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.

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