Monday, June 22, 2009

Nos, II

Robert Morris's "Notes on Sculpture" parts I and II are a pair of analytical essays from 1966 concerned with producing an art of wholeness. Part II engages intimacy, size, and detail; Morris asserts that sculpture ought to be public rather than intimate, and that small scale and detail disrupt publicness (and foster intimacy).

Here are the consecutive sentences that I want to work through:

"One is more aware than before that he himself is establishing relationships as he apprehends the object from various positions, and under various conditions of light and spacial context."
"Every internal relationship, whether it be set up by a structural division, a rich surface, or what have you, reduces the public, external quality of the object and tends to eliminate the viewer to the degree that these details pull him into an intimate relation with the work and out of the space in which the object exists."

I'm bothered by what seems to be a bit of a contradiction here. In the first excerpt, Morris argues for a new sculpture that encourages active viewer participation: the viewer circulate through the object's space, establishing (bodily) relationships between the space, the viewer, and the object. This seems to me a pretty intimate scenario. In the second excerpt, the structural, internal relationships of the object itself pose an artistic problem because they create intimacy with the viewer and (as is clarified earlier) pull the sculpture apart.

The provisional resolution would seem that Morris understands intimacy much differently than I do. For Morris, intimacy-producing objects are seductive and lead to the disruption and disillusion of the art object into its component parts. Intimacy is scary. Intimacy is castrating. I think I'll stop there and get back to reading.

EDIT: Morris clarifies his conscious (that's a dangerous word) intentions (that one is too!) toward the end:

"While the work must be autonomous in the sense of being a self-contained unit for the formation of the gestalt, the indivisible and undissolvable whole, the major aesthetic terms are not in but dependent upon this autonomous object and exist as unfixed variable that find their specific definition in the particular space and light and physical viewpoint of the spectator. Only one aspect of the work is immediate: the apprehension of the gestalt. The experience of the work necessarily exists in time. The intention is diametrically opposed to Cubism with its concern for simultaneous views in one plane." (234)

Why is intimacy bad? Why is wholeness good? Why is it now important for the viewer to take time to view the piece from multiple angles? Because now we're making Real American Art! Abstract expressionism, David Smith, Anthony Caro... they're all just cubists in new clothes. NOS I and II are Morris's argument for his art being the real first American art. Cocky?

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