The deCordova has just opened their exhibition Paint Things: beyond the stretcher. Curated by Dina Deitsch and Evan Garza, it sets up a thesis about painting, exploring those painters who have tried to break out of the frame and off of the stretched canvas, enlarging the idea of what painting is. Vigorously extending their work into innovative conceptual and formal areas, their work progresses into wry puns or sardonic assaults on what painting should be. From painting with your ass cheeks to trying to make people see the space between the paint and the wall, these artists confidently present their ideas. This kind of painting swelled in the 90s with some commercial success and a modest amount of academic notice, but if the anecdotal is to be trusted, it seems that people agree it is time to consider this trend, as there are a number of exhibitions around the globe exploring it right now, from Minneapolis to London and beyond.
The show’s catalog increases painting’s vocabulary by considering a few specific sub-trends, namely how feminism reacted to and expanded upon the old boys network of Greenberg’s modernism, the body’s role in performative painting, how painting was always hiding a three dimensional object, and how painting reacts to and can modify our understanding of the architecture that surrounds us. I’ll freely admit to being a book addict, but the catalog is worth considering when you visit.
As much as this show is about abstraction and its limits, this show is equally about history and the benefit of knowing where painting and contemporary art has been. I believe all of these artists are aware of the artists that came before them and their investigations are based on the foundation laid by those earlier artists. Although, I’m not sure that these artists necessarily hold their predecessors as untouchable.
Though the two shows have discrete goals, through March 3, Paint Things overlaps with Second Nature, the abstract photography show. It might be a good time to consider the wider meaning of abstraction and how media affects it.