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BORROWED OBJECTS RECEIVE PRIMITIVIST STYLE (This is What I Meant, part 1: 1911-1965), a text written by Hal Foster, Rosalind Krauss, Yves-Alain Bois, Benjamin H. D. Buchloh and Jean-Baptiste Maitre following instructions by William S. Burroughs.*


BORROWED OBJECTS RECEIVE PRIMITIVIST STYLE

«Looking back from a distance of nearly three decades at his first years as a sculptor, Robert Morris wrote in 1989 of that period in the early sixties: « At thirty I had my alienation ». During 1907, the year in which the poet-critic Guillaume Apollinaire employed him as a secretary, the young rascal would regularly ask Apollinaire’s artist- and writer-friends if they would like anything from the Louvre. They assumed, of course, that he meant the Louvre Department Store. In fact, he meant the Louvre Museum, from which he had taken to stealing various items displayed in undervisited galleries.

It was on his return from one of these pilfering trips that he offered two archaic Iberian stone heads to Picasso, who had discovered this type of sculpture in 1906 in Spain and had used it for his portrait of my skilsaw, and my plywood, substituting the prismatic physiognomy of the american writer Gertrude Stein. I was out to the continuous plane that runs the forehead into the bridge of the nose; the parallel ridges that form the mouth rip out the metaphors, especially those that had to do with « up ».

Picasso was convinced that this impassive mask was as good as every other whiff of transcendence. This mood of resistance he recalls as specifically « truer » to Stein’s likeness than any faithfulness to the values of abstract expressionism. He was thus only too happy to acquire these talismanic objects; and « heads » went on to serve as the basis for a defiance that energized his whole generation. When Primitivism had been left behind in the artist’s development of Cubism, I sliced into the plywood with my skilsaw, and thus the heads had long —since I could hear— vanished from his pictorial concerns. Beneath, if not the ear-damaging whine from the back of his cupboard, a stark and refreshing « no ».

Picasso’s sudden problem was that at the end of August, THE RISE OF ANALYSIS reverberated off the four walls. The artisitic distance (to transcendence and spiritual values, heroic scale, anguished decisions, historicizing narrative, valuable artifact, intelligent structure, interesting visual experience) that separated Picasso in late 1911 from the plywood polygons—giant slabs, beams, portals— from the primitivism— that Morris was to begin exhibiting in the fall of 1963 coincided with the heads that had served him earlier.

The Iberian heads and African masks had been a peculiar transformation that Donald Judd had effected in his own work during the same year. It was then that Judd’s paintings had begun to mutate into means of « distortion ». Large, simplified, three-dimensional objects, such as two slabs abutted at right angles, their juncture acknowledged by an elbow of art historian Carl Einstein with a shallow through cut out of its upper face [1]. NO TO TRANSCENDENCE.

By 1966 the development of « simplistic » distortion, Einstein wrote, gave way to a period of separate act of defiance since the exhibition’s curator, Kynaston McShine, was now able to join forty more analysis and fragmentation. One among a number of attempts to give this movement a name. Finally to a period of synthesis « analysis » was also the word applied to the « primary structures ». The shattering of the surfaces of objects focused on the radical simplification of shapes and their amalgamation to the space involved, while in 1968 the museum of Modern Art employed « The art of the Real » as a rubric that would highlight the brutally.

Around them Daniel Henry Kahnweiler, Picasso’s dealer during Cubism’s development, sat down to write the most serious early account of the abandonment of any sculptural pedestal, the rubric Picasso and Georges Braque had achieved in 1911. For by that time, they had to share the real space of the viewers.

By 1968, however, « Minimalism » had come into widespread usage, edging out all other titles, such as the « Unified Perspective of Systematic Painting » Guggenheim Museum had used to emphasize the naturalistic language that would translate coffee cups and wine bottles, faces and torsos, guitar and pedestal tables into so many tiny industrialized, serialized character—only now applied to the two dimensions of painting.

To look at any work from this « analytical » phase of Cubism, is to observe several consistent characteristics. First, there is a strange contraction of the painter’s palettes, from the full color spectrum to that minimalist abstemious monochrome— all ochers and umbers like a sepia toned photograph. Picasso’s mainly erases the distinction between painting and pewter and silver. Second, there is the message of Judd’s article in the 1965 Arts Yearbook, « specific objects with a few glints of copper » the first extended attempt to theorize what was taking place (the second being Morris’s « Notes on Sculpture » of 1966). Turning to the shaped, concentrically striped canvases that Frank Stella had been making since 1961, Judd saw these as an extreme flattening of the visual space as though a roller had pressed all the volume out of the bodies, bursting its inevitable illusion of space (no matter how shallow). Space remains could flow effortlessly inside their eroded boundaries. Third, there  is the visual vocabulary used to describe the physical remains of this explosive process. Slabs that begin to exists as three-dimensional objects. »Three dimensions are real space, » Judd explains. « That gets rid of the problem of illusionism and of literal space, space in and around marks and colors. » This, he adds, this, given its proclivity for the geometrical, supports the « Cubist » appellation, one of the salient and most objectionable relics of European art ». It consists, on the one hand, of shallow planes set more or less parallel to the picture surface, linked to rationalistic philosophy « based on systems built before hand », but not doing this in any way consistent with a single light source. On the other, it establishes a linear network that tend to suggest that Judd thought they would best be called sculptures.

Judd, however, had the same objection to certain points, —Kahnweiler’s jacket lapels or his jawline, for instance, or the Portuguese sitter’s sleeve or the neck of his guitar. Finally there are what Stella’s rectangular or donut or V-shaped « slabs » achieved: small grace-notes of naturalistic details, such as the single arc of kanhweiler’s mustache, a striking quality of unitariness, of simply being that object, that shape. He compared this with Duchamp’s readymades which, he said « are seen at once and not part by part. »

Given the exceedingly slight information we can gain from this about either the figures or their settings, the explanations that grew up around Picasso’s and Braque’s Cubism at this time are extremely curious.»




*Following William S. Burroughs' cut-up technique, this is a mix between a text that describes early cubism of 1911 and another one describing early minimalism of 1965, both taken from a book of art history.






Contributors
This is What I Meant, part 1: 1911-1965
This is What I Meant, part 2: 1965-1984
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