Perhaps my reactions to Lars Spuybroek’s view on so called modern, abstract art, sound too light-hearted or ironical. I hate to be aggressive, and even when I disagree profoundly with somebody, I try to express that gently. But in this case there may be not the slightest doubt of my revulsion. I can hardly believe that a highly educated man from my homeland, who is younger and more successful than I, and looking neat enough, does not recoil from accusing innocent artists, who deserve appreciation and respect, of cruelty and perversion.
My indignation is the stronger because Spuybroek is operating on a global level, has nothing to gain with the downfall of his victims, and contributes not only to their discredit but to the intolerance and bigotery of his public as well. And his view on modernism is untrue and dishonest in the first place.
As I said earlier, art is never abstract.
Abstraction is the ability to generalize: an intellectual activity of the brain that can only succeed by excluding sentiment and emotion. The result can be a theoretical hypothesis, a mathematic formula, or a scientific analysis with rational conclusions. All very useful and important for many areas of human behavior and development. And very exciting when it leads to new inventions or better knowledge and understanding of reality. I’m the last one to trivialize the value of it. Mankind owes the greater part of civilisation and technology to it.
To translate the results of abstraction into concrete measures and facilities communication is indispensable. All kinds of “language” – meaningful sequences of sounds, movements, images and/or letters, or a combination of these – can be used for this purpose.
Lars Spuybroek has taken against the "abstract" modern art of the 20th century: He distinguishes a “pure” or “generalized” abstraction - which reduces everything to the naked structure of the sublimated idea and kills the sympathy required for the creation of real beauty – and a “specified” or “temporary” abstraction that he considers an essential condition for the detached form of tenderness that belongs to the holy sympathy. If I explain this correctly, the abstraction of Mondriaan, Rothko, Judd and Lewitt is pure and rejectable, whereas Spuybroek's own abstraction is an indispensable virtue.
In Spuybroek’s description the “sympathy of things” occurs when a creature synchronizes its own behavior with that of another in such a way, that it intuitively incorporates the movements of another self. It’s the identification of the physical feeling in such a way, that the ‘self’ dissolves into the living awareness of the other. To clarify this: think of people dancing with each other, or a leopard chasing a deer. But the same happens when a cook is whipping cream, or a blacksmith forging a hinge, or an artist carving wood. Actually, in Spuybroek's vision all things with power and strength, including waves, wind, clouds and mountains, design or shape each other by the same mutual identification.
Enough about modernism. I think the division of western art in abstract and figurative or realistic streams, is a big error. For an essential dichotomy we have to look for long term differences between main traditions in the history of at least a couple of millennia, instead of such a recent and superficial controverse. Why didn’t that happen before?
Lars Spuybroek. I’d rather be proud of a compatriot who is operating successfully on a global level and whose design for the new Twin Towers I remember in a positive way for its daring abstract style. I didn’t even know him by name though and only became aware of him through his interview in my morning paper less than a month ago. I don’t have any intention to annoy him and I took his youngest book “The sympathy of things” completely serious. But.
In the Netherlands we have a State’s Architect, who has considerable power in national building policy, selection of architects for large projects, and the application of sculpture in public space.
At the end of the fifties of the last century a new state’s architect was installed, and one of his first acts was the unveiling of the then youngest monument for the victims of the second world war. Numerous older ones were already present everywhere, all in a realistic, figurative, often symbolic and heroic style.
Lars Spuybroek’s “The sympathy of Things” to find an answer to the question why, in a recent interview, he qualified abstract art as a horrible dogma, and linked modernism to genocide and the holocaust.
In the same interview he said to have changed his architects practice for writing, because designing went to slow and writing is more precise than building. So my expectations were stirred.
De Volkskrant of Friday September 2011, Bob Witman quotes the following sentence of this famous Dutch architect and professor at the Georgia Institute of Technology in Atlanta, USA.
"Modernism, abstract art, is the same aiming at sublimation and purification as genocide. In the essence of thought modernism and minimalism are seeking the same justification as Auschwitz. Modernism is a horrible dogma."Having recovered from this blow of shock and awe, my first reaction was disbelief. How could such a brutal and absurd comparison be uttered by a leading authority whose own artistic concepts and models belong evidently themselves to the modernist tradition? And in the history of western art I never came across any dogma whatsoever at all, let alone a horrible one.