Sven-Olov Wallenstein

"The Art of Surfaces" from Clay Ketter. Moderna Museet ( 2009


... the act of surfacing results in a surfacing, that of scraping
becomes a scraping, of building, a building...
and so on.
Clay Ketter (1)


Picking up elements from everyday life, infusing them with a poetic energy, investing them with the transfigurative power of artistic form, while at the same time referring these forms back to their origin in mundane utensils, industrial production, and to the tools of the carpenter and the house painter – Clay Ketter seems always to set up a system of double references, relating to both art and life, and to their mutual tension. In this respect his work might be described as an instance of what Arthur Danto has called the "transfiguration of the commonplace," (2) where everyday items are inscribed in the space of art and become readable in terms of a tradition, one consisting of a discourse on art and its concomitant modes of perception. But this equation applies only on the condition that we keep in mind that, for Ketter, this transfigured reality must also retain its roots in everyday life, and that the transformation somehow always works in both directions: The issue is not only a transposition from thing to idea, from the commonplace to the "art world," but just as much an inverse movement that uncovers the material dimension of ideas, a shift that, as it were, turns everything metaphysical into a more fluid and poetic physics, and allows for a certain indeterminacy of our perceptual habits. In one sense it would not be inappropriate to recall Robert Rauschenberg's famous phrase: "Painting relates to both art and life. Neither can be made. (I try to act in that gap between the two.)" – provided that due emphasis is placed on the interstitial, the indeterminate in- between, which is surely also where Rauschenberg puts it, rather than on the idea of a synthesis that would take place at the expense of any of the two terms. (3)

This in-between is however not a state of insecurity, but follows a particular aesthetic logic, and it might well be possible to say that Ketter, in all of his various works – ranging from painting, sculpture, and photography to the use of found objects and the creation of architectural environments – is always exploring the different facets of an art of surfaces, although not as something opposed to depth, seriousness, complexity, etc., but simply as a reminder of the importance of the skin of things, the texture of things, and of the fact that the elusiveness and difficulty of the visible lies precisely in its being turned toward us, in its very obviousness. As he says, "if we're lucky, all this culminates in seeing." (4)

I. Reinventing the surface

Ketter's first "spackle paintings" were shown at Galleri Pictura in Lund together with sculptures and objects in an exhibition designed to give the appearance of a construction site. This was an attempt to make the element of labor required in art visible, and it has been a vital aspect of Ketter's work ever since. Even though the paintings were in fact added just before the show opened, they soon came to be seen as the most important feature of the artist's early work, and they provide a point of departure for most discussions of his art: here, there is a reinvention of the surface, of painting as an object, and of the relation between production and product.

Bearing the generic title Wall Paintings, and consisting of standard size plastered and joined gypsum wall boards, this first series of paintings, the format of which was based on the Swedish building standard, emphasized a kind of down-to-earth attitude, a workman-like style of crafting. In the early reception of Ketter's work, his professional background as a carpenter was a recurring reference, and it is indeed the case that his way of introducing materials from the sphere of manual labor can be read as a way of "changing the class undertones," as Bruce Ferguson has remarked. There is an "understated pride" that accompanies these works, and they remain "obdurately 'low' regardless of their company," (5) which differentiates them from a long tradition of modernist trafficking in the cultural lowlands. This obviously does not preclude a high level of historical awareness, and Ketter's painting situates itself within a long tradition, extending back to the origins of modernism, to which he however gives a twist of his own.

A feature of this long tradition that gradually came to the fore as painting approached the limits of a certain type of reductionism during the 1950s and early '60s was the dialectic between a reading of the work as a painterly surface, endowed with a certain spiritual quality, and a reading of it as merely a segment of the wall, or even simply a piece of wallpaper. That it would finally approach the condition of a wall eventually became a threatening prospect for abstract painting, most famously registered in Harold Rosenberg's vitriolic remark about the possibility of Abstract Expressionism ending up in a state of "apocalyptic wallpaper." (6) In Clay Ketter's work, however, the idea of apocalypse – as metaphysics and/or historicism: the end of painting, both in the sense of cessation and the final goal, the pure revelation of essence – disappears, and the positive connection to the surfaces that make up our everyday world becomes something to be explored. What is a wall, what does it mean to cover it with layers of paint, what is the frame that marks the difference between art and life? In a short and necessarily inconclusive (for to settle the question would surely mean to short-circuit the work of the work) dialog with Bruce Ferguson, Ketter points to the importance of this issue: "BF: It actually puts the whole situation of painting in this dilemma exactly between a painted wall and a painting and what's the difference? CK: What is the difference?" (7) The look of an unfinished wall construction highlights the idea of work, not just as labor, but as process, as something not necessarily finished.

It is perhaps too facile to settle the discussion of historical precedents for this inconclusiveness with a reference to Marcel Duchamp's dismantling of the pretense of abstraction, where he pointed to the tube of paint as a readymade in order to question the metaphysical and spiritualist understanding of color in early abstract painting. (8) While not altogether irrelevant, the Duchampian connection may in the end obscure the specificity of Ketter's project. The task for him seems less a matter of undoing, dismantling, or revealing any false pretense to transcendence, than of uncovering a sensible stratum that is already there, always presupposed, always already operative – a materialism that does not pit itself against something else, for instance supersensible ideas, but rather unfolds from a more basic level that integrates other options rather than claiming to destabilize them.

And, in fact, if we look at Duchamp's famous note – "No more painting, Marcel, get a job" – written upon his return to Paris from Munich (where he had presumably studied, or at least heard about, Kandinsky's On the Spiritual in Art), which initiated a complex and deferred abandonment of painting, enshrined in a readymade that reversed everything that painting had hitherto stood for (touch, expression, facture, manual dexterity) by introjecting work, or more precisely industrial serial production, into art as a reversal of its claims – if we look at this whole complex of ideas, then we may be led to say that this is exactly what Clay Ketter's work is not about. For him, the retrieval of labor as the hidden underside of art production means rather to engage in a gesture of generosity – a "positive gesture of gentle irony," as Bruce Ferguson says – an act that attempts to transform both sides of the opposition, both labor and art, into a more inclusive and open-ended process, rather than the creation of paradoxical limit-objects, like the readymades.

In this respect, Ketter's method in fact comes closer to Constructivism, whose rejection of painting was part of an expanded idea of construction and design, within which engineering and industrial technology were to become the basis of a new and reformed life-world. But here too the differences are crucial: Ketter has nothing of the Constructivist disregard for traditional "facture," and although he constantly keeps pushing painting beyond the easel and the inherited frameworks, nothing appears more foreign to his work than the claim that "the last painting has been painted." (9) Though drawing on both of these historical predecessors, as well as on the way in which their legacy was inflected through minimal and conceptual art of the '60s, he does not engage in any of their rhetorical flourishes; he announces no historical breaks, but instead displays a fundamental trust in the tradition. For him it is a storehouse of tools, to be neither blindly obeyed nor scornfully rejected. It is more akin to a language one can learn to speak, a series of particular language games or vernaculars whose possibilities for invention and deviation are limitless, since they do not constitute a closed set. In this respect his work can be called "post-avant-garde," as long as we steer clear of the associations or eclecticism and stylistic cannibalism that often accompany this term. Inheriting the game of painting does not mean being limited by the horizon of an inherited knowledge, it is rather the possibility of making new moves as we go along.

II. Materialism and illusion: playing the formalist game

From the Trace Paintings and through the Renovation Trace Paintings and onwards, Ketter pursues this complex dialog between wall and painting even further, and includes elements like fixtures, wiring, and junction boxes, eventually creating what he refers to as a "built flatness." (10) Formally, these subsequent works can sometimes be read as inversions of the wall paintings, in revealing what is left after certain parts of the building have been removed; they as it were approach the building process from the other end. But as we have seen, what is important is neither negation nor contradiction, but the idea of an expanded practice that engages with the things themselves in their materiality. This line of investigation continues in many variations in Ketter's later painterly work, which draws its inspiration from doors, windows, Venetian blinds, facades – motifs that all play upon a dialectic between transparency and opacity, the idea of the painting as window and a certain dislocation of sight, and engage a particular aspect of the idea of the monochrome surface

The monochrome is one possible outcome of the dialectic between surface and wall, since it approaches as much as possible the condition of "wallness" while still remaining in the space of ambiguity called "flatness." Throughout all of these reinventions of the surface, all of these "surfacings" that also push things back into a kind of depth, or at least into a relation of figure and ground, there resonates the question of materialism vs. illusionism, of facture as a strictly material syntax and as a technique for making the layer of paint into something luminous and semi- transparent – a long and winding story that can be read as one the founding narratives of modernist art, from Impressionism onwards.

This issue became truly explosive for the first time in the Russian avant-garde, in the debates that placed Malevich on one side, Tatlin and Rodchenko on the other. Here, too, the question was whether art belonged to the domain of the imaginary and ideal, as Malevich claimed, or to the "material culture" propagated by his opponents. The key issue was how to understand the concept of facture (faktura): does the making of an art object tie it inseparably to the hand, to a manual presence and creation of individual traces, or should the concept be rethought on the basis of formal and non-subjective systems? (11) These initial debates found an echo, albeit unintentionally, in the discussions around the American monochrome in the 1950s. Ranging from Rauschenberg's White Paintings (1951), intended as empty mirrors and a maximal openness to the surrounding world, to the materialist credo of Frank Stella's obdurately self-enclosed Black Paintings (1959), they eventually ushered in the emergence of minimal art, but also have important affiliations with conceptual art and everything that would follow in its wake. (12) The insistence on the monochrome or at least a radically reduced palette in painters like Robert Mangold, Jo Baer, Robert Ryman, and Ad Reinhardt traced different paths between these two outer landmarks, and in hindsight it is clear that the "zero point" need not be understood as a negation, but just as much has to do with the creation of a physical immediacy, a materialism that does not reduce, but extends outwards and embraces the world, and Ketter is no doubt an heir to this tradition.

Ketter's background in this tradition of American abstract painting makes it difficult to sidestep another reference, the formalist critic Clement Greenberg, whose writings, no doubt against the author's own will, played a major role in the drama of reductionism. For Greenberg, modernist painting was in search of a unique aesthetic quality, which he increasingly came to circumscribe by purely formal means, in an analysis of the material specificity of the medium ("flatness and the delimitation of flatness," "acknowledgement of the integrity of the picture plane," "optical" vs. "real" illusion). But even though these theories have formed the backdrop for generations of modern artists, and there is considerable agreement about their importance for the self-image of postwar American art, there is less consensus on how we should read them today, and how we should assess the legacy of formalist art criticism at present. Should formalist art criticism simply be rejected as a way to sever the work from socio-political realities, or does it also constitute, notwithstanding the short- sightedness of some its most vocal proponents, an indispensable tool for any analysis that attempts to read form and politics against each other? And more than being just a choice of the methods used by critics and historians, it also involves the way artists themselves perceive their work, and the motivations for their work; Ketter is probably a heretical, unruly, and resistant disciple, and yet a disciple all the same.

Modern theoretical attempts to transcend formalism without discarding both its analytic and descriptive gains have of course not been lacking. Two of the most prominent when it comes to the analysis of painting are the writings of Yve-Alain Bois and Rosalind Krauss. The question that both of them pose – which has an obvious relevance for the way we might look at Ketter's work, especially its more recent developments – is how we can transgress the aestheticizing tendency of formalist criticism and its reduction of artworks to pure visual stimuli, without giving in to the "blackmail" of a simplistic aesthetics of content (Bois), or a "rush to the signified" (Krauss) (13). Both of them present this solution in terms of a theory of the materiality of the signifier – as Bois puts it, a "materialist formalism, for which the specificity of the object involves not just the general condition of its medium, but also its means of production in its slightest detail." (14)

Ketter enters into this debate from a somewhat different angle, and he would probably be suspicious of any talk of "signifiers." His reinvention of the surface and of materiality has more to do with tactile and "tectonic" qualities, the way one builds and joins things together, even "builds flatness," as he says. But if his experience as a carpenter and builder should neither be exaggerated, as if it were some kind of passe-partout that guarantees an access to art without the need for reflection, nor should it be simply downplayed. There is in his work a highly conscious reflection on the history of painterly and sculptural form, but also a sensuous immediacy, and these two sides belong together. It has been said that "Ketter's work takes place before and after painting" (15) – before, perhaps in the sense of an investigation into procedures and techniques that have yet to crystallize into a recognizable practice, and branch out into other areas (house painting, carpentry, the whole gamut of treatment of architectonic surfaces with a non-art purpose), and after, perhaps in the sense of having a relaxed attitude to many of the apocalyptic discourses that have, ever since the advent of photography, presaged the imminent end of traditional art, particularly painting. The interstitial time of this before and after is an acknowledgment of the heterogeneity of means and of traditions; nor does it appear to recognize any of the imperatives of modernism – to be modern "means to recognize what is no longer possible," (16) as Roland Barthes once put it – and nor does it excel in the kind of pastiches, eclectic playfulness, and even outright cynicism that have beset so many of the alleged "returns" to painting since the late 1970s. Ketter's reinvention of the surface is more robust, a matter of manual and tactile exploration, which does not preclude a thorough historical mediation and an awareness of the tradition.

His is indeed a "visionary pragmatism," as Joshua Decter says, and an aesthetic that seems to be able to adopt a certain chameleon strategy, particularly in absorbing features of the surrounding world. (17) Pragmatism, in its particular mixture of transcendentalism and robustness, is the philosophical heritage that Ketter seems to embrace, and not least in the form of the New England culture into which he was born – a philosophical heritage that has do with things as well as actions (we should remember the praxis is derived from the same root as the Greek word for "thing," pragma). Dealing with things, with pragmata, in a very concrete way, is of course also the business of the construction worker, and another (para-)literary source that should not be overlooked is the manual Basic Building Data, the American Bible of construction specifications, to which Ketter often returns, and sometimes even serves as a source of inspiration for specific pieces.

Things and actions: as the artist himself says, what links them together in his work is the "progressive form" of the verb, painting – which we should understand as a metonym for the making of art in general, not objects but "things in the making," as a pragmatist conception of the thing would have it. (18) "I find the suffix ing liberating," Ketter says, because "the action maintains its integrity regardless of tense," "it embodies both the act and the result of the action," the "end result being no less an action than the act itself." (19)

III. Modular desires

The origin of Ketter's work with furniture, and interiors more generally, is the exhibition "Lägenhet," in Rosengård, a high-rise apartment complex in Malmö (1994), where he used an empty apartment as a set for his intervention. These sculptural, and later architectural pieces in fact share many of the features of the paintings: even though they extend into three-dimensional space, they retain the "image" quality, as if space would be reduced to a layering and montage of flat surfaces, and "building flatness" still required that the art of surfaces be respected. (20)

In the series of sculptures and installations that would follow, above all the Surface Habitats and Surface Composites, the formal dimension of painting and sculpture seems to enter into contact with the politics of form on a very palpable level: the design of everyday environments. When Ketter uses the IKEA module system, it is with an acute awareness of the fact that it constitutes one of the most powerful mechanisms for the organization, even regimentation, of our perception of form and design today. In a certain sense, this situation may be called – with only a slight exaggeration, the humor of which however captures something essential in our cultural moment – "IKEA at the end of metaphysics," (21) that is, IKEA as the end of a tradition of form as the bearer of utopian promises, initiated sometime around the time of the Werkbund and the Bauhaus, today reorganized into the Eternal Recurrence of the Same, i.e. the yearly (re)appearing of the IKEA catalog. "Billy" (transformed by Ketter into the Billy-Bobs), the shelf that every home must have, is a sign of global conformity, or at least a point of reference whose ubiquity could be understood in terms of a design "hegemony": neither utopian nor backward-looking, neither a reference to a utopian or at least better future, nor to some nostalgic past, it is precisely the hegemonic power that Gramsci once located in "common sense," temporally speaking as a kind of generic or average present. Many artists would undoubtedly react to this standardization with aggression, and with a desire to disrupt such a false and repressive hegemony, to instigate counter-hegemonies; Ketter's gesture is different, and his many adaptations and variations on this and similar module systems do not radiate any violence, (22) but rather a curiosity as to what such a modularized perception might mean, and how we can extract new sensations out of this seemingly indifferent landscape of forms.

Just as in his work with abstract painting and the legacies of flatness and the monochrome, these modular works in one way deal with a retrieval, or re-working, of utopian fantasies in early modernism, and once more Ketter's path intersects with Constructivism. The Russian avant-garde of the 1920s, which took its cues from a certain reading of the process of abstract painting as inevitably leading to an end that would liberate art from the fetters of "representation," imagined constructive organization as a process that would not emanate from a subjective will to power, but follow the rhythms of the everyday life of the collective. In this it was to create a new form of transparency that restructures subjective desires and overcomes their latent conflicts, so as to become the foundation for a transformed relation to things and to objects of consumption. Such a space of desire would not simply rule out subjective fantasy, as has often been thought, but would prevent it from hardening into fetishistic structures – it would be a conscious and controlled repression of repression, as it were, a fantasy of being able to contain the subject by designing a space of freedom. (23) But like all similar repressions, this one too was unsuccessful, or put more precisely, it did exactly what repression does, i.e., – hollow out an interior space for the return of the repressed, which is what gives Constructivism its peculiar, at once sober and fantasmatic relation to technology. (24)

This relation has often been understood as a pure rationalization, but as we have seen it should perhaps be interpreted as a way to resituate desire, and turn the things into "comrades," as one of the chief theorists, Boris Arvatov suggests, and as a way to propose "rhetorical" prototypes for a new mode of life. (25) The program of IKEA, announced by Ingvar Kamprad: "We don't just sell a chair or a table, we sell a philosophy and a mission," duplicates these ideas, although in a transformed cultural and socio-economic context. In this perspective, the fluidity of desire, the idea of the subject as itself a modular form that can be connected and reconnected at will to any suitable organizational system, appears to lead straight from Constructivism, with its undeniable fascination for Taylorism and a scientific organization of labor, to our hyper-capitalist present. And yet it is equally true that many of the Constructivists attempted to forge a strategy for introducing a bodily dimension into the seemingly rational design process, and allow for a different type of dialog between subject and object, i.e. something that provides, gives space to, even encourages a different erotic investment in objects. The process that allegedly leads from subjectivity to order, to increasing rationalization, is always double-edged, and the kind of reading that emphasizes leveling, loss, and flattening in fact deprives us of perceptual possibilities. This is perhaps a kind of cultural "flatness," which, however, just like its painterly counterpart, is a game that we can play, and in which the moves that can be made are not given in advance.

Ketter's take on this seems to involve taking a step back; he neither rejects nor affirms, but rather remains suspended in front of the modular, develops its phenomenology, investigates it as a formal language. His early paintings had embraced the standardized as their inevitable condition, but in moving into the space of sculpture, and even more into the world of commodities and the design of everyday life, his works, perhaps reluctantly, come up against questions of power and politics. His perspective is however not utopian, but oriented towards the present, the here and now; he does not point to a better world, but toward our possibility of immersing ourselves in this world.

IV. The index

In the series Road, Ketter takes up photography, although he deflects it in a direction that continues his earlier work on painting. Using a boom lift in order to get an aerial perspective on his motif, he records the surface of the road, and produces images that have a striking resemblance to the first spackle paintings, while also introducing an indexical dimension that was only indirectly present in the paintings. There is no skyline, there are no vistas or perspectives that open up, only the surface of the road itself, directly perpendicular to the gaze of viewer. Almost as a playful inversion of what was once claimed as the very operation that initiated the game of "postmodern painting," the "flatbed" of the ground is transformed back into the "flatness" of a screen that averts the gaze and generates a fluctuating viewing position (horizontal- vertical). (26) The issue of surface and flatness remains a key problem, and the motif is as it were collapsed into the surface of the images themselves.

In one of his most recent bodies of work, Gulf Coast Slabs, Ketter once more uses photography as a way to cross-breed the ideas of indexical trace, surface, and construction, but this time there is a documentary aspect: he intervenes in and comments on contemporary events to a degree not previously seen in his work. Prompted by a photograph published in Time Magazine, Ketter traveled to the region hit by Hurricane Katrina to get a first-hand experience of the devastating impact nature can have. In many areas, it was only foundations of buildings that remained – traces of architectural structures that he decided to document photographically, together with his collaborator Nils Bergendal. Once more using a crane to establish a viewing position similar to the one in Roads, they made a series of topographical images that are reminiscent of architectural floor plans, whose geometrical grids are overlaid with chunks of debris, and where parts of remaining interior floor decorations produce kaleidoscopically shifting color fields. These are shards of life, architectural structures normally invisible or barely noticeable, at present uncovered by the flood, and in this sense they reduplicate, although in a catastrophic register, the theme of the Trace Paintings. There is an obvious continuity with the earlier work, in the formal structuring of the images, and in the use of "traces" whose indexical nature determines the composition – a tracing of the outlines of death. Just as the Trace Paintings were based on the imprint of architectural details that have been removed (sockets, electric wiring, etc.), these works contain the outlines of even more large- scale architectural elements, partially destroyed grid formations, floor tiles, vegetation, interior decoration, furniture, appliances – a profusion of disorderly details that overflow and disrupt the strict organization of the image, but also incite us to attempt to reconstruct in our fantasy what life was once led in these buildings.

There may be something provocative in transforming the tragedy of natural disasters to aesthetic form; while these images have a strong documentary quality, and have not been subject to any kind of manipulation, they are also beautifully sensuous and radiate a kind of romanticism of ruins, decay and withering, although without any sensationalism. In this they display a sensibility that was only implicit in the earlier work, a sense of death and loss, maybe even a return to the Baroque theme of vanitas, though now set in the context of a modern capitalist and consumerist culture that attempts to shore up – in a terrifyingly literal sense of the word – its riches and acquisitions against the ravaging power of nature, and against a time that transcends human scope. (27) In their juxtaposition of man-made architectural order and nature's organic power they provide a subdued and moving testimony to fragility and contingency.

An even more direct use of the index, which condenses the thematic of the whole work – and to some extent even directs us back to the early modern divide between photography and painting, where it was precisely the index that was at stake – would be the two smaller and seemingly marginal works presented alongside the large- format images of the devastated houses. Both of them are based on material found on location by chance; the first, Album, shows a photo album partially destroyed by the water; the second, Delta Roll, is based on a roll of undeveloped film. Once developed, these damaged photographs are turned into elegiac imprints of death and destruction: unintentional as this quality indeed is (and in this they are perhaps similar to the stains on walls that Leonardo recommended that artists look at: when scrutinized sufficiently long, a pattern will appear...), these capsules of compressed time show us everyday scenes, loves, family members, and all the paraphernalia of everyday life, although swept over by an aquatic wave of oblivion, reducing them to abstract patterns, outlines of memories and time lost and yet regained.


1. Statement in Clay Ketter (Lund: Lunds Konsthall, 2002), n.p.

2. Cf. Arthur Danto, The Transfiguration of the Commonplace: A Philosophy of Art (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1981).

3. For a reading of Rauschenberg's claim that comes close to my argument, see Branden W. Joseph, Random Order: Robert Rauschenberg and the Neo-Avant-Garde (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2003 4. Statement in Clay Ketter (as in note 1).

5. Love's Labors lost (Lund: Propexus, 2000), n.p. Bruce Ferguson, "Labors of Love. Love's Labors lost," in Clay Ketter, Labors of Love.

6. "When a tube of paint is squeezed by the Absolute, the result can only be a Success. The painter need keep himself on hand solely to collect the benefits of an endless series of strokes of luck. His gesture completes itself without arousing either an opposing movement within itself nor the desire in the artist to make the act more fully his own. Satisfied with wonders that remain safely inside the canvas, the artist accepts the permanence of the commonplace and decorates it with his own daily annihilation. The result is an apocalyptic wallpaper." Rosenberg, "The American Action Painters," Art News 51/8, Dec. 1952, rpr. in The Tradition of the New (New York: Horizon Press, 1960), xxx. For Rosenberg this relapse into the merely decorative occurs because "thinking consists of the various arguments that TO PAINT is something different from, say, to write or to criticize: a mystique of the particular activity," and such works "lack the dialectical tension of a genuine act, associated with risk and will" (xxx).

7. Labors of love, n.p. As Joshua Decter notes, even though Ketter indeed "flirts with the reductive aesthetic idioms usually associated with a lineage of modernist artists," it is "also important to note that his art exists in a state of virtuality: there is a willingness to defer the final formal resolution." ("Visionary Pragmatism and the Triumph of Chameleon Aesthetics in the Work of Clay Ketter," in Nutopi [ Malmö: Rooseum, 1995], n.p.).

8. For a detailed analysis of these strategies in Duchamp, see Thierry de Duve's chapter on "The Readymade and the Tube of Paint," in Kant After Duchamp (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1996), and Pictorial Nominalism: On Marcel Duchamp's Passage from Painting to the Readymade (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991). The idea of the "definitively unfinished" in Duchamp does however have an intriguing relation to the idea of the work of the work, although Duchamp's aristocratic suspicion of all traditional ideas of craft and manual labor still distances him from the attitude we find in Ketter.

9. This claim was famously made by the art theorist and historian Nikolai Tarabukin, in a lecture presented at the INChUK (Institute for Artistic Culture) in August 1921, one month before the exhibition of the three monochromes by Rodchenko that were the object of his lecture. For a more detailed discussion, see my Essays, Lectures (Stockholm: Axl Books, 2007), chap. 5.

10. Statement in Labors of Love, n.p.

11. For surveys of the different aspects of Russian debates on faktura, see Benjamin Buchloh, "From Faktura to Factography," October 30 (1984); Yve-Alain Bois, "Malévich, le carré, le dégré zéro," Macula 1 (1976); Margit Rowell, "Vladimir Tatlin: Form/Faktura," October 7 (1978); Christina Looder, Russian Constructivism (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1983), 13 ff, 94 ff.

12. The literature on the topic is vast; essential recent references include Thierry de Duve, Kant After Duchamp

13. Cf. "The Politics of the Signifier: A Conversation on the Whitney Biennial" (with Hal Foster, Benjamin Buchloh, Silvia Kolbowski, and Miwon Kwon), October 66 (Autumn 1993): 7.

14. Painting as Model (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1990), xix.

15. Daniel Birnbaum, "Before and After Painting," Clay Ketter (Stockholm: Andreas Brändström Gallery, 1995).

16. Cf. "Requichot et son corps," in Barthes, L'obvie et l'obtus (Paris: Seuil, 1982), 211.

17. See Decter, "Visionary Pragmatism," as in note 7. This can also be understood in the sense that Ketter strategically appropriates rules and regulations, for instance those of the building trade, as "found objects." See Håkan Nilsson, "Clay Ketter: Materializing The Context," Konsthistorisk tidskrift, Volume 71, No. 1-2, April 2002

18. Outside (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2001), and the contributions in Joan Ockman (ed): The Pragmatist For this idea, see Elisabeth Grosz, "The Thing," in Grosz, Architecture from the Imagination: Thinking about "Things in the Making" (Princeton: Princeton Architectural Press, 2000).

19. Clay Ketter, statement in Clay Ketter (as in note 1). It is interesting to see how this idea of the gerund as action resituates Rosenberg's idea of action painting within a contemporary context that subdues the existential rhetoric of the early 1950s. There is more of Robert Ryman's "to paint the paint" in Ketter, and all their differences notwithstanding Ketter seems preoccupied with a "material syntax" not dissimilar to Ryman's. In this sense he is just not just a "visionary" but also a "lyrical pragmatic," as Robert Storr says of Ryman ("Simple Gift," in Robert Ryman [New York: Museum of Modern Art, 1993], 25). For Ryman's statement, see "On Painting," in Robert Ryman (Paris: Espace d'art contemporain, 1991).

20. In this there is a proximity to some of Mondrian's intuitions, when he attempts toemerges, Mondrian claims, if we succeed in looking at those two last art forms in a purely optical fashion, as a series of visual sensations that can be separated as freely floating planes, and then joined together. For a discussion of Mondrian on architecture, see Yve-Alain Bois, "Mondrian and the Theory of Architecture," Assemblage 4 (October 1987).

21. See Daniel Birnbaum, "IKEA at the End of Metaphysics," frieze no. 30 (1996). The somewhat playful reference here is to Heidegger, for whom modern technology is a "Framing," an imposition of an order that no longer acknowledges any outside. Interestingly enough, Heidegger draws most his examples from architecture and housing (as in the central essay from 1951, "Building Dwelling Thinking"), and from our transformed relation to the "thing" ("Das Ding," 1950). Heidegger's original German term for Framing is Gestell, which could be translated as stand, rack, shelf, etc., all of which points to the everyday dimension of the term. For a discussion of Heidegger's understanding of modern architecture and technology, see my Essays, Lectures (Stockholm: Axl Books, 2007), chap. 7.

22. A notable exception to this would seem to be Ketter's contribution the Sydney Biennial in 1988, Effektiv, which contained a pair of IKEA office desks installed on the wall in a form reminiscent of a swastika, which in retrospect could be read as comment on the extreme right wing sympathies of IKEA's founder Ingvar Kamprad. According to Ketter, this connection was however unintended at the time, although it can be said to constitute an additional complexity in the work.

23. Similar ideas can be found in Mondrian, where their status as simple wishful thinking becomes all too obvious, as in a diary entry where the artist states: "Human consciousness constantly pushes back the unconscious, and expresses itself in a way that creates equilibrium and excludes all ambiguity. The tyranny of tragedy is over." (Cited in Italo Tomassoni, Piet Mondrian [Florence: Sadea/Sansoni, 1969], 37, my italics).

24. For a psychoanalytical reading of the Constructivist relation to the body and to fantasy, cf. Christina Kiaer, "Rodchenko in Paris," October 75 (Winter 1996) and Imagine No Possessions: The Socialist Objects of Russian Constructivism (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 2005). Kiaer here opposes the unambiguously negative interpretation with respect to individual desire, typical examples of which are Hubertus Gassner, "The Constructivists: Modernism on the Way to Modernization," in The Great Utopia: The Russian and Soviet Avant-Garde, 1915-1932 (New York: Guggenheim, 1992), and Manfredo Tafuri, "U.S.S.R.-Berlin 1922: From Populism to 'Constructivism,'" in Tafuri, The Sphere and the Labyrinth: Avant-Gardes and Architecture from Piranesi to the 1970s, trans. Pellegrino d'Acierno and Robert Connolly (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT, 1990).

25. Constructivism in fact had little or no impact on the actual development of Russian design culture even during the period when it enjoyed political support, and its results were mostly limited to film, scenography, graphic design, etc. – to the production of objects that, as Victor Margolin has shown, were handcrafted, unique items of display and functioned as "rhetorical" objects for the promotion of a new way of life on the imaginary level rather than as prototypes intended for real mass production. Cf. Victor Margolin, The Struggle for Utopia: Rodchenko, Lissitzky, Moholy-Nagy, 1917- 1946 (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997).

26. This was how Leo Steinberg famously understood the postmodern (thus introducing the term for the first time in art criticism) turn in Rauschenberg, in his 1968 essay "Other Criteria." If the gambit of modernist painting had been about a dialectic between materiality and illusionism, this was because the position of the canvas perpendicular to the gaze had always made an Albertian reading of it as window possible; Rauschenberg's operation, Steinberg suggests, is to tilt the surface 90 degrees, so that the idea of "flatness" is transformed into a "flatbed," a recording surface or depository of cultural debris, and as such no more illusionist than a table or a untidy floor. Maybe it could be said that Ketter's Roads perform the same operation in reverse, although without simply returning us to the initial position. This playful take on the polarities and conceptual divisions that have organized the debate between modernism and postmodernism seems characteristic of Ketter's "pragmatism"; he does not choose, but returns us to things in the making, before they have congealed into oppositions.

27. For this interpretation, see Dan Jönsson, "Under the Volcano," trans. Staffan Holmgren, in Clay Ketter, Gulf Coast Slabs (London/New York/Stockholm/Malmö: Bartha Contemporary/Sonnabend Gallery/Brändströn & Stene/Galleri Magnus Åklundh, 2008).