Last week, I wrote about session 1, with Dr. Patricia Briggs, from the Minneapolis College of Art and Design. It was about expressionism, abstractionism, the progression towards minimalism. This session, she continued to move forward in time to help us understand contemporary art. I took many more notes. Again, all mistakes below are mine.
Dr. Briggs started with putting forth Donald Judd as a great example of minimalism. His work shows the minimalist view that art is about expression, not self-expression. It’s a radical outside of human-ness. She again talked about Duchamp, where his art was not of the artist’s touch and hand. She gave the example of in his welded pieces, he gave a welder instruction on construction.
She referenced again action painting like Pollock and Gutai, where painting is about a trace of performance. This happened at about the same time as performance art got big. At the Walker, there are some Yves Klein body prints — naked female torsos printed onto paper. This is art that is an outcome of an activity.
Now, the aesthetic and anti-aesthetic tradition have been opposing each other in the 20th century. The anti-aesthetic tradition is Dada, conceptualism, sometimes surrealism (which can have a foot in both camps). Dada is the anti-art, that the beauty shown, if any, is convulsive beauty, the beauty of the abject, decay, beauty that hurts. Dada includes making collages as art — something common now, but not then. Making art of trash (found objects/modified found objects), art that goes out to the masses using low art, popular art such as mass media, photography. The function is to uncover those things that you usually don’t think about.
Dr. Briggs talked about Raushenberg, who was influenced by Duchamp — and Merce Cunningham (dance choreographer who felt that dance should be more real than artificial ballet) and John Cage (a pianist who would sit at a piano and let the sound of the audience be the piece). Raushenberg painted a field of white, and the shadow you cast over the piece became part of it. And if it got dirty, an assistant repainted it. Rauschenberg had a piece that was erasing a piece of art that de Kooning drew. She said it took him weeks to erase, that this was a collaboration between the artists, and that de Kooning drew something that would be hard to erase. He progresses to assemblages (vs. collages); her example was Bed, made up of his quilt and pillow, altered. The canvas is a flat tabletop, you put stuff on it, and the viewer processes it.
Neo-Dada uses expressionist paintbrush strokes, sometimes puts it next to collages, found objects, junk. These expressionist paintbrush strokes are ironic, not expressionist. Warhol was next on the neo-Dada agenda, about his appropriation of images to create art of the world. She talked about his Marilyn Monroe images — they’re not about Marilyn, they’re about how the Hollywood machine makes puppets out of people, objectifying people. Dr. Briggs said what’s brilliant about Warhol is that we like to look at it, unlike many other Dada and neo-Dada artists.
Using multiple texts is very post-modern. There’s no difference between high art and advertising. Multiple objects are pulled together, not necessarily to make a narrative. Many post-modern artists appropriate images from many contexts. Sherrie Levine is the apex of this, where she literally photographs other photographs, other paintings, and puts her name on it. This is commentary on originality (there is nothing new under the sun), authority of ownership, a very post-modern thought. To post-modern artists, the author is dead, all speaking is quotation, you can’t own an idea. Other issues explored by post-modern artists is exploration of the body, and not pretty poses. It’s a shift to art that doesn’t show the human body as a beautiful aesthetic, but physically clumsy things with vulnerabilities and openings. Racial identity is another theme explored, art about people who don’t have a voice.
At the Walker (the location of the next and last session), there is a lot of minimalism. This is not where you go to find craft, beauty, to find something that makes you feel good. Dr. Briggs is going to show us some of her favorite works. I’ll let you know what they are….