives his photographs a certain indefinable quality and a poetic dimension. Our attention is no longer drawn to the subject, but to the texture of the picture. In a certain sense, Twombly operates like the pictorialists: his photographs look almost like paintings in which light is captured in brushstrokes.

The subjects of his Polaroid photographs are extremely diverse. There are traditional still lifes with tulips, lemon leaves, and angel trumpets, alongside photographs of temples and atmospheric landscapes. Twombly surprises the viewer with intimate images of everyday objects such as his slippers, a detail from a painting, his brushes, a snapshot of his studio, etc.

The photographs are fascinating because they throw new light on Twombly’s creative spirit and visual language. These intangible, fragile images are permeated by the same themes that inspired the artist’s paintings, drawings, sculptures, and graphic art. The atmospheric colours and diffuse motifs of his photographs are an unexpected addition to his creative universe. Twombly’s oeuvre, moreover, is all about light – and is photography not the medium of light par excellence?

expert from http://artblart.com/2012/04/22/exhibition-cy-twombly-photographs-1951-2010-at-the-centre-for-fine-arts-brussels/

Mark Tansey – On realism and representation: Painting: Triumph of New York School

Mark Tansey, Triumph of the New York School, 1984

The right side features such NY art figures as Clement Greenberg, Pollack, Rothko, etc., in army uniforms around army vehicles. On the left side, Andre Breton’s back is turned to us (he is signing the treaty of surrender), Picasso is the one in the fur coat, while Duchamp stands rather aloofly, hands in pockets.

Mark Tansey – On realism and representation:

I am not a realist painter. In the nineteenth century, photography co-opted the traditional function of realist painters, which was to make faithful renditions of “reality.” Then the realist project was taken over by Modernist abstraction, as later evidenced in the title of Hans Hofmann’s book Search for the Real. Minimalism tried to eliminate the gap between the artwork and the real. After that, the project itself dematerialized. But the problem for representation is to find the other functions beside capturing the real. In my work, I’m searching for pictorial functions that are based on the idea that the painted picture knows itself to be metaphorical, rhetorical, transformational, fictional. I’m not doing pictures of things that actually exist in the world. The narratives never actually occurred. In contrast to the assertion of one reality, my work investigates how different realities interact and abrade. And the understanding is that the abrasions start within the medium itself.

I think of the painted picture as an embodiment of the very problem that we face with the notion “reality.” The problem or question is, which reality? In a painted picture, is it the depicted reality, or the reality of the picture plane, or the multidimensional reality the artist and viewer exist in? That all three are involved points to the fact that pictures are inherently problematic. This problem is not one that can or ought to be eradicated by reductionist or purist solutions. We know that to successfully achieve the real is to destroy the medium; there is more to be achieved by using it than through its destruction.

Mark Tansey – On pictorial content:

In the late 1970s, what was particularly attractive about pictorial representation was that one faced an opening and extending realm of content rather than dematerialization, endgames, and prolonged swan songs. Difficulties lay in the long established and increasingly critical isolation of subject matter from art practice. Critical discourse and art education had restricted the notion of content to two pockets coalescing around formal and conceptual poles. To speak about subject matter in a picture simply was not done.

My feeling was that there was no longer any justification for these restrictions. Pictures should be able to function across the fullest range of content. The conceptual should be able to mingle with the formal and subject matter should enjoy intimate relations with both.

Mark Tansey – The notion of the crossroads:

By contrast to the flat, static, formal model for painting on one hand and conceptualism on the other, I found it useful to think in terms of a structurally dynamic model for pictorial content that could include both models as well as subject matter. The notion of a crossroads or an intersection of visible and invisible trajectories offered the most vital metaphor for a picture. It accommodates the fact that pictorial content is mostly invisible (that is, embodied in preconceptions that are conceptual, cultural, temporal, etc.). There is really very little that is visible in the format of a picture. The value of thinking in terms of a crossroads or pictorial intersection is that if not all that much is visible, then what little there is ought to involve vital trajectories and points of collision and encounter between a variety of cultural, formal, or figural systems.

Mark Tansey – On rift and resonance:

In my earlier work I was trying to learn how to bring meaning to the image, and was having difficulty activating the figure and image as a whole. Magritte‘s eight methods of bringing about the “crisis of the object isolation, modification, hybridization, scale change, accidental encounters, double image puns, paradox, double viewpoints in one came as a revelation. It made it apparent to me that crises and conflicts were results of oppositions and contradictions and these were what was necessary to activate or motivate a picture.

Magritte’s work also led me to wonder if crisis could take place on other levels of content, more quietly, internally, more plausibly. Could a conventional picture include many less apparent crisesthe way everyday life does without the use of overt surrealistic devices? Iconograph I was an experiment, a sort of Levi Strauss myth structure grid for crossing artificial/natural oppositions. For example, instead of Magritte’s overt hybridization of a bottle/carrot [L’explication, 1954; Private Collection], I found that a potted plant offered a plausible and quiet crisis between artifice and nature.

In my later work, the idea of crisis was tempered and extended to rift and resonance. For instance, a picture might be decoded by distinguishing rifts (contradictions, discrepancies, implausibilities) from resonance (plausible elements, structural similarities, shared characteristics, verifications). In fact the notion of rift and resonance is fundamental to the picture constructing process as well. Take, for example, White on White. The monochrome lateral washes of paint suggest (resonate) with photographic plausibility both snowstorm and sandstorm and, as monochrome does not verify heat or cold, the unity of space is maintained. The unified space affirms the proximity of the Bedouins and Inuits, but their identities, their dress, modes of transportation (huskies and camels) suggest they exist in different climates, and the evidence of the windblown fur and clothing attests to winds blowing in opposite directions. If this evidence is to be affirmed, there would be an invisible rift down the center of the picture, where distant continents collide. Furthermore, the Inuits and Bedouins may be trying to determine exactly where the invisible rift lies.

Mark Tansey – On the value of illustration:

If in paintings there have been problems in linking image and idea, one key may be found buried deep in the practice of illustration. Illustration, having been banished from high art as commercial and slavish to an assigned message, nevertheless is where art begins. The only significant difference that I can find at this point between illustration and art is that the former traditionally involves doing someone else’s idea rather than one’s own. But of particular value in good illustration is the function of embedding the idea in the image. It’s common practice in contemporary art to rely heavily on critical supplements to provide the conceptual content. But in illustration, the critical content and image can be structured toget er metaphorically. This involves the invention or search for a new metaphoric structure that acts as a transformational link between the idea and image. For instance, reflection, as metaphoric structure, can link the idea of equivalence of opposites to an image where an object and its reflection are interchangeable. Mont Sainte Victoire is an example of this.

Another value of illustration is its hyperfictional capacity. Because it is rhetorically out front, it has great latitude of reference and freedom to extend or condense space and time. It is not paralyzed with guilt about the impurities of reference or of metaphor. On the contrary, new metaphoric relations are its substance and aesthetic vehicle. It’s at the door of metaphor that illustration transforms into “metaphoric redescription.” Metaphoric redescription (Richard Rorty’s term) is a function that is becoming increasingly interesting in light of the inadequacies of the term “representation,” in that pictures don’t actually represent anything.

Mark Tansey – On the role of drawing:

My work is fundamentally drawing. Everything in my practice is an extension, elaboration, or enhancement of drawing. Despite my prolonged focus on a variety of reproductive processes, with no other visual medium can I achieve such complexity with such simple means.

Mark Tansey – Rethinking representation:

More often than not, the critical response to painted representation labels it nostalgic or retrograde. often this is appropriate. But there are other dimensions to this response. One is that behind the label nostalgic (or retrograde) is the valorizing of a narrow sense of the present. The word Postmodern in its most obvious sense is a temporal designation. If Postmodern practice is attempting to break from Modernism, why hasn’t the notion of the narrow present been questioned? Is there a temporal chauvinism here that makes it possible for art discourse to ignore all other structures of time (cultural, biological, geological, physiological, cosmological, etc.)? If one can get beyond the prohibitionary reflex action, it might be possible to look more closely at the content of representational or other modes of art to see the degree to which they are sensitive and accountable to other structures of time. In this way specific artworks can create the rupture that the larger critical discourse seems to be resisting.

Given that the painted picture is a declassified medium (in Marshall McLuhan’s sense a medium that is no longer the dominant conduit or voice of power, unlike television or film) it can take on new functions. One of these can be as analogue to other representational media in understanding the limits and sensitivities of one as it relates to those of another. We can use the painted picture as a way of studying its own modes of references, its ranges of sensitivity and insensitivity, its deceptions, by way of offering insights into the analogous functions of for example, film, photography, and television.

I’d like to get a sense of the painted picture as a medium vital in its free range of reference and content. This is not to celebrate indiscrimination, but on the contrary, to make it possible to develop pictorial articulation involving a variety of syntaxes that would be interconnected and accountable rather than autonomous or indiscriminate.

At this point, it is apparent from Jasper Johns on that the separation of abstraction from representation from conceptualism is no longer compelling or convincing. Each are portions of an expanded notion of content that can be interfaced, emphasized, or deemphasized according to an artist’s interests. The unique value of any artwork depends on how new metaphoric relations are structured within it.

But given this expanded content, the area that is as yet least explored and most in need of rethinking is the realm of representation. In contemporary art practice, notions of narrative, temporality, subject matter, illustration, and metaphor still remain simplistic and ill informed.

This is not to recast representation as though it were again in exile. It’s not as though art discourse is moving away from representation, or that textual criticality is situated hierarchically against or outside it. They are also forms of representation. What we have is a dialogue where the critique of one representation is by another. Art discourse is the clash of representations.

– From Mark Tansey: Visions and Revisions, by Arthur C. Danto

Command Performance – William Nicholson’s group portrait of Canadian generals

Commissioned in 1917 by the Canadian War Memorials Fund as part of a commemoration of Canadian sacrifice and effort in the Great War (with still a year to go), Nicholson’s painting is a composition that, far from glorifying the officers involved, assigns them strangely detached stand-in roles. It was, the artist said in a letter to his son Benjamin (later to become better known as Ben Nicholson, the painter), “a Hell of a job.” Six brass hats, as lower ranks referred to them, are stood there, businesslike but at ease. It could be the interval or breathing space between a defense or offensive being adopted and executed. Mustaches are worn and boots are as shiny as can be.
William Nicholson had made his name as one of the two Beggarstaff Brothers (actually the other half was his brother-in-law James Pryde), designers in the 1890s of splendidly bold posters. As a portrait painter he took up more or less where Sargent had left off, and in still lifes and small landscape studies he proved himself pretty well up to Manet’s standard and Corot’s standard respectively.
Nothing, however, quite prepared Nicholson for the challenge of Canadian Headquarters Staff. He was working on the picture when, a month before the war ended, he learned that his son Tony had been killed. Others might have been moved to put mud on the generals’ boots. Not him: drawing maybe on the example set by Velázquez’s Surrender of Breda and working from a group photograph staged for the purpose, he put the figures into a holding pattern, poised to command yet conscious of the consequences. Where Velázquez laid on a vast tapestry-effect landscape of military maneuver, Nicholson did the most extraordinary thing: he inserted behind the generals a blown-up view of the shattered city of Ypres, Belgium, photographed from the air.