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turning point

Post #453 • January 13, 2005, 6:42 AM • 34 Comments

Rachel Campbell-Johnston for the (UK) Times (via Artsjournal): We are witnessing the triumph of painting, so the admen tell me.

As the Saatchi Gallery starts to hang the first of a series of three exhibitions which, over the course of the year, will be dedicated to contemporary painting, The Triumph of Painting is being enthusiastically trumpeted. Other dealers are already preparing to follow suit. An art form commonly reported to be on its last legs is about to skip jauntily back into the aesthetic arena. The tortoise of tradition catches up with the hare of technology. The old-fashioned canvas overtakes newfangled conceptualism. Or does it? I would not start peeling the champagne foil yet.

Where's my copy of the I Ching? Ah, here we go. Fu, "return":

After a time of decay comes the turning point. The powerful light that has been banished returns. There is a movement, but it is not brought about by force. The upper trigram K'un is characterized by devotion; thus the movement is natural, arising spontaneously. For this reason the transformation of the old becomes easy. The old is discarded and the new is introduced. Both measures accord with the time; therefore no harm results. Societies of people sharing the same views are formed. But since these groups come together in full public knowledge and are in harmony with the time, all selfish separatist tendencies are excluded, and no mistake is made. The idea of return [Fu] is based on the course of nature. The movement is cyclic, and the course completes itself. Therefore it is not necessary to hasten anything artificially. Everything comes of itself at the appointed time. This is the meaning of heaven and earth.




January 13, 2005, 4:52 PM

The idea of return seems always to apply if one's persepective is long enough. But I'm much less sure "all selfish separatist tendencies are excluded" ... ever. Depending on how picky you are, mistakes can also be found, but they don't seem that important. What's important is whether selfishness can be overcome. Perhaps "relatively".

Painting and the other major arts are struggling to emerge, just as the minor arts struggled (and won) in the last century. I'd have to agree it is not time to peel the foil yet.



January 13, 2005, 5:36 PM

Painting never went away. The crowd did.

I want to pop the cork everytime a painting works. If the crowd comes back I may be able to. But champagne or no champagne, the paintings keep coming, and always have.



January 13, 2005, 8:12 PM

This perrenial rigamarole about a "return" of painting has to be as wearisome as that of painting's "death." There may well be something to it, but I think the tendency is always to overstate the trends. And perhaps there will develop a top tier focus on the medium, but I doubt much of it will be work anyone here is too wild about.

Drawing and painting can be said to have been on a profile "rebound" for a while, but mostly in the form of the faux-naif, glue-and-gliiter, bedroom nostalgia aesthetic that's been flying out of Brooklyn and wherever else for the past 5 years. I don't much care for most of it, and I doubt many around here do either.

Laura Owens anyone?

I don't mean to be too negative, just to say that painting never died and so it need not return. I've got no worries. Painting is still done everywhere and often quite well. And I think it does garner attention as a contemporary art, if not a hot buzz of the moment. But really, who needs that in the long run anyways? (Besides Charles Saatchi, that is.)

More from that same UK Times article, following on the paragraph Franklin pulled:

* * *
Drawing and painting never disappeared in the first place. Even the most successful conceptualists picked up pencil or brush. Michael Landy, whose systematic destruction of all his possessionsincluding paintings by fellow artistswas about the most powerful performance of recent years, has recently shown drawings of his father that were done with a delicacy more often associated with Victorian gentlefolk than contemporary rebels. Tracey Emin produced a few leaves from her sketchbook for her Turner Prize display.

Painting has never been out of the picture. Rather, it has often been work on canvas that proved the most provocative. In Sensation, the landmark show at the Royal Academy, it was an image of Myra Hindley painted in childrens handprints that stirred public protest. And, when the Brit artists crossed the Atlantic for a show in New York, it was the painter Chris Ofili who whipped up a storm of moral indignation with his elephant-dung Madonna.


Painting, as Degas percipiently put it, is an activity that is easy if you do not know how to do it, but difficult when you do. After decades in which art has been made to look as easy as the on-off flick of an electric light switch, prepare to see work by people who mistake splashy self-expressionan ambition which few could fail to realisefor aesthetic importance. Prepare for a parade of clothes without any emperors inside them. Prepare for the sort of incompetence that will make you start wishing that painting would indeed undergo a dramatic decline.

A good painter is as rare as a good artist of any sort. The work of a few of them will be on display in the first part of the Saatchi seriesMarlene Dumas, Martin Kippenberger, and Luc Tuymans among them. But these are not new discoveries. Their names are all firmly established. Their paintings have been selling for hundreds of thousands of pounds for some time. Nor do they backtrack on post-modernisms progress. If anything they push it farther, exploring ways in which painting can become relevant in its context. They produce canvases that should be approached in much the same way as conceptual pieces.


The trumpeted resurgence of painting does not spell a radical change in aesthetic outlook. It represents a presentational shift spearheaded by an adman-collector who has stuffed stockrooms to pick from. It is not the triumph of painting but of packaging.

That is no reason to dismiss it, any more than you would dismiss a rebranded detergent. Wait and see if the emperors new clothes come clean in this wash.



January 13, 2005, 8:49 PM

What's the connection between
((The New Criterion and
New York Studio School)
and this discussion?)

I am sure there is one.



January 13, 2005, 9:02 PM

I agree with what you are saying, Dan.

I had not heard that particular Degas quote (he is very quotable) and I love it.

Can anyone explain Marlene Dumas to me? I know she fits right into that dopey-looking figure trend that is so hot right now, and she has some skill, but her stuff is so grad-schoolish and illustration-like I can't believe she is going over that big. And her quotes, which she seems compelled to make, are as trite as last year's fashion magazine.

Georges: the new Criterion and the New York Studio School both espouse "old fashioned" values and skills which buck current trends, and there is a strong thread of such sentiment expressed here. I don't know if there is any literal "connection".



January 13, 2005, 9:14 PM

Georges - did you come here from Armavirumque? Othewise, could you elaborate?

Dan, I agree. There may be some little trendlet going on but as the I Ching says, there's no sense in forcing things artificially.

Could whoever enlightens Oldpro about Dumas clue me in about Luc (Ack! Pth!) Tuymans?



January 13, 2005, 9:44 PM

yes, him too, and Laura Owens and the whole neurosthenic bunch.



January 13, 2005, 9:47 PM

That's right, Georges. I forgot. the New Criterion mentioned the blog on its blog site and I suspect we got a bit of traffic from that.



January 13, 2005, 10:41 PM

The only people who'd take the tiresome "death of painting" canard seriously are those who are caught up in fashion issues, especially those who live in mortal fear of being, or seeming to be, "out of it." These people are much more concerned with image and status than art as such, so they have to toe the party line as long as the party rules, or is perceived as ruling. Frankly, I don't give a damn what a Saatchi does or does not promote. He has no relevance to my views. He simply doesn't come into it, and neither does any other "major" art world figure or big-time operator. It's just between me and the art. Period.



January 13, 2005, 10:59 PM

Yes, I totally agree with Jack.. The only thing the art market can define is the art market, no? This "death" or "rebirth" of painting or otherwise should only be relevant to people wanting to make some sales.



January 13, 2005, 11:14 PM

Well, dammit, Chad, i want to make sales. Maybe I should become a "bornagain" painter.



January 13, 2005, 11:41 PM

Marlene Dumas is less an artist than a mystic. Having seen Luc Tuymans in exhibit last July, I think at least he paints a decent picture. His plasticine style and muted palette are another subject. Maybe his work is too sterile for some. (Shrug.) What I'd actually appreciate is if someone could explain Neo Rauch.



January 13, 2005, 11:49 PM

Well.. if you all are defining the market as something that is fickle and that changes based on trends, then you already know what to do to sell - follow trends! Contempory art is a series of fetish objects for the wives of CEOs. Get off it. There are no answers in magazines.

As artists, of any formula, we are blessed with perspective and sensitivity - money can't buy that, right?

Pardon my romantic comment, I just turned 23.



January 13, 2005, 11:51 PM

My last comment was (mostly) for oldpro, by the way.



January 14, 2005, 12:34 AM

Franklin: I saw an exhibition of Tuymans at the MuHKA in Antwerp four or five years ago. Several huge rooms FILLED with paintings, many no larger than 20" x 24". It seemed endless, and adding to this, they seemed very mediocre. Now years later I see his work and I feel drawn to it, but only if I see one or two. I think he only works in small doses . And in magazine reproduction.



January 14, 2005, 12:40 AM

Ah. Magazine reproduction. That explains it.

They have one up at the Rubell's and it's a groaner.

I like the occasional Marlene Dumas as long as she's working in watercolor and as long as I'm not reading her writings.



January 14, 2005, 12:46 AM

Oh, I know the score. I just like to kvetch. And so much of this stuff is an easy target it can be fun to shoot at.

I don't know what any of us are blessed with, except, as my father used to put it, an inability to make any practical use of the talents we were born with.

That's all right; you're forgiven for being 23. I wish I was, sometimes.

Hovig: I haven't seen much of Neo Rausch, but he also has that slack, premeditated, pointlessness look of much current figurative painting.

I can't see Dumas as any kind of mystic. Her work just looks like the kind of thing you think is OK at an MFA show - those lined-up, marginally skillful wash drawings of Billie Holiday, for example. Dullsville.

It is interesting that 20 years ago we were besieged with big, wild, raucus usually badly painted stuff that was upside down or grafittilike or obscene or had plates falling off it, and now we have this limp, lifeless, dontgiveadamn mannerism. I can't believe i am saying this, but it makes me nostalgic for the 80s.


that guy in the back row

January 14, 2005, 12:58 AM

Man oldpro nostalgic for the 80s? You surely mean the hair bands right, and not the art? The apathy these artists demonstrate is deplorable however.



January 14, 2005, 1:14 AM

Franklin & Oldpro:

Yes, I found this place at armavirumque.

I gather most contributors here are artists or art students.
My daughter is an art student and I am an avid reader
of The New Criterion. I think that is a good explanation
of the connection, Oldpro. I also note that Hilton
Kramer gave a lecture at NYSS and NYSS ran an ad
in the magazine.



January 14, 2005, 1:23 AM

OK, Guy, a rhetorical exaggeration, i guess. Neoexpressionism never did much for me.

Thanks, Georges. I wish your daughter luck. Please keep contributing.



January 14, 2005, 1:56 AM

Franklin: I forgot to mention that the reason I believe Tuymans has grown on me is its hand-made look. You can count every minute he took painting each work! (none over 45 minutes) Plus his paintings look like underdogs in a world of Matthew Ritchie-aspiring-to-be-with&without-the-bullshit-speak.



January 14, 2005, 2:08 AM

Oldpro - I give Rauch less credit than you. I've seen many of the works you describe, but I can't put Rauch in that bucket. They're more colorful and more literal, for one. I think you use the term "illustration" for that.

They look like poor photo-montages to me, made expressly for people who "get" the message--apparently ironic send-ups of east-German heroic imagery. (The whole ostalgie thing. Whatever.) But even as Soveto-ironic photomontages, I dunno, composition, color, style, theme, I just don't see it.

Rauch is the perfect magazine reproduction guy tho. I don't remember any surface interest, and not only do they reproduce well in print, but they look the same even as thumbnails. Maybe I'm in the minority, but at I thought Tuymans's works looked better in person.

As to Dumas, Franklin might have had his finger on the whole "mystic" thing when he said, "as long as I'm not reading her writings."



January 14, 2005, 3:12 AM

The reason(s) for certain artists or works being popular are interesting, but ultimately probably of no great importance, except as sociological data. The real issue is what the individual art lover thinks of those artists and works, and why. It's a personal issue, or should be. How other people, even if they're the majority, feel or think should be strictly secondary, and should never supplant or overrule personal judgment and taste. It's certainly possible to learn from others, but it's not about others; it's about one and the art. Unfortunately, a lot of people either don't get or are afraid of that concept, which is a major reason why so much mediocrity (or worse) goes not only unchallenged but promoted.



January 14, 2005, 3:34 AM

I wonlt disagree, Hovig, the others may indeed be more interesting. They are all below my radar screen. I certainly would not any of it on my wall.

The puzzling thing is that there are a number of thoughtful art-involved people talking to this blog who all need these artists to be "explained" to them, that is, whats up with this stuff? We are certainly not just being agreeable because God knows we have all fought over things in the past. But we are all puzzled why someone would go out and lay down enough money to buy a big house in Coral Gables for a work by one of these artists. it will remain a mystery I guess.

The idea that something "looks good in the magazine" has come up a couple times. This is an interesting idea. I have noticed that art that looks good in a magazine has a big leg up on anything else, and, conversely, things that do not look good in magazines do poorly. So a big clear-cut graphic face or figure with strong color and value contrast and obvious "meaning" (or at least obviously "confused" meaning) has a huge advanatage over somethg abstract, subtle, close-valued and atmospheric. maybe if we can assemble enough of these characteristics we can put together a "famous artists" course - "guaranteed fame in 10 easy lessons".


that guy in the back row

January 14, 2005, 3:57 AM

good idea oldpro. but famous suggests overtime. It would be easier to pin down the trends at the moment list. We've already named a few. Give your painting a washed out look, scrawl some unintelligible text over the top, scale helps so make it huge, make it reproducible add a dash of black or some other heavy tones and walla! You'll have yourself a Saatchi show in no time at all.



January 14, 2005, 5:46 AM

"making it huge"
wasn't that what the Laura Owens was about??

wish I wasn't so tired so I could really get into this but my brain is collapsing....
popular seems to be important these days...
what a sick concept...

I hate seeing talent hijacked by popular opinion... or the need for it.
I recently met a very young New York talent (so he thought of himself) and I asked him where he thought he was going with his work.

He said he was going to hire a publicist.
He is twenty three!! A publicist... Something is very wrong here. Do they get that from art school?


Kriston Capps

January 14, 2005, 6:30 AM

I saw Luc Tuymans at the Venice Biennale a few years back and greatly enjoyed his work.



January 14, 2005, 7:53 AM


In the last 40 years the art business has gone big time, and we are feeling the consequences. Your 23 year old wannabe sees himself on a career track just like any other movie actor or rock musician. There is plenty of lingering hunger for the real thing, but the real thing only rarely makes it big and that success never lasts long. All we can do is try to build a community that really cares about the art and the craft and hope it doesn't get too academic and arty it will be a hard road to follow.



January 14, 2005, 4:09 PM

Hello bookworm. "Popular" is at one and the same time "a sick concept" and a wonderful place to be. Tony Robbins has his points - instead of being hijacked, talent can focus on being the hijacker. I'd love to be an art star and would not care what anyone called me, especially those who might be envious. If you spend too much time thinking it is a sick concept you will never get there - that's from Tony Robbins. But you're right, it is a sick concept - that's from flatboy.

They certainly don't teach how to do this at the art school I attend.



January 14, 2005, 5:55 PM

How to do what, Flatboy, be an art star?



January 14, 2005, 6:02 PM

Right Oldpro. How to be respected as only the famous can be. How to be sought after. All sorts of sick stuff like that.



January 14, 2005, 6:26 PM

But I don't think that's sick. It is perfectly normal to want to be successful anf respected. It only gets "sick" when you personally feel that you are disgusted by what you are doing. Then you have to make a choice between popularity and the character of your work. This is the classic, age-old conflict.

Some people, in certain times, are able to do their best work and be admired and respected and get rich and famous, but this is rare in art now and depends very much on circumstance and the nature of the work. If you are a great football player it will happen, because the demands of the work are in synch with the talent. if you are a great painter you may have to wait.


Rene Barge

January 15, 2005, 8:36 PM

Ahhhhhhh, I felt so relaxed, I just had a cold beer under a hot shower and now I'm reading that painting is returning again. Holy cow! Please tell them to wait!! I've still got a long ways to go!!! HAHAHAHAHHAHAHAHHHAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAHHAHAAHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHHAHHAHAHAHHAHAHAHAHHHHAHAHAHAHAHHHAHHAHHAHWHoaw,wow... fart!
By the way does anybody know when graffitti will return, or was it ever there, or are we in post-graffitti times?

Rene Barge



January 24, 2005, 4:46 PM

don't give a shit about who sets up what scene it's usually business anyway and art that gets pushed forward in an instant usually has the ignition of money behind it. But you got to look at the artists who have been doing their own thing regardless and with painting if you're going to be good that is going to take years.. and that is what motivates an artist doing what you're interested in because you want to. That's why the kind of painting that you don't see a lot of is painting that shows skill because balls are too big to fit in pants. The drippy style of drawing that has become popular fits fashion because it doesn't take any risks with ability. It's inoffensive in a magazine spread it becomes a design graphic and it looks right for now.
You can't really look at this kind of art and say that the artist failed because they never really put themselves on the line in the first place. I want to see the artists who are big enough to take the risk of being wrong and make mistakes actually..sorry



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