Letraset on wall
21 x 30 cm
A short text by Mihnea Mircan on Cathedra for A Slowdown at the Museum:
“Cathedra came into existence while I was preoccupied with Barnett Newman and Abstract Expressionism’s notion of a picture being both physical and metaphysical. The physicality of canvas, frame and paint, in relation to a notion of the picture as a possible place of experience. A statement by Newman for his second solo show at Betty Parsons, acknowledged this: ‘There is a tendency to look at large pictures from a distance. The large pictures in this exhibition are intended to be seen from a short distance’. With this in the back of my mind I started working on something that involved a wall text or title placard, ‘devices’ commonly accompanying and referring to – nearby – artworks. Wanting to produce a work that oscillates between its own presence and its subject matter, I superimposed one on top of the other.”
One of Oscar Hugal’s constant preoccupations is distance and the modes of imprecision it can generate and accommodate. The distance that is indicated – and somehow embodied – in Cathedra is the route separating Extra City from the Stedelijk Museum Amsterdam, and us from the close inspection of Barnett Newman painting, of the same title, held there. The wry equation in the work pairs the closeness of sensorial engagement and the quasi-mystical absorption solicited by Abstract Expressionist painting (“We are reasserting man’s natural desire for the exalted… We are freeing ourselves from the impediments of memory, nostalgia, legend, myth… Instead of making cathedrals out of Christ, man, or ‘life’, we are making it out of ourselves, out of our own feelings. The image we produce is the self-evident one of revelation, real and concrete, that can be understood by anyone who will look at it without the nostalgic glasses of history”, wrote Newman in a 1948 text titled The Sublime Is Now), the cultural gap separating us from that defunct mindset and the topographic remove between the two places of experience, that of the work and its ‘model’.
Hugal’s fine print, as blue as the blue expanse of Newman’s painting, compresses an entire array of gestures and positions that articulate, in their disparity and discontinuities, a vexed relation to tradition. At another level, Hugal pairs the preeminent tool of today’s knowledge transmission, Google, and the difficulty of an initiation into the terms, procedures and rewards of abstract art. Via Google, one could either obtain a low-resolution reproduction of a Newman painting, or traffic directions as to how to go and see one. These regimes of experience overlap in the work, which offers abstracted directions and pure calculations: a set of movements to be performed in order to reach the radiant immediacy of the painting, the choreography linking an abstract body, an abstract road and a painting that belongs to another place in time.