Letters


COMMON DENOMINATOR

To the Editor:

It is a pity that Thomas Crow did not name the eight artists included in the exhibition "The New Painting of Common Objects" ["10*20*30*40," November 2002]. If I remember correctly there were three artists from the Los Angeles area, two from Detroit, and the balance from New York. They were: Roy Lichtenstein, Jim Dine, Andy Warhol, Philip Hefferton, Robert Dowd, Ed Ruscha, Joe Goode, and Wayne Thiebaud.

A footnote: I went to the Pasadena Art Institute (as it was then called) a day or so before the exhibition opened to have a look and get a catalogue. There was no catalogue. I met Walter Hopps in his office to obtain some information. While I was there he called a silkscreen print shop and ordered a poster. He gave the size, the number required, and the copy. He was asked for some direction on the design, to which he laconically replied, "loud and clear." The poster arrived the next day. (It is reproduced in the February 1975 Artforum.)

John Coplans

New York

UGLY SHTICK

To the Editor:

Rachel Harrison's work seems to me the latest offering of an art industry that regards cool detachment and "coy" (to use Saul Anton's word) juxtapositions as the stuff of greatness ["Shelf Life," November 2002].

Can it be true that work of such amazing thinness and excruciating familiarity is still being showered with self-congratulatory praise--a praise couched in the critical pyrotechnics of early postmodernism? References to Adorno's "dialectics at a standstill"; celebration of the willfully ugly; puns on "cosmopolitan (Cosmopolitan?) taste"--have I woken up in 1982?

It is heartbreaking, truly, not rhetorically, to find ourselves still mired in this bloodless slump. It is neither repellently bourgeois nor yawningly middlebrow to be unimpressed by feats of ugliness, particularly at a time when such varieties of ugliness are far from rare.

Coyness is not brilliance. Microscopic jokes are not the foundations of engaged art. Must we still speak in the rusty semiology of "nonreferential objects" and of "foreground[ing] the object's phenomenological status"? Must we still play the game of I know that you know that I know that you know...?

This time has come and gone. Whatever your feelings for it, let the body be buried with whatever dignity we can afford it. Let's move on.

James Borwick

Philadelphia

Saul Anton responds:

Mr. Borwick contends that Rachel Harrison's art demonstrates "cool detachment," "amazing thinness," and "excruciating familiarity." These are strong judgments indeed. I for one do not share them, and I cannot evaluate whether it is "repellently bourgeois" or "yawninghly middlebrow" to be "unimpressed with feats of ugliness," as he claims. To my mind it would depend on the ugliness, though one hour of television should tell us that ugliness, not beauty, is in fact what we as a culture are impressed with.

Borwick asserts that I celebrate Harrison's work for being ugly, i.e., one more product of the anti-aesthetic. Yet my point is patently the opposite. I do not think Harrison's work participates in the vanguardism of the anti-aesthetic, of negation as a critical principle. Despite the fact that I invoke Adorno (it's true that Adorno is the greatest thinker of the anti-aesthetic, but in this respect he is a thinker of modernity, not post-modernity), a full reading of my article makes it abundantly evident that what I value in Harrison's work is precisely its refusal to adopt a dialectical stance, to play the ugly card or the high-low game, to interpret form as negation, critical, historical, or otherwise. …

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