John elderfield is chief curator emeritus of painting and sculpture at the museum of modern art. The online edition of artforum international magazine. The plane. Grids feature in quite a number of exhibitions of abstract art currently on show. This is John Elderfield, ‘Grids’, Artforum, May More on. The grid in modern painting and algorithmic art. John Elderfield: “Grids,” Artforum 10 (May ), pp. Rosalind Krauss: “Grids,” October 9 (Summer .

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Grids feature in quite a number of exhibitions of abstract art currently on show. This is perhaps always the case. Grids were even more prevalent in The Indiscipline of Painting exhibition, shown at Tate St Ives and the Mead Gallery at the end of last year and the beginning of this. UntitledLinda Karshan, pencil on paper, collection of the Courtauld Gallery, Courtesy the artist.

Elserfield centrepiece is a large abstract jogn by Linda Karshan but the rest is more strictly historical, stretching back to the sixteenth century.

In some works in Lines Crossed the grid is rlderfield a tool for squaring up a drawing in preparation for its transfer to a larger surface. Elsewhere the grid is perspectival, playing an active role in allowing the objects pictured to exist in an organised and convincing space.

In the Gothic Arch by Piranesi, my favourite work in the display, the perspectival grid is fractured, its order simultaneously confirmed and denied to bewildering effect. Other grids in Lines Crossed order a number of different images on a single sheet, either creating a narrative in a eldercield way to a modern cartoonfor purposes of display or simply to decorative effect.

In what is still the most famous discussion of the use of grids in modern art Rosalind Krauss denied the importance of a correspondence between the grid in modern painting and its use in pre-modernist art.

Tom Moore, Beacon NY. One abstract artist I recently visited, who sees the grid as central to his work, admitted that he has been accused of using it as a crutch. Leaving aside the theoretical concerns of Krauss, it is perhaps in this sense that the grid is most problematic. Is it used by many artists simply as a way of ordering a surface with the minimum of fuss? Two examples can illustrate the extent to which the grid functions as a default position. Surely what we are really seeing is not a liberation of the body into the form of the grid, but in fact the imposition of the grid to such an extent that the body is forced into following its order.

Interestingly much the same piece of disingenuousness can be seen elsewhere on abstract critical in the recent elddrfield in which Alan Gouk talks about his paintings. The implication is that the blocks gridss form loose or submerged grids across his paintings are not present because of the legacy of their use in a hundred years of modern art, but occur as almost a natural phenomenon.

You could make the elferfield sort of implication that people who do representational work rely on the comfort of the familiar. And equally arbitrary is the claim that spontaneity is heroic. No one strategy is inherently superior to the other. I have used grids in one way or another for over 40 years, the Romans et al used grids for much longer!


For some reason I reponded to the role it has played and still continues to play…. I use it and it uses me…. The use of a grid as an integral and overt element of an image is often referred to as a relatively modern practice.

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Apologies to those who love grids, but I find them really boring. Even nohn word strikes horror! I jest, of course! The thing I have picked up from this conversation is whether the grid is a form of conventional constraint or, a structure providing liberation. In my own work, I move back and forth between making drawings from my paintings and then paintings from my drawings. By using the grid as a squaring tool, it allows me to meditate on the relationship of each square thereby slowing me down.

Arriving at this new way of Seeing outside of my own subjectivity demands my presence and beckons the necessity of being Awake.

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Are grids a constraint or a liberation? I guess these things go in phases, and my sense at the moment is that geometry, symmetry, grids and suchlike have been done to death in recent times. Take a look at the Hirst show at Tate — just about everything in this show is conventionally and boringly arranged symmetrically on grids or in boxes. My inclination is to get as far from this as I can, and at the risk of falling down, attempt something with more freedom to it.

Dear Sam and Robert Thanks for starting this…. I think I can see what you are both saying here about being ambivalent or even possibly boxed in ha!

Grids are therefore with us and are a part of everything we do including painting and always have been. Surely mathematics can be freeform, open, surprising and disrupted: Do you think that artists are scared to give up the idea that a little bit of individual genius a hideous notion — no, we are all the same will be lost or undiscovered if they recognise the rational or adhere to some sort of principles?

If you work on canvas you have already entered a grid system. Photographic work or film — self-explanatory…… I am one of the artists in HA HA you mentioned who works with grids and geometry.

It will be a ederfield road I am sure. The mathematics is one part of the journey — and the journey is part of the painting. Katrina, you are of course right, the grid is everywhere, so it is incumbent on an artist to examine themselves carefully—is their work an unconscious reflection of their environment?

Or if conscious is it just conformist? But also consider that all grids are really the same grid. Since the grid is an abstract concept, a Platonic form almost, it precedes all of its applications. So no matter how original you may think your work is, it is just a locatable place eledrfield the grid, the same grid that everyone else is on, so the place of your work is an already existing ederfield. Leaving aside questions of reference and keeping within formal organisation do you really think clearly and directly stated grid elderfeild a Mondrian really the same as the grid in a Matisse, or the grid in the painting by Poussin you discuss on your blog?

Implied grids in Cezanne are very beautiful. There are pleasures to be found in Mondrian, etc. Epderfield that with vibrating colors and OMG you have…. You can be careful and ascetic about it the cool grid approach or you can be sloppy about it the casualist grid approach. You can leave out a line or two! Make a diamond grid! I agree, the open-ended approach may be the more dangerous way to go one can really make a fool of oneself but it holds out johhn most promise!

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Painters are always moved unconsciously by the beauty of lines and colours…their mutal relationships enchant, and are of more interest than what they might represent. I can see some pleasure in that, but a very limited pleasure, to narrow possibilities down in such a manner. Each to their own. I have been thinking recently about equilibrium in painting composition and this elderfueld to a sense of control and order, which is a kind of stable feeling, and then toying with the reality of life which always includes a sense of tragedy, brokenness and I think this might be the cause of my own dissatisfaction with paintings which cling so intimately with the grid.

I think the reality of life includes a sense epderfield order as well as tragedy and chaos. Same thing with time, or music. And within the confines of that order there are all sorts of variations.

When I see a grid laid out before me, I can process on a macro level, while simultaneously registering the variations of each unit one from the next. A grid of colors, such as G. Sam, I elderfied glad that you have taken up this topic, because the grid is, as you suggest, too much of a default mode today. If abstract painting is going to have a future, this kind of uncritical thinking will have to be examined. As it elderfielv I have a strong position on this, and have addressed it in several blog posts http: Your comments toward the end of this brief article are, in my view, exactly right, though perhaps too cautious.

Hi Robert, Thank you for your comment. In that I am attracted to many not all of the works with grids I mention at the beginning, but still have a vague feeling that their constant presence cannot be other eldervield a limitation. The coincidence between the comments on Karshan and by Gouk was a sort of tipping point in relation to this vague feeling; the similarity between the obvious denials really struck me.

Placing emphasis on the body also seems a limitation. Really the grid is a limitation on structure in a much more general sense. If you have a certain ambivalence on the topic I might understand why.

The fact is, rectilinear, regularized compositions can be very satisfying. There is a pleasure to be had. I know many people will testify to the intense pleasure they can get from Mondrian, or Judd. But if I analyze it further I find that it is the pleasure of arriving at a familiar place.

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The sense of a satisfying end to a process of careful adjustment. But the end is always present before the picture is even started; the artist knows what feeling they are working toward, because that knowledge is what enables their decisions along the way.

On principle I take the Heraclitan approach, an open-ended practice. I want to arrive at the unknown.