The art of noticing Part III

Slide 1 - Gail Hastings Exhibition Studio

Mistakenly, some say Anthony Caro was the first to make pedestal-less three-dimensional art. (1)Many will be fortunate to remember having seen Anthony Caro’s abstract sculpture in Sculpture by the Sea at Bondi Beach, Sydney, in October 2010. As for who did what first, when it comes to boycotting the pedestal (or plinth, as we are more likely to call it in Australia), although dates might seem to measure the matter, other factors intervene to render them misleading.

At face value, the difference between a pedestal-less sculpture that sits directly on the floor (Anthony Caro’s) and a pedestal-less three-dimensional work of art that sits directly on the floor (Donald Judd’s) might seem difficult to find, even in the semantics. Especially as this difference cannot be measured by any phenomenological involvement of a viewer. By ‘phenomenological’ I mean where one’s physical or ‘kinaesthetic’ relation to the work or art is not excluded form it — by a frame, for instance — but included.

For although most attribute a viewer’s phenomenological awakening in art to American Minimalism of the mid 1960’s, it was in fact through his discussion of Anthony Caro’s sculpture made from 1960 and exhibited at the Whitechapel Gallery in London in 1963, that the art historian Michael Fried was first to include one’s locomotive relation as an aspect of the art (see slide 2). Here, as Michael Fried tells us, ‘the three-dimensionality of sculpture corresponds to the phenomenological framework in which we exist, move, perceive, experience, and communicate with others’. (2)Michael Fried, ‘Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews’, University of Chicago Press, Chicago and London, 1998, p. 274.

It is nonetheless within this ‘correspondence’ that we find a difference between the pedestal-less art of Anthony Caro and Donald Judd. While both engage the ‘coordinate’ of a third-dimension that ‘art has to share with non-art’, as the American art critic Clement Greenberg was wont to describe it, (3)Clement Greenberg, ‘Recentness of Sculpture’, in ‘Minimal Art: A Critical Anthology’, ed. Gregory Battcock, University of California Press, New York, 1968, p. 183. the abstracted imagery of Anthony Caro’s sculpture separates it from non-art to make it visible as art.

More heightened now than before, we can see this imagery in Anthony Caro’s main piece exhibited in Sculpture by the Sea, which reportedly centres ‘on an anchor that forms a nose and mouth’. Donald Judd’s three-dimensional pieces, on the other hand, struggle with invisibility for lacking imagery.

In lacking imagery, Clement Greenberg tells us, ‘Minimal works are readable as art, as almost anything is today — including a door, a table, or a blank sheet of paper’. (4)ibid. This is to say there is no intrinsic difference between a work of Minimal art and a utilitarian object alongside it, except we call the first art. The figurative correlations within Anthony Caro’s sculpture, on the other hand, segregate it from the space of the everyday by raising it off the floor and into a symbolic representational space — whether placed directly on the floor, pedestal-less, or not.

It is, however, only by lacking representational space that Donald Judd’s pedestal-less art open an entirely different and new aesthetic space that Anthony Caro’s, for instance, cannot.

It is the creation of this aesthetic space, it seems to me, that is the true revolution in 1960’s art. Its creation differentiates Donald Judd’s art from the space we walk through, while made from the space we walk through. (5)see Roberta Smith, ‘Donald Judd’, in ‘Donald Judd : A Catalogue of the Exhibition at the National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 24 May-6 July, 1975’, ed. Brydon Smith, National Gallery of Canada, Ottawa, 1975, p. 30. It leaves behind the art of illusion to introduce, instead, the art of noticing.

Within these terms, then, one is right to say Donald Judd was first to make pedestal-less three-dimensional art; an art threatened by invisibility for being so.

This raises the question: What happens to this new aesthetic space when a museum places a piece by Donald Judd on a pedestal? The answer: the pedestal destroys it. Not until the incident at the Tate Modern nearly ten years ago, however, could we have seen how.

In Untitled 1964 (RSS46 – see slide 1), what we see is space made solid. This will sound odd, since the very definition of space is the opposite of solid — as something non-solid. Nevertheless, the movement between opposites in Donald Judd’s art materialises space; it makes space a something rather than a nothing. As Donald Judd has written:

[W]hat is needed is a created space, space made by someone, space that is formed as is a solid, the two the same, with the space and the solid defining each other. (6)Donald Judd, ‘On Russian Art and Its Relation to My Work’, in ‘Complete Writings 1975-1986’, Van Abbemuseum, Eindhoven, 1987, p.17.

Untitled 1964 (RSS46) is a solid rectilinear volume with a non-solid semicircular trough running on top and to one side. Without the pedestal (see slide 3), it creates a spatial opposite, in reverse, above. As if by reflex, the non-solid semicircular trough becomes solid (see slide 4). This is not an illusion, but reason’s spontaneous movement harnessed by Donald Judd to materialise space.

By placing Untitled 1964 (RSS46) on a pedestal, the spatial volume above disappears, as does the length of semicircular solid space that it defines. In its place, a surrounding space cloaks the artwork’s volume on all four sides, as defined by the pedestal (see slide 5). Albeit a space, it is not a space created by Donald Judd. It is not a space made solid through reason’s movement. It is a space to be looked through, not at.

Seemingly frustrated by our inability to see the space he created, in a text printed posthumously Donald Judd wrote:

There has been almost no discussion of space in art, nor in the present. The most important and developed aspect of present art is unknown. This concern, my main concern, has no history. There is no context; there are no terms; there are not any theories. There is only the visible work invisible. (7)Donald Judd, ‘Some aspects of color in general and red and black in particular’, Artforum International. vol 32 n10 (Summer 1994). p. 70.

While much has changed due, in large, to writing by art historian Richard Shiff that concentrates on Donald Judd’s ‘space’, and while the passage by Donald Judd quoted above is reprinted in the Tate’s exhibition catalogue, it goes to show that still, today, this passage has not been quoted enough.

(This is the final of a three part text, first published 13/06/2011.)

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