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Julian Schnabel
The Conversion of
St.Paolo Malfi,
1995

















































































 

Julian Schnabel
The Conversion of
St.Paolo Malfi,
1995

















































































 

Julian Schnabel
Adieu, 1995

















































































 

Stefano Peroli
Un Pensiero Per Tutti,
1995

















































































 

Stefano Peroli
Aftermath (Una Casa)
1995

















































































 

Alex Katz
Coleman Pond #1,
1995

















































































 

Jonathan Lasker
The Eternal Silence 
of Infinite Space,
1994

















































































 

Jonathan Lasker
Moral Fantasia,
1993

















































































 

Jonathan Lasker
When Trees 
Become Flowers,
1996

















































































 

 Jonathan Lasker 
Nearly Soul,
1996

















































































 

Milton Resnick
U & ME, 1995



















































































Milton Resnick
U & ME, 1995



















































































Milton Resnick
U & ME, 1995

















































































 

Michel Frére
View of the 
Studio for the 
Sidney Janis Show,
1996

















































































 

Michel Frére
Untitled, 1995

















































































 

Michel Frére
View of the 
Studio for the 
Sidney Janis Show,
1996

















































































 

Michel Frére
Untitled, 1995




according to what

a column about art
and the kitchen sink

by Richard Milazzo with Joey T. Lamb and R.T. Vullo



Walter, this is by way of a preface. I'm on overload. I've fallen down and I can't get up. So, I've asked some friends to help me. Their names are R.T. Vullo and Joey T. Lamb. R.T.'s a writer. He was born in North Africa. He says he's a "derelict entrepreneur, and the product of Arabic, Sicilian, and American relations." Somewhere else, he describes himself as "ultimately a black Jew from Marseilles." He's also "an amateur photographer, who enjoys the subsidiary pleasures of travel." He currently lives and works in Morocco and Egypt, with little stop-overs in New York, Paris, London, etc. Joey's a whole other story. They also call him "o.t." (small case), short for Joey-on- the-Lam. I've known o.t. forever. He's from Queens, my neck of the woods, Astoria, specifically. His m.o. is very vague. He's a little bit on the crude side -- like R.T. -- but always insightful. By the way, I met both of them at Cronin and Phelan's, an old drinking hole of mine, on Broadway (just off Steinway) in Astoria, so long ago I can't remember. Just to give you some idea, my old elementary school is right around the corner, Most Precious Blood. We've lost track of each other plenty of times, for long periods of times, but always somehow manage to get back in touch again. I guess Joey (o.t.) is also a writer, of some kind. So, that's the warning. Here's the exchange we had recently about art and a great many other things, much of it ad hominem. Hope you can use it, or some part of it. If not, just junk the whole thing. [Richard -- you said it, I did it. Don't worry, I took out far more than I put in, in the hope that you can save the leftovers for next time. -- respectfully, Walter] * * * * RT: Some preface. You know we could've written those bios ourselves, and they would've come out much better. At least, they would've been honest. RM: Honest? RT: Why, do you think that's impossible? ot: Richard has a philosophy thing about lies. RM: Yeah. That they can contain the better part of the truth. Or that they sometimes can liberate us from the truth. RT: You mean it's the common man's form of liberation from reality, the common folk's metaphor. RM: Yeah, an existential trope. ot: Here we go again, with those long, meaningless terms. RT: The worst part of it, is Richard's pseudo-desire to identify with the masses. He wants to join up, especially recently, but can't, because he won't really exhale and get rid of all that constipated, bone- chilling, sterile terminology he loves to use to intimidate no one but himself. ot: Plus, just to add insult to injury, he loves to talk about reality and lies and other dirty things, but he's really incapable of jumping into the fray. RM: What is this, some kind of dare? All I was trying to do was press forward the ideas about lies we have been discussing for the longest time. What's going to happen when I bring up my other big term... ot: Oh, oh! You don't mean... RT: Don't even say it. It's Richard's impression of Clint Eastwood's Unforgiven. ot: God! You mean his latest take on the art world -- the UNDIFFERENTIATION thing.... It's Richard getting older, like in Unforgiven. Lately, he's been falling off his horse more often. RT: So, he's even willing to communicate with the rest of us. ot: He's maturing. But even under the banner of his new, humane style of communication he becomes so insecure...and suddenly launches, out of that old insecurity, one of his neo-Dada, neo-Art Language terms, like a SCUD missile... * * * * RT: So why don't you go ahead and explain your term UNDIFFERENTIATION. RM: I don't feel like it now. ot: You want to talk about Schnabel? RT: You mean his new double show at Pace/Wildenstein and Sperone Westwater? RM: If we are going to discuss it intelligently, then I'd like to do it in the context of Milton Resnick's new paintings uptown at Robert Miller. ot: And, of course, you wouldn't mind bringing them up in the context of the young Belgian artist you are currently showing in your shiny new space at Janis -- Michel Frére. RM: Hardly shiny. But, no, I wouldn't mind. Since it all legitimately falls within the scope of my theory about UNDIFFERENTIATION. RT: What's your space at Janis called... RM: "11, rue Larrey at Sidney Janis Gallery." ot: Sounds like the Janises have opened up a new gallery in Paris. RT: No, it doesn't. What do the press releases say... something about a door by Duchamp... RM: I have a copy of it right here. ot: Naturally. RM: Quote: A new space adjoining the main gallery, named "11, rue Larrey at Sidney Janis Gallery," is distinguished by 15 x 24' wall-to-wall north light windows and a door that links the two spaces, recalling Marcel Duchamp's Porte, 11 rue Larrey, a work that references the address of his small Paris apartment in 1927. Duchamp had a carpenter replace the two colliding doors that separated the bedroom from the bathroom with a single one that could be simultaneously opened and closed. Duchamp saw in this door a "domestic paradox" that constituted ultimately "a reconciliation of opposites." We see in it simply the co- existence of two separate spaces within the same gallery. ot: So, you want to talk about abstraction, basically. I mean if you want to talk about Schnabel, Resnick and Frére, you must really want to talk about abstraction and painting... RM: Also about Katz's new show at Peter Blum downtown. ot: OK. Let's. I don't really care who we talk about. It's all the same to me. RM: You guys want to tear everything down, which is really stupid. You're just the other side of October magazine. ot: No, November Magazine. And what makes you think they don't want to tear everything down, but in their own way. RM: That's what I said. RT: You mean May Magazine. ot: How about February Magazine? RM: I'm outta here. * * * * RT: Where were we? ot: Richard was plugging his space at Janis. RM: We were going to talk about two uptown shows -- Resnick and Frére -- and two downtown shows -- Schnabel and Katz. RT: Very symmetrical. ot: Why Schnabel? Doesn't he get enough publicity? Isn't that a bit of the problem? Like Patrick Ewing of the New York Knicks -- after nine seasons, don't you think he's had enough time? It's clearly a motivation thing. Some guys can produce when you pay them a lot of money. Other guys, well, it cuts into their motivation. Nine seasons and no championship. I say trash the bum. RT: You're saying Schnabel has a motivation problem? ot: Do you have another explanation? He's been around for nearly 15 seasons, and no championship. RM: No championship...? RT: You mean no really great paintings, just really large ones that use size to mask their lack of greatness. But no real masterpieces. ot: Masterpiece theater...but no substance. He's admired some of the right guys -- Cy Twombly, Picasso -- but he always comes up blank. RT: Harold Bloom's anxiety of influence syndrome... ot: No. Just wanting to be like someone else so badly, namely Picasso, and knowing that the key to being his successor is that you must never believe that you are not. RM: You mean the key is that you must believe so fully in your self-delusion that you erase any possible trace of self- consciousness? RT: Right. If you believe in yourself, in the delusion of yourself as the new, young Picasso, then it will follow that people like Bernice Rose will write in your catalogue "Schnabel is a true believer: 'Art functions as a physical fact to commemorate the existence of being'." The quote within the quote belongs to Schnabel himself. ot: She also did not fail to mention Schnabel's "nostalgia for ambitious painting." RT: It is very clever, because she gets out of saying they are actually ambitious paintings by suggesting that it is his nostalgia for greatness, in effect, that not only creates or "generates" Schnabel's new paintings but can explain his ambition. Very clever. RM: Let's try to get past the politics of ambition and creation and see if we can actually talk about the paintings. ot: I guess. * * * * RM: But before we begin, we must talk about Jonathan Lasker and the Lasker School of abstraction, currently in vogue in the New York art world right now, and internationally. RT: You mean like Spain's "Lasker" is Juan Uslé and Great Britain's is Fiona Rae. And, of course, here there are lots of lesser "laskers." RM: I don't know if I would put it exactly like that. I think these are good artists. Plus, here, Fabian Marcaccio has made a substantial contribution, building not only on Lasker but on Peter Halley's work, as well. ot: OK, Richard, you were saying that you can't talk about Schnabel unless you talk about Lasker first. Let's have it. RT: Let's get it over with, especially the bit about Clint Eastwood, I mean UNDIFFERENTIATION. RM: Basically, Lasker has been practicing a variety of abstraction that has emphasized the differentiation of figure and ground. ot: I remember the explanation from another article you did. Essentially what you're saying is that the figure and ground have become so distinct from each other -- so externalized -- that they have almost become 'signs' rather than 'marks'. RT: This is because abstract painting has been competing with Pop ever since Pop's inception in the 1950s. That's the idea, right? RM: Sort of. Yes, in a way, the work, the gesture, the structure, the whole phenomenological disposition of the figure and ground have become signic in nature. ot: Christ! "Phenomenological," "signic," crap! Can't you speak in English? RT: They have assumed the status of signs, Pop icons, but they have lost their dignity as intensified carriers of the Sublime and the Visionary. Isn't that the idea? ot: You mean after all the efforts to establish a material vocabulary for abstract painting, you want to revert back to some kind of universal Zen moment of unity or "onement" of painting? Give us a break! RM: Sorry. But I'm not talking about the abdication of the material values of painting. I'm just suggesting that even this so-called material language of abstract painting has been usurped by a new Pop vocabulary of abstract signs. You could call it 'Pop abstraction'. RT: I think I understand. Can the signs also be historical? RM: Precisely. ot: I'm lost, Mr. & Mrs.October Magazine. What are you guys doing, an imitation of Artforum ese? RM: Why don't you try to concentrate instead of always reacting. What I'm trying to get at is that painting has become a very self-conscious practice. ot: When wasn't it? RT: It has become self-reflexive in relation to its own history. In effect, it's involved in an act of appropriation or reappropriation. ot: Or, EXPROPRIATION!!! RM: It has taken the history of its own mark-making and converted it into a sign- producing machine, devoid of any spiritual dimension.... ot: You mean abstract painting has become an ironical practice -- very shrewd, very professional, very calculated? Very middle class. RM: I wouldn't go that far. I would say very studied or self-reflexive. RT: Your term was 'self-conscious'. At its worse, it has become anecdotal. RM: Yes. But at its best, just to follow Jonathan's own reasoning, irony's pursuit of meaning can yield the tragical in abstract painting. ot: But how can you speak about the spiritual in abstract painting, its lack or nostalgia for its return? What a bunch of poop? RT: But what the hell does this have to do with Julian Schnabel? Christ, you're not going to argue that the "Schnab" is involved in the restoration of the Spiritual in abstract painting?... Please, don't say that! RM: No. Where I was going with all of this is that Lasker has advanced the case of abstraction as an evolutionary model. Whether good or bad, he has driven the practice to a certain set of extremes. Among these extremes is the infusion of irony and other Pop, very plastic values into abstract painting. I believe the heart and soul of this form of evolutionary extremism is the intensification of the differentiation of the figure and ground, the basic formal ingredients of abstract painting. ot: OK, OK. So where are you going with this stinkpot of elitist distinctions? RM: Just that Lasker, if not his followers -- and there are a great many of them -- its even worse than school of Bleckner, an artist who, as you know very well, I have also always loved and supported -- has accomplished a great deal, but he has also had to sacrifice a great deal to achieve this new plateau, or let's call it the new descendent values of abstract painting. RT: Dialectical thinking if ever I've seen it. So, who are the best among these artists? David Reed, Stephen Ellis, who else? RM: Forget it. That's not the point. But yes, they are very good artists. ot: Why are you being so diplomatic? Where does Schnabel fit into all of this, all of these wild value judgments, supported only by your theoretical hallucinations? RM: Well, as Lasker has pushed the differentiation of figure and ground to new extremes -- wait till you see the new paintings for his next show at Sperone Westwater in April! -- he has also forced the issue in other people's work. ot: I don't understand. RM: Well, by no means do I think that all of these cultural pulsions are conscious. Let's say they're just in the air. So, while Lasker, who is a great artist, may be able to push the envelope of differentiation, and continue to produce powerful new works, and test the limits of the rational in abstract painting -- indeed, test the very boundaries of irony, plasticity, meaning, and the interaction of Pop Art or popular culture and abstraction or the history of abstract painting -- other artists may either fall away or adopt new strategies or go in other directions or abandon these modalities altogether. At least, they may seem to on the surface. RT: Are you alluding to Alex Katz's paintings? You know, the boats, Provincetown, etc. * * * * RM: Michel Frére is one of those artists who has, consciously or not, chosen to abandon 'smart', Richteresque or Laskeresque painting. ot: Here it comes... U N D I F F E R E N T I A T I O N! RM: It's like this. And Frére is not the only one up to this. I'm also thinking of Charles Clough, who's been around for years; not to mention Resnick, who is really an old master at it. And then there is the very contemporary, Italian, abstract painter, Stefano Peroli. ot: Can you explain what I T is? * * * * RM: Michel Frére pushes the differentiation of figure and ground to the point where they almost become one and the same. It as if he were driving the figure and ground toward each other, neutralizing them, rendering them indistinguishable. He is pushing ahead through a form of regression, back to an unknowable common source. Lasker intensifies the differentiation of figure and ground, thereby relating them to an uncommon source, whereas Frére accents the undifferentiation of the figure and ground, achieving a kind of transcendental mud (or ground). ot: So, Lasker's form of abstraction is fundamentally fueled by differentiation, whereas Frére is compelled by undifferentiation. RM: Exactly. RT: So, I think I know where Schnabel fits into all of this. ot: ...in the middle? RM: Yes. At least at this moment, he is the great Middle-Man of abstract painting. He is caught somewhere between a monumental desire to differentiate his forms and the contradictory compulsion to release them from the pseudo-glamor of his ego. ot: What you have in Schnabel's case are gigantic, awkward missteps. RT: What you have is an ego that, contrary to what the artist may believe, does not generate form but rather competes with the forms that it is barely able to articulate. ot: This is why even their conception seems blurred, and the execution unskilled. RT: This, despite Bernice Rose's brilliant (if somewhat too Roland Bartheish) essay. RM: The homage is not so much to Paolo Malfi, who was accidentally hit and killed by a automobile, but to Schnabel himself, whose nervous, ever-present, fumbling ego stunts his forms and terminates them even before they can take flight or properly fall to the ground. ot: It is his ego that is bidding "Adieu" to his own forms -- and it is the double nature of this self-possession, this thwarted desire, that creates the illusion of self and other, communication or language, and even intimacy, in Schnabel's work, at least in Bernice Rose's eyes. RT: This is why we can feel no sympathy for the 'subject' of the homage, regardless of who it is, nor empathy for the paintings that would circumscribe a general sense of mortality. RM: The failed Postmodern melodrama of inauthenticity replaces the diurnal drama of a single mortality. ot: The paintings do not understand a simple death, much less its possible conversions, whether they be material or allegorical. [Richard, I just had to stop and ask, what do "thereby relating them to a common source," "the diurnal drama of a single mortality" and other such gnomic utterances mean? And if Julian's ego is "nervous" and "fumbling," does that mean mine is too, and yours? --baffledly, Walter] * * * * RT: Where were we? RM: Let's jump to the old master, Milton Resnick. I loved his new paintings. ot: Loved? RM: Loved. It's a new art term. I'm collecting them. Others are realism, spirituality, visionary, essence, the universal, the Sublime. It's not just because he's added the human (or inhuman) figure. In fact, the figure merely emphasizes anew, in a very dramatic way, in mythological terms, the phenomenon of undifferentiation at work in his paintings. ot: By the way, didn't you say that you liked something about Schnabel's new works... RM: Yes, very much. I like the fact that he approached this batch of new paintings with a new-found rigor. He really attacked the surfaces. ot: You mean usually he's so reverential toward his own work. RM: Yes. Hoping that we will be, too. Setting the right example for us. RT: Pretending like he's Cy, or Brice Marden, with a twig in his hand, channeling the natural forces of Nature, or, in Cy's case, re-inscribing the void with a certain refined but Dionysian fervor. ot: Yes, the surfaces are fuller, more robust, less tentative. RT: But, still something is missing. ot: Real vision... RT: motivation... RM: a real connection to one's self. ot: Brice, the Zen master, also occasionally forgets this dimension of things, as banal or trite as it may sound, and sometimes so does the pre-Socratic champion, Mr. Twombly. RT: "Real Vision"...is that like Real Lemon Juice? RM: You're afraid to say things like this, about the transcendental and the visionary, so you cover your ass by being ironical. ot: Just like the painters do?... RT: Weren't we talking about Resnick, his new work, the built up surfaces, the addition, of late, of the figures?... At some level, Resnick has always been involved in trying to build up what can be paradoxically described as a differentiated ground. ot: Color, texture, sensation have always been driven right up to the imperceptible edge of undifferentiation. RM: It is like he has tried to substantiate the groundlessness of abstract painting, or better, he has tried to find the ground of the void that fundamentally subtends abstraction. RT: Richard, at his best. RM: Not really. I hate this language. It says nothing. ot: So try again, Mr. Great-newfound- appreciator-of-communication-and-clarity. RM: OK. One of the reasons the addition of the figures is so interesting, at least to me, is that they confirm, or they are the outcome, the substantiated nodal point, of the void that Resnick has always sought to exquisitely map. RT: This is why the figures look so basic, like they are about to return to their source or sources, even though they also look as if they have just emerged from them, from the depths? RM: Yes. This is why they look so faint and yet so encrusted or grounded. The distance between the surfaces and the ground, the figures and their 'depth', is not so great or differentiated. This is also why he has chosen such simple mythological elements and figures -- Adam and Eve, the snake, the mythical tree of Knowledge, etc. -- they lend themselves to a common ground, a material narrative, a crusted halo (ugh!), that we can all faintly relate to. ot: They appear 'soft', unedgy, almost at ease with the transcendental underworld of our discarded figures and myths. And yet the brutal or brutish nuances of their reality cannot be denied. RT: Where can you get 'crusted halos' -- at those new coffee shops? RM: In a way, Resnick's new figure paintings have the integrity of Dubuffet's best figurative work, and the surface or material refinement of Ryman at his least effete. RT: If I understand what we are saying it is as if the process of undifferentiation were happening on the ground level in Frére, and, let us say, on the figure level in Katz's work, and Resnick is somewhere in between, but not in a bad way... ot: like Schnabel, who is unsure of himself and lost in the middle. RT: Schnabel is still trying to wade through the muck of human existence, and drowning, whereas Frére, Resnick and Katz kind of just glide through it all, but really capture the grotesque nature of the experience and process. * * * * ot: So, I've been thinking about this guy, Clough. He's been around for a while, hasn't he? Why all the unsuccess -- and don't tell me it's because of all the UNDIFFERENTIATION! RM: Actually...yes. In part, that is the reason. At least in his best pictures, the space in which he differentiates figure and ground becomes very complex, multifaceted, liquid to the extreme. His pictures have always had a soft edge during very hard- edged times. And they have always tended toward the chaotic, or rather, they have always messed up our neat little aesthetic and existential boundaries. Sometimes he pushes the figure and ground to the extremes of undifferentiation. So that people can't really situate themselves in the space. They can't really... RT: identify the energy in a specific or causal way. RM: Exactly Pollock's energy, Matisse's color, sometimes a de Kooningesque figure or a Tintorettoesque land- or skyscape... but ultimately Clough brings you face to face, right up to the glamour, the luxury, the horror, the brink, the excess of the void -- which surrounds us unrelentfully. RT: And exquisitely. ot: What about the other character... RM: You mean Stefano Peroli, the young Italian painter? OK, well what I like are the soft edges, the way it is sometimes difficult to grasp the figure and ground distinction. At least, in some of his best paintings, even where the figural 'arm' still obtains in the picture, Peroli makes it very difficult to physically apprehend the space. ot: I know, I know. They are trying the destiny of undifferentiation. RT: I think the way he would put it -- and this I got from Richard's conversations with the artist -- they are exploring the residues -- "il resto" -- of an undifferentiated figure/ground relation. RM: In this regard, it is only the cloud or the stardust of their posthumous existence that endures beyond their fated undifferentiation. ot: "Fated undifferentiation." What is that? RM: Never mind. ot: No. Explain it. RM: F you. * * * * RT: Alex Katz. Doesn't he fancy himself kind've like a truck driver? Doesn't he cultivate a kind of rough and tumble persona? ot: He sounds cool. RT: Kind of like an I-beam painter, a belated AB EX guy... RM: Yeah, he's got a tough side, I guess. Who knows? Who cares? I guess it's part of the art thing. RT: You mean, like he may be defensive about being a painter, even at this late date, or sensitive, down deep inside... where it counts (ugh)...and so he puts on a cold exterior...? CODA Walter, after that things got kinda outta hand. So, we couldn't really finish. I'm sorry. Anyway, just one last thing. I really liked Alex Katz's show, and I want to try to say something about his pictures. To me what was interesting -- especially now that my head is full and my eyes are blinded by this stupid idea about undifferentiation -- was the way the figure and ground, as so-called more 'realistic' rather than more abstract elements, moved toward each other in values. The small picture, in the front of the gallery, the one with the little boats, and the one way at the back, with the patches of light green, almost seemed to dissolve into an early morning mist. Not the way one customarily thinks of a void -- or, at least, that's not the way I'm accustomed to thinking about them. Somehow you always think that those grand, innocuous, nondescript ones that supposedly envelop us are always going to take a more dramatic form. You don't think it could be perfectly embodied by a small, overturned rowboat lying on the side of a sand dune, painted in proverbial "black and white," or rather, in subtly differentiated tones of gray, which quietly push toward the glory and destitution of the known world. Somehow I always reserve a major hot spot for my voids. That's it, Walter. You better protect me editorially from any major embarrassments. You, who are so mesmerized by the glamour of being bored, and I, who am riddled with the ulcers of self-conscious expiation. I'm placing myself and my cohorts in your hands, Mr. Allstate! Mea culpa and good luck. Yours faithfully, Richard RICHARD MILAZZO lives and works in New York.