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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2020

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OCT 2020 Issue
The Miraculous The Miraculous: New York

21. (Downtown)

A young artist full of admiration for Mark Rothko and abstraction in general is unsatisfied with her own paintings because they don’t seem to address the pressing problems in the world around her. Not yet willing to abandon the medium of painting she tries superimposing political texts onto her abstractions. Alas, this only makes them worse. Eventually she realizes that she must embrace the written word as her exclusive form of expression. This may not seem like a good career move, but it’s the late 1970s and there is little expectation that young artists can support themselves from their art. As she later recalls, “the art world was relatively clean then, though, because there was little to no money to be made. Minimalism hadn’t been all that expensive, or successful in the market. Many younger artists didn’t think about selling their stuff, or developing a brand. It was a paradise in that it was about the work; it was about the content; it was about striving to give.”

In her new artist-as-writer mode she begins composing short sentences that imitate common sayings, the sort of clichés that people repeat to justify questionable behaviour. Freed from the chains of canvases and studios and galleries, and inspired by the cheaply printed music-club posters she sees on walls all over downtown Manhattan, she mounts a poster campaign of her own. During night-time excursions she pastes offset posters carrying selections of her invented clichés, always set in Futura type, onto the facades of buildings throughout SoHo, the East Village and Tribeca. In her texts she seeks to maintain an even tone, even when the statements seem to strenuously contradict one another, even when their sentiments seem extremist. “I wanted to highlight those thoughts and topics that polarize people, but not choose sides. I was trying to represent a fairly accurate survey and not have it break down into left, right, center, or religious versus anarchist,” she later explains.

(Jenny Holzer)

Contributor

Raphael Rubinstein

Raphael Rubinstein is the author of The Miraculous (Paper Monument, 2014) and A Geniza (Granary Books, 2015). He is currently writing a book about the Jewish-Egyptian writer Edmond Jabès. A Professor of Critical Studies at the University of Houston School of Art, he divides his time between Houston and New York.

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The Brooklyn Rail

OCT 2020

All Issues