The Death of Art – Fried Against The Next Generation – “Real Presense” (Dynamic Inner Drive) vs. “Brute Presence” (Accidental Outer Force)

Posted: March 23, 2018 in Uncategorized

Just after 10 p.m. on August 11, 1956, Jackson Pollock, who had been drinking, crashed his car into a tree less than a mile from his home. Ruth Kligman, his girlfriend at the time, was thrown from the car and survived. Another passenger, Edith Metzger, was killed, and Pollock was thrown 50 feet into the air and into a birch tree. He died immediately.

Can you identify the key differences between the work of sculptor David Smith and that of John Chamberlain?

David Smith
Tanktotem (1956)

“When he died in a car crash the artworks for his last show remained unsold.”

John Chamberlain
Velvet White (1962)

“Chamberlain moved to New York in 1956 and within a few years hit
upon the decision to utilize car metal as art material.”

John Chamberlain
The Guggenheim Museum – NYC, NY

  1. Natalie Van Orden says:

    David Smith’s Tanktotem looks to me like one of Malevich’s paintings pulled from the canvas and made into sculpture. He is clearly still paying attention to form and balance in his works—they are methodically planned out as abstract geometric shapes.

    Chamberlain’s works look as if he’s using the automobile parts in a spontaneous way. He is likely beating and scratching them, focusing on the action, rather than planning out exactly how the sculpture should look in the end.

    These differences remind me of the different methods used by the European first-wave abstract expressionists and the American action painters. To Chamberlain, the physical act of smashing the cars, and I think even more importantly the exploration of the medium of automobile parts ties him to the American action painters.
    I think that Fried would be more supportive of Smith because of his attention to the more traditional artistic value of composition. Chamberlain, on the other hand, is opening up the door for future Minimalists to use any medium they want, and to defy any interpretation other than physical presence. He is part of the changing human sensibility, and his sculptures may no longer be art themselves, but instead a tool or a byproduct of an action.

    • The association of Smith and Malevich is very astute. I hadn’t ever heard that before, but it makes excellent sense. I think the most important thing to note here is that difference in implied vectors of energy. Clearly, both sculpture were created through the application of external pressure. But the Smith ‘defeats and suspends’ that objective fact, as the composition suggests a living and dynamic figure, one whose source of motion and expression is contained within and gestures outward. On the other hand, the Chamberlain piece is not only literally created through violent impact, but it deliberately eschews any effort to appear otherwise. Whereas Tank Totem appears to be a monument to life overcoming death, the other strikes me as a monument to mere death and the triumph of the inorganic.

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