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"Painting at the Edge of the World"
2001-02-07 until 2001-05-06
Walker Art Center
Minneapolis, MN, USA

With the apparent resurgence of painting at the dawn of the new millennium, it is clear that reports of this medium's death have been greatly exaggerated. But what exactly is painting today in a world dominated by the prevalence of electronic media? Is painting a mode of thought? Is there a philosophy of painting that extends beyond the confines of the medium? Where does the edge of the canvas end and the edge of the world begin? The Walker Art Center exhibition Painting at the Edge of the World, on view February 10-May 6, 2001, asks precisely these questions in a presentation curated by Walker associate curator Douglas Fogle. It features work by nearly 30 artists from across the globe who have taken up the issues involved in the practice of painting.

Rather than presenting a conservative and nostalgic celebration of the tradition of painterly practice, Painting at the Edge of the World will provide an examination of the recent genetic mutation of that tradition. In light of Yves Alain Bois' suggestion that any renewal of painting will be found in unexpected places, the exhibition looks at these unlikely painters in unlikely places as it examines the multiple permutations of contemporary painting practice manifested across the globe.

The artists featured in Painting at the Edge of the World are: Franz Ackermann (Germany), Haluk Akakše (Turkey), Francis Al s (Belgium/Mexico), Kevin Appel (U.S.), Marcel Broodthaers (Belgium), John Currin (U.S.), Marlene Dumas (The Netherlands/South Africa), Andreas Gursky (Germany), Eberhard Havekost (Germany), Arturo Herrera (Venezuela/U.S.), Mike Kelley (U.S.), Martin Kippenberger (Germany), Udomsak Krisanamis (Thailand/U.S.), Jim Lambie (Scotland), Margherita Manzelli (Italy), Paul McCarthy (U.S.), Lucy McKenzie (Scotland), Julie Mehretu (Ethiopia/U.S.), Takashi Murakami (Japan), Nader (Iran/Germany), Chris Ofili (England), HÚlio Oiticica (Brazil), Michael Raedecker (The Netherlands/England), Thomas Scheibitz (Germany), Rudolf Stingel (Italy/U.S.), Hiroshi Sugito (Japan), Paul Thek (U.S.), and Richard Wright (Scotland).

Painting at the Edge of the World begins with a few historical markers emphasizing artists who began to question the traditional modernist definitions of painting popular in the 1960s. The paintings of the under-recognized American artist Paul Thek, for example, operated against the grain of mainstream modernism, eschewing its grand manner in favor of a consciously minor position put forward by the naive figurative style of his paintings. His picture-light paintings of the late 1970s, which were installed low on the wall and illuminated by small overhanging lamps, intensified the viewer's awareness of the act of looking at painting while offering a critique of the high seriousness of both modernist painting and museum practices. The Brazilian artist HÚlio Oiticica also explored the notion of temporality as he radically altered the viewer's relationship to the object of painting and the plane of representation. In his work Nucleus NC1 (1960), for example, the artist's experiments led him to an evolution of the notion of the painting's support surface by merging it with color in a radical hybridization of painting and sculpture. In his formulation, color, structure, space, and time merge in a redefinition of painting at the edge of an expanding notion of the world. Mike Kelley provides a transitional moment between these early conceptual takes on the philosophy of painting and a younger generation emerging today. Having been taught by a former student of Hans Hoffman, Kelley is an artist whose roots in modernist painting come into violent collision with his interest both in the aesthetics of failure and the delights of the American vernacular. His seminal series of paintings The Thirteen Seasons (Heavy on the Winter) (1994) explores and examines the system of values underlying the material culture of the post-1950s American childhood by bringing out the darker side of pop culture moments excavated from his own past in a strange exorcism of modernist purity.

These investigations into the possible permutations of a philosophy of painting by an older generation are carried forward today by younger artists who work in a wide range of media, including works easily recognizable as painting as well as more conceptual practices based on sculpture, performance, photography, and film. In the paintings of Japan's Takashi Murakami, traditional Japanese nihonga painting techniques are merged with iconography derived from the popular cultural manifestations of Japanese manga or comic books, forcing a provocative blurring of tradition and modernity. Puncturing a can of paint and carrying it through neighborhoods and then into the museum, Mexico City-based artist Francis Al s takes a more conceptual approach toward painting, engaging in a performance which confronts the formal modernism of Jackson Pollock's drips with an itinerant conceptual practice that provokes questions of both temporality and the social space of the urban environment. Ethiopian-born artist Julie Mehretu, on the other hand, makes more traditionally recognizable paintings. Her works, however, combine layers of graphic geometries derived from the architectural plans of airports which are then covered in layers of resin on which she draws a series of highly idiosyncratic narrative elements in ink. Creating her own worlds out of the highly controlled and planned spaces offered by global airport terminals, Mehretu collapses the age-old distinctions between the media of architecture and painting, offering a new vision of the world within the confines of her canvases.

What has become clear today is that the practice of painting is no longer bound by the traditional categories of abstraction, figuration, portraiture, or landscape, or even by the conventional definition of the medium as paint on canvas. The artists in Painting at the Edge of the World demonstrate that a philosophy of painting is found today not only in paint on canvas, but also in a photograph (Andreas Gursky), in a walk (Francis Al s), in a club culture-inspired application of vinyl tape on the floor (Jim Lambie), or in paint applied directly to a wall (Arturo Herrera, Richard Wright, Franz Ackermann, Haluk Akakše). Figuration takes on many forms, from obsessive self-portraiture (Margherita Manzelli) to the televisual (Eberhard Havekost) or the merging of art deco and the cybernetic (Haluk Akakše). Abstraction is no longer the purely reductive act popularized by modernism but now begins to look like techno-organic topography (Udomsak Krisanamis), an explosion of cartoon iconography (Arturo Herrera), or a blurring of the geometry of architecture with color-field painting (Kevin Appel).

In each case, painting's traditional function as a window on the world has been inverted. Someone has left the window open and a number of things have crept in. Whether working in performance (Paul McCarthy, Francis Al s), sculptural (HÚlio Oiticica) and conceptual approaches (Marcel Broodthaers, Rudolf Stingel), or in the traditional category of paint on canvas, the artists in Painting at the Edge of the World redefine both the nature and contemporary relevance of a philosophy of painting in a world that has been radically altered by the virulence of electronic image.


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