Body Blow to the Primacy of Painting

Marcel Duchamp Network of Stoppages 1914

…[there are] two developments in the history of art that shook painting to its foundations, in both cases almost fatally. One was the invention of photography in the 1830s. Photographs did more than just depict the world better and faster than painting; they also made entire painterly languages defunct, from military painting to academic portraiture. (“From today, painting is dead,” the academic painter Paul Delaroche is purported to have said after seeing a daguerreotype for the first time.) Ever since, painting has in some ways functioned in dialogue with the camera….
… the other body blow to the primacy of painting came in the 1910s, when Marcel Duchamp elevated a bicycle wheel, a bottle rack and an upturned urinal to the status of art. Even more than photography, the ready-made object struck at the heart of painting’s self-justification. Not only did Duchamp recalibrate the terms of artistic success, privileging ideas over visuals. He also eliminated the need for the artist’s hand in a way photography never entirely did….Duchamp’s insurrection removed technical skill as a painterly virtue, and by the 1960s an artist like the minimalist sculptor Donald Judd could confidently say, “It seems painting is finished.”[Jason Farago on painting]

Robert Ryman Bridge 1980

“There is in his language, as in his paintings, a strict adherence of the matter at hand. His conception of painting is reduced to the stark physical components of painting-as-object. The systematic, single-minded, persistent attempt to once and for all empty painting of its idealist trappings gives to Ryman’s work its special place during the 1960s as, again, “just the last paintings which anyone can make.” And that is, as well, their very condition of possibility. Ryman’s paintings, like Buren’s, make visible the most material of painting’s conventions: its frame, its stretcher, its supporting surface, the walls on which it hangs. But more significantly, his paintings… make visible the very mechanical activity of laying on the brushstrokes, as they are manifestly lined up, one after the other, left to right, row after row, until the surface is, simply, painted.” [Douglas Krimp The End of Painting]

Ad Reinhardt Abstract Painting 1963

“A square (neutral, shapeless) canvas, five feet wide, five feet high, as high as a man, as wide as a man’s outstretched arms (not large, not small, sizeless), trisected (no composition), one horizontal form negating one vertical form (formless, no top, no bottom, directionless), three (more or less) dark (lightless) no–contrasting (colorless) colors, brushwork brushed out to remove brushwork, a matte, flat, free–hand, painted surface (glossless, textureless, non–linear, no hard-edge, no soft edge) which does not reflect its surroundings—a pure, abstract, non–objective, timeless, spaceless, changeless, relationless, disinterested painting—an object that is self–conscious (no unconsciousness) ideal, transcendent, aware of nothing but art (absolutely no anti–art).” [Ad Reinhart on the Black Paintings]

Francis Picabia Catax 1929

“Picabia would reinvent himself yet again in the mid-1930s and into the following decade, creating the so called ‘kitsch’paintings. Derived from photographs of Hollywood stars and images found in ‘girlie mags’of the times, the ‘kitsch’paintings again demonstrate Picabia’s willful disregard of convention in painting. For decades these works were virtually ignored by critics and art theorists, who deemed the works amateurish or insincere. The enormous impact these works had on subsequent generations of artists is only now being considered. 
Throughout his long and varied career, Picabia continually reinterpreted the role and meaning of painting. His endless experimentation with styles and methods of painting defied easy categorization, then as now. Picabia’s richly diverse and confounding oeuvre is marked as well by fluid movement between figurative representation and abstraction, especially in the 1940s. While this caused consternation among critics during his lifetime, it makes Picabia a fresh source of ideas and inspiration for artists working today.” [Francis Picabia @ Michael Werner Gallery]

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