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Painting, IRL: New Show in Munich Aims to Revise the History of Postwar Painting

Nicole Eisenman, Beer Garden with Ash, 2009. ©NICOLE EISENMAN/COURTESY ANTON KERN GALLERY, NEW YORK; SUSANNE VIELMETTER LOS ANGELES PROJECTS; AND GALERIE BARBARA WEISS, BERLIN/PRIVATE COLLECTION, SWITZERLAND

Nicole Eisenman, Beer Garden with Ash, 2009.

©NICOLE EISENMAN/COURTESY ANTON KERN GALLERY, NEW YORK; SUSANNE VIELMETTER LOS ANGELES PROJECTS; AND GALERIE BARBARA WEISS, BERLIN/PRIVATE COLLECTION, SWITZERLAND

The curators of a new exhibition titled “Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age,” which runs at Munich’s Museum Brandhorst through April 30, aim to do no less than “revise the history of painting since 1960,” as they write in the catalogue. “Hubristic, I suppose,” one of those curators, art historian David Joselit, said, laughing, as we sat in his office at the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, where he teaches. “You know, why not try?”

For years, many serious-minded academics specializing in postwar art ignored the medium when not outright attacking it. “There have been so many ways of marginalizing painting theoretically,” Joselit said, “as a neo-avant-garde, as though it’s repetition, that it’s a market figment, that it’s a regression, that in some sense the readymade kills it.” In sharp contrast, “Painting 2.0” uses some 240 works by about 100 artists to argue that painting thrived as an advanced art over the past half century, incorporating new materials and mutating to meet new sociopolitical challenges.

It begins with classic works by artists like Jasper Johns and Robert Rauschenberg. “At that moment, in 1960, it became clear to many artists that the painting discourse was questioned,” Achim Hochdörfer, the Brandhorst’s director and a co-curator, said in a phone interview. “The canonical version was that it ended. And we thought, no, it’s the contrary that is the case. It absorbed all the enemies of painting—collage, readymade, photography, new media.”

Expression, through gestural marks, the curators believe, has served as a means for painters to assert their independence from media spectacle and corporate control. And meanwhile, artists like Lee Lozano, Maria Lassnig, and Amy Sillman have forged eccentric forms of figuration with radical implications. “Feminist and queer artists have had to, historically and politically, come up with different ideas of the body, and depictions of the body, and representations of the body—and invent subjectivity outside of the normative,” the show’s third organizer, Manuela Ammer, said by phone. (She is a curator at the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig in Vienna, which will present the exhibition in June.)

With work by Seth Price, Jutta Koether, R. H. Quaytman, and others, the show also homes in on “networked painting,” a term used by Joselit for practices that in various ways depict or point to the systems—financial, aesthetic, curatorial—in which they circulate. The power of the Internet, needless to say, hovers over the whole project.

“The recent interest in painting coincides with an evermore-increasing rise of the digital, and I don’t think that’s a coincidence,” Ammer said. “I think there’s a certain causal relationship between those two things. I do think that painting is one means to drag what has become so abstract into a human realm, so to speak—painting as a praxis that negotiates between the body and images and makes things graspable that are very hard to grasp, [such as] how our social relations change, how subjectivity changes, how our relationship with the world, really, changes.”

A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2015 issue of ARTnews on page 34 under the title “Painting, IRL.”

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