Feldman and Guston Addendum

The other day while talking to a friend about the elegaic qualities in Morton Feldman’s works I ended up describing the circumstances under which Feldman decided to write “For Philip Guston.” Afterwards I realized that it may have been a good idea to include this in my Mp3 Blog post that features the end of “For Philip Guston”. Fortunately, this is why the internet’s digital ether allows for addendums.

The following excerpt is from an introduction that Morton Feldman gave before a performance of “For Philip Guston” at Kloveniersdoelen, Middelburg, The Netherlands, on 6th July 1985. You can find the complete text here (scroll down on the link for the original English text).

“…The reason it’s called For Philip Guston is that for the last eight years of his life we didn’t speak to each other, though he had asked his family – and he knew he was going to die – that he wanted me to say kaddish in his grave, which I did. One of the reasons we didn’t speak to each other, in fact the only reason we didn’t speak to each other, was because his work changed, and I got very upset. I went to this very big show, I saw the new work and I didn’t say anything. Where for twenty years I was excited – he meant more to me than anything in the world – and I was always responsive. I would see all the pictures [...] he would talk for hours, and then he went to Italy, came back, something happened, his work started to change, and when I went in and he asked me: “Well, what do you think?”, I was silent for half a minute, and in that half a minute I lost his friendship.

So, in thinking about how we’re so committed to aesthetic considerations, as if the Shi’ites and the Jews and the Sunni’s and the Catholics and the Protestants, the same thing in art, you see. So I was no different than any kind of fanatic. I felt that only an abstract kind of art could exist, only an art like his earlier work, which I thought was sublime, more like Rothko or Pollock. I thought that no other work could exist.

And I noticed that I myself was changing the way he was changing. Not completely the way he was changing but at least to make me see what he was going through. And there wasn’t just the times. It wasn’t the fact that the times were changing, that I had to change… And then I understood his work only because a young man was writing a book about him and he came to visit. He asked me: “What do you think was on his mind?”. I thought for a minute and then, without really formulating any point of view, I said: “Well, he stopped asking questions.” And that’s when I knew I wanted to write a piece in which I too stopped asking questions. Stop worrying whether you sit here or you walk out, whether someone wants to play it or they don’t want to play it, what this one would think… I just didn’t want to start with any preconception of what I was supposed to be doing. I felt that I worked long enough to decide that maybe I too would stop asking questions…”

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