January 26, 2016


I awoke this morning with an insistent question: what's the big deal?

So, what is the big deal? A multitude of artists have crossed over from painting to sculpture in the history of art. What's so special about this show at Hionas Gallery "painting sculpturally / sculpt painterly"?

As I was making coffee, I turned it over in my mind. Did I answer it well enough in my last blogpost? Probably not, if I'm still ruminating over it a week later.

Painting was declared dead. In art historical terms, this was done with immense critical authority, over several decades. Painting resumed in the 90's after the cresting of critical theory, a collapsing stock bubble and the collapse of the Berlin Wall, but it did so by sidestepping the proscription against painting. My response was to demonstrate the life in painting. I did it with the body of the medium and in particular, I externalized the internal dynamics of forces within it. My movement into the realm of sculpture was done with this in mind. This is why I wrote about the use of painting as a lens to see how the animated physicality of paint could stand up in a sculptural realm.

I tender the following idea with the utmost care since it may appear as a critique and challenge to my fellow artists and especially the painters among them. I do not do this with bad intent. I merely want to raise an especially difficult question that should have been dealt with long ago. If an artist ignores the claim about the death of painting and resumes anyway, he/she is by degrees either blithe or disdainful (or both) of this particular art historical argument. If an artist respects what was discovered and established in the Postmodern era (*1) that brought about the idea that painting could die, that artist would take the argument head on and counter it with an alternative. But to skirt the prohibition deprives us of the energy that all art movements in the history of art has depended on to fuel the justification of each subsequent epoch. Every chapter of art history has realized that the previous era was exhausted and adjusted themselves to this reality in critique and formation of a new set of ideas to move forward with. We didn't do this in the 90's. The funeral rites were sung in the duration of the Postmodern era and the death of painting drafted with it in its wake, the end of art history. There was a sense in that era that we had come to the end of history, that nothing subsequent was possible, that Postmodernism was beyond critique. In this sense, painting remained dead in its resumption after the "end of painting"... painting was by and large, the walking dead. In this light, it is really surprising that the moniker "Zombie Art" has gained so much traction in recent years? Is it really surprising that there is a widespread sense of torpor and lassitude in art today?

*1 For a very long time, it has not been popular in art social circles to mention Postmodernism by name. The mere introduction of the term tends to sour conversation. I think that this is because it is a difficult to define, perhaps because we are too close to it, that we live within it so completely like the proverbial fish in water. Another reason is that Postmodernism itself tends toward the eschatological, that it conceives itself as a final destination of art history. To test this assertion, ask yourself: is another epoch of art history possible?

I can define it.

Here it is:
-You can't define Postmodernism without defining Modernism.
-To be modern is to reconcile the life you are living with the things you are making.
-The Modern and Postmodern were born as twins at the collapse of the Classical era.
-The Modern immediately took preeminence and afterwards so did the Postmodern.
-To be Modern is to attempt to touch G-d with material means.
-When Modernism approached exhaustion, postmodernism flipped the formulation...
-To be Postmodern is to point to everyday life with conceptual means.
-Postmodernism progressed from Pop to Minimalism to Conceptualism to Critical Theory in an ever widening stream like a river born in the mountains and dying in the delta at sea.
-The next chapter of art history requires a similar synthesis and reversal of polarity that the preceding eras employed.

Posted by Dennis at January 26, 2016 1:39 PM

Leave a comment