Painting – the extended field


Preface by David Neuman, director Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall and Bo Nilsson, director Rooseum (1996).
Painting – the extended field essay by Sven-Olov Wallenstein, philosopher and professor, Stockholm (1996).
Exhibition catalogue no 15-16. ISBN: 91-972986-0-3
136 pages, color, soft cover. Texts in Swedish/English.
Published 1996 by Magasin 3 Stockholm Konsthall and Rooseum – Center for Contemporary Art.
Price: 240 SEK (approx. 16 EUR)

Preface by David Neuman and Bo Nilsson.

The position of painting has been the subject of ongoing debate virtually since the end of the nineteenth century when photography emerged as a strong competitor in the depiction of reality. Not until the 1960’s and the first signs of the disintegration of modernism, however, did today’s debate become visible in embryonic form.

This debate has largely centered on the concepts of life and death. The fact that it came to be couched in such drastic terms has its roots in the late modernist notion which found its most significant expression in Clement Greenberg’s representational world. The basic tenet of his theory was that, during its golden era, modernism had reduced everything which was not aesthetic in order to express the pure essence. As a result of this process of reduction, modernist painting eventually found itself in a blind alley in which internal issues became increasingly esoteric. All that remained was an interest in the minutia of painting, where every decision about the thickness of the stretcher or the size of the grain of the canvas assumed the proportion of important artistic decisions. What else could be reduced to allow painting to preserve its aesthetic immunity? In spite of the collapse of modernism, the question does not appear to have been conclusively settled: painting is often described as an endangered art form which must be kept uncontaminated by the chaotic multifariousness of contemporary reality in order to preserve its specific character or essence. Very few believe today that painting will survive only as an institutionalized relic of the modernist era. There is faith in painting as a flexible practice which must reject its internal concerns in order to be renewed.

This has meant that attention has shifted from the limitations of painting to its possibilities. This is especially evident in a number of exhibitions during the last few years: “Unbound – Possibilities in Painting” (Hayward Gallery, London 1994), “Pittura Immedia – Malerei in den 90er Jahren”, (Neue Galerie am Landesmuseum, Joanneum, Graz, 1995), “Das Abenteuer der Malerei – Eine Reise in die Bildkunst der neunziger Jahre”. (Württembergischer Kunstverein, Stuttgart and Kunstverein für die Rheinlände und Westfalen, Düsseldorf,1995), “Des Limites du tableau – les possibles de la peinture” (Museé départemental de Rochechouart, 1995), “Painting Outside Painting” – 44th Biennial Exhibition of Contemporary American Painting, (Corcoran Gallery of Art, Washington 1995-96). These exhibitions have varied in ambition – from a kind of “state of painting” which would provide an overview of the multifaceted expression of contemporary painting, to organizers who have been content with pursuing a “one-liner”, a theory of limited scope with a certain resemblance to the manifested image of the modernist era which promotes a certain stylistic direction or painterly attitude. In neither form do we recognize the situation of painting today. It therefore seemed important to put together an exhibit whose ambition lay somewhere in between these two extremes. In working with this exhibition, the selection of artists was given top priority. It is interesting to note that this has resulted in a large number of different artistic points of departure which all have their equivalent in the contemporary state of art. Based on this, we arrived at several conclusions – that painting is no longer characterized by the same heroic and male aura as during the heyday of modernism; in today’s painting, the female contingent is every bit as important as the male – that the American-European axis, which dominated painting in the modernist era no longer reigns supreme; the exhibition suggests a geographic diversity that includes representatives from virtually every part of the world – that the contemporary extensions of painting – be it in content or in choice of medium – is not a generational issue. We find that the artists included represent a large generation span. The oldest participant, Imi Knoebel, was born in 1940, and the youngest, Abigail Lane, in 1967. (…)

(Excerpt from the catalogue preface by David Neuman and Bo Nilsson, curators of the exhibition.)