"There is tenderness only in the coarsest demand: that no-one shall go hungry any more" – Theodor Adorno, Minima Moralia (1974: 156)
Further to my very brief comments on a couple of permanent exhibitions here in Berlin, I’m reminded of the art historian T.J. Clark’s stunning set of reflections on Matisse published last year in the London Review of Books. Clark’s Matisse is one characterised by a modernism of extremes and paradoxes. As he ultimately concludes:
“Modernism is paradox. It is dialectics. It is an art that continually, relentlessly proposes that human qualities, which once were implicit and embedded in the texture of experience – qualities of intensity, depth, directness, vividness – are on the verge of extinction. They have been outlawed, or, worse still, vulgarised and commodified, so that everywhere miniaturised and compressed kitsch images of them whirl by in the ether of information, as background to buying and selling. Modern art is an act of dialectical retrieval, in what it sees as desperate circumstances. The human will only be found again, it says, by pressing on towards the human’s opposite. Depth will be found in flatness, and spontaneity conjured out of cold technique. Absolute openness and vulnerability can only be discovered through a process of rigorous masking and formality” (August 14, 2008).
These are deep and pressing concerns and I can’t help but think that the very simplicity we find in so much of Klee’s work (as noted in my earlier post) trades in a similar form of “dialectical retrieval” and is, as such, testimony to the complex texture of experience lauded by Clark.