Thursday, August 24, 2023

Leibniz Entelechy and Modernism (a reworking of my essay on Hollingsworth)

          Leibniz  Entelechy  Modernism

Martin Mugar

Coinciding with the debut of my writings in 2013 on the topic of Zombie Formalism I noticed that the New York artist Dennis Hollingsworth commenced to follow my writings with the occasional but always intelligent comment. The first time he commented on my painting is in the above statement made last year. The image to which he attached these words is also the first painting in years that I am most unequivocally happy about. For Hollingsworth it is functioning on at least three levels. (Text,Ground and Geometry).His words: 

"Nice piece, by the way. Text, peeking. Ground margins. Geometry tweaking." 

The obvious observations made by Boston critics about the gooey candy-colored sensuality is not predominant for him but rather the functionality of the spatial play. He gets it probably because we are both swimming in the same waters, sharing especially the same attitude about the mark. Dennis is attracted to a gnarly irreducible shape that he achieves by cutting his own nibs for the pastry applicator at the expense of the whole. I fall back on store bought nibs letters using the Cyrillic alphabet squeezed out also with a pastry applicator. Our marks are volumetric. For me the volumetric was a commentary on a road not taken in painting where the sloppy confidence of the abex stroke had taken over the thought process of so much painting. My exuded marks evolved from simple drips, to the Cyrillic alphabet, to whole words. Dennis refers to this as the text of the painting. The irreducible for Dennis lies in the strangeness of the stroke; for me the letter and the word. 

Martin Mugar

In June I visited his gallery in Paris Galerie Richard and asked to see some of his work. The director demurred saying they were still in crates having been recently moved due to the closing of the Galerie Richard in NYC and the packing was hard to unpack. Upon my return to the USA I sent Dennis an email telling him of my visit but did not hear back. Recently, I visited his website only to remark that he was being referred to in the past tense. Someone engaged a ChatGPT  write his story as an artist. It had a bittersweet lilt to it. It was dated April 2023. 

Dennis Hollingsworth 



In fact, lately, he has been using his webpage and is still alive and painting. I feel fortunate to have heard his opinions on the art world which were for the most part conservative in intent. He was commenting on Twitter on the ongoing struggle in Ukraine understanding the manipulation of the American Neo-Cons in perpetuating it. He had just started to take and interest in the notion of Monadology as it might apply to his work. Again, the irreducible is something that intrigues him.

The notion of entelechy or purpose or realization of potential used in Leibniz's thinking  apply to Hollingsworth's work. Each strangely wrought entity does not have its future subject to being revealed by being taken apart or a priori ahead of itself. It could also have an affinity to Heidegger's anti-technicity or "Letting be".  His work is anti-cartesian . Cartesianism subjects the object to being infinitely torn apart into smaller and smaller bites but not about its future. Ellsworth Kelly ends up to be just flatness or just the material of its making or Basquiat's will  is to flatten and empty out what it paints. Hollingsworth has something to do I believe with the late Frank Stella's late work which is full of Baroque pneuma. More importantly it raises questions about  the many underlying assumptions of modern art and science that are replete with cynicism  about what is ahead and gloating about infinite dissolution or emptying out of meaning as say in the work of Koons or Currin.

Dennis Hollingsworth

Martin Mugar 

Tuesday, August 8, 2023

"Everything in life is drawing" Richard Tuttle

 I showed with Tuttle once thanks to Addison Parks who had a Tuttle in his private collection. It may have been a gift from Tuttle who at one point was a friend of Parks. He may have purchased it. Parks put us together in a rather interesting show at the Creiger-Dane gallery in Boston in 1998 of a handful of New York and Boston artists called “Severed Ear” in what was a postmodernist take on the evolution of modernism. Of course, Severed Ear refers to Van Gogh’s angst and pain. A reference to the human origins of the Modern that over time tread a road toward the Minimal. In a remembrance of Parks in “Provincetown Arts” I mentioned the show’s similarity to the abstract artists considered “Provisional” by Raphael Rubinstein. I had hoped that the show would have an influence on the sensibility of the Boston Scene but that was not to happen as Boston continues to ignore consequential movements, that come from outside its sphere of influence as it did with its preference for Boston Impressionism over the French Modernism of the Armory show. To this day this absence of European modernism presents a huge gap in the MFA’s collection that currently is too expensive to fill.


The Tuttle that Addison owned, if my memory serves me, was a not very large oblong rectangle drawing on a rectangular piece of plywood that is to be exhibited nonchalantly on the floor leaning up against the wall. According to Addison, gallery goers felt compelled to report to the gallery director that it had fallen off the wall. I think Tuttle wanted to kick the experience of drawing off the wall out of the realm of framed paper and into the space of the pedestrian (both meanings)  where it gets accidentally kicked. I saw a Tuttle show in NYC with Addison that I did not “get”. Mixed media with no attempt to make parts react to a whole. The Hegelian dialectic has until recently directed my own work and its absence in Tuttle irked me to protest the validity of much of what Tuttle does. Addison had to tell me to shut up.

Recently, Jason Travers an artist in the Providence area and a former student from AIB sent me an image of the kind of “drawing” he sees in the asphalt fillings that are ubiquitous on New England roads: an effort to fill in the cracks formed on roads due to frost heaves. The cracks left unattended only speed up the deterioration of the road. There obviously is a machine that pushes out the asphalt at a consistent rate that must be responded to by a regulated gesture of the worker so that the liquid asphalt does not overflow the cracks. These are pedestrian drawing as they are created by someone walking in pedestrian space and make no claim to art. Like Tuttle whose work yearns to jump off the wall, this drawing is part of our lived space and moreover engages the slow entropy (Brice Marden)of time and space of frost heaves and engaging our battle against the deterioration of the road.



One drawing that has nothing to do with our agency are the patterns on the feathers of the Barred Owl. This is a drawing achieved over millennia  The intelligence of nature helped this bird blend in with the tree bark. It is not hiding itself from predators as I assume it has none but is hiding from its prey. The photo has had some success on FB as the owls presence is not revealed instantaneously . As Tuttle says in the above quote: Everything is drawing


                                                                   Iguana art                                                          

                                                              More asphalt art

Wednesday, January 11, 2023

Guston at the MFA Boston

 Since I saw the Guston show last Fall at the MFA Boston, I have been hoping to write a review of his work. Should be something easy to write about but it isn’t. In sum the stops along the way of his evolution are as follows: he starts out his career working realistically with a strong social consciousness finding its subject in the human suffering of the Great Depression. Then, addressing the same topic of social realism he integrates the various languages of Modernism: the flattening effect of Matisse, the activated line of Klee and the color atmosphere of Monet to arrive in the latter part of his life with a scathing and sardonic vision of the rot of the underbelly of modern consciousness visually borrowing from the language of cartoon pop culture. He even overcomes the last seduction of Abstract Expressionism, although someone thought it looked like, to his chagrin, abstract impressionism. This is the only ambiguous period where the Abex appears to establish a clear break with Social Realism. 

                                                     Flattening of the Space 1940

I find, as I summon up memories of my encounters with him personally and his work over the years, there are some questions that are hard to answer. What is the importance of Piero about whom he talked so vehemently at Yale/ Norfolk with the minimalist composer Morton Feldman. Piero deals with a space that is metaphysical in nature grounded in Christian eschatology. Did it influence his work and where? There are the references in the late work to what would be considered by Catholics venial sins such as smoking and drinking, but predominantly it is the sinister masks of the KKK that dominate the later work. My last encounter with the Guston story and the final push to inspire this review was yesterday on a Zoom lecture on his life and work sponsored by the Brooklyn Rail featuring two experts on his work: Kelly Baum, a curator at the Met in NY and Alison de Lima Greene a curator at the MFA Houston who mounted a Guston show in Houston. Alison thankfully clarified the canard concerning the delayed opening of the show as having nothing to do with the controversial nature of the show’s subject. It was all covid related. How does one open a show to the masses when the society is in lockdown

                                                          Abstract Work 1953

In the Zoom event sponsored by the Brooklyn Rail I was surprised that Guston’s dialogue with the language of Modernism was only partially addressed. The easy path for Guston could have been to remain a social realist as many of his generation did, working in the volumetric style of much of Depression era art. The dynamic compression of space seen in Matisse and Klee he adapted in order to expand his visual language to its betterment. His use of splotches of color from Monet put him in the Abex movement alongside of Rothko, De Kooning and Gorky, which is where I learned of his art. I recall William Bailey discussing how the abstraction that was being formulated in the work of the Abstract Expressionists in the thirties burst out of the realm of private exploration to define the public notion of American art in the Fifties pushing social realism to the back burner.  That Guston was able to join up with a movement antithetical to where he was taking his early work, speaks volumes of his creative curiosity and inventive talents. This break with social realism and zig zag back has probably been explored  by Guston scholars. He was seen to be such a successful practitioner of that abstract mode of painting that his move to cartoon-based imagery was seen as catastrophic by Hilton Kramer and others. In Charles Giuliano’s review of the history of the MFA, I read that curator Ken Moffett turned down a gift of a late Guston. He wanted the abstract work without a trace of social realism. Even the above mentioned curators did not bring up the pure visual play of that period of his work and in fact seemed to see some edgy indication of social conflict in the Monet inspired work.                                                                                                                                                     

Part of the Guston lore is that he found at Boston University, where he taught through the end of his life, a group of artists/professors, with similar ethnic/religious roots. It revived an identification with his Jewish roots. He had changed his name from Goldstein to Guston and was not a practicing Jew. I recall a discussion with the artist Bernie Chaet, who grew up in the same neighborhood that produced the Boston Jewish Expressionist movement and whose career in Boston moved in parallel with several of the professors who taught at BU alongside of Guston.  Chaet said he, himself, was shunned by many of them for embracing the seductive color of Bonnard and Matisse in his work. At his home in New Haven, I saw examples of his early work that displayed Jewish religious iconography. So at one point Chaet did embrace his roots. He said that he was seen as an apostate. The artists who grew up in the Jewish neighborhood of Boston looked to Beckmann, Dix and Grosz as worthy exemplars to portray the human drama of hypocrisy and exploitation that defined the 1930's.                                                                               

Whereas the earlier Guston is looking out at the world where the social drama is taking place, there is a sense of Guston also being aware of his own corruption, physical and spiritual. He like the Klan is a wearer of masks. Does he hide behind a public persona? In fact, the use of masks appears in his earlier work. Is there a sense of guilt arriving out of his failings in his personal relationships.(I am being speculative here) In a tweet, that I came across, the artist/critic Walter Robinson felt the late painting were very personal and dealt with Guston’s sense of guilt that in some way. 

                                                                                                                                                                            Walking through the Boston show I found my sensibility put off by the predominance of red.(the two curators on Zoom refer to recurring red walls in the early and later work) It was not the vibrant red of fresh blood that Goya represents in Saturn devouring his offspring but dried blood. In Goya the demonic devours something alive and fresh.  In Guston the demonic is reduced to the cartoon imagery as something desiccated. How does that affect an interpretation of the late work? Do contemporary notions of the banality of evil enter the dialogue as addressed in Arendt’s notion of that topic. There is no attempt to embody violence as in the work of Golub.  The Klan goes about their business of public self-promotion. We do not see the violence of say the murder of Emmet Till. The cartoon imagery provides a sort of barrier to experiencing direct violence 

But enough criticism of what he didn’t do. Unlike so many of his peers his late work was a sort of apotheosis of self-awareness, personal and cultural .  The move to the cartoon allows for the shared societal space in which we live to move to the fore. It disallows the sort of thing that realist painting allows such as the raw and the real of a moment in time. That so much of our identity comes from the political haunted Guston from early on in his career and in the end becomes codified in the way in which we are reduced to cartoon characters reified by the political. The political can impose itself on us whether we want it to or not. 




                                                     The late work 1969