Part Four – Preparation for Assignment 4: Research and Refining selection

Based on my initial brainstorming, outline and further reading here my plan for argumentation

What do I know of the six image?

Before selecting the one for my essay I am going to look at all six artworks in chronological order, perhaps to see certain development in art history.

Images collected for A4 on my Pinterest board for this assignment (

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It seems a bit odd to see the painting by Cornelis Gijisbrecht in the series of postmodern artworks.

Cornelis Gijsbrechts (1610 – 1675), Trompe l’oeil with Studio Wall and Vanitas Still Life,1668

Gijsbrecht is a Flemish painter specialized in trompe d’oeil paintings, using an artistic trick to convey an illusion of spatial depth and engaging the viewer as an invitation to enter the picture or at times with the illusion that depicted items are moving towards to viewer’s space. Ghisbrecht lived and painted at a time where allegories and the vanitas theme was popular, in context of moral religious austerity, depicting items as signs with symbolic meanings of death and resurrection, e.g. hour glass, or skull.

He painted the painting Still Life at his time in Copenhagen, where he met the royal family, and the depicted items are supposingly items from the family’s surrounding and in a scale of lifesize. Another quite modernist painting by him is Trompe l’oeil. The Reverse of a Framed Painting, 1968-72, a painting of the backside of a framed canvas.

Gijsbrecht’s painting is playing with human’s perception, our learned way of seeing, and puts the viewer self on stage. There are two steps related how we see those pictures: first as a believable pure illusion, and the our own recognitition of the trick. Scale matters, as lifesize dimensiones adds to the credibility of the trick, as the familiarity of items do.  Another modernist approach in his paintings, are the flatness of the picture plane. Not so much spatial depth as illusionistic landscape do convey, an aerial depth where the viewer can truly ‘walk into’ with the eye. Gijsbrecht technique was later appropriated by the American painter John F Peto in the 19th century (e.g. For the Track, 1895)

With a time jump back to Gijsbrecht’s future and our past,  post-modernism. An era after modernist formalism and ‘high art’ critique, through a structuralist approach of relational semiotics (relational clues and signs) by Saussure, referential by Peirce and Barthes, and deconstructive by Lyotard and Derrida. It seems all end in Deleuze expression of ‘difference in itself’, with no single viewpoint valid only, and a deconstruction of representational frameoworks as the base of political and cultural hegemonic worldviews.

The increasingly theoretical debate of art in a political, economical and social context with conceptions by Derrida, Foucault and Leotard and neo-Marxist theories of the 1960s revolts created a social reality in which the artist were ‘prisoners as anyone else’ (Archer, 2012:140), hard to escape and opposite to a distant view on the world. Their respective artist position, either from a feminist, marxist, or race perspective, are mosly related to the development of conceptual art after Modernism.  The work of the following artist cover a period between begin 1970s and begin 1990s-

Michael Asher (1943 – 2012), Claire Copley Gallery, exhibition space of the Los Angeles Gallery, 1974

Part of conceptual art was a discussion around gallery practices and social purpose of art. Asher’s work 1973 can be seen in this context with elements of minimal art with its spatial phenomenlogical experience and a revisited conception of sculpture as an autonomous object.

It covers historical, economical and administrative elements by making the gallery his subject matter and the object of attention. Asher’s installations are an institutional critique, revealing the power and the hegemony of museums and galleries to which artists are ‘enslaved’.

He removed the walls as well as disruptive elements e.g. the carpet, to make the otherwise split and concealed spaces as one. By revealing the back offices and placing the staff and its daily operational activities on display Asher removed the ‘gallery atmopshere’ visitors typically experienced and confronted them with a different reality of art. Through a picture window the gallery was exposed to the street view. An interplay of internal/external space and subject/object alongside commercial aspects. In a work for another gallery he placed the removed cladding from an exterior walls onto interior walls, making appearance and curatorial habits the subject matter as artworks typically are removed and stored away.

Overall, one can say that conceptual art as expressed by Asher are not an artwork that can be removed and placed in another situation. Similar to Whiteread’s House it is of a ‘situational aesthetic’ and continues to exist only through documentation and critical writing (Taylor, 2012:52). What also became obvious or visible by Asher’s unfolding of space was a transition from a single artist as author towards a collective (gallery as commisioner, curator) articulation. A notion that later till today became a point of interest, and a rejection of authorship and originality, and with an increasingly importance of the curators’ role in art reception.

Here, I can see a relationship with Gijsbrecht’s trompe d’oeil illusions, but not on as a pictoral reality but as a metophorical as well as very literal reality. Through the disruption of traditional art contemplation and gallery space perception space unfolded is and illusion destroyed (Rorimer, 1990).


Sherrie Levine (b. 1947),, After Walker Evans, 1979

Levine is an American photographer with a focus on male artists and their ideological bias. She rephotographed (photographed from exhibition catalogue) portrait by Walter Evans (1936) of a sharecropper family from Alabama.  Michael Mandiberg rephotographed again the images by Levine 2001. Levine’s photographs as appropriated art, with no further manipulation, were presented as her own art. By others, e.g. the Walker estate, the work was considered as copyright infringement. The whole body of work of that series was donated later by Levine to the estate, now with MoMA, New York.

The subject itself is representing rural Amercian poor life during Great Depression.  Through Levine’s appropriation from a feminist perspective the subject matter took a twist towards the question of the male gaze and possession. A reflection on the subject matter, a woman, she questioned the separation of originality (artwork) and the original (subject). A question that was similar but with a different approach visualized by Cindy Sherman with her staged self-portrait photographs.

Appropriation of art became know with cubism and the ready-made by Duchamp. More popular in post-Modern era in the 1980s as a challenge and critic of authorship and originality related to power, social issues and hegemonic structures also in the art world. A hot debate till today  (e.g. Jeff Koons various court cases against his art as well his case against a gallery who sold dog shaped Ballons, a form widely in public domain) related to questions of fair use, parody, and transformative appeal.

The Amercian art historian Thomas Crow stated that appropriation became possible by the fact that ‘the authority of art as a category’ had ceased to be a matter of Modernist assumptions. The ‘mimesis of already existing signs’ became a confident field where society defines what is art or not. (Archer, 2012:164-5). In that respect the ‘original’ photograph of Walker is nothing else than another sign.

Art & Language (Michael Baldwin, born 1945; Mel Ramsden, born 1944) Portrait of V. I. Lenin in the style of Jackson Pollock, 1980

The group of Artists was founded in 1968 in Coventry, UK.  1969 was their first journal Art-Language published. The approach of journal publications as documentation in a theoretical debate around what art is was followed by the influential magazine Artforum and a bit later October the USA and others as well in Europe.

They worked together with  a different group in the USA since 1970. One main theme was a theoretical and critical debate of art in opposition to Greenberg and Fried Modernist theories. In this discourse it was Foucault who stated that it was not only the different artworks (statements) but also the institutional context of museum and critiques as prevailing system for perception and reception. In a sense that ‘discourses as practices systemically form the objects of which they speak’ (Archer, 2012:80). Also Joseph Kosuth, whose coined the term conceptual art and art as idea (see my assignment 2), was part of the group. The conception of art theory inherent to reception of art was articulated by the group in their work Index 01 (1972) shown during Documenta V, consisting of theoretical texts filled in eight cabinets in the room and the wall pasted with even more documents.

The name of the artists as a group name highlights a questioning of authenticity. It also marks the difference between a collective and a single artist. The latter as the author of one work, whereas the invidual artists in the collective are ‘agents in a practice’ (ibid).

After Modernist painting with its literal flatness, abstraction and rejection of figurative art in context of Greenberg and Fried, the discourse went in the 1970s towards a debate around ‘significance and political connotations of figurative or non-figurative work’ as Archer described it (ibid:139).

This painting done by the left artists if the group is a pastiche and rather paradox of abstract expressionism and social realism as kind of opposites. It is addressing the impact of Cold War on American Abstract Expressionism, a contextual reference through layerings of technique and images of opposites (social realism and abstract action painting) and questioning the impact of social realities. Charles Harrison wrote about this work as the forced coexistence of ‘incommensurable mythologies of invidual risk associated with Pollock and historical risk associated with class struggle’ (Archer, 2012:39).

Another aspect related to this work is the imposed meaning of an artwork. Regardless of resemblance art appears thus political. One could argue that a mere focus on aesthetic appeal of art would be condemned as reactionary at that time.


Mark Tansey (b. 1949), Action Painting, 1981

Tansey addresses conventions of looking and painting through a ‘realistic’ painting approach. However, he doesn’t see himself as a realist painter in a photographic sense. He challenges representational frameworks and juxtaposes different realities as a kind of paradox, making a statement on underlying ideologies and beliefs. The painted narratives are revealing different conceptions of perception and meaning. Opposites and contradictions are together in a pictorial plane as to show that all are just differentials of possibilities. In a sense he applies pictorial elements as a mean for theoretical debate.

‘Action Painting’ as a landscape painting plays with significations of ‘action’ and ‘painting’. The painterly approach opposite to Pollock’s action painting and refocusing on a spectacular action happening in the depicted scene. One wonders whether this can be a representational painting of an action happening in ‘life’, of an historical event. As in his painting The Innocent Eye (see assignment 1) Tansey’s painting seem to consist of two realities: his painting of the female artist painting, and the scene that artist is painting ‘en plein air’. The pun, or the punctum in context of Barthes, is related to the irrealistic depction of the short time event (car crash) transfered onto the painted painting.  But it also remembers Jackson Pollock’s fatal car accident 1956.

In Tansey’s paintings dissimilar events do coexist in one constructed painting, collage like and in opposition to photographic reality although the painting is done in a ‘photorealistic’ rendering. The visual appearance of this painting reminds one further of old photographs or ‘cinema noir’ and at times at kitsch paintings. Overall, the painting ‘unravels the conundrum’ (Gibson, 1984) as a meta-picture and encoded like Gijsbrecht’s Still Life.

Fred Wilson (b. 1954) Mining the Museum, an exhibition at the Maryland Historical Society, 1992-3

=> Wilson is an American conceptual artist and political activist who describes himself as ‘African, Native Amercian, European and Amerindian’. One of his main themes is addressing beliefs of museums, as an hegemonic ‘white man’ bias and under-representating oppressed groups.  With a subtle twist in the standard presentation of objects and juxtaposition of slave and master features the exhibition communicated the underlying issues in a suggestive manner. Wilson refers his approach as the ‘trompe d’oeil of museum space’, a term that connects with the painting by Ghisbrechts and the illusionistic perception of paintings in the 17th century.

His installation work highlights through a rearrangement of the society’s collection the history of native and African people in Maryland. The difference is not the outer apperance of objects but the underlying historical significations. Although the collection had to preserve the heritage including colonization, slavery and abolition, the standard presentation was from a single viewpoint of the board, white and male. Through this viewpoint a certain world views was presented that Wilson wanted to ‘mine’. He applied in his installation irony when re-presenting objects of the collection, e.g a silver globe, an industrial award tagged with the word ‘truth’ along three busts of white men, non-Maryland people, and three empty pedestals with the names of three black Maryland people (Ginsberg, n.D.). The key message expressed by Wilson was that meaning derived from absence, what was not shown rather what was shown.  And by applying this suggestive and non-provocative approach he was successful in destabilizing common beliefs.

Overall, Wilson challenges us in our beliefs in what books, museums, institutions etc. are telling us, makiung belief us, a certain perspective on a reality that excludes others.  But he also tries refrain from a revisionist approach, replacing one world view with another system. He tries to work with both. His view, to argue with Deleuze, is another possibility and perspective, neither more true or more real —his and history’s—Wilson’s vision is not so much more “correct” as more complex, richer, and probably more real (Nesbitt, 1992).


I can discern the following aspects in the reviewed artworks:

  • lllusion of pictorial reality alongside its destruction through an increasingly awareness of the viewer, beholder, visitor (in works by Gijsbrecht, Tansey, Asher)
  • Perception of reality and worldviews and its subversive challenges through visual installation and/or contextual relationship with the artist (in works by Levine, Wilson)
  • Appropration as a technique to challenge political, social and cultural beliefs (in works by Wilson and Art&Language)
  • Questionning of art perception and meaning of art (in works by Art & Language, Tansey, Asher)

My selection

First, I was thinking of Gijsbrecht or Tansey, paintings, well known to me. I wanted to look at less known artworks and the first look at Asher’s work in the course material didn’t do anythin to me. It felt as a forgotten space, obsolute, not intriguing. But after my above deeper investigation I suddenly became very much interested in it. Another work I found fascinating was the work by Wilson, subversive with a but of irony. But personally, I do not feel so connected with irony. Further I rejected Levine and Art & Language as I felt not ready to move into feminist and political debates. What also made me look at Asher deeper is the extensive material available on his work.

Therefore my choice: Michael Asher (1943 – 2012), Claire Copley Gallery. for the following reasons:

  • It represents conceptual work (what allows me to consider contextual aspects of the other works as well)
  • It addresses site experience (space) and situational aesthetic (what I personally find a very fascinating aspect)
  • It addresses the art world and reception of art.
  • Extensive resource material available
  • Find some intereting link with my assignment 2 and McCollum’s work

Reference :

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