1997 I wrote an article for the first 'condition of painting'
edition of Contemporary Visual Art magazine entitled 'Painting
As Vigilance' (1). In the interim painting has found itself
in a world that was unimaginable from the vantage point of 1997.
It does, however, find itself to be still very much in business
and thriving. Maybe the reasons for this are entirely pragmatic
and remote from the rhetoric of death and finality that have,
for so long, surrounded discussions about painting. In economic
recession and down turns, when the public purses are tightened
the market invariably turns to painting. It is always flexible,
polyvalent, perfectly adapted to phases of down sizing. The
eighties saw a similar situation, economic uncertainty, a republican
in the White House and painting everywhere. Or perhaps, in a
less Darwinian sense, the death knell so often ritually pronounced
around painting throughout the eighties and nineties was effective
in recasting it in a kind of after life, less in terms of an
incipient rebirth, more as a chimera haunting the wider culture,
or perhaps as the after glow of some spent radioactive substance.
Such an awry perspective could make painting an appropriate
signifying practice for such apocalyptic times.
Painting's not only evident survival
but embedded position as a contemporary visual art practice(2)
must be in part due to the fact that the diverse modernizing
strategies that painters have applied in response to the demands
of 'post conceptual' protocols of practice, can result in the
realised work being identifiable, as a specific medium and more
or less as painting (3). An example of this has been a recontextualisation
of painting in terms of the logic of the 'expanded field' that
was formerly applied to a context of sculpture, and through
its relationship to minimalism, was pitched against painting.
Here painting is not limited to being wall bound, questions
of surface and support lead to questions of volume and its status
as an object (4). This strategy formally involves an idea of
painting being in excess of itself which in turn depends upon
the categorical regime of medium specificity. In short, the
possibility that painting can be somehow said to be 'itself'.
Other high modernist debating points such as shape and pictoriality
are arguably as important here as they were in the nineteen
sixties. However the cogent aspect here is more to do with juxtaposing
painting with questions of exhibition and presentation, questions
that bring painting into line with a 'post conceptual' concern
for context (5).
If such a strategy can be broadly thought of as presentation
or exhibition its twin terms are invariably those of the studio
and production. The last decade or so has found productivist
attitudes to be popular with painters. Likening the studio to
the factory, distancing the artist from the point of production
is familiar at least since Warhol. However the tiredness of
such strategies has been noticeable with artists like Bernard
Frize. The questioning of 'authorship' and 'expressivity' by
employing teams of assistants armed with 'instructions' to make
the paintings has become to feel almost charming and anachronistic
(especially in its seemingly nostalgic relationship to an implied
Fordism). Alongside this has, for some, been the dizzy sense
of how fast some syntactical forms of abstraction have come
to feel outmoded and quaint (6). Their relationship to 'technology'
seems to have been the reason for this. Skating upon on such
slippery surfaces, making hopelessly optimistic bids at prefiguring,
the then, emerging technological sensorium. It is tempting to
attribute some of the success of Neo Raush to his referencing
of productivist painting in relationship to the laboratory and
the factory as a kind of cheap 'B' movie slapstick(7).
This cursory résumé of the relative success of
painting to survive and thrive in a broadly post-conceptual
situation is made to point to a more pressing and present situation
where key questions of context are being brought to bare upon
painting as well as upon 'art in general'. For, at least in
Paris, the collapsing of the spaces of production and exhibition
of works of art into a single space has been, at least symbolically,
an institutional objective. The Palais de Tokyo in Paris, which
is not an exhibition space so much as a 'site of contemporary
creation', has sought the logical outcome of a post conceptual
objective; to fold art into life and eliminate the aesthetic
object as a mediating factor of social relations. This has been
ritually viewed as either hopelessly utopian or as a smart management
ruse in down-sizing cultural production, redefining the artist
as a cultural mediator or worker within a broadly social space.
One can imagine such a model of a visual art institution will
prove irresistible in the future, where questions of funding
and the political capital of cultural initiatives that promise
tangible social outcomes are at a premium. Such an institution,
that foregrounds the context of cultural work, militating for
the utter dematerialisation of the art object and displacing
the autonomous art object will surely put further pressures
upon practices like painting to confront issues of context arising
from 'art in general'(8).
The rhetorical background to much of what is at work at present
is worth noting in relation to future 'calls to context' in
terms of painting. Hysterical allusions made throughout the
eighties and the nineties to a baroque, free fall, renaissance
in painting have become to seem tawdry, perhaps in the light
of recent seismic global events. If such historical allusions
must be made maybe a neo-rococo in painting more accurately
typifies a general state of affairs (an allusion that can be
equally applied to 'art in general'). Likening a 'realist' tendency
of art in general to a pastoral rhetoric (9) is perhaps a useful
trope for a future recontextualisation of painting. Its relationship
to the framing conditions of representation invariably stand
it apart from any utopian 'art into life' project as either
its feisty opponent or the colourful lame duck.
Never-the-less questions of context in regard to painting are
as numerous as ever. Perhaps the most positive challenge of
esthétique relationnelle and the Palais de Tokyo has
been to buck the automatic presumption that painting should
be shown, as finished, fait accompli, objects in the brightly
lit and visually intense environment of the gallery space. The
environment of the studio for so many painters working today
has become a darkened space where an image or motif is transcribed
upon a surface from an image whose origin is remote from the
studio. Painting and its many prostheses seems to be an important
and live question of current painting practices. It implies
an interesting alternative to the strategy of an 'expanded field'
of painting. The prostheses of painting implies a relationship
to image, imaging technologies and transcription processes (10).
Alongside this the position of 'image' within the dynamic of
abstraction that is so materially and historically akin to painting
has become arguably more pressing an issue now than it has ever
been (11). The global situation, at least since nine-eleven
and also the recent iraq war, arguably spells out a need for
a revision of the former view that the modernist project signified
hegemonic power. It would seem now that minimalist and conceptual
art, with their taste for totalising structures and a tendency
toward creating 'situations' seem to be clearly the appropriate
tropes with which to characterise and understand the emerging
hegemonic order within a field of representation (12). Within
such a field, fetishised objects, such as paintings are potentially
at least an antidote (and maybe at best a riposte) to larger
insidious forces (13). Perhaps here the real issue is not one
of endless recontextualisations of painting in the name of modernization
but instead the bringing to processes of reification a context
through which scrutiny becomes possibile.
||'Painting As Vigilance',
Contemporary Visual Art magazine n°. 15, 1997 . Contemporary
in another of it's lives being known as
Contemporary Visual Art magazine. This text can be found
||Which perhaps , strangely, cannot be
quite said to be the case of sculpture? Although the eighties
did see the return to the gallery and museum of the 'statue'
most importantly in the work of Koons and then later the
wax figure and the mannequin in the work of countless artists
during the nineties and up to the present.
||This situation it shares
with other mediums, photography and video, respectively
the defining mediums in terms of technological advances
in the 19th and 20th centuries. At least in Paris, where
I most regularly visit galleries, painting, photo and video
are very much in evidence and are often the strangest of
bed fellows within the framework of a single group exhibition
. The reasons for this might be
very complicated in that all three mediums, conventionally
,inhabit the vertical plane, perhaps the efficacy of these
mediums has more to do with the price of real estate from
the perspective of both collectors and galleries in terms
of questions of exhibition, storage and portability.
||In the U.S.A. Jessica Stockholder, James
Hyde and Polly Appelbaum have long been examples of this.
In France such examples are artists such as Philippe Richard
and Edouard Prulhière. Imi Knoebel can also be seen
in these terms. Schnattenraum 4, 1988 is an interesting
example that was recently exhibited in the exhibition As
Painting: Division and Displacement (Wexner Center for the
Arts, Columbus, Ohio, U.S.A., 2001). This exhibition was
perhaps the most comprehensive survey to date of issues
merely touched upon in this section of this essay. The accompanying
book of the exhibition, As Painting: Division and Displacement,
Philip Armstrong, Laura Lisbon and Stephen Melville, MIT
Press, 2001) has rapidly become a standard reference book
for those interested and engaged in this territory.
||Artists such as D.J. Simpson and Matthew
Ritchie, although more concerned with an axis of culture
seem to benefit from the modernizing dynamic of an expanded
field of painting.
||I am thinking here of artists like Lydia,
Dona, Fiona Rae, Stephen Ellis.....
||Neo Rauch's Die Wahl of 1998 particularly
comes to mind in this context.
||Agnes Thurnauer, the only painter, in
my knowledge, to have been given a solo exhibition at the
Palais de Tokyo, made a clear demonstration of how the 'relationnelle'
aspect of a practice of painting is imagined to map out
by some of its players. Context in her terms seemed to add
up to some pages torn from a sketch book, exhibiting some
paintings on a raised podium on the floor (perhaps to demonstrate
that the works are made within this axis), videos of the
view from her studio and sharing a marker pen in the making
of a painting with the directors of the Palais de Tokyo.
||Developed by Thomas Crow in Modern Art
in the Common Culture (Yale University Press 1996), and
applied to recent British art to great effect by Julian
Stallabrass in High Art Lite. The pastoral was also a key
term in Amar Lakel and Tristan Trémeau's recent critique
of the Palais de Tokyo in their text , "Le tournant
pastoral de l'art contemporain", a paper given at the
conference, "L'art contemporain et son exposition",
2 october 2002, at the Centre Pompidou in Paris and soon
to be published later this year by Harmattan, Paris. The
relationship of the pastoral to esthétique relationnelle
is evident where
the Palais de Tokyo has repeatedly used the vernacular of
the 'friche' or the squat as the framework for the space
itself as well as for exhibitions in a way that could be
though of as 'pastoral contrast'. Crow says of this: ".......
the basic character of pastoral contrast: those who fashion
or enjoy cultivated forms of art are compelled to compare
their own condition, which permits this refinement, with
that of the rustic whose existence affords no such luxury
but who enjoys in compensation a natural, more "truthful"
simplicity of life. One tests the truth of one's sentiments
by translating them, within the circuit of the poem, from
a high idiom into a vernacular one".
||These ideas have been, for some time
now, the subject of "Machine Group", an on going
collaboration between five painters, Mick Finch, Olivier
Gourvil, Beth Harland, Louisa Minkin, and Claude Temin-Vergez.
||Two texts spring to mind here. Philip
Armstrong's In the Image of Painting from Closer than you
think, Art et Patrimoine, 1998, Paris. The english translation
of this text can be can be found at:
And also Zigzag : l'art d'Olivier Gourvil by Marjorie
Welish in Olivier Gourvil , La Quartier, 2003.
||Arguably an underlying motif in the work
of Art & Language, at least since the point at which
they turned away from conceptual art toward 'painting' in
terms of 'critical realism'
||Two texts are relevant in
this context. Torie Begg? Apparently by
Ian Carr-Harris (Contemporary, July/August 2002) and The
Two Secrets of the Fetish by Jean-Luc Nancy in the catalogue
of the exhibition of the work of Guillaume Paris, Mixed
(Musée d'Art moderne et contemporain de Strasbourg,