Watch Out for Painting is a two-day international conference exploring a constellation of problems around the definition and the status of painting today. The conference departs from the exhibitions currently on view at Blaffer Art Museum by Blake Rayne and Analia Saban, whose pictorial practices are central to questioning the contemporary beliefs and expectations regarding painting.
What is painting today – a medium, a technique, a genre, a procedure, or an institution? At a time when the material and conceptual borders of painting have become permeable to other media and discourses to the extent that its vey definition is in crisis, how do we think about painting? Through a series of lectures and roundtables, Watch Out for Painting examines different critical strategies and traces alternative genealogies that challenge our current narratives about the concept of painting.
This conference is supported by an Innovation Grant from the Cynthia Woods Mitchell Center for the Arts at the University of Houston.
(All the lectures will be held at Dudley Recital Hall / across courtyard from Blaffer.)
Friday, March 10, 5:30am-8:30pm
5:30-6pm: Introduction: Javier Sánchez Martínez (Blaffer Art Museum)
6-7:30pm: Keynote speaker: Éric Alliez, Postconceptual Color: Daniel Buren (Paris 8 / Kingston University)
7:30-8:30pm: In conversation: Éric Alliez and Blake Rayne
Saturday, March 11, 10am-4pm
10-11am: Nell Andrew, Moving Modernism from Dance to Painting and Back (University of Georgia)
11-12pm: Raphael Rubinstein, Material Theory: Supports/Surfaces Made Visible (University of Houston)
12:30-1:30 Lunch break
1:30-2:30pm: Jaleh Mansoor, Color, Paint, Labor: Concrete Abstraction in Contemporary [Abstract] Painting (University of British Columbia)
2:30-3:30pm: George Baker, The Underneaths of Painting (University of California Los Angeles)
About the lectures
Éric Alliez (Paris 8 / Kingston University)
Postconceptual Color: Daniel Buren
Could Daniel Buren’s oeuvre be conceptualized as a way of pushing to its limit the break with the Painting-Form and its expression in the visible operated by Matisse with his cut-outs? For it is indeed these cut-outs which Buren says ‘already seem like fireworks in the art milieu of his time’, but which, he asserts, ‘literally explode compared with present-day works’ that have assimilated ‘the orthodoxy of systematic chromatic reduction’, as if there were ‘an antagonism […] between thinking and colour’. It is thus against the new minimal-conceptual academicism of the late 1960s that Buren asserts the ‘principle that colour is itself thought’. We propose to understand this colour-thinking as post-conceptual, a term that conveys the twofold critique proper to Buren: a critique of the Duchampian conceptual inheritance to which any after Matisse must submit; and a critique of the concept of painting, referred back to all of its ‘limits’ by what is presented as a ‘visual tool’ whose in situ declination prohibits its being reduced to a ‘pure concept’.
Nell Andrew (University of Georgia)
Moving Modernism from Dance to Painting and Back
Looking across the media of dance, film, and painting, Nell Andrew asks what is gained when we unyoke non-objective or abstract form from its description as a formal end and instead address abstraction as a mode of action and aspiration. Using the example of painter-printmaker Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, Andrew’s talk will aim to show how abstraction in the era of its “invention” was a medium through which an artist performed intellectual and somatic investigations of trans-disciplinary modernist ideals. Lautrec’s 1893 lithographic series, Miss Loïe Fuller, achieves near-abstraction, yet it was discovered neither through studied formal essentialism nor with the aim of non-objectivity; it was instead required by his experience watching dance. By stepping outside the caricature and social narratives of his more famous posters and paintings, Lautrec’s Fuller series visualizes key interrogations about art making and visual perception in modernity—new sensations of time, space, and kinesthesia—that could only be addressed through abstraction.
Raphael Rubinstein (University of Houston)
Material Theory: Supports/Surfaces Made Visible
Circa 1970, the French Supports/Surfaces group sought to meld radical politics and abstract painting. Long overlooked by a Francophobic U.S. art world, the work of Supports/Surfaces has lately been the subject of several gallery exhibitions in New York and Los Angeles. The positioning of Supports/Surfaces as a precursor of current materialist-oriented abstraction has come at the expense of their theoretical texts, which have remained largely invisible and unread. At the same time, S/S itself was deeply split between its “materialogists” (Claude Viallat, Noël Dolla) in the south of France, and the theoreticians (Louis Cane, Marc Devade) in Paris. There are valuable lessons for current practice in both factions.
Jaleh Mansoor (University of British Columbia)
Color, Paint, Labor: Concrete Abstraction in Contemporary [Abstract] Painting
This talk is derived from an essay draft that rethinks the relationship (characterized by so called “autonomy”) between aesthetic and real abstraction (to denote the capitalist mode of production) set in place by Karl Marx in the introduction to The Grundrisse through a case study of exemplary instances of contemporary painting and through the discourses on “real abstraction” made available by Alfred Sohn-Rethel’s discussion of labour, and The New German Reading of Marx in the late Frankfurt School Theory. The objects to which these updated Marxian analyses apply, contemporary painting exemplified by Blake Rayne, locate the relationship of metricized labour to metricized time as the foundational matrix of “abstraction,” a common root of aesthetic and concrete abstraction alike within late capitalist contemporaneity. Through an exploration of the structural and social conditions of abstraction understood as value productive socially necessary labour time, doubly and self-reflexively formalized in aesthetic practice, this essay offers another genealogy of modernist painting, one that traces the motivation of the “abstract” painterly sign in the shifting labour to capital relationship and in recomposing “abstract” social relations, across the history of abstract painting, thereby displacing the primacy of “flatness” and “medium specificity” as the notions that have held a dominant place in the hegemonic narrative for decades. Not only does it offer an account of “abstract” contemporary and modernist painting, but revisits the relationship of labour and value to modernism at a present moment of historical transition when a labour based economy no is longer a self-evident path to global growth or even stability. Abstraction at the level of social and cultural relations is nonetheless a “new normal” in which very little correlation can be located between politics and economics.
George Baker (University of California Los Angeles)
The Underneaths of Painting
This lecture seizes upon a turning point in the artist Francis Picabia’s career, the 1922 figurative painting entitled The Spanish Night. This is a work that has been positioned as part of the former Dada painter’s defection from the avant-garde, his engagement with a virulent anti-modernism. Connected however to Dada quite explicitly, and forecasting the new and still poorly understood forms of Picabia’s later paintings, The Spanish Night proposes a new Dada model of painting that restructures how we might read Picabia’s legacy within the medium. This is not Picabia the painter of the readymade, or of parodic appropriation, or of transparency and the fraudulent copy. This is a Dada painting instead based on paint’s opacity, a painting of sedimented layers, thickened grounds, and promiscuous or polymorphous surfaces. This is a painting of what could be called the “underground”—a painterly legacy that connects a specific trajectory of contemporary art (and painters as various as Paul Thek, Mike Kelley, Richard Hawkins, Stephen Prina, etc.) back to Dada and to Picabia in a manner that challenges our current narratives of the expansion of painting as a form.
About the speakers
Éric Alliez is a professor at the Centre for Research in Modern European Philosophy (CRMEP), Kingston University, London, and at the University of Paris 8. His works include: Capital Times, preface by Gilles Deleuze, Minneapolis: U. of Minnesota, 1997; The Signature of the World: Or What is the Philosophy of Deleuze and Guattari?, London: Continuum, 2005. Most recent books include: The Brain-Eye: New Histories of Modern Painting (with Jean-Clet Martin), New York: Rowman and Littlefield, 2016; and Undoing the Image of Contemporary Art.
Nell Andrew is Associate Professor of Art History at Lamar Dodd School of Art at the University of Georgia. She is completing a book on the intersection of avant-garde dance and the development of abstract painting in late-19th and early-20th-century Europe, including studies of dancemakers Loie Fuller, Valentine de Saint-Point, Mary Wigman, Sophie Taeuber, Oskar Schlemmer and Akarova. Andrew has previously worked for the curatorial departments of the National Museum of Women in the Arts, Washington, D.C. and the Art Institute of Chicago, and has contributed criticism to contemporary art exhibitions at the Smart Museum of Art, Chicago and the Weston Art Gallery, Cincinnati. Prof. Andrew’s work on avant-garde dance, cinema and abstraction has been published in Art Journal (Summer 2009 and Spring 2014) and in anthologies such as, Film, Art, New Media: Museum Without Walls? ed. Angela Dalle Vacche (Palgrave, 2012) and The Modernist World, eds. Stephen Ross and Allana Lindgren (Routledge, 2015).
George Baker is Professor of Art History at UCLA, where he has taught modern and contemporary art and theory since 2003. A New York and Paris-based critic for Artforum in the 1990s, he now works as an editor of the journal October and its publishing imprint October Books. While known for his criticism and essays on contemporary art, he resists the specialization of the “contemporary” as an academic field and regularly offers courses on all aspects of modernism and the historical avant-garde, on the history of photography in the 19th- and 20th-centuries, and on specialized topics in post-WWII and contemporary art history. Baker received his Ph.D. from Columbia University in 2001, and is a graduate of the art history program at Yale University and the Independent Study Program of the Whitney Museum of American Art. He has received, amongst others, an Andrew Mellon Fellowship in the Humanities, CASVA and Whiting Foundation fellowships, a postdoctoral fellowship from the Getty Research Institute, and, most recently, a 2014 Arts Writers Grant from the Warhol Foundation and Creative Capital. He is the author of The Artwork Caught by the Tail: Francis Picabia and Dada in Paris (MIT Press, 2007), and the editor, with Eric Banks, of Paul Chan: Selected Writings, 2000-2014 (Schaulager and Badlands Unlimited, 2014). Currently, he is working on disparate projects including a revisionist study of Picasso’s modernism and a book on the work of four women artists—Zoe Leonard, Tacita Dean, Moyra Davey, and Sharon Lockhart—to be entitled Lateness and Longing: On the Afterlife of Photography. The latter is part of a larger project that, in his art criticism, Baker has termed “photography’s expanded field,” detailing the fate of photography and film works in contemporary art.
Jaleh Mansoor is a historian of Modern and contemporary cultural production, specializing in twentieth-century European art, Marxism, Marxist feminism, and critical theory. She received her PhD from Columbia University in 2007 and has taught at SUNY Purchase, Barnard College, Columbia University, and Ohio University. Mansoor’s research on abstract painting in the context of the miracolo Italiano and the international relations of the Marshall Plan era nested within the global dynamics of the Cold War opens up on to problems concerning the labour-to-capital relationship and its ramifications in culture and aesthetics. Her work limns the correlation between real and aesthetic abstraction. Having worked as a critic for Artforum, and a frequent contributor to October, Texte zur Kunst, and The Journal of Aesthetics and Protestamong others, Mansoor has written monographic studies on the work of Piero Manzoni, Ed Ruscha, Agnes Martin, Blinky Palermo, Gerhard Richter, and Mona Hatoum. She co-edited an anthology of essays addressing Jacques Rancière’s articulation of aesthetics’ bond to politics, entitled Communities of Sense: Rethinking Aesthetics and Politics (Duke University Press, 2010). Her first book, Marshall Plan Modernism: Italian Postwar Abstraction and the Beginnings of Autonomia, published by Duke University Press (September 2016) explores procedural violence in the work of Lucio Fontana, Alberto Burri, and Piero Manzoni as an index of a rapidly reintegrating labour-to-capital relationship in the context of European reconstruction. She is currently working on a book, tentatively entitled Concrete Abstraction: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Labour, on the entwinement of labour, value, and “bare life” in the work of Santiago Sierra and Claire Fontaine, among other contemporary practices that examine the limits of the human.
Blake Rayne is a New York-based artist whose work has been exhibited work throughout the United States and Europe for the last 15 years. He has taught extensively over the last ten years, including, most recently, five years as Professor and Director of Graduate Studies at Columbia University, NY. His work is included in various public collections, including the Whitney Museum of American Art, and the Museum of Modern Art in New York. Since the mid-1990’s Rayne’s work has contributed to transformations in the field of art, and specifically painting, primarily through his consistent and varied approaches to putting pressure on what counts as painting. His first survey exhibition is current on view at Blaffer Art Museum
Raphael Rubinstein is a New York-based poet and art critic whose numerous books include Polychrome Profusion: Selected Art Criticism 1990-2002 (Hard Press Editions), The Afterglow of Minor Pop Masterpieces (Make Now) and The Miraculous (Paper Monument). He edited the anthology Critical Mess: Art Critics on the State of their Practice (Hard Press Editions). The Miraculous has been translated into French by Marcel Cohen and published by Editions Greges. From 1997 to 2007 he was a senior editor at Art in America, where he continues to be a contributing editor. He is currently professor of critical studies at the University of Houston School of Art. In 2002, the French government presented him with the award of Chevalier in the Order of Arts and Letters. In 2010, his blog The Silo won a Creative Capital/Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant.