The Seduction of Selection: “Things I Can’t Live Without”, the Vanmoerkerke Collection
IN RESPONSE TO THE EMOTIVE AND IMPASSIONED LEGACY OF THE ABSTRACT EXPRESSIONIST MOVEMENT, ARTISTS OF THE SEVENTIES RESPONDED WITH AN AESTHETIC WE NOW TERM “MINIMALISM”. THESE ARTISTS, THAT INCLUDE SUCH LUMINARIES AS ROBERT RYMAN AND AGNES MARTIN, REJECTED THE SUBJECTIVITY OF THE ABEX GESTURE AND ITS CONTROLLED SPONTANEITY IN FAVOR OF IMPERSONALITY, SIMPLIFICATION OF FORM AND PALETTE, OFTEN ADOPTING MASSIVE INDUSTRIALLY PRODUCED MATERIALS FOR SCULPTURE.
IN THE VANMOERKERKE COLLECTION ESTABLISHED IN 1998, THANKS TO JASON YSENBURG’S THOUGHTFUL SELECTION OF WORKS FROM ITS VAST HOLDINGS, MINIMALISM REVERBERATES STRONGLY WITH MARK VANMOERKERKE AS DETAILED IN JASON’S EXCEPTIONAL EXHIBITION AND ACCOMPANYING ESSAY, “THINGS I CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT”, CURRENTLY ON VIEW IN OSTEND, BELGIUM. http://www.artcollection.be
MARK VANMOERKERKE HAS AN ADMIRABLE SENSE OF THE RESPONSIBILITY OF A COLLECTOR. HIS CUSTODIAL VIEW HAD INSPIRED HIM TO INVITE CURATORS TO ORGANIZE EXHIBITIONS FROM HIS PRIVATE COLLECTION AND TO SHARE THE WORK WITH THE PUBLIC. EVERY SIX MONTHS, VANMOERKERKE SELECTS A CURATOR AND GIVES THEM CARTE BLANCHE. IN AN INTERVIEW IN 2011 WITH INITIATE MAGAZINE, HE SAYS, “WHEN YOU INVITE A CURATOR…YOU WALK AROUND WHILE HE’S HANGING THE SHOW, YOU DISCUSS IT WITH HIM, YOU ASK HIM QUESTIONS, AND THAT’S HOW I LEARN. THEY INFLUENCE ME, THEY MOTIVATE ME, AND THEY MAKE ME BETTER…..MY OBLIGATIONS AS A COLLECTOR ARE TO PAY FOR THEM (THE ART WORKS), TO CONSERVE THEM, TO SHOW THEM, TO SHARE THEM. THAT’S WHY I DO THE PUBLIC SHOWS AND I ALWAYS HAVE AROUND 50 PIECES ON LOAN. WE ALSO TRY TO SET UP A YEARLY SCHOLARSHIP FOR RESEARCHERS ON CONSERVATION AND COLLECTION“.
IN BUILDING ONE, THE WORKS THAT JASON HAS CULLED ARE “MAXIMALIST” IN SPIRIT, RICH IN VISUAL LANGUAGE, INTENSITY AND COMPLEXITY. IN CONTRAST, THE WORKS IN BUILDING TWO FOCUS ON THE CEREBRAL AND THE RESTRAINED.
Building Two: The Seduction of Selection
Presence and Absence
Jules Olitski’s painting, “First Love – 9”, seduces with whiteness. Almost. At the same time, the viewer can’t help but be drawn to the colour around the margins. While whiteness overwhelms the centre of the image, colour starts to creep into view at the edges of the frame. The desire becomes conflicted. If we take the title seriously, is our first love “whiteness” or is it marginal colour? As viewers in search of perfection, we are suddenly caught between the purity of whiteness and the possibility of that attraction is being compromised by the introduction of colour. As a result, Olitski’s image questions our loyalty to a particular desire for perfection. We desire the purity of whiteness, at the same time that our gaze is also drawn to the edge, titillated by the possibility of colour.
Rosemarie Trockel’s four-part, white knitted wool on canvas object offers a different perspective on the limited colour palate. Her white palate focuses our attention on the subtle textural changes within the work, where shade, resulting from the knitted surface undulations, creates the only relief from the creamy whiteness of the yarn. The micro focus on the subtle changes of surface variation is desirable and captivating, at the same that it seems to disrupt the perfection of the white surface.
In contrast to Olitsky and Trockel, Rudolf Stingel’s minimalism has an air of irony. There is an inescapable tongue in check quality in his work. Stingel flattens out the represented object, turning the chain link fence, for instance, into a one- dimensional pattern. However, rather than asking the viewer to concede the profundity of this insight, the banal object, the mass produced ubiquitous chain link fence, seems almost unworthy of such careful, close study. Once again, the perfection of the object becomes questionable. Have we been disingenuously lured into a lengthy contemplation of an object that has very little to say? The artist just may be laughing at us; the joke may be on the viewer.
Depth and the minimal surface
Gerhard Richter makes the viewer question the depth of the surface. In “Cut 896-6”, using a small surface area and a limited colour palate, Richter achieves a visual tension between the layers of paint that support the shrinking surface. The result is that the more minimal the surface, the more we question its depth. We wonder what lies hidden beneath the surface. Richter constructs, even in the tiniest canvas, the unresolvable lure of the palimpsest.
Jacob Kassay, by contrast, attempts to minimize both surface depth and content within the frame. He removes so much content from the work of art that it becomes almost vapid. Kassay’s work is a sort of minimalist take on Parreno’s “Speech Bubbles (Gold)”. The attraction lies precisely in the fact that the work is made of silver, even if it offers little else than the shinny appeal of a precious metal.
Christopher Wool creates a layering of surfaces using a complex play of materials, mixing media in unexpected ways: enamel on linen in one instance, acrylic and oil on aluminium, in the other. Wool’s layering effect is much thinner than Richter’s, with Wool trying to achieve the maximum number of physical layers with the most minimum of depth. But Wool adds yet another layer of sorts: conceptual questioning also sits uncomfortably on the surface of his work. For instance, does “Untitled (P563)” represent a graffiti tag that needs decoding, or is it pure graphic abstraction? Is “All that Jazz” an abstracted mood piece, or is it a clichéd image composed of “all that jazz” of minimalism?
IN OUR NEXT LRFA BLOG, JASON YSENBURG EXPLORES THE FUTURE OF THE COLLECTION AND THE DYNAMIC BETWEEN ITS MINIMALIST AND MAXIMALIST SENSIBILITIES.