Topics in American Art since 1945

By Lawrence Alloway | Go to book overview
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THE BIOMORPHIC
'40s *

Bio: "a combining form denoting relation to, or connection with, life, vital phenomena, or living organisms."

Morphology: "the features, collectively, comprised in the form and structure of an organism or any of its parts."

The movements of 20th-century art, to the extent that they began with artists' acts of self-identification, in opposition either to another group of artists or against a public made grandiose and threatening as the Philistines, tend to stay monolithic. Efforts are made to unify these discrete movements, like different shaped beads on a string of "the classical spirit" or "the expressionist temperament," but obviously this delivers very little, except an illusion of mastery to the users of cliché. More is needed than a revival of the exhausted classical/romantic antithesis, which leaves the movements to be united sequentially undisturbed. Modern art tends to be written about by the artists and their friends in the first case, and by generalizers and popularizers after that, with the result that the mosaic of movements has remained largely unaffected, to the detriment of unorganized artists and traditions. For example, there is a line of biomorphic art (which combines various forms in evocative organic wholes), that, to the extent that it is discussed in the usual framework, could only be viewed as a part of Surrealism. What failed to fit would come under such headings as Precursors of, or The Inheritance of, Surrealism, or, maybe, just plain Independents (as if the artists were eccentrics, or nuts, off the main-line).

Biomorphism, so far as Surrealism goes, is a painterly equivalent of the transcriptual puzzles and combinations of objects of Magritte and Dali. However, the main painters of biomorphism have been merely

____________________
SOURCE: From Artforum, IV/1 (September, 1965), 18-22.
*
This essay incorporates brief passages from two other pieces by the author: the introduction to William Baziotes, A Memorial Exhibition, The Solomon R. Guggenheim Museum, New York, 1965, and "Gorky," Artforum, Vol. 1, No. 9, March 1963.

-17-

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