Jay Sanders

Guy de Cointet, Tell Me, 1979. Performance view, Los Angeles County Museum of Art, 1979. Denise Domergue and Helen Mendez.

IT’S A PERFORMANCE taken up a thousand times a day: The gallerist, museum tour guide, or art collector stands in front of an enigmatic painting, takes a deep breath, gestures toward it—an object in need of an explanation—and opens her mouth. . . .

For art audiences, the primary point of contact with an artwork is often the social space right in front of it (modern art as verbal production). In Guy de Cointet’s work, however, this space becomes the art itself. He creates a staging area to enact a theater of “understanding,” “appreciation,” and “decoding”—fundamentally reorienting the nature of his paintings, making them into a kind of prop. Cointet’s contemporary and friend William Leavitt, who also produced “prop paintings”—works made specifically to function as theatrical objects—describes this approach as “a way to avoid modernism,” a means of conceptually

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