Sean Hernandez Showed Me a Simple Trick To Win Over Even the Most Hardened Skeptics of Abstract Art.

“Music. Have them compare it to music.” 

At Expo Chicago last year, I was happy to see the return of Byron Kim’s work.  My friend was miffed. “It’s a grey panel. I don’t get it.”



Byron Kim, Untitled (for J.B.), 2010, acrylic on canvas, 90 x 72 inches, via James Cohan Gallery

I told this story to Sean and his response was to have the doubters consider detailed, photo-realistic painting to be akin to ornate symphonies or precise, polished prog. rock or even insanely precise cutting DJ’s.  But minimalistic abstractions? These are the painterly equivalent of Kronos quartet or Son House.

Just because there’s less there – or less of what’s expected – doesn’t make it inferior.  Does the Lorde single need more notes?  Does Wagner somehow have more meaning than Bob Dylan? 

And just because something is perfect doesn’t make it great.  Think of the “classical guitar” demo on an 80’s keyboard. Sounds right on, just like the real thing…and boring as hell.

People seem far more willing these days to accept abstraction in the form of a song.  After all, modern musicians aren’t called musicians. They’re called “artists.” Not “Columbia recording artist.” Just artist. They are the most powerful tastemakers in our culture and their output delineates our aesthetic periods.

They make us feel something beautiful we just can’t describe…

…and so does “grey panel.”