Magazine article Artforum International

Ascetic Esthetic

Magazine article Artforum International

Ascetic Esthetic

Article excerpt

Looking at pre - New York Piet Mondrian, I could only think about the reductive zeal and restraint that must have been required to focus on the spatiality of the white voids, which seem at once to seek out and reject color. For Mondrian, the diamond-shaped canvases of the 20s and the asymmetrical spaces of plastic structures compose an ascetic music. Veiling and distorting the codes that signal a direct correspondence between what is represented on the picture plane and an external object, Mondrian attempted to achieve a visual approximation of the dialectic between the spiritual and the natural.

The paradigm of placing Mondrian's work on a purely spiritual plane needs to be (re)viewed: his work does not construct a space of pure opticality but rather one of filmic projection. in the works of the '20s, the grid assumes the role of the signifier; it is the foundation of his plastic discourse, while color, or its absence, operates on a more "retinal," perceptual level. This early work freezes time, emphasizing containment and stasis, a fixed submit. As his work progresses, it becomes evident that in his development of a "new plasticism" - one in which the perceptual bondage of the grids to the planes of color, which characterized much of the pre-'30s work, is ruptured - mondrian increasingly pulled the spectator much the space formed by the projection of his unconscious gaze, only to push him away again. in his clear elimination of the colors he disliked (such as green, which for him was too closely linked to nature), Mondrian placed the spectator within his own chromatic frame. Over time Mondrian's visual language - hard, sharp, black markings making up competing horizontal and vertical grids on the white ground - begins to Mm filmic frames and sequences.

A number of works he produced in the '20s, and certainly later paintings such as Trafalgar Square, 1939-43, signal the movement in his oeuvre from a pre-occupation with the conventional concerns of painting (modulation and the relationship among colors) to a filmic sense of visuality. Viewing Mondrian through what Gilles Deleuze calls the "time-image," t is possible to chart the progression of Mondrian's new painting language, which reached its apogee in Broadway Boogie Woogie and Victory Boogie Woogie (both 1942-44). As Deleuze discusses in Cinema 2, the time-image isolates the optical and the aural, so that time becomes the "full, that is, the unalterable form filled by change. …

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