Burberry Bathos

“No Secret Painting V”, 2006, is a work by Art & Language (A&L) consisting of a large square dark abstract canvas accompanied by a smaller framed text that seems to refer to it.

The accompaniment of a dark abstract square by a text is a scheme that Art & Language used in their “Secret Paintings” and “Guaranteed Paintings” of the 1960s. These referred to Malevich and to Stella, and to certificates of authenticity for conceptual artworks. But unlike the secret paintings the composition of the squares (and lines) within the canvas are perceptible.

The plaid pattern is from A&L’s earlier piece “Wrongs Healed In Official Hope”, an installation of canvases and of filing cabinets made from canvases as a parody or travesty of A&L’s earlier text-based Indices of the 1970s. The text it contained was not a piece of art criticism, politics, or set theory, but an extreme pornographic sado-masochistic fantasy set at a girl’s boarding school rendered increasingly abstract by textual transformation and substitution.

Eventually the text in “Wrongs Healed In Official Hope” became an abstract pattern of squares and lines, a decorative plaid pattern. This decorativeness appears to have no content, only decorative effect, but it is haunted by typographic grids and these lead back to a textual expression of degenerate taste. The implication seemed to be that the plaid was no less a product of that taste. There are no comfortable chairs in the work of A&L.

Accompanying texts that seem to describe or specify some aspect of the image that they are counterposed with were also a feature of A&L’s “Flags For Organizations” and “Gustave Courbet’s Burial At Ornans Expressing…”. It is this last piece that the text in “No Secret Painting” seems to serve a similar function to. It specifies or describes the four sections of the canvas as having certain content. But unlike “Burial At Ornans…” there is an aesthetic and genetic connection between the text and the image. Some of the text of “Wrongs Healed In Official Hope” is incorporated, and the composition of the plaid is mentioned.

In both the visibility of the painting’s pictorial content and in the fact that the text does actually shed some light on that content this is not a secret painting. A secret is neither set up nor revealed. Where the secret paintings pointed an accusing finger, deflating the mysteries of other works and of the viewer’s regard, “No Secret Painting” is self-deflating.

But this is not A&L For Dummies. The painting and the text both refer not just to each other but to “Wrongs Healed…”, and to more than “Wrongs Healed”. This is an index, and the viewer has work to do. As with the apparently blank surfaces of “Index: Now They Are”, these are allegories of an artistic paradigm. I just haven’t quite worked out exactly which one just yet…

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Posted in Aesthetics, Reviews