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“Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age”

Albert Oehlen, Easter Nudes, 1996, oil and acrylic on canvas, 75 1/4 × 106 3/4". From “Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age.”

WE ARE LIVING in a Golden Age of painting. Or at least a Goldenish one. Although that claim may sound far-fetched (even to those who neither celebrate nor bemoan the medium’s purported demise), I’d hazard that the past decade has witnessed the greatest efflorescence of painting since the mid-1980s, when the battles engulfing it were at their bloodiest and the stakes seemed accordingly high. Painting persisted, of course, throughout the ’90s and into the early 2000s, when the proliferation of digital-imaging technologies appeared to pose yet another mortal threat. But what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger, and it soon became clear that artists didn’t have to choose between the computer and the hand. Rather, it was the multifarious negotiation between the two that has given painting its latest surge in vitality, making it a rowdy, speculative arena at once linked to and removed from the broader culture.

Enter “Painting 2.0,” a timely and ambitious survey (organized in collaboration with Vienna’s Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig) that traces the roots of the present situation back to the ’60s via some two hundred works from Europe and the United States. It was then, the curators contend, that artists such as Joseph Beuys and Andy Warhol first grappled with the dawning information age’s challenges to painting’s legitimacy by assimilating mediated imagery and the trappings of spectacle culture with ostensibly more traditional modes of expression. This premise is developed in “Gesture and Spectacle,” the first of the exhibition’s three chapters, each of which ingeniously assembles a range of artists from across the past half century to tease out a strand of the show’s broader argument. The second section, “Eccentric Figuration,” posits that even in the face of technological mediation, the body has proved resilient as both image and means—often through exaggerated forms and caricature, as evidenced in the works of Eva Hesse, Cy Twombly, and Amy Sillman. Finally, in “Social Networks,” we find the proponents of ’60s Capitalist Realism alongside more recent figures such as R. H. Quaytman and Jana Euler, all of whose work operates within elaborate social and discursive systems. Accompanied by a comprehensive catalogue featuring essays by the curators as well as by Lynne Cooke, Isabelle Graw, and John Kelsey, among others, “Painting 2.0” promises a stringent new historical narrative—with plenty of room for debate.

Travels to the Museum Moderner Kunst Stiftung Ludwig Wien, June 3–Nov. 6, 2016.

Scott Rothkopf