December 21, 2016 Repository 200: Le Painting | Mark Making Posted In: art practice, bon mots, contemporary art, perspective, philosophy, social critique

Mark Rothko, Untitled Mural for End Wall 1959 National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. 1985.38.5 © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998

Mark Rothko, Untitled Mural for End Wall 1959
National Gallery of Art, Washington Gift of The Mark Rothko Foundation, Inc. 1985.38.5 © Kate Rothko Prizel and Christopher Rothko/DACS 1998

Dear Matthew Collings,

Recently a friend sent a link to a discussion forum where you and her exchanged thoughts about whether painting is dead – you are in the camp of yes, it’s dead, and she in the camp of no it’s not. Simply speaking.

Before responding I made sure to see more of your writing and thoughts on the matter. I very much enjoyed your series on the BBC “Rules of Abstraction” – it was a fair and benign overview of the concept of abstract art, that included thoughtful pauses and thoughtful inclusion of both sexes (very much thank you!). The presumption however that abstract has rules, and that there are “lords” of abstraction and “most famous” abstract paintings I would beg to differ. I had a British uncle, and I know very well how comfortable he was with rules, systems of thought and definite boundaries. On the other hand, I’ve never believed in boundaries (except for some limitations in art which create boundless avenues for creativity), and most certainly believe that abstraction is like poetry, ergo it has no rules. And if you must know I’m Canadian American (French Canadian/Queens New York).

With respect to the death of painting: you bring up some terrific points about art fairs and the vapid nature of 98.4% of the work. In fact the only 2D work that grabs the heart in these venues tend to be old work that is in circulation thanks to the secondary market. I would agree entirely with you here. I’ve been to many art fairs in the past and agree. I’ve also been to Documenta and Venice over the past 8-12 years, and would say that the scarcity of paintings has absolutely nothing to do with the death or non-death of painting.

Some comments of yours (Matthew Collings) to share with my readership:

Of course it (painting) is over because art is junk now for markets.
But one way of telling that painting is dead as an issue is that it has no trendy appeal.
If you go to Documenta or the Venice Biennale etc it’s in very short supply And it’s not what Artforum* is full of every month
There isn’t a paint-is-not-dead argument.
On the whole painting is the realm of people who are unfamiliar with arguments in art.
But in any case it’s a medium that stands for nothing

Three things – 1. Your comments are made in light of media and journalism today – journalists must share their personality, their flavor and their ego in order to land a reputation and a job – as much here in the US as there in the UK. The more controversial they can be, the more likes, discussion and dialogue they will get. Hence my response, and other “comments”. Unlike Jerry Saltz’s penis and vulva explosions, you are trying to murder painting; 2. *Artforum is the biggest joke as a litmus of what is art now or ever, and; 3. Your comments, and much of any art critic’s comments, are highly irresponsible and undoubtedly are weighed with your interest, reputation and future employment in mind.

Let’s keep this very simple. Suggesting painting is dead is as silly as saying the guitar, piano or percussion section is dead. Painting is simply a tool. And yes, it’s a primitive tool. It’s a sensual and poetic tool. And yes today’s day in age prefers the hermetic and asepetic, the isolated and the self involved engagement – not the messy intimacy that is painting. The more insular a work can be – the least messy – the more traction it will get on a broad scale (artmarket, artforum, artcritic, artblog, artfair, artwhatever). The reality is that the messier the art is today, the more poetic and thoughtful it is, the more relevant, true and rebellious it is. The universities and markets won’t catch up for another 20 years.

Lastly, the pretentious and elitist view that painting, or anything you can hang on the walls of a domicile, is not art is simply rubbish (British) bullshit (American). Explain to me why the painting of a child, finger painting or otherwise, or the painting purchased by a couple deeply interested in the xyz of a painting whether they paid $70 or $70 M is “dead”? If you continually use the market as a litmus for your argument, calling it the contraindicator is futile. You are comparing apples to oranges.

As far as I see you are a painter. Relish in the fact that this is the most outlandish thing you can do – the most irrelevant to the market, the critic, the history books and just do it because it’s totally relevant. I especially like the collaborative work you do with your partner – very apropos. Thanks for sharing some lightning rods regarding painting’s “death”, it’s helped many of us to solidify our positions on the matter. Don’t get seduced by the framework of “criticism” – this can only be described as people being very smart and clever and acting much like fashion – reflecting on themselves over and over in a cyclical fashion. Don’t pull the flower out to inspect its weeds. Please just let it grow.


Respectfully – che

PS. In your documentary about Abstract Art you use your final example of abstract art as El Anatsui. I would argue that his work is not abstract, but conceptual art. He’s chosen to use an everyday material to share an urgent point – he’s as much an “abstract artist” as he is a “sculptor”, therefore to me sits in the conceptual art camp. While his work is material and aesthetic, none of his work was directly tethered to Clement Greenburg, Malevich, or theosophy thoughts per the previous segments of your documentary.

PPS. Please don’t be classist and presumptuous – abstract art is not built to discredit bourgeois class, it’s simply a slice of ginger in an aesthetic palate – everyone needs a breather from the deluge of imagery. Abstract art (painting and otherwise) is urgent at this time. Who cares about someone’s opinion about Stella’s paintings being “hysterical constructions” or painting being understood as “pure idiocy” – articles from the 1980’s being used to prove your point is very telling.

PPPS. While I loved learning about “Hilma af Klimt” in your documentary, and subsequently researching her, is she for real? Images this large, all the same humongous size supposedly painted in the late 19th century. It seems unheard of and bizarre. If she was truly making work this big and this obscure in her time, she most definitely should be the “lord of abstraction” (as you coined for Kandinsky), regardless of the idea you have lumped her in as illustrating a sort of system of Theosophy – she was in a league of her own on no uncertain terms working abstractly. If she was for real.

PPPPS. I know how you feel about Rothko which is precisely why I used it as my header image. RIP Rothko.

Image courtesy BBC

Image of Matthew Collings painting courtesy BBC



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