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Altered states of abstraction

August 26, 2016 // by Jaime DeSimone

During my research for Confronting the Canvas: Women of Abstraction, I discovered the 2009-2010 recurring column “What State Abstraction” in BOMB Magazine by MOCA Jacksonville's inaugural Brooke and Hap Stein Emerging Artist Prize recipient Jackie Saccoccio, in which she interviewed twelve admired painters about the current state of abstraction. The resulting discussions were revelatory yet contradictory, intelligent (“art speak”) yet humorous, taking readers on an expedition throughout each artist's thoughts as well as history of art.

Jackie Saccoccio Portrait Confronting the Canvas Members Preview b
Jackie Saccoccio attends the members' preview for Confronting the Canvas in June 2016. Image courtesy of Thomas Hager.

What follows is a compilation from the visionary and theoretical to a constant wrestling with it to an actual “split” with the abstraction altogether.

Jessica Dickinson

When I talk about abstraction I want to give it the fluidity to elude language that could harden it with rigid boundaries. I use abstraction because it reflects aspects of my lived experience where things shift, change, and resist definition--where things are unknown yet positively real. The history of abstraction I learned in school was rooted in the 20th-century meta-narrative of abstraction being invented and then linearly evolving along one path. But we know this narrative is very closed down, that it suppressed many other histories, directions, and possibilities of abstraction. I think artists using abstraction today are coming in through many different side doors. They are conscious of and inspired by the marginal possibilities of abstraction.

Keltie Ferris

Abstraction as action for the non-believers: By this I mean, Christopher Wool and his descendants. Or maybe Albert Oehlen did it first. Here there is a lot of distancing techniques from mark-making with a brush (spray paint, silk screening, Xeroxing, and other printmaking techniques). Sometimes it feels this simple: brushes and palette knives are for the believers; layers of prints and spray guns are for the critics. Of course it isn't; Rauschenberg started with that sort of critique, but of course didn't end there.

Confronting the Canvas Keltie Ferris Maya Hayuk Paintings c
Keltie Ferris and Maya Hayuk paintings appear in Confronting the Canvas. Image courtesy of Doug Eng.

Carroll Dunham

In the contemporary context, there appears to be a divergence between 'sincere' abstraction and "ironic" or even "bitchy" abstraction, although frequently, and paradoxically, the latter feels emotionally deep and on target, and the former seems full of shit. This split is related to the question of whether there can still be "progress" or "discoveries," and there have been particular and different approaches to exploring this issue, notably in Germany and America. It keeps coming back to definitions, and to the relationship between the personal and the public.

Dan Walsh

Abstraction is historically about essences, intuitions; something one cannot put into words. But today it seems like everything can be put into words. This has certainly diluted abstraction's position and mystery. Although what distinguishes it from other forms is no longer clear, we continue to embrace it. Still, I would say abstraction is alive and well. One can exist there with absolute freedom; there are no more rules or ideologies to uphold or hierarchies to respect. And the formal has shown itself to be an incredibly flexible vocabulary--any idea can stick to it. I think this is just what we wanted: to have many ways to understand abstraction, history, and the world.

Confronting the Canvas Fran ONeill Jackie Saccoccio Paintings d
Fran ONeill and Jackie Saccoccio paintings appear in Confronting the Canvas. Image courtesy of Doug Eng.

Amy Sillman

Dear Jackie,
I guess you didn't know this
 but me and Abstraction broke up!!!!! Last summer!!!! Well, I mean, I've been feeling like kind of confused for a long time, like years. I'm friends with all of A's friends and stuff, and I think A's really cool and I totally learned a LOT from A--but you know what? I don't want to say anything bad about A, but I have to TOTALLY MOVE ON with my LIFE. I started to really feel like A's been holding me back and even like kind of manipulative. I mean, when I moved to NYC it was kind of incredible to get to know A … but you know what? I am super worried that when you get really to the core of things, A is just super conceited and can't talk to me. I feel really bad saying this but I KIND OF WONDER sometimes if A is just DEAD INSIDE. I don't know, maybe A is like a meal ticket for me. I mean, I get invited to a lot of shows and things because of A, but when I'm there, A just kind of talks to other people. Like I don't feel A can really concentrate on one person at a time-A always addresses the whole room, if you know what I mean. I mean, it's not like Representation even knows I exist either. I feel like when I come into the room, R is like all glassy and actually really conservative; it's a weird feeling, too. But anyway I just started to feel like I can't be tied down and I have to play the field. I guess all of you know that I was always like that and totally non-monogamous, but that's why you didn't hear from me all winter. I totally learned a lot from A, and I even got to be friends w/ Cézanne who I didn't even LIKE before and now I like totally, like, LOVE, and I super love Cubism, (I am so mad at my friend Kerstin in Berlin because she doesn't even LIKE Cubism but I feel like Cubism is like so amazing. It's basically a diagram, if you know what I mean.) OH, and also, I never would have understood Process without A but I just feel like A's really old friends are just WEIRD. And kind of pompous? Or something? Well, anyway, I feel really bad telling you this, like you'll be pissed, but I hope you know this has nothing to do with you and I really love you and the part of A's friends that are really open like you are AMAZING and everything. But basically I kicked A out of my studio this summer, and afterwards I felt really good. I had this amazing fling, don't tell anyone, but I had this fling with this face, and I don't know, that was the straw that tipped the iceberg and I just went with it. I feel like me and A can be good friends after a while, though, and I am super hoping that all of A's friends will still be friends with me, but, sometimes I almost kind of wish, you know, I was sleeping ALONE. You know what I mean????
Love,
Amy

At MOCA Jacksonville, we didn't “kick A” out by any means. Instead we invited A in and asked it to spend the summer.  

Confronting the Canvas Maya Hayuk Anke Weyer Paintings e
Maya Hayuk and Anke Weyer paintings appear in Confronting the Canvas. Image courtesy of Doug Eng.

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