What Makes a Monochrome Painting Good

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At the same time that Rauschenberg, Ryman, and Reinhardt were experimenting with monochromes, interest in the form was blossoming in Korea. From the 1960s through the 1980s, the Korean movement Dansaekhwa (which translates to “monochrome painting”) created art centered on its basic, material elements.

Park Seo-Bo

created his “Ecriture” series by drawing in delicate lines atop wet white paint, then repainting and rescoring. A sense of rhythm and texture result.

Chung Sang-Hwa

’s white monochromes utilize a similarly repetitive process. He coats his canvases with glue, water, and kaolin clay, then strips off the material. He fills in bare segments with acrylic paint, then repeats the process. If the paintings at first seem like simple monochromes, they belie an intensive process of creation that becomes apparent the longer the viewer looks. Dansaekhwa works have become more prominent in New York galleries and American scholarship within the last ten years, yet their long absence from Western art history discourse is a reminder that monochromatic painting, and abstraction at large, hardly developed in a Eurocentric vacuum.

“Monochromes are often test cases, pushing the limits of painting as it has been understood in different moments and places,” says Dickerman. Reinhardt sought the ultimate negation in painting, rejecting color, gesture, and composition. Ryman, alternately, pushed viewers to consider the infinite mutations of a single color (perhaps more accurately, the hue that’s supposedly the absence of color) for as long as possible.

“So to be good,” Dickerman continues, a monochrome “should make us see something about painting that we hadn’t seen before, defining its essence in a new way. It also means in some fundamental way that monochromes don’t stand in isolation, but in relation to the field of painting at large.”

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