May 17, 2009

The impossibility of painting and the equally persistent impossibility of not painting

In Art in America, Raphael Rubinstein reports that he's become increasingly aware of a kind of provisionality within the practice of painting. "I first noticed it pervading the canvases of Raoul De Keyser, Albert Oehlen, Christopher Wool, Mary Heilmann and Michael Krebber, artists who have long made works that look casual, dashed-off, tentative, unfinished or self-cancelling. In different ways, they all deliberately turn away from 'strong' painting for something that seems to constantly risk inconsequence or collapse. (See slide show below.)

"Why would an artist demur at the prospect of a finished work, court self-sabotaging strategies, sign his or her name to a painting that looks, from some perspectives, like an utter failure? It might have something to do with a foundational skepticism that runs through the history of modern art: we see it in Cézanne’s infinite, agonized adjustments of Mont St. Victoire, in Dada’s noisy denunciations (typified by Picabia’s blasphemous Portrait of Cézanne), in Giacometti’s endless obliterations and restartings of his painted portraits, in Sigmar Polke’s gloriously dumb compositions of the 1960s. Something similar can be found in other art forms, in Paul Valéry’s insistence that a poem is 'never finished, only abandoned,' in Artaud’s call for 'no more masterpieces,' and in punk’s knowing embrace of the amateurish and fucked-up. The history of modernism is full of strategies of refusal and acts of negation....

"Provisional painting is not about making last paintings, nor is it about the deconstruction of painting. It’s the finished product disguised as a preliminary stage, or a body double standing in for a star/masterpiece whose value would put a stop to artistic risk. To put it another way: provisional painting is major painting masquerading as minor painting. In their book Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature (1986), Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari described how Kafka’s linguistic and cultural condition (as a Jewish author writing in German in Prague where the type of German he spoke was 'minor' in relation both to the locally dominant Czech language and to standard German) involved the 'impossibility' of writing in German and the 'impossibility of not writing.'Kafka’s solution was to fashion a mode of writing that seemed to erase all literary precedents, and to create an oeuvre that barely survived into the future. Faced with painting’s imposing history and the diminishment of the medium by newer art forms, recent painters may have found themselves in similarly 'minor' situations; the provisionality of their work is an index of the impossibility of painting and the equally persistent impossibility of not painting." Read more.

Here's the slide show that runs with Rubinstein's excellent article.


Thanks AiA for finally publishing your articles online.

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