Post-painterly abstraction and posthuman spaces

Hello everyone, my last two weeks were absurdly busy, so I apologize for my tardiness.

I would like to propose that post-painterly abstraction (also known as color field painting) can be considered an example of posthuman tendencies in (late) modern art. Clement Greenberg’s seminal 1960 essay “Modernist Painting” is very much about the purging of realistic picture space–the kind of space a viewer can imagine walking around in, to paraphrase Greenberg–to create instead a purely optical space: a space the viewer might only enter through the eye and mind. If human experience has evolutionarily been grounded in an experience of embodiment, the notion that a bodily grasp of space (and its representations) be swapped out for an optical space carries interesting implications, combining emerging ideas of the posthuman with an old-fashioned Cartesian dualism that still lurks very strongly beneath many accounts of the posthuman.

Painters squarely in Greenberg’s camp (or perhaps vice versa), such as Morris Louis or Helen Frankenthaler, created works difficult (though admittedly not impossible) to imagine oneself entering–in a way they simply replaced a mathematized or schematized linear perspective with a more intuitive, atmospheric perspective. At the same time Frank Stella, though not a color field painter, worked hard to create artworks that lacked any sort of content or brushy expressiveness (with its attendant humanist implications), “forcing illusionistic space out of the painting at constant intervals by using a regulated pattern” (to paraphrase his Pratt Institute lecture of 1960.

Humans, at least unless or until we upload our consciousness somehow, need space, nonconceptual content and proprioceptivity to nourish our embodied condition. The tendency or urge in late 50s/early 60s art to do away with space is interesting to consider in terms of posthumanism

Example of the late modernist move away from embodied human space into purely optical space
Morris Louis painting. An example of the late modernist move away from embodied human space into purely optical space
Helen Frankenthaler painting. Another example of the late modernist move away from embodied human space into purely optical space
Frank Stella paintings from 1958-59, showing his attempts to purge representational picture space

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Mads Rosendahl Thomsen

Very interesting. The other way around there might be (elsewhere) a longing for a more complex space with more dimension which we can construct in mathematics but not make sense of through our bodily grounded modes of thinking about space. 2d or n-d…