Isabelle Graw, Daniel Birnbaum, Nikolaus Hirsch

There is no painting as such: delimiting its realm is indeed impossible since painting expanded in the 1960s (even more radically than it had during Cubism), when it embraced ready-made objects, linguistic propositions, and performative elements in its pictorial sphere. But despite losing its specificity in a way typical for the often-invoked post-medium condition, painting still appears to be notorious and omnipresent, thereby resembling Nilas Luhmann's concept of a "success medium"_symbolically generated, it functions like an institution and produces value. Its tenacity also derives from the structural advantages of its format (ease of transporting the picture on canvas, low production costs, etc.). Furthermore, painting benefits from the intellectual charge it was first given in the Renaissance. Think only of Alberti: he claimed that the painter struggles with "more difficult things' than the sculptop?-an argument that reaches into our present when considering how many art lovers still secretly believe that painting is the one real art. The high prices fetched by paintings at auctions further illustrate their assumed symbolic worth. As much as it occupies the highest rank in the commercial sphere, many artists and critics in the 1960s and "7Os were opposed to painting -its proximity to the commodity form rendered it especially suspicious. Even those artists who opted for so-called bad painting in the late 1970s and early '80s encountered a lot of resistance and felt obliged to legitimize their practice. But this pressure around painting seems to have ceased nowadays. The posthumous reception of Martin Kippenberger's work contributed to the genre's improved reputation--for many critics, his work manages to reconcile the insights of institutional critique with seemingly expressive gestures. More recently, the argument was put forward that Kippenberger's work visualizes its networks of exhibition and distribution.° Indeed, David Joselit's brilliant plea for a painting that is "beside itself" triggered the current emergence of "network painting" in cities like New York or Berlin-painting that demonstrates that it belongs to certain social networks. What, then, does it mean to think through painting under these conditions?

"Thinking through Painting" was the title and aim of a small event initiated by the Institut für Kunstkritik and hosted by abc art berlin contemporary, whose 2011 theme was "about painting." We are very thankful to Alexander Schröder for making this cooperation possible. Our gratitude also goes to the participants: André Rottmann, who presented a paper on painting's persistence, and Peter Geimer, who investigated how Luc Tuymans's work suggests the ability to reflect historical conditions. The two lectures by Geimer and Isabelle Graw were followed by a discussion among the participants. We decided to print a longer and edited version of the dialogue between Geimer and Graw in this volume because it allows for their propositions to be elaborated. The aim of these lectures was obviously not to deflect criticism; rather, it was to stimulate discussion. We would therefore like to thank our audience as well- it was a pleasure to think through painting with you!


Remarks on Contemporary Painting’s Perseverance

André Rottmann

For the longest time, the theory and practice of painting has been organized, contained, and propelled by a series of closely related antagonisms--color and contour, transparency and opacity, gesture and facture, illusion and flatness, semblance and objecthood, chroma and contrast, chance and composition, mark making and the monochrome, ostentatious virtuosity and anonymous execution, figuration and abstraction--to name just a few.' Faced with the contemporary plethora of pictorial operations associated with this complex legacy, it has become increasingly problematic, if not outright impossible, to still define painting and the "self-aware images" (Victor I. Stoichita) produced and exhibited under this rubric vis-à-vis these once structural paradigms. In the advanced discourses on painting, they appear as mere specters, only to be resuscitated, maybe even resurrected, to mourn an allegedly lost wealth of heretofore available models to probe and elicit visual experience; or as figments to repeatedly haunt contemporary practices in the historicist guises of naive quietism, travesty, or farce. By way of the incessant expansion and critique that have put painting under duress--from Cubism's assault on the space of pictorial representation to Pop art's conflation of mass-media imagery and painterly traditionalism and the various strategies of pastiche after 1970-in tandem with the advent of media such as photography, film, and computer technology, the once venerable medium, it would seem, has ultimately become exhausted.?

1 Most notably, these paradigms have been explored, criticized, and sublated in the painterly practices of Gerard Richter, as continuously analyzed in seminal writings by Benjamin H. D. Buchloh. See, for instance, his recent essay, "The Chance Ornament: Aphorisms on Gerard Richter's Abstractions," Artforum International 50, no. 6 (February 2012): 168-79.

Though undoubtedly having lost its former integrity (just like sculpture and, more recently, analog photography) as it exceeds canvas, paint, and stretcher frames to encompass the use of readymade objects, printed matter, technical images, writing, and performative elements, painting has however demonstrated remarkable perseverance. Even leaving considerations of its resilient market value aside, it still must be conceded that the medium incessantly belies all claims for its irrelevance in today's expanded field of contemporary art and the surrounding ecology of media images. Paradoxically, the medium, in the process, appears to have dispelled its own once-uncontested material basis: at the cost of its survival, in other words, it ultimately has become bereft of its former substance. No longer synonymous only with a flat picture plane hung on the

wall, today, painting tends to emphasize the apparatus of its appearance and the conduits of its circulation. Today's dominant display devices emerge as the integral parts of painterly works that increasingly address the architectural site or the larger context of an exhibition or institution. By the same token, novel modes of distribution take precedence over the painted picture as a discrete object-namely, the proliferation of images through media of publicity and reproduction, the very circuits and trajectories of dissemination and validation.

Following this tentative and admittedly schematic account of the medium's most recent reconfigurations (or reanimations), it could be concluded that painting is moving beyond the limitations of its once-traditional material support, without abolishing its ancestral discursive and institutional scaffolding altogether. The paradigms that once provided the very basis of painterly articulations have not been annihilated, but are disseminated across an expanded array of practices, materials, media, and sites.°

2 On the irreversible exhaustion of the mediums of painting and sculpture and the concomitant critique of the modernist understanding of specificity in the 1970s in terms of a physical substance, see Rosalind E. Krauss, Under Blue Cup (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 201 1), 18ff.

Art historian David Joselit has made an attempt to summarize this state of affairs in a single, much-quoted sentence: “Painting is beside itself." For Joselit, contemporary painting is marked by a notion of constant transition rather than stasis. Instead of constituting self-contained entities, painterly works explicitly establish relations to the broader social, technological, and economical networks within which they come into existence and circulate. In other words, we witness yet another instance in the shift from self-referentiality to self-reflexivity pertinent to the history of art after 1970 as a whole. If it was once the essence of the medium's material characteristics that demanded to be recursively explored, painterly practices today engage their varying contexts in order to hold in suspension, in Joselit’s words, "the passages internal to a canvas, and those external to it"S This argument seems reminiscent of Michel Foucault’s analysis of the intrinsic and extrinsic factors that inform (in both the literal and figurative senses of the term) the paintings of Édouard Manet. Foucault, in his 1971 Tunis lecture on the French artist, located both the effects of modern power and the aesthetic modes to challenge them within the material and compositional properties of the canvas--for instance, within the framework of the "picture-object" created through 3 Following Hal Foster, the claim of Pop artists such as Richard Hamilton, Ed Ruscha, and Roy Lichtenstein to capture postwar modern life in figurations based on contemporary media images and signage systems may be regarded as the historical threshold between painting as a delineated area of competence and the dissolution of boundaries in Minimalism and most importantly Conceptual art. See Hal Foster, The First Pop Age: Painting and Subjectivity in the Art of Hamilton, Lichtenstein, Warhol, Richter, and Ruscha (Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2012).

4 David Joselit, "Painting Beside Itself," October 130 (Fall 2009): 134.

5 Ibid., 129.

Manet's treatment of the illusionist space of classical representation, lighting, and the gaze. Whereas the question of how far contemporary practices contest, or rather coalesce with, our current regime of control and its grasp on subjectivity cannot but depart from the diagnosis of painting's lack of medium-specificity.®

Assessing modern painting's intimate rapport with technical media by recourse to the history of history painting, Peter Geimer, in his essay in the present volume, addresses both the formal particularities and discursive framing of the paintings of Wilhelm Sasnal and Luc Tuymans. Casting a closer look at painterly tropes of ambiguity, vagueness, and obliteration of details, as well as the concomitant attempts of art critics, historians, and curators to advocate aesthetic strategies of imprecision, ambivalence, and withdrawal, Geimer's expansive case study especially challenges the approach of Tuymans and his commentators to twentieth-century history-mainly the representation (or its calculated failure) of events and sites related to the Holocaust and the Second World War~and atrocious contemporary media imagery. Meticulously analyzing the chasm emerging between the painterly rendition of archival or press photographs and the highly charged subject matter strategically deployed by Tuymans, Geimer advances to question the epistemological claims commonly made for contemporary painting's supposedly superior reflexivity and conceptual thrust, which are based on the distance it is said to take from everyday experiences of immersion.

Isabelle Graw, in her contribution, seeks to ground painting’s residual specificity in the semiotic activity of "mark making’ rather than in the material properties heretofore allegedly exclusive to the medium. Departing from the fact that painting has traditionally epitomized aesthetic subjectivity as such-correlating the gestalt of the beholder with the field of vision delineated by the limits of a picture plane-Graw discusses the sociopolitical horizon of indexical signs within and beyond the realm of painting proper. Engaging a panoply of practices from Francis Picabia through Andy Warhol to Charline von Heyl and Albert Oehlen, all which defy the notion of an essence of the medium, and through close readings of the discourses surrounding them, Graw demonstrates that painting's perseverance is grounded in its potential to evoke not only corporeal likeness, but more fundamentally in the suggestion that artworks could attain the status of "quasi-persons." They appear as avatars capable of acting and thinking on their genuine terms-and producing a surplus value of reflexivity in high demand within the bio-economical regime of the contemporary art market and our post-Fordist economy at large. "Thinking through Painting," the title of the small-scale conference documented in this book, took place in the context of the 2011 abc - art berlin contemporary art fair entitled “about painting." It is a double entendre as such: both Graw and Geimer reflect on the ways in which artistic practices and art-historical discourses bring notions of self-reflexivity to bear on painting, be it beside itself or utterly self-complacent, and thereby attribute value--critical, economic, symbolic, epistemic-to the aesthetic articulations of our present.

6 See Michel Foucault, Manet and the Object of Painting, trans. Matthew Barr(London: Tate Publishing, 2011).