WHAT ‘S IN AN ABSTRACT?
A few months ago I came across a handwritten note by a very good artist, in his eighties – who just happens to like classical representational art. He not only did not like abstract painting – he disliked it. OK – many people do not like abstractions – but they have the wisdom to say -’ I don’t understand it’. What is the Artist trying to say? That is a valid point. You must understand something before you appreciate it or pass an opinion. I personally struggled for a long time because I did not understand Christo. However – after a few videos, his biographical book, and a few other books on his art – I came upon the ‘aha’ moment. I got it! And ever since that moment a few years back – I am trying to the best of my abilities to explain his art to others – to the best of my understanding. Back to the old school Artist, who dislikes Abstract art. So much so, that he had the audacity to cut out an Article form a newspaper, about a celebrated abstract artist Helen Frankenthaler, with a note addressed to his fellow-artist buddy: ‘ Hi John! Here is another example of hoe talentless fraud is accepted as art and equally kook-y critics!’”. I just happen to know ‘John’, who knows I love abstract art and just lets me have the cut outs… The point here is – it is so easy to dismiss something one does not understand. And for some – belittling and degrading something they simply cannot grasp – comes even easier.
Why dismiss something that clearly has values to many – aesthetic value, poetic value, even monetary value ….. That brings me to enclosing some reprints from a a well known publication about my favorite abstract artist – Gerhard Richter – named lately ” The Top Selling Living artist“: by Wall Street Journal in an article by Kelly Crow.
About Gerhard Richter’s unrivalled success Mr. Crow adds: “The artist’s ascent is being driven by market demands as much as curatorial merit: Auction houses and museums, eager for new masters to canonize, are showcasing Mr. Richter’s works around the world at an ever-increasing clip. An influx of international collectors and dealers are also seizing the moment to buy or sell his pieces at a profit—including art-world tastemakers such as Russian industrialist Roman Abramovich, French luxury-goods executive Bernard Arnault, dealer Larry Gagosian, Taiwanese ele
ctronics mogul Pierre Chen and New York hedge-fund manager Steven Cohen
Mr. Richter’s work is uniquely suited to the tastes of the current art market. Like Picasso, he paints in a number of different styles—from rainbow-hued abstracts to poignant family portraits—giving collectors plenty of choice. Like Warhol, he is prolific, which ensures a steady volume of his works in the marketplace—yet enough of his works are in museum collections that he has avoided a glut. And ever since the deaths last year of painters Cy Twombly and Lucian Freud, collectors searching for another senior statesman have started giving his work a closer look.
Collectors are paying a particular premium for Mr. Richter’s larger abstracts from the
late 1980s, which have all the visual impact of a work by Francis Bacon or Mr. Rothko, artists whose prices spiked before the recession. These abstracts are also immediately identifiable as being Mr. Richter’s creations, making them easy status symbols. San Francisco dealer Anthony Meier says, “Collectors want an iconic work in a format that everyone recognizes. Monkey see, monkey do”
As Terry Teachout points out in his article “ The Seductive Allure of Abst
“Part of what makes this series so fascinating is that Mr. Diebenkorn, who died in 1993, waged a lifelong “battle” with abstraction. He started out as a gifted Abstract Expressionist painter. In 1955 he suddenly embraced representation, turning out dozens of figurative paintings that translate the language of Matisse into a wholly personal, semiabstract style. Then, in the Ocean Park series, he made a decisive return to total abstraction, in the process creating the most original works of his career.
“To chart Mr. Diebenkorn’s stylistic development is to be reminded of the near-overwhelming power of the idea of abstraction in the 20th century. It was even felt by artists who, like Pierre Bonnard and Fairfield Porter, never produced an abstract painting in their lives, but were nonetheless influenced by the way in which practitioners of abstraction created what Mr. Diebenkorn called “invented landscapes,” nonobjective images that evoked the world of tangible reality while steering clear of literal representation.”
“Just as Kandinsky turned his back on figuration, so did the atonal composers of the early 20th century, led by Arnold Schoenberg, abandon tonal harmony, the fundamental ordering principle on which all Western classical music had previously been based. In a tonal composition, harmonic movement is the “plot” that propels the listener through time. Schoenberg, by contrast, sought to express his inmost feelings in a raw, unmediated way instead of using large-scale tonal architecture to shape them into conventionally coherent structures. “One must express oneself!“ he told Kandinsky in 1911. “Express oneself directly! Not one’s taste, or one’s upbringing, or one’s intelligence, knowledge or skill. Not all these acquired characteristics, but that which is inborn, instinctive.”
Whatever causes the Abstract Art to be in the center of such controversies as despised by some and revered by others – is certainly not going away. Abstract Art is here to stay. For those of us – who love Abstract Art – and even paint abstract – this is the good news. For the ones, who have not grown to at least like it – I would say – “Get over it! Spend more time trying to understand it and less time complaining and maybe you will figure out why abstract art is so timeless…’ For now, my Abstract lovers – let us enjoy Richter’s unlimited imagination, while he keeps being amazed at his own success….
for The Art Chronicle