The art of illusion is, for many, art per se. Through it, our unconscious absorption into representational imagery transports us somewhere other that the reality in which we stand. This remains the desired effect we request from art.
Since the beginning of the previous century, however, various artists and art movements have endeavoured to shatter the unconsciousness of this absorption, (cubism, constructivism, Piet Mondrian, de Stijl, Jackson Pollock, minimalism), so we might take note of the ‘here and now’ to empower our presence.
Yet the pull of absorption prevails as many of us by the end the century, find ourselves increasingly pulled into the internet’s various virtual galaxies. Within them, one can not only find friends and foes but even create an illusion of oneself as well as speak with impunity through anonymity. The art of illusion has become the art of the everyday as we are more deeply drawn into the computer’s picture frame until knock-off time. Then we retire home to be unconsciously absorbed, some more, in television.
As a consequence, absorption into a space other than the one in which our feet carry our weight, has taken hold at a scale far beyond yesterday’s celebrated artworks of illusion. It is against the magnetism of this pull that one might wonder what the art of non-illusion — of non-representational art — has to offer.
The ‘here and now’ is loaded with burdens: rent payments we cannot meet, school fees we have somehow to find and awkward social moments that never add up meaningfully as they do in movies. Compared to illusion, the ‘here and now’ fails to appeal.
Compared to illusion non-illusion is, just, ‘non’ — it is nothing.
It is this winning force of illusion’s symbolic space against the comparatively meaningless space of non-representation that we encounter when we read in a January report of The Art Newspaper this year, that issue is being taken with the placement of one of Donald Judd’s 1964 plywood pieces on a pedestal in the Tate Modern’s 2004 retrospective exhibition of his work. It appears the Tate Modern ‘elevated’ a non-representational piece by Donald Judd from the seemingly meaningless ground of the here and now to the symbolic space of illusion, by placing it on a pedestal. By this simple act one can argue the Museum forfeited its custodial role in having presented a work of art as its opposite.
Peter Ballantine, a long-time fabricator of Donald Judd’s art, recognises in the report the curator was most likely acting on behest of the artwork’s lender. Nevertheless, he says the incident, ‘showed how things can go wrong when the artist is not there to defend or explain himself’.
A symposium soon to take place in New York and Berlin will ask whether, in the words of Peter Ballantine, ‘there are more authentic or less authentic ways to deal with Judd’. Meanwhile, the situation offers us an opportunity to ponder many an overdue question concerning the value of non-representational art today. Over the next few sessions, it is this I hope to do.
Before doing so, however, curious to discover which piece by Donald Judd was placed on a pedestal, I surveyed a number of informative videos of the exhibition the Tate Modern has posted on its site. In them, we see the Director of the Tate who is the curator of the exhibition, Nicholas Serota, eloquently ‘walk us’ through a number of the exhibited works. At one point, while discussing what appears to be Untitled 1963 (DSS39) in the foreground, we see in the background Untitled 1964 (DSS46) on a grey painted pedestal that looks to be about 15cm high (see the image above). It appears to be the only work treated this way, which strongly suggests the work’s elevation has a lot more to do with the lender of the work than being a preference of the curator.
By the end I hope to present an alternative understanding non-representational art, today, other than the ‘nothing’ it has become in the face of illusion’s broad appeal. It is an alternative made present by Donald Judd’s art, an alternative we might fittingly describe as the ‘art of noticing’.
NB: This is a reposting of the first of a three part text, the subsequent parts of which will follow during the next couple of weeks.