Friday, March 2, 2012

Writing About Abstract Painting

Art critic and curator Bob Nickas, who visits on March 26, talks about the meaning of contemporary abstract painting in Art in America:

PENN: What is it about abstract painting that compels you to write about it today?

NICKAS: Ad Reinhardt once said that it's more difficult to write about abstract painting than any other kind of painting because it's content is not in its subject matter but in the actual painting activity. I agree, but you have to keep in mind that he wrote this in 1943. Abstract painting today often has a subject beyond itself. When Wayne Gonzales makes a painting that, seen up close, is a proliferation of overlaid gray dots and ovals, but from a distance coheres as an aerial view of the Pentagon, he offers an image of power and the war. When Steven Parrino mis-stretches a large expanse of metallic silver canvas and titles it Death in America, he's not simply offering the world another shiny monochrome. This is a work that reminds us of abstraction's privileged relation to language. The very same painting, given a neutral title, or untitled, is simply not the same painting. Reinhardt's text posits abstraction against illustration. To my mind, there is absolutely nothing compelling about illustration. We all make our choices.

Read the 2009 interview in Art in America magazine.