The artist Sol LeWitt died last week at the age of 78, just two months after the death of Jules Olitski, another artist who achieved fame in the 1960′s. Each took as his point of departure the “action painting” of the 1950′s, reacting against its convulsive gestures and swagger—although they did so in sharply different ways.
Olitski stained his canvases with frail veils of color, creating mists or fields without any bounding lines. LeWitt, by contrast, made hard-edged sculptures and paintings. Cool and cerebral in character, they were invariably bounded by firm lines and planes. He preferred working with “deliberately uninteresting”—to use his phrase—forms and geometric modules, which he assembled into sprawling additive compositions. These laconic assemblages mark the beginning of Conceptual Art, a term LeWitt coined in 1967.
In that year LeWitt published his landmark essay, “Paragraphs on Conceptual Art,” in Artforum. “Paragraphs” contains a celebrated definition: “In conceptual art the idea or concept is the most important aspect of the work. When an artist uses a conceptual form of art, it means that all of the planning and decisions are made beforehand and the execution is a perfunctory affair.” So perfunctory, indeed, that the execution of LeWitt’s wall paintings was invariably left to assistants or student volunteers working from his written instructions.
On Sunday, France will hold its first round of balloting for a new president. This is the second of three posts on the leading candidates by the French editor and journalist Michel Gurfinkiel. A longer and more in-depth look by Gurfinkiel at the condition of present-day France will be coming out in the May issue of COMMENTARY.
Ségolène Royal is the first woman ever credibly to bid for the French presidency. There have been some female candidates over the last decades, including the Trotskyite “red virgin” Arlette Laguiller, who has been running regularly since 1974. But Royal is the first woman ever nominated by a major political party and the first to stand some chance of being elected.
This is a very real asset: France today is as enamored of gender equality as any Western nation and has even passed regulations requiring equal numbers of men and women in many elected bodies. In addition, Royal is quite a womanly woman—exceedingly beautiful at 20, if one is to judge from photographs released to the press, and still a very attractive brunette who looks much younger than her 53 years.
Her background could hardly be more different from that of her chief rival, Nicolas Sarkozy. Both Royal’s paternal and maternal ancestors come from the Lorraine, a deeply Catholic and deeply patriotic province on the German border. Her paternal grandfather, Florian Royal, the son of a farmer, joined the army, became a commissioned officer during World War I, and finally reached the rank of general. Her father, Jacques Royal, was a colonel in the artillery. On her mother’s side, she descends from a wealthy bourgeois family from Nancy, Lorraine’s provincial capital.
The Taliban continue to perpetrate atrocities, the latest being a bombing in Kunduz in northern Afghanistan, which is said to have killed nine police officers. This was a bit unusual, insofar as the north is generally pretty peaceful. The Taliban are much stronger in the southern and eastern provinces. But even there their activities have not, so far, lived up to their advance billing.
For months Taliban spokesmen have been bragging about—and coalition soldiers have been dreading—a “spring offensive.” Well, spring began a month ago (March 21 was the vernal equinox), and, though Taliban attacks continue, there has been no substantial spike. So far no offensive has materialized—a fact that has gone largely unreported in the press but that is being commented upon by some NATO ministers and soldiers.
If there had been a Tet-style offensive in Afghanistan it would certainly be big news. But nothing much happening passes without much comment. I was only made aware of the lack of news while chatting with a Special Forces soldier in Iraq who had served not long ago in Afghanistan.