And I had looked again and again at versions of the paintings available online, versions that, , deformed the work, backlighting it, making it more resplendent and translucent—almost as if one were holding an old photographic slide up to a light.
Surprise, surprise, given all this, on my second visit the work looked quite different.
For the moment I was a naïve, curious about my lack of interest in Guston’s paintings.
Could it be a sign that I was about to spend the next month, if not five years, of my life studying and writing about these abstract canvases and how rich they were?
It occurred to me, too, that in the United States—and certainly with white male police officers continuing to murder black men—black can never just be a color. just to PAINT,” but an American artist whose palette includes black—and so much black—can never be just painting, can never be liberated “from Value—political, esthetic, moral.” Monochrome painting, which became infamous when the Abstract Expressionist Ad Reinhardt exhibited his nearly all-black paintings, is said to have begun with the French writer Paul Bilhaud’s painting (Negroes fight in a tunnel), 1882. James Baldwin’s approach to blackness in America has come to mind (and I would not be surprised to discover that Guston was as impressed by Baldwin’s essays as I and as so many “liberal” Americans have been). Readers may also be noting that I, like Guston and like his black figures, have a heavy head.
Rosenberg had written, “The big moment came when it was decided to paint . From “Everybody’s Protest Novel” (which is rooted in The conundrum of color is the inheritance of every American, be he/she legally or actually Black or White. The first afternoon, I found my way to a bench in one of the quieter rooms of the gallery.For one, the figurative elements in many of the paintings leapt out at me.As one may see faces in the clouds, so now I saw all the black, cartoon heads peering out through the forest of the “texture.” Hammers, a wizard, chairs, a woman with a handbag, a ghoulish figure with a crutch, black and white faces together, as on the prow of a ship, a Santa’s bag, full of presents, but not red and white: black. It is savagely, if one may say so, ironical that the only proof the world—mankind—has ever had of White supremacy is in the Black face and voice: that face never scrutinized, that voice never heard.eaders will be noting that the present text is a complex piece, moving between specific experiences in an art gallery and reading done in response to those experiences or independent of it.And yet—or simultaneously—confronted with the work, an art-gallery visitor could also feel or see, less happily or more empathetically, distances—between the artist and his work and the world, and thus, too, between the work and the viewer.Here at the outset, I should say, too, that I later returned to Hauser & Wirth, on a sunny day, and after having read and read.But as you continue, they start leaving one by one, and you are left completely alone.Then, if you’re lucky, even you leave.” Of course we can hear Buddhist echoes and thus imagine, or indeed feel, that the resulting work has a special purity or spirituality.It could be understood as pure painting—art absorbed by its own possibilities, experiments in color and form.Or it could be understood as pure expression—a “school” in which every artist had a unique signature.And so was my seeming lack of interest in Guston’s work an inversion of, a response to, anxiety provoked by his seeming disinterest in beauty, order . The mural was defaced by local police officers, and I have also read that Ku Klux Klan members, who in Southern California were after Jews and African-Americans, defaced Guston’s early, political murals. ) I like asking people—strangers in art museums and galleries—what they think of art works that we are both looking at.n the Hauser & Wirth room in which I was trying to pass to the other side of my lack of interest and to collect my thoughts, there were two other people: a young man who was touring the canvases and a woman about my age—early sixties—who was sitting at the other end of “my” bench. It’s a way of making a little conversation; it touches on my curiosity about how other people are experiencing the world, what their points of connection are.