“Painter-painter,” and the Lingering Specter of Greenberg

Lampe-web1Lilly Lampe at The Brooklyn Rail:

Is the supposed crisis in painting a product of the medium’s own neurosis? Perhaps it isn’t that painting is dead but that, like many of us, it suffers from anxiety about death? Maybe painting is depressed, a sentiment I dare say many critics would validate, or narcissistic (undeniably), or irrationally obsessed with the threat of other mediums. Obsession of some sort seems the most likely diagnosis, with the result being compulsive inward-looking as well as an unhealthy fixation on what painting or sculpture or video might be doing.

The narcissistic self-obsession of painting was certainly on view in The Forever Now. The exhibition seemed particularly hung up on three primary qualities of painting today: possession of a stretcher or the illusion or reference to one, use of canvas or other painting surfaces, and the gestural mark, something akin to a painterly brushstroke. This dogged insistence on the traditional structure of painting—done on a panel, canvas, or linen, and pulled over stretcher bars—and expressive mark-making done by hand is, minus a dogmatic insistence on the use of paint itself, hardly a step removed from Greenberg’s idea of medium specificity. Both Lowry and Hoptman described the artists in The Forever Now as traditionalists in so many words. Lowry wrote the artists “made their work in the most traditional manner—using paint and brushes on canvas.”3 Hoptman elided her choices as “practitioners of painting qua painting,” perhaps synonymous with the elusive moniker of “painter-painter.”4 If MoMA is correct, the move towards the flatness that Greenberg described is not only alive, but dominant, and while medium specificity seems to have gotten away from necessarily involving paint on canvas, the moves made by Bradley, Johnson, and Mehretu, with a grease stick, carved soap, and ink, respectively, substitute painterly mark-making without using a drop of paint.

more here.