Painting, History and Meaning (Book)

Sites of Time

Original and timely new study of contemporary painting’s relationship with history and historical material. Uses examples of traditional and conceptual painting and practice to draw together historical and contemporary practice. 20 col. illus.

Edition

A unique examination of contemporary painting’s relationship with history and historical material.

It is a timely response to, and discussion of, how contemporary painters and artists address a significant area of concern for both practitioners and theorists in recent years, namely painting’s relationship to history and time. The 2014/15 Museum of Modern Art exhibition, The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World, is cited as an important example of a major exhibition that attempted to explore painting today in these terms. 

Against a backdrop of artistic practices that are characteristic of the so-called ‘historiographic turn’ – an approach to art making that has encompassed strategies of excavation, re-enactment and memorialization, but as such has notably been to the exclusion of painting – this book seeks to examine painting’s relationship with time and with events, ideas and paintings derived from the past.

An interesting balance is struck in using examples of both ‘traditional’ and ‘conceptual’ painting/art practices. The ‘traditional’ painting practitioners featured include Abts, Yuskavage and Tuymans, who find challenging and innovative approaches within what may be termed the ‘confines’ of the medium. Francis Alÿs and Taus Makhacheva are among those who may be considered ‘conceptual’ painters. 

Writing in ‘Before the image, before time: the sovereignty of anachronism’ (2003), Georges Didi-Huberman identifies three discrete temporalities at work within a fresco painted by Fra Angelico for the San Marco convent in Florence during the 1440s. In the first instance, he observes that the painting’s trompe l’œil frame stems from what would have been the prevalent mimetic style during the period within which the fresco was painted and, in this respect, is ‘euchronistic’ or of its time. However, the fresco also betrays ‘anachronistic’ qualities through its so-called ‘mnemonic’ use of colour. Finally, and as Didi-Huberman notes, ‘the dissimilitudo, the dissemblance at work in this pointed surface goes back even further’. Evidently then, both the production and subsequent interpretation of painting entails, if not is foregrounded by, multiple layers of chronology, tense and time.

Such an admission is coincident with both a renewed interest in painting’s relationship to its past and more broadly art’s relationship with time. According to Laura Hoptman, writing in the exhibition catalogue that accompanied The Forever Now: Contemporary Painting in an Atemporal World at MoMA in 2015, ‘what attracts artists to painting at a time when digital technology offers seemingly limitless options with less art-historical baggage is precisely its art historical baggage’. Moreover, in Visual Time: The Image in History, Keith Moxey has recently asked, ‘where and when is the time in the history of art?’ 

Following Jean-Francois Lyotard’s determination of painting as entailing a series of temporal sites, the proposed study will examine key works by artists including Luc Tuymans, Gerald Byrne, Alison Watt, Marlene Dumas, Genieve Figgis, Wang Xingwei and Dexter Dalwood.

Necessarily moving beyond the appropriationist strategies of postmodernism with its proclivity to quote from tendentiously juxtaposed elements that were historically or culturally remote, what this study will evince is that through its engagement with history and historical materials, time as it is given within the context of contemporary painting is multi-directional, heterogeneous and resoundingly non-linear.

Primary readership will be the Fine Art academic community, art and painting practitioners, scholars and academics. Will appeal to second and third year undergraduate and postgraduate students of Fine Art and Art History. Of interest to students of cultural studies, history, curatorial studies and continental philosophy, and to those in the visual arts wanting to develop their understanding of contemporary art.

Craig Staff is Reader in Fine Art, The University of Northampton, UK. His previous books include Retroactivity and Contemporary Art, Bloomsbury, 2017; Monochrome: Darkness and Light in Contemporary Art, I.B.Tauris, 2015; After Modernist Painting: The History of a Contemporary Practice, I.B.Tauris, 2013; Modernist Painting and Materiality, McFarland, 2011 and Painting Apart From Itself, Twelve Bells Press, 2004 as well as numerous articles.

Introduction

More Memory and More Future

Perpetuating Modernism

Of Absent Bodies

Painting Anachronistically

Re-siting Painting

Bibliography

Against a backdrop of artistic practices that are characteristic of the so-called ‘historiographic turn’, an approach to art making that has encompassed strategies of excavation, re-enactment and memorialization, but as such have notably been to the exclusion of painting, Sites of Time: Painting, History and Meaning seeks to explore painting’s relationship with time and with events, ideas and paintings derived from the past.

Following Jean-Francois Lyotard’s determination of painting as entailing a series of temporal sites, Craig Staff examines key works by artists including Luc Tuymans, Gerald Byrne, Alison Watt, Marlene Dumas, Genieve Figgis, Wang Xingwei and Dexter Dalwood.

A unique and timely response to, and discussion of, how contemporary painters and artists address a significant area of concern for both practitioners and theorists in recent years, namely painting’s relationship to history and time. 

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