Invenzione Alla Natura Interno/The Invisible Masterpiece

/ by Joost de Jonge

"I want to treat disegno in so far as it occurs in all existing and non-existent, all visible and invisible, spiritual and corporeal things ... I shall endeavor ... to show that this [disegno] is the universal source of light not only of our knowledge and actions, but also of every other science and skill." -Zuccari L’idea de pittori, scultori, et architetti

Thinking is part of painting, as much as putting down the brush itself. Forming ideas in the mind (disegno interno) is the first step to the realization (disegno esterno) which, especially in modern times, can voice concepts more clearly then ever before, because of its nonobjective orientation. “The priority of thought and the matter-of-fact execution are part of the nature of these paintings.” Donald Judd from: “Malevich: Independent Form, Color, Surface” 1974, Art in America.

Russian Futurist poet Aleksei Kruchenykh expressed his need for a transrational (ZAUM) logic through his creative use of language, sometimes inventing his own words and sentences beyond the logic of a regular syntax.  In many of his poems, he spells out the presupposition of a large unknown whole, visually through the fragmentation of words on the sheet of paper, with detailed attention to the autonomy of a single grapheme and phoneme alike. As I look for cohesion, whilst meaning dissolves with the evaporation of the word and its indexical quality; its lexiconic definition, I experience a bit of the sense of his zeal for the intuitive and unconventional.

ZAUM entails a personal search for the poetics of the fourth dimension, trusting intuition will entirely from within give way to the rebirth of the new, eternity rediscovered. This is where eternal values, like Heraclitus’ logos, form the fundament of individual artistic expression. This is where the need to feel alive and new, as an individual with the power to create art as close to the core of creation itself as possible, is the all-pervasive motive. But in doing so, the phenomenological quality of the new poetics can only become subject to decay, to the effects of an ever-changing material world (Panta Rhei). Malevich was closely linked to Kruchenykh via his work with him on the 1913 opera “Victory over the Sun,” for which Malevich designed the stage and costumes, which were so important for his development of Suprematism.

“Thus man now sees only the utilitarian in everything and continues to reason further in this way; but nevertheless, the means, instruments, and objects themselves remain essentially non-objective, for in their eternal finiteness they cannot attain their goal.” (Catalogue: Kasimir Malevich/Donald Judd, Galerie Gmurzynska, Malevich: PG 87) 

Surely Malevich intended Suprematism as the material of the immaterial, as much as an open window upon the ideal as a traditional icon. Though Flavin Judd would stress the shift from representation to indexical sign “This was a major breakthrough as the black rectangle was just itself. In Peircean semiotic terms the painting was no longer an icon (a direct representation of something, the portrait of a person) but the painting was now an indexical sign (one that has a direct relationship: smoke to fire).” (Catalogue: Kasimir Malevich/Donald Judd, Galerie Gmurzynska, Judd: PG 9) If you’d want to take it this far, I’d say, it is the fire! But, I think non-objective art remains representational in more than one way, certainly with all Malevich’s musing in mind, of how God’s image would be like the Black Square, as the essence of his perfection (in a letter to Mikhail Matyushin). So, non-objective in a sense, yes! But referring to abstract truths, feelings and emotions as much as all other truly great art, profane or sacred. This understanding makes the shift to painting farmers etc. easier to read. He himself must have concluded this in a way as well. Plenty are also the references on the back of his abstract Suprematist work to inspiration from the real, visual world.  Think of the title he gave his painting of a red square: Painterly Realism of a Peasant Woman in Two Dimensions, called Red Square, from 1915, shown in the exhibition in Zürich.

If it was not entirely possible for the object which was the result of non-objective Suprematist striving in art to attain non-objectivity, the object as such voices this notion and even its incompleteness is a testament to its complete otherness, an expression of its goal and true function as exemplary form. Malevich’s Dissolution of a Plane, on show at Galerie Gmurzynska, gives you the strangest feel of antimatter, of a materiality that seems to cross out its materiality and ventures into the realm of “über-objectivity.” Walking up to the painting, zooming in on the texture of the work, it seems to me the reach for the immaterial seeps into its visual appearance as a whole, the detail of its meaning is the nucleus of the brush stroke. The picture as a whole announces its state of otherness through the immanent presence of Malevich’s soul and intentions. 

In a letter of 19th of March 1920, Malevich describes his reading of the Black Square to Mikhail Matyushin: “The Square came to life, it is a New World of perfection; I look upon it with different eyes, it is not a painting, it is something else.” It is a specific object like Judd’s sculptures are. 

“Energy exists in a being in which there is a unit but which has the peculiarity of exploding as if atomizing.” 

“After atomization has been accomplished, all the various cells now strive to unite for the purpose of which they create all possible means, these means are the all visible forms of nature, including man.” (catalogue: Kasimir Malevich/Donald Judd, Galerie Gmurzynska, Malevich: pg 110)

This quote reads like the genesis of Dissolution of a Plane. Here the picture plane is not fragmented, but shows a form dissolving, a color evaporating like a haze. Or a color like a flower giving off scent, a form touched by the wind, moving in space.

It is here where we find Malevich exploded into the atoms of paint resulting in a form of theological red, a red of the future, a red, blood-red of future salvation through the arts, through a higher consciousness. The painting indeed has become a truth onto itself, not just itself, moreover, is form and meaning united, stretching well beyond the material and visual as such.

I strongly feel we should consider Modernism a Platonic undertaking. Even Zuccari already varies on notions of Plato (though does so in a manner veiling this origin), where his disegno interno is closest to a mental image, the ideal as understood by Plato. Malevich as quoted by Donald Judd, in his 1974 essay: “Color and form may change one another but a color doesn’t have a form or a form a color,” refers to the ideal properties of form and color beyond practical application, which could be considered Platonic, in a way like Cézanne imagined colors to have a true life of their own. Even Donald Judd himself underscores Malevich’s appeal to the ideal: “Malevich, and also Mondrian, believed that art was art, that it was something in itself, an idea that can be just as firm, or firmer, found in an individual, in which it arises anyway, as in general idealism.”  Donald Judd “On Russian Art and Its Relation to My Work” in Art Journal 41, Autumn 1981, PG 249–250. Malevich’s attitude to the world is above all a poetic, painterly and musical one. Through his celebration of color and form, the painterly as such, he underscores this attitude, which could be considered ideal and non-objective. Just one more quote to underscore my take on the Platonic Ideal of Judd’s work: “The idea of a rectangle exists only as an idea, which is easy for rectangles and difficult for most ideas.” (Catalogue: Kasimir Malevich/Donald Judd, Galerie Gmurzynska, Judd: PG 89)

The impossibility of realizing a clear view, a clear depiction of the Spiritual in art is what has consumed artist through the ages, be it in the context of liturgy, a poetics of the Romantic Ideal, the Sublime or Suprematist non-objectivity in search of the faceless face of God. Concepts of Self and thoughts about the eternal merge and rise renewed through the ages, voicing man’s desire for meaning and sacred revelation. 

Classically speaking, among the artists of the Renaissance, the “Invenzione” was valued most highly. How inventive was a new group of figures considered to be. This was one of the main challenges during early Renaissance, to design a group that would be like nothing before, more vibrant, more complex and challenging. Thus we could look upon ZAUM as an abstract rehearsal of the disegno interno (the human faculty of forming mental images), or we could say an “invenzione alla natura interno.” Way back, the wished for originality was already apparent in the arts and if achieved, it was highly valued. The all too material notions of the industrial age gave new life and form to this urge. Here we find throughout Europe a disparate struggle for new forms of visuality, of comprehension and expression, arising from cubism.

Through his later works Malevich all the more expressed a moderate sense of daily life’s relation to the Spiritual. He determined his new style by the concept of “Supronaturalism.” Content remains one of the most important factors in his painting. Determined by a mood, a state of being, color is the interlocutor of content. Looking at one of his farmer paintings, for example Going to the Harvest. Maria and Vanka, a painting from 1928, his painting more and more deals with a classical notion of harmony, as he balances the colors and the foreground and background, movement and stillness. He transforms his position of revolutionary to that of a classic maître, a maître of his time and as such of all ages.

Showing works by Malevich and Judd side by side is the logical follow-up of “The Moscow Installation,” a 1994 show at Galerie Gmurzysnka in Cologne, for which Judd selected works by Malevich to show side by side with his. At first I was somewhat surprised by this combination as I stumbled upon the show during my visit to Zürich in June. Now I can’t seem to think why that was actually. Maybe because I found Malevich’s painting so overtly Romantic that the clean and hard surface of Judd’s work just didn’t tie in for me.

As I’m researching their relation, the ideological connection becomes very clear. The openly voiced admiration by Judd for Malevich, is essential to understand the profound depth of Judd’s artistic accomplishments. “Instead, what is needed is a created space, space made by someone, space that is formed as is a solid, the two the same, with the space and the solid defining each other.” Donald Judd “On Russian Art and Its Relation to My Work” in Art Journal 41, Autumn 1981, PG 249–250.

Though Judd refers to Malevich’s work and non-objectivity more in general, nevertheless, you can easily find the transition from painting to (his own) sculpture apparent. Also think of Malevich’s architectural models: ARCHITECTONS. Those must have influenced Judd’s notion of volume and proportion (ratio).

His sculptures could be seen as embodiments of the non-referentiality of form and color that Malevich proclaims. Giving us his self-referential non-objective sculptures. To me the industrial manner in which most of his sculptures are produced erases a more emotional reading of them. I look for the dimension of experience, the aesthetic realm of the piece of art, as I do whilst painting my ekphrastic pictures. This emotive realm for me requires the human hand, which is so clearly found in Malevich’s painting. This touch can show far more of the unseen spirituality of the ideal. So in a sterile way, I do find the ideal in Judd’s sculpture, which through it’s often shiny and smooth surfaces is rather pleasing to the eye, but in this material form, it doesn’t move me that strongly, that emotionally.

Of course, it was not his intend to move people in this way. He may well be the most conceptual of all conceptualists and in a sense has given us the greatest work of the human mind. The specificity of the sculpture, an object of non-objectivity does sincerely and I should say seriously concern itself with classic intrinsic topics of art creation. It’s about balancing all the various parts of the sculpture in a way that they do play an equally strong part (polarizing), a new way of constructing harmony, which is clear in a work like, Untitled, Clear anodized aluminum and brown over black acrylic sheets, 1991.

“Polarity within the unified artwork was the key to a work that could be perceived all at once, but contained disparate parts: A presence that offers itself and holds its place.” Carina Plath 2003. From Donald Judd: The Early Work 1955–1968

So there is no denying Judd or his work its highly important position in modern art as the most valid proclamation of minimalism and conceptualism, true sculpture of non-objectivity. In some of his pieces the color radiates in such a manner that it seems to exemplify Malevich’s previously cited ideal of color without a form. “In all cases, however, the color has no handwriting as in a painting. It is always pristine, brilliant and immaculate. That quality and precision of surface which characterizes all of Judd’s work, enhances very strongly the impression that color is independent. Such is the simple shape of the carrier construction that the presence and appearance of color absorbs the carrying form as if it dissolves in color.” From Rudi Fuchs’ Master of Color, March 1994. Fuchs possibly unknowingly voices here in a somewhat altered fashion, the idealized notions of the De Stijl movement, as to how color could open up i.e. deconstruct architecture and infer (infinite) spatiality. "As a plane-plastic, Neo-Plastic architecture requires color, without which the plane cannot be a living reality for us. Color is also necessary to reduce the naturalistic aspect of materials: the pure, plane, determinate (i.e., sharply defined, not fused) primary or basic colors of Neo-Plasticism and their opposition, non-color (white, black and gray). The color is supported by the architecture or annihilates it, as required." From: Piet Mondrian “The Realization of Neo-Plasticism in the distant Future and in Architecture Today” (1922) from The New Art — The New Life The Collected Writings of Piet Mondrian (Holtzman & James, eds.) PG 171

Or maybe and most likely Fuchs was aware of Judd’s thoughts about the future of color which he envisioned in his 1993 essay in which he stated: “Color to continue had to occur in space.” We could be dealing here with a reverse of what happened when art historians summed up what made a real Vermeer a Vermeer, as a result forgers knew exactly which aspects to be wary about and to include in their fake Vermeer. In reverse Fuchs is known as the real connoisseur of Judd’s work, proclaims the next step he had taken in his work, exactly in line with Judd’s own program, as a longtime good friend and connoisseur would, without any wrong intent for sure and rather surely in agreeance. Since artists are so eager to voice their ideas, the stronger the artist and his idea, the more persistent becomes it’s voicing by admiring art historians and museum directors. I feel and fear there is not enough distance between the curator and the artists he curates; the personal is mostly more important than the art historical significance of the work within the contemporary art scene. Which in line with Judd I must say is hard to judge and only very few know how to.

Apart and despite from/of all this and as much as I agree with Rudi Fuchs, I wish to stress how this non-objectivity of color is still very much tied in with the object it colors. In the strictest sense the true non-objective can never be (re) presented in the earthly realm as such, and the experience of the color’s independence could be as veritably experienced from a colourfield painting. Color always occurs in space. It’s waves travel through space and can only touch our eyes spatially. The experience of the independent color is largely depending upon the willingness of its reading by the spectator. Consequently it’s all about suggestion, the most convincing suggestion will be greeted as the biggest truth. Falling subject to the beauty of suggestion is more part of a Romantic view of art and art’s properties, which surely came easy to the greatest discoverer (Fuchs) of the true painters of the early Eighties like for example Markus Lüpertz. Judd however may have disagreed: “Four units in a row are only that. They are not part of infinity, either endless or above, or within. [...].”Donald Judd writings, (Catalogue: Kasimir Malevich/Donald Judd, Galerie Gmurzynska, Judd: PG 89) Though I’m weakening my point here, I do feel that Judd liked to coin outspoken statements that may not do the entirety of his artistic vision justice. Reading his writings, I find he is very convinced of the social and humane quality of his art, which stretches to the emphatic domain of shared personal experience, an intersubjectivity that could denounce the all too rigid notion of beingness itself i.e. the self-sufficiency of his sculpted non-objectivity. Alas, he was subject to the rigidness of a notion of progress, like: “the new will be better.” I’m sure a return to more elaborate thoughts of the relativity of color, its sensitive application by the artist will enrich humanity and finally eradicate the all too mechanical notion of color devoid of emotion which Judd gives us. Rothko’s vision and execution of painting on the other hand, was in tune with man’s capacity of reading emotion. I return to this notion wholeheartedly in my ekphrastic painting.

Nevertheless, following Judd’s statement of his four units being just that, is where I find his true strength, with the articulation of space, and there we do meet in a sense of artistic fraternity. The pure reading of space and formal relations he offers us do invite a conscious appropriation of such formal values as truths onto themselves and may hint at a more transcendental understanding of an absolute non-objective sensation of space. Here suggestion plays a minor part though the reading of its truth once again becomes subjective. Indeed the experience of color as thought of being free in space may very well be it’s greatest artistic achievement (sui generis), but in the larger context of art history, his definition of pure space may prove more important as it is a stronger voice of the new, one could say anti-emotional truth of Judd’s creations and his envisioned progress. The biggest question here really is if there is such a thing as the language of art, in the sense of De Saussure’s Langue. Do we infer language from speech or the other way around? Do Judd and Malevich constitute a new language of art through their individual creations or the more so via their thinking, which is voiced in their writing. Is their writing voiced in their creations, or do those creations voice the ideas they wrote down and are their written statements then more adequate or less then the creations they produced? Is their envisioned art in words more perfect then the art they actually created? Do these two forms originate from the same source? I think we should be very aware of the fact that knowledge of a particular language, of a particular field increases the ability of the “speaker” or participant, to create meaning and to find new meaning in an already existing realm of interrelations. Judd was very knowledgeable and by inference very capable of placing his work and its development within the realm of “art-meaning.” I only cannot agree with his envisioned sense of progress within art as a language (langue) and the attribution of meaning to it by his objects. 

This understanding of art could erase its timeless quality and do harm to the body of work which as a whole constitutes the facade of its language. The object of its truth remains beyond the individual piece and its formal appearance as such. The visual truth of art is as manifold as are the truthful voices of its practitioners. There is the associational web of objects and of theory, a multiplicity of coding. Arguably you could state that the objects create a meaning that is beyond the arbitrary, as they have a definite form, a constant appearance; they form a solid unit. The same could be said though of a sentence, even if it may not feel the same way. To me meaning and understanding only exist by the axiom of a sensitive human being, the onlooker. This is not a passive receiver of the gift of the artwork, but a dynamic participant of its construction and the production of its meaning. “But when this same visitor has left the installation he retains a strong impression for which no reproduction can serve as a substitute.” This Hans Belting wrote in his The Invisible Masterpiece (PG 404), in regard to a multi-media installation and underscores the formative part the onlooker plays. “Thus, precisely where the old concept of the original no longer seems applicable, it reappears as an original impression that seems to take on independent existence.” (Idem PG 404)) 

An exhibition more and more aims for this experience of the particular and how this could stay with the visitor; how it may even move him or her to make a purchase and own a piece of the future memory the show will be. With the title of the 1994 show in mind: “The Moscow Installation” you can understand the more or less consciously driven exploit of the notion of the event; its uniqueness and repetitiveness as being a unique event over and over again. This all ties in with branding and the pursuit of the new and original as noticeable and constructive parts of the identity, of the event, the gallery and its artists; but also stakes a claim for the notion of the new as a commodity. “It’s interesting in that context, I think that both auction houses Sotheby’s and Christie’s are now going to be run by people who come from the fashion world. That is not a coincidence. The Parallels between the fashion world and the art world have become increasingly stronger. I think what is very much part of the auction world and the marketing strategies of the auction world run parallel to the fashion world. Shouldn’t be the case at an art fair, because that was an invention by the galleries, to actually create a momentum, to create a certain urgency to make decisions equally as you might have at an evening sale. But it was with real exhibitions by real galleries, who have real artists and who think long-term. And that is my concern at the moment, that we have in our quest to become competitive with the auction houses, too often adapt at the same methods now for the galleries and exhibitions at art fairs.” from an artnet interview on YouTube: “CEO of Gmurzynska Galleries, Mathias Rastorfer Speaks to the Future of the Art World” Mathias Rastorfer underscores my finding of this shift in trading, on the other hand, the art market has to a greater or lesser extent always been determined by what’s fashionable, what’s in demand has always determined the price of an artwork or antique artifact. However nowadays this tendency comes more to the fore then ever before. Looking at it from a different perspective, it (the notion of the event and installation) also emphasizes the experience as such (which strictly speaking only takes place within the individual) and confirms my own preference for the aesthetic in a more strict sense of the experiential, without trivializing the ephemeral experience of the moment.  This vision surely rejects and condemns the way in which auction houses draw art into the almost seasonal rise and fall of style, period and artist’s careers, like a new color would dominate a season and be out the next. Art history has proven to be about dedicated practitioners devoted to their field, who develop through time, in a personal manner and critically convey the human story a new, with great zeal. 

Sticking to my theme of art and the attribution of meaning to the notion of art, we may not yet have fully understood how the appearances of matter in the world around us weigh on our understanding, our comprehension of it, in a way that a comparison with the semiotics of language cannot sustain. We should understand both Malevich's and Judd's work as a dialogue with what has been. Like in language, new words are invented, so with art new forms are presented, but still within the framework of art. Alain Badiou takes this notion a little further when he states: “Art is thinking of which the works of art are the real (and not the effect).” Through this statement arriving at absolute formalism, to me isn't the conclusion of the emotional and meaningful experience of an artwork. The experience is always a gestalt beyond the enclosure of the formal. Emotions will arise with experience, even if this is an experience of something produced without emotional intent, to view the work is to experience it. The subject will always add emotion, a strong or faint feeling. When there are still humans, there will be feeling. Art cannot be seen as separate of the human dimension of experience and comprehension. This is exactly how each individual brings meaning to the work of art.

Whilst Judd looks for the point zero of creation and existence, he gets to the stage where his artistic creation becomes more an object of philosophy or science. Though he would probably not have underscored it, unwillingly, the exclusion of all else but that which is, the object he created devoid of external meaning, may fall short of meaning itself. But the almost painful balance between the object’s self-sufficiency and its veiled invitation to perceptual contemplation, to connect with an unavoidable web of interrelations, poetic, art historical, philosophic or scientific, could foster just that uneasiness which will ignite enduring and compelling art historical questioning.

Joost de Jonge

is a Dutch artist who studied art history at the University of Utrecht and painting at the Facultat de Bellas artes de ST. Jordi in Barcelona. He graduated from the School of Arts Utrecht BFA in Painting With Honours (2002). His work is shown in many different countries at international and national art fairs and art galleries and is part of important corporate and private collections around the world. His work was shown at, amongst others, Arte Fiera Bologna, Artissima, Miart, Art London, Art San Diego etc. His most recent project: “Painted Poetry & Painterly Poetics : An Ekphrastic Notion” centres on the topic of ekphrasis to which some of the most important art historians and poets from Europe and the USA have contributed: