in FRIED, Michael: Art and Objecthood, 1968
Wednesday, 22 September 2010
In this connection Tony Smith's description of a car ride taken at night on the New Jersey Turnpike before it was finished makes compelling reading. What seems to have been revealed to Smith that night was the pictorial nature of painting—even, one might say, the conventional nature of art. And this Smith seems to have understood not as laying bare the essence of art, but as announcing its end. In comparison with the unmarked, unlit, all but unstructured turnpike— more precisely, with the turnpike as experienced from within the car, traveling on it—art appears to have struck Smith as almost absurdly small (“All art today is an art of postage stamps,” he has said), circumscribed, conventional.... There was, he seems to have felt, no way to “frame” his experience on the road, that is, no way to make sense of it in terms of art, to make art of it at least as art then was. Rather, “you just have to experience it”—as it happens, as it merely is. (The experience alone is what matters.) There is no suggestion that this is problematic in any way. The experience is clearly regarded by Smith as wholly accessible to everyone, not just in principle but in fact, and the question of whether or not one has really had it does not arise. [... ] ... What was Smith's experience on the turnpike? Or to put the same question another way, if the turnpike, airstrips, and drill ground are not works of art, what are they?—What, indeed, if not empty, or “abandoned,” situations? And what was Smith's experience if not the experience of what I have been calling theatre? It is as though the turnpike, airstrips, and drill ground reveal the theatrical character of literalist art, only without the object, that is, without the art itself—as though the object is needed only within a room (or, perhaps, in any circumstances less extreme than these). In each of the above cases the object is, so to speak, replaced by something: for example, on the turnpike by the constant onrush of the road, the simultaneous recession of new reaches of dark pavement illumined by the onrushing headlights, the sense of the turnpike itself as something enormous, abandoned, derelict, existing for Smith alone and for those in the car with him..... This last point is important. On the one hand, the turnpike, airstrips, and drill ground belong to no one; on the other, the situation established by Smith's presence is in each case felt by him to be his. Moreover, in each case being able to go on and on indefinitely is of the essence. What replaces the object—what does the same job of distancing or isolating the beholder, of making him a subject, that the object did in the closed room—is above all the endlessness, or objectlessness, of the approach or on-rush or perspective. It is the explicitness, that is to say, the sheer persistence, with which the experience presents itself as directed at him from outside (on the turnpike from outside the car) that simultaneously makes him a subject — makes him subject — and establishes the experience itself as something like that of an object, or rather, of objecthood.