Sam Cornish, editor of Abstract Critical, the UK based website dedicated to abstract painting and sculpture, recently posted that the site will stop publication. This is sad news to anyone interested in abstract painting and sculpture. Since January 2011 the site has published thoughtful, long-form reviews, opinion pieces, and videos.
While quality content is crucial to the success of any site, a regular publishing cadence is also important. Abstract Critical had both, a fact which made me and many others regular visitors. While commenting has been integral to blogs since their inception, Abstract Critical cultivated an atmosphere conducive to debate. While they may not quite have achieved a Cedar Bar of the internet, they succeeded more than most blogs in fomenting discussion of all sorts, from the bitingly critical to friendly banter exchanged amongst frequent commenters.
Sam Cornish and Robin Greenwood are to be particularly commended for their efforts to make Abstract Critical a vital source of criticism and discussion around the topic of abstraction. Not only did both contribute a significant amount of writing to the site, but their efforts to spur conversation around the articles (no small task) was and is greatly appreciated.
Although no new content will be added, existing articles will remain online. The Abstract Critical Twitter account will also remain active and The Brancaster Chronicles, an ongoing series of transcribed studio visits, will also continue to be published as a new site.
Cornish’s last post to Abstract Critical featured some of his favorite articles from the site. Since Painters’ Table has featured many pieces from Abstract Critical I thought I would contribute fifteen recommendations of my own. This selection only scratches the surface of what is available at Abstract Critical, but any of the articles below constitutes an excellent launch point for perusing this resource.
Best wishes to the Abstract Critical team and thanks for a job well done.
Wiedel-Kaufman writes that "Klee did not posit his abstraction or formal development in opposition to the material world, or as an expression of some ‘inner necessity’, but instead, pursuing figurative and abstract modes throughout his career, seems to have reached a critical understanding of Schapiro’s later insight that it was ‘not that the processes of imitating nature were exhausted, but the valuation of nature itself had changed’... he developed a searching engagement with the world – in its social, material, mythological, expressive and private manifestations – alongside a radical approach to the formal elements of picture making. It is a fusion that seems worth rescuing from both formalist and Marxist accounts... Not all of Klee’s work, of course, partakes so apparently in the overthrow of ‘internalisation’. Running through the best works of the exhibition, however, there remains an expansive vision of what a painting could be or do; a balancing between subjective intuition and objective reality, between figuration and abstraction, between diverse modes of visual communication, between ‘self’ ‘nature’ and ‘art’."
Shilling writes: "The reason the works in Klee’s oeuvre can neither fully inhabit a fixed past nor prove a reliable augur of developments to come, resides in the fact that they rebel against the fixity of a single meaning and instead embrace incertitude. That incertitude, a forever-suspended possibility, is the soul of Klee’s individual works... Not only do Klee’s works refuse any form of immutability, flitting between possibilities, but he creates that restless potentiality with tools as basic as line and color. This flight from certainty and fact is more than caprice: it is the definiens of why Klee is an emissary of Modernity, tremulous in its doubts and uncertainties."
After reading T.J. Clark's recent review of the exhibition Paul Klee: Making Visible at Tate Modern (through March 9, 2014), Mira Schor considers "the lost condition of modernism."
Schor begins: "When a cultural value or quality is lost or altered by time and fashion to such an extent that its first, indeed even its second and third meanings seem un-recuperable, it is hard for anyone who did not experience that value in its prime to even understand what has been lost. Thus it sometimes seems as if today everything, even 'intimacy' in relation to artwork, has to be put into scare quotes and that it is always knowingly referential in such a manner that what is referenced is turned on its head." She concludes: "I too may find it hard to see in the same way as before some of the works that once gave me the permission to be a certain kind of artist. But that one would feel now that Klee’s 'whole attitude to art-making is elusive,' according to Clark, may speak as much to our culture of spectacular narcissism and self-commodification of any kind of Otherness as to any weakness in Klee’s oeuvre."
Clark writes that "because cubist solidity was so remote from [Klee's] native perceptual habits. It did not take him long to realise that if his art was to flourish he had to work with his very lack of certainty about where anything was in the world and how intimate with objects a painting ought to claim to be... The mottled, blotted, bending, backlit fields of colour he soon perfected, and the feeling of the surface in a picture (and space in the world) as essentially penetrable – always about to open or dissolve – were his true sensibility discovering its means... In and around 1923 Klee found a way to make even the tight cubist grid do the work he wanted – by inserting enough brighter and lighter squares into the chequerboard, each of them beckoning the eye through the foreground into depth, so that the surface came to look as if it were a kind of transparency ‘really’ hung across a glimpsed infinity on the other side. Once he had the basic idea he often returned to it, varying the size of the squares, the regularity of the grid, the translucency of the veil."
Nicholas Fox-Weber writes about Paul Klee's influence as a teacher at the Bauhaus, on the occasion of the exhibition Paul Klee: Making Visible at Tate Modern, on view through March 9, 2014.
Fox-Weber cites impressions of Klee by a number of collectors and artists including Anni Albers who "considered [Klee] to be unparalleled in his genius, in his ability to combine the abstract and geometric with the natural and organic." Fox-Weber continues: "Klee was neither especially large nor strong, but he was someone to whom mysterious, other-world experiences occurred, and he was possessed of exceptional force. Besides, rivers and precipitous jumps in scale and mystical events were all part of the personal universe he richly inhabited... This is how Klee was to everybody: openly fearful, yet infallibly intrepid. He was always on an adventure."
Baker writes: "Drawing a connection between the redrawing of political borders and the subsequent exchange of ideas among previously alienated artists, the exhibition theorizes that the surge of creativity in the 1920s and 30s could have been a direct response to the mingling of Russian Constructivists (who migrated west due to the increasingly conservative Soviet policies against the avant garde) and the radical Dutch conceptualists they encountered. Simultaneously, the Weimar Bauhaus provided a home for abstractionists seeking like-minded collaborators. The sudden fusion of these disparate schools of thought and technique would birth a wide body of new works and approaches to painting and sculpture, with artists like Klee and Miró driving forward radical new ideologies in the creation of abstract works."
K. Shahi blogs about the exhibition Late Klee at the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, on view through February 24, 2013.
Shahi writes: "In 1936, Klee was diagnosed with scleroderma, a chronic systemic autoimmune disease. Knowing that he was nearing the end of his life, Klee’s work took on a renewed sense of urgency. As the Metropolitan Museum describes, he began to work more quickly, his lines becoming heavier, forms more generalized, colors more simple and deliberate. Chronology is not the primary emphasis of “Late Klee;” the exhibition does not map a straightforward progression. Instead, the artist’s rapidly shifting experiments with form, color and composition reveal a creativity that was unimpeded – indeed, even abetted – by his impending death."
Edited by artist Brett Baker, Painters' Table highlights writing from the painting blogosphere as it is published and serves as a platform for exploring blogs that focus primarily on the subject of painting.