Back When Painting Was Dead


John Yau in Hyperallergic:

It is routine to characterize the 1970s as a decade dominated by Conceptual Art, and artists such as Sol LeWitt, Lawrence Weiner, Joseph Kosuth, and Mel Bochner. Part of this thinking is market-driven: the phenomenon of a group of artists who conveniently fall under a single heading and who steadily gain attention over the course of a decade. In 1978, LeWitt had a mid-career retrospective at the Museum of Modern Art. Critics described Conceptual Art as the next logical step after Minimalism while suggesting that artists engaged with painting did three things wrong: they worked in an obsolete form; they did not go beyond the reductiveness of Minimalism in a way that could be labeled; and they did not accept Donald Judd’s dim view of painting:

The main thing wrong with painting is that it is a rectangular plane placed flat against the wall. A rectangle is a shape itself; it is obviously the whole shape; it determines and limits the arrangement of whatever is on or inside of it.

The painter Carroll Dunham opens his essay “Shapes of Things to Come: On Elizabeth Murray” (Artforum, November 2005) with this blanket judgment: “Painting in New York during the second half of the 1970s was a mess.” I want to take issue with this received view of the 1970s because it continues to perpetuate a myth that painting, after taking a hiatus in the 1970s, “returned” in the 1980s. This view justifies the fact that painting was ignored or denigrated during the 1970s, as it verifies the appetites of the marketplace.

When Wallace Stevens said “Money is a kind of poetry,” he could have applied it to certain precincts of the art world, where it is a kind of criticism. Those who believe that the cream always rises to the top, and that success in the marketplace is a reliable measure of an artist’s ambition, tend to be white male critics.

More here.