I always ask myself where we stand in terms of conceptual vs pathos in contemporary art. We come from a century which basically reflects this tension between conceptual and expressionism. Take the period going from the 1960s til the 1980s where either you were into pushing further the limits of art or you were out. If painting was used, it was only instrumental. Since the 1980s, painting has sneaked back to the front stage and a clear return of the pathos through sensationalist art and experiencing art is marked. So where do we stand now?
The decades of the 1960-1970 have almost erased paintings from catalogues and gallery walls, reducing it to a means to carry out the pursuit of interrogating art and amounting to a discourse on the limits of art. Many artists used painting as a way to test hypothesis and boundaries of art history and art.
Think: Mel Bochner infamous version of his “Language is not transparent”:
Or his “Theory of Painting”:
Or think: On Kawara’s date paintings:
Check Art & Language’s “Guaranteed paintings” from 1967 which show the predilection of the language on the image.
Or even their “100% Abstract painting” of 1968 where instead of using paint to make the art work, the artists simply listed the chemical composition of the paint used to produce it:
And then let’s jump to 199o, from the Hostage series: Hostage LXXVI. The title of this series indicates that painting is hostage to a certain aesthetics that the artists of Art & Language, Michael Baldwin et Mel Ramdsen, contest. This work shows a banal landscape, blackened by a liquid monochrome, crushed under a glass panel.
What I find interesting in all this experimenting from the radical conceptual art years is that this layer of history was the nutrient of contemporary paintings nowadays. If we have observed a return of the representation as well as the pathos and expressionism, this is haunted by all what conceptual art challenged and put into question. Painting became problematised painting.
This is what we always strive to explore with the artists we are working with, what is painting in 2011 and how to articulate the pathos with a discourse on art and its limits?