The chronicle of a death so often announced, that of painting, is nothing more than the narrative of a progressive liberating itself from layers and layers of dogma and ideology. With the first avantgarde movements was exempted from the obligation to represent the outside world but entrusted with the search for the Absolute or the search of a lost “ego”. With minimalism, they wanted to deprive painting of spirit so that it was only matter and form, which would lead it to a cul-de-sac or zero point from which the postmodern emergence of samples of styles and techniques from the past would come to be rescued.
It was in this eclectic and postmodern decade, that of the 80’s, when Fundació La Caixa started its collection of contemporary art. The exhibition La pintura, un reto permanente (Caixaforum, Barcelona), includes basically pieces of this collection and some loans, demonstrates the gradual relaxation, over the generations, of antagonisms and dichotomies between figuration and abstraction, expression and concept, idea and matter.
Currently, the painting expands on any surface and adheres to other languages, be it the filmic, the photographic or the sculptural. In the exhibition section where these “mutations” meet, we find some cans covered with the paint that was originally inside: Jaime Pitarch spent years depositing the content of the cans (previously transferred in hermetic containers) on their exterior walls. Emptying and painting over the void, repeating day after day the same gesture that neither subtracts nor adds up (only reverses the relationship between continent and content) takes the form of an absurd and unproductive ritual. Two adjectives, the latter, to which Pitarch turns them, because the minimal and persevering gesture that was remodeling the cans is inspired by Lao Tse’s philosophy on non-action (softness overcomes hardness… nothing enters where there is no space…) while at the same time opposes that silent void to the verbiage of corrupt power (Juvenal’s phrase “who will watch the watchers?” Quis custodiet ipsos custodes lends its name to this work finished in 2019).
If the poetics of the absurd is not at odds with the Tao, as Pitarch would say, irony and disenchantment should not detract from the revolutionary spirit, according to Bernat Daviu. His monochromatic paintings transformed into work overalls (Overall paintings 2012 ) express with eloquent sarcasm the clash between the precariousness in which so many creators live and the utopian drive that moves them to keep working. Precisely inspired by the “isms” of the avant-garde movements, Daviu founded a few years ago the “garrofismo”, an imaginary artistic movement that celebrated “Socratic” banquets and worshiped the carob tree (“garrofa” in Catalan, a fruit especially valued in times of famine). See the short film “Guanyar-se les garrofes” (co-directed with Joana Roda).
As a matter of chances and serendipities that often occur in an artist’s studio, Angela de la Cruz one day removed the cross frame of a painting and seeing how the canvas fell opened her a field of infinite possibilities that even today continues to explore. The English word “clutter” gives title to several of her works of broken frames and wrinkled canvases. Some of them even lost the frame and spread across the ground, others take the form of cabinets and hulks. All of them respond to this meaning that can be translated like disorder, jumble, chaos…, to speak of the human condition, its vulnerability, and in certain cases, of a jumble of bones, of becoming debris or violated body, vagabond, corpse.
A concept that emerges in several works of the Caixaforum exhibition is that of “aura”. What happened after the loss of the aura predicted by Walter Benjamin? The German philosopher glimpsed, after the loss of uniqueness and symbolic distance (that is necessary for an artistic or cult object to retain its “halo”), a revolutionary potential for the art of the future. But in the era of technical reproduction (Benjamin’s) and multimedia (ours), has the “sacred” and “authenticity” value that the original piece had in the past disappeared? Rather, the aura has shifted: from cult or contemplative value to speculative value. Ignasi Aballí and his series Papel moneda (2007) ironizes about the auric value of money after being crushed and transmuted into monochrome paintings of a minimalist nature. Before these pictures, the contemplative experience floats in a suprematist infinity, with a tonal range from bluish to violet according to the colours of the original banknotes (whether they are 10, 20, 50, 100 € …)
The smooth color sweeps of Gerhard Richter also suggest an auratic condition, but the aura would not be found in his case in the work itself, in the single object, but in the motif or theme, which, due to its elusive essence, can only be painted as a spectrum. Appearance (1994), the title of the work included in this exhibition, gives name to the irresolvable problem of a gaze that nothing can capture. Is there something to reveal under such a glaze?
Sigmar Polke, like Richter, knew early on that to rescue something from reality one had to scratch stratum after stratum. Both grew up in the postwar period in a dismembered Germany, and the way Polke found to invoke repressed phantoms was based on palimpsest of Nazi symbols, abstractions and dots simulating photographic impressions. Over the years he did not abandon his sardonic mix of languages while experimenting with toxic products that transformed the textures and colors in an unpredictable way. His work “Mephisto” (1988), where the evil lurks between footprints and igneous outbursts, is included in the section dedicated to the “lapsus of figuration” (figures appearing in apparently abstract compositions).
Just as Richter managed, using photography, for oil painting to have things to say again, Wolfgang Tillmans frees photography from mimesis by giving it an ambiguity borrowed from painting in a way. On the other hand, the technical and thematic disparity of his photographs, in which the most trivial becomes profound, echoes Richter’s rejection of the notion of style: I like things without style: dictionaries, photographs, nature, myself and my paintings. Style equals violence and I am not violent (Notes 1964-65).
This exhibition demands a calm look, capable of undoing with its pauses the rigid geometry, capable of seeing talismans hidden in matter as in a test of Rorschach. Thus, behind a night fence we may see the inquisitive eyes of a nun (as revealed by the folds of Juan Uslé‘s memory in Asa-Nisi-Masa, 1995), or we manage to get the jinns, hidden in an apparently human skin (Lui Shtini materializes here the invisible influences in the daily life of these supernatural creatures of the Arab folklore).
Now we can only say See you later, au revoir (1990), the slowed farewell with which Michael Snow says goodbye to his office partner, acquiring that film with a few frames the texture of a dream. But do we dream in colors?
texto de Anna Adell
La pintura, un reto permanente
in CaixaForum Barcelona
Curator: Nimfa Bisbe
until 29th September 2019