PART TWO / PROJECT 1: HONING IN
If Modernism conveyed a more utopian vision of human life, a belief in progress, embracing science and technology in explaining reality then Postmodern thinking challenged, to a greater extent, the notion of universal objective truths and reliance on reason. Individual interpretations of our experiences and embracing complex and contradictory layers of meaning are more common.
There is no clear definition of what art should be and there is a blurring of the distinctions between high culture and mass – pop culture and every day life.
I looked at a few artists and specific works that define some of the ideas within Postmodern thinking.
WORKING IN THE GAP BETWEEN ART & LIFE – ROBERT RAUCHENBURG
One definition of the change in thinking between Modernism and Postmodernism is the shift between observing things, forms and objects, to being more conscious about the cultural systems that inform about the objects. This is a shift from nature to culture.
According to musician John Cage, a friend of Robert Rauchenburg, “The task of art is waking us up to the very life we are living” . What qualifies as art is not the conventional, – that it’s composed or skilful or that it’s beautiful, what counts as art, for Cage, is anything that makes us more alert to life – art defined by what it does to us. The cultural systems were the main pre-occupation of people like Cage and Rauchenberg.
This is an earlier mixed media work, Rebus,1955, what Rauchenberg called a combine painting. It’s a self contained art object, not a ‘window’ to nature or the world in a conventional sense. He used a range of media, paper, fabric, pencil, crayon, newspaper, paint pot colour swatches, printed reproductions of famous art works and oil paint. While collage and using found objects was not new, Rauchenberg seemed to be re-negotiating established rules about style and language. So this image is a collage of knowledge and experiences of art history and also modern day life.
Rauchenberg used to watch a lot of TV in his youth, so elements of interest from media and pop culture are in the work, elements of text, aspects of field painting, abstract expressionist splashes and drippings, the colour swatches seems to allude to the language of colour.
So, while Modernist work became more exclusionary, Rauchenburg became more radically inclusive. He was a media landscape artist and while working predominantly before the internet, where there is no center, more a series of relationships, he seems more a product of the information rather than the mechanical age.
LAST OF THE GREAT EPIC HISTORY PAINTERS? – ANSELM KIEFER
I came across this painting by Kiefer watching Yale University’s lecture, History Painting after Two world Wars. I was drawn to to this title as I have some interest, currently, in war imagery and the emotional and physical reality of war has often been the source from which a number of twentieth century artists have drawn.
It was interesting that this work ‘The unborn’ (in English) was in the context of more traditional historical works. History painting take forms, aspects of texts, myths, scriptures, real events etc. conveying a message, moral, political or religious. So while, in this work, there is no obvious realistic narrative, through the physical materials, the tiny pasted on fabric clothes, painted numbers and other sources seems to reference to Germany’s recent past and wider issues of souls looking for a home or who have prematurely departed. The plant in the center looks like a tree of life, it’s coated with plaster, but it’s been uprooted from it’s source.
Kiefer is Postmodern in the sense he draws on a variety of sources and contexts and use of materials like Rauchenberg while avoiding attention to the more banal materialistic aspects of contemporary life.
Notes and Research
Hunter S. (1981), Robert Rauschenburg, Barcelona, Ediciones Poligrafa
Postmodern Strategies: Mixed Messages and Undecidability – Jon Anderson
Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns – Jon Anderson
Lecture 12, History Painting after Two World Wars: Anselm Kiefer’s Die Ungeborenen
Anselm Kiefer | “Die Ungeborenen” | Galerie Thaddaeus Ropac | Paris Pantin | 2012
OTHER ARTISTS OF INTEREST