When I went to graduate school in the 1960s… I was faced with a dilemma… I was surrounded by ideas about art that I couldn’t identify with. I couldn’t identify with the practice of trying to decide what to put in a painting using a kind of intuition. Or looking at a painting as a vehicle for self-expression. It’s not that I looked down on that, or that I thought it was such a bad idea. It’s just that I wasn’t working in a manner that required that kind of behavior… Then I ran into a person who told me about a couple of books, which I bought and read. One was by the art historian Henri Focillon [1881–1943], called The Life of Forms in Art . The other was a big picture book on Tantric Buddhist art by Ajit Mookerjee [1915–1990]. In those books I began to find things that made sense to me in terms of art production.
[Focillon] had a Platonic perspective, that form was synonymous with number, with mathematics, with structure. And he said that form had a life of its own, had its own reciprocal fitness, had its own autonomous exigency..
This sounds like the tenets of high modernism. I don’t think it followed those tenets in talking about some kind of tautology or self-referential or self-reflexive apparatus. I saw it as a general critique of expressionism, which was central to my problem. I didn’t feel connected with the objects I was making, because when I made them, I wasn’t convinced that there was any connection between my motive to make something and the thing that I made. It just seemed arbitrary to me. I would see painters laboring in front of a painting, trying to decide whether a corner should be red or blue. To me it didn’t make any difference. It could be red or blue, you know? How can they feel good about a judgment that they make? On what basis do they establish this connection? And for the life of me, I couldn’t figure it out.
Focillon gave me the idea that you’re ultimately not the author of the object. You’re more like a vehicle of this realization without an author. With Tantric art I saw visual representation of the same idea. — Charles Gaines*
“Charles Gaines, January 31, 1995,” in ArtCenter Talks: Graduate Seminar, The First Decade1986–1995, edited by Stan Douglas (New York: David Zwirner Books / Pasadena, CA: ArtCenterGraduate Press, 2016), 172–197.
ThelmaGolden and KellieJones—joined by CAAM‘s departing deputy director and chief curator Naima J. Keith—will participate in the first panel of the SOUL OF A NATION SYMPOSIUM at the Aratani Theatre in LittleTokyo.*
The symposium marks the opening day of the SOUL OF A NATION exhibition at The Broad. Panel 1—which runs from 10:35 am to 11:50 am—will turn on the subject “The Politics of Black Exhibitions.” UC Irvine associate professor BridgetR. Cooks will moderate.
For complete information on the day’s speakers and panels, see the link below.
Lorna Simpson and Thelma Golden – the director and chief curator of The Studio Museum in Harlem – are holding court at the UndergroundMuseum this week to discuss, among other things, the publication of LORNA SIMPSON COLLAGES, a new monograph published by Chronicle Books.
THELMA GOLDEN and LORNA SIMPSON, Thursday, May 24, at 7 pm.