New York

Anna Betbeze, Marble, 2011, wool, acid dyes, watercolor, 108 x 65". From “Unpainted Paintings.

Anna Betbeze, Marble, 2011, wool, acid dyes, watercolor, 108 x 65". From “Unpainted Paintings.

“Unpainted Paintings”

Anna Betbeze, Marble, 2011, wool, acid dyes, watercolor, 108 x 65". From “Unpainted Paintings.

Writing in Art News in 1958, Allan Kaprow eulogized Jackson Pollock, arguing that his “near destruction” of customary painting obliged its reevaluation, less as a medium than as a framework for conveying a multiplicity of sensory experiences. In a rightly famous passage near the text’s conclusion, Kaprow insisted that Pollock “left us at the point where we must become preoccupied with and even dazzled by the space and objects of our everyday life. . . . Not satisfied with the suggestion through paint of our other senses, we shall utilize the specific substances of light, sound, movements, people, odors, touch.” At once offering a prescription and postulating an outcome, Kaprow’s charge is everywhere felt if nowhere named in “Unpainted Paintings,” a show organized for Luxembourg & Dayan by Alison Gingeras, chief curator at Venice’s Palazzo Grassi. Swelling to fill the gallery’s four floors, “Unpainted Paintings” comprised some thirty American, European, and Japanese abstract paintings from the 1950s to the present; the show provided a taxonomy of the picture plane, post-Pollock, from a slashed burlap assemblage by Alberto Burri from 1954, to Anna Betbeze’s exquisitely grotesque acid-dyed woolen flokati carpets made this year.

These works abandon paint in favor of fiber, garbage, plastic, dirt, and gold leaf; more broadly, they suggest that a passage into conceptually oriented “painting” is made more viable—not less—in the wake of Conceptualism as such. Sectioned into six thematic subgroups—“Stained Sheets,” “Dirty Pictures,” “Materiologies,” “Knitted and Sewn,” “Meta Painting,” and the namesake “(Un)Painted Paintings”—the panels largely benefit from their neighbors. The first gallery, “Stained Sheets,” for instance, triangulates an Andy Warhol Piss Painting, 1978, with Dan Colen’s Psychotic Reaction, 2011, a fifteen-foot-long field of crushed flowers on a gessoed ground, and David Hammons’s relatively diminutive Untitled (Kool-Aid), 2007, which shrinks the environmental color field down to a drink-powder-saturated page. Equally effective was “Dirty Pictures,” upstairs: Placing an Yves Klein fire painting (F124, 1961) in proximity with the burning candle in Pier Paolo Calzolari’s Untitled, 1976, Otto Muehl’s bondaged Untitled, 1961, Alex Hubbard’s beach-detritus-encrusted Garbage Painting 3, 2011, and Paul McCarthy’s Carpet N, 2009–11—a previously unexhibited array of soiled rugs from McCarthy’s studio floor, littered with condoms and brushes, clearly trammeled underfoot, and, were it not for the artist’s intervention, destined for the landfill—returned a favor to all included.

But if a premise of the show explored these artists’ frank (if not always assiduous) challenges to the easel picture, and to the standard of covering it in paint, the rubric of “Knitted and Sewn” addressed the continued priority of the organizing weave. Here, the works were all woven, assuming the guise of textiles, tapestries, and the canvas to which they reflexively refer, while simultaneously positing craft as an other to the venerable tradition of painting. Which is not to say that actions are not done to the base, or undertaken in order to raze it: Betbeze’s rugs—one is on view in this section, a second on the first floor—are dyed, burned, pulled, cut, and washed. Yet they nonetheless depend entirely on the convention of the support as something critical, even paradoxically inviolate. So, too, do Blinky Palermo’s Untitled (Stoffbild), 1969, with its translucent lapis fabric, Richard Tuttle’s dyed Green Flag, 1967–71, prepossessing in its literality, Sheila Hicks’s brainy, stainless-steel-thread-woven Convergence Vermala, 2004, or even Richard Prince’s painting on a T-shirt, Untitled (t-shirt), 2009, make clear the extent to which such a reliance is shared. The support, then, is a mental habit as much as a physical structure—but no less important. As everywhere else in “Unpainted Paintings,” demolition begets renewal; Pollock’s “near destruction,” or, less specifically, the strain of iconoclasm exhibited here, recuperates itself as surprisingly engaged with the aesthetic. These paintings might not involve paint, but—or so the show argues—they remain paintings still.

Suzanne Hudson