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Why was The Brunelleschi Window Abandoned? (page2)

Why was The Brunelleschi Window Abandoned?


Fig.9.4 Jean Tinguely, Homage to New York (remnant). A self-constructing and self-destroying work of art. Demonstration in sculpture garden of Museum of Modern Art, New York, March 17, 1960..


In addition to the incorporation of randomness into the process of creation, some artists have attempted to undermine the norms that define a work of art by deliberately curtailing the physical life of the work. Thus transitoriness has become (for some) a central characteristic of works of art such as Jean Tinguely's Homage to New York(Figure 9.4), a sculpture-machine that was supposed to self-destruct, but at first didn't (because it broke). John Cage called this attitude toward painting "art as sand painting (art for the nowmoment rather than for posterity's museum civilization)" (1973, p. 65). He adds a footnote to "art for the nowmoment":

This is the very nature of the dance, of the performance, of music, or any other art requiring performance (for this reason, the term "sand painting" is used: there is a tendency in painting (permanent pigments), as in poetry (printing, binding), to be secure in the thingness of a work, and thus to overlook, and place nearly insurmountable obstacles in the path of, instantaneous ecstasy). (1973, p. 65, footnote 10).


Fig.9.5 Marcel Duchamp, Bottlerack (original 1914, lost). Photograph is by Man Ray and is a part of Duchamp's Valise (1943), a collection of reproductions of Duchamp's art in a leather case (16-1/8 in. h × 14-3/4 in. w × 4-1/8 in. d). Collection, The Museum of Modern Art, New York. James Thrall Soby, Fund.


Some artists have even circumvented the process of making the work of art. Certain artists did so by using objets trouvés, which Marcel Duchamp called Readymades, such as his Bottlerack (Figure 9.5). In his fascinating monograph on Duchamp, Octavio Paz writes:

The Readymades are anonymous objects that the artist's gratuitous gesture, the mere fact of choosing them, converts into works of art. At the same time this gesture does away with the notion of art object. The essence of the act is contradiction; it is the plastic equivalent of the pun. As the latter destroys meaning, the former destroys the idea of value...

The Readymade is a criticism of... manual art ... The artist is not the maker of things; his works are not pieces of workmanship - they are acts. (1981, pp. 21-2, 23-4).

Other artists have developed Duchamp's implicit criticism by creating conceptual art, in which a declared intention, the description of a project (often not feasible), or the performance of an act are the work of art. One example is described by Burnham (1973, p. 150):

Using a beach near his cottage at Truro, Massachusetts, [Douglas] Huebler decides to use the dimensions of a gallery in Los Angeles as boundaries for six sites on the beach. Markers are placed at six locations and Huebler makes photographs of each. These are assembled with a map and explanation and the piece is sent to the gallery in Los Angeles. The result on the gallery goer's part is a sense of double transposition.

a. The gallery in Los Angeles
b. The photos of the Truro beach with the gallery floor markers
c. The sites on Truro beach with markers
the dimensions the gallery floor

These violations of the artist's freedom of choice (e.g., Martin's aleatory paintings), violations of persistence (e.g., Tinguely's self-destroying sculpture), violations of the need for elaborate technique (e.g., Duchamp's Readymades), and violations of the materiality of the work (e.g., Huebler's conceptual art), which test our very conception of the boundaries of art, are often characterized (by the many who find this art distasteful) as gimmicks, precisely because of the two ways in which they are like droodles: they are surprising when first encountered and their visual impact is unlikely to grow on future encounters. These works were created "not because they are `good to see' but because they are `good to think' " (Burnham, 1973, p. 46). Indeed, one might argue that the essence of the works in which Burnham sees historical transgressions is that they provide an insight into art or into our conception of art; they might be thought of as providing a meta-aesthetic experience. These works that hinge on a single insight, however penetrating, and that play the role of a single characterization, however apt, in an ongoing exploration of the scope and definition of art are likely to be branded as gimmicks because we expect meta-aesthetic experiences in the course of philosophical or critical discussions of art, not in art itself.6

In addition to the ephemerality of the experience afforded by perspective cabinets, there is another feature that suggests gimmickiness, namely, the reliance on a technological device, usually one that is relatively unfamiliar, and the emphasis of the technological device in attracting an audience to it. Sometimes the technology imposes unusual conditions on the viewer or listener, such as wearing special spectacles (for stereoscopic viewing), or earphones (for vivid stereophonic hearing), or requires very fine adjustment of complicated apparatus, such as an extraordinary sound-reproduction system. At least initially, such constraints and involvement with technology inspire complaints about gimmickry. Photography and film have suffered greatly from tills technological stigma, for instance in Arnold Hauser's The Social History of Art:

The film is... an art evolved from the spiritual foundations of technics and, therefore, all the more in accordance with the medium in store for it. The machine is its origin, its medium and its most suitable subject. Films are "fabricated" and they remain tied to an apparatus, to a machine in a narrower sense than the products of the other arts. The machine here stands both between the creative subject and his work and between the receptive subject and his enjoyment of art. The motory, the mechanical, the automatically moving, is the basic phenomenon of the film. Running and racing, travelling and flying, escape and pursuit, the overcoming of spatial obstacles is the cinematic theme par excellence... . The film is above all a "photograph" and is already as such a technical art, with mechanical origins and aiming at mechanical repetition,7 in other words, thanks to the cheapness of its reproduction, a popular and fundamentally "democratic" art. It is perfectly comprehensible that it suited bolshevism with its romanticism of the machine, its fetishism of technics, and its admiration for efficiency. just as it is also comprehensible that the Russians and the Americans, as the two most technically minded peoples, were partners and rivals in the development of this art. (1966, pp. 197-8)

Only in recent years have photography and film been recognized as forms of high art.8

6 Rosenberg (1973) has made a very thorough analysis of these issues.

7 Walter Benjamin, "L'Oeuvre d'art à l'époque de sa reproduction méchanisée," Zeitschrift für Sozialforschung, 1936, vol. 1, p. 45. [Hauser's footnote.]

8 Even the use of so minimal a technological tool as a straight edge to produce straight lines in a painting is sometimes considered questionable. Could it be that the series of works by Albers called Despite Straight Lines an ellipsis of the statement, "This is art, despite straight lines"?

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