In just about everything you read about Reinhardt, his writings—on art, on black, on abstraction—function in relation to the reception of his paintings like a dramaturg guiding performers in their roles. Reinhardt, the writer, will interrupt incessantly to suppress our temptation to reduce and understand. Negations pile up in the course of this guidance until you get it that they are the writing proposed by abstract art itself. Negation after negation: this is how to write abstraction. Projections by means of strike through; erudition, but sous rature. Compared to other writing, Reinhardt’s ‘dogma’ of denial is like a skein between his paintings as art (as art) and everything else. His writing can seem excessive because it appropriates almost nothing (the symbolism for of this ‘almost’ being the white of an empty page). The problem with the page when you attempt to write about Reinhardt is not that you always say too little but that you can only say too much.
But doesn’t this make painting—a ‘sign that refuses to signify’ —a limit within the circuit of every textual-graphic code? Doesn’t it point to something of an excessive supplementarity, beyond the cypher of empty pages, towards the crux of a plastic form? And isn’t it also possible that the stuff of this plasticity is almost nothing, because it is ‘nothing’ that is its only consistent word? For Reinhardt, there is a point that never travels beyond a painting, into the conversation and writings the painting has nonetheless been for. Maybe even something like the paradox of a law—the law of laws, the institution of the programmed institution—that founds itself in a performative struggle to form a word that cannot belong to the writing it issues, multiplies, and justifies.
Denegation (I imagine this is crucial to the point): the plastic arts deny the very negation that represents them, deny the readers, writers, and users with all their circuits of graphic exchange. It is not that they deny the shared condition of lethal credit that presses against us when we attempt to stamp our work with efficient signs. The point of a denegation (a kind of folding out of the negative) is that the plastic support of writing is something that can NOT be denied. That paintings have always offered a vast and changing subject: who’d deny it? Who hasn’t perceived this subject as so much college talk, and cash? That Reinhardt writes a lining along the gap of separation between this subject and art’s plasticity—I am inclined to NOT deny it. It is possible. Anyone else can only deny it—and that’s enough.
SCOTT LYALL is an artist based in Toronto, Ontario, and New York.