Portalen, Køge Bugt Kulturhus

In a cultural context in which the model for painting is fundamentally expressionist (the salient references being Asger Jorn and Per Kirkeby)—recent attempts to break free of this model have generally revolved around video and photographic work that often leaves the expressionist paradigm intact (if tacit)—any attempt to articulate an alternative model for and through painting is bound to seem questionable. Although “Fielding” included artists from France, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands, I was not entirely surprised when a Danish artist referred to the exhibition as “that show of American-style painting,” putting me on my guard against simply finding my own biases confirmed from a Northern European situation. And yet the stirring of Nordic interest in issues cognate to those animating the work of American artists like Mary Heilmann, James Hyde, or Jessica Stockholder, was corroborated by the simultaneous appearance, just across the sound from Copenhagen at the Rooseum in Malmö, of an exhibition called “Painting: The Extended Field.”

As the title implied, the common issue among the various works included in “Fielding” was the status of the pictorial field, and in particular the question of whether that field is essentially contained by the object, or whether the object should more productively be seen as contained by the field. The question was not of the work’s ontology, construction, or materials, despite the fact that “painting” here was constantly shading off into sculpture (Damian Cabanes’ horizontal beds of plaster from which rose painted mounds), into photography (Wapke Feenstra’s use of offset and photographic printing), or into installation (the work of Kathrin Bain, Leni Hoffmann, or Hans Holten). Rather, the question was of pictorial effects or functions: in destabilizing painting’s autonomy with regard to the space it inhabits, “Fielding” raised the problem of decoration—essentially, what happens when the work is seen as backdrop for the activity that takes place around it, a “field” whose “figures” are the living people whose perceptual and other activities animate it (and perhaps vice versa).

In this regard, it’s significant that even in those works that fully adhere to the conventions of the self-contained portable painting (those by Marian Breedveld, Milena Bonifacini, and Bodil Nielsen), self-containment becomes ambiguous. This is especially true in Nielsen’s work, where an acute use of color interaction allows (in her horizontal stripe paintings) for the simultaneous breakdown and recuperation of pictorial unity; or (in some of the paintings with rosettelike forms vibrating against monochrome fields) for the destabilization of one’s sense of what constitutes the “same” color. Whether in this perceptual sense, or in a more physical one—as in Leni Hoffmann’s piece consisting of a stretch of colored plasticine “pavement” by the bicycle rack outside the exhibition space, whose traces were spread around by passersby during the course of the exhibition—a rigorous pursuit of the decorative provoked the Duchampian observation that the work is made by its viewers (although with Hoffmann’s pavement piece we must add that the participant is no longer necessarily a viewer in the usual sense of the word). The caveat, paralleling Marx’s remark on how people create their own history: they don’t make it just as they like.

Barry Schwabsky