The body, as grid, exploded

Jessica Backus
Nov 17, 2012 9:08PM

I recently saw "Art of Another Kind" at the Solomon G. Guggenheim Museum in New York (the show closed a few weeks ago).  Featuring works by household names from the New York School alongside European artists lesser known in this country (such as Alberto Burri, Piero Manzoni, and Jean Dubuffet), as well as artists quite simply lesser known (like Carmen Cicero, Jimmy Ernst or Luis Feito), the exhibition draws its title from critic Michel Tapié’s 1952 book of the same name.  

Tapié’s book did not programmatically cement a movement. Instead it somewhat vaguely agglomerated a number of stylistically diverse artists under the name “Art Informel” (“unformed art”). Employing the pathos-laden, hazy language popular during his time, Tapié cited these artists’ “intoxication with life and the development of mystery” and their discovery of “transcendental calligraphy.”  French artist Jean Dubuffet spoke to this ethos when he said: “I’m in favor of confusion. Do not confine art, cut it off from the real world… I want painting to be full of life.”

One work, in particular, seemed to speak to the post-war, existentialist sensibility of Tapié's book, the imperative of the artist, in his words, "to lean over the depths of himself without the protection of a railing": Jimmy Ernst’s Alone. It depicts an exaggeratedly foreshortened corner of a room behind a series of primitive symbols, while a figure, composed of linear scaffolding, stands in the corner. It reminds me of this Antony Gormley work. A collection of chalky black shapes, the figure looks like a lattice rent asunder.  If the grid as in the works of Mondrian or, much later, Sol LeWitt, reflects a spatial organization based on an unified, repeated principle, what does it mean to map the human form onto it? And, most importantly, what does it mean to dismantle that form?   

Jessica Backus