Metamorphoses on Canvas

Painting 2.0 tracks the art form and its adaptation to the information age

At the exhibition Painting 2.0, the state of the art begins with its demise. As you enter, Martin Kippenberger’s Heavy Burschi fills the space, a large dumpster teaming with shredded artworks and wooden canvas stretchers. This has long been a favorite symbol for the death of painting, ever since artist Paul Delaroche first predicted it in 1839.

And every time, painting is reborn. Every few years, in fact, painting gets a new interface, updated, reprogrammed, and rebooted for every era, capturing the new zeitgeist. It has survived the invention of photography, the arrival of television, the computer, and the internet.

Showcasing 230 works of 100 international artists, Painting 2.0 brings us up to date, proving the medium’s versatility from the avant-garde to the present. From translucent washes, spackled impasto, and collage, all the way to moving image, the selection is vast and varied, breaking taboos and reestablishing its lineage and contemporary meaning.

Painting is expression and the show begins with gesture and spectacle. A canvas can become a mirror, a window, or in the case of trailblazing performance artist Joseph Beuys, a political protest sign originally for Germany’s Red Army Faction (RAF). Niki de St. Phalle’s Shoot, created by firing a paint gun at a canvas, also shaped the discourse, pioneering generations of feminist artists.

More than pigment on canvas

mumok / Stephan Wyckoff
© mumok / Stephan Wyckoff

The show goes overboard, however,  attempting to justify the “hip-ness” of the form. Whether an action or an object, is it always a “painting” if it has paint on it? Though controversial in the 1980s, My Friend by John Miller – a male mannequin in a suit doused in terracotta tones – now seems simplistic. Maria Lassnig’s animations, on the other hand, prove just how moving painting could become.

The second part of the exhibition focuses on kitsch, materiality, and the human body. To demonstrate the variety of materials, Nicole Eisenman’s Weeping Woman, made from spray foam, mingles in the space with Turner Prize winner Chris Ofili’s naïve, glittery work, best known for incorporating elephant dung.

On the final floors, the artist’s relationship with the art business comes to the fore, where Andy Warhol watches over the scene like a Godfather, his serialized screen prints of flowers and a skull a reminder of who ushered art into the world of commerce.

Through it all, painting endures; now as ever, it is a user-friendly medium, and like the Internet, malleable into an infinite variety of forms. “Just what is the source of its power?” Jane Euler seems to ask in Where The Energy Comes From, a giant electricity outlet.  Whatever else, it is dependent on the medium in the same way that it can subvert or usurp it. It can be a vapid still life, or deliciously mundane like Sigmar Polke’s Cookies, emulating a post of your lunch on social media.

Ultimately, painting captures an affect, as passionate and unpredictable as Cy Twombly’s gestural marks, generating visions of unknown worlds.

Here, Painting 2.0 depicts the art form as a beloved virus, as infectious as ever, as fundamental as life itself.

Through Nov 6, mumok

Nina Prader
Nina Prader is an artist and arts and culture writer who lives and works in Vienna and Berlin and has been with Metropole from the start.

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