Critics’ Picks


“Is this a painting? A Virtual Reality Group Show"

Nomas Foundation
Viale Somalia 33
March 23–December 31, 2020

In light of the coronavirus lockdown, art institutions around the world have augmented their existing online presence to reach out to an isolated public. In Rome, the Nomas Foundation’s online exhibition “Is This a Painting? A Virtual Reality Group Show” consists of a computer-generated 3-D gallery space, produced using the digital platform Kunstmatrix. The show features thirty-two works from the nonprofit’s collection, chosen by its cofounder and curator Raffaella Frascarelli with the intention of reassessing the oldest of artistic media at a time when the virtual dominates visual culture.

Pieces such as Sol LeWitt’s Untitled (Paper Fold), 1973, literally a square of folded paper, and Francesca Leone’s Carte 31, 2020, a battered sheet of metal, pose the familiar modernist question of what constitutes painting in a material sense. Similarly, Gianni Politi’s Untitled, 2014, pushes the boundaries of the medium by appropriating the familiar tools of painting. The artist collages fragments of torn canvas to the support, overlaid with painterly daubs recalling postwar abstraction. And yet, despite the show’s title, some works on view aren’t even paintings at all, such as Wolfgang Tillmans’s Anders pulling splinter from his foot, 2004. The black-and-white photo nonetheless exudes a painterly gravitas, the model’s limbs slicing across the picture plane, evoking the tangible depiction of flesh found in the bodies of Lucien Freud, for example. 

Perhaps the most striking aspect of the exhibition is the realism of its digital installation, which gives the online space a feel and an aesthetic comparable to a first-person shooter game in its depth of field and its intimation of an expanding world beyond the one immediately depicted. Whereas Jackson Pollock, after finishing one of his early gestural drip canvases, famously asked Lee Krasner the show’s titular question—“Is this a painting?”— signaling the extent to which he had broken with tradition, we are left asking what constitutes a real exhibition today. In taking up Pollock’s question as the show’s title, the curator gambles on the assumption that the times we live in will be similarly groundbreaking. It is hard to disagree, though still too early to know what painting will become.