Monday, January 31, 2011

Daniel Buren

Daniel Buren's vertical bands of alternately white and coloured stripes have no internal composition, no painterly texture, no referential content or emotional impact, attempting a neutrality without intrinsic interest.

Conceived as 'a proposition', the stripes intervene in different locations, drawing attention to the location as public or private or institutional space, re-inscribed by the intervention.

To be successful in this revelatory purpose, the installation of the stripes should have a certain awkwardness, avoiding the suggestion of the ambient wallpaper they often resemble. A surprising, accidental or disturbing relation to their location, an intrusive quality, seems essential to their critical or indicative purpose.

Since the invention of the stripes in 1967, Buren's work has resolutely refused to develop.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

Alan Charlton

"I want my paintings to be abstract, direct, urban, basic, modest, pure, simple, silent, honest, absolute."

A few basic rules have generated Alan Charlton's entire work for nearly four decades. All the paintings must be grey, a different grey for each painting: the dimensions must be multiples of 4.5cm, which is the depth of the support.

A third rule is that paintings must be installed. Although paintings are always made with a particular space in mind, they can be moved to other locations on the understanding that they will be properly installed in this new space, rather than simply hung: in other words, they must have a considered relation to the whole space in which they are placed.

Having a cool, dramatic or sometimes aggressive presence, Charlton's paintings are more amenable on closer inspection. The paint is brushed in lightly and evenly to emphasise the texture of the canvas, making them subtly responsive to light. A combination of conceptual clarity and painterly handling gives each painting an impressive range, from confrontation to tactile intimacy.

Although generated by a system, the success of any painting is not guaranteed. Each painting is new to its occasion and situation, so that Charlton can speak truthfully in the singular; "I am an artist who makes a grey painting."

Tuesday, January 25, 2011

I Am Still Alive

When you hear one day that an old friend has died, you are glad that his work remains, but you are sorry too. The work is no substitute. The person's stature as an artist is not good enough. You want to have more of the same. You need to expect more date paintings. You need to know your friend is still alive.

structuring your time

How do you play your cards? How do you structure a life's work? These artists have imposed their own rules on what future form their art will take. And they have lived within these terms. They have made a decision, and then remained true to it. Put like this, it sounds like a vow, and, in a way, it is. They have made a promise to themselves to restrict their curiosity.

The strengths grow clearer over time. Increased consistency equals greater sense of authenticity. Quality is guaranteed. It absolves the art of being judged by this year's fashionable critical criteria. The reviewers are preempted.

But initially, the self-imposed rule might seem rash, or even eccentric. It might involve turning your back on current art-world trends, and committing to a path that could seem at the time to be antagonistic to having an 'art career'. It might involve deciding that current art world debates are simply not pertinent to your investment.

An observer might think that what started out as a game of poker has turned out to be nothing but solitaire. But to the player, this solitaire is as risky as any game of poker.  


Monday, January 24, 2011

On Kawara

Lining each cardboard box that holds an On Kawara date painting is a copy of that day's local newspaper. It is information that may be unpacked with the unpacking of the painting itself. Behind the abstraction of the date, there is a seething of events.

A room of these paintings can be very beautiful, a narrow range of colours and sizes changing occasionally across the years. But appreciation of their minimal aesthetic is soon drowned out in a bubbling up of content once individual dates are recognised and begin to yield their store of private and public memories and associations. Quite as much as the artist, we are contemporary with these paintings, living along with them. The dates are triggers, sharply particular in significance or carrying a more muted sense of a cultural era.

Kawara's abandoned 'I am still alive' series may be subsumed into the date paintings, but in a more sombre tone. While the telegrams registered surprise or cheery persistence, in the paintings Kawara is a survivor and a witness.

Yet whatever is happening in the news, outside the artist's control,  commitment to the act of painting is constant. Most days of any year since he began this series in 1966, On Kawara has been at work, preparing a canvas, mixing paint, laying out the letters and numbers of the date, maintaining a practice through the flux of events.

Friday, January 21, 2011


Begining in the 1960s, a number of separate artists, for quite different reasons, took the decision to repeat a single practice, or to make one ongoing piece, throughout their working lives.

Since 1965, Roman Opalka has made paintings, in increasingly lighter shades of grey, of the numbers from one to infinity. On Kawara's Today series, grey paintings showing the date of their manufacture, has continued since 1966. In 1998, Emese Benczur began to sew the same phrase onto reels of embroidered tape, a practice she will continue for the rest of her life.

These practices challenge both the present assumption that artists will make radically different work at different moments in their careers and an earlier model of personal and artistic development over the course of time. The work of the artists presented here does not change, develop or mature.

In their different ways, the 'truth' that Mondrian speaks of is more at stake for these artists than style, reputation, prevailing fashion, external events or current debate. Against change, critical reception or personal inclination, they seek to be true to a project or an idea. In keeping a distance from contemporary events, the vagaries of the self, or everyday incident and distraction, they implicitly or explicitly question the relevance of these issues to the making of art.

The Single Road will explore the implications of this attitude and commitment.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

introduction 2

If I remember correctly, this project had its beginnings in a conversation with Tom and Laurie in the summer of 2009. At the time I was revising the introduction of my book on Carl Andre, and I was warming up to the idea of adding in a paragraph on how you might describe his 'development' as an artist. My editor had said I needed to bring up the subject, but I was putting it off. But in my mind 'development' has to go in inverted commas, because there is a strong argument to be made that once Andre figured out the type of work which he wanted to make, and set up the parameters, he stuck to it. Clearly there have been variations in material and appearance, but these don't really mark sequential change. So, the 'Equivalents', installed first at Tibor de Nagy, NYC, in 1966:

could easily be described in the same terms as this series of sculptures from Sadie Coles HQ in London from 2004:

The big issue for me was what you make of this seeming absence of development. There is a temptation to say - 'actually there's a lot of variation if you start looking properly'. And of course there is. But in my mind this was skirting round the bigger issue, and that's the profound prejudice among art critics and art historians against the idea that there is any virtue in an artist not showing evident signs of progression. We are obsessed by seeing artists in terms of life stages, and words like 'juvenilia', 'maturity', 'experience', 'late period', etc. get used all the time. That's meant to be good. If an artist does the same sort of thing throughout their life, their work is seen as 'stuck in a rut', 'repetitive', or, worst of all, 'solipsistic'. 

The literature on the issue isn't that substantial, although Rosalind Krauss does raise the question in her essay on 'grids', and Jeremy Gilbert-Rolfe does discuss briefly these questions in relation to Andre in an Artforum review from about 1974.

Tom helpfully reminded me that it might be useful to think more historically, and consider all the artists of that generation who didn't invest in the idea that an art practice had to develop. We spent the next half hour putting together a list - Daniel Buren, Alan Charlton, On Kawara, and so on. There seemed to be quite a few. And all of them are of the same generation (more or less). So was there a precedent? Mondrian? Albers' long, extended series of Homages to the Square? Or Reinhardt's Black Paintings, which he began in 1960? Seen in this company, Andre - plus the other Minimalists - don't look quite so strange. 

On the basis of this chat, I went away and typed out a paragraph or two for the book. 

It was several months later when Tom proposed that perhaps we should make more of this group of artists. Why not think about all of them collectively? Such a position might have been popular at one moment, but what had happened to that ideal? And were there still artists out there who were committing themselves to one single project they aimed to continue all their life? 

These seemed like worthwhile questions, and so this is why we want to set out to chart 'the single road'.