Melt the World

by Curtis Anderson

“Melt the world” is an imperative I adapted from an early text by Christopher Alexander, the Berkeley-based English polymath, who contends that “the power of a smiling face can melt the universe.” Being terrestrial, I wanted to be just a touch more modest. Being a provocateur, I wanted to command and not just observe.

Cherry blossoms filmed in April, moving in the wind and shown in a four-factor slow-motion video occupy a central circular space in a nine-square grid. Made of seven sewn silk panels in three different colors, the composition is a conscious allusion to the “black paintings” of Ad Reinhardt—a series famously called “the death of painting” by critics—which he produced from 1953 until his own death in 1967. Reinhardt has for decades been the ultimate mentor for my work as a visual artist. In this piece I’m playing with the time needed for a viewer to perceive the very subtle color differences in the “black paintings” by introducing time-based art. Video images literally inhabit the cloth, while the complex apparatus necessary for the rear projection remain hidden. The round image conforms to my contention that human vision is round and that we’ve lazily accepted rectilinear conventions. My wish for the future is to have round films shown in cinemas so that viewers feel suspended within the central horizontal axis of the frame.

My favorite verbal sparring partner, the Roman poet and curator Mario Diacono’s reaction to my first series of such works was: “You have launched Ad Reinhardt into outer space! And he has been reborn as inner-space Curtis. You have made the ‘painting to end all paintings’ into a transition toward the post-painting, the video, but at the same time you allow them to coexist, as if you were refusing to choose between the past and the future.” His response concurs with my concept of vertical as opposed to sequential time; in vertical time we experience spatial verticality—leading from the earth’s center through us, as columns, and into spatial infinity.

In 1986 I created, for an exhibition on the volcanic island of Tenerife, a twenty-four-part world clock consisting of exploded views both of the Christian crucifixion and the earth. These two split and reversed images generated the horizontal and vertical arms of the square crosses. The very centers of the crosses are punctured, offering glimpses to the center of the earth as if through magnifying glasses. I received this gestalt as a vision while in a Swiss blizzard, communicated to me by Joseph Beuys on the evening of his death. My friend Robert Mapplethorpe invented a hauntingly similar image for a portfolio celebrating Beuys. His center was the navel of one of his black models. We exchanged images in New York in December of 1986.

Another cross from the series went to my late friend and mentor Aart de Jong (1957 – 1987). Two weeks after coming into its possession, Aart visited the restaurant Barocco in Tribeca. The weather worsened during the course of the evening. Danny Emerman, an owner, offered Aart upon his departure a down coat that a guest had forgotten. At home in his Watts Street loft, Aart searched the pockets and found a printed invitation to my Tenerife exhibition with an illustration of one of the square crosses. Try to wrap some numbers around that event! Very improbable and absolutely necessary!

Curtis Anderson is an artist based in Cologne and Berlin.