🕔13 Apr 2017 09:31

Painting After Postmodernism - Belgium-USA

05.05.2017 - 02.07.2017
Palacio Episcopal Malaga
Plaza Obispo, 29015 Malaga (Spain)

Roberto Polo Gallery is honoured to present the manifesto exhibition Painting After Postmodernism I Belgium – USA, curated by the distinguished American art historian Barbara Rose. The exhibition, comprising 256 paintings in 16 solo shows of 8 American and 8 Belgian prominent artists, as well as its accompanying 240-page catalogue published by Lannoo, is devoted to defining new modes of painting that reconstitute, rather than deconstruct the elements of painting in fresh new syntheses free of dogma and theoretical reduction. The unprecedented exhibition Painting After Postmodernism I Belgium – USA will take place at Palacio Episcopal Malaga (Spain).
The USA will be represented by artists Walter Darby Bannard, Karen Gunderson, Martin Kline, Melissa Kretschmer, Lois Lane, Paul Manes, Ed Moses and Larry Poons; Belgium by Mil Ceulemans, Joris Ghekiere, Bernard Gilbert, Marc Maet, Werner Mannaers, Xavier Noiret-Thomé, Bart Vandevijvere and Jan Vanriet.
Painting after Postmodernism I Belgium - USA investigates why when Marcel Duchamp declared that painting was dead in 1918, many believed him. However, he was wrong. As it turned out in the decades before and after World War II, Picasso, Matisse, Miró and the New York School continued to make monumental mural scale paintings on the level of the greatest art of the past. In the politically radical 1960s and 1970s, it once again became fashionable to toll the death knell for painting, perceived as a product of bourgeois culture. In its place, galleries and museums defined the avant-garde as conceptual art, video, mixed media and installations, all of which denied painting its position of preeminence. Instead, painting was to be reduced to just another form of Postmodernist endeavour.

Such demotion was perhaps the inevitable result of depriving painting of the fullness of experience that it once offered and reducing it to a pure 'optical' experience devoid of content, metaphor or surface. The dominant art critic of the post-World War II era, Clement Greenberg, insisted that painting in order to remain "pure" had to be addressed to eyesight alone, because he argued that the essence of visual experience was 'opticality'. All traces of the hand were to be expunged in favour of an instantaneous retinal impact.
Greenberg’s essays Modernist Painting and Post-Painterly Abstraction became canonical in their definition of high art as reduced to its exclusively optical essence. The material properties, not of pigment as physical matter, but of the canvas as cloth, were to be stressed at the expense of any tactile effects; moreover, painting had to be exclusively abstract, freed of any figurative or even metaphorical content.
Beginning in the 1980s, Greenberg's dogma was challenged by European critics, such as Achille Bonito Oliva, who used the term Postmodernism to describe painting that mixed historical styles in pastiche formulations that were mainly figurative. In 1984, Peter Burger defined Postmodernism as “the end of the historical avant-garde movements”. Frederick Jameson characterised Postmodernism as a breakdown of the distinction between "high" and "low" culture, subsuming the kitsch imagery of mass culture in quotations and reproductions recycled in painting.
Postmodernism deprived painting of originality and first-hand experience at the same time that Greenberg's disembodied abstraction, addressed to eyesight alone, collided with the desire on the part of some artists to retain the wholeness of the aesthetic experience made available by the old masters in their fusion of the haptic quality of sensuous painterly surfaces with the optical melding of colour and light. The artists represented in this exhibition wish to restore tactility to painting, to redefine drawing as part of the pictorial and to go beyond Postmodernism to retrieve the fullness of painting as major art, including its tactility, explicitly material surface and capacity for metaphor as well its purpose to fulfil what Henri Bergson defined as its principle function: to be "life enhancing" in its vitality.

This exhibition is the product of a chance encounter and the faith of a handful of people in the future of painting as a major art that can maintain its place beside Old and Modern Masters.
In November 2015, I had come to Brussels to visit an old friend and colleague, the French art historian Gladys Fabre. She had just curated the exhibition Theo van Doesburg and the International Avant-Garde for Tate Modern and was now curating another show organized around the great Dutch Nonobjectivist’s work and influence for the Palais des Beaux-Arts in Brussels.

The important connaisseur, artist, art collector, and gallerist Roberto Polo, had invited her to lunch and, when she said that I was her guest, he invited me as well. Roberto’s home was filled with works in all media, including many paintings by contemporary Belgian artists whom I did not know and whose work I found fascinating, and in some strange way—which I could not yet articulate—oddly familiar. As we were saying goodbye, Roberto pulled out a large painting from storage to show me. The painting was one of the first of The Lolita Series by Werner Mannaers, a sixty-one-year-old Belgian painter from Antwerp. I had never seen anything quite like it. Neither the space, the composition, nor the imagery corresponded to earlier paintings, and yet the work was coherent, convincing, and boldly expressive. It reminded me of the way some American painters were working “under the radar”—as it were—attempting to push the tradition of painterly painting into the future with little hope of recognition in the art world’s mad circus of hysterical frenzy with its back-to-back fairs and global biennials.
I was so discouraged by how advertising, branding, and public relations had replaced art criticism—as both artists and critics took shelter in the increasingly irrelevant academy that provided insulation both from the market and any public larger than a university or art school faculty—I had stopped writing art criticism and was immersing myself in medieval manuscripts. But the idea that there were serious Belgian painters pursuing goals related to those of Americans whom I knew caused me to start visiting studios again. Roberto sent me publications featuring the work of Belgian painters in whose work he believes and I sent him images of the work of Americans. We then began talking of doing an exhibition of serious and ambitious contemporary American and Belgian painting.
On March 16, 2016, Roberto emailed me: Thank you very much for sending me the image of Paul Manes’ recent painting. It is extraordinary, revealing a new conception of space. Although different from Werner Mannaers’, it is as if both artists were breathing the same air, both on a similar quest. Could it be that we have unconsciously stumbled on the first international pictorial movement in years?
I wrote back: Yes, exactly. Together we have stumbled on the future. Since we both see it the same way, it must be there.
During the ensuing winter, I visited Walter Darby Bannard’s studio in Miami. I had championed his exquisite “minimal” paintings that made him famous in the early 1960s, but we had since lost touch. I was not prepared for the brilliantly colored painterly paintings that confronted me in his Florida studio. I wrote back to Roberto that I had just seen Ali Baba’s cave and was coming to Brussels to discuss a show in concrete terms. I had also been working on several catalogues of Ed Moses’ paintings and sent Roberto images of the veteran Los Angeles painter’s work and that of other artists whose approach and accomplishment seemed to me parallel to what was going on in Belgium.
When I arrived in Brussels, Roberto organized a breakneck nonstop tour of studios in Ghent, Antwerp, the Molenbeek quarter in Brussels, and elsewhere in Belgium. I was stunned by the work that I saw and its connections to the kind of pictorial research being done by veteran American painters. But why, I wondered, were the Belgian painters younger than my friends?
I realized that, in the USA, the craft of painting was no longer taught in the leading art schools, where theory had supplanted technique and materials to the point that the effort to compete with Old and Modern Masters seemed overwhelming to artists interested not in vocations but in careers.
The realization of an exhibition defining the new frontier of experimentation as ambitious and complex as Painting After Postmodernism | Belgium-USA involved the energy and commitment of many people, especially Roberto Polo, who is a painter himself and who shared my vision. The initial support of the Alderwoman of Culture of the City of Brussels, Karine Lalieux, who was quick to understand the concept and its importance, and who offered the historic International Style building, the Vanderborght, as a venue, as well as of Edouard Meier, Director of the landmark Cinéma Galleries, gave me the courage to dedicate myself entirely to creating an exhibition of contemporary American and Belgian paintings that I hope will give ambitious artists everywhere the courage to continue their own experiments to expand the limits of painting and create work for the museums and serious collections in an unknowable future.
Painting After Postmodernism | Belgium-USA could not exist without Roberto Polo, to whom I am deeply grateful.
Barbara Rose

Palacio Episcopal Malaga
Plaza Obispo, 29015 Malaga (Spain)

Painting After Postmodernism - Belgium-USA
: Walter Darby Bannard, Karen Gunderson, Martin Kline, Melissa Kretschmer, Lois Lane, Paul Manes, Ed Moses, Larry Poons, Mil Ceulemans, Joris Ghekiere, Bernard Gilbert, Marc Maet, Werner Mannaers, Xavier Noiret-Thomé, Bart Vandevijvere and Jan Vanriet.
curator: Barbara Rose
van 05.05.2017 - 02.07.2017

Roberto Polo Gallery
Lebeaustraat, 1000 Brussels
tel. +32(0)2 502 56 50 -
Tuesday to Friday from 2pm to 6pm
Saturday and Sunday from 11am to 6pm
And by appointment                                         

Painting After Postmodernism - Belgium-USA. An exhibition presented under the High Patronage of Her Majesty the Queen of the Belgians. Organized by Roberto Polo Gallery in collaboration with the City of Brussels and Cinéma Galeries, under the auspices and support of: Didier Reynders, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs, Kingdom of Belgium - Yvan Mayeur, Mayor, City of Brussels - Karine Lalieux, Alderwoman of Culture, City of Brussels - Embassy of The United States of America, Brussels
Sponsors: Akzo Nobel Paints Belgium NV/SA - AmCham Belgium - Hotel Amigo Brussels - L’Eventail, Brussels - R K Harrison - VisitBrussels asbl/vzw
We extend our gratitude to Marie-France Botte Broder, Laurent Delvaux, and Natacha De Peuter for their important assistance in organizing this exhibition.

© 2017 Roberto Polo Gallery


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