What is Painting? IV

Al Held Mao 1967

For the summer, both the GuggenheimMuseum and the Museum of Modern Art are presenting surveys of work from their contemporary holdings. Typically scorned by critics as un-blockbusters assembled on the cheap, these shows are interesting to the extent that they introduce new 21st-century artists to the official museum canon. 
At MoMA, curator Anne Umland has organized “What Is Painting: Contemporary Art from the Collection,” July 7-Sept. 17, 2007, a show of works dating from the early ‘60s to the present. Amusingly, the exhibition space has been divided into a series of cells arranged along a long corridor, with each gallery installed according to an elementary “compare and contrast” logic, good for those who think that curating is about making 1 + 1 = 3. 
Though most of the artists are well known, the installation still feels fresh, especially for aging art-lovers who can warm to the sight of Al Held’s muscular post-Pop abstraction, Mao (1967) and Dorothea Rockburne’s Scalar (1971), a classic of early 1970s conceptual painting — it’s really folded paper, inflected by oil. Some of the interesting newer acquisitions include paintings by Wade Guyton and Sarah Morris, and minimalist works by Shirazeh Houshiary and Karin Sander. [Walter Robinson on “What is Painting”]

The delightful proposition of “What Is Painting?” — a broad survey of art from the 1960s to today, drawn from the Museum of Modern Art’s contemporary collection — is that we have utterly lost our way: We no longer have any idea what painting is, and we are much better for it. Loosely chronological and with an equally relaxed thematic structure, the show makes its argument largely through the variety and quality of the work on view…
Text paintings, German Neo-Expressionism, and Pop-inspired wackiness all receive their due here (though not, sadly, black paintings). By the time one reaches the last two galleries, a certain symmetry has been achieved: The penultimate gallery yokes together current representational styles and the final gallery current abstract works. Fittingly, one of the very last works one encounters, a 2006 untitled study of Xs by Wade Guyton, was made, not with paint, but with an ink-jet printer and canvas.
Does the use of a printer mean its product is a print, a printout, or something else? Of course, the answer depends on definitions: In other words, What is a painting? This fine exhibition insouciantly suggests a painting is not what we are used to, not what we expect, but rather, whatever we can get away with. [Daniel Kunitz on What is Painting]

Much less than the sum of its parts, “What Is Painting?”—despite a provocative title shared with a John Baldessari piece—is an exhibition conceptualized, if not actually curated, by committee. It offends no one (because it takes no risks), squanders the museum’s deep and rich catalog (because it cherry-picks to illustrate not the best contemporary painting but contrived ideas about painting), and most egregiously apes curatorial models developed by other, younger institutions with a fraction of MOMA’s artistic, financial, and authorial acumen….
Since the 2000 exhibition “Modern Starts”—the museum’s last show before closing its flagship 53rd Street space for renovations—MOMA has desperately attempted to imitate the success of other powerful institutions, most notably London’s Tate Modern. “Modern Starts,” in fact, was a direct forgery of Tate’s handling of its own meager permanent collection. Whatever the actual drawbacks, it laid down the conceptual flagstones upon which “What Is Painting?” now clumsily trods. The new rules—insofar as they apply to temporary exhibitions (though, thankfully, not to MOMA’s bread-and- butter permanent displays of isms: Impressionism, Cubism, Surrealism, Dadaism, Abstract Expressionism)—are, like pig Latin, coded and yet childishly simple. No history but historicity. No to verifiable associations or influences shared by distinct pieces; Yes to trendy postmodern juxtapositions. And ideals of curatorial authority need not apply. [Christian Viveros-Faune on What is Painting?]

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