Every Shiny Object Wants an Infant Who Will Love It
Shiff, Richard, Art Journal
In Marfa, Texas, during the 1980s, Donald Judd installed one hundred boxlike objects, each with the same exterior dimensions ? forty-one inches high, with a base of fifty-one by seventy-two inches. Structural features of these objects, vary, so that each is unique. For example, a unit might be divided by an interior vertical plane or by an interior horizontal, and the division might occur in full or in part. Judd positioned die one hundred units within two reconditioned artillery sheds, long rectangular structures fitted with glazing to either side. The volume of each unit, when viewed in isolation, relates readily to human scale. It's easy to imagine your body inserted into any of the more open variations of the basic form. With less intrusiveness, you might peer into these boxlike objects, especially in cases where Judd chose not to close offa side or the top. It wouldn't be voyeurism, for these objects beckon; rjhey invite. You respond, approaching with respectful attention, as if knowing that the objects know you're there,
The material is mill aluminum, which has a shine. This attractive surface gloss or luster, somewhat muted, appears not only as shine but also as sheen. The reflected light becomes now an aggressive beam projecting, now a passive vapor rising. Such varied reflection is an inducement to keep looking. Within Judd's environment of aluminum objects, you may feel yourself shifting from observing materia] planes to observing immaterial light, or even shifting from one sense of illumination to another. Then you shift back again, experiencing any number of pairs of effects in tension.
Critical analysis depends on familiar categorical oppositions of this very kind: material, immaterial; solid, void; closed, open; fixed object, ambient light; the formed, the unformed. For die analytical writer, Judd's art will evoke many of these abstract distinctions and the oppositional terminology of their pai red -off qualities. The scene in Marfa, however, encourages active viewers to tolerate contradictions of convergence: solids evaporate in the light; the light in turn solidifies. The pairing is either degenerating in entropy or transcending itself in sublimity, depending on your attitude. Rhetorically, to phrase the sensory effect in this manner ? the solid form becomes light, the light becomes a solid: ? is to invoke chiasmic oxymoron. This provides the shell of an explanation, yet it's an empty one that explains nothing, at best deferring the problem. Although clever, the language remains inadequate to the feeling of Judd's forms and their environmental illumination.. Surely, we already knew that this would be so. Language is always inadequate to sensory feeling and to emotions as well, even if we descend to expletive as a last resort. The experience of Judd's art makes this all the more evident to those loath to accept it. We are aware of die inadequacy, and we resist admitting it. Acknowledgment would undermine assertive argument and our professions of critical acumen, if not critical certainty. We bristle at realizing that our description and analysis go nowhere.
As I've stated, each of Judd's one hundred mill aluminum objects has structural uniqueness. But the distinctions we perceive are more than structural. As the abundant light within the artillery sheds changes during the day, it plays off the metallic planes with endless variation, not only because the source of ihumination is moving (and so may be the viewer) but also because Judd's constructions face this light with a diverse array of directional surfaces. Exterior planes intersecting at right angles relate to the light in mutual opposition and dramatic contrast. Numerous other features may be present in any of the one hundred variations of the structure: open interior partitions, closed interior volumes, recessed planes, double parallel planes, diagonal planes, and even canted diagonals (planes rotated around a primary diagonal axis). These secondary elements add degrees of nuance to the constant factor of extreme rectilinear contrast.
On my most recent visit to Marfa, I took particular interest in a canted diagonal panel that extended from just below one upper corner of a box unit to a level somewhere above the opposite lower corner (Untitled, 1986). An element of this type introduces perceptual complexity, though not necessarily more of it than other elements generate. The effect was not new to me; I remembered this particular feature from previous observations. So I don't know why it drew my attention on this occasion ? it just did. Perhaps what I remembered wasn't sufficiently specific, a distillation or averaging of effects. A memory of this kind would bear only indirect correspondence to past sensation (it is its own sensation). This occasion in Marfa was different. What was happening? The canted diagonal had a shine and reflected the light in its special way, but so did every other aluminum plane, each of them special. It may have been the time of day in combination with my specific position that seemed so new to me, and these existential coordinates were making a distinction I failed to perceive consciously but perceived nonetheless. To reflect on what happened, as I'm doing now, is to hypothesize, to theorize; it may approach but won't recapture the distinct experience.
Once you focus on the effect of a particular feature ? particular in that it differs, in that it appears anomalous within its immediate context ? then anything resembling or conceivably related to it will seem logical enough as its variation. Focusing on the exception causes it to become, at least in its moment, the standard against which all else, will be judged. Even if this had been my first experience of the artillery shed installation and I had been unaware that Judd's rectilinear structures often incorporate interior divisions with a diagonal orientation ? even without this knowledge ? each element of the conceivable type would now seem anticipated, or nearly so. Granted, I wouldn't have imagined such features before a first encounter; yet, faced with an example, the type appears as familiar as not, as if the appropriate response would be, "Of course, this form makes sense in its context." Here, imagining or theorizing a general type merges with the belief instilled by the presence of the specific example. There is always a context, always a sense to be made, always a reasonable argument that will incorporate the moment's exception.
The concept of context is insidious. It may seem fluid but isn't. We tend to fix on a context as much as we fixate on a detail. My brief focus on the canted diagonal amounted to the initiation of a theoretical pattern, virtually a habit of looking ? looking for the continuation of a possible scheme. Passive, wide-eyed seeing, receptive to shine, becomes active looking, assessing, ordering. In this instance, the prospective pattern was innocent of serious moral impHcations, The context was morally neutral: a use of diagonal planes and their variations set within the more constant form of a rectilinear container. But the pattern could be perceived as more of a directive or an imperative, especially given alternatives of description. Choice of language is determining. What if the diagonal plane were "resisting" or "refusing" the "enforced" regularity of the orthogonals? An interpreter might thematize the tension between diagonals and orthogonals ? a dio culture confronts an orlho culture (imagine the connotative possibilities). Now the pattern suggests certain sets of values as well as, through their opposition, a potential for either conflict or mutual validation. In any case, once noticed, the arbitrary element (the canted diagonal plane) enters the field of expectations and becomes part of any number of prospective rational orders. It becomes its own justification - in context.
Everyday thinking is a process of either converting the arbitrary to the necessary or dismissing it as an insignificant accident. Yet, as I think about ? well, as I sense or feel ? what Judd did with his boxlike configurations of shiny, metallic planes, it seems that the placement of. diagonal elements within die fundamentally rectilinear structure was just arbitrary enough to be more willful than structural, more of an intuitive feeling on his part than his logical determination. He designed the units in one sequence, placed them in a different sequence. ' Nothing appears to have determined the canted diagonal feature other than the fact of Judd's introducing it. It projects no cause either in my understanding of the order of nature, or in any logical order I imagine, or as a consequence of the inertial momentum of human history. The world could go on without this canted diagonal (but doesn't, because Judd's insinuation of it has occurred). As I stood within the configuration of Judd's installation I felt no order compelling me and was free to wander among the units; I was aimless, oblivious to external considerations. We would say, colloquially, that I was in the moment. If a reference to an other or an elsewhere were to emerge, I would be its cause, having passed out of the moment.
I stated that "I don't know why" my interest in the diagonally paneled box arose. Within its moment, this was how the experience felt: aimless, groundless. Retrospectively, however, I do know, must know, why the interest arose, for the business of retrospection is explanation. So here is the cause I imagine: Something about the diagonal detail within the basic box structur? remained unexpected for me, even though 1 had observed it several times previously. Strangely, it held inherent interest, provoking a set of observational perceptions from which I felt I was learning something new.
An interest piqued is a desire in need of satisfaction. As if to seize the opportunity and pass from unintended learning to a conscious intention to learn, I decided to compare Judd's various uses of diagonal planes as they appeared, helter-skelter, while I meandered through the installation. I was giving experience a purpose. But I found that I couldn't pursue my plan, not because I couldn't act on a whim, not because there wasn't some local order in place (perhaps there was), but because every example among the one hundred metallic constructions ? with or without diagonal planes ? distracted me. To look was not to further the investigation but to be directed elsewhere. I became an infant in a sea of sheen and glance, seduced by each and every shiny object.1
Like anything else in the world that attracts notice, a Work of art becomes a hypothesis-in- the- making, as if it were calling out, first. "Look at me, love me," then, "If you love me, explain me, put me in order, give me a lasting purpose." Why this, not that? Every object - especially an attractive object, an art object - amounts to the rudimentary pr?sentation of a theory, its shine of appearance tempts critic-theorists to elaborate. They rarely resist. But the shine may be a critic's own projection of an effect he or she presumes to admire, master, and. possess - a case of perceptual narcissism.
Critical practice handles specifics by generalizing, "Most tilings happen by accident and continue by convention," Judd wrote.5 Our tendency is to habit. We resort to accepting contradiction when we must, in order to reach a comfortable degree of generalization, allowing theorization to advance. Each of our cultural identities is a theory, a generalization that risks entailing a contradiction of specifics: "When 1 was younger I was a cowboy for a while," the Cherokee artist Jimmie Durham writes, "This other cowboy I knew said, 'You're an Indian arid a cowboy? Be careful you don't kail yourself.'"4
Many works of art illustrate, report, or inform a situation or event already known, already -debated, already in cultural play, a locus of social or political interest. In the nineteenth century, it was common to illustrate social types within the contested terrain of bourgeois class identity. In the twentieth century, the presentation of ethnic, racial, and gender identity may have come to dominate association by socioeconomic class, but the two types of category overlap. Whether by graphic means or bodily performance ? by some primary appeal to the senses ? artists who direct their efforts toward articulating social issues construct networks of secondary references to communicate their advocacy. They may be asking a viewer to absorb a political message by translating it into his or her preferred discourse, or they may be expecting the viewer to operate as a critical interpreter, reconfiguring the message and perhaps extending it. A different type of art presents a specific situation, avoiding ? as best it can ? any reference, cultural coding, or articulated message that would fix its context. Such art is the situation and needs no context. At least this is its pretense. But we shouldn't assume that all art must be one type or the other. Some works waver between informing the situation and being the situation.5 For this and every other type of art ? already generalized, already set out as elements in a classificatory system ? a corresponding theory offers ever broader forms of generalization.
My preceding statements are themselves theoretical: they propose categories; they too generalize. Theory encompasses a situation, moving to manage its elements, reducing it to order. The theoretical gesture can be as direct as asserting that one thing is like another, even to say that art is like theory or theory is like art. Look for some respect in which this is so, and you will find one, probably more than one ? despite, or to the detriment of, the differences. Theorization comes easily; it requires nothing more than imagination, fantasy. Myths are theories that have stiffened. To debunk a myth is to flex a countertheory.
When a category applies to a situation or to the differentiation of elements, some likeness must exist to accompany the evident difference. Any two entities are alike in that a single concept is certain to apply to both of them even when they seem to take opposite sides. A ceiling compares to a floor: both are surfaces, and both are limits. Red and green, chromatic opposites, are alike in primary saturation. But enter within the specifics of sensation and the determinations become more difficult: "If, pointing to patches of various shades of red, you asked a man 'What have these in common that makes you call them, red?' he'd be inclined to answer 'Don't you see?'"6 Having depleted our store of mediating, referential terms, we call on a common sense to save the day. We assume a tacit generalization.
To render distinct entities alike, generalization strips an object of at least some of its sensory qualities until it reaches common ground. This is its simplification or reduction. It also abstracts unique forces of agency, converting them to generalized semiotic functions. A work of art readily becomes an instantiation of a theory just as an individual becomes a subject or a subject-position. We often say that a work wants, needs, or demands a certain element for its expression or formal completion, as if it had motivation and consciousness independent of its maker. If I say that I'm in dialogue with the work as I make it, this too attributes to the object and its materials an agency similar to my own ? another instance of critical projection.
Like many of his modernist colleagues, Barnett Newman let Ms work shine on him rather than assuming that he was the sole source of its light. With a certain (false?) modesty, he suppressed his mastery, projecting his position rhetorically: "It is as I work that the work itself begins to have an effect on me. Just as I affect the canvas, so does the canvas affect me."7 Newman is to the art as die art is to Newman ? a chiasmic configuration. He added a cerulean blue to the eighteen feet of Uriel until the canvas indicated that he should take his blue, its blue, no farther. Newman said that he stretched this blue until "it broke."8 He didn't break the color; it broke. It acted in cooperation and then in resistance to his effort at stretching, The painting indicated how the painter must respond in kind, bringing other colors to bear on the blue. Uriel shone on Newman ? the title, coming after the fact, connotes light ? and Newman loved Uriel in return, completing the work, a joint operation.
Each of us has desires and needs, but my consciousness of desire is limited to those needs that die rhetorical devices of my culture articulate. I become the pronoun I and can do only what it (an "I") does. I, "I," have no idea whether I, an "I," can have desires other than conscious ones. Introspectively and even publicly, I functions as a generalized third-person singular (a mere infant with respect to receiving what the enabling culture offers). As far as theory is concerned, I am an I like any other ? essentially an it, both a subject and an object, as much acted on as acting, given the rhetorical devices that take hold. I can't assert positions that the subjects of my culture aren't already in the habit of asserting.
When Newman inverted his subject position so that his work was configuring him rather than the other way around, he enlisted chiasmus, essentially a four-term analogy, A:B::B:A. Chiasmus enabled him to conceive of the conversion he believed ? or wanted to believe ? he was experiencing. His actual manner of painting was far more specific than his way of explaining what was happening. His chiasmus amounted to a critical clich?, a structural generalization. He was attempting to describe a "condition" that had long before been articulated by Heinrich von Kleist in his speculations on language ? how language leads us to what we know and believe: "It is not we who 'know'; it is rather a certain condition, in which we happen to be, that 'knows.'"9 The condition ? for Newman, it might be Uriel ? "knows" the artist. In other words, artists know no more than what the flow of their process allows them to know; the flow forms them. A condition is more dynamic than a context, in the sense that the flow of happenstance events is more dynamic than the theoretical history invoked to order those events. Artists respond to their captive "condition" within an environment of natural and cultural signs as if facing an object with an attractive shine. They don't resist. .After all, the object of an art process is the artist's own creation. Why resist oneself? Well, artists may or may not think that the product is entirely theirs. One moment, yes; the next moment, no. They exercise aesthetic control, but they also experience aesthetic chance.
To be acted on even as you act, as if every action had immediate consequences, suffered by the actor ? this is a mildly contradictory notion. Call it oxymoron, or note the frequency of chiasmic reversal in twentieth-century interpretive writing. When a quality (acting) and its inversion (being acted on) seem to apply equally well to an object or a situation, we describe it both ways, juggling the terms, indulging in a rhetoric of indeterminacy. This response satisfies the intellect, easing its friction with the senses. Fmding the right phrasing brings relief from emotional insecurity ? from not knowing what's what. To invoke mdeterminacy, accepting both ends of a contradictory situation, is for modern thinkers a feel-smart, feel-good moment.
Consider an example from a collection of theoretical essays that approach the more shadowy reaches of art, Jean-Luc Nancy's Les Muses (The Muses): "Man began in the calmly violent silence of a gesture. ... At this, man trembled, and this trembling was him." ,0 Such a radical beginning is something most art critics and historians would rather not discuss ? too difficult to conceive, more appropriate to philosophical and theological speculation. The origin of man is difficult; the origin of art (the gesture) is nearly as much of a problem; both elicit complex droughts. "Calmly violent" is oxymoron, and not very different in sense from violently calm when modifying "silence." Oxymoron readily converts to chiasmus: imagine a calmly violent act that produces a violent calm. Is this sense or nonsense? "Man trembled . . . this trembling was him'" is chiasmus." In French, the grammar is agreeable enough (ce tremblement, c'?tait lui), but not in English, where an experienced translator has allowed herself a mistake. It should of course be, "This trembling was he." The slip occurs because the existential verb was is improper in this context, mushing the thought. It establishes too strong an adequation; although metaphorical, it disguises this function (as metaphors often do) through the implied equivalence of the two reversible sides of the chiasmus. More accurate would be, "This trembling defined him," or "This trembling represented him," or even "This trembling trembled him." In this last sentence, we allow ine intransitive verb to become transitive so that an emotional abstraction ? an affect that generates a condition ? might be attributed to a specific material body. To say that a shiny object "wants" our attention is a similar rhetorical fiction.
Nancy's translator senses that something is happening to "man," that there's an action or at least a change of state, so this "man" becomes "him," not "he," an object not a subject. Rhetoric is doing its work. It has its shine, seducing the writer as much as the reader, leading both on. Chiasmus suppresses a difficulty that often arises in assigning agency. Do you make the gesture, or does die gesture make you? To be more explicit: Do you make your gesture because of who you are, or does your gesture make you who you are? Did Uriel make Newman? The direction (sense) of the action would seem to make sense of (bring reason to) the situation, but the rhetorical form of chiasmus, because it plays relationships both ways, commits to nothing. Whether we've acquired an analytical habit or are physiologically hard-wired to the same end, our mental practice of dividing the agent (noun) from die action (verb) causes intellectual blockage commensurate with whatever intellectual movement it enables. We insist that motivation must be in operation somewhere. When in. doubt as to what motivates what, we reverse the questionable terms and have it both ways. This is chiasmus. Regard it as a statement of doubt rather than belief, even though the rhetorical form leaves an impression of assurance.
Why is the form of chiasmus, this nonsensical play in language, so satisfying? In mimesis, it may be diat while A is imitating B, B is necessarily imitating A. Mimesis is a dance with a partner, or a combat, or a conversation, or a game, or Newman's process of art ? all reciprocal actions. Reciprocity seems fair and just, whether remrning a compliment with a compliment or an insult with an insult. It makes us feel that we're acting appropriately by acting in kind; we feel in sync with die order of the world, a structure to which we adjust rather than one we initiate. Because reciprocity makes it difficult to assign responsibility for any specific action, we become factors of a greater system. Actions clearly causal lose riieir identification with any particular motivation. Anything or anyone can be the cause of anything. Reciprocity offers the standard social excuse, "Everyone was doing it." A few like-minded, like-looking individuals ? a subculture, even a sub-subculture ? will be enough to provide mutual assurance in a mimetic relationship. "Everyone" can be a conspiracy of only two or three. The core of likeness might even be one's imaginary projection of oneself: megalomania, paranoia.
Cultural Self, Personal Self
Historians are aware of a certain irony, by now an old one: the culture of modernity encouraged aesthetic self-expression, with each artist exemplifying his or her independence. But personally expressive art is likely to appear eccentric ? ill-suited to function as an aesthetic model. By promoting, artistic liberation from bourgeois norms, the culture of modernity fell into the self-defeating situation of advancing a countercultural standard that inhibited the promulgation of its own cultural position. If you followed this principle of self-formation, you would risk being dismissed as incoherent, incompetent, or regressively infantile. If too many people followed you in following this principle, you and they would become alike in collective, nonfunctional nonconformity, with the result that your art would implode along with its principle. This might be one way of viewing what happened to American and European art during the 1960s, 1970s, and 1980s, There was a collective race to distance aesthetic practice from both modernist and institutional values (many believed they were the sam?). Artists avoided identifiable styles unless manipulating them ironically. A situation of this kind quickly becomes ironical in itself. Because humans are predisposed to imitate each Other, every critical gesture of either anonymity or appropriation ? encouraged by prevailing theories of the context ? was making its own small contribution to a mass movement.
A social critic might argue that the problem extends back to Romantic artists of the early nineteenth century. They responded to the conformist conditions of bourgeois life by stressing signs of cultural and social independence. But then they began to imitate each other. I nevertheless think that there may be a genuine countertradition within modernist art, and that certain artists of the nineteenth and twentieth centuries ? if only by chance ? operated outside the normative culture, even as it tacitly encouraged their eccentric activity. Here the term eccentric is not adequate to the situation. It comes all too easily to critics and historians, with the sense that a culture has a privileged center, a disadvantaged, marginal periphery, and an outside, entirely excluded. Each of these positions, to the extent that it remains identifiable within the system, reinforces the stability of the entire order, which tolerates numerous forms of internal conflict. So perhaps there are two outsides. One outside remains a classification within the cultural system (in the way that the other is an aspect of you, that you are poor only to the extent that others are wealthy, that you fail only to the extent that others succeed, and so forth). To preserve the prevailing cultural order, institutions act as flexibly as necessary, sometimes drawing the outside inside, adjusting categories: a police unit enlists a sociopath as a valued informer. But the second outside is decidedly different. It's experiential and has no classification. To fit or not to fit the culture is hardly its question.
When I return to some of the more ambitious art criticism written during the middle decades of the nineteenth century, I often see structural parallels to much later situations ? exchange a few of the terms and the landscape and genre painting of the i86os will resemble the photorealism of the 1960s or the postmodernist appropriations of the 1980s. Well, this is a kind of academic tic, to perceive and articulate parallels, a form of classification. Cultural critics and historians are predisposed to do this, and I should be wary of the habit. I'll limit my indulgence to invoking the politically engaged critic Th?ophile Thor?. He made the following claim in 1847: "The represented subject [the theme, the referential content] does not matter at all in the arts. . . .The value of each work lies in the profound, unimpeachable, and in some way specific character that the artist has been able to impress on the creation." u "Character" shows in the sensory quality of the execution, not in the chosen theme, for themes are by nature generalities and subject to dogmatic hierarchies that blind both artist and public to the specifics of material expression. Thor? was democratic. As he conceived of it, force of character had no hierarchy of its own: "The soul of the proletarian is as divine as that of a Caesar. "'% Thor? wasn't suggesting that the completed pictorial, material work would be devoid of social, allegorical meaning or a differentiation of values. He meant only that a painter absorbed in practice was likely to remain unaware of the extensive range of potential referential meanings. An artist, Thor? wrote, engages in "an unreflective process, [and is] not obligated to be cognizant of its rationale." I+ As the artist senses, the critic thinks ? a division of effort. The notion that the social or cultural meaning arises outside the conscious intention of the artist reappears in the writings of numerous later theorists, having become a clich? of modern criticism. Here is one of its many forms, more or less inverted: "Only by eliminating, or at least neutializing in ourselves every operation of rational understanding, are we in die moment, without it slipping away;" ''5A process of art, ?ike a forceful emotion, remains "in the moment." Moments shine when you're in them. Whether the shine flluminates critical practice after the fact is another matter.
"Artists cannot abstract their personality," Thor? wrote; they cannot will away or extract their distinctive individuality merely by adhering to the conventions of a culture. ,fe To the contrary, he praised landscape painters who attempted neither removal of the expressive personality (for the sake of adhering to institutional norms) nor exaggeration of this personality (for the sake of social recognition). He favored the landscapist "copying [a scene] straight on," without perspectival artifice or aestheticization. '7 No affectation: this would be the social remedy an individual could contribute without joining a mass mimetic movement. Paul Mantz, a younger, Like-minded critic, took up Thor? 's argument, insisting that the most naive acts of representing nature might project a personal expressive force all the more; personality would "slip into" the picture even when, or especially when, this was no concern of the painter.'8 So, just as Thor? disjoined allegorical meaning from conscious artistic intention, Mantz rendered expressive meaning involuntary. Their arguments worked to preserve the childlike innocence of the artist, his or her release from the grip of ideology. If, ultimately, social arid cultural meaning developed ? if, ultimately, the marks of paint became mere cultural signs of expressiveness ? we should not blame the artist for the social consequences. The meaning of signs is the projection of those who consume them, not necessarily those who produce them.
Cimabue and a Maelstrom
The Romantic critics' attitude persisted within an avant-garde modernist tradition. The aesthetic goal was sensory independence and immediacy, safeguards for the individual against the restrictions of his or her culture, its norms of conduct and thought. An effective aesthetic practice would let the shine shine through, as if the artist were more medium than master.
When the efforts of an artist fail to register with the sensibility of a critic ? when the shine fails to transfer through the work to its viewer ? it may be nodiing more than the failure the critic thinks it is. But we might also credit the artist with having released the senses from the constraints of theoretical thinking, generating, a condition that renders the work impervious to programmatic criticism. Certain artists, such as Willem de Kooning, have long remained at die edge of what critical thought has tolerated. Risking incoherence, de Kooning's art makes critics nervous, even now. His paintings challenged his contemporaries, whose commentary often went astray. Relying on rhetorical devices, their observation lapsed.
Manny F?rber "s response to de Kooning is an example of the phenomenon. He reviewed a Sidney Janis Gallery exhibition in autumn 19 co. Young Pointers in the U.S. and France. Like many writers on art, F?rber (revered today for commentary on film) was a painter himself ? at the time, an abstractionist. He knew Jackson Pollock, Robert Motherwell, and others of die New York School, and understood materials and techniques. He restricted his account to the Americans in the Janis show, to whom he attributed a collective "speed fetish" according to the general look of their work. They would "use every Une and color as a speed-up connection in an endlessly linked journey over anonymous terrain." Farber was interpreting marks of paint as cultural signs of expressiveness, intentionally manipulated and therefore (in Romantic terms) of questionable authenticity, Within the group of exhibiting painters, de Kooning was the first to whom the writer devoted an exclusive paragraph. He referred to a "maelstrom of black lines which lends a false excitement to a static, familiar composition."19 He was accusing de Kooning of posturing, a charge that other critics would make in the years that followed, as they complained that the painter grafted his gesturing onto clich?d topics and formats. The detractors included Judd, who characterized de Kooning's manner as "basically old-fashioned expressionism enlarged and enlivened ... the old picture of nature distorted by die artists' feelings."20
For F?rber, the specific painting at issue was Woman, 1949. He drew an initial analogy: de Kooning's frontal presentation of a female figure at majestic scale suggested the iconic style of the early Renaissance master Cimabue. With this comparison, Farber's vision was straying from the specific material character of