Review of Kirk Varnedoe, Pictures of Nothing: Abstract Art Since Pollock
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Pictures of Nothing takes its title from Hazlitt’s quip on the great Turner’s paintings, ‘Pictures of nothing, and very like’. Non-objective art has been objected to by many for whom art is the representation of an object; the value of the work being a function of its ‘veracity’. This line goes back to Aristotle’s Poetics and passages in the expansive Pliny. However, non-objective art began not objectless but with objects, if dubious ones. My erstwhile colleague Dr. Thomas Henry Gibbons in his Rooms in the Darwin Hotel (University of Western Australia Press, 1973) pointed out how auras and other Blatvatskian objects/‘objects’ provided the motif for early abstract art. It was not non-objective but super-OBJECT-objective. Even Mondrian was into this stuff.
Varnedoe seems not to have read Gibbons but is sceptical, in a healthy way, of Transcendal objects as the occluded ‘subjects’ of abstract paintings. He, too, avoids the warmed-over Hegel of Arthur Danto’s own Mellon Lectures of 1995....