The in-house working title for this issue of “Texte zur Kunst” was “Painting is Not the Issue”, alluding to how its articles make a case for a “painting beside itself”, as David Joselit put it (in October 130). More precisely, it offers a theoretically and art- historically grounded consideration of a certain kind of contemporary painting practice. For this kind of painting, what is at stake is not the search for a fundamental essence of painting, as (defining) artistic medium, as specific genre or as symbolic institution. Rather, the practice we focus on here deliberately sets out to undermine the ostensible integrity of painting as a closed-off area of aesthetic activity. Informed by the legacy of institutional critique, shaped by the context of a long-since digital age, it engages with the economic, medial and discursive networks of which it forms a part, both in terms of production and exhibition.
However, any inquiry into the current states of painting (see Susanne Leeb’s discussion of Thomas Eggerer’s Berlin exhibition) must be informed by a knowledge of the meanings still ascribed to the medium as the supposed epitome of “Art” – a meaning observable, not least, in auction prices. Any artistic practice incorporating the painted image or the conventions associated with painting must inevitably engage with this essentialist baggage. In this sense, painting is an institution, and one which casts long shadows. It is precisely this that makes the “apparatus of painting” (see Helmut Draxler’s article) so unavoidable, and which means its theoretical connotations can be transposed even to practices which at first glance seem far removed from canvas, paint and stretcher frames.
For progressive American critics of the 1980s and 1990s, painting was long an object of suspicion and disapproval; the mystifications which accompanied it were justifiably criticized. But there was a price paid for this very generalized resistance to painting. The critique centered on an idea of painting that was itself essentialist, associating the medium per se with notions of expression, authenticity and substance, as if regressive tendencies were inherent to this medium by way of its materiality. By contrast, this issue of “Texte zur Kunst” sets out, via a series of monographic case studies, first to understand how painting articulates its “own” historical categories and those of other and hybrid genres, and thus second to discuss painting as an economic, sociopolitical and medial relation (see the articles by David Joselit on Cheney Thompson, Luke Cohen on Rebbecca H. Quaytman, Sabeth Buchmann on Silke Otto-Knapp, Caroline Busta on Blake Rayne and Josef Strau on Birgit Mergele).
This approach contrasts with the version of painting’s self- reflexivity favored by twentieth-century modernism, a version intended to uphold the autonomy of art. Even today, this aspiration – one both phantasmic and imaginary – frequently functions as the touchstone for reflexive painting practices (see Hanne Loreck’s discussion of Monika Baer’s Berlin exhibition). But the borders of artistic disciplines have long since become permeable, irreversably so. As a result, supposedly painting-specific discourses have migrated into large- format photography – as with the so-called Becher school – while, in the other direction, issues and questions originating in performance art or (post-)conceptual art are now being addressed by means of painting. In the wake of Adorno’s famous “fraying of the arts”, there is no longer a clearly demarcated area reserved for questions exclusive to painting. Given this development and the associated art-historical discourses on the “end of painting” and the “escape from the picture”, it is all the more urgent to ask if and how we can productively discuss painting and argue about individual practices (see the conversation between Isabelle Graw and Achim Höchdorfer).
Alongside the work of art historians and critics, much of the critique of painting in the last decades has come from artists. There have been repeated attempts to use painting to make an argument against painting, from Jörg Immendorff’s “Hört auf zu malen!” (“Stop painting!”) through Michael Krebber’s wool blanket paintings, to Merlin Carpenter’s “The Opening”. Painting as an institution, however, has proved more than capable of absorbing attempts to abolish it, challenge it or reduce it ad absurdum, the final proof of this coming in the institutional integration of so-called “bad painting”. Even the opposition between conceptual and painterly approaches – in the 1970s a particularly rigid distinction – now appears to have weakened. Today, painting that has absorbed the critique of painting is not just intellectually respectable: it is even occasionally in demand.
While post-conceptual standpoints and formats are by now standard in one section of the art business, elsewhere forms of painting persist which ostentatiously ignore forty years of theoretical debate and which – perhaps as a result – enjoy huge popularity in the commercial sector. The popularity of this kind of painting – from Peter Doig to the Leipzig School – is also examined in this issue (see Niklas Maak’s essay). Once again it is quite clear that the term “painting” is an inadequate common denominator for the set of diverse practices that have long clustered under the name. In our view, it is precisely for this reason that there’s just no getting around the renewed discussion of painting.
(Übersetzung: Brían Hanrahan)