WHAT DOES INNOVATION LOOK LIKE?
Richard Serra was interviewed on Charlie Rose’s television program last night. There is a current exhibition of his drawings at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.
Several things that he said were of particular interest to me. Richard was another of the students at Yale’s School of Art and Architecture when I was there in the mid-60s. At that time, I was working on paintings while participating in Jack Tworkiov's course called Thematic Development in Abstract Painting.
In last night’s interview Serra stressed the importance of an artist inventing the use of the materials that they work with. At Yale, I recall that he mixed (by whipping) water into oil paint making a frothy mixture to be applied to his flat paper surfaces. So I wasn’t surprised when, a few years later, he splashed molten lead into the convergent space of wall to floor. I liked that use of metal and it seemed to me to be a significant event for contemporary sculpture. He has, of course, continued to produce work that redefines sculpture while respecting it’s basic tenant of examining space and form in relationship to a person coming in contact with this space and form.
He also clearly stated the difference between painting and sculpture and identified Van Gogh as one who (in his landscape drawings) invented marks that constructed his landscapes differently than his predecessors.
If one had the idea that an invented media was a highly potent component for fine art, then perhaps that’s what guided an artist (whose name I can’t recall) to can and label his own excrement. (Sotheby's sold one can for 97,250 pounds sterling in 2008) But of course, in contrast to that kind of moronic lack of intelligent and sensitive involvement, Serra remains interested in new media that can guide his discoveries within traditional visual parameters and the feelings or experiences those discoveries can evoke in himself and others. He’s quite traditional in this and yet his work is challenging for those who insist that sculpture should be made of stone or bronze and placed on a pedestal.
What does this mean for a painter. What material other than color mixed with various binders and having varied consistencies should a painter concern themselves with? Unlike the sculptor, we deal with illusions on a flat surface. And although one can label painting media as one might in an art school, (fresco, oil, tempera, acrylic, etc), it’s still color and shape on a flat surface. So what would be the innovative path for the painter to follow?
When Serra celebrates the radical spacial interaction between the concave and convex elements of his massive curved steel forms, he’s doing what good sculptors always do. It’s about space and how we feel and think about our relationship to it.
For the painter, it’s exactly the same but it’s an illusion. And it’s quite a feat to make that experience perform authentically instead of only illustrating what you would like to be there.
For a good sculptor or painter it’s the form and space that generates a profound experience that counts.
For the excrement canner, it’s about trying to re-define art in the most ridiculous manner. Duchamp made a dent in this area with some grace and intelligence. But he too, found this to be a dead end for himself and it became a sad influence on much contemporary art in the hands of less intelligent artists.
Whereas, with the serious contributors to visual art, there are deeply held desires and instincts that drive the potential for very great discoveries within the realm of pure visual language that can be achieved with both traditional and innovative media.
By the way, I never thought frothy paint was particularly useful for painting.