Art Essays , Art Books, Philosophers

De- and Re- Materialization of the (Art) Object, Chapter II

Artists are still associated as the maker of the objects, the particularity of the artist’s objects may be the multiple uses to which they can be put; from the economic value in a private or public collection to the aesthetic value, they are assumed to offer. Another essential characteristic is precisely the interfacial and ambiguous quality the art object between fellow objects and regarding subjects, almost despite its physical properties; as a fundamentally ‘open’ object, the artwork may be enhanced by size, matter or elevated position, but no amount of material justification will guarantee its aesthetic value. Unlike Plato’s beds or tables, Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s apple and Heidegger’s shoe struggle with their status as a model: they are at once real and represented, object0-like and thing-like, static and dynamic.

The categorical confusions engendered by mimetic representation did not wait for Marcel Duchamp’s readymades to become apparent. The contest in antiquity between the painters Zeuxis and Parrhasius, as reported by Pliny the elder, is exemplary in that Parrihasius won not for having painted the most convincing still life, but by painting a life-like curtain which Zeuxis thought could be pulled away to reveal another still life. For Lucan, Parrhasius theatrical device proved not a mastery of technical means a trap for a gaze but rather a successful eye trick, which bought the subject consciousness into the light.

The object world’s inaccessibility to the thinking, subject except through deceptive, theatrical lures could serve as a fictional key to twentieth-century western modernist art history. Clement Greenberg’s quest for pictorial flatness, non-composition and independence from the support could be read as a march towards, precisely the bare medium condition of painting. it is when nothing more is supposed to lie behind or beyond the canvas when all illusion is purged from the pictorial plane, that illusion is at its most powerful and the gaze triumphs over the eye. To this lurking theatricality, Donald Judd answered with ‘specific objects’, intended to everything Greenbergian modernism was not: neither sculpture nor painting but a three-dimensional object that get; rid of the problem of illusionism and of literal space, space in and around masks and colours. Against Greenberg’s Zeuxis comes Judd’s Parrhasius; the object must allude to nothing beyond what it is. But just as in Pliny’s story the triumphant realism is itself an illusion, for in the end Judd himself is accused of theatricality. ‘ The literalist espousal of objecthood’ Micheal Fried famously wrote in 1967 with reference to sculpture like Judd’s amounts to nothing other than a plea for a new genre of theatre, and theatre is now the negation of art.

This modernist contest between illusion and reality, featuring among others Greenberg, Judd and Fried, is well known- too well known. To feature in this collection. What does merit inclusion to another important text that prefigures Judd’s search for a category of the art object that would be neither sculpture nor painting? (Ferreira Gullar’s, theory of the known object, from 1959) and a number of reaction to the Greenberg realism-minimalism fight, which can be divided roughly in to two groups, the first is an immediate reaction to the American modernist debate, mainly through the abandonment of objects and the turn to language and philosophy, the second less immediate reaction is a history of performative art practices, which proposed new bodily interactions with objects.

Loosely referred to as, conceptual art, the first reaction quickly became attached to the fate of the object through the expression. The dematerialization of the art object, coined by Lucy Lippard and John Chandler in 1967. one could call this phase, mark by a rebuttal of object-making,’ first phase dematerialization, it is represented here by the writing of art and language. Charles Harrison and Ursula Meyer in the latter article, De-objectification of the object,’ the other makes explicit the effect of the first phase of the dematerialization of the (art) object. The new trend, she writes, is indicative of the loss of power not only over the object but the object itself. There is no rigidity which is associated with objecthood. The object is De-objectified.

Meyer’s text presents the advantage of referring to the second reaction of first phase De-materialization of the Art object, namely artistic expressions, she calls destructionist, including performances and happenings. Such dynamic, time-based manifestation which includes Fluxus events and the destructive art of Gustav Metzger-to which one could add Gruppe jefflecht’s, anti-objects, Helio Oiticica’s, Trans-Objects, Michel Angelo Pistoletto’s Minus-objects and Adrian Piper’s Auto-Biographical subjects as art objects are important correctives to the Zeuxis/Parrhasius model of art history instituted by Greenberg. Objects were not wholly evacuated from such, destructionist events, far from it; one could cite objects demanding the bodies participation in kinetic behaviour, systems and cybernetic art, as well as performative situations staging the interaction between objects and bodies.

If the first phase of the dematerialization of the art object could be categorized generally as anti- and non-object, the second phase took a more hybrid form. Second-wave dematerialization occurred when it became apparent that things-automated machines, cybernetic devices and computers-could in fact reasonably render the object obsolete, philosopher Gean-Francos, Lyotard mark this transition from first to second-wave dematerialization in 1985, when he curated the exhibition, less immateriaux, at a centre Geroge S Pompidou in Paris. The exhibition included a variety of instances in which the traditional interaction between subject and object was modified by machines capable of acting either on behalf of humans or more radically, as their surrogates, robots, virtual environments, new possibilities of artificial insemination, were all showcased as examples of immateriality. Often mistaken for a motley assortment of post-modern gadgetry, ‘ Less Immateriaux, in fact, staged the new historical condition of living amidst what Gilbert Simondon would call ‘technical objects’, objects capable of mediating between human and machines, creating transindividual, spaces where neither has the upper hand. On the cust between post-modernism was a decisive moment, in the acknowledgement of technologies role in modifying the subject relationships to objects.

The third phase of the Dematerialization of the Art object coincided with the rise of the abject, no linger, what is thrown against, (ob-ject), but what is’ thrown out’ or away, ab-ject. Discussion of the object by Julia Kristeva and Rosalind that seem to attack their medium specificity, not so much as acts of physical violence as had been the case in the 1960s, but as physical aggression of trauma Yve-Alain Bois’ and Krauss’s (formless) exhibition at the Centre Pompidou in 1996 featured a number of works in a state of deliquescence or deflation (e.g.) Claes Oldenburg’s soft sculpture green beans of 1964, or Robbert Smithson’s  asphalt rundown of 1969 , performing an operation towards horizontally characteristic of Georges Bataille’s ”based materialism”- a passage from object to thing, one could say. The exhibition’s aim was to retell the story of the teleological, medium-based version of it, the medium as a definable entity had seemingly run its course, and with it the recognizable objects in painting and sculpture upon which artistic discouraged had relied for centuries.

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