Denise Green Metonymy in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm

Aboriginal Art Directory | 15.10.06

In her book, Metonymy in Contemporary Art: A New Paradigm (University of Minnesota Press, 2005), Green outlines her understanding of Greenberg’s formalist position and her complaints against it, which are complex, far-reaching and personal. From her perspective as an Australian, Greenberg’s reluctance to accept narrative structures in painting precluded his ability to embrace multicultural art. She goes on to show that Aboriginal art in Australia has no meaning in formalist terms because its meaning rests on telling a story related to the community, and the manner in which that story in embedded within the artist’s imagery. Were it not for the evocation of narrative, these paintings would be inaccessible to the majority of Western viewers.

Metonymy—a term coined by the ethnologist Claude Levi-Strauss (as cited by Dr. Roland Moenig in his superb catalog essay for Green’s retrospective, reviewed below)— assigns no specific meaning to signs, as opposed to symbolism, which sets up a direct one-to-one correspondence between a sign and its referent, as in medieval iconography. Rather, it allows meaning to spread “in all directions, absorbing and conjoining ever new aspects of reality (near and far, conscious and unconscious, present and past …)” For Green, Aboriginal sand paintings—and, by association, her paintings—are less about form than about meaning; they are not about duality, but fusion and wholeness—an argument that emanates from traditional Eastern aesthetics. If Greenberg’s formalism held that all signs point inward, namely, to the medium itself (i.e., that painting is essentially about painting and sculpture is about sculpture), Green affirms abstract painting’s capacity to evoke personal feelings from the unconscious.

URL: http://brooklynrail.org/2006/10/artseen/denise-green


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