Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005 Page: 31
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Jack Goldstein, Untitled, 1981
Oil on masonite
49 x 61 inches
Courtesy 1301PE, Los Angeles
what he wanted in art, he wanted more. Although painting wasn't
incapable of delivering what Crimp wanted, a lot of it wasn't con-
cerned enough-or overtly and exclusively enough-with his inter-
ests. Crimp's crisis lay in seeing painting as-in addition to not doing
as he pleased-having become an unwieldy and powerful force beyond
his control. Wholesale denunciation, perhaps, seemed the best move.
Thomas Lawson had largely the same crisis, but his was com-
plicated by the fact that he is a painter. Lawson shared what really
were Crimp's two greatest fears: the ongoing dominance of formalism,
which made difficult the possibility of more politicized, critique-ori-
ented art and, as Lawson liked to write, "radical" art-which Lawson
and Crimp both wanted-as well as the rise of pluralism, which would
preclude the possibility of a dominant critical voice, including that of
either Crimp or Lawson. The two also shared an interest in the return
of representational imagery. Lawson was himself involved in a paint-
ing practice intimately connected to photography and wrote favorably
of Crimp's Pictures exhibition, advocating several imagistic painters
alongside the photo-based artists Crimp preferred.
But as Crimp and critic Craig Owens
amped up the attack on painting in
general, as Scott Rothkopf insight-
fully chronicles in Other Voices: Four
Critical Vignettes (Artforum, March
2003), Lawson found himself in a diffi-
cult spot. Publishing his now landmark
essay, Last Exit: Painting (Artforum,
October 1981), a display of logical and
linguistic gymnastics worthy of Crimp,
Lawson argued that abstract painting
and formalism had burned out. At the
same time, he objected to much of the
emerging pluralist field of painting, par-
ticularly Neo-Expressionism, which was
variously useless, pandering and cor-
rupt. But he also argued that critique-
oriented work based in photography
would always be too obvious, its strat-
egy recognized and dismissed before its
assault could take place.
Contradicting Benjamin H. D.
Buchloh-who months before, while
specifically going after German and
Italian Neo-Expressionism, had implic-
itly denounced figurative painting in
general (Figures of Authority, Ciphers
of Regression: Notes on the Return of Representation in European
Painting, October, Spring 1981)-Lawson argued that some painting
could in fact outdo the products of the Pictures artists. By function-
ing as a kind of Trojan horse, painting that is imagistic in nature but
stripped of subjectivity or expressivity stealthily delivered subversion
and critique precisely to those locations where painting was unques-
Lawson found his proposition widely assaulted by other critics.
There are, of course, some problems with his argument. Of paintings
by his Last Exit poster boy David Salle, Lawson writes, "They take
the most compelling sign for personal authenticity that our culture
can provide, and attempt to stop it, to reveal its falseness. The paint-
ings look real, but they are fake. They operate by stealth, insinuating
a crippling doubt into the faith that supports and binds our ideologi-
cal institutions." But if such is the case, then wouldn't a pandering
Neo-Expressionist painting, properly booby-trapped, make an even
better Trojan horse? And wouldn't any confusing, screwed-up or lousy
painting also have the same effect, thus making intentionality (which
Lawson assumes to be recognizable in the specific case of what he
sees as Salle's strategy) a non-issue? And doesn't the obviousness of
this strategy get us right back to the problem Lawson has with the
As David Carrier noted in his 1985 essay Suspicious Art,
Unsuspecting Texts (Arts Magazine, November 1985), Lawson's
argument leads a little too conveniently to a solution found in art like
that which Lawson himself produced. (Last Exit: Painting appeared
in Artforum with reproductions of paintings by Salle, Lawson, Walter
Robinson, Troy Brauntuch and Jack Goldstein, suggesting the range
of relevant painting to be quite narrow, yet to also include Lawson.)
To be fair, of course, Lawson's writings and his work both came out of
ARTL!ES Summer 2005 31
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Bryant, John & Gupta, Anjali. Art Lies, Volume 47, Summer 2005, periodical, 2005; Houston, Texas. (texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth228012/m1/33/: accessed May 25, 2018), University of North Texas Libraries, The Portal to Texas History, texashistory.unt.edu; .