Writing Art History Since 2002

First Title

Bob Nickas, Painting Abstraction: New Elements in Abstract Painting, Phaidon, 352 pages, hardcover, ISBN-13: 9780714849331, R770. By Sean O’Toole

Normal.dotmo 0o 0o 1o 261o 1489o Privateo 12o 2o 1828o 12.0o oxml 0w falsew 18 ptw 18 ptw 0w 0w falsew falsew falsew w xml wxml /* Style Definitions */table.MsoNormalTable {mso-style-name:”Table Normal”; mso-tstyle-rowband-size:0; mso-tstyle-colband-size:0; mso-style-noshow:yes; mso-style-parent:”; mso-padding-alt:0cm 5.4pt 0cm 5.4pt; mso-para-margin:0cm; mso-para-margin-bottom:.0001pt; mso-pagination:widow-orphan; font-size:12.0pt; font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-ascii-font-family:Cambria; mso-ascii-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-fareast-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-fareast-theme-font:minor-fareast; mso-hansi-font-family:Cambria; mso-hansi-theme-font:minor-latin; mso-bidi-font-family:”Times New Roman”; mso-bidi-theme-font:minor-bidi; mso-ansi-language:EN-US;}styleThe Americanpainter Ad Reinhardt, famous for his impenetrable black paintings, once wrotethat his were “the last paintings which anyone can make”. Nearly a half-centuryafter his death, painting persists. In his new book on recent tendencies inabstract painting, New York critic and curator Bob Nickas shows just howvibrant this afterlife continues to be. In hisintroduction Nickas quotes another statement by Reinhardt: “It is moredifficult to write or talk about abstract painting than about any otherpainting because the content is not in a subject matter or story, but in theactual painting activity.” This coolly narrated book effortlessly debunks thisnotion. Not with belligerent intent, mind you, but rather through theknowledgeable explanation of what 80 abstract painters – too many of themAmerican, unfortunately – have been doing in the past five years. Assiduouslydesigned, the orange cloth cover indicative of the visual zing inside, Nickaslightly structures his book around six themes. Although nominally systematised,each artist is evenly treated, each given a single page biographical entry andthree pages of images. No South African is featured, which is unsurprising.While abstract art has a rich and controversial history locally, as is hintedat in a room from the panoramic show currently on at Cape Town’s NationalGallery, this country claims no convincing abstract painter in the presenttense. (Zander Blom’s attempts are, at best, tentative indicators of potential,while Penny Siopis is arguably more abstracted than abstract.) This book won’t answer why we are gripped by anunrelenting, sometimes bleak national preoccupation with figuration, but itdoes – in remarkable entries such as one dedicated to Michael Krebber -quantify what is lost as a result.

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