Modernism, Minimalism, and the Monochrome
[Author's note: This text was edited for its publication in The Varieties of the Monochrome. Below is the original version.]

Two exhibitions, thirty years apart, will bracket the time period broached – roughly the beginning of minimalism and its effective ending with the emergence of installation art – as well as serve as an introduction. The first is Dorothy Miller’s 1959 “Sixteen Americans” at the Museum of Modern Art, part of a series showcasing, in small groups, the country’s emerging talent. “Preferring not to attempt comprehensive periodic surveys of American art as a whole,” informs the catalogue, “the Museum devised a different formula. . . a small number of artists, to be represented by several works each” (1). The sixteen participants here include Jasper Johns, Ellsworth Kelly, Robert Rauschenberg, and Louise Nevelson. Undoubtedly the most startling contribution, however, are four black monochromes by the youngest artist, the twenty-three year-old Frank Stella. They feature extra-thick stretchers, approximately the width of the black stripes echoing in from the canvas edge; commercial enamel paint that gives the surface a semi-glossy sheen; and an accompanying artist statement, written by fellow Philips Academy alumnus and sometime studio mate, Carl Andre, that evinces an austerity that, if apposite, nonetheless approached parsimony. Frank Stella “is interested in the necessities of painting,” it declares. “His stripes are paths of brush on canvas. These paths lead only into painting” (2). Part of the Black Paintings series, the four monochromes, along with the Aluminum Paintings featured at Leo Castelli in 1960, would soon form a fault line dividing modernism from minimalism.

The second exhibition, “The Innovators: Entering into the Sculpture” (1989) takes place at the 30,000 square-feet Ace Gallery in Los Angeles. It includes three artists indebted to Stella’s Black and Aluminum Paintings: Carl Andre, Donald Judd, and, slightly farther a field, Daniel Buren. Too, controversy shrouds this exhibition. For though a commercial gallery’s reputation and integrity would seem to rest on the idea if not fact of the authentic original, Ace’s director refabricates two works: Andre’s Fall, forty-nine feet of hot-rolled steel plates fitted into the ninety-degree juncture of wall and floor in an extended L, and an untitled Judd, an uninterrupted row of floor-to-eye level galvanized iron panels suspended eight inches away from the wall and wrapped around three sides of a room. Likewise, though a private collection’s value would seem contingent on the purported uniqueness of its works, the Panza Collection in Italy, the works’ owner, permits the refabrications. To compliment – indeed complete – these reversals, Andre and Judd, once at the forefront of jettisoning artisanal craft in favor of factory production, subsequently write letters disavowing the works. These are respectively published in the March and April 1990 issues of Art in America, which had reviewed the exhibition several months earlier. Andre’s letter states, “No such ‘refabrication’ of my work has been authorized by me and any such ‘refabrication’ is a gross falsification of my work.” With slightly more detail, Judd explains: “First, this work was a forgery. Second, its appearance was not mine: the galvanized surface was wrong and the details were wrong. I remember that three narrow panels ineptly made the left corner” (3).

The logic behind beginning with the first exhibition is clear. If modernism can be figured as an ever-receding horizon, the impossible situation that art found itself in 1959 was that this horizon was arrived at in the guise of the Black Paintings. Indeed, while Andre’s accompanying statement contours the paintings as paradigmatically Greenbergian, the critic never endorsed them. Instead, correctly intuiting their threat to the future of modernist reduction, Greenberg would soon declare, “a stretched or tacked-up canvas already exists as a picture. . . though not necessarily as a successful one” (4). This shift in strategy – from positing art as an internally motivated formal progression towards flatness to a far more idiosyncratic assessment of success or failure – not only intimates an impending and perhaps irreparable breach in the hitherto rigorous separation of the aesthetic from the everyday as well as its immediate stopgap, taste (5). More, it signals a broader and subsequent shift from art as a creative act to art as an act of judgment; that is, theoretically and ideally, into the purview of the general public, members of which are to be compelled for reasons of their own to grant an object the status of Art, but, practically and realistically, into the dominion of the curator or critic, who is vested with institutional authority to state unequivocally, “This is Art” (6).

Parallel to and contemporaneous with this narrative – which largely concerns the effect of the Black Paintings on Greenbergian modernism – is another. Like Greenberg, Andre and Judd understood Stella’s collapse of pictorial surface and physical support, his total conflation of depicted and literal flatness, as the epitome – and thus the conclusion – of modernism’s decades-long project of securing the specificity of painting. Confronted with this apparent endpoint, Andre and Judd would not however resort to aesthetic judgment, as did Greenberg. Rather, they would exceed the parameters of painting and create three-dimensional objects. No longer wed to the medium of painting – the shape of the stretcher, the flat surface of the picture plane – Stella’s seriality would re-emerge in the mode of production as well as in the compositional logic of, say, Andre’s Equivalents or Judd’s Progressions. And though clear in the 1960s, the critical advantages of this newly ungrounded seriality became increasingly ambiguous during the following decades. For while it efficiently cancelled old artistic criteria like authenticity, originality, and uniqueness, it perhaps corresponded to the new industrial order too precisely, crossing the line between critical mimicry and complicit acquiescence – witness the ease, even eagerness, with which Ace Gallery and the Panza Collection countenanced this once-radical practice in 1989 (7).

To recite these accounts of art in the immediate aftermath of the Black Paintings is not only to underscore the paintings’ impact but also to sketch the constellation of terms that continue to confront, and sometimes confound, contemporary art. Just as art was cast into the realm of the general public (in the Greenberg narrative), it was retethered to a subject in part culled from a limited reading of the readymade, resulting in the model of the artist-as-pasticheur in the 1980s (David Salle, Ashley Bickerton) and the artist-as-curator in the 1990s (Fred Wilson, Mark Dion). And just as composition was unbound from the exigencies of the medium of painting (in the Andre-Judd narrative), it was rebound to a mode of production integral to the dynamic of capitalism, the ultimate manifestation of which is installation art. Might there be an alternative to both of these narratives? The following argues that there is, and that rather than evading (as did Greenberg) or surpassing (as did Andre and Judd) the monochrome, this alternative is modeled precisely on it. Like the monochrome, it is at once modernist and minimalist, valuing reflexivity in heed of the former while, on cue with the latter, freeing that notion from the parameters of a specific medium like painting. In this, it elaborates select parts of one key text of the 1960s, Michael Fried’s “Art and Objecthood.” Further, and more significant, it draws from the peculiar tense of the monochrome – intimated but not entirely unpacked in another central text of the era, Barbara Rose’s “ABC Art” – which can be characterized as the future anterior. In so doing, it not only acknowledges the obsolescence that earmarks every object under capitalism – the passage from novel to passé – but transforms this inevitable and neverending process into its very subject, at once declaring the possibility and delineating the parameters of a reflexive art still.

Different temporal registers are precisely what concerns Michael Fried’s spirited defense of modernist painting, “Art and Objecthood” (1967). Although well known, it warrants a brief review, for underlying the vindictive against minimalism is a critique of both Greenberg and Judd’s reading of the Black Paintings. Again, if Greenberg intuited their threat to modernism, and thus resorted to taste (their flatness was too literal, too ideated – not successful enough), Judd baldly declared that they completed painting’s search for its ontological foundations, its medium specificity, and in so doing concluded that modernist project. Though their responses differed, both viewed the Black Paintings (whether implicitly or explicitly) as an endpoint of sorts. Fried, however, proposes that a given medium’s specificity is historically contingent and continually evolving. As such, the project of modernism is endless. He explains in a lengthy footnote:

"[F]latness and the delimitation of flatness ought not to be thought of as the “irreducible essence of pictorial art,” but rather as something like the minimal conditions for something’s being seen as a painting; and that the crucial question is not what those minimal and, so to speak, timeless conditions are, but rather what, at a given moment, is capable of compelling conviction, of succeeding as painting. This is not to say that painting has no essence; it is to claim that that essence – i.e., that which compels conviction – is largely determined by, and therefore changes continually in response to, the vital work of the recent past" (8).
Indeed, in a series of essays written around the time of “Art and Objecthood,” Fried marshals a variety of terms (“opticality,” “shape”) to replace Greenberg’s “flatness.” Thus even if the Black Paintings regarded “the most advanced painting of the past hundred years as having led to the realization that paintings are nothing more than. . . things,” the metallic surfaces of Stella’s subsequent Aluminum and Copper Paintings (1960 – 1961) return to a retinal play of color, “achieving. . . something like the opticality brought about by the staining and color in the work of Louis, Noland, and Olitski”; and by the Irregular Polygons (c. 1966), depicted shape and literal support – which the Black Paintings conflated – are once again disjoined and held in tension (9).

Yet even as Fried attempts to transcend the Greenberg-Judd opposition, he reiterates it. Art’s devolution into objecthood in minimalism, the critic protests, not only cancels the ontological search for medium specificity central to Greenbergian modernism but voids art tout court: “[T]he literalist espousal of objecthood amounts to nothing other than a plea for a new genre of theatre; and theatre is now the negation of art” (10). By shifting attention from an artwork to the context of its reception, minimalism displaces the instantaneous reception of modernist art, secured by an appeal to the visual faculty alone. Rather than a mirage-like weightlessness (as in David Smith’s Cubis and Zigs), minimalist or literalist works offer an object “in a situation” (witness Robert Morris’ L-beams). As such, the experience of a minimalist work unfolds in real time and remains indistinguishable from that of a workaday object; both offer a sense “of endlessness, of inexhaustibility, of being able to go on and on” (11). A pointed reference to Judd’s “one thing after another,” Fried also cites at length Tony Smith’s description of a nighttime drive down the unfinished New Jersey turnpike as a particularly egregious instance of this distended temporality. Here is Smith:

"There were no lights or shoulder markers, lines, railing, or anything at all except the dark pavement moving through the landscape of the flats, rimmed by hills in the distance, but punctuated by stacks, towers, fumes, and colored lights. This drive was a revealing experience. . . . I thought to myself, it ought to be clear that’s the end of art. Most painting looks pretty pictorial after that. There is no way you can frame it, you just have to experience it" (12).

If Fried’s opposition of modernist instantaneity with minimalism duration forces them into mutual exclusion and obscures certain homologies, his response to Smith’s description compounds the problem by shifting the locus of the debate entirely from the temporal to the spatial. Anticipating with remarkable prescience much art of the 1970s, Fried comments: “What Smith’s remarks seem to suggest is that the more effective. . . the setting is made, the more superfluous the works themselves become” (13). Indeed, post-minimalism is often characterized by a “dematerialization of the art object” (the Conceptual Art of Joseph Kosuth, Robert Barry, or Douglas Huebler) or by a circumvention of the “white cube” and an escape into the vastness of the natural landscape (the Earthworks of Robert Smithson or Michael Heizer) (14).  

It is a testimony to the force and clarity of “Art and Objecthood” that subsequent attempts to reconcile modernism and minimalism primarily focused on mediating precisely these reductive and expansive tendencies. Appropriately, the monochrome, now extrapolated three dimensionally, would be the bridge. Shifting “from work to frame” (15) the early site-specific practices of artists like Michael Asher, Daniel Buren, and Hans Haacke deftly combined modernism’s medium specificity (now purged of any essentialist connotations) and the minimalism’s attention to the site of display (now less phenomenological than architectural). Consider, for instance, Buren’s contribution to the 1989 Ace exhibition.  Consisting of three false walls of raw plywood tilted inward at twenty-degree angles in a triplet of rooms en filade, the untitled work inescapably evokes Stella even as it approximates, and ultimately finesses, the physical presence of Andre and Judd’s installations. Covered in Buren’s trademark stripes in white tape – which echo those of the Black Paintings – the work further and specifically mines the spatial ambiguity of the monochrome, containing as it does the gallery even as it is contained by it. “Passing through this tipsy space,” Art in America’s reviewer notes, “one remained aware of the solidity and straightforward rectangularity of the gallery’s architecture” (16). Just as the monochrome simultaneously opens onto an infinite perceptual depth and is an obdurate object in actual space, Buren’s installation is both frame and framed, neither pure object nor pure context.

Adeptly as this trajectory reconnects modernism and minimalism through updating some aspects of the monochrome, it is not without its shortcomings. First, by privileging the spatial over the temporal (the title of Art in America’s review was “Space Commanders”) it inadvertently falls prey to a temporal register distinct from that of modernism and minimalism alike and to which both are equally and indiscriminately subject: the mortality that is inscribed in every object, including artwork, from the very start in commercial culture. Here, reduction and expansion are less opposing terms than alternating beats that comprise the inexorable rhythm of capitalism. Second, and more specifically, in assuming that art’s support is the tangible reality of the gallery space (however ideologically charged and institutionally determined), it falters in the 1990s, unable as it is to countenance what Miwon Kwon has recently termed the “unhinging” of site specificity, when “a more intense engagement with the outside world and everyday life” was sought and “public sites outside the traditional confines of art in physical and intellectual terms” were pursued (17).

Modernism’s keenest critics have long noted a kind of pas de deux between the transgressive impulse of the avant-garde and the assimilative capacities of capitalism. (Leo Steinberg intimated this when he remarked, “American art lovers come with a built-in obsolescence” [18].) In an early text, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939), Greenberg presented this link in negative terms: modernism was a defensive measure against nineteenth-century industrialization and the attendant burgeoning of a simulated and vacuous mass culture. In order to find “a path along which it would be possible to keep culture moving in the midst of ideological confusion and violence,” modernism would withdraw into autonomy, limit itself to only the most self-contained technical demands of art, and strictly adhere to the philosophy of l’art pour l’art (19). (It would be this temporal paradox – that modernism’s timelessness was historically-specific, or timely—that Greenberg would translate into spatial terms in “Modernist Painting” [1960], as the tension between painting’s physical support and pictorial space, and that he would further distilled into “flatness and the delimitation of flatness” in “After Abstract Expressionism” [1962] [20].)

One passage, however, belies “Avant-Garde and Kitsch”’s attempt to isolate the aesthetic from the economic: “No culture can develop without a social basis, without a source of stable income. And in the case of the avant-garde, this was provided by an elite among the ruling class of that society from which it assumed itself to be cut off, but to which it has always remained attached by an umbilical cord of gold” (21). In “Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts” (1996), Thomas Crow expounds:

"The fact that the avant-garde depends on elite patronage – the ‘umbilical cord of gold’ – cannot be written off as an inconsequential or regrettable circumstance. . . . In their selective appropriation from fringe mass culture, advanced artists search out areas of social practice that retain some vivid life in an increasingly administered and rationalized society. These they refine and package, directing them to an elite, self-conscious audience. . . . Legitimated modernism is in turn re-packaged for consumption as chic and kitsch commodities. The work of the avant-garde is returned to the sphere of culture where much of its substantial material originated" (22).

Rather than oppositional and unilateral (high art is beaten back into autonomy by mass culture; mass culture simulates high art), the relationship between advanced art and the culture industry is symbiotic, an interchange that is largely mutually beneficial but in which the former finally functions as “a research and development arm” of the latter (23). Examples of this cyclical process include the Cubist transformation of the alienation of urban life into a vision of sensory flux and isolation, and its subsequent retransformation into a “look” for Art Deco fashion and design; and the Surrealist discovery of a kind of unconscious in the detritus of modernity, and the appropriation of this discovery by the field of advertising to create objects that “behave autonomously” to conjure “alluring dreamscapes of their own”  (24).

To this pre-war list might be added the post-war instance of site specificity. Once defiant of commodification with its place-boundedness, it has since become institutionalized, entering the permanent collections of museums, whether in the form of re-creations or original documentation (sketches, plans, photographs). Further, the model of the artist that it proposed – less a creator of objects than a commentator on an extant situation – has been co-opted by the museum to its own ends, the artist now commissioned to inject carefully titrated doses of “criticality” on occasion to maintain an “avant-garde” status. As Isabelle Graw notes apropos Haacke, “the result can be an absurd situation in which the commissioning institution (the museum or gallery) turns to an artist as a person who has the legitimacy to point out the contradictions and irregularities of which they themselves disapprove.” Subversion becomes “subversion for hire,” and “criticism turns into spectacle” (25). Finally, just as by 1959 modernism’s vaunted autonomy seemed at best chimerical and at worst mythical, easing rather than resisting the requisite circulatory mobility for commodification, and just as by 1989 minimalism’s seriality represented less a scandalous encroachment into the everyday than presented a well-tempered illustration of the repetitiveness of everyday life under an increasingly administered world, so too by the 1990s did site specificity’s initial promise and polemic unravel. Citing in particular site-specific projects that address their broader urban contexts, Kwon sums:

"In the words of urban theorist Kevin Robins, “As cities have become ever more equivalent and urban identities increasingly ‘thin,’. . . it has become necessary to employ advertising and marketing agencies to manufacture such distinctions. It is a question of distinction in a world beyond difference.” Site specificity in this context finds new importance because it supplies distinction of place and uniqueness of locational identity, highly seductive qualities in the promotion of towns and cities within the competitive restructuring of the global economic hierarchy. Thus, site specificity remains inexorably tied to a process that renders particularity and identity of various cities a matter of product differentiation" (26).

The account so far might be retrospective, but its critique is not anachronistic, for a viable alternative existed at the time. Like Buren’s site specificity, rather than withdrawing into autonomy or directly engaging with commodity culture, this alternative mediates the two, again using the monochrome as a model. Unlike site specificity, however, it focuses on the temporal rather than the spatial dimension of the monochrome. Indeed, in this account, the monochrome foregrounds precisely that obsolescence that “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” alluded to but never elucidated, and that “Art and Objecthood” ultimately obscured; in so doing, it intimates a path for a contemporary practice that extends the legacy of modernism.

Written two years prior to “Art and Objecthood,” Barbara Rose’s “ABC Art” (1965) is less reconciliation after the modernist-minimalist divide than a return to the moment before the fork. Indeed it benefits from its historical limitations, from escaping the shadow of Fried’s text: a precociousness paradoxically secured by prematurity. Rose returns to the prewar avant-gardes to construct a genealogy for minimalism, positing Kasimir Malevich and Marcel Duchamp as guideposts. In so doing, determinate negation and indeterminate refusal are once again invoked and collapsed (she specifies that Andre, Judd, Morris, and Flavin occupy an “intermediate position” [27]), and the old spatial conundrum of the monochrome once again posed and negotiated: Does it give way into pictorial depth (as Olitski claimed) or assert its physical presence (as Judd averred)? But this spatial reading is not just iterated; it is complicated. Malevich and Duchamp are presented in terms of hope and hopelessness: “on the one hand, the search for the transcendent, universal, absolute, and on the other, the blanket denial of the existence of absolute values” (28). Here emerges a model for the monochrome founded less on a spatial tension than a specific tense. Like a horizon line that retreats at the same pace as it is approached, the monochrome stands simultaneously for pure potential (in the future) and utter exhaustion (of the past). Thus even as Malevich might have felt unshackled afore his 1918 White on White series (“I have broken the blue boundary of color limits and come out into white. . . . The free white sea, infinity lies before you” [29]), the monochrome’s attenuation of craft, formal attrition, and lack of facture perfectly approximate the mass produced, the pre-fabricated, the already-made (it is for this reason that Greenberg would later dismiss Rauschenberg’s 1951 White Paintings, which for him recalled Duchamp [30]).

It is through this peculiar temporality that the 1959 and 1989 exhibitions must be considered. For rather than isolated incidents, they comprise a single event viewed prospectively and retrospectively: on the one hand the giddy freedom of an untarnished future as the Black Paintings opened hitherto uncharted aesthetic territories, and on the other the disappointment of unfulfilled promises as Andre and Judd’s works were co-opted by capitalism, here represented by the commercial gallery and the private collection. It is these viewpoints, separated by thirty years, that the monochrome abstracts and encapsulates, and that it compresses into a single moment and surface. This is but one particular example. Through the monochrome, the basic condition or convention that underpins modernist painting, minimalism, and site specificity alike is unearthed: the inevitable succumbing to the rapacity of commercial culture, the voracity of the marketplace (31). Under the rubric of the monochrome, the future is always already past, purity is vitiated from the very start, and possibilities are spent avant la lettre. The tense of the monochrome, it might be said, is the future anterior.

Clearly this is neither meant pejoratively nor as an advocation of the cynical attitude that pervaded much painting in the 1980s. Rather, this temporally based monochrome might point the way beyond the impasse that confronted modernism in 1959. Greenberg makes clear that modernism’s “limits can be pushed back indefinitely” (32). When conventions of a given discipline like painting are unearthed, they are jettisoned, and new conventions emerge in their place; the process begins anew in an infinite regress. To be sure, in the end, he drew the line at the Black Paintings, which he (correctly) saw as initiating minimalism but (perhaps incorrectly) as announcing the conclusion of modernist reflexivity. For even if the Black Paintings are situated at the endpoint of the long trajectory of reductivism beyond which there exist no more formal conventions – like flatness – they nonetheless unearth a new temporal convention (33). In this way, rather than signal the “end of the dialectic” and an entrance into pluralism (the paradigmatic position of ‘80s painting and ‘90s installation alike) they open onto a new chapter of modernism, the task of which is precisely to make this dialectic reflexively explicit.

Taking cue from the The Varieties of the Monochrome’s attention to exhibition design, might one possibility in this new chapter be found in independent curatorial projects? In part, the narrative recounted above, stemming from the spatial conception of the monochrome, intimates an affirmative answer for, if only symptomatically, it circles back with astounding regularity to the arenas of curating and exhibition. First, confronted with the Black Paintings, Greenberg opts for aesthetic judgment (“This is Art”), thus privileging the critic or curator, the traditional arbitrator of taste. Contemporaneously, by disjoining Stella’s seriality from the medium of painting, Andre and Judd untether artistic practice from the ontological project that long anchored modernism, resulting ultimately in the commodity form of installation art. Anticipating this turn of events, in which the distinction between the aesthetic and the everyday is totally voided, site-specific artists like Buren then mediate the two positions, re-grounding art in the context of its display, the paradigm of which is the museum – that is, in the dominion of the curator. And, finally, as site specificity becomes “unhinged,” the artist becomes a nomad, traveling from institution to institution providing critical services (the didacticism of which recalls the educational role of the curator), thus transforming into a kind of circulating art commodity. In this “strange reversal now wherein the artist approximates the ‘work,’ instead of the other way around,” it is the commissioning body – the museum – that occupies the place of the artist (34).

Clearly, there are problems with the above, prominently among them the utter evacuation of reflexivity and criticality alike. Still, it indicates the centrality of the curator in contemporary art (as well as suggests that this centrality is an effect of endogenous developments in art history [35]). Of specific interest is the figure of the independent curator. For unlike his museum counterparts, this version of the curator lacks immediate institutional backing, and is thus necessarily concerned only with artworks that at some later date will have become assimilated into the main (here again is the future anterior). In lieu of the declaration “This is Art” (in which institutional validation takes place in the present tense) is the proposal “This might become a work of Art” (in which inscription into the museum takes place, if at all, in the future). In this sense, independent curating mediates the two primary positions of contemporary art: on the one hand, practices that remain dedicated to the critical project of site specificity, that attempt if not to undermine the museum than at least to unveil its false neutrality; and on the other, installation art, which acquiesces without resistance to it. The mistake of the first (as the assimilation of site specificity makes clear) is one of underestimation; while the mistake of the second is that it forecloses criticality entirely and capitulates too quickly. Independent curating, the very label of which implies a tension between the radical and the established, resolves these problems by combining them in what might be termed reflexive capitulation.

A third and final exhibition will serve as an example of reflexive capitulation – which emerges from the temporal account of the monochrome – and as a conclusion. Its germination is a conversation in 1993 between independent curator Hans Ulrich Obrist and artists Christian Boltanski and Bertrand Lavier. Discussing their mutual interest in written instructions in artworks as well as in “the notion of interpretation as an artistic principle,” they conceive “of an exhibition of do-it-yourself descriptions or procedural instructions which, until a venue is found, exists in a static condition” (36). Later, Independent Curators Incorporated in New York publishes do it, a collection of such instructions by thirty artists (37). Using this catalogue, museums can realize the exhibition in three-dimensional form. Although several guidelines are imposed – for instance that there be a minimum of fifteen artists and that all works are destroyed at the end of the exhibition – variations in interpreting the “instructions” as well as different combination of artists are allowed for, and even expected, in each manifestation of do it. “The participating artists’ do-it-yourself descriptions from which the exhibition is recreated each time should be approached with a spirit of ‘free interpretation,’” admonishes the catalogue (38).

do it, then, like the monochrome, simultaneously contours art as pure possibility and utter exhaustion: on the one hand, every “instruction” might at any moment become a yet unformed work of art in a yet undetermined exhibition; on the other, they are always already linked on a fundamental level to the museum, which is to say institutionalization, which figures, before their realization or even the selection of works, as their final destination. The very structure of the exhibition holds, as if in suspension, the process by which an artwork is projected into the future (proposed) and inscribed into history (manifested in the museum). Drawing from the temporal rather than the spatial dimension of the monochrome, do it approaches assimilation as a given convention to reflexively manifest, not only sidestepping succumbing to it but, more significant, attesting to the continued possibilities of modernism in contemporary art.

(1) Dorothy C. Miller, “Foreword and Acknowledgment” in Sixteen Americans, ed. Dorothy C. Miller (New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1959), 6.
(2) Carl Andre, “Preface to Stripe Painting” in Sixteen Americans, 76.
(3) Carl Andre, “Artist Disowns ‘Refabricated’ Work,” Art in America (March 1990): 31 and Donald Judd, “Artist Disowns ‘Copied’ Sculpture,” Art in America (April 1990): 33. Judd also bought a quarter-page ad in the March issue that stated, “The Fall 1989 show of sculpture at Ace Gallery in Los Angeles exhibited an installation wrongly attributed to Donald Judd. Fabrication of the piece was authorized by Giuseppe Panza without the approval or permission of Donald Judd.”
(4) Clement Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism” (1962) in Collected Essays vol. 4, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993), 131 – 132.  
(5) For an extended analysis of this shift from modernism to formalism, see Thierry de Duve, “The Monochrome and the Blank Canvas,” Kant After Duchamp (Cambridge: MIT, 1996).
(6) See Thierry de Duve, “Archeology of Pure Modernism,” Kant After Duchamp.  De Duve takes the more generous – that is, theoretical and ideal – view.
(7) For an extended account of the 1989 exhibition see Martha Buskirk, “Authorship and Authority,” The Contingent Object of Contemporary Art (Cambridge: MIT, 2003).
(8) Michael Fried, “Art and Objecthood” in Minimal Art, ed. Gregory Battcock (Berkeley: University of California, 1995), 123n4.
(9) Michael Fried, Three American Painters: Kenneth Noland, Jules Olitski, Frank Stella (Cambridge: Fogg Museum, 1965), 43 – 44; and “Shape as Form: Frank Stella’s New Paintings” in Artforum (November 1966).
(10)Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 125.
(11) Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 143.
(12) Quoted in Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 130 – 131.
(13) Fried, “Art and Objecthood,” 134 – 5.
(14) The terms are drawn from, respectively, Lucy Lippard, Six Years: The Dematerialization of the Art Object from 1966 to 1972 (1973) (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1997); and Brian O’Doherty, Inside the White Cube: The Ideology of the Gallery Space (San Francisco: Lapis, 1986).
(15) Craig Owens, “From Work to Frame, or, Is There Life After ‘The Death of the Author’,” Beyond Recognition (Berkeley: University of California, 1992), 122 – 139.
(16) Frances Colpitt, “Space Commanders,” Art in America (January 1990): 67.
(17) Miwon Kwon, “One Place After Another: Notes on Site Specificity,” October 80 (Spring 1997): 91. See also “Genealogy of Site Specificity” and “Unhinging of Site Specificity,” One Place After Another: Site-Specific Art and Locational Identity (Cambridge: MIT, 2002).
(18) Leo Steinberg, “Other Criteria,” Other Criteria (London: Oxford, 1972), 63.
(19) Clement Greenberg, “Avant-Garde and Kitsch” (1939), Collected Essays, vol. 1, ed. John O’Brian (Chicago: University of Chicago, 1993), 8.
(20) Greenberg, “After Abstract Expressionism,” 131.
(21) Greenberg quoted in Thomas Crow, “Modernism and Mass Culture in the Visual Arts,” Modern Art in the Common Culture (New Haven: Yale, 1996), 11.
(22) Crow, 35.
(23) Crow, 35.
(24) Crow, 35 – 36.
(25) Isabelle Graw quoted in Kwon, “One Place After Another,” 102.
(26) Kwon, “One Place After Another,” 106.
(27) Barbara Rose, “ABC Art” (1965) in Minimal Art, 278.
(28) Rose, 275. And later in the essay: “on the one hand art as a form of free expression is seen as a weapon in the Cold War, yet on the other there appears no hope for any organize role for art in the life of the country” (295).
(29) Malevich quoted in Rose, 295 – 6.  
(30) See Clement Greenberg, “The Recentness of Sculpture” (1967) in Collected Essays vol. 4.
(31) This tense also manifests itself in material failure. Rose quotes Dan Flavin: “I can take the ordinary lamp out of use and into a magic that touches ancient mysteries.  And yet it is still a lamp that burns to death like any other of its kind. In time. . . my lamps will no longer be operative” (295).
(32) Greenberg, “Modernist Painting,” 90.
(33) The case of Robert Ryman must be noted here. Ryman early on recognized that flatness was not the ultimate convention of painting. The briefest survey of Robert Ryman’s monochromes, recently and permanently installed at the Dia: Beacon in upstate New York offers a systematic catalogue of painting’s yet-unexplored conventions, including in the first gallery alone: that a canvas is stretched and primed (Untitled, 1962); that its support is orthogonal (Transfer, 1987); that it is mounted parallel to the wall (Consort, 1988); and that it is apprehended frontally (Place IV, 1998).  Ryman’s alternative conventions, however, in contrast to the temporal convention discussed here, remain within the parameters of painting. For a nuanced analysis of Ryman in terms of the modernist search for medium specificity, see Yve-Alain Bois, “Ryman’s Tact,” Painting as Model (Cambridge: MIT, 1990).
(34) Kwon, “One Place After Another,” 101 – 102.
(35) See my “What Is an Independent Curator?,” ARCO Magazine (January – February 2004).
(36) Hans Ulrich Obrist, “Introduction,” do it (New York: Independent Curators Incorporated, 1997), 13.
(37) In addition to the do it (museum) discussed here, there is also do it (home) and do it (tv).  See do it, 73 – 103.
(38) Obrist, “Introduction,” 14.