Title Page, Frontispiece, Copyright, Dedication, Epigraph

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pp. i-viii

Contents

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pp. ix-x

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Introduction. The Color Grey

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pp. 1-20

In August 1888 Vincent van Gogh wrote a letter to his brother Theo from Arles in which he described the café where he was sitting through a rainbow of colors. The brilliance in his description mirrors his excitement for his environment. He is particularly enthralled by the seemingly infinite palette of greys in which the scene before him is painted. It is, he pronounces, “pure Velásquez.” He takes care to communicate the exact hue of grey of the walls; they are grey all over:...

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1. What Is Grey Painting?: Tracing a Historical Trajectory

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pp. 21-66

To make a claim for the variability and significance of grey paint, and for grey’s identity as a color is, at face value, to contradict the way artists have discussed and conceived of it, particularly with respect to nineteenth- and twentieth-century modernism. Kandinsky summarizes the negativity toward grey articulated by many: grey is the arrest of all movement, the ultimate void, “an endless wall, a bottomless pit.” Kandinsky’s opinion is a common one. He says grey is the moment when everything stands still, when there is nothing, no sound, just...

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2. Visualizing Modern Life: Photography’s Influence on Nineteenth-Century Grey Painting

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pp. 67-108

In the nineteenth century, the birth of photography changed everything. On the one hand, reality could be reproduced in images of unprecedented likeness, and on the other, these wondrous visions were marked as representation by their sepia tones, and not long afterward, so-called black and white. More accurately, these apparent “windows onto the world” were mechanically generated images that reproduced the world along a spectrum of grey.1 Photography brought with it the conundrum of a new medium, the transformation...

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3. Grey Abstraction: Form and Function in American Postwar Painting

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pp. 109-158

In postwar America, Mark Rothko, Jackson Pollock, Jasper Johns, and, later, Brice Marden, Agnes Martin, and Cy Twombly, make their most radical departures into abstraction in grey. These artists turn to grey paint as both color and medium to investigate the question: what is painting? At the very same moment that painting is announced to be dead, they persist in asking the question. And they go further with questions such as, what is the role of the artist in this inquiry? What is the relationship between painting and the world?...

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4. Beyond Modernist Abstraction: The Social Significance of Grey Painting

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pp. 159-214

When Greenberg intervened in the continuing development of modern art in the 1950s and 1960s, he insisted that painting distinguish itself from all other art forms and, therefore, be “about” nothing other than its own medium and support.1 To be sure, Stella’s painting, and his laconic claim that “what you see is what you see,” are testimony to the fact that Greenberg’s notion of modernist painting was indeed realized.2 As most now agree, however, even the formal gestures and questions of American art make references outside...

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5. Reinvention and Perpetuation: the Possibility of Grey for Gerhard Richter

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pp. 215-276

Gerhard Richter’s grey paintings touch all aspects and concerns of modernist painting. Richter has used grey in its many temperatures and tones for over fifty years. There are periods—the late 1960s and early 1970s, for example—when grey features more prominently. However, Richter has continued to reinvent the materiality and significance of grey paint across his oeuvre. He has interrogated and pushed at the limits of the formal, compositional, and medium-specific concerns that were the preoccupation of American postwar...

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Epilogue. The Irresolution of Grey

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pp. 277-284

Gerhard Richter is not the first painter, nor will he be the last, to perform the paradox of modernist painting in grey. Neither is Richter the only artist working with and simultaneously confronting painting today. Plenty of others have abandoned representation for the creation of sumptuous and seductive grey material surfaces. Similarly, these artists embrace grey as a challenge to the form, aesthetic, and significance of painting. Richter is only one of a number of contemporary artists who engage with the now urgent...

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Acknowledgments

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pp. 285-286

I am indebted to the many people who listened to me talk about grey painting over the years this book was being written. Most of all, I thank Joe McElhaney, John David Rhodes, and James Williams for reading multiple chapters and offering insights that stimulated significant revisions. Brian Price and Richard Allen gave readings that enabled me to strengthen the argument and focus the material. I am also grateful to James Polchin, whose enthusiasm for grey painting in the early phases of the book encouraged and inspired me....

Notes

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pp. 287-324

Index

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pp. 325-339

About the Author

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p. 340

Image Plates

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