Work and Words
Phenomenal: California Light, Space, Surface, ed. Robin Clark (La Jolla, Cal.: Museum of Contemporary Art, San Diego, 2011), pp. 152-171
23 Pages Posted: 21 Jun 2012 Last revised: 10 Jun 2017
Date Written: September 25, 2011
It is hard to keep clear how words work as you hold forth on strange art. Metaphor, analogy, and other abstract conceits tend to treat a piece under examination as already well enough understood that it can be tellingly likened to something else, another artwork perhaps or a theoretical concept, that is itself regarded as well enough understood to anchor the suggested correlation. Such a structure presupposes considerable knowledge of both entities to be compared and, for that reason, seems unpromising if you are just beginning to learn about either of them. Other approaches also have problems. A more direct report of the similarities and differences between two paintings, two sculptures, or two phenomena rests upon the premise of their essential commensurability, a sometimes tenuous assumption that this and that share enough for their comparison to yield some insight. And even straight description of a single piece, art journalism at its most precise and prosaic, emphasizes certain material and visual properties and not others, thereby conjuring resonances, evoking, alluding. The risk here is that in experiencing art through language, we may allow words and their logic to supplant the work and its.
Keywords: Larry Bell, Robert Irwin, Adrian Kohn, Frank Stella, Robert Morris, Donald Judd, Zen
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