When the Swiss artist Peter Fischli was young, painting was out of style, but today as a Professor of Fine Art at the famous Städelschule in Frankfurt, he observes the opposite situation: the young art students are all interested in painting. Is painting not dead? Starting from this reflection, Fischli curated an exhibition in the Venetian headquarters of Fondazione Prada that deals with this question (open until November 21). The artist has gone back in time to identify five moments in art history when painting was declared dead, only to be revived again and again.
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia . Photo: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. In the foreground Peter Fischli Modellone, 2021. In the background Emil Michael Klein Curtain, 2021
The first proclamation, from circa 1840 was made by the painter Paul Delaroche. "In his artistic practice, the only function of painting was representation," Fischli explains in an interview at the exhibition opening. "When Delaroche witnessed the birth of photography, he thought that painting had lost its raison d'etre” All the artists in the exhibition have somehow reinvented painting, working on the rupture line. It is a paradigm shift that applies to painting, but also to all art in general, which is why I also wanted to include videos, sculptures and photographs." In this sense, the inclusion of Lee Lozano's 1969 work "General Strike Piece," is significant because in it Lozano announced her gradual withdrawal from the art world.
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. Josh Smith Untitled, 2021
The second crisis of painting is represented by the invention of the readymade and collage, which forced painting to come out of itself and to move in space through objects. The third was caused by the "death of the author", as defined by Roland Barthes in 1968 that questioned of the idea of authorship. The fourth crisis concerns the criticism of painting as a commodity at the end of the 1960s, when painting was considered the “whore” of the market. The fifth crisis is part of the crisis of criticism in late capitalism, as theorized by Luc Boltanski and Eve Chiapello, for whom from the 1980s the idea of the avant-garde became obsolete, and the end of a critical position for painting was proclaimed.
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. From left to right Michelangelo Pistoletto, Vetrina (Oggetti in meno), 1965 – 66, Louise Lawler Chicago, 2011 – 12, Kurt Schwitters A Dim Bulb, 1947, Morton Schamberg, “God” by Baroness Elsa von Freytag-Loringhoven and Morton Schamberg, 1918, Carol Rama, Spazio anche più che tempo, 1970, Stampa fotografica del 1930 da una serie di negativi di separazione in tre colori realizzati nel 1861 da James Clerk Maxwell mediante procedimento VIVEX e raffiguranti una coccarda di tartan / 1930s print from a set of tri-color separation negatives reproducing a tartan rosette made in 1861 by James Clerk Maxwell using the VIVEX process, Paul Delaroche, Cromwell e Carlo I, post 1831.
For the exhibition, Fischli decided not to follow a chronological order, and grouped the works in ten thematic rooms. “I didn't want to do a universal exhibition,” says Fischli. "I'm not an art historian who has to make a bullet proof exhibition. I have included the artists I consider important; it is the list of my references. On the other hand, I didn't want to be too subjective either. My idea was to combine works by emerging artists and historical artists, not so much for the idea of digging into the past, but to read the present. The challenge was to combine young artists with historical artists such as Picabia and Duchamp, which is why I created thematic rooms."
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti, Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. From left to right Andrea Fraser, Untitled (de Kooning/Raphael) #1, 1984 / 2005, Alain Jacque, Le déjeuner sur l’herbe, 1964
For example, the "Mensch Maschine" room investigates the obsolescence of the artist as producer and the fear of the annihilation of subjectivity by the machine. Works such as the fingerprints by Piero Manzoni sit alongside a Bauhaus telephone, evoking László Moholy-Nagy’s telephone pictures (works produced at a German paint factory, ordered by the artist over the phone), as well as paintings by the Scottish artist Morag Keil, (b.1985) in which computer and smartphone screens are reflected in the eyes.
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti, Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. In the foreground from left to right David Hammons, Untitled, 2008, Martin Kippenberger, Albert Oehlen Orgonkiste bei Nacht, 1982. In the background Walter De Mari, Silver Portrait of Dorian Gray, 1965
In the “When Paintings Become Things” room, the works are representations of real elements or are made of everyday objects. For example, the induction plates by Rosemarie Trockel are exhibited in front of Jana Euler's "Where the Energy Comes From," representing a power outlet, and are also in dialogue with a door by Olivier Mosset and a work by the Israeli artist Gili Tal, (b.1983) a rug that demonstrates the persistence of modernism in decoration today.
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti, Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. From left to right Jana Euler, Where the Energy Comes From 1, 2014, Karen Kilimnik, Jane Creep (Druids), 1990, Jane Creep (Blow Dryer), 1991, Jane Creep (Crème de menthe), 1991 Jane Creep (Plane to Paris), 1991 Jane Creep (St Bernard), 1991
In the "Word Versus Image" room the word is at the forefront of painting: John Baldessari’s "What Is Painting" represents a semiological analysis of what constitutes an image and of what constitutes a text. It is installed in front of the works of Gene Berry, an American artist who came to painting while working as a security officer in a museum. In his works, from the collection of Sol LeWitt, he paints the textual framing of artworks in institutional settings. The canvas and the text converge.
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada. Above, Richard Hamilto, A Little Bit of Roy Lichtenstein for..., 1964. Below from left to right Ben Vautier, Banane, 195. Banane, 1958. Banane, 1959
The exhibition is rich with discoveries of young artists and with revisitations. One of the most interesting works is a large model of the exhibition at the entrance made by Fischli himself while he was developing the exhibition, which he considers to be the sculpture of an exhibition. “Curating a show is part of my commitment to art” says Fischli. “I don’t see it as something separate. Of course as a curator one must deal with things like how to represent an institution, or how to communicate with the public, but this is also part of my job as a teacher. The most beautiful part of this job is when you receive the works, you unpack them from the crates, and you come so close.”
Exhibition view of “Stop Painting” Fondazione Prada, Venezia. Photo: Marco Cappelletti. Courtesy: Fondazione Prada, Lucio Fontana, Io sono un santo, 1968
In the era of NFTs selling for millions of dollars and after almost two centuries of technological revolutions influencing the art practice, it is interesting to see how painting remains a powerful means of expression. Despite the aggressive questioning of painting as a medium linked to social and technological changes, painting is still very much alive.
by Silvia Anna Barrilà