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Notes on abstraction

In preparation for the upcoming summer studio visits, please spend some time with a few notes on abstraction by New York Magazine writer, Jerry Saltz. When asked the question, is abstract art for real?, Saltz emphatically responded with The Jerry Saltz Abstract Manifesto, posted below. Enjoy.

Dear ______,

You are not alone. I too have heretical thoughts like yours. It can also take 30 years to understand why an all-white painting by Robert Ryman or a pencil grid on canvas by Agnes Martin is art.

I can’t tell you what abstraction is, but I can tell you a number of things that I think that it allows artists to do. What I say about abstract art could also be applied to representational art. With that in mind here’s “The Jerry Saltz Abstract Manifesto, in Twenty Parts.”

1. Abstraction is one of the greatest visionary tools ever invented by human beings to imagine, decipher, and depict the world.

2. Abstraction is staggeringly radical, circumvents language, and sidesteps naming or mere description. It disenchants, re-enchants, detoxifies, destabilizes, resists closure, slows perception, and increases our grasp of the world.

3. Abstraction not only explores consciousness — it changes it.

4. All art is abstract. A painting of a person or a still-life is a two-dimensional representation of three-dimensional reality and therefore infinitely abstract. Whenever an artist sets out to make something it turns into something else that he or she could never have imagined or predicted.

5. Think of an abstract painting as very, very low relief — a thing, not a picture.

6. Abstraction exists in the interstices between the ideal and the real, symbol and substance, the optic and the haptic, imagination and observation.

7. Abstraction brings the world into more complex, variable relations; it can extract beauty, alternative topographies, ugliness, and intense actualities from seeming nothingness.

8. Abstraction, like ideas, intuitions, feelings, and life, is not mimetic.

9. Abstraction is as old as we are. It has existed for millennia outside the West. It is present on cave walls, in Egyptian and Cypriot Greek art, Chinese scholar rocks, all Islamic and Jewish art — both of which forbid representation. Abstraction is only new in the West.

10. Abstraction gained ground in Western art after centuries of more perfected systems of representation. By the mid-nineteenth century, representation felt like a trap, and seemed empty, false, or limiting. A similar situation existed in the early aughts, after artists of the nineties re-deployed realisms in numerous ways. The field appeared closed off for younger artists. That’s why contemporary artists have not only begun to reexplore the possibilities of abstraction, they’re shedding much of the Greenbergian cant and academic-formalist dogma that attached themselves to it over the last 50 years. Abstraction is breaking free again.

11. Abstraction offers ways around what Beckett called “the neatness of identification.”

12. Rothko’s glowing floating rectangles of color are more than abstract patterns. They are Buddhist TVs or what Keats called “good oblivion. One sees what nothing looks like in them. They make you ask, “What light through yonder painting breaks?” (Now do you see how full emptiness and abstraction can be?)

13. Abstraction is just a tool. It is no less “real” than philosophy or music.

14. Abstraction is something outside of life that allows us to be present at our own absence or alternatively absent in our own presence.

15. Abstraction creates patterns of meaning and its own extremely flexible intricate syntax. It is astral synthesis.

16. Abstraction teeters on making empty gestures while also making deep statements.

17. The camera was supposed to supplant painting but didn’t. Instead, painting — ever the sponge, always elastic — absorbed it and discovered new realms.

18. Abstraction may speak in a sort of intra-species visual-electronic-chemical-pheromonal code, creating optical-cerebral networks and wormholes, organic maps of unknown yet familiar territories, may have a kind of plant intelligence that allows it to grow, proliferate, flower, change directions, and survive relentless aesthetic predation from a lay public.

19. Abstraction contains multitudes.

20. I’ve left out No. 20, because I want to hear your opinion: What else does abstraction do that’s special? Comments are open below…

To follow the original article, click HERE

-Audra Wolowiec


Yuka Otani – Studio Visit – May 31st, 2011

Studio Visit: Yuka Otani
Date: Tuesday, May 31st

Yuka Otani

Yuka Otani

Studio Discussion Synopsis:

During her studio visit Yuka Otani presented the preliminary work for two upcoming projects.

The first project, a continuation of her investigation of sugar glass, departs from her prior vessel work. In this project, Yuka has teamed up with Papabubble Specialty Confectionary to produce shards of crystal clear sugar-glass. Visually this candy convincingly resembles broken glass but is strawberry flavored and edible. Yuka uses this project to challenge her viewer to experience glass in a way apart from the typical sensory experience.  Instead of relying only on your eyes or hands the viewer must use their mouth and taste buds to fully experience this glass.

The sugar glass is sharp and potentially dangerous for the consumer. The group discussed what it means to invite an audience to eat glass and the various connotations of the plastic zip-top bag packaging for the sugar-glass shards. While Yuka primarily intends the packaging to be minimal and non-invasive, some participants felt the bags were in common with the packaging of illicit drugs and the typeface related to high-end cosmetics. The viewer/consumer experience may change dramatically based on the context and presentation of the sugar-glass, each with its own challenges and boons. The shards may appear as a generous artistic offering presented in a take-away pile in a museum or gallery context, or priced per each as a high-end confection at a specialty store or featured as a clever design object at a contemporary design retailer. In an upcoming exhibition of glass artists, Yuka will be offering the sugar-glass shards to exhibit goers as a performative sculpture.

Presentation was discussed as a way to promote personal experience.

Yuka is interested in designing ephemera that will connect the audience with the sensual experience of her artwork.

The other project Yuka is involved with is in its preliminary stages, but will also utilize ephemera to discuss and promote a personal experience. She has an upcoming residency at Watarase Art Project in Japan near the site of the Ashio copper mining disaster, which resulted in the acidification of an adjacent river. While in residence, Yuka plans to discuss with local residents their experiences with the polluted river and with water in general. Some of the anecdotal information that she gathers may be integrated as text into postcards that will be offered to the patrons of the Watarase Art Project exhibition space. The group discussed the appearance and presentation of the project as well as a new text work relating to Hōjōki or “The Ten Foot Square Hut” written in 1212 by Kamo no Chōmei. “The Ten Foot Square Hut” describes disasters that befall the residents of Kyoto in the middle ages paired with an intimate description of a personal dwelling. This text seems to be a framework for Yuka to engage the personal of her audience experience within a conversation on disaster.

-Amanda Lechner

Discussion Links:

Ronni Horn

Lee Ming Wei

Marfa, TX

The Enduring Allure Of Chanel No. 5

Addendum: Yuka Otani at Papabubble

image courtesy of Yuka Otani

Meghan Gordon – Studio Visit – April 23rd, 2011

Studio Visit – Meghan Gordon

Date: Saturday, April 23rd, 2011

Location: Bronx, NY
Wave Hill –  Sunroom Project Space

Wave Hill Press Release for Gordon’s installation “Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh would have liked to explore the Palisades”

Meghan Gordon investigates the merits of the cultural institution as an authoritative source for retelling the past. Gordon’s newest project, created during her Winter Workspace Residency, merges marginal fragments of Wave Hill history and reconfigures them through the lens of narrative projection. The crux of Gordon’s Sunroom Project is the artist and explorer Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh (1853-1935), who, at age 17, joined Major John Wesley Powell’s second expedition through the last uncharted segment of the Colorado River. As the expedition’s artist, Dellenbaugh made a continuous drawing of the river’s left bank and helped prepare the first map of the Grand Canyon. Gordon first learned of the artist/explorer while researching the mural in Wave Hill’s Ecology Building, which has been attributed to Dellenbaugh.*

While naming unknown landforms to be mapped, Dellenbaugh proclaimed that one butte resembled an art gallery, an anecdote that inspired Gordon to create a butte art gallery within the gallery. The interior of this structure recalls the defunct, underground tunnel connecting Wave Hill’s Glyndor House to the Ecology Building. Gordon has installed paper tiles that mimic the Guastavino tiles that once lined the tunnel, suggesting the physical connection between the gallery and the mural, the notion of lost or missing history and the institutional desire to fill in the gaps. The structure also houses a video that partially retells Dellenbaugh’s adventure in which Gordon assumes the role of Edith, a misguided tour guide who uses the Hudson River as an inadequate substitute for the Colorado. On the walls of the Sunroom is Gordon’s recreation of period wallpaper, c. 1865. The painted vignettes are free-hand interpretations of Dellenbaugh’s drawings, which contrast the rigidity of the wallpaper’s pattern highlighting the containment of the wilderness and acknowledges the creation of a mediated view of nature.

Born in New York City, Gordon is a graduate of Rhode Island School of Design. She has been awarded numerous residencies, including Art342 in Fort Collins, CO; the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, NH; the Seven Below Arts Initiative in Burlington, VT; the Kimmel Harding Nelson Center in Nebraska City, NE; and has twice been a Fellow at the Fine Arts Work Center in Provincetown, MA. Gordon is currently a Dieu Donné Workspace Program Artist, a Lower Manhattan Cultural Council Workspace Resident and a New York Foundation for the Arts Fellow. Gordon thanks Richard Maurer for invaluable contributions, as well as the Lower Manhattan Cultural Council, Materials for the Arts and the New York Foundation for the Arts for their support.

*The unsigned mural was attributed to Dellenbaugh by William Stiles (1912–80), former curator of the Museum of the American Indian, who analyzed the mural and identified its scenes of Native American life. However, descendants of George W. Perkins, who commissioned the mural in 1909, believe that it was painted by Howard McCormick (1875–1943).

Organized by Assistant Curator Gabriel de Guzman, the Sunroom Project Space provides an opportunity for New York’s emerging artists to develop a special project or create a new body of work to exhibit in a solo show.

Meghan Gordan, Rachel Frank

Meghan Gordon, Abby Merrick

Exhibition Discussion Synopsis:

The background information for Meghan Gordon’s project at Wave Hill is best stated above.

In her work, Meghan Gordon investigates history, trust, interpretation and presentation. She is drawn to the awkwardness of incorrect theses and failures in history.

The piece at Wave Hill fills their sunroom space. Covering the walls of the room, Meghan has fashioned hand-painted wallpaper featuring renditions of Frederick Samuel Dellenbaugh’s sketches of the Colorado River banks. She has also built a painted structure out of paper, paper pulp and cardboard in the center of the room which visually references one of the buttes recorded in Dellenbaugh’s log; he referred to it as an “art gallery”. Inside the “art gallery” the viewer finds Guastavino tiles made of paper overhead referring to the structural tiles that line a now defunct underground tunnel that leads to the Wave Hill building housing a mural that was attributed* to Dellenbaugh. Also in the butte is a video that documents “Edith” an ardent yet somewhat inept docent and bewigged alter ego of artist Meghan Gordon. Edith incongruently presents the Hudson River as a proxy for the Colorado in this video tour of the Powel expedition. This video serves as a simultaneous mouthpiece and veil for Dellenbaugh’s experience as presented though quotes from text on the Powell exhibition. Edith’s monologue provides a narrative grounding of background information, through artifice of situation and production quality, while effectively obscuring the information and adding moments of deadpan humor.

Meghan discussed her material choice of paper and cardboard as a lesson in impermanence. As her background is in painting, Meghan often approaches her work with a 2D mindset to make 3D pieces. Her investigation of historical subject matter and objects began with a series of paintings of the contents of museum period rooms and other personally notable interiors. This work led her to other researched projects where she replicated paper objects lost to history and created a period room with a borrowed narrative.

Her current project is more of an interpretation of research than a re-assembly of the documented. The group discussed the role of the historian and the role of the artist.  By trying on both roles in this project Meghan has employed the different liberties allotted to the historian and artist respectively. So far in her projects she has been hesitant to use text or provide “the official say” on an event, time or object. She prefers the role of the interpreter or re-interpreter of history rather than the purveyor. Meghan is interested in the different ways in which the public engages the historical framework and the art space. On many levels her work is made as an institutional critique of the authority of information as a given. Her approach is meant to be at once critical of herself as an artist, Dellenbaugh as a recorder, historians, critics and the audience, citing that viewers are responsible for considering information presented to them. In this project however, Meghan does not force factual awareness by misleading the audience, but instead molds the way images and anecdotes are rendered and viewed. The group compared the differences between the performative aspects of this project to the making of objects and environments and the way that the viewer interacts with each aspect.

-Amanda Lechner

Discussion Links:

Coco Fusco and Guillermo Gomez-Peña. Undiscovered Amerindians

Mark Dion : Travels of William Bartram Reconsidered

Andrea Fraser Museum Highlights: A Gallery Talk

Andrea Fraser

The Conditional Mosque – Gallery Visit

The Conditional Mosque
Janus Project
6023 9th Ave.
Brooklyn, NY 11220
January 2 – 29, 2011
Closing Reception: Friday, January 28th from 7 – 11pm

The Conditional Mosque is the third exhibition at Janus Project, a new experimental project space in Bay Ridge, Brooklyn. Featuring a range of work by emerging artists Haseeb Ahmed, Azra Akasimja, Azin Feizabadi and Em Meine, the show initiates a discussion about the mosque as a cultural and symbolic icon: By bracketing out all but form, a religious object is no longer strictly religious as such. The aestheticization of religious form has the ability to liquidate it entirely, but also open it up to a multitude of new interpretations.

Detail of painting by Em Meine

Installation by Haseeb Ahmed

Detail of installation by Haseeb Ahmed


The exhibition space, previously inhabited as a family dwelling, occupies two floors of a large house with converted living spaces above. The hybrid architectural styles and domestic setting lend layered readings of the work that temporarily coexists within its walls. Founder and curator Chris Mansour (also a contributor at Platypus and 491) talks about the space in an excerpt from the website:

This place has existed before, but it has not always, nor will it. Through the depths of the earth beneath this space’s foundation all the way up to the limits of the sky above its roof, resides the residue of what once was—what was once lived, thought, and experienced, stretching back till time immemorial. This very moment yields the potential of experiencing the perspective of Janus, reinventing both the past once lived, and the future to come.

The exhibition is open by appointment through the end of January and a closing reception will be held Friday, January 28th from 7 – 11pm.

-Audra Wolowiec

Ricardo del Pozo – Studio Visit – November 15th, 2010

-Studio Visit- Ricardo del Pozo
Date: Monday, November 15th, 2010,
Location: North Williamsburg, Brooklyn NY


We see to what extent music is everywhere steeped in time: (a) time in the form of impalpable flux or (b) time in its frozen form, outside time, made possible by memory. Time is the blackboard on which are inscribed phenomena and their relations outside the time of the universe in which we live. -Iannis Xenakis

Ricardo Del Pozo is a multimedia artist from Norway. His studio visit took place during a residency at Point B, “a self-sustained, artist-run International Worklodge for art and science professionals” located in Williamsburg, Brooklyn. An excerpt from his artist statement:

Through digital real-time processes and spatialization techniques my work aims at addressing the formal aspects of sound and video, their inherent properties as artistic value. My work primarily concerns itself with the recorded material. It deals with the aspect of acousmatics and space and how these recordings gain new significance as art through constructed environments.

Ricardo’s in-progress “electro acoustic” installation featured a video projected on a wooden surface with an accompanying music sequence that were both mathematically created using algorithms. One did not generate the other, however. Instead, they existed as individual entities with unique codes that endlessly performed together in an ambient, layered progression. The music was created from a one second segment of audio and the video from two to three seconds of visual data. The fluxuation of output was made from a code that created a set of parameters—endless possibilities within a set of rules. Each set contained information that altered feedback, position and movement, mapping sounds through fragmentation to explore a sense of timelessness.

Ricardo described the audio as music rather than sound and explained his interest in the materials themselves as a sculptural experience. He talked about the technical aspect of feedback, reverb, and perceiving echo through understanding the formal construction of a room. Comments from the group included suggestions for experimenting with other projection surfaces (screen, plastic or other translucent materials) and questions as to how the video projected on natural wood or brick might exist as a form of temporary graffiti. Comments arose about incorporating a seating area (see Pipilotti Rist at MoMA) and the usage of support structures and stages as integrated elements in an installation (see Banks Violette).

Other comments included how the work provoked a meditative experience. Some viewers perceived a narrative element, a residual experience that conjured memories: passing cars, travel, a sense of longing. There were also comments about tension in the work—a sonic buildup occurred that did not materialize as a climactic moment but as a form of repetition, leaving the viewer in a slowed but anticipatory state. Through this perceived tension, a drama of the synch formed a temporal joining of the senses to elucidate a union between the realm of the ephemeral with the realm of the physical.

  • Carlos Cruz Diez
  • Ethan Greenbaum
  • Rhizomatic Theory (Deleuze and Guattari)
  • Radiolab (Episode 104: Time)
    We examine the relativity of time — how time for You is different than time for Me — with physicist Brian Greene and neurologist Oliver Sacks. And we’ll hear a piece on the experience of listening to Beethoven’s 9th Symphony for 24 hours straight – but only hearing it once.
  • Dream House by La Monte Young and Marian Zazeela
    In The Brooklyn Rail (June 2003), Nick Stillman wrote: The Dream House can inspire sincere self-reflection—of how people physically move, of how little time there is for stillness, of how we’ve become trained to seek and to reward movement and action. To embrace the Dream House is to become entranced and lost in time.  And with no permanent closing date established for Young and Zazeela’s collaborative installation, this could be the dream that never ends.
  • “Iannis Xenakis: Composer, Architect, Visionary,” at The Drawing Center
    Each of his creations represent a point of dialectical merger between, on the one hand, mathematical and scientific thought and, on the other hand, intuition: ‘I think intuition is something rational: it’s highly complex and at the same time something of which we’re unaware.’
  • Art Fag City post by Paddy Johnson
    I’m reminded of something Chrissie Iles said in an October roundtable, with regard to projection: If you bring the image down to the floor, you’re negating cinema on a certain level. You’re saying: “This is not meant for you to watch all the way through like a narrative film. This is part of the ‘going for a walk’ of museum and gallery viewing.”

– Audra Wolowiec

Elizabeth Cooper – Studio Visit – November 3rd, 2010

–Studio Visit–
Date: Wednesday November 3rd, 2010
Location: Queens NY

Yuka Otani


Elizabeth Cooper


Rachel Frank, Ricardo del Pozo



Elizabeth Cooper is the decider. Her abstract oil and enamel canvases incorporate combinations of colors and textures that involve unplanned actions and elements of chance. She achieves a complexity of color and layer through a lengthy process of combining at times incompatible materials, opacities and techniques from manipulated spills to knife and brushwork. Beth contrasts her spills by using shapes, which echo the spill but are intentionally drafted and often embellished by cartoonish highlights or shadows. Within a single painting she combines abstract expressionist and pop painting elements and attitudes. She starts each painting by applying a tinted ground that will remain the background color throughout the execution of subsequent painting actions. Beth explained that while each painting starts with an initial notion and color palette it often changes as she reacts to the painting process.

The group discussed which formal attributes and color relationships were most satisfying. In some paintings color palate and gestures denote an associative or narrative notion but do not go as far as to become representational. Participants seemed to respond to the paintings that were chromatically discordant or that connoted a “narrative” strife.

Must abstract paintings present or refer to content or context, or do they inherently contain within their content and history of abstract as a context? As in many discussions on abstract paintings participants debated whether content and contextual issues seem present in this work and the importance of content issues in abstract painting in general. In some instances the shapes and sizes of Beth’s paintings move toward an associative context. In her “scroll” series painted on long narrow canvases at once evoke a vertical human scale and the long format of traditional ‘Chinese’ scroll paintings. The large piece with a shimmery silver ground and orange and flesh-toned spills and painted protrusions emerging from each side of the canvas and meeting in the center is meant to evoke Michelangelo’s The Creation of Adam on the Sistine Chapel ceiling in composition and attitude.

Many of Beth’s paintings are untitled. She feels that titling her work can narrow the works apparent meaning. The group also discussed the use of titling to elucidate or over explain a work. While some participants thought that a work should speak for itself, others preferred a title that can open understanding into the work that may be otherwise difficult to some viewers.

Beth has been involved in a continuous practice in New York since her undergraduate days at Cooper Union and her graduate work at Columbia. During this time she has developed a process and material set in her work that morphs and changes incrementally over time. When asked what is next in her work Beth replied that the continuation of her work is her main focus.

-Amanda Lechner


Asian Scroll Painting

Spills and Stains ala Ingrid Calame

MoMA Panel coming up to attend New Perspectives on Abstract Expressionism: A Young Scholars’ Panel



Satellite Studio Fuse – Audra Wolowiec at Wassaic Project

Audra Wolowiec is in residence this month at Wassiac Project in Wassaic, NY.

A note from Audra:

Wassaic has been a great experience – having a huge amount of space to work and think removed from the pace of the city. It seems everyone participates to create a sense of community – from the CSA farm onsite to open studios to the local general store. The first image is of the barn that houses more than 10 artist studios, a woodshop, silkscreen studio, food project space, auction ring (and more, the barn is an enormous converted 1875 livestock auction house) and the following images are from my studio – text pieces, concrete casts, and plaster stencils experimenting with objects that convey the physicality of sound through language and voice.

The Wassaic Project is an artist-run sustainable, multidisciplinary arts organization that focuses on community engagement and facilitates artists and participants to exhibit, discuss, and connect with art, each other, our unique site, and the surrounding area.

Grants & Fellowships Calendar

The calendar is undergoing maintenance and will return shortly.

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