Is Painting Dead?

An interesting view by Jason Farago:‎

‎“Is painting healthy or sick? And why is it so hard to tell? The Forever Now, a divisive ‎show of contemporary painting now on view at the Museum of Modern Art in New ‎York, argues that painting is as healthy as it’s ever been – it just isn’t interested in being ‎novel anymore, and instead recycles or redeploys pre-existing styles for new purposes. ‎Whether or not that argument convinces you or not (it didn’t convince me), the very fact ‎that MoMA has organised a contemporary painting show for the first time since 1984 ‎attests that the stakes of painting are higher than they’ve been for a while.‎

Painting has been declared dead so many times over the past 150 years that it can be ‎hard to keep track. But in her introduction, Hudson pinpoints two developments in the ‎history of art that shook painting to its foundations, in both cases almost fatally. One ‎was the invention of photography in the 1830s. Photographs did more than just depict ‎the world better and faster than painting; they also made entire painterly languages ‎defunct, from military painting to academic portraiture. (“From today, painting is dead,” ‎the academic painter Paul Delaroche is purported to have said after seeing a ‎daguerreotype for the first time.) Ever since, painting has in some ways functioned in ‎dialogue with the camera. In some cases that dialogue takes the form of rejecting ‎photographic realism, such as in the unnatural colour of Van Gogh. Or the dialogue is ‎between equal partners. That can be via the use of silkscreened imagery, most famously ‎by Andy Warhol; via a hyperrealism of Richard Estes or Franz Gertsch, whose paintings ‎are ‘more photographic’ than photographs; or via more painterly effects that nevertheless ‎advertise their photographic source, as in the art of Gerhard Richter and Chuck Close.‎

After photography, the other body blow to the primacy of painting came in the 1910s, ‎when Marcel Duchamp elevated a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack and an upturned urinal to ‎the status of art. Even more than photography, the ready-made object struck at the heart ‎of painting’s self-justification. Not only did Duchamp recalibrate the terms of artistic ‎success, privileging ideas over visuals. He also eliminated the need for the artist’s hand ‎in a way photography never entirely did. (Indeed, many photographers of the early 20th ‎Century, from Ansel Adams to Edward Steichen, consciously imitated painting ‎techniques.) Duchamp’s insurrection removed technical skill as a painterly virtue, and by ‎the 1960s an artist like the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd could confidently say, “It ‎seems painting is finished.”‎

Some styles of painting really did undergo a kind of death in the 20th Century. So-‎called neo-expressionism, whose big bad canvases by such figures as Julian Schnabel ‎and Francesco Clemente fetched millions in the 1980s, may have pleased the market but ‎had little to offer anyone who cared about the history and potential of the medium. ‎Today’s ‘zombie formalism’ is much the same. But painting that acknowledges the ‎challenges the medium has faced and builds from there is doing very well indeed. ‎‎“Painting, too, is capable of manifesting its own signs,” Hudson writes. “Painting has ‎become more, rather than less, viable after conceptual art, as an option for giving idea ‎form and hence for differentiating it from other possibilities.”‎

In the last century abstraction was seen as the supreme, even the only, form of advanced ‎painting. But in recent decades, as painting has thrown off the yoke of avant-garde ‎prescriptivism, figurative painting has been on a noted upswing. Some make use of ‎appropriated media imagery, notably Luc Tuymans, whose colour-sapped paintings of ‎Condoleezza Rice or Patrice Lumumba redeploy photographic representations. Others ‎prefer observation without cameras, such as Josephine Halvorson, who paints modest ‎tableaux of rural buildings from arm’s length, or Liu Xiaodong, whose plein-air ‎paintings of young Chinese students recall Manet and Courbet. Perhaps the biggest ‎omission from Hudson’s book is Catherine Murphy, who is not only one of America’s ‎greatest painters but also a professor who taught generations of students at Yale Art ‎School.‎

Painting has also moved off the canvas, and even off the walls. Imran Qureishi, from ‎Pakistan, makes not only miniature paintings but also all-encompassing installations ‎drawn directly on the floor and the walls, often featuring blooming floral motifs in ‎blood-red acrylic. Jim Lambie plays off the architecture of the spaces in which he ‎exhibits, covering the floors with multi-coloured vinyl tape. Paintings also now function ‎frequently not as stand-alone artworks, but as elements of a larger network of artistic ‎procedures. The influential painter Jutta Koether, for instance, does not only paint; she ‎also designs the presentation of her paintings, complete with special lighting and ad hoc ‎viewing platforms, and sometimes performs in the gallery alongside them.‎

Koether’s expansive practice of painting is a good counterweight to the big question ‎surrounding the rude health of the medium – a question that goes unasked in Hudson’s ‎fine book. That is the question of the market. When I visited her studio a few years ago, ‎the artist RH Quaytman – known for her brainy, reflexive paintings organised into ‎chapters, like a book – lamented how the demands of collectors and markets were ‎powerful enough to move art history. “Art fairs, jpegs and the entire bloated art market ‎are responsible for the resurgence of painting as opposed to all other art forms,” she told ‎me. “I’m sad that it is the structure of the art market that has revalidated and ‎reinvigorated painting.… It’s easy to store, it’s easy to transport, it works well enough ‎on the internet: it turned out that painting was, despite itself, the perfect tool. The ‎problem is, whose tool is it?” Every painter should ask themself that question when they ‎turns to the empty canvas.”‎

Source: http://www.bbc.com/culture/story/20150217-is-painting-dead

An art installation by Jim Lambie called ZOBOP September 2000 on the floor of the camden arts center. It forms part on an exibition called Dream machines.

The Last Supper and the Colors of Christ

‎“Besides occupying the centre of Leonardo’s painting, Christ’s spatially isolated from the ‎apostles, all of whom are bunched together as they physically touch their neighbors or lean ‎across one another in partial eclipses. Leonardo further highlighted Christ by placing him ‎against a window that opens onto a landscape of clear sky and bluish contours –by giving him, ‎in effect, a halo of sky. The effect is dazzling, even despite the color loss, as the warm tones ‎of Christ’s face, hair, and reddish undergarment advance while the cool blues of the ‎landscape recede: a prime example of Leonardo’s knowledge of the push and pull of colors. ‎For the blue mantle over Christ’s left shoulder Leonardo used ultramarine, which was, along ‎with gold, the brightest and most expensive of all pigments. One fifteenth-century treatise ‎on painting called it ‘a color noble, beautiful, and perfect beyond all other colors.’ A singly ‎ounce could cost as much as eight ducats, more than the annual rent paid on a house by a ‎poor worker in Florence. So expensive was ultramarine (the only known supply came from ‎Afghanistan) that unscrupulous thieves sometimes scraped it from paintings. Because of tis ‎beauty and expense, it was used to color the most prestigious and venerated parts of a ‎painting, most notably the mantle of the Virgin Mary.‎

The colors of Christ’s reddish undergarment were equally bright and deliberately intensified. ‎Leonardo generally laid his colors on a base coat of lead white spread across the entire wall. ‎For this red garment, however, he covered his white primer with a carbon-based black ‎pigment to create dark foundation, then added vermilion. Vermilion was the most brilliant of ‎all reds, and its appearance on the wall of Santa Maria delle Grazie would be all the more ‎striking because it was a pigment that like ultramarine could not be used in fresco. Vermilion ‎was made from cinnabar, a brick-red mineral that ancient Romans believed came from the ‎blood of dragons crushed to death under the weight of elephants. Like most mineral-based ‎pigments, it was incompatible with lime. Indeed, the layering of five separate coats of paint, ‎carefully manipulated to intensify their values, was something else completely unknown to ‎fresco.”‎

Source: Leonardo and the Last Supper by Ross King

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