On the Death and Resurrection of Painting

“Sincerity is the new irony.” – Dayton Castleman

I’ve been painting a lot lately.

Here’s my contribution to the conversation.


It’s untitled as yet.

I post it so I can be implicated in what I say and people can have a visual grain of salt to take this post with.

Last Saturday I had the distinct pleasure to meet Edward Winkleman, of Edward Winkleman Gallery. A friend of mine was in town and her, another friend and I toured Chelsea for a while and stopped by Winkleeman Gallery so she could say hi and keep in touch – she’s an acquaintance of his (I’m a fan).

It was great to put a face with the name. Edward blogs and is good at it. If you’re an artist, you’ll benefit from reading it – especially his advice for artists.

It was also interesting for another reason. He’s currently showing paintings by Christopher Lowrey Johnson which place themselves in a conversation about the unease of suburbia – “contemporary anxiety.” What struck me was a comment Winkleman made to the effect that these paintings were also about the impending deposing of painting from dominance. [*note* that was a gross paraphrase of a statement I didn’t write down, so I invite correction, but I think it was true to the general idea.]

full stop.

OK, so I had also just seen the Josh Smith show at Luhring Augustine Gallery. It was one of those shows where I couldn’t form a solid opinion of it right away, but the sense we got was that it had a lot of energy as a show, but individual pieces might fall totally flat if you pulled them out and stuck them in your living room. You’d have to make sure you got a good one and, slightly agreeing with Ken Johnson, I’m not sure Smith knows (or cares) which ones those are – although I suspect he does.

So when you see a show like Smith’s that really questions what’s good or bad and sacrifices the individual work for the group, and even questions the material and validity of painting, itself, to a degree, you might understand how Winkleman’s statement might peak my interest. Does Smith’s show reiterate the predicted impending doom of painting? How do Johnson’s paintings fit into this argument? What the hell am I supposed to do?

Well. I guess I kind of agreed. I mean, there’s a lot…a LOT of bad painting out there right now. Dumb painting. Purposefully naive or bad or romantic – either for its own sake or for irony or out of actual ignorance of how bad it really is…or maybe spite. I can’t recuse myself from the possibility of contributing bad paintings, but I’ll at least say that I have painted over at least 10 in the past month.

Plus, critics have speculated that with the market overblown in the last few years, it’s allowed for a lot of poo to be passed off for gems. Dave Hickey would be happy to see someone start picking out the dimes instead of buying the whole litter box (see Revision Number 5, “Quality” in Art in America…or try to find it online in futility). So maybe the market downturn will cause people to react against bad painting. Maybe some legitimately good painting will get weeded out in the process. Maybe people have been sick of painting for a while and it’s just coming to a head. Maybe quality will win out, we’ll have to see.

I recently had a curator tell me that everyone’s looking for painting to be smart again. I don’t exactly know what that means, but it’s pretty easy to find dumb paintings and I’m pretty tired of them too.

Back to Smith and Johnson. Is there significance there? I think so. I think Josh Smith, like a lot of the artists in the New Museum’s Unmonumental show…and a lot of artists, generally, are really questioning conventions of art and painting on a fundamental level, but they also seem to be reiterating a (if unstated) desire for beauty and, dare I say it…truth. I say this because some of Josh Smith’s paintings are beautiful and I think that’s as purposeful as the ones that are ugly.

Because beauty might be the only truth some people have (or maybe the only way to conceive of truth) and even though lots of people are beating it to absolute death, beauty is still what it is and we still want it. Reality might be shite but we hope and pray that some real and true beauty is out there or in there or under there (underwear?).

…and this is where the lightbulb goes off in my head. A friend had mentioned mentioned Derrida recently, and how deconstruction wasn’t all bad, because at least it helped us question power structures even if you didn’t like reading its literature. This reminded me of my recent reading of theology based on Derrida. It helped me describe what might be happening and how to process it.

You do it with fear and trembling.

You question it and then re-question it and then, possibly, if you can (if you allow yourself to) [if a possibility is possible] you make a statement {or a painting} and you float it into the conversation fully knowing the weakness of your own fallibility and language and structures but nevertheless fully hopeful that you may have hit something beautiful.

…something true.

That would be something to fear and tremble about.

It would also be a reason to paint.

So I’m not stopping.


p.s. I think the implications might be bigger than that, but you can only get so grandiose on a blog post without looking like a total jackass.


Filed under Art

5 responses to “On the Death and Resurrection of Painting

  1. John Bauer

    I liked that Josh Smith show. He is part of the “new smart”. Even though he’s bad. His “bad” review in the Times solidifies his position.

    Ed’s cool too. I saw him at Pulse. Say hi if you see him again.

  2. Пора переименовать блог, присвоив название связанное с доменами 🙂 может хватит про них?

  3. Круто, спасибо! 😉

  4. интересно было прочитать.

  5. Очень было интересно читать, спасибо!

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