The Conversion of
The Conversion of
Un Pensiero Per Tutti,
Aftermath (Una Casa)
Coleman Pond #1,
The Eternal Silence
of Infinite Space,
U & ME, 1995
U & ME, 1995
U & ME, 1995
View of the
Studio for the
Sidney Janis Show,
View of the
Studio for the
Sidney Janis Show,
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.
RT: Why, do you think that's impossible?
ot: Richard has a philosophy thing about
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
RM: Yeah, an existential trope.
ot: Here we go again, with those long,
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 --
RM: Hardly shiny. But, no, I wouldn't
mind. Since it all legitimately falls
within the scope of my theory about
RT: What's your space at Janis called...
RM: "11, rue Larrey at Sidney Janis
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
RM: I have a copy of it right here.
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
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
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
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
ot: Do you have another explanation? He's
been around for nearly 15 seasons, and no
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
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
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-
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
ot: She also did not fail to mention
Schnabel's "nostalgia for ambitious
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.
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
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
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
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
RM: Basically, Lasker has been practicing
a variety of abstraction that has
emphasized the differentiation of figure
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,
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
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?
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
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
ot: You mean abstract painting has become
an ironical practice -- very shrewd, very
professional, very calculated? Very middle
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
ot: But how can you speak about the
spiritual in abstract painting, its lack or
nostalgia for its return? What a bunch of
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
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
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
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,
* * * *
RM: Michel Frére is one of those artists
who has, consciously or not, chosen to
abandon 'smart', Richteresque or
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
ot: So, Lasker's form of abstraction is
fundamentally fueled by differentiation,
whereas Frére is compelled by
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
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
[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.
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
ot: By the way, didn't you say that you
liked something about Schnabel's new
RM: Yes, very much. I like the fact that
he approached this batch of new paintings
with a new-found rigor. He really attacked
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...
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
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
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
RT: Richard, at his best.
RM: Not really. I hate this language. It
ot: So try again, Mr. Great-newfound-
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
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
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
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
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
ot: "Fated undifferentiation." What is
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
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...?
Walter, after that things got kinda outta
hand. So, we couldn't really finish. I'm
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.
RICHARD MILAZZO lives and works in New York.