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Invisible Colors A Visual History of Titles cover
  • ISBN: 9780300065305
  • ISBN10: 0300065302

Invisible Colors A Visual History of Titles

by John C. Welchman

  • List Price: $70.00
  • Binding: Hardcover
  • Publisher: Yale Univ Pr
  • Publish date: 03/01/1998
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In one of his sparkling aphorisms on the end of "optical" art, Marcel Duchamp suggested that the title of an artwork was an "invisible color". John Welchman now offers the first critical history of how and why modern artworks receive their titles. He shows that titles were seldom produced and can rarely be understood outside of the institutional parameters that made them visible -- exhibitions, criticism, catalogues, and even national politics.

The three crucial titling modes on which visual modernism depends were first worked out during the last decades of the nineteenth century, says Welchman. James McNeill Whistler used musical metaphors (Symphonies and Nocturnes) as invitations to look through the motifs of his paintings in order to apprehend them as arrangements of shapes and colors. Lawrence Alma-Tadema and Paul Signac systematically furnished their paintings with consecutive numbers, introducing one of the most significant aspects of the modern title -- the retreat from names, identification, and language itself. The third titling mode was the elaborate, over-scripted, or complexly metaphoric title, parodied by Alphonse Allais in the 1880s, developed by Dada and surrealist artists from the 1910s to the 1930s, and reinvented by formalist art and criticism in the 1950s and 1960s. Welchman shows how titles and inscriptions have challenged as well as covertly reinforced the formalist history of visual modernism. He traces the titular motif Composition through the writings and paintings of Matisse, Mondrian, and Kandinsky, revealing how this multiply defined leading term underwrote key aspects of the expressive, subjective, and formal art defended by theseartists-theorists.

Invisible Colors concludes with an account of post-modern titles, focusing on the return and renewal of the Untitled work by women artists working from the later 1970s. A suggestive epilogue connects key moments of exhibition history during which the title emerged most decisively in the struggle over interpretation, political censorship, or avante-garde debate.

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