You are currently browsing the tag archive for the ‘The Third Mind’ tag.

zen8_320x450

A few more thoughts gleaned from the Guggenheim show, The Third Mind. This show was as closely aligned to my view of artmaking as any other exhibit I’ve ever seen. The experience is still reverberating for me several days later.

Here are some provocative words from two giants, John Cage and Philip Guston.

We learned from Oriental thought that those divine influences are, in fact, the environment in which we are. A sober and quiet mind is one in which the ego does not obstruct the fluency of things that come in through the senses and up through one’s dreams. Our business in living is to become fluent with the life we are living, and art can help this.

–John Cage

Art is not self expression but self alteration.

–John Cage

Look at any inspired painting. It’s like a gong sounding; it puts you in a state of reverberation.

–Philip Guston

To will a new form is unacceptable, because will builds distortion. Clear the way for something else—a condition which…resists analysis—and probably this is as it should be.

–Philip Guston

Advertisements

hamilton1

hamilton3
Ann Hamilton, human carriage

What an extraordinary day spent in Manhattan at the Guggenheim and the Met. I’ll parse the joy one show at a time.

“The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia: 1860-1989” is curator Alexandra Munroe’s brave revision of the influences that affected the complexity and richness of the American art tradition. Raised in Japan, Munroe has a center of gravity that has a non-canonical lean. She has assembled 250 works by 110 artists in a sprawling exploration of how profoundly (and yet previously under acknowledged) major American art movements were driven by an interest in Asian traditions, philosophies and metaphysics.

As I made that slow saunter up the Wrightian coil of the Guggenheim, I felt like I was in a terrain that felt completely familiar. So many of the artists whose works have informed my own—Agnes Martin, Brice Marden, Robert Irwin, Robert Motherwell, Ad Reinhardt, John Cage, Jasper Johns, Robert Rauschenburg, Bill Viola, Richard Tuttle, Ann Hamilton, Mark Tobey—were included in this rich tapestry of diverse works that share an elemental common source. One that I share as well.

Munroe’s overview of the exhibit puts this in perspective:

This exhibition traces how Asian art, literature, and philosophy were transmitted and transformed within American cultural and intellectual currents, influencing the articulation of new visual and conceptual languages. It explores how American art evolved through a process of appropriation and integration of Asian sources that developed from the 1860s through the 1980s, when globalization came to eclipse earlier, more deliberate modes of cultural transmission and reception. While Europe has long been recognized as the font of mainstream American art movements, the exhibition explores an alternative lineage of creative culture that is aligned with America’s Pacific vista—Asia.

Vanguard artists consistently looked toward “the East” to forge an independent artistic identity that would define the modern age—and the modern mind—through a new understanding of existence, nature, and consciousness. They drew ideas from Eastern religions, primarily Hinduism, Buddhism, and Taoism, as well as classical Asian art forms and performance traditions. Opening with the late nineteenth-century Aesthetic movement and the ideas promulgated in transcendentalist circles, The Third Mind illuminates the Asian influences shaping such major movements as abstract art, Conceptual art, Minimalism, and the neo-avant-garde as they unfolded in New York and on the West Coast.

Who knew how many artists studied these non-Western traditions? Many were in the military during World War II and came home with an altered aesthetic sense. Some studied Zen and Buddhism in the States, making pilgrimages to Asia after being exposed to this alternative view of the world. Others were exposed indirectly, a healthier version of the effects of second hand smoke.

I was particularly appreciative of how Munroe describes the various ways in which this non-Western point of view made its way into the American artistic psyche. It wasn’t a straight line hand off from guru to student as is often found in Asia. That approach seems so alien to the American sensibilities that favor a fiercely defended independence. Instead Munroe explores…

the eclectic yet purposeful method by which American artists often appropriated material from Asia to create new forms, structures, and meanings in their work. Misreadings, mediations, denials, and imaginary projections emerge as important iterations of this creative process. Some artists identified with non-Western art and thought precisely to subvert and critique what they saw as the spiritually bankrupt capitalist West. Others culled alternative, East-West identities from transcendentalism, Theosophy, Carl Jung’s formulations of the collective unconscious, and New Age movements preaching the perennial vitality of Asia’s spiritual psychology in a global age. Still others simply extracted and freely enlisted what served their particular artistic impulses. Grounded in documentary evidence of the artists’ encounters with Asia, this exhibition shows how artists working in America adapted Eastern ideas and art forms to create not only new styles of art, but more importantly, a new theoretical definition of the contemplative experience and self-transformative role of art itself.

“Misreadings, mediations, denials and imaginary projections.” These are valid methods of influence but ones that are often dismissed in the academic clamor for a historical narrative that can provide evidence and a logical thread. How often we are moved by secondary influences, by an interpretation rather than the thing itself? Like Greil Marcus’ groundbreaking exploration of punk rock, Lipstick Traces, the sourcing for major cultural movements is often furtive, hard to track and sometimes missed altogether. Munroe has given the “Asian influence on art” meme a foothold in the canonical account. And along with that revelation, this show gives a well-deserved emphasis on the importance of artists and art movements that originated on the West Coast. As a Californian who expatriated to the East Coast many years ago, I have long been been keenly aware of a New York-centric skewing of the historical narrative. Munroe’s show has done a lot to even out that proclivity.

While the Guggenheim’s galleries and viewing coil were chock full of extraordinary pieces, Ann Hamilton’s site specific installation in the central vortex of the museum brought a sense of unity to a show that was highly diverse and multi-faceted. Hamilton is ingenious and yet never manipulative. Her work honors the viewer’s intelligence, and I find her installations provocative on so many levels. Her shards of book pages, bound and then slowly moved from the top of the museum to a pile on the lobby floor encompasses so many of the metaphors that were expressed in the show. Hamilton finds a way to make the mechanical feel metaphysical, to move a simple action into a Zen-like space of significance by virtue of its insignificance. Over time, those small insignificances do make a difference. The concepts of time, intention, the void and oneness—she captured them all with such simplicity.

More to come on this and the Bonnard show at the Met.

30mind1902
“Cold Mountain Studies 10” (1988-90) by Bruce Marden

Having just gone through a stack of recent art periodicals—Modern Painter, Art on Paper, Art Papers, Art Forum—I can categorically say that the number of times I felt connected to (compelled by? curious about? impressed with?) the art being written about or advertised is at a lifetime low. After a while you feel like a lonely dingy, trying to keep from capsizing while the noisy regattas, festooned and extravagant, barrel past. Ahoy! Any other small craft out there?

It may be that all the art regattas are being pulled ashore, now in storage until the next good breeze season is upon us once again and we are through this particular patch of bad weather. Dingys are all season vessels, too small to notice or worry about. And there is something to be said for that durability and agility.

For the first time in quite a spell, today’s Times brought news of two shows in New York that feel dingy-friendly: The Third Mind: American Artists Contemplate Asia, at the Guggenheim; and Pierre Bonnard: The Late Interiors, at the Metropolitan. Both shows are up until April 19.

The influence of Asia on American art is a fascinating topic and one that I have studied for some time. The Transcendentalists were digging into Asian spiritual traditions as early as the 1840s, with accounts of Emerson and Thoreau reading the Upanishads and the Bhagavad-Gita. Japanese prints made their way into American visual consciousness, many by way of Paris-based artists who were captivated by a different concept of pictoral space as portrayed in Ukiyo-e wood cuts.

That meme’s influence has continued, showing up in a wide variety of facets of American art. And it is an influence I resonate with deeply—one that features the meditative, the mysterious, the nonlinear and nonrational.

And Bonnard. He’s the colorist whose work never ends in pleasuring the eye. One of Bonnard’s signatory flairs was his insistence in placing a stripe or patch of bright orange in every painting. He is, after all, the master of the secondary palette—those colors that result from mixing two primary colors—the purples, the greens, the oranges.

Here is an excerpt from Holland Cotter‘s review of the Guggenheim show:

Asian influence seeped into American painting a bit later, after scholars like Ernest Fenollosa and artists like John La Farge visited Japan. In the show you can see the fashion for it catch on and spread, in Whistler’s inky 1870s nocturnes, in Arthur Wesley Dow’s turn-of-the-century Japanese-style prints, and in the spiritualizing work of artists who lived closer to Asia in the American Northwest: Morris Graves with his luminous images of birds and Chinese bronzes, Mark Tobey with his calligraphic “white writing.”

Tobey’s art is sometimes taken as a precursor of gestural abstraction in New York. And the case for linking some forms of Abstract Expressionism with Asian writing has been made and unmade many times. With its lineup of Pollocks, Motherwells and Klines the show pushes the argument forward again, though without adding anything startlingly new to it.

Instead its surprises come from the West Coast. There’s a gorgeous painting by Sam Francis, who lived for a while in Tokyo, of what looks like a lotus on fire. Lee Mullican’s “Evening Raga” has the note-by-note shimmer of Indian music. And his friend Gordon Onslow-Ford, a spiritual omnivore who painted on a ferryboat in Sausalito and wore “visionary” like a campaign button, offers a kind of abstract version of “Starry Night,” all filigree webs and wheels.

By the time this piece, “Round See,” was done in 1961, John Cage had been painting, composing and proselytizing his customized version of Zen for years. A section of the show is dedicated to him, or rather to a concept he embodied, one absolutely central to Asian culture: the idea of lineage, the transmission of forms and knowledge from mind to mind.

Cage developed his aesthetic of chance operation in part through study with the Zen scholar D. T. Suzuki, and shared what he learned with contemporaries like Robert Rauschenberg and Jasper Johns. A Rauschenberg combine called “Gold Standard” (1964) was slapped together in a matter of hours on a Tokyo stage as Cage watched.

But Cage’s creative DNA also passed on to a generation of younger, Zen-tinged, Neo-Dada artists who used the group name Fluxus. Work by several of them — Nam June Paik, Yoko Ono, Alison Knowles — is assembled near Cage’s, along with a ready-for-the-future-travel suitcase packed with Fluxiana.

Traditional Zen painting is black and white. By contrast, Tibetan Buddhist art comes in vivid colors, which made it naturally attractive to artists and writers taking drugs in the 1950s and 1960s. Some are indelibly identified as Beats. Jack Kerouac, with sketchy bodhisattvas and a manuscript slice of “Dharma Bums,” is one. So is William Burroughs, whose esoteric cut-and-paste work called “The Third Mind” gave the show its title.

Where an artist like Harry Smith fits in is harder to say. Chronologically he was a Beat. But his short animated films blending Tantrism, Theosophy, Orientalist Pop and Alastair Crowley, all to a cool jazz score, don’t feel period specific. They could be hippie ’60s. They could be by young artists today. (It’s important to note that the show barely touches on Islamic Asia, specifically on Sufism, in which Mr. Smith was interested.)

There are a number of free-radical types like him in the show, which is one reason it has a patchy, scrapbookish look. Even the section devoted to Minimalism resists the sort of uniformity that art history, ever straightening and cleaning, tries to impose.

Ms. Munroe [the show’s curator] finesses the problem by inventing a category she calls ecstatic minimalism, which covers expected figures like Robert Irwin, Ad Reinhardt and Richard Tuttle, but also admits personally expressive works like those of Agnes Martin and Yayoi Kusama, and makes room for excellent artists like Natvar Bhavsar , Zarina Hashmi and Tadaaki Kuwayama, so seldom seen in big mainstream shows that they’ve barely been slotted at all.

Into this charmed circle Ms. Munroe also brings abstract artists working with sound and light, like Jordan Belson, James Whitney and La Monte Young. Whether you call Mr. Belson and Mr. Whitney optical scientists or psychic magicians, they are fascinating figures, very much in line with the Guggenheim’s own history as a museum of non-objective art rooted in diverse cultural and spiritual traditions.

As for Mr. Young, he and his “Dream House,” with a 24/7 drone and trippy lighting by Marian Zazeela, have long since become underground institutions. First installed as a permanent environment in his Manhattan home in 1962, then used for performances with his teacher, the Hindustani raga vocalist Pandit Pran Nath, and now reconstituted at the Guggenheim, “Dream House” forms a natural bridge to the conceptual and performance art that brings the show to a close.

Advertisements