Up until a year ago, I had never visited an art expo. Things changed when I met the incredibly talented Charlotte De Baere (CDB.), who I easily became friends with. (I’m also the proud owner of one of her works, Ziener.)
But what do you see when you look at art? Obviously, the artist put quite a lot of work in it. But if you’re unfamiliar with expos as an activity, it’s quite hard to figure out what to pay attention to.
So here’s Jerry Saltz’ take, from his wonderful How to be an Artist essay.
Try to find the content in a painting by Robert Ryman, who has been making almost-all-white work since the 1950s. Ask what Ryman’s (or any artist’s) ideas are and what his relationship to paint is, to surface, to internal scale (meaning what size brushstrokes were used in the work), to color. What is white to Ryman? Note the date: 1960. Why would he make this painting then? Would this have looked like other art at the time? How would it have been different? Ask yourself what else was being made then. How is the work hung on the wall? Is it in a frame? Is the stretcher or surface thick, thin, close to the wall? How is this like or unlike other almost-monochrome works by Ellsworth Kelly, Barnett Newman, Agnes Martin, or Ad Reinhardt? Is the surface sensual or intellectual? Does the painter want you to see the work all at once or in parts? Are some parts more important than others? Is every part of the surface supposed to be equally important? What are the artist’s ideas about craft and skill? Do you think this artist likes painting or is trying to paint against it? Is this anti-art? What is Ryman’s relationship to materials, tools, mark-making? How do you think he made the work? How might it be original or innovative? Why should this be in a museum? Why should it not be in a museum? Would you want to live with it? Why or why not? Why do you imagine the painting is this size? Now try a Frida Kahlo.