‘Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age’ at the Brandhorst Museum in Munich is a show that makes us think and poses the sort of theoretical questions that are needed to take the modernist legacy forward and end up with the banality of installationist and objectualist non-sense. The problem with this show is that it demands a detailed reading of the catalogue to grasp its meaning and, eventually, relevance and this might be far too much to ask from the visitor. Co-curated by Achim Hochdörfer, Manuela Ammer and, mainly, Daniel Joselit, ‘Painting 2.0’ asks all the right questions such as ‘What to do with painting in times of the Internet’. To answer this, it goes back to the 60s and explores three main areas: ‘Gesture and Spectacle’, ‘Eccentric Figuration’ and ‘Social Networks’.
Establishing the expressive gesture as the unit upon which its whole argument is built, it historically locates Abstract Expressionism as the origins of gestural painting in the context of a commodified object. Wisely, the curators avoid the temptation of reducing the issue of painting to the way new technologies are deployed to produce art as in the failed ‘Electronic Superhighway (2016-1966) earlier this year at the Whitechapel Art Gallery or to the way painting has internalized the social ramifications of the information age (as in Warhol and Pop which are excluded from the show). Instead, they try to isolate those aspects that isolate painting from informational technology. Thus, the show’s thesis seems to be that painting is precisely the place where technology is resisted. The body, the hand of the artist and his gesture appear as the outside of today’s technological society.
As said before,‘Painting 2.0: Expression in the Information Age’ does not include Pop Art and it strategically excludes Minimalism (Donald Judd and Brice Marden!). They also avoid getting involved into the metatheorical aspects of the medium specificity debates which would have limited the visual scope of the show. However, this compromises its clarity because its exhortative character lacks the needed the opposite alternative. Instead ‘Painting 2.0’ genealogically explores expression as an art form and from that modernist point of view the show is relevant.
At the centre of the first room there is Martin Kippenberger’s Heavy Guy where expression seems mediated by a whole series of human relations and mechanical devices. This piece appears surrounded by Niki de Saint Phalle’s Rit, Mimmo Rotella’s Europa di Notte and Jacques de la Villegié’s Les Triples de Maillot and confirms the link between Frances’ Nouveau Realism and the performatisation of painting as a commodity in Piero Manzoni where painting started being instrumentalised as a political tool. This opens the door for Daniel Buren, Jorg Immendorf, Adrian Piper, Joseph Beuys and Glenn Ligon’s ‘I am a Man’.
The performance of painting (or painting as a performative activity) is key to understand this show. As a matter of fact, in his ‘Painting Beside Itself’ (2009), Joselit said that ‘painting performs in a socio-economical context’ and this helps delineate the boundaires of information society. Later on in ‘Reassembling Painting’ he referred to the expressive gesture as a ‘subjectobject’ to be placed in the modernist pantheon of the readymade (Duchamp), collage (Dada), monochrome and I would add, colour as object and image (Joseph Marioni and Radical Painting).
Although the show focuses on gesture and expression as modernist bastions, the absence of objetuality (minimalism) and colour (Radical Painting and Colour Field Painting) depletes the modernist debate. This transforms the excellent catalogue in something that one needs to read in order to grasp the whole relevance of an excellent show. J A T