Comments on: Hantaï, Hartung, Soulages and Tàpies at Timothy Taylor Abstract Critical is a not-for profit company aiming to establish a new critical context for all generations of artists involved with ambitious abstract art. Sun, 09 Nov 2014 17:23:33 +0000 hourly 1 By: John Pollard Thu, 16 Jan 2014 11:40:24 +0000 I visited this exhibition yesterday and the best piece for me was Tapies’ ‘Balcony in front of lit room with escaping adulterers’ footsteps on wall’ (my title). It works as an abstract image and I like its sculptural aspects. The added humour (well, my interpretation of it) improves the experience, the story it tells me. The story doesn’t make it a good painting of course but adds to ‘my’ experience of it. The other two Tapies I didn’t like at all.
I thought the Hartung’s were okay, so much better than in on line photographs, although simple bright yellow, contrasted with black and a little blue is a bit cute in a paradoxically dull way. The bigger painting is a bit more interesting with some subtleties in the rollared stripes. Soulages’ black paintings did next to nothing for me.
Hantai’s work was at least interesting: although heavily repetitive in pattern there was some lovely subtleties where the canvas/fabric had been creased. The yellow painting I found much more interesting. The slightly vague ‘dirty’ yellow colour working with the creased marks really well. This one had more variation in shapes as well. But I still wasn’t that moved by them.
This exhibition did not compare well with the Lanyon mural studies we had just visited. Lanyon’s contrast, complexity, use of colour variations, interesting mark making/drawing, provoking much more engagement and enjoyment. I wonder how much this is down to plain hard work, high standards, and ambition?

By: Robin Greenwood Wed, 18 Dec 2013 15:31:08 +0000 Hi Tania.
Thank you for your reply. As you say, this is a difficult subject to talk about, and we are none of us very clever at it, but your participation is very welcome.
I think, on the subject of progress, that if we tried more and more to look at what abstract work “does”, rather than what it reminds us of, or generally “looks like”, or even how aesthetically pleasing it is, then such an interrogation would impact back into what we make, in a healthy feedback loop; we would want to make our abstract work “do” yet more and more still. This appears to me to be a rather strong raison-d’être for abstract art, and who knows where it may lead. I wouldn’t want to be prescriptive about what the “does” comprises of, in any case, other than to suggest that it should strive for an objective and overt reality, physically based in what is available to the eye, rather than any hidden or subjective allusion to things extrinsic.

By: Tania Wed, 18 Dec 2013 14:45:33 +0000 Hi Robin

Firstly, thank you for quoting me in your comment. In response I would write that an emotive, even visceral, response to an art work is valid. When I mentioned that Hartung’s painting T1970-H40 brought to mind the urban experience through the artist’s choice and application of certain colours in a certain arrangement I was not attempting to impose (on) or even elicit a ‘meaning’ from the painting. It was a purely lyrical response, neither an ‘interpretation’ nor an explanation of the artist’s own intentions for the work. I would add that any process of interpretation, explaining works of art, inevitably alters the experience of the work. For example, I much admire the work of indigenous artists, particularly those of aborigine and South Pacific origin. When, however, the work is interpreted for a Western audience it undoubtably loses something. Appreciation of the work risks being weighted down with (an arguably Western European) need to explain, categorize and classify; classification can lead to hierarchies and all the trouble they bring. I appreciate this point of view can be used to validate fraudulent mysticism and I agree that ‘ambiguity’ can lead to vacuous and empty work. Its a difficult subject!

I ‘discovered’ Hans Hartung whilst researching recent artists not afraid to use colour in their work. By accident I came across the work of Carla Accardi who, when I researched her a little, referred to the influence and support she had received from Hartung amongst others. This made me want to know more about the European experience of abstract art, particularly after WWII until today; indeed, I dutifully trotted along to see the Burri exhibition which I enjoyed. Perhaps it was my personal experience at art school but I seemed to have missed out on a whole area of abstract art – the main debates always appeared to centre around American practitioners, critics and theoreticians.

May I ask about the issue of ‘progress‘ as I agree with you that it does feel as if a clear direction is needed. Could you expand on this a little?!

By: Sam Sat, 14 Dec 2013 17:06:39 +0000 And with their movement into the slick and bigger sit much more comfortably with the other abstract painters shown at Timothy Taylor. What was that show with Christopher Wool about a year ago?

By: CAP Sat, 14 Dec 2013 13:14:34 +0000 I suppose the difference is Wols died in 1951 (pretty much suicide) just when ‘Post War abstraction’ is kicking in, whereas Taylor’s four examples are all survivors. Hartung at least reached a ripe old age. And I viewed the show pretty much on these terms, rather than as some counter version of Abstract Expressionism. It’s interesting to see just where they take their concerns with materials and technique over a lifetime rather than between Biennales or monographs.

My impression was they mainly get slicker and bigger but this too is a way of confirming the value of their fifties work. It wouldn’t look as good if they hadn’t done their later work.

By: Sam Sat, 14 Dec 2013 11:02:59 +0000 Perhaps is happening in US (from memory show was pretty widely reviewed as well).

By: CAP Sat, 14 Dec 2013 10:47:06 +0000 Too bad the show didn’t include some Wols cas well – he too overdue a reassessment.

By: John Bunker Thu, 12 Dec 2013 22:03:48 +0000 When I was writing this review I got to thinking about the debate around the big post-war cultural PR campaign (covert and overt) instigated by the dominant USA in the UK and mainland Europe as the Cold War developed. As David Anfam has pointed out in his essay ‘Transatlantic Anxieties, Especially Bill’s Folly’ Greenberg’s publication of ‘American Type Painting’ seemed to run off the back of the US’s bloody humiliation in the Korean War. Irvin Sandler’s ‘Triumph of American Painting’ was being written during the disastrous Vietnam war and published in the shadow of the Kent State killings. Great texts declaring high cultural achievements in the US of A. But they also played their part in Cold War point scoring and acting like cultural skin grafts covering over the carnage created by covert and deeply suspect US Gov policy decisions both home and abroad in the post war years.

It is not so well known that the first generation of Abstract Expressionists were highly politicised (if disillusioned) and deeply connected to their, mostly, European roots both artistically and culturally. Still and Pollock are different, granted, but Pollock was renowned for his anti chauvinism when it came to talking about the influences on his work. Still can sound like a deranged Presbyterian preacher in comparison. But they had all cut their teeth as artists in the Great Depression years. Did they feel pretty alienated from the post- war boom era and rapid commercialisation of practically every aspect of a new modern America?

How did the European abstract artists feel about this cultural US attempt at world domination and how abstract art might have fit in it? What had changed during the war years? How was their outlook, priorities and politics different from their American peers? I would love to hear from someone on mainland Europe about this subject.

By: Robin Greenwood Thu, 12 Dec 2013 12:48:31 +0000 I think it would be interesting to examine Tania’s comment below that Hartung’s “simplicity is not weak, the bright fluorescent yellow streaked with black accompanied by blue-greys of T1970-H40 brought to mind flashes of cars, ambulance sirens, the experience of urban living.”

Without wishing in any way to denigrate her associations and feelings, or indeed intimidate, I want to ask: is this really a good way to think about abstract art? It is a very common one, and is especially common in the case of abstract art, where many people seem to think that because the art does not depict anything specific you can therefore impose or elicit any meaning you like, giving rise to a purely personal level of “interpretation”. It gives free rein to the idea that any and every personal interpretation is as good as any other – or are we supposed to all make similar interpretations? If it is a free-for-all, then I can see that the simpler and indeed cruder the abstract art the better, because it allows anyone to think just about anything, to see any old “pictures in the fire” and load the work with their own baggage. In other words, we are back in the realms of total ambiguity, a place supported (apparently) by a number of contributors to this site. The more ambiguous the abstract art, the less specific, the more widely it can be interpreted; and, I guess, the more people can say they get enjoyment out of it.

This puts the artist under no obligations whatsoever, since anything and everything can and will mean something to someone, somewhere, so validating it. But is that true? I think it is a lazy and, ultimately, destructive way to make, look at, and think about any art, abstract or not.

Is abstract art a discipline that we can progress, with a set of evolving criteria? Does it possess credibility for its participants, and are they able to strive for objective assessments of their achievements? Or do we give up everything for the sake of ambiguous, personal, subjective interpretations? It is an important debate, as far as I am concerned, because it is a question of whether an onward movement of abstract art can make a clear direction for itself which distinguishes it from the general slop-bucket of contemporary art production and discourse.

By: John Holland Thu, 12 Dec 2013 09:45:23 +0000 No, it can’t.
Because ‘visual beauty’ doesn’t exist in ‘it’s own realm’ as if it were oxygen or gravity, it’s a human idea, and like all human ideas it can be, and needs to be, discussed and challenged.