In Memoriam: Kenneth Noland (1924-2010)

Earthen Bound (1960)

The great modernist painter, Kenneth Noland, has died. To read the New York Times obituary, please click here. To visit Kenneth Noland’s official website, from which the image above was copied, please click here.

Here is an excerpt, about Noland’s modernism, from Michael Fried’s important catalog essay for the 1965 exhibition, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella:

… the development of pictorial structure in Noland’s work is far from arbitrary, and … the structure of a given painting embodies something far more urgent than a desire to achieve striking design. In fact, as regards both individual paintings and the development of his work as a whole, structure represents the crux of Noland’s response to the crisis of meaning that brought modernism into existence in the first place–a crisis which, in its present form, undergoes continual change as painters take up what seem to them the most important formal problems posed by the finest modernist painting of the recent past, and in grappling with them raise others or open up a range of formal possibilities which may be rigorously explored. Noland has seen that crisis change in the course of the past seven years largely as a result of paintings made by him during this time. But whereas many modernist painters before him had found the experience unnerving, and responded to it by ceasing to develop, Noland has been emboldened by it to exert renewed and even stepped-up criticism against his own best prior achievements. Perhaps more than any painter in the history of modernist painting, Noland has been both driven and vitalized by the awareness that the essence of modernism resides in its refusal to regard a particular formal “solution,” no matter how successful or inspired, as definitive, in the sense of allowing the painter to repeat it with minor variations indefinitely. This is tantamount to the realization that if the dialectic of modernism were to come to a halt anywhere once and for all, it would thereby betray itself; that the act of radical self-criticism on which it is founded and by which it perpetuates itself can have no end. Noland demands of his work that it constantly challenge not some abstract notion of general taste–it is hard to imagine that someone unfamiliar with modernist painting since the war would feel that his chevrons are more advanced or harder to take than his concentric circles, or vice versa–but his own sensibility and the sensibilities of those others who have been most deeply educated, influenced, and moved by his own prior work; and he makes this demand of his art and of his public not because he or they are infatuated with formal problems for their own sake, but because it is one of the prime, if tacit, convictions of modernist painting–a conviction matured out of painful experience, individual and collective–that only an art of constant formal self-criticism can bear or embody or communicate more than trivial meaning. (From Fried’s Art and Objecthood: Essays and Reviews, pp. 235-6)


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